A Prodigal Culture



noun: zeitgeist

the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.

(I love this word and have always wanted to actually use it in a sentence.)

The hardest period of history to understand is the one you are living through. That is why C. S. Lewis recommended that we read old books. Old books meaning classical books that have stood the test of time. The reason is they help you see things about your own culture and the prevailing ideas that A.) aren’t new or  B.) aren’t as solid a truth as the culture wants you to think.

It goes without saying that we are living in some crazy times as Christians in America. We are seeing the moral landscape change right before our very eyes.  Now you can read all kinds of books by social scientist, theologians, social psychologist  and historians (side note: am I the only one that can’t spell psychologist.  I start with “p”, hit the “y” button, most of the time throw in an “h”, and pray spell checker can decipher my effort) to help gain a perspective on what exactly might be going on in the minds and hearts of people today, but you’re busy and in the immortal words of Kimberly Wilkins, aka Sweet Brown,

So how do we wrap our minds around what we seeing going on in our schools, communities, government, and the culture at large?  One thing I always try to do is find one analogy or metaphor to help me hang my hat on. It helps me quickly center my thinking and gives me a starting point.  You could say, “people are just crazy” and yes, maybe that would be right in some sense, but it doesn’t give you a way to understand people or culture so that you can engage them more effectively. So I want to give you two of those analogies (one now and one at a later time) that have been hugely helpful to me as I think through the zeitgeist of American culture today.

The first, if you are following along at home, you can probably guess from the title of the post where the first analogy comes from.  The Prodigal Son is a well known parable found in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15.  It is so well known that most people outside the church have probably heard it at sometime as well.

Summary: Rich kid, demands from his father his portion of the inheritance, takes all his money and goes away, squanders it on “extravagant living”, famine, money runs out, works with pigs, starving, wants to eat what pigs eat, comes to senses, home, father running, extravagant love by father, celebration, and brooding older brother.  You remember right? This is also the formula for half of all early country songs before 1990’s pop country came along.

Now imagine that the Father equals the Judeo/Christian ethic that this country was founded on. (Listen, no analogies are complete.  I am also not saying that this is what Jesus meant when He told this parable.  I am just applying some general lessons from the parable.  This is not the meaning of this story in the Bible.  Jesus wasn’t thinking about America when he told this story.  I know that.  I know.  I am painting and my brush is broad.)

Prodigal Son equals our current culture. 

See what we have done as a collective culture, a Prodigal culture, is to say sarcastically,

“Thank you Dad for all your rules, and morals, and gender pronouns.  I really appreciate the way you were able to use morals to help constrain evil in the world and make us really rich as a society and culture. That whole capitalism thing seemed to work really well when we were guarded and guided by a sense of community and restraint.  That whole checks and balances thing in government, nice stuff.  And that whole, Life, Liberty, and Happiness thing? That’s kind of what I came to talk to you about.  Can I have what you ‘owe’ me because I am ready to pursue that?”

We are a nation that now assumes the blessings of the father and the inheritance of the father are things we can have and do with what we want. We have taken the blessings that a Judeo/Christian ethic provides a nation, the common grace that follows that kind of belief, and we are headed to a distant country to live extravagantly, making it rain like a rapper in a music video. 

There is more extravagant living that our culture wants to do.  There is a lot to be tried when you leave the safety and protection of the home.  The famine hasn’t come yet, but it will. It always does. I am afraid there will be a pig pin and some lean years ahead.

We are a culture pursuing life, liberty, and happiness without the restraining and guiding understanding that those things are endowed,you know, by a Creator. He’s pretty important in this whole equation. 

The prodigal son forgot that too.  He forgot that his inheritance came from someone, and it came from something, namely, work, discipline, and restraint. He didn’t seem to think about the fact that at some point the money runs out. And our culture too, doesn’t seem to realize that our freedoms and blessing call for personal restraint.

And like the prodigal son, this prodigal culture needs to come to itself. It needs to be awakened to its foolishness.  But sadly, I don’t think we are there yet.  The culture is still on its way to that distant country and is still smiling with its money bag.

So that’s my analogy.  It helps me keep a grip on what I see going on politically, culturally, and in government.

