Categories
Life

Quiet Time Confessions of a Pastor-Dad

photoWhat you see to the left is a picture of my nine month old daughter Hope and me from an early morning a couple weeks ago. This is characteristic of my morning “quiet time” (what I refer to as “personal worship”–I’ll use the terms interchangeably here). More often than not, early in the morning, I settle down with a Bible, a notebook, and a squirmy, noisy, giggly, grunty baby girl on my lap.

I’m a pastor, but I’m mainly a dad, so that means my personal worship times look less like the shekhinah glory and more like grabbing fingers, laughs and cries and babbles, diaper changes and bottle feedings all interwoven with reading, meditations, confessions, laments, praises, thanksgivings, and supplications.

Children are a blessing from the Lord…unless they are present during my quiet time! Has that thought ever entered into your mind? If you are a parent (especially a mom!) of young children, then you know the difficulties of trying to balance everything being a parent brings and trying to carve out time in your busy schedule for personal worship. It’s not only difficult, it can be overwhelming and even a source of bitterness and anger.

So think about the last time something like this has happened to you. Now take a step back. When Hope (or Bailey, our two-and-a-half year-old) “messes up” my quiet time, and I get angry or frustrated or just annoyed, I’m making a personal worship event about me rather than about Jesus. I’m slipping into performance-mode. At that moment, I forget that personal worship times are vehicles to cultivate repentance and faith in my life. Nothing more. Nothing less. Reading Scripture and praying and journaling and singing, etc. are means of grace that God uses in his kindness to make me look more like Jesus. So what being angry, frustrated, or annoyed reveals is that I’m really basing my standing with God and my progress in the faith on how my quiet times go. Quickly, I’m on the road to believing a different gospel (see Galatians 1).

So when a crying or laughing or giggling or snorting baby “interrupts” me during a time of worship, it’s imperative that I remind myself that my righteousness is in Jesus, not this worship event; my sanctification is in Jesus, not how holy I feel during this time; my hope is in Jesus; not how well this ends up.

This is good news—gospel—for my quiet times. It eliminates pride: if things go well, I remember that God is not more inclined to me than before because my good works merit me nothing. It eliminates fear: if things go badly (or get stopped altogether!), I rest knowing that if God gave his Son for me while I was an enemy, there’s infinite grace for this particular moment.

Now with this good news, I’m liberated. My personal time of worship doesn’t define me or shape my identity. Rather, its one tool, one instrument, one means to the end of knowing, worshiping, loving, and obeying Jesus.

I’m liberated to use this time, as a tool, to love and disciple my kids, rather than twist this time into a pseudo-savior and grow annoyed that they keep me from “going deep” with this idol. I can take advantage of this moment to model to our daughters what it is to believe the gospel and repent of my self-righteousness. Even though they are young, I can discuss with them what I’m reading. It’s never to early to teach them how to read and meditate on the Scriptures and pray and sing. I trust that over time God will use this to woo them to himself.

“But,” you ask, “what about my quiet times?!” Press on. If you have a literal “quiet” time, great. Take advantage. But for the other 95% of the time, engage with God and worship him in the mess of life. Kids are messy. Parenting is messy. Life is messy. Why should your quiet time be any different?

Categories
Life Ministry

Talking to Your Kids about the Sacraments

Parents, you have probably wondered where you begin when it comes to talking to your kids about sex and drugs and choosing friends and why nothing good happens in Taco Bell’s parking lot after 11pm. I know I have. But have you ever wondered how to talk to them about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?

In this post, I want to think through how we can talk to our kids about the sacraments. It’s one thing to explain them as something Jesus told us to do. It’s another to talk about them in a holistic, gospel-centered way so that they are seen as much more than mere memorials. If we can do this well, by God’s grace, they will become what God intended them to be for us and our kids: means of grace that cultivate vibrant, spiritual life.

Let me suggest three emphases to tether ourselves to as we think about and discuss the sacraments with our kids (or anyone for that matter!). There are certainly other things the sacraments emphasize, but these three are most critical in my mind.

