This St. Patrick’s Day, teach your kids about the real (mission-minded) Patrick

This St. Patrick’s Day, teach your kids about the real (mission-minded) PatrickAmerican holidays are a quirky thing. We celebrate turkey on Thanksgiving, Santa Claus on Christmas, green clothes on St. Patrick’s Day and bunny rabbits on Easter – even though each one has a uniquely Christian foundation.

What, you didn’t know that St. Patrick’s Day had a Christian theme?

Patrick was a real person who played a key role in the spreading of the Gospel in the 400s. He was a British teenager when, around age 16, he was sold into slavery and taken to Ireland, where he worked for about six years before escaping across the sea back to England. As Bruce Shelley writes in his book Church History In Plain Language, Patrick “would have gladly remained in England had he not had a dream one night in which the babies of Ireland pleaded with him to come back to their country and tell them about Christ.” He did that – and his work resulted in thousands coming to know the Lord.

So a man was sold into slavery, escaped, and then returned to tell those very same people about Jesus. What’s not to like about that story?

The story of Patrick is one we should be telling our children over and over, and what better time than St. Patrick’s Day? It’s a story of forgiveness, sacrifice, service and missions.

Want to know more? Read history professor Stephen Douglas Wilson’s column about St. Patrick. It’s told from a Baptist angle, but it’s applicable to all Christians.
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We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toys

We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toys

My oldest son was two years old when he received his first “big” gift: a Thomas the Train track set.

It had everything a two-year-old – or even a 22-year-old – could have wanted. Fifty-two wooden pieces. A bridge. A tunnel. A crane. Even a tall, fake waterfall. And it all could be assembled on a wooden play table that was just-his-size.

He would play with it during the morning, afternoon and night, pushing Thomas, Gordon and Henry around the track. Over. And over. And over.

Seven years later, though, that train set gets little attention from my oldest son, or even from his younger brother and sister. Instead, it resides in a cluttered side of our basement amidst other toys that my children have received over the years – toys that on most days also get neglected. To borrow a phrase from a classic Christmas cartoon, it’s our own “Island of Misfit Toys” – and they’re all looking for a loving home.

Those toys can be an eyesore, yes, but they also can be convicting.

We’re giving away our kids’ Christmas toysConsider, for example, the items Samaritan’s Purse recommends packing in its Christmas shoeboxes that go to less-fortunate children in other countries. The list includes balls and dolls but also pens, pencils, socks, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes. Toothbrushes! Meanwhile, I and countless other Americans watch 42-inch televisions and wonder if it’s time to upgrade to something much larger for our Christmas present.

Experts tells us the United States has 3.1 percent of the world’s children yet purchases 40 percent of its toys. [1] But we shouldn’t point fingers at our kids. They didn’t buy those toys.

Besides, we adults are quite good at collecting our own “toys.” Continue reading

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’

‘What’s the definition of beauty?’My daughter is only four-years-old, but sometimes, I think she’s 14.

That was the case a few weeks ago, when she walked purposefully into the kitchen, sporting a pink dress, glitzy shoes and shiny fingernail polish, and asked me through a sweet smile: “Daddy, do you think I look beautiful?”

I chuckled at the situation and responded quickly, “Of course, I do!” She walked back into her room to continue her game of dress-up and I finished eating my snack, but later I began to ask myself: What am I teaching her? In other words, what is she learning about beauty?

If I’m not diligent, then she will learn all the worldly, wrong things as she grows older: that beauty is skin-deep, that worth is based on a perfect figure and the right clothes, and that her body is to be put on display like a cheap weekend sale at Walmart.

I thought about that recently when my family and I stopped at a gas station to fill up the van and to get snacks during a short road trip. There in the gas station window was the magazine rack, and there on the magazine rack were the latest “gentleman’s” magazines flaunting barely dressed models – easily seen by anyone who did not even enter the station. Such as my daughter.

