The Grade School Economist

photo-30

There comes a point in one’s educational journey when you arrive at the realization that what you are learning, as good as it may be, isn’t the way it is in the real world. For me, that happened in my 12th grade wood shop class when I figured out that I would probably never use a table saw. I got transferred to an electronics class.

For my son, it happened this week when he brought home an economics study guide. The material on the study guide was excellent. But sadly, it isn’t being applied in today’s America.

Here are a few examples.

Study Guide: “Economics is the study of how people use resources. Natural resources are resources from God such as water, fish, and farmland.”

Today’s America: “Economics are rules that only get in the way of the government trying to give you what’s best for you. Natural resources such as water, fish, and farmland belong to the government. Never use natural resources, you selfish pig.”

Study Guide: “Producers sell goods and services.”

Today’s America: “Producers are greedy, old men who own fast food restaurants and only want to make more money so that they can golf more. They have no compassion for their hard working, completely non-greedy minimum wage employees who go on strike every two weeks because they want more money to spend on video games.”

Study Guide: “A budget shows how much you earn and spend.”

Today’s America: “A what?”

Study Guide: “Savings can be used for sudden expenses.”

Today’s America: “Credit cards are used for sudden expenses. Or, in the case of the federal government, money printing machines are used for sudden expenses. Either way, it’s free money. Savings accounts are only for those greedy fast-food restaurant owners.”

Study Guide: “People earn an income by working.”

Today’s America: “People earn an income by watching Judge Judy, having kids, developing a drug addiction, creating art that they could never sell without the aid of the government, having more kids, getting their own reality show, voting for people who promise to increase their wages for doing nothing and having kids. Anything but work. Oh, and did I mention having kids?”

Study Guide: “Prices of items are determined by the supply and demand.”

Today’s America: “Prices of items are determined by the government after they establish a monopoly by bailing out their ‘too big to fail’ corporate buddies and forcing the small, private producers out of business.”

Study Guide: “Wants are things that people would like to have.”

Today’s America: “If I want it, I have a right to it. And if I can’t afford it, someone else has to pay for my right to whatever it is that I want. Now give me my smart phone!”

Study Guide: “A factory is a place in which people use machines to make goods.”

Today’s America: “A factory is a place where people once used machines to make goods. But then it had to shut down because the owner of the factory couldn’t afford the new federally mandated insurance plans and the mandatory minimum wage increase. A factory is now something in another country where small children are used to make goods.”

I didn’t learn economics until the 9th grade. My son is learning it before he turns ten years old. I couldn’t believe it when he came home and showed me his study guide. That night, I even brought it to bed with me to read again.

I’m thinking about mailing it to the folks up in D.C.

Are Your Kids Killing You?

photo-28

Do you ever feel like you’re going to have a stroke if your kids don’t quit fighting with each other? You keep correcting them. And you do it in a loving way. You measure out discipline that is just and beneficial but it doesn’t seem to be working. They still fight. In a way, you sort of hope that the nervous twitch in your eye gets worse so that you can show them what they did to you. Maybe then they will learn.

Does it ever seem like you are holding a press conference? One question after another. Each kid on his own quest for more information. And you are the search engine. You want your son to know about the inner workings of stuffed crust pizza. You really do. You’re glad that he is inquisitive. But why does he have to ask you now, in traffic? And why do your other kids have to ask you their own questions at the same time? Google only has one box for questions. Apparently, you have 600.

Is your schedule a mess? Are you and your spouse forced to constantly make adjustments in order to make it to work on time or just to get in a quick workout? Do you ever wonder about all of the time and money you could be saving if you didn’t have to drive your kids to school and practices? How much extra work could you have gotten done yesterday if you didn’t have to take your oldest son to the doctor and drink pretend tea with your daughter?

Are your kids stressing you out? Does it feel like they’re taking years off of your life?

Congratulations. That probably means that you’re doing your job well.

One of the great mistakes parents make is assuming that the job of training children to be responsible adults will be easy. It’s as if we think that the goal of parenting is a drama free 18-years, a college scholarship, a nice wedding, a good job and plenty of grandkids that visit often but never for too long?

The job of a parent is never easy. Unless of course, we decide to contract our job out to others.

