Friday, November 6, 2015

How a Game Can Save Our Families

Some time ago I read a blog post on How the Cigar Can Save America. The post was brilliant in its simplicity. Time, this is the problem these days. Time. And time is what a cigar gives, no, forces upon you. When you smoke a cigar you have no choice but to relax and hopefully talk. When it comes to the family, I think the board game achieves the same thing.

In America, we have the iPads, iPods, phones, tablets, TV's and Computers and probably a hundred other things I have failed to list. With Netflix we can binge watch five episodes of our show and then turn on the DVR to catch the show from last night. We are only able to do that, however, if we get done with our work/school assignment and so on. Sometimes it has nothing to do with all of these things, but just the business of life in general. We are just busy.

Into this mix I would like you to take another look at board games. I think that in many ways, a board game can save our families. We have a world filled with busyness, a world filled with so much to do, whether that is entertainment or work related doesn't matter, we are too busy to talk, and to a family, this is pretty much Kryptonite. How, can we raise children if we never talk to them. How can our kids ever know we even have opinions on huge topics like God and church, how can they know, if we never say.

Yes, in a perfect world we would all gather together each night for a time of family devotion, a time of reflection and prayer, filled with God's Word. I hope that all of you take the time to do this, if not every night then at least some nights, you can start off with a simple devotion and work to fill it with more and more as time goes on. However, it does not dimish the importance of games. It does not diminish the need for moments of fun and free talk as a family. In fact, family games can do a lot to add to what you are already doing through devotions and prayer. They can add to the conversation, and they are a lot of fun to boot.

A board game forces us to sit down and enjoy one anothers company. Yes, a lot of the conversation is focused on the game, but not all of it. It can be a time to put away the computers and ipad and so on and roll the dice, flip the card and remember that it can be really nice to talk to a real person once in awhile. And on top of that, especially families with children, it can be a chance for your children to really get to know you. They can get to know you, not as the disciplinarian, not as the one always saying no, but as the loving, caring parent who is right then and there taking time to be with them.

Pick a night, grab your kids and pick up a game of Yahtzee or Scrabble, maybe a deck of cards would be best, anything but Risk, that game makes enemies (ok, I'm just joking, but seriously, that game can take days...days of awesomeness!) Sit down and have some fun as a family, and don't worry, Netflix will be there tomorrow, as will Facebook.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Pretty in Pink...or Maybe Not.

In 2012 a video shot to the top of the viral chart. It was put out by a non-profit company called, "Invisible Children." The video was about a man by the name of Joseph Kony and the atrocities of which he was committing a world away. The video was shared all over the world wide web, and the company that made the video found themselves with a more donations than they knew what to do with. The problem was that the Invisible Children, as an organization was promising only to, "to raise support for his arrest." That is to say, their goal as a company was to make people aware of him. They had succeeded with the viral video. The problem was that the money that came in was going to raise awareness and not to actually stop Joseph Kony.

Every year around this time (October) everyone puts on the pink shirt or ribbon or whatever it happens to be. The teenage boys put on the, "I heart boobies" bracelet with a little smirk on their faces and everyone supports the race for the cure. Everyone knows that Cancer is an evil thing, and everyone knows that when it comes to October, when it comes to breast cancer, the name to look up is Susan G. Komen. However, is this really about finding a cure, or is this about raising, "awareness"?

Susan G. Komen, as an organization was started when Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. And what a job she has done. In 1982 when the organization got off the ground, breast cancer wasn't even a blip on the map, now it seems that everyone is aware of it and awareness takes up the whole month of October. In 1982 early screenings and early detection were not done often enough, but things have been getting a lot better.

However, I feel that the company has lost their way. They are increasingly becoming more about, "awareness" than about finding a cure. Looking them up on Charity Navigator (a site I highly recommend you check out) you will see that nearly 80% of the donations given make it to the program, that's good right? Well, no, especially when you start to break down their expenses, what you find is that nearly 40% of their overall budget goes to, "Public Health Education"  Out of their 300 million dollar budget, only about 20% goes to actual research, however, most of the research is on early stage with few grants going to late stage cancer research.

