Hope in Struggles

This developing character process can exhaust us in the daily grind. How many times do parents repeat instructions about saying “please” and “thank you”? Don’t try to keep track, even for a day. Just do it because that’s what a trainer does! 

With the recent Olympics in Rio, haven’t we watched the grueling preparations athletes endure to gain the right to be there? Many train years to compete in races that last a matter of minutes. 

In contrast, we are being trained by the Lord and are charged with sharing that training with future generations (Psalm 78).

“Do you not know that in a race, all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we, an imperishable.” I Cor. 9:24-5 ESV

Almost 40 years ago, a friend and I chatted after having dropped off our boys at pre-school. In frustration she asked me,”Why must I teach my children the right thing to do over and over again, but my parents can walk into the house, drop an empty beer bottle into the trash one time, and my child immediately walks over to drain the dregs? My husband and I don’t even drink!” 

I could offer only one thought then: after Eden, people went toward evil. In an attempt to curb evil, the priestly laws taught that merely touching anything(one) deemed unclean required a cleansing process. See Leviticus 14 for examples. Touching once defiled. 

In contrast, though God led Israel through the wilderness with repeated miracles, the book of Exodus described His people as “stiff-necked.” Follow the book of Judges to see that humans are easily drawn away from a good God despite His repeatedly bailing us out! Follow Judges’ pattern: We fall away, He allows us to suffer consequences, we return to the Lord, He shows mercy.

So, where’s the hope, the prize that keeps us in training and keeps us teaching future generations? Jude, the one-chapter book written by Jesus’ half brother, highlights divine encouragement. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” Jude 20-21. The Light of the World offers us new mercies each morning that we may fight the good fight. Do not grow weary.

Picking Fruit or Digging Root

The stone cherry tree in my overgrown garden doesn’t produce edible fruit, but picking any fruit is far easier than digging root. So we pull a few weeds and do minimal pruning. Too time consuming!

And in the area of character, don’t I take the same shortcuts? I will sometimes pick off a behavior, only to have it quickly grow back,  when I really need to dig out the root cause. I have experienced this personally and in parenting. Sigh.
“Stop that! Stop that right now,” commands the exasperated parent of the children picking on, teasing, or otherwise working to make the others dissolve into tears or sulk in embarrassment. Silence, albeit brief, reigns. 

Fruit picked. Check! But the short lived peace among the kiddos testifies to the repeated need for parental fruit picking. Again and again. We quickly utter a percussive reprimand and consider the job done. Make no mistake: parenting requires much picking off of undesirable fruit.

But what if we asked, “How are you being a peacemaker?” and actually took the time to wait for an answer from each child involved. This question illustrates digging the root. And, yes, it takes much more time. But when we dig out and either discard, as in poison ivy, or replant, as in these irises, we begin to see character changes.

What if God simply thundered from the heavens, “Stop that!” He did that with the Law, but now, in mercy, He most often chooses to show us Grace by digging at roots that strangle our growth. 

May we take the time today as the Lord works at digging roots rather than our merely picking fruits of behavior.

Pruning for Growth

Before we left home in mid July, this pot held beautiful marigolds. I placed it in a sunny spot where it received ample rain, but not the attention of dead heading or pruning. Yesterday I pulled out dead flowers by the root. While not tragic in this case, failure to prune in people has far more serious consequences.
                 Today’s pruning shears are shorter than illustrations of biblical pruning hooks (mentioned in Isaiah, Micah, and Joel), but both cut back what is not desired or what is no longer growing. 
On a lighter note… Even the beloved Barney Fife repeatedly advised Sheriff Andy to deal quickly with problem behaviors by nipping them in the bud.
Probably our most painful, difficult pruning occurs in the area of self-centeredness. Funny, but that word auto corrects to self-centered mess! Sure enough, when left to our own devices, we expect the world to revolve around us. 

This summer, Gran Davenport and I took one step to move us and two of our grands to look more to the needs of others. As part of her church’s local outreach, we met at church, decorated cards for those in local assisted living facilities, had a short devotional, and then delivered the cards and visited with one lady Gran knows.

My favorite parts of the morning revolved around the Bible verse one independently chose to write in her card, the rainbow and flowers another drew for a lady who doesn’t get outside, and the questions we grandmothers answered as we walked into the facility. After introductions and a bit of looking, the 6 and 9-year-olds engaged in conversation with a former artist, a woman they did not know.

Not a huge deal, but we all stepped outside our comfort zones for two hours that morning. No baking cookies, sipping coffee on the porch, swimming with friends, or playing Shopkins. But the Lord pruned one small branch of our “self-centered mess.” 

Growing Disciples

Each year’s family vacation begins with a Sam’s Club stop for the week’s provisions! The gathering of generations reminds me of more than physical growth; disciples are developing. Parents investing long days now will soon relinquish their children. In a nanosecond, the dog days of summer child rearing give way to the autumn winds of young adults leaving. Diapers give way to diplomas; long days morph into short years.

Growing disciples is the call to parents through these precious days. Yes, you buy groceries, wash and fold mountains of laundry, pursue a career, volunteer, work out, spend hours in your van, help with homework, and give your children varied experiences. But Psalm 78 clearly instructs you to teach your children the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord. But when and how?

