Thursday, March 5, 2015

The "Future" Trap

We have a painting smock for kids at our house.  It is very useful for keeping paint off of clothes.  It is made of plastic, ties around the neck and under the arms, and covers both the front and the back.  It's saved countless outfits in its time.
Lily's masterpiece
The only problem I have with it is that it says "Future Artist" on the front.  So, at what point will Lily become a "Present Artist?"  I would argue that she already is one.  And was one even at 3, when this picture was taken.  She's also a musician, an athlete, a writer, and many other things.

Kids have it rough in some ways.  Rory is 12 years old and feels like he's in limbo.  He can't wait to get older, because he feels like he'll finally be "something."  He talks all the time about what he wants to do when he grows up.  He sees himself as having no real life until he is old enough to get a job.
Rory and some of his plants
In some ways, he's right.  Our society puts very little importance on what children do or think.  They are expected to go through the motions as a group until they are old enough to think for themselves.  But at what age does this happen?  Is there some magical time when we have all the answers and can run our own lives without help?  Should there be?

In my state, school is compulsory until age 16.  Most kids attend until 18, when they graduate from high school.  They are permitted to go to public school until the year they turn 21 if they don't graduate before then.  So, according to state law, kids are able to run their own lives somewhere between the ages of 16 and 21.  Until then, someone else knows what's best for them.  After that, they're on their own.

Part of going to school involves learning whatever the school thinks you should learn exactly when the school thinks you should learn it.  To look at it in a simplified way, someone decided what people need to learn and divided it up into 13 years of school, portioning out the instruction so that it all gets done in a logical sequence and also takes the whole 13 years.  Of course, it used to be 12, as kindergarten was more like preschool is now.  And people are trying to make it 14 by making preschool mandatory, at which point I suppose they will start teaching the current kindergarten curriculum to the four-year-olds.

I have to wonder whether constantly being told what to do and when to do it is best for kids.  I don't mean to say that children know as much as adults or shouldn't ever be instructed in anything, but I can't imagine that every kid in America needs to know the same things by the same time, or that they all take the same amount of time to learn it. 

Benjamin Franklin attended grammar school for 2 years starting at age 8, was an apprentice typesetter for a newspaper at age 12, and left his hometown of Boston on his own at age 17 to go to Philadelphia and become an independent printer.  Thomas Edison started school at age 8, and attended for three months before his mother withdrew him because his teacher thought he was "addled."  He spent time at home experimenting until age 12 when he got a job selling food to train passengers.  He spent the money on more materials for his experiments.

Where would we be if Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison had been forced to spend 12 - 14 years sitting in classrooms during the day and playing organized sports and doing homework until bedtime?  Is all of this age-graded, scope-and-sequence organized, planned-out-to-the-minute instruction necessary?  What if our kids are being forced to wait for life to start, when they have ideas that would make a difference now?  What if, instead of learning who they are and what they can do, they are learning to compare themselves to each other?  What if they are learning to follow instructions given by authority figures without having the opportunity to learn how to think for themselves?  What if the revolutionists and inventors of our time are being dumbed-down to function with all the other cogs in the wheel?

Our society tends to treat children as if they are empty, and we have to put in the right ingredients to make them "right."  But what if children are already full?  What if they are born ready to learn and we just have to make sure that they are given the opportunity?  What if they are all gifted in their own ways, and will learn what they need to know in their own time?  What if some of them take 2 years and others take 20?  What if some are ready to learn something at age 4 and others at age 10?  What if they are not "future" anythings, but are already the people they are destined to be inside?  They may need more experience or more information, but how can anyone know exactly which experiences and information someone else will need?  What if children, and adults for that matter, were given tools to find these things out for themselves, rather than being fed the things that other people think they need to know?  And what if they were able to share the things that they were passionate about with others who were interested in what they had to say?  Not as "future" teachers, but as people who are useful members of society right now?

What if no-one has a point where they begin learning, or a point where they end?  What if life is a constant process of learning and growing, from the time we are born until the time we die?  What if?