Beyond this, companies have started to use this awareness campaign to cash in. The NFL only donates their royalties to the company. What this means is that when you buy a $100 shirt it is possible that only $11.25 makes it to Susan G. Komen. It makes you wonder about some of the other companies out there selling pink.

As Christians it is important that we strive to make the world a better place. When God blesses us with money, we can bless others and donate to organizations. It is also important that our kids and grand-kids are aware of how we as Christians use money in this sense. However, it is also important that we be diligent in making sure that we are giving to the right causes. In 1982 giving to the cause of breast cancer awareness was a big deal and something that was much needed. Is it still today? I'll let you answer that, Susan G. Komen is still a descent organization, and does what it promises, but do those promises line up with where you want your money to go? As for me, my charity of choice for the month of October is Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Not only are they a researching foundation, but according to Charity Navigator over 90 cents from every dollar donated goes to research. If you do decide to donate to Susan G. Komen this year, the pink shirts are nice, but go to their webpage and donate directly to them, they get more money that way.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Busy, Busy, Busy

It can be like watching a scene from the movies. The gears start moving, slowly at first, but with each turn they seem to get faster and faster, and faster. As the school year starts I feel like this at times. When you are looking at all the calendars and all the events, it seems like it will all be great, but as the gears start moving, it can be easy to find yourself overstretched, overburdened, and exhausted.

Once the gears start in motion it is impossible to pull them back and slow them down. There are sports, music, and other practises to get to, and don't forget that one special event, you remember, that one you almost forgot to mark on the calendar,  all of those things are coming up.

It seems like every year as I talk with parents, the busier the parents seem. Every year, more things are added, more things to make life complicated, more things to add to the busyness. And so when I come and talk to parents about teaching the faith I can understand how it might seem that I am putting just one more piece of straw on the proverbial camel's back.

However, here's the thing. It doesn't have to be a big show. When pastors, like me, talk about teaching the faith to your children, we are not asking that you have an hour long teaching session each night. Instead, we are asking you to make sure it is a part of your life in how you act, and what you say. Going to church on Sunday is a start, but what about other times? Think about how your react to a dentist. If a dentist told your child that they needed better dental hygene my guess is we wouldn't be worried that he is asking us to have a nightly teaching meeting, but we would bring it up time to time, make sure they brush two times a day and so on. When it comes to our faith this is ultimately what we are saying. You don't have to be a dentist to teach your children about dental hygene and you don't have to be a trained theologian to teach your faith to your children.

Here's a thought, the next time you are in the car taking your child to their next practice just talk about your faith. It could be as easy as talking about some of the main stories on your local news at this point, or it could just be talking about how important your faith is to you. Maybe before bed sit together and read a Portals of Prayer (devotion book.) If you don't have one, we have them at church, it takes less than two minutes.

I don't know what will fit into your schedule and what will not, only you can know that. However, I know that there are resources out there, and ways to fit talking about your faith into even your schedule. If you need other helpful ways to do this, your pastor is always a good place to start.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

More Than Just a Blog.

When I first started the MYConfirmation webpage my goal was to have a place where I could place a few things online for my Confirmation Class at St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Wausau Wisconsin. After building the site, I realized that the capabilities were more than I could have ever hoped for. However, before I had an opportunity to truly explore, I took a call to St. John's Lutheran Church in Green Valley Illinois. Needless to say, well over a year after I built the site, the first complete class is now on the site. The class is on the Gospel of Mark and has worksheets and videos. I hope to have more in the future, but it will certainly take some time. Check it out.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sometimes The Old Ways Are Better

In my mind it took an action movie to truly capture a generation. I am no psychologist and if I tried to do a break down of every generation from X, Y to Z I would find myself miss labeling someone. However, there is something in the air, there is something that I can feel that is out and about in the culture of today. I would maybe say it was American, but then again, I think a film about England captured it best.

