I'll admit, this was my first experience of Dr.Leman. Which probably automatically tells many of you, I haven't paid nearly as much attention to parenting literature as I should. This guy has been on news shows all over the world, including Oprah AND anyone remember Donahue back in the day? Yup...he was on there.
Just check out his bibliography on Wikipedia, to realize the full extent of my ignorance. In any case....he was an awesome speaker. Humble, yet well informed, and humorously experienced in parenting and giving guidance to other parents for years. Dr.Leman spoke on instilling the authority of parents AND scripture in the home. Authority is something often avoided and talked about in somewhat "shushed" tones these days. It's usually about freedoms, allowances, and how to make your kids happy. But as Dr.Leman said more than once, "An unhappy child is a healthy child.", for obvious reasons.
He spoke of the value of a little "Vitamin N" (the word "no"), and reminded parents to respond as a parent during teachable moments, as opposed to responding from high emotions in the midst of a conflict. I really felt like I gained as much or more from this session as a parent than as a pastor. I can't speak to his books, and I can't say I'd go with all of his tactics (locking a child outside when she wouldn't stop crying)....but he's a captivating and witty speaker worth listening to. I'll end with some quotes of his, that would be tough to weave into a short blog post...:)
"If you bring up your kids to think they're the center of the universe, what room is there for God?"
(speaking of today's families being too busy) "Activities are not good for children. :) They're not good for families, marriages, and definitely not good for your sex life."
"So often parents work very hard to keep their children from experiencing any type of "failure", but failure is usually where we meet Jesus. How many people do you know who discovered their need for Jesus during an average or even successful moment?"
"Rules without relationship lead to rebellion. We need to be parents who strive to be an authority, without being authoritarian."
"Actively parent your children as individuals. What works for one will not always work for the whole clan. Different bedtimes, & different times for learning."
"Fighting with your child is an act of cooperation."
"Train your children respectfully up into maturity/character, not down into submission."
"It's important to establish that if ____ doesn't happen, ____ will not happen. Don't use warnings. Establish authority in their lives, in hopes/prayers that they will understand authority when it comes to the Word of God in their home and life as well. If solid authority (without being authoritarian) isn't experienced, it will remain foreign to them."
Jim Burns focused on the issue of helping parents with spiritual formation and discipleship. Once again, a speaker who had 3 daughters. I suppose I should listen to all of the speakers neutrally, especially knowing how many faults my own speaking is prone to, even though I've 3 daughters also. Nevertheless, when one of these people says "My 3 girls", it's like they've said the magic words, and I listen attentively as if they know the secret knowledge my life will require in the next 20+ years.
Burns reminded us of the "big/macro picture", that when we focus more on reaching the family, we truly equip ourselves to reach the world....which is made up of naturally replenishing family systems. In all of the fuss about church growth, and "seeker-sensitive" churches, attractive programs targeting youth, college, young adult, singles, etc...we can often lose track that one of the primary foci of the Church is on mentoring parents.
He also emphasized a point we've come to realize more and more as parents of infants/toddlers. That the Sunday morning worship service mindset often has little room for kids like ours. They make people uncomfortable, annoyed, and desire to build things like "crying rooms", and announce from the pulpit reminders that nursery/toddler rooms are provided in case your kids don't know how to be quiet and sit still like the 70 year olds around them.
To any parents reading at this point who think "Yes! That's how I feel!", or a pastor who thinks perhaps we're guilty of that too often - I would recommend a book that was recommended to use recently. "Parenting in the Pew" talks about how to allow our children to participate in worship on Sunday's, to the benefit both of our family, and the church family who needs the reminder from Christ in Mark 9:36-37...when we welcome a child, we welcome Jesus. We've very thankful/blessed to be part of a worshiping community where this is happening more and more. :)
He finished by ringing a few more important alarms, such as reminding pastors and parents in general to ask ourselves the question, "Am I only giving my family my emotional/energy scraps?", to be caring for our children and our spouses first. He recommended 3 major paradigm shifts:
1. Discipleship BEGINS in the home. We need to facilitate, invite, and encourage this.
2. Teach parents to become "students" of the culture.
3. Our job is to set the pace with our own home/family lives. Integrity/Authenticity, and plenty of margin.
By this point in the D6 Conference, we'd met several speakers who were parents of 3 daughters. I enjoyed listening to these particularly for obvious reasons. Haynes spoke specifically on the topic of "What is Family Ministry, and what does it look like?" The question of how do we encourage parents as they pour into their children intentionally, leading to multi-generational discipleship naturally occurring in our church families.
