As a Pastor, I go to more funerals than most people, as a result, my kids go to more funerals than most kids. The thing that you notice at funerals that is becoming more and more of a reality is that kids are rarely if ever present at funerals. Sometimes you will see kids of the families affected show up but rarely anything beyond that. Kids and teens being absent from funerals is not good and needs to change.
I think there are large societal shifts that have led to this happening in modern America.
- We are increasingly mobile – The average American moves so much they only see people in snapshot segments of life. They don’t grow up in a particular place with a particular people so in general, we don’t know people well enough or long enough to be aware of sickness and death in their families.
- We are increasingly protective – We are so afraid to expose our kids to harmful situations. This is mostly out pure and loving motivations. But in our good desire to protect our kids from harm we can unintentionally protect them so well they grow up unprepared for the joys and pains of life.
- We outsource family life like never before – I say this not as someone who is anti-childcare provider or anti-old person home. The reality is that because of capitalism and affluence we have more options for the care of sick elderly family members so our kids never see their old family members in the slow march toward death that helps kids put into context their own mortality. They only see the young and beautiful family members who are never sick. We also have more options to have someone watch our kids while we go to a funeral to protect them from the pain of loss and those who are morning from the pain of our kids’ behavior (but that’s another post).
Why we need to make a change.
One of the interesting aspects of Jesus ministry is that he made it a habit of practicing solitude. The most mature human to ever live modeled for us the need for retreat. Jesus, God incarnate, showed us that solitude isn’t alone time but rather time alone with God. It isn’t just space from others, it as Henri Nouwen refers to as a portable cell that you bring with you everywhere you go. Jesus taught us how to commune with God through retreat and silence, through prayer and ministry. There are few things we fear more than solitude. Sheri Terkel in her book Alone Together says this powerful statement “If we never teach our kids to be alone we will only train them to be lonely.” In the noisy world, we live in today the practices of solitude and silence are not high on the list of spiritual practices. We love to network, innovate and create (all of which are important and have their place) we fear solitude and we fill silence.
We see the start of Jesus Ministry as miraculous, as marked by obedience but we don’t see it as solitude. If you are going to last in ministry you will need to learn to embrace the transforming furnace of solitude. Henri Nouwen in his book The Way of the Heart says:
Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude, we remain victims of society and we are continued to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
Jesus came to be our substitute but He also came to reveal his Kingdom to us. He came to show us how to live and how to serve. Jesus began his ministry in solitude facing the three temptations every leader has to face.
- To Be Relevant. – “To turn stones into bread.” – The first pull you feel as a young leader is the pull of relevance. The right desire to help people that ends in giving them what they want rather than what they need. The pull to find pragmatic solutions that are not based in way of our savior is perhaps one of the most difficult battles you have to face early in ministry. We are not Chik-fil-a we are the church. In business, the bottom line is profit in the church the bottom line is submission to God, obedience rather than self-reliance. In the economy of God, the way up is down and the last is first. Jesus fought the pragmatic good of feeding himself and instead submitted his desires to his Father. In a world that tells you church planting is all about turning stone into bread. Young pastor submit your desire to be loved and to care for yourself to the only one who truly can care for you.
- To Be Spectacular – “Throw yourself from the roof of the temple.” – To be known is the second temptation a leader faces, I want to be seen, followed and loved. This may even be an altruistic desire in that you want others to see or know or to teach others the dangers of the desire for relevance. How did they do that? Is a question that every leader secretly wishes he is asked. Solitude teaches you that the temptation to be spectacular is only conquered through hidden faithfulness. Christ modeled for us in the desert what Adam failed to do in the garden. Silence teaches us that our words are not the most profound and solitude teaches us to wait for God’s word.
- To Be Powerful – “I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.” The last and probably most difficult is the temptation to be powerful. I have learned over the years and continue to learn, that if the leader you are following doesn’t walk with a limp they more than likely overestimating what they feel they can accomplish on their own. The longer you walk with God the more you understand that weakness is the strength of the Christian life. Every election cycle my feed gets filled with friends who are Republican and friends who are Democrats both of which think that the more power the church has the more it can accomplish the agenda they feel is most fitting for the church to pursue. Being powerful, being political was never what God’s Kingdom was about. When you practice solitude you are confronted with your own weakness your own finality with your own need for God. You realize that way of the kingdom is in weakness, not strength. You understand that your identity isn’t from your success but in Christ accomplishment on your behalf. Your only job is cling to Christ. That is the essence of faith. Cling to Christ alone. Jesus’ answer to this temptation was to ground his identity in God. That is God’s word for you and me. Ground your identity in God.
I’ll be honest I was difficult sending my kids to school today. The events in South Florida are heartbreaking. There are no words to convey the pain so many parents feel today losing what is most precious in such horrific fashion. There are not words that make sense of what took place. There are no words that can be said that would help bring comfort. Our nation is overcome with a collective sense of grief. Any time a child dies it is hard to understand, digest or explain. When multiple children die it’s horrific.
The question I hear most parents saying and I find myself thinking. “How do I send my kids to school tomorrow?” My wife asked me this very question here is how I responded perhaps it will help another parent out there.
Here is why I am sent my kids to school today.
1. We as parents must create an environment where our kids can thrive and can become all that God has designed them to be. We can not, however, protect and shield our kids from everything. We have to demonstrate to our kids in any way that we can that ultimately we trust God more than anything. Christ is our cornerstone he is the reference point of our life. When life is good He is that reference point when life is painful He is our source He is our life. Our hope as a parent can never lie wholly in our ability to keep our kids from harm, our hope has to be ultimately in Jesus alone.
2. See Christ as more valuable than anything else. – Paul says in Philippians “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He understood something we so often forget. If Jesus is truly most valuable to us if we lose everything in life we are ok because we have Jesus. If we die we win in death because we get Jesus.
This year I wasn’t sure how many books I would be able to read other than the books I had to read for Seminary. So to maximize my time I tried to remove time killers like I Netflix and the increasingly painful to watch cable news. I went with my strategy of having a physical book, an audiobook and a kindle book I am always reading at the same time. This year I read more old books than I have ever before. Some of that was for school part of that was because I believe that the crazier things get in the evangelical world the more we are going to need the voices of those who have been there and done that already. What orthodox believers need to comfort themselves with is not politics but the reality there is no new heresy, there is no new theologically liberal idea that someone hasn’t thought of already. You don’t know this unless you read old books. Like every year I encourage you to pick up an old book.
So here are my 10 favorite books for 2017
Parenting by Paul David Tripp
I haven’t read a parenting book in a while so when this one came out I jumped on it. Sandra and I actually have been using this for a small group we are doing with some friends. Tripp’s opening salvo states that parenting is primarily about confession. The whole book is framed around the idea that we need God’s help as much as our kids. Such a crucial read for every parent. We are going to be using it again this spring for our next small group.
A Practical Guide to Culture by Kunkle and Stonestreet
Raising kids in today’s world doesn’t happen by parents hoping for the best, it happens because of relentless effort and relentless trust. We trust God but we also have to put in the effort to help our kids not just know the Bible but to allow the Bible to frame their thinking. Lewis says it brilliantly this way “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This is one of those books it helps you see everything through the lens of the gospel over the lens of your gut instinct which is always wrong. If you have children anywhere near middle school buy this book.