How to Love and Desire Your Spouse

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***This piece is dedicated to my daughter Emily and her fiancé, Josh Ginchereau, in view of their upcoming wedding on May 25, 2018.

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16, NIV)

Given that marriage is the foundational institution of the human race, most pastoral marriage counseling will give some discussion to early biblical texts like the above. The bolded sentence, however, is notoriously difficult to interpret. That’s because, besides being thousands of years removed from our world, this particular term used for “desire” is only used two other times in the OT. Here they are:

  • “The Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door: its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen. 4:6-7, ESV)
  • “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” (Song of Solomon 7:10, ESV)

Before we discuss what “desire” means in Gen. 3:16b, let’s drop an important interpretive anchor: As part of the creational order, man was given authority over woman in that man was made first, woman was made from man to be his helper, and is twice named by man (2:23, 3:20). It’s critical to see that all this was before the fall and curse of sin associated with 3.16b above. What this means for our purposes is this: Loving, responsible male leadership—a good thing—should be distinguished from  disrespectful, exploitative male dominance—the historic fruit of man’s sinful desire to “rule over” women.

With this control point in place, here are two possible meanings for the woman’s “desire”—her basic instinct or urge—in Gen. 3:16b:

  1. Desire to be independent and dominate. The “interpretation of an ambiguous passage [3:16b] is validated by the same pairing [“desire” and “rule over”] in the unambiguous context of 4:7.”[1] In other words, a wife desires to dominate her husband in 3:16b in the same way sin desires to dominate Cain in 4:7. Here’s a popular expression of this view:

“These words from the Lord indicate that there will be an ongoing struggle between the woman and the man for leadership in the marriage relationship. The leadership role of the husband and the complementary relationship between husband and wife that were ordained by God before the fall have now been deeply damaged and distorted by sin. This especially takes the form of inordinate desire (on the part of the wife) and domineering rule (on the part of the husband).” (ESV Study Bible, 56)

  1. Desire for sex and children. “In 3:16, …since the context has already addressed the issue of reproduction, that can easily be identified as a basic instinct of women… The text sees that desire ‘for [her] husband’ because such a desire cannot be fulfilled without his cooperation… her need will put him in a position to dominate.”[2] OT Professor John Walton sees sin’s desire or basic instinct in 4:7 as more generally to deprave, rather than specifically to dominate. He also feels that letting 4:7 be the primary interpreter of 3:16b ignores a third of the data (i.e. Song of Solomon 7:10 above where desire in that context is clearly about sex). Gen. 30:1 also gives further evidence of sexual desire connected with “motherly impulse”:

“When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’” (NLT)

Exegetically, based on my experience, and talking to other women, I think # 2 makes the most sense. Whichever option you choose, however, here are three ways to love and desire your spouse God’s way:

  1. Thank God for your sexuality and look to him to protect it. Victorian white-washed discussions and prudish repression of sexual desire have no place in Christian faith and practice. There’s no need to deny the existence of “the animal instinct” the late Delores O’Riordan from the Cranberries sang about. What is needed, however, is to again firmly re-link sex with marriage and children—something Gen. 3:16 reminds us to do. Untold abuse, violence, disease, and life-long wounds continue to come as a result of separating the real, powerful, and very human desire for sex from loving marriage and children. Healthy marriage between a man and a woman is God’s plan to protect both the beauty and potential of sex and children.
  2. Distance yourself from dishonorable views that celebrate the dominance of men or the subjugation of women (Eph. 5:21). As Bruce K. Walke points out, “Male leadership, not male dominance, [should be] …assumed in the ideal, pre-Fall situation (2:18-25)… [Further,] the restoration of a love relationship is found in a new life in Christ.”[3] Here’s a passage that describes well this new life:

But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28, NLT)

  1. Let your marriage mirror the beauty in the story of how Eve was created. Genesis tells us that God created woman out of one of Adam’s ribs (2:21). This image captures perfectly the intimacy and harmony of marriage as God intended it. In the famous words of Matthew Henry, the woman is “not made out of his head to top him, not out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near his heart to be beloved.”[4]

 

 

[1] Bruce K. Walke, Genesis, A Commentary (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2001), 94.

