Adventures in Athens – How We Treat Others

How we treat others matters far more, to the individual and to everyone around, than we can possibly imagine. 

My daughter Anna is getting married in June, so she and I traveled to Greece this past week to adventure together one more time. It has been a marvelous week; we have enjoyed the place and enjoyed each other. I will treasure these few days forever, and I hope that she will do the same. With all of the fun that we had, God used our experiences to build our character and our faith as individuals and as the Body of Christ.

Yesterday Anna and I traveled to Corinth to see where Paul walked and worked. The ruins of the ancient city featured a temple of Apollo, a basilica of Julian, shops, houses, and the Bema where the famous apostle was tried before Gaius. After almost two hours of exploring the ruins, we agreed to finish individually and then meet at the temple to conclude our visit. I stopped by the Pirean fountain and explored the historic road entering the city. Anna finished first and went to the temple. I tried to get to the temple faster by leaving the site through the exit and reentering the main entrance.

I pulled my ticket out of my pocket and showed it as I walked by the Greek woman in the ticket booth. She said “that is the wrong ticket”, and I realized that she was right. I emptied my badly overstuffed pockets – camera lens, wallet, keys, cell phone, reading glasses, sunglasses – and found nothing. The line of people behind me grew. An older, rotund Greek worker fell into the bushes next to me. I normally would have helped him, but I kept looking for my ticket instead. I told the Greek woman “I came through here two hours ago” and she smirked “I don’t remember you.” Under my breath I replied “even if you did, you wouldn’t”. I considered paying another four euros to go in, but the snarky looking face in the booth dissuaded me.

Thinking that Anna must have my ticket, I called her twice, but she did not answer. While I was calling a third time, Anna walked up and snapped “I have your ticket, why did you leave?” Then Anna turned to the Greek ticket lady and said “I have his ticket.” The lady smiled triumphantly, as if this stupid, middle aged father had just been saved from his incompetence by his clever and beautiful daughter. My anger flashed, I reloaded my pockets, and walked away.

Anna followed. “What is wrong with you?” “nothing.” I replied, in my typical overcontrolled voice. We walked in silence to the temple. Anna said, “I’m sorry that I snapped at you”. “It is ok” I replied, but my voice did not change. I was not yet in control of my emotions, and it was better to say little. I snapped a couple of photographs and walked to the museum. It was after 1400, and we were both hungry. Anna was already in the museum. I texted her “Remember, I love you”. By the time we finished the museum, 45 minutes later, I had my emotions under control. I told her that it takes me a while to rein my feelings in, even with her mother. Then I told her my side of the story.

Like most events, this one got me to thinking, in this case about how we treat others. Rumor has it that when Donald Trump was on The Apprentice, his staff told the film crews, actors, reality show guests, and others to treat him with the utmost respect. In so doing, viewers and other outsiders would be inclined to treat him with respect as well.

Lessons from how we treat strangers

Most people have someone that they treat well; otherwise they would be utterly alone. How a person acts with strangers, how they treat a new acquaintance, is revealing. If how we treat strangers can be reduced to a continuum, it might include: Treating Poorly — Ignoring — Treating moderately — Treating Well. I am not including physical harm in this scale. Most people would prefer to be ignored than to be physically harmed, but this is not always true. Many people, in my experience predominately women, stay in abusive relationships because they prefer to be hurt than to be alone. To ignore someone is to essentially deny their existence, or at least deny that they are worthy of your attention, however fleeting. To treat someone poorly is to mock them or berate them. To treat someone moderately is to display conventional niceties, and to treat some well is to show kindness over and above the prevailing cultural norm.

If this continuum represents how people treat strangers, then a bell curve may represent how a population of people is likely to treat others whom they have just met. In such a curve, the majority of people treat strangers moderately or ignore them entirely. The advent of smart phones and other electronic devices seems to have made it easier and more socially acceptable to ignore others completely.

Imagine a group of workers at a party for a very large office, where few people know each other. The workers are Mike, Donna, Robert, Julie, Hernan, Hans, Hermione, and Hannah. A small percentage (the left side of the bell curve) of people will strangers poorly simply because it is their character to do so. If Mike habitually is rude to strangers, and if Donna is a stranger to him, he will likely treat her with contempt. Likewise, a small percentage (the right side of the bell curve) will treat others, including new people, well because it is in their character to do so. If Robert has developed real kindness in his nature, he will be kind to Julie, whether he knows her or not. Hernan, Hans, and Hermione might be indifferent to Hannah because they are indifferent people.

Notice however, that others are affected by how we treat someone. Mike may find Donna more appealing, or smart, or worthy of respect, if Robert does. Using the bell curve illustration, Hans is likely to behave better towards Hannah if he sees Robert’s kindness towards Hannah. What is more amazing is that kindness begets kindness, and unkindness begets unkindness, regardless of where it is directed. Mike may not only treat Donna better if he sees Robert doing so, but he may treat Donna better if he sees Robert being kind to Julie. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. Hernan may be crueler to Hannah if he watches Mike treat Hannah badly, or even if he sees Mike treat Donna with disrespect. People in the middle of the bell curve – most likely to treat others moderately or with indifference – are the most likely to be swayed one way or the other.

Lessons from how we treat those close to us

What is true for strangers is even truer for our family and friends. The Greek ticket lady viewed Anna and me differently by how we treated each other. If Anna saw me as a good father and noble man, the Greek ticket lady would be more likely to think the same. If Anna saw me as an annoying parent who was barely competent, the Greek ticket lady would probably think likewise. Since Anna is in my family, and knows me well, her influence on how others see me is powerful. They assume that her judgment is right.