He focused quite a bit on the concept of "Milestones", which seemed to serve several purposes. Both to give a sort of "rite of passage" quality to maturing in Christ, but also to remind parents/youth that they are on a journey to something "next". Haynes called parents to remember the importance of "Blessing" their children, and celebrating things as a family.
He offered a common path of "Milestones" to be celebrated both by church AND family:
- Parent/Baby Dedication
- Faith Commitment
- Preparing for adolescence
- Purity for life
- Right of passage (i.e. being blessed by parents)
- High School Graduation
- Life in Christ
In actual homes, he emphasized what practical actions were useful to focus on across the board. Things for families to make sure they practice regularly are:
- Faith Talks - crazy how low a percentage of families actually talk/pray in regards to God and Spirituality.
- God Moments - the whole "home and away, when you walk and when u rise". Watch for the everyday moments where God can be pointed out/revealed.
- Celebrate Milestones - especially the ones listed above!!!
- Abide - John 15:5 :)
Haynes talked a bit about small groups catching onto these concepts as one of the few ways to bring the exact message to homes around the community. To be purposeful, as: "the purpose of small groups is to create adult disciples in order to have parents who can disciple children." Now obviously that cannot apply across the board, and I wouldn't put that on a small group advertisement.
By this point in the week, I was getting hungry for more of the "Why" to actually be spoken of. Something beyond simply growing more and more homes full of more and more/deeper disciples. Something beyond simply finding a more effective way of making sure young adults feel like they can be connected to God's purposes here.
Vicki was going to speak on "Reaching Families without Sacrificing Spiritual Orphans in Youth Ministry", or at least that was the suggested title within the notebook we were all given to contain our scribblings. As to the topic, I think she touched on it here and there.
What it felt more like was a session titled, "Here are some really good points, with some compelling filler from a woman who cares a lot." :)
The points were all over the map:
- She read from the now-very-popular and often-linked story from CNN about the massive amounts of teenagers who "fake" being a Christian due to the life situations they find themselves in....but as they grow find other interests. Some good stuff there, I'd recommend it to all parents, for sure.
- She commented on how ridiculous amounts of parenting books exist for expecting parents, parents of newborns...etc. They are among the top sellers nationwide. But the list of parenting books for discipling teenagers, and young adults? Very few. And even fewer the parents who take advantage of such resources.
- At one point, she read some "Letters to the Editor" from "Seventeen Magazine" from the mid-1940's. Surprising to hear parents thank the publication for their fine attention to moral standards, and for being such a positive influence on young women. I don't suppose they receive too many of those messages these days.
- Courtney emphasized 3 common parental traits among youth raised in the church who leave religion:
1. Parents model something OTHER than the Love of God as their primary affection.
2. Parents fail to acknowledge their role as the primary discipler of their child.
3. Parents/leaders can often focus more on behavior modification than heart inhabitation.
As she moved toward closing, she reminded the audience that her words were not meant only for parents of children/teens, and youth pastors. That being "primary source" of discipling doesn't end when they move out of the house. Sure, it'll take on different forms, but at no point in the life do we find ourselves smacking our left knee saying, "I messed up."
I like that. And it's a good reminder/Hope for parents who hear all of this late in the child's life...you're not done! Encourage them into relationship with other Godly adults, and seek to live toward Christ and His bride yourself. And pray....pray.....pray. :)
K, I know...I spelled "official" wrong. I figured it was an appropriate way to begin a post about myself. There's a car dealership across from an intersection I sit at often. It was painted "It's Offical, We've Moved!" like 4 years ago on the glass...and since no one has purchased the old dealership yet....it's remained misspelled indefinitely. Someday that window will be broken by vandals. And I will smile.