[2] John H. Walton, NIV Application Commentary: Genesis, (Grand Rapids: Word, 2001), 228.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Holy Bible (London: Marshall Brother, n.d.), 1:12.

How to Help Your Kids Read and Enjoy the Bible

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My friend, Jake, is a young father I have tremendous respect for. Recently he asked me how to help his daughter, Meg, learn to read and enjoy the Bible. It’s a great question and related to a core value all Christian parents share: We believe a firm hold on Scripture is necessary to keep faith strong and alive.

The question is also related to what Jesus told one of his “dead” churches, Sardis, in the book of Revelation: Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again (3:3, NLT).

Our day too is replete with churches and associated universities that have abandoned the message of grace and truth they once embraced. Many, like Sardis, enjoy a reputation of being prestigious and “alive,” but, in reality, are spiritually “dead” (3:1). 

So how do we fortify our children and help them get a firm hold on the Bible? Here’s the approach I took with my kids, Matt, Tim, and Emily when they were 7-10. It’s call The Five-fingered Grip. Although I don’t remember exactly where, I too learned it as a child. I’ll give the basic outline and then tell you how to have fun teaching it:

  1. Listen: “…faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Rom. 10:17, NIV) The idea here is to listen attentively and respectfully in community to the Bible, viewing it as the fully trustworthy Word of God. Along with Christ-centered preaching (1 Cor. 1:18), it’s a primary way God speaks to and saves us.
  2. Read: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.” (1 Tim. 4:13, NLT) Reading is good but reading aloud is even better. Reading the Bible out loud engages more senses. It also increases literacy and helps make certain writing genres come alive, especially poetry.
  3. Study: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim. 2:15, NIV) At some point, it’s good to start learning to read specific verses, chapters, paragraphs, and books more closely. Here are a few questions I recommend—especially the last one related to knowing God. It’s so important to teach our kids that Christianity is primarily about relationship, not rules:
    • What does this passage mean?
    • How does it apply to my life?
    • Any promises for me to claim?
    • Any commands or principles for me to keep?
    • Any lessons for me to learn?
    • Does it teach anything about God that helps me get to know him better?
  4. Memorize: “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psa. 119:11, NIV) I’m amazed at how easy it was to memorize verses and specific passages as a child AND how much of what I memorized has stayed with me. You can read aloud together the Ten Commandments or Psalm 23 just once a day for 2-3 weeks and you will have it memorized. This is where our grip on God’s Word starts to grow strong. Also, this hiding his words in our heart helps practically in resisting temptation. And memorization is closely related to the last of our five-fingered grip:
  5. Meditate: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Josh. 1:8, ESV) The word for meditate here is related to the digestive habits of a cow chewing its cud (partly digested food). The cow chews, swallows, and then brings its’ cud back up to chew it some more. That may sounds gross (although most kids won’t think so!), but it’s exactly how meditation works: We think and reflect on God’s Word, mull it over in our minds, hide it in our hearts through memorization, and eventually digest it in a way that nourishes our soul and faith strong.

Now for the fun part. Here’s how to teach The Five-fingered Grip to your kids or grandkids: Using the outline above, grip a Bible in one hand with all five of your fingers and each time, after each of the five points, have them try to pull it out of your hand. At first, with just one finger, then two, then three, etc. You will be gripping the Bible and, again—at first with just one of their fingers (Listen)—they won’t be able to do anything. Using two of their fingers (Read), they still won’t be able to pull it away. By the time they get to four fingers (Memorize), however, and then five (Meditate) their grip will be a lot stronger. Have fun tug-a-war as they try to pull it out of your hand each time. Finally, when they get to five fingers let them win. They now have the five-fingered grip—something better than the Kung-Fu grip on my old G.I. Joe! Regarding this last item, I’m sorry you may have never heard of or had the privilege of owning this epic toy. 🙂 Let me expand your horizons with this classic commercial:

Back from the 70’s to 2017, here’s the feedback I got from Jake when he shared The Five-fingered Grip with Meg (By the way, they go rock climbing together so it took on even greater meaning!):

“Had a fun talk with Magnolia last night using the illustration you showed me. We talked about what it means to “set your mind on things above,” which segued into how we set our minds on things just like we hold things with our hand. She then tried to hold the Bible as we added one finger at a time, and I was pulling the Bible… She isn’t smiling in the picture [see above], but she was giggling through our Bible-tugging tests!”

