Watch them take off and fly!

Tiarna was only 12 months old when we moved to Memphis. Within weeks of our arrival, she made friends with a particular gorilla in the Memphis Zoo.

We lived only a mile away from the zoo. With a family membership, we visited up to three times a week – often enough for Tiarna and the gorilla to form quite a bond.

The gorilla would see us coming, early in the morning, and climbed up to the viewing window. Tiarna climbed up onto the ledge on our side of the window and the gorilla sat next to her on the other side of the glass. There they sat, copying each other and communicating in some form that seemed to mean they would look for each other the next time.

Jesse was nearly three. He seemed to have two speeds – full speed and asleep. The ‘rangle-tangles’ (that’s Hahn-children language for orangutans) were not as accessible as the gorillas. But they knew us well enough to wave to us – particularly to our little, blonde, bouncy Jesse.

We soon discovered that Jesse had an amazing affinity with birds. Memphis Zoo had an indoor, thermostatically-controlled aviary where birds from all over the world were free to fly around, all year round.

Inside the aviary, we wandered along the paths very slowly. Often we stopped to sit and practice being very quiet.

Jesse sat on a low rock wall and birds came right up to him – most often a bleeding-heart dove and her chick. Many people asked  to photograph Jesse with the birds within centimetres of his face.

It was almost magical … until the peace shattered when someone burst into the aviary, running, shouting and sometimes even chasing the birds.
We had lived in Memphis for a couple of years when the zoo installed a Butterfly House. On our first visit we wandered through with Jesse’s pre-school group and a tour-guide.

During the tour, many butterflies landed and stayed on the floral dress I wore – obviously attracted to the colour of the flowers.

The children were fascinated, and I felt rather privileged… until I wriggled and they flew away.

At the end of the tour, we watched butterflies emerge from cocoons. One butterfly hatched completely and took its first flight while we watched.
On my next visit, I remembered to wear the same dress. I stood still in the Butterfly House and about a dozen butterflies settled on my ‘flowers’.

Other people noticed and came to have a closer look.

A girl came up to me and demanded that the butterflies come on to her dress.
She yelled at me.
She yelled at her mother.
She yelled at the butterflies.
The butterflies took flight and flew to the farthest corners of the enclosure.
The child reminded me of the children in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.
So did her mother.

The mother pleaded with me to help to get butterflies onto her daughter – as if I had a magic wand.

I couldn’t help – just as if she’d asked me to arrange for the birds in the aviary to come close to her daughter, or for the gorilla to play with the child.

 

A couple years ago Jesse left our home to go renting with a friend, and Tiarna flew to Ireland to meet up with a childhood friend from Memphis (not the gorilla!). I think a piece of my heart went with each of them.

As I sit today and write, I think back to that mother in the Butterfly House, and I recognise that I have plenty of what she had.

I would much prefer to be with my kids wherever they are; making sure that they have everything that they have ever desired; that they can be happy; making  the world safe and perfect for them; and wanting to take their place in scary times (bungee jumping and sky-diving not included!).

Then I remember back to our first tour in the Butterfly House.

When one of the other mums reached out to help a butterfly out of its cocoon, the tour-guide stopped her. The tour-guide stressed that in order to develop their wings properly the butterflies had to go through the struggle of coming out all by themselves.

As parents, it’s always tempting to protect our children from any struggles and to try to keep them happy. But we run the risk of growing beautiful children who can’t cope in the real world.
We can encourage them to learn, and we can influence their environment so that they can make wise choices.
But we cannot live their lives for them.

If we keep them so safe that they cannot learn consequences, or prevent them from experiencing that struggles are a necessary part of life we run the risk of them becoming dependent on us or others approval…always.

If we protect them from taking responsibility for their part in accidents, we don’t allow them to learn about cause and effect.

We can get in the way of their learning while they are young by not allowing them the freedom to explore within safe boundaries.

If we take it upon ourselves to be the provider of all happiness, we can prevent them from discovering that happiness is something they can experience from within themselves.

Our job is to prepare them for life; to let them know that they are always loved and to allow them to grow.

Our children need room to learn, to struggle, to laugh, to cry, and to stretch in order to develop their own wings.

And when they are ready, only by letting go of them can we watch them take off and fly.

 

Originally published as ‘Learning to fly’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2013, September edition.                                                  www.thelutheran.com.au

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I’ll mend it, he says. It’ll be fun, he says.

I turn around and see the big gaping hole in his much-loved towel and try my darndest not to give him the look of

Are you serious? 

I know he is.

 

 

Does the hero mend the much-loved towel only to return it to the mending pile next week?

Does the heroine save the day by buying a new towel?

Does someone on the beach appreciate the exquisite mending and borrow it permanently – as happened to its predecessor?

How would you finish this story?

