Monday, November 26, 2018

No Room in the Inn

“No room in the inn.”  These words are echoing in my heart and mind today.  They are haunting me.  They are challenging me.  “No room.  No room.”  I started out my day by reading a news story about migrant children having tear gas sprayed in their direction at the border.  “No room in the inn.”  It is the Christmas season.  We are celebrating the birth of Jesus.  And all I can think about is his parents being told there was no room for them in Bethlehem.  The Savior of the world was turned away.  A mother in labor, sent to a stable. 

              I can’t stop thinking about those children at the border – barefoot, hungry, scared, desperate.  And are a small percentage of the migrants at the border acting foolishly?  Sure.  But don’t pretend to know how foolishly you would behave if you were absolutely desperate for safety and security for your children.  And we are the gatekeepers.  We get to sit in our warm homes or offices and shop cyber-Monday deals today while real people cry out for help at our border.  And our President tweets about them like they are dogs.  Being born an American is a privilege that I did nothing to deserve.  And no one in that caravan chose which nation they would be in when they breathed their first breath.  I do not pretend to have all the answers on issues of immigration.  I know laws and systems are required.  But I do know this.  EVERY SINGLE desperate migrant at our border is a human being, made in the image of God.  And that baby who was born all those years ago – the one we are all celebrating right now – he came for each one of them.  His mother, Mary, sang the following words about God while he was tossing about in her womb:

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”

And Jesus’ first recorded words to a crowd in the book of Luke would be these:

              “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

              And today in the United States of America people who claim to pattern their lives after this Jesus will cheer “Build a wall!”  and “Send them back where they came from!” and “They’re not our problem!”  They will retweet the President’s accusations that the people at the border are criminals and demand that we close our borders to everyone seeking asylum from unimaginable circumstances.  After all, our well-being is more important than the well being of “those people” because we just happen to be Americans.  And all I can picture today when I close my eyes are those beautiful, brown-skinned, brown-eyed, barefoot, exhausted children standing at our border and being told “There’s no room in the inn.  And we aren’t offering you a stable.”  And I just can’t help but think “Do we understand Christmas at all?”

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A Poem for the Women who Grieve

A little girl alone in the dark, clinging to her teddy bear. 

The only man she’s ever trusted said it was because he loved her.

I wonder why she didn’t tell.

A teenage girl on her first date, new outfit, new freedom, new self.

He forced himself on her, pretended she asked.

I wonder why she didn’t tell.

A college student at her first party, just getting to know her new friends

She got to know one more than she ever wanted.

I wonder why she didn’t tell.

A middle-aged woman working long hours, making a name for herself.

He said if she told he would end her career.

I wonder why she didn’t tell.

Each time we ask why, we ignore a deep cry, an immense groan from women who grieve. 

We re-victimize and re-traumatize, when we trivialize the impact on their lives. 

And the shame it just grows, and it grows. 

And we wonder why she didn’t just tell someone, when it happened, when things could be done.

But what we can’t feel is the pain that she holds and the fear that unfolds if she says what she knows. 

Asking a victim why she didn’t tell and portraying her story as false, is like walking into a hospital room and kicking the sick in the face. 

She is hurting and broken, can’t forget what was taken, especially if everyone knows. 

So, she’s brave and she’s strong, tries to just carry on, but the pain it just grows and it grows. 

When she finally tells, the attacks they will come, from people who she’d never thought. 

She’ll hide all her thoughts, submit to the boss -the culture that says that her story is lost. 

And she’ll sit once again with the pain that she’s in, and the shame that she carries will scream and will spin.

And she’ll get up each day and she’ll fight for the healing.  Because she is fierce, and-no-she isn’t quitting. 

And her heart it just grows and it grows. 

And if culture won’t hear her, she’ll make herself known

She’ll reach out to the hurting, believe what she’s told.

She’ll stand up for the broken with their hands in hers, ‘cause the world around her can’t decide what she’s worth. 

Her worth wasn’t taken that day or that year, she was victimized, but-no-she won’t live in fear. 

Because fear was the goal and success it was had, but-no-not anymore, that girl’s finally mad.

And that anger will drive her to be all she can, to do all that she will.  And that man he won’t win.  He’s alone on that hill.