Here’s something else you might try: On a half sheet of paper and as a handy reference, I laminated the wording and format below and had Matt, Tim, and Emily keep them in their Bibles:

The Five-Fingered Grip On God’s Word

Listen to it (Rom. 10:17)

Read it (1 Tim. 4:13)

Study it (2 Tim. 2:15)

Memorize it (Psalm 119:11)

Meditate on it (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:2)

Questions for Study

  • What does this passage mean?
  • How does it apply to my life?
  • Any promises for me to claim?
  • Any commands or principles for me to keep?
  • Any lessons for me to learn?
  • Does it teach anything about God that helps me get to know him better?

For teens and adults that want to learn to read and enjoy the Bible more, I recommend How to Enjoy Your Bible by Keith Ferrin. My colleagues at work just went through this and got a lot out of it. Several were going to buy copies to give out at Christmas or use it to read through as a family.

 

Listening to Marital Advice from My Younger Self

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Tomorrow, my wife, Pam, and I will celebrate our thirty-first wedding anniversary with a meal at Seasons 52. Eleven years ago, on our twentieth, I wrote a piece for National Fatherhood Initiative called Three Simple Things to Improve Your Marriage.  Reading it again, I still find it valuable and hope you will too. Here’s the article and I will conclude with a few brief thoughts.

From my 31-year-old self, twenty years in:

Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, has well said: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” Strong marriages mean happier families, more secure homes, and hope for all those doubt the Giver of love and life, and the power of committed love. Here are three simple things to improve your marriage:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Although it’s true that great love can be expressed in small ways, oversights or tasks done too hastily on the part of your spouse are usually not meant as a personal slight. We all have our “hot buttons:” leaving the vacuum out, coffee grounds on the counter, a wet towel not hung up, dirty cloths left on the floor, etc.. Getting continually upset, however, about your spouse’s inattention to things that irritate you can nickel and dime your marriage to death. “Too much conflict and arguing” is one of the three most common reasons for divorce given by both ex-wives and ex-husbands.[1] Consider this: the next time her stuff is piled on the his side of your sinks, instead of the sarcastic remark, graciously choose to move the items aside. If her car is less than tidy, instead of stewing or yelling, kindly choose to clean it out. Besides loving your wife better, actions like these will grow grace, compassion, and patience in you—things that will strengthen all your relationships.
  2. Touch base daily in simple ways. Songwriters Steve and Annie Chapman used to sing about the need for “snuggles in days of struggles” and Stevie Wonder reminds his girl that “I just called to say I love you.” These simple expressions of love through word and touch can do so much to calm, soothe, and restore focus. Sometimes it seems like a serious argument starts out of nowhere (the “small stuff” from #1 unfortunately provides plenty of fodder here) resulting in both you and your wife leaving the house hurt and angry. Here’s something to try: Regardless of whose fault it was, call your wife just to let her know you feel bad about what happened. Although you may need to talk the specific issue out later, remind her that you love her.  Touching base in a simple way like this can bring healing and life to her soul. A quick call, note, text message, email, flowers, cup of tea, etc. can make a huge difference in how a day goes.
  3. Make an hour or two of weekly heart-to-heart communication a first priority. Depending on the ages and demands of your kids, this may seem impossible. A weekly or bi-weekly date-night is the discipline of many strong marriages; however, it’s not a realistic option for all. Some can’t afford to eat out or pay a babysitter, and some couples may not have access to quality child care. Regardless of your circumstances, it’s important to find something that works for you. You might consider getting up early on a Saturday or Sunday BEFORE the kids get up, or send them to bed early. Or maybe there’s a common day where you can have lunch together at home when the kids aren’t there. Find out what works best for you and your spouse, but don’t compromise on this “debrief” and connection time. The answers to questions like “how are you,” “how are you feeling,” “what’s on your mind this week,” “how have you been sleeping,” etc. have emotions and stories attached to them and often need time to be unpacked. The goal of these weekly times is to stay connected on an emotional level, so don’t clutter this communication with the administrative details of running a household. This is special time to be protected, time to care for each other’s soul and heart, and time that will yield rich dividends in your relationship.