 

Watch this space…

 

 

 

 

Faith is like a…cleaning cloth?

It had looked so good at the demonstration.

Sparkling clean results.

No unnatural, caustic, biohazardous or environmentally unfriendly agents were necessary.

All it required was water: And if the job required a little more cleansing than usual, just add more water.

I could just imagine my home sparkling like it never had before.

 

Housekeeping has never been my strong point.

I can always find a higher priority – a child that needs some attention, a friend who needs a phone-call, an article that needs to be written, a book that needs to be read, a topic that needs to be researched. I thought it was high time that I made the commitment and spent a worthwhile amount on a product that would change my life.

So, I thought I would make a purchase that would ultimately help me to achieve a squeaky clean house.

My purchase didn’t prove quite the miracle I was hoping for. Several months after my purchase of a rather expensive piece of fabric, my house, though it had sparkled in places for a week or two, had returned to its usual state of “busy-ness” and “dust-bunnies”. The windows again wore those special marks of little fingers, noses and paws that are familiar in homes with small children and smaller pugs. The bathroom was spilling over with too many soggy towels to even find the sparkling basin, and the dishes were again piling up as though they were reproducing each night.

One morning, as I looked through bleary, unmotivated eyes at the mess that confronted me, I realised that what was lacking wasn’t the ability of the cloth to work a miracle, but my preparedness to use it and put it into action.

When put into use the cleaning cloth works miracles, but is useless if it’s stuck in a drawer. The thought also struck me that faith is rather like my cleaning cloth. Faith too is ineffective if its filed away safely in our heart, without us ever giving it an opportunity to work.

In my house, I’ve learnt its much easier and more effective to use my cloth a little bit, often, rather than wait for the perfect empty day when I can use it from the ceiling to the floor on every wall, window and shower screen. That’s a really daunting task – and inevitably just doesn’t happen.

Similarly, faith often gets left to work on a marathon event, rather than being used a little bit at a time. We are much less likely to have faith in God performing BIG miracles if we don’t learn to trust Him with little miracles.

James wrote, ‘Faith without works is dead’ (James 2:17).
Faith without works – like the cleaning cloth that’s stuck in a drawer.

 

 

Originally published as ‘Faith is like an enjo’,

in The Lutheran, August edition, 2007.

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

My terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day*

 

The dad was screaming at his child. Every instinct in me wanted to run up to the child and whisk him into my arms as I yelled back at the dad.

Then I remembered.

We’d dropped off our eldest at kindergarten for the morning, and the house seemed too cold and lonely to go back to. So my younger two children and I headed to the library.

Normally the library was a place of solace. On Thursday mornings the library was alive with storytelling and great family-friendly activities.

This wasn’t Thursday morning.

I could usually find some books with which to settle my kids at a table within an arm’s distance of me, while I had a quick look at some reading matter a little more advanced than Dr Seuss.

But not this morning.

While I was two metres away from my kids, they started some sort of uproar.I don’t even remember what they did. But I do remember the face of the security guard as he suggested I try to come back another day when the children wouldn’t be so disruptive.

So we headed for home.

But we needed milk, so we popped into the drugstore (yes, we were living in the USA at the time).

We didn’t end up getting milk that morning. The kids caused a racket.

And in less time than it takes to get a flagon of milk and line up in a 20-person-long queue, another security guard came up to us. In his sweetest, deepest Southern-USA accent, he said,

‘Ma’am, y’all need to leave the store. These chillun’ are disturbin’ the other customers’.

Mortified, I grabbed the pusher and the hand of my three-year-old, and we headed out—without the milk.

Our house still seemed cold and lonely, so I headed to our friend’s home, where the kids felt right at home and joined in the activities without fear of being expelled.

As the kids played, my dear friend poured some freshly brewed coffee and listened as I burst into tears and related the goings-on of the morning.

‘… and then … and then …!’

And then I looked at my friend’s face. She’d evidently been trying to keep a straight face, but could no longer hold it in. She burst into fits of laughter.

‘What’s so funny?’ I asked.

‘Well, after all you’ve been trying to tell me about being a Christian, at last I know now that you’re real! This has spoken more to me than anything else you’ve ever said. Thank God you’re human!’

She continued to speak words of truth, encouragement and compassion. Her words were loving, caring, concise and compelling.

She knew us so well.

We were everyday friends and shared most aspects of our lives. So she knew of the stresses and strains on our young family.

She also knew of the unrealistic demands I had placed on myself as a young mum of three young children in a place a world away from everything and everybody we knew.

She was also a doctor, and picked up pretty quickly that at least one of our kids had a fever—something that I’d overlooked. Several hours later, another burst eardrum revealed itself as the cause of my ‘terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day’*.