This is truest of all for husbands and wives. I have heard many couples berate each other in the clinic and in counseling sessions. Doing so not only hurts their spouse, but makes it harder for others (like doctors, counselors, and pastors) to have a clear picture of the situation.

Aside from a few English words, gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice, I have no way of knowing what the Greek ticket lady in the booth was thinking. She may have been a wonderful human being, acting as kindly as she could and wondering why I seemed irked. But I do know, and did know, how I felt – devalued, misunderstood, and annoyed. I replied crossly at first, but with the discipline of years following Christ, put a lid on my emotion and fled the situation. While my temper cooled, I resolved to respond not in accordance with my hurt, but in accordance with the Spirit that indwells me.

Conclusion

Movie stars and Presidents have people to tell others how to treat them, whether those others listen or not, but the rest of us don’t. We can influence rather than control how others treat us and those around us, but have complete control over how we conduct ourselves. As hard as it may seem, Christians must honor the Spirit of God within us and seize that control. Emotions are wonderful, even God has them, but we must be lord over our feelings even as Jesus Christ is Lord over us.

Our Persian Sister

She moved out just over one year ago. Things had been tense for several weeks, especially since her sister had visited. We didn’t know why, but I could hear the tension in Jane’s (not her real name) voice, and see her almost continually locked door in our basement. We tried to understand why she seemed to grow more distant, but the closer we tried to get, the farther she moved away.

Jane was a young Christian Persian woman who I had met on a mission trip to Central Asia in 2011.  She had come to New York City in September 2013, lived in rooms rented from families, and ate out. She linked up with the Persian community and enjoyed the night life of the Big Apple. Perhaps to save money, Jane moved to Virginia to live with us in December 2014.

Sometimes Jane felt homesick. One Sunday afternoon she and I attended a Persian church together. I was taking a class in Islam at the time, so I asked her a lot of questions. Our family attended a Nowruz exhibit at the Smithsonian, and we all enjoyed the Persian dinners that she occasionally made.

Jane took pains to be fashionable. She used things to make her eyes look larger and to plump her lips, which puzzled our adolescent sons. She wore lots of makeup, tight clothes, and short dresses. She bleached her naturally dark hair. Jane ate very little, at least at home, and did not exercise. Jane had no car, and our since house was about three miles from the Metro station, she got rides or took a taxi to the Metro when she wanted to go out.

We never charged Jane rent, or even assigned her chores. We forbade male guests in her room, and asked her to eat with us when she was home at dinnertime. We required her to attend church and expected her to join evening prayers with the family. I told her frequently that as a medical worker and polyglot, she would be a fantastic interpreter on future missions trips that I hoped to do in Central Asia.

The final break happened in early December. I was speaking at a college life group affiliated with our church. My two oldest children were going, and I invited Jane. She agreed to come. The topic involved missions and evangelism, and I asked Jane if she thought that she would always be more emotionally tied to the country of her birth, or to America, her adopted land. The question provoked an angry response, and no apology helped. At the life group, Jane and my children were in the other room when I started the lesson. No one, not even our host, invited them in. My children sat in another room and listened, but Jane went into the yard and talked to friends on her phone. She was livid at the slight.

The next morning I flew to Southern Seminary for classes, and in the afternoon Jane exploded at my wife and children. That night she found an apartment with three Indian girls, and within a week she was gone. My wife Nancy and I loaded her remaining possessions into our van, drove to her new apartment, and moved her in. For this young Persian woman that I had treated like my own daughter for almost a year, I could only muster a tense handshake goodbye.

We saw Jane at church occasionally, but over time she appeared less and less. Nancy brought her mail and a Christmas present to the services but it was weeks before she picked them up. Jane soon moved to a different place with different roommates, and didn’t let us know her address. We heard that she got her work visa and found a job at a convenience store. Later she found employment as an assistant in a dental office, a field in which she is pursuing a career.

It is hard to know what happened. Jane once told me that it is harder to be a Christian in America than in Central Asia. Authorities in that part of the world persecute Christians, but American culture tempts them away from God. Jane wanted the life of a young, single, Persian-American woman, while we offered the life of a family led by middle aged, married, white American parents.

Occasionally someone in my family texts Jane and gets a brief update. Nancy and I feel sad whenever we think of her. We have moved to a different state, and there is a good chance that we will never see her again. Our family prays for Jane regularly. We still care for her, and take comfort in the knowledge that she is, and always was, in the hands of God. Why am I posting this? In the hopes that our experience will resonant with others who may have endured a similar situation.

Math Days

Mathematics is one of most important fields of study in the modern world, and understanding math must be a foundational goal for every person. Unfortunately, many children, adolescents and adults fear math. It is not easy to understand and so they believe that they cannot understand it.

Families and teachers can celebrate dates that correspond to important mathematical concepts. Using food, games, and prizes, they can teach children, and themselves, that math is fun. In honor of the upcoming Square Root Day (4-4-16), I have provided this list for my readers.

Annual

Golden Ratio Day (1/6) – January 6

For over 2,000 years, scientists and artists have been fascinated with the Golden Ratio. It is defined as two quantities having the same ratio to each other that the larger of the two has to their sum. For example, a line segment AC comprised of segments AB (larger) and BC (smaller) would be in the Golden Ratio if AB+BC is to AB as AB is to BC. The decimal equivalent of the Golden Ratio is 1.618 to 1. Many proportions of the Greek Parthenon are in the Golden Ratio, as is the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The ratio is also found in music, art and nature. Do something “golden” for yourself, and for someone, else today.

