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Hosting an International Student – Another Milestone

Jan 2012 029It’s hard to imagine that seven years ago, we saw for the first time a “profile” of Hayley.

A corresponding request asked us to share our home profile with her parents to consider for their daughter as they anticipated her coming to our community in rural Alberta from Hong Kong to study for high school. Hayley celebrated her 16th birthday just a few days after arriving in our home and starting grade 10. Our children were 3 and 1 years old and my wife was pregnant with our third child. This child was born at home, in the bedroom  across the hallway (literally) from Hayley in January 2012.

In a previous blog, I have articulated some of the reasons we chose (and continue) to host international students in our home each year.

Grad Day All FamilyLast month, we celebrated a major milestone with Hayley and her parents as she graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Commerce. We were privileged to be invited to attend this special celebration.

(As this post was being prepared, Hayley shared the following on her facebook page. Yes, the eyes did start to leak.)

As we look back and reflect on seven years, here are more significant life lessons…

  • “Family” means more than blood-relations. Both our families have experience with adoption, so this was not a new theme for us.  Yet as Hayley – and other international students – have returned “home” for Christmas, it was refreshing to have the whole family together. In fact, when someone is not “home” for Christmas, it does not feel right.
  • We have witnessed a different aspect of parental “sacrifice” than many in North America experience. Hayley’s family sacrificed so much to allow, enable and encourage her to come to Canada to study.Emotionally, they sent their 15 year old daughter thousands of miles away for ten months at a time. Socially, the lived without their daughter every day, knowing she was living what must have seemed like another life across the ocean. Yes, thanks to the benefits of 21st century technology, they were able to communicate daily (or more often) if desired. But its not the same as being physically together, over the dinner table, chatting, or crying, or celebrating. And financially, I cannot even guess the amount of money they invested to give their daughter a good education and the chances for an even brighter future. When you see what Asian parents sacrifice for their child(ren), one appreciates why the child will be expected to care for aging parents in the future.
  • While recognizing each person’s individuality, one also realizes no matter the geography or ethnic background, there are common human problems, and common difficulties faced by teenagers worldwide. Every teen struggles to figure out who they are… especially in relation to their peers, as well as to other adults. Every teen has their areas of interest and talents. Some are gifted at academics, others at artistic expression. Some are excited to connecting with young children, others prefer peer or adult interaction. While each person is unique, human beings also face common struggles at various st/ages. People also share common joys, regardless of their culture, background, etc. While there are many differences, there are so many elements of the human experience we share.
    We highly recommend Canadians (or Americans) open their home to people of different nationalities, especially students…
    whether in high school or college. It is wonderful for the person to experience Canadian hospitality when they are far from home, great for you to get to know another person and understand another culture and worldview, and wonderful for a family – especially children – to experience the beautiful diversity and wonder of the world.

    And when your student celebrates a significant milestone, you feel a “pride” you don’t deserve… yet count as another blessing!

 

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Book Review – Raising World Changers in a Changing World by Kristen Welch

Kristen Welch sets out to share how (western/first world) children can be raised with a heart of compassion and the social and emotional skills needed to be “world changers” in the 21st century. The underlying belief Welch believes world-changing children need to understand is that “their unique places and positions in life are not for their convenience; they are for God’s glory.”

Welch tells the story of her 2010 trip to Kenya which totally transformed her life and as a result, her family’s also. After returning to Texas, Welch founded Mercy House Global and as it grew, so did the opportunity (even expectation) this would become a whole family ministry. While the decisions and experiences the family lived as a result of this initial trip did provide and constantly re-affirm the fundamental belief, it is hard to tell if this was a goal or a result. In this way, the book is not really how to raise world-changers – at least not in terms of a list of ## things to do or habits to instill in your children – as much as a review of the things Welch and her husband and their three children did that gave them a different perspective on life. Certainly, Welch’s statement that children need to understand “their unique places and positions in life are not for their convenience; they are for God’s glory” is biblical and theologically accurate. Likewise, the descriptions she shared of how her children came to see this are compelling and challenging. Yet, whether they are repeatable pattern for other families to follow is debatable, even doubtful.