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Perfect Plan

I wonder.  What is God's plan for us?  Many of us have memorized Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. We take this as meaning that God's plans are for each of us individually to be prosperous, with a wonderful future.  Which obviously means that we will be prosperous in the way we want.  Money, or possessions, or health, or descendants, or happiness, or whatever you want to fill in the blank with.  But then, you have to wonder if this is really what it means.  And if it is, how does that look - with everyone getting everything they want?

We live on a small, blue planet.  It is home to 7,298,178,354 people as of about 30 seconds ago.  Of course, the number was growing faster than I could write it, so by the time I'm finished with this sentence it will probably go up another several hundred or thousand.  If you'd like to see what it is by the time you read this, click here.  There is a running total.

Did you ever try to coordinate something for a group of people?  Were you able to make things perfect for everyone in the group, or did some people have to deal with something other than what they really wanted?  If you were able to please everyone at once, leave a comment to enlighten us all on how you did it!  I for one would love to know!  Now, try to please 7 billion people.  All at once.  Hmm.  Not so easy, is it?

Okay, so maybe the Lord is talking about Christians only (not completely true, as this passage is in the old testament, when Christ hadn't yet come, but we won't worry about that right now.)  I can't find an up-to-the-millisecond Christian counter, but most statistics I found estimated that Christians made up about 1/3 of the world.  So, 1/3 of 7 is about 2.3 billion people.  Hmm.  Still more than I've ever had to deal with.

Of course, you say, but this is God we're talking about.  The Almighty!  He can do things that we little measly humans can't even imagine.

True.  I would never want to slight the power of God.  But think.  In order for everyone - even 1/3 of everyone - to get everything they want, people would have to live in their own little individual bubbles!  Otherwise, what happens when I want what someone else has?  What if we're both Christians?  Who wins out, and who goes away unhappy?

There has to be more to this.  We know that God does not lie.  So let's look at things a little closer.

Another favorite verse is Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  Aha!  This is a little different.  This is not saying that we are going to be prosperous, but that God works for our good.  Did your kid ever ask you for something that you knew would hurt him?  Did you give it to him?  What if he really, really wanted it?  You wouldn't do that, would you.  You would let him be disappointed in order to keep him safe.  You, as his parent, have more experience than he does, so sometimes you need to step in and give him what is good for him, rather than what he wants.

Do you have more than one kid?  What if there's only a little ice cream left, and both of your kids want all of it for themselves?  You can't give both of them all of the ice cream, so you split it between them.  Maybe they don't get as much, but they both get some.  Or you manage to bargain with one of them, so that one kid gets the ice cream and the other one gets the cookies.  The purpose here is that everyone gets dessert.

Romans 8:28 ends with "who have been called according to his purpose."  I'm assuming that means God's purpose.  Isaiah 55:8 reads “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  Aha!  God is not called to fulfill our purposes.  We were called according to his.  And, surprise, God's purposes are not ours!

Psalm 37:4 states Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.  This is another verse we use to convince ourselves that we should be getting whatever we want.  But the first phrase says "Take delight in the Lord."

Here's what I think.  God is not promising us riches, health, or happiness.  What he is offering us is the opportunity to be part of the solution.  We are not called to "take care of number one."  We are called to take up our cross.  To die to self, and live for Christ.  When we do that, our priorities change.  It is no longer about what makes us happy, but what makes Jesus happy.  If you want to know what that is, read the Sermon on the Mount, found in the book of Matthew, chapters 5-7.  Or Matthew 25:35-36 - For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’  This is the description Jesus gave of those who would receive eternal life.  Notice that the people described are always giving, not getting.  They are living their lives for others, not themselves.

When you spend your life worrying about what you want, you are destined to be disappointed.  No one gets everything they want.  There is always something better out there, or too great a price to pay.  But when you spend your life for others, you get joy.  It is pure joy to see someone else benefit because of something you did.  Did you ever give someone a gift that turned out to be just perfect?  Didn't the look on that person's face more than make up for any hardship you might have experienced in getting it for them?

God wants that for us.  He wants each of us to get what is perfect.  Not what we think we want, but what is perfect for us to have.  He really wants that for everyone on this small blue planet.  But he's relying on those of us who have been called according to his purpose, and who take delight in the Lord.  Because if we are really living out our faith, we will be doing his will, and not our own.  Our wants will cease to matter in light of the greater good that we have through Christ Jesus.

