In Praise of Teens

In the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, there is a surly character named Limbo. He is sort of a slave trader dealing in humans. While making a sale of a human child he issues one of the most memorable lines from the film…

“The young ones make great pets. Just make sure you kill them before they mature. Believe me, the last thing you want is a human teenager running around your house.”

In earlier times, teens were really kids forced into adulthood by life. However, with prosperity came time and “disposable income” (what a ridiculous phrase). With income came stuff and well… you know, here we are. Dude! I am not one of those who is down on the youth and their culture—totally.

Teens drive the social fabric and economic engine of our country. They determine what clothes are in style. They direct the music industry, (I’m not altogether pleased about that.) They have a verbal language of their own. And now they “TEXT” in an augmented English that resembles a sort of code—(imo). [For the uninformed or un-cool “imo” means “in my opinion” – unless you’re talking about the people that are “Imo” and that is a different thing altogether.] As in every decade since any can remember, teens determine what is cool.

Well, for the third time, in a third decade we have a teenager living at our house. He is like most of them. He likes food, likes stuff, likes rock n’ roll, likes the opposite sex, likes clutter, likes video games, and I’m good with all of that. But the thing I like most about having teenagers is where mine, and many that I’ve worked with over the years, are unlike the culture.

Everyone should have teens like we have had. Our kids have been free to choose their friends and they’ve chosen wisely – usually. They’ve been free to disagree with their parents, but have done so within the bounds of respect – usually. They’ve been free to seek and find the Lord, they’ve come to Him on His terms at their own pace and time. They follow Him in faith – usually.

I love teens. I love listening to them talk, watching how they act and interact. I love their sense of justice. Their out of balance drama is the germ of reality TV. The one draw back that I see in teen-hood is when people move to adulthood and bring their teenager mentality with them. There is a time to put away the teen years, but as John said, “Hold on to 16 as long as you can; changes come around real soon—make us women and men.” Even though Caleb is a teen, we’ve decided to keep him – at least for a while.

telemicus out

A Few Things I Just Don’t Get

He threw his hands in the air and said in a voice loud enough to hear all over the store, “I just don’t get it!” I don’t know what had so baffled him that he became that incredulous in Target, but he was clearly puzzled and exasperated. It got me thinking about how many times I’ve felt the way he sounded. So I thought I’d give you a few of mine and I was kind of hoping you might like to share some of yours. Just for fun and reflection.

I don’t get people – blessed immensely – who then complain about lack. Instead of counting everything that is above need as a blessing, they account every desire unfulfilled as a robbery of life against them.

I don’t get people who call you friend, but fail to write, or call. They often receive your greetings and visits with joy and exuberance, but caring enough to reach out is beyond their dashboards. I suppose they are like consumer Christians, willing to take all the blessing of relationship without making investments in it.

I don’t get people who are so self centered that they don’t know they are selfish. They actually see themselves as unselfish. They reckon any act of kindness as their true character and they are blind to the selfishness that everyone sees.

I don’t get why the American people choose leaders who have a history sprinkled, if not baptized, in dishonesty. I really don’t get them choosing outright liars. I’m not talking about small errors in judgment, I’m talking about the criminal type of dishonesty that makes rich guys more rich at the people’s expense.

I don’t get lovers who don’t. I don’t get cheaters who do. I don’t get people who hurt kids and why we as a society don’t eliminate them. I don’t get the millionaire athlete who thinks we owe him because of his athletic ability. I don’t get celebrity worship. I don’t get record profits in the oil business; why do we keep letting them do it. I don’t get the medical insurance business – it’s a convoluted mess.

I don’t get the spiritually lazy. I don’t get those who choose ignorance over knowledge. I don’t get the cowardly who won’t speak up when a wrong is committed. I don’t get the politically expedient who will throw people under the bus if it benefits them. I don’t get how anyone likes The Who or Janis Joplin. I don’t get how people eat slimy spinach. I don’t get smart men who can figure out nuclear physics, but can’t figure out that a print tie doesn’t go with a striped shirt.

telemicus out

Freedom and Faith

In a preview clip from the new Daniel Craig film DEFIANCE, there is a line that has sort of hung on to me since I saw it. The movie is the true story of four brothers who defied the Nazi army during World War II. The Bielski family live in the area called Belarus. When their parents and other family members are killed, Tuvia Bielski (Daniel Craig) and his brothers hid in the forest.

In time, a small group of Jewish refugees joins them in hiding. This little band of resistors survives as best they can and the group continues to grow. The Bielski Partisans become a significant pain for the Nazi’s. The regime offered 100,000 Riechmarks for assistance in capturing Tuvia. The Bielski group lived in the forest for more than 2 years and at the end, the little group numbered more than 1200.

I want to take my son to see this film. He needs to hear the stories of those who stand against tyranny, oppression and hate. We live in a time when some people think that you can talk and reason with irrational hate filled people who have no agenda beyond the destruction of their enemies. The Bielski Partisans were lovers of freedom. They didn’t want to fight, but fight they did.

Caleb mentioned a few days ago, that he had a friend that was “anti-war”. I took the opportunity to explain that everyone should be anti-war. But there are times when wars must be fought. Evil exists and it doesn’t listen to reason and compromise. When a thing is evil, (racism, violence against innocence, lawlessness, etc.) then we must face it and defeat it. We cannot make deals with it.

So what was the great line that so grabbed me? Tuvia is addressing the people in the forest and he says to them. “Everyday that we live in freedom is an act of faith.” This is true in the political sense of course. But it is also true spiritually. The message of Christ and the gospel is a message of freedom.

The Old Book says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). He set us free from sin, death, self-justification, law and the judgment of others. Does sin still attack us, does death still claim our loved ones, do we still get caught up in “doing enough” to be worthy, do we still become rule focused, do others still try to convince us that we don’t measure up? Of course, but we are free from it all in Christ and he wants us to live free… Every day that we live in freedom is an act of faith.

telemicus out

You know – I’m gonna do that…

Look at this commercial with Peyton Manning, where he visits hotels in the towns of his opponents. At each of his encounters with fans from the “home team,” he never quite senses the malevolence in their comments.

I don’t know if Peyton Manning is always that way, but I wish I were. To always see good intentions in the actions and words of others is disarming to them, and brings peace to us. The Old Book says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). We need more gentle answers and less defensiveness. Does it matter that their intentions are not always good? Ultimately, no. We cannot control the attitudes of others, but we can perhaps influence them toward being more positive. I’m not calling for us to be naïve, but rather we should be gracious and wise.

I heard an athlete interviewed this week. The reporter asked him, “You were taken 234 in the draft overall, does that give you a bit of a chip on your should that makes you want to prove to those who passed you over that they were wrong.” Without hesitation he said, “It gives me 233 chips on my shoulder.” His attitude put him at odds with every person taken before him and every team that didn’t take him. It even created a division with the team that eventually did take him, because he wasn’t their first pick.

I’ve been trying to help Caleb see how great Jesus was as a human. He wasn’t simply a great teacher. And his being God is a subject unto itself. Grasping Jesus life as human is a critical step in growing close to him. Peter wrote, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23).

This is our example. He didn’t have a chip on his shoulder. He didn’t see the world as God haters. He was compassionate to them, even the worst of sinners. He was harsh to the self-righteous, but left room for even them to turn to God. He wasn’t negative in how he saw the lost or his own followers – even in their failures.

I need an infusion of Jesus’ heart. I need to brush the chips off my shoulder and love people. I need to see good in people – not only church people, but the world as well. I need to give a couple of relatives a break, four of my friends need to be let off the hook, (maybe five,) I should probably give three politicians a chance and I have some debris to clean up with my own family. Man – I have a lot to work on.