E day (2/7) – February 7

E is an irrational number used in exponential and logarithmic functions. Celebrants can do things relating to e, such as eating foods (eggs, enchiladas, English muffins, etc) and doing activities (like going to the zoo to see elephants or the aquarium to see eels).

Pi Day (3/14) – March 14

Pi, the constant used to calculate the area (πr2) and circumference (2πr) of a circle, is 3.14159…. The Pi date of the century is 3/14/15. Some families serve pies of various types (pizza pie, apple pie) to observe it. Thomas Jefferson School of Science and Technology in Virginia band, cheerleaders and fans used to count down to pi in the fourth quarter of football games (3.24, 3.23…3.16, 3.15, Pi!!!) but the same countdown can be used for any sport.

Tau Day (6/28) – June 28

Some argue that Tau, not Pi, is the real circle constant (T=C/r=6.28318). If you are in this select group, express yourself by celebrating Tau day every June. The Tau date of the century is 6/28/31.

Pi Approximation Day (7/22 or 22/7 military and European notation) – July 22

Summer is a time when children often forget the lessons they learned the year before. The fractional equivalent of pi is 22/7 (3.14285…), and 22 July is almost half way between the end of one school year and the beginning of another. Families can celebrate Pi Approximation Day during the heat of summer with snow cones (V=πr3h/3), scoops of ice cream (V=4/3πr3), and of course, ice cream pies.

Gravity Day (9/8) – September 8

The acceleration due to gravity on earth is 9.8 m/s2, or 32 f/s2. Whether you are a pencil or a rock, neglecting wind resistance, you will fall to the ground at that rate. Do a gravity project, or at least gain some weight, on this happy day.

Light Speed Day (10/8) – October 8

October gets a lot of good math days because scientific notation uses 10x rather than adding a bunch of zeroes behind a number. The speed of light (3×108 m/s or 186,000 miles per second) is a fundamental constant of the universe and deserves celebration. Besides, we believe that the more celebrations, the better.

Powers of 10 Day (10/10) – October 10

The greatest power of 10 day is 10/10/10, but math nerds can celebrate powers of 10 day every year. Do ten things, spend ten dollars, or work ten puzzles. Enjoy your tens!

Mole Day (10/23) – October 23

Avagadro’s Number (6.02×1023) is a fundamental constant in chemistry, describing how many particles of any substance make a mole of that substance. Celebrate it from 0602 to 1802 (6:02 AM to 6:02 PM).

Fibonacci Day (11/23) – November 23

The sequence is 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144,… Each number is produced by adding the two numbers immediately preceding. The next number in the sequence above would be 89+144 = 233. The Fibonacci sequence describes many natural phenomena including the branching of trees and generations of honeybees.

Gross Day (12/12) – December 12

A gross is 144 (12×12), whether a gross of quarters or a gross of candy canes. Families can celebrate Gross Day by making a gross of something (Christmas cookies), collecting a gross of something (beautiful fall leaves after Thanksgiving), or enjoying a gross of time (144 minutes) together (playing, singing, eating or dancing).

Every Century

Special Math Days in a Century

Same Number Day Series Day Square Root Day Pythagorean Theorem Day Odd Day
1/1/01 1/2/03 1/1/01 3/4/05 1/3/05
2/2/02 2/3/04 2/2/04 4/3/05 3/5/07
3/3/03 3/4/05 3/3/09 6/8/10 5/7/09
4/4/04 4/5/06 4/4/16 8/6/10 7/9/11
5/5/05 5/6/07 5/5/25 5/12/13 9/11/13
6/6/06 6/7/08 6/6/36 12/5/13 11/13/15
7/7/07 7/8/09 7/7/49 9/12/15
8/8/08 8/9/10 8/8/64 12/9/15
9/9/09 9/10/11 9/9/81 8/15/17
10/10/10 10/11/12 12/16/20
11/11/11 11/12/13 7/24/25
12/12/12 12/13/14 10/24/26

These days are all occasions to party, but unfortunately most of them have passed for this century. Enjoy those that remain with family and friends, and pass this list on to your grandchildren. They will have a great time.

Advent Tree Family Devotions – December 9

Dove

Genesis 8:6-12; Leviticus 1:14-17; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Galatians 5:15‑25

The dove is mentioned often in the Bible, from helping Noah know when the waters had receded, to serving as a sacrifice for the poor.  The dove is also the most common image of the Holy Spirit.  Do you recall the scripture passages which tell of the Holy Spirit descending from Heaven like a dove? (Matthew 3:16) 

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead.  He is the Comforter of Jesus’ followers, and the Giver of the gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit. 

The Gifts of the Spirit are God-given abilities.  Every believer has at least one, a few have several, and they are all to be used for the building up of the church and the glory of God.  These are not the natural talents, inherent in nonbelievers and believers alike.  Preachers and evangelists often display speaking gifts (prophecy, knowledge, wisdom, teaching and exhortation) and while serving gifts (leadership, helps, giving, mercy, faith and discernment) are frequently found in other groups.  Prophecy is the speaking forth of God’s Word, knowledge is the understanding of His truth, and wisdom is the practical application of that truth.  Teaching is the ability to help others understand a concept fully, and exhortation is the power to effectively encourage.  Of the nonverbal gifts mercy is the ability to empathize and sympathize, faith is an unusual depth of trust in God, and discernment helps the individual distinguish truth and falsehood.

