Motherhood and Loss.

Mothers day is a bittersweet day. It is filled with sweet memories of moms who daily listen and selflessly give of themselves in the middle of the mundane. Mother’s day is also a painful reminder of loss. The loss felt when observing those celebrating around you, the mothers you wish your mom always was. The mothers being honored by the kids you will never have.

Family is God’s idea. Mothers are a necessary reflection of who God is and what God is like. Jesus wept over his people and wanted to gather Jerusalem under his protective wing like a mother hen. There is a protective self-giving love that we all long to know. For many of us, we found that in our mothers. Our fathers told us to get up and get back on our bike as they should have. Our mothers bandage our knees and kiss our imaginary wounds.

Motherhood is not easy in a world that continues to push the value of things that are shiny then rust. What our culture doesn’t value but desperately needs is the love security and safety of moms who have learned to trust God in the mundane.

I remember when I was young. I didn’t understand loss. I didn’t understand why moms would tear up on mother’s day. Sandra and I lost our first baby. It was devastating. I think of our baby girl often. I used to think when mom’s lost a baby, they can try again. I now know that each of those babies has a name. Each of those babies is a loss. Mothers day reminds us of what we have but also of what we have lost.

If mother’s day is hard for you. If you have lost a mother or never had one. The gospel gives you hope. You are loved by God with such brilliant love such that even the love of the best mother is only a shadow in His brilliance. The love we experience on earth is but a foretaste. The loss we experience on earth creates a longing for a better world. A world where all the sad things about this world become untrue.

The song “Always” by JJ Heller is a beautiful lament of the joys and losses the fill and break a mother’s heart.


You are the answer to the prayers I prayed.
And the hope in childhood games I played.
Pushing baby dolls in strollers
And dreaming of who you would be

You are the news I celebrated
That little blue line exclamation
Got me dancing in my bare feet
And I couldn’t help but sing.

You will always be my baby
You will always have my love
I will always, always be your mother
Always

You are the reason I was holding on.
Somehow I knew you were already gone.
So many questions without answers
‘Cause only God knows why

Now I think I’ve cried a million tears.
For all the laughter, we will never hear.
We lost you in the silence.
Before you had a chance to cry

You will always be my baby
You will always have my love
I will always, always be your mother
Always

And I would…

JJ Heller

To mothers and the motherless on this mother’s day. May you find in Christ what no mother on earth could provide. Run to Jesus. He is more than enough.

How to Reopen Your Children’s Ministry after COVID

You have to start with the understanding that this situation is unlike any we have faced as a church and as a nation. Never in the history of the Church has there been 6-8 weeks where the church has not gathered. How do we go from online services to meeting in person again?

How you come back will depend on your state regulations, your church policies, and your leadership team. What I am suggesting here are steps our church is planning on implementing in the coming days.

We stopped church quickly but we have to have a plan to come back slowly.

Phase 1 – Families worshiping together.

This phase is a good way to ease families back to church. For most churches, you will need to find out how many kids will return and how many volunteers are planning on coming back. For us, this phase will be one to four weeks.

Phase 2 – Families sing together

This phase is how we can deal with more kids coming back and restarting kid’s ministry even with a smaller volunteer base.

How phase 2 will work in our church. We will dismiss kids after we sing songs. In a large room, we will show our Kids TV show. Videos we have made that follow the theme of the lesson. We will keep producing these as well at least through the end of the year for families who can not or will not come to church. This allows us to have kids learn together in an age-appropriate way with a smaller group of volunteers.

Phase 3 – Combine classes and set room limits.

This phase will account for a greater amount of kids coming and more volunteers coming but limiting the number of kids in a room to keep social distancing standards for kids. I know that politicians are asking three-year-olds to wear masks but I am pretty sure most politicians don’t have three-year-old because that isn’t going to happen. Three-year-olds are beautiful little tornados.

Questions you might have.

How do I enforce social distancing with kids?
I don’t know that you can. For us, we are going to try and do it through limiting class sizes but I don’t know if you can and I’m not sure the long term ramifications of drilling social distancing into kids is good for them or society in the long term. You can see in your own kids that they are struggling with isolation and you can read about it online.

When a person is socially isolated, as it is a basic human need, the body will perceive the situation as a threat. During the time of the active stress response, the brain will release multiple stress hormones to protect the body from danger. The release of these hormones is needed for the person to react towards the current stress factor, and resist the possible harm. However, the body cannot release these stress hormones and protect the body from stressful situations for unlimited time. Having an active stress response over an extended period has been proven to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, infectious illness, cognitive deterioration, and mortality. These are physiological consequences of being prone to stress over time, and they are typically experienced in adulthood.