Welch never suggests every family has to travel to a developing nation and start a new ministry to live out these principles. She recognizes there are many other ways to teach the values of compassion, empathy, generosity, and sacrifice. Yet there are precious few other ways suggested, resulting in the book`s subtitle – how one family discovered the beauty of sacrifice and the joy of giving – being a more accurate description of the content than the title.

Each chapter ends with two pieces for practical application of the chapter’s content. First, 3-4 questions are given identified as conversation starters. Welch’s children answer the questions. While intended to show how a conversation that can happen, the format of “perfect” (theology textbook) answers her children provided not only seemed too polished, but was also not conversational. The “practice” suggestions that followed seemed more useful and realistic for parents with children of varying ages.

In the end, while the book was enjoyable to read and does a commendable job forcing parents (and children potentially) to challenge their western assumptions of the Christian life, this reader was disappointed. My expectations for the book were quite different from the title. Only in hindsight do I recognize the subtitle as the essence of the book’s style and tone.

Why Leaders need the Arts

left right brainMany leaders are left-brained people – logical, sequential, orderly, systematized individuals. Those skills helped them earn the positions they hold. They may be introverts or extroverts. They may have other personality differences and personal idiosyncrasies.

But somehow, either by personality or through learning, a leader has learned the importance of getting things done without letting emotions interfere, interrupt, or distract from the task that needs to be accomplished. It’s not that a leader denies or even represses emotions, personally or in regards to the people they serve. S/he simply does not make decisions based upon emotions.

The more leadership positions a person is privileged with, or the more individuals a leader is responsible for, the more likely they are to become “robotic.” The caricature of a stoic, all-business leader who seems almost heartless and cold, with the people in the organization, as well as with “friends” and even family. That caricature sometimes hits too close to reality!

And that is one reason Leaders need the Arts.

Whether it means listening to music during the daily commute or lunch break. Or spending an hour in the study/den drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument “just for fun.” Maybe it means attending a dramatic production with your wife or family at a local theatre. Whatever the venue, a leader needs to regularly exercise the artistic side of the brain so they do not become that robotic caricature leader.

A Leader needs the Arts for Self-Management

A friend recently made a comment I considered a great compliment: “For all your logical, academic, textbook thinking, I don’t know anyone who makes more references to songs in summarizing a situation.”

WOW! I had not even noticed this about myself – an admittedly left-brain, logical, sequential, methodological, academic! I have often wished I knew what my gut feeling was so I could “go with my gut.” But when encountering a problem, I try to look at every possible angle, analyze it in multiple ways, play out the results of various solutions in my head, and then – and only then – offer a decision or judgment.

The few times a year I attend a dramatic production, it forces me to re-examine my heart’s motives, my relationships – especially with my wife and children and extended family – and pushes me to consider other factors influencing my actions. In analyzing why this happens each time, one realizes the best stories – ones that also become good theater – all have challenges and decisions that are fundamental to humanity, regardless of historical or social context, individual life situations, or even reality (vs. fiction). As a leader engages with those common humanity issues, it forces him/her to interact with the story they find themselves in.

By seeing the story from another point of view, the leader may also come to a new understanding of another people`s feelings in the situation as well.

A Leader needs the Arts for Creativity

Secondly, a leader needs the arts to solve problems creatively. Again, whether it is listening to music during a  lunch break, spending an hour in the looking at a painting, or practicing a musical instrument a leader who regularly exercises the artistic side of the brain will have the ability to look at problems differently and arrive at creative solutions.

Another way this truth has been expressed recently is in the surge of therapy coloring books. How does a coloring book – normally considered a child`s playtime activity – become “therapy”? aka Do this instead of “counseling”? It is because the act of coloring attunes a person to the right side of the brain, the part of the person that connects with the emotions.

