Thursday, May 23, 2019

Religion Versus Relationship

It took a while for the thought to finally solidify, but since it has, it's going to be preached--starting this Sunday.  I know it may not be wise putting this out there before I preach it, but I'm going to do it anyway because I finally have a defeater for one of the most annoying sayings I have come across.  The meme below says it all:

I've always said that both of these examples are bogus.  But I've had a hard time conveying why the final thought is bogus. 

Can't we find God out in nature?

Can't we be with God while we are (insert whatever activity you like here)?

And the answer is: of course you can find God out in nature.  And of course, you can be with God while you are doing whatever activity you choose.  But, the question is: Is this a real relationship?

Here is the answer, not in a point by point philosophical discourse, but in the form of an experiment--an experiment I dare anyone to try.

The next time there is an important family date: an anniversary; a birthday; etc. walk up to the person whose day is celebrated, look them right in the eye and say, "You know, hon, tomorrow is our anniversary, so I've decided to spend the whole day fishing.  Don't worry, though, the entire time I'm out there, I will be thinking of you."

Not going to go over so well, will it.

Why?  Because you aren't really thinking of the other person.  You are thinking about yourself.

A real relationship makes demands on you.

It costs you time.

It costs you money.

It costs you thinking outside of getting what you want and giving adoration and care to someone else.

It costs you because you allow yourself to be vulnerable and changed by the person with whom you are in a relationship.  Because you care, you change to accommodate the other person, and you become different.  And the only way you can know what changes to make is to listen to the other person and find out what brings them joy.

A real relationship with God means:

1. You take time out for God.
2. You give money to God.
3. You adore and praise God.
4. You listen to God when He speaks.

All four of those things take place in worship. 

1. We carve out a sacred time for God.
2. We offer our tithes and offerings to God.
3. We adore and praise God through song and response.
4. We listen to God's Word as we read the Bible, pray, and listen to sermons.

Religion is a guy sitting in church thinking about fishing.
A superficial relationship is a guy fishing thinking about God.
A real, transformational relationship is a person worshiping God with heart, soul, mind and strength and raising his or her voice in glorious praise.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

God Help Us

Sometimes, I wish this stuff were all a joke.

The headline read "Protesting Methodist LGBTQ policy, confirmation class takes a pass".  It appeared on my Facebook thread posted by a friend who was celebrating this action.

I can't.  There is no way that I can, at least in the manner that I understand confirmation.

I mean, maybe the Methodists understand things differently, but confirmation is much, much more than simply becoming a member of a church.  Confirmation is first and foremost affirming your faith.  Confirmation is saying, "When I was an infant, my parents had me baptized.  Because I was unable to make any promises before God myself, my parents made them for me.  They promised to raise me as a Christian--to teach me the tenets of the Christian faith; to prepare me for the day when I could make those promises myself and say loudly and clearly, 'You know those promises my parents made for me?  Those promises are no longer my parents' promises.  They are mine!! I no longer follow Christ because my parents want me to.  I follow Christ because I want to!'"

These teens stood in front of their congregation and said, "No.  Not now."

No.  I don't want to affirm my baptism.

No.  I don't want to follow Christ.

No. I don't want to adhere to the tenets of the Christian faith.

Because I (myopically) disagree with my denomination, I won't become a Christian.

And the congregation gave them a standing ovation.

Let that sink in.

I wish this were all a joke.  A very bad joke at that.

If this is the "church" (and I use that word very, very loosely) that is emerging in the U.S., then let it die.  Let it go the way of the dinosaur.  It deserves nothing less than death and condemnation for it applauds when kids walk away from the faith.  It is the part of the vine which needs pruning and badly.

Don't want to join a church?  Fine.

Don't want to be a part of a denomination?  Find another.

Don't like your current denomination's policies?  Reform or start your own.  

Applaud when kids refuse to confirm the faith?  God help us. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Offensive to Christianity

People take shots at Christianity all the time, and of course, the news media wants Christians to become offended.  Perhaps this is why THIS STORY actually garnered a headline. 