NoIsolation.com

What can we do to help kids that come to church?
Love them. Clean surfaces before they come and after they leave. Give them normality in a world of stress-filled chaos. Kids need to know that there is life after COVID, Zoom isn’t forever. Kids need a place that is safe but they also need hope and they need the church to do what the church has done for 1800 years, run to the hurting. We want to make sure we do everything to take this seriously but as we reopen we must ask ourselves what is the price that kids are paying? A generation of kids growing up with more anxiety than ever. How can the church serve kids? We can point them to Jesus. We can remind them what scripture teaches and what the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states.

Q: What is our only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

We can teach them to cast their cares on Him because he cares for them. This isn’t an oversimplification of a complex issue. It’s the heart of the Christian faith. In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat was facing certain death. The Bible says he was afraid.

“Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah, they came to seek the Lord….O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 12

The greatest gift we can give our kids in the middle of a crisis like nothing we have seen in over 100 years is the gift of prayerful dependence on God. We must whatever we do teach our kids that it’s ok to be afraid. We must show our kids where we turn when we are afraid. Finally when all else fails when we reach the end of our good ideas and what we can do, and admit we don’t know what to do and confess to God that our eyes are on Him.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

You’re Going to be Ok.

There are few things more difficult and few things more important than being with a family who recently lost someone they love. To be with someone who breathes their last is a trust and a responsibility we have with those we love. It’s a reminder that God how issues our first breath is with us when we breathe our last. I remember visiting a mother in the hospital who had recently received a terminal diagnosis and she struggling with fear. Because of the reality of the hope she had at that moment I reminded her that no matter the outcome God was with her: “Everything is going to be ok.” Her countenance changed and she died a few days later. Everything after was hard but it’s been ok she is free of pain and with her savior. Her family whose hearts are broken are trusting Jesus through the storm.

There is a phrase in Latin Memento Mori, which means in English, “Remember, you must die.” Talking about death, understanding death, and living with the knowledge you will die have all fallen on hard times. We live in a culture that idolizes youth and beauty and believes that money is how both those prizes can be achieved. The reality is that we do much of what we do in America because we are running from death. We struggle with anxiety and worry in this life because we have expunged death from every aspect of our daily life.

I go to and perform many funerals in a year. There was a season in my life I attended or performed a funeral nearly once a week. The thing that always struck me was there are no kids at funerals. There are very few teens and college-age kids at a funeral. Most people don’t go to their first funeral until late in life. This detachment and stigmatization of death have created a culture that fears death more than anything else.

This culture of positive confession and beautiful people has infiltrated the church. This detachment and paralytic fear of death that most Christians have has put us out of touch with some of the most critical and far-reaching themes of the Bible. Themes of salvation and forgiveness, sin and death, and suffering and victory.

If you have been to an older church, you would have had to walk through tombstones to come and celebrate the Lord’s day. Preachers used to have a skull they would put on their desk as a reminder that they were dying. They were preaching to people who were dying. And if you want to reach those who are dying, you do it by thinking A LOT about death, not by coming up with positive messages to avoid it.

At every funeral, I perform I read this text from Ecclesiastes 7:1-4.

Wisdom for Life
1 A good reputation is more valuable than costly perfume. 
And the day you die is better than the day you are born. 
2 Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. 
After all, everyone dies— 
so the living should take this to heart. 
3 Sorrow is better than laughter, 
for sadness has a refining influence on us. 
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death, 
while a fool thinks only about having a good time. 

Ecclesiastes 7:1–4.

Funerals serve a purpose in this life. They are to as the Psalmist says in Psalm 90 Cause us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. A wise person thinks A LOT about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time now.

The reason this is so foolish is that we have it backward. We don’t think about heaven because our hope isn’t in heaven; it’s in the things we can gain an acquire. We don’t long for heaven with the homesickness that we should because we are so focused on making this life our best life. We have bought into the lie that aspects of evangelicalism have been selling to the world. If you believe God enough, if you follow him, you will have everything this world has to offer. We want a BMW more than we want heaven. Because our hearts want happiness and we think things will give us that.

Holy Thursday. Lord Have Mercy.

The Latin phrase Kyrie Eleison is translated to “Lord have mercy” in English. The power and need for this prayer from the church has become more valuable and more needed than ever. When we are at our weakest, we are most aware of our need for mercy. In America, we have deified love. We say that God is love, and that is true, but how we mean it is not. I think describing God’s love in terms of his mercy is a much better way to go.

Love for us holds a romantic notion in the Rick Astley sense we want a God who will never do anything to us that we don’t like.

Never gonna let you down

Never gonna run around and desert you

Never gonna make you cry

Never gonna say goodbye

Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

Rick Astley

When we think of God in terms of how we desire or experience love. We fail to understand the justice, the holiness of God that is seen in his love for us experienced in mercy. I love Ephesians 2. In it, Paul describes us and our sin that we are dead in our sins, following the prince of the power of the air. In his description of us, he says we are both guilty and lost. He then pivots and describes who God is. God is rich in mercy.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace, you have been saved— 

Ephesians 2:4-5

Mercy presupposes guilt and salvation. Love presupposes our experience with love. What we want is love. What we need is mercy. God comes to us in mercy. But again, we misunderstand what mercy looks like. Two of the greatest authors of the 21st century didn’t. Tolkien and Lewis both understood God’s mercy. In a moving blog post at Desiring God, the author describes Tolkien’s understanding of mercy.