I used to live in a town with a 24-hour daycare center. 24-hours! Now that’s easy parenting.

That’s the danger of our assumption. When our job gets tough, we tend to withdraw. Sure, we may say that it’s because we have to work in order to provide for our family but at the core, that work can be nothing more than an escape from our harder job. The job of parenting. So long kids. Hello 24-hour daycare center.

But there’s another danger. If my kid is constantly asking questions, fighting with her sister or drawing on the wall, it must be because she has some sort of condition. To be fair, there are real conditions that impact a child’s behavior. But there are also make believe conditions that serve no other purpose than making doctors and drug companies rich and your job of parenting a little less difficult. And hey, isn’t it so much easier to parent an over-medicated zombie than an actual child?

Parenting is fun. And rewarding. But it can also be hard. If you’re doing your job well, it will be hard. There will be days that you miss a workout or show up late for work with your hair all messed up and vomit on your sleeve. There will be times when you will have to sacrifice the ever popular “Me Time” from your schedule.

Your eye will twitch.

Your chest may even hurt.

But it will be worth it. It will be worth it when you stand next to your little girl to place her hand in the hand of her future husband and tell the minister, “Her mother and I.” And you will say that with no regrets.

When your daughter is out of the house, you will know that you gave it your all when she was living with you. You skipped meetings so that you could drink imaginary tea. You answered ridiculous questions about stuffed crust pizza. You traded in your “Me Time” routine for her bedtime routine.

And it cost you.

Maybe even a few years of your life.

But that’s what love does. It puts aside personal gain for the good of another.

What’s the point of living a long and comfortable life if it’s not spent doing that?

Look For Us In Lavonia

photo-27

My wife and I went on a date. I decided to take her to an auction. She married up.

I couldn’t wait to bid on something. There aren’t many better ways to impress your wife than by outbidding some other fellow at an auction.

Some other fellow: “$120.00.”

Me: “$120.50.”

Fast-talking auctioneer: “Sold! To the well-dressed man with the clearly impressed wife.”

Before we sat down we were given a fan. Actually it just looked like a fan. It was a big piece of paper with a number on it stapled to one of those sticks you use to mix paint. I couldn’t wait to put it into action.

The first item up for bid was a book.

The auctioneer got things off to a fast start.

“Who’ll give $300 for this book?”

A book?! $300? Not me.

I didn’t touch my auction fan. Plenty of other people raised theirs. Several copies of that book went for $300 a piece.

That’s when I knew that this wasn’t my kind of auction. It was nothing like the last auction I went to.

The last auction I went to was in Lavonia, Georgia in a building where they fix tractors during the week and host auctions and/or professional wrestling on the weekends. It was the kind of auction where people bid on paintings of Dale Earnhardt hugging Jesus. My friend Richie and I were wearing camouflage. We were the best dressed folks there.

I laughed at the people who were there. But it was the sort of laughter you have when your brother falls up the stairs. The way you laugh at your own kind.

The auction I went to with my wife was different. This time I felt like I was the one being laughed at.

We walked away empty handed. So much for impressing my wife by outbidding some other fellow. That’s kind of hard to do when I’m thinking about spending $8 on a rug for the bathroom with a picture of Tupac and Elvis on it and the other fellow just laid down 4.2 million for a trip to Paris to eat snails with some prince. Or maybe it was with Prince. Whatever.

On our way home we stopped at Ingles. That’s the place where people in the south stop on their way home from my kind of auctions. Well, there or the Waffle House. We were buying cookies for us and snacks for our kids soccer game the next morning. Later that night, after the kids were in bed, my wife and I ate cookies and watched a movie.

That’s when I remembered that everything I could ever want was sitting right next to me. And she doesn’t need a trip to Paris to eat dinner with Prince to impress her. But man, it would still be nice to have that bathroom rug with Tupac and Elvis on it.

This weekend, look for us in Lavonia, Georgia.

Excusing Our Kids To Death

photo-26

We’re good at finding someone to blame for the problems in our lives. We’re not so good at finding the right someone to blame.

Consider the following scenario.

