Monday, August 24, 2015

Parenting in the Pew: A few suggestions for maximizing Sundays with little ones (Repost)

With promotion season here for many churches, here are some suggestions for maximizing Sundays with little ones. (Originally posted in Aug 2014)

Are you ever going to stop moving? There is no way you need to go to the potty AGAIN! Chairs are for sitting, not wallowing. Can you please stop looking behind you? No, you cannot have another peppermint. It will be over when it's over, stop asking. Sit still!

Have you ever whispered any of the above to a little one that you are desperately trying to keep subdued during church? I have. Having children in church is a wonderful if not sometimes challenging privilege. The idealism of a family all sitting in church quietly lined up like little angels is not usually reality for most of us. Some weeks you feel more like you are trying to wrangle a lab puppy, or two.   

As another Sunday approaches and promotion season has come for many churches to graduate the new kids into "Big Church," here are a few practical tips for parenting in the pew:

  • Commit

The more committed you are as a parent to having your child consistently in church the better things will go. I believe corporate worship is immensely valuable. It is true that there may be portions of the service that fly over their heads, but the value of being together with the church family, singing songs of praise to God, hearing the Word read and preached is beyond any one sermon or service. The true value to having kids in corporate worship builds cumulatively. The importance of this time may not be apparent after a week, or two, or three, but over months and years our children will have ingrained in their DNA that this is an immensely serious and important time. As you commit to weekly worship, your children will look back years later and know this was important to mom and dad. 

  • Prepare

    Part of the tension for families is every week is a grind. You go to work; take the kids to school or school them at home; you run to and from practice then by the time Sunday morning gets here, you’re ready for a break. You think how nice it would be to ship the kids away for a few hours for some much needed refreshment in the Word. 

    But remember what we are doing at church. Is there anything more important than gathering with God’s people consistently to worship the living and redeeming God? Our kids will grow up and leave home one day. What do you want them to remember about how your family valued corporate worship? As an afterthought? No, let’s prioritize this! 

    Here are a few ways we can prepare well through the week: 

    TALK: Take some time each week on a few occasions to talk about worshipping on Sundays. Remind your kids of what they learned and remind them that Sunday’s coming. Worship is a privilege not a drudgery. Communicate that to your kids.  

    PRAY: Often times when we are at the dinner table as I pray before our meal, I will thank the Lord for our church. I think it’s important for our kids to know we are thankful for a group with which to worship. Pray for missionaries, pray for your elders, pray for special events coming up and those who are hurting in the church. Let your kids hear you pray specifically for the local body. 

    PLAN: This is where a little bit of forethought goes a long ways. My wife is really good about having something for our kids to do during the service. We do not expect them to take copious notes (my kids are 8, 6 & 6). Be realistic. Many times, we will take a sheet of paper and make 3-4 columns on the page. We have the kids listen for key words. Usually a couple of simple ones like God or Jesus, and then something more sermon specific. If you know the text to be preached, you can look ahead and use a word like resurrection or grace. We have them make a tally mark each time they hear that word. Our kids have responded pretty well to this so far. 

    We try to bring one maybe 2 things for kids to do to occupy their hands. But don’t give many options (they just go back and forth ad infinitum) and think of things that aren’t overly noisy. Many times just a pen and paper are fine. Occupied hands often times means quieter mouth.   

    • Repeat

    The question on Sunday morning doesn't need to be are we going, the question needs to be what time are we leaving. Before someone cries “legalist,” I do understand that occasionally folks miss church. I get it, I really do. But for the most part, if we are healthy, in town, and otherwise available, be there. You need it for your own soul and your kids need consistency. The more you do this the better it will be for you and them. 

    • Relax

      Do you know what you get when you toss a bunch of kids into a worship service? Noise. And that’s fine. Relax, they’re kids in training — works in progress, just like the rest of us. If they drop their pens (for the 10th time), or incessantly rattle some papers, or awkwardly stare at the new family behind them, gently move them along and reengage in the service. It’s OK! As a pastor who preaches weekly, I love seeing the little ones, noises and all, in our services. Your child is probably not nearly as noisy as you think they are. Of course we want to be respectful and try to minimize distractions, but in the big scheme, a little racket, occasional outburst, or noise is all going to be part of the process. I’ve had leaders in our church tell me that they love the noise that comes from the kids. It means we are depositing into the next generation!

