Review – His Kids United Christmas Volume 1

October 22, 2014

Having small children in the home I’m always looking for some new music to listen to, because there’s only so many times you can listen to Raffi or Cedarmont Kids. And Christmas is always a big deal in our home. So when the opportunity to check out a kids’s Christmas CD made itself available, I thought, “great!” But, overall, I’m a little disappointed with the effort.

I suppose partly because my kids are under 5, I expected something with broad appeal even for youngsters. In the end, I think this has a small niche for the upper elementary grade students who might enjoy the over synthesized music before they move their way into their teens and would find the whole project, “un-cool.”

Now, some tracks are pretty good. The opening, “Here We Come-a-Caroling”, is a nice rendition and the harmonies of the children are well done. This is also true of the classic Advent song, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It has a rather middle-eastern melodic sound to it that fits it nicely. And for nostalga sake, the “Christmas Time is Here” makes you think you’re watching the Peanuts Christmas special already.

Yet, a good number of the other tracks sound like recycled Euro-Pop from the late 90’s and I wonder how much it is even in style. The over synthesized nature of the music detracts from the message of the words at places.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend it as an overall good “children’s” Christmas CD. If you’ve got some junior high age students, they may connect with it, and other than a few well-done songs, the synthesized style of music on most of the tracks seems forced and does not support the words. So, this won’t be one I’ll be introducing to my kids right yet.

Homosexuality and the Church

October 20, 2014
A report came out from the Roman Catholic church that sought to determine how the church could consider welcoming homosexuals into the church. It was considered quite controversial with many bishops opposing the language. The report read,

“Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. Are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a church that offers them a welcoming home. Are our communities capable of providing that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?” 

This statement created quite an uproar in the media. While homosexual rights advocates touted this as wonderful progressive movement for the church, many conservative bishops found the statement problematic, and did not mesh with Catholic doctrine.

Yet, I find the statement compelling. Now, again, please don’t think me some kind of heretic because I do believe that homosexuality is a sin, and I consider homosexual marriage to be something that, which outside the sphere of the Scriptures, also is problematic for society as a whole. That being said, I think the statement above reveals something that we’ve failed to grasp before: that we’re all sinners, and if we are allowed in the church, why not homosexuals?

Now, part of the problem that we have is that we tend to lump three distinct issues together under one term: homosexual. We need to though, differentiate between homosexual orientation or proclivity, homosexual acts, and homosexual lust. Clearly Scripture presents for us that homosexual acts are outside of the scope of Christianity. We also know that lust in all its forms is also outside of the scope of Christianity. Yet, people with a proclivity to homosexuality, or that have a homosexual orientation, are simply like everyone else: sinners.

So, we all have proclivities to sin. And your proclivity to sin may not be the same proclivity that I have. Whether we call it an orientation or a sin nature is moot. The reality is, all of us have a sin nature that condemns all of us, and some of us are drawn into different areas of sin than others. And it is at that point, people who struggle with homosexual orientation or proclivity should certainly be welcome in the body of Christ. Why? Because people with a proclivity to lust are welcome in the body of Christ. People with a proclivity to theft are welcome in the body of Christ. Some people may always struggle with one particular area of sin. We know that Jesus tells us to go and sin no longer, yet we are aware the old man still lives within us.

So, someone who struggles with homosexual tendencies, orientation, proclivity, or whatever we want to call it, that has come to Jesus Christ may never fully have that proclivity removed from them this side of glory. As long as they restrain from engaging in sin then why would they be not welcome in the church of Jesus Christ? Christ has welcomed us with all of our sinful proclivities and orientations? Why wouldn’t he welcome the person that struggles with homosexuality.

So, homosexuals do have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community. Just like adulterers, thieves, liars, and gossips do. We should be capable of welcoming these people and guaranteeing to them our fraternal space in our community. Why wouldn’t we welcome them with open arms as we do all people, “sinner, come home!”