Speaking of me smiling, I absolutely had to share about how ridiculously cute my children are with two brief stories to encourage you today:
This past Sunday, after being gone 5 days to a conference in Dallas, I was at the breakfast table with my girls before church. Sarah had made some homemade apple muffins that morning, and they were just about ready to eat. Just then, Addie dramatically put her hand on her side/belly, and said, "My tummy hurts..." To which Sarah and I, not really worried but wanting her to know we love her...asked her why her tummy hurt, and if she was just hungry for breakfast. But before Addie could reply, a voice came from across the table...Sophie wasn't waiting to hear anything:
"Dear God, please help Addie's tummy to feel better. Aaaaa-Mennn!! (then turning to Addie) Now your tummy don't hurt anymore!!"
Which would be the cutest event this week, until Childrens' Church. I went with Addie, because as a 4 year old, she still wasn't quite comfortable being left alone in a new class of older kids. So we sat/listened together. They talked about Jesus "paying the price" for our sin, and enacted a scene to illustrate. Each child stood before the "Judge" (a nice older lady, who couldn't help but smile as she pretended) and read a card handed to them. The card told them what they were guilty of (bad words, stealing, etc.), and the judge told them how much they owed. No one could pay, so all had to head to the "Jail" (row of chairs), from which Jesus rescued them all later on.
Addie and I were last. I didn't know how she'd respond, but figured it was good to find out anyway. We walked up to the judge and were handed our card. "Lying to your parents" was our offense. I looked at Addie with a wink to let her know we were just pretending and said, "Uh oh Addie, we lied to our parents."
It didn't take long for the fun smile to leave her face and her eyes to get larger. But instead of the tears I thought may come from such an accusation, she didn't miss a beat before defending herself: "No I didn't, dad, it was Sophie!!"
Needless to say, me and the judge were cracking up. :)
The reason cited for so many young adults who are leaving the church? Hypocrisy. Not even simply Christians who go out and "do something bad". But Christians who talk about a life of faith, and experience of God on Sunday, and live like the rest of the world throughout the week.
Mark Holmen has written books, and spoken/ministered for years on the topics of faith development/growth at home. Pretty solid stuff here. He brought out a great question for us to be thinking/praying about:
"How do we equip the home to be the primary place faith is lived, expressed, and nurtured, using existing ministry structures?"
One thing they talked about over and over so far in this conference was this: Being a church that partners with what God desires of our church's homes doesn't mean simply hiring someone with the title "Family Pastor". Or even tagging "Family Ministries" onto another job description of an assistance pastor.
In fact, he discouraged using the word "Family" in whatever we go back and do. For several years, his church tried a new "Family" initiative, and got very little buy in. They realized saying that, isolated and turned away people who didn't view themselves as needing family development (i.e. usually view that as "young married with small children"). So they changed to "FAITH AT HOME", and are still continuing to grow in response. Everyone has a home, and everyone is a part of a family, especially the family of God.
Such a thing doesn't come from a new ministry, but a new set of ministry "lenses" that goes across the entire gamut of what we are involved in. It generally will take 5-10 years to see a large change occur, often even a full generation. We must build and grow on successes/health.
He gave 3 important "Next Steps" for what to do:
1. Personal Evaluation & Change - What do I need to do?
2. Your Ministry Evaluation & Change - What can I do there?
3. Your Church Strategy Evaluation & Change
Ed Stetzer serves as President of Lifeway (Baptist publisher) Research. He admitted that because of this, he's very into statistics and information. Although I disagreed with how many of his results were gathered, and what conclusions he came to....he presented some still valid encouragement toward faith in the home.
He quoted (but didn't give credit to) the term "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism". The fact that many people (not just teens) are pursuing a god that doesn't exist. One that desires us to just generally be "good people". That wants to make us feel better all the time, and put band-aids on our wounds. That such a god must exist "somewhere out there, somehow", but not quite giving it a name, or open to what god may mean in our reality today.
If that's the god we serve, that's the god our teens will pretend to serve while church services are entertaining enough, and then opt out when they realize the hypocrisy of declaring one thing, and living something quite different.
Stetzer reminded us the value of "owning your Faith" - as a parent AND as a family. In lieu of Deuteronomy 6:4-9, that these things would be a part of every area of our being, and that would be obvious to our children and visitors to our home and life. He gave 3 tips here:
1. Sharing Your Faith - Repeat them, vs. tell them. We connect what is, with what has been.
2. Living a Life - Daily walking from, and drenched in the life described in these verses.
3. Marking Your Home - not just decorating, but it being evident to anyone who "peeked in" on your life this past week.....was it evident who/what you were about?
