How Do We Train Our Kids to Stand Firm

Liturgy, Theology and Love

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do, however, have a secular culture and progressive Christians. They ask us to trample on scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance to their table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the taste of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample,” and the voice of the serpent saying, “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

“Love, which we would consider an “ultimate” love could be described as that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance; or, to evoke language that is both religious and ancient, our ultimate love is what we worship. The reasons we emphasize that this is a matter of love is to signify that our orientation to what’s ultimate is not primarily on the order of thinking. It’s not what I think that shapes my life from the bottom up; it’s what I desire, what I love, that animates my passion.”  James K.A. Smith

We are not primarily what we think or even what we believe. We are primarily, as Smith says, what we love. So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them? How do we not just inform the minds of our kids but also help them form their loves?

  1. Biblical Theology – Kids need to understand the Bible is about God, not about them. They need to see the broad sweeping themes of sin, redemption, and restoration. They need to see Jesus on every page of the Bible. If Christianity is only ever theological facts to be memorized and not a God to be adored, culture wins every time. We need to give our kids a Biblically faithful picture of a God of who is holy and loving. Biblical theology is not just information, but the understanding that all of scripture is the unfolding story of God’s love for us. Properly communicated, it should warm our hearts and fill our minds with wonder.  – Great interview with Paul David Tripp on recapturing awe. 
  2. Systematic Theology – Kids need to understand that the Bible is more than a story. It is that, to be sure, but it has practical implications for how we live. Biblical theology doesn’t answer life’s difficult questions. It shows us the beauty of Christ. Systematics shows us the implications of that picture of beauty. Here is a post I wrote that has resources I would recommend for this.
  3. Devotional Life – Kids need to learn the discipline of daily practice that both inform and form their love for God. This is best taught by modeling to our kids that devotion is not something earned or which merits grace but is the natural byproduct of the grace freely given. Here is a post that gives resources for family devotions. 
  4. Embodied faith – Faith is more than an idea and belief. If faith is not manifested in love, it is seen as a faith that tramples and devours. Our faith is seen in our practices and in our love for others. The liturgies of our churches need to reinforce the love of God so that it creates places where faith and trust will be outside the reach of the snake’s lies and the guard’s insistence to trample.

A faith that lasts is one that is marked by an embodied love and worship of a God who came down made himself small and embodied sacrificial love and resurrection power. That is the kind of faith our kids need.

How Kids Walk Away

Silence, Liturgy and Faith

Most kids who grow up in Christian homes think they would never deny God and turn from Him. They would never say that serving another god is a good idea. Yet many kids who grow up in Christian homes and grow up in Christian churches walk away and make gods to serve that are in their own likeness. They say things like “My God would never do……”, “My God would never say……”, “My God would never act in a way that is unloving (based on what they feel love is).”

Who you love informs how you act which in turn informs what you believe. In the American church, we have moved away from a physically practiced liturgical faith to a faith primarily of mental accent. What we believe and what we do are not connected. Some have seen this mental belief divorced from practice as harmful causing a return to returned to liturgy, but liturgies disconnected from Biblical belief. The result?We have people who talk about personal stories having the same power and weight as Scripture. We see people gathering around tables at homes to preach the gospel of grace with stark absence of repentance. Instead, we long to see people gathered around the Lord’s table marked by the forgiveness of one other and reconciliation to God through Christ.

Kids don’t generally wake up and decide to be an atheist. They lose their faith over time by practices resulting out of what they love. Philosopher James K. A. Smith says you are not what you believe or think but you are what you love. As spiritual beings with physical bodies, we underestimate how physical practices reinforce truth to our kids. You do what you believe and you believe what you do.

In the book, Silence by Shusaku Endo,a Catholic Priest, Father Rodrigues, goes to Japan during a time of intense persecution of the Christian faith in order to seek out a Priest that has been captured. He goes with confidence in his own abilities and a bit of arrogance in the strength of his faith. Eventually, Father Rodrigues is also captured and tortured alongside the people he had ministered to in Japan.

The Japanese learned that killing Christians spread Christianity so, instead, they started capturing leaders and forcing them to step on the face of Jesus. They subjected Father Rodrigues and those who followed him to unimaginable horrors. They told Father Rodrigues that these horrors would stop if he would just trample the bronze sculptured face of Jesus they had placed on a wooden board. His captures said to him “It is only a formality. What do formalities matter?’ The interpreter urges him on excitedly. ‘Only go through with the exterior form of trampling.It’s only a formality. It didn’t mean anything.”

But in the physical trampling of the face of Christ Rodrigues trampled the remnants of a shattered faith. He turned from his faith and lived in Japan helping the Japanese government identify Christian contraband smuggled into the country. Father Rodrigues, living a life marked by shame, asked God why he was silent when he was being tortured. God responded to him, “I was not silent, I suffered beside you.”

