Thanksgiving.

Thankgiving

We have so much to be thankful for. Every aspect of life, every breath is a gift. Thanksgiving is a reminder that we are limited and God is limitless in Love and provision to us and for us. When I think of all that God has given me the thing I realize I need most is a grateful heart. God has given so much to me the only thing I need more of is gratitude.

In his final stanza, Herbert says this.

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

This is so convicting because often my thankfulness is conditional on when “It pleases me” rather than thanksgiving being a reflexive action that leads to praise. Happy Thanksgiving. May your thankfulness and mine not be limited to just statements of thanks but I pray that we would see beyond the gift to the giver and be moved to praise.

Below is the full poem by George Herbert. Herbert is a gift. I rarely read one of his poems without being moved deeply by his understanding of himself and his fellow man as well as his understanding of the God who saved him. I pray on this Thanksgiving day as you read you are filled with thanksgiving and moved to worship.

GRATEFULNESS

by George Herbert (1593- 1633)

Thou that hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, a grateful heart.
See how thy beggar works on thee
By art.

He makes thy gifts occasion more,
And says, If he in this be crossed,
All thou hast given him heretofore
Is lost.

But thou didst reckon, when at first
Thy word our hearts and hands did crave,
What it would come to at the worst
To save.

Perpetual knockings at thy door,
Tears sullying thy transparent rooms,
Gift upon gift, much would have more,
And comes.

This not withstanding, thou wenst on,
And didst allow us all our noise:
Nay thou hast made a sigh and groan
Thy joys.

Not that thou hast not still above
Much better tunes, than groans can make;
But that these country-airs thy love
Did take.

Wherefore I cry, and cry again;
And in no quiet canst thou be,
Till I a thankful heart obtain
Of thee:

Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.

Why Your Kids Should Read Classics

We are at the start of summer, and each summer, I have my kids read a classic over the summer. Until five years ago, I had never read a work of classic literature. I recently graduated from Knox Seminary with a Masters Degree in Christian and Classical Studies. It was in the course of those studies that I have come to realize that everyone needs to read classics.

Why Should Kids Read Classics? 

  1. They are being taught less and less each year in our public institutions. 
  2. They cultivate imagination and foster a broader understanding of virtue. 

In public school, classics have diminished over time. There are two fronts to this fight, and the classics are losing on both fronts. One front is the excessive push toward STEM programs at the expense of the humanities. The second front is due to what C.S. Lewis calls chronological snobbery. When Lewis spoke of chronological snobbery in his day. He was speaking to the idea that people of his time would read modern books that fit their modern sensibilities, political ideals, and social ideas. We are blind to the problems in our day. We can’t see what we can’t see. Lewis argues, and I would agree we need writers from decades, even centuries ago, to show us what we can’t see. One fix Lewis argues for is that we read one old book for every new book we read. This would help us be better readers in general and help us see what we can’t see on our own. 

Our push for STEM programs has inadvertently lead to the diminishment of the humanities. We think we have evolved past those who came before us. We think we are wiser and more enlightened. What we can’t see through Bacon’s scientific method is our hearts have not evolved. Our hearts are sin-filled and desire the same things our great grandfathers and great grandmothers wanted. We see our world commit the same sins as our forefathers, only with a shiny new exterior. We think this is a new problem to be solved rather than an old sin to be repented of or an old heresy to be condemned. 

Children need classics because classics help cultivate imagination and module virtue and vice. Kids need to see the world through the eyes of another. An appetite for the good, the true, and the beautiful found in classical works of literature is something every child needs. Our children need to see what we mean when we say have patience, be brave, or love well. 

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, Research Professor of English and Christianity and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, believes this is a big deal with grave consequences. 

“I see a lot of big issues facing the church today, but I think most of them result in one way or another from an impoverished imagination. For example, the division and polarization we are facing in the church and our larger culture owe in great part to our inability to imagine or empathize with opposing, or even simply different, perspectives. It’s not a stretch to see the lack of developed imaginations at play here.

Cognitive science shows that empathy increases among those who read literary fiction. Generally speaking, literature and other arts are not valued greatly in the contemporary church. Moreover, underdeveloped and unexercised imaginations make us more prone, ironically, to the lure of conspiracy theories. To be human is to have an imaginative capacity. Our imaginations will work, whether healthily or not. Imaginations that have been trained well in good, logical, well-constructed stories that make rational as well as aesthetic sense are less likely to be taken in by bad, false substitute stories.”

Dr. Karen Swallow Prior 

In our overvalued love of the empirical sciences, we have undervalued the humanities, which greatly matters. Do we need scientists? Yes, but we also need virtuous scientists and who do what should be done rather than what can be done. Do we need doctors? Yes! But we need doctors who can empathize with the losses of others and be human, not just right. This isn’t just true of the scientific professions. I would argue we need pastors, theologians who are not just theologically precise but who are also virtuous and empathetic. 

