Archive for the ‘fatherhood’ Category

Last Thursday evening I participated in the Common Ground Speaker Series which my daughter’s school supports. The evening’s speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell. Harvard and Tulane educated, Dr. Hallowell specializes in  advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. His topic for the night found it’s genesis in his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!

Hallowell covered some much already traveled territory discussing the affects of the Internet, social media, cell phones and all other things technology. While this terrain is well-trodden, I think, he’s dead-on concerning the negative effects of “labor-saving” devices. What’s more, Hallowell points out that our time interfacing with screens isn’t only sucking our time and energy, it is also rewiring our brains. This could be good or bad. Who knows? At best, we are entering new territory.

The truth is that as we spend more time engaging socially – like reading blogs, etc… – we are spending less time with one another. We trust “friends” and “followers” we’ve never met with extraordinary personal information, while simultaneously not know the name of our neighbors. Worse still, we run the risk of marginalizing or ignoring the family in our midst.

Hallowell reminds us of two important and basic actions that many of us would be wise to regain:

1. Decide what matters most. Preaching a principle I learned from Andy Stanley years ago, I recently spoke on the topic of deciding what matters most and then shaping our action around them. Implicit in deciding is following up that decision with determined action so that our lives actual reflect what we say.

2. Recreate Boundaries. I am frequently shocked when I see the boundaries people have given up. This is especially true, I think, for Christians. Our willingness to be useful and used, for many, has resulted in sacrificing time and energy to our family. This is tantamount to abandoning our family.

Ultimately, I think Hallowell has much to say, but I’m not doing a book review. I’m just raising your attention to the importance of slowing down your life in order to maximize your impact with those closest to you. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t do anything well in a hurry.”

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Tiger Woods may have attended Stanford, but the past two weeks have proven how stupid he really is. I like Tiger Woods and believe him to be the greatest golfer of all time, whether he tracks down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional Majors or not. Tiger is the best at what he does, but as we learned from Michael Jordan, being the best in a sport has very little to do with being good in the rest of life.

What’s odd is that we think it does. When I was a youth minister, I frequently told students that one of the best ways they could witness for God was by being good at what they did. Colt McCoy, Hunter Lawrence, Jordan Shipley and Tim Tebow are examples of this. By performing with excellence in one area, our very lives are granted credence in the minds others. It’s only natural that people believe that the excellent are excellent. But that’s not always the case. Through all the fist pumps, chest bumps, sunk putts and kicked rumps, we continue to find that our “heroes” are anything but.

Here’s El Tigre, the worlds most recognizable person, complete with a yacht named “Privacy” slinking around, hooking up with cocktail waitresses and pornstars – allegedly – and thinking, presumably, that he wouldn’t get caught; that no one would find out. You’ve got to be kidding!

That’s just plain stupid.

He was bound to get caught.

But it’s the best thing that could have happened to Tiger Woods.

Why? Because of Steve McNair and Michael Jackson.

Last summer, former NFL great Steve McNair was found shot by his girlfriend. A married man, McNair was having an affair with Shalel Kazemi, a 20-year old, who murdered him in his sleep before turning the gun on herself. (In case you didn’t know, if someone continues to hook up with a string of women who do not care that he is married, he will run across one who is crazy!) That’s what happened to McNair, whose girlfriend feared he was leaving her, and that would have eventually happened to Woods. It’s unlikely that it would have ended in murder, but it almost certainly would have been worse than bad press and a re-written pre-nuptial agreement.

And we all know the disturbing tragedy of Michael Jackson. Something dismaying happens to people when we are too tightly insulated. That was the case with Jackson and has been the case with Woods. No healthy person can exists in a world of yes men and staff rather than friends and mentors. Woods – due to our incessant desire to know everything about everyone – had created his own kingdom, perhaps with Elin and his own mother as the only citizens by choice, the only ones who wanted him for him and not cash or celebrity.

This has been his greatest weakness. Tiger has fired caddies and coaches for doing commercials and giving too many interviews. In Tiger’s world, it’s Tiger’s way or the highway. In fact, Tiger’s mom once reportedly told a former girlfriend of his, “There’s only one star in this family. Tiger.” That’s the problem. Everyone needs people in their life to tell us the truth, to remind us that the world, in fact, does not revolve around us and folks like Woods are woefully short of them.

