Train up a child

Train Up a Child

Note: This is a conversational post about Mennonite sub-culture.  It is not about “training up a child” for Jesus.

From where I sit in my accounting office I can see across the parking lot to the Jubilee Thrift Store, in Myerstown, Pennsylvania.  I see many variations of Mennonites who come daily to seek out some discounted clothing or household items.  These Mennonites are so different from the other customers.  Often the mothers that I see are out-numbered by the children that surround them.  The swift gait and purposeful stride between the store and the dark-colored vehicle is the mark of people with clear purposes and pressing schedules.  Being a reflective person by nature, I often find myself musing about Mennonites and the place that they occupy in the world.

The most obvious trait of Mennonites is the sub-culture that they have created that sets them apart from the culture that they live in.  It is a culture marked by peculiar modes of dress, less education, and their own traditional methods of housekeeping and industry.  If a Mennonite does speak to a person about Jesus, and if that person is attracted to the Mennonite faith, he will have a big cultural divide to traverse.  If that convert’s goal is to become completely immersed and accepted into the culture, he will likely fail in the attempt.

And so I have come to the conclusion that it would be best if Mennonites would have clear goals and expectations before they engage in colonization or outreach efforts.  If they engage in inner-city children’s ministries for example, they should not expect the children to one day join the conservative Mennonite church.  Instead they should be satisfied to provide a secure place for the city children to be surrounded by friends as they learn about the love of Jesus.  During the working day, the men of the community can find opportunities through upright character traits and honest business dealings to display Jesus to the world.  These activities (and many others like them) reflect realistic expectations and worthy ministries.

Growing up, I was a very secluded Mennonite boy who really believed that we were the only truly Christian people in the world.  Outside of my family name, most of my identity lay with my particular Mennonite church.  I saw myself as totally distinct and separate from the broader sea of humanity; even those who were Christians.  I thought that the whole world, if they wanted to be Christians, should really join our church.  Growing older I felt puzzled that almost no outsiders joined our worship services.  I felt perplexed when my excitement about a convert from Boston marrying a young lady from our church turned to disappointment as he and his Mennonite wife eventually left our church and returned to his Catholic roots.  I felt guilty that we weren’t doing a better job in evangelism.  Occasionally I got swept up with the idealistic fervor of other young married men with big dreams about expanding the tent and reaching the lost around us.  I observed the resistance of other church members who felt threatened by this evangelistic zeal.  I heard tales of woe from the mission field in Guatemala, and when I traveled there I saw a peculiar sight; ethnic Guatemalans dressed in North American Mennonite ethnic garb.  Few of these people ever really were considered to be equal to the North Americans, and yet they also were now separated from their Guatemalan family and community.  The difficulty of traversing the cultural divide came clearer to me when my own wife from non-Mennonite background revealed how impossible it seemed to her to ever really feel like she belonged in the church in which I was born and raised.

Several years ago we transitioned from the church of my childhood to a loosely-organized, unaffiliated conservative Mennonite congregation.  Eventually we found that the lifestyle rules in that church, while unwritten, were really pretty much the same as the church we had come from.  In the experience of joining that church and leaving it again, I discovered that I still expected my church affiliation to be a large part of my identity.  And this church, so loose and disorganized, could never meet that need.

At that point I started to look very seriously at the surrounding non-Mennonite churches and we attended a fair number of them.  At nearly every church I was attracted to the friendly, welcoming atmosphere, the well-planned services, and the well-thought-through, educated preaching.  But I couldn’t quite think of actually joining.  I kept thinking about immorality, teen pregnancy, drugs, and other destructive lifestyle plagues so prevalent in the American culture.  I knew that if I allowed my children to join the youth activities in a church like that, I would always be worried (maybe paranoid is a better word) about their well-being.  I looked inward and saw what my Mennonite upbringing had implanted in me.  Train up a child in a certain way of life, and when he is old it will be totally impossible to ever truly escape from it!

…this is the story of my life so far.

And so, I conclude that conservative Mennonites would do well to consider how impossible it really is to bridge the divide between their sub-culture and the broader culture.  And as for me, I think that our church home will be in a Mennonite group somewhere; simply because I was raised there. Yes there are limitations to what I will be able to accomplish in the world. But there are also blessings. This lifestyle and upbringing is what makes me unique. It is what makes me, me.