  1. Gospel on Display. When the sacraments are rightly taught, administered, and received, we are dramatizing the gospel. Baptism points to Jesus passing through the waters of death, only to rise again to new life. It is God’s confirmation that we have risen from spiritual death and one day will rise bodily from the grave. The Lord’s supper points to Jesus’ being given up for us and our participation in his life and death and with his people all over the world. Furthermore, in an age that is increasingly visual, our kids may often ask, “Why can’t God give us something to see to prove himself, to prove his love?” The truth is, he has: he has given us water, bread, and wine–three very physical, tangible, visual elements to demonstrate the gospel to us.
  2. Body and Soul. Because God has given us physical means (water, bread, and wine) to understand spiritual realities, the sacraments teach us that God cares about all of us, body and soul. It reminds us that we will forever be embodied souls.  Baptism and the Supper both give physical form to our faith. Since we are embodied souls, we need a way to sacramentalize our faith (i.e. use physical means to point to spiritual reality). The sacraments teach us that God loves our bodies and values materiality–after all, he made everything material! We don’t worship our bodies as god; we don’t reject them as gross; but we rejoice that our bodies are to be stewarded as a gift because of Christ who gave up his own body that our soul and body might be redeemed.
  3. A New Family. The sacraments are for God’s new covenant people: his sons and daughters who were redeemed by the blood of his Son. When we are baptized, we are initiated into a new family, God’s family. We now have new allegiance. Our first allegiance is no longer to our parents, children, aunts, uncles, or even a spouse. It is to God and his people, the Church. Baptism is therefore for those who are united to Christ and have God as their Father. The Lord’s Table is a family meal and outsiders are not welcomed. This is a visible sign to the world that there are insiders and outsiders. It is a visible sign to our children that only belief in Jesus opens up the door for us to come to this meal. In light of these things, we must model for our children priorities that are in accord with the gospel and our sacramental faith. Where and how are we spending our time, money, energy, words, etc.? If we really are members of a new family, it will show in our lives.

What other things do the sacraments emphasize?

Categories
Life

My Girls Will Exist Forever

Bailey1My home is officially a budding sorority. Last week on Tuesday, my wife delivered our second daughter, Hope. Now, I’m outnumbered three-to-one. A friend recently told me I will either have to buy a truck or a male dog. Not sure about either of those, but a trip to Cabela’s may be on the horizon. Teenage boys hate dads who shop at Cabela’s.

Hope1

As I have been playing with our older daughter, Bailey, I have realized how big she is. She is almost two years old, but compared to “Baby Hope” (her pet name for her new sister), she is a giant. She is getting older. She is growing in intelligence. She can carry on a conversation for almost a minute. As I have held Hope and watched Carly gently mother her in this first week, I realize that though she is my little peanut right now, she too will be big some day. I realize that one day she, like Bailey–and me with my parents–will not need me anymore.

More than these things, I have felt the weighty reality that both of these little girls will exist forever. Read that again: they will exist forever. That is the kind of truth you build your life and parenting around. Bailey and Hope, just like Carly and me, will either spend eternity in the glorious, blissful presence of God’s glory or in the horrific, terrifying presence of God’s wrath. There is no alternative.

When I meditate on this reality when I’m running back and forth across our apartment with Bailey for the forty-seventh time in the evening, or when I am holding Hope and soaking in the fountain of youth aroma that is newborn skin, I realize that Christ in the gospel is the only solution to parenting two precious souls who will exist forever. The gospel both profoundly humbles and motivates me. I am humbled because I am enlightened to the fact that only God’s grace will save these girls. Only he can draw them to his Son and make them treasure him. If it were not for grace, I would have no life or love for Jesus. So, like me, my girls need a lot of grace. I am humbled because even the best parenting strategy will prove naught if God’s grace is not working. At the same time, I am motivated because while God is the one who draws, he uses sinful, frail instruments like daddies and mommies to accomplish his glorious purposes in children. The good news of the gospel is that salvation is by grace through faith. I am saved by faith, but the faith that saves is never alone. Because I am saved by faith not by works, I am now free to work hard because my failures cannot crush me. Through the gospel, I am also empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God the Father–Parent par excellence–now lives in me. Incredible.