The titillating headlines concerning the train wreck Woods’ life has become over the past two weeks, present Tiger an opportunity. If he can resist the urge to be handled or save face, he can come clean with himself. No one besides Elin needs an apology or explanation. Tiger has the chance, right now, to rewrite who he is, not to resurrect his shattered image, but become a new man. Right now, Tiger can take a big swing.

Deal with your issues, Tiger, – because it’s clear to everyone now that you have them. Become a better father to your kids (good dads don’t cheat on mom). Stop sporting for gullible, star-struck women, using them as objects, and stop doing whatever else you’ve got going on under the surface. Become a man who is honest, friendly, open, humble, straightforward, less the golf machine and more an authentic man. Just think what Jackson’s life could have been had he a chance to be more Michael and less icon. Today Tiger’s life has a chance to be genuine, something, I think, at the end of life, he would much more enjoy than the coat-check girl.

Every time I mention to someone that I wake up at either 4:30 or 5:00 a.m. the first question they ask me is “Why?”. Why would anyone who doesn’t HAVE to wake up that early do so? Apparently it’s OK for people who must be at work that early, but why punish yourself?

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Become An Early Riser

I’m not naturally a morning person, though. Because I am a night owl, I presumed the move to early rising was going to be a struggle. It wasn’t. Now having made the shift, I am an early-riser evangelist, believing everyone should do it. And here are three reasons why:

  1. Spiritual Development. Most Christ-followers I know want a deeper relationship with God. We know how to do it – prayer, spiritual reading, silence and solitude, along with other spiritual disciplines – but most of us don’t have good time to do it. It’s not that we don’t have time altogether; we don’t have good time. The time we have for ourselves, after work and kids, church and life, we are often far too exhausted to do anything worthwhile. Rising early changes the scales in the direction of spiritual formation. When I wake up, before the kids, the dawn and the Dawn Rochelle (my wife), I have the best and most time – coffee aided, of course – to engage God. Getting up a little earlier affords me the opportunity to orient my life towards God.
  2. Knowledge is King. Another plus of arising at five is seeking and finding all the news that’s good to know about our world. Karl Barth once said that a good preacher prepares his sermons with his Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And he’s right. Each morning, I crack open my MacBook Pro, fire up my Google Reader and check all the news sites and blogs that I favor. Before 6:30 a.m. I’ve picked up leadership lessons from the likes of Michael Hyatt and Brad Lomenick; I’ve been introduced to ways of connecting others with what I’m doing through folks like Seth Godin and Chris Brogan, and I’m up to speed on national and international events thanks to Politico.com, NYTimes.com, Washingtonpost.com, and drudgereport.com. Being on the west coast, most of what’s going to happen in the world has already happened by the time my neighbors wake up, but I’m ahead of the game. More than that though, throughout my day I don’t have to check websites, etc…once I arrive at the office, I can focus on being with people and tackling the day’s tasks.
  3. Family Harmony. Once our oldest daughter began school, we quickly realized that all four of us waking up, preparing and eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting dressed at the same time was pretty tough. Now, I’m awake, coffee-fueled, fed and ready to go by the time the girls get up. This makes our mornings much less stressful resulting in better, less stressful mornings.

There you have it.  There are other reasons – such as a more productive workday and exercise – which serve as additional reasons to get up early, but I think you’re getting the point. My encouragement to you is to give it two-weeks, make a plan describing what it is you want to do with your time and stick to it. You’ll find that your bedtime comes earlier, but, most likely, it’ll be worth it.

Jackson MemorialFor some reason, I feel compelled to write a few words about celebrity and humanity with Michael Jackson’s memorial hanging as the backdrop. It should be said at the outset that I have always been a Michael Jackson fan, though a conflicted one.

If MJ were still alive and had a CD coming out next week, would I buy it? Yes.

If MJ asked if my kids could spend the night at Neverland Ranch? No!

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty, but I also trust the old adage; Where there’s smoke there’s fire! Multiple accusations, an “adult alarm” outside the bedroom, it’s all a little odd. Nevertheless, a family has lost a brother, parents lost their son, and, worst, three children are without a father. And that, almost any way you slice it, is a tragedy.