As a Church we still need to pursue people, be building a culture of our own that shows a better way, and always hope and watch for the prodigal’s return. And when and if it happens be more like the Father and less like the older brother.



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And The Brokenness Remains




“Jesus wept.”

This verse found in John 11:35 is the most poignant sentence ever written.  Two words, expressing one idea, boiled down to the simplest of words. A poem contained in a subject and a verb. The implications massive. To understand the implications one needs to understand the context. Ponder the one who weeps and the reason for the tears on his face.

Jesus has just found out that his good friend Lazarus, brother to Mary and Martha, has died. Four days Lazarus has lay dead. Jesus comes to the tomb beckoned by Mary and Martha, who are grieved by death and shaken by the lost opportunity of Jesus’s presence.  “If only he had been here”, they think, “things could have been different.” And there surronded by death and sorrow, Jesus weeps.

The Subject

Here we have Jesus, the God-Man.  Fully God and Fully Man.  Here is the direct reflection of God.  The second person of the Trinity.  The Logos, who was with God in the beginning and is God. The one whom all things were made through, the light of life.  And here God stands before a friend of his who is now dead.  The one that made Lazarus, the one that holds all creation together by his existence, even Lazarus, stands before a tomb. The only one that can, and will, raise this dead man to life, stands and acts.  He weeps. The Powerful stands before a problem He can solve and is brought to tears. There is no other way to put it; God cries. But why does God weep?

The Verb

In minutes Lazarus will walk out of that tomb alive leaving behind him the stench of death. In minutes, Jesus Christ’s power will be revealed. In minutes, many would believe that the I AM of the Torah, is the I AM standing before them. So why does He weep? Theatrics for the crowd? No, that would be pretentious. Is it because He knew this miracle would set in motion His own crucifixion on the cross? I am sure He knew the ramifications, but that isn’t why he cries.  The God-Man that set his face like flint towards Golgotha, who had a legion of angels at the ready, and flattened his captors with the words from His mouth, isn’t worried by the gossip of the power brokers.

He weeps because He was relating to the pain around Him. He was relating to our pain. The Good Shepherd was feeling the pain of the sheep. The Eternal Son of God felt the brokenness of sin. It’s not the sin that we commit against God (although their is much of that to weep about). This was not a father weeping at the dysfunction of his bickering children. This is God sorrowful because sin isn’t just something  we do to one another.  Sin has caused a brokenness in the world.  Sin has caused death. Sin has caused a groaning everywhere, in all creation, that says, “Things are not as they should be.”

He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. He was about to reveal the glory of His father. He was about to turn mourning into joy.  He was days away from ushering in a new kingdom.  The time was close at hand that death forever more would lose its sting. Grace and hope were about to reign were there had only been law and lamentation. And yet, He takes the time to be moved to sorrow with us. On this side of eternity, the trek to God’s glory is often times lead by  the tour guides of affliction and grief. For even though the Savior has come sometimes the brokenness remains.

Jesus weeps and we see a God that knows we sin, that we’ve been sinned against, and that we have to bear the brokenness of this world in faith. Jesus weeps and gone are our therapeutic notions of Him and his good news. The Gospel saves, but it is no sedative for life. We have a Savior acquainted with sorrow, full of hope and grace, and bearing with the brokenness that remains.

The Implications for Me (and maybe you in your own way)

Jesus weeps and it is a signal to us to weep as well. Jesus saves and Jesus weeps and so we have the strength to do the same. Those two words give strength to walk faithfully through this broken world. If God can be moved to sorrow over the brokenness He sees then we have the freedom to weep as He does.

Those words give hope to carry on as I work with children from hard places. Sometimes we heal the burdens by the power of the Gospel. And sometime we bear the burdens because of the power of the Gospel.  It is costly to love. It is painful to love. The brokenness of another’s life comes in contact with your life. Reconciliation comes. Healing comes. Justice comes. And yet sometimes the brokenness remains.

