Fresh Fruit (Week 1)

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Thanks to our spectacular Children’s Pastor (the astounding Laura Rubin), our kids have had the Fruit of the Spirit drilled into them…well, at least they know Galatians 5:22-23 really well.  I don’t know if the “fruit of the Spirit” song they keep singing is an original or not, but it has definitely stuck.  So Emily & I decided that this might be a good opportunity to take 1 per week, over the Summer, as a family, and investigate each one. photo

Of course with boys everything is a competition…so the added layer to learning is that at the end of each week, we will vote.  Whoever we believe modeled that particular virtue or fruit during the week, gets the “game ball.”  No just hold on, all ye theologians who feel we may instill works righteousness into our kids…you gotta start somewhere!  You are correct:  we don’t start with fruit and get to the root of the tree.  It IS the other way around.  My hope as a parent is that in practicing these, and talking about each one throughout the week as a family will help us see how desperately we need Christ in our hearts in order for these to become natural.

First up:  Love.  It was family vacation this week, and we attempted to practice “loving our neighbor as we love ourselves,” and “treating each other the way we desire to be treated.”  A couple lessons emerged from this…even for mom and dad :).

1)  It’s frequently easier to show love to my “neighbor” with whom I do not live!  The person who is always around and in/near my space has a tendency to get on my nerves.  Why is it so easy to be thoughtless and disrespectful to family in ways we would never imagine with others?

2)  The LORD makes a significant point when He said to love others as we love ourselves.  Most of us REALLY love ourselves.  Not in an over-the-top narcissistic kind of way, but in most moments of the day I reveal great concern about ME:  what I’m going to eat, what this outfit will look like on me, what others think about me, will I get to eat at the restaurant I want,  is there enough money to buy the thing I want…on and on.  It’s as if I want to ensure I’m taken care of first, then I’ll get to you.  What the Spirit reveals in practicing love is that I’m not against you, I’m just so FOR ME.  Practicing agape’ (loving without expecting in return) is hard, unnatural, and impossible without the Spirit of Christ.

Parents…remember that we are the primary disciplers of our children, not the Church.  I love the Church.  I’m a huge fan and have committed my life to working in the Church.  I’m deeply grateful for ALL of the things the Church does to provide material, education, godly examples and wonderful experiences to expose my children to Christ and the community of faith.  Let’s embrace the opportunity to use those tools to infuse Christ into our conversation and experiences at home.  At best, the Church has your kids 100 hours per year.  They have you over 3000 hours per year!

Who got the game ball this week?  Likely not I.  We’ll find out at bedtime 🙂

Theology of Geometry

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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.

Things You Should Know About PK’s

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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

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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.

Rated PG

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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 http://www.gregmoffatt.com.

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