This tension keeps me from worrying about my daughters’ eternal destiny, but it also keeps me from being a lazy dad. It’s a tight rope to walk, but a fun and exciting one. By no means do I walk it perfectly; that’s why I need the grace of Jesus.

Bailey and Hope: I love you both and there’s nothing you can do to make me love you any more or any less. May God pour his saving grace on you both, and, in me, may you see a man who is motivated by grace to be a simple instrument in the Redeemer’s hands to show you how much you really needs his grace.

Categories
Life Theology

What Should Family Worship Look Like?

As a father of two daughters (one outside the womb and one inside), I am continually thinking about the gospel-shaped environment of our home. Carly and I want our girls to grow up dazzled by the grace of God in the gospel. As the husband and father, it is my divinely-ordained joy and duty to pray about and plan intentional opportunities to cultivate a “gospel culture” in our home. (If you are a single mom or the wife of an unbeliever, keep reading. I hope this will be helpful to you, too!) The problem is that if I don’t plan now and decide beforehand what we will do as parents to train our children, nothing will happen. Even though our oldest girl is seventeen months old and literally has a fifteen second attention span (if food is involved), it’s never too early (or too late!) to ask, “What should family worship look like?”

By “family worship,” I mean intentional, structured, and systematic times of instruction, reading, praying, and singing together. You may wonder, “Shouldn’t we just make sure our whole lives are about Jesus? Why emphasize this formal stuff?” Yes, we should not just be a Christian family for thirty minutes a night plus an hour on Sunday mornings. In ancient Israel, parents were called to rehearse the glory of God’s redemption in the Exodus during their normal daily rhythms (Deut. 6:7). This, too, is worship, and the same should be true for Christian parents today.

Yet at the same time, God also commanded parents to establish formal times of instruction and worship (Deut. 6:6, 8-9). This would provide opportunities for children to ask questions of their parents and for parents to properly interpret God’s redemption to their children (Deut. 6:20-25). In the New Testament, Paul tells fathers to bring their children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4), certainly implying structure.

What then should family worship look like? The Bible doesn’t give a prescription, and I don’t have all the answers (after all, my kids are seventeen months and twenty weeks in utero!). But as I reflect on it, here are some major elements of family worship that can help cultivate, by the Spirit’s power, a gospel-shaped home:

  • Reading Scripture. This is essential. At the very least, we need to read Scripture with our children, and teach them how to understand the Bible. We must show them that it is a story of how God rescues his children through Jesus, the Hero of the story. By God’s grace, we use the Bible to expose our children’s sin and help them see how the Hero is the solution to everything they truly need. 
  • Prayer. When we pray, we should pray meaningfully. While good grades, thanks for the sunshine, and requesting good night sleep are important, what we really need to pray for is spiritual renewal and growth. Our kids will pick up whether or not we are shallow pray-ers. They will pray about what we pray about. When we pray together, I want the flavor of Scripture, not scattered thoughts, to saturate my prayers. I want to be quick repent of my sin, exalt Christ, and be bold to ask God to open my kids’ eyes to their need and that he gives them faith in Jesus.
  • Reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Christians have been reciting the Creed since the second century and for good reason. It summarizes the absolute fundamentals of the faith in an easy-to-remember way. (You can sing it, if you’d rather. I usually sing it to our oldest daughter as I’m putting her to bed.) This is a simple way to instruct our kids in what we believe. It is not boring theology! It is about God! If you are not into theology, you are not into God. We never move past belief, and saying, “I believe in God the Father Almighty…” is, indeed, a profoundly theological thing to say. The question is not whether we and our children will be theologians; the question is whether we will be good ones.
  • Catechesis. Don’t freak out! Catechesis (or catechism) simply comes from a Greek word meaning “to teach.” Call it whatever you want, but the point is that to “discipline and instruct” our children in the gospel, we must have a systematic plan. Forging catechesis and Scripture together can make things easier. There are so many resources out there including a new interactive catechism called New City Catechism (with video teaching and settings for child or adult). You can even put it on your iPad. There’s also a number of other books/children’s Bibles that can be used in a catechetical (teaching) manner: The Jesus Storybook Bible, Long Story Shortand Big Truths for Young Hearts
  • Singing. Pick up a hymnal or put in a worship CD and start singing! What matters is not how we sing, but that we sing. Did you realize that the longest book in our Bibles, the Psalms, is a songbook! Right now, we’re singing songs like “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children.” But every now and then we break out “Amazing Grace,” “Thy Mercy My God,” “Jesus Paid It All,” “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” or something else. Singing brings glory to God and joy to our hearts. I want our family to glorify God and be happy doing it.