From my 51-year-old self, thirty-one years in:

On a positive note, #1 now seems like second nature. More time and a deeper knowing have brought increased patience, empathy, comfort to our rhythms. I see a negative drift, however, regarding #2 and recommit to being more attentive and kind. Also, and this is interesting: With the empty-nest stage approaching, we now have more free time but it’s tired time and we find it easy to drift toward “the same old same old.” Seeing a need for more rested, heart-to-heart connection, I recommit to being more intentional about 1) protecting a specific weekly time and 2) putting more forethought and effort into making that weekly time special.

May God use the above mirror to strengthen you and those you love. Further, may He use the authenticity and joy associated with healthy marriage to draw those watching closer to His heart.

[1] With this Ring: A National Survey on Marriage (National Fatherhood Initiative, 2005), 25. Infidelity and lack of commitment are the two other reasons given.

Why Reading is So Important

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***This is the last in a four-part series and has been updated with recommendations for teens.[1] It was originally written in September 2009 for my children.

Dear Emily, Matt, and Tim,

I know I harp on you more often than you would like about not reading enough, watching too much TV, or spending hours playing video games.   I also know you sometimes roll your eyes—even internally—and seek to avoid that predictable question: “What have you been reading lately?” In asking this question, as I have told you before, my heart is not to shame or make you feel uncomfortable. It is also not to reinforce stereotypes I sometimes deserve of being too rigid, not able to relax, or sounding like a broken record. I am learning to “chillax” more—a word I learned from your friends—but there are important reasons why I want you to learn to love reading:

  1. Reading quiets your heart and stills your soul. We live in a busy, crazy world. Much of the stress and demands on our time we have little control over. If you can get into a habit of daily or weekly, non-homework reading, you will find your mind gets clearer and your soul re-centered. Find a quiet place. Stop texting for a bit. Turn off your phone and read something you are interested in and enjoy.  Read fun stuff like:
    • The Harry Potter series
    • The Time Quintet (L’Engle)
    • The Lunar Chronicles
    • Percy Jackson series
    • Sherlock Holmes
    • Treasure Island
    • The Hobbit & Lord of the Rings trilogy
    • To Kill A Mockingbird
    • The Book Thief
    • The Outsiders
    • Pride and Prejudice
    • Jane Eyre
    • The Hunger Games Series
    • Unbroken
    • The Alchemist
    • Until We Have Faces
    • The Giver
    • The Witch of Blackbird Pond
    • Johnny Tremain
    • Phoenix Files
    • The Divergent series
    • Lorien Legacies
    • The Maze Runner series
    • The Red Pyramid series
    • Michael Vey series

These books (and others like them) take you on fascinating journeys and help you relax.  Again, set   aside time each day or week. You know your schedule best.

  1. Reading will help you be a strong person who others look to for leadership. While it is true that not every reader is a good leader, every good leader is a reader. Reading keeps your mind sharp. It expands your world and thinking. It makes you feel smarter and grows your imagination. It makes you a person of breadth—someone who is balanced, well-rounded, curious, culturally-literate, intelligent, interesting, and wise. These are all qualities that make you a better conversationalist, friend, counselor, and citizen.
  2. Reading can help you be humbler. Pride, arrogance, and snobbery are some of the most unattractive qualities one can have. Few things are more sickening, however, than when pride is combined with ignorance and apathy. Mindsets like “I’m ignorant and proud of it,” or “I’m ignorant and could care less” almost always go with a distaste for reading and a heavy diet of TV and gaming. Read fun stuff and fiction, but also read non-fiction. Anything older than you may seem lame, but the truth is that you are standing on the shoulders of thousands of great men and women who have gone before you. You get to know these folks primarily through books. Don’t be guilty of what the great writer, C.S. Lewis, called “chronological snobbery”—that is, thinking that the times and culture you live in are the most important.

