Category Archives: Family

Giving Back to God

“Gratitude in response to Grace makes us gracious.” — The Rt. Rev. David Reed

The Rt. Rev. David Reed, Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of West Texas, preached at Grace Church last Sunday. He reminded us that stewardship is not just about money. Stewardship involves everything we do because in its essence, stewardship is simply how we respond to God.

It’s not that we give as stewards (though we do). It’s that we live as stewards. Using all that God has placed before us, we live out our response to God’s goodness by giving back.

We don’t give because we have to, or we should, or so God will like us better. Believe me, God likes us plenty. We give in thanksgiving for what God has already given us. And it’s not just about money. Never has been. Stewardship includes money, but it is so much more than just dollars and cents. We respond to God’s grace with our time, our skills, our experience, our gifts, our relational ability, our energy and our resources.

The question for us as stewards of God’s Grace is not how much money should I give to the Church. The question is how do I live in response to God’s Grace?

God has given me a wife and children, an income and a home, skills in writing and speaking, a love of football and learning, the challenge of church planting and a freedom from sin I never thought I would live to see. How do I give back to God from all that God has given me? How could I?

Relationally, I give back to God through the love, time and attention I give to the people closest to me. I’m not a perfect husband, father or friend, by any means. But how do I love those God has placed in my life? I can view them either as gift or burden, as obligation or opportunity. When I wake up at 6:00 am to stand in the rain with my daughter at the bus stop, do I curse the early morning hour or give thanks that my daughter still wants to hold my hand? When I am intentionally thankful for those in my life, I am able to see past the daily struggles and discomfort. Thank you, God, for my wife who sometimes drives me crazy. She is my partner and my best friend. Thank you, God, for my children. They are the most difficult blessings in my life.

I give back to God from the resources He has given me when I share those resources with others. In our family, we do this in three main ways. First, we give money to our Church. There is no clearer or simpler way to thank God than to lower the balance in your checking account. Second, we open our home to our Church, our family and our friends. Even though I am an introvert by nature, my wife has taught me the value of the gift of hospitality. Nobody sees us clean the house, but we usually have a clean home to welcome people into. That is a gift we give. Third, we strive to live generously. Not extravagantly, but generously. We always tip 20%. If the PTA asks for a donation of $10-20, we give $20. When kids come to the door selling cookies, we always buy some. This is not something to brag about, it’s simply a practice of generosity.

I give back my love of words by writing and speaking. I give back my love of football by coaching my son’s team. I give back my love of learning by teaching. I give back the gift of my priesthood by pouring all that I am into church planting. I give back the Grace I have received by sharing Grace with others.

God tells us we are forgiven as we forgive others (see Lord’s Prayer, Mt 6:12 or Lk 11:4). Yet I have found it is only in being forgiven that I am able to forgive others. The forgiveness God gives me, I can give to others. The mercy God shows me, I can show to others. The love God pours over me, I can pour into others. God does not call us into relationship with Him merely for our own sake. God blesses us that we might be a blessing to those He places on our path. This is how we give back. This is stewardship.


Pauline Method of Household Sin Reduction

* See bottom for Author’s Note on “Pauline”

The Pauline Method for Household Sin Reduction begins with one basic fact, one simple observation and three key truths.

The basic fact is we are all sinners. All of us. Each of us. Every single last one of us. Doesn’t matter if you agree or not, doesn’t matter if you see it or not, doesn’t matter if you even believe in the idea of sin or not. You’re still a sinner. Think of it this way, being a sinner is less about being wrong than it is about being not quite. As in, not quite there. Sin is better understood as missing the mark or not quite reaching the goal. Sin is falling short. So our reality is that we all fall short. We don’t quite make it to who and what God calls and created us to be.