Yes. I desire this....for myself....for my children...and for the homes in my church. Not because it'll help "retain members" now and in the future. But because God's Kingdom desires to be fully realized not only in our churches, but in our homes as well. May His Glory be known, and realized in our homes this week...
This session had a lot of factual information you can find by checking out the Full Executive Summary of the Innovation Alliance. It was a conversation between many churches over the course of 2 years, seeking something new in partnering with what God desired in the homes of His people. Really some good stuff...you should check it out for yourself.
Then they talked quite a bit about the resources they use at their church here in Texas, and the benefits of how their stuff is set up, etc.
By this point, we've heard the staggering statistic that the Alliance discovered in their research several times. That less than 10% of Church-going Families experience ANY sort of Spiritual Conversation or activity during their week. That's a statistic that definitely compell something to be changed about the way we're encouraging faith to be developed in the homes/apartments of our local church body.
It also compels us to be honest about how often we find ourselves part of that 10%, and challenges us to break from that pattern. To hold each other accountable, not just as pastors, but as friends, parents, children, siblings, etc. God tells us in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that we parents are the PRIMARY source of discipleship, and growing our children toward the body of Christ, and Kingdom-living transformed by His Spirit.
May we live that out, and as those in ministry may we be inviting/encouraging/keeping our adults accountable for it!!! :)
Mark Devries is a pretty sweet guy, I won't lie. Hanging out before the session started, and his teaching throughout....there was evidence of a fruit-filled life, and a man who has been/is involved in Kingdom building deeply. He was talking about a working model for family based youth ministry.
First, he talked about the danger of "terminal vagueness" when we don't set goals/pay attention to facts in our ministries. He listed some "norms" from national studies of youth groups. Not recommendations, models, or problems...just simply what the averages were across the board. Here are a few:
1. Most churches spend around $1,000 per teen, including salary package for youth pastor.
2. Churches generally have 1 staff member for every 50 members.
3. Youth Groups usually run around 10% of the worshipping congregation attendance.
4. Often there is a ceiling around 20% of the worshipping congregation that youth groups cannot easily crack. Some that do are often the only youth group in town, or one of a few.
5. Usually 1 volunteer for every 5 kids.
6. 30 Teens are averaged when a youth group combines JR and SR highs. When divided, each of those groups will usually average 30 a piece.
He had a very well developed diagram, that described how youth ministry often removes teenagers from the natural flow from childhood to mature Christian adulthood...in order to meet them in today's culture, which is pushing them the opposite direction. God calls us to minister within the context of that flow. He talked about Kara Powell and "Sticky Faith".
Very important to remember from his session, was the fact that the #1 predictor of whether a teen continues with Christianity post high school to becoming a mature Christian adult = How many close relationships they have with Godly adults. Parents, grandparents, influential people at church, family friends, relatives, elders, etc.
A youth pastor, in regards to the above, must become a "relationship architect" of sorts. "Youth Ministry is always a veiled excuse to connect teens with Godly adults.", Devries says. Our jobs as youth pastors and as parents, is to call out the coming victory before any visible evidence appears. We need to connect the young with other older people who will relate to them in such a way, toward and with Jesus Christ.
So the title of this session really threw me off. Turns out "Caught between Reading Ted Dekker and Searching for Kat Von D" had very little to do with current culture, and was actually taught by an Old Testament Scholar about people like Ezekiel ministering across cultural lines. He also emphasized Jeremiah 29, and the commands from God to settle down, build houses, and to seek the good of the culture. Nevertheless, Dr. Garnett Reid's presentation focused on 22 main areas of reaching out cross-culturally, that he sped through toward the end. These are:
1. We have 2 homes - Culture and Kingdom, we are called to engage and be faithful to God.
2. Look UP! - Ezekiel had a vision of God's GLORY, which is not simply a nebulous spiritual good thing. He had a great illustration of "glory" here, referring to Springfield, IL having some of Lincoln's glory everywhere. :)
3. It was their choice. - Ezekiel was reminded that some WILL NOT choose to listen/follow, but remain faithful.
4. No Fear. God is with us. Not about brute strength, but about peace no matter what comes.
5. Be Scripture Soaked - To understand challenges that come in the light of God's Word.
6. 4:20 (his illustration that we need to be aware of culturally relevant symbolism and language/mind-sets)
- We consider/hear the culture and aim to engage/respond
- Today has a large culture of "self", and is very fragmented, offering many opportunities for separate identities.