God sees so much more than we ever will.  He sees each of his 7 billion children, and wants what's best for all.  We are all connected.  We are all in this together.  And together, we can make a difference.  We can all be part of God's plan.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tunnel Vision

That was our pastor's message for today - based on the story of the transfiguration of Jesus.  The story can be found in Matthew 17:1-8, Luke 9:28-36, and Mark 9:2-8.  To paraphrase, the story goes that Jesus took Peter, John, and James up to a mountain to pray.  While there, they noticed that Jesus was glowing!  Then, Moses and Elijah appeared (both had been gone for hundreds of years already), and spoke with Jesus.  It doesn't really say what they said, but then a cloud came over them, and a voice came out of the cloud, saying "This is my son.  Listen to him!"  Then everything disappeared except for Jesus.

Wow.  Can you even imagine such a thing?  We live in an age where we can see amazing things on TV or the internet, but can you imagine seeing this In Person??  I don't know if I'd have stayed long enough to see only Jesus standing there.  I probably would have been halfway down the mountain by then, sliding on the seat of my pants and screaming!

Well, the gist of the message was that no matter what is going on around us, we have to get to where we are focused on Jesus.  That was what was really happening there on that mountain.  God was turning over the reins, so to speak.  Here was Moses, who brought the law.  Here was this amazing prophet.  And here was God, saying "Listen to Jesus."

This has two implications, to me.  First, though we have the Old Testament, we are not living under the Jewish law anymore.  Something new has been instituted.  We are living according to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And second, we need to sift everything we do and say through that gospel.  God himself told the disciples who to look to for answers.  And he didn't say to only listen in certain situations or on certain days of the week.  It was pretty much a "whatever he says, goes!" type of statement.  When we listen to Jesus, we are listening to God.  And when we speak to Jesus, we are speaking to God.  And when we are living with Jesus, we are living with God.

If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  
Romans 8:31-34 (NIV) 

There are so many things to focus on in this world.  And so many of them are good things.  There are countless charities that need our help.  There are countless political issues that beg for our support.  There are countless ways to make our lives better, healthier, and more productive.  But each of these wonderful causes has the ability to divert our focus from Jesus, and consequently from God, and from the very reason we were created.

God said "let us make man in our image (Gen.1:26)."  And he put man on the earth to take care of his creation.  And as long as he was connected to God, everything went well.  He was God's representative, and everything behaved as it would for God.  It was when he turned his back on God, and wanted to be his own boss, that things went wrong.  Instead of unlimited food, the ground produced thorns and thistles, and man had to sweat and strain to get enough food to eat (Gen.3:18-19).

For thousands of years, men sweated under this curse, trying to do it all on his own.  God gave him the law, to show him the right way, but he couldn't follow it correctly because he was still trying to do it all himself.

Jesus came to lead us back.  To show us that there is a better way.  To smooth the path back to God.

Jesus said  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Did you know?  All of our struggles can be relieved.  We just need tunnel vision.  To change our focus from ourselves, and the thousands of things in the world that bombard us every day, to Jesus. A few years ago, there was a saying going around, "What would Jesus do?"  And that's a pretty good way to look at it.  But even better, because, as my son points out, we can't see Jesus, we should maybe say "What would Jesus say?"  Because didn't God tell us to listen to him?  And we can't really watch him right now, but we can certainly listen.  We can read his words in the Bible.  We can pray, and expect an answer to come.  We live in a verbal society, even if our verbal skills are getting condensed into initials.  We still communicate mostly with words.  And since we were made in the image of God, we can assume that he does, too.

So listen to Jesus.  Read his words, and search your heart.  Jesus is ready to lead.  He is ready to carry your burdens, and give you rest.  But you have to stop being distracted by everything else, and focus on him. And when you do, all of that other stuff will start to fall away.  You'll be able to see the good that is happening for you just under the surface, even when things appear to be going wrong.  Because he does really want the best for you.  But you can never be your best until you are living with him as you were created to do.

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