Learning Faith -Part 3

This is part three in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part 1 here, and part 2 here.

Raising Parents

Parents mentoring their kids in matters of faith and life isn’t what seems to be happening as much these days.  Gone are the days of boys learning to mow the lawn alongside their fathers.  Now, they pay to have someone else do it.  Most girls aren’t learning how to cook with their mothers.  Dinner is now too often provided by KFC.  With all of our modern conveniences, we have forgotten to teach our children how to live and how to be adults.

The same things can be said for matters of faith.  As consumers, we have fallen prey to the idea that spiritual education is what happens at church.  Spiritual education does happen at church, of course.  But if that is the primary place that we plan for spiritual education, we are destined to fail at this task.  This kind of outsourcing will not work.  When spiritual matters are reserved for church, the lesson is that one may do whatever one wants and live however he chooses, as long as he puts on a smile on Sunday.

Parents are the primary teachers about faith, not necessarily how to exegete a Pauline epistle, but about how our faith affects our daily lives.

I don’t want to sound like I’m griping, and I don’t level any accusations on everyone.  But I think one of the largest complaints I have about the state of the family is that it seems to me that many parents have forgotten that one of the primary roles of parenting is to end up with your offspring as functioning adults.  The goal should be to produce adults that are even better than you were.  This is true in regard to career and intelligence, and it is also true about faith.

Case in point: In the last 10 years of ministry, I know of no teen (male or female) who has access to the Internet in their own room and does not have an addiction to pornography, or inappropriate sexual relationships online.  I know this, because the students come to me and tell me.  I have gone to their homes and moved their computers for them (upon their request).  I have prayed with them for freedom from these addictions.

Despite this, when parents tell me that their child wants a computer in their room (this happens often), I tell them my experience, yet 100% of the time the student ends up with a computer in their room within a month.  When I occasionally ask the parent why this happened, they shrug their shoulders as if to say, “Oh well.”

No, not “Oh well.”  Children don’t need a buddy.  Teens don’t need a hip mom or dad.  They need a parent.  The teens that tell me how cool their lenient parents are, are the same teens that come to me crying to say that they feel constant chaos.  Kids need parents.  The message that parents send to teens when they don’t take leadership on these issues is that there is no moral standard.

I have no doubt in my mind that parents who are not teaching their kids important skills for their future adulthood are not teaching these kids the stories, principles, and reasons for their faith.  I cannot believe that the Church will fail and disappear.  But I do believe unless this is changed quickly, the state of the Church in the West will read like a passage in Second Kings.  This is an emergency.

Sun Chips Green Bag -Week 3

This is the end of week 2 (the start of week 3) of my little experiment with the compostable Sun Chips bag. As the video shows, there doesn’t appear to be any significant signs of composting at all, up to this point. However, when I reviewed the time-lapse video that Sun Chips put on the web, there aren’t any significant signs of composting until the end of week 3. So for our little green bag, this is an important week. We are praying for you to have a serious breakdown this week, little bag. Here’s the video from this week.

Learning Faith -Part 2

This is part two in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.  Read part one here, and stay tuned for part three.

Shoveling Dirt, and other spiritual lessons

So, we have seen how the Bible is pretty clear about the importance of passing on faith memes, in order to cement and pass on our rich Christian faith and heritage.  We have seen how in the past Israel’s neglect of this duty led to apostasy, syncretism, and moral decline.  The next obvious question is, “So how are we doing now? Are we passing on these memes?”

I contend that we aren’t.

OK, that seems a bit harsh.  Yes, there are Christian children and teens who are growing up with a deep faith.  There are young people learning how to lead worship services, run ministries, and do evangelism.  But there are also ridiculously high numbers of men and women between the ages of 18 and 25 who are leaving the church, never to return.  The percentage of Americans who are claiming an allegiance to Christian faith is declining, and the socio-political influence of Christianity on Western culture is undoubtedly in retreat.

A large reason for this according to the book Essential Church, is that many Americans (This book deals with American church statistics, although I would contend that this holds true in other Western countries) see the Church as an institution that is not essential to their lives.  They see the ceremony and programs, and can’t find a vibrant and valuable relationship with God happening.

