A Theology of Labor Day

Labor Day is more than a day marking the end of summer and the day we return to real life again. It’s more than a day off work to do other stuff or nothing at all, as nice as that might be. It’s the celebration and commemoration of the hard and faithful workers who’ve built and continue to daily build our nation. Canada, like a good neighbor, celebrates this day right along with us.

In celebrating the labor we do in our daily lives, it is important for Christians to recognize and remember that work and its importance is central to the Christian story. It is nothing less than divine.

We are taught so in the first and second pages of scripture. Genesis 1 gives us the details of God’s work in daily detail. Then chapter 2 begins with these words:

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

All of creation is God’s work, His labor. And when He was done with it, He rested. “Work” is a curious word the scriptures use for God’s creative actions here. And it curious that He who cannot and never tires, He who cannot be exhausted, rested. It is reasonable to suggest that God did not rest because He was worn out, but simply to take a good bit of time to reflect upon and enjoy the work He had done. We should do the same. Our God worked and does work. And what God does is wholly and perfectly divine.

And as God created the first two humans on the sixth day, the first command He gave them was to create beings in their own image, just as the Triune God created them in His own image and likeness. This was their first work, and it was delightful, joyful. Following on the foot heals of this, man and woman were commanded to tend creation, to watch over it, harvest it, assist in its fruitfulness as it was created to do. Work: a creative and participatory task to be done as a gift from God by every person who is a unique God Imager in creation.

Work is not a product of the Fall. It just got more difficult because of the Fall. It would now draw sweat from our brows, create calluses on our hands, produce aches in our backs and make us tired. It would and will sometimes be fruitless, a failure. But it would still be deeply satisfying to us because there is something deeply divine in it. No human can live a meaningful, happy life without having work that allows them to contribute to something larger than themselves, even if that means sweeping the streets or cleaning toilets. To do that work is better than having no work. And those who have no material need to work because of wealth will find they cannot be happy without work, a task that improves their lives and the lives of others. We are made for work.

Consider as well God who became flesh and lived among us. Christ came as the Savior of the world, but didn’t go straight to the “important work” of his public ministry and the Cross. He was actually a bit of late bloomer in that regard. Rather, he lived an average day-in/day-out work-a-day life, just like anyone else does. And he did so for three decades, so there was a great deal of daily work there. We don’t know what He did; the scriptures don’t give us much of a picture there. But He wasn’t a loaf.

As a son in a real family, He had chores to do. As a friend, He was surely happy to lend a hand to help His buddies do their chores so they could go play all the sooner. As a neighbor, He no doubt offered a hand to help fetch water, move furniture, clean floors, go to the market now and again for those in his community. Here is a marvelous painting of this very reality. It is by John Rogers Herbert entitled Our Savior Subject to His Parents at Nazareth (1847)

John Rogers Herbert, Our Savior Subject to His Parents at Nazareth 1847

The Savior worked. And what the Savior did, as He walked along the earth with us, was divine. The incarnation does not permit Christians a platonic view of work, that which is “secular” and the other which is “sacred”.

Work is divine. All work. It is a gift, a blessing. It might not always feel that way, in fact many times quite the opposite. But knowing the Christian story, both at creation and in the incarnation, we know that it is.

Happy Labor Day. Blessed day of labor tomorrow.

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Big in Taiwan

Just got a note The Ring - Tawain Trans 006yesterday from my publisher that my book on the down-sides of cohabitation has been translated for the Taiwanese reader. Cool.

So, for all the Taiwanese friends on your Christmas and Birthday lists, your shopping just got exponentially easier.

 

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Are Unmarried Births Really Declining?

Thankfully, this is exactly what it looks like’s happening. Regarding out of wedlock births, a new report from the National Center for Health Statistics finds the following:

Steepest Decline Since 1940: Unmarried child-bearing has declined at its steepest and most sustained rate since 1940 over the last few years, both in terms of rate and real numbers. The rate declined 14% from its all-time high in 2008.

unmarried birth rates decline

Cohabiting Births Now Majority: Increasingly, unmarried births are taking place in cohabiting relationships, 58% of all out-of-wedlock births today, up from 41% in 2002. These are also increasingly intended pregnancies, by 20% in 2002 to 29% in 2010.

Increases for Ages 35+: Age-wise, non-marital births have declined since 2007 for all women up to age 35, but have increased for those over 35. Specifically…

1. Declined 30% for ages 15-17 and 26% for ages 18-19.

2. For 20-24 year-olds declined by 19% and 13% for those aged 25-29.

3. However, they’ve risen 7% for women aged 35-39 and a remarkable 29% among 40-44 year-olds. (A theory for this curious outlier is presented in the conclusion below.)

Declines for All Races: Race-wise, declines are seen in all groups since 2007.

1. Hispanic women had the highest levels in 2007, but the greatest decline today at 28%.

2. Black women had an 11% decline.

3. Non-Hispanic White women had a 6% decline.

4. Asian and Pacific Islanders have always had the lowest levels in general, having a very minimal recent decline.

In terms of percentage of non-marital births to all births, that number has stayed largely the same at 40.6% in 2013 from 41% in 2009. (NOTE: This particular number remains unchanged – while all the others have changed dramatically – because it is a percentage of all births, which have been declining faster than non-marital births have.)

Is “The Man Problem” at work here?

No one really knows the reason for this positive turn. But the sharp and continued increase of these births among cohabiting women and those in their later 30s and 40s is very curious.

I believe it has much to do with the difficulty women are having finding marriageable men today. If they cannot find men who they feel good about marrying, they will simply settle for living with them and getting a baby from them as they feel their biological clocks ticking down in these later ages.

And this is exactly what we are seeing in increasing numbers.

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When Jesus Art Goes Wrong: Sports

The Lord Jesus has always – at least for 2,000+ years -been a central figure in art. Much of this art – like this one, for instance – is some of the most dramatic and meaningful art humanity has been given. But of late, some of it is anything but worthy of the Savior of the world. And it’s not coming from bitter atheists, but genuinely well-meaning Christians. But good intentions do not make good art. And it doesn’t make it honoring either.

Here is a very curious collection of such art, from the sports genre.

Tennis Jesus

Jesus came not to be served, but to show us his killer backhand.

Jesus came not to be served, but to show us his killer backhand.

Hand-off Jesus

Jimmy, if I say a forward lateral's legal, ain't no ref gonna say otherwise.

Jimmy, if I say a forward lateral’s legal, ain’t no ref gonna say otherwise.

Choke-up Jesus

My eye is on the sparrow.  Yours are on the ball Bobby!

My eye is on the sparrow. Yours are on the ball Bobby!

Got Game Jesus

You know I've done other miracles with baskets.

You know I’ve done other miracles with baskets.

8th Round Jesus

I just beat the snot out of a guy. And my hair still looks heavenly.

I just beat the snot out of a guy. And my hair still looks heavenly.

Tell me what your favorite sports Jesus is!

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On the Humble Acknowledgment of Our Own Defects

Thomas_von_Kempen_JSAfter decades of having ignored it on my bookshelf, I’ve finally taken Thomas a Kempis’ enduring The Imitation of Christ (completed 1427) down and started through its pages. It has been a refreshing wonder in its directness on the topics of growing meaningfully in Christ as well as each section’s conciseness, each one easily readable in five minutes or less.

One of the best bits so far is in Book II, Admonitions Leading to the Inner Life, section 2. It is entitled “Of the Humble Acknowledgment of Our Own Defects”. This is a topic I naturally tend to avoid, it being easier and more comforting to agree that one can’t acknowledge what’s simply not there. But that does not tend to improve anyone’s inner life, nor exterior life. So, in I waded.

What it provides is very good so I wanted to share it in full with you.

Do not regard much who is with you or who is against you, but let this be your greatest study: that God may be with you in everything that you do. Have a good conscience, and He will defend you well, and no evil will hinder or grieve the man God will help and defend. If you can be quiet and suffer for a while, you will, without doubt, see the help of God come in your need. He knows the time and the place to deliver you, and therefore you must resign yourself wholly to Him. It is God’s concern to help and to deliver from all confusion.

