8/28/13

No Perfect Parents Allowed


“There is no such thing as a perfect parent.” 

Whew! That felt good to get off my chest. Our children and students mean the world to us. As we parent them, their entire future feels at stake. It feels like life or death sometimes, does it not? I have good news for you. 

You will NOT do it right. 

I know, I know… you are wondering how this is good news. But the Bible gives us almost no examples of perfect parents (I am not convinced that Mary and Joseph count, either!). Adam and Eve, after having the distinction of being the first on earth to disobey God, raised a son who would murder his brother. Isaac’s son, Jacob, swindled his brother for the inheritance and fooled dad into giving him the family blessing. This same Jacob would love one of his sons more than the others, leading to jealousy and the sale of his son into slavery. King David’s sin led to the death of one of his children. King Solomon’s family fell apart completely, leading to the division of the entire nation of Israel. Take heart, my friend. We imperfect parents are in good biblical company. 

But I have even better news. God is on his throne. I do not say such things flippantly. I mean it. God used Cain after his murder; he renamed Jacob as Israel (which would become the name of the entire nation); he made Joseph second in command in Egypt; he made David a man after God’s own heart; he made Solomon the wisest man on earth. And he can use even you, flawed though your parenting may be.

Psalm 78 is a great parenting poem. Verse 4 says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” In Deuteronomy 6:7, we hear the instructions of Moses to the nation of Israel just prior to their entrance into the promised land: “[T]each them diligently to your children,” at home and on the road and at night and in the morning. 

At our recent Parent2Parent lunch, we discussed Proverbs 4:23. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The faith we have in OUR hearts is most often the faith we see in our children later. As we love God with all our heart, we likely will see our children love God, too. As we pray for our children to love God with their hearts, we will see God work in their lives, doing the work we cannot do… changing our children from the inside. 

Parents, let me encourage you. “Don’t worry about anything (not even your kids); instead, pray about everything (especially your kids)” (Philippians4:6, NLT). Do you trust God even with your most precious blessings, your kids?

7/23/13

Look


(This talk was delivered to a children's art show audience on July 22, 2013. The children were instructed to put up their hands to form binoculars around their eyes every time I said, "look.")

LOOK!

“In thebeginning God created…” And so the best-selling book of all time begins. Out of nothingness, God speaks, and things begin. First, He created light and darkness. Second, He created sky and earth. Third, He created dry land between seas and plants and trees, and he looked. He saw that it was good. Fourth, He created sun and moon and stars, and he looked. He saw that it was good. Fifth, He created fish of all shapes in the oceans and birds of all colors in the sky, and he looked. He saw that it was good. Sixth, He created animals of shapes and sizes and noises, and he looked. He saw that it was good. He also said, “Let’s make people of all shapes and sizes and noises.” So He “created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them.” And he looked. And he saw that is was not just good. We were very good.

And for thousands of years, humans have been doing right and wrong. They have been noticing and ignoring the creation of God, and have been both creating and destroying. Look! Listen as you hear our poets mention God’s creation. An ancient Greek poet Aeschylus said, “The power that holds the sky’s majesty wins our worship.” Look at the sky, he says. In the Middle Ages, an Italian poet Dante said, “Nature is the art of God.” Look all around at nature, he says. During the Victorian era, British poet Robert Browning said, “If you get simple beauty and nought else, You get about the best thing God invents.” Look at beauty, he says.

See, God is continually painting on his beautiful canvas his picture for you to look at and admire. He loves you, and is painting things all around you: sunsets, rain showers, green fields, blue skies. Look! Even rainbows, which contain every single one of the basic colors, are a reminder of God’s promise to all of his people. (Read this story for yourself in Genesis 6 through 9.) God says in Amos 4:13, “For the LORD is the one who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds, and reveals his every thought. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads the mountains under his feet. The Lord God Almighty is his name.” When you look for God, you won’t see him, but you will see all the beauty he created. Job, in the Bible, found this out when God showed him all the things he created. Job said (in42:5), “I had heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” Look, brothers and sisters. There is God! Remember that when you look for God, you won’t see him, but you will see all the beauty he created. And guess who is the best masterpiece he painted? You!!

God says in Ephesians2:10, “For we (people) are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Look! God painted you! And he did not paint you to do wrong. He painted you to do good. He did not paint you to tear up and destroy. He painted you to create. This summer, you created; just as God created you. You painted pictures; just as God painted you. And look! God has a good plan for your life. But you need God’s good plan, not your own plan. Ask God for the map for your life that God has painted just for you. Follow that map. If you paint your own map for your life, you will only find sadness. Look for God to create. Let God keep painting you into the masterpiece he designed you to be.