We are hoping to find a group that is open enough to diversity to accept both me and my wife; she with her non-Mennonite background, and me with my post isolated-Mennonite musings; a church that gives us the freedom to pursue the ministries that we are called to as a family; and a church where our children can both enjoy social interaction with their peers and be protected in a measure from the destructive scourges of our surrounding culture.

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Curmudgeons in the Church?

Cantankerous

Curmudgeon – noun [ker-muhjuh n] a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person

The Garden of Eden was perfect.   God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day, communing with them in a glorious, supremely unblemished existence.  Sadly, sin destroyed that perfection.  Then Jesus came and broke the power of sin, and began the process of reconciliation.  But the world still groans as it waits for the final redemption.  In the interim, we are saddened by what happens even in the church.  The church is not yet perfect.  We expect curmudgeons to exist in the church, but we should not yield to them.

Sometimes people think that the church is to be such a holy place that we need to insist on immediate perfection for everyone.  They profess shock and indignation at any indication of fleshliness and they do not hesitate to confront other believers with the hard truths about their faults.  Ironically, sometimes these “shocked” people display their own fallen tendencies more clearly than anyone else does!  The truth is that we are all cut out of the same cloth.  Becoming holier and wiser happens over time.  “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (I Cor. 1: 18 NLT)  Salvation is a process of becoming saved; therefore we can patiently tolerate a certain amount of cantankerousness in the church.

Some people write off the curmudgeons and say that it is impossible to teach them anything.  Granted, it is hard.  But we should remember that curmudgeons often are so difficult to deal with because they hold strong (albeit uninformed) opinions.  So a good strategy is to teach the truth and to broaden horizons.  They won’t change overnight, but they can change.

The Apostle Peter encountered curmudgeons.  After a shocking vision from heaven followed by an amazing display of Holy Spirit power falling upon the first Gentile believers, Peter accepted the obvious plan of God and baptized them.  But the Jewish curmudgeons in Jerusalem criticized him.  “You entered the home of Gentiles and even ate with them!” they said.  So Peter patiently told them the story with all its glorious details.  “Who was I to stand in God’s way?” he finished.  When they heard this, the curmudgeons stopped objecting and began praising God. (Acts 11)

Another time, many of the early church had gathered to pray for the Peter when he was in prison. (Acts 12)  Then the very thing that they were praying for happened!  God miraculously delivered him from prison!  When the girl who answered his knocking at the door told them that Peter was outside, the curmudgeons said, “You’re out of your mind!”  When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”  When they finally opened the door they were amazed!  An effective solution to curmudgeonly behavior in the church is to eradicate ignorance with the truth!

But what is going to happen to the church with all these curmudgeons residing there with such impunity?  Are they not going to drag the whole church down if we tolerate them?  It is true that for the church to really prosper, curmudgeons should not be entrusted with leadership responsibility.  Nor should they be given an outsized role of teaching or influence.  But that does not mean that the church should expel them.

It is fascinating to observe how the early church dealt with curmudgeons.  Some very studious, teacher-type curmudgeons started to teach the believers, “Unless you are circumcised as required by the Law of Moses, you cannot be saved.”  What did Paul and Barnabas do?  They openly disagreed with them, arguing vehemently! (Acts 15: 2)  Then the church confronted the issue head on by convening a conference.  In the end they said ‘no’.  They would not burden the Gentiles with the Jewish law that even they themselves were not able to bear.  They called a meeting to announce the verdict and there was great joy in the church as they delivered this encouraging message. (Acts 15: 31)

Curmudgeons aren’t so bad if you don’t yield to them!  The church thrived because the curmudgeons were not allowed to set the course of the church!  Instead the church unflinchingly focused on the goal.  The curmudgeons could decide to like it or lump it.

So today we too should expect to encounter curmudgeons in the church, but we should not yield to them.  Each of us can become progressively purer and increasingly insightful together.  We groan and long for the complete reconciliation of our world.  Eventually, in God’s perfect time, He will do it! He will restore the cosmos to a wonderful and glorious nirvana as it was in the very beginning!

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Peace of mind. Clarity of focus.

Focus

Yesterday a Haitian man named CJ spoke at our church.  The order of the service was that we had a singing period, then he spoke about the SALT savings program in Haiti, then we sang again, and he finished with a 15 minute sermon.  So he had the floor the whole time.  It was interesting because he was marginally fluent in English and was working hard express himself.  He also was very positive and emphasized the importance of having a mind that is fixed on God.