More anecdotally, in 14 years of youth ministry I have noticed a growing loss of biblical literacy within the next generations of the Church.  There is also a lack of practiced disciplines of faith in these generations.  Many teens know each and every part of the church service, but don’t have any understanding of fundamental elements of Christianity.  This is not something I have noticed as tied to a particular church or denomination.  It is much more of a cross-section than that.

To take a small detour:

After I take a shower at night, I use a squeegee to wipe down the walls.  This helps keep my shower from getting mold and mildew.  But that isn’t really the reason I do it.  I use the squeegee because my grandfather did the same thing.  He had a squeegee in his shower and I heard him use it after he finished with his showers.

Every time I sweep the grass clippings off of my sidewalk I hear his instructions in my head.  When I sort laundry I hear my Mom’s voice, and when I spell Renaissance, I hear my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Maddox.  I am who I am because of those people’s example in my life, and not just in instructional ways.

I read my Bible because I know that God grows me through that communication channel, and He makes me more like Him.  But every time I open my Bible I remember my Grandad with his Bible open on his desk, and all of the highlights and notes he had put in it.  In case I ever forget, I have his Bible on my shelf.  It is one of the few things of his that I have.  In it is a picture of generations of my family together at a family reunion.  My Mom was pregnant with me, her only child.

My grandfather obviously had a mental connection to reading his Bible with the faith strain running through the generations of our family, and that connection has passed on to me.  It is a meme.  It is good.  It is the plan of God.

These things came to my mind recently as I was moving a large amount of dirt in a pile with one of the students in my High School group.  He is a good kid—a little squirrely—but a good kid.  He has a good dad.  But as we shoveled dirt, he needed me to explain how a shovel is used.  I didn’t mind explaining.  He responded by saying that he didn’t know, because he never did these things with his father.  I told him that his dad was a busy man with too much on his shoulders, and that is true.

The point of this is that things even as rudimentary as shoveling dirt have to taught, and that requires things like mentoring.  Boys and girls learn how to be men and women by watching their parents, teachers, and mentors, and by doing things alongside them.  How much more is it important to instill things of faith to your children?

Learning Faith -Part 1

This is part one in a 3 part series on how we educate the next generation in matters of faith.

Faith as Meme

I am currently reading a book about memes.  Everyone I mention this to asks me the same immediate question.  “What in the heck is a meme?”   Then I begin the inordinately long process of explaining what this is.

Basically, a meme is a unit of cultural understanding that is passed on through a culture by repetition.  The easiest way to understand a meme is to think of it as the same as DNA, except for culture.  It is passed on from one person to another.  Old-Wives-Tales are memes, and so are the words to traditional songs.  Auld Land Syne is a perfect example of this.  It goes deeper than that, though.  You wear dark colors at funerals and you wear lighter colors at weddings.  A woman going to a wedding wearing all black would be offensive.  Famous ad slogans are also memes.  If I said, “The best part of waking up…” You would most likely immediately think, “…is Folgers in your cup.”  That is a meme!

The reason that I bring this up is not because I have a particular interest in information science, although I do.  Reading and thinking about this has brought up other ideas in my head, ideas about culture, ideas about faith—both my individual faith and the faith of the Church.  It might seem at first heretical to say that the message of Jesus, the stories in the Bible, and both the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of Christianity are all memes, but I believe that they are.  I believe that God intended them to be.

When that thought first occurred in my head, my immediate reaction was, “Whoa, Ryan—hold the phone.  Lightening may soon strike.”  But no lightening struck, and as I thought about it, all of it seemed to fit.  It is scary at first to think of Christianity as anything other than an immediately apparent truth that is written somewhere in the sky, accessible to anyone who bothers to simply look up.  And I am not saying that the truth of Christ is something that is just a cultural way of thinking and doing.  It is the Truth.  It can be found by anyone.  So I am not demeaning the things of God in any way.  All this just means that Natural Theology can only get us to understand that there must be a creator-God, but it can’t tell us anything more, really.  To really get to know God, we need to acquire these bits of faith memes.