Jimmy and his friends decide to skip school. They spend the day smoking weed, watching porn and watching reruns of Blossom. By 10 that morning, Jimmy and his friends are bored so they walk around town in search for something fun. Their journey takes them to a convenience store with a small, old man behind the counter and cold beer in the cooler.

The boys see an opportunity. Two of them grab as much beer as they can while Jimmy distracts the old man behind the counter. Jimmy, not being able to focus on any task for more than 26 seconds, fails at his attempt to distract the clerk. The old man sees Jimmy’s two friends running for the door with 12-packs under each arm and tries to stop them.

As the old man moves toward the door to stop the thieves, Jimmy grabs the man by the shoulder. When the old man tries to pull away, Jimmy tightens his grip. This leads to what Jimmy’s court appointed attorney would later call “a scuffle.” The scuffle escalates and both Jimmy and the old man fall to the ground.

Jimmy notices that the old man is no longer putting up a fight. Later on, Jimmy would learn that the clerk hit his head on a shelf and the floor during the fall. For now, Jimmy just runs away, leaving the old man to die which he did an hour or so later in the back of an ambulance on his way to the hospital.

The story is all over the news. One of the local TV stations interviews Jimmy’s mother and she says the following.

“This doesn’t sound like something my baby would do. He just fell in with the wrong crowd.”

We cringe when we hear those words from a mother who never even considers that perhaps her baby is the wrong crowd.

But in smaller, more socially acceptable ways, many parents do the same thing again and again. After coming face to face with our children’s shortcomings, moral failures, stupidity or all of the above, we cast the blame. It’s what we’re good at.

Another scenario.

Kyle struggles in school. He can’t sit still for more than two or three minutes. He ignores simple commands from his teacher. Last week, he bit another kid on the playground. On his way to the principal’s office, he bit the teacher. In the principal’s office, you guessed it, he bit the principal. The people over at the county detention center have been so kind to fit him with one of those Hannibal Lecter masks.

This time there are no camera’s from the local news in front of the mother. So she tells her story to anyone who will listen. It’s a story about a teacher who didn’t give Kyle the kind of attention he needed, a school that didn’t cater to his learning style, a football coach who never gave him a chance to play quarterback and a principal who should have remembered to give Kyle his anti-biting medicine.

So mom decides that it’s time for Kyle to change schools.

The next move will be Kyle’s fourth change since he began going to school.

Kyle is in kindergarten.

When we constantly make excuses for our children, we are forgetting two things. First, our kids are sinners. I know, that sounds terrible. Especially when they’re so cute. But try putting two cute kids in a room with one cute toy. Scratch that. Put two cute kids in a room full of hundreds of cute toys. Their sin will show up about 20 seconds into their cute little play date.

The second thing we forget is that we are not perfect parents. None of us. Even the lady who tells you in so many words through her Facebook account that she is the perfect parent is not a perfect parent. That’s because she’s a sinner too. Just like her kid. The half-eaten piece of forbidden fruit does not fall far from the tree.

When I remember that my kids and I need the gospel, instead of running to blame everyone else, I’ll do the hard work of pulling the giant plank out of my own eye before addressing the slightly larger plank in my kid’s eye and then whatever, if anything, my kid’s teacher may have in hers. The gospel frees me to do that. It allows me to come to grips with the fact that I’m not a perfect parent and my kid is not a perfect child.

There is no pill or new school that can fix that.

Only grace can redeem our imperfections while at the same time helping us to pursue excellence.

Unless we come to grips with our own sin and God’s grace, we will continue in the cycle of blame. It will always be the wrong crowd, the wrong school or the wrong coach but never my kid’s wrong behavior or my wrong parenting.

Most parents are good at casting blame.

But we need a little work on our aim.

What Every Kid Needs To Hear But Most Parents Aren’t Saying

photo-24

Words can hurt and they can heal. Sometimes, the most healing words are the ones that are the most painful to hear.

Every parent wants their kids to be happy. Some parents, focused only on the short term, give their kids anything they want and finance any dream those kids may have, all in the pursuit of happiness. So instead of parenting, these moms and dads act more like banks, motivational speakers and buddies.

Other parents, realizing that true, long-term joy and instant happiness are different things, have their vision set on the future. In order to give their kids what’s best for them, they’re willing to say what their kids don’t want to hear.

