Monday, June 28, 2010

What's Up with the "God" Thing?

What’s up with the whole “God” thing?

Anybody who’s ever known me very long knows that I am a “religious” guy. I really don’t like the word “religious” because it gives off connotations that are negative, but for lack of a better word, I’ll use it now. I’m a religious guy. I go to church. I read my bible. I worship every Sunday. The question is “why” do I do it.

If you gathered a random group of people together and asked them why they are people of faith, or why they are Christians, there are some rather common answers that you’d get. Some would say, “I want to go to Heaven.” Others would say, “I don’t want to go to Hell.” Go down the line a little more and someone would add, “I was born in America, so I’m a Christian.” Someone might even say, “I’m not a Christian. I don’t want anyone telling me what to do or how to live!” Do any of those ring a bell?

To me, all of these statements miss the point. They are misguided, and sometimes even selfish. It isn’t about going to Heaven or not going to Hell. Imagine that you visit your grandma, and you ask her why she married your grandpa all those years ago, and her answer is that she did it for the money, or because she didn’t want to be stuck in the loser town she lived in as a kid. “What? Grandma, I thought you loved Grandpa?!” you might say. “Well,” she replies, “he’s okay, but I’m just lookin’ for that big house and nice car.”

Or, let’s imagine a father that sacrifices the core of his life to raise a little girl. He drops his own dreams of adventure and wealth, and trades it all in to make sure she has the best life he can give her. He feeds her. He holds her. He nurses her injuries. He teaches her. He gives her everything that he can. He gives her his very self. But, in turn, when she’s a teenager, she angrily tells him that she just wants to leave and be on her own. She doesn’t need him controlling her life. The only reason she stays is so she won’t be on the street. To her, he’s a resource…a means to an end. To him, she is his heart. He’s in it for the relationship.

You see, Christians are often missing the point. It’s not about getting the big house (Heaven). It’s not about being stuck in that loser town (Hell). God isn’t out to “control” our lives. It isn’t about following all the rules. I mean, you can give it a try if you want, but you’ll just end up beat up and worn out. I’ve seen it in others and I’ve felt it in myself.

Here’s the deal, God is not sitting up on some cloud waiting to strike you for doing something wrong. He doesn’t hate you for your mistakes. He doesn’t have a list of criteria that you must perfectly meet in order to gain His approval. People are sometimes pretty good at making their checklists of do’s and don’ts, but God is not about that.

The truth is that God has given us His heart. God has already demonstrated His love for us by giving us His Grace, His Son, Himself. He wants to walk with us. He wants us in His life. He has orchestrated all of history to bring all of us back to Him. The point is that God is all about the relationship.

You may think I’m kind of crazy; maybe a little too over-zealous for all things Christian. That’s okay. I don’t mind. When you really love someone, you don’t really care what everyone else thinks, and that’s where I’m at with God. I love Him, and I’m in it for the relationship.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happy Meal Parenthood

Tonight, I watched a news story about how The Center for Science in the Public Interest is planning to sue the McDonalds Corporation to try to force them to stop providing toys in their Happy Meals. The concern seems to be that the toys will cause the kids to nag their parents into submission leading them to buy unhealthy food, which will inevitably lead to further childhood obesity. Oh, come on! Again, here is some group whose sole purpose for existence is to protect us from ourselves.

Leave McDonalds alone. I am not really much of a McDonalds fan; except for an occasional Egg McMuffin or Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, but the real question for me is: Where are the parents?

There were over 50 people killed in shootings in Chicago this last weekend. The killings in Chicago have been so bad recently that there has been talk of calling out the National Guard. From the news reports, it seems that many of the shootings are gang related. Most of these gang-bangers are kids or young adults. Where are the parents?

A few years ago, my wife and I took a cruise out of LA. We had four nights on the ship and greatly enjoyed the sights of Catalina Island. It was great to be away. It was great to spend time with my wife in a romantic setting. However, there was one experience that ruined much of it for me. The big problem was that I could hear every word spoken in the cabin next door through what was obviously an under-insulated wall. On the last night, the two young men in that cabin brought a young girl back to their berth. I won’t elaborate further except to say that at one point she told them she was fifteen years old! WHERE WERE HER PARENTS?!

Now, to be fair, a parent cannot catch every possible childhood infraction. Once, one of my girls caused me to have a confrontation with an irate driver who didn’t seem to see the joy in having his car struck by a tossed stone. She got a few minutes of unsupervised time and she thought it would be a fun thing to sit near the road and toss gravel in the direction of passing cars. He screeched to a stop, threw the vehicle into reverse, gunned it backward twenty feet, and jumped out to scream at a little girl. Where was her parent? Well, I was just inside, and I leapt to my feet when I heard the guy’s tires squealing. Believe me, after I dealt with the driver, I dealt with the girl.

When I was a boy, a cousin and I decided it would be fun to take sticks and hit rocks over a building across from his house. We did it successfully for a long time, but then I got a bigger “bat” and a bigger rock. I hit a line drive directly through the window in the building’s door. We took off running. Where were our parents? Well, they were in the house, and believe me, they dealt with us.

I was taught to respect people. I was taught to give way when I was in another adult’s path. I was taught to treat others with kindness and fairness. I was taught that there dues to be paid for misbehavior.

There was a time when parents were in charge; a time when children had a healthy fear of their dads. Parents weren’t their children's best friends or too distracted with their own lives to be bothered dealing with the kid’s issues. They were teachers, mentors, givers of love and affection, and providers of discipline. They made the decisions. They protected their children from danger, but not from consequences. They called the shots. They couldn’t be nagged into buying Happy Meals if they didn’t think the child should have one.

