Category: Living

No question – our nation is becoming a polarized place.  Civil discourse is out; loud, sometimes violent assertion of opinion is in.  Sensational news reporting is what sells.  No one wants to really understand.  How can we turn this around?

Teenagers see the opinionated world of adults on news channels, in school, and even perhaps in church.  How do they choose their own path? How can we soften the discourse in our nation?

Teens often choose to follow their parents’ beliefs.  Parents like this.  But are parents offering a good example of citizenship?  Can dinner table talks (does anyone have these anymore?)  include civil debate on social issues?  How about presenting the other side’s arguments in an objective way and asking questions that help everyone understand?

Teens sometimes choose to walk in direct opposition to their parents.  Parents don’t usually like this.  Again, do adults offer a good example?  How can adults learn to discuss issues of disagreement with teens if those teens seem closed to any discussion?  When have you tried to discuss a controversial topic with another adult you know thinks differently?

First of all, let’s learn to express opinions without absolute certainty.  Let’s encourage questions. Let’s frame unbiased intelligent questions that, if answered honestly, will further discernment.

Social media, as well as on-line interaction in general, is geared toward getting attention.  Just as sensational reporting sells TV news, shocking or biting comments get attention on social media sites.  Posts are “rated” by the number of “likes.”  Everyone wants their photo or video to “go viral.”  Fame:  everyone wants their fifteen minutes.   I do not think the answer is for everyone to get off Facebook and Twitter.  Personally, I believe these to be excellent tools for sharing ideas that by their nature are not covered by news outlets, or part of the viral video archive.  Perhaps we ought to encourage raising more questions instead of sharing shocking photos or stories.

Here’s an idea.  Ask your teens what they feel is an important issue in the world today.  Have them do some online research.  Maybe encourage them to find opposing articles on the subject.  Share links to these sites or articles.  Let them ask questions, not poke holes in arguments.  Share the questions. Encourage discussion.

Some think the Bible speaks in only one voice.  Not true.  Many disagreements fill the pages. Some stories indicate very little discussion behind the scenes.  Other stories show how thoughtful prayer and loving relationships encourage community.   We are created for community. Relationships are everything.  Bible study that doesn’t encourage community is sterile and isolating.

Final thought:  when leading teens in Bible study, let’s look for some disagreements. Let’s encourage questioning of Bible characters motives.  Jonah is a great example of a guy who didn’t want to forgive his enemies and was actually afraid that God would do just that.  So he ran away.  Let’s not be like Jonah.  Our world needs understanding and forgiveness to move forward.  It is a relatively small globe, this earth.  All humans share the image of God.  Can we make real progress in seeking to understand one another?

Let’s encourage one another to be part of the solution.




I met three wonderful young girls in Ethiopia.  They are students at the Adadi Primary School.  Officers in the school’s WASH club, they are strong leaders in bringing their community up out of poverty.

The Angolela Area Development Project of World Vision has been hard at work helping the community with education, health, clean water, and livelihood. World Vision sponsors 5000 children in the area and has a budget of $1.3 million (US DOLLARS)  About 3/4 of that comes from Child Sponsorship.  (You can choose to help by sponsoring one of these lovely children.)

What exactly is a WASH club?  One of the hardest parts of providing clean water to communities is educating the people about the need for sanitation and hygiene.  Drilling the wells is relatively easy.  Changing a culture can be more of a challenge.


From left to right: Aster Reta, clerk; Bizuneh Bizu, Vice Pres; and Yeshi Derbie, President of Adadi WASH club.

That is where the schools can really help. The Adadi Primary School has dedicated teachers for 942 students in grades K-8.  Many of these children have seen the new water wells drilled and have been taught the importance of hygiene.  In Adadi, three young girls lead 45 students in the “WASH Club.”  They gave a confident, articulate presentation to our group of visitors last month. President Yeshie described the five committees: Outreach, Beautification, Fundraising, Cleaning Latrines, and Facilities.  For outreach, they prepare skits and presentations for the community on the importance of using latrines and washing hands before eating, preparing food and after using the bathroom.  The Beautification committee plants flowers on campus and helps create artwork for the schoolyard.  Fundraising includes a raffle-type event!


Boys and Girls get educated at Adadi.

These girls understand the positive impact that clean water has had on their lives.  They realize they had to miss a lot of school in the past when they were sick, and this kept them from excelling academically.  Now they see opportunities for further education and for careers that would take them IMG_5398beyond just marrying young and having household jobs.


Bizuneh Bizu, 15, vice president of the WASH club, says:  “We draw water from a nearby stream to bring back to grow flowers and vegetables on the school yard. We teach the other children to keep the environment clean. Every Friday we clean the latrines. We provide soap or ash in a plastic bag.”


Water bottle flower creations on the playground.

“WASH is all about health. Since we got familiar with basic knowledge, we are transforming and transmitting knowledge to our families.  WASH is beyond hygiene. It empowers girls and woman. It puts us on equal footing. We understand our rights, that women aren’t meant just to serve men. We can do what men do,” says Yeshie Derbie, 14, club President.