The Fruits of the Spirit are character traits planted by the Holy Spirit and growing in everyone who knows and loves the Lord.  Their presence proves that a man is a Christian, and their absence proves that he is not.   Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control are all within our reach. God develops these fruits within us as we read and obey His word, and as we step out in faith. 

The incessant demands of life, especially during this season, can prevent us from developing our spiritual gifts, and slow our growth in spiritual fruit.  The Spirit of God rarely shouts through an earthquake or a storm, but usually whispers to us during our quiet moments.  Lives that overflow with frenzied activity and mountains of material goods will never overflow with the Spirit of love and power.  The dove is not a prince among birds, but in its simplicity and ordinariness it was chosen above all other birds to represent the Holy Spirit. 

Will you develop your Gift of the Spirit this Advent season?  Will you cultivate your soul in trust and obedience so that the Fruits of the Spirit can grow in you?  This Advent season, and any time you see a dove, remember the Holy Spirit of God, and thank him for the gifts He has given you, and in the Fruits of the Spirit available to all.

 

What Child is This?

 

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

Chorus

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Chorus

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
the King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.

Chorus

 

Life’s Biggest Blessings – A Large Family

My in-laws had two children, one girl and one boy, but my father-in-law always wanted more. My parents had two sons, and sometimes said they wished they had also had a girl. I have often met people in the autumn of their lives who wished they had had more children, but never any who wanted less. Despite this, the fertility rate in America, the number of children per woman, is below the replacement level of 2.1, meaning parents are not having enough children to replace themselves. According to the 2013 CIA World Factbook, the US birth rate is 147th out of 224 countries worldwide. People chatter about how important family is to them, and then endlessly complain about children being too troublesome, too expensive, and too much of an interference with what they want to do. My goal today is to remind readers of a truth that for millennia was taken for granted; children are a gift from God and large families are a blessing.

What are the blessings of large families?

The Bible clearly teaches that children are a gift from God, and that those who have many are blessed (Psalm 127:3-5). For millennia, the family was a viable economic unit, with roles for father, mother and children dictated by the need for economic survival. On a farm fathers and older sons, who possessed greater physical strength, worked together to perform tasks requiring the most strength. Mothers, daughters and younger sons performed equally important but, in terms of physical strength, less demanding tasks. In the homes of craftsmen the work was different but the principles were not. Everyone worked, even the oldest and most infirm, doing what they could do to support the family. There has always been a balance between mouths to feed and resources to feed them, but with the coming of industrialism families became less of an economic unit and children came to be regarded as burdens, not blessings. With adults living longer, this balance has begun to shift back.

Children were the most common form of security for their parents in old age. Moses’ admonition to “honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12) includes the provision to care for them in their later years (cf. Mark 7:10-12). Children provided money and care for their parents and sometimes other relatives in an age in which government support for the aged and infirm did not exist. Even today the primary caregivers for aged parents are their children. Those without children often have no one. With governments worldwide going more deeply into the red and budget cuts inevitable, families will play a larger role.

Driving from Tacoma to Bakersfield in 1997 I asked a close friend in his late 30s if he and his wife were planning to have children. He replied “no, because we want time for ourselves.” We had four children at the time and I asked him to reconsider, knowing the pain that I had seen in childless couples in my church and medical practice. He said, “Having children is no guarantee that they will be with you when you are old.” “That is true”, I replied, “but not having children is a guarantee that they will not be with you when you are old.” I later discovered that they had had some difficulties with infertility, and later became unable to adopt. We have shared many tears, and we routinely pray that through work, the church and their community, they will touch many lives and will develop a support system for their later days.

Families help children learn how to live with others. Last year my oldest daughter left home to live in the dorm at college. During the year she observed that students who had no siblings generally had a harder time rooming with others in a dorm than those who had siblings. Children who never had to compete with siblings for their parents’ time and resources saw the world differently than those who did, and did not easily adapt to sharing their space. Most of these students learned sharing in school, sports, and many other venues, but that did not prepare them for the intimate sharing involved in rooming together. There are exceptions but they do not invalidate the rule.

Children help parents continually rediscover that life is not about them. When our oldest was born I was struck by the awesome responsibility of having another human being completely dependent upon my wife and me. If we did not care for her, she would not survive. There is no greater responsibility, whether running a huge company or a huge government, than caring for a child. As she grew I realized that we were not only responsible for her physical life but also for her training and development. Things that were toys to us were tools to her as she grew. Moments that we wanted to invest in ourselves ended up being invested in her, and she craved our very presence. As other children came along, they needed the same things as she did, and we provided them. Eventually they became able to help each other.

Children help adults do something that is truly lasting. No matter the job, today’s impossible challenges at work become tomorrow’s forgotten victories. How important is it, really, to make large amounts of money, increase the market share of a product, answer thousands of emails or attend hundreds of meetings? How much money, fame or power is enough, and how are the lives of those who have them? Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970) said “the graveyards of the world are full of indispensable men”. Though I am a physician, senior Army officer and leader in the church, one day I will be gone and they will go on. Family is different. Patients can get another doctor, the Army can get another leader, and my church can get another lay minister, but my children can never get another father. Stepfather perhaps, but father, never. The hours of sweat and tears we invest in our work can produce great fruit, but the hours invested into family will reap a lasting reward.

