Limits and Freedom

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A funny thing happened to me during Lent this year. I learned that freedom comes from limits.

Giving things up for Lent was supposed to be about depriving myself. I was doing it not to impress God, but to remember that Christ fasted for forty days in the desert. He overcame temptation. He suffered, because he loves you and me. So I gave up two things that I knew I would miss. Deserts and non-work related use of the internet. Why? Not because these things are evil, but because I have a sweet tooth and I’m a hopeless information junkie. I knew I would feel it and I did.

It was rough for the first couple of days. I didn’t know how to sit still after dinner. My computer called out to ease my boredom, but was too competitive to give in.  Besides, my daughter was taunting me, “you’re not going to let Jesus down are you?”  The rest of my family insisted on going on a baking spree, for all forty days of Lent. Smells of cakes and chocolate chip cookies wafted through the house. It nearly drove me crazy.

So I counted down the days until Easter, which had become for me more than a celebration of the resurrection, it was about getting out of jail. But when the day came something funny happen. The internet and deserts just didn’t do it for me anymore. A changed occurred during those forty days that I hadn’t noticed until it was over. I was calmer. I had more time. I wasn’t stressed at the state of American politics. I was enjoying my kids more. I was enjoying a spurt of creativity. I still liked chocolate, but it didn’t own me like before. Out of my self-imposed limits had come a surprising freedom.

We used to think freedom was a life without limits. But I’m beginning to believe that freedom is impossible without limits. Remember the blizzard of ’78 (for those of you who are old enough)? Who of us doesn’t look fondly to the days we were without power? We got outside. We met our neighbors. We built snow forts with our families. We don’t lament the loss of the TV. Those were days of freedom made possible by the limits of going without power.

Then I think about my children. The prevailing wisdom for parents lately is driven primarily by fear. It goes something like this: “The world is a cutthroat place, if you don’t give your child every opportunity and experience, they will get left behind.” Or how about its cousin, “if you don’t fill their lives with activity, they’ll get into trouble.” This drives us all and what happens? We become slaves to our schedules. We eat fast-food meals in our cars as we race to after-school activities, sporting events and dance classes. Are these things evil? Absolutely not, but without limits, it stops feeling like freedom. It begins to feel like slavery.

What about technology?  Television, internet, game systems and social media are evil in themselves, but without limits, we become slaves to our machines and our creativity becomes dulled. Growing up I spent prodigious amounts of time playing outside. Sports leagues were limited to one baseball season with games on Saturday (some of us could have used the direction), but we became creative within the economic limits that we lived with. It gave us the freedom to invent games like stickball (until neighbors’ windows got broken), wall ball, skullsies (a game with bottle-caps played on blacktop), kill the carrier (it was as violent as it sounds) and running bases. Limits didn’t deprive us, they became a door to creative freedom.

It is harder today, because so much more is available: technology, sports and education. It is so hard to say no, so we tend to say yes to everything. But I’ve been learning as a father that when you say ‘yes’ to the good things, it becomes impossible to say ‘yes’ to the most important things. Without limits, the freedom to simply be a family and enjoy each other begins to erode. Eternal things like the gospel and the hope of heaven are crowded out. Suddenly, your children are ready to leave home and you wonder where the time went.

What limits are you willing to try in order to cultivate creative freedom in your children and to create the space for the most important eternal things? What have you tried? Share them with us and post a comment to this blog. I need ideas and I’d love to hear from you.


What do you tell your children?

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Ever ask the question: how much of my past failures do I share with my children? I ask that question all the time and despite not have a clear answer to that question, I’ve done it. Sometimes it worked well. I was able to confront my child’s sin, by telling a story of my own failure. It helped take the edge off that confrontation and opened the door to some real dialog. Then there have been times where it has come back to bite. “Why can’t I _________, you used to do it!”  You’ve been there I’m sure.

So I have tried to be as honest as my courage would allow me.  I followed my gut, and to some degree we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s direction in all aspects of parenting. You can’t raise children with a manual. You need wisdom. There are times when you need to take a risk. There are other times that you need to hold your tongue. I don’t want to overlook that. But I still wondered if there was any wisdom out there that would help me understand why, as a parent, I should reveal details of my life to my children.

I was reading Psalm 78 the other day and to my surprise I discovered that the Scriptures do speak to this question. The psalm opens with a challenge directed towards adults, parents, and the older generation.

What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord …  so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (Psalm 78:3-6)

It’s quite a vision. We will share God’s story with the next generation so that they in turn will tell their children. I find that a compelling vision as we see the majority of children who grow up in the church, leave the church when they become adults.

