Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Learning to Ride Heaven’s Horses

In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis writes about a young man who is perpetually bothered by a red lizard that sits on his shoulder. The lizard ridicules the young man and thus incites him to act in ways that he later regrets. Lewis uses the lizard to represent the inner struggle that we all have with our sinful natures. The young man wants to get rid of the annoying lizard and asks God to help. An angel appears and offers to get rid of the infuriating little lizard. The young man is thrilled with the idea until he realizes what will be involved in the process. The angel will use fire to kill the lizard. The young man reacts in fear because he is afraid that he can’t take the heat necessary to destroy the lizard. He immediately attempts to negotiate with the angel. “Maybe it won’t be necessary to kill the lizard, maybe we can just wound him.” “Maybe another time would be better?” The angel firmly answers, “In this moment are all moments. Either you want the red lizard to live, or you do not.” As soon as the lizard sees the hesitancy of the young man, he begins to reason with him. Lewis writes:

‘Be careful,’ it said, ‘He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will. Then you’ll be without me forever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’ll only be a sort of a ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless, abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it’s not natural for us. I know there are no real pleasures, only dreams, but aren’t they better than nothing? I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams, all sweet and fresh and almost innocent…’

That young man with the red lizard clearly represents all of us because it is the same conversation we have with our own sinful natures. We are notorious to rationalize, “Just this time.” “It’s not that bad.” “How could it feel so good and be bad at the same time?” “God always forgives.” “I won’t let it go too far.” With similar words of compromise, we too refuse to let God’s fire kill the lizards in our lives.

Lewis ends the story about the lizard remarkably. Finally, the young man asks the angel to kill the lizard. The mighty angel grasps the lizard in his fiery hands and chokes it until it dies and falls to the ground. An amazing thing then happens. The moment it hits the ground, it turns into a mighty stallion. The young man is invited to get on it and ride it, which he does. C. S. Lewis says there was a song sang:
“The Master says to our master, come up. Share my rest and splendor till all natures that were your enemies become slaves to dance before you and backs for you to ride, and firmness for your feet to rest on.”

The message is clear and encouraging to us. What rules us now can, with God’s help, be overcome. What had been our master, we can master. Lewis wants us to know that when we kill the sin, the things that were so hard actually become excellent and enjoyable. I have seriously studied the family and marriage over the years. Research indicates that those with monogamous, faithful marriages experience greater sexual fulfillment than those who are promiscuous. Those who are committed to marriage stay committed to each other longer than those who are not. They experience greater emotional and sexual intimacy. How can that be?  Life offers us fulfillment and contentment when we do it God’s way rather than our way. We were never meant to live with the sinful lizards of this world, but rather we were meant to ride heaven’s horses.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Building Autonomy

Building a child’s autonomy is the work of a parent to see the independent development of the personality and personhood of the child. The style of parenting that most enhances the child’s autonomy to have self-control and enables the child to be a problem solver is responsive parenting. A child who grows in their ability to make good decisions will become more independent and more responsible. The responsive parenting style, while maintaining control, helps the child understand his or her emotions. The parent helps interpret those emotions while teaching the child to control those emotions.

Reactive parenting diminishes the child’s autonomy. The two forms of reactive parenting are permissive parenting and authoritarian parenting. Permissive parenting is obsessed with connection and making the child happy, but ignores the need for discipline. Authoritarian parenting is obsessed with obedience and respect while ignoring the emotional connection with the child. The parents’ approach to their children either enhances their autonomy or diminishes their autonomy. It is easy to create co-dependent relationships with permissive or authoritarian parenting styles. Two negative extremes exist in these families that hinder balanced growth in children: under-control and over-control, and both hinder autonomy development.

Responsive parenting pursues the connection while teaching the child self-restraint and control of her emotions. Permissive parenting does not build the child’s autonomy because it fails to help the child have self-control. Authoritarian parenting does not build the child’s autonomy because it fails to establish a meaningful connection with the child.

It is not unusual for families to parent their children with one parent using the permissive style and one using the authoritarian style. It does not work! Children will be extremely confused by the disagreement of their parents. Permissive parents will go to any length to maintain a connection with the child, including appeasement. Appeasement without requiring respect and responsibility is a recipe for disaster. Likewise, a parent who is focused on responsibility and respect while completely ignoring the emotional needs of the child is asking for problems.

Children want to be connected to their parents. God made us all with the longing for connection. However, we all have need of order and structure in our lives. The best way to raise children is in a responsive way and not in a reactive mode. Privilege vs. Responsibility are the best ways to raise children, encourage autonomy, and reward responsible behavior. The two go hand in hand—the greater the acceptance of responsibility in the child’s life then the greater the privileges extended to the child. This is a conceptual approach because the child begins to understand how one can gain greater privileges. Our children are capable of understanding far more than we often realize.

Not long ago I played my audio book for my little granddaughter: It was a book of history. I played a little and asked her what she heard. She said, “I don’t understand any of it.” I said, “I want you to listen for the words you understand and not the words you don’t understand.” Before long, she understood the necessary flow of what was being said by merely getting her to focus. I explained the importance of what she was listening to and wetted her appetite, then she was eager to listen to more. This is what conceptual interaction is all about. You begin by teaching your children through your daily conversations and spontaneous moments the essential truths that will impact their lives. They change behaviors because they start to understand why they should change.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


Compassion is the consciousness of others' distress coupled with a desire to help. Compassion means a person has the capacity for sharing the painful feelings and circumstances of another and is willing to try to bring relief to them. What are the obstacles that keep people from being more compassionate? In a word, it is selfishness. A word that is being used more and more today is narcissism. It is selfishness on steroids. Narcissists crave admiration and live their lives to get it. Since they have an inflated view of their importance, they usually talk way too much. They believe that people want to hear what they have to say, but ironically they are not too interested in what others have to say. They love to criticize others but have little ability to take any criticism. They find it incredibly difficult to empathize with anyone’s distress and have little desire to help or show compassion. Regrettably, this describes many in our world today.

If we have experienced God’s love and compassion, then we will be willing to show compassion to others. Jeremiah described God’s compassion this way: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:21-23). He spoke these words while being moved by the pain and suffering of others.

Dr. Karl Menninger in his book The Vital Balance writes about troubled people who are never happy. They are bitter, apprehensive, and insecure and often see no point in life. They are petty people who rarely ever have compassion for anyone. They have difficulty seeing life beyond their own needs.

Menninger illustrates this with a story about Thomas Jefferson, who was traveling by horse cross country with a group of companions. When they came to a swollen river, a wayfarer saw the group and waited for several members to pass, then asked President Jefferson if he would carry him across on his horse. Jefferson complied and pulled the man up and carried him across the river. “Tell me,” asked one of the men, “why did you choose the president to ask this favor of?” “The president?” the man answered. “I didn’t know he was the president. All I know is that on some of the faces is written the answer ‘no’ and on other faces is written the answer ‘yes.’ His was a ‘yes’ face.”

I remember when we were in language school in Costa Rica we had to leave our son Eric at daycare when he was only about two. On his first day, he cried his eyes out. The second day we took him, we were expecting the same scene. However, to our surprise when we reached the gate, he looked around and spotted one person he was looking for and took off. I stood there for a moment and watched as parents brought their children and most of the kids were running to the same person. She was a plump little lady who was hugging and squeezing the kids.

What was it that made the kids run to her? I noticed other workers all by themselves with no kids running to them. Over the course of the year, it wasn’t hard to figure out why the kids took to this lady. She had something to give. She had a certain grace about her that made it so easy to connect to every child in the daycare. She had a yes face, and that face was attractive to little kids.

We all look for those yes faces. They are the people who have this capacity to see other people’s hurts and have compassion for them. We are drawn to them. People are not accustomed to seeing kind yes faces who are compassionate. In fact, it surprises them. What an opportunity we have to live life with a yes attitude and show the compassion of Christ to a hurting world.

Saturday, August 11, 2018


No matter how great a teacher is, knowledge and experience cannot be imparted unless the student is teachable. The crucial question is whether a person is capable of being taught. Being teachable is essential in our relationship with God, our mentors, our teachers, and our parents. People of wisdom and knowledge can help us learn things we do not know and help us avoid the mistakes they made. Solomon said, “The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook” (Prov 18:4). The first ingredient of being teachable is the ability to listen to the words of our teachers and capture their meaning. Those words carry deep meanings that can improve and change our lives. Recognizing that our teachers have so much to impart if we are willing to learn is such an asset. The second component is the ability to apply what we learn, “Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life” declares Solomon (Prov 4:13).  Good mentors demonstrate their instruction so that their students understand, but it is up to each person to put it into practice. Thirdly, can we capture the spirit of our teacher?  We need humility with our newly acquired knowledge. Proverbs says, “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit” (Prov 15:4). Learning that our words can heal or hurt is an essential lesson.

During our first term of missionary service and after many struggles, God opened the door for me to teach a wonderful group of young people. It was during our time in Tucuman, Argentina, I mentored a group of young men and women. There were so many things to teach these new Christians, and I wondered where I would start. I began by writing down every topic I wanted to cover, and of course, all of those were found in Proverbs, so I chose to use as a guide the book of Proverbs. I remember the day I made those notes because I was sitting in the city of Salta waiting for a bus. I used napkins to make my plans. A few weeks later I started the class, even though my Spanish at that time was far from fluent. God so anointed and exceptionally blessed that class. One of the things that made the class so thrilling was the enthusiasm to learn of those participating.  They inspired me to do my best because I knew they were so eager to learn. At every stage of our lives we need to continue to learn, so we should ask ourselves if we are teachable. That year was a remarkable experience for me because it taught me that I could teach. I learned that if students were teachable, there was no end to what could be accomplished.

Paul was a great teacher, and Timothy was a good student. First, Timothy learned to think Biblically. He learned to view everything in life through the lens of scripture. Secondly, Timothy learned to be content with what he had in life, and that is a huge advantage. Thirdly, he learned to persevere even in suffering. He discovered that there was always a purpose because God was in control. Fourthly, he learned to live by the grace of God. The beauty of God was invigorating because Timothy could stop trying to earn man’s approval. Fifthly, Timothy caught the spirit of his teacher. Paul, who never felt sorry for himself but always saw a more significant purpose, passed that on to his student. Paul was a forgiving man who did not hold grudges, and Timothy learned it well. Lastly, Timothy learned to keep the faith just like his teacher. Others might give up and throw in the towel, but not Timothy.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


Just three hours from where I grew up is Sequoia National Park, home to one of the most magnificent forests on the planet.  General Sherman, the tallest and largest tree on earth, stands nearly 30 stories tall. It is around 2,500 years old. General Sherman began to grow about the time the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon. It is the most massive living thing in the world. Although it only grows one millimeter per year, that growth translates into new wood equal to that of all the wood in a 50-foot tree! The Giant Sequoias don’t have a tap root like most trees, instead they have a massive root system that spreads out to 300 feet around the tree. Even though the roots are very shallow, they sustain the tree by spreading out and connecting with other trees, giving stability to the tall giants. This intertwining of the roots is one of the ways the trees share resources like water, thereby protecting them in times of drought. Many predators try to damage the trees, such as disease, insects, and especially fire, but a very thick bark protects them from most of this. However, not all fire is dangerous for the trees. The Sequoias benefit from fire. Each cone contains 2,000 seeds, some 400,000 per tree, but it takes the heat of a fire to open up the cones and drop the seeds. The fire clears the soil and makes it ready for a new tree to grow. Seeds can lie dormant for up to 20 years before dropping in a soil that is fertilized by the ash left from the fire.

Creation is evidence of a creator and of our need to recognize him. God has made us dependent on him, and once we realize that, our life changes for the better. A fruitful life is a process that requires our trust in God and cooperation with each other. We were made to be connected to God and each other, and only then do we grow and produce fruit. That fruit rarely comes until we have experienced the trials of life and maintained our trust in God.

Trust prefaces the Christian life. Missionary John Patton to the New Hebrides Islands had difficulty translating the word trust since he could not find a similar word in their language. While he was looking for a way to convey trust, he was leaning back in his chair. He finally translated it by saying trust is leaning back on Jesus with all your weight. This kind of trust is the essence of the Christian life. First, we trust Jesus to save us and wash away our sin. Secondly, we trust him to lead us through life. Thirdly, we trust him with eternity; as a result, we experience peace.

The Apostle Peter tells us to: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). The very act of casting our anxieties on the Lord means that we are asking for his assistance and trusting him to help us. We acknowledge that the worry and anxiety are too heavy to carry alone. The Apostle Paul gave us a spiritual recipe for dealing with anxiety: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

    First, count your blessings and learn to see the good instead of the loss.
    Second, act right regardless of how you feel.
    Third, commit to God in prayer all your worries and anxieties.
    Fourth, as a result, you receive the peace that transforms you. 
    Fifth, train your thinking to stay centered on things that are true.