Culture and noise may be on his side, but the night that he hurt her a part of him died. 

And nobody wins when we make them be quiet, pretend it’s not happening and loudly deny it. 

Nobody wins, the victim, the thief, the children, the parents-no-EVERYONE weeps. 

And until we admit it and say what is it, the pain will keep coming, again and again.

And everyone loses, the girls and the boys, when will we hear their cries over the noise?

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Where is Your Hope?

              I was reading John 5 this morning, and as I came to the end of it I noticed a passage that spoke deeply to me.  In verse 45 Jesus says, “Don’t think that I will accuse you before the Father.  Your accuser is Moses, the one in whom your hope rests.”  I immediately thought about how foolish the people he was addressing must have been.  They had Jesus Christ in their midst, and they had put their hope in Moses, who had long since passed.  The Jews had so heavily invested in the words of Moses.  Their law and scriptures were everything to them.  And this man, Jesus, had come and completely messed with their understanding of things.  They had their rituals, their laws, their systems, their traditions – and then Jesus.  He came in like a whirlwind and questioned all of it.  He brought forth this new system called grace and freedom, and they couldn’t comprehend that he actually was who he said he was.  Just a few verses back they were trying to accuse him for healing a man on the Sabbath day and telling the man to carry his mat.  After all, Moses said keeping the Sabbath was one of the 10 commandments.  Who was this man that said, “Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath”?  Did he actually go there?  Did he touch that?  Didn’t he know what these people believed and what Moses had said?  These people had placed their hope squarely on Moses and refused to see the salvation and redemption that were quite literally staring them in the face.
              So now I want to talk about Moses as “accuser”.  When Jesus says that Moses is their accuser what could he mean?  Did he mean that Moses set out the laws and the laws were the accusers?  Maybe?  Probably, even.  But this morning when I read it the Spirit spoke something else to me about this passage.  Moses was the accuser because he was where they had misplaced their hope.  As human beings hope is essential.  It is necessary.  We lose the will to live when we run out of hope.  And Jesus is telling these people that he is there in the flesh – their hope right before their eyes.  But letting go of that which has held your hope for a very long time is no small feat.  In fact, many never learn to do it.  And they may want to harm anyone who asks them to re-evaluate things or dares to question their beliefs.  The Pharisees are prime examples of this.  They didn’t just want to dismiss Jesus.  They wanted him dead.  You see, Moses was their accuser because he was stealing their hope from the one true source of life – Jesus Christ.  The people had to be able to take God out of the box they had placed him in (quite literally on their foreheads) and realize that the fulfillment of scripture might not look how they had always expected it would.  The Messiah might not ride in with power and might and destroy the Roman establishment.  He might not save them in the way that they had seen kings “save” nations in the past with military strength and destruction.  He might ride in on a donkey and save his people by being beaten and crucified.  He might defeat Rome by loving its inhabitants even though they were lost.  He might not act like a “king” at all.  The things their parents and grandparents and great-grandparents had told them with best intentions may not have been exactly right.  But breaking out of those long-held beliefs and patterns requires an upending of everything you think you know.  It requires a humility beyond belief to be able to look at what “you’ve always thought” and admit that you might have been wrong.  After all, this is their hope you’re messing with.  And fear abounds when hope is at stake. 
              Let’s consider for a moment that we all have “accusers” in our lives.  For the Jews it was the words and laws of Moses.  Their lives completely revolved around them.  What do our lives revolve around?  For some of us it is still an attachment to law and order and a literal interpretation of scripture that requires complete obedience and rule-following in order to receive “grace”.   And those beliefs accuse us because our hope is in them and not Jesus.   But beyond religious ideas, where else do we place our hope?  Sometimes our hope is in how much money we make, how lovely our home is decorated or how well-behaved our kids appear in public (we can hide how they act at home).  Maybe our hope is in our national security, a stable economy or a political candidate.  Perhaps we place our hope in being liked and approved of by everyone we know.  It could be that our hope is in being beautiful, defying the aging process and staying within our "ideal weight".  Maybe we have lost any positive hope, and our hope of continuing to survive is in a beer bottle or on a computer screen, giving us just enough false hope to keep living until tomorrow.  Where is your hope?  Wherever we place our hope, whether in good things or bad, these things become our accusers.  When we read about the accuser in this passage, our religious understanding tends to take us to a place of immediately assuming Jesus is speaking of being accused in an eternal, heaven or hell sense.  But Jesus makes clear time and again that the Kingdom is here with his arrival.  Everything is different.  Our lives and choices are not just about eternity.  We are to be ministers of reconciliation here and now.  His words carry weight both temporal and eternal.  So, when we place our hope in things other than Jesus I submit that the accusation is now.  In misplacing our hope, we are unable to live in the freedom and light that Jesus offers.  If our hope is placed in success, safety, approval, etc. we will constantly be let down.  We are hoping in the inconsistent, the not hope-worthy, the world.  We allow these things to accuse us when we allow the lack of them to steal our joy.  When we cannot sleep at night and use anything we can to numb our pain, our hope has become our accuser.   When we expend all our resources, both physical and emotional, on things that are temporal, our hope becomes our accuser.  When our hope becomes our accuser, we are in a vicious cycle of misery that is hard to break.  But Jesus says, “I have come to set the prisoner free”.  We are chained psychologically and emotionally to these things that can only offer temporary hope.  And Jesus whispers in our ears, “I will not accuse you.  It won’t be me.  I will only free you.  I will only love you.  I will only give you life abundant.  Will you let me?”  Will we accept him for who he is?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Mother of Exiles