Nevertheless, it is often very profitable to us for the surer protection of humility that other men know our faults and rebuke us for them. When a man humbles himself for his offenses he easily pleases others, and reconciles himself to them whom he offended. Almighty God defends and comforts the humble man; He inclines Himself to the humble and sends him great plenty of His grace. God also shows His secrets to the humble man and lovingly draws him to Himself and after oppression, He lifts him up to glory. When the humble man has suffered confusion and rebuke, he is in good  peace, for he trust God and not the world.

Moreover, if you will come to the height of perfection, do not think that you have advanced in virtue until you can feel humbly in your heart that you have less humility and less virtue than anyone else.

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The Family Project… the book

My buddy Leon Wirth and I are stoked our new book is out. It’s The Family Project, the book-length, deeper-dive presentation of the teaching and insights offered in Focus on the Family’s 12 session dvd small group curriculum byt the same title.

tfp-book-lgLeon and I had the honor and privilege of being able to write the material for this innovative and ground-breaking curriculum and participate in its development with a very smart and talented crew. This book, The Family Project, is the full content of what we developed to the tell the story of what family is, why it matters and how we understand its significance in light of  who God is in his deepest nature and character and who we are as humans uniquely created in his image.  Being God’s story, starting from before creation stretching all the way to the culmination of time, it’s of course a big story and not all of it could fit in the twelve 25- minute dvd sessions. So we wrote this book so students in The Family Project small groups can have the benefit of, if you will, “stay after class” and get some further insight and understanding on the topics explored in each session. But the book was also written so that it stands alone for the reader who wants a fuller, deeper Christian understanding of the “why” of family, especially in its unavoidable imperfection.

We are excited about the book and its companion project materials because while it tells the story of the “why” of family, it does so by really examining our common humanity and what its means in light of the reality that we are each uniquely created in the very image of the God of the universe. There is so much more to this truth than most people – including most Christians – really appreciate. It is a profound, beautiful and captivating story, one that Christ invites each of us to join Him in as his beloved child. We provide more of an ancient telling of the Christian story than most are familiar with, drawing from the old, old truths of the Christian Church and the wisdom of its venerable fathers (and mothers) through the Ages.

We also offer the reader a  broad survey of classical art in illustrating and driving home many of the points and verities discussed through the pages. The reader will find these pieces of art at the project’s website where they can read more about each work and study the images carefully at their leisure.

The book is indeed a unique and colorful look at a theology of family, but not in a high-minded seminary way nor in a dry systematic theological approach. It’s generic_50s_couple dishesfull of life, color and application for our hearts, minds and lives, the deepest parts of where we all live within our souls. Get the book, and if you are not completely satisfied, one of us – most likely Leon – will come to your house and do your dishes for three nights in a row. Yes, three nights in a row!  Don’t be dumb and  pass up such and offer?

P.S. This short video explains what students of the family can expect in The Family Project small group experience.

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Does New Research Prove Kids Do Better with Gay Parents?

A new study from the University of Melbourne in Australia on how kids from same-sex homes fare is getting a good deal of press. Perhaps you’ve seen the news stories and wondered if this changes the nature of the debate over the importance of the family.

It does not.

This new study gives the same kind of findings we’ve seen before, coming from the same kinds of studies with the same kinds of serious short-comings and method problems. You can read about the weaknesses of those previous studies here, here and here.

But, despite all the fanfare it is receiving, this study tells us nothing about how kids in same-sex homes thrive compared to children being raised by their married mother and father. It doesn’t even address the issue, which is the primary issue in this debate. I explain this and the other major problems with this study in four major points.

1) The authors of the study plainly admit its significant methodology problems, which are the same problems with other such studies with similar findings.

a)    It uses a very small (500 children) non-representative sample.

b)    It is a convenience sample, meaning they used the most convenient sample collection available, by advertising in gay communities/publications/etc. and interested people signed up to participate in the study.

c)    The parents participating in the study knew they were signing up for and participating in a major study on the well-being of same-sex families.

d)    The information was collected via self-reports from the parent on the well-being of their child.