 

As soon as I remembered that day, I was able to think about the dad in the shopping centre in a different light. I was so quick to judge—just like those people in the drugstore. Several of them offered words of advice:

‘That child needs discipline.’

‘If he were my child, he would have had a spanking by now.’

‘You shouldn’t come here if you can’t control your children.’

None of the advice had been particularly helpful, and none demonstrated any form of understanding.

They did not know that we had been up all night with various demands of the children.

They did not know that we were from the other side of the world and really needed somebody to give us a break.

They didn’t know that the child who was being most boisterous never complained of pain, but acted up in other ways. He must have been screaming inside but didn’t know how to tell me.

The people knew nothing about us yet were so quick to judge.

And here I was, doing the same thing.

The dad and the child left the building.

And I felt sorry that I didn’t do anything. I hadn’t given any word of encouragement. I hadn’t offered any help. I hadn’t even given the understanding smile that I’ve since been practising.

I hope it says, ‘Yes, sometimes we do have terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad days. I understand. I hope your day gets better from here, but I promise not to contribute further to your misery.’

These days I try to keep a bottle of bubbles in my bag, which often is all the distraction that distraught dads need. A dad with those magic bubbles in his hand turns into a super-hero in the eyes of a small child, and in the eyes of judgemental onlookers.

For the times when I’m not armed with bubbles, I have rehearsed some lines which I have actually used, such as:

‘Not a good day? Can I help?’

‘I hope your day gets better.’

‘Would you like me to help you with your trolley?’

‘I remember those days. Is there anything I can do to help you right now?’

I usually receive some funny looks—but, in comparison with being a judgmental, older person with a poor memory and no clue of the cause of anybody else’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day, it’s worth it!

 

Originally published in ‘The Lutheran’ magazine, September, 2012. http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

 

 

* from the book Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very-Bad Day by Judith Viorst

A scientist – and he’s a Christian: Can science and Christianity work together?

One of our kids had a teacher who thought that all Christians are ignorant and just lack common sense because ‘they don’t believe in science’. My daughter evidently put up her hand in his class and said, ‘My dad’s a scientist — and he’s a Christian’.

A couple weeks later I met that teacher at a parent-teacher interview. He explained that the class was expected to look scientifically at the biology course, regardless of their, as he emphasised, ‘religious convictions’.

As he said that, he looked at me as though he was expecting a reaction. But I smiled and said, ‘That’s fair enough. We don’t have an issue with that. My husband is a scientist. He has done demonstrations in science classes in previous years. Perhaps he can help in your class.’

We wondered at the teacher’s view that Christians can’t agree with science, but then recalled several radio interviews, seminars, some books, articles and letters to editors where Christians had given themselves and others a bad name. To be honest, as a Christian who likes to learn ‘stuff’ and who enjoys debating, investigating and challenging the thoughts and beliefs of others, I do sometimes cringe at what I hear people say in the name of Christianity, when I believe they’d be hard-pressed to find any biblical support for what they are saying.

Being married to a scientist who is also a Christian, I am becoming more and more aware of his colleagues and also world-renowned researchers who are also both scientists and Christians.

I find it interesting that when they are asked ‘creation versus science’ questions in particular, their answers are often guarded and vague — not because they want to avoid the debate, but because they are more aware of the complexity of the issue than most of us. I do know that the more my husband studies and researches, the more he is fascinated and awe-struck by the wonders of God’s creation. Often, that is the answer he gives to those ‘creation versus science’ questions.

Science is about understanding the world in which we live. It is about finding out reasons and evidence for things happening, and answering questions, using reproducible, repeatable experiments that are measured against appropriate ‘controls’ or ‘constants’.

Science needs to be totally consistent: So we find that ‘good’ science always backs up other ‘good’ science. As such, Chris and I have never found any ‘good’ science that has disproved what is written in the Bible. Good science looks at data objectively — regardless of our world view.

Scientists know that science doesn’t ‘prove’ anything conclusively — though it can disprove conclusively. So, there are questions worth keeping at the back of our mind whenever we hear of any new ‘scientific proof’.

  • There is usually more than one way to interpret results and statistical data. Is this the only way in which these results could be interpreted? How reliable is the interpretation? How recent is the paper in which it was written? Has it been peer-reviewed — that is, assessed by other experts in the same field who have a ‘neutral’ interest?
  • Who is putting forward the evidence? Has the evidence been produced by somebody with a ‘vested interest’, such as a company that sells a particular product? For example: diet products and herbal remedies are often promoted by companies who will benefit from sales of their particular recommended therapies – in the same way that Coca-Cola is not likely to promote Pepsi.
  • If the article is from the internet, which type of website does it come from?  Very generally,  .com represents a commercial enterprise, .org is a not-for-profit organisation, .edu is an educational institution and .gov is a government website.

All those questions could be summed up by ‘How biased is the scientific viewpoint?’

