Parenting and the Long Goodbye

There’s a Norman Rockwell painting that’s especially meaningful to me. It’s called “Breaking Home Ties”, and was discovered years ago hidden behind a wall in Rockwell’s Vermont home. In it, Rockwall depicts a dad’s final moments with his son before he leaves home. The father and son sit on the running board of an old 1930’s truck. The dad is obviously a farmer, dressed in well-worn jeans, a wrinkled denim shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and black boots. His sun-baked hands clutch two hats – one his old, dusty field hat and the other, a newer one he holds for his son. A homemade cigarette dangles from his mouth. His hair has grayed around the temples. On his face are crevices carved from age and years of hard work. He’s leaning over, waiting for the sound of a train whistle, a sound that will signal the lump to form in his throat. There’s a slight hint of worry on his brow. Or perhaps he’s just thinking about what he’s going to say to his boy when the conductor shouts . . . All aboard! Then comes that moment when he looks his son squarely in the eyes and says his goodbye.

The boy, on the other hand, is sitting erect and in excited expectation. His brows are raised as he peers down the road in anticipation of the train that is soon to arrive. He’s dressed for the journey in his “Sunday suit”, complete with crooked tie. Cradled gently in his hands is a lunch wrapped in paper, no doubt prepared one last time by a loving and thoughtful mom. And I bet there’s a note slipped inside. His bags are all packed, complete with a college pennant sticker already stuck on the side of his suitcase. On top of that suitcase sit 3 books, portraying his enthusiasm to dive into college life. On his knee rests the head of the family dog, a loyal collie with a forlorn look in his eyes. But the boy is ready, eager for what lies ahead and for what life has in store for him.

This dad looks like he’s at the end of a long journey. He’s given it all he had. Now together, he and his son sit in silence. Not a word spoken between them. One reflecting. The other anticipating. One remembering. The other waiting. The time for speeches has long since passed. Appropriately named by Rockwell, those Home Ties are indeed in the process of being broken in this scene. It’s time.

Time to let go.

Yesterday morning, my alarm clock jump-started me out of the netherworld at 4:45am. It was time to take my middle son, Stuart to the airport. He’s spending the next year teaching English at a private school in South Korea. A recent Double-Major, Cum Laude graduate of the Honors College at the University of Arkansas, I have every confidence Stuart will succeed in this endeavor, though he’ll no doubt face some challenges along the way.Norman-Rockwell-Breaking-Home-Ties

Having officially “let go” of our sons when they went off to college, my wife and I received a bonus blessing when Stuart came home following graduation for several months to help me with some editing and research. So this morning’s bleary-eyed goodbye at the airport was a kind of “second releasing” of our son, not into acedamia this time, but into a cross-cultural work experience. But at 23, he’s a capable man and can take care of himself.

I don’t usually get emotional at such farewells. It typically hits me later on, like when I pass by a vacant bedroom, or glance at a picture hanging in the hallway. But those tears are the no regret variety. Emotion springing from a place of deep contentment and gratitude.Stuart Airport-1

Those eminent theologians, The Rolling Stones, once wrote, “Time waits for no man, and it wont wait for me”. That’s not just classic Rock and Roll or good theology. It’s practical wisdom, too. Time does indeed march on. Relentlessly. Like a soldier on a mission. Time has a job to do, a destiny to fulfill. Racing towards ultimate extinction in eternity, it cannot be slowed or stopped, only measured, harnessed, redeemed and used. Solomon said there is a “time for everything . . . a time to plant and a time to uproot”.[1] I’m not convinced history’s wisest man was talking about parenting, but I’m pretty sure he would agree that there is also a time for parents to let go. It’s a time when a mom and dad’s grip on their child loosens, relinquishing the strong guidance and direct influence they once had. That day may seem light years away for some, but it will inevitably come. And sooner than you realize. Parents, it’s your job to prepare your child, and yourself, for that day. Even today is one tick of life’s clock closer to the time when you’ll close that long episode of your parent/child relationship. An end to an unforgettable era and a transition to a new chapter of life.[2]


[1] Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

[2] Parts of this blog post were excerpted from A Dad-Sized Challenge – Building a Lifechanging Relationship with Your Son by Jeff Kinley



Time Waits for No One, by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards

Why Macklemore is Not the Enemy

This years Grammy’s took music (and sleaze) to an all-time low, officially posturing itself as a mouthpiece for the a radical gay-rights agenda. Queen Latifah’s officiating of homosexual weddings on prime time television crossed a line, setting foot on new territory in mainstream media. Gay weddings at the Grammys.