Often times I find the Gospel calling isn’t to save, that wasn’t my job to begin with. Or I find complete healing isn’t in reach until the temporal passes away and the eternal comes. Often times the call to foster or adopt is the call to carry the brokenness of another by the grace of God. Things in your life will get broken along the way when you decide to shoulder the brokenness of another. But the Bible doesn’t tell us to “fix the burdens of one another”. It tells us to “bear one another’s burdens”.  Your free time, your vision of family, your expectations, and your definitions of success all get changed under the weight of another’s burden. This too is the Gospel. Entering into someone else’s pain, not to fix it, but to help them bear it, is the Gospel as well. That’s what a weeping Savior shows us.

Sometimes the Gospel call is to allow a child’s brokenness to land on you because if it were to land on her drug addicted mom two lives would be lost. So the brokenness falls on you, and the generational cycle of addiction is broken, but maybe not healed. Sometimes the call is to allow the misplaced anger of an abused child to land on you because if not, it would be taken out inwardly and destroy that child’s life from the inside out. Sometimes the call isn’t to fix a child that has had things inside their head and heart rewired by sexual abuse, it’s to keep them from being a victim again. Sometimes the call is to absorb the hurt of an abandoned child without bitterness.  Sometimes the call is to step into the role of father for a young man that has never known his own father, without being jealous of a love he freely gives to a man he has never met. Sometimes the call is to love a child like your own without distinction and help them look for their “real parents” without depression.

Our weeping Saviour teaches us that grace is revealed through salvation, justice, and reconciliation. It is also revealed in the mercy-filled, drudgery-inducing absorption of brokenness. The weeping Jesus shows us that there is grace in the empathy and there is grace in the healing. Here’s the truth about foster care and adoption: for every moment of hope and healing there are a thousand instances of burden bearing, brokenness absorbing.

So plod towards eternity. Grace filled. Bringing healing where it can be found, seeking justice where there is the power to do so, reconciling those things at odds, but never forgetting that sometimes all we can do is bear the weight of someone else’s shattered life, knowing that sometimes (far too often then we would like to admit it) some part of the brokenness remains. And we weep. Because…

“Jesus wept.”




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Roe v. Roe: How one abortion article might save some lives

Last week, around the 40th anniversary of the controversial Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand, I came across an article written for the online magazine Salon.com.

The article was written by Mary Elizabeth Warren titled, “So what if abortion ends a life?”.  The sub-heading sums up what you will read, jaw ajar, from the rest of the article.  The sub-heading is, “I believe life starts at conception and its never stopped me from being Pro-Choice.”

Here let me let the author speak for herself.  She states:

“Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.

When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory. I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born.

When we try to act like a pregnancy doesn’t involve human life, we wind up drawing stupid semantic lines in the sand: first trimester abortion vs. second trimester vs. late term, dancing around the issue trying to decide if there’s a single magic moment when a fetus becomes a person. Are you human only when you’re born? Only when you’re viable outside of the womb? Are you less of a human life when you look like a tadpole than when you can suck on your thumb?”

You can read the whole article here.

I must admit this article sent chills down my spine, but not for the reasons you might think. In some small way I admire Ms. Warren, at least she is being honest about what she believes, even if brutally.  I was shocked because she is saying what we in the pro-life camp have been arguing all along.  That, at the moment of conception, there now exists a life, not cells, but a unique life.  She is conceding to the fact that we have been right.  We are right to see that life begins at conception and what is really at stake is what we as a free society chose to do with that life and how far we are willing to go to protect it.

Her argument seems to be: “Yes, its life.  So what?  The mother still has the ability to choose for that child whether it should live or die”.  The rights of the mother, some how mysteriously gain more value, than the child.  This is a chilling admission.  You could say it a different way, though I believe she would try to wriggle her way out of being put into this corner.  The rights of the more powerful, outweigh the rights of the weaker. (Hello Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Jung Ill, etc)  She is in many ways trying to change the nature of the debate, and she might succeed in doing so, but for the time being, I think there are two main reasons that her article gives hope to those who work with women on the cusp of making a real life changing decisions.