I don't watch television.  Didn't even know who Hank Azaria was until I read the article.  Yeah, I fell for the clickbait.

But get offended?  Not in the least. 

Apparently, the show in question raised numerous issues with faith and belief in God. 

From the article:

His sponsor, Shirley, played by Martha Plimpton, suggests going to church, but Brockmire calls the Catholic church the "real life Slytherin," and says, "at least with Mormons you get magic underwear and your own planet."

Well, I'm not Catholic, and I know that the Catholic church has issues--some big ones at that.  But what is missing here is any sort of counter balance to what the Catholic church has done and is doing throughout the world.  Catholics have been at the forefront of anti-poverty movements and healthcare movements throughout history.  Catholic Charities  has been and is one of the most recognized, world-wide organizations that brings relief and care to the poorest of the poor.  To offer no counter-balance to such claims does a great disservice to the Catholic church.  Perhaps in later episodes, such balance will be provided, but controversy and offense sells.

Mormonism is a horse of a different color.  I have my own criticisms of their beliefs and practices because I don't adhere to the Book of Mormon.  And neither am I versed as well in their organization and its structures, so I'm not apt in providing any sort of defense.

After he brings up the Holocaust, the two storm out of the church early. "Why did you bring up the Holocaust?" Gabby asked. "Well, the priest is the one who brought up a benevolent God. I thought that called for a rebuttal witness," Brockmire replied."No, you called Jesus the Mayor of Auschwitz," she said.

This criticism of God is well known and warranted.  It actually is the most problematic question of faith: if God is good, then why the problem of evil.  It is quite unfortunate that such television series don't engage some of the top thinkers when putting together such programs.  People of faith have wrestled with this question for centuries, and there are some good responses to such questions.  But the answers cannot be spouted in 30 seconds.  They won't fit in 140 characters.  They can't be bumper stickered.  Yet, that's what television is built for.  Those who put together television programs oftentimes think of themselves as deep thinkers and cultural critics, but the stuff they put on television is quite intellectually shallow--one of the primary reasons I don't watch it.

"Well, I don't wanna work with some thin-skinned God who can't handle a little criticism," he replied.

Probably one of the best lines in the article.  I agree with it whole-heartedly.  And perhaps the writers of this series know that there are those who welcome such criticisms.  Perhaps the writers of this show will delve into such criticisms later.  I'm not necessarily hopeful.  That wouldn't necessarily make money or get views.  Who wants to engage and help folks understand one another when it's much easier to caricature and slam the caricature which bears only a slight resemblance to the real deal?  Then, we can always walk away smugly in our self-righteousness believing we have defeated our foes.  

Any room for nuance and true engagement out there?

Later in the episode, when he becomes desperate enough, he attempts to pray to God. "All right, Sky Daddy, let's do this thing...Oh, my God. I feel something. Oh, it's like a pressure deep down inside of me. Oh, s---. I just have to pee."

Old guy with bladder problems.  I get it, and on one level, this is kind of funny, but it misses out on the nature of prayer.  It also misses out on the nature of faith.

Faith isn't simply believing in God intellectually.  It's also believing God.  Those are two very different things.

Believing in something is not the same as believing it.  I can easily say that I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.   But here is the rub: do I believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster has given me commands for a way of living?  Do I believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster has any power or authority?  Do I believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster has the capability of changing my life and how it is orientated?  

Obviously, the Pastafarians don't either.  They are spoofing belief--faith without evidence.  That's not the concept of Biblical faith.  Biblical faith is synonymous with trust.  I don't just believe in God, I trust God.