But what sort of story do we tell them? This is where Psalm 78 gets interesting. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness peppered with scenes of Israel’s colossal failures. There is the time when God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt. The rescue is dramatic as God destroys the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea, but days later when the food runs low ungrateful Israel snarls, “that’s great … but can God spread a table in the desert?” God strikes the rock and water flows out and Israel retorts, “can he also give us food?” God gives them manna from heaven, but Israel wants meat. Time after time a faithful God comes through for his people and each time Israel spurns his grace.

So God changes tactics. He sends judgment was a warning for his people to return to him. Those warnings go unheeded and so more judgment comes. Finally the people in desperation cry out to God and God forgives and saves his people each and every time. The story has a distinctive rhythm. A faithful God blesses his people. His unfaithful people spurn his grace. God sends judgment. The sinful people ignore God’s warnings until the suffering becomes unbearable and they are forced to cry out to God. The faithful God hears them and saves them. The story Israel told cast God as the hero and ourselves as the villain. Why? Because the Israelites wanted their children to learn from their failures and fall in love with the hero.

What if the gospel stories we told our children took the same shape? What if we shared family stories of God’s faithfulness and spoke of our failures?

I have a real problem with anger and low and behold some of my kids do too. I’m shocked. My wife isn’t. It is one of my most destructive sins and yet God has used it in some of the most powerful moments with my children. “I saw you lose it the other day, let me tell I have hurt other people with my anger.”  My child looks at me not as someone who is critical, but as a loving father who longs for them to be rid of this burden. The defenses come down and we’ve had a real opportunity to talk about the grace and mercy of God. Sometimes you can’t appreciate God’s love until you’ve really failed.

There was one moment when one of my children exclaimed through gritted teeth, “I can’t not be angry.” And I by the grace of God was able to say, “that is why we need Jesus.”

Relationships and Marriage. We’ve had it easier than our children.

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Wedding RingsWe may be tired of hearing about economics; now everything seems to be about money and “It’s the economy, stupid” is being preached by both parties as we prepare for another election. Interestingly enough, this article, first printed in Christianity Today takes an economic look at relationships between young women and men and “how much” is involved.

It is well worth the read, if you have youth in your care. The author, Mark Regnerus, is a prof on a college campus with an open heart and open ears to hear what is going on between men and women and their sexual behavior. He has seen a great shift, a change in what goes on, what is allowed, what is expected. And he is trying to let us know so that we can prepare those we love, who are forced to make decisions; who need to be ready for a sexual climate that has changed and is changing.

Please read this – if you have sons or daughters in high school or older and talk about it (as parents) and decide how to have “that conversation” with your youth. They are growing up in a different world that we grew up in; the fences are in a different place now, they have moved way out, there is a lot more pressure.

Sex Economics 101
Mark Regnerus, the early-marriage sociologist, shares his latest research on young adults’ sexual attitudes and behavior.

Let Nate, or Larry or Mark know if you want to talk about any of this – and mostly pray for our young people, and the decisions they are making that will have a profound effect upon their futures.


Mark Gelinas

Celebrating Lent with your Family

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Unlike most people in our church, I did not grow up Catholic so Lent was an unknown to me until I became an adult. For those of you who did, you might remember the traditions of eating fish on Fridays or giving up something for Lent like chocolate, or television (God forbid), or your smart-alec brother who declared that he was going to give up homework. Not many parents in an evangelical church like ours give serious thought to celebrating Lent, but that is exactly what I would like you to consider.

Contrary to some of our experiences, Lent is not a “works thing”, an attempt to win God’s favor by offering him a sacrifice. You know, if you give up chocolate then God will cause your kids to behave. If you make the supreme sacrifice and give up Dunkin’ Donuts coffee or gasp, the Red Sox, well you can expect God to provide with the funds to go on that cruise you always wanted to.  If that was what Lent was about, I wouldn’t want to celebrate it either.

Lent, at its heart, is about what Christ has done.  It is not about what we do. Immediately after Jesus was baptized, the gospels tell us that he as driven out into the desert where he fasted and was tempted by Satan for forty days. For this reason, Lent runs for forty days beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending with Good Friday and Easter. The season of Lent was created to remind us of what Jesus did for us during those forty days.

He entered the desert. He went without food. He was tempted by Satan. He overcame that temptation and he did it for us.  That is the essence of Lent. And it is a part of the gospel we often forget. We remember the fact that Jesus died for our sin.  He bore our punishment so that we might be forgiven. But that is only half of the gospel. A fuller understanding of the gospel is something like this:

  • Jesus died the death that I should have died so that I might live.
  • Jesus lived the life that I should have lived, but didn’t, so that I might receive the blessings of God he earned for me.

When we remember this, Lent takes on a whole new meaning. We give stuff up for Lent, not to impress God, but to remind ourselves of all that Jesus gave up for us. When I give up something I crave, I remember the hunger pains that Jesus experienced in the desert as he resisted Satan’s temptations for me.

So with this new understanding in mind, think about how you could incorporate these simple Lenten traditions in the life of your family.