Use opportunities to engage with your children, and be aware of your interactions with others. I believe I first heard Tedd Tripp say, “More is caught than is taught.” 

When our older son was about 10, he looked from his bedroom door into ours and said, “Are you and dad getting a divorce?”
Shocked, I replied, “No! Whatever made you think that?”

“Well, you and dad haven’t been talking as much to each other lately,” was his explanation. 

I stopped mid hair brushing, missed a scheduled meeting, and discovered in our off-and-on conversation that afternoon, that two of his classmates had parents who were divorcing. And Dave and I, amid our hectic work schedules, were merely swapping calendar details in passing. We both talked to our son, offering the Bible’s perameters for marriage and our assurances of love for each other, him and his brother. 

More important than any schedule is your role in making disciples. Will the timing be ideal? Probably not. Almost 40 years ago USNA professor, Sam Elder,  told us of a call from his oldest daughter at 2 am her first year in college. She wanted to understand a viewpoint very different from hers; she wanted her father’s wisdom. “Rarely will the time be convenient,” said Sam, “but respond when they ask.”

You will undoubtedly miss some of those golden times; I certainly did!

 But what a high calling we have to grow disciples, to plant them in the rich soil of scripture, to ask their forgiveness when we need it, to insist they share, to encourage them to live for something bigger than themselves. It is a privilege and not a burden, even if today seems overwhelming. And if today discourages you, may you look to the One whose mercies are new every morning.

Knowledge and Wisdom

When I want to think deeply, ponder a problem, or grasp a truth, I choose to watch a sunset. So recently, prayerfully, I  wondered where education will take my grandchildren. With the obsessive testing that requires facts, and the sociopolitical agendas that dictate curriculum, will my ‘grands’ grasp the difference between knowledge and wisdom? 

It’s one thing to know genus and species or what cross breeding yields Asiatic lily colors: it’s quite another to contemplate the wisdom that creates and sustains such beauty.

I taught many of my former students to grapple with the ideas William Cowper expressed in his 1700s poem, “The Difference Between Knowledge and Wisdom.”

Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,

Have ofttimes no connection. Knowledge dwells 

In heads replete with thoughts of other men;

Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.

Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass,

The mere materials, with which wisdom builds,

Till smoothed and squared and filled to its place,

Does not encumber whom it seems to enrich.

Knowledge is proud, that he has learned so much;

Wisdom is humble, that he knows no more.

As we drive home today, I choose, once again,  to meditate on Cowper’s  poem, especially the tension between pride and  humility. And I hope you will stir your own ideas about knowledge and wisdom. It truly matters.

Trivial Pursuits

As schools open around the country, this retired teacher has questions about some of the changes occurring in curriculum. Are schools still approaching the sequential learning of a given topic from basic facts to thoughtful reading, processing, discussing and writing? Or do random tidbits look more like Trivial Pursuit?

I recently had lunch with a veteran math teacher. She described Math 1,2, 3, and 4 as the course offerings at her high school. I said, “Is Math 1 really algebra, Math 2 really geometry, etc.?” 

“Not exactly,” came the reply. It turns out that students get short units in algebra, geometry and “math principles” in each of the 4 math years. Thus, we cannot assume a student showing 4 math credits during high school gets through calculus! 

Pupils have what I now call “sound bite”math. I used to refer to this kind of education as Swiss cheese learning; it leaves a lot of holes in a student’s knowledge of any given subject! Grab a factoid, YouTube video, or movie quote, and you become an authority, gaining the laughter and admiration of others. 
As a follower of Christ, I usually thought that math and science showed their hand as far as their world view. Darwin identified himself clearly; you could have discussion,  debate, seek information and form a thesis.

In the fields of English and the social sciences, however, Eden’s deceiver slithers through the classroom with much greater stealth. Let’s consider AP Human Geography. Depending on the world view of the instructor, a student can receive an agenda rather than an education. Socialism might suggest redistribution of wealth and resources, making American students embarrassed and guilt-ridden.

 Shake the system, indeed!

After completing the course, I might correctly answer, “The dingo is a free range dog found mainly in what country?” (Australia) 
I also might draw a map of the USA through the eyes/mind of a New Yorker, as seen in this humorous image. 

 Somehow, I always viewed education as more than a trivial pursuit… sigh…

Be a Learner

As of today, our three granddaughters are all back in school, but I’m not thinking about their academic endeavors. Instead, I’m meditating on the world’s call for virtually everyone to be a leader. How about all of us being learners?

My granddaughter learned some basics about scrapbooking because she listened to instructions and then added her own personal touches to the pages.
French physiologist Claude Bernard (1813-1878) wrote, “It’s what we think we know that keeps us from learning.”

Not all lead. It’s that simple.

Years ago, a colleague had a poster on his wall that offered this truth about leadership: IF NO ONE FOLLOWS YOU, YOU’RE JUST OUT FOR A WALK.

Some people lead anonymously by wearing a costume; many simply like giving orders; a few serve selflessly in stated leadership roles. St
But all can be learners! Whether gaining insights into computers, learning square dancing calls, traveling, reading, apprenticing or formal training and education, why don’t we encourage children and adults more toward learning than leading?

Mentors naturally share what they have some knowledge of to those who wish to learn. Let’s seek to make this year one with a greater emphasis on learning than on leading. The rewards go from one generation to the next!