      Saturday, August 8, 2015

      Recognizing Imago Dei: Man > Other Animals

      I grew up in a home that was closer to a petting zoo than we may want to admit. At one time or another, I remember having dogs, cats, horses, birds, cows, ducks, fish, and even the occasional snake that I would catch. I get animals and animal people. Growing up, I thought that certain decisions were binary — with only two options. You are expected to choose A or B, like Alabama or Auburn, Republican or Democrat. I developed the impression that you had to declare yourself either a cat person or a dog person. I knew I wasn’t a cat person, so I decided I was a dog person. Later in life I realized, I don’t like dogs either. I’ll admit that I’ve bird hunted with a few dogs that have earned their keep, but for the most part, I think we need to renegotiate our man’s best friend contract. 

      I’m not against you loving your animals. I hope you care for them well and they bring a smile to your face as you beg your puppy to please go pee at 2 in the morning. You are certainly free to enjoy your pets as God’s good creation. 

      Recently I have drawn the evil eye from a few in our congregation over my animal comments. First, I was preaching through Hebrews 2. The author of Hebrews is making a clear case that Christ became truly and fully human in order to provide the perfect sacrifice for humans to be accepted by God. I made the point that Jesus didn’t become a doberman to redeem dobermans. No offense to the K-9 community, but let’s recognize that they ain’t people. A couple of months later, we found ourselves in Psalm 8 for our Summer in the Psalms series. This Psalm is quoted in Hebrews 2. The Psalmist looks in awe at the vastness of the universe and asks the question, “what is man that you are mindful of him? It’s rhetorical. We are small and relatively insignificant. But yet, “God has given him dominion over the works of his hands.” This dominion is explained in verses 5-8. It extends to all different types of animals, progressing from the domesticated (sheep/oxen) all the way out to the unknown deeps of the ocean and “whatever passes in the deeps.” The point is simple. Man > Animal. No matter what animal, man has dominion. 

      Now why is this a big deal? I’ve been alarmed in recent days by some of the insanity in the headlines. A few months ago, there were a pair of chimps granted a writ of habeas corpus. In fairness, that particular language was later struck down, but the reality remains: the chimps were at least initially granted a hearing for wrongful detainment -- a privilege heretofore only given to humans. Natalie Prosin of the Non Human Rights Project made their intentions clear. “This is a big step forward to getting what we are ultimately seeking: the right to bodily liberty for chimpanzees and other cognitively complex animals." She would add: "“We got our foot in the door. And no matter what happens, that door can never be completely shut again.”

      The recent outburst over Cecil the Lion has my head spinning. I’m not sure exactly who is at fault for the illegal lion shooting. But let’s be clear: the shooting of a lion is not necessarily morally wrong. The Minnesota dentist was led to the lion and told to take the shot. It is not clear to me whether the doc bribed his guides to lure the big kitty named Cecil or if it was a case of simply trusting the the guides. I’ve been hunting before on unfamiliar property. Generally, you are at the mercy of the locals. Regardless, the reaction has been nothing short of insane. The fact that Americans are trying to ruin this man’s business and life demonstrates a lack of Biblical understanding, compassion, and common sense. Interestingly, the Zimbabweans seem to think we are indeed insane for crying over lions. 

      I was pointed to this video recently by a friend who explains, “Dawkins and Singer determine that there is more moral reprehensibility in terminating the life of a horse than a human fetus.” (HT: Dave Kakish) And there you have it. The doctrines of man and dominion obliterated. 

