Family

How We Influence Our Family’s (and Others’) View of the Church

 

One of the things I hate most about parenting is the truism that children learn more from what they see us do than what we say. I wish it weren’t this way, but “Do as I say and not as I do” is not really a viable strategy for parenting. Instead we are constantly non-verbally communicating to our families and others about our true priorities and values. We shape our family’s and others’ view of the church (1) by what we criticize, (2) by what we glamorize, and (3) by what we prioritize.

We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Criticize.

Allow me to let you in on a secret: Not everyone is perfect in your church. Your pastor isn’t perfect. Your staff isn’t perfect. Your deacons aren’t perfect. Your Sunday School teachers aren’t perfect. The people who share a pew with you aren’t perfect either. However,  no matter how imperfect our church may be, it is still the blood-bought church that belongs to Jesus Christ which He loved enough to leave heaven to give His life for her.

When we criticize our pastor, staff, deacons, Sunday School teachers, other church members in front of our families we are shaping their view of the church. When we dwell on the faults of others, it should be no wonder they are not long interested in attending our church.

There is a long-standing joke about having the preacher for dinner. The only problem is that isn’t funny when we consider the impact that this has on our families as the preacher’s sermon is nitpicked and criticized Sunday after Sunday. It is not helpful to your family’s spiritual health to criticize the Sunday School teachers, deacons, or other members of the church. It is especially damaging as our children see the hypocrisy as we greet people with a smile and friendly handshake at church on Sunday, but talk about them with disdain in our voice as soon as we are in the car and out of earshot. What if that person that we have criticized is the one who will one day have the opportunity to lead our loved one to put their trust in Christ?

We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Glamorize.

We live in a world and a society that glamorizes the rich, famous, powerful, the great athletes, the millionaires, the movie stars. The kingdom of God has an exact opposite ethic. Jesus said that the greatest among us are those who serve. Jesus Himself exemplified this. He testified of Himself that “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45; cf. Philippians 2:5-8). Yet, sadly, we in the church often follow the example of the world rather than the example of Jesus!

If those that we celebrate are the rich and famous, no matter how much we say that we are followers of the Jesus who had no place to lay His head, our children will see what we truly value and will pursue that. Instead of constantly rejoicing in the same skills and attributes that the world celebrates, may we as God’s people celebrate the humble servants who serve behind the scenes in our churches and communities. There is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying God’s good gifts and appreciating the honing of natural ability through hard work and dedication, but there is something wrong with our values when we are more excited about a millionaire’s ability to hit a baseball farther than anyone else than we are about the quiet service of a deacon to the widows in our church. We must remember that we are not only revealing what we truly value, we are also shaping what our family and others under our influence will value.

We Shape Others’ View of the Church By What We Prioritize.

Is church somewhere you go when nothing else is going on? Are the spiritual disciplines something you work in only when it does not conflict with your other activities?

If we prioritize entertainment, sports, family, work, or whatever, above serving others, personal spiritual disciplines, public worship with God’s people, we are communicating what we truly value.

How do you find out what you prioritize in your life? Check your check book register and your calendar. Studying where we’ve spent our time and money can be a very eye-opening experience. We often don’t realize what our priorities are until we do this exercise. But our children are more perceptive than we realize and we are training them to have the same priorities that we have.

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if we as individuals don’t set our own priorities, others will set our priorities for us. If you don’t have a plan for your week next week, then you will be at the mercy of everyone else’s plan for you. I think this applies to our spiritual lives also. If we don’t have a purposeful plan to prioritize serving others, practicing the personal spiritual disciplines, and participating in public worship, then our three main enemies–the world, the flesh, and the devil–will have a plan for us. This unholy Trinity hates us and has a horrible plan for our lives. The world, the flesh, and the devil want our lives to not have the right priorities and they want our families and others to follow us in our bad priorities.

Conclusion

Going forward, let’s purpose to think about how we are influencing our family and others by what we criticize, what we glamorize, and what we prioritize. Let’s be intentional to avoid criticism and glamorizing the wrong values. Instead, let’s purpose to prioritize in our practice what we claim to value. Those who observe our lives (both our families and others) should be able to see that we are prioritizing those practices that promote spiritual health.

(This post is adapted from a sermon that I recently preached at Farmdale Baptist Church. Audio available here.)

Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day

Patrick Cover

New biography of Patrick by Michael Haykin

We are blessed in our society today to have holidays such as Easter, Christmas, St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day which are filled with Christian significance. Unfortunately, almost all of the Christian meaning for these important markers on the Christian calendar has been forgotten. As much as we Christians like to blame the nebulous society around us, I don’t think it is the “world’s” fault that these holidays have not retained their Christian meaning. Instead, I fault Christians who are either unaware of their heritage or just plain derelict in their duty to educate their children. We shouldn’t expect unbelievers to celebrate Christianity, but we should expect Christians to seek to pass their heritage on to the next generation.

Hopefully you do use the holidays of Christmas and Easter as opportunities to talk to your children about the birth and resurrection of Christ respectively. However, days like St. Valentine’s Day and especially St. Patrick’s Day are often missed opportunities in evangelical homes. Perhaps we’re frightened away by the fact that these individuals are often associated with the Roman Catholic Church. But there is no need to fear Patrick for in him evangelicals have not a foe but a friend.

Patrick was a courageous Christian missionary to Ireland in the 5th century. His story of being kidnapped as a boy in Britain to become a slave in Ireland, his escape back to Britain, and his call as a missionary to return is a fascinating tale of God’s providence and grace. His dedication to the doctrine of the Trinity is both admirable and worthy of emulation. Talking to your children about how Patrick taught the Trinity to the pagans of his day provides a tremendous opportunity to explain this difficult biblical teaching to them. This is an opportunity that should not be missed. Likewise, Patrick’s commitment to take the gospel to unreached peoples (Ireland at the time would have been considered the “end of the world.”) is another important teachable aspect of this remarkable life for our children. Read, in Patrick’s own words, his commitment to take the gospel to Ireland:

I came to the people of Ireland to preach the Gospel, and to suffer insult from the unbelievers, bearing the reproach of my going abroad and many persecutions even unto bonds, and to give my free birth for the benefit of others; and, should I be worthy, I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for his name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die, if the Lord would grant it to me. (Confession 37)

In short, St. Patrick should be introduced to our children as a courageous missionary hero who believed and taught the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

Many legends are attached to the story of Patrick and though I believe most are grounded in some true events, the discerning reader must be aware of the mixture of legend and history on this early Christian figure. However, we are not dependent merely on legends to know about the life of Patrick. His autobiographical Confession has survived the centuries and is a fascinating recounting of his life.

For those interested in learning more, there is a helpful modern biography of Patrick by Philip Freeman. For parents wanting a good introduction that can be ready by or to their children, I highly recommend Patrick: Saint of Ireland by Joyce Denham. In addition, a recent biography of Patrick has been penned by Michael Haykin Patrick of Ireland: His Life and Impact.

A few short, but very helpful articles about Patrick’s modern-day relevance are available online.

This post originally appeared on March 17, 2012. It has been lightly edited and reposted today in honor of St. Patrick’s Day 2015.

The Third Sunday of September of 1978

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Upstairs window is in bedroom where my father was converted.

On the third Sunday of September of 1978, I was four years old. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my mom and dad were having marriage problems. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they decided to go to church and turn over a new leaf. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, they were having an argument about the second coming in Sunday School at Bell Avenue Baptist Church in Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, the pastor wrapped up the Sunday School hour by saying, “No matter what you believe about the timing of the second coming, one thing’s for sure. Jesus is coming again and you better be ready. If you’re not a believer you should tell your friends and family that are trusting in Christ good-bye, because when Jesus comes you will be forever separated.” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad was struck with his lost condition and fell under conviction. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad went forward during the invitation and prayed, but could find no peace. He asked God for a sign and for a feeling, but no sign or feeling came. He stayed in the altar until everyone else had gone home and his legs began to ache. Finally, he went home himself still with no peace. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he went up to the upstairs back bedroom of 701 Kingston Street, Lenoir City, TN. On the third Sunday of September of 1978, he cried out, “God, I’ve done all I know to do. All I know to do now is trust You!” On the third Sunday of September of 1978, my dad received assurance of his sins forgiven and his life was transformed. He was almost immediately called to preach and within two years was serving as pastor of his first church. My dad’s life was forever changed and so was mine and my siblings.

On this third Sunday of September I am spending the night in the city where my father was converted 3 dozen years ago and I can’t help but think about how different my life would have been had God not saved my father that day. I would likely not have ever met my wife. My children would not exist. I would not be a preacher of the same gospel that saved my dad. On this third Sunday of September I am grateful to God for His providential grace shown on the third Sunday of September of 1978.

In Honor of My Father In Honor of His 60th Birthday

My dad is cool!

