Watch Your Mouth


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01I heard that phrase a few times from my mom while growing up…”watch your mouth.”  And I probably needed to have heard it more often!  Today’s Renew study & group discussion questions are centered in the Matthew 5:33-37 text where Jesus teaches about “oaths.”  In the Kingdom of God, our language is a bit different than what most of us normally encounter…

MEMORIZE:  Luke 6:45

A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart. (NLT)

1)    Name a business or industry that rarely delivers on the promise of its product or service. (*Don’t get side-tracked on the negative!  Spend at least as much time on the positive question below!

Name a business or industry where you have experienced great satisfaction that they continually deliver on their product or service.

2)    What do you learn about a person when you are able to go to their home for a visit & see what is inside?

3)    What do you learn about what is in a person’s heart by listening to their language?

4)    What was the BIG IDEA of today’s message entitled “Oaths”  based on Matthew 5:33-37?   You can listen online at

What LIE might the Enemy speak into your heart to contradict the truth of the BIG IDEA?

5)    Has God ever made an oath?  What is the difference between a covenant and “swearing an oath?”

6)    Where in our culture do we make oaths, promises or vows?  In light of the text (Matthew 5:33-37), should we not do this?  Why or why not?

7)    Words are necessary as we live in community. What is really happening in the heart of a person who swears or overstates what they are trying to communicate to others?

8)    Have you ever been cussed out?  How did it make you feel?  Why did the person use such strong language toward you?  What do you think was really going on in the heart of the person speaking to you in such a way?

Have you ever used such strong language toward someone else?  What were you trying to achieve?

9)    Does cursing, over-stated, strong or inappropriate language ever run through your heart/mind but doesn’t make it out of your mouth?  Is it OK as long as it’s not coming out the mouth?  Why or why not?

10)  How can pious or religious language be used by a person to cover up something that he/she does not want you to know about him/her?

11)  What is your most common response if you overhear gossip or someone who is being spoken about poorly?

If you were the person being spoken of poorly, what would you hope another person would do for your sake…even if it was true?

APPLY IT:  Speak Words of Life

One of the things I regularly recognized in Student Ministry was BOTH the destructive power and the inspirational power of words.  On occasion, we would host an activity called “Affirmation Listing.”  Each person in the circle would write his/her name at the top of a sheet of paper and pass it to the right.  The next person would write 1 positive thing about the name at the top…something they enjoyed, appreciated, admired, or were grateful concerning that person.  The list got passed around the circle with each person adding to the list.  You were not allowed to pass.  You were allowed to put a check mark next to what the previous person wrote if you agreed, but you had to come up with something new.

Many of those students still carry those Affirmation Lists around in their Bibles years later because those words so powerfully countered lies that the Enemy told them about themselves.

You may think this is very juvenile…but you could try it in your group.  Perhaps an equally great challenge would be to determine that you will give a spoken affirmation to 1 person per day, and a different person per day everyday in the coming week.

Theology of Geometry


geom1The car door opened, and our 9-year-old burst into uncontrollable sobs.  Throwing his left over lunch and book bags into the van floor, he attempted to explain the reason for this great sadness through unintelligible sounds.  By the time my wife made the 1 mile trip to the driveway, he had calmed down enough to begin making some sense.  The catalyst for this emotional explosion?  A mean girl in his class (name withheld)  🙂 had eagerly , and somewhat gleefully, reported to him that his girlfriend was planning to break up with him.

How could this be?!  I thought.  They just got married on the playground last week!  They even exchanged rings!  Relationships just don’t last very long these days.

It was my wife who held him in her lap in the living room recliner, to comfort him and to attempt to explain the dynamics of elementary-school girls and what is apparently on his horizon.  By the time I got home, his world was back together.  Mine was coming apart.  My parent fangs were coming out as I listened to the story.  Even when it’s ridiculous, it’s no fun when you hear that another person brought injury to your child’s heart.  Yet, this is an opportunity for an important life lesson.  And it’s a lesson that many adults have yet to learn also.