1. I hope that this article will embolden Pro-Life workers in pregnancy resource centers around the country to see that science, logic, and 40 years of abortions have come to the conclusion that, yes, we are taking the life of a child when we commit abortion.  I hope that pro-life advocates will see Ms. Williams’ article as an admission to that fact. We won that battle, but the war is not over. Hopefully, that admission will embolden counselors all over this country to pursue their work with continued vigor.  I hope that it will give pro-life workers a renewed boldness as they sit across from a young woman contemplating abortion that there are truly wrestling with a matter of life and death.  I hope it will give them renewed boldness to delicately, but confidently affirm the importance of the decision this woman is getting ready to make.  I hope they will have the boldness to lay the argument out in a loving way, but not be afraid to say to a women or a man if front of them, “What you do from now on will not change whether you are a father or mother, it will only change the nature of your relationship to your child. You will either be a giver of life or a giver of death.”  Hard truth, but doesn’t that child deserve from us the willingness to say hard things even if they make others uncomfortable?  I hope this article gives people the ability to say bold things in the cause of life.

2. The other, more important aspect of this article, that may just save some children’s lives is that this article removes the moral ambiguity that the pro-abortion (yes, pro-abortion not pro-choice) movement has used to medicate women with.  Let me explain.  Not all women who get abortions first walk into a pro-life pregnancy resource center, but many do. Those who don’t are wrestling with the decision enough to see what all these pro-life people might have to say. This article probably doesn’t help those women and children.  But many women do walk into a pro-life pregnancy center to get a second opinion. I have first hand experience of this.  I have talked with men and women wrestling with this decision, some choosing life for their child others choosing death by abortion.  And I think this article will help stir those that are wrestling with this decision, who come to pro-life pregnancy resource centers to be more likely to choose life. Why?  Because many of the men and women I have met in my experience aren’t staunch pro-choice supporters.  Many of them find themselves in a situation in which they don’t know which way to turn.  I would say that many of them are pro-life in general, but given their unique circumstances are leaning more towards abortion.  What often times seemed to push them more towards abortion was the ambiguity of the pro-choice movement, the pro-choice pain-killer you might say.  Their conscience told them it was wrong, they felt some pull towards carrying the baby to term, yet their life circumstances and the fog of this decision was pulling them in another direction.  What this article does, and why it helps the pro-life movement is that it removes the pro-choice ambiguity that so many men and women use to muffle their conscience.  It removes the pro-choice pain-killer that muddies the waters and numbs these women.  It doesn’t allow that young man and women the ability to hide behind their decision as if they aren’t doing what they are really doing.  It removes the vague virtue of being pro-choice and boils it down to this:

Is this baby inside you a unique life?

Pro-Choice says: YES

Pro-Life says: YES

Then what are you going to do about it?

Pro-Choice says: Your rights are more important than the baby’s. Do as you please.

Pro-Life says: That life is worth protection and you have a moral duty to protect it. You are not alone. We will help you.

It at least makes them have to face up to the moral decision before hand rather than spending a life time trying to quiet their conscience inside them with some trumped-up pro-choice justification.

I am sure Ms. Williams believes that the time is right to take this debate further down the road.  I am scared to see where her logic leads us.  But in the meantime, I believe that there will be some women and men, when the moral ambiguity of their decision is removed, when they won’t be sheltered by the pro-choice pain killer of abortion not taking the life of another, when the virtue of abortion really comes down to a wrestling match of the more powerful over the weaker, will see fingers and toes.  Will see a baby and not a tadpole.  Will see themselves as a lover and not a killer.  And just might disagree with Ms. Williams and act upon the notion that their life is not more valuable than the life inside them.

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What to Post in a Post-Christian World?

My head is spinning. As a Christian reading the news, I can hardly keep up with the rapid change that seems to have overtaken the country. Fast-Food Companies being demonized for the beliefs of their CEOs, Louie Giglio asked not to pray because of a sermon he preached 15 years prior, a president that went from denying the validity of homosexual marriage, to approving of it (using Scripture to boot), to using it as a platform issue of civil rights for his upcoming term in office, women now being allowed to serve on the front lines of combat, and the celebratory nature of many in this country over the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade. And most of that has happened in only the last few days and weeks. What is a Christian supposed to make of all of this?

I would like to try to flesh out where my thoughts have gone as I try to digest all of this and what I feel like, we as Christians, should do about it.