“In October of 1958, Tolkien wrote a letter to a Miss Beare, an inquiring reader who had a host of peculiar and specific questions about “The Lord of the Rings.” In a follow-up letter (actually just a draft of a letter that was never sent), Tolkien pens the paragraph that so deeply impacting. Writing about the immortality of Elves and mortality of Men (a mortality the Elves coveted), Tolkien says,

A divine “punishment” is also a divine “gift,” if accepted, since its object is ultimate blessing, and the supreme inventiveness of the Creator will make “punishments” (that is, changes of design) produce a good not otherwise to be attained. (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, 286)

Therefore, a man who is subject to death and suffering and loss (like Tolkien and each of us) is to be envied for the precious good we receive because of the “punishments” we receive (the consequences of sin, the awful “changes” to the original design brought about by the fall). Tolkien goes on to say, “A ‘mortal’ man has probably (an Elf would say) a higher if unrevealed destiny than a longeval one” — that is, than an Elf who never dies.

The loss of a father, or mother, or brother, or child, then, as much as we would never want it, or ask for it, can be a gift, if accepted, says Tolkien because it can bring about a greater good, an ultimate blessing we would not have enjoyed without having to feel the pain and heartache.”

Mercy is the love of God acting in concert with his justice. Mercy is the love of God in concert with the other attributes of God. When we ask God for mercy, we are asking him to intervene in our world and in our lives, but we are also asking him to transform our hearts to see punishments as gifts.

Tolkien’s college C.S. Lewis shared his friend’s understanding of mercy. One of Lewis’ friends wrote to Lewis about the passing of his wife. Lewis’s response was one that had been marked by his own particular need for God’s mercy.

One way or another, the thing had to die. Perpetual spring-time is not allowed. You were not cutting the wood of life according to the grain. There are various possible ways in what it could have died tho’ both the parties went on living. You have been treated with a severe mercy. You have been brought to see (how true & how v(ery) frequent this is!) that you were jealous of God.

Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy (p. 210). HarperOne. Kindle Edition. 

Lewis reminded him of the reality of death and the mercy of God, even when that mercy was severe. Lewis was telling his friend that every relationship must come to an end. There are many ways in which that end could have come, but Lewis reminded his friend Sheldon of the mercy of God towards him. That even though his wife was taken, God had not left him. In fact, Sheldon came to saving faith through the death of his wife. His loss was a severe mercy.

What we want is love what we need is mercy.

But, What About… The Bible?

In a recent blog post, I wrote for David C. Cook’s content site for kids ministry leaders called Spark. I talked about in recent years there has been similar language used by apostates in explaining their “de-construction” stories. One of those familiar tunes they all seem to play is the God of the Old Testament vs. the God of the New. These arguments that modern apostates pose have a cascading effect. Once you attack the nature of God, the next domino to fall is the authority of scripture. What is interesting is that those who apostatize follow the same path that that theologians follow in systematic theology. Apostates tear down the foundations that have been systematically laid.

I had a conversation with my good friend Jana Magruder Director of LifeWay Kids. She recently wrote a book called Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. In this book, she and her team discuss the results of a survey done by LifeWay. They found nine indicators that led to lifelog faith in kids. The most surprising finding was that the number one indicator of a lifelong faith is not the faith of your parents. It isn’t church attendance; it isn’t even generations of attendance in the same church. The number one indicator of a lifelong faith is Bible reading. And it’s not even close.

Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian

A. W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer says, “Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian,” this Jana says is the basis of the book that they wrote. Jana said at LifeWay they were looking for what creates lifelong faith in kids.

At first, we were looking for a formula for a recipe that if we could get this right, we could have more assurance that our kids are not going to leave the church as a different research study says. So many leave and some come back. What can we do as parents and pastors? When we got the results back, our research team came back to us. It said you know you’ve got the number one answer. It is so far away from numbers two, three, and four that it really needs to be in its own separate category, so as you write this book, don’t make it look like number one was this then number two after that… it needs to stand alone, it needs to have its own place. Our research shows it so far in importance and value from the other things. The answer was Bible reading.

Jana Magruder

Jana said that this finding is “profound because it’s not the first thing our brains go to.” In Nothing Less, Jana and her team reveal this is not what we are chasing as a culture. Travel sports, grades, private school, Christian school, home school, big church or small church…” None of these made the difference Bible reading did.

 I think the reason why we miss this is because while we may value scripture, I’m not sure we see it as authoritative.