Which brings us to prayer.  Prayer is not going to some "Sky Daddy" who may or may not give us what we ask for.  Prayer is placing one's complete and utter trust in God.  Prayer is recognizing that there are things that are above and beyond our control or influence.  Prayer is recognizing our complete dependence upon God for everything.  It is a recognition that even the most powerful entities and institutions in the world are flawed and unable to adequately deal with the problems of the world (because of their own corruption, and dare I say sin?).  It is a recognition that we need someone outside of ourselves to bring about "salvation."  

If there is anything that I think I can be confident of, I think I can say that despite our best efforts, we still haven't been able to bring about peace, justice, contentment, and the like.  We've tried every type of government and its variations.  We've thrown money at every problem and invented program after program to try and deal with it.  We've made progress in some areas, but have failed in others.  

And even though we are living in one of the most prosperous, peaceful times in the history of our world, you would never know it because of how angry, disappointed, and unfulfilled many people are.  

Prayer taps us into the One who is beyond ourselves and helps us recognize our dependence on Him.  And recognizing this and putting our trust in One beyond ourselves instills a deep sense of peace within.  

This isn't something that our contemporary culture readily deals with.  We like to think that we can solve everything ourselves.  Until we can't.  

Maybe, just maybe this show will try to deal with such issues.  They've certainly laid the groundwork to perhaps wrestle with things on a deeper level.  Maybe they've caught a few folks' attention.  If so, mission accomplished.  

But if I can offer any advice to my Christian brothers and sisters who may be feeling outrage or victimization because of this: don't.  Don't take the bait.  Respond with deep thinking.  Respond with prayer.  Acknowledge that some people actually feel this way and have such questions.  Walk with them through those questions and point them in the direction of Jesus.  Point them in the direction of Christian thinkers who have wrestled deeply with such questions and ask them to engage such thinkers.  Lead them through superficial quips into the deep water of Christian spirituality and thought.  Criticism can often be seen as a form of pursuit.  Folks who criticize us want to be in a relationship with us.  It just remains to be seen whether or not that relationship entails true dialogue or a willingness to actually learn together.  

Indeed, the Church has had its moments of dogmatism and has responded to such things with imposition instead of invitation.  Let's not become what we despise.  Let's use these moments for engagement instead of furthering the divisions we see within our nation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dad, are You Addicted to that Game?

Yesterday, as I was hovering over my Samsung Tablet playing a game, my son asked, "Dad, are you addicted to that game?"

Without hesitation, I said, "Yes."

I've always had a weakness for video games.  I longed to play Pac-Man when arcade games were the rage.  I always hoped my folks would graciously give me a quarter to satisfy my longing.  I had fun, but I was no gamer.  I never was able to figure out the patterns or any such things.  But I still loved to play.

And then, my folks got an Atari.  Oh my.  That was fun.

Gaming has come very far in the 20+ years since I started playing, and now, with cell phone technology, we have games at our fingertips.  Throughout the years, I've found myself addicted to several games--several of which I still would love to go back and play.

My latest addiction is a game called Empire and Puzzles.  It's part strategy; part puzzle (think Bejeweled with a twist); part frustrating because the odds of getting where you would like to go are terribly high (designed that way I am sure by the programmers to ensure that you will spend a lot of money to progress through the game faster).  It's actually tailor made for me--especially that last part which feeds into my stubbornness to win at the game without paying money.  Yes, I've spent hours of free time playing this game.

"Because, you are on that game every morning and every night."

Leave it to my youngest to point out the obvious.  And he's right.

"Can you give up the game for a day?  I dare you to give it up tomorrow."

Little turkey.  Challenge accepted, but I'm no patsy.  The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.  My son shares in such addictions too.

"I'll give up the game tomorrow if you give up YouTube tomorrow."

Got him.  But my son, like me, will take a challenge.  "Deal!"  We shook on it.

I could have rejected his challenge. As the adult and as the parent, it's my prerogative.  I could have just told the kid, "Nope, I enjoy the game, and I'm going to keep playing it."