The Post-Christian America

The Post-Christian America is on us whether we like it or not. Ready or not it is here and as Christian we have to be ready to deal with it. What I mean by post-Christian is that from the founding of this county America has always been built on a Judeo-Christian ethos that guarded and guided much of what we did in this country from politics, to the free-market, to education, and so on. We may have had our differences of opinions on how that ethos worked itself out in the certain arenas of politics, representative government, education, welfare, business, etc but by-in-large there was always a guiding principle of a nation based on Judeo-Christian beliefs that held it all together. But slowly over time those principles were stretched, redefined, until the point they have finally snapped and our compass, as a country, is no longer pointing to “that city on a hill”. We have enlarged our tent more and more as a country to allow for competing ideas until there is no longer room for anyone under the tent. We have thrown off its protection all together. We’ve moved from “One Nation Under God”, to One Nation with many gods, to One Nation, all beliefs being equal, lets exclude god, to One Nation of gods. We’ve replaced transcendent Truth as a governing principle with translucent tolerance. And if the Greek myths teach us anything, it is that in a society of many gods, the most powerful gods get to make the rules.

Yet, we have still remained a democracy. Which means that “We the People” get what we deserve and what we want out of our government. Barack Obama isn’t doing damage to our country as an evil dictator having his will. We voted him into office. We the people elected him to represent our values and ideas. He is only the personification of a population that believe his leadership is what this country needs.

I realized this after the last election. After four years of Obama, I was certain that the American people would see the mistake we had made in electing him as President. I believed that there was still enough Judeo-Christian ethos running through our American veins to see that the agenda that this president acted upon was not in the best interest of America going further. I was confident that we would elect Mitt Romney who, I thought, embodied more of a traditional, conservative approach to governing and leading this country. I believed that the contrast between the candidates could not be more stark. Obama was not trying to hide (maybe reword and redefine), but not trying to hide his liberal agenda. I believed people would see, that even if they were somewhat liberal-leaning, Obama’s politics were a stronger cup of coffee than they wanted to swallow.

I woke up the day after the election sobered. Obama had won. And while it was not with as much support as he did the first time, he still won. The apathy on the right is as telling to the state of the nation as the support on the left. This was a turn-out election and those who might hold a more conservative view of politics were not energized enough to see that their vote would really matter. Apathy and inaction are just as telling barometers of sentiment as is focused action. America wanted Obama, either through their voting or their lack of voting. They spoke that day.

So for me the election of Obama wasn’t the problem it was a symptom of a post-christian worldview that had spread en-masse to the electorate. Mitt Romney wasn’t a savior. The election of Obama, given his record of leadership or lack thereof, his divisiveness, and the ego-centric tone of his speeches, numerous TV appearances, and general tone, was simply a sign post to me showing me the direction that the country was headed.


My desire to engage in political debate changed that day as well. Poking holes in people’s logic or worldview wasn’t going to solve our problems.  What good does it do to debate someone about massive debt that we are burying our grandchildren under if that same person holds to a view that it is legal and even a virtue to be able to kill those grandchildren in utero? If they don’t first protect a child’s right to life, whether wanted by their mother or not, than why would they care about how much debt their government is handing them, supposing they make it to “personhood” in the first place. Their logic and mine are at odds. My worldview and theirs share little to nothing in common. My worldview was formed through a transformed life of the Gospels of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and understanding that I am responsible to God to glorify him through my actions to be more like His Son. Their worldview, many times, is created on the spot, not as a way to inform their actions, but many times as a way to insulate their actions from any moral intended or unintended consequences. How else do you coalesce a worldview that allows for the killing of an innocent child, while desiring that we take aways guns, or spend more money on education, or give health care to protect children? If your worldview doesn’t first protect a child’s right to life, than how can it have any moral basis to try to protect them from poverty, rising health care costs, violence in school, or national debt? This is just one example of many.

All that to say, the problem isn’t education, its salvation. The problem isn’t debate, its discipleship. The problem isn’t that they understand my logic, it that they understand the Logos.


How then shall we live?


This is a tough question. I think Christians in America are in an “in-between” generation.  We still remember when most of America had some shared values at their core and yet we see this rapid change.  We remember when the cultural shift wasn’t so seismic and wasn’t so fast.  I say all this and I am only 33 years old.  If it feels fast to me, I can’t imagine what it feels like to older Christians.