There are still some of you around. Please raise your hand. Please stand up and give the new generation of parents an example to follow. It seems to me that many of our parents need some parenting.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Turning the Societal Titanic

A co-worker told me this week about an encounter he had with a woman in a drugstore recently. He was there with his child and at the pharmacy window was a woman wearing a t-shirt. On the back of the t-shirt was a rather bold and most would say obscene phrase utilizing the “F” word. My co-worker was offended by the blatant use of profanity in a form and fashion that pushed it in his face and more importantly into the face of his child. He was so incensed that he just couldn’t hold back and he confronted the woman, who, as we would expect, reacted with a combative attitude.

Our society has changed tremendously in the last two or three decades. What used to be profane is now hailed as the norm. Pornography has been around for decades, but it used to be hidden under mattresses or up in the tops of closets. Now, we have multiple reality TV shows that detail the daily lives of porn models, and young girls wear the logos for certain magazines on their clothes. It has become glamorous to be a porn star.

At one time, the pattern of becoming an adult was to finish school, get married, and then have a family. Now, that is all jumbled up. Many have the kids first, then get married….and divorced….and married….and divorced….with many more children all scattered throughout the process. Some parts of our society don’t seem to regard marriage as important at all. Single parenthood has become the norm. Men don’t take responsibility for families. They are simply content to spread their DNA around without concern for the responsibility of being a father. This problem continues to expand as the boys who grow up without fathers as role models, then become the DNA spreaders because that is all that they know.

Another symptom in our culture is the need so many have to get the “respect” they are due. One young man was arrested a couple of years ago for beating a young child to death because the child was “disrespecting” him by not eating dinner. Everyday, somewhere in our society, people are beaten, stabbed, or shot for “dissing” someone else. When I was a child, my dad taught me to GIVE respect to others. He never taught me to demand that respect for myself. It is a funny thing, this respect stuff. If you give respect, you usually get it in return.

But, what has happened to our society? How did we become so depraved? I heard a radio commentator recently say that it all stems from our “kicking God out of the schools.” I disagree. I think it has happened because we have kicked Him out of our homes….or, more accurately, we have kicked Him out of our lives. Now, we are sitting on the deck of the societal Titanic wondering if we can get it turned before it hits the iceberg.

Religious America has become apathetic about what faith really means in their lives. Many people claim to believe in God (as do the demons per the Book of James), but never or rarely attend a church. Some attend regularly, but it is like they are punching the spiritual clock….it doesn’t mean much to them once they step back through the doors to everyday life. We sleep in on Sunday mornings and blow off the growth of our spiritual lives, and then wonder why our kids don’t seem to care about God. Connect the dots, folks.

I don’t know if we can get our societal Titanic to turn away from disaster or not, but I do know that if we have any chance at all, it will begin with a turning of ourselves. Each of us individually needs to begin to change. We need to reevaluate our priorities; placing God at the pinnacle where He belongs. We need to allow our faith to permeate our lives and be reflected in our decisions, our interactions, and our personal moral standards. If we change ourselves, then we will influence our families, our friends, and ultimately we can collectively affect the society around us. Maybe we can’t legislate morality, but we can surely demonstrate it and the positive effects it has on our lives. We can’t force others to change, but we can allow the love of God to flow through us and onto those around us. We can become the influencers rather than being the influenced.

What can you do in your life to turn the ship?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Is All the World an Ashtray?

This morning I got up and dragged my garbage cans out to the end of my driveway so that the guys in the big truck would carry away the trash that my family had collected and cleaned out of our house during the previous week. While out there I happened to look down and there on the ground just inside where my pavement meets the city’s was a small, white cigarette butt. Finding that little butt there ticks me off. Now, you might say, that isn’t any big deal. It’s just one little cigarette butt. However, what you don’t know is that I have been finding those little, white cigarette butts at the end of my driveway for years! Someone, who lives somewhere in my area seems to think that my driveway is his or her personal ashtray.

Is that such an unusual thing? Have you ever taken the time to look down as you walk ANYWHERE? The next time that you are sitting at a red light, take the time to gander at all of the burned out butts that line the curbs. I’ve hiked for miles up rigorous trails; trails that as a young non-smoker seemed very tough, only to find someone’s cigarette butts scattered around. How do they do that?

One time, I was driving my dad’s old ’68 Chevy Nova down a street in Anderson, Indiana. This car had those wings on the front edge of the front windows that you could open and turn out to direct fresh air into the car. It was a hot day so I had them fully opened. A guy went past me going in the other direction and tossed his cigarette out. It landed in the middle of my windshield and proceeded to slide across to my side of the car. It hit the wing and the wind pushed it right into my lap. I nearly crashed the car trying to get that lit cigarette out from between my legs.

Another time, I was sitting in a car waiting for someone to come out of a grocery store. Across from me was a guy smoking in his car. Fair enough. He wasn’t hurting anyone but himself I guess. Then he did something that I don’t think is all that uncommon, but makes absolutely no sense to me. He took a full ashtray of spent butts from his car and proceeded to dump them out on the parking lot. Why bother to collect them if you are going to just dump them on the ground anyway?

What is it with smokers? Why do they feel entitled to pollute our world with the remnants of their nasty habit? Why do they seem to think that all the world is their personal ashtray?