Do you have any 1-liner lessons that got drilled into your core?  One that came roaring back from a file in the back of my mind was a truth taught to me long ago:  “Straight lines are good.  Triangles are bad.”  The truth was uttered in reference to the way we relate to one another with our words…especially when the topic is potentially harmful to someone else.  How many times has your heart been assaulted because you heard a negative thing that someone else said about you?  I would add to the danger of triangles:  squares, pentagons, octogons, decagons…and the larger the shape, the uglier the situation.

The Apostle James points this out in chapter 3 of his epistle.  The tongue has great power.  Like a tiny rudder that can steer a huge ship, the tongue can chart a whole new future direction.  It’s a tough life lesson to learn but a practice that will bless your life and others:  if you have something difficult to say, go directly to the person involved.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200 on the way.  Make a straight line.  As we live in community, it is a part of the way we value and nurture those around us.  Kingdom people protect the character of others.

But there is a way that the geometry can be good!  A few weeks ago, I read a phrase (I wish I could remember who to give this credit to) that struck me as wonderful.  The phrase was “holy gossip.”  WHAT IF our practice became bragging to one another of the awesome things that so-and-so did?  WHAT IF our congregations became small groups that whispered about the crazy-gracious way that “this person” helped out “that family?”  WHAT IF that tantilizing feeling that so often accompanies the juiciness of an expose’ drove us to proclaim to people how we saw someone being Christ in our communities?

We need more Holy Gossip in our world.

During my 14 years working in Student Ministry, we got a LOT of practice discovering how words hold the power of life or death. One of our annual practices among our Leadership Team was Affirmation Lists.  It worked like this:  each person in the circle would write his/her name at the top of a paper and pass it to the right.  The next person would look at the name, then write at least 1 thing that they admired, loved, respected or were grateful for about that person.  Then, they passed it to the right again.  Everyone had to write something new as he/she received the next name.  You were allowed to put a “check” next to a statement someone else wrote if you agreed with it, but your statement had to be new.  This continued until everyone received his/her personal name back.   You may think this sounds juvenile; and perhaps it is.  But I can tell you this:  many of those kids who are adults today, still have their Affirmation Lists stuck in their Bibles.  Most of them have gone on to become amazing Kingdom people all over the globe whose walk with Christ is evident to all around them.

I would suspect that most adults my age and older might find this silly…the thought of sitting around a circle and passing papers around.  But I would also suspect that most would secretly like to receive a sheet of paper, with their name at the top, filled with encouraging words about their personhood and people’s positive perspectives on their character.

Maybe we don’t need paper.  Maybe we could just open our mouths and practice it.  Maybe we could experiment with 1 person per day speaking a meaningful encouragement.  How much faster would God’s Kingdom expand if we help people glimpse the value that He has for them?

Now that’s some mathematics I could get used to.

More Than Property


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01In today’s message at Spring Road Christian Church, we focus upon Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount concerning divorce and the importance of the “practice of love” in the marriage covenant.  Use the following Renew Questions for your personal or group study this week in light of today’s teaching!  Married couples…be sure to pick up a Date Night Package at the Renew Stands in the Worship Lobby!

*Disclaimer…For those of you who are single, answer the appropriate questions below in light of what you hope for/are praying for?  Or you may be able to bless married people in your group by being the most objective to offer what your honest observations are!

1)    What is something you do fairly consistently regardless of how you feel?  What belief do you hold deep down in your heart that drives to override feeling to DO what you just stated?

2)    What was the BIG IDEA of this week’s message entitled “More than Property” (Mt. 5:31-32)? If you missed it, you can listen online at

What LIE might the Enemy try to get you to agree with in your heart to refute this big idea?

3)    What is the ultimate goal of your marriage?

4)    In our 20’s, it seemed strange when people told us to be thinking about retirement; but starting that early, consistent investment is crucial in order to be sustained later in life.  Remember Aesop’s fable of The Tortoise and the Hare?  “Slow & steady wins the race.”  A small, consistent investment makes a BIG difference in the long run.  What is something you do on a fairly consistent basis to invest in the “practice of love” in your marriage?