But think about this. If we all fall short, if we are all sinners, then we are surrounded by sinners all the time, every day. You see, you are not the problem. It’s them. They are the problem. All those sinners. Crowding ’round you at work and school and the ball field. Cutting you off in traffic. Taking 12 items into the 10 item only grocery line. There are sinners everywhere! But wait, it gets worse. You’re surrounded not only by those sinners out there, but by those sinners right here. Look around you. There are sinners – IN – YOUR – HOME! Yes. Your house is filled with sinners. Look at their beady, shifty little eyes. You can almost see the sinful thoughts rolling around in their sinful little heads. Upstairs. Downstairs. Not taking out the trash. Sassing their mom. Sinners! If you’re married, you even share a bed with one.

Thankfully, we have the Pauline Method for Household Sin Reduction.

There are three keys to the PMHSR. When utilized properly, they are 100% guaranteed to lower the number of sinners in your household. These keys are also legal and environmentally friendly. The keys to the PMHSR are safe, simple and effective.

Key 1 – YOU CAN ONLY GET RID OF ONE SINNER AT A TIME

You can’t get much safer than focusing on one task at a time. You don’t try to clean the whole house at once. You start in one room.

Key 2 – YOU DECIDE

How simple is that? You get to choose which sinner to get rid of first. That’s right. Pick one. Any one. You can start small, or go big. The choice is yours.

Key 3 – YOU HAVE TO START WITH YOU

That’s right. You can choose any sinner you want to get rid of, as long as you choose yourself first. I said it was simple, not easy. And there is no more effective means for the treatment of sin in your home than dealing with the only sinner you can really get your hands around. You.

When you accept as true the reality that you are not quite, then you create room for grace and mercy and forgiveness.

When you live in grace and mercy and forgiveness, you are changed. This change in you elicits change in others. They don’t change. Your perspective of them changes. Your side of the relationship changes. Their experience of you changes. Imagine if you meet hostility with patience, failure with grace, less than with more than. Picture your response to those sinners being peace instead of frustration, acceptance instead of judgement, joy instead of anger. Think that would affect the amount of sinfulness in your home? Of course it would. And you will have the Pauline Method of Household Sin Reduction to thank. Well, that, or Jesus.

* Author’s Note – It’s “Pauline” the adjectival form of the name “Paul”, not Pauline like a woman’s name. I know, it sounds pretty scholarly and impressive. I encourage you to use it in random conversations with your friends so they will think you are smarter than you actually are. That’s what I do.

 


You Can Buy Happiness

“When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” — Desiderius Erasmus

What if you can buy happiness?

I know, I know. Those sage philosophers Lennon and McCartney tell us otherwise.

“For I don’t care too much for money
  For money can’t buy me love
Can’t buy me love
Everybody tells me so
Can’t buy me love
No, no, no, no” *

You can’t buy love. You can’t buy friends. You can’t buy happiness. We hear this time and again.

But here’s the simple reality. When I go to a bookstore and buy a new book I am happy. I am happy. I love books.     Books are my favorite things. I would rather spend money on books than food. Buying a new book makes me happy.

For a while.

You see, the half-life on store-bought happiness lasts only as long as the thing is new.

The half-life of store-bought happiness is short. Because once I’ve finished the book, I’m not happy anymore. In fact, if it’s not a very good book I can even lose my happiness while I’m still reading it. Because then I feel like I’ve wasted money on this book when I could have bought something else.

So the reality is that money can buy happiness. It simply can’t buy happiness for long.

You see, happiness is not a thing in and of itself.

Happiness is a by-product of something else.

Happiness is always a by-product and only a by-product.

If you go searching for happiness, you will never, ever find it.

It doesn’t exist in the wild.

Way back in the 90’s, I asked my friend and mentor Clark “Big Daddy” Niles this question, “What is the biggest difference in youth ministry from when you started to today?” He paused and thought and scratched his head, then replied, “The biggest difference I see is that twenty years ago parents wanted their children to be good. Today parents only want their kids to be happy.”

Of course, the damned part is that trying to make your kids happy only insures that you won’t. At least, not for long.