Friends, all of us have a sinful “orientation”. But God doesn’t seem fit to remove it from us at salvation. Neither the homosexual. Our doors should be open wide and we should be warm and welcoming to all people, just like us: sinners saved by grace.

For the best book on how to minister to homosexuals, please consider, Compassion without Compromise by Adam Barr and Ron Citlau.

Children, Moralism, and the Gospel

October 13, 2014
I’m well aware as a parent, that I’m a major screw up sometimes. Not only do I fail in the simple walk of the Christian life, I mess up as a parent. And all too often, I mess up for reasons that most people don’t think are mess ups. I mess up by instilling in my children how they are to behave.

Now, before you tar and feather me and call me an antinomian and a heretic, let me explain. It seems to me, all too often, that we spend lots of time talking to youth and adults about how our good works can never please God apart from Christ. We caution them against pursuing a “self-righteousness” that makes obedience to the “law” the paramount. Instead, and rightly so, we focus instead on the fact that Christ has suffered and died and by His obedience, we are obedient. By His righteousness, we are righteous. It’s not about what we do, but about what He has done. Surely, we see that out of gratitude we want to strive to be holy, but we even then rightly note, that just as our salvation was a gift of God, not of works, so even the power to do good in our sanctification is a good gift from God. We’re not legalists. We don’t want people to be moral just for the sake of being moral. We want true, biblical Christians. But when it comes to children, it’s a totally different matter.

“Say please and thank you.”
“Don’t hit your brother.”
“Don’t stick your tongue out.”
“Talk nice to people.”
“Don’t be shy.”
“Be brave.”
“Don’t cry.”

These, and many other, moral platitudes have come out of all of our mouths as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. The problem is, we’re teaching a self-righteousness devoid of any power from God for success. We would never talk this way to adults. We might say, “it’s good for us to respect each other in the body of Christ and talk with decency and kindness,” yet we would caveat it with, “yet we are sinners saved by grace and we should love and forgive people even when they don’t do this.” It acknowledges the responsibility to live righteously, but acknowledges it is only by the power of God that this is possible. Yet, our children, most of them, oblivious to the requirements of the law, and not yet possessing a righteousness from Christ, are simply told to do this and that with no concern for the Gospel. We simply say things like, “it builds character,” or “they need to learn right from wrong.” These things are of course true, but without the Gospel, all we’re doing is creating moral pagans.

Elyse Fitzpatrick writes, “The sinful heart is never transformed by conformity to the imperatives but only by relationship with the One who cleanses hearts.” If biblical growth and change follows, head to heart to hands, then it does for children as well.

How do we parent or grandparent or whatever else, differently in light of the Gospel?

1) Be prepared to fail. We’re all sinners. To think that we’re somehow perfect parents that will raise perfect children is antithetical to the Scriptures. The only perfect person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, we place unrealistic expectations on both parents and children to be perfect, like somehow they can will to do right. Every time we look down at a misbehaving child and think “their parent is failing and needs to do xyz” or “why won’t that child behave” we’re subtly saying, “why can’t the be perfect.” They can’t. No child can. We shouldn’t expect them to. We can expect them to fail. And we should be prepared for that. Why would we expect more of our children then we expect from ourselves? Fitzpatrick writes again, “The weaknesses, failures, and sins of our family are the places where we learn that we need grace too. It is there, in those dark mercies, that God teaches us to be humbly dependent. It is there that He draws near to us and sweetly reveals His grace. Paul’s suffering teaches us to reinterpret our thorn. Instead of seeing it as a curse, we are to see it as the very thing that keeps us “pinned close to the Lord.”

2) Stop telling everyone else how to do it. No child is the same, and unless you’re prepared to spend some serious time investing in the lives of parents and their children, keep your opinions of parenting to yourself. Every time you utter that paralyzing phrase, “well, when I had small children I did…” you tell every parent their wrong, and their children will turn out like monsters. Instead, spend time with both parents and children and invest in them before you earn the right to give advice. Build up, instead of tear down.