In the movie Skyfall, the 2012 James Bond film, we see a certain move back to the, "old ways." It becomes almost a refrain throughout the movie. The ending becomes just shy of a new ways vs. old ways, and the old ways win.

I feel a similar thought going on in the culture today. I see many people returning to the old ways of doing things. Now, to be fair, most of them are doing it because they see it as a fun hobby, or healthier or what have you, but it is there. Organic food and food produced with less and less processes involved is on the rise. People are looking for specialty shops for their hobbies such as bikes and (at least in my case) brewing beer. People want to learn how to do things with their hands, and they are willing to take the time to do it right.

In many ways I feel the church should be at the forefront of this. We have a lot of things that are done in the church in which we have abandoned the old ways, and it would be nice to see some of them come back. On the other hand we have some things within the church that were never abandoned, but we often times fail to teach the next generation.

Now to be fair, not all, "old ways" need to come back. Some of them were abandoned for a reason. Let's not forget that an out house, is an, "old way" but I think I'll stick with indoor plumbing. However, others were abandoned not because a better way came about, but because a cheaper, faster way came about. With that cheaper, faster way, we also got lower quality. On top of all of this, I feel that we did away with a lot of other ways of learning in the church. When you sew the church linens yourself, it is important to understand colors and symbols, when you buy them from a catalog your pastor or secretary can make sure the correct ones are gotten without any conversation.

Each church does things just a little different, each church has their own traditions and methods in how they do things. Search through some of them, what are some of the things that you abandoned due to convenience? My guess, there are some things that were abandoned that could very easily come back. There are probably other things as well, things that will take people that are skilled. If you are fortunate enough to have those people within your church, it might be nice to ask them if they would be willing to teach others.

As people, as a church, I feel we are blessed with all kinds of people. People that really love getting into a book, people who love to work with their hands, people who just love their church. There are so many ways both old and new to get involved, I hope that as we move into the future that we also keep and eye on the past. Sometimes we could look at all the new ways, but sometimes, the old ways are better.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

He's Risen! He's Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Parents of younger children, I know that going to church can be a difficult thing. It can be hard to get up, get the kids ready and so on and get out the door in time to be in a pew before the bells ring. Once there, it can be difficult to focus. They squirm and make noises (always during the quiet pauses before the prayers and other times when you will be the most embarrassed). All of this is just the tip of the iceberg for all that goes on in your morning, so that you can get to church.

It is hard, it is difficult and I know it, but parents, I love you for it. I do, I absolutely love all the effort that you put into raising your children in the church. I love it when I see you walking into church with your kids in tow. Sometimes your hair is frazzled, probably from all the squirming going on during the service, I know, but I love you for it. You are a blessing. Your children are blessed to have such a parent as you that would take the time and the energy of bringing them to church. And you know what, the church is blessed by you as well.

I know, I know, you are afraid of the stares and the embarrassment, but trust me, it is worth it. The stares are coming from people that have been there, done that. They feel your pain, and know what you are going through. Oh, and they think your kids are adorable. The embarrassment you feel is truly unnecessary. I don't often admit this, but sometimes during those pauses when I hear a child make noise or fight with their sister or what have you...I smile. I face the Altar so no one can see it, but it's true, I smile. I smile because it is a wonderful sound, it is the sound of children hearing and seeing what the church does. They are hearing the word of God, and seeing the church in prayer. They might not understand and it may seem like that toy that fell underneath the pew is more important, but trust me, they are taking notes.

When a child cries or throws a tantrum or otherwise makes a scene, I know it can seem embarrassing. However, even in the midst of this, your children are learning and hearing. They don't get it yet, sure, they want, whatever it happens to be, to be right now!! Sure, but even so, they still hear, they still see, they still learn.