5)    Has there ever been a time in your marriage when you weren’t on the same page with your spouse…one of you got ahead of the other?  (e.g., in business, education, career, etc.).  How was balance (“shalom”) restored?

6)    In what way/s does the World look at marriage differently than the Church does?

7)    How might history be different if it had been as easy for women to dismiss men from the marriage covenant?

8)    Is the level of respect, compassion, etc. in your interaction with people in the Church the SAME or DIFFERENT than your interaction with your spouse at home?  Why or why not?  Should they be the same?

9)    Is there a role model marriage for you?  What kinds of things are you observing that you want to imitate or wish was a part of your marriage?

10) Why would Jesus elevate the topic of Marriage & Divorce as something not to be taken lightly?  Especially if you grew up in a home that experienced divorce, what perspective can you add?

APPLY IT: Make a Marriage Investment 

Plan a dinner date with your spouse sometime this week.  Pick up a “His & Hers” Envelope Packet located at the Tall Green Renew Stands in each Worship Lobby.  Do not open your envelopes until you get to dinner.  Each envelope contains 6 possible questions you could ask your spouse.  Take turns asking your questions of each other during your date.


God on Trial


trialThere are days, as a parent, that I think I may lose all moral fortitude and go completely ape…specifically those days when our children sense that everything–all day long– is unjust.  On these days, it takes special strategy, to avoid entering a 10 hour judge and jury shift.  Prayer, patience, counting to 10, trying to be proactive & think of fun things to divert the energy.  I’m also not opposed to a glass of red.  My rationale is that the stress caused affects my stomach.  The Apostle Paul okayed that.

This is going to feel like a 90 degree turn in my thinking but hang with me.  Earlier this week, I posted something that spoke to me as a great truth.  It was a phrase that came from a book I’m currently reading entitled More Than Ordinary:  Enjoying God by Doug Sherman.  The phrase was this:  “Do you believe the LORD has our best interest in His heart? Your answer to this question affects every choice made today.”  As I was typing that, the thought crossed my mind…how will this truth test us if something bad happens this week?  The next day, a family in our community lost their 16 year old son in a car accident.  The following day, bombs went off in Boston.  And the next day, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded killing dozens.

Thank God every week isn’t like this one.  We can all certainly point to seasons of our own lives where we have thought “seriously God?!  Why did you let that happen!?”  Where exactly is God on the continuum between “everything left to chance” and “everything predetermined by Him?”  In a season now when there appears to be a resurgence of Calvinistic thinking (thank you John Piper), I would suggest that this is like many ideas in scripture where we live with 2 evidences in conflict.  We can all point to scriptures and circumstances that support both ends.  Somehow the reality is that they are both overlapping. We live in a tension between them.  I want God to expand His prevention business; but that doesn’t seem to be happening.  And like my children, it causes me to cry out unfair!  Unjust! jonah

I had the opportunity to preach on Jonah last weekend.  I loved researching this amazing narrative in the Old Testament.  (By the way, the story is NOT about a whale.  There’s one in it…well, some kind of big fish.)  But the tension of the story is Jonah’s angst with God because God’s idea of justice is very different from Jonah’s idea of justice.  When we get down to the core of the story, we are challenged with the truth that God is as much, if not more, grieved by the observed injustice.  But in His all-knowingness, will act in the best possible way to bring about the best possible future outcome in the face of what the Enemy has wrought.  Jonah is NOT quiet about his feelings, and throws quite a tantrum.

In Psalms, the hymnbook of ancient Israel, over half are songs of complaint.  As a worship pastor, I grieve that we have shelved these.  Believe it or not, they are songs written for the purpose of the congregation complaining together to God about things that they feel are unjust.  Apparently, it is good for our souls to acknowledge, corporately and individually, when things are not right and something needs to be done about it.  Most of our worship services are filled ONLY with the greatness of God…which is wonderful & worthy; but the LORD also wants to know from us what we observe is wrong with His world.