But we don’t have to stop at the wrong gas station to be confronted with worldly images of beauty. We see it every Sunday during the fall, when the TV cameras switch from the football game to the cheerleaders and we’re left wondering if “thin, half-naked and blond” were the prerequisites. We’re faced with it during commercials, when Hardee’s trots out soft-porn images to try and sell us – of all things — hamburgers.

Heck, we even see it in during Disney and Pixar cartoons, which promote not immodesty but perfection. How many average-looking heroines can you remember from the most popular animated movies?

Then there’s social media. A recent Pew study found that 61 percent of teen girls — but only 44 percent of teen boys — regularly access Instagram, the picture-based platform where, essentially, only “glamour shots” are posted. As director Delaney Ruston discovered in the documentary Screenagers, Instagram and platforms like it are destroying the body image of middle school and high school girls, who feel constant pressure to look flawless for their friends and romantic interests. Continue reading

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

‘Dad, what’s wrong with her?’ (4 things to teach your kids about disabilities)

My oldest son was munching on French fries and looking around the restaurant, as the rest of our family finished a meal on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

His mind, though, was not on the topic of conversation. Instead, he was staring at an adjacent table, where another family was sitting.

“Dad, what’s wrong with her?”

Almost immediately, I knew what he was referencing. Sitting at the table was a woman in a wheelchair, maybe in her 20s, who was mentally disabled. Every now and then she would look our way and smile, and I would smile back, but my son – who at the time was in the second grade – did not know what to do.

“She keeps looking over here, Dad.”

My son was confused, not knowing what to think, and I was searching for answers. And I knew that this conversation would apply to every area of his life.

No matter where he goes – to school, to church and (one day) to work – he will encounter people who look different, sound different and act different. His friends might be tempted to say “she looks weird” or “he acts goofy,” but I pray he will respond with the heart of Christ, and not with the words of a bully.

After all, the entire point of the Gospel was to help those who are helpless. Sure, the core of it was Jesus saving sinners, but if we study His life on this earth, we discover He had a heart for the disabled: the leper, the blind man, the lame person. And what about the story of Zacchaeus (a despised tax collector who was so short he couldn’t see over anyone) or even Paul (who had an undefined “thorn in the flesh”)?

If my son gets this lesson right early in life, then he will have the courage to stand up for the humanity of the mentally disabled woman in the restaurant … or even the skinny, acne-prone boy in science class.

As we walked away from that restaurant, I made several points: Continue reading

REVIEW: Is ‘Sully’ family-friendly? (And is it too scary for kids?)

REVIEW: Is 'Sully' family-friendly? (And is it too scary for kids?)

Making movies based on well-known historical events can be a bit tricky — especially if it is about an event that nearly every person in the theater will remember.

But that is what director Clint Eastwood and the studio (Warner Brothers) behind the new film Sully (PG-13) chose to do — and despite the fact the so-called “Miracle on the Hudson” took place only seven years ago, they did it successfully.

Sully is one of the best movies of the year, delivering surprise after surprise about an American hero — Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by Tom Hanks) – who landed U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River near New York after it was disabled due to a rare bird strike on both engines.

Incredibly, all 155 people on board survived. Sully’s story was told and re-told in the days after the heroic events of Jan. 15, 2009, so what possibly could we all have missed? As it turns out, a lot.

Sullenberger had doubts that he did the right thing, wondering if he should have tried to land the plane at a near-by airport instead of endangering the passengers by putting the plane in the river. Those doubts led to nightmares about passenger planes crashing. He even wondered if the incident would threaten his career and retirement, leading to financial ruin for his family.

The movie turns officials with the National Transportation Safety Board into heartless bureaucrats, although some former employees say the NTSB gave Sullenberger high marks. Sullenberger, though, says the movie reflects his memory.

Historians can debate the film’s nuances, but from an entertainment and inspirational perspective, Eastwood and his writing team have weaved a masterpiece.

The movie has plenty to like for the faith-based crowd, but is it family-friendly? Let’s take a look. Continue reading