      Planned Parenthood offers another case study in moral insanity. The string of recent videos that demonstrate negotiations for baby parts are hard to watch. The connection with the stories above may not be immediately apparent but let me attempt to draw some cords together. Man is uniquely made in the image of God. At the moment of conception, there is a new human being, a unique image bearer invested with dominion over God’s creatures. While a baby in the womb lacks strength, she indeed has the rights of dominion over big cats like Cecil. God has made it this way. Once the distinction is flattened out, value is assigned based on metrics that are designed by man (culture). The linked video above plays out the worldview with brutal honesty.  

      I’m a little shocked at how much traction the videos have gotten. Why would they not sell the body parts? What did we think they were doing with the leftover dismembered babies? Does putting them in a sterile trash bag make it better? We’ve lost our imagination. Apparently we need a video to show us that crushing a 20 week old baby is morally reprehensible. Abortion is the real horror, not selling the body. But if these videos cause the world to wake up to the atrocity, then I’m grateful.  

      In further proof of this utilitarian view of life and value, consider the movement towards “Death with Dignity” otherwise known as Doctor Assisted Suicide. This is fully legal now in 3 states with California likely to follow among a host of others. How did we get here? We have lost a robust doctrine of humanity. Humans are valuable because they are humans. 

      Forgive me if I offend your animal loving sensibilities, but we can’t lose the distinction between man and beast. This is a worldview issue of the highest order. Losing a strong doctrine of anthropology has ripple effects that we have not yet completely understood. As Christians, love your animals, care for them, but let’s not fall into the trap of thinking they are one of us. They aren’t.

      Wednesday, July 15, 2015

      They’re selling body parts, in other news, it’s Wednesday

      A horrifying video has gone viral which records a business meeting between people posing as "clients" who purchase body parts and an official from Planned Parenthood. The video is stunning as they discuss parting out a dead baby as if they were buying parts off a 96 Chevy. I was appalled but not because they are selling baby parts, I was appalled that we legalized abortion.  

      Careful Response > Quick Response
      Selling baby parts is an atrocity. But I was once again disturbed by our lack of careful, thoughtful, and patient responses. We wanted heads to roll. Immediately. I quickly saw all kinds of things like calling out the President, senators, and every possible major news outlet. I laughed when I saw people calling out news outlets for ignoring the story after the video had gone “hot” on the internet for somewhere around an hour. Can we take a minute, breathe and do a little fact checking before we roll heads? Quick adjudication of justice is rarely careful. We rightfully hold news outlets to high standards to be truthful and factual, we at least owe them a few hours to do their homework and proofread their work. By the way, The Washington Post ran a story, among other news outlets. "We the people" have a right to speak, but we also have an obligation to listen. Don't get me wrong, we can and should speak, but let's do so carefully. By the end of the day a few thoughtful pieces were out that really helped bring some clarity. 

      What are we Upset About?
      Here’s the problem. What Planned Parenthood did/is doing is probably not actually illegal. See this article here. The video indicates that the rep from Planned Parenthood thinks it's on the line. It may be ruled illegal, time will tell. If it’s not illegal, what exactly are we up at arms about? Is this a call to end abortion? Then sign me up. If this is a call to put dead babies in a trash bag rather than a research lab, I’m not sure we have fixed anything. Maybe we hit the pocket books of the abortion industry which is fine with me, but on what legal grounds? Of course it disturbs me that this is government subsidized, but again, I'm disturbed because of abortion not simply disposal practices.  

      Abortions happen everyday. They are doing something with the babies. What did we think was happening? Now we know that at least some parts of them are being sold. Stopping the commodification of their bodies doesn’t make them alive. We have bigger problems. 

      Time will tell us more as lawyers have an opportunity to dig through this case and see where this leads us legally. I wonder even about the legality of videoing the conversation, but that sure isn't my expertise! I’m praying that this would be a step towards sanity on the abortion issue with the ultimate decision to reverse Roe v Wade. Truthfully, Carl Truman's classic piece yesterday hit the nail on the head. He congratulates Planned Parenthood for "having so perfectly summarized the spirit of our age."  