So…back to that FB post.  “Do you believe the LORD has our best interest in His heart? Your answer to this question affects every choice made today.”  Actually, our honest impressions of this statement got installed in us like software early on in our lives.  If our answer is “no,” or if our answer is “probably, but He is not going to do anything about it,” it’s very difficult to correct.  But that is the business that the Holy Spirit is in:  new software installation.  It is a significant step in discipleship to realize that Jesus is walking alongside you, personally, everyday, waiting on you & me to engage Him, to ask Him, to invite His thoughts into our every activity.  Once we embrace a “yes” answer, then no matter what happens we can look Christ in the face and say “wow, didn’t see that coming.  How are we going to handle this?”  This is how God “works things for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.  We get to participate in restoration.  And we grow to understand that He is more deeply hurt than we are, that it was not intended to be this way, and that a day will come that this sort of thing will never happen again.

We get to participate in restoration.

In the meantime, complaining to Him is a sort of prayer.  It actually IS worship.  When I complain to God about something unjust, I am also saying within my heart “I believe you can fix this.  I believe you can make something beautiful out of this mess. I am willing to help bring your Kingdom to earth.”

This gives me perspective the next time my kids come demanding a verdict.  After all, I’m part of their software install.

The Rubicator


Renew_Groups_Graphic-01For personal study or use in your Renew Small Group Study & Discussion Time, use this week’s questions which go along with Ron Lewis’ message “The Rubicator” based upon Matthew 5:17-21.  If you would like to listen online, go to  You can also download a pdf of the following study.

MEMORIZE:  Psalm 1:2-3

His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither.  Whatever he does prospers.

1)     In one statement, what was the BIG IDEA of today’s message entitled “The Rubicator” based upon Matthew 5:17-20?

2)     Name 1 saying or principle handed down to you from your family that has stuck with you?  What is it?  Who transferred it to you?

What reasons can you list as to why this got so ingrained in your being?

3)     How many Bibles do you have/think you have in your house?  How easy is it for you to access the scriptures?

4)     Occasionally, I find that “perfect card” that expresses the exact, right words that I am wanting to say to someone I love.  Where in the Bible would you       go to find those perfect words to express to God?

5)     Do you have a “life verse?”  In other words, what verse or section of scripture do you find yourself frequently returning to?  Why is it so significant in your life?

What is a scripture that has sustained you during difficult times?

6)     Under what kinds of circumstances do you believe people normally turn to scripture?

7)     Why have certain nations, throughout history, gone to such extreme lengths to ban the Bible?

8)     Did you know that for much of the Church’s history, the clergy went to great lengths to keep the printed Bible inaccessible to the general public?  Why would they have done that? (You may be interested in reading more about an important man in our heritage named William Tyndale

9)     In what ways can you observe a persons physical presence and learn something about what is in their heart?  How might getting the Word into one’s self affect the body?

10)  Is reading/studying the Word a part of your daily routine?  Why or why not?  What are the most common circumstances which compete for your time in the Word?


Set aside time intentionally to read & meditate upon these amazing “Growth Passages” this week:

 Day 1                                                       Day 5

Romans 12:1-21                                     Colossians 3:1–4:6

1 Corinthians 13

 Day 2                                                       Day 6

Galatians 5:22–6:10                                1 Peter 2:1–3:16 and 2 Peter 1:2-10

 Day 3                                                       Day 7

Ephesians 4:20–6:20                              1 John 4:7-21

 Day 4

Philippians 2:3-16 and 4:4-9

Group Study 4.14.13

Things You Should Know About PK’s



Since I’m a second generation PK (preacher’s kid), I’m beginning to note that there are specific thought patterns in my own children that I had when I was in their shoes 🙂 Enjoy!

We will be in the church building more times this year than many of you will be in the next decade.

We love our dad and sometimes want him all for ourselves.

We are glad you think our dad is wonderful. We think so too, but he is much more human than you think he is.

Although she is not paid, our mom is as much–if not more–of a pastor than dad is.

We eat the communion bread and drink the juice when you aren’t looking.

There are scores of fun games that can be played under pews. Loose change can also be found there.