In the world we now live filled with information, and where everything is political, we need virtue, and we need empathy on levels never before seen. We need a generation of kids who can read a fairy tale and learn to see the world as it should be rather than blindly give in to the world as it is. The formation and catechism of our kids are taking place. If we are not intentional about their formation, someone will be. We have the privilege and responsibility to train our kids to see what is good, what is true, and beautiful. As Christians, we have the joy to show our children that every good thing we enjoy, including good books, is a fractured reflection of our perfect Heavenly Father. 

A Few Tips in Picking Classics for Kids

  1. Pick a classic to fit their interests. 
  2. Make sure the classic fit their reading level.
  3. Find a good classic. Not all classics are alike. Find one that has stood the test of time and one that promotes virtue. 
  4. Talk about the book with your kids. Dr. Prior has some great-looking classics with an introduction by her that will help you have a conversation with your kids about what they have read. Leland Ryken also has a few guides to classical works that would be helpful as well. 

What Do You Do When Sundays are Taken Away?

Recently I read *Resilient – Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church. One of the things that stood out to me was when the authors described that most kids’ ministry leaders don’t have a metric for measuring success in kids’ ministry.

I know this to be true because one of the questions I ask at conferences is “How do you measure success in kids ministry” to which most people respond with a particular number of kids that attend regularly. I then ask “What do you do to disciple kids?” To this question, most people respond by saying “Sunday Morning.” I say this because there was a time in my life when those would have been my answer.

The metric I used to use was how many kids came and did they have fun. This wasn’t a metric that reflected kids who were becoming disciples of Christ. It was metric that measured fans of Pastor Sam. I was sincere. I was also sincerely wrong. I wanted kids to have fun. I wanted kids to think I was fun more than I wanted them to love and treasure Jesus. I would never have said that but what I measured did for me.

Around twelve years ago God opened my eyes to see the gospel like I never had before. It led me on a journey I am still on to be someone who treasures Christ above all else. It changed my priorities in life and it changed how I measure success in ministry. There was a time in my life where being known by my peers trumped being known by God. I would never have said that but what I measured (likes, fans, and Blog stats) did for me.

If we want to raise kids who treasure Christ. Kids who say Christ is enough for me. We have to lead different we have to measure different things.

Mistake Number 1
– I thought that you disciple kids by being more innovative in looking forward rather than sacred in looking backward.

If I was raising my kids 10, 50, 200 years ago what would that life look like and what would my priorites have been. Just to challange my thinking to think beyond the expectations of the norms of today’s culture. So I would really challange that parent (pastor) to think what are those long term outcomes and goals for your child and what would the pathway be to help your child get there?

Matt Markins CSO Awanna

As a pastor, I thought innovation was the key to discipling kids. When I was young everything new was always better. The older I have gotten the more I have come to realize that what kids don’t need is a relentless barrage of new. What they need is old and true that is presented as new.

What do we measure in our kids ministry? Do our kids know the ten commandments, do they know the overarching story of the Bible, do our kids know the first question of the New City Catechism. Do our kids leave our ministry knowing Jesus is everything?

Mistake Number 2 – I counted kids to know how many were coming rather than who is missing.

Numbers are not wrong. Counting how many kids you have is not wrong. Thinking you are discipling kids because you have 99 coming is not discipleship. You should be counting your kids not so you can revel in the 99 but so that you know the 1 that is missing. We have fallen victim to the American spirit of entrepreneurialism rather than the biblical definition of a shepherd.

We measure how well we are doing not by sheer numbers alone but by who isn’t there and finding out why.

Mistake Number 3 – I thought kids loved Jesus for the rest of their lives by me making information fun, accessible, and memorable.

I spent hours coming up with fun creative ways to transfer information. Should kids ministry be fun and exciting? YES! I have come to learn over the years that the primary goal is not to get kids to know all the facts about God. What matters more than what kids know is what they love. Our job as leaders and parents is to form their loves.

Do we create opportunities for kids to experience God? I don’t mean in any way that we elevate experience over truth. As I have said earlier our kids need to have faith that is grounded in scripture and informed by history so that when they have an experience with God they have the proper framework to understand it and that experience does its work. It forms their loves.

Kids need to know the truth about God but kids also need to experience the person of God.

What should our metric be in kids ministry?

What do kids know?
Catechism
10 Commandments
Lords Prayer
Apostles Creed
The big story of the Bible

Is every kid known by someone?
Does at least one adult leader know each kid and their family?
Can each kid name at least one adult they admire from the church?

Is what kids love more important to us than what they know?

