What’s a Hypocrite?

I don’t think we’ve had this particular discussion before with the boys. It was verses from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) and questions in Good Dirt that got their wheels turning and, before we’d even finished the Scripture reading our 8-year-old was interrupting with, “What’s a hypocrite? … What’s a hypocrite?”

They couldn’t really identify with Jesus’ examples of blowing trumpets when giving money in church, or praying really loud on street corners, or fasting from food with troubled faces. So, the challenge was to bring hypocrisy to a kid’s level.

“It’s doing things so that other people will think you’re a really good Christian, but you don’t mean them in your heart. It’s caring more about what other people think of you than what God thinks of you.”

Well, that description seemed to satisfy. Except that our two younger boys haven’t reached the place in life quite yet where they would conceive of doing good deeds to impress other people. It’s not a motivation that resonates a whole lot with them. What you see is what you get.

However, as I’ve thought a little more on this, I’ve realized that we adults can sometimes use subtle ways of encouraging hypocrisy in our kids before they even really understand what they–and we– are doing. For awhile our Christian school used a popular behavior program called Positive Behavior Management, where instead of focusing primarily on giving consequences for unacceptable behavior, teachers focused on praising and rewarding good and appropriate behavior. It was a big hit with the kids and it really did make a difference in the overall demeanor of the student body in classrooms and on the playground.  The kids rose to the occasion and loved being singled out for doing good things.

I wouldn’t throw out this program completely. Encouraging kids is always good. Noticing the things they do right is biblical–the apostle Paul praised churches and individuals in his letters of exhortation. Praising those around us is part of loving them. The rub comes, though, when we consider what is motivating our kids to be “good,” day in and day out, as they play with friends, serve their teachers and neighbors, and as they live as members of families in our homes.

That is what we ended up talking about this night where hypocrisy became our new vocabulary word. And Good Dirt helped us come to the crux of the issue with these words,

Today, Jesus is teaching us that because it is God whom we really need–not other people’s approval–we don’t need to act, perform, or pretend to be good to impress others. Let’s practice that today by doing an act of secret service! Try not to be caught! Do something nice for someone else–maybe clean up after them when they’re not looking, or make something nice for them, or do a chore for them–without telling anyone. Do it so only God sees!

That night our boys prayed, “Lord, help us not to be hypocrites. Help us not to have hypROCKrisy. Help us to do something in secret. Amen” The next night, again, they prayed for help in doing something secret–they’d forgotten. This may be an ongoing prayer. I don’t think doing things in secret comes so naturally. It will be a good daily prayer for us all.

***You can get the next issue of Good Dirt by clicking on the title here and downloading for free, or you can order through Amazon. It’s titled Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families

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Dirty Work and New Growth

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© Veronica Foale, used under Creative Commons License.

Kids never cease to surprise. Over Christmastide, the period of the twelve days of Christmas beginning December 25, our family had a time of sitting together and focusing for more than 30 minutes on both the spiritual parallels for the 12 Days of Christmas song and then on what spiritual disciplines are, why we practice them, and some discussion on a few specific disciplines.

We are using a book titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi (which you can download for free to use with your family or purchase in paperback from Amazon, with two  subsequent issues for upcoming parts of the church year available soon). The book has a brief family devotion for every day, centered around the theme of planting and growing–our souls, both kids and adults, are like plants that need good dirt and helpful conditions in order to grow and flourish with God. Each of the few steps in the daily devotion fills a planting metaphor: we till the soil with prayer, we plant the seed of God’s Word by reading a noted Scripture passage, we water the soil by acting a story, drawing a picture, or talking about how God’s Word applies to our lives, and later on we weed, considering how we applied or failed to apply these themes in our day.

Our family has taken easily to the Good Dirt format and we’ve experienced meaningful times of listening to God and each other. That day during Christmastide stands out because we’d had a few days of being in and out of the house, active with extended family and various activities of the Christmas season. We had not spent time in our Good Dirt devotions for three or four days and there was much good material we’d missed. On this day, we started by discovering what none of us had known:

“Some say that the words of the [Twelve Days of Christmas] song were secret code for people to remember their faith during times of persecution.” ~ Good Dirt

For example, a partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens are the three virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love, and on it goes. This song with it’s Christian faith parallels is a fun way to help kids review important, foundational themes of our faith.

The Christmastide period, being twelve days, also fits ideally for bringing into discussion each of the twelve spiritual disciplines (as identified by Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines are grouped by inner, outer, and corporate disciplines and include prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. They all will be re-visited throughout the coming year in Good Dirt.