Sometimes there needs to be a debate. In every culture there are commonly held beliefs that affect the way we look at life and interpret the things that happen around us. This is what we call a paradigm.

During the Black Plague in the fourteenth century, people believed that cats were associates of Satan. So a law was passed that people were obliged to destroy cats. Eventually, somebody noticed that those people who defied the law and kept cats domestically were surviving the plague. Some rudimentary research was undertaken and it was discovered that cats protected people from the plague because the cats killed the rats which were spreading the disease. The law was repealed, and that was the end of the plague. (Julie’s simplified version!) It was also the end of that ‘paradigm’ — what we call a paradigm shift.

Without Galileo or Columbus challenging the paradigm in which they lived, we may very well still be thinking that the world is flat. Without Pasteur challenging others with his Germ Theory of Disease, we may never have learned about bacteria or viruses. At the moment, Western science is caught up in an evolutionary paradigm. Belief often lies behind a hypothesis. We need to be aware of that and, like Galileo, Columbus and the cat breeders during the Black Plague, we need to follow our convictions with an open mind, willing to learn and investigate, until truth wins through.

Christians recognise our Creator’s work in the beginning of the universe. But it’s probably wiser to leave the details to God, than to argue using our own limited logic or understanding.

If it’s not written in the Bible, let’s not pretend it is. Let’s become so familiar with what God’s word does say, that we don’t get caught up arguing about issues that may not matter in the long run, which cause wars between evolutionists and creationists – who might end up with more in common than they think.

Let’s not get caught up arguing about stuff that takes our focus off what God does want us to know. And let’s remember that it is up to us as Christians to love our neighbour as ourselves — regardless of each other’s beliefs.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran, 2011, March edition as

‘Where’s The Proof? in the ‘Heart and Home’ column, by Julie Hahn

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

Book review of  ‘In the beginning’ by Patricia White

By Jeckyl (Julie Hahn) on February 28, 2016

Verified Purchase

Confused about evolution vs creation? Patricia White’s explanation in ‘In The Beginning’ is simple but also eloquent. This small but informative book clarifies the similarities and nullifies the mythical chasm between creationists and evolutionists. It is concise but, through its use of scientific and biblical references, expands opportunity for intelligent discussion instead of misinformed debate . Highly recommended for children, their parents, and anyone interested in learning how science and faith can and do work together.

http://www.amazon.com/In-Beginning-Patricia-White/dp/0990611612

 

Why I Love Easter (and Les Mis)

‘I love Easter.’
‘Why’s that?’
‘Chocolate!’ he replied as he rubbed his hands together with glee.
‘Is that all?’
Then came the reply I guess I was seeking — though I would have preferred it to come without prompting.

‘It’s about Jesus coming back to life on Easter Sunday.’

‘Ah, yes! That’s the answer I wanted’, I thought to myself, patting myself on the back for having achieved such a good result.
Then I stopped to think about the memories of Easter we had in our home.

One of our sons was baptised on Easter Sunday. That was an exciting weekend, with friends staying overnight and a chocolate-egg hunt for seven children all over the house and garden. We were still finding chocolate eggs in concealed places up to 18 months later.

I remembered our family staying on a farm with my godmother and her husband for Easter when I was little. Their home still had a pump for water in the kitchen, and a pit-toilet, real pigs in a real pigsty — and a blackout while Mum was in the bath! You don’t forget an Easter like that in a hurry.

But I stopped to think about it a bit longer.

I thought about how Lent this year has almost become a non-event for our family. We frequently miss Ash Wednesday because of sporting-team commitments. And we haven’t been to many of the studies in the church on Wednesday evenings.

Yet years ago we were the ones throwing stones at other families when we had little ones and were always there — looking upon the failings of others with a sense of self-righteousness.
This week, I watched my two favourite Easter movies. Chocolat and  Les Misérables – the non-musical movie, starring Liam Neeson.

The movie is slow. It is long. But it’s compelling — so compelling that the first time I watched it, it got me out of bed at 4:30 in the morning to see the ending.

To tell a long story in a few words, and hopefully with no spoilers, the story is about a convict who makes good.

The main character Jean Valjean is a convict who, having been paroled after years of hard labour, turns up at a priest’s home. Valjean is fed and given a place to sleep. But in the middle of the night he steals some silver candlesticks from the priest’s home. Valjean flees but is soon caught by gendarmes who bring him back to the priest, expecting to have the priest charge Valjean with theft.

But instead, the priest demonstrates mercy and grace by telling the gendarmes that the candlesticks were a gift. The priest then admonishes Valjean that he had forgotten the rest of it, and gives him even more silver.

The story continues years later in a different town, where Valjean is living with a different identity. He has changed his life so much that the people of the town, not knowing about his past, elect him to be their mayor.