Silly us. We thought the Grammys were all about celebrating music.

We were wrong. A new agenda has bullied it’s way into entertainment.

Now I totally get it that some artists’ music is so bad they simply have to surround themselves with stage performers just to entice you to listen. Even more sad is how some female singers (desperate for attention they never got from their daddies) feel compelled to take their clothes off or simulate sex on stage to get noticed. I mean, who would watch their performance if they didn’t, right? How pitiful is it when your career boils down to the point where you effectively say, “Ok, so like I know my music sucks (I don’t even sing it myself (lip-syncing is the way to go, baby!). Anyway, if I don’t do something outrageous like pretend to have sex on stage, then nobody would pay attention to me! And I NEED attention! Please watch me!”

Many years ago, performers like Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, KISS and Madonna also had their own brand of shock presentation. So previous generations are not without their own brands of glam/shock/gore/sensuality. While in high school, I was in a rock band who competed in a “Battle of the Bands”. After our time on stage, I thought, “We’re gonna win this thing going away!”

We got beat by a guy dressed up as a witch.

Ok, maybe our stage presence lacked a little pizzaz.

Obviously, some bands and artists have no real music merit of their own. It’s the “persona” of the presentation that makes them who they are (fill in the blank with the music/showperson that comes to mind. Brittany Spears is playing Vegas now, btw). But I’m actually okay with that. I get the performance part and musicians as entertainers. That’s part of what makes some people interesting and attractive. I even enjoyed Daft Punk’s Grammy performance.

But Macklemore’s musical agenda is another thing altogether. Here are some of his Grammy night lyrics (from the song “Same Love”).

“The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision/And you can be cured with some treatment and religion/Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition, playing God/Ahh, nah, here we go/America the brave still fears what we don’t know/And “God loves all his children” is somehow forgotten/But we paraphrase a book written 3,500 years ago/I don’t know.”

So here’s the message of the song, broken down from his poetic rant.

  1. If you’re a homosexual, you can’t change, even if you wanted to.
  2. Even God can’t change you.
  3. And why would He? He made you this way.
  4. If you disagree with me, you’re homophobic.
  5. All people are God’s children.
  6. The Bible can’t be trusted.

Apart from faulty logic and amateur theology, Mr. Macklemore’s biggest mistake may be elevating himself above everyone who disagrees with him. And what authority does he cite for his absolute conclusions? Popular opinion? The way he “feels”? He goes on to twist more Scripture, redefining “love” and comparing gays to the struggles of black people. Again, if you happen to disagree, you’re a hater.

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All that said, Mr. Misguided Macklemore is not the enemy. And neither are homosexuals. Though Scripture is crystal clear on the morality of the subject, the homosexual issue – both from a personal and public perspective – is a complicated one. I go into much more detail about this in my new book – As It Was in the Days of Noah. But suffice it to say, there’s a bit more involved than simply shouting, “Hey, all you gays! Stop it!”

Jesus’ disciples should neither surrender our convictions nor allow themselves to be steamrolled by society’s blatant redefining of marriage and civilization itself. But we still hit a glitch when a certain sin becomes socially acceptable. It’s like they changed the rules of the game on us, and we’re left on the sidelines. And we don’t like that. We feel left out. Unpopular. Unliked.

We’re going to have to get over that.

And you’ll need to prepare yourself, because it’s only going to get more acute in the last days. As we rapidly approach the end times, those who follow Christ and His Scripture will become more marginalized. And hated.

Just for believing.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t currently fight to preserve the sanctity of marriage and morality. But it also doesn’t mean we demonize immoral people or those who think our faith is disgusting. Hey, news flash. Lost people do what lost people do. That’s why they’re “lost”. Why should you expect more of them? That’s not being fair to them.

According to Scripture, Christians have but one true “adversary”. Waging war against him means believing that only Jesus can change people. Don’t hate on Queen Latifah. And stop obsessing about ridding the world of immorality. Instead, focus on yourself. Major on being Jesus’ representative to those He’s placed in your life. You can still love your neighbor and not allow them to burn your house down. Love isn’t some pacifistic perversion or being a spineless creature. It means you have the strength to be compassionate towards those with whom you may strongly disagree. To do otherwise is to misrepresent the One who showed unconditional love to you in your own sinful state.