Bill, a friend of mine from El Paso and wealthy owner of a highly successful transnational company, was on a two week long missions trip in Africa in 2006. Our pastor led the team and introduced Bill to the African pastor. After hearing about Bill’s professional success the African pastor said “yes, but what we really care about is his family.” This pastor and his people got it; they knew what mattered. Paul got it right in his letters as well. When describing the qualities of elders to Timothy and Titus, Paul said nothing about professional success, but he specifically required success in the family.

Medically, researchers from the Imperial College of London (LCL) found that having children may reduce a woman’s death risk from many common ailments. They analyzed data from 322,972 women in 10 countries, including the UK, Germany, France and Sweden. Study subjects had a median age of 50 and were followed for 12.9 years, during which 14,383 deaths occurred (5,938 from cancer and 2,404 from circulatory system disease). Women who had given birth had a 20% reduced risk of death and women who breast fed had an 8% reduced risk of death. Women who had given birth to two or three children had a lower risk of death than those who had only one.[1]

Why don’t we have larger families?

Infertility

Some couples are physically unable to have children. This is a great sadness, and medical technology has opened the doors to parenthood for many people who otherwise could not have children. Unfortunately this technology is often expensive and still cannot solve all cases of infertility. Adoption is a wonderful option for many, but can also be expensive. Making adoption safe and accessible should be a priority for any society. How many children have had their lives snuffed out when they could have been given a safe and loving adoptive family?

Culture

The generations in America since the 60s have been pressured to have no more than two kids; to replace themselves at most. People believed the world was overpopulated. Despite the facts that population growth has dramatically slowed worldwide and that in many countries more people die than are born, some still believe that the weight of humanity will eventually destroy the world. The “Malthusian Catastrophe” suggested in the late 1700s and predicted in the 20th century still holds the power to terrify. As a result, parents who have more than two children are passively tolerated or actively discouraged in many areas. Pregnant with our fifth, my wife was rebuked by a nurse practitioner saying “haven’t you had enough?” Acceptance or rejection of large families varies by locale. While most people in El Paso TX were very accepting, even encouraging of large families, many people in Washington D.C. are not. So much for “tolerance”.

Money

A major media outlet reported recently that it costs an average of $241,000 to raise a child from birth to age 18. This includes food, transportation, health care, child care, and many other factors, and differs by region. Many use it to judge how many children adults should have. Some decide that they can’t have children, or more of them, because they can’t afford them. This can be valid, but it can also mean that they don’t want to adopt a cheaper lifestyle to be able to afford more children. If child care or transportation are too expensive, having one parent work inside the home instead of outside can save a lot.

Do children really need to play every sport, every instrument, and go on every trip? Do some people choose more stuff rather than more people? Do we spend money on a lot of things that don’t really matter instead of a few things that do? Do children want our money and things that it can buy, or our time? The answer is clear.

Purely from a financial point of view, avoiding children because of cost is questionable. Provided a family can support a child now, that child will return far more than his or her childhood cost over a lifetime. Even if someone does not go to college, he or she can reasonably earn at least $30,000 per year in the US working outside the home. In eight years they have produced for society at least as much as they cost to raise in 18. Since adults typically have a working life of four decades, the family’s investment in a child earns hundreds of thousands more, at least, than their cost in the early years. Even if they don’t directly earn income, such as stay-at-home mothers, they produce meaningfully in the children that they raise, and the cycle continues.

Some may argue that the money doesn’t directly return to the parents. First, it shouldn’t; no single generation deserves or needs the resources of all others. Second, some of it does, because children often provide financially for their parents in their later years.

Can’t care for many children

Some worry that they can’t emotionally or physically take care of more than one or two children by themselves, husband and wife. In some cases, such as chronic illness, they may be right. In other cases such thinking is an excuse for selfishness. However, no one ever really cares for children all by themselves. Raising children is hard, and since antiquity extended family and friends have helped the biological parents.  Children have never been the responsibility of the mother and father alone, but also of grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and even close friends. Biological parents have the lion’s share of the duty, but in a responsible society, others contribute.

But how often do family help us and we help them? How often do we take time to build such strong relationships with friends that we help each other with hard and unpleasant things? How often do we allow them to help us? Is there anyone that we know and trust enough to let them discipline our children?  Is it easier simply to focus on making money and put our little ones in the care of strangers?

What should we do if we feel overwhelmed by caring for the children that we have and distraught at the thought of having more? That question is too big to include in this article, but the safest course is to trust the Lord. He said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

I’d have to give up my fun

Before we had children, many colleagues told us that we would have to stop doing all of the things that we liked to do. Skiing, scuba diving, backpacking, and other high adventure activities would fade into memory as we were surrounded by cribs and diapers. It was a disheartening thought.

In the event, however, my wife and I found that while we gave up some fun activities we gained others. Downhill skiing gave way to cross country skiing, scuba diving became canoe trips, and backpacking evolved into family car camping. We lost nothing, and gained new activities and fun people to do them with. Eventually as the children grew we began skiing downhill, and cross country.