A Leader needs the Arts for Connecting

As mentioned above, all the great stories connect with common human concerns. Thus, whether through a dramatic production, Hollywood movie, or other narrative presentation, a leader`s knowledge of these artistic expressions enables them to communicate effectively with various audiences. The message goes deeper than mere verbal communication and communicates with the heart, not just the mind. As the old adage says, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Good leaders know this truth and use the power of story in its various forms to connect meaningfully with audiences.

One closing question: How many of you noticed the graphic above of the rain’s two sides is “backwards”?

AHA! On the diagram, the right-brain functions description are on the left side and the left-brain functions are described on the right side of the image.

Two Arguments for Retirement

retirement clockYou have probably heard a friend proclaim the following when explaining why they will not be retiring: “The Bible never talks about retirement so why would I?”

Let me point out a couple major concerns with this argument.

First, the Bible DOES talk about retirement.

Specifically in Numbers 8:23-26, the LORD instructs Moses to have men retire from regular service and work no longer in the work at the Tent of Meeting. While some translations do not use the word “retire,” this is the clear meaning.

Also, well being in exile on an island is not the same as retirement, the apostle John clearly did not have work while writing his three letters and the book Revelation. There were some similarities between to an old man being exiled to an island and retirement.

Finally, in the apostle Paul’s final years, with failing eyesight, he could not spend his time teaching and preaching because he was imprisoned in various ways. Yet he spent his time wisely, counseling the churches he was instrumental in starting through letters and through individually mentoring and training up leaders for the next generation of church leadership (eg. Timothy, Titus).

Note: This is probably a really good hint for pastors to do when they retire!

Second, just because the Bible does not use a specific word, does not mean there is a core biblical truth in the idea.

The clearest example of this principles is the word “trinity.” The Bible NEVER uses this word to describe a core Christian doctrine: One God exists eternally in three persons. In fact, there are few areas of Bible discussion that draw more calls for clarification – or denunciation as a heretic – than the thoroughly developed doctrine of the Trinity. It is abundantly clear throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament each person of the Godhead exist eternally and equally, with different functions. The argument from silence is not always a good argument.

So baby boomers, please don’t use this pathetic sentence anymore. It shows your ignorance! And maybe arrogance?

Instead, use your retirement years to build into the lives of future generations of leaders and allow them the benefit and blessing of learning from the wisdom you have gained through experience.

 

Is the Leader Consistent or Obnoxious?

How would you respond to the following tweet?

What does it tell you when [NAME] hasn’t changed his philosophy of ministry in all his years at [ORGANIZATION] but they’ve reached boomers, busters, millenials, etc.? Stop trying to exegete the culture. Preach the Word, love the church, evangelize the lost.

happy bulldogThe individual named is a recognized evangelical leader. Though I do not agree with everything he teaches/writes, the majority of this leader’s work is top shelf and there he is respected. His is a model of integrity and his life matches what his teaching.

However, there was a (sinful?) part of me that wanted to fire back a nasty reply to this tweet saying:

  • It tells me people of all ages can be fooled if you just scream loud enough and long enough

OR

  • It tells me people of every age want to bury their heads in the sand and pretend the world is not changing (and so they don’t need to either).

Yes, a leader needs to focus on the main task. In the case of this leader, preaching the Word of God and calling for biblical repentance and life change because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Nonetheless, while a leader may not change their philosophy of leadership (or ministry), being ignorant of the realities of the changing world and how to effectively interact and connect their message product to those new developments is failing to lead effectively. For someone to be proud of their unchanging focus is dangerous and foolish and not a commendable quality.

angry bulldogIn other words, while a good leader needs consistency, they need to make sure they do not become close-minded and so set-in-their-ways, they stubbornly refuse to learn. When that happens, the faithfulness and steadfastness of a leader becomes a hindrance to their leadership, not a help. Instead of being determined, they become tenacious, even obnoxious. The effective ministry s/he has led becomes irrelevant and the whole organization suffers.

Do you have a story to share about a faithful, steadfast leader who admirable qualities became frustrating and annoying because s/he was unwilling or unable to adapt to changing realities?