Giving up and Taking on

Robert Webber in his book, Ancient-Future Time, makes the point that Lent was never solely about giving something up, it was giving something up in order to take on something important. It is about simplifying in order to create room for us to connect to God and to love our neighbor. That’s why for thousands of years, the church encouraged its members to fast (give something up), pray AND give to the poor (take on something good).


Encourage each person in your family to give up something significant for the season of Lent. It could be something that costs you money (deserts, McDonald’s, Chuck-E-Cheese, coffee) or time (video games, Facebook, television, sports watching).  Remind your family that we don’t do this to get God’s love, rather it reminds us of the love that drove Jesus to give up food for forty days and the temptation he overcame for our sakes.

Prayer and giving to the poor

As was said before, Lent is not simply about giving up something, it is giving up in order to create space to take on something good. As your family gives up significant things during Lent, there will be time freed up and money that will be saved. Ask your children to find a local charity or a needy family that you could contribute time and money to.

There are a lot of great local option. Here are a few: A Woman’s Concern, Mobile Loaves and Fishes, the Tolupan Project, the Branch Community Supper (Soup Kitchen in Fall River – see the deacons).  If you have a great local charity share it with us by posting a comment.

Sharing your ideas

Do you have any ideas for families that you would like to share? Post a comment. We’d love to hear from you.

Changing a Child’s Life through Child Sponsorship

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Did you know that nearly 22,000 children die every day, most due to things that can be prevented like hunger, disease, and poverty? Did you also know that nearly 72 million children do not attend school? Child sponsorship is a way to for you to make a real and lasting difference for a special boy or girl in need. My family sponsors a little girl from Ecuador named Marianela. Marianela will turn 17 in July and I have been sponsoring her since she was 8 years old. I have been able to see her grow up. Because of my sponsorship she receives Christian education, medical check-ups, health education, nutritious foods, field trips, and homework help. When I hear statistics like the ones you just read I think to myself, “Not my little girl!” My family has been able to help Marianela by removing the obstacles that poverty has put in her path. We also get to have a relationship with her through the letters that we write. She always draws me a picture on the back of all the letters and those are special to me.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. As a sponsor for $35 per month you’ll demonstrate God’s love and transform a child’s life! God tells us in Matthew 18:5 that “whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes Me.” He also tells us in Ephesians 2:10 “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Please pray and see if God is calling you to become a child sponsor.

I would like to share a short story about a family in Ethiopia whose lives were changed by sponsorship. Tsehay, 7 lives in Ethiopia. She has five brothers and sisters and her mother has taken an orphaned child into the family. Tsehay’s mother struggled to support the family by selling firewood but earned very little. The children had to go to work tending cows in the field. Their mud-brick hut had a cracked roof that leaked water during the rainy season. Life became so much better after Tsehay’s oldest sister was sponsored through World Vision by a woman in Nevada. Her gift made it possible for the family to build a new home and even enjoy electricity so the children could study after dark. Today, the children have access to assistance such as school fees and supplies, basic healthcare, and improved nutrition. For Tsehay’s family, sponsorship was an answer to prayer. “I knelt down and prayed to the Lord, ‘Please deliver me.’ That’s how sponsorship came,” says the mother of Tsehay. Would you like to be an answer to prayer as well? If you would like more information about child sponsorship you can visit World Vision’s website at You may also call them toll free at 1-800-806-4468 or talk to Nicole Gardikis at church. A presentation was done at church on January 22nd about child sponsorship. If you missed that presentation we still have two children in need of sponsors. A child is waiting—for you.

(article by Nicole Gardikis)

Baby Bottle Campaign

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Your loose change can save a life and give hope to a woman facing a crisis pregnancy.

The teachings of Jesus often seem unrealistic when you are raising a family. For example, what do you with the command, “sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and come follow me”? How does that work when you have a house, children to feed, schedules to keep, soccer games to get to, parent-teacher conferences, credit card bills, fevers, trips to the emergency room (if you’re my family) and three events scheduled at a time with two cars and one parent to drive said cars. You get the idea. I don’t even have time to think about the poor, let alone set up a fire sale for everything I own and then find the courage to give the proceeds away.

And yet the command still stands, “sell your possession, give the money to the poor and come follow me.” Now imagine this scenario. Your kid happens to be reading the Bible and he asks you, “dad, what did Jesus mean by sell your possessions?” How do you answer? “That command is optional”?  “Jesus didn’t really mean it”? You see the problem. You’ve left yourself wide open for this comeback question, “Is obeying your parents optional too?” At that point they’d have you.

So what do you do, when the lifestyle that Jesus calls you and your family to love is radically different to the one you live today? Let me tell what I’ve learned not to do. (I’m better as a role model in reverse, just ask my kids.) Don’t throw up your hands, say it is impossible and do nothing . Because we can’t do it all right now, does not mean that we can’t do something. Sometimes following Jesus is about taking small, consistent steps in His direction.  In other words, start by doing something small and see where life takes you.

