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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Go To Now

I have a new site for blogging: All archived posts are there as well as any new stuff written after April 2012. I appreciate your interest in reading my writings.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Influence of a Teacher

At Faith in Memphis we were asked to pay tribute to a teacher who impacted us greatly. I chose Dr. John D. Hannah of Dallas Seminary:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Practice Satisficiency

Behold an apt word: satisfice. A First Evaner recently introduced me to it, finding it featured in a magazine blurb she cut out for me. She knows I love portmanteaus (the fusion of two or more words into one new word). Satisfice combines “satisfy” and “suffice,” so satisficing is going with what’s good enough amid available options rather than requiring the best or maximal option.

The word satisfice does not appear in the beat-up dictionary I keep on my desk, a one volume Oxford American Dictionary. It does, however, appear in the multivolume Oxford English Dictionary. Although it’s limited in its range I am satisficed with my Oxford American Dictionary, not having the shelf space or the inclination to spend the money for the optimal linguistic heft of the Oxford English Dictionary. What is regarded the best among available options is not always needed. I would use the Oxford English Dictionary if I had it, but mostly it would be bibliophile d├ęcor. It’s not really necessary to me and if I did have it I would be tempted to troll for obscure words with which to pepper my conversations when the Oxford American Dictionary is much more salt of the earth.

Being satisfied with what’s sufficient isn’t to be confused with preference for mediocrity or acceptance of shoddiness or the inertia of complacency. These are each one bad to masquerade as contentment. Genuine contentment is, more or less, satisfaction with the sufficient, and neither satisfaction nor sufficiency is opposed to excellence.

The bane of excellence is not contentment but overconfidence. Too many define and model a pursuit of excellence that puts the premium on never being satisfied. Satisfaction with what’s sufficient is thus equated with status quo. We get this understanding more from American corporate culture and advertising, and it’s unrealistic.

“Satisficiency” is not a form of satisfice the Oxford English Dictionary grammarians will recognize. I offer it anyway in the interests of practicing satisficiency, which begins with welcoming one’s limits. Yes, welcoming—being at home with, living in and among, familial familiarity. Limits keep you and me mindful of our humanness; that not one of us is omni-anything. Every human being has limits and this is by God’s design. Even when we team with others to merge our best efforts together in collective pursuit of excellent outcomes our team is still limited.

Welcoming limits offsets the guilt complex many of us indulge. That nagging sense of not doing enough for God or others is mitigated. I can’t do everything, of course. But nor is everything I can do done equally well all at once or all the time. By God’s grace and enabling what I can do here and now will be good enough. To be satisficed with that does not mean I honor inefficiency or passivity. Something can still be effective even if it doesn’t look just like I planned it, hoped it, or expected it would. God doesn’t always work according to our scripted parts for Him anyway.

Many evangelical Christians, particularly the younger generations, are hearty, determined, and motivated to take risks in making a difference in the world, even changing it. There is relentlessness in evangelical resilience just because we know it is God who works in us, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). So we reverence those achievers among us earnestly taking God at His word, leading the visionary charge, aiming at the highest and best outcomes, and filling the rest of us with enthusiasm to join in.

But they and we don’t always hit where we aim or get what we want, nor should we. It is good for us at times to have setbacks, to have to redouble our efforts or reassess our approach. It can even be good for us to experience outright defeat or failure as these often accompany our growth in wisdom. It’s how God weeds our ambitions. This comes with welcoming limits and is part of the “good enough” that practicing satisficiency embraces.

So you put all that effort into doing something great for God’s glory but it didn’t come together like you expected or hoped? Was there nothing at all good about it or in it? Can you be satisficed with what was good and good enough instead of what was not or will not be? Is communion with God most important to you?

Can you find contentment in knowing who God is for you even if your efforts for Him fall short of your goals or aims? Is it not good enough for you to know God is for you whether you think your endeavor succeeded or stunk? This is the good enough of satisficed contentment. If God wastes nothing then there is something to take “satisficietion” in for just about anything.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Parental Discipline is for Our Children's Self-Discipline

A friend wrote an email today asking my thoughts on a discipline matter with his pre-adolescent daughter. Pastors get a variety of questions in our electronic mailbag, and I was in a spot in the day where I could answer him immediately. I wondered later if my reply might help you. You don’t have the benefit of reading his email to me where he lays out the problem in detail, but with his permission I’m sharing my reply to him with you. Being an email it wasn’t written for publication, so pardon some run-on sentences.