The primary reason I bring this up is two fold. The first is because I do not think it is said often enough. It's not, but it should be. The second reason is because this past Sunday was Easter, it was the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. On the third day He rose from the dead. Easter makes all the difference in the world. If Easter would not have happened, well, none of this would be important. But it did happen, He did rise from the dead. If Jesus had not been raised from the dead on that first Easter morning, His words about letting the little children come to Him, and not causing one of the little ones to stumble just wouldn't be all that important, but He did and they are.

Knowing that Christ has risen, parents, we celebrate all the more that the little ones, your children, are coming to Him. They are being drawn in through His Words, and His Sacraments. And so parents, God bless you, and thank you for always remembering that Christ is Risen! He has Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Two Minutes of Family Devotion

I realize that Youtube is influential in many arenas. Over the years however, it has grown to be quite large and videos come out a mile a minute. With that it can be hard to find good ones. I cannot claim to know all of them and there are certainly many good videos out there, but time to time I am blessed to stumble upon one.

With that I would like to embed a short minute and a half video put out by my church's publishing house (LCMS) Concordia Publishing House. In less than two minutes it gives a brief, concise, yet good understanding of Family Devotions. Well done CPH, well done.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Video Games and Legos

How do you look at education? Seriously, how do you, in general, look at education? Is it another hoop to go through before you can do what you really want? Is it something that is lifelong that never stops?

I have found that people look at education in different ways, and depending on which way you look at it, it can become something to be accomplished, or something that never ends.

To illustrate what I am saying I like to use the example of video games and Legos. For many, education, especially Christian education is like a video game. We work our way up the ladder. We learn this class and that class, and everything is determined by our skill level. Once we make it to the top, we have this big hill to overcome. In video game language, we have the big boss to do battle with. In our churches this becomes confirmation, not that confirmation is bad or negative, but it is a hill that we must overcome. After this, we are done. We have vanquished the foe, we have defeated the enemy, we have graduated the school or church. We have completed our task. And so we prepare ourselves for the sequel, the next game in the series, but there is nothing there. Some churches try to deal with this, by setting up new rewards, new accomplishments, new hills to overcome so that the student is perpetually in a cycle of earning something. The problem comes when there are no more hills to climb, no more skills to get, no more levels to win. Once we run out of things to earn, and things to complete, inevitably, we lose the person working toward that goal. What more can you offer, if they are not working toward something, then, "why work" becomes the general mentality. We see this all the time in our youth. They become confirmed and with nothing left to do, they leave.

Another way to look at education is like the toy Legos. Legos are a set of building blocks that can be pressed together. You are limited only by your imagination. However, they also come in kits. You can buy a kit that builds a certain toy, whether it's an X-Wing fighter or a tower or whatever, with the kit and instructions you can build it. Looking at education in this way, things look very different. Each class is a block, different shapes, different sizes and with that, you can have some kits (a certain set of classes) Each of these kits have all the classes needed to understand or do something in particular. Some of the parts might be parts needed for something else as well. If you want to teach a class you might need a few different classes, but if you teach on another topic, not all the classes would need to be repeated. Like blocks, each class becomes it's own, you can build upon it and use the classes to build and do what you want. There is no graduation, the rewards come with the bonus of things you can do and learn.

Even confirmation can be seen like this. There are various classes that need to be done (a kit) and once completed as church we can continue with confirmation. Looking at confirmation this way makes it a part of the overall education, and not a graduation, a goal for sure, but not an end.

Look at how your approach Christian Education. Evaluate what you do and how you do it. Are we training up video game super stars ready for the sequel, or are we giving blocks for a lifetime of education?
Yep, all Legos.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Future of Yesterday

Over the last couple weeks we have started talking about Christian Education as well as some of the problems in our current way of doing things. In this weeks post I would like to delve into some of the things we can do to curve the problems around. Right at the start I want to be clear, that there is no such thing as a silver bullet in Christian or any education system for that matter, they all have their flaws. There have been problems in past systems, there will be problems in future systems.

I should also point out that none of these ideas came out of thin air. I read books and watched what others were doing. Many of these are already being done.

