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.