In our country, we do not have armed guards forcing us to step on the face of Jesus. We do however have a secular culture and progressive Christians asking us to trample on Scripture and tradition in order for us to find acceptance at the table of tolerance. The modern movement away from orthodoxy has the tinge of Japanese guards saying to our youth, “Trample, Trample!” and the voice of the serpent saying “Did God actually say?” Our kids are not being crushed by atheism, they are being seduced by secularism, materialism, and individualism.

So how do we raise kids who will not trample the faith handed to them?

Recruiting Volunteers: Who and How to Recruit

The question I get asked most via email and at conferences is always about recruiting volunteers. How do we get more volunteers? How do we keep volunteers? In kids ministry, you need more volunteers than any ministry in the church to know how to recruit volunteers and retain volunteers is essential you will not last without learning this crucial skill.

Ask Don’t Beg.

There is a massive difference between asking for help from the stage of from the bulletin and asking people for help face to face. When I was starting in Kids Ministry, I lost a lot of volunteers, so I started getting desperate and was going to go on the stage to ask for help. I didn’t have anyone I knew who was doing kids ministry, so the only thing I could think to do was get in front of everyone and ask for help. I was all set to do just that, and I felt like I shouldn’t do the bulletin stage ask. I felt like I should ask people personally and ask God personally in prayer. So that’s what I did.

I learned two things. 1. People you ask will serve longer and more faithfully than people you beg. Begging gets immediate results, but in my experience, those people don’t last more than a few months. I have many volunteers that are still serving twenty-one years later that I had initially asked personally. 2. Prayer is your greatest recruitment tool. We try and fix things on our own, but they rarely end up where we hope they would. This is God’s grace guiding us back to his heart. To total dependence on him. Ask people to serve but never forget to ask God to send them.

Who Should I Ask?

The more you ask people, the better you get at knowing who to invite and who we shouldn’t ask. Here are some of the practical things I learned about who you should ask to help in kids ministry.

  1. Dads typically don’t drop their kids off if they do make sure you talk with them. Dads involved in their kids lives to that level are generally great volunteers.
  2. Watch how parents interact with their kids. That will tell you a lot about how they would interact with other kids.
  3. Ask people what they do for work. I have found nurses, stay at home moms, social workers, and teachers all make excellent volunteers in Kids Ministry.
  4. Watch people in settings where there are lots of kids present are they aware of what the kids around them are doing or are they so engrossed in conversation they have no idea what is going on. Those who notice the kids running around are typically good volunteers.

Lead with Vision, not with Need

I remember having a difficult time getting preschool teachers. I had a waiting list in elementary but preschool was so hard to get help. I remember praying and asking God what was wrong with people not wanting to help in preschool. I felt God say as he often does the problem isn’t them it’s me.

I was asking people and essentially saying “I know you are busy, and preschool kids can be a lot but really could use help could you help out.” Not the best way to ask. I felt like in my times of prayer for leaders to lead preschool God says that teaching preschool is a privilege because it is the first time these kids will hear about God ever. If they are in families where they understand about God it will be the first time they hear the Gospel from someone who isn’t a relative. Teaching preschool kids isn’t a favor to be fulfilled but a responsibility and an honor. Lead with vision, not with need.

How to recruit well?

  1. Ask personally don’t beg publicly.

  2. Learn to spot who to ask.

  3. Lead with vision, not with need.

Top 10 Books of 2018

A quick note about this year’s book list. I tried to be better about reading more fiction and I intentionally read more books written by women, I tried to get on the Flannery O’Connor bandwagon but still do not see what all the hype is about. I am nearly halfway through reading all of the major works of C.S. Lewis. I also tried to read a couple of books by people I don’t agree with, Brian Zahnd’s book is on my list if you read his book definitely spit out the bones for they are plentiful. Lastly, I started what I hope to be a tradition with all my kids reading classics over the summer. My oldest son and I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was so moved by the portrayal of the horrors of the slave trade and the beauty of the Gospel was breathtaking. My challenge is always to read old books and that continues but I would also add the challenge to read books by people who are different than you. One of the beautiful things that are true is that we see life through different eyes and we see Christ through the application of the gospel in our daily life yet our perspective is limited. Reading people who are different than us allows us to borrow their eyes to see the world and to share their pain and to come alongside them and bear their burdens. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy reading next year. 

My Top 10 Books of 2018

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi – I listened to the Audiobook with my family on vacation. The Audiobook was read by the author Nabeel Qureshi it was powerful, moving and convicting. Hearing Nabeel in his own voice recounts the pain and difficulty that led to him walking away from everything to follow Christ was so convicting and so powerfully encouraging at the same time. It was important for me to have my boys listen in because they will wrestle with the truth claims of Scripture one day and Nabeel journey to Christ is one they will not soon forget. 

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Growing up moving so much meant I changed schools often and as a result, I missed a lot of classics I should have been forced to read in High School. With many schools now seemingly abandoning the classics I decided that during the summers I want to start a tradition where I read a classic work with my kids each summer of Jr. High and High School. This summer I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin with my oldest son. This was such a moving story. To read the horrors of the slave trade and at the same time, the beauty of the gospel so deeply embedded in this book knowing that this was the book that Lincoln credited with the start of the civil war easily made this book my favorite of the year. What dumbfounded me the most in reading this book is I kept waiting for Tom to betray his people as the most well know euphemism taken from this book is calling someone who betrays their own race an “Uncle Tom.” To see the Christlike sacrificial love of Tom on display page after page made me stop and pray that God would give me the love and courage that Tom had in this book. So powerful. Thankful for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s courage to write such a book in a time when doing so did not get you invitations to come to talk about your book on The View. 

 

Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by J.C. Ryle – J.C. Ryle is one of the most profoundly deep yet at the same time deeply accessible writers of his day. Ryle had such an accessible and practically applicable style. Any work or sermon of Ryle’s I have read I am always, always challenged to live my light different in light of the Grace provided to me in Christ because of Ryle’s ability to distill truth and apply those truths in universally applicable ways. This is a book I will re-read again. 

 

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves – One of the things I am convinced of is that Christians (this means me too) don’t understand the Trinity as we should. We hear the word, Trinity and we avoid thinking about it or talking about it and retreat with claims of mystery. To the Christians faith, there are few things that are more foundational and differentiating than the doctrine of the Trinity. The unity and diversity of God is unique to Christianity. Knowing that we can and should know more about the Trinity the question is often where do I start? I would say right here, Delighting in the Trinity is easily the most comprehensive and accessible books I have ever read on the Trinity. It is a quick read that is well worth your time. 

 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren – Loved this book Warren has a way of seeing the beauty of Christ in things I never do. Everyone wants to live a life worth living. Our culture is fame-obsessed people do the craziest things for 15 minutes of fame. Yet most of us go from mundane to mundane. Warren explains that the extraordinary life isn’t the one that is lived outside the lines it is lived best by those who see God in the ordinary things of life in the good simple gifts he graciously gives us. 

 

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin – Jen is a fantastic writer. She does naturally what so many speakers and writers struggle to do she takes complex ideas and she distills them to their essence. If you are not going to read Systematic Theology and most people won’t, None Like Him is a must read. Wilkin discusses each of the incommunicable attributes (the attributes of God that can only be true of God) of God with such winsomeness it was a joy to read. 

 

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller – The best compliment I can give this book is that most books on prayer deal in the currency of condemnation this one dealt in the currency of conviction. This book and Ryle’s pamphlet on prayer are by far the best books I have read on prayer. I left this book challenged on why I pray and how I pray at the same time empowered to pray and inspired to pray. By far the best book I have read on prayer. 

 

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne – I really enjoyed Rankin’s writing style. His treatment of the work of Sanctification was one of the best and most accessible books I have read on such an important topic. When we get sanctification wrong it leads to legalism or cheap grace. Our church will be going through this book in our small groups this fall. I highly recommend this book. 

 

 

That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Lewis – In this book, Lewis does what Lewis always does. Lewis’ friend and fellow Inkling said it well “Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” This book was no exception. If Narnia was the novel form of Mere Christianity than That Hideous Strength finds it’s counterpart largely in the Abolition of Man. Lewis dystopian fiction discusses the nature of salvation and how we in a Spiritual battle in which we have picked a side because in picking no side we have actually picked a side. George Orwell’s early review, for instance, expressed what would become a common criticism: “One could recommend this book unreservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways.” Unlike Orwell, Lewis understood that the supernatural is not subject to our sensibilities. 

 

The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs – I have read several biographies of Lewis this one was unique in that Dr. Jacobs attempts to view the life of Lewis in light of his faith and imagination. How his imagination informed everything else he said and did. Jacobs says it this way in his introduction. What made Lewis write this way, and why it is such a good thing that he was able to write this way—these are hard things to talk about without being (or at least seeming) sentimental, yet they are necessary to talk about. In most children but in relatively few adults, at least in our time, we may see this willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment. This free and full gift of oneself to a story is what produces the state of enchantment….Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and a grievous loss. Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
  2. No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew Naselli
  3. Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  4. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman
  5. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  6. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  7. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd
  8. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  9. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 
  10. Perelandra (The Space Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  11. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  13. Path of the Assassin (Scot Harvath, #2) by Brad Thor
  14. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship by John Piper
  15. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
  16. The Flash: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 (Rebirth) by Joshua Williamson
  17. The Lions of Lucerne (Scot Harvath, #1) by Brad Thor
  18. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts
  19. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
  20. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders
  21. Art & the Bible by Francis A. Schaeffer
  22. He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis A. Schaeffer
  23. Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament: Devotions for Lent by Paul E. Stroble
  24. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  25. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
  26. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen
  27. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  28. When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt
  29. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis
  30. Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters by Helen Smith
  31. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
  32. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce K. Waltke
  33. Great Courses: St. Augustine’s Confessions by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman
  34. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth
  35. Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians – Translation by Jeremy Mynott
  36. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy
  37. Cottonmouth and the River (Freddie Cottonmouth #1) by C.S. Fritz
  38. The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripkin
  39. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  40. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.