The best environment for freeze tag is the sanctuary.  “Jesus loves the little children,” so He’s OK with us running around in His house.

Please don’t act surprised or overly disappointed when we make mistakes. After all, we learned it from the elder’s kids.

All of you in the Church are extended family: cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

It may take us a while to understand why our parents love you so much.

When something funny happens in church, like someone passing gas or a bird gets in, it’s definitely a win.

Ask us to help out or lead something…we are here anyway & it honors us that you would think we have something to contribute too.

Old people smell funny, but they think we are cute and give us candy. So they can stay.

We like it when you come to our house instead of always having to meet at a church building. It’s more personal, and feels less like our parents are at work again.

We are part owners of the church building.

If there are cookies and popsicles anywhere, they will be found. They will be eaten. There will be no evidence of what happened. We will know nothing.

We can sniff out hypocrisy faster than one can say “practice what you preach.”

When our parents are appreciated, it makes us feel good about sharing them with others.

Genetics and environment have not predetermined that we are entering full time ministry someday, so don’t assume it.

We know a lot of the Bible stories as well as our teachers do…maybe better.  So spend time with the LORD in advance so we can learn why He is more important than the details of your flannel graph.  We want to know how you experience Him.

Our dad’s phone rings more than yours does.

The Nature of Nurture



The warmth of this past Tuesday evening drove me and our 5-year-old into the backyard for a serious game of trampoline baseball.  (If you don’t know the rules, I’ll post those later). During a brief break, we athletes collapsed onto the mat and noted the freshly tilled area of the yard still waiting to receive this season’s garden plants.  So I asked the little man:  “what kinds of plants do you think we need to put in our garden this Spring?” To which he replied:  “cherries, tomatoes, chocolate, macaroni & cheese, fish sticks, pickles and cucumbers.”

Summer agenda in the Plank household:  A 1st Grade Primer on Horticulture.

So in between practice rounds, we toured the yard and noted places where my perennials are peeking out of the soil.  He was curious why some plants came back to life, while in other areas we had to start over completely.  I have wonderful memories of “helping” my mom in her greenhouse when I was his age.  Maybe that’s why I love nature, the outdoors and truly feel that there is healing power in placing one’s hands in dirt.  I can still see her sprinkling seeds into potting soil and leaving it under a grow light on top of the hot water heater in our utility room.  This usually began in February.  Within a couple of weeks, it was time to separate the thousands of seedlings into 6 packs in the greenhouse…an all-day affair.  After weeks of watering, fertilizing, tending and fretting over keeping a continual warm temperature and minimum airflow, it was time to do what mom called “hardening off” the bedding plants.

C.S. Lewis said there were really only 2 books in life:  the Word of God and the Book of Nature.

I didn’t realize how important a proper “hardening off” was until I got older and attempted my own garden.  In other words, the fragile systems that have sustained the life of the plant since inception now had to be removed from the protected environment and quickly adjusted to the outside elements.  One of the best ways this was accomplished was in cold frames.  In cold frames, the plants could continue receiving warmth from an electric blanket mat at root level while being exposed to the cool night time air.  Plants that successfully harden off have a productive life ahead of them.  Those that do not become systemically damaged and rarely produce anything and never appear very healthy.

Our children are like those seedlings.  People that we disciple within the church are like these young plants too.  It is likely that you know people who were systemically damaged in the first half of their lives, and they have never fully recovered from it.  Recovery is not an impossibility, but it does require much Holy Spirit intervention and usually a lot of fortitude and will on the part of the person to move toward recovery.  For those who are nurtured in a healthy environment, they emerge as Kingdom gifts to the world.

The first half of life requires an environment of nurture, a desire for health and growth, and a teachable spirit.  For those of us entering or who are in the second half of life, know this:  it requires patience, sacrifice, maturity and selflessness.  If you are beyond 40, you have likely noticed how much of culture, school and church is programmed for first-half-of-lifers.  Have you caught yourself thinking “Hey, what about me?  What about the good old days?”  You must fight this urge to make things about you.  You will have moments when all is as you would have it; but your primary task now is to care for the seedlings.  Sadly, there are many in the 2nd half of life who still squawk like baby birds in need of nourishment.