But I want to teach my kids something.  (Don't think for a moment that my girls aren't tuning in to this little deal.)  For, it is my belief that we are all addicted to something.  I believe each and every person has some sort of addiction, and in my own lifetime, I have been addicted to numerous things:

success, video games, athletics, academics, the need for acceptance by peers, the desire for sex, affirmation from the opposite sex, the desire for success in my profession, the desire to be right, wealth, status, Facebook, blogging, etc.

As one addiction would pass, another one would take its place.  I don't think there has been a time when I wasn't addicted to something. 

But I have often asked myself the questions: does your addiction have mastery over you?  Are you controlled by your addiction?  I hope to never answer in the affirmative.

Which is why I readily accepted my son's challenge.  It's personal: to ensure that this game does not have mastery over me.  It's relational: to teach my children to have mastery over their own addictions as well.

I know that we live in a society which tells us to indulge our desires.  I know that we live in a society which tells us to embrace the wants and desires of our hearts.  "As long as it's not hurting anyone, why not enjoy it?"

Nice philosophy in some regards, but what if it is hurting yourself?  What if your addiction is effecting your family and friends and you are too stubborn to notice?  What if your addiction has mastered you so that it holds your thoughts and heart more than anything else?  What if you are being mastered by your desires and are enslaved to them?

The ancient thinkers believed and taught that if you truly wanted happiness and joy in your life, you should not be self indulgent.  You must master your cravings.  You must not let your cravings and addictions control you.  You should strive to know yourself as deeply as possible so that you could understand why you do what you do--and then not allow anything to control what you do.

The problem with their thinking was: your heart always gets captured by something.  There's always an addiction out there trying to weasel its way into your being, and our hearts are easily ensnared. 

Which is why, in the Christian tradition, self-control is a spiritual gift.  It is something given by God to those who follow Him.  For the Christian's heart is not captured by earthly desires and wants; the Christian's heart is captured by Jesus Christ.  The Christian's heart ultimately longs for Jesus, and this ultimate desire displaces all other desires.

Does that mean addictions no longer have an effect on us?  No.  They still try to weasel their way in.  It's only 8:30 in the morning, and I am incessantly curious about my Empires and Puzzles status.  I'd love to pull it up on my tablet and check it out.

But does it control me? 

Or do I have the gift of self-control? 

"Daddy, are you addicted to that game?"

"Yes, I am.  But I will not be mastered by it.  It will not capture my heart.  That belongs to Jesus.  And I will walk away from this game because you challenged me.  This game is not more important than Jesus or than teaching you that you do not need to let such things have mastery over you."

I hope he learns that lesson.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pain Avoidance and Pain Acceptance

I have been following closely the events taking place at the Special Session of the United Methodist General Conference being held in St. Louis, MO.

This conference is struggling with the same issue my own denomination, the ELCA dealt with in 2009: homosexuality in the church.  At the time of my writing, the UMC looks like it will stick with the traditional, orthodox Christian understanding of sexuality and not allow non-celibate homosexuals to become ministers.  A vote was taken where this traditional stance will go before the voting assembly while other options were voted down.  This does not mean that the other possibilities are gone--they can still come forward in a minority report, but they may not be accepted into the polity of the church.

It was interesting to see my Facebook feed's reaction to the news.  First off, not too many folks on my feed are even aware of this conference--that must be duly noted.  But secondly, those who are aware have had some eye catching responses.  Consider the following:

  • I have a heavy, heavy heart for the UMC right now. To all my UMC LGBTQIA siblings, I see you/we see you; to UMC clergy allies, the same.

  • I am most concerned for my beloved LGBTQIA+ siblings who are so personally hurt by the church, and today many of you are having old scars re-opened. I am so, so sorry. You are not alone in this. I encourage you to find a moment of connection with God, in music, in the promises of scripture, a moment outside to breathe deeply, or something else that connects your spirit with God's spirit. This is and will be the source of healing for all of us.-- I do not want to diminish the reality of this pain or the need for change in this broken system. I do want to point to the God who already goes beyond it.