I read a New York Times article today about the origins of the song “God Bless America”.  It was written by a man whose family had immigrated to America from Russia when he was a child in order to escape extreme danger.  The words about how he loved his country were straight from the heart of one who would have been lost (at least physically speaking) without her.   And it has me thinking a lot on this fourth of July about our country - how she began, where she has traveled, and where she is now.  The backbone of our nation was a belief that all were created equal and should have the freedom to live and worship as they please.  Equality is at our core.  And so is hospitality.  The poem mounted inside the Statue of Liberty exclaims:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

              “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  These words echo the meaning of the nation that began those many years ago.  The foresight of our forefathers that self-evident truth proved all men created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights brings us back to the beginning.  Having faced persecution and danger, the inhabitants of our new land knew that what they had escaped was not life as God intended.  It was broken.  And, so, they set out to create a home that embodied freedom.  And welcoming immigrants who were fleeing treacherous situations was a key part of this mission. 

              We know that even in our early years, our citizens did not always live up to these claimed beliefs.  Just ask the American Indians.  Ask the African slaves.  Smell the blood of the civil war.  It is human nature to taste success and forget from whence one came.  It is the plot of many a good book or movie.  It is the life story of many a celebrity.  It is true for many of us.  And it is true of our nation.  It is entirely too easy to find oneself in a place of comfort and forget the place of discomfort that came before.  It is entirely too easy to become so entrenched in success that you lose the sense of who you are at your core – who you were created to be.  Once one who has struggled finds the pleasure of success, the human nature wants to do everything it can to hang on to that feeling.  One could argue that it is innate, this protective urge.  And in a society that thrives on individuality and the pursuit of individual happiness this package is easy to sell.  But that is when things begin to break.  When love of self becomes greater than love of all, our greatest ideals will be lost.  This is when the war erupts, the church collapses, the marriage fails.  When self-protection from perceived threats overshadows the desire to “lift our lamp beside the golden door” for the “tempest-tossed” we stray from lyrics like “Stand beside her and guide her” to lyrics like “We’ll stick a boot in your ass.  It’s the American way.”  And we wonder why we have enemies? 

