Boys to Men

Every year in my history classes I use what I consider to be a witty journal topic to talk about our culture’s crisis of manhood.

“All women should know how to take care of children. Most of them will have a husband some day.”   -Franklin P. Jones

The students often misinterpret it at first, but it doesn’t take long before one sharp student gets it:  “Men are like children.”

Yes, indeed.   Why is it that our culture is producing so many old boys and not very many young men?  We are becoming a nation of kidults.

You know how sometimes you don’t understand something until you hear yourself say it?  As Charles Swindoll says, “Our thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.”  I felt like the Lord helped me to hit upon something in our discussion that I had not thought about in this way before—that one difference between boys and men is how they understand pleasure.

Boys seek to pleasure themselves as a way of life, while men understand what true pleasure looks like.  God designed us to build, create, develop, design, dream, organize, transform, beautify and grow.  There is another word for these things…work!  A primary source of true pleasure is to go about our God-given tasks and bring life to our God-given callings.

A character in Despicable Me 2—young, confident, tweeny Latin charmer Antonio—epitomizes this distinction.  When introducing Antonio, his father says smoothly (Nacho Libre accent on), “This is my son Antonio.  When he grows up he wants to play video games for a living” (Nacho Libre accent off).   Perfect!  This is a boy.  And while I think tween-age boys are the perfect age to begin leaving childish ways behind them, pleasure-seeking as a way of life is not surprising for boys.  But what about for adult males (“men” avoided intentionally)?

For too many males, becoming a legal adult simply means finding more sophisticated ways to pleasure ourselves.  When I asked some of the students to start dreaming a little about what they can build, create, develop, etc., one student shared his dream of playing in the NBA.  To accomplish this goal requires a tremendous amount of hard work and determination—qualities to be admired and a glimpse of what it means to grow from boy to man.  But how many NBA players have simply used this dream as a more sophisticated way to pleasure themselves? How many have left behind numerous unfathered children, broken relationships and other moral messes?

Just working hard to accomplish something is not enough to become a man.   I would argue there also needs to be a vision for furthering a cause bigger than your own pleasure.  If my student’s goal is to play in the NBA so he can be a blessing to others and give back to society in some specific way, then he will become a man in the process of pursuing that dream (I would argue that he will become so even if he doesn’t fully accomplish it).  But if playing in the NBA is simply an avenue toward fame, wealth and women, I predict he will remain largely an adolescent.  A man has learned that strength is to be employed in a life of service, and this service is a counter-intuitive path toward joy.  And until we get that, part of us never grows up.

Sadly, how few fathers today are modeling and leading their sons to grow into men?  How many fathers teach their sons to dream, build, create, organized, develop, and design?  May God “Turn the heart of our fathers to their children, and the heart of the children to our fathers.”  And thank you heroic single moms (whether married or not) who are doing your best to stand in the gap for your sons.  May God reward your sacrifice.

And Lord, please help me to teach my daughters to develop their God-given gifts in order to accomplish their God-given callings.  I have so often failed to be intentional in this.  And if they are to marry, may you be preparing young men to love them.  Give them discernment to distinguish godly men from boys. In Jesus’ name.

Day of Purity

In recognition of last Thursday’s “Day of Purity” campaign, abstinence was my journal topic for my high school history classes.    Today, I am grading my journals.  This is what one student wrote:

Thank God that we had this conversation in class, because it really changed by point of view of sex.  Now I’m really thankful because now I’m going to wait till marriage to have sex.  My mom and dad have told me a lot of times to wait and I’m going to wait because I really want to have a really good relationship with whoever I marry.

We not only talk about unplanned pregnancy, STDs, emotional trauma, etc, but also what a priceless gift it is to save yourself for that precious person God gives you to marry.  I think that part caught her imagination.  Thank you Lord.

A Different Spirit

“But because my servant Caleb as a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it” (Numbers 14:24)

Cultivating this “different spirit” of wholehearted devotion to the Lord is so difficult in today’s culture.  I watched a John Stossel video with my 6th period class yesterday about being famous.  They cited a study–most young people today would rather be a personal assistant to a celebrity than be a Senator or a CEO of a corporation.  They did “man on the street” interviews where they asked people two questions:  1) Who cured polio?; and 2) Who was Nicole Richie’s best friend?  Among older people, some knew Jonas Salk, and many didn’t know Paris Hilton. (I didn’t even know who Nicole Richie was; I had to find out from the video.)  But among the young, nobody knew who cured polio, but almost everyone knew who Nicole Richie’s best friend was.