  • I am so sorry for the moments in which church leaders limit God’s vision for the Christian movement. I’m left with deep sadness because of the broken relationships that reinforce a smaller view of who is welcome at the leadership table. I’m praying for my LGBTQI siblings in the United Methodist church. God’s love is always bigger than any of us can imagine.

What I find most interesting in the comments is a feeling of hurt and pain. There is a sense of "the church has hurt these folks, and we need to take away the hurt."  This tends to be a thread running through the culture of the U.S.--we don't like pain.

And there is a tendency in some folks to see someone in pain and rush to alleviate that pain.  My child is failing a course, so I will go talk to the teacher; I will spend hours with my child making them do homework; I will do whatever it takes so my child will not experience having a failing grade.  If my child is benched while playing sports, I will call up the coach and argue as to why my child deserves to play and needs to be spared the pain of sitting on the bench.  If my child is overweight and unhealthy, I will reinforce that he/she is beautiful and allow him/her to eat whatever he/she wants.  If my child is being bullied, I will remove him/her from the situation or work with others to make the bullying stop so my child doesn't have to experience the pain.  This doesn't have to just be about children--we carry these tendencies into our adulthood; sometimes we even look for someone or a group to help out because they are in pain.  We need to alleviate it!!!

But is this always wise?  What lessons are we teaching?  

Over the past couple of years, I have gained a bit too much weight.  Because of a stressful situation in my former congregation and going through conflict, I stopped exercising, and I ate and drank in excess things I should have limited.  Last week, I started doing a bit of exercising after reading an article about doing 40 push ups a day (I'll spare you the details).  I think you are supposed to do all 40 push ups at once, but I'm not there, so I spread those 40 push ups out over the entire day.  And, it hurts.  Really.  It hurts.  My back hurts.  My shoulders hurt.  My core hurts.  There is pain, and it would be nice to avoid it.  It would be nice to take away the source of my pain, but if I do that, then I don't move towards health.

In fact, I think that when it comes to life, to be healthy, we must experience pain.  We must experience the pain of hunger to lose excess weight.  We must experience the pain of exercise to stay in shape.  We must exercise the pain of delayed gratification in order to see our bodies transformed into a healthier state.

And I think this holds true of our mental and spiritual state as well.  I have two bi-racial daughters, and they have experienced bullying because of their skin color.  Have I rushed to make other kids stop?  Have I removed them from their situation?  No.  I've told them to stand up for themselves.  I've told them to be tough and stand up to the comments.  Why?  I can't stop people from saying things, but I can help them cope and deal with mean people.  The more they stand up to bullying, the stronger they will become.  Likewise with my kids' grades.  Sometimes, they struggle with work, but I'm not going to rescue them. They will have to figure it out on their own and suffer the consequences for their actions.  I had a daughter fail a class once.  She suffered the consequences, decided she didn't like those consequences and hasn't fails a class since.  

When it comes to spirituality, we become stronger when we are confronted with our sin.  And that causes us pain.  God, it causes pain.  It is one of the most unpleasant things that we have to do in our relationship with God, because our sin infects our very being, our very core, our very identity.  And it is unpleasant to hear that the remedy is death--death to our self; death to our identity; death to our wants and our desires.  It's painful.  And I'm not talking theoretical. I'm talking as one who has been through it.  When God revealed the depths of my sinfulness, it rocked me to the core.  I could have avoided it.  I could have sought out those who made me feel affirmed and loved.  I could have walked away from the teaching that was being presented to me.  I could have rejected the pain and gone on with my life--perfectly satisfied with who I was.  But, instead, I accepted the pain.  I accepted the rebuke.  I accepted the confrontation of my sinfulness.

And then what Christ did on the cross became real.  That's a difficult statement to type as someone who was raised a Christian all his life.  I've never known a time when I didn't understand I was a child of God.  I've never known a time when I didn't realize that Jesus died for my sins.  I've never known a time when I didn't believe in God.  But even though I knew all of these things in an intellectual kind of way, I never knew them down into the depths of my soul.  I never knew them at a radical, life-changing level.  I had to go through the pain to find the grace.