I suspect many people will leave the church.  Those that have been hanging on to the church by its fringes will see no advantage of associating with a organization/religion that is so maligned by the culture.  Some people will just find more sanitized version of church.  The will look for themselves a church that less and less talks about anything that would shake the cultural apple cart.  They will be Christian in name only.


I also think we will see more and more Christians realize that America is slowly becoming a mission field.  We have always been cozy here in America, that is not becoming the case.  Sure we’ve talked about missional living before, but more and more it will become a reality.  Faithful Christians will have to ask hard questions about their lifestyles and begin to reorder their lives around a more robust view of living as if this place is not your home.  If things are to change, it won’t be because of a charismatic political leader, it will be because the Gospel is shared from person to person.  The Gospel is witnessed to, suffered for, and spoken of in all that we do.  This is a macro-problem with a micro-solution.

This is already happening.  People are leaving the church, people are carving out their own brand of sanitized church, and faithful Christians are reordering their life around the Gospels.  It will only intensify in the coming years.  In all this our great hope is that Christ will never leave us or forsake us.  He is with us always and that should give us great comfort, no matter the America we wake up to tomorrow.

What are your thoughts?  Do you see the same rapid change in America and How as a Christian do you think we should respond?

Posted in Christian Life, gospel, politics, salvation, worldview | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

3 Jobs Every Teenage Boy Needs To Have

I was blessed to grow up with parents that forced gave me the opportunity to work through high school and college. It taught me invaluable life lessons and helped to keep me out of trouble. It helped teach me various life lessons that I have kept with me and that have served me well to this day. If I could have my way totally I would force give my sons the same opportunity that I was blessed to have. I would make it apart of their growing up and have them get 3 certain jobs in a specific order as they pursue their studies and future careers. Here’s how it would go and why:

1. First Job: Fast Food Industry

While they are in high school, I want my boys to work in the fast food industry. I want them to make minimum wage for most of the time they do it too.

Why: I want them to start at the bottom. I want them to learn that they don’t deserve any job. They earn it. I want them to learn how to serve people and how to make an honest dollar. I want them to be humbled by serving their friends and school mates. Its a hard lesson to learn when you have to serve your friends their dinner on their way to a movie on a Friday night. I want them to learn the hard lesson that sometimes you have to work while others play. I also think it important to have them work while they are still at home so, as a parent, I can walk them through things like; asking off from work well in advance, how to schedule priorities, how to handle criticsm from a boss or manager, and how to save and spend their money. I would also hope that working in fast food would spur them on to further themselves through their studies.

2. Waiting Tables

After high school and when they reach college, I would want them to wait tables. Waiting tables is hard work. It is stressful. You have to learn how to work on your feet for long hours at a time. You have to learn how to time and manage things well so that all your tables get served in a timely manner. If you are good, you learn how to read people, their body language, and you learn how to anticipate needs before anyone asks. Great lessons for marriage.

You also learn a valuable economic lesson. Rather than getting paid a certain amount per hour of work, your compensation depends on the amount of hours you put in, the quality of the work you do while there, and how hard you are willing to work during all that. Two people can be waiting tables, one guy puts a smile on his face, picks up extra tables when possible, and hustles to make sure his tables are happy. The next guy tries to make it through his shift, gives up tables to the first guy, and tries to get cut as soon as possible so he can get home to play Xbox. The two guys might be there for the same amount of time, but the first one is going to walk away with more money in his pocket 99% of the time.

Also, waiting tables teaches you a valuable life lesson. Sometimes your hard work isn’t always rewarded. Most people do a pretty good job at tipping their waiter depending on the service they receive, but not always. From my experience, it is about 60/40. 60% of people tip well based on the service, while 40% are bad tippers no matter how well you serve them. But to let the 40% affect your work negatively is to give up on the 60% that will reward you for your smile. Hard work in the end does always pay off.