He said that all humans are the SAME!  Haitians, Americans, Canadians, everyone.  If you cut yourself, the blood that runs out is red, just like everyone else.  (I’m used to hearing the white entitlement, in which the white man condescendingly tells the African that we are not above you.  So I found it really exciting to hear a black Haitian man telling us white Americans that we are not above his fellow Haitians.)

He said that the Haitians view the white man as having money, and they tend to not try to help themselves but to get money from the Americans.  He works hard to change this.  He said that being poor starts with being poor in your mind.  He said that God has given you a mind to think, to be enterprising, to start a business, to change your circumstances.  That is the biggest challenge and job of the SALT savings program in Haiti.  None of the savings programs get money from Americans, but they all start with the people pooling their own funds, and putting their own money to work.  In one savings group model, the group will loan money out to each other, one at a time, so that each person can in the end have his own profitable business.  CJ obviously feels that teaching people to become resourceful and self-reliant is a very healthy and empowering sort of thing!

He said that he wasn’t sure about becoming involved with SALT when Darvin Seibel, the SALT director, first asked him.  He said that before he makes a decision, he needs to feel comfortable with it; that God really is calling him to go a certain direction.  But eventually it was clear to him that this is what he should do.  And now he has people calling him all of the time, asking him to help them to start savings groups in their area.  He said that he doesn’t know his own future; what will he do next month, or next year, or where he will be 10 years from now.  He will commit all of that to God.

He said that we need to be POSITIVE; to believe that all things are possible with God!  It became evident that he believes that a godly man with a proper focus on God will be able to be more energized and successful in every way than a non-Christian.

And so my main takeaway with this man was simply the reminder that we need to fix our minds on the Lord and to find our security in Him.  He does bless.  He does empower.  And He does give us clear direction for life!

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Kairos

Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time lapse, an indeterminate time in which everything happens. What is happening when referring to kairos depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature.

image

I enjoy my morning runs in the woods a lot. There is the physical stress, but there are sometimes moments like these. In this case, I saw a deer faintly behind the stream of light, jumping off the trail into the woods. So I stopped running, pulled out my phone, and snapped this photo. It was a kairos moment; a qualitative moment that spoke to things that are permanent. It was also a present moment. I was at that moment a living being, breathing deeply of the woods air, frozen for a few moments in time. I was just a created being, enjoying my oneness with the Creator.

We tend to see ourselves in the chronos time stream. History is something that we are acutely aware of. We see the rise and fall of nations, and we note with concern the rise and potentially future fall of our own. But if we always see ourselves as rising and falling without control or meaning on the chronos time stream, we can feel insignificant, or helpless, or depressed, or desperate!

So it is good to often stop and have a kairos moment. Spend some time in meditation. Leaders in mindful meditation often focus on the breath – the intake and the outflow. The rise and fall of the chest. Why? Because it forces a person for a few moments to be alive in the present and to be aware of those moments that give meaning to our lives. In those moments we find the strength to face the moments that yet lie ahead. Often, as Christians, our kairos moments are focused on the Creator who is a timeless Being. We hang suspended for a few precious moments – just Him and us. Leaving the past in the past with Him. Committing the future in the future with Him. We are content in the present.

Go ahead. Enjoy a kairos moment!

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A Medium of Love

IMG_1993

How Portrait Photography Can Bridge the Gap Between Theory and Reality

My wife Erin travels to China and photographs special needs children in orphanages.  As she shoots hundreds and thousands of pictures, her team members evaluate the developmental status and also detail the special needs of the children.

Almost all Chinese children available for adoption have special needs.  Prospective adoptive families know this.  So early on in the process the parents are asked to develop a list of special needs that they are open to and that they feel they can handle.

Recently a family decided to adopt a certain precious little boy with a special need that they had never heard of before.  It was a need that hadn’t been on their list of needs that they thought that they could handle.  Even though it was a more significant need, they decided to adopt him anyway.

Why?

These parents decided to adopt this boy because of the picture that they seen.  If it hadn’t been for the picture, they probably wouldn’t have been drawn to him specifically.  They might have seen only the clinical diagnosis and they would probably have kept on looking.  Instead, a magical bond was formed. They chose him!