Encourage the 1st-Halfers, challenge them, teach them, correct them, invest in them.  I’m not advocating a Montessori free-for-all, but let them take that hymn you hold as if you personally wrote it and hold the copyright to it.  Allow them embrace the faith you passed on to them by rearranging the score into a culturally relevant sound.  Be genuinely happy that those lyrics are meaningful to them and that they didn’t throw them out.  Point out the progress which you see evidenced in them, as was so important to Paul in 1 Timothy 4:15.  We naturally do this for our children.  Remember that we have many surrogate ones in the Church.

And when the cold-snap comes and every leaf has fallen off the tree, be present in the life of the one whose root is still alive until she re-emerges.

We Are



For  some practice in spiritual formation personally, with your Group or Triad this week, use the following Renew Group Study questions based upon today’s message “We Are” by Ron Lewis at Spring Road Christian Church:

1)    Have you ever experienced another culture (either in another country or perhaps in an international community locally) where “the way they did things” was really different?   Tell about your experience and explain why it was so different.

2)    What kind of “cultural differences” can you see between life in the Kingdom of God vs. life in the Kingdom of the world?  (For more interesting info, go and check the blog called “NaCl”)

3)    In one sentence, what’s the BIG IDEA of this week’s sermon entitled “We Are” based on Matthew 5:13-16?  If you missed it, you can listen online at

4)    Why have so many in American culture had such problem with the 10 Commandments  (Exodus 20:1-17) being posted in public places?

5)    What do you think the public’s reaction would be if The Beatitudes were posted in public places instead?  (Matthew 5:3-12)

6)    Why didn’t Jesus just restate the 10 Commandments here (in the above text)?  In what way(s) is/are The Beatitudes related to the 10 Commandments?

7)    The Discovery channel aired a show recently entitled Aftermath: Population Zero to show how our natural environment would reclaim the earth if all people were suddenly gone from the planet.  If all Believers were suddenly gone from our immediate area (The Valley), would it make a difference?  What do you believe would happen?

8)    Sometimes I catch myself looking at the world around me & focusing upon how bad things are…should we ever look around & think how much worse they would be if we were not present?

9)    When someone does a kind act toward you, to what degree are your antennae up about authenticity?  In other words, WHY would motivations for kind actions matter?

10)   In Falling Upwards, author Richard Rohr writes how every person radiates either “Thanatos” (death) or “Eros” (passion/life).   Can you think of people in your life who are these?  (No names please!)  Rohr goes on to say that most of us frequently find ourselves somewhere in between.  If these were on a continuum, where to you think you are? Where do you want to be?



Under correct conditions, the human eye can see a single lit candle for 3.5 miles!  You may think you need to be an airport beacon; but making big Kingdom impacts begin in small ways & close to home.  Write next to each category below (that apples to you) 1 practical way that you could be salt/light this week:

Spouse or Roomate

In the Office


While Driving

In a Restaurant

Checkout Line



Physical Home Environment

In my Subdivision or Community

Rated PG


20130405-134507.jpgAt this point in our history, “Plank Family Movie Night” is still cool. This includes all 5 immediate family members on the living room floor, on quilts, with multiple pillows, possibly under a tent constructed of upside-down furniture and yes, more quilts, Chinese food, popcorn and people’s soft-drink-of-choice.

Last weekend’s movie night involved the hilarious showing of “Parental Guidance.”. In this flick, grandparents Artie and Diane come into town to care for their grand kids for 1 week while the type-A helicopter parents are out of town. The LOL moments arise quickly out of this tension between Artie & Diane’s old-school parenting style contrasted with the ridiculous hypersensitivity of mom and dad.

I might slip up & send them into counseling for eternity!

But as over-the-top as the parents were, I have to say I saw a little of myself in them. Loving parents DO want the best for their kids.  We are constantly thinking about their development, their future and who they are becoming. BUT we do, at times, have crazy thoughts that “I slip up may send them into counseling for eternity.” The producers of Parental Guidance, I suspect, know this; which is why the message of this narrative to parents is a relieving one: Just Breathe!

