Don’t Burn Bridges.

Remember when Facebook was for sharing photos of your children and videos of otters holding hands? Me neither. Social media has become a battlefield of conflicting ideas. A minefield of potentially explosive issues. It has gone from a digital scrapbook to a digital equivalent of a dual. Every post seems to be about the defense of a person or idea and with those who disagree hurling horribly generalized caricatures of who they think you are based on what party they think you are a part of.

As Christians, we have to guard against this. Some of the most scathing reprimands of scripture are towards those who can not control their tongues. In James 1 where we famously quote the passage that states “True religion is taking care of the widows and orphans.” This is a feel-good statement that is completely true and we love it. You know what it says in the verse right in front of it. James 1:26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle (control) his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.

Every sin that we commit is first a sin of the heart and second a sin of our mouth before it is a sin of our actions. Therefore what we think about, what we desire affects what we say. How we speak and what we type is a pretty good indication of the state of our heart.

Here is the bad news. None of us do this. Why because the Bible tells us our heart is desperately wicked. Kierkegaard called this the crooked timber of the heart. Our words will not change until our hearts have been transformed.

A preacher I respect greatly said this: “[James] calls for us to have a tamed tongue. And if we do, it’s evidence that we’re a Christian. And if we do, it’s evidence that we’re walking in obedience. And as you look at your life, beloved, if you see those things coming out of your mouth that ought not to come, you need to confess it as sin and turn from it. And how you react to those times when bitter water comes out of the sweet fountain is the key to your spiritual strength, the key to your spiritual effect and power.”

Our speech will not change until our hearts are transformed here is the good news. That is what God does best. He takes our hearts of stone and gives us a new heart with new desires and new words. Will we still slip in our speech online and offline? Yes. Should we strive to grow in the grace that God provides and be more kind in what we say think and do? Yes. This is a work God does and we join with him growing in his likeness day by day.

Here are a few things I am trying to do better when engaging people online.

  1. Ask more questions and make fewer statements – Look to learn not only prove a point.
  2. Delete more comments than you publish – If you know me, you would say there is no way you do this I have read what you have published online. I delete A LOT of comments, and so should you.
  3. Clarify when you don’t understand don’t assume you understand – This is essential offline as well as online. Communication doesn’t happen when two people speak. It occurs when two people speak, and there is understanding.
  4. If you know the person in real life call or text them to have an honest conversation about something you don’t understand – Use online disagreement to build bridges, not burn them. Talking in person builds bridges torching someone’s wall burns bridges.
  5. Take regular breaks from social media – I regularly take breaks to keep from becoming an angry, anxious, annoying person. You need to take more breaks than you do.
  6. Try to verify if a story is true before you share it – This is becoming more and more difficult to do even some fact-checking sites have become politicized. Try to use original sources, give away credit, and use common sense. If a story sounds like something, your craziest friends often say it’s probably not true.
  7. Try and stay friends with people who think differently than you. The mute button may be your friend at times, so use it. – Try not to burn bridges. Sometimes you will have to mute people online so you can stay friends offline, and that’s ok. Offline friends are more important than online friends.
  8. Know when to walk away, know when to run – Sometimes comments get ugly fast. Don’t go there. Walk away.
  9. When you overstep, and you will apologize without expecting them to apologize in return – If you only follow one of these pointers, let it be this one. I had to use it this week. I had to text a friend and apologize for what I said it was too strong and didn’t convey what I wanted to say because it was not seasoned with grace.

We all need God’s help to control our speech so that our thoughts, words, and actions convey the grace that is ours in Christ. What you say and what you type will signal to a watching world a heart that has been transformed by grace. May this be more and more true of us every day.

3 Things That Need to Change About How Our Kids Worship

Most of the time when we talk about worship for kids or youth ministry its most often in the context of practical tips. What songs are hot right now? Where can I get videos for this song? Most recently can I use worship songs that have copyright for our online services during COVID-19? What we fail to ask is why we worship and are we worshiping God in the way he desires to be worshiped.

This question of how we should worship is not new. For centuries the church has referred to this question as “the regulative principle it is simply the assertion that we must worship God in the way that he has revealed himself and the way he has commanded us to worship Him in His word. We need to worship God according to Scripture. Our worship needs to be directed by Scripture. The form and the content of our worship needs to be in accord with the Bible, informed by the Bible, and warranted by the Bible. It needs to be founded in the Scriptures. That is an emphasis that is so important today.” (via RTS.org)

It seems today the questions that we ask in the arena of worship are more around production value than around the Biblical basis for the songs we sing. We need to think deeper about how our songs are forming our kids. We need to think about how our songs are painting a picture of who God is and what he has done.

Yancy, recently released a new worship album aimed at pre-school and early elementary it’s called Ready, Set, Go! It’s fantastic. Yancy’s passion for the local church and for worship is so evident in everything she does. I love that her focus is always faithful over famous. I sat down with Yancy Richmond to talk about three things in kids’ ministry worship that need to change.

Engagement Not Just Aerobics

The first thing that needs to change in kids is we have to engage kids and not just lead them in aerobics. It seems in the last six or seven years that actions in kids ministry worship have gone from something helpful to being almost the totality of the worship experience. We seem to no longer judge our worship by transformed hearts but by how many people are moving at the same time. We are all guilty of this one because it’s easier to measure how many kids are jumping, it’s much more difficult to measure how many hearts are being transformed.

I think it gives kidmin leaders a false sense of participation. To be able to step inside the room and see it bouncing up and down and think “Yeah we are winning at worship.” Motions have a time and place but somewhere along the way, we started to shove motions in every part of every single song that we do instead of when it actually makes sense and when it actually enhances that song.

Yancy

We rightly want our kids to engage but what I’ve found is that when kids do dance moves they don’t sing. When kids don’t sing they don’t memorize the words of the song that when written well will be truths from God’s word that will be forever lodged in Kids Hearts. It seems that we have lost the art of teaching our kids to sing a heart song in exchange for Tik Tock.

We have lost the art of teaching our kids to sing a heart song in exchange for Tik Tock.

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.

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.