You know, I’m gonna do that… the weather here is sweet! Nice.

telemicus out

The Better Side of Best

Now that the holidays have passed and the New Year is underway, I think its time for some reflection, direction, correction and action. I love new years. To me, it’s the best time for new starts and my annual do-over. I’m not big on resolutions and all, but I do like goals. If you’ve been with me a while, you might remember that I asked my family to make new years resolutions for me last year. I asked them what I should work on. The one clear dragon that cried out for slaying was “being fierce.”

Being fierce is what I have always done. It is my control mechanism. It’s how I managed life. I am not brave enough to confront most things head on; I have used moods and the force of fierceness to communicate what I didn’t want to say. If I disapprove, a look will communicate it without words. Irritations are subject to attack with silent disregard and gruff attitude. If words are required, the arsenal is rich; the weapons are deadly, the knowledge keen and the warrior skilled.

I’ve learned a few things about all this that you certainly already know. I’m just letting you know so that if you see me being less than my best, you can let me know its happening (we all have hearts with blind spots and veiled lampshades.) So here are some things I learned in 08 that I hope to make better use of in 09.

Pain does not have to be acknowledged to be valid. It’s enough that we know and respond appropriately. Your personal world does not owe you Understanding of your day or life; don’t respond to it as though it did. In other words, it’s not their fault if you overslept, ran out of gas or forgot a meeting. Frustration is a result of expectations that go unmet. Often, those who frustrate us don’t even know what our expectations are. It is not their fault if we are frustrated at work, with our mate or about our unfulfilled dreams.

Some look at themselves and want to be better. Many look for that magic moment, that word of wisdom, that great epiphany that will make them more loving, eager to exercise, kinder to children and old folks, more fond of vegetables, floss regularly, drink more water, pray, lose weight, love the lost, volunteer in the community and even smile.

There is no such moment, word or epiphany coming. To move to the Better side of Best takes Reflection so that we can see who we really are, Direction so that we know how to go, Correction so that we don’t continue behaviors that lead to less than our best and Action so that we don’t look at the calendar in December and ask ourselves, “Why didn’t I make any progress this year?”

I’m going to try to move this year from this side of my best to the better side of my best. It’s not an easy climb, but the view from the better side of our best is one that makes us better people to be with. I hope you will climb with me.

telemicus out

A Belonging Place

Two weeks ago, I took my daughter to see the movie, Australia. Despite what the critics had to say, we thought it was a great movie. I encourage you to set aside three hours and go see it. The primary characters are Lady Ashley (Sarah), an aristocratic English woman, Drover an Australian cowboy and Nullah a half white, half Aborigines boy.

The story line is that Lady Ashley’s husband has gone to Australia to work a cattle ranch he bought. After not hearing from him, she leaves England to find her husband with intentions of selling the ranch and returning home. The boy, Nullah lives on the ranch with his mother. Drover works as a cowboy on the ranch.

The boy spends time with his grandfather, a native called King George. The grandfather teaches him the customs and ways of the Aborigines. Nullah lives in two worlds. During this time, boys who were mixed breeds were gathered together and sent to Missions where they were taught Christianity and had the savage “bled” out of them. Nullah often “made himself invisible” in order to prevent capture.

Lady Ashley’s husband is killed before she arrives. She hires Drover to help her deliver the cattle. Nullah also serves as a cowboy. Eventually Nullah and Lady Ashley grow close, but in time he explains that the time is coming for his “Walkabout”. Lady Ashley forbids it, but King George beckons. Drover explains that Nullah has to go. It is the Walkabout that gives an Aborigines male his identity, his purpose. He tells her, “If he doesn’t go he will never know who he really is. He wont belong in the white mans world and he wont belong in theirs. He won’t have his dreams. He won’t know his story.”

The Walkabout is a spiritual journey to a “belonging place”. It is where the young males connect spiritually to the land, it is here that they learn the songs that lead them, and it gives him his dreams and his voice in the world. It is the path to a belonging place.

Should 2009 to be the year of your Walkabout? It seems we will invest time and money in improving our golf game, dance steps, physical fitness, nails, hair and psyche, but will we invest time and money in the spiritual journey of discovering our “belonging place?” I have a goal to take some time, perhaps several days for solitude and to walk. I need to discover my dreams again, to learn the songs of direction and to reconnect to the Earth. I want to find my voice in the world, to recapture my story. I need to find my belonging place.

The Old Book says that Jesus often stayed in lonely places and prayed. Make 2009 the year of your Walkabout. Take the Lord Jesus along because wherever the Walkabout may take us, it’s in Him that we discover our voice, learn our songs, write our stories and connect to what truly matters. He is our Belonging Place.

telemicus out

Who Knows…

Back in the mid 70’s our family lived in Kirksville, Missouri where my dad, Jonathan preached. In the trenches of ministry, it is sometimes hard to see if you are making any progress. We see challenges, we take on the opposition, we beg God for help, we walk faithfully and we wonder; Am I making any difference? But now and then, we find out that something we never expected was a big deal. Rocky Veach was a young boy when I met him. This is how it happened.

Dad sent out a mass mailing in our town offering a free Bible Correspondence Course. Out of four thousand fliers, he received eight responses. Rocky’s mom was one of them. She finished the course, in time had further Bible studies, and was baptized. Rocky and his brothers began to ride the church Joy Bus to Sunday school.

One Sunday morning, Rocky missed the bus. I think he was about ten years old. He called a cab and paid with his own money for a ride to church. I remember one of the men at church saying, “We have adult members who don’t want to be here bad enough to do that.” He looked like most any boy I guess. He had long hair, thin build and loved being at church. So whatever happened to Rocky?

This week, with the help of a friend, I found him. Rocky was, he says, “radically” saved at the age of 18. From 1984 to 1986, Rocky attended Rhema Bible Training Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also met and married his wife Bobbi, during that time. Rocky has been involved in ministry for more than twenty years. Today, Rocky Veach oversees TORCH Ministries and directs IMN, a Missions based organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel, while helping the poor and needy around the world. Rocky travels internationally, ministering in churches, conferences, and Bible Schools. Together, Rocky and Bobbi also pastor, “Connections Church” in New York’s Hudson Valley.

This is what Rocky said to me.

“Please tell your father I have often reflected on the way the Lord used the Joy Bus and am very appreciative of the impact your family made on my life as a young boy.  It is amazing how passing acts of service and leadership can have eternal results, sometimes in the least likely of candidates.”

We never know what the simplest act of service might mean to a person or to the world. Nice going Pop!

telemicus out

Christmas Trees and People

When I was a teenager, our parents let the four of us kids drive out to the Christmas tree farm east of Kirksville to pick and cut down the family tree. I think the price in 1975 was $8.00 if you cut it yourself. We loaded into the station wagon, my sister Cindy drove. We arrived at the lot with saw in hand. The hunt was on and we ran all over trying to find the perfect tree. It was almost dark and we found one that we liked. I lay on the ground and in a little while, we were dragging the prize to the Buick.

In the light of home, it became evident that the darkness of the night had also clouded our judgment about the tree. The trunk was as crooked as a reindeer antler. Like flowers at Lowes look really great when there is whole flat of them but one by itself looks a little sad, so this tree looked fine in the natural setting with all its friends. However, standing alone in the light of the Taylor living room all its flaws were on full display.

For years, the family served up memories of that tree fiasco with a generous side of laughter when decorating subsequent trees. I know the tree was flawed. It received the nickname the “Charlie Brown tree.” I’m reminded this week of the original Charlie Brown tree. When the Peanuts gang worked their magic on that pathetic little tree and it became full and beautiful, Linus said, “It’s not such a bad little tree – all it needed was a little love.”

I suppose many of us, if we were Christmas trees, would be like the one I cut down in 1975 or like the one Charlie Brown chose. We have bare spots, falling out needles, crooked trunks, misshapen bodies and perhaps we are even a little dried out. All the folks you will see this holiday season are like the trees in our homes. Some are beautiful and majestic, while others are simple. Many are refined with gold decorations and white lights while others are little more than cedar bushes with homemade ornaments and a single string of giant multicolored lights. We know the real ones and the artificial, although some of the frauds are very realistic.

Common among all of us is that we are not such bad little trees; all we need is a little love. May we all decorate the people we meet this Christmas season with a little bit of love. It’ll bring out their best.

telemicus out

Thank You for Hearing Me

I have one of those clocks with two alarms. When the first rings, I usually shut it off, turn off the fan, turn on the radio, and climb back under the covers. Fifteen minutes later the second alarm goes off. I sometimes doze off during this intermission, but sometimes I pray. This morning I strolled into prayer for one of my kids. As I lay there thinking about the prayer I said to God, “I rarely ask you for anything, but I really am serious about this one.”

Sometimes I feel like He doesn’t hear me. Not because he is mad at me or I don’t deserve his attention, I just figure that me and my stuff are not high on his “to do” list. I don’t mean any disrespect in this comment. I believe that I am his child and he loves me just as he does all his kids. But I suppose there are times when I don’t feel particularly favored. (I hope you’re not hearing more than I mean to say here.) I honestly try to not to bother God with the mundane. Think of it this way; perhaps to be saved and to be his child ought to be enough, should I really be asking for more?

Yet, when I notice a heavy burden attached to my heart, I go to Him and tell Him what’s wearing on me. I looked at Jesus and wondered what he was thankful for in life. From what we can see, he always gave thanks for food and provision. It’s notable that he said this at the tomb when Lazarus was waiting for his wake up call, “So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me” (John 11:41).

It’s Thanksgiving Week and over the years, I’ve enjoyed a great number of blessings. I have a good close family and we love each other. We have enough of what we need and most things we want. We have friends and good health for the most part. We live in the greatest country in the world and even with its flaws and problems, its far better than whatever is in second place. Above all, we have Christ as our Savior and God as our Father and His Spirit as our Comforter. So in the big scheme of things I’m just saying that I think things are not bad and so “Thank you for hearing me.”

telemicus out

Speak the Truth Always…

Are you as tired of seeing pro athletes beg for penalties as I am? In football and basketball, it’s as common as the high five. I was watching a flag football game a few weeks ago waiting for Caleb’s game to begin when the blue team threw a long pass down field. The receiver failed to make the catch, and instantly started making the recognized sign for “throw the flag.” Yes, even the little guys playing flag football have learned to call for a fix rather than accept the result of the play.

Sometimes calls are made that shouldn’t have been and at other times the officials miss the call. But shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to play their games straight up. When did you last see a player say, “I stepped out of bounds” or “It wasn’t a catch, it touched the ground.” We see grown men argue with officials about calls they think are wrong instead of accepting the call and playing the game better. I think the core of all this goes back to the mentality of entitlement and self-importance.

But last week a pro golfer proved to be noble in heart and character. J.P. Hayes accidentally played a prototype ball from Titleist in the second stage of Q School. He was sitting in his hotel room that evening and realized that the ball he used on one hole was not approved. So he picked up the phone and called an official and said, “I think I may have a problem.” He explained the mistake. The following day they confirmed it with Titleist and he was disqualified.

This admission surely cost Hayes opportunities to play and to earn on the tour. Had he simply ignored the mistake, no one would have ever known. But J.P. Hayes integrity would not allow that. Now he can sleep at night, look at himself in the mirror and teach his kids to be honest about everything – even when it cost them. This doesn’t make him a hero, but it does mean he has integrity.

I wrote a piece in December of 2005 about the movie Kingdom of Heaven (click here). Balian is the main character and his father knights him with an oath on his deathbed. It’s worth revisiting the line from the Knights Oath, Tell the truth always – even if it leads to your death. Our decisions in sports don’t bear this gravity, but in the world we live in, lies are costing our society every day. Being honest may cost you, but lies cost everyone and we can ill afford the luxury of entitlement.

telemicus out