3) Give them grace. Yes, teach your children the truth of the law. Paul says the law was given to be our schoolteacher to remind us that we CAN’T do it! Why did God give us the law? To show us that we need Christ and the Gospel! Tell your children not to hit their brother, but also remind them of the Gospel. Tell them Jesus loves them EVEN WHEN THEY HIT THEIR BROTHER (and that you do too). Teach them to love, not just to obey. Obedience will flow out of a changed heart.

4) Remind them of your failings. Their assumption that parents and grandparents are perfect, builds into them the falsehood that says only when they obey like you, will you and God be pleased with them. That’s furthest from the Gospel imaginable! While we ought to live like those godly around us, it’s only because they are living like Jesus that it’s even possible. When you get mad, apologize to your kids. When tell a lie, apologize to your kids. Explain to them that YOU need Jesus, just as much as they do. That you need Him every day, not just to get saved, but to continue living.

There’s so much else I could say on this matter, but let’s be cautious about raising or expecting others to raise moral pagans. If you have small children you are well aware of the eyes that stare into your soul who are ready to pounce on you with every criticism of how they behave, like somehow the fact that their sinners not yet saved by grace, is a direct reflection on your standing with God. Your children fail. You fail. Let’s extend grace and mercy to each other and to our small ones in our charge. Let me recommend two resources on parenting from a grace-filled approach and one on teaching the Gospel to our kids.

Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus is an excellent starting place on this topic. Sometimes you may wonder, “what does this look like practically,” and that’s where I recommend Clay Clarkson’s Heartfelt Discipline: Following God’s Path of Life to the Heart of Your Child. He helps put further “rubber to the road” on these ideas (note: I’m not sure I fully embrace his denial of spanking).

Lastly, don’t even get me started on the painful material being taught in most churches for Sunday School. More than parents ever do, we in churches often teach a rank moralism in our children’s Sunday School. Instead, teach them Jesus. I recommend highly Jack Klumpenhower’sShow them Jesus: Teaching the Gospel to Kids.This is an excellent book, for teachers, and for all people who have children, to show them how to point children to the Gospel and to Jesus in all of Scripture. His website is a treasure trove of material too.

The Attributes of God

October 6, 2014

It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.” A. W. Tozer

After a lot of prayer and discussion, I came to the conclusion that what most of us here in the US need is a fresher, bigger idea of who God is. Tozer is right. Here in the West, we have probably the smallest view of who God than at any other time in Christian history. Because we’re so comfortable in our individualistic “American Dream” way of life, we don’t need a big God. This means that on Wednesday evenings at our church, we’ll be starting a study on the attributes of God. We have talked a lot about how we relate to each other in the body of Christ and how we relate to those outside of the body of Christ, now, we’re going to spend time talking about God and how we relate to Him. If we don’t get that right, we’ll never get the relationships here on earth right.

In doing some preliminary thinking and reading on this new Wednesday study, I came across this little “devotional” to help to prepare our hearts for this study. I hope you, whether you are studying the attributes of God or not, will read it and think about the passages listed and consider how you can grow through your knowledge of God.

Why study the attributes of God?

Studying the character and nature of God is not at the top of most people’s “to do” list. Even many Christians, interested in furthering their spiritual growth, might question the practical value of such a pursuit. Why not study something more applicable to real life – “how to read the Bible”, “how to pray”, “how to resist temptation,” “how to share your faith”? What good can come from merely knowing more about the attributes of God?

Surprisingly, however, for many of the heroic figures in the Bible, growing in their knowledge of God was the number one priority of their lives. In fact, the men and women in history who were used most greatly by God all seem to have been gripped by one overriding passion – a burning desire to know the Lord. Christians of a former generation believed that the primary purpose of life is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” They sensed that, if we really come to know God and learn to delight in him, most of the practical matters of spiritual growth will eventually take care of themselves.