I refer to him as “Y” and his wife “X”, and the daughter as “Z.”


I think the central thing here for “Z” is to learn how to trust her parents’ judgment, and you put her discipline in that context—make that connection for her. You’ve judged her actions as unacceptable and of course human nature chafes at this, when someone, anyone, tells us we’re wrong. The more strongly willed one is, the more she chafes at consequences, even if she can see the connection between her actions/inactions and another’s pain, and acknowledge her role in it, even with begrudged or not-as-sincere-as-we’d-like apologies. Because discipline is instruction, it’s the long-haul approach. That is we’ll take incremental progress because we’ll experience some regress, maybe a lot. But you’re right to take the angle with her that discipline aims at correcting patterns in/from her or directions she’s taking relationally that are damaging to others, and to herself too. And also for her to work toward sorrow for the offense more than the consequence, though this part of it is a heart thing in our kids that we can point out but the Spirit has to work in.

I’ve told my kids that if I have to discipline them it is because they aren’t disciplining themselves. Our kids have to learn that self-discipline is for all of life. And I’ve also told ours that as they get older I shouldn’t have to discipline them as much because I am right to expect them to be “getting it” as they get older. “Z” is at the age where she can hear this from you and “X.” You’re calling her up to maturity, and discipline is one of the tools we use in this.

So my parental discipline—which I think I’ve learned from how God disciplines—is to teach/goad them to self-discipline. This is the fundamental difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment is taking condemnation. Discipline is receiving instruction, but it is instruction that pain will often accompany. But again, I tell mine that their lack of self-discipline has put me in the position (their fault!) wherein I have to discipline them because, through whatever it is their misbehavior is, they are signaling to me that they need my help to be/do better in that area of living. The grace in this is that my love for them is not morally indifferent. This is likely a connection “Z” hasn’t made but will eventually if you teach her along these lines. This is how it is that I can discipline my child and love my child at the same time—I love the kid too much to be indifferent toward her actions/inactions. We’re mimicking God in this.

Parenting isn’t for the fainthearted, is it!? And it only gets more complex, brother, as we go on with them into teendom. The bald spot on the top of my head is getting larger, thanks to my children. I now understand why people spoil their grandkids—you’re ready for some children to only like you!