              Many a middle-aged adult will realize that they have strayed from who they were, their ideals and beliefs, their living out of who God created them to be.  And they will search for those parts of themselves that were pure and inborn.  Any therapist will tell you that you must start at your childhood in order to arrive at a healthy adulthood.  And, hopefully before we finish this thing called life, each of us will find our way back to the peace of being an integrated person, connected to our beginning, middle, and present – aware of our successes and failures and resolute to move forward in a healthy manner.  In the same way, I dream that this great and beautiful nation will find herself in her roots.  I pray that as the debates get louder and the guns shoot longer, and the tempest-tossed weep at our shores begging for the oxygen of freedom - that we will look deep within ourselves.  I hope our “childhood” as a nation will remind us of who we were and what we stood for before we shifted our focus to all the things we stand against.  I pray that our citizens, who came themselves from immigrants long passed, will remember what life could be like for them today had not their ancestors entered this land.  I pray that our love of country will never outweigh our love of humanity.  May we find ourselves again in the far-off echo of a hand reaching out to the hurting and pulling them into community.  And may we hear that same echo in the voices of our youth who are actively seeking justice for humanity.  America is most beautiful when she wears a robe of diversity.  America is most safe when she seeks the welfare of humanity.  God bless America, land that I love.  Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Oh,Susanna.....Won't You Cry for Us?


     This past summer my husband and I visited London to celebrate his 40th birthday.  We haven't done much world travel, so this was a big trip for us.  While we were there we visited the National Gallery.  It was unlike anything I have ever seen.  Thousands of paintings by the most world renowned artists adorned its walls.  There was a sense of experiencing something much larger than oneself, generations of art and emotion everywhere.  Many of the paintings were religious in nature.  There were so many beautiful paintings of Christ and a plethora of other Biblical characters.  But as we looked around, a painting caught my eye that confused me.  It was a painting of the Biblical account of Susanna and the Elders.  Brian and I looked at each other and asked "Who is Susanna?".  I couldn't remember ever learning about her in a Bible class or reading that name in my Bible.  So I looked up the story on my phone out of curiosity and found out that it was a part of the Apocrypha - writings that are included in the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Bibles that were omitted from the Protestant Bible because they are not in the Hebrew Bible.  This past week I got to study the apocrypha again in my class and the story of Susanna hit me even harder in light of what is going on right now in our culture.  Allow me to explain.
      Susanna was a godly, married woman.  She was bathing in her garden when two elders saw her and were attracted to her.  They approached her as she tried to return to her home and told her that unless she agreed to have sex with them they would accuse her of committing adultery with a young man.  Susanna refused to comply, and they had her arrested and convicted to death.  But a man named Daniel (this story is in the Greek book of Daniel) interrupts the proceedings and insists that they should question the elders to prevent the death of an innocent woman.  The two elders are cross-examined to get their account of finding Susanna committing adultery with the young man.  Their details do not match when they name two very different types of trees as the meeting place.  Their lies are revealed, and instead of Susanna dying, the two elders are put to death.
      Now, I have no idea if this story actually happened, but clearly this was a concern in society even in the times when the Biblical canon was being formed.  Imagine Susanna, a woman in a man's society.  She is threatened by "elders" who I would assume would be a very intimidating force.  And she refuses to let them use her.  She doesn't give in to the system that tells her that she is merely a woman and has to take whatever a man may throw at her.  She stands up for herself even if it means death.  And who comes to her defense, but a man?  A good man came to her defense.  And a good man stopped the bad men from succeeding in their evil. 
     Almost every day right now in the news we are hearing of another big name who is accused of sexual abuse or misconduct.  Men are losing their jobs and their good names.  Women who have been silent for years, carrying their scars in every moment of their lives, are speaking out and saying "me too".  There is a movement of women (and men) who have been abused banding together and saying "THIS STOPS NOW".  And it is a beautiful and utterly devastating moment in our history.  Beautiful because the darkness is being brought to light and the perpetrators can no longer hide.  Devastating because the broad spectrum of sexual sickness in our culture is being laid out on a table in plain sight for all of us to see.  I am in a couple of Facebook groups who have had discussions about this topic and the testimonies from women and men there are devastating.  But the most devastating are the stories in my children's ministry group of children who are dealing with this right now.  And I have to be honest, you guys, I am mad.  I am mad that we live in a world where women and children are regularly victimized by sex-crazed men.  I am mad that we have a porn industry that brings in BILLIONS of dollars every year, and no one is calling out the fact that this is destroying our men (and some women) and ultimately leading to the kinds of crimes that are being committed by hijacking normal and healthy attitudes toward sex.  I am mad that sex has been turned into something that God never intended for it to be, and yet we wonder what has gone wrong.  The stories, the tears, the lives in pieces, the scars, the faces, they are almost too much to bear.  And that anger turns to grief.  And out of the grief something must happen. 
     Susanna may not have made it into my Bible, but I think she has something valuable to teach us right now.  First of all, she shows us the courage and strength of the woman who stands up and tells her story instead of hiding behind her fear of the more powerful aggressor.  When these women (and men) speak out, WE HAVE TO HONOR THEIR PAIN.  We have to listen and HEAR them.  Secondly, WE HAVE TO BE DANIEL.  Someone had to stand up for Susanna here.  She had no status to defend herself.  Had Daniel not stepped in, she would have died an innocent woman, and the evil men who accused her would have walked free.  There are people who need a Daniel.  They are afraid to speak up without it.  And, ladies, certainly we can stand up together and support each other.  Our voices matter, and they need to be heard.  But, men, we desperately need you here.  We have to have good men stepping up the plate and speaking out against sexual abuse.  We have to have men who are willing to take a stand against pornography and men's clubs.  We have to have men who will insist that women are equal to men and in no way lesser.  We have to have men who will stand up next to these women and say "NOT ME".  "I will never treat a woman like she is an object for my pleasure."  "I will never harm a child for my own gain."  "I will never condone this behavior by any of my fellow men."  "I won't feed into a pornography culture that is creating a bleak future for our boys and our girls."  Men, please start a "NOT ME" movement to remind us all that there are really good men in this world and to remind the men who have fallen that there is a better way to live.  The abusers of this world are broken.  They need you too.  They need to you model a sexually pure life.  They need the love of Jesus that can transform them.  And, Church, we have so much work to do in healing what has happened and continues to happen in our culture.  We have to realize that our buildings are full of people who have experienced this sickness from both sides, and we have to talk about the things that are hard to talk about.  And we have to STAND UP FOR THE OPPRESSED.  It is our mission.  It is our calling.  We can't be silent about this issue.  Be the Daniel for all the Susannas.  Be the Daniel.  BE THE DANIEL.  Otherwise the innocent will continue to fall. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