If you make your kids good, if you teach them to be good people, to discover who God made them to be and to revel in that then they will find happiness. Probably not right away. And certainly not always. But eventually. And often.

Our Declaration of Independence tells us that we have the freedom to pursue happiness. Not that we have the right to always be happy.

Happiness is a by-product of being who God made us to be. That is where our deepest joy comes from. Because that is where we most strongly connect with our Creator. That is the place where we live out our redemption, where the cross comes alive in us. That is where we find happiness.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” – The Declaration of Independence

 

 

* Can’t Buy Me Love Lyrics by The Beatles are the property of the respective authors, artists and labels, Can’t Buy Me Love Lyrics by The Beatles are provided for educational purposes only. If you like the song, please buy relative CD.


Jesus with Dirty Knees

Vaccinating a dog in the front yard

The thing that bothers me most about poverty is not the poverty itself. It’s not the unsanitary living conditions. It’s not the appalling lack of privacy. It’s not even the greed and corruption of those in power which so often creates and always contributes to poverty. It’s not the schools with no books, or desks, or indoor plumbing. It’s not the dirt roads and lack of electricity. It’s not even the kids, God bless ’em (No. Seriously. God, please bless them. Oh, wait, maybe you already have…). No, the thing about poverty that bugs me, that drives me crazy, that absolutely kills me is the simple fact that I’m getting used to it.

I’ve been to Honduras four times now. While it’s not the worst poverty in the world, it is the most poverty I’ve seen personally. And I’ve seen plenty of poverty — from the South side of San Antonio, to the Appalachian mountains in Tennessee, to the inner city of Washington, D.C. to a Yaqui Indian Reservation in Arizona. Moscow and Juarez and Agua Dulcita. White people and brown people and black people. No roads. No electricity. No plumbing. No medical care. No shoes. No food. No hope.

I’ve seen enough that my heart has begun to harden, if only to protect itself, like a callous on the hands of a worker. The first time I encountered such poverty, I gave away all the money in my wallet. But eventually I stopped carrying cash. It used to make me sick. Then it made me sad. Then it left me angry. Now it just leaves me. And that’s what scares me. At what point do we see so much that we stop seeing anything?

Have you ever noticed how dirty poor kids are? Seems like they’re always filthy. Grubby hands. Muddy clothes. Snotty noses and dirty faces. Like a Flannery O’Conner character might have said, “Just because you’re poor don’t mean you have to be trash.” Everywhere I looked in the little mountain villages of central Honduras I saw dirty children. Even the clean kids seemed on the verge of getting dirty, as though the washing could only last so long. I have three kids of my own. They get pretty dirty. But they are basically clean. Clean kids who often get dirty. These are dirty kids who sometimes get clean.

I used to wonder about that. Then I simply accepted it. These people have dirty kids. You see, I stopped seeing kids and started seeing statistics. Poverty equals dirty children. But in Honduras, like Saul on the road to Aqua Dulcita, the Lord opened my eyes.

I watched a mom ripping laundry off the line before a swift moving thunderstorm could break. She was yanking clothes off as fast as her hands would move. And it hit me. She just worked her ass off to get those clothes clean. She hung them up to dry so her family would have clean clothes to wear tomorrow. If this storm caught them still on the line, all that work would we wasted.

I saw a little girl, maybe six years old, barefoot, carrying two gallon bottles of water up a mountain road. While leading her two-year-old little sister by the hand. They were both coated with road dust. They looked like rugs you wanted to beat with a broom. Trekking up the roadside. Big sister carrying the water with over her shoulders so she could hold little sisters hand. Their feet were filthy, of course. But even their knees were dirty.

You see, one of the truths about poverty is the presence of dirt. Not dirty. Just good old dirt. The people in the Honduran mountains live in an antiquated, agrarian society. They farm. They raise livestock. They walk. Not for exercise but for transportation. They farm in the dirt, often tilling and digging and planting by hand. Their animals live in this same dirt. Most of their homes have dirt floors. The floors are dirt, the yards are dirt, the roads are dirt. Have you ever stood on the side of a dirt road when a truck passes? Have you ever been in the third car in line driving down a dirt road?