Soon after watching this, I received a copy of Dr. Greg Moffatt’s monthly column, which spells out even more reasons why parents should relax. With his permission, I want to share this with others. You can read more helpful posts like this at

Six Myths of Modern Parenting
Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D. March 2013

I was with a friend in a baby store the other day. Baby superstores have an incredible racket. Marketers have effectively conditioned parents – especially new parents – to believe that they need all sorts of odds and ends that humans have lived without for centuries.

There have been “experts” in parenting for over a century. John Watson instructed parents in the 1920’s not to “show your children too much attention and only touch them when absolutely necessary. Never, never kiss them.” Crummy advice, but he was the expert. Thankfully, most parents ignored this advice.

In 1946 Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book on parenting was the cultural turning point where we began to realize that parenting wasn’t easy and maybe parents could use some real expert advice. This led to an interesting problem – hyper-vigilant focus on parenting. Today we live in an era when some parents are so worried about every movement they make that they have bought into every crackpot theory about raising children. Here are some ideas I would like to see buried forever.

Myth #1: Babies need lots of clothes, toys, and equipment. Baloney. Babies all over the world do just fine with a few changes of clothes and they will make toys out of whatever they have available to them. You could open a toy store with the excess toys most of our children have. Babies would be fine sleeping in a cardboard box with a firm cushion as long as it was clean and they were not at risk to pets or siblings who might hurt them. In many countries, babies sleep with their parents, siblings, or on a mat on the floor and they develop with no troubles.

Myth #2: Children need to go to pre-school. Double-baloney. While it is true that children who attend preschool are more prepared for kindergarten and first grade than those who don’t, this advantage is not sustained. The difference between preschooled children and those who don’t attend preschool disappears by the third grade. The more important issue is providing an academically stimulating environment. You can do that for free simply by reading regularly with your child and actively/deliberately learning about the world around you.

Myth #3: Your child needs to go to a good school. Half-baloney. Schools do make a difference, but the more important differences are the motivation of the teachers and the motivation of the learners. Motivated learners will learn even in a crummy school. There are fabulous, motivated teachers in both good and poorer schools. Teach your child to love learning and he/she will get along just fine.

Myth #4: My child needs to be in public school to socialize. Double-baloney. While there are children who are home-schooled who lack social skills, there is no data to support the myth that home-schooled children are any less social than those who attend public or private school. Personality differences and parenting practices most likely account for the differences sometimes observed here.

Myth #5: Television and computers are bad for my baby. One-quarter baloney. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under age two should “avoid TV.” That doesn’t mean they can’t EVER watch it and it doesn’t mean that having access to television or a computer once in a while isn’t helpful. Primary caregivers need a break. Letting your child watch 30 minute or an hour of television each day (assuming it is age-appropriate) won’t hurt a thing and it might help you be a better parent – allowing you to get a respite and recharge your own batteries.

Myth #6: Both parents have to work in order to provide what children need today. Baloney to the Nth power. Nobody wants to live in a housing project or an unsafe neighborhood, but the fact is, children need a loving primary care-giver more than they need almost anything else beyond the basic needs (food, shelter, clothing). Giving up extravagant vacations, new cars every year, fancy houses, and expensive habits is a small trade-off for seeing your children learn to walk, use their first words, and discover the world. That will happen with or without you, but the parental bond that helps ease the transition of the difficult teen years starts in the early months one-on-one with your child.

Love your child. Be present. Spend lots of time on walks, answering questions and listening to their stories. Respect them. Treat them kindly. These are the basics. Everything else may simply be advertising fluff.

Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.
Professor of Counseling and Human Services



salt + light1It was a mean and shameless practical joke.  A group of us had made it a tradition to spend quality celebration time in the East Point, GA Waffle House at 3 am one night in the middle of each final exam week.  I ordered a regular coffee and made the GIANT mistake of excusing myself to the restroom while waiting for my scattered, smothered & covered to arrive.  Upon returning, I dumped in cream & 3 teaspoons of sugar.  I took a large gulp of the java.  The jolt I got was not from the caffeine but rather from the sensation of having ingested ocean water.  My “friends” had emptied the salt shaker into the sugar canister, and I had unknowingly fallen for their deception.  I felt like someone had turned my head inside-out.