5/21/13

Pass On Your Prayer

Prayer is a private practice, but not one we should keep for ourselves. 

Jesus said in Matthew 6:9, “Therefore, you should pray like this…” Adults, may I ask a difficult question of us? If I am charged with making followers (Matthew28:19-20), and if I am charged with passing on my faith to the next generation (Deuteronomy 6:4-7), then am I passing on my thoughts on prayer? If Jesus taught his followers, am I not to teach others as well? 

Most of our young people learn prayer from sermons and lessons they only partially listen to, and from the public prayers they hear in worship. I believe that is insufficient. You might believe you do not know enough to teach. I would suggest not that you teach necessarily, but that you pray with them. Educators understand the principle of teaching by doing. I encourage you to use the recommendations of Deuteronomy 6:7. Pray with them at home, on the road, at nighttime, and in the morning. Turn off the radio while driving and pray, and offer them a chance to thank God for the things they see. Say a prayer over your children before they leave the house in the mornings. Bedtime prayers are not merely for children, either. Continue that throughout the life of a teen, too. When you meet with a coworker or friend for informal conversation over coffee, have prayer with them. I encourage you to do this prayer thing with others. 

There are many reasons (or perhaps more accurately, excuses) we do not pray with others. It feels awkward. We are not sure what to say. We feel that our prayers are not very good. But I would encourage you to do as Dr. Gary Chapman encouraged me to do at a marriage conference. Just start with something simple. Just hold hands and pray silently until you are both done. But start somewhere, and for heaven's sake, start! You will likely find what I have found: that prayer deepens your personal relationships, especially in your family. And children and students and even adults can be taught how to pray.

Allow prayer to become more a part of your personal interactions, providing you with a God-focus throughout the day (in obedience to 1 Thessalonians 5:17’s “pray without ceasing”), while helping others to do as Jesus did. Take your cue from Christ. He teaches his followers to pray in the following way:

Matthew 6:9-13
Pray then like this:
"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, 
and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.


5/9/13

Graduation and Tee Ball


Graduation. 

Softball and baseball. 

I have been thinking about both of them a lot lately. There are few things more fun to watch than 4 and 5 year olds playing tee ball. But those young children grow up before our very eyes. I see this most clearly when I think about our upcoming milestone of high school graduation, remember that those young adults were once young children, enjoying sports and dance recitals and school ceremonies. Our student ministry at FBC Philly is a ministry of milestones. We celebrate the growth of a child from their Parent/Child Dedication (when we commit to support the parents as they spiritually guide their growing child) to Baptism (when they commit to following Christ) to Youth Group rites of initiation (when they become a young man / young woman) to True Love Waits ceremonies (when they commit to purely follow a pure God) to Graduate Recognition (when we celebrate their passage to adulthood). At each milestone, we pause and remember. For our entire church body (not merely parents), we remember the spiritual growth of the graduate, and we are reminded that we will ALWAYS have a responsibility to the next generation. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, volunteers: ALL adults are to be involved in the spiritual growth of our students. This is not my idea. Allow me to paraphrase and apply Deuteronomy 6:4-7, which are God’s words through Moses to the nation of Israel just before his death and their entrance to the promised land.

Listen, church: The LORD, our God, is the One LORD. You must love the LORD with your ALL of your heart and soul and strength. What I am instructing you today, you should put in your heart. You should teach this faithfully to your church’s children – talk about it around the dinner table, talk about it when you are driving, talk about it at bedtime, talk about it in the morning.

May we obey the God we love, and not merely grow in our own faith, but make faithful disciples of others, including our next generation.

1/15/13

The Blah's

Have you ever felt blah?  



The Christmas holidays are over
School and work routines are back in full swing. 
The holiday food left behind an extra pound or two. 
Your new year's resolutions are already broken - multiple times over. 

Elijah also felt something akin to this post-holiday drudgery. In 1 Kings 18, he was on top of the world as he watched God answer his prayers and rain down fire. He saw God bring rain to end a dry spell, too

However, immediately after this, in 1 Kings 19, he received a death threat, and all of his recent triumphant feelings left in a hurry, taking with them his will to live. Yet even in these moments of depression, he found that God was just as ever-present in the problems as He had been in the triumphs. God fed him, rested him, and spoke to him

Is your faith only fair-weather? Do you stop believing in God or do you get angry with Him when things don't happen as you wish they did?  

Have you realized yet that God has no responsibility to do as you believe He should? Have you also realized yet that He loves you just as passionately now as He did when you were smiling?

Cling to Him. 
Rest in Him. 
Listen to Him.

He is here.