These are the parents who are saying what most parents aren’t. And make no mistake, the words and phrases you are about to read can be very painful for a child. In the moment. But in the future, when your babies are trying to navigate their way through adulthood, words like these will be their compass.

“We can’t afford it.”

When you give your kid everything he wants, whenever he wants it, you are doing more than spoiling your kid. You are setting him up for a life of disappointment. And, most likely, debt.

Nothing is free. That’s one of the first lessons of economics and it should be one of the first lessons every kid learns about money. Sadly, many kids know that they are just one request, or fit of rage, away from their latest desire. The parent who gives in to this manipulation is teaching his child that desire rules the day, regardless of how much that desire costs.

“You lose.”

Your kid will probably go nuts when she hears this. Good. Treat that as a golden opportunity to train her how to handle defeat. If she grows up to be a Georgia Tech fan, it’s a lesson that will come in handy every November.

Everyone loses. It’s best to come to grips with that when you’re six and playing your dad in a game of Battleship than when you’re 17 and you just found out that the admissions committee at Harvard doesn’t like you as much as your parents do.

“This isn’t your thing.”

A successful high school baseball coach was telling me about one of his newest players. The new player wanted to play a position that was already filled by a veteran who happened to be all-region. Before the first practice the new player informed his coach that he deserved to play this position more than the all-region veteran.

I asked my friend, the head coach, why this new kid felt this way.

“His dad made him think that he was better than he really is.”

This isn’t just a sports problem. Our refusal to give any negative critiques to our children is producing a generation of teens and young adults with self-esteem through the roof and ability that’s still somewhere down in the basement.

Every kid needs to be told, “This just isn’t your thing.” He’ll either get mad and find something else to pursue or get mad and try harder. Either way, he’ll get mad. But either way, he’ll be better off in the long run.

This goes against the grain in a society that teaches kids to follow their dreams, no matter how unrealistic those dreams may be. But remember the words of Bob Dylan. “In order to dream, you’ve got to be asleep.” Kids need parents who care enough to wake them up and lovingly tell them, “Maybe this just isn’t your thing. Let’s try this instead.”

“Do it anyway.”

I noticed something when I became a new father. People love to hold babies. More than that, people love to be the one who gets the credit for rocking a fussy child to sleep.

For some parents, this never ends. Every scraped knee is an opportunity for parental care, comfort, an ER visit, a piece of candy and a grassroots campaign against the concrete company that had the audacity to put a sidewalk that close to a playground.

Care and comfort are vital but kids also need to be told to get up and try again. Even when they’re scared or hurt.

When we cater to their every fear and worry, we are leaving our children dangerously ill-equipped to handle a world that doesn’t get any less scary as they age.

Hug your kid and pray with her when she’s scared. Tell her you love her. Remind her that Jesus is in control. But then, as quickly as possible, send her back to her bed, her bike, the diving board or whatever particular fear is trying to get the best of her. Rest assured, if you don’t do something to stop it, that’s just what her fear will do. Get the best of her.

Words are powerful. They can hurt and they can heal. Some of the most hurtful words are those which were never spoken.

Something For Your Kids To Watch

photo-23

Being a parent is hard. Kids have a way of reminding you of your shortcomings. So you try to surround yourself with resources and people that will help you to be a better parent. And you pray a lot. For nearly ten years now I’ve been getting help from God, older and wiser dads and books. But last weekend I got a helpful reminder from an unexpected source.

Daffy Duck.

I watch TV with my kids. One of our favorite shows is The Looney Tunes Show. It’s the Cartoon Network’s new spin on the original featuring the voices of Portlandia’s Fred Armisen and Kristin Wiig of Despicable Me fame. It’s hilarious. For all of the bad that comes with it, TV can be good for creating a few memorable laughs. When I watch The Looney Tunes Show with my boys, we laugh a lot.

Last Sunday morning my kids watched a new episode while I was in the other room. I could hear the voices of Daffy and Bugs along with the usual cartoon sounds. But there was one sound that was missing.

Laughter.

I just assumed that it was a bad episode. Maybe it was one where the writers tried to tackle the tough issues and gave Porky Pig a drug problem. Sort of like that terribly awkward episode of Diff’rent Strokes where Arnold and Dudley meet their creepy new neighbor.