7. Avoid "Water-cooler Theology" - coined by Phyllis Tickle - Many people seek a validating God, and see many paths toward that goal.
8. He's Here! - God is with us, as we leave comfort.
9. Take it to the vet! (test, appraise, and discern in the name of Jesus)
10. Are you talkin' to me? - Community is important, but we answer to God individually.
11. Power of One - Ezekiel 22 - God sought ONE. Will you be that one?
12. Double Agents - Some may turn from God while in culture...be aware of that possibility.
13. What are you prepared to do? Ezekiel 16 - to lose his wife?
14. The Good, the Bad, and the Ungodly - We are tempted to please ourselves sometimes, as the leaders of Israel did early in Ezekiel.
15. Kitchen-Table Answers - We are invited/invite others to a gracious, forgiving, and truth family table.
16. Crowd-Sourcing Turned Ugly - Crowd pleasing brings only smiles, content for more smiling.
17. Semper Fi - we are called to be, as Christ, always faithful
18. Solus Christus - Jesus will do what no one else can. Ezekiel 34
19. "The biggest thing about you is the gospel" - John Piper..(yup, Baptist-sourced event yielded more than a couple Piper quotes.)
20. Immigrants ALL - We are ALL of other citizenship, and thus transcultural in our existence.
21. Over It! This culture will come to an end, and we Hope toward it being swallowed up by Life!
22. Total Glory - Ultimate Goal = His Glory among the nations.
So yeah....a bunch of bullet points, many with little explanation, though I'm sure he had it in his head. Plenty there to chew on anyway. He ended with quoting 1 Chronicles 12:32, and challenging us to "know what to do, and make Jesus King...."
In context of such phrases as "Family Ministries", where do singles fit in? And not just those who aren't married, but also those who are divorced, widowed, or "spiritually single" (the only one in their family who is open to Christ). Randy Stinson brought some good words for those of us married with children and ministering to people from different home situations.
- No one comes to church without their family. We have all been adopted in Christ. Find ways to call people to relate as Mother/Father (as elders of children), or Brother/Sister (of each other), or Daughter/Son (of God). No one shows up and finds themselves an island....or shouldn't at least. Ministry to single people often comes in relating to them not as "single", but as a family member.
A good point was made that all of this "D6" talk was not about programs, but about a climate change.
We are called to help single (all of the above types) people anticipate what might be coming next as a son/daughter of Christ. What is likely? Marriage, kids, career, bringing justice, restoration, healing, relating, joining with God in making all things new. To create a "connectional climate" in our congregations, where relationships are being built.
Someone asked a question during the Q/A time, "What about a single who says they might change churches to find someone to date, because selection is limited here?"
There came the reminder that church services are not a dating arena, and definitely weren't historically either, with men and women always being separated in worship areas. Encourage extra-curricular activities, church events, mission trips, possibly even partnering with another church, and don't discourage them from joining a "single's" group from elsewhere. Obviously, many times...they won't ask. :)
Stinson closed lamenting the current "Generation Me" which he said included people in their mid to late 20's (me). That this is a generation all about themselves, and have that mindset "What's in it for me?" when attending a worship service. I don't think it's limited to my generation, but I would agree with his general point there. But pointing it out isn't helpful, unless we respond somehow to move those we love from a self-serving experience of God, to an "other"-oriented approach...as seen throughout scripture.
The general flow of the seminar "How to be a HERO to parents in (student) ministry". Steve Wright gave quite a bit of background and personal information, which ends up being par for course in the "pre-conference" labs we go to from the D6 Conference. Nevertheless, there are some pretty good highlights in his time.
He talked about 7 Moorings of Student Ministries, which sounded like "foundations", even though he never quite told us why he chose the word Moorings....or instruct us on how to spell it. The 7 are:
1. Support and lean on the Authority of Scripture
2. Stand on biblical conviction
3. Role of being a pastor - 1 Timothy 3
4. Priority of the 2 Institutions
I realize that's only 4, but that's all he gave us before moving on because time was limited. It's also quite possible that 5-7 were somehow in between those, and I was simply not a good enough note taker. At any rate, I really appreciated 2 and 3 specifically.