Much grace in our mutual endeavor,

Friday, April 13, 2012

Talking to Your Son About Pornography

If only it were as easy as farting.
Fighting sensual and sexual temptations, I mean. Martin Luther, quite the earthy theologian, believed and taught his students that farting would ward off the tempter. That’s an interesting angle on “get behind me, Satan!” is it not? Temptation comes up from within (James 1:13-14), the tempter attacks from without (1 Thess. 3:5), and Taco Bell cuisine is “a very present help in trouble” (the fractured version of Psalm 46:1). I’m sure it would have been Luther’s favorite eatery for this reason.
So it was fitting, in a loose Lutheran kind of way, to have a discussion last Saturday with my teenage son about pornography in that filling station of flatulence, Taco Bell. (I eschew fast food in general but make exceptions for the occasional beefy 5-layer burrito.) Caleb, who turns 16 this summer, had been to an overnight birthday party with half his football team. I picked him up at his buddy’s house. We delivered a mattress with my truck to Goodwill before ducking into a Taco Bell on the way home for a quick lunch. Typical Saturday stuff.
Over lunch, I asked him about the weekend and how his friends were doing. He is used to me plying him with questions though I try not to interrogate. My questions are to stoke conversation and so I generally proceed congenially. I want to hear from him, about his life, and I’ve learned taking him out for a meal is a good means to that. But last Saturday, having stayed up most of the night before, he wasn’t very talkative. He wanted to get home and nap, which food from the Bell also induces: sleep as well as Beelzebul-busting gas.
However, we got onto the subject of pornography because I asked him how his friends are doing with it. Having just come from an overnight with a bunch of hormonal teen boys, I figured someone might have searched on his phone for titillation and shared his discoveries with the rest. The first time Caleb saw Internet pornography was just that way on just such an excursion with many of the same boys a couple of years ago. I’ve come to believe this might be a bigger problem in Christian schools such as Caleb’s in that Christian young men have an added pressure put upon them to seek purity. That’s a good and noble pursuit of course, but I think too many Christian parents and leaders stress it in ways that functionally deny our young men’s humanity. Evangelicals don’t do a good job distinguishing between earthliness and worldliness. Having sexual desire and interest is earthly and good. We were made so by God. Seeking to satiate those desires via porn or varieties of pre-marital sex is worldly. That we’ve obscured and/or confused this important distinction is for a lot of our young men bad and too bad at the same time.
Caleb told me a little of what he knew of a couple friends’ struggles. Then I asked about him. How was he doing with it? He thought for a second and answered between bites that while he’s seen it, he doesn’t see it often or take himself to it, but even if he did, “I’ll never get addicted to it,” he said.
Dear evangelical reader: When your son tells you this, it’s important not to react. Yes, he’s just said something unrealistic. But he’s 15 and he’s talking to you about it. So keep it conversational more than correctional. The first thing I said to my son was, “You know, buddy, I understand that. I’ve seen it too and I have weak times when I’m tempted to see it again. Most every guy I know has this struggle to some intensity. And I want you to know that you have nothing to fear from me for an honest struggle. This is every man’s battle.”
I remember what was on my mind when I was 15, and I’m a realist. Our society is even more eroticized today than when I was Caleb’s age. Back then one had to procure a Playboy magazine or try to sneak a nudie R-rated movie rental, which risked being caught, to see pornography. Ubiquitous Internet access has changed the game entirely for the generations behind me. They see almost omnipresent pornography much earlier and much easier such that it’s become part of the wallpaper of everyday life.
The second thing I said to my son was, “If it ever does get problematic for you to where you cannot control the compulsion, I hope you’ll let me help you.” He nodded. Saying this to him was purposeful: I don’t think porn is a problem for him now but I don’t want him ever thinking there is something he could not bring to me. From there I told him—names withheld, of course—about guys I have helped work through issues with pornography. I also told him about guys who help me; men I have intentionally placed around myself to keep me in check; men I have tasked with asking me how I’m doing as well as getting automatically generated reports on my Internet usage from Covenant Eyes and XXX Church accountability software.
I told him too of a recent article one of those men sent to me, from the April issue of First Things, entitled “Pornography and Acedia.” (One can buy this excellent essay for a Kindle for $1.99 here: Putting the essay in terms a 15-year-old could follow, I told Caleb that pornography is often sought to fill the empty space hollowed out by a kind of deep boredom (acedia), boredom routinely common to affluent Westerners. Filling our boredom this way wastes our available energies for good and for God. This connection made sense to Caleb. He could recognize how the appeal of porn is usually greatest when one thinks there is nothing else to do. In other words, raw lust is not always the trigger for this as much as regular boredom is.
After talking through the topic in these ways, I then gently corrected his sense of invincibility to addiction: “Caleb, you said you don’t think you’d ever get addicted. Addiction is the inability to control compulsion.” Once he understood the contours of that definition, I continued. “Here’s the thing, son: Most guys who finally realize they are addicted to sex and/or pornography—that is, they can no longer lastingly refute or resist the temptation when it comes—most of these guys thought they never would be addicted. I can promise you won’t be the exception to that. Saying you’ll never get addicted to it is actually a first step in that direction in that you overestimate your strength and underestimate your weakness. It’s the guys who say, ‘I won’t fall into this,’ who do.”
Farting it all away would be easier, yes. But what I was trying to do for my son was give him a sense for the work involved in fighting a good fight with the conspiracy of his own appetites, the world’s menu, and the devil’s catering. Fighting a good fight is a careful, deliberate, continual, circumspect, teachable work that one can never consider “done.”
Last Saturday wasn’t the first time we’ve talked about these matters, nor will it be the last time. As I’ve written in previous posts, Lynn and I decided years ago to be open and direct with our children about themselves as sexual beings, proactively as well as reactively. I’ve long been impressed with the teaching process of the father in Proverbs 7, who takes his son over to a window and shows him a young man on the street below walking into an adultery snare. Can I do less with my sons and daughters?
And so we regularly ask our kids questions, we engage them in conversations, we make observations about them and their peers and their world, we invite their disclosures and confessions to us for “what’s really going on” because our kids know two things about their parents in this. First, they know that we know they are embodied and live in a fallen world where the desires to obey God and indulge self are often in conflict. And second, they know we are FOR them in this and everything, but God is FOR them even more.
The girl at the register sure looks at me funny when I tell her to put our lunch on Luther’s tab.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pants On the Ground!

At Faith in Memphis this week, we were asked to comment on a proposed Tennessee law banning "sagging," or the phenomenon of wearing one's pants with underwear exposed: