Friday, July 31, 2009

How Do I Look? . . .

I didn't make it to my 35th high school reunion a couple of weeks ago. In fact, I haven't been to any of the reunions held over the course of the last three-and-a-half decades. I either lived too far away or had something else already planned. Still, that hasn't stopped me from spending some time over the last two weeks checking out the photos and video from the reunion that have been posted in various places on the Internet by my classmates. The exercise has stirred up some pretty weird stuff for me.

First, there's that nasty obsession with appearance that seems to rear it's ugly head even further than usual whenever reunion time draws near. I've watched it happen with lots of friends and relatives. You know how it works. . . . diets, amped up exercise, looking for the right clothes, tanning, hair color, etc. The old appearance game that occupied so much of our time during high school gets started all over again. Maybe our adolescent insecurities don't totally disappear after all. Does the teenage pecking order really extend far beyond the teenage years? For my class, our bodies have been pounded for 35 years not only by the hardships of life, but by a growing wave of "you are what you look like" media messages that haunt us as we look in the mirror at what time and gravity have done. Our obsession with the outside has created the opportunity to select from a thick catalog of anti-aging creams, devices, and programs that promise - without actually saying it - to achieve the impossible. . . that is, to undo the effects of the fall. And lest you think that I exclude myself from this type of thinking, think again. I seriously wonder how seriously I would be taking all this if I had, in fact, scheduled a trip to my reunion. Because I wasn't there, it's easy for me to sit back with the snapshots and videos while playing the game of who looks the most like they used to and who . . . well, you know. Some of my classmates look just like they used to. . . even better! Sure, age has taken a toll on us all. But it's been kinder to some more than others. Gray hair, wrinkles, belly extension, and the absence of hair appeared to be in abundance. And then I wonder what marks the march of time has left on me. And when I turn away from the mirror to look inside, I realize how easy it is to get all caught up in the idolatrous sin of vanity.

Second, there's that strange sense that being with people you haven't seen for 35 years takes you back to who you were in relationship to others when you were all struggling with adolescent insecurities. I've only seen a handful of my high school classmates since graduating in 1974. I've kept up regularly with no one. When talk of a reunion started to stir and a Facebook group was created to get us all connected, I was in the loop. People I rarely spoke to were suddenly paying attention to me. . . and it was weird. One classmate and I exchanged emails after the reunion. She told me that on reunion day, "time stood still. . . no. . . it actually went in reverse!" I think I know what she meant. For me, memories of struggles and insecurities that no one else knew about at the time got stirred up. It was a very odd feeling as I believed these things were long forgotten. I was reminded of just how hard the adolescent years were.

I pondered all this while I was out for a bike ride yesterday afternoon. I couldn't help but bounce back and forth between my renewed sense of the difficult experience of growing up in the late 60's and early 70's, and my endeavor to understand and analyze the adolescent experience in today's world.

As I finished my ride, I contemplated some things I know. First, being a kid is difficult. At least over the course of the last sixty years in America it's been this way. Not only that, it's gotten increasingly harder. Sin is manifesting itself in ways you and I could never have imagined. Second, kids are dying to be understood, loved, nurtured, and led as they pass through the earthquake of adolescence. Our involvement is crucial. Third, we are - as always - prone to make big those things that should be so minuscule that we don't even notice them. . . like our obsession with popularity, appearance, and significance in the eyes of others. Fourth, that third thing offers clear evidence of our yearning for redemption and restoration. We look inside and outside of ourselves and we realize that things are not the way they're supposed to be. That reality sends us in some pretty sad and sorry directions. Finally, I realized with gratitude that I had a host of people throughout the course of my own adolescence and adult years who have consistently pointed me to the only source of restoration, hope, and redemption. And even in the midst of finding myself getting tripped up and tempted to pursue old ways, I'm grateful for The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Birthday Boredom. . . .

When I was a little guy there was an aspect of my Dad's life that I found incredibly troubling. . . . so troubling in fact that I wondered what was wrong with him. It had to do with his birthday. Every year when his birthday was coming up we'd excitedly ask him, "Hey Dad, what do you want for your birthday?" His reply was always the same - "Nothing." That was it. In contrast to my carefully prepared and usually long list of birthday wants, this guy was boring. Nothing. We'd press him on it and then he'd cave and put something like this on his list - "All I want for my birthday is children who behave." That was a quick move from nothing to an unbelievable amount of pressure. To be honest, I'm not sure he ever got that gift.

It was different for me. I still remember with crystal-clear clarity my 12th birthday and the gift I received. It was little Cox gas-powered dune buggy. Man, did I ever have fun with that thing!

Once I became a dad who had several kids and quite a few birthdays under his own belt, I began to understand my dad's sad and sorry birthday request. When I heard myself answering the question with a quick "nothing" I not only knew that I was getting old, but I knew then that my dad was satisfied with what he already had. Not only was I satisfied, but I even found myself spouting off about "children who behave." Yeeesh.

My birthday is tomorrow. For the most part, it won't be any different than any other day. When I was a kid, I could hardly sleep the night before my big day because, after all, the next morning was my own personal Christmas in July. Tonight, I might have trouble sleeping, but that will be for other reasons!

Last night, Lisa asked me what I want for my birthday. A simple "nothing" was all I could muster up. After some thought I did add a little hint about a mileage computer for my bike, but other than that I can't think of anything else.

To be honest, if it wasn't for Facebook, I don't think I would have even had a passing thought about my birthday coming up. My wall is already filling up with birthday greetings from Facebook friends that serve as wonderful reminders. And, since July 1 the folks at Facebook have been reminding me that my birthday is coming. I've been getting these daily messages that say, "Happy (almost) Birthday Walt! This year, donate your birthday to a cause you believe in." (The crazy thing about this Facebook reminder is that the number "36" keeps showing up with birthday candles on top. Sorry guys, wrong number. I'm actually turning 53 tomorrow.)

Still, the folks at Facebook got me to thinking. Based on their prodding, I'm going to ask you to celebrate my birthday with me - which will be quite boring otherwise - by inviting you to donate to a cause I believe in. I know it's a cause you believe in as well. Over the course of my last 20 birthdays I've been the President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. Our ministry depends on the gifts of people like you to sustain us. It's no secret that non-profit ministries like ours see a downturn in giving every summer. This summer is no different. Add the economy to that reality and it's been a bit more difficult. Your gift isn't for me. Rather, it's to sustain our ongoing work through these leaner summer months. If you'd like to celebrate with me by donating to our CPYU cause, just click here. No wrapping paper or card is needed. All of us here at CPYU and those we serve appreciate your kindness!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Open My Eyes Lord. . . .

God gave me a great gift last week. . . a gift that forced open my eyes a little bit more. I'm hoping that this is just one step in the long process of getting them opened as wide as God wants them to be.

I spent the week in Chattanooga with my son Nate and several of his peers from our church. We were on a mission trip that took us into the projects of East Chattanooga to minister with Hope for the Inner City and New City Fellowship Church. It was a trip out of the comfort zone I call my own. . . and the comfort zone that I increasingly believe needs to be removed from my life. It was trip into a uncomfortable zone that needs to be less uncomfortable and more everyday familiar.

What did we do while we were there? We spent our days learning about the city and God's great love for justice. During the days, our crew did light construction and painting work at the Rock Island Baptist Church, a black congregation that had asked us to fix up a house they had recently bought to serve as a youth center for the teens in the neighborhood.
I was struck by the hopelessness and sense of entrapment that existed in the community. Each and every day men walked by our house carrying paper bags holding open bottles and cans. . . . even early in the morning. A group of male teens hung around and from time to time we engaged in conversation. We heard first-hand about fatherlessness as a couple of them joked about their dads being in prison. At one point, they became antagonistic towards me, blocking my van as I returned from a Lowe's run for supplies. A Korean member of our team was on the receiving end of anti-Asian sentiment from a very young child. Life in the hood came to life for our kids when one of them found two sawed-off shotguns that had been stashed in some brush we were clearing. Other members of the surrounding community applauded our efforts, thanking us for the work we were doing to develop their neighborhood.