Add in the fact that almost none of them have running water. Maybe some rich land owners. But that’s about it. So just getting fresh water (never mind how dirty it is) takes hours of work. Hike to the source. Fill the bottles, jugs, jars. Hike back. Don’t rinse. Just repeat. And when you live in the mountains, half the trip is always uphill. You know how heavy water is? Then if you want hot water you have to start a fire to heat it. Or set it outside in the sun for a few hours, praying no trucks drive by, and the dogs don’t drink it, and the kids don’t spill it.

So let me ask you. How clean would your kids be?

Yeah, I know. Mine, too.

The thing about poverty is that we frame it in terms of money. Which only shows how little we understand the problem. When you don’t have any money, you’re not poor. You’re broke. Broke is about money. Broke is about cash flow, money in the bank, change in your pocket. You can have a million dollars in land and be broke. We’ve all been broke at some point. But few of us have been poor. Poor is not about money. Poor is about options.

If you have no money, but can get some from friends, or family, or church or even the government, then you’re not poor. You’re broke.

If you don’t have the job you want, but you can get a job, some job, any job, then you’re not poor. You’re broke.

If you have an education, can get a roof over your head if you want one, have others who can help you out. You’re not poor. You’re broke.

But if your knees are dirty, and you have no hope of keeping them clean, well, then…

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’ — Matthew 25:44-45 (Message)


Emily’s Famil

I was in Honduras on a mission trip last week. I was only gone for six days. But six days can seem like an eternity to a six-year-old. And my six-year-old was missing her Daddy something fierce.

self-portrait of a future world leader

To alleviate some of the tearfulness, my wife threw out a sure-win idea. At least usually it’s a sure-win. “Y’all get your jammies on and we can all snuggle on the couch and watch America’s Got Talent.” Don’t be a hater. Your family probably watches something just as bad. It’s one of our family shows. We record it, saving it for when we have the time to watch all together, turn off the lights, pop some popcorn and enjoy. We love us some Nick Cannon.

Even while the big kids cheered, Momma knew this was not going to go over well. Little Emily crossed her arms, pushed out her bottom lip and boldly stated, “NO.” Now, in our house we don’t call this impertinence. We call this strong leadership skills.

Being the consummate persuader she is (never lost an argument in 18 years, at least not to me), my wife sat her down to talk.

“Sweetie. I know you’re sad that Daddy’s not here. But we recorded the show and he can watch it when he comes home.”

“NO.” Not backtalk. Strong negotiation.

“Well then, when Daddy comes home we can all watch it again together.”

“NO.” Stands her ground in the face of opposition.

“Daddy would want us to have family time.”

At which point Emily burst into fresh buckets of tears. “It’s our family show. We can’t have family time without Daddy.” She re-states her position.

“Oh baby, we can still have family time. We’re still a family.”

“No, Mommy. Daddy’s not here. We’re not a family. We’re just a famil.”

How’s that for vision casting?

Just a famil.

And just like that our genius / entrepreneur / future TIME magazine Person of the Year changed the game*. Like any great leader, she changed the game by re-defining the terms. Which is exactly what we’re trying to do in our Grace community. Re-define. Re-think. Re-imagine. Create a new and different way of being the Church.

Then maybe “church” won’t mean “a place people go” or “something people do on Sunday morning”. Maybe “church” will no longer be synonymous with “boring” and “judgmental” and “greedy”. Maybe, just maybe, with the help of the Holy Spirit and six-year-olds we can begin to re-capture some of the original essence of the word. And Church will truly become a family, living out our faith together.

Instead of just a famil.

* Please note I said “changed the game” not “won the game”. The little one may be Speaker of the House, but Momma still holds veto power.


%d bloggers like this: