Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Needed Post About Parenting and the Bible That's Actually About Neither

A disclaimer: This was going to be a post about religious freedom, a foray into the national conversation about gay weddings and florists and conscience and who Jesus would or would not bake a cake for, but this is not that post. This might also have been a post about what goodness truly looks like—whether it's possible to experience things that are truly good apart from God. But this is not that post either.

This is, instead, the post I was led to write after wrestling with both of those things, and it's the result of the conviction I felt after hearing Andy Stanley speak earlier this week. He said a couple of things that have stirred my heart since I heard them. I've been told they're things he says fairly regularly, so forgive me if you've heard them before.

The first thing Andy said that got me thinking was this: "Our goal is to have the kind of relationship with our kids so that, when we no longer have to be a family, everyone will still want to be a family." (That may not be the exact way he put it, but that's the idea.) Since Laurin and I don't have kids yet (our first baby is due in July!), I feel like I have a perfect record as a parent. No complaints. No dysfunction. I am acing this whole parenting thing. And when our baby is born, that will be my goal—to keep our family relationship strong. Think about it: No other goal we have for our families will matter if we miss this one. No matter how much we want our kids to love Jesus, succeed in life, or become contributing members of society who love their fellow man, we'll have no opportunities to speak into their lives if they don't want to be around us.

The other thing Andy Stanley said that stopped me in my tracks had to do the Bible. He said we should avoid using the phrase "The Bible says ..." when teaching and preaching. Having worked at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association a number of years ago, I can't hear that phrase without imagining Bill Graham delivering it in his commanding southern drawl to a packed stadium. But Andy's purpose in saying this was not to second-guess the Bible's authority or to downplay the effectiveness of men like Graham. Instead, he was arguing that in today's modern, ever more secular context, the Bible carries little weight with most people—especially the unchurched.

He made the case that it's more powerful to appeal to Jesus or one of the New Testament writers. Jesus is still well-respected by all but the most cynical. And the New Testament writers—specifically Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and James—each have a wonderful testimony that can be shared when we mention their names. For instance, instead of saying, "The Bible says if anyone needs wisdom, he should seek God," we could say, "James, Jesus' brother, says if anyone needs wisdom, he should seek God. Oh—by the way, have you ever thought about how powerful it is that James believed Jesus was the Son of God? I mean, what would your brother have to do to convince you that he was the Son of God?" Much more powerful, right?

But what do these two statements from Andy Stanley have to do with anything? And why did I bring up what I was going to write about but didn't? Because Andy's way of thinking got me thinking, How much time do I spend contemplating things that are right, good, and true but ultimately do nothing to draw people into the next conversation? We can be absolutely orthodox and even rather brilliant, but if we're not making it so people want to continue the conversation, what difference does it make? As someone who loves words and is honored to make a living writing and editing them, I am thoroughly convicted that I don't spend nearly enough time thinking about my approach.

The most loving thing we may be able to do for people is maintaining the relationship—this is true with our children, and it's true with everyone else God places in our paths. And when it comes to wanting to share the gospel with people, this is so very important—it makes no difference if we're right if no one is listening.

This post began with a disclaimer, and it ends with a confession: Too often, I've failed to keep the conversation going. Too often, I've used the gift of words to be right, rather than to cultivate an approach that draws people in. And for these things, I'm sorry.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Day Atlanta Stopped

Last Tuesday, I ate a bowl of butternut squash soup as I peered out the window of the dining room at my office. When the light was just right, and I squinted at the bushes, I could make out a few flakes. The moment I had been waiting for all season long had begun. It was finally snowing.

People had told me that this sometimes happens in Atlanta, but in my three winters in Georgia, I had yet to see anything more than a passing flurry. I'm from New England, so snow doesn't bother me, doesn't cause me to drive erratically, and doesn't inspire me to purchase a three-week supply of milk, bread, and toilet paper. Instead, I find it beautiful—a pristine white blanket over creation. And I find it exciting. As the intensity of the snow showers increased, and I hurried to finish my lunch, I was just slightly more restrained than a kid about to find out he has a snow day home from school.

But as innocent and fragile as those flakes seemed through the dining room window, they brought lots and lots of friends—friends who would turn to ice and stick to the roads. Before too long, the slippery conditions of the highways and bridges coupled with the mass exodus from the city turned Atlanta into a parking lot. I was one of the lucky ones. My drive home from work took was a mere two hours and change. Some friends weren't so fortunate. Some got stuck at work; others spent five, six—even 12 hours in their cars. I heard on the news that one woman even gave birth in her car because the roads to the hospital were jammed. Hundreds of accidents were reported. Hundreds more cars were abandoned. The images of Atlanta on the local news really did look like images from The Walking Dead—a comparison too ripe not to make.

But following the mess of the drive home, I got to spend two days at home with my bride, "snowed in" from the storm (even though the grass in our yard wasn't entirely covered). I was thinking about this storm today on my drive to work this morning. There is no more snow, no more ice, and no sign that any winter storm had ever even approached Atlanta. It's now just a fun memory. Well, it was fun for me. And while I recognize that many people were frightened, and some did suffer as a result of the storm, there is something beautiful about everyone being given a break from the routine of the everyday just to rest. 

In an agricultural society, winter is a time for the farm, and the farmer, to rest. But in our societies today, there is no season of rest, no natural cycle of Sabbath. We take vacations, have an occasional holiday, and collapse when we've worked too hard, but there is no Sabbath. So while many were outraged at public officials, school boards, and even the clouds in the sky, I am thankful for snowpocalypse and thankful for all the Sabbaths God has commanded. And more than anything, I am refreshed for the next storm to come.