Long after the show was over we were sitting in our car in our church’s parking lot. As we pulled into the space and I put the car in park, my wife asked a question.

“Boys, how was your cartoon this morning?”

“Good.”

“I didn’t hear you laughing very much. Was it not all that funny?”

This is the part where the parenthood lesson comes in.

“We didn’t know when to laugh since dad wasn’t watching with us. We always just laugh when he does.”

Being a parent isn’t about being perfect or always having the right thing to say at just the right time. In a lot of ways, it’s about giving your kids someone to watch. And it’s not a matter of if your kids are watching. The real question is this. What are they seeing when they watch you?

Worry?

Fighting?

Selfishness?

Laughter?

Your kids want to know more than what you find funny. They are looking to see how you deal with stress, what you worship and how you love. In their minds, they are taking notes. Later on, they will refer to those notes when they encounter those same issues for themselves.

A few months ago I had my wisdom teeth pulled. My kids didn’t know what to think when I came home with two wads of bloody gauze in my mouth. They wondered why I wasn’t eating like I normally do. After a week or so, when I was back to normal, we were processing the ordeal over dinner.

My wife asked one of my sons if he was afraid to get his wisdom teeth pulled when he gets older.

“I was,” he said confidently. “But then I saw how dad handled it and now I think I’ll be okay.”

Good parents never stop learning and asking for help. Prayer, books and advice from wiser parents are all parts of the routine. But parents, whether good or bad, are teachers as well.

When we worry endlessly, we teach our kids that we are all just victims of chance with no real hope for the future. When we face our worries with prayer and confidence, we are teaching our kids that God is big and compassionate and worthy of our trust (Psalm 140:12-13).

When we stand at a distance, never showing any emotions other than anger or frustration, our kids get a lesson in holding it all in for as long as possible. But when they see us laugh and cry, they learn that “for everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

When we can’t find anything good to watch on TV, we turn it off. But our kids do not have that option in the home. Their eyes are trained to look in your direction millions of times throughout the day. They can’t help but watch you.

That can be intimidating. Even overwhelming. Like I said, parenting is hard and has a way of exposing our weaknesses. Thankfully, God’s grace is sufficient. But there is still one question that every parent must answer and it has nothing to do with TV.

Am I giving my kids something good to watch?

Murder And The Sunday Sermon

photo-5

Cops.

Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.

Your local six o’clock news.

If you can somehow manage to get through life without making an appearance on one of those shows, you’ve done alright for yourself. Your parents should be proud. Thursday evening, when I turned on my television, I saw two people from my church on one of those shows.

It reminded me of the importance of my job.

I live in a safe part of the world. A few weeks ago, some organization released a list of the safest towns in the state of Georgia. Mine was near the top of the list. Ours isn’t a violent community. There aren’t many serious crimes. No one gets murdered.

That all changed earlier this week.

The kid wanted to go to the store so that he could buy a pack of cigarettes. He asked his grandmother for a ride. When she said no he beat her to death with a baseball bat.

An 18-year-old kid, charged with beating his own grandmother to death. In our safe town.

News trucks from the Atlanta stations were here Thursday. Unless a tornado or an ice storm comes through, Atlanta news stations stay out of our town. There’s nothing to report. Nothing here can compete with the violence and corruption that has become a way of life 45 minutes up the road from our quiet and safe part of the world.

The two people from my church were just doing their job when I saw them on TV Thursday night. They both work in our legal system. There’s another man too. He didn’t make it on the news but he had to be among the first at the crime scene. All three people were just doing their jobs. Jobs they’ve been doing for a while. Jobs they do well. But still, when they sat in our sanctuary last Sunday, they didn’t know what the week held for them. They didn’t know that they would have to deal with an 18-year-old charged with murder. Not in our safe town.

When I saw them on the news, I hoped that they were okay. That they were prepared for coming face to face with total depravity like this. I knew that they would do their job well. I only hoped that I was doing mine well.

The people I preach to each week need more than life principles. They need more than an encouraging word to help them get through the week. They need to be reminded that sin has corrupted our world. They need to be pointed to the King who has conquered that corruption. I’m guessing that it can be tempting to question the goodness of God when you’re looking at a woman’s blood splattered on her wall.