This Little Light of Mine


    Has anyone else been struggling to deal with the world around us?  It seems like every day there is another news story.  Sacred spaces are under vicious attack.  Our churches and schools are being pillaged by men with absurd weapons.  Sexual abuse runs rampant.  Pornography is stealing our boys and tainting our society.  Sex trafficking is occurring in our communities, and we are afraid to let our daughters out of our sight.  Every time I see a news story, another victim - another aggressor in desperate need of help.  And every time another woman (or man) says "Me Too" it feels like a punch in the gut.  Our celebrities are criminals, drunk on power and lacking in decency.  And their victims could fill stadiums.  The distortion of God's plan is glaring and obvious, and the world keeps spinning out of control.  And it sure seems like the people with the power to make changes have no intent to do so.  So what are we to do?  Where do we go from here?
     This morning I got to spend some time with 4-7 year olds.  I was teaching children's church, and we were singing songs from the "praise box".  This little box has manipulatives that go with each set of songs.  Well, it was time to get out the little flashlights.  The kids love them.  So we turned them on and started singing "This Little Light of Mine".  We were barely into the song when one little one asked if we could turn out the lights.  "Sure!", I said, so they turned them out.  It was immediately shocking to me how even in the light of day, turning out the lights made the little flashlights shine so much more brightly.  They were beautiful in the semi-darkness, bringing joy to the children and praise to the Lord.  And in that moment I knew the answer to the angst and pain that surrounds me.  In the darkness the light shines even brighter.  You see, darkness cannot block out light.  You cannot carry darkness into a fully lit space and drown out the light.  However, you can take even a small light into a darkened space and break through the darkness.  The reverse will never be true.  One is more powerful than the other.  They are not equal forces.  And light overpowers darkness every time.  The only way darkness can win the day is if the source of the light stops working or the light separates itself from the source.  We have a choice to make every day in the darkness.  We can let the darkness so overwhelm us that we turn off our light and give up.  Or we can let the darkness so motivate us that our light shines ever brighter, bringing stark and sudden contrast to the darkness.  And when light is held up to the darkness, what lurks in the darkness is exposed.  Exposure takes away power.  Sin and evil thrive in the darkness.  But in the exposure of light, they cannot stand.  We have the power of an endless source of light.  His name is Jesus. We just have to tap into him.  Darkness gives us an opportunity to shine more brightly than ever before.  But we cannot be afraid.  If we live in fear, we are just rolling in the dark.  So we shine the light, we expose the darkness, and we use all our energy to turn the darkness into light in our homes, our communities, our nation, our world.  We have the power.  We just have to use it.  I can't light up the entire world, but I can light up my little corner of it.  And you can light up yours.  And maybe if we just keep shining we can all turn the world upside down.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Take a Time-In

     The past couple of days I've been at a children's ministry conference.  It has been really busy and tiring but such a blessing.  My brain is chalked full of all kinds of great ideas and information.  I'm in that place of being completely inspired and slightly overwhelmed.  I have gotten lots of new resources and books.  Side note, I have a book problem.  Look, I'm just gonna admit it.  It's a sickness.  I love them.  I probably have 20 or so in my "want to read" stack already but I keep adding them.  If we won the lottery, I would just buy all the books.  Belle is my favorite Disney Princess for a reason.  If the Beast had given me that library, he would have instantly looked like Ryan Gosling or James Marsden in my eyes.  "What fur?  I love you, forever."  When the kids bring home scholastic brochures it takes all of my self control to not buy 20 of them.  Maybe I should start singing the "Fruits of the Spirit" song when I see that lovely flyer full of monthly specials.  If you know of a 12 step program for hopeless nerds who are unrealistic about the actual amount of time in a day, sign me up.   Anyway, back to the conference.  I have heard a lot of things in the past couple of days that have impacted me.  But this evening in my last class of the day the speaker said something that stopped me in my tracks.  She was talking about kids that are particularly difficult.  In her context she was referencing foster child situations she works with.  And then she said it.  She just breezed on by it like it wasn't profound or life changing.  She said "Instead of a time-out, we take a time-in."  And I caught my breath in my chest.