Going out to eat is a pretty big staple of American life and if I learned anything by waiting tables, it was to remember that waiters are people, not servants. That waiter at your favorite restuarnt is a person, with a life outside the restuarant, with their own problems and struggles. Remember that the next time your water doesn’t come with a lemon. Hopefully my sons will learn that same lesson by being on the other side someday.

3. Construction or a Trade

After waiting tables for most of their college days, or in the summer, I would want my boys to work as a laborer in the construction industry.

Why?: I want them to see the value of working long days, full of hard work, on something they can see and build with their hands. They might work in an office someday sitting at a computer for long hours, so I think that the experience of actually building something with their hands is important. Of course, they wouldn’t really be building anything as laborers as much as they would be just around it. They would be moving large amounts of lumber, carrying sheetrock to the actual ones hanging it, or hoisting roofing shingles up a ladder, oh and in all probability getting yelled at a lot while doing it. I think this will show them the value of getting up early to a job and staying late. They will see the value and skill in not just working with their mind, but the talent it takes to work with their hands. They will work with some rough people, sometimes, not always, and will have to learn how to be a positive witness to Christ in the midst of that. Hopefully they will learn to fix things on their own or to at least not be afraid to try. (This will provide ample fun family stories about “The time dad tried to fix…) And most importantly, they will learn how to work till they are exhausted and dirty, in freezing weather and scorching heat, go home proud of a hard days work, only to get up at 4:30 am the next morning and do it again.

So what jobs would you add to my list and why? What jobs as a teenager help form you the most? I’d love to hear what you think.

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Husband and Father: A Man’s Greatest Calling

I was reading a book the other night and came across a quote that struck me to the heart and got me thinking, and subsequently blogging.

The book is Mud, Sweat, and Tears: The Autobiography of Bear Grylls. Bear Grylls is the famous adventurer most known for his hit T.V show, Man vs. Wild. It’s a family favorite in our house. Bear Grylls is definitely on my list of people I’d like to hang out with. He was talking about his upbringing and remembering his father, who was a politician in Great Britain. He said of his father, “He worked to make a difference and to better people’s lives, but his ambitions lacked the ruthless drive so common in politics, and our lives were so much richer for it. I guess his career was being a good dad.”

Amen to that. It helped remind me that history is filled with great leaders that were not great fathers. Politics, business, and sports are filled with men that did mighty things at the expense of their own families. Ministry is not except from this trend as well. Church history is also filled with men that did mighty things for the Lord, yet left family life to suffer in the wake of the success. King David was a great king, but how much did his people suffer from the familial strife that would tear apart and split the kingdom he worked so hard to maintain. I remember seeing a quote from Jullian Lennon, son of the famous Beattle Jon Lennon that sums up what I am talking about,

He [Jon Lennon} walked out the bloody door and was never around. I’d admire him on TV- listen to his words and opinions. But for someone who was praised for peace and love and wasn’t able to show that at home… That’s hypocrisy.”

It reminds me of what Paul teaches in I Timothy 3. On discussing the qualifications for an overseer/elder Paul gives Timothy, and the church at large these instructions:

“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.”

Now at this point this list looks like any good list any organization, business, or political party might draw up. But then Paul adds another important qualification with an added commentary on its importance. Paul states’

He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”

Paul is saying that those that lead the church, the Bride of Christ, an eternal organization that will forever exist, must first lead their homes well. The home is the petri dish of God’s eternal kingdom. It is the proving ground for leadership in God’s eternal organization. To state it another way, a man’s leadership in the home has more eternal purpose than his leadership of a fortune 500 company.

Nowhere in the Bible do we find God calling your business or organization a “blessing”, or a “heritage from the Lord”. Nowhere does the Lord call your vocation a “reward”, or liken it to “arrows in the hand of a warrior”. But the Lord does speak that way of a man’s children. Your family, the children in your care, not the name plate in your corner office is his reward to you. Steward that blessing well. It has eternal implications.

We live in a day and age where many are blessed to be able to pursue whatever vocation they feel they would enjoy the most. The culture tends to push us towards pursuing careers that try satisfy us for the money it brings, fame it lends, or power and influence it has. Pursuing vocations that we are good at or that bring us satisfaction are not in and of themselves wrong. In this, we enjoy something almost unprecedented in the history of the world. We should not take that for granted, thank God for that freedom and opportunity. Pursue those opportunities as they arise, but realize they are not of first importance.