Need to accomplish something for myself

We are a counting people, and we like to judge our value on things we can count. It is easy to count dollars earned, rank obtained, articles published, or projects completed. It is hard to count maturity gained, moments enjoyed, and lessons learned. In our relentless pursuit of meaning in life, we measure ourselves against others using things that we can count rather than things that we cannot. It is easy, when we have told our son for what seems the thousandth time to do his homework, to grow discouraged and think that we aren’t making any progress. It is easy, when we are tired of spending most of our waking hours with toddlers who can only talk in one syllable, to feel a failure. In such situations the truth is, however, that we are never more successful. We are impatient people; we want measurable success and we want it now. Successes in the family are often hard to measure and don’t come at our pace. However, eventually they come. Einstein was right when he said “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

People who in the past would have been honored by their success in the lives of others are denied that.  In the Army, wives used to “wear their husband’s rank”. The wife of a colonel or general would be honored and would command respect because of her contribution to her husband’s success. These women had to move every few years, take care of their home and children with little help, far from family and long term friends, and often overseas. It was hard work which most women at the time would never have managed. Now women who try to “wear there husband’s rank” are rebuked with a disparaging “she didn’t do it”.  In large measure, she actually did. Wives make a huge contribution, and should be honored for it. A “stay at home” husband should also be honored for his contribution to his wife’s career.

Parents are often not given credit for the accomplishments of their children. I was the first in my family to graduate college and the only one to attend medical school. At a reception after my college graduation, I told assembled family and friends that this degree was not mine alone. Many looked puzzled, so I continued. This degree belonged to my mother for the countless applications she filled out and term papers she typed. It belonged to my father for his relentless encouragement to go to college and for other assistance he was able to give. It belonged to my grandparents for filling some of the financial gaps. It belonged to them all for raising me. The same was true when I finished medical school, but the list of others who deserved credit was longer. Nothing I have ever done was done alone.

In the past, most women were affirmed through their homes and families rather than in the workplace. Today, however, in many circles only what the individual has done matters, and that usually means what they have done in the workplace. Some see large families as preventing women from having a job or career and keeping them from succeeding.  Writers tell women to get a job in order to make something of themselves, as if it is impossible to “be anything” at home. The Bible provides many sterling examples of women flourishing at home and in the workplace (Proverbs 31, Acts 16:14). However despite what we are told, success in the workplace, for men and women both, pales in comparison to success in the home.

Occupations outside the family are important and the contributions made there matter. Teachers impact thousands of young lives over their careers, and police and firefighters protect our society. There are significant benefits associated with mothers working at least part time in income earning activities such as outside employment. Mothers who are self-employed or working for someone else, often contribute to higher academic achievement in their children, especially daughters. Some women have a greater sense of well-being associated with their work. It is wrong to disparage any honorable occupation, but important to emphasize that more fundamental to individuals and to society than any occupation is the work in the family.

What about when children go wrong?

Children do not always become productive members of society. Sometimes they rebel and even harm their parents. Sometimes they become criminals who actively hurt others. Other times they passively hurt others by consuming resources and giving nothing in return. Sometimes young people become infirm and cannot meaningfully contribute, and other times they do it willfully. Occasionally an accident will snuff out a promising youth. Rarely crime ends a life, and more rarely still suicide. These cases rend the heart. A good upbringing is no guarantee that children will do well, and a bad upbringing is no promise that they will do poorly. The small chance of a bad outcome is no reason to miss out on the large chance of a good outcome.

Conclusion

Over the years I have found that much of what we are told in the media and in many areas of American culture is wrong. While we should not have children that we cannot support (1 Timothy 5:8) and we need to be judicious with the earth’s resources, children remain a great blessing. They will grow our economy, build and defend our nation in the next generation, and care for us in our declining years. Some barriers to having larger families are valid, but many are rooted in our own ignorance and selfishness. If we truly knew what was best for us, and for the world, most couples would have more children, not fewer. Pity the person who lets the pressure of others and the lies of the world deny him or her one of tomorrow’s brightest hopes and today’s biggest blessings…a larger family.

 

[1] http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2015-10/31/c_134768119.htm

 

 

“Haves and have nots” or “Do and do nots?”

The 2012 Presidential Election campaign is in its final weeks, and while one candidate seems to relish contrasting the “haves and have nots”, the other candidate recently implied that the real division is between the “do and do nots.” One group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive have more than they do. Another group seems to boil with resentment against those who they perceive do less than they do. Is either narrative accurate? Are both narratives accurate but incomplete? The debate is not limited to candidates or even parties; large swaths of the American population seem to feel the same way. The structure of the human body can shed light on these questions.

The human body is made of billions of cells, the building blocks of life. The cells are fundamentally the same, including parts such as the nucleus, the cytoplasm, the mitochondria, and the cell membrane. There is also diversity amidst the unity, with cells of hundreds of types and functions, including muscle cells, bone cells, hormone secreting cells, nerve cells, skin cells, fat cells, and many others. They are arrayed in a system of incredible complexity, and work together with precision to accomplish the purposes of the body. The human body is a truly magnificent creation.

An organization, whether a family, a church, or a nation, is made of many individuals, each one a building block of the organization. Each person is fundamentally the same, having the same basic parts and the same basic needs, but each has notable differences in type and function. Organizations also demonstrate complexity, both within and between the members. Each one is, in its own way, remarkable.

Each human cell has a specific function, and the function of each cell is of equal importance to the body. No cell type can be eliminated if the body is to survive. We may feel that a muscle cell, which allows movement and work, is more important than a fat cell, which stores energy for future use, but it is not. Some cells, such as eggs and sperm, do not serve the individual body as much as they serve the human species, but they still serve.