2. The biblical conviction, specifically, that PARENTS ARE THE PRIMARY SOURCE OF DISCIPLESHIP FOR THEIR CHILDREN. How much does my ministry reflect that? If that was the litmus test, I would probably lose my job pretty quick right now. I suppose that's why we're all here together, a collective "kick in the pants" for the areas we are missing out on what God desires for the home.
3. Role of being a pastor. Especially as a parent of very young children, who often feels guilty about how that impacts my ministry. I think it's safe to tell you I've actually had a parent, with good intentions I'm sure, say "I'll bet you look forward to when your kids are a bit older, when you can actually do your job, eh?" with a smiling face...thinking I'd laugh with them. I was stunned. But nevertheless...yes...my very young children require a different type of care than their teens. But in 1 Timothy 3, we hear words of encouragement. When God wants to give instruction on what type of leader He desires for His Church....He calls on those who have high priority on caring for their family at home. For if they can't care for the affairs of their own family, why call on them to lead in the Church?
A few practical ideas he gave also:
- Families need WORSHIP times at home, which can come in many types and names.
- Host events that REQUIRE parents come, for teens to attend.
- Encourage/foster written communication from parents TO teens.
- Resource PARENTS to be the "ministry" hero. (activities, family retreats, parties, etc.)
- Helping families to become MISSIONAL together. Not just doing a mission trip, but finding something that brings "mission" to the work a family is doing for the Kingdom TOGETHER. Prayer, raising money, working with hands, relating, whatever. Some echoes here of Donald Miller's most recent book about a million miles or somethin' like that.....crafting a story for our families worth living as part of.
"What is perhaps the largest obstacle that keeps you from being a church that reflects the concepts in Deuteronomy 6 of the home being the primary vehicle for developing disciples?"
And so began many of the thoughts, discussions, and internal dialogues with previous mind/hearts as we were literally "being made New" in regard to foundations of our ministries. I speak mainly for myself, but the D6 Conference (based on the concepts of Deuteronomy 6:4-9), even though it was not presenting something theologically radical, was definitely presenting an approach to discipleship that goes against the grain.
Several at our table summed up our "one main obstacle" in concepts like that of "Inertia". That even if we are a church that decides "wait a minute, let's hold still a sec and figure out what is going on", in order to begin moving in the other direction, we'll have to take "baby steps" and overall focus on changing the climate rather than simply beginning/launching new programming.
I've been both in ministry, and a parent long enough to know - this is not something that comes naturally. Whether on behalf of the church leadership, or as a parent, it is so much easier to go along with the flow of what we naturally do on a weekly basis.
As a church, it's easier and back-pattingly worthwhile for us as a church to say, either verbally or in how our church is wired, "step back parent/family, and allow us to do it...after all, we want to show you our degree and years of training are worthwhile...ish."
As parents, I've seen it over and over again that a parent is "at the end of their rope" in one way or another, and decides that being more faithful at dropping the kids off for a couple hours on Wednesday night will solve whatever has been ailing. Or possibly even, gasp, becoming more regular attenders on Sunday mornings...as long as it meets certain "worth my time investment/effort" criteria.....it should fix the few blemishes on our homefront....right?
But all of the research and experience point to no. No, an increased effort to ensure that our families participate in services on Sundays and Wednesdays does not automatically yield an overall improvement in our home reflecting God and bringing about His Kingdom. What we truly seek for our homes, families, and ultimately for our churches, will come only from a deepening and purposeful rediscovery of what God desires/envisions.
And so...the next few posts will probably focus a bit on the specific words from those who have begun that journey already....we'll see what God acccomplishes in and through us!
In Galatians chapter 5, we read a well-known passage. It's been memorized. It's been turned into more than one song for kids to remember it easily. It's a list many of us run through mentally to keep ourselves in check...
"By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things."
Often we are tempted casually to treat these things the same way we would the "gifts" of the Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-13. That we may have especially gifted in one or two of these areas, and the others are meant to carry the load where we are weak. I'm great at love and joy, so let someone else cover me in the area of generosity or gentleness. That's the balance of my fruit basket.