In closing, here is a quote I came across recently that speaks well to the points above:

“Books enlarge us by giving direct access to experiences not our own. In order for this to work, however, we need a certain type of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. Such a state is increasingly elusive in our over-networked culture, in which every rumor and mundanity is blogged and tweeted. Today, it seems it is not contemplation we seek but an odd sort of distraction masquerading as being in the know. Why? Because of the illusion that illumination is based on speed, that it is more important to react than to think, that we live in a culture in which something is attached to every bit of time.”[2]

I love you all very much and pray that you will be men, Tim and Matt, and a woman, Emily, of great character, humility, and serenity who lead and serve—people whose lives are strong enough to enrich others, due in part because you learned to love reading.

Dad

 

[1] Many thanks to Krista, Phil, Niamh, and Philly Smith, Sarah Carter, and Jon, Susanna, Lily, and Ian Cummings for their updated book selections. The suggested list includes lot of classics, as well as some that touch on tough topics. All are fun reads that have also led to some amazing discussions!

[2] Los Angeles Times book reviewer David L. Ulin [latimes.com, 8/9/09].

 

 

Reading the Classics to Your Kids (& Grandkids!)

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***This piece, the third in a four-part series, has been updated, but was originally written in October 2004. It is dedicated to my sister, Victoria Austen-Moon (pictured below) who has a Master’s in Creative Writing and was a voracious reader before her accident in 2012. Unfortunately, this is the only piece we ever collaborated on.

Part of raising children who will positively impact this world includes making sure they can interact with the issues, ideas, ethical questions, and history of their times. In other words, it means making sure they are culturally literate. One of the most enjoyable ways to do this is by reading the classics to your kids. Great stories stimulate the imagination and expand horizons. When we read these wonderful tales, it is like going back in time again ourselves. It is also, as my daughter will attest (eight at the time this was originally written!), a fun time to snuggle. Here are a few tips:

  1. Try to set aside a regular time(s) during the week when you are not spent. It is hard to read with appropriate expression and enjoyment when you are tired. You’ll want to have the energy to experiment with different voices and enjoy hearing your kids laugh.
  2. When possible, use upcoming movies as an incentive for reading. When Peter Jackson began working on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I challenged my two boys (then ten and twelve): “If you want to see the movies, you have to read the books first.” They accepted my challenge and have now read what is considered one of the greatest works of fantasy in modern literature.
  3. View the purchase and collection of children’s classic literature as an investment.  By purchasing beautifully illustrated hardback copies (e.g. Sterling Publishing Co. has inexpensive unabridged options), you will be investing in your kid’s kids as well. Of course, you can still read, and may prefer, the paperback version. Either way, if you like collecting books, this may be a good excuse to justify the expense!
  4. Consider contributing to the cultural literacy of your community. You might find that you enjoy reading certain classic stories so much that you want to share them with others. Volunteer to do a “Story Time” at your local school, church, library, or other community organization. If nothing like this exists, consider starting something.

Here are a few favorites to consider as you get started:

The Tales of Beatrix Potter

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

For younger children, poetry is an excellent choice, because they respond so well to the rhythm of the language. Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses is a great choice.

For resources to get started as a parent, try:

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey

Books Children Love: A Guide to the Best Children’s Literature by Elizabeth Wilson

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Your Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox

When I originally wrote this article, I ended it by saying: “The above are just a few examples of well-loved classics that will provide rich experiences for you and your children right into the holidays. So grab a blanket to snuggle under, make some hot chocolate, and enjoy.” Here’s the update for summer: Skip the blanket, and find a cool, comfortable spot with some lemonade!

 

 

For the Love of Books

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*** This post is the first in a four-part series.