Our media-obsessed culture, in which we vicariously live our lives through celebrities we have never met, is destroying meaning and significance in our lives.  How does a Christian live in this culture with a “different spirit?”

What Caleb did is that he saw his circumstances through God’s eyes.  He saw the same fortified cities and giants in the land they were supposed to conquer.  But He and Joshua argued with those who were afraid:

“Do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up.  Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us.  Do not be afraid of them” (Num 14:9).

He trusted the Lord to intervene in his circumstances, and acted on it.  He put himself in situations where he would be in trouble if the Lord didn’t act.  Not recklessly so, but out of obedience to God.  He remembered what God had done in the past, and trusted him to do it again.

Lord, help me to walk wholeheartedly before you.  Lord, I want to listen to your voice, and see my circumstances through your eyes.  Increase my faith.  Put a different spirit within me.  As I read the stories of your intervention and deliverance, give me the faith to believe that you will do it again.  Thank you for repeatedly doing it again in my own life.  In Jesus’ name.

What I wish I could say, part …million!

My favorite journal topics we discuss in my classes are always bittersweet for me.  Lately we’ve talked about what true love is (a choice of the will to put someone before yourself), and that relationships based purely on emotion don’t last and aren’t ultimately meaningful or satisfying, even though they feel like it in the short run.  We talked about the societal problems caused by fatherlessness, and the importance of being a good father, or marrying a man who will be a good father.  In both of these topics, I am trying to paint a picture for my students about how important character is.  If they cannot do what is right even when they don’t feel like it, and, if they marry, don’t choose someone who also can do that, they will experience sad consequences and miss tremendous blessings.

But it pains me to have to leave them there.  Just have character?  Do the right thing?  Can I even do that?  There is an emptiness in this conclusion.  None of us can do it.  I constantly need the strength of Jesus and his Holy Spirit.  It is the realization that I can’t do it on my own that leads me to humble myself at the cross and ask for help. And He is so merciful.

So even though I feel like what I have to say about relationships and families touches a lot of my students, it’s not complete.  It’s only the beginning.  What really makes relationships work is when all of those involved go to Jesus and get his strength and wisdom.  Without that, I am just giving my students a list of rules.  The law, if you will.  And that grieves me.

My prayer is that what they see in me will draw them to Christ, even if, as a public school teacher, I often can’t say what I wish I could say.

Father, please rescue my students from this child-molesting culture we live in!  Draw them in by your kindness, and show them your great love.  Bring others that know you alongside of them to show them who you are.  Any part of me that accurately reflects your character, may they see you through that.  In Jesus’ name. 

Audio from me on the Frank Pastore show

Frank was asking teachers to call in with their worst discipline story.  I felt the Lord might be giving me an opportunity, so I dialed, you can hear the rest!

Frank Pastore & David Schmus

Frank Pastore has a radio show on KKLA 99.5 in the LA area.  Frank and I were at Talbot School of Theology at the same time in the 90s.

Wisdom of John Wooden

I watched a delightful YouTube video in which John Wooden cited this verse:

No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
It’s what the teachers are themselves

Yes!

While of course I believe there is a book that can tell our youth what they should be (and so does John Wooden), what he meant by this is that teaching must be incarnational.  If we don’t live it, we cannot effectively pass it on.

I see so many teachers whose lives are a mess and who make choices they would not want their own kids or students to make.  We are all in process, and I need God’s grace for areas of needed growth in my life too.  But I know that they or I cannot pass on to our students what we are not.  We may be able to pass on what we are.

Father, grant me the grace I need to become all that you desire; not for my own sake, but for the sake of those I love and those you send me.  Help me to choose to run toward You, even when it’s hard and I want to hide.

Would rather have a grandchild

Just came across a quote by Herbert Spencer, who first posited the theory of Social Darwinism and coined the term “survival of the fittest.”  Spencer never married, but devoted his life to study and writing.  Much of his later years were consumed with the publishing of the epic Synthetic Philosophy–18 volumes which essentially represented his life’s work.

A few days before his death, “Herbert Spencer had the eighteen volumes of the Synthetic Philosophy piled on his lap, and… ‘as he felt their cold weight wondered if he would not have done better could he have a grandchild in their stead.” (from A Treasury of the World’s Great Letters, p. 360)

Ouch.  May I put into practice what I tell my students–relationship is more important than anything else.  And no other relationship is more important than the one we can have with the Lord.

The rest of the story…

I had the great privilege and honor to be the speaker at Senior Honors Night last Friday night.  I was chosen by the seniors of the student government at Los Altos.  I have been somewhat overwhelmed by the response to the message.