 The authors fail to appreciate that these same-sex parents – knowing they were participating in a significant study on same-sex families that would have very important political and social implications – have strong reason to be more positive in their self-reporting in significant ways on their child’s health relative to the comparison sample group of heterosexual parents whose data came from general, non-partisan public health surveys. This is not a small point.

2) This study compared kids from two-mom and two-dad homes (only 18% were from dad/dad homes) with kids from heterosexual homes. There is no explanation whatsoever of which kinds of homes these comparison group kids were from, which again is a big problem with nearly every such study because different forms of heterosexual homes can be drastically different in terms of child well-being outcomes. Are they all married mother/father families? They were not.  But how many were? How many were from cohabiting, single, divorced or remarried step homes? The authors do not say and never address this question as important which is an incredible and embarrassing oversight.

Given this, the study’s conclusion is useless, as it essentially finds that kids growing up in same-sex homes look like kids that grow up in some kinds of heterosexual homes. This simply is not news.

But how do they compare to children growing up with their own married mothers and fathers? This study has no way of telling us one way or the other, and it didn’t even try, rendering it practically useless on this point because there is no major voice arguing that same-sex parents do worse than children than any of the various kinds of heterosexual homes. Nearly everyone making the case holds that they will not do as well as children growing up with their own married mother and father. The study disproves a thesis that no one is making, ignoring the actual ball that is in play.

3) The study contains drastic and important differences in their heterosexual and same-sex parenting samples, which fall significantly in favor of more positive same-sex family outcomes.

 a)    The same-sex parented kids’ population sample is a highly selective, non-representative sample of only 500 children.

 b)    The comparison population of kids from hetero-homes came from two very different studies with randomly selected samples of 5,335 and 5,025 children each.

c)    The same-sex population sample had parents with dramatically higher incomes and education status than the general population.

      1. Income: 406 out of the 500 same-sex parented homes had annual household incomes from 60,000 to 250,000 dollars or higher compared to the average 64,000 annual household income of the more representative heterosexual sample group.
      2. Education: At least 384 homes in the 500 same-sex children sample had four-year college degrees or greater, 232 with postgraduate degrees. The same numbers for the general population are not even comparable.

d)    The study does not specify age at first parenthood, but if similar to other such studies, same-sex parents generally have their first child in their early- to mid-thirties.

 Each of these factors mean that the measurements for the kids from same-sex homes have characteristics that strongly favor more positive well-being outcomes compared to the heterosexual-family comparison sample, i.e. more selective, smaller sampling, dramatically higher household income and parental education status, as well as later age, maturity and life-stability at age of having their first child. These are far from anything close to equal measurements and comparisons.

4) Finally, the study curiously contends that children do better in same-sex homes but they are also more likely to suffer serious harm from social stigma regarding their family. While the authors don’t make this connection, nor do any of the mainstream journalists reporting on the study, it would appear that if this apparent debilitating stigma were erased, these kids would be the new super kids, doing markedly better than all other kids right? “Treat us badly and we still do better than you!”

So which is it? Are same-sex homes triumphantly superior or victims? It’s hard to sustain being both. But holding to both is politically expedient, so…

And it would follow from these studies and the widespread and uncritical political trumpeting of they receive that it might actually be stunting children’s health and happiness by letting them be raised by their own mothers and fathers. When I bring this point up to my debate partners, they always answer, “Oh, now no one is saying that!” But they don’t need to because logic leads us directly there. But these last two points are just but two examples of the dramatic over-reach these folks routinely make and which will likely be a major reason for their eventual downfall in the marketplace of ideas.

But rest easy. Nature’s purpose and design in ideally giving every child her own mother and father as parents has not been challenged by any serious studies to date, including this one. And it is unlikely any serious study ever will.

No politically manufactured form of family has ever rivaled or replaced the natural form of family of mother, father and child.

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