But this is not something that someone simply looks into the air to find.  God didn’t intend it to be this way at all.  Yes, it is true that Romans chapter 1:18-20 says,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

This passage makes Christians in the West quite happy.  Although we don’t think this consciously, we understand it to mean that the job of communicating the basics of God, sin, and redemption have already been done automatically and genetically by God.  And certainly that is true, to a point.  It does mean that everyone has no excuse for rejecting God.  But it does not in any way get Christians off the hook for communicating this news, for no one can look up at the stars and deduce that a loving God must have become man and died on a cross during Roman times for our forgiveness.  This must be taught to them.

The Bible makes this perfectly clear.  In God’s economy, we are one hundred percent accountable for transmitting the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of our faith memetically (this is not mimetically, although that word would be appropriate as well).  This is to happen in two distinct ways.

The first of these is the more obvious.  We are to affect the world around us by spreading the good news of Jesus through the world.  There are myriad verses that address this point, and it forms the basis of much of New Testament Christianity.

The second way that Christians are to spread the ortho-’s of our faith is through our own people, particularly the next generation as we raise our children.  This point is spread throughout the whole Bible, but the Old Testament covers this repeatedly.  It is clear in the Old Testament that it was very important to Yahweh that the next generation hear all about what He has done and how He related throughout history with His people.  Look at what God had them do when they finally entered into the land that He had promised to give them in Joshua, chapter 4.

So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

We see this also in Exodus, chapter 12, God tells His people to commemorate their freedom from slavery in Egypt through God’s miraculous hand with a special celebration and ceremony.  This was to be done for generations to come as a reminder, so that the people would never forget.

In fact, most of Israel’s holy days were commemorations of what God had done.  This was not for means of celebrating the past.  It was for the express purpose of reminding those in the present of God’s faithfulness, and their shared history with God.  They were also use this to speak into the future generations to ensure that the faith of Israel would not be lost.

One of the most striking glimpses of this in action can be seen in the 22nd and 23rd chapters of 2 Kings.  After numerous kings that did not honor God, Israel had become quite a mess.  Instead of following Yahweh, the people had mixed a bunch of religions all together.  It was anything-goes spirituality.  After generations of doing this, people had no spiritual compass whatsoever.  Their worship of these gods included burning their children to death in fires, having sex with prostitutes in temples, taking hallucinatory drugs for spiritual purposes, and a whole host of other nasty and amoral practices.

But more than that, they had completely forgotten much of their history (especially the aspects dealing with God) in many cases, and corrupted it with complete myth in many others.

God was angry.

But Josiah, who really wanted to do what was right, discovered the Law and was powerfully rocked to learn that God’s word had been completely forsaken.  It wasn’t like Josiah had known what God wanted all along, and was just the first in a while to actually follow it.  Josiah finding God’s word reads like a scene straight out of Indiana Jones.  Suddenly this revelation of God is found that people didn’t even have any clue about.  Josiah reads this and tears his robes, weeping at finding out all this new stuff about who God really is, their history with Him, and what He expects from them.

Following that is a full list of draconian measures that Josiah went to in order to fix things.  One set of verses gives a window on how this fall from morality and spiritual faithfulness could have happened.

Then the king commanded all the people saying, “Celebrate the Passover to the LORD your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.”  Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.  But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was observed to the LORD in Jerusalem.

God’s command to remember and teach about what He had miraculously done for His people, as mentioned in Exodus 12, had been completely neglected for hundreds of years!  The people now had no concept of it at all.  Their history with God had been completely forsaken, and now forgotten.

The importance of passing on history, faith, and cultural values is not something that is contained only in the Old Testament.  Jesus tells His followers in the New Testament to commemorate His death through Communion.  As the early Church interpreted this, it was not to be done as a ceremony once in a while at a service, but the kind of thing that was followed as people ate together.  Communion was to be celebrated at the dinner table with the family.