Letter to Empty Nesters

Dear Empty Nesters,

empty nest

I want you to know how much I appreciate and respect you. I know your c

hildren who are no longer at home are not perfect. Some of them may be doing well in their work, studies, new marriages, and life overall. Others may be living quite differently than what you taught them and how you hoped they would mature… and your heart and mind are concerned, even worried. I can only imagine…

Yet I want you to know I (still) respect you, appreciate you, and… I need your help!

A while ago, at my nephew’s wedding the five guys standing up with him had all grown up together. Going to school, playing sports, participating in field trips, church activities, and other sometimes hair-raising adventures together. One young man’s father came up to me and shared, “I’m envious of you. I miss your stage of parenting. Those were great times… busy times… but wonderful!” I quickly shared with him that I was envious of his stage of life – not because I don’t enjoy our children or am eager for them to leave the house – but because I look forward to seeing them reach adulthood and see how their talents, abilities, and personalities come together to form them into the person God wants them to be.

So empty nesters, I need your help.

I need you to encourage me, as a father.

  • I need you to encourage me that my work as a father is more important than my work for XYZ company. I need you to tell me your successes &/or failures of making time for your wife and/or children, when business also demanded your time and energy.
  • I need you to warn me not to take on too many other responsibilities. I need you to remind me I already have two jobs: work and home – and any volunteer opportunity, no matter how vital in our school, community, or church, should be carefully weighed in light of the first two priorities.
  • I need you to encourage me when you hear that I or my wife or our children have done something good, right, or something that made a difference in someone else’s life. You may remember, but it feels like a daily rat race and to know that something “cheesy” actually happened is meaningful. It encourages me to keep going, even if I don’t know where exactly I’m going and how much longer I can last at this “speed.”

Likewise, I need moms to encourage my wife.

  • Let her know that she’s doing a good job, even if it is one of those days where it looks like the children won all the battles in the morning of eating breakfast, getting their teeth brushed and hair combed, and putting on close to appropriate clothes.
  • Remind her this is a (somewhat) short season of busyness… and that soon enough it will be a memory. Remind her that her sanity and the children’s mental and physical health are way more important than a clean house or a gorgeous flower garden.
  • Again, tell her when you hear about those “moments” when her son/daughter has demonstrated the good words/actions we have tried to implant.

Not only do I need encouragement, I need challenged. Okay, sometimes I might even need a kick in the butt. If you see me do or say something inappropriate or just not wise or thoughtful, please come and let me know.

There may be a gracious and tactful way to admonish me, and that would be ideal. If you have a similar story to share with me, great. I would love to learn from it. However, when the time and context does not allow for a good discussion about the matter, at least catch me enough to say, “Hey buddy, what you said/did may have communicated something very different to son/daughter than what you think. You better go make that right.”

If you have not already, I believe you may soon experience the reward of becoming a grandparent. Your children will “magically” realize your wisdom.  You gained that wisdom through years of hard work, trials, learning from mistakes and successes, and I want to encourage you, again, to bless others with this wisdom.

Empty Nester, I trust you are not feeling “out of the loop” or left behind” in your life stage right now. Whether you feel this way or not, please jump back into the foray with parents like me who value your experience and wisdom and would appreciate your input in our lives.

Sincerely,

A Parent in your Community

PS If you are really missing having children in your home, we will gladly drop our “angels” at your house while we go for a date… and we promise to come back within a couple hours (or days!). Just let me know!

I just heard two great Focus on the Family podcasts about parenting… with a discussion from an Empty Nester.

Preaching on Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day 2018 approaches, here are four important points for preachers to remember.

mothers-day-designLet me begin with a disclaimer: I do not and have not served as a full-time paid pastor/elder. I serve currently serve (and have in the past) on a local church elder board. I preach once in a while in my home congregation, and a few times a year in other local churches. Last year, I was privileged to preach at a nearby congregation on Father’s Day (from Daniel 1).

You do not have to preach a special Mother’s Day message.

If you do, that’s fine, but it is not necessary. For those who preach through a specific Bible book or are in the middle of a series, it is fine just to continue with the next message in the series, although there may be some series where a “break” for Mother’s Day may also be appropriate (eg preaching through Judges and you come to the story of Jael and the tent peg… probably not a great choice on Mother’s Day!).