Summer is a great time to encourage yourself, your kids, or grandkids to read more. One thing my mom did early on to instill a life-long love of reading in my sister and me involved ice cream at a little shop called Daniel’s. Our out-of-school routine began with a weekly trip to the public library where we took out several books of our choosing. If we read one book that week we got a small ice cream cone, two earned a large, and three or more a banana split. I went for the banana split every week and I read a lot of books each summer. That simple incentive paid rich dividends to the point that today I would buy you an ice cream to let me read! Or, if you prefer, we could negotiate an alternative at Rita’s, DQ, Yogo Factory, or Starbucks.

Christian families, especially, should care deeply about reading and encouraging literacy. Why? Because reading well is directly related to knowing and handling the Bible correctly. God choose to communicate with humans in ways that include a divinely inspired book. If we don’t like to read, it will be difficult to study or think deeply about what the Bible says. Further, we will have little discernment or skill to judge the teachings of those that claim to speak for God.

One dear father I knew went to his grave having read only one book in his life, a book about Greg Brady of The Brady Bunch. To this day, four of his five children have little interest in church and show surprising susceptibility to error. They are not comfortable with reading (especially classic literature), so the Bible is largely an unknown treasure that they think can only be interpreted with wooden literalism. They know nothing about the historical grammatical method of interpretation, Scripture’s various literary genres, or how different parts of the Bible appeal to different parts of us. For example, they do not know how the psalms appeal to our emotions, the letters of Paul to our minds, apocalyptic literature like Revelation to our imagination, or the prophets to our will.

For the next month, I want to focus on reading. This article will serve as an introduction of sorts. Next week will give practical encouragement on “How to Enjoy Reading More.” Week three will be on “Reading the Classics to Your Kids (or grandkids!)” and week four will make the case to our teens for “Why Reading is So Important.” The goals of this four-week series will be to pass on the joy of reading, and build kids who seek out and lead spiritually healthy families, love Scripture, and know how to handle it correctly.

Homes that prioritize reading, especially ones where parents snuggle with their children, form natural attachments and safeguard against many harmful things, including soul-killing busyness and too much media consumption. Moreover, the discipline and joy of reading is directly related to growing kids that are culturally literate and appreciate the past, including classic literature.

Exposure to great books can guard against non-classical and toxic aberrations of Christianity, whether in seemingly harmless forms like Joel Osteen, or hideous ones like Westboro Baptist.

For all of us, reading expands our view of the world and decreases the likelihood that we will apply “Bible verse Band-Aids” to harsh realities. Reading classic fiction and non-fiction increases empathy and insight into human nature. Even fantasy and fairy tales can make us long for a better world and inspire great deeds. Additionally, a knowledge of history and tradition can provide perspective when our leaders fall or are exposed.

Will you join me this summer? If so, what is one specific, positive thing you can do to encourage yourself or those you love to enjoy reading more? Your answer to and follow-though on this question has the power to change lives forever.

Also, if you have any specific things you have done or observed that motivate others to love great books, let me know at gregausten@comcast.net and I will include them in upcoming posts.

Good Fathers Help Us Get God’s Love

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I had a good father. Among other things, he taught me to fish, split wood, and work hard. He believed in doing things well and would often say, “It is easier to do something right the first time than to explain why you didn’t.” He was part of a generation of men where women were the primary nurturers and men were the providers.

Despite feeling at retirement as many men do that he had worked too hard for too little for too long, he really was an involved, responsible, and committed father. I have many pleasant memories of my dad. The earliest, from ages five to eight, are watching with him the TV shows Mod Squad, UFO, Adam 12, and Emergency. I remember being with him watching television when Muhammad Ali won fight after fight, Richard Petty or Mario Andretti won race after race, Evel Knievel attempted his jump of the Snake River Canyon, Bruce Jenner became the world’s greatest athlete (what happened there?!), and the gymnast Nadia Comaneci earned her perfect tens.

One of our biggest points of connection as I entered later adolescence was reading The Hardy Boys books together. I had read these and other books voraciously for years, thanks primarily to my mom’s efforts in encouraging me to read, and I shared a couple of my favorites with my dad. He read them, thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and then joined me in these adventures. He loved magazines like Popular Science and Popular Mechanics and, like MacGyver, he could make amazing things out of few or discarded materials. Ingenuity was his specialty, and in second and third grades he helped me win first place in the school’s science fairs. We made a water drop microscope one year, and a working telegraph the other.