In the last posts we’ve talked about giving away our trash. Today, I’d like to talk about the possibility of donating our loose change. Easy. Painless. A small but significant step towards the radical life that Jesus laid out for us in the Gospels.

My friend Daryl Breda works for an organization called A Woman’s Concern.  Daryl’s group works on a shoestring budget to provide alternatives to abortion for women and their families who are facing a crisis pregnancy. You’ve probably seen images of abortion protests on television with people screaming and lobbing word grenades such as “baby-killer” and “fascist anti-choice woman hater” at each other. What is obscured by our sensationally driven media is the fact that there is a young woman, usually scared and alone, who believes that her only chance for a future is to abort her unborn baby. What if there was someone there to offer her not condemnation but a real choice? You don’t have to kill your baby. You have friends. You have a community. We will do whatever it takes to provide you and your baby with a future.

That is the question that drives the volunteers at A Woman’s Concern and they have saved countless babies and their mothers from the horror of abortion. They do this is through volunteers and a very small budget. One of the ways they raise the money they need is through your loose change.

Each year we set out baby bottles for families to take home. We ask that you fill then with quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies and bring them back. Real simple, but $10 – $20 can be the difference between life and the destructive force of abortion. Set it up in your home and encourage your children to get involved. They will ask you what it is for and you can tell them about what it is like to be young, pregnant, scared and all alone. Depending on how old they are, you may have to decide how much you are going to tell them them about teen pregancy and abortion, but if they are in elementary school and higher they may have already heard about it.

You can share how Jesus felt about people who were despised because their sin was so obvious. (Jesus and the Samartian woman at the well in John chapter 4 is a great example.) Instead of condemning the sinful woman, Jesus gave her acceptance, hope and the power to live a new life. Giving our loose change to support a scared young woman facing a pregnancy is a way that we as a family can imitate Jesus. It’s not the whole vision of Jesus, but it is a great step forward.

For more information

A Woman’s Concern’s Fall River clinic is in the process of renovating a new facility in the heart of downtown Fall River. Their new location will be more accessible to the clientele they serve who are dependent on public transportation. They are currently seeking plumbing and electrical expertise and volunteers to help with the construction of the new clinic. They have raised close to $8,000 of the $30,000 that they need to complete the build out. If you would like to volunteer or find out more, we encourage you to get in contact with A Woman’s Concern.  Their contact info is provided below.

A Woman’s Concern

484 Highland Avenue
Fall River, MA 02720

Phone: (866) 435-7292


Treasures in your Trash (Your ideas)

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While we throw our treasures away, many of the world's poor survive by scavenging through our trash as these souls do at the dump outside of Tegucigalpa.

Thanks for the great response to our series on Christians and recycling.  Here are some of the ideas and resources that you shared. Take a look and let us know what you think.

A Refrigerator Friendly Recycling Guide (suggested by Karen Ripley)

Karen suggested that we condense our “Treasures in the Trash” article to a single page “recycling guide” that can be posted on the refrigerator. We’ve posted it to our website so you can print it out:  Pacific Union Recycling Guide (pdf).

Dive! The Film (submitted by Sarah Terrell)

Here’s a film Steve and I watched recently — It’s about the enormous amount of food waste in the US. Definitely worth a conversation. I thought we were pretty good about not wasting food, but this made me realize that I still throw out way more than I should.

Dive! The Film – Living Off America’s Waste

The No Trash Family (submitted by Larry Palmer or Laurence with a “u” as his friends affectionately know him)

Larry came across an article in People Magazine (page 78 in the January 16, 2012 issue) about the Johnson family who lives a “zero-waste” lifestyle. The average American family throws away an average of 1051 lbs of trash annually. This family has reduced it to almost zero by reducing, reusing and recycling virtually everything they bring home.  You can find out more on their family blog, and be sure to read through their “Tips” page.

Re-use / Re-purpose (submitted by Karen Ripley)

Here is another way to look at things – repurpose: What else can I use this for?
There are many craft books available at the library with ideas of things to make out of stuff some people would throw away. There are even idea of how to make things out of chip bags.

I started crocheting last year with plarn(plastic yarn) made from store bags. You can turn your grocery bags into stronger reusable bags, hats or whatever.

We need to rekindle the imagination in a way to inspire resoucefulness, ingenuity and respect for God, ourselves and others.

Conserving water, fuel and power (submitted by Larry Palmer)

It’s not trash, but they are still resources entrusted to our care. Be conscious of how much water, gasoline, fuel for cooking and home heating and electric power you use. Energy / water conservation is related, but that’s a topic for another day.

Let’s keep the conversation going.

If you have any ideas that you would like to share, post them as a comment and I’ll be sure to include them in this blog post.

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