The first thing that needs to be addressed is the home. It is one thing to tell parents they need to do more, it is another to give them ways to do it. I would suggest getting a class going to help parents. If you have enough volunteers maybe even train someone up in your church to be able to listen to families and some of the struggles they are going through, but get ready, we live in a messy world. In terms of having a class for the parents, there are now days about a million different things you can use, I would suggest using something called Faith Legacy by Kids Kount publishing. They separate things out by age and give you a bunch of material. On top of that, most of it is free, it cost money only if you want the physical item, the digital stuff is free on their site. (
Inter-generational activities also help to get the parents involved with doing things with their children. It is not so important that the parents are perfect, but it is important that they learn and become more comfortable with sharing their faith to their children.

The second thing that needs to be addressed is Sunday School. Now Sunday School is something that can be challenging to adjust in any regard. It is something that has been done for so long that to suggest any change can be met with a lot of resistance. I would suggest starting with simple things. Add some devotional books the students can take home and either share with the family, or the parents can read them to their children. Create times when the parents can join certain classes. Perhaps even put some studies online so that they can do some of the Sunday School lessons at home.

The important aspect of all of this is that the students and parents begin to expand their faith life beyond the walls of church and into the realm of the home, into the realm of all of their life instead of just part.

In the future I may make other suggestions and detail them out. These are simple things that can be done to really begin to help to address the issues at hand.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

It's Not You, It's Me: The Problems in Christian Education

In my last post we started talking about Christian Education. In a summary fashion, I began by identifying the topic. This week I would like to focus in on the problem, what is happening, why is it happening? If part of the problem is that we do not pay attention, then at the very least we can begin to look at these issues. 

The problem as a whole, is that children are leaving the church, they are leaving in droves, and while some return, many stay gone. According to Lifeway research approximately 70 percent of youth today will drop out of church, of those 35% will return eventually. Barna group has 59 percent that will leave permanently. No matter which statistic you look at, this is a problem. The going thought has always been that the dropout is occurring in college or high school. However according to Ken Ham and Britt Beemer in the book titled, Already Gone their studies have shown that things are even more disheartening. With over one thousand people surveyed it seems that most of our fallout is happening before high school even starts, with over 89 percent of those that will leave in a sense are, “already gone.” In fact only 11 percent of our youth drop church after high school, most of them have already decided to leave church before, but they continue to go through parental control.

Knowing statistics is nice, but the question of why is not always answered by statistics. We know we have a problem, but why do we have this problem, why are youth leaving our church, why are youth abandoning the faith?

It seems that the most consistent answer in the fray, is that parents have stopped teaching the Bible in the homes. Both books mentioned above make this as the major point of the statistics, showing other statistics to back their points. In the book Already Gone, Ham even brings in some of the statistics of the damage that Sunday School is doing.

Is this really the problem? Is the problem Sunday School? Is the problem our Bible Classes? Having read these books and others, I think the problem is not one singular problem, but several spanning out for several years. For the sake of brevity, I will handle the two mentioned above.

Sunday School: Sunday School as an educational program, is not necessarily the sole culprit, however, the use of Sunday School has led to some bad practices. All too often it is used by parents as a drop off babysitting program. At other times those teaching the classes themselves fail to study Scriptures beyond the age of the class they are teaching. The students learn through practices like these the the study itself is not that important.

Parents: Tagging along with the discussion of Sunday School, parents often times see the religious education of the children to be the responsibility of the staff/teachers at church. The problem is that in this case students only get religious education one time a week, and the students also miss religious education from the people who matter most, their parents.

Parents, while it may not seem like it, you are the most influential person in a child's life, if your faith is important to you, and you show it to them, it will be important to them as they grow up in the faith. However, how do you do it? Is there anything or anyone out there to help you? If in reading this you now would like help in your task, I would suggest talking to your pastor to start with. In the next post, I will outline a few of the things that I plan to do (and have been doing) to help to equip the parents and students for a lifetime of learning and growing in their faith.