I mentioned that kids never cease to surprise, and here is why. On this day during Christmas, we didn’t set out to make up all of our lost ground in the devotional. We just started reading together and one thing led to another. Before we’d realized it, we had spent time on the song, talking about spiritual disciplines, and reviewing the first disciplines covered in the days we’d missed. And our boys tracked with us on every bit of it!

Our 8-year-old has been in perpetual motion since he was a toddler. He focuses just fine but cannot stop moving his body. Every Good Dirt session he is rolling on the floor, playing with a ball, walking around, or moving in some other sort of way. He learns and processes by moving;  it’s just who he is. Our 14-year-old is a teenager. He’s wonderful … and also a little hormonal at times. Our middle guy at age 11 is on the quieter side. He usually ends up helping to re-direct his brothers.

Three personalities, three stages in childhood. So, the reality of sitting for such a long period together and discussing some pretty involved areas of theology and spiritual training is something I wouldn’t have thought possible or advisable for us or anyone. Yet it became a time of fun and absorbing discussion and learning.

I’ve often thought about how much I have read and learned and experienced in my life with God and his people in the years I’ve lived, and how I want to share so much of that with my kids. A lot does come up in the living of life, often at the most unexpected moments. Yet, some of what I hope to share with them, like the spiritual disciplines and some of the more complex foundations of our faith, seems to stay on the periphery of our lives together, and though these do come into conversation at times, sometimes they do so without much framework or intentional commitment toward living out and practicing these habits and truths  in ongoing ways.

Good Dirt has begun to change that. I’m learning about my kids in the process. They are deep people. They can discuss and absorb spiritual ideas typically thought to be adult territory without missing a beat. They can venture deeper in their lives with God. We can do it together and learn from one another and God in simultaneous ways.

Getting dirty together has its benefits. Everything may not work, but sometimes the things we never would have tried become the soil for a brand new season of growth.

Have you experienced a similar time of spiritual growth with your children, where a surprising and unexpected route became a catalyst? Would it help your family to try out a resource like Good Dirt?

**You can follow various families blogging on their use of Good Dirt and its themes by subscribing for free here.

The Journey of the Church Calendar

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Some of my most vivid memories from childhood are of the weeks preceding Christmas. Under the guidance of my mother, our household holiday regimen was elaborate and anticipated. Early on the morning after Thanksgiving, we were up pulling out boxes of decorations and wondering how the lights got so tangled up again. We assembled the Dickens village (whose residents colonized more of the living room each year until they had expanded into a booming metropolis). We drove up into the mountains to cut down a fresh tree. We swapped out every piece of decor in the house for its Christmas alternative. We hung garland along every available banister and counter. We put apple cider on the grill over the fireplace. The results were dazzling.

And, each Sunday night, we’d gather around the dinner table and light the next Advent candle. We’d sing a song, listen to Scripture, and remember the story.

As a young child, I didn’t really know what all this meant. But I knew it was special. And so I paid attention. Even though I didn’t really understand what it meant, I knew that Jesus was worth the extravagance of lights and cider and candles and Dickens figurines and nativity sets and trees hung with ornaments.

The Church Seasons are a way of living your life by the rhythm of Jesus’ life. We all set our calendar by something. For some it’s the academic year—9 months of toil and 3 of blessed (or chaotic) freedom! For other’s it’s the financial year, or the cycle of Hallmark holidays. We order our lives by these times of remembering, of taking stock, of traditions.

As Christians, it makes sense to set our rhythm to Jesus’ life. We remember his coming and long for his return in Advent. We rejoice that he came among us and wonder at his humble Incarnation for twelve days at Christmastide. We ponder how this God-with-us life is the light of the world during the weeks of Epiphany. Then we hear his call to discipleship and remember our need for God’s help during LentHoly Week is a special time focused on the love of God that led Jesus to die for us—and then the joy of Eastertide begins, “He is risen indeed!” And then we enter into the long slog of Kingdomtide (also called Ordinary Time) when we turn to ask how we can live out the Kingdom here and now.

This journey, round after round, takes the stories we know and the things we believe and puts them front and center. This is what we choose to set our minds on, whether we feel like it today or not. And we trust God that, year in, year out, the stories are sinking in, doing their work, making us more like Jesus.

The activities and ideas in Good Dirt are ways to make the with-God journey visible, tangible, kid-friendly. (And it turns out that what is kid-friendly is usually adult-friendly, too.) Whether your family jumps into Advent Extravaganza like mine did, or chooses a simple Advent Wreath to put on the kitchen table, you are saying, “This is special. This is what we’re going to pay attention to. This deserves celebration!”

We’re so excited to take this journey with you and share stories, memories, ups and downs. As you prepare for Advent this week, may God bless you with hope: the settled, soul-deep certainty of good things to come from Him.