What struck me as most odd about the Michael Jackson Memorial was the obvious lack of authenticity. Not that the people who participated did not care about Jackson or his death, but rather that the majority of them are routinely compelled to protect their public persona and during this “performance” were, at best, concerned with maintaining that persona. Moments of the memorial seemed, not so much as stagecraft, as it did an opportunity for the advancement of some participant’s personal brand. Today celebrities were asked to do what they are never asked to do, never rewarded for, and what might possibly be the farthest thing from their minds – put someone else first!

The rhetorical low-point had to be Usher. The sunglass donning singer proclaimed, “Michael meant a lot to all of us, especially me.” Did you hear that? “Especially” him! Usher, in one sentence, demonstrates why so many people felt that network and cable news coverage of Jackson’s death was untoward. Most folks feel that celebrity is the ultimate landing ground for self-centered, shallow, silicone living. Celebrities are disconnected from reality and obsessed with all the wrong things. And truthfully, there are enough Paris Hiltons and Perez Hiltons to prove the case. So when Usher, for whatever reasons, placed his grief over and above that of Jacksons’ parents, siblings and children, everything we suspect about celebrity is proved to be true. Also, Mariah Carey was clothed barely a step up from her normal state of undress, and Berry Gordy’s 2-minute ad for Motown Records didn’t help either. Throughout so much of the memorial, I felt that I was witness to the Grammys or some other such production. Celebs wearing sunglasses in the darkened Staples Centre, Corey Feldman dressed as the King of Pop; at times I thought I was watching Live Aid or a VH1 Special.

Thankfully, Brook Shields and Paris Jackson broke through the pretention and made

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Brooke Shields Gets Real

Michael Jackson what he always wanted to be; one of us. Brooke Shields spoke admirably and ably about her and Michael’s shared grief of lost innocence. She talked about his humor and playfulness. When Brooke spoke, Michael was human and he was her friend. Her tears were not of the Made-For-TV variety. She sidestepped Al Sharpton’s tirade against the media – as if something he said could’ve changed anything. And made the opportunist, Sheila Jackson Lee, look foolish, grandstanding with a House Resolution on her hip. And Brooke did it all by expressing what so few people could seem to conjure up today: Humanity! What Sharpton tried to do by shouting and Lee attempted with laws, Brooke Shields did by simply being a friend who cared. In that moment, it wasn’t about celebrity – hers or his – but it was about a friendship and relationship of caring. Don’t believe anyone cares about you, if they can’t tell a story about being with you that demonstrates that care.

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

Paris Reminds the World, Michael was "Daddy"

And of course, there was sweet Paris Jackson simply saying she had the “best daddy in the world.” If your heart didn’t break when you heard this little girl, then you simply don’t have one. This girl, of whom the media has openly and harshly questioned whether or not her dad is her dad, ended the discussion. If you, like me, have little girls, you found that tears easily stream when you hear a little girl missing her daddy. Right there, among all the crudeness, crassness, silliness and shallowness of the celebrity culture, a little girl reminded us that music didn’t lose its greatest performer, the world didn’t lose a generous humanitarian, and concert promoters didn’t lose a meal ticket – three little children lost their daddy.

And they never cared how many CD’s or tickets he sold!

I so wish that some of the people who stood behind microphones today would have set their celebrity and/or political personas aside, been human, and let these kids say goodbye to their daddy. There are three more orphans in the world and not any of them needs someone to moonwalk.

Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson, I suspect you’ll agree with me on one thing: We don’t need any more celebrities, but could use an injection of true humanity.

The true tragedy of Michael Jackson isn’t his truncated childhood, the unproven allegations, the abuse he took at the hands of his father, but that Jackson spent his life groping, blinded by the spotlight, for a genuine human experience, yet even in his death, so many of his “friends” couldn’t give it to him.

I ended the sermon this past Sunday speaking authoritatively about the Jesus being “Outside the Tomb.” It was what Fred Craddock would describe as a “sermon of orientation.” It was firm in conviction, unambiguous, and strongly worded: “The tomb is empty!” Just what we need on Easter morning.