On February 26th, my dad will celebrate his 60th birthday. Since he will be in the state of Oaxaca in Mexico on his birthday leading a mission team to engage an unreached village in his role as Director of Field Training for To Every Tribe ministry’s Center for Pioneer Church Planting, I decided to post this early so he could see it before he leaves the country. My dad has always been a hero to me. He has been a faithful servant of God for over 35 years. Today, he is one of my best friends. We can laugh together and discuss theology together. I count it a privilege to have this relationship with him. In honor of his 60th birthday, I want to share ten reasons that I’m thankful for him.

  • He is strong. My dad is a model of masculinity (think Tim “The Toolman” meets Ron Swanson). He loves to work with his hands and loves manly things, like hot rods (Chevys only!). I’ve never beaten him in a contest of strength, whether arm-wrestling or tests of strength of grip. I know I’m stronger than him now, but he has always had the mental edge over me. I know I will never best him, and I never want to.
  • He is intelligent. My dad is one of the most intelligent men I know (and I know some smart ones!).He learns quickly and retains what he learns. He is has a quick mind, which he uses effectively for witty comments.
  • He is studious. My dad loves to read and study. He never attended college or seminary, but after God called him to preach he began to study with a passion. I’m convinced that he knows more about the Bible than  most Ph.D.’s in biblical studies. In all my years of college, seminary, and doctoral work, I never learned anything about the Bible that he was unaware of.
  • He is sincere. My dad says what he means and means what he says. He is genuine. He’s the real deal. I know a lot of preacher kids who have become disillusioned with Christianity because they saw harshness or hypocrisy in their parents. I’m thankful that this was not my experience. My mom and dad genuinely love the Lord and have always tried to serve Him to the best of their understanding.
  • He is spiritual. Related to my dad’s sincerity is his spirituality. As long as I can remember he has risen at 4 or 5 am for prayer and Bible study. I have memories of waking up early sometimes and finding him somewhere on his knees over an open Bible. What a blessing to have this heritage! His preaching reflects not only a detailed study of the text, but also a fervent appeal to the heart that only comes from hours of meditating and praying over a text. I can still remember some of his sermons from my childhood decades later.
  • He is courageous. I’ve always known my dad to be a man of conviction who would preach what God’s Word says and live by what He believes it taught, no matter what the cost might be. He has always stood for his convictions, even if it cost him friends or financial gain.
  • He is a lifelong-learner. One of the most impressive characteristics about my dad is that he continues to learn. He is a great example of someone who is always being changed by his study of the Word. While he is willing to stand on truth, he is not afraid to change his mind on matters of interpretation if he learns more information about the subject. He has shown me that a commitment to the truth does not mean never changing one’s mind, but being willing to change one’s mind to pursue the truth, wherever the evidence leads.
  • He is committed to global missions. My dad has always been committed to missions. He made his first mission trip to Mexico over thirty years ago and came back with a passion to take the gospel to those who did not have as ready access to the gospel as Americans. He took a young family with only a few hundred dollars a month support, trusting God to provide. We lived there for three years and I never knew we were poor. God met all our needs. Now, three decades later, he and my mom are living on faith again, this time helping to train a new generation of risk-taking missionaries to take the gospel to those who have never heard.
  • 538638_4442565655376_321518060_nHe is a faithful husband. My dad has been a faithful husband to my mother for over forty years! They have served others together and served one another faithfully over four decades. I’m thankful for their example of faithfulness to one another. My dad preached a sermon decades ago on why he can’t quit the ministry. Among the reasons he gave, which included the Savior and his sons, was his spouse. I’m glad they’ve encouraged one another not to quit over the years and have not quit loving one another.
  • 1098241_10151513712817703_1670141345_nHe is a loving father. My dad has always loved me and my brother and sister unconditionally. Even when he disagrees with us, he still loves us, and we know it. He has always supported me in my decisions and encouraged me in my gifts and abilities. Needless to say, I would not be who I am apart from the influence of this godly man.

Happy birthday, Dad! I love you and thank God for you.

Barrenness and Mother’s Day

Yesterday morning at Farmdale Baptist Church I continued my sermon series in the book of Romans with a message from Romans 4:13-25 titled “Barrenness and Mother’s Day:  How God Used a Barren Woman to Bless the World”.  The audio starts after the introduction and Scripture reading, so I’ve included the text of the introduction and Scripture read below.

Download MP3

One of the things that most bothers me most about the way that churches observe Mother’s Day is the knowledge that for many this is a very painful day.  Some people don’t come to church on Mother’s Day for this reason.  For those whose mothers have already passed, or mothers who have outlived their children this is a difficult day.  But it is perhaps hardest for those who, in God’s providence, have been unable to have children.