NaCl.  Sodium Chloride.  I have a vague recollection of this from high school Chemistry…NOT one of my better subjects.  But I do remember a couple of things.  It’s one of the most stable compounds in the world.   (Am I also remembering that one of them has a +2 charge & the other a -2 charge??  Seems like that’s in a file back there somewhere!)  This fact is interesting in light of how dangerous they can be separately.  Sodium alone can become supercharged with heat & burst into flames.  Chlorine at best is a great irritant & at worst can kill.  But together, they become a household item, a necessary seasoning and a powerful preservative.

In Matthew 5 as Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, He tells His Disciples that they are the salt of the earth.  Not that they could be, might be, ought to me, but ARE.  I think if I was one of those Jewish guys, sitting there listening, who hadn’t quite made-up-my-mind-who-this-guy-was-yet, my brain would have wandered back to Genesis 19.  The story of Lot & his family fleeing Sodom would have been a story told to me as a young boy, and memorized along with the rest of the Torah soon afterward.

This story was recently brought to life by History Channel’s “The Bible” miniseries which aired in the weeks leading up to Easter.  By the way, kudos to the producers of this who remained remarkably close to the Biblical story line.  I would say, however, that they missed the depth of depravity to which the “household of Lot” had sunk.  One of the most horrifying aspects of the whole story was that Lot offered his virgin daughters to the horde of angry homosexual men outside his door who were ready to gang rape Lot’s 2 angelic male visitors.  What the heck!!?? The preface to this narrative is Abraham’s conversation with God, “bargaining” for the city.  Would God destroy the city if 50 righteous people could be found?  40?  30?  10?  If just 10 righteous could be found, God would spare it.  Let’s suppose Lot & the immediate family were righteous…they only needed 6 more!  What’s going on here?

If I was one of those disciples, I would have remembered that there was an instruction to not look back.  Lot’s wife did, and something very interesting happens.  God could have turned her to stone.  I suppose she could have turned into chocolate, or melted down like the Wicked Witch of the West; but no…she turns into a pillar of salt.  God turns her into the very thing she was supposed to have been in her culture!  I just wonder if Mr. & Mrs. Lot had been salt of the earth, glorifying God in small ways in their daily lives, if there would not have been even 3 other men and 3 other ladies who would have been drawn to faith in Yahweh.  (Shameless plug:  they would have been saved if they have been leading a Small Group!)

If we are His disciples, then we are the salt of the earth as well.  The power of being salt is not going on overseas mission trips or leading convention-sized Christian rallies.  Much of being salt is accomplished in the ordinariness of life.

I love this quote from Donald McCullough’s book Say Please, Say Thank You:  The Respect We Owe One Another:

I’m more interested in the little things, such as remembering to say “thank you” and to call your mom on Mother’s Day.  These things may not seem very important when compared to the major problems facing our culture.  Yet they may be the best place to begin; they may be the only honest place to begin.  If a person can’t remember to say thank you to her housekeeper, it probably won’t matter much is she writes a major philosophical treatise on kindness; if a person is rude to his family, the angels probably won’t give a holy rip if he preaches soaring sermons on the nature of love.

This week at our church (Spring Road Christian Church) we begin a new series called “Kingdom Revisited.”  In particular, this week focuses upon Jesus’ statement to us as His disciples that we are “salt & light” in the world.  For further personal or group study on this Sunday’s sermon & text, click Group Study 4.7.13 to download this week’s Renew Group Discussion Questions.

What kind of seasoning or preservative is your soul being in the community around you?  Is the energy radiating from you breathing life or death to those around you?  For a little added bonus on how Spiritual Formation teachers are explaining a Well Ordered Soul who is “salt & light” in the world, you may be interested in this video: