Walking with our Children through the News

I’m trying something new – reflecting on a story from the news from the Christian Worldview and considering how we can use such stories as talking points and teachable moments as we seek to shepherd our children in their walk with Christ.
  
I’m keen for feedback, and I’d love to hear any ideas you may have for other stories you’d like me to cover!

Controversy Overshadows the US Open Finals as Serena Williams is defeated by Naomi Osaka

(For the full story – go here.)

It all began with a conversation between Williams and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou after she was defeated in the first set, outplayed by Osaka. Umpire Carlos Ramos observed what he believed to be Mouratoglou making a “coaching gesture”, and issued a formal code violation. Williams continued to deny that she was “cheating”. This is in spite of the fact that her coach later admitted that he did offer coaching advice on the court. Mouratoglou added, as an explanation, that although it is a violation of the rules, his action was no different from what all tennis coaches do.

Despite frequent protestations from Williams throughout the next few changes of ends, the umpire didn’t reverse his ruling. Later in the game, a frustrated Williams threw her racket after losing a point and was issued with her second code violation. Under the rules of tennis, two violations results in the awarding of one point to the opponent. This only further fuelled Williams’ ire, who accused the umpire of “stealing a point” from her.

Later, things got so heated that Williams called Ramos a thief. This caused Ramos to issue Williams with a third code violation for “verbal abuse”. Three code violations in a single match means that an entire game is awarded to the opponent. Despite the rising consequences of penalties, Williams didn’t repent of her behaviour, claiming she was being personally attacked by Ramos, and repeatedly calling the whole thing “unfair”.

When Osaka sent the final serve of the game through at 183 km/h, which Williams could only tap, sending it wide, there were no cheers from the crowd for Osaka. Instead, the stadium erupted with jeers and boos. Fans booed again when Osaka was given her trophy. In what should have been a defining moment of joy in her career, Osaka wept; they were not tears of joy, but anguish. In a subdued acceptance speech, Osaka acknowledged the crowd’s disappointment: “I’m sorry it had to end like this. I just want to say thank you for watching the match.”

What can we as Christian parents take away from this?

Reflection 1 – Sportsmanship

I don’t play tennis, but I can reflect on these lessons from what I’ve seen, and done, on the soccer field. I’m sure we’ve all had moments on the field when, like Williams, an umpire’s call hasn’t gone in our favour – the soccer ball is called out when clearly it’s still in. Similarly, I’m sure we’ve all had moments when calls have gone in our favour when they really shouldn’t have – like a goal that’s scored even though we knew we were offside when the ball was passed to us.

Part of playing the game is to accept the good with the bad, and to submit to the authority of the umpire’s call. This can be a lesson for both parents and children alike, as I’m sure many of us have stood on the sidelines of our kids’ games and exclaimed “come on ref!” when we’ve been unhappy with the call. The best lesson our children can take from sport isn’t how to win, or what skills are necessary to play, but how to graciously submit to the decision of the referee, rather than bickering and arguing as Williams demonstrated.

Reflection 2 – Integrity

When we play a sport, even though we are all aware of the rules, sometimes, we’re often tempted to blur the lines, especially if we know that “everyone else does it”, as Williams’ coach admitted. Maybe it’s an “accidentally” timed tackle aimed at the player, not the ball, or a not-so-subtle barge of the arms when chasing down an opposing attacker. One of the reasons that Williams and her coach were happy to break the rules about on-court coaching was because they’re so rarely enforced.

But integrity is about what we do when noone is paying attention. Integrity has an impact outside of the sporting field. Here are some common scenarios your children might face at school:

The teacher has left the room briefly – do they stay on task, or immediately start talking to their friends?

They’re using the word processor app on their ipad or laptop for the day’s lesson – do they stay in the app or switch to a game as soon as the teacher isn’t looking?

There’s no monitoring software on their iphone – do they make sure the content they’re accessing is helpful, excellent, praiseworthy, even if no one will ever know if it’s not?

Reflection 3 – Selfishness

In some ways, it’s easy to understand why Williams reacted the way she did. I have no idea what the pressure of a Grand Slam with an international audience of millions would feel like. I can only speculate that such pressure would shrink the entire world in those few hours to the size of that tennis court. How else could an elite sportsperson function without such intense focus? The result of such focus is evident in Williams’ focus on herself. In her experience SHE was wronged by the umpire’s call, SHE was accused of cheating, SHE was “robbed” of a point and a game, and ultimately the trophy.

The problem with such self-focus is that it easily becomes selfishness. Williams wasn’t the only person on the court that day. In HER outrage, Serena stole the focus from HER opponent. As a result, the superb tennis Osaka played throughout the match became something she soon felt she had to apologise for.

I’m sure you can’t struggle to think of examples of times your children have acted selfishly. I find it harder to find examples of times they act selflessly (in fact, the same is true for myself!).

One way to help counteract our children’s (and our own) selfish tendencies can be to practice empathy. The story of Williams and Osaka is a great example of this. We can ask our children about how they think Williams’ actions made Osaka feel. We can ask them to imagine what it would be like if we had won a match, only to have the opponent complain that they were “robbed” by the umpire. We can encourage them to consider how sad Osaka must have felt when she won the game and received her trophy, only to hear the stadium erupt in booing.

Conclusion: How can the Bible help us approach these issues?

As followers of Jesus, Paul encourages us to be ruled by God’s spirit, rather than by our fleshly desires. The works of the flesh are listed by Paul as “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5:20-21). Instead of acting in this way, Paul encourages us to exhibit “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Much of Williams’ behaviour during the game can be placed in the former list.

How can we help our children learn from this?

1 – We could encourage our children to think about what would happen if instead of following the flesh Williams played the game in a way that was reflecting the way of the spirit.

2 – We could encourage our children to think about a time they have acted in such a way – either on the sporting field, the playground, at home, or with friends.

3 – We could share with them such times we have failed in these ways, too.

4 – And perhaps most importantly, we could pray with them, thanking God that he forgives us through the death of his son Jesus, and praying that his spirit will help us to live a life of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 8 : Wisdom in Creation

Proverbs 8:22-31

[The personified voice of wisdom is talking:]

The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works,
    before his deeds of old;
I was formed long ages ago,
    at the very beginning, when the world came to be.
When there were no watery depths, I was given birth,
    when there were no springs overflowing with water;
 before the mountains were settled in place,
    before the hills, I was given birth,
before he made the world or its fields
    or any of the dust of the earth.
 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
    when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,
 when he established the clouds above
    and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,
when he gave the sea its boundary
    so the waters would not overstep his command,
and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.
   Then I was constantly at his side.
I was filled with delight day after day,
    rejoicing always in his presence,
rejoicing in his whole world
    and delighting in mankind.

 

This passage shows wisdom as God’s creation as well as God’s creative force.

Wisdom is revealed in God’s creation and it is also through wisdom that God made the world.

Wisdom is described as existing before the creation of the world as well as being a witness to God’s acts of creation, at God’s side while he created.

 

What can I learn from this?

  1. True wisdom is something outside of human knowledge. According to these verses, it predates humanity itself.
  2. Wisdom was created by God, in fact, these verses describe wisdom as the “first of his works”.
  3. Wisdom rejoices in the works of God’s hands including the whole world as well as mankind.
  4. Wisdom delights in the presence of God.

What are the implications of this?

  1. Human wisdom is only ever a shadow or a reflection of true wisdom. True wisdom existed before the creation of the world. A materialist worldview that acknowledges only what can be seen, touched, tasted, and empirically tested will fall short of this form of wisdom.
  2. God himself created wisdom. If we experience wisdom its because of the ability that God created inside of us to be wise. But wisdom will fall short if we do not seek to understand what God himself wants of us.
  3. Wisdom acknowledges that everything we see was created by a creator – God. This should lead to praise and delight just as described above.
  4. If wisdom delights in the presence of God, perhaps we should, too?

 

Concluding thoughts

This kind of wisdom is what sets the Christian worldview radically apart from any other. Our whole basis of knowledge and understanding is altered when we put God in his place as the powerful creator of this world, as well as the creator of wisdom.

The Biblical story tells me that while wisdom could rejoice in God’s presence from the creation of the world, I can only approach God because his son Jesus opened the way through his death on the cross.

It reminds me of this verse about true Christian wisdom – a wisdom that seems like foolishness to those who don’t believe.

1 Corinthians 1:18-21

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved. For it is written:I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will set aside the understanding of the experts. Where is the philosopher?Where is the scholar? Where is the debater of this age? Hasn’t God made the world’s wisdom foolish? For since, in God’s wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. 

Wrestling with God’s Word

I’m not a natural athlete. In fact, when I was in High School, my P.E. teacher and I reaching something of a truce one year when he attended the School Awards Ceremony and realised that I was good at every other subject except P.E. So, when I brought in a note saying I couldn’t participate in Cross Country that year due to “weak ankles” (an excuse that now sounds eerily familiar to Donald Trump’s handy “bone spurs”) he was happy to let me sit out for a whole term while my friends had to run around the school block every week.

When it comes to God’s word, in some ways I’ve been an endurance athlete, making it a part of my life for the 20 plus years I’ve been a follower of Jesus. I’ve tried to remain diligent in my reading and study of it in the ups and downs of life, with varying degrees of success. Sure, there have been setbacks, times of struggle, and weeks, perhaps months where God’s word has not be a central part of my daily routine. But I am always drawn back to God and his messages to me in the pages of the Bible. Time after time.

Yet there are many more times when it comes to reading the Bible when I’m more like the person who steps foot in the gym every so often, and when they get there, everything’s done so half-hardheartedly they might as well be sitting out at the cafe, rather than strolling slowly on the treadmill. Have you had those times? Has opening the Bible been something you’ve done out of guilt, compulsion or because you know it’s “good for you”?

One thing I’d never describe myself as is a wrestler – both in real life and when it comes to God’s word.

When I think about wrestling metaphors and the Bible, there’s no greater passage than Genesis 32 when Jacob spends a whole night literally wrestling with God. So transformed is he by the experience that God changes his name to Israel which, we think, means “he struggles with God”.

I can think of times where I’ve wrestled with God in prayer – begging for an outcome to a situation, pleading for a friend, poring out my heart and my hurts. But I can think of seldom few times that I’ve really done the hard yards of agaonising over a passage, pulling it apart, letting its truth cut me to the core to such an extent that my life is radically reoriented.

Perhaps this is a challenge for me, and for this blog, to let God’s word do what it promises to do in Hebrews 4:12

 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

How about you? Are you a wrestler? A Sunday stroller? An endurance runner? Or something else? What is your experience with God’s word in your life? Let me know!

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 7: Watching to be Wise

Proverbs 7: 1-3
My son, obey my words, and treasure my commands. 
Keep my commands and live;
protect my teachings as the pupil of your eye.
Tie them to your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.
 
Why is it that I can remember lines of dialogue from films I haven’t seen for years, but not remember God’s word?
Why is it that I can sing along perfectly to songs that were popular in the 1990s but not remember God’s word?
Why is it that I can tell you with certainty which season a particular episode of the West Wing took place in (The Supremes – Season 5), but not remember God’s word?
 
It is because I haven’t treasured God’s commands as much as I’ve treasured watching my favourite movies?
Is it because I haven’t protected God’s teachings as much as I’ve treasured reliving memories from my youth?
It is because I haven’t written God’s teachings on my heart as much as I have the teachings of Aaron Sorkin and the writers of the West Wing?
 
None of this has been deliberate on my part. I’ve just been a passive consumer of culture, someone who loves music, movies and TV. And these things can be great blessings, and enjoyable ways to spend my time.
 
But have I been giving as much of my time and attention to the truths of God’s word? Do I really believe as this verse says that God’s commands will give me life?
 
The good news of Jesus tells me that I’m not right with God by keeping his commands, but by trusting in Jesus death in my place. But there’s another part of the good news that sometimes I overlook. In John 10:10, Jesus says
 
A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.
 
God’s commands are the best way to live. Much better than any message from TV, movies and music. Do I really believe that? Do you?

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 6: Wise Warnings

Proverbs 6: 32-33
But a man who commits adultery has no sense;
whoever does so destroys himself.
There is a lot of teaching in the proverbs about warnings against adultery. This morning, this one in particular struck out to me because it is so different from the messages presented about adultery in popular film and television.
In 2015, I started reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. In fact, I can tell you the precise day I started reading it – February 14. I wasn’t reading it because it was Valentine’s Day – I read it to distract myself while I was experiencing early pre-labour contractions with my second child who was born the next morning.
Being of Scottish descent myself, I loved the Scottish Highland setting. I also loved learning about the history – the deposed Stuart Monarchs – with whom I share a family linage (albeit a very very distant one!)
I also love the main character, Claire. I love her passion and her fire. I love that she is not a damsel in distress, but instead when she finds herself magically transported from the year 1946 to the year 1743, she uses every skill she had hones as a battle nurse on the front lines in WWII to survive.
Claire, married to Frank Randall in 1946, begins her journey in the past desperately seeking her return to the man she loves. Yet, through circumstances beyond her control, she soon finds herself with no other choice but to marry another man – rugged, hyper masculine, yet gentle and kind Jamie Fraser – (think every image emblazoned on the cover of a mills and Boone novel rolled into one).
Throughout the novel, both Claire and the reader’s allegiances shift from the “husband of her youth” Frank to her new husband Jamie. When circumstances eventually get too dangerous for Claire to stay in the 1700s, (with the ill-fated Battle of Culloden looming, and Clarie and Jamie finding themselves on the wrong side of history).
Instead of cheering for the safe return of Claire to her husband, little by little, the reader, along with Claire, has fallen for Jamie. Our hearts break when their love is separated again by a seemingly uncrossable span of 300 years. (But – spoiler alert – with another 6 novels to go at that point, we can safely assume Claire won’t remain in the 20th Century forever!).
I went along with the ride, suspending my critical brain and allowing the author to make me feel the same things as Claire. It was only later when I realised that I had been expertly manipulated into cheering for the ruination of one marriage for the sake of another.
When Claire returns to Frank, their relationship is never the same again. Nor should it be. She has given herself to another man – body and soul – and has nothing left to give to her first husband, despite the love she initially felt for him.
Outlander does in some ways depict the pain of emotional betrayal and marital breakdown; the sections that show the 20 years of a fractured, broken marriage between Claire and Frank after her 3 years with Jamie are painful, raw, and heartbreaking. In some ways it does depict the warnings of proverbs. Adultery can will the adulterer to injure themselves as well as the people they purport to love.
Yet the message presented by Outlander, as well as many other popular film and TV shows, can undercut such warnings. Claire finds her true love and soulmate in Jamie, despite the fact she has made a covenant oath to another man.
Outlander isn’t alone in preaching this message. Scandal, Homeland, The Good Wife and even my beloved BBC Sherlock all contain plots were we follow a main character from the arms of their spouse and into the affections, and often the bed of another.
Certainly, these shows do show some the problems that arise from such a coupling, and the complications that ensue. Yet, at the same time they are also designed to build the sexual tension between the two characters so that when they finally succumb to temptation, the audience is cheering, rather than, in the words of the proverbs, seeing the characters as having “no sense” and on a path to “destroy themselves”.
So much of the TV I consume runs in distinct contrast to the warnings in God’s word, like the one I read in Proverbs today.
What about you? Do you tune in to the TV and turn off your critical brain? Do you allow the messages of the story to dilute the true, right and lasting messages of God’s word?
God’s warnings in the Proverbs are to those who want to be wise. These are warnings we won’t be seeing on TV. What are you going to do with your viewing habits? And how will you temper them with the timeless truths of God’s word?