I think God allowed me to be aware of this when we were not able to have children for the first five years of our marriage. When Gretta had a miscarriage in 1996, we learned that having children is not a given.  God is sovereign over the womb and gives or withholds children to whom He wills.  I still remember going to the doctor for the first ultrasound when Gretta was pregnant with Haddon.  We were so scared that something was going to be wrong that we sat and cried in the car before going into the doctor’s office.

Our middle son, Isaac, was named at the ultrasound that revealed his gender.  Gretta, Haddon and Hannah picked the first name, I was allowed to pick the middle name.  Little did she know that I would choose the middle name of Watts.  The name Isaac means laughter.  He is appropriately named.  But the first Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age, was even more appropriately named.

They Called Him Laughter (by Michael Card)
A barren land and a barren wife,
Made Abraham laugh at his wandering life.
A cruel joke it seemed then to call him the father of nations.
A heavenly prank, a celestial joke,
Cause gray hair and babies leave no room for hope.
But hoping was something this hopeless old man learned to do.

Chorus: They called him laughter, for he came after,
The Father had made an impossible promise come true.
The birth of a baby to a hopeless old lady,
So they called him laughter, cause no other name would do.

This morning’s text shows how God made this impossible promise come true, how God used a barren woman to bless the world.

Romans 4:13-25 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.  (14)  For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.  (15)  For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.  (16)  That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring–not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,  (17)  as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”–in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.  (18)  In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  (19)  He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.  (20)  No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,  (21)  fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  (22)  That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.”  (23)  But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone,  (24)  but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,  (25)  who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

A New Approach to Children’s Ministry

The following is an article which I wrote for our newsletter for July at Farmdale Baptist Church.  This article outlines the vision behind a new approach to children’s ministry for us.  This vision has best been articulated by John and Noel Piper in their article “The Family:  Together in God’s Presence”.

It has often been said that the most segregated hour in America is 11am on Sunday morning. This should not be!  If there is one place where differences of skin color should not matter it should be in the church of the living God.  But what is true in regard to segregation due to skin color is also true many times in our churches in regard to age.  The church often divides families into various age groups on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights.  The result is that there is no time during the week when the families of the church come together to worship God.  This also should not be!

We believe there is a better way.  This better way will allow us to continue to minister to children on their level by providing a listener’s guide to the sermon and allowing the children’s sermon to prepare the young ones to better understand the message to follow.  We will still be providing the same age-geared teaching during our Sunday School hour, as well as on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights.  Indeed, one of the great benefits of this new approach will be that the Sunday evening time will be more focused and efficient at providing an opportunity for outreach into the community and fun, interactive learning on the part of our children.

There are a couple of core convictions which motivate our thinking on this subject.  First, we believe in the priority of the Word of God preached.  When the apostle Paul wrote his letter to the church in Ephesus, a letter to be read to the entire congregation when they gathered for public worship, he did not hesitate to address the children whom he knew would be present in that assembly: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.”  (Eph. 6:1).  In the Old Testament when the people of Judah gathered to hear Ezra read the Law of God the congregation was made up all the men and women, but also all “those who could understand.”  We are not given precise ages, but clearly children were present at this assembly.  God has promised and been proven to bless His Word by imparting spiritual life to its hearers (see 1 Peter 1:23).  God’s Word is also the primary means by which believers are sanctified (see John 17:17).  Therefore, we want as many people possible to be under the sound of the preached Word.  This includes those children who can hear with understanding, as well as the children workers who are often cut off from the benefit of hearing God’s Word preached.

Second, we believe that families should worship together.  We believe that this is a healthy practice for children to learn to worship God by observing their parents, grandparents, other family members, and the entire body worshiping God.  We further believe that by giving the families of our church the opportunity to worship together, their families will be strengthened spiritually as they interact with each other regarding the listener’s guide to each Sunday’s sermon.

We realize that some children attend our church by riding the van without any accompanying parents.  Our goal is to reach their entire families with the message of the gospel.  But in the mean time, we will be asking volunteers in the congregation to allow a child to set with them during the morning worship and assist them in learning to worship the one true living God through their example and encouragement with the listener’s guide.

In short, we believe that there are many benefits to our new direction in our children’s ministry.  It is not flawless.  There will be adjustments that will have to be made.  But we are excited that everyone will have the opportunity to attend and participate in our Sunday morning worship, that families will be strengthened spiritually through the tools that are provided them, that our children’s workers will be encouraged and equipped for greater and more effective ministry because of their opportunity to hear God’s Word preached regularly, and that our church will now be better focused and more efficient at providing a Sunday night learning opportunity for our children and evangelistic outreach to our community.