Read the passages listed below. (Take several days to do so, if needed.) As you read, ask yourself the following questions:

1. How did this person express their desire to know the Lord?
2. What do you think drove them to want to know him this way?
3. How might your life change if you were gripped with such a passion to know the Lord?
4. Pray that the Holy Spirit will ignite within you a burning desire to know God better.

Jacob – Genesis 32:22-32
Moses – Exodus 33:12-34:9
David – Psalm 27
Mary – Luke 10:38-42
Paul – Philippians 3:4-11

Book Review: The Home Team by Clint Archer

October 1, 2014

Clint Archer, The Home Team: God’s Game Plan for the Family (Wapwallopen, PA: Shepherd Press, 2014)

We’re not huge sports people in our homes. I played softball as a boy for about three years but never really got into it. I got on the high school football team in the 9th grade but quit a week or two after because of disinterest. Even my most passionate sport interest, hockey, pales in comparison to some people. Don’t even get me started on my wife who grew up going to the ballet and practicing the piano. Yet, even as non-sports people in our sports obsessed culture, many of us grasp the concepts of sports and team-work and how valuable those concepts are for the workplace for instance. Now, Clint Archer has shown how these sports concepts can be helpful when considering what God’s plan for the family is.

Archer, who is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in South Africa, uses a number of sports related illustrations to help emphasize the concept that the Christian family is a team. While I’ve always been a more “solo” player, I can certainly grasp the importance and necessity for team dynamics as people come together for common goals. The family, like any other group of people, will only function as strongly as it does as all members work together as a team.

Archer first notes in his introduction, the rules of the game: the emphasis on fundamental “onenness” of the team of husband and wife, the dependence on Jesus Christ for any hope of success in family, the reliance on the Word of God as the authority on the family, and the support of the church in strengthening the family team. Archer then proceeds to address the opponents of the home team that arise from the curse affecting husband-wife relationships, relationships with children, etc. Archer writes, “The Bible teaches that the family is indeed God’s design but that the individual roles within the family are under the curse of sin.” (p. 15). Thankfully, it is not left there in the curse of sin, but the hope of Jesus can help all individual members of the home team to strive together as a team for the glory of God.

Archer goes on to talk about the “game” in what the Bible specifically addresses about families, about the dad’s role as captain, mom’s role as MVP as she assists dad in leading goal scorer, children (little league) and teens (minor league), the solo players who are single, team supporters of those outside the immediate family, and the prayer huddle. The strength of Archer’s book is that he brings these common team images to the role of the family. We all know how imagery and illustration help to get points across (one of the reason, as a pastor, that I use sermon illustrations), and here is the major strength. Take something that the vast majority of the world knows about (sports) and bring it to bear on the most fundamental segment of the world (the family) from a biblical perspective. To use another sports illustration, arches makes a home run on that.

Another strength is addressing family issues that are not normally addressed, like those who are single, and how to see our school and church’s involvement in the growth of our family team. Especially helpful is the continuing renewed interest in family worship/prayer as evidenced in his discussion of the family huddle.

My only suggestion is to make sure to emphasize our success of good “home team” parenting/family life not just in terms of faithfulness, staying within the bounds of our roles, and with our eyes fixed on God, as Archer does in his conclusion. But, to remember that even when we fail, Christ remains successful and faithful for us. Sometimes, we just need the reminder that we’re going to fail. A lot. As a husband and a dad I’m well aware of my failings. But I need not have to live in despair because of my failures, because when I fail as a husband and a father, Christ is still successful for me. When I am unrighteous, He is righteous for me. Let’s remember to emphasize that hope for struggling home teams!

Besides this detail, The Home Team, is a valuable, easy to read volume that will help you connect the dots in being a biblical family for the glory of God through sports imagery. Overall, it’s a hole-in-one. :)