When Christ returns, no matter how noble the organization or the company, He is coming after a bride, his church. A church led by men whose qualifications for leadership will not be found on the New York Stock Exchange, or in the Hall of Fame of some sports organization, or in Silicon Valley. It will be found in the home of ordinary men, living ordinary lives, with extraordinary families.

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Grace > Penace: My Take on Les Miserables

My wife and I went to see Les Miserables last weekend. We got the rare chance to see the movie on a Friday afternoon when the only other patrons were a handful of elderly couples. Which gave us the opportunity to hear this beauty yelled out during the preview, “Tell Harold with it being this loud he won’t need his hearing aids.” Not all elderly couples liked Les Miserables. One elderly couple walked out halfway through the movie. I heard them say to their friends, “It wasn’t what we were expecting.” I am not sure what they were expecting, but to each his own.

Much has been written about Les Miserables and better reviews are out there. Like this one:

I have about as much ability to review this movie as Sam Richardson does. (Whoever that might be), but there are some things I really liked about the movie.

1. The Music:

Either you’ll love it or hate it. I loved it. It made sense to me. It gives me hope that I can still fulfill my life-long, boyhood dream to sing horribly off-key on a Broadway stage.

Some have criticized Russel Crowe’s selection as Javert, mainly because he seems too stiff and his singing is nasely and stale. But what represents the rigidness of the Law more than someone stiff, stale, and lacking the Technicolor that represents the spectrum of life’s experience.

“I Dreamed and Dream” Until the movie, I had never realized that song was actually quite sad and void of much hope. Susan Boyle surprised us all with her, now famous, rendition of it on American Idol, or was it Britain’s Idol, some Idol show. Either way, although Susan sang it beautifully, we were all miss led by the way she sang it. Seeing how Anne Hathaway sang the song in the musical brings the emotion of the situation and the lyrics of the song into new light.

2. Grace or Penance

There was one thing that I loved about the movie above all other things and that was the way in which Grace was portrayed in the movie. Law vs. Grace is an obvious major theme of the book and musical. If the story is anything it is about the stark contrast between a life impacted by the Law and a life changed by Grace. This is weaved, by and large, through the lives and interactions of Jean Valjean and Javert.

What I thought the musical/movie did so well was portray how a life can be completely changed by Grace. Grace, loosely defined theologically, is the unmerited favor of God onto sinful humans through, in, and by Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross. The movie did a great job of portraying this on the big screen. While there wasn’t a stong present of the Christ exalting grace, that most evangelicals would identify with, it was still more than most any Hollywood movie has dared to put on the screen in a while. I was so surprised by this in the movie because so often, instead of giving us a character changed by Grace, Hollywood gives us a character pursuing penance.

My definition of penance is an act whereby one tries to absolve themselves of past sins and wrongdoings by performing some morally good act to even up the scales hoping in the end the good will outweight the bad. Often times in movies and tv shows when a character goes through a transformation from bad to good, we see this character living with this dark past and trying to make it right through good acts. This has less to do with Grace that transforms a life and more to do with the idea of earning God’s favor through good deeds.

Too often movies and tv portray a life transformation through the life of a character pursuing penance, not transformed by grace. It makes sense. Grace is hard to comprehend. Unmerited favor from the God of the universe? Let me absolve my guilt by earning it. That seems more in line with my human sensibilities and experience.

I was glad to see Les Miserables the movie, display more grace rather than penance. Through Jean Valjean, we see on the screen, a life touched by unmerited favor at the lowest point in his life. This grace changes him from an angry, bitter man to a man giving grace to all those that cross his path. He does hide his past, but it seems less about guilt and more to continually protect those he loves. Jean Valjean seems to be a man living a life of freedom that only Grace can bring and not constantly dragged down by the guilt of past sins.

All this begs the question to my fellow Christians: Are you living a life changed by grace or are you pursuing penance? Have you let the full weight of God’s unmerited favor through His Son Jesus Christ change your life or are you daily trying to pursue penance, as if your “good works” could bring balance to God’s scale of justice?

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