He is recognised by a gendarme (played by Geoffrey Rush) who had been a guard where Valjean was imprisoned. This gendarme makes it his life’s mission and obsession to destroy Valjean.

But Valjean responds in the same way that the priest responded to him — with love displayed through grace and mercy.

This movie wins five stars from me. Wow!

And why do I rate it so highly? It was breath-taking. Neeson and Rush are superb.

But, more significantly, it gives me the sense that I am observing the story of Easter, and it draws me into observing Lent.

I want so much to identify with the grace and mercy of Valjean and the priest. But more often than not, I find that I am probably more like the self-righteous gendarme — judging others by laws and expectations, by their past actions or by dumb things they still choose to do, instead of looking at them through eyes of love and forgiveness.

I find myself hating the gendarme; but I also recognise myself in him.

Like the movie Chocolat, Les Misérables is full of contrast: good versus evil, light versus darkness, love versus hate.

Both have vigilant law-abiding citizens using the law to clean up their societies. Both demonstrate that love is much more powerful than the law.

In both movies love triumphs — like at Easter.
Yet what do we read in our papers? Why do we lose our hope? What was the last ‘good news’ headline we read in the paper or watched on the television?

Apparently blood sells. So does evil. So does fear. And it sells only because we buy it. Funny that.

Why do we buy papers that tell us about terrible things? Is it because of our compassion, or our safety concerns? Or is it that we, too, become the self-righteous gendarmes and measure our own righteousness against the failures of others? Perhaps, having other people’s fallen lives and misdemeanours in print gives us an opportunity to forget about the logs in our own eyes.

I remember one particular Easter. I’d just had an altercation with a friend. I could not understand where she was coming from — until it hit me that she had never realised that Easter was for her. She reacted violently against Jesus’ words, ‘Don’t weep for me; weep for yourselves!’

Then the realisation hit me. My friend could not understand Easter because she’d never recognised her need for forgiveness: Surely nothing she’d ever done warranted anybody dying for her. She possibly remains convinced of that.

In contrast, I remember being with another friend who came to the realisation that it didn’t matter what she’d ever done, Christ’s death on the cross covered it all. Her response was pure joy — an absolute life-changing experience for her. (And for me, too, having only recently learnt a quick ‘formula’ for sharing the gospel, which was the instrument God used in that particular circumstance to bring a life to its fullest.)

Every Easter I come to a new realisation, a new reality. This year it is that the log in my eye is pretty darn big!

Thank God, though, that he uses the logs in our eyes, and our misdemeanours, to help us to realise that Easter is for us. For me! Jesus died for me! His love overcame the death prescribed for me. His love was, and is, triumphant over death.
And that is why I love Easter.

 

Originally published as ‘I love Easter (and Les Mis)’ in The Lutheran, 2009, April edition.

 

Holy Handbags: Christian as a brand-name

 

It was BIG! It was fancy and it was very, very expensive.

We wandered around with our mouths gaping wide at the opulence of the Opryland Hotel. The ceilings were so high we almost couldn’t see them. Birds flew around us and then flew upwards into the canopy of tropical rainforest palms. While private rooms and suites formed the perimeter of the hotel, inside, under the main roof, were streets and arcades. There were conference rooms among ballrooms, ice-cream parlours next to saloons, beauty boutiques among fashion shops, florists and toyshops.

As we passed by a conference room, we noticed the paraphernalia displayed by sales representatives in the lobby outside. We looked with interest, surprised by the variety of ‘Christian’ items available on the market: stickers, birthday cards, wall plaques and children’s Bibles complete with colouring pencils.

But as we continued to look, we recognised ‘normal’ things that were labelled with ‘Christian’ symbols or texts, with prices to rival any Nike or Billabong product. My imagination ran away with all sorts of other advertising gimmicks: ‘Holy Handbags’, ‘Heaven Scent!’, ’Perfume of Paradise’, ‘Jesus Jeans’.

My eyes opened a little further that day – and unfortunately I think I became quite cynical.

What is a ‘Christian handbag’ anyway?

Does it make me holier if I use a ruler with a cross printed on it, rather than one I bought from the local newsagency?

At which stage does a pencil become a ‘Christian’ pencil? Is it born again when it goes through the printing press?

Obviously, ‘Christian’ sells. We only have to remember Christmas sales and the consumption of chocolate in Australia at Easter.

But where is the boundary between ‘Christian’ as we followers of Christ would call ourselves and ‘Christian’ as a brand-name? Should we trust everything that is called ‘Christian’? Should we distrust everything that is not marketed as ‘Christian’? Should we trust that everything sold in a ‘Christian’ bookshop is good, and reject other products on that basis?

How do we figure out what is good and what is not? It’s called discernment. And where do we get it? Good question.

I was once told about the people whose job it is to identify fake American dollar notes from real notes. What are their instructions? Instead of knowing every type of fake note available, they are to become so familiar with the real notes that any slight variation from the truth is very obvious.

As Christians we have the truth available to us in the Bible. If we become so familiar with truth by knowing the Word and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to spot a phoney a mile off. That is discernment.

As Lutherans, we have the legacy of Luther’s Small Catechism which Luther wrote for parents to teach their children. An added bonus of the catechism is that it teaches us to ask continually: ‘What does this mean?’ It encourages us to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking until we have answers. Searching for answers helps us to find discernment.

We have a banquet of books and other resources available to us. Some are classics, some are fun. Some are religious, some are Christian… Some are rubbish.

Reading, to some of us, is an absolute joy. To some of us, writing, too, is a joy and a privilege. But nothing compares to the word of God in teaching truth.

No books – not even Christian books or bible concordances – should ever take the place of our study of the word of God.

Max Lucado points out that Christians too often rely on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture instead of reading it themselves; and that makes as much sense as eating what somebody else has already half-digested. In the same way, we miss out on discernment if we rely on others to pre-digest our knowledge.

Discernment cannot be passed on: we must grow it ourselves.

Don’t stop reading other books – but remember that God’s word is truth. How does the Christian book you are reading stand up against God’s word? Is it consistent with the Bible’s teachings, and does God’s love and grace shine through? Are the Scriptures that are quoted used ‘in context’?

John MacArthur from Grace Community Church once gave a sermon titled, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. MacArthur strung a collection of Bible verses together, completely out of context. It was the funniest sermon I have ever heard – but he made the point very effectively that words and verses from the Bible can easily be made to say what anybody wants them to say.

Discernment looks at any verse in the light of the whole of God’s truth.

There are plenty of things on the market and even in our churches these days that appeal to ‘good, Christian folk’, and being a Christian does not protect us from sales-pitches. Some marketers actually take advantage of the trusting nature of Christians!

There are some valid questions that may help us learn to be more discerning; before we read a book, get involved in a program, sign up for a new course, a new roof, a diet plan, sponsorship, cosmetics… anything that is sold in Jesus’ name:

  • Does it glorify God or itself?
  • Does it edify (build up) God’s church?
  • What does it cost, and who will benefit from the cost?
  • Where will the money go?
  • Is there any level of secrecy  i.e. do you have to be a member or make a purchase or commitment in order to find out what it’s about, and are you allowed to share or discuss it with others?
  • What kind of language is being used: Is it ‘sales’ talk; does it use big words that you may have heard of but don’t really understand?
  • What are the claims: Is this the ‘only’ way, the ‘best’, ‘God’s way’, the ‘newest’?
  • What is the response if you say, ‘I will need to go home and pray about it’?

Perhaps if something is advertised as ‘Christian’, it may be worthwhile to bring out your cynical stick. But better still…

‘Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won’t stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.‘ (Proverbs 3:21–24 WEB).

 

 

Originally published as ‘Holy Handbags’ in the Heart and Home column in The Lutheran, 2008, September Issue.  

www.thelutheran.com.au

Unusual Saturday: Perfect beginning

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The church site is busy with the annual fete. People from the church community, from the local area, even from interstate, meander through the stalls, devonshire teas, barbecues and treasures – still undiscovered.

 

The sanctuary, usually quiet, dark and still on a Saturday, is full of children, parents and leaders singing and dancing.

 

A man opens the only closed door on the premises. Slips through it. Glances at the people – the sanctuary that is full of life and laughter. He returns to the cold of outside where his wife and a baby cradled in her arms are waiting for him.

 

The door re-opens. Some-one goes out to greet him.

‘Can I help you?’

 

‘We are on our way home from the hospital.’ He beams as he introduces his wife and newborn son. ‘We want to give thanks to God. Could we use your church to pray?’

 

They are ushered in midst the noise, the singing, the dancing.

The altar is bustling with children and music.

 

But, in front of the garden, the crosses and open tomb are still in place after Easter.

 

And that is where the brand new father and mother unwrap their tiny son, place him on the ground and bow their heads.

 

New life, in the same place as we remember His death.

Sacrifice of thanks, midst the chaos.

Midst the noise, the singing, the dancing – perfect peace.

 

Perfect beginning.

 

Unusual Saturday.

The Should Depot

All I wanted was toothpaste!

Something to clean my family’s teeth and freshen our breath.

It should have been simple.

But at the local supermarket I was overwhelmed by the different sizes, shapes, colours and flavours; of the many varieties of toothpastes.
73! Yes! I counted them–much to the bemusement of the woman who was stacking the shelves.

Seventy- three different toothpastes to choose from, each with a perfectly valid reason why I should purchase that particular variety:

‘a whiteness you can see’,‘ice sensation’, ‘extra bright’, ‘stages for children’, ‘herbal’, ‘no added sugar’.
I am sure that advertising agencies play on the minds of shoppers by creating a special compartment in our heads: the ‘should’ depot.

Should I worry about too much fluoride, or too much artificial sweetener? Was it accidental that the denture tablets were at eye level, reminding me why I should buy certain brands of toothpaste?

Whether or not I was worried before I made my purchase, the ‘shoulds’ certainly got to me by the time I nervously passed my chosen variety to the checkout operator:

Would she notice my smile?

Did my breath smell like last night’s lasagne?

Should I have gone for the herbal blend?

 

Quite frankly, I’d like to ban the word ‘should’. 

If I listen to my head on days when I am particularly overwhelmed by life, there are a multitude of ‘shoulds’ that flood in and swamp me:

I should get up this morning and go for a walk. I should not eat that last piece of chocolate cake, but I shouldn’t let it go to waste. I should get outside and do the weeding. I should be more diligent with composting and recycling. I should use a timer for the shower. I should be a better parent.
 I should …
I’m not sure when it crept into our vocabulary so prolifically, but I think ‘should’ has become one of Satan’s sneaky but effective ways of creating false guilt and unnecessary anxiety in us.

After all, what am I really saying when I say ‘I should …’?

Am I saying, I feel guilty because there is so much to be done?

Or am I imposing guilt on others, because, even if I didn’t do something, if I thought I should have, I have gone one better than someone who had not even thought they should have?

If I take on the guilt for what I should have done, does that absolve me?

There almost seems to be a hierarchy of holinesses associated with ‘shoulds’. If Monty Python were to perform a skit about ‘should’, I imagine it would go something like:

Guilty Person (GP) 1: ‘I should have taken a meal around to the family who was struggling.’
Guilty Person (GP) 2: ‘You think that’s bad! I should have spent time with the person with cancer and I should have given to the charity, whose blind representative was at the door of the supermarket.’
GP 1: ‘Luxury! I should have offered to babysit for the family with 23 children, served at the local soup kitchen eight days a week, mown the lawn for all the elderly folk down the street, assisted the frail woman across the road, hemmed all the trousers in the local Goodwill …’
GP 2: ‘And if we told the younger generation of today what we should have done, they’d never believe us!’

‘Should’ does not motivate us, encourage us or equip us. It confuses us, tempts us and lessens our effectiveness.

‘Should’ uses energy we don’t have in order to worry about things we probably won’t do anyway.

We spend more time worrying about what we think we ‘should’ be doing than on doing what really needs to be done, what we are capable of, or what there is actually to be done after all.
What would happen if we used the energy we waste on ‘shoulds’, for the ‘Coulds’ and ‘Let’s’ and ‘Why don’t we?’

Just thinking about the possibilities makes me smile.

It opens up a rainbow of opportunities: our minds to the creativity that freedom brings; our hearts to the warmth of really understanding what we were created to do; our hands to the doing; and our voices to singing God’s praises so that everything we do or think about actually glorifies God.

Imagine a world in which we replace worry about what we ‘should’ do with a prayer to the creator of our days, followed by a desire to do his will.

Imagine a world in which we leave the ‘shoulds’ of today’s society behind us and take up ‘We can!’ as our catch-cry.

The late missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot once included the following words in her radio program Gateway to Joy: ‘I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and he will enable me to do it!’

Life might look less depressing and more achievable if, instead of being ‘burdened again by the yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1) of the ‘shoulds’, we replaced ‘should’ with ‘can’.

If we are parents, we ‘can’ get on with cleaning up after the 19th spill for the day, and play with our kids once it’s done.

Or we ‘can’ sit and listen to our teens as they tell us about their horrible day.

If we are students, we ‘can’ study diligently to equip ourselves with the knowledge we will need to apply later.

If we are employees, we ‘can’ work conscientiously for our employer.

If we are employers, we ‘can’ assign tasks fairly and reward appropriately for effort.

If we are leaders, we ‘can’ serve those we lead.

If we are senior citizens, we ‘can’ share our lives with those who don’t yet have our experience.

Let’s spend our energy on what we ‘can’ do.

No ‘shoulds’ about it!

 

Originally published as:

‘Canning the Shoulds’, in The Lutheran, October edition, 2008.

The Disciple in Discipline

 

‘We think it’s time that we start to discipline Tommy’, the mother of a toddler told me.

I’d been enjoying watching Tommy play: pushing cars around after each other, over mountains and tracks, running into traffic obstacles and finding alternative ways of getting around them. Every now and then Tommy would look up and give his mum a very cute, cheesy grin, which his mum would return. Tommy would then continue with his very serious work of play — complete with the obligatory ‘brmmm…brmmm’.

‘What do you mean by discipline?’ I asked Tommy’s mum.

I thought back to several months before when I was presenting a six-week course. The fourth session is about ‘discipline’. For as long as I’ve been presenting this course, I’ve been intrigued that formerly absent dads appear out of the blue for this particular session. This course proved to be no exception.

On this particular night,  I felt reasonably confident that most of the parents were Christian. So I began with a big, empty whiteboard and wrote the word ‘discipline’ at the top.

‘What do you think of when you see this word?’ I asked.

Very quickly the whiteboard was covered with words: time-out, thinking time, spanking, distraction, self-discipline, self-control, naughty corner, removal of privileges, punishment, consequences, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’, control … you get the picture.

I’m sure the list could have continued, but the space on the whiteboard didn’t. It was fairly obvious that we each had our own ideas about discipline.

I then crossed off the ‘ine’ from the end of ‘discipline’ and replaced it with an ‘e’. ‘Disciple.’

‘Does anybody recognise this word?’ I asked and I watched the faces change as I continued.

‘We know that Jesus had disciples. Let’s have another look at our list and decide which of these words describe how Jesus ‘disciplined’ his ‘disciples’.

Together we crossed off three-quarters of the words on the whiteboard.

With my own energetic and inquisitive children, I really struggled with discipline. People told me that my particularly ‘enterprising’ child needed a good dose of medication. That child certainly copped a fair degree of the only thing I knew then — a ‘good spanking’. But all that achieved was to rob that particular child of a sense of adventure and creativity.

Eventually, having heard a lot from authoritarian, hands-off ‘experts’, and feeling like a failure, I sat down in a library with my Bible, alongside a Hebrew and Greek Bible with translation, and searched every reference to discipline I could find.What did I learn? That discipline means ‘to train’ and that a ‘disciple’ is a follower who follows a leader — the ‘disciplin-er’.

When I saw discipline through Christ’s example, I saw a demonstration of love through patient leading, through example, through instruction, story-telling and the use of analogies, as well as through pre-empting and warning of what to expect. When I looked at discipline as what Christ did with his disciples, I saw that it was not punishment or retribution. Even though he had all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus did not use discipline as a form of power or control.

So my approach to discipline changed.

I realised that I had treated discipline as a reaction to my kids’ actions, and, mostly, the kids were getting into trouble because they’d do things I didn’t expect or want them to do. There was a lot of ‘don’t’ without instructing what to ‘do’. With a fair bit of practice, we were able to turn it around.

Discipline became proactive rather than reactive. It meant that we would try to stay ahead of the kids — to plan that our days would begin and end in a more predictable fashion.

Our kids responded really well to being told what to expect each day, or every moment.

For example, we told them: ‘Today is Monday. You need to get dressed, and have breakfast and then we’ll take you to pre-school. We’ll come to get you after pre-school, and then we’ll have lunch and a rest and then we’ll go to the zoo for a little while.’

Then, having given them a virtual map of the day, we would navigate them through it according to their age.

Our five-year-old could manage all that information, while our three-year-old needed step-by-step information, and our baby needed to be taken through it all.

We used charts so that they (and their mother) could have visual prompts for routines such as getting dressed and going to bed. The children knew what to expect and what was expected of them.

Life became more ordered and therefore predictable, as did our children’s behaviour.

When the lives of our children turned upside-down when we moved from the USA back to Australia, the reminder charts and routines were portable and offered reassurance that not everything in life had changed.

We also needed to appreciate our kids’ individual differences.

For example, being aware that each of them would dawdle at a different stage in the morning, we used that to our advantage. We used breakfast as the motivation to ‘hurry up and get dressed’ for the child who took ages to dress but loved breakfast. We made the child who took great pride in personal appearance eat first because of the tendency to dawdle at breakfast.

We smiled more and said ‘Yes!’ much more often.

Since then I’ve also learnt to say, ‘Yes, when you have …’

For example, when our ten-year-old asks to use the computer, our response might be, ‘Yes, when you’ve finished your homework and taken out the rubbish’. It gives positive instruction, gets the job done, and everybody wins.

The Parenting Place in New Zealand uses the motto: ‘If a kid feels right, they act right’. If children can go confidently into a situation, knowing what to expect and what is expected of them, they are more likely to act right. If they are confident that they are loved unconditionally, they are likely to follow instructions and return to the safe base of their parents’ arms in between adventures.

Did Jesus’ disciples always do as they were told? Did they always understand what Jesus told them? Did Christ punish them when they got it wrong? A look from him was all they needed.

Parents have the perfect example of discipline from Jesus, and the incredible, humbling opportunity to look into the eyes of our children to see the reflection of our example to them.

 

Originally published as:

‘The disciple in discipline’ in The Lutheran, February 2010 Vol44 No1 P32-33