The girls are passionate about water and all that cleanliness will do for them.  They strive to influence other students to join them as they pass the new habits on to their families.

The club encourages families to build a home latrine and use it.  “We go home to home to figure out who has a latrine,” says  Aster Reta, 16. “They are marked red, for none, yellow, for in process, and green for done.”

This is how the world will be changed.


WASH club members sang and read poetry for our school visit.


Each headband read, “WASH is LIFE”

When we met them at school, on a Saturday I might add, the WASH club appeared singing and wearing headbands proclaiming, “WASH   is Life.”  It was overwhelming.


I have seldom met students of this age so fully engaged in something so important.  These girls will do great things.  Perhaps they will hold office one day in the beautiful country of Ethiopia. They may be doctors or teachers or engineers.  I look forward to watching them grow and become what God has planned for them.

In a world filled with unspeakable violence and unreasonable prejudice, forgiveness may be the most important thing we can teach our young people.  We are so easily offended and so quick to seek revenge.  Words escalate into bitter hatred and mob mentality, and then acts of brutal cruelty follow.

I have just finished reading two books about the Rwandan genocide that ravaged the people of that country just twenty years ago.  And in two short weeks, I will visit that country and meet some of its people.  Survivors now reconciling with those who murdered their friends and families.  When reading about these things, two ideas push themselves forward.  First: How inhumanly cruel people can be.  Second: How only God helps people forgive and find new life.

We all know that forgiveness is the reason Jesus came willingly to die for us.  Jesus, God incarnate, showed us what forgiveness looks like.  He forgave Zaccheas.  He forgave the sins of the paralytic.  He forgave Peter for denying him.  He forgave even his torturing killers.  Peter asked, “How many times must I forgive my brother?” and Jesus answered “Seventy times seven.” (Matthew 12: 21-22)

And it is still very hard to do on an individual basis.  Especially when injustice seems so powerful and forgiveness seems so weak.

“There is power in forgiveness.”   I heard this man Andrew describing the new friendship he has built with his childhood friend, Callixte, after the friend had turned against his family during the Rwandan genocide.

“Forgiveness is all I have to give.”  This is what Immaculee Ilibagiza said to the man who led the gang murder of  her brother and mother and who had taunted her while she hid in a tiny bathroom.

If these individuals can forgive such atrocities, looking into the eyes that looked on them with murderous intent, and still offer forgiveness, what can possibly stand in the way of peace?

Teens who do not learn the power of forgiveness will grow up afraid and vengeful.  How can we help them?

Adults should model forgiveness whenever we have a chance.

This should be a challenge for every parent and leader.  Especially when it is hard, let us show teens how with God’s help, we can simply forgive, thereby releasing both ourselves and the offender. This is not easy for me.  I have a weakness for judgment and have a hard time forgetting.  But when I focus on others who have forgiven the unforgivable, I am inspired to do the same.

We can let Biblical characters show what forgiveness and mercy look like.

We talked about some of Jesus’ memorable forgiveness stories.   Paul, too, forgave his tormentors, like the Philippian jailer, and the ones who persecuted him in every city. And what about Joseph, who famously forgave his brothers after they sold him to a passing Midianite caravan and told Jacob that Joseph was dead.

We can encourage teens to pray that God will fill their hearts with love and forgiveness.

God is able to do exceedingly more than we ask or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) By simply asking God to help them forgive, teens will begin to unleash the amazing power of God to fill our hearts with love.  Forgiving someone doesn’t mean that their action was right, or good, or just. It just means that you don’t hold on to the hurt and judgment  that you placed between you and the other person.  If we always wait for the other person to apologize, we may sink into bitterness, and become even more offended.

In this new year, let’s all strive to forgive more and show others how to forgive as well.  God wants to fill us with love and mercy every day.  This is the way that leads to peace.

Music is poetry for the soul.

Lyrics express the poet’s message. Music is the vehicle for taking the message into the heart and soul.

Emotions like love, mourning, despair, joy, sadness, and melancholy find expression in music that reflects them. Upbeat, major keys strike a chord of happiness. Minor keys and slower tempos speak of sorrow or loneliness, even without lyrics. Loud, heavy metal speaks of anger. Rap often resonates with a grinding monotony that may speak to boredom or hopelessness. Peace accompanies certain melodies, and soft refrains. Creativity and exploration come with musical surprises, often in the form of jazz.

Steve Martin once sang a funny song about the music of atheism: “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs.”   People of faith have always used music. The Psalms were mostly written 3000 years ago by a shepherd king named David. Some songs are even found in Exodus. And new songs are written every day about the same God who delivered the Hebrew slaves.