     Take a time-in.  I've been learning a lot lately about parenting to the heart of the child.  The thing about behavior modification is that it's just that - BEHAVIOR modification.  Now, when a child has a bad behavior, we want to modify it.  That is just the sane thing to want to do.  And it is a good thing to want to do.  As one of the speakers yesterday pointed out, psychologists like Pavlov gave us the useful methods that we call behaviorism.  We can train a dog with the sound of a bell.  We can make them salivate or do whatever if we condition them.  This is great information.  We have taken this information and applied to children - in the home, in the classroom, in the church, wherever.  The only problem is - kids aren't dogs.  So, we can train our kids to do the right things.  In fact, many would say that it is what parenting is all about.  There are a lot of people of people who will judge your parenting solely on whether or not and how quickly your kids fall into line when you blow the whistle.  The parent should be "in control".  The parent should be teaching the child how to behave.  And certainly there is some truth to be found here.  It IS our job to teach our children how to behave.  But MODELING is the ideal means to this end. 
     Molding our children into well behaved citizens is a great thing, but there is a major problem if you stop there.  If we simply treat the symptoms of our children's behavior and ignore the heart condition that precipitates the behavior we are raising robots.  They may behave as we say, but their hearts will at best be unchanged and at worst become hard and rusty.  Having to constantly vie for approval from your parents leaves a deep whole in the heart of a child.  If your parents are only interested in your good behavior, the message you will get is that it's all that matters.  And then you end up with this:  An adult person who does the "right things" in a legalistic sense, but has a corroded heart.  They might follow all the rules, but they might treat their waitress like crap.  They might make good money because they learned good behavior strategies, but they might be lonely and not like themselves.  Good behavior alone does not a joyful life make.  Separate from emotional health, it is void of meaning.  Jesus was consistently pointing this out.  In Matthew 23 he is talking to the Pharisees.  If you read the gospels you quickly find that the Pharisees, AKA the best behaved of all the people, were the ones that Jesus rebuked again and again.  In 23:25 he says this: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the bowl and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will also be clean.  What if we applied this teaching of Jesus to our parenting?  What if we cared more about the condition of the inside of our kids than we did about what someone else thinks about the appearance of the outside.  What if we spent our time connecting with their hearts and pouring love into the cracks in their souls.  What if instead of a time-out when they are in the wrong, we took a time-in and spent enough time with them to see what is actually going on in their hearts?  What if we then took the time to train and disciple their hearts in a way that would kill the root of the problem?  And what if during this whole process instead of casting them from our presence we stayed calm and connected with them?  I wonder what our families would look like. 
     A couple of weeks ago I did an "exegetical" assignment for my current graduate class on the book of 1 Kings 18 - Elijah and the Prophets of Baal.  This was the first assignment of this type I had done.  We are learning how to interpret scripture.  There was an entire long process we had to follow and a lot of questions to answer to the tune of 15 pages by the time it was finished.  I had one week to do this assignment.  For the first 10 pages I loved the assignment.  "This is so exciting.  I love diving so deeply into scripture.  This is fascinating.  I love graduate school so much.  Everyone is beautiful.  I hope we do this every week."  By the time I got to the last 5 pages I had decided that everything was stupid.  "This assignment is stupid.  Graduate school is stupid.  The prophets of Baal are stupid.  King Ahab is stupid.  I am too stupid for this class.  I was stupid to sign up.  It's just all stupid."  I found out that doing "exegesis" on a portion of scripture is basically looking at it so closely that if it were a person you were studying you would know how many nose hairs they have by the end of the process.  Help me Jesus, with the exegesis!  All in all it was a great learning experience though. 
     How does this relate to this post?  It does.  I promise.  As I was going through this process I had to answer the question about why I thought the prophets of Baal started to cut themselves and maim their bodies in an attempt to get their "god" to do what they had been asking all day long and send down fire upon the altar.  For me the obvious answer was that they truly believed that this "Baal" was a god who cared for them.  He wasn't doing what they wanted, so they thought maybe hurting themselves would get his attention.  If he cared for them he would act in order to keep them from hurting themselves.  And immediately it hit me.  This is what our children do.  They can't get our attention, so they will do all kinds of negative things to see if we will respond.  "Mom says she loves me, but I can't get her attention.  Maybe if I do something that worries her she will prove that she cares about me."  Our kids are fighting for our attention with so many things.  We are a busy society with so many commitments.  We work, we volunteer, we have hobbies, we have our television shows we just" have to watch".   And then there are the phones.  Y'all, I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here because it has been said many times, but our phones are stealing away gobs of attention from our children.  And let me be the first to raise my hand and say "guilty".  When people can reach you at anytime and anywhere, when you can check email messages from work from anywhere, when you can see what your friends from all periods of your life are up to on one site from anywhere, you start to do these things from EVERYWHERE.  And suddenly, there are no sacred places.  Their are no places where we are fully present.  Our kids are talking to us and we are responding to texts.  Our kids want to show us what they just made and we are sending that email.  They are begging us for connection and we are too connected to our phones to look into their eyes.  So maybe sometimes it isn't our kids that need a time-out.  Maybe sometimes our devices need a time out.  Maybe sometimes we need to put all the things that are on our to do list in a time-out.  Maybe our "Netflix binge" needs a timeout.  Maybe we need to put our need to be constantly productive in a time-out.  Maybe we need to put the opinions or expectations of others in a time-out.  And maybe we need to give our kids a TIME-IN.  Maybe we need to press into them and truly know them.  Maybe when their faults and weaknesses start shining through we should give them appropriate discipline, but make sure it includes generosity of spirit and a loving tone.  And then we should spend the time and do the heart work that is needed.  It is harder this way.  I requires more time this way.  It requires intentionality.  And sometimes people will even judge you, it's true.  But what you just might end up with down the road is a grown child that you launch into adult life as a wholehearted person.  You might have an imperfect person with a beautiful heart.  And I would much rather launch a beautiful heart into this world than a toy soldier.  Wouldn't you?  Every time I get intentional about spending quality time with my children their behavior improves.  EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.  Connection, love, empathy, guidance, approval, modeling - they will cost us more than yelling "Go to your room!".  But the interest returned in our wholehearted adult children will be well worth the investment.