Each evening, our group ran a Bible Club for kids at a local housing project. The response was phenomenal. Still, there were nerves as we were venturing into places we had never seen or experienced before.

I came away impressed. I was impressed with what God is doing in Chattanooga. I shouldn't be surprised. . . God always does great things. It left me with a hunger to see more of what God is doing in the world to draw people to Himself and to answer our prayers on behalf of the poor, broken, and lost. I was impressed with the kids in our group. There were 25 of us. There was an absence of drama from start to finish. I watched kids initiate relationships, prayer, and hard work. I was impressed by the leadership of our leaders. I was impressed with Hope for the Inner City and New City Fellowship.

I am increasingly convinced that these are the places where we belong, and I'm glad my son got to experience it. I'm glad I got to experience it with my son and his peers. And, I'm glad that God continues to bust through me, my prejudices, my faulty assumptions, and my bent on thinking and living like I'm better than others. I'm also convinced that we have to do a better job at CPYU of providing information and analysis on an urban culture that is not our own. Please pray that God will provide us with the people who know that culture and who have a passion for helping the rest of us understand how to know and reach that culture.

Our week in Chattanooga started with a great Sunday morning worship experience at New City Fellowship. My eyes were wet from start to finish. It wasn't pure emotion. It was emotion rooted in the fact that God was parting the curtain of my limited experience and deep-seated prejudice to allow me to glimpse how deep and wide his Kingdom is. Black and white, young and old. . . we were all together there at New City under one roof praising God and hearing His Word. My old friend James Ward - who I've followed since 1974 - was leading worship. Even though we didn't sing his "Death Is Ended" that morning, my very limited voice was able to blend with many more beautiful than my own in praise to God. When I returned home, I found James and the choir singing "Death Is Ended" right there on the New City Fellowship homepage. . . and my spirits were lifted by great and wonderful words of truth one more time. Is it possible that eternity will sound even better than this?!?

Our week ended with worship back home at our own church seven days after singing with the saints at New City Fellowship. Together, our congregation prayed these words in our prayer of confession: "I long for that Final Day when by grace I will shine beside my Savior, as you reveal his splendor to every living eye! Until then, may I never gloat at being 'better' than others, when we all fall utterly short of your holiness."

God is at work in places and ways we can't even begin to imagine. I'm praying that I would continue to see and experience these things in ways that would deepen my understanding of who He is, my understanding of who I am, and my love for all people. Let's pray the same for our kids.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sexual Healing. . . .

Thinking this week about the 35-year high school reunion I'm going to miss tomorrow has sparked lots of thoughts about how the world has changed over the course of that time. The human heart and "all things" that were once proclaimed by their Maker as "good" are still broken and in need of repair. That hasn't changed at all since I walked those locker-lined halls. But the expressions of that brokenness have changed.

As a culture-watcher, I can't help but notice that one of aspects of life that's changed the most is one of the greatest and most wonderful "good" gifts given to us by the Maker. It seems that there's been a spreading of the spiraling down of our sexuality. I often talk about the conversation I had with a 30-year-veteran high school teacher a few years ago. I was curious about the changes he had seen on the high school campus during his three decades of teaching. "What's the biggest change you've seen among students over the course of your years in the classroom?", I asked. "Oh, that's easy," he said. "Kids are much more sexual today. Thirty years ago I would come into the school on a Monday morning and do homeroom and lunchroom supervision. These were the times when the kids would talk about what they did over the weekend. Back then, you could see a small group of boys huddled together and talking quietly about something. I wasn't stupid nor was I deaf. I could hear them sharing stories about their sexual conquests over the weekend. When I would walk close to the group, they would stop. Now, I walk into the same school and hear the same things. But the kids talk loud. They don't care if I hear what they're saying. They don't stop when I get close. And, it's not only the boys. The girls are very sexually expressive as well." In today's world, the sexual options are greater, they are more readily pursued, there is little or no guilt or shame, and nobody cares who hears or does what. Little or nothing is wrong, and therefore everything is normal and right.

This reality hit me hard again yesterday as I started viewing the episodes of MTV's new summer hit reality/documentary series, 16 and Pregnant. In the show's initial episode, cameras follow high school students Maci and Ryan as Maci finds out she's pregnant. Maci and Ryan get an apartment and move in together. They get engaged. Their parents - at least on camera - find the entire situation to be rather humorous and even normal. Absent is any kind of serious talk with the kids. Maci has her baby.
She and Ryan continue to live together, but Ryan begins to express his desire to leave the relationship. The adorable little Bentley not only has young parents, but he's got the very real possibility of life without a dad. On the positive side, terminating the pregnancy was an option considered, but not embraced. Maci had her baby. But the overall lightheartedness and Juno-esque flavor of the show is a clear indicator of how things have changed. Sadly, our kids won't see that as they don't share our context of passing time. This, for them, is a normal part of life and the possible and even desired outcome of what has become a normal expression of the God-given gift of sexuality. . . expressions of which increasingly lack parameters and any sense of responsibility. It's a different world.

As part of the "all things" that were once good but our now Genesis 3:6 broken, human sexuality is desperately in need of healing. That last sentence will most likely be scoffed at by the great majority of people in our culture. But I truly believe that when push comes to shove and we're totally honest with ourselves, the hunger for heaven that we so desperately try to fill through random and habitual acts of physical intimacy can't, don't, and won't do the job.

For those of you who are younger, it's me and people in my generation's knowledge of a better way that prompts these thoughts and our crusades. In addition, our passion and efforts are fueled by a desire for you to bring Glory to God and great pleasure and satisfaction to you and your spouse through redeeming your sexuality. Many of us have traveled that road ourselves, and it's our own poor and sinful choices coupled with our desire for you to avoid the same that drives our message. To put it bluntly, many of us messed up, and we want you to experience and enjoy something much, much better.

What are some of the steps we can take to answer these realities with the life-giving and liberating message of God-honoring sexuality?

First, I want to encourage all parents, youth workers, pastors, and teachers to read. Read so that you can know what is happening. And read so that you know what to say in response regarding what should be happening. Here's a great place to start: My friend Dennis Hollinger recently released a wonderful book on this subject, The Meaning of Sex: Christian Ethics and the Moral Life. Dennis writes these words in the book's introduction: "We live in a sex-crazed world. A day in the life of an American or European can hardly go by without one encountering numerous sexual images, innuendos, or appeals. In marketing clothing, cars, computers, and cameras there is invariably some appeal to our sexual instincts. The nightly fare of family TV is filled with sexual references and implied or fairly explicit sexual acts. Sexual behavior that was hidden in the media closet a decade ago is now quite common. One out of every four Internet hits is pornographic in nature. The expectations for a casual relationship often assume sexual relations. Surely a visitor from another planet would say of this age, 'Sex is everywhere and always on their minds.' But we are simultaneously a sexually confused society. . . . what is at stake is the integrity of our personal being, the hope of our marriages, the well-being of our children, the authenticity of the church, and the fabric of society." Dennis goes on to lay out in a compelling and convincing manner a framework for understanding and enjoying our sexuality to the fullest.

We're so concerned about this reality at CPYU that we're doing all we can to address it in relevant and meaningful ways. Recently we invited Jason Soucinek to join our staff as an associate. He lives in Spokane, Washington and is a graduate of Whitworth College. Upon completing his education he worked several years in advertising until the Lord brought him into full time youth ministry. He is now the director of a relationship and media education program, iPULSE, which is dedicated to seeing students enter into an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ and challenge the sexual status quo of the current youth culture by saving sex until marriage. In its first two years of operation, iPULSE, which uses today’s popular media to deliver the abstinence until marriage message to students, has reached more than 7,500 students using several multi-media platforms. With a passion to challenge the sexual status quo of the current youth culture, Jason strives to create resources that encounter teenagers “in the trenches” while also helping bridge the generation gap between parent and teen. I love Jason's heart. Even more, I love the life-giving and liberating message about sexuality that Jason communicate to kids. They need to hear it, and they can't hear it enough. A few weeks ago, we decided to make it easier for churches, schools, and other organizations to tap into Jason's expertise by making his seminar's more affordable. You can learn more about that and how to book Jason to speak to your group here.

We're hoping for better things for the emerging generations. But let's just not hope. . . let's do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Has Life Done To Us? . . . .

Thirty-five years. That's how long it's been since I graduated from Upper Dublin High School. I remember back then how older people would say that time flies. That certainly wasn't my experience. Now, I hear myself telling younger folks the same thing. It's true. That certainly is my experience.

This Saturday several of my UDHS Class of '74 classmates will be gathering to catch up. Sadly, I won't be able to make it to my reunion due to a prior commitment. A bit of the shock and awe that I'm sure I'd be experiencing along with everyone else has been tempered by the advent of Facebook. We've been given access to each other's pictures and stories. That's not only been fun, but we've got a sense of what's coming. If I had been able to make it, my classmates' familiarity with my most recent pictures would spare them the need to ask who I was. And then, after telling them, they wouldn't have to ask. . . "Walt, is that really you?" Yes, time and gravity have an amazing effect on the human body. Life also has an effect on the human body and the person that lives inside.

Even though I won't be at my reunion, the occasion has gotten me thinking about the changes we experience in life and how those shape us. I don't remember the specifics of the graduation speeches and messages I heard back in June 1974, but they've echoed over and over again for me in the dozens of similarly themed and highly optimistic graduation messages I've heard over the course of the 35 years since. Everybody has the world by the tail. Things are going to get better. But then life hits us. Now, all these years later, a host of graduates from 1974 could stand at a podium facing the emerging generations to spread a more realistic message that would begin with the words, "Let me tell you all something about life. . . " The world is broken. And try as hard as we can on our own power to fix it all, it just keeps breaking around us. When we begin to see our own personal stories in light of God's great and grand story, we begin to understand why and how that is.

I was reminded of this the other night when I finally gave in to the suggestion of my kids to watch Clint Eastwood's film, Gran Torino. Somewhere along my movie-watching way, I boxed Eastwood into films where he's toting a huge revolver, socializing with an ape, or just being plain-old Eastwood tough. Not this time around though. This film drew me in and moved me to tears. If you haven't seen it I don't want to give it away. I can tell you that Eastwood's bigoted and hardened character, Walt Kowalski, has had alot done to him by life. And, he's done his share of doing. But this is a movie about seeing one's life in a bigger context than one's own story. As a Christian watching the film, that message was very, very clear. And in the end, what was done came undone as Walt Kowalski's life story was swallowed up into something bigger and greater. You need to see this film.

I can remember very clearly thinking about my future back in 1974. George Orwell's 1984 was light years away. Stanley Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was about a year so far into the future that we couldn't even imagine it. . . . a year that was, well, eight years ago! While life has thrown quite a bit at me - and I've chosen all too often to embrace the ugly stuff - I am grateful to God for inviting me in to something much, much bigger. Nothing life does can even come close to undoing the redemption that has begun, and will continue, to undo what's been done. No fault of my own, I've been swallowed up into a bigger story, and for that, I'm grateful. To God be the Glory!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Garbage. . .

We didn't know we had a mess until it was moving day. Actually, we knew full well that we had a mess. . . we just kept ignoring it until moving day.

It was the year before I was married and I was living in a rental home with three other single guys. We were existing in a state of forced thriftiness as none of us had much money. A couple of us were doing campus ministry. One was a student. The other was just looking for the best way to save money. The house was nice. It even had a detached two car garage. . . which came in handy. . . or so we thought.

We were cheap. Since garbage collection cost money, we put it off and put it off. We figured that between the four of us, someone would know somebody who would be willing to combine our garbage with theirs once a week. But we never got around to it. Instead, we kept filling the large plastic bags and stacking them in the garage. Not only were we stockpiling our own trash, but the constant flow of visitors and pizza parties most likely multiplied our stuff x 2. When moving day arrived and we were all parting ways, we had to face reality. We had literally filled one side of that garage with what had become several truck loads of bagged rotting and stinking garbage. Suddenly, there was no looking the other way. We had to deal with it. The pile was imposing and after loading all our stuff into separate trucks, nobody had the time, energy, or ambition to undo something that was going to make the landlord flip.

I thought about this earlier this week when I read the new story about the father and son from Mastic Beach, NY who found themselves facing $20,000 in fees and fines after authorities removed about 42 tons of trash from their property. As I was reading the story I shook my head in disbelief, wondering how a couple of guys could be so stupid. Then I remembered that I knew exactly how a few guys could be so ignorant.

Not only was I part of a similar instance of ignorance, denial, and foolishness myself almost thirty years ago, but I realized I've been pulling the same stunt ever since. Filthy smelly sin gets pushed aside, hidden, and ignored. "Some day," I say to myself, "I'll get around to dealing with it." But someday never comes.

The same newspaper ran a front page story about a former school secretary who worked at a local Catholic school. A 47-year-old woman, she stole more than $163,000 in tuition money from the school. She knew what she was doing. She knew it was wrong. She kept on doing it. The judge who sentenced her to 1 to 2 years in prison told her at sentencing, "You didn't stop doing this on your own. You were caught." She was filling her "garage" with "garbage," and somebody came along and pulled up the door to expose her filthy little secret. Stories like that sure do make you stop and think, don't they? They make us wonder about the secrets we harbor because we just haven't gotten around to dealing with them. Someday never comes. . . until the someday it's all exposed.

The Scriptures are filled with admonitions to put off our old selves and to put on Christ. The Apostle Paul tells us to "put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature" (Col. 3:5). What follows in the next verses is an inventory of garbage that tends to get heaped up in our garages. The great wonder of Christianity is that Christ does this for us.

For those of us Christ-followers who are older, you know what I'm talking about. We've all been there. . . and still live there. And, we've got to deal with it. We should be concerned about ourselves. But we should also be concerned about the generations that follow. I'm seeing a growing number of those who are younger who embrace the label "Christian" who don't even bother to hide the stuff in the garage. Now remember, those who hide it are no better than those who don't. But this changing reality is indicative of a subtle cultural shift that we must see, understand, and address. Young Christians are now sinning boldly, and they don't seem to care. Or, many of them are proudly wearing the garbage like clothing, not even knowing that what they're wearing stinks. And when they're told, they still don't care.

The answer to all this. . . for me, you, and those who are younger. . . is to be washed daily (as one of my seminary professors used to tell us) in the Word. I believe that more and more each day. In his latest book, Uncommon, Tony Dungy offers a simple bit of advice that has served to remind me of the answer to the problem. In his "Keys For Your Full Potential" Dungy says, "What is down in the well comes up in the bucket." I think the answer lies in what for years has been called "Christian Education." That's what fills the well as it is pursued individually and engaged in corporately as the Body of Christ cares for its young and for each other. I don't think it's any coincidence at all that as Christian Education has faded as a priority, wells have been filled with nothing but fluff and garbage. Then, we see the aforementioned cultural shift picking up steam.

We've all got to deal with the rotting pile of stench in the garage. And, I'm hoping that we'll help the emerging generations sharpen their declining sense of smell.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Should I Retire? . . . .

Did you happen to catch the cover of yesterday's Parade Magazine? It was right there in my Sunday paper yesterday morning where it always is, buried in the weekly stuffing made up of colorful sale flyers advertising all kinds of stuff I'm told I need. The words splattered across this Fourth of July weekend edition caught my eye: What Makes America Great. The featured headline hasn't yet made me open Parade and read the article, but it did get me thinking further on a thought-track God's been leading me down for several months.

I would guess that while our answers might differ, most Americans would include the word "freedom" somewhere in their own personal explanation if they had been given the task of writing the Parade article. I certainly would. The freedom to worship, to examine ideas, and to express one's beliefs rank up there at the top of my list.

But what was sparked in my mind was a more negative response. Granted there are many things that make America great. But those very things that we say make us great can also be at the root of our demise and even failure if we don't exercise prudence and responsibility with the blessings and freedoms we've been given. At times, we abuse our freedoms when we aren't responsible stewards of what we've been given. Lest we forget, responsible stewardship starts and ends with Kingdom living. What God values as great is not always the same as what Americans value as great.

That Africa trip is sticking with me. When I looked at Parade's cover I thought about the great economic freedom we've been given, and the blessings that have been piled on many of us. Then, I thought about the new seminar I'm preparing for this fall's National Youth Workers Conventions. It's about teenagers and narcissism. In fact, I did an interview last week where the interviewer asked me about the most alarming trends present in today's youth culture. I started with narcissism and we never moved on to anything else. Which got me thinking about one of the books I'm reading right now - Tim Keller's Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Keller writes about our human nature and the things we choose to focus on in life: "God's 'center' is his own glory; he does everything because it is consistent with his own righteous, holy, perfect nature. We, however, 'center' on our own glory. Therefore, there is an inevitable collision between God and man." What I'm realizing is that what makes America great, could be the very thing that makes America and Americans bad. We have because God has given. Yet, we hoard because we're focused on ourselves.

If this wasn't enough, our youth pastor, Troy, preached yesterday. It was one of the best and most challenging sermons I've ever heard. It was the first in a series of sermons on money, possessions, and Kingdom-living stewardship. Troy's text was Luke 12:13-21. It's the passage we know as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Give it a read. As Troy read the text the cover of Parade came to mind. My house came to mind. My kids came to mind. My greed came to mind. Africa came to mind. Our Compassion child Ibrahim and the squalor he lives in came to mind. Then, there was this fact from the parable. . . that a "man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." In addition, there was the reminder of a more Godly perspective on life. We store things up in preparation to take care of ourselves in the future. We get enough, and then we say "take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry." I couldn't help but think, is retirement as we know it, embrace it, plan for it, look forward to it, and practice it here in the U.S. biblical? I don't think so.

Something happened during our time in Africa that was like throwing gasoline on the simmering fire of questioning and trying to figure out my greatly-blessed lot in life. Over the course of our trip, several of us confessed to the struggle we were having with our origins. We were asking things like "God, why was I born where I was born? Why were my kids born where they were born? And why have we been given so much?" There was some guilt as well. The answer to these questions were given to us in a very obvious can't-miss-it manner. We were sitting at the Compassion project in the midst of the Mathare slum. I described that horrid place back on June 3. The pastor was talking to us about the work they were doing there in Mathare and thanking us for our interest and support. At one point he told us that he wasn't going to beat around the bush but be very direct. "We pray that God will continue to bless you with great riches. We know that if God blesses you with great riches, you will pass it on to us and continue to support our work."

That's why I was born where I was born. And America will only be great if I understand and live out that fact. Otherwise, the God I claim to follow and serve will one day look at me and say, "You fool!"