The Epistles in the latter New Testament talk about this idea as well.  Both Titus and First Peter talk about younger men and women learning from older men and women.  The early church clearly invested in the ideas of mentoring younger Christians in the faith, and educating those who were spiritually younger using creedal statements and liturgical prayers, as well as hymns.

Sun Chips Green Bag -Week 2

This is the start of week 2 of my Sun Chips compostable green bag experiment.  On the back of the bag it advertises that the bag will fully compost in 12 weeks.  I am going to test that out.

At the end of week 1, after 7 full days, I noticed no deterioration whatsoever.  This does not mean that it won’t happen.  It just means that there are no visible signs so far.

For those of you who are skeptically minded, I have placed an active compost mix both above and below the bag.  This compost mix is a mix of full composted material, uncomposted organic material, and everything in between.  The compost is in various states of breakdown and some of it has been composting for 6 months.  The box is placed outside in the elements where it is affected by both rain and sun.

Here is the video of what I found after 7 days.

Sun Chips Green Bag

Have you seen the new Sun Chips eco-bag?  It’s the one that makes a ton of sound whenever you touch it.  I had a hard time eating the chips, because every time I tried to eat my neighbors would stop by and tell me to “knock it off!”

In all seriousness, I love the idea of eco-friendly bags.  There is no reason that everything known to man needs to be wrapped in plastic.  If you really think about it, half of our landfills are filled not with things that are broken and don’t work anymore, but the packaging for all of our new stuff.  So, I enthusiastically support Sun Chips in their effort.

In case you aren’t aware of exactly what I’m talking about, here is a crash course from the Sun Chips people, themselves.

So, being the really scientific guy I am, I decided to conduct my own experiment.

I have my own compost bin at home.  So, gathered up some of the compost, and put it in a plastic tub.  I’ll be checking back with the bag each week, and showing updates.  We’ll see if the bag is really gone in 12-14 weeks, as they claim.  Here are pictures of the bag, and a short video showing the start of week 1.

Sun Chips bag

Sun Chips back of bag

Here is the video of me setting up the experiment.

Happy Mother’s Day

As I have prepared for Mother’s Day this year, my thoughts have turned to flowery gifts and cheesy cards.  But in a way, the whole Mother’s Day card idea seems to be both a little impersonal, and overly discrete.  We buy a card with a flowery picture where some guy in an office has written something that appeals to the broadest audience possible, but we are supposed to pretend it is the sentiment of our innermost selves.  Often times we say something like, “I read this, and it captured my exact feelings for you.”  These are great for those who don’t have much of an ability to express themselves.

At the same time, we share these “deep feelings” with only the mother we are so proud of.  So the card that says, “I want the whole world to know how special you are,” is sealed tightly in an envelope and addressed only to that one Mom that you want the whole world to know about.

So, this Mother’s Day I want to do something a little different: instead of buying a card and sending it off for only my Mom to read, I’m going to do my best to capture my thoughts for my Mom in my own words and leave it out in the open for the whole world to see.  From this point on, I’ll be addressing my Mom directly in first-person, but everyone is invited along because I believe that my Mom is truly worth celebrating.



When I think back to all of the formative moments of my life, you are always there, front and center.  Every award, every performance, every skinned knee, you were there.  When I fell down, it was you who picked me up.  When I lost my course and aim, you helped me turn.

I remember you at every band performance, musical, and sports game.
I remember your strength in moments where it seemed like you and I against the whole world.

You taught me that if you lie about something, you might not get to go to the Halloween party.
You taught me that there is nothing much better than sitting on the counter on a Saturday morning and making breakfast together, and that
Bugs Bunny is always funny no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
You taught me that there is nothing more healing than the song “You are My Sunshine.”

You helped me see that amazing wonders of nature like Giant Sequoias are more than just trees.  They are the very fingerprints of God.

Through the good times and the bad, you’ve always been there and always persevered.  You’ve taught me everything I know, and I am proud to be your son.  Everything I have and everything I am is because of you.  I’ll always love you. Thank you Mom.

Just as a fun little bit from history, I was able to get an old picture of my mom from some of her professional dancing days.  She has always been really light on her feet.