Too often, in our culture, we aren't willing to do that.  Too often, we're willing to walk away.  Go start our own churches.  Find a different preacher who will tell us what we like.  Move to a new congregation.  Associate with those who are just like us and believe exactly like we do.  Maybe there is a time and a place for that.  Constant pain isn't good.  It must be tempered with grace and mercy.   If you are only getting acceptance without challenge, that isn't good.  If you are only getting challenge without acceptance, that isn't good either.  Grace brings those two things together.  

But you've got to be willing to accept the pain.  Just like Jesus was willing to accept the cross.

Monday, January 21, 2019

30 Books

An interesting meme was posted by a Facebook friend the other day:

I have WAY more than 30 books both at home and in my office, and there will remain WAY more than 30 books at home and in my office.

But this meme got me to thinking: if I were forced to whittle down my book collection to only 30 books, out of all the books that I have, which 30 would I keep?  Which 30 books would I keep going back to over and over and over?  That presented an interesting intellectual exercise for me, so I started the list.

1. The Bible--for obvious reasons.

2. A Place for Truth: Leading Thinkers Explore Life's Hardest Questions-- edited by Dallas Willard. Probably one of the most influential books I have read for my own thinking and intellectual fulfillment.

3. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism--Timothy Keller.  Another influential read for my intellectual growth and faith formation.

4. God's Undertaker: Has Science Buried God--John Lennox.  As someone who loves science and loves God, this book was fascinating!

5. Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions about God, Science, and Belief--John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale.  For the same reasons as number 4.

6. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses:The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony--Richard Bauckham. A book that totally stood the higher education that I had on end and shattered it.  Thankfully.

7. The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith--Timothy Keller.  Mind blowing look at the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  I will never call it that personally anymore.  It will always be the Parable of the Two Sons from hence forth.

8. Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service: Mary Poplin.  Fantastic, deeply moving work grounded in Christian thought and values.

9. The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement became the World's Largest Religion--Rodney Stark.  Turned the history of Christianity that I had been taught completely on its ear.

10. Did the Resurrection Happen? A Conversation with Gary Habermas and Anthony Flew--Gary Habermas.  A book that establishes that Jesus' resurrection fits the best available facts and that all other explanations fall far, far short.

11. The Book of Concord--Martin Luther, et. al.  Took me nearly 17 years after I was ordained before I truly came to appreciate this marvelous work.  

12. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth--Richard Foster.   An absolute classic.

13. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy--J.R.R. Tolkein.  Maybe I'm cheating by putting those four books together. Sue me.  I've read the trilogy at least eight times.

14. Mere Christianity--C.S. Lewis.  Another classic in Christian apologetics and deep thinking.

15. I, Robot--Isaac Asimov.  Wonderful storytelling incorporating philosophy and logic.

16. Friedman's Fables--Ed Friedman.  Excellent book on family and personal dynamics.  Much of Ed Friedman's thoughts captured in fable form.

17. A Brief History of Thought--Luc Ferry.  A historical journey through philosophical thought.

18. Unbroken--Laura Hillenbrand.  A biography about Ernie Zamperini and what happened to him in World War II.

19. Clergy Killers: Guidance for Pastors and Congregations Under Attack--G. Lloyd Reidiger.  Sometimes, there are bad things that happen in churches.  This book is very helpful in dealing with some of those things.

20. Mythology--Edith Hamilton.  I have always loved Greek mythology.  A compilation is necessary.

21. Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home--Richard Foster.  Another spiritual classic that has helped me tremendously in my own prayer life.

22. The Sackett Brand--Louis L'Amour. Kind of like the Avengers in the Old West, but this is a story about family coming from far and wide to help one of their own who is in desperate need.