I don’t have all the answers, and I know there will be frustrating “family worship” times when tempers flare and somebody leaves crying. We can’t control everything, but we can have a plan by God’s grace, be flexible, mix it up, and keep it simple. As parents, let’s lean into God’s grace, walk in the Spirit, get creative, be serious, have fun, and watch God work in the lives of our kids. I know he will.

Categories
Life Theology

Roe v. Wade and the Ultrasound of Our Second Baby

January 22 was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. As Joe Carter at TGC writes, “To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Center for Reproductive Rights released a creepy video in which actor Mehcad Brooks attempts to humorously sexualize and anthromorphize the abortion-on-demand law.”

January 22 was also the day that my wife and I went to see an ultrasound of our second child. (I’m proud to say that our baby is a girl—our second.) It was surreal to think we are celebrating the life of a little girl, one we get to see through the common grace of modern technology, on the same day others are celebrating the slaughter of millions of little girls and little boys.

Today, our daughter is just over nineteen weeks old. Did you know that according to the latest statistics, 1.8% of abortions kill babies that are between 18-19 weeks? That is almost 22,000 people.

That’s 22,000 people who have their heart beating about 155 beats per minute.

That’s 22,000 people who have a 3 cm-long femur.

That’s 22,000 people who have two fully-functioning kidneys.

That’s 22,000 people who start to grow hair.

That’s 22,000 people who can taste, see, smell, and touch.

That’s 22,000 people who can hear their mommy talk and sing.

That’s 22,000 people who have the ability to suck their thumb, cross their legs, and push back when the ultrasound tech presses in.

Of course, there are nearly 1.21 million total babies each year—3,700 each day—in the United States who are killed. The majority (nearly 90% of babies), however, never get the privilege to develop this far. This right is stolen from them. If we remember anything from our childhood days, it should not be so, for “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

In light of that, consider these four simple arguments from Scott Klusendorf that prove true Dr. Seuss’s wisdom. You can remember these arguments with the acronym S.L.E.D.

Size: True, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, but why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean that they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than the adults they’ll one day become. But again, why is this relevant? Four year-old girls are less developed than 14 year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Six-week old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth-canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of Dependency: If viability makes us human, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

When the day is done, abortion is killing babies. Not tissue or cells. Babies. They will not turn out to be anything else. They will not be birthed as trucks or frogs or trees or laptops or dogs. They are human. Babies.

This is terribly bad news. But there is good news. Don’t you long for some good news? The good news of the gospel is that God saves sinners. Everyone is a sinner—including those who have had abortions, supported abortions, and made creepy abortion videos. Also hear me say, this includes Christians who have been unmerciful and even nasty toward those who have aborted babies. This also includes me, the Christian blog writer, who needs Jesus more than you can imagine! The gospel is the good news that Jesus lived the kind of life we should have lived, in perfect obedience to God, died on the cross to pay the penalty for all our sins, and rose from the grave as proof that God accepted his payment. This is for everyone. All who come to Jesus receive hope, forgiveness, healing, and new life. All who cry out for mercy and grace will be heard.

They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and played the whore in their deeds.

Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes
and were brought low through their iniquity.

Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive.

Save us, O Lord our God!

(Psalm 106:37-47)