I’ve been preaching though Esther. There’s a lot of bloodshed, corruption and depravity in that book. Words like God, Jesus and Holy Spirit are not mentioned in the entire book. But the presence of God is clearly seen on every page.

A lot like today.

It may be easy to question the presence of God at a crime scene or a court hearing. But just like in Esther’s day, Jesus is present (Matthew 1:23). He is good (Psalm 119:68). And he is in control (Colossians 1:15-19).

That’s one of the reasons why I take preaching so seriously. Each week, I stand before a group of people who are facing the unexpected. I don’t want them to go into the dark world we all live in with my life principles or emotional manipulation. They need something stronger.

And that’s why the preacher’s job is so important.

Each sermon and each counseling session should serve as a reminder to our people that, as we try to navigate our way through the shifting sands of this sin sick world, our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

I can’t wait to preach this Sunday.

 

Parents, Stop Raising Dumb Jocks

photo-22

The kid with the most points would be the winner. In spite of his efforts, when the game was over, my son finished way behind the other kids. Way, way behind. Detroit Lions behind.

I think it was his finest athletic accomplishment.

The object of the exercise was to jump over more obstacles than anyone else in the allotted time. Each player had to keep track of his own score. After a minute or two, when the game was over, he had to tell that score to the coach.

“Billy, how many did you jump over?”

“753.”

“Wow! How about you, Shawn?”

“754.”

It was clear that these kids had a bright future working as accountants for the mafia. Or Congress. Or both.

It came time for my son to answer his coach’s question.

“How many did you get?”

“20.”

My son gave an honest answer and I was a proud father. It was like my son was just named to the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team. Wait. Is that an honor? You get the point.

We’ve all been told that sports builds character. That’s a lie. Most often, sports builds characters. The character building is the job of parents. We can use sports as a tool but we must never use sports as our replacement. If we do, we will soon find out that we have raised dumb jocks instead of men and women of character.

Developing your kids into men and women of character is hard work. Sometimes it requires being the bad guy. It always requires teaching your child that there are things that are much more important than statistics. Things like truth.

Raising a dumb jock is easy. The majority of your work is done for you by your child’s sport and his coach. All you have to do is drive the car to practices and games. But if things go your way, you won’t have to pay for your kid to go to college. And that’s what it’s all about, right? We’re just trying to give our kids the best opportunities possible. Opportunities that we never had. What’s the harm in that?

How quickly we forget.

Every year there’s a news story about an athlete cheating, fathering 12 kids from 11 different mothers, hiding the beaten body of one of those mothers in the trunk of his car and driving a scooter through town with a blood alcohol content of 1.0. And that’s just at Auburn University.

Opportunity, it appears, can be overrated.

A former Buffalo Bills running back had plenty of opportunities. But that didn’t keep him from murdering his wife and another man. Allegedly.

The Atlanta Hawks franchise leader in steals had opportunities. Again, those opportunities didn’t help him to avoid getting drunk, slamming into another car and killing a mother of five.

Opportunities are great. I want my kids to have them. But if I haven’t first done the hard work of character development, my sons will not be ready when those opportunities arrive. Opportunity, in the hands of a dumb jock, is a dangerous thing.

One day our sons and daughters will stop playing. Even if they reach the highest level possible in their particular sport, they will still have to make the long walk down from that mountain top. That’s the thing about sports. Everyone walks away. From the eighth grader who didn’t make the team to the 12-time All Star who can’t raise his arm above his head anymore, there comes a time when every athlete realizes that he’s no longer good enough.

And that’s where the job you did as a parent all those years ago really comes into play.

When your kid walks away from his sport, will he do so as a dumb jock or as a man of character?

A dumb jock who has spent all of those ever important opportunities he heard so much about from his parents when he was a kid is headed for an identity crisis.

But a man of character is different. Because of what his parents taught him, he will know going in that there are many things in life bigger than the game. When the time comes, he’ll teach those things to his own kids. He’ll be there on the sidelines watching them put those lessons into practice.

And he’ll be proud.

Even if his kids come in last place.