Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Abstinence Education

As a former youth pastor who has spent a lot of time teaching students about sexuality, I was very interested in this Austin Statesman article on Sunday about districts moving away from abstinence-only sex education. If you didn't know, there has been a long debate in public education about how to each kids about sex. The "consensus" professional view has shifted over the years, and now another shift seems to be taking place. The recent history goes something like this...

The last decade has seen a large increase in federal funding for abstinence-only sex education in the public schools. This has spawned a large number of non-profit organizations that specialize in teaching students to wait for marriage before they become sexually active. These non-profits get large amounts of federal funding and then are contracted by school districts to come in and do their sex-education. All well and good except that now federal money is moving away from abstinence-only education because of recent research showing that it is not working - in other words, more kids are having unprotected sex resulting in higher pregnancy rates and higher STD transmission rates. The education establishment is now wondering if abstinence-plus sex education would reverse these trends. In other words, if educators still tell students that waiting is the best option, but also teach them how to use condoms and more details about STDs, would we see these trends go the other direction?

The Statesman article is very good, with lots of charts and graphs to help illustrate the data that public officials are wrestling with. I'm not sold on all their conclusions, but they do raise a great question that the Christian community should think about. For the sake of argument, let's agree with the following presuppositions (I'm not saying that I do) and see where we land. When abstinence-only education is compared to abstinence-plus education, we find that abstinence-only education helps the average student wait an additional year before beginning their sexual activity, but also increase pregnancy rates and STD rates by 10%, how should we move forward? In other words, if the average student begins sexual activity at 17 instead of 16 and yet more teen girls get pregnant or more students get STDs, what policy should school districts have when it comes to sex-education? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

A few of mine (that won't necessarily clear this up):

1) Kids should learn about sex at home. We shouldn't depend on the school district to teach our kids about sex. Parents need to be more open with their kids and kids more open with their parents so that sex is not off-limits at home. I think kids make stupid decisions with sex when they get bad information from peers and they are not prepared for the temptations that come as a teenager. Parents, let's make sure to help our kids through this with gospel-grace and brutal honesty. We can't pass this off on a school-administrator.

2) God desires our best - saving sex for marriage. As a society, we need to keep in mind that sexuality is not just about pregnancy and disease. These are obviously huge issues, but sex is ultimately about God. He created it and His intent is that we enjoy it within the boundaries that will give it the most meaning and beauty and keep us from the most pain. I've talked with plenty of students over the years who have been destroyed by sexual activity, but not because they were pregnant or had a STD. They had given themselves away to someone else and connected too intimately with them. As many have said before, "you can't put a condom on your heart."

3) God desires the best for kids. What complicates this discussion for me is that God desires the best for children - a consistent theme that shows up throughout the Bible. In fact, I'm preaching a passage this Sunday that reminds us that Jesus welcomes children to Himself even when no one else does. My point is that we have to think holistically about this issue. If abstinence-only education results in more abortions or more kids born into and raised in poverty, we need to think hard before we rubber-stamp it as they only way.

Any insight on this one?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Proud Uncle Alert

I received some new pictures from my mom of my nephew Evan. He is 4 1/2 months old in these pictures - he's a cute guy, isn't he? Check him out...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

David Robinson & Michael Jordan

Loved this post from Voddie Baucham about why we should be like David, not like Mike (based on their speeches at the Basketball Hall of Fame induction last week). I grew up watching these guys play and idolized MJ on the basketball court. Funny how time, maturity, and wisdom changes your perspective. One of Voddie's thoughts...

David Honored God... Mike Honored Basketball

David Robinson ended his speech with a moving reference to the story of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel. It was so refreshing not to hear the old standard, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who made it all possible by making me so good” cliche. Instead, Robinson actually referred to the Bible (book and chapter), used it in context, applied it to the situation, and was completely appropriate, God-honoring, and not at all cheesy. Praise God!