The normal human body does not have cells which do nothing; which contribute nothing to the betterment of the body. There is no cell which exists for its own pleasure, and no cell which receives resources for its own sake. Each cell “earns its keep” by its contribution to the body. Old or injured cells, though they may no longer have the ability to serve the body as robustly as they used to, still serve. No matter how weak, they have important work to do. A normal heart composed of healthy cells is able to pump out about 60% of the blood that is in it with every beat. A diseased heart, including normal and weak cells may only be able to pump 15%, but it still pumps. To help compensate, the brain directs the body to do things which allow older and weaker body parts and cells to meaningfully contribute. People walk with a limp to shift weight to the healthy leg while an injured leg heals. The body does not stop using cells when they become old. There is rest but there is no retirement for human cells; they only stop contributing when they die.

If we follow the example of the body, no human organization should have members who contribute nothing. Yet many do. What about those who consume far more than they produce? How each organization defines “contribute” or “produce” may differ, but ultimately having too many who do not give to an organization will kill it. Proverbs has much to say about lazy people (עצל `atsel – sluggards), none of it good. In the final analysis, each member of the family must pull together to accomplish the work of their family. Each member of the church must contribute to the work of their church, and the same for the nation. Parents contribute to having and raising the next generation, and workers provide goods and services for others and themselves. Even the old or sick can, and must, do what they can for the betterment of others. In our church many aged and disabled volunteer for important tasks, and many serve others mightily in prayer. My mother in law, a photographer in her 70s, was told to stop shooting pictures so she could make room for younger photographers. This is biased and rude; it is also unphysiologic. As long as the aged can work, they should be encouraged to.

Who decides the amount and value of what each individual produces? In the body, the contribution is harmonized in a way that seems automatic. Among humans and in the absolute sense, God alone decides. In the relative sense, each individual must first intend to give at least as much as they receive, and then strive to do it. Others must help them along the way.

Does this mean that the individual has no inherent importance outside of what they contribute? No, but it means that the One who created us did so not for our own enjoyment or even benefit, but for His purposes. No human individual, or even group, is the center of the universe. We exist to serve our Maker. Only when we believe that we have no Maker do we begin to believe that we exist to serve ourselves, individually or corporately.

The healthy human body also does not have cells that starve or fail to receive the structure and resources that they need to live and function. Some cells receive more than others, nerve cells, for example, use more glucose and oxygen than fat cells, but no cell receives more than it can profitably use. Even fat cells accumulate fat not for themselves, but for the body. Human organizations likewise must meet the needs of each member because doing so is necessary to accomplish the mission of the organization.

How does the body meet the needs of its members? The brain does not and cannot meet the needs of every member with its internal resources. The brain tells the body what to do in the external environment, ensuring that its needs are met, and picks up signals from the internal environment (such as pain, hunger, etc.). The brain is neither capable of nor responsible for meeting the needs of each cell. In fact, the brain sometimes sacrifices individual cells for the sake of the body. Instead the brain directs the body to get what it needs (air, shelter, water, food, etc.) from the environment. The body, its parts working in unity to accomplish its mission and meet its own needs, corporately promotes the survival of each cell. For example, when a person is born with only one kidney, the other kidney grows to compensate.

While the brain is responsive to the needs of its cells and organs, it can override internal signals to accomplish a greater goal. How often have we ignored the ache of muscles to finish a job we had to do? Every woman who has ever given birth has willingly endured the pain and injury, knowing that she will receive a great blessing.

Control is localized. When a man twists his right ankle, the right leg buckles to take the pressure off the injured ankle while the left leg stiffens to support more of the weight of the body. Control of this reflex occurs at the spinal cord. Vital processes such as breathing are controlled at the brainstem, not the highest level cerebral cortex. Another vital process, the pulse, is controlled jointly within the heart and at the brainstem. The health of the body is not the responsibility of the brain alone, but of all the members. Activities occur at lowest possible levels of control.

Organizations are similar. They exist first to accomplish their mission, and second to meet the needs of their members. The purpose of the leadership is to direct the organization to accomplish the mission. Parents must take care of their children and officers take care of their soldiers, but they do so to ensure that the next generation or the military unit does what it was intended to do. Control must be localized at the lowest possible level of authority in organizations, just as in the body.

Likewise, nations do not exist for themselves but to promote peace and justice at home and abroad. As the brain directs the body to accomplish its mission and ensure its survival in the environment, so governments direct the nation to accomplish its mission in the world and ensure its survival. However, governments should not and cannot guarantee the survival or even well being of every individual. On the contrary, individual citizens working as individuals, as families, as community groups, and even through governments work to support each other.

There are times when human bodies develop cells that do nothing for the body, that consume resources and that spread. This is known as cancer. Under the influence of viruses, radiation and other stimuli, a cell can be changed in a way that causes it to stop doing what it was created to do, stop helping the rest of the body, and begin multiplying uncontrollably. The immune system of the body usually detects these cells and destroys them before they cause greater damage. Some indolent cancers, such as many prostate and thyroid cancers, stay in the body growing slowly and never spread or become dangerous. In other cases, cancerous cells proliferate, consume resources, destroy nearby productive cells, and ultimately kill the body. This is why people with advanced cancer literally waste away. In killing the body the cancer cells also die. Selfishness is ultimately death to those that practice it.

The sequence is little different in the lives of families, other organizations, and even nations. Under the false teachings of “it’s all about me”, “the world owes me” and “I am the center of my existence”, people begin to believe that they can be consumers, not producers, and that somehow they deserve to be supported, regardless of what they give to others. A healthy family, organization or nation can retrain or even support these members. Eventually, though, these people do so little and consume so much that they can no longer be supported and the organization begins to falter. If unchecked the family, organization or nation will be destroyed. So will the “cancerous” person. Few people truly believe that they have no responsibilities to others at all, but how many do as much as possible for themselves and as little as possible for others? How much less cancerous are they?