23. The Real Jesus--Luke Timothy Johnson.  An almost timeless scholarly work.

24. Best Loved Folk Tales of the World--a compilation.  From Aesop's Fables to Hans Christian Anderson, many of the beloved stories I grew up with.

Looking over my collection, this is where I would have to stop.  There are other books that I like, but would not include them in this list.  Perhaps at a later date, I will add more.  But for now, I'm stopping at 24.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

My Short Life as a Single Parent

It lasted six weeks.

That was enough.

My family and I recently relocated to Fredericksburg, TX after I accepted a call to become Associate Pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church.  Circumstances dictated that my wife, who is a Spanish teacher, finish out the semester at her current position.

We were blessed beyond measure to have friends offer her a furnished guest house to stay at so that this could be possible.  We were blessed beyond measure that my new congregation was understanding in regards to the dynamics of families with two working spouses. 

Fortunately, I had saved some vacation to use between calls, so for the first couple of weeks, things weren't too terrible.  Getting the kids back and forth to school and establishing a routine wasn't as difficult as it could have been, and I had a lot of time to unpack and set up the house.  Helping the kids begin adjusting to a new school district was a bit rocky, but eventually evened out.  My wife came in on Friday evening and then left Sunday after worship, so at least she wasn't gone all week.

But then, the real "fun" began.  I started work. 

The challenges started thereafter. 

It is not impossible to work full time and raise a family.  I have numerous friends who are doing exactly this, but it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. 

I think the greatest thing that I faced was simply fatigue.  Man, I was tired.  When you team up to get your kids places; team up on the chores; team up on disciplining the kids and making sure they are doing what they are supposed to do, it lessens the emotional and physical energy you have to expend.  When you are carrying all of that burden yourself, you just get doggone tired!  There were multiple nights during the week when I couldn't keep my eyes open and just crashed out.  That doesn't often happen to me--not in the least.  I should have said that it didn't often happen to me when we were together as a family.

Oh, and throw out getting meals prepared during the week. Wasn't happening.  Now I know why there's a long aisle of frozen food in the grocery store.  And I know why fast food exists.  When your time is limited by work and then homework and school work and making preparations for the next day and then school activities--something's got to give.  My stove top is feeling neglected.  And here is where I am giving a shout out to the folks at Bethany.  We had numerous church members bring my kids and I complete meals--chicken spaghetti, spaghetti, meat loaf, all the sides, wonderful desserts.  My thankfulness meter was truly overflowing.

As a pastor, you have nightly meetings.  It's expected, especially in a large church.  In a large church, you also have multiple opportunities to gather for committee celebrations and parties at the end of the year.  Well, I've had to skip.  Not exactly the best way to enter into a congregation and get connected. Not in the least.  My kids are old enough to stay home for a little while by themselves, but they aren't quite comfortable heading to bed without an adult present.  Kids need that safety and security.  Oh, and when their school activities--i.e. band concerts for a grade--conflict with a church council meeting; the graded activities win.  Again, I am blessed with an understanding congregation and am very thankful they have supported my family in this.  They know it's temporary and have granted me grace upon grace because of it.

And kids are notorious about telling you the things they need at the last friggin' second.  There have been numerous instances of that in the past six weeks.  The worst was as we were pulling up to the Middle School, and my middle child says, "Dad, I need $7 for a band shirt today!!"  That sent my eldest into a scramble of looking through my wallet only to find bills that were much too large to send.  Fortunately, my oldest can be resourceful at times, so she started looking through my truck compartments. Lo and behold, there was a bag with just enough cash... But that's beside the point.  When you've got church commitments or school commitments, and you are told of a need, it's almost impossible to take an extra trip to the grocery store or Wal-Mart to get things done.

I know that I will be thankful for this experience in the long run.  I have new insight into what it means to be a single parent, and I understand much more readily why the Good Lord highly esteems marriage for raising children.  You won't hear me condemn any single parent who says, "I was just too tired to make it to this event."  I know you were.  Enjoy that rest.  My prayers are with you.