David Robinson presented himself as a man who had a great career, but didn’t let it define who he is. Michael Jordan, on the other hand, presented himself as a man who loves, needs, and craves basketball and the attention it brings. He even alluded to the idea of coming back and “playing at fifty.” I doubt he was serious, but the point was clear. Jordan is defined by what he did on the court. He needed this moment to snatch his throne back from the likes of Kobe Bryant if only for one night. He needed the bright lights, and the attention again if only for twenty-three minutes. And in the end, it was quite sad. A man who has “everything”; the most recognizable figure on the planet at one time, looked as empty as the United Center (where the Bulls play) two hours after a disappointing loss.
Read the whole thing - it is very good.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rangers Jinx

My dad and I finally made the decision this year to visit the Rangers during spring-training back in March. We'd been talking about it for a long time and decided to actually go. Because of getting to meet the players and see them play up-close, I've been a much bigger fan this year. And they've actually been good this year - lots of fun to watch.

As unlikely as it sounds, the Rangers have been in the playoff race most of the season and stayed with the Angels and the Red Sox, who are both looking to make the playoffs. We've even purchased tickets to go see the Rangers in person this Friday night (when the Angels come in town - could be a make or break series) - plan on taking the kids and everything!

All that being said, I gave in to the temptation to purchase post-season tickets when they went on sale last week. A man has to hope, doesn't he? Well, since then, the Rangers have lost 3 out of 4 games and look like all the rain in Arlington is getting to them. With only 19 games to go in the season, and being 3 1/2 out of the wild-card and 6 out in the AL West, the Rangers have got to step it up and do it quickly.

I guess I'm wondering, did we jinx the Rangers by buying playoff tickets too early?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sick Day

I've felt lousy today, trying to shake a cough and sore throat and lots of drainage (yummy). My voice barely made it through preaching yesterday (God's grace), but it is almost completely gone today. I tried to go and coach t-ball tonight for the boys, but I wasn't much good without a voice (thankfully I had a whistle). So, today I decided to read The Hobbit. One word - awesome.

I've owned the whole Lord of the Rings set since the movies came out and got me interested, but I've never actually read them from start to finish. With so much serious stuff filling my reading list lately, it was time for a break and something just purely enjoyable. Of course, Tolkien makes great points throughout his books about life and human nature and truth, but mainly they are just a great story. Creative, imaginative, fun, rhythmic, insightful, and interesting. Did I mention fun?

Now on to LotR book I - Fellowship of the Ring. And after I read them through, I will take out the movies and enjoy them again; it's been a while since I watched them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Notes: Fearless (4/5)

Max Lucado writes books like I write sermons, which is to say that they keep on coming. I just finished reading his latest book, Fearless, this week, and hope my thoughts are helpful as you decide if this book is for you. Before I can review the book, however, I need to truthfully share my preconceived ideas about Lucado and his books.

First, I had the opportunity to sit in a meeting with Lucado and some other large-church pastors during a conference in 2006. I was able to compare and contrast his personality and leadership with other large-church pastors during our short time together. What did I find? Max Lucado is one of the most gracious, genuine, down-to-earth, friendly guys you will ever meet. Some of the guys in the room that day couldn't fit their egos in the room, but Lucado was incredibly humble and gracious the whole time. From that one meeting, I walked away asking God to make me a more gracious and humble pastor - such ingratiating traits. All that to say that I really admire and respect Pastor Lucado.

Second, and not quite as positive: I've read my share of Lucado books over the years. They seem to all follow the same pattern, which makes me wonder if they are constructed out of sermon series that he preaches at his church. They are full of wonderful stories, short, insightful explanations of Bible passages, and extremely practical applications. This not a bad pattern - it is just Lucado's pattern. In some ways, if you've read one of his books, you fill at home in the others - though the content is different, the structure is very similar. This always leads me to assume before I even read one of Lucado's books that I am going to enjoy his stories, but not be challenged too deeply by his insights.