Do we create opportunities for kids to learn to hear God speak?
Do we create opportunities for kids to respond to God?
Do we model as leaders what a life that is gripped by the love of God look like?
Do our kids know that how they love others shows how they love God?

We have got to think in terms of creating disciples more than creating environments. We have to elevate the discussion around how are we as the church going to look backward so that we can move forward.

We see how serious a pandemic can be. If we do not start talking about discipleship, holiness, and gospel centrality in kids and youth ministry the church in North America will become a sterile form of religion that is driven to and fro by every wave culture sends our way. We have to realize that Sunday alone is not enough to disciple kids because we now know Sunday can be take away. If we want to raise kids that are resilient we have got to start measuring more than attendance and discipling with more than take-home papers alone.

Top 10 Books of 2019

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
Eugene does what few modern theologians can do he weaves theology and poetry and finishes each thought with pastoral application. I found Ten Thousand Places challenges to live what you believe. The challenge in the evangelical church is there is much theological understanding without application and on the other side pragmatic seeker strategies striped of theological distinction. Peterson pushes us towards a more gracious orthodoxy as well as a more theological deep approach to reaching those far from God. “Spiritual theology is the attention we give to lived theology — prayed and lived, for if it is not prayed sooner or later it will not be lived from the inside out and in continuity with the Lord of life. Spiritual theology is the attention that we give to living what we know and believe about God. It is the thoughtful and obedient cultivation of life as worship on our knees before God the Father, of life as sacrifice on our feet following God the Son, and of life as love embracing and being embraced by the community of God the Spirit.”
– Eugene Peterson

Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
Digital Minimalism was a reminder of how much of a chokehold our cell phones in general and social media, in particular, has on us. “Digital minimalism definitively does not reject the innovations of the internet age, but instead rejects the way so many people currently engage with these tools.” Many of Newport’s suggestions I will be implementing in the new year. His approach was powerful as he built the case against digital extremism and then offered solutions that were not based on fear but in proper proportion. Does this technology help my higher values of family, faith, and friends? If so then how specifically if no then let it go.

The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Brothers K is the story of three brothers who each represent a part of the tripartite Plutonic soul. Dostoevsky uses the story of their suffering to show the nature of happiness and the road of redemption no matter how God has uniquely wired you. Very few authors have the combination of poetic imagination, philosophic tradition, and theological persuasion. I found the story compelling and his understanding of grace convicting. It is a book I want to read again and now having read it once I am ready to read it again for the first time.

The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
The enneagram is controversial in the fact that so many of it’s founders are mystics. I don’t feel that it is witchcraft or a culturally acceptable way to blame shift my sinful tendencies on a system. I found the Road Back to You at a crucial time in my life this year. This year has been one of the more personally challenging years I have faced in over a decade. The Road Back to You helped me see something that I have always known to be true, we think everyone is like us so we talk to them that way. The Road Back to You helped to remind me God made each of us uniquely and if I am to honor that design and work better with those around me I need to learn how to talk to them in a way they understand rather than only communication in a style I prefer

On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
This book was not what I expected but was exactly what I needed. I am a huge fan of both Augustine and James Smith. When this project was announced I couldn’t wait to read it. I was not disappointed. Smith distills the essence of Augustine’s work in the Confessions and applies it to Post-everything America with such skill that the 1600 year gap is nearly seamless. Smith cuts to the heart of the perennial issues Augustine address that allows us in our modern setting to reorient our faith and to see our need for rightly ordered love. Such a powerful book. His chapter on fatherlessness was profound, personal and prophetic I have been reflecting on it often since reading it earlier this month.

The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
This book was easy to read and yet theologically profound. Bridges has a gift of making theologically deep truths accessible and challenging to any level reader. This is not to say that his content is simplistic but rather that he is a thoughtful and talented writer. The topic of holiness is so misunderstood in the evangelical church and because it is too often a topic that is neglected. This is the first book I read by Bridges but it won’t be my last.

The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
This is my second time reading Screwtape. I read it this year for a Seminary class I took on Lewis. This book is genius. It is a book that could have only been written by Lewis. His command of the English language, his understanding of both mid-evil literature and theology make this book the classic it deserves to be.


A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
There are few things more important to do for a Christian than to “Preach the Gospel” to yourself daily. Vincent’s short work helps you do just that in such profound ways. The first part of this book is a 30 devotional that walks you through a daily application of the gospel. The next section is “prose” a telling of the gospel is story form. The final section is a poetic proclamation of the gospel. This book is simple, short, beautiful and convicting. We leak and need to be reminded of the truth the gospel proclaims this small book is a beautiful way to do just that.