This scenario is not uncommon.  It happens over and over.  Parents see a picture . . . a face . . . a person . . . and they start to love!

How do pictures make such a difference?

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The picture becomes a medium of love.  It provides a bridge between two parents and a child.  The picture enables the parents to see a child as clearly as they see a medical need.  And in the end, love wins.

This couple fell in love with the boy, and the discussion about special needs developed a bit of a different twist.  They still were concerned about the need.  In fact, they applied themselves to learning as much about the need as they could.  In the end they decided that it was manageable, and they discovered that they were more flexible than they thought they had been.

This little boy desperately needed their love.  And that’s why I absolutely support my wife’s orphan photography work.

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But I also want to take a lesson from this and apply it to my own life.   Perhaps there are certain people that I don’t really love.  I look at them and shrug.  I see the need, but I don’t really see them.  And then God uses an event or a person as a medium to strip away the labels and the theories that I might have about that person.  The veil falls from my eyes.  The miracle happens.  The love that God has placed within my heart begins to flow into the life of the person that I otherwise wouldn’t have loved.

Dear God, please fill my heart with your love.  And then, please send a medium that will enable that love to flow from my life to others.  And for my children and others where the medium of love already exists, may your love in me never falter or abate.

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At the root of addiction

It seems to me that addictive behaviors often have at their root a negative self-image.  We don’t think nearly highly enough of ourselves as we should.  The addictions give a temporary and welcome reprieve from the never-ending doom in which a person exists.  So it doesn’t surprise me at all that suicidal tendencies are paired with addiction.

Sad face

 

In our Shalom Chorale this year, at each program, we would read the same story.  It was the story of a boy abandoned at 2 years on the church steps.  He was raised in the pastor’s loving home.  As a youth he argued with them, stole their money, and ran away.  Spent it all like a prodigal.  Came to the end of himself on the streets of Chicago.  Decided to write a letter home.  Told them he would be on a certain train, and if they could forgive him they should hang a rag in the tree.  If not, that’s OK, he would understand.  He would just keep on going.

 

The setting of the story is in the train car as he tells his story.  The climax of the story is when the train is just ready to round the bend where his home would come into view.  He couldn’t bear to look to see if the white rag was in the tree or not.  So the elderly man beside him watches for him.  And lo and behold, the tree is full of white rags, bed sheets, pillow cases.  And beneath the tree are his parents holding a sheet between them on which were painted the bold words.  “Welcome Home Son”.

 

I think many in the world can’t quite bring themselves to even look.  Can’t believe that God really loves them.  Man, the crowning work of God’s creation; this creation alone reveals this lie.  Jesus proves that it is a lie.  And yet we can hardly peep through our fingers to accept the forgiveness in the first place.  And then after that, we keep on covering our faces, ashamed of who we are, our sexuality, and all the rest.  When instead we should face the Light fully, faces thrown back with the light of joy upon them.

 

Joy

 

I can imagine God saying, “You are asking if I love you and if I will forgive you?!  Heaven yes!  Of course I do!  I created you!

 

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. (Heb. 4: 16 nlt)
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What does God require?

What does god require

What does God require of you?

It is the million dollar question because your soul is at stake.

What does God require?  How you answer that question will have a profound impact on the way that you live.  But maybe in a different way from what you would expect.

What does God require?  Some people believe that God requires them to be consistently Biblical.  So with every issue that confronts them, they will immediately respond.  “What does the Bible say?”  They won’t stop hunting in the Bible until they have found a principle or command that applies.  Trouble is, sometimes the Bible isn’t that specific.  And sometimes they misuse the verses!  The result is a misinformed and superficial (if well intentioned) approach to Christian living.

Are you ready to go deeper?  To find something that is superficially more vague, but that is fundamentally transformative?

What does God require?  I boil it down to this.

God requires a heart in tune with His heart.  To fear the Lord your God.  To walk in a way that pleases Him.  And to love him with all our heart and soul. (Deut. 10:12)  To do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. (Mic. 6:8)  To care for orphans and widows in their distress.  And to refuse to let the world corrupt you. (James 1:27)

God can give you a heart like that.  And then He will do one thing more.  He will insert into that heart his living Holy Spirit!

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.   Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Ps. 51: 10-12)

I pray that prayer tonight with all of my heart.  I invite you to do the same.

Also, I like this blog post.

 

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