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In one sense, I agree with the words of “Same Love”, just not in the way Macklemore intended. He stumbled onto truth when he said that people can’t change themselves through a “decision” or external pressure from morality and religion. And neither can he change his own mind about homosexuality, especially since he has a hit song about it! Only a sovereign God can change the human heart.

If I’ve learned anything in 32 years of ministry, it’s that we should never underestimate the miracle-working power of God’s Spirit. And that means He sometimes surprises us with the ones He chooses to save. Keep praying and believing that people like Macklemore will one day experience the Same Love the Father has shown to you.

What Makes You N-n-n-nervous?

 Everybody has their comfort zones. Dentists. Surgeons. Actors. Pilots and Plumbers. Accountants. People who do what they do with expertise and ease. It’s a default mode thing. Some people are born with it. Others get it through education. Most through experience and repetition.

A while back, I was interviewed about my book – The Christian Zombie Killers Handbook – by a news anchor on our local NBC affiliate here in Little Rock. You would have thought I’d be nervous being “on TV”. But no. It was actually exciting and energizing to me. In fact, I was completely unaware of the cameras in front of me.

Please don’t misunderstand, there are plenty of things that make me uncomfortable and nervous – multi-tasking, making cold calls, going to plays and musicals. And for the record, I am a terrible card player. No, make that, “I suck” at card playing. I think it may indicate a learning disability or something. And ask me to explain how the Government the Stock Market works, and you’ll carry me off in a straight jacket.

photoUpon the conclusion of my interview, the news anchor leaned over and whispered, “You’re really good on camera”. I thought, “Oh yeah, I was just on statewide TV. Ha!” Truth is, in the thousands of times I’ve spoken to crowds, I can’t really recall any time I’ve had the proverbial “butterflies in the stomach”. Or maybe I did, but they were just flying in formation. Either way, it just always feels natural to me. And why? I suppose education, preparation and experience have something to do with it. And some gifting. I feel confident and calm when I get to inspire and enhance people’s lives.

What about you? What are you so good at that you could do “in your sleep”? What’s your default mode? Where do you shine? What energizes you and at the same time helps others?

What makes you feel so alive when you do it?

You’re So Hip

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  Some people just have it. I mean they have “it.” That intangible aura of personality swag known as “cool.” For some, it’s just a look. Others it’s the fashion, or the way they talk or carry themselves. Still others manage to work their way into social circles of others who also have “it”, thus they attain cool status because of the company they keep.

 

There is no universally-recognized standard of what’s considered cool. And for that very reason, most of the wannabe owners of coolness spend most of their time trying (way too hard) to blend in to the perceived cool crowd. Like the other night, while at a local dive listening to a band, I observed a hundred or so 20-somethings, all self-proclaimed independent thinkers and rugged individualists – all dressed virtually the same…at least the guys, anyway. Lightweight hoodie covered in peacoat, topped with a carefully-placed hipster beanie hanging off the back of their uncombed heads.

Cool.

At least they thought so. Admittedly, depending on what social culture you immerse yourself into, you may succeed or fail at earning your “cool badge”. Your behavior, moral choices, the way you talk, think, vote, not vote, or what music you listen to – all contribute to acceptance and being considered cool. And this standard seemingly fluctuates with the weather.

It’s really not that different in the church world. Again, depending on the particular church, denomination or Christian subculture you happen to be a part of, being “in” has a lot of contributing factors.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.45.38 AM    But maybe being cool, hip, “in” or having the “it factor” is a lot more like beauty – dwelling in the eye of the beholder. Instead of trying to please all of the people (or at least the important ones) some of the time, why not focus on the One who really matters? Could that ultimate coolness be found by embracing the fact that you’re already completely accepted by the God of the Universe and radically loved by Him? Could that elusive self-security automatically come from having been adopted into His forever family? Could the best cool experience simply be that you are on a lifetime road trip  of discovering who He made to become? If so, then perhaps just being yourself in Him is hip enough.

Stop trying so hard.

Try relaxing in the secure identity He gives.

Insomnia & Asphalt

I have some friends who don’t sleep very well. Like most every night. They stay up all night and do … well, whatever they do. It just doesn’t involve sleeping. I don’t really have that problem, though I do know what it feels like to occasionally wake up at 3:30am and unsuccessfully return to the wonderful land of slumber. Like many people with busy lives, I often have trouble shutting my brain off at night. Projects, plans and people constantly occupy my thoughts, and when I suddenly awake unexpectedly at some ridiculous hour, my mind kicks into gear. Before long, I’ve compiled a massive “To Do List” and I become overwhelmed. That’s usually when I start brewing a pot of coffee so thick it could be poured as asphalt.