I said all these things knowing that this upcoming Sunday I would begin a new teaching series called, “Doubt.” The new series will be disorienting, bringing comfort for those who ask questions and a level of affliction to those who dislike grayness and ambiguity. The screech and grinding of gears from Easter to Doubt is not lost on me. But it is real life.

I know from experience. Recent experience. Before Easter was over, Rochelle and I found ourselves rushing our 5-year-old, Malia, to the hospital. The next nine hours treated her (and us) to two ultrasounds, a CT Scan, invasive medications, numerous blood tests, an ambulance ride from one hospital to another and talk of early onset diabetes, appendicitis, and elevated white blood cells counts. Neither Rochelle nor I are physicians or in the medical profession, but we know what raised eyebrows between two doctors and a nurse mean; nothing good. To be fair, we knew Malia’s life was never in danger, at least not immediately, but there were times when the fear of a life-changing prognosis was active in our imaginations.

There we are: The tomb is empty, but life happens in uncertainty and uncertainty means doubt.

But here’s the thing; certainty is not one of the promises of scripture. We cannot and will not be certain of everything God is doing. Even those who quickly jump to the comforting salve of words like, “It’ll all be good in the end,” would agree that conversations regarding who, how and why God will save can swiftly become testy and debatable issues.

Even as Malia lay in her hospital bed, too lethargic and dehydrated to move, I was confident that the tomb was empty, but had no clue as to the outcome of my daughter’s health. I knew what I wanted to happen, but no way to make it happen and no certainty that it would. These are the times when our complete surrendered-ness and dependency to God is tangible.

This is where we live, regardless of all our public posturing about the “will of God.” We cannot have the kind of certainty we would like! What we can have is confidence–confidence that God is good and working for a good that is bigger than our individual particulars. What we seek – and the way “believe” should have been translated more oftentimes in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles – is trust.

Trust that God is good, trust that we have a future, trust that even through the darkness we experience, the redemption and restoration are far grander than all we might lose or be separated from. Only then, I think, can we say, “Thy will be done.” And only in the committed articulation of “Thy will be done,” can we find joy, purpose and direction between the tomb and the doubt.

Happy Father’s Day

Posted: June 14, 2008 in family, fatherhood, home, kids, life

Today is Father’s Day. As I was playing with my daughters earlier I realized that they are what makes me a father, and they are the reason I want to be a good father. Chris Rock once said that father’s of daughters have one job: “to keep their daughters off the pole.” Obviously there is a little more to it than that, but certainly not any less. Being a father is a sacred trust. I’m learning how to be a better disciple of Jesus through discipling my kids.

This father’s day I’m also learning how deeply I am indebted to my own father, even though we have not lived in the same place since I was 13, I am grateful for all that he has taught me. As my recently deceased favorite journalist once said, “The older I get the smarter my father gets.”

Today I’m also mindful of the millions of Americans with my skin tone who — for one reason or another — never knew their fathers. It is a plague that is killing our country and slowly relegating blacks to a permanent underclass. (Helen Andrews has a wonderful article about the subject here.)

So to all the good fathers out there: Happy Father’s Day. You are an inspiration to me and you are doing the most important work that can be done.

This Sunday I’m beginning a sermon series entitled, Felt Board Basics: Rediscovering the Tales Told to Jesus. The impetus for the series comes from reading Old Testament Bible stories to my two young daughters, Malia and Katharine. Indeed, these are the same stories that shaped a young boy named Jesus who couldn’t get enough of hanging around the temple. Sadly, other than sitting in Old Testament survey classes in graduate school, I had not heard some of these stories (Jonah, Neduchadnezzer, Abraham and Issac, etc…) in many years. As I read these stories to my daughters and listen to their interpretation of their meanings, I’m amazed at how deep and challenging the narratives are. And it shocks me how and when the echoes of these stories resound in the life and teachings of Jesus.

I remember my faithful Bible teachers as a child placing figures on felt board and bringing the stories to life. I am grateful to those women. Now I’m grateful to my girls for showing me the life in those stories.

It appears to me that familiarity breeds familiarity, but not necessarily understanding. That’s what has happened to the great stories of God’s faithful, reluctantly faithful, and unfaithful people chronicled in the Old Testament. My hope is to reclaim the very stories that informed the mission and ministry of a young boy in Nazareth named Jesus. If you’re in Houston, come by and join us!