Until we look at the language used by Paul, and understand where he was coming from. Paul says "the fruit of the Spirit is...". He does not say "the fruits of the Spirit are...". As in the Greek concept of the cardinal virtues that Paul was very familiar with, to have one - the others must be present. Paul is saying here that a community that experiences the presence of the Spirit in their lives will have the complete "fruit" as listed. I suppose that's also worth noting, that Paul is speaking to a community. This fruit of the Spirit is the gift of God's grace, but also cultivated by an entire community, not an isolated individual.
It is also important to note the presence of "self-control" at the end. I posted a few thoughts recently on self-control. Often we can be lured into the false assumption that if I pray "Jesus come into my heart", and His Spirit is presently working in our lives, this is the fruit that will naturally begin to be harvested. If it was something that would come naturally, without effort on our part...then why add "self-control" to it all?
The truth is, much like tending an orchard, the fruit does begin to show up..often in supernatural ways. Giving our lives to God, after all, is an infinitely compelling life change. But it takes effort on our part as well. Pruning away branches, cultivating the soil, keeping away birds and squirrels, etc. Otherwise this would simply be another list talking about the "gifts" of the Spirit.
May we each seek to cultivate the Spirits' "love-joy-peace-patience-kindness-generosity-faithfulness-gentleness-self-control" in our lives this week....
For our recent vacation, I burned us an MP3 cd full of podcasts. Many of them were preaching or lecture/interviews with authors I enjoy. Many of them were on parenting, or specifically for dads or moms. Then there were a few in there just for fun...I think at least one old Fibber McGee and Molly episode. :)
One of the talks was by Susie Larson, who has recently written a book called "Growing Grateful Kids", which is also the title of her talk. She had some very good things to say (much better than her other message on the same cd about "Release" or something like that....whew). One of the things that stood out was something I've thought about in other areas lately also...the topic of self-discipline.
So many places in scripture talk about the important of "self-control". It's one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it's also one of the four Cardinal Virtues popular in Greek philosophy. Something that has been talked about and sought after for centuries.
But seems, even in circles of those following Christ, to be a very quietly pursued virtue/fruit.
Lately it seems like, and I'm sure it's nothing new really, we try to find more and more ways to make something permissible rather than to deny ourselves. Yet, if the only thing we ever deny ourselves is when a law or a commandment in scripture demands it of us....do we really experience self-control? When is the last time you told yourself no...but because of a rigid diet, not because you're committed to something else, and not because someone else imposed restrictions or recommendations on you....but simply to experience sacrifice?
In her talk, Susie brought up an older child who had been raised by his parent to make sure other "things" weren't in control of their life. At one point the young man tells his mom he's decided (not associated with Lent) to give up Computers for a while, because they were demanding too much of his life, and seemed to be "controlling" more than they should.
It seems like a good way to practice, develop, and strengthen our "self-control" would be to deny ourselves something on a regular basis. Not something we should say no to, either. But something we could very easily say yes to, and probably even want to say yes to. May we find and exercise some self-control today, in the name of Jesus...and may our decision bear His fruit. :)
"So why do people go there?" My wife asked me, a long time ago...and again as we drove up to Northern Michigan. We were on our way to visit Mackinac Island (Used to be "Mackinaw" Island, until the French decided it was spelled wrong.). So what did I respond?
It's hard to explain. Sure, there are quaint things about the place. No cars allowed. Horses and bike and yachts everywhere. Fudge and others small shops. Fresh whitefish everywhere. History surrounds you. The Grand Hotel, the setting of a movie people watch in order to make their island visit more meaningful, but probably wouldn't have seen otherwise. Thinking about it all as we enjoyed a "date night" on the island made me realize:
It's kinda like catching a cold. :) A good one, of course.
It starts with someone who's been there. Who has "caught" the bug. They take their kids. Their kids go with friends. And one day, kids grow up and have kids, and a husband turns to his wife and says, "Let's go to the island." She smiles. She loves him. So she goes. :) And guess what? She enjoys it too. We'll have to bring our kids again when they're a bit older to make sure the bug sticks with them.