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But sometimes this proclivity towards productivity also spawns an unhealthy dose of anxiety. Can I complete these tasks on schedule? Am I doing enough to help this person? Will this project be successful? You know, all the things that kill any chance of a good night’s sleep. So I typically turn this time into an opportunity to talk to God about all the “stuff” filling my life – writing, creating, pastoring, speaking, and being a committed father, husband and Christ-follower. I read somewhere that He likes it when His children dump all their cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). I’ve always loved it when my sons brought their problems to me, and I think God feels the same way about His offspring.

This of course, in no way removes my responsibilities or magically obliterates the burdens from my life, but it does let me know that Someone genuinely cares. And that makes the next nights sleep a real possibility

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Jesus Was a Genius . . . or Was He?

             Jesus. The brilliant teacher. The ultimate communicator. The best of all time, right? Of course, you’d expect that from someone who believes the Nazarene Carpenter was God in human form. If you’re Deity, being genius would be relatively “easy”, wouldn’t you say? But consider the claim that He was also fully human as well. In His unstained humanity, the Galilean Man’s mind, emotion and body were not affected by sin’s devastating and crippling consequences.

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   This advantage served Him well in relationships and in communicating the Father’s message to the world and His (potential) disciples. The result? He taught with authority and clarity like no other teacher or Rabbi before or since. Instead of catering to the religious crowd, accustomed to a steady verbal diet of religious jargon, Jesus instead chose a more “earthy” approach. Instead of language fit for a king, He dealt more in familiar, common prose. Think of it – God among us – talking about birds, seed, trees, flowers, short stories, relationships – verbal vignettes pack with theological meaning, hidden under a thin topsoil of street language.

Later, one of His most ardent followers, a guy named Paul, used the same technique when attempting to explain God and His ways to a largely pagan culture, quoting Greek Poets and using non-biblical terms to describe the Almighty to people not skilled in the art of speaking “Christian-ese”. What a loser. I mean, who taught this guy how to preach and reach people, anyway?

Though light-years from “genius” status, my life’s mission is communicating vintage truth in a language that people understand. My books creatively tackle theological doctrines like total depravity, a subject often overlooked in the Christian feel-good-about-yourself subculture so prevalent in America’s churches. “Entertain me!” “Make me feel good.” “Give me something to consume.” Make me happy! And yet doctrines like this remain essential theological and practical truths, impacting our daily existence and spiritual progress.

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   Truth, whether wrapped in parable or culturally-relevant metaphor, always seem to resonate deep within, down where real life happens. And modern-day disciples of Jesus learn how to biblically and successfully overcome things like the flesh-monster living inside.

Were He to walk the earth today, Jesus would likely speak in terms familiar to our culture. Of course, modern-day Pharisees might take issue with that, labeling Him a “shallow Teacher”.

Yea, either that or a bonafide Genius.

Christian Kryptonite

  I made an unsettling discovery a while back. One of my shop hammers turned up bent. Not sure how that happened, but now it doesn’t work quite right. In fact, I no longer use it at all. Oh, I have other hammers. I’m just surprised because I didn’t know that hammers could do that.

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In reality, bending to the point of snapping may simply mean you quietly lose your steam, your passion in life. It means you give up, give in and give yourself over to something just as deadly as overt sin or that experience which “kills” you. You succumb to the awful curse of mediocrity, a fatal disease which relegates you to an almost drone-like existence. It doesn’t take you out like a sniper’s bullet, or snuff out your existence in a millisecond like a roadside bomb. Instead, it eats away at you like a cancer, a little bit every day.

And time becomes your enemy.

As fallible humans, we forget how fragile life is, and how weak we really are. We see a true picture of ourselves when we’re under the stress, weight and burden that life consistently heaves on top of us. Finances. Anxiety. Family problems. Fears. Relationship struggles. Job or career frustrations. And we wake up one day and decide we’re tired of carrying the load and fighting the battle. We decide to “check out” emotionally. and the downward spiral begins.

So where will your strength come from? An “iron will”? A positive attitude? Some philosophical Zen mind trick? A doctor’s prescription? Or something better, deeper and more practical and substantive?

We are not as strong as we think we are.

Even hammers can bend.