The use of the human body to describe human organizations is a metaphor and therefore is imperfect, as all metaphors imperfectly describe reality. However it does describe important truths in the real world. It takes little reflection to realize that these principles are true in all areas of life. Let us return to our initial questions. The real issue is not between “the haves and the have nots” but those who have enough to accomplish their purpose on earth and those who do not. Resentment over people who have more simply because they have more is irrational, destructive, and frankly evil. Arrogance about having more than another person is the same. A person with little who accomplishes his mission in life is far better than one with much who does not.

The issue of “those who do and those who do not” is also misleading. It is rare to find someone who doesn’t contribute something to the family, the church, or the nation. It is rarer still to find someone who doesn’t believe that they contribute more than they actually do. Few people fall completely into the categories “do” or “do not”; most fall somewhere between the two. The task of measuring individual contributions is undoable, save by God alone. The task of identifying people with attitudes of selfishness and entitlement is far easier; most people will reveal their attitudes if you ask them, and then watch what they do. None of us is as good as we think we are.

In the end, the body provides an excellent illustration of how human organizations should work, and what happens when they do not. Creation and the Bible are God’s magnificent revelations to man. In aligning ourselves and our society with the truths contained therein, we will have the best possible human civilization and the best possible eternal reward.

Jesus’ Birth, Childhood, and Family Tree

It is interesting that the one part of Jesus’ life that is most recognized in mainstream American society is His birth.  We celebrate Christmas, and despite the concerted and oftentimes angry effort to take Him out of Christmas, He remains an important part, even for many who may not believe much else about Him.  Both Matthew and Luke provide valid historical accounts.

Overview – Jesus was born in 6-4 BC under remarkable circumstances.  An angel announced to Mary’s aged and barren cousin, Elizabeth, that she would bear a great prophet who would be a forerunner to the Messiah.  The same angel later announced to Mary that she, a virgin, would bear a son who was destined to be the Messiah.  The angel appeared to Mary’s fiancé, Joseph, to convince him to go through with his marriage to her, despite the troubling nature of her pregnancy.  In the fullness of time, John the Baptist was born, accompanied by the miraculous return of speech to his father and great prophecies about his future.  Not long afterwards, Joseph and Mary traveled 90 miles south from Nazareth through the hill country of Palestine to Bethlehem, a place in which they were alone and homeless.  In a stable for animals which was probably a cave, she had a son.  His birth was attended by shepherds, angels, and great fanfare (“Glory to God in the Highest…”).  After eight days He was circumcised and introduced to Anna the prophetess and Simeon at the temple in Jerusalem.  Both understood that he was the Messiah.  Shortly thereafter, Magi from the East (probably Parthia) came bearing gifts for the new king, Jesus.  King Herod of Judea, fearing a threat to his throne, ordered all male babies under two in Bethlehem to be killed.    Escaping in the nick of time, Joseph took his little family to Egypt to live.  After the death of Herod, Joseph the carpenter and his family traveled through Judah and settled in Nazareth of Galilee.

Very little is mentioned about his growth and development except that he grew in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.  At age 12 in the Temple, Jesus demonstrated His development in knowledge of God’s word and His ability to reason through it.  He also showed His priority focus on God the Father’s ministry for Him.  At Jesus’ next appearance in the Bible, he is 30.

Matthew – Jesus’ birth and childhood are mentioned only in Matthew and Luke. Judging by the genealogy and the abundance of OT scripture, it is safe to say that at least one major objective of Matthew in writing his gospel was to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.  The story of the Wise Men, prominently showing His readers the regal honor given the child, despite His humble advent, further supported this goal.  But Matthew did not record the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, or their eyewitness account.  Including the story of the sojourn in Egypt, Matthew took 29 verses for his account.  Matthew used dreams in his accounts of how God communicated with the main human actors in the story.

Luke – Having as a major goal the production of a careful historical account, Luke included a genealogy and also spent time on His birth.  A skilled historian, he began with the annunciation of John the Baptist, the forerunner for the Messiah. Then he weaved his narrative through the communications by vision to Mary, and her faithful response in the Magnificat.  The prose of Luke 1-2, including the accounts of the census, the journey to Bethlehem, the manger, the angels and the shepherds, is magnificent.  Whereas Matthew highlights the regality of Jesus’ birth, Luke highlights the humility of it.

The genealogies in the accounts can be harmonized, but with some difficulty.  The following are common attempts to make them consistent. Harmonizing the genealogies is considered important because some Jews, even today, use Jesus genealogy to “prove that he could not have been the Messiah.

  1. Matthew’s gospel provides Joseph’s genealogy, as he is the legal father, and Luke’s gospel provides Mary’s genealogy, as she is the biological and legal mother.
  2. Matthew’s gospel provides Joseph’s genealogy through his actual father, Jacob, and Luke’s gospel provides his genealogy through his legal father, Heli.  This assumes that Heli died childless and Jacob married his widow and fathered Joseph.
  3. Matthew’s gospel named the legal descendants of David in the official line of succession to the throne, and Luke’s gospel mentioned the actual line to which Joseph belonged, that Joseph’s father Jacob died childless and Heli became his legal father.

It is not clear which of these attempts, if any, are true.  Findings from archaeology, discoveries of ancient documents, and other sources may someday provide answers.