A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
I don’t read enough fiction or poetry. This is something I used to view as a waste I now see as a weakness in me. I need to develop my poetic imagination, I am not just a thinking thing I am the refection of the loves of my life. In my renewed pursuit of poetry, a few standouts have immerged because they have a poetic imagination and a passion for the gospel. Out of the group, Herbert is my favorite. He was a pastor whose poems were published posthumously. His pastoral heart and passion for the gospel seep from every line he writes. This book is a great introduction to his larger body of work.

  • A Year with George Herbert: A Guide to Fifty-Two of His Best Loved Poems – Jim Scott Orrick
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts – James K. A. Smith
  • The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Digital Minimalism – Cal Newport
  • Talking to Strangers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • Enemy of the State – Vince Flynn
  • The Survivor – Vince Flynn
  • The Wisdom of Eachother – Eugene Peterson
  • An Introduction to the Old Testament – Tremper Longman 
  • Irresitible – Andy Stanley
  • Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  • The Common Rule – Justin Earley
  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes – E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien
  • Wise Blood – Flannery O’Connor
  • The Path Between Us – Suzanne Stabile
  • The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb – Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel
  • Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity – Eugene Peterson
  • Chasing Francis – Ian Morgan Cron
  • The Road Back to You – Ian Morgan Cron
  • Tell it Slant – Eugene Peterson
  • The Pursuit of Holiness – Jerry Bridges
  • Letters to the Church – Francis Chan
  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Eugene Peterson
  • The Struggle to Understand Isaiah as Christian Scripture – Brevard Childs
  • The Prophecy of Isaiah – Alec Motyer
  • Openness Unhindered – Rosaria Butterfield
  • ReSet – David Murray
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • Andy Catlett – Wendell Berry
  • Be a Writing Machine – M.L. Ronn
  • Letters to Children – C. S. Lewis
  • Sex, Dating, And Relationships – Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas
  • Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
  • The Screwtape Letters – C. S. Lewis
  • One to One Bible Reading – David Helm
  • The Problem of Pain – C. S. Lewis
  • Romans 8-16 For You – Timothy Keller
  • A Gospel Primer – Milton Vincent
  • On the Incarnation – St. Athanasius
  • Befriend – Scott Sauls
  • On the Apostolic Preaching – Irenaeus of Lyons
  • The Great Divorce – C. S. Lewis
  • The Duties of Parents: Parenting Your Children God’s Way – J. C. Ryle
  • Women of the Word – Jen Wilken

Dear Dads, Please Stay

Growing up in the 80’s MTV used to be music videos all day long. I have always had a fascination with music videos. I could watch them for hours the combination of music and story is utterly compelling to me. I haven’t watched that many recently but yesterday I stumbled upon Coldplay’s newest music video. I was sitting in the Airport in Dallas I nearly missed my flight home because the video was so emotionally compelling. It’s a single called Daddy from their forthcoming album and is probably the most moving music video I have ever seen.

The music video is shot in a stop-motion cartoon style and tells the story of a small girl whose dad has left her. It is utterly heartbreaking. I scrolled through the comments and wept because the song hits a nerve we don’t address often enough. Fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is an epidemic in our country we often don’t have the courage to discuss. Gun control is more politically satisfying yet every mass shooter with only one or two exceptions grew up without a dad. The chances of kids dealing with depression, anxiety, and mental illness skyrockets when dad isn’t there. We ignore it because it is too pervasive too painful, and we feel powerless to change it.

In two decades of pastoral ministry to kids and families, there are few things more painful I have had to do than to sit in a living room with a mom and her kids and tell them their dad is never coming home. The pain in their eyes is beyond description. The wake that event created in the lives of those kids is so pervasive that everything is marked by it.

Divorce is a painful reality that is often thrust upon women by men who leave. Dads who think they deserve something better than what life has given them. Divorce in scripture is not an unpardonable sin. It is, however, something that should be entered into rarely and after every path to reconciliation has been exhausted.

One of the biggest lies people believe is that kids are better off with parents divorcing rather than fighting. This is a lie adults tell themselves to make themselves feel better. Every kid I have ever talked to from divorced families cry themselves to sleep at night praying their dad will come home. No dad is always worse than an angry distant dad. If you are a dad who is divorced fight to be there for your kids. I know you want to move on but don’t leave your kids.

Dads hold your kids close. Put down your phone. Show up when they don’t ask you to be there. If they ask you to be there make sure you do your best to be present. Love your kids enough to show them a love that isn’t perfect but a love that perseveres a love that is faithful because God in Christ loved you when you were unfaithful. Model to your kids the love God has for them by imperfectly loving them the best you can and at the same time point them to a perfect father who is never far away. The gospel doesn’t demand perfection it models it and provides forgiveness. Something every dad needs to hear.

Dads the cards are stacked against you in many ways. I beg of you please stay. Please stay. Pray that God will help you to be faithful when you feel like running. When everything in your head is screaming run. Stay.