      If you have had an abortion: 
      If you are reading this and you have had an abortion and you now recognize that as a massive mistake, my heart goes out to you. Please know there is grace to be found in Jesus Christ. I would encourage you to read this story here of an interview with a friend who had an abortion 30 years ago. 

      Shortly after posting this article, I saw this article from a pro-lifer which calls into question the "sting" operation itself and gives some insights into portions of the video that were edited out. While the video is still horrific, we need to be fair.

      Grace and Peace!

      Monday, July 6, 2015

      Conscience Conundrums: Should I Bake the Cake?

      The internet is abuzz with opinions about various creatives and their participation or non participation in the new normal in nuptials. On the heels of SCOTUS already infamous decision on Obergefell v Hodges, advocates of same sex marriage have new artillery to continue their intolerant blitz towards forced tolerance. The New Fundamentalism marches on. 

      For Christians who are opposed to the new definition of marriage, there seems to be a split on how to deal with this new reality. Though this case isn't new, the most recent situation making headlines is the Oregon bakery that refused to make a wedding cake for a same sex couple. Amazingly, they have now been fined $135k and given essentially a “gag order” — seemingly, they are forbidding them to talk any more about the case. How very tolerant and First Amendmentish of the New Fundamentalism. Regardless of where you stand on the same sex marriage issue, you should be shocked and concerned for how this is being used as a legal bludgeoning tool to force conformity to the state. As one writer who is an advocate for SSM has said, “If same-sex marriage isn’t just a pathway to happiness, freedom, and equality for gay citizens, but a way to pummel religious Americans into submission, it will be a disaster.” Indeed, it is being used by more than a few as a pummeling implement. The couple in the case above accused the bakers of “mental rape” by not baking them a cake. Welcome to ‘merica. Can we not pretend that they could not get their cake elsewhere? Queue the tolerance battering ram. As Andrew Walker put it, "#Lovewins. And if you don't think it does, you're a bigot."     

      But back to the dessert table. Some Christians say, “Just bake the cake and use the opportunity to witness.” They argue that showing “love” to these people is what Christians should do. Jesus would bake the cake, right? Or maybe more in line with his profession, he’d make the arbor under which the two brides pledged “till death do us part.” On the other side, theologians like Al Mohler have argued that participating in the union gives tacit approval. They argue, the marriage is not real. God defines marriage, not a court. So then, as Christians, we must refuse to lend our cake baking or arbor making abilities. We must also refuse to attend such celebrations. These unions are fundamentally sinful. Unlike other sins, this sin is one that redefines the God-given institution of marriage. We can serve said couple in our restaurant, but we would politely refuse to cater their wedding. 

      I’d say that this is ultimately an issue of conscience that every believer will wrestle with at some point, probably sooner rather than later. I want to take an opportunity to try to convince you that we need to politely refuse to lend our creative abilities to the event itself. Generally, I’d rather not fight with folks. Win them with “love,” right? But is that approach what most closely matches the biblical accent? We of course must “speak the truth in love.”  But let’s not forget the “speak the truth” part. Truth divides. Truth is counter cultural. Truth gets people in trouble, like bad trouble. Telling the truth got John the Baptizer’s head served at a dinner party. Telling the truth got Jesus killed. We can’t assume that staying alive is always the best witnessing tool. As Justin Martyr famously put it, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” If God’s plan has included people dying for the cause, is it possible that his plan could also include social ostracism and financial consequences for some creatives? 

      I don't want to make too much of an argument from silence, but at that risk, let’s talk about John the Baptist. He was the forerunner to Jesus. He was the Isaiah 40 voice in the desert proclaiming, “prepare the way.” The Messiah is coming, so y’all get ready. In his proclaiming, John was anything but politically correct. I think if John were alive today, someone would give him a copy of Carnegie's book. John went to an inconvenient place and preached an inconvenient truth. I love what Jesus says in Matthew 11. At this point John is in prison. Jesus says of John to the onlooking crowd who were shocked at the direct message of John,
      “[7] As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? [8] What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. (Matthew 11:7-8 ESV) 
      In other words, if you’re looking for a culturally friendly, non-offensive message, you went to the wrong place. John is a man who cuts it straight. John the Baptist is one of my favorite Bible characters, camel cloak and all! 

      John’s no nonsense approach is exactly what had landed him in prison. John had the audacity to speak out against an immoral marriage — how dare he! Mark 6.14-29 records John’s criticism of King Herod for stealing his brother’s wife, Herodias. Feeling the embarrassment of the stinging rebuke of the locust eating prophet, Herodias eventually seizes the opportunity to have John killed. 

      We could say to John the Baptist, “You need to just love these people. I mean, how are you going to ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ without your head? Build relationships, that’s the key.” But what if the Messiah’s way is prepared by John’s head on the platter? I’ve heard many say that these bakers are missing witnessing opportunities by not serving these couples. But I’d argue that in God’s wisdom, John’s witness still stands today in a much more significant way than if he had acquiesced. Maybe Christians who work as bakers, photographers, caterers, musicians, and florist have suddenly and unwittingly become the front line for the gospel battle. You may be thinking, but we aren’t talking about the gospel per se, we are talking about marriage. True, but so was John. He died because he called out immorality. I’m praying for boldness for my Christian brothers and sisters as they put themselves at great personal risk while standing for the Truth.

      You may land in a different place on whether we may or may not participate in such celebrations. But please, let's not let fear drive us to violate our own conscience.

      Grace and Peace!

      Tuesday, June 30, 2015

      Humans and Chimps

      Dr. Mohler concluded his daily podcast today with one of my favorite quotes I've heard from him. The entire show is certainly worth listening to.

      He responds to an article in the New York Times which reports that chimpanzees status has now been changed from "threatened" to "endangered." The interesting part comes in how the article concludes.

      The article states:
      “Just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters,” Yuval Noah Harari mused in his book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.” “One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.”

      Dr. Mohler responds on The Briefing: 

      "Now, you can divide human beings in any number of ways. But right now, Im willing to divide Americans between those for whom that sentence makes sense and for for whom that sentence is manifest nonsense. We need to note that the worldview implications of that sentence are absolutely massive, infinitely more massive than seems to be recognized by those who are quoting it in this editorial in the NYT. If you really believe that just 6 million years ago, a single female ape had 2 daughters one became the ancestor of the chimpanzees and the other became your grandmother, then who, I simply have to ask, do you think you are? That’s a truly frightening question. And that just reminds us all over again that the only true, the only satisfying, the only consistent answer to that question, the only answer that underlines and affirms human dignity, is the answer found in the Bible and biblical Christianity. And it doesn’t begin with a chimp. It doesn’t begin 6 million years ago." 

      Wednesday, June 24, 2015

      The Strategy is Faithfulness

      Do you ever feel like your life is not "strategic" enough for gospel work? Have you ever stopped to wonder where we got our ideas about strategy in the first place? When I look at the Bible, I do not see strategy language — at least not in the way we use the term. In fact, I think an argument can be made for quite the opposite. In the Bible, we see faithful people making poor strategic moves, like Abraham giving away the best land, Gideon sending much of his army home, Elijah taking on vast numbers of false prophets, and even Jesus spending time in the countryside -- sometimes retreating to private. He only ministered for 3 years! How much more disease could have been healed, people reached, and disciples made if he had just hung in there another few years! He only lasted slightly longer than the average youth pastor. The least he could do would have been to establish a satellite campus.   

      But here’s the thing: God is the ultimate strategist which relieves you from needing to be strategic. Just follow the plan, the one in the Bible. I hear folks, especially in ministry who take new positions because it’s “more strategic.” So is the rural pastor in Alabama, Montana, or Wyoming not using his gifts wisely and “strategically?” Who made strategic a metric for measuring ministerial worth? Amazingly, the Ultimate Strategist is using the guy faithfully preaching to 25 souls just like he’s using the mega church pastor. Interestingly, I think we see the strategy of God worked out in the OT, NT, and through church history, but it was not because of brilliant strategist. God worked through faithful souls doing what they do day after day, year after year. 