He was not a big sports guy, but we played catch and Frisbee in the back yard on many occasions.  We both got seriously into ping-pong when I was eleven or twelve, sometimes playing daily whenever he got home from work.  The closeness my father and I shared in my later teens and early twenties is one reason I love the 2013 film About Time. Several times throughout the movie, the father and son are depicted talking together while playing Ping-Pong. This simple setting provides cohesiveness for one of the movie’s central themes: delight in the father-son relationship—an experience I tasted in my relationship with my dad.

When I was a young teen, he would often listen and laugh as I told him the plot of a movie and afterwards compliment my story-telling. When I was fifteen and sixteen, he regularly came to my basketball games and cheered me on. One memory I have from my later teens is coming home from work and hearing him listen to my favorite artist at that time, Keith Green. I knew he hated his voice, so I asked, “What are you listening to that for?” He said, “I just wanted to learn more about why you appreciate him.” He was entering my world—that goes a long way in connecting with teens.

This is like what the triune God, “Our Father,” did in the incarnation—that is, in sending Jesus to be born into this world:

  • He entered our world: “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14, NLT)
  • He experienced the power of temptation and relates to our struggles: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb. 4:14, ESV)
  • He is the ultimate example of a loving father: “For God [the Father] was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19, NLT)

It is my prayer that regardless of what your relationship is, was, wasn’t, or could have been with your earthly father, that today you would experience more of the favor and delight of the Heavenly Father!

Happy Father’s Day!

Competing with Wonder Woman

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June 3, 2017

As I launch a blog, one of the questions at the forefront of my mind is “how do I get people to care about it?”  “How does it not get lost in the “Borg” of the internet or the busyness of our lives?”  Further, regardless of whether the content is good or not, I know I am competing with a lot that is far more exciting, fun, and “sexy.”  Case in point:  My blog launches June 1st.  Wonder Woman comes out June 2nd. My suggestion and proposed solution?  Sign up for the blog and go see the movie!  It’s the Deion Sanders way:  not baseball or football, but both!

I am a child of the 70’s. As a young boy, my favorite shows were Wonder Woman and The Six Million Dollar Man, and I would be hard pressed to say which I favored more.  It is interesting that The Six Million Dollar Man has never warranted a remake.  I never quite understood this as it seems to me that Matt Damon could have brought a lot of Patrick Stewart plays Charles Xavier in X-Men credibility to the role.

And those shows did need some help with credibility.  As much as I loved them as a nine-year-old, it was amazing how unbelievably hokey both series were as I re-watched them again with my kids in the early 2000’s.  Now that they are adults, Wonder Woman, especially—with her invisible plane and “feminine” bracelets—provides them with a lot of eye-rolls and razz ammunition. I can’t defend myself but it sure has been a lot of fun to banter about it.

Fun is an important part of healthy families and life.  The fact that this silly, campy show, along with its long-awaited remake, still brings a smile to my face is a helpful reminder to me of something Eugene Peterson calls “conversational humility.”  In his book The Contemplative Pastor, he notes,

“Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational humility. Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness… [We are unlikely] to become aware of the tiny shoots of green grace that the Lord is allowing to grow in the backyards of their lives. If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work. Most of people’s lives are not spent in crisis, nor lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues. Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple, routine tasks, and small talk is the national language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.”[1]

We need to build lives consistent with the expansiveness of the Lordship of Christ: “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16, ESV) This “all things” expansiveness also includes how we interact with the created world: our simple, routine tasks, small talk, and, yes, even our smiles and silliness.  True, life is not all exciting, fun, and sexy but it is not all boring, tragic, and ugly either. It is a mix—full and rich—and, especially for Christians, Scripture is clear: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31, ESV). We reduce life to something smaller than God intends when we think this can’t include Marvel, DC, or even the raillery about which franchise is better.

 

 

 

[1] Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989),119-119.