If you do choose to do a special Mother’s Day message, please be careful what you choose to preach and who preaches it. From my perspective, a man preaching about how to be an effective mother is unwise (at best), if not arrogant, dangerous and so many other uncomplimentary adjectives. Yes, a male can explain the text of Scripture adequately… but that is not all that is involved in preaching.

It would be best if a specific Mother’s Day message was delivered from the pulpit by a respected, carefully chosen, older woman (ie grandmother) who has lived what she preaches. Recognizing that some church are not willing to have a woman preach, I would suggest a husband-and-wife-team preach the message together if they are going to choose a specific Mother’s Day message.

Acknowledge the Audience(s)

Any time a person is communicating, they should (obviously) understand their audience. Nonetheless, on an “occasion” like Mother’s Day, it is important right up front to acknowledge the various “audiences” in attendance.

Obviously, there are mothers (and grandmothers) and the preacher should acknowledge and honour them in some appropriate way – maybe during the message, maybe at some other time in the service. Included among other moms, there will likely also be single mothers present, and they should also be honoured along with the married mothers, perhaps even acknowledging the extra difficult task they do parenting a child alone, for whatever reasons.

At the same time, the preacher needs to acknowledge adult women who would love to be mothers but for whatever reason – infertility, single never married, or otherwise – are not mothers. Mother’s Day can make you feel like “less” of a woman. However, the idea that a female is “less of a woman because you don’t have children” (or are not married) is a lie from the devil. The Scripture teaches God created every woman as a person designed in God’s image, a whole, valuable human being designed by God… whether she has a husband, or children, or not. The person speaking the truth of God’s Word needs to publicly call the lie what it is and speak God’s truth so that women do not feel awkward or de-valued.

There will also men and women attending who miss their mothers because they have passed away… maybe recently, maybe years ago. Acknowledge the sadness they feel and let them know you hope they know and feel the comfort of Christ today. There may also be some present at a Mother’s Day service who have a very strained relationship with their mother, and this is a very difficult day, full of confusing, even distressing feelings. (This is often moreso the case on Father’s Day).

Finally, there might be some people in the audience who do not want to be there and do not attend church regularly but came because their mother asked them to and so they wanted to be polite. The preacher, again, needs to acknowledge that fact, let them know God appreciates this because His Word teaches in many places that honouring your mother (and father) is good and right. (I would even let them know some of this message will be for those who are followers of Christ, but that as a preacher you will let them know when you get to a part relevant to anyone. Chances are the “skeptic” may listen just as closely to the parts that are “not for them.”)

Finally, in terms of audience, and especially if you are preaching a Mother’s Day specific message, acknowledge those teenagers (or younger) and young adults who are thinking of the future and specifically being a mother (or father).

Applications for Everyone

Whatever message you preach, make sure the applications – how the Biblical principles you have spoken of from the passage – relate to everyone. In her book One by One, Gina Dalfonzo notes how often preachers apply Scripture to a nuclear family context… mothers do this, fathers practice that, children believe this. On Mother’s Day this is even more of a temptation, and yet the same truth applies: Preachers must give application for all the individuals in attendance, not just married women with children. There should be practical ways to live out the truth of the sermon for the senior widow(er), the college student, the 50-year old single banker, and everyone else listening.

Present the Gospel Clearly

While it is always a good practice to connect any message to the Gospel, some Biblical passages connect more easily to a Gospel parallel or application. Yet in light of the audiences noted above (eg. grieving an absent mother, skeptic), and because it is Mother’s Day, the people attending may be more emotionally attuned to hear the Gospel message than at other times of year.

Ultimately, of course, it needs to be the Spirit of God opening the eyes of the heart. Yet the wise preacher realizes the day on the calendar and honours God in preaching His Word and presenting the Gospel clearly so an individual may respond when the Spirit moves.

Have a great Mother’s Day!

Note: If you are looking for some excellent books on preaching in general, I would recommend:

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