 

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 5: The Wise Judge

Proverbs 5:21

For your ways are in full view of the Lord,
and he examines all your paths.

If the Christian story is true – which I believe it is – and if there is an all-knowing God, he would have full knowledge of me. He would know my hidden thoughts and my secret motives. He would know my darkest shames and the impulses I hide even from myself. He’d know the good things I did for the wrong motives, and the wrong things I did with deliberate malice aforethought.

If that same God was not only good and just, but the very source of our concepts of Goodness and Justice, he wouldn’t remain good if he tolerated the way I treat others, the way I treat his creation, and the way I treat him.

Let me explain this with an everyday analogy:

We’ve all been in line at the shops and seen the interaction between a naughty kid and a too-tolerant mum. Before I became a mum myself, and realised just how hard a job it is, I’d be quick to judge that mum, thinking in my head of all the things I’d say in response to my child if he’d be so rude, so disobedient, so disrespectful.

Now, I quash those feelings pretty quickly – I’ve been there, just letting my 3 year old hit me in the face over and over while we wait in line at the checkout, knowing that the pain he’s causing me will be worse for others if I stop him and start him screaming at the top of his lungs in the middle of the supermarket. I don’t know what kind of day that mum has had, and I know I could be “that mum” in the supermarket tomorrow.

But the instinct is still there to judge the parent who doesn’t give their child the proper consequences for their behaviour.

If we expect parent to provide children with consequences when they go astray, why would we expect any less from God? Psalm 130:3 says

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?

I certainly couldn’t.

There’s a verse in 2 Corinthians that gives me great hope. It aknowledges my sin, my rebelling, every deep dark thought and action of my heart, but also shows me God’s plan for my forgiveness. Talking about Jesus, it says

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21

Some Bible scholars call this verse the “great exchange”. Jesus, the one without sin, takes on our sin in his body on the cross. If we trust in him, the God who sees all our ways and our paths, all our selfish disobedience, will also see that Jesus died to take the punishment we deserve.

This is the great good news of the Christian message, one that I have been trusting in for over 20 years. I hope you can trust in it, too.

31 Days in Proverbs – Day 4: Deceitful Hearts

Proverbs 4: 23-27

Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
Today I was struck by the poetry of this section, the way the different parts of the body are involved in the life of the wise person, and the roles each part has to play.
It starts with the heart, which is to be guarded above all else. The heart, the centre of our being, is where our truest desires come from. There is a place in my heart for the things I truly value, and those things say a lot about who I am. Of course my husband is always there, and my children, but my hopes and dreams for our family aren’t set in concrete. They shift over time. And these hopes set the path of my life – whether I’m conscious of it or not.
But while my heart is where my desires for my family lives, my heart also has a huge section in it labelled in bright bold letters – “ME!”. This is the selfish, childish, part that screams only for my own comfort.
This part is often at war with my desires for my family. Where my hope would be for my children to become well-rounded individuals, my selfish heart screams “just one more episode of Paw Patrol so I can have some peace!”. Where I worry about their attention spans and the development of their brains at this young age, my selfish heart says “just a few more minutes of computer games can’t hurt them!”
Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”. It’s no wonder then that the first steps in true wisdom is to guard it. If left unguarded, that part inside that screams for my desires, my comfort, my ease would always win. And everyone else I love would lose.
But, if the heart is beyond cure as Jeremiah says, then what hope do we have? Paul provides the answer in Philippians 4:6-7 –
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Only God can keep my deceitful heart from going astray. Only a miracle can stop my loud, selfish desires from crowding out the oft-too-quiet voice telling me the good I hope to do. Only Jesus can take my heart of stone and give me a heart of flesh, eager to live in obedience to him.
Only then will I be able to marshal the other parts of my body in line with the rest of the proverb. Only Jesus can help keep my lips free from unhelpful speech, my eyes fixed firmly on the right goals, and my feet fixed firmly on the right path, not wandering left and right into whatever temptations come my way.
If left alone to guard my heart, I’d have no chance. What great news that I’m not alone in this, that God promises to help me. All I need to do is ask.