Now, to Fearless, Lucado's effort to expose our deepest fears and provide helpful solutions to live a fear-free life. The book gives one chapter to each fear. Here's the list of fears that Max addresses:

1) the fear of not mattering
2) the fear of disappointing God
3) the fear of running out
4) the fear of not protecting my kids
5) the fear of overwhelming challenges
6) the fear of worst-case scenarios
7) the fear of violence
8) the fear of the coming winter
9) the fear of life's final moments
10) the fear of what's next
11) the fear that God is not real
12) the fear of global calamity
13) the fear of God getting out of my box

Out of this list, I personally connected with only a few chapters. However, I read each chapter because I know people in my congregation struggle with these fears - they sit in our chairs every Sunday and in my office during the week. So what did I like?

1) I really enjoyed his explanation of each fear, especially the way in which he showed the reader how these fears show up in their lives. He does a great job of explaining what this fear looks like in our every day lives.

2) I always enjoy his illustrations and stories. Lucado does a wonderful job using historical examples, personal stories, and funny parables to make his points come alive. I'm sure some of his illustrations will show up in my upcoming sermons.

3) I really enjoy his writing style. His language never gets old or repetitive. His chapters are short and to the point. He uses great metaphors and keeps the reader engaged.

So what did I not enjoy?

1) I felt like his solutions to the different fears left me wanting something more. Part of this may have been driven by my lack of satisfaction at his analysis of the source of each fear. He exposes fear adeptly, but doesn't seem to get down to the root issues. I understand that I am afraid of not mattering, and I understand how that shows up in my life. But WHY do I have that fear? What root heart-issue explains my irrational fear of something happening to my kids?

2) I don't have answers to those questions (like I know something that Lucado doesn't know), but I felt like he didn't really wrestle with them. The closest he got was the last chapter, where he began to explore the connection between fearing God with other fears. Here, he quickly mentions that all other fears are rooted in a lack of fear toward God. I think this is kernel I was looking for, but got to the end of the Fearless and wanted more. How, then, do I develop my fear of God? Why don't I fear God? Why do all my other fears dwarf my fear of the Lord? These answers would have helped me more.

Thanks, Max, for another great book and for continuing to teach us so much about faithfully communicating the message of Jesus to this generation.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Book Notes: This is Your Brain on Joy (3/5)

Dr. Earl Henslin is a licensed professional counselor in southern California who has written a new book on how to have a healthy brain. He has adopted many of the practices of Dr. Daniel Amen (famous for his books on the brain that have developed from his brain-imaging work) and put them to work in his daily treatment of patients in his counseling practice. His basic premise is that people are complex physical and spiritual beings who have complex physical and spiritual issues based on their life experiences and their individual physiology. Through the book, he explains his own personal development as a medical profession and his growth in diagnosing multiple complex causes of his patients' struggles.

I really appreciated Dr. Henslin's book and his view of helping people, though the book became very tedious about half-way through when he began going through each individual section of the brain, looking at various scans from different patients, and describing the variations in treatments that he uses to help each kind of brain issue. The most personally helpful sections of Dr. Henslin's book affirmed what I long have suspected to be true - that a healthy diet and daily cardiovascular exercise and good sleep all contribute to good brain health and increase personal joy. I have already implemented his recommendation that everyone take a daily does of fish-oil as it increases the health of the brain.

Dr. Henslin's variation of recommendations encouraged me that there is no one way to help people who have brain issues. He discusses medications at length, but in the end only recommends them in short doses because of the long-term consequences they can have on the brain themselves. Each of the chapters that discuss the different areas of the brains and the issues connected to those area end with various ways to help the brain. He discusses diet recommendations, supplements, exercise routines, books to read, movies to watch, music to listen to. He even adds long sections of Scripture at the end of each chapter than can be memorized and meditated on - very cool.

The last two chapters show us how Dr. Henslin's Christian worldview influence his professional practice - he spends time working through Paul's prescription for eternal joy in the book of Philippians. His conclusions are not new, but they are really cool to read in the book from a medical professional on brain health. Overall, a good read that bogs down in the details, at times making it feel more like a reference book that a cover-to-cover read.