And yes...we enjoyed other Northern Michigan traditions such as Petoskey Stone huntin', crossing the Mackinaw Bridge into the Upper Peninsula, and spent a couple nights in Traverse City. We toured several bays, and had our fill of quaint little shops, fresh fish smells, and homes/boats that cost WAY too much money. But altogether the same...a "bug" that's passed around. No Disney. No giant national monuments. Although Moomers was voted # 1 by Good Morning America. :)
Which brings up the question: What "bugs" have you caught? What experience or special spot to visit have you been to...that when someone asks you "Why do you love going there?", you have a hard time nailing down "the reason"?
2 Peter 1:5-8 (paraphrase) - "That is why you must bring every bit of energy you have to bear on the task of supplementing your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patience, and patience with godliness, and godliness with "family" (or brotherly) affection, and family affection with love. If you have these things in plenty, you see, they will ensure that you are not wasting your time or bearing no fruit in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
So often we find ourselves caught up, as individuals, but also in the things we do alongside other people, quite busy but not quite accomplishing much at all. Pursuing things like money, success (one or more of the infinite varieties being sold to us), power, achievements, or that "next level" where we'll be able to relax a bit more...because isn't being able to relax a bit more the ultimate goal? Even if we cover it up with the "Christian" notion of working really hard and sacrificing now, so that someday we'll kick back sipping Jesus-ade and playin' harps while the kids run around throwin' clouds at each other.
I look forward to more than this. And what I look forward to, the "goal" as it were, is something that offers to transform how I exist in the now. Offers to transform the direction of my family. Offers to transform the direction of how I spend time with those that I love. I don't always allow it to...yet there it is...offering wildly eternal things.
It was pointed out to me recently that as Paul is speaking of Love (and Faith and Hope) in 1 Corinthians 13, he's not talking about some sort of golden star seal of approval that "love" gives anything that we'd like to do...making it "worth" something. He's speaking to a world that knows of goals that have been set by philosophers and religious communities alike, that are incongruous with the eternity initiated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Reminding them that not everything that smells good will last forever. Even some of the gifts of the Spirit will become a bit superfluous when God finishes what He began. Things like speaking in tongues, prophecy, and special gifts of "knowledge".
That only things done shaped in the virtues of Faith, Hope, and above all - Love....will stand the test of eternity. They will bear fruit not only in this world, but in the Kingdom that is coming (and is already begun). I will confess, when held up to this light...it is something I need to work on. Which is why I've been praying on the verse at the beginning of this post lately...for myself, for my family. In the name of Jesus...
Ephesians 4:24 "and to clothe yourself with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness."
I really like this verse. Particularly the phrase "new self". We desire to be made new, and it's not about shedding everything we've ever been through as if we could forget how this broken world has impacted us. How we've been hurt, cheated, lied to, offended. How we've hurt, cheated, lied to, and offended others. So many of those things, even after forgiveness comes, linger in the corners of our minds and the back of our soul...and we convince ourselves that a good Christian would be able to forget completely the ways of this world...so we pretend we have.
But this and other verses (2 Corinthians 5:4) remind us that it's not about destroying who we have been and building completely from the ground up. Any more than God is about scrapping the entire cosmos in order to rebuild things completely different. It's about God taking what exists, and "swallowing up by life".
God desires to take what has happened, and what is happening in our lives, and "clothe" these things with a new purpose. Not to ignore what it is, and pretend hearing words like these will automatically bring hope to those who have experienced immense pain. But approaching what is, genuinely and with a Love and Desire to make all things New. To redeem our entire lives, transforming not only our hearts and minds, but our history as well.
The words for "new self" continue to be very encouraging. The word "new" is "kainos", which can either mean new form (recently made, fresh, recent, unused, unworn), or new substance (of a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, unheard of). I would think both translations could be quite Hope-filling.
It also helps that the verse directly before it uses the words "put away your former way of life, your old self". The word for old here is "palaios", which means old, ancient, no longer new, worn by use, comes from the root word for "former" or "long ago".
I think it's one of the reasons I love Youth Ministry. They understand the concept of acquiring a new identity, and letting go of an old one. Heck, many of them develop new identities on an annual basis as they go from 7th-12th grades. (usually just one in 6th or 7th, another in 9th, and another toward the end of 12th) :) So the task becomes, allowing them to see that can happen from God in a way that is quite supernaturally different from receiving it from their peers, culture, or family situations. Thank you, Jesus....