Christian hymns have long been a means to greater, deeper understanding of our faith. It has been said that the Bible is God’s Word to us, and the Hymnal is our response to God. Great hymn writers like Charles Wesley gave us poetry to fit our faith in words like these: ‘Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see! Hail the incarnate deity, pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Or like the song of invitation, “Just as I am, without one plea, …” Or the evangelical testimony of “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”

Contemporary songs often cut to the core of relationship. “Here I am to worship, Here I am to bow down, Here I am to say that you’re my God.”   “I could sing of your love forever.” “He’ll break open the skies to save the one who cries out his name. The one the wind and waves obey is strong enough to save you.”

Whether we need to be reassured of God’s love for us, or convinced of his power to heal and help, songs and hymns can open a space in our hearts for these deep convictions.   Whether we are thankful for blessings or perplexed over tragedy, songs can connect us to God. Whether we are tired of striving and persecution and pain or suddenly freed from the weight of sin, there are psalms and songs to sing through the tears.

Music is spiritual. No matter the state of our hearts when we come to worship, music can have a positive effect. A heart open to the message will get one.

Using music in Bible study has great potential, especially with teens. Peter Rock Star from Galilee uses contemporary songs and a few hymns in playlists at the start of each chapter. The themes in the selections match the study and discussion topics of the week.

Music reaches deeper into our hearts than words alone. Music is a vehicle for praise and thanksgiving.   I hope there is a song in your heart today.




Finding Joy.  Where have you found joy recently? How can you make joy habitual?

Paul writes of joy in a letter to the Philippian church while he is imprisoned. He mentions joy or some form of the word 15 times. Paul, perhaps more than any other Bible character, understands joy. Joy is deeper than happiness; it is far more than feeling good; it brings a smile to your face and a sense of peace. When asked recently what is my favorite emotion, I answered: joy.

Make Music.

Music transcends the physical.   I love jazz, blues, praise music, classical music, piano music. I notice that when a tune is playing over and over in my head, I am generally happier. Music crowds out other noises and thoughts. No wonder so many teenagers keep their earplugs in and iPods turned up. Singing adds another dimension of joy, no matter how untrained your voice. So turn on some music or get out the instrument you used to play.  Sing along to the radio.

When Paul was in the Philippian jail in Acts 16, he and Silas were singing and praising God. Singing through pain proved to be a tremendous witness to the rest of the prisoners and staff.

Love and be loved.

I have invested time in leading small groups of teens in Bible study. Getting to know middle school kids is easy and rewarding. They are full of energy and they are willing to share their ideas, some of which are pretty wild. They are eager to understand human relationships and there is no better source for good material than the Bible. This is joy: walking into church on Sunday only to be surrounded in a group hug by a bunch of smiling middle schoolers. True joy.

Paul loved his church plant in Philippi.  He no doubt remembered the parties at the home of the jailer (Acts 16:34) and the hospitality of Lydia (Acts 16:40) He loved those people.   So while jotting his letter to them, he couldn’t help talking about rejoicing. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4: 4)

Be thankful in the little things.

Joy is found in thanksgiving. Literally. The Greek word for joy is smack in the middle of the Greek word for thanksgiving. Chara. Eucharistia.   It is so very true. No blessing should be taken for granted. This morning I was thankful as I washed my hair in a clean hot shower, probably using more than the American average of 17 gallons.  As I sit here writing in my New Orleans cottage, I am thankful for the way the sun falls through our trees, and for the birdsong before dawn. I slept well last night partly because my son called yesterday. I love to hear from our children. Find ordinary things that make you smile.  Write them down.  Counting your blessings can be a wonderful joy-building exercise.

Paul expressed his thanks to the Philippians for their generous monetary support. He also talked about being thankful that people were talking about Jesus Christ, whether or not their motives were selfless. He was thankful for the service of Epaphoroditus, who came from Philippi, but fell ill. He also bragged on Timothy and his work in sharing the gospel. Paul was content no matter the circumstances; he had learned how to be thankful in the little things. (Phil 4:11-13)

Have assurance in the big things.

Big things like knowing Jesus. There is always more to learn about God and his love for us. But I KNOW whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto him until the end of time. Big things like knowing my life is eternal and that I will see my mother again in heaven. It makes me smile to know that God works all things together for good. It is a settled feeling of joy. This assurance of God’s love and power and grace produces joy that cannot be shaken, even amid frightening circumstances. If you are not certain of your salvation, talk with someone.  Ask questions.

Paul had this kind of assurance. Philippians 1:21 says, “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain.” And Philippians 3: 20-21 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” When your eternal fate is secure, why not be joyful?

Spread it around.

Laughter is good for the soul. I have a group of friends who met on the tennis courts. We play less tennis these days as our knees and hips scream at us insistently. We have supported one another through cancer and illnesses of our children and deaths of parents.  But we really know how to laugh.   Smiles make life’s drudgery much more pleasant. Sharing your music, your love, your thankfulness, your assurance is a way of making more joy. Tell someone. Post your smiling pictures on facebook, call a friend or family member, write someone a letter or email.

Paul knew how to share his joy. He wrote about it in his many letters. He praised and thanked others for their prayers and gifts. He sang. He laughed. He ended all his letters similarly: Grace and Peace. What makes you joyful? Please share in a comment.