      Of course, a little common sense is in order. Paul went to the Synagogue and taught on the Sabbath, because that’s when he would find an interested audience. That was “strategic” in some sense. Paul also saw his plans get rerouted by the Spirit many times, including stops in small towns, a continent opposite of his ministry strategy, multiple stops in jail, and eventually a trip to his dream city, Rome, but while in chains. There was certainly nothing wrong with Paul’s plans, but I do not see strategy language seeping its way into his writings. He had plans and simply moved along as the Lord gave the opportunity.   

      The epistles are striking. Conventional wisdom does not speak this way. Peter says: 

      [7] The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. [8] Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. [9] Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. [10] As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: [11] whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
      (1 Peter 4:7-11 ESV)

      Did you catch that? The end is near, so we need to create maps, charts, and graphs on how to finish the mission, right? No, the end is near, so “be self-controlled and sober-minded.” In short, be holy — a major theme of the book. Love one another well (above all) and be hospitable. If the Lord returns to find his children living holy lives, loving people, being hospitable, and using their gifts to serve the church, he will find us doing exactly as he instructed. We need to stop trying to be awesome and simply be faithful. 

      This passage is not a NT anomaly. It’s everywhere. One reference from Paul will help solidify this point. Paul wrote to the Thessalonican church a letter that is largely one of commendation. He commends them for their love and exhorts them to “excel still more.” Just before he moves to a section explaining the return of Jesus, he reminds them of their current place in the world:   

      [11]…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, [12] so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.(1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 ESV)

      Here’s the thing, as we seek to live quietly, we will actually gain attention  for the gospel since we live so differently from the world. Our obligation is not to cause a ruckus for the gospel, but seek to be truthful and good citizens in every possible way. Don’t be a freeloader or a high maintenance person. Pull your weight in the community as much as you are able. Keep your testimony clean and be ready to speak when afforded the opportunity (see also I Peter 3.15). 

      God will move on some people to do extraordinary things — praise the Lord for that! I pray for the nations, I am part of a group equipping pastors for ministry in the Caribbean.  Some will sell it all and go overseas, some will work a 9-5 for 40 years then retire. Neither one is more valuable, just different roles. I just read CT Studd’s story. The Lord did amazing things through this man. Interestingly, he was supported by middle to upper class business folks. There’s no CT Studd, Hudson Taylor, or Adoniram Judson without someone making, buying, and/or selling widgets. For every CT Studd, there’s a small army pecking away at a keyboard in a cubicle everyday to fund the mission.   

      Do you want your life to count? Martin Luther said it well to a young cobbler who had come to Christ. The young man expected to be instructed on how to be trained for ministry. He asked Luther what he needed to do now. Luther responded: “Make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.” Do your work today well, honestly, and with God in view. Take care to live a life of holiness, showing love to others, and serving where you have giftedness and opportunity. Then we trust the Lord as he builds his church all around the world.  

      Sunday, February 22, 2015

      A Book Recommendation

      I have appreciated Dr. G.K. Beale's work for a while now. I was introduced to his writings in a baptism by fire sort of approach when I was assigned his book, The Temple and the Church's Mission as part of my first DMin seminar. I can't say I read it quickly, but I read it - all 458 pages! That book has influenced my thought on Biblical Theology probably more than any other single volume I've read. I have recommended his book before but the reality is, the length and some of the technical portions keep many readers from making it through. 

      When I saw his new book, God Dwells Among Us, I was thrilled. This book is the filleted version of The Temple and the Church's Mission. The essence of the arguments are explained in terms that any layman can get but the depth of theology is still outstanding. Weighing in at 215 pages and 11 accessible chapters, this book is one that belongs on your reading list. 

      You may not agree with every assertion in the book but I can promise you that you will have a perspective introduced that is both helpful and one that inspires worship. I am a big fan of seeing the "Big Picture." This book will help you see how the first 2 chapters of your Bible are connected with the last 2 pages. 

      Buy it. Read it. You will be glad you did.