In my speech, I talked about how what’s important tends to get lost in the platitudes of graduation time.  Seniors need to know how real life goes, and real life doesn’t always go according to plan.  I shared about our own trials with losing our son and with my wife’s cancer.  My main point was that material success can’t be counted on, can be lost, and won’t satisfy.  What we all really need is to learn to love.  But what is love?  Is it that emotion we feel at graduation or when we are “falling in love.”  No, that is merely an aroma of it. I told the story of Robert McQuilken as an example of real love (click to get his story).  Real love involves choosing to love even when it’s hard and we don’t feel like it.  Our world is desperate for this kind of enduring, committed, beautiful love that can transform our relationships, our careers, our very lives.  Everything else in this world can be taken from us, but what we do for love remains.

I was immediately caught off guard by the response of the audience.  I was humbled and a bit embarrassed.  Not to mention the fact that I was really sick and had to duck out early.

But since then my heart has been a bit heavy.  Because I was not able (because this is, after all, a public school) to give the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is that we, in the natural, probably cannot love like Robert McQuilken.  We cannot give out that which we have not received.  What enables someone to sacrificially put others’ needs before their own without getting their needs met in return? I believe it can only be done when one has been changed by and is secure in God’s love.  The Father fills us with his love (Romans 5:5).  And the only way to access God’s love is through relationship with Christ.  Once we are “in Christ,” we have access to the resources through the Holy Spirit that enable us to live this kind of life.  Of course, not all Christians seek this to the extent that they are changed much.  But in those that do, healing, beauty, and love can flow like streams of living water.

Without God’s love filling us and it overflowing out onto others, attempts to love others sacrificially usually devolve into codependence–the need to be needed, the living out of one’s identity as a slave to others, the martyr complex.  This kind of life breeds bitterness and resentment.  “Why don’t they appreciate all I have done for them! I’ve given up everything for them!”  Codependents seek to get life by giving themselves up for others, rather than finding life in the heart of the Father.  We cannot ultimately get life through other people, but we can experience the life we get from the Father with other people, and that is what makes our joy complete. When we are tranformed by the Father’s love, the people around us become wonders rather than curses.

So if you really want to love well and get to actually eat the double-double (inside joke from my speech), pursue God and all He has for you.  Everything else will leave you wanting and will not remain.

Providentially, my pastor preached on being found in God’s love just this Sunday.  What a perfect part II to my speech.  Listen here.

Character is destiny

As we are about to inaugurate a historic new president, it is good to remember MLK Jr’s hope that blacks (and all of us) would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

In my history classes, we are covering the explosion of immigration that took place from about 1880 to WWI.  This immigrant’s story demonstrates that character is destiny.  He showed the character and values that we hold to be ‘American’ even before he came here.  And what a debt we owe to him.  (HT: Hugh Hewitt)

Marriage and divorce and public school

Today’s journal topic in class was about divorce, citing a study that suggests that children of divorce often have trouble establishing intimacy as they grow into adulthood.  Of course, real trusting intimacy is hard for anyone, especially those who have been wounded.  It was very emotional for me mostly because of what I could not say.  I gave some wisdom I have learned about marriage and divorce.  I talked a little about my own marriage and what I have learned through it.  And in one class I even pointed out that dating doesn’t prepare you for marriage, it prepares you for divorce, because it teaches people to make decisions based upon emotions rather than commitment.  In dating, you can always have one foot out the door.  And when the sparks grow dim, the other foot joins it.  What we learn is that marriage must be when the sparks finally stay.  But married folks will tell you that the sparks come and go, and if it’s just about the sparks, you are in trouble.  Committed intimacy in marriage is so much deeper and yet more real than sparks.

So when I said that, a student asked me, “So how do you prepare for marriage?”  I managed a lame, “grow your character and learn how people work.”  Oh how I wish I could have said:

“Pour yourself into Jesus!  Learn to let Him romance you and teach you what intimacy is supposed to be!  Surrender to him your choices and attitudes, learning to submit to His authority.  And let Him love you in a way that a spouse never can.  Once you have been loved by the Father through Christ, you will know better how to love someone else, putting their needs before your own.  Practice loving your family and friends like this.  Then in marriage you will also not be overly dependent upon a spouse’s love, as they are only human and cannot meet all your needs.  Then you are both free!  Free to become who God wants you to be without fear of rejection and loss.  Put the Father at the center of your life now, so he can be the center of your marriage later.”   Father, may I pursue this myself!  Knowing and doing are often so different!

But alas, I am a public school teacher.

Jeremiah 20:9:

But if I say, “I will not mention him
or speak any more in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.

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