Kids and Grownup Church–They Belong, Too

Our family was far from perfect, but I’m thankful to have been born into it. I was a church kid, born to one of those families who believed in gathering for worship…and not just on rare occasions or when something else more interesting wasn’t going on. Whatever else they did or didn’t get right, my parents/grandparents raised us to be Christ-followers, within a larger group of other imperfect believers and families.  They modeled putting God first, in their tenacity to carve out Sunday for the Lord’s day (they definitely didn’t confuse us with on-again, off-again faithful attendance).  My parents didn’t fight with us or threaten to ground us on the issue…it was just our way of life, so since it was all we ever knew, we kids weren’t really exploring other options. If I may, I would like to just transparently share a little about kids and “grownup” church, and why I believe it’s important that kids experience more than just the nursery and the children’s program alone; we tend to try to keep it all so separate that our kids aren’t integrating into a grownup worship experience. So to keep babies from crying or parents from having to teach a wiggly child to behave for a little while and reverence God’s house, we just never bring them into where there’s grownup church going on.

Parents don’t seem as motivated as they once were with exposing their kids to a very spiritual encounter with God. So when it’s going to put any kind of kink in the routine, or if there’s an inconvenience of any kind; or if it’s not a service where there are kids’ activities running in tandem; or if church night clashes with other activities they like to participate in, the whole family just stays home. And our kids can develop a mindset that church has to be all about entertaining them–if there’s no cotton candy or egg hunt or pizza or face painting–it isn’t really worth the investment of their time. So as soon as they outgrow the games, they just stop coming, period. I grew up in a time when I wasn’t the excuse for my parents to stay home from church at night or during revival. Oh, there might be a sick day factored in there once in a while, but they never kept me out of evening worship services and said it was because I needed my sleep for school the next day. They had me there even when there wasn’t something special just for the little kids. Even if we should have to leave a little early (maybe we did…I don’t remember), they still brought me. Worship wasn’t the obligation we had to hurry and get over with just so we could rush out to go do what we would have rather been doing all along. I got to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of my church family from a young age, and you know…it was a healthy thing. So what was the benefit of my parents bringing me to grownup church, too, and not just kids church?

For starters, I learned a lot about Christians in the real world. I saw people who had to deal with some hard circumstances who didn’t give up. I saw others give up. I saw some quit and come back. I saw the saints and I saw the hypocrites. I saw church conflict, and when it was and wasn’t handled properly. I wasn’t shielded from any of it…and it taught me by example what to do and what not to do. I even saw sincere believers and family members whom I loved, who battled to the death with strongholds they wouldn’t break free from. I heard the way parents and grandparents prayed. I watched them forgive hard things. I saw them volunteer countless hours, hammer and saw, cook, serve, teach, sing, and just…be present.

And yeah, sometimes I got a little less sleep on a church night. It didn’t stunt my growth and I graduated in the top five of my class.

As a little girl, I fell asleep on the church pew and woke up in my own bed many a night. I got to stay back and see the things people miss who cut out early to catch their show on tv. I saw people get saved, get demons cast out, be healed, women shout their hairpins down. I remember watching my Grandma make homemade Communion bread, and I remember how that, as a small child, I knew it was serious that we not take the Lord’s bread and cup with unrepented sin or unforgiveness in our hearts. I took turns with all ages washing the saints’ feet (ladies in one room, fellas in another) in that old ceramic washpan, and sometimes the water got a little dirty in my little country church–and how that people often cried, rejoiced, forgave and made up with one another during that humble sacrament. I got baptized in a creek under an old bridge long before I attended a church that had a fiberglass baptistery. Sometimes I got taken to church when I had the sniffles or a cough…and when I did get sick (as kids will do), my parents didn’t hesitate to get me prayed for and even more importantly, they didn’t hesitate to lay hands on me and pray for me themselves. We had a special bottle of olive oil just for that purpose in our house! And they brought me to church…they didn’t just send me. I’m saying these things not to criticize or judge you if you’re a parent who’s raising your kids different from the way I was raised–but to encourage you to press in closer and let your kids have more than just a sterile, disconnected, indifferent, occasional relationship with the entire household of faith.

Don’t shrinkwrap your kids’ church experience in just the parts you think they should see. Please don’t opt to keep them home whenever the service isn’t tailored to their age group!  You’d be surprised at what a five-year old understands from a grownup preacher’s sermon, and what he or she picks up when it looks as if there’s absolutely no attention being paid at all. You’d be surprised at what your kids can come to understand about prayer, giving, serving, living with integrity, and sharing their faith.

Believe me when I tell you that world doesn’t dumb down what it shows kids now. Your elementary school kids have probably seen more on tv than you knew on your wedding night. Why, then, do we try to ration their experience of real faith in the lives of real people who need grace and redemption and patience with one another? Bring them to all the fun, memorable, age-appropriate stuff..they need that, too. But be thinking ahead to where you want them to be spiritually once they outgrow puppets and VBS.

Integrate them into a full, multigenerational worship experience. Let them know what it’s like to experience conviction, to get lost in worship, to pray in the altar for the Holy Spirit. Moreover, may they learn from watching how you worship and respond to the move of God, how you give, how you serve, how you interact with others in the church family, how you deal with hard times, and how you pray.  Please understand, I’m not undermining the value of children’s Christian education, at all.  I am grateful to be a member of a local church that has a phenomenal childrens program.  I’m just saying, your kids will learn more from watching your life than they ever could from just children’s church alone.  They need both.  They’re going to need to know how to bear up under persecution, how to live without compromising their moral ground, how to do spiritual warfare, and how to pray the prayer of faith when sickness, tragedy, or injustice happens. And make sure that, in spite of some occasional inconvenience, their opportunity to witness the church in all its organic guts and glory isn’t lost in just pacifying them with an electronic babysitter to keep them from being bored (yeah, they can make it for 90 minutes without the iPad and earbuds!).  It is, after all, us visiting God in His special place. He didn’t just leave us the key and tell us to lock up and turn off the lights when we’re done–He wants to come down among us. If we are excited about meeting Him there, and our kids catch the spirit of that excitement too, talk about some quality family time…

I was seven when I gave my heart to Jesus–and it was in a grownup revival service. I was ten when I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit…at night, lingering long in the altar. In both situations, I was a child but yet I knew enough about the presence of God to experience hot tears flowing from a sincere heart who wanted to know Him. It changed my life. Regardless of what your denomination teaches about these things, I’m just sharing with you the precious experience I got to have as a child raised in a Pentecostal church. And just think…had my parents kept me at the house either of those nights, because I was young and because they wanted me in bed at a certain time, or because they reasoned that I would probably encounter Jesus sometime after I got a little older…I might never have made a decision for Christ that translated into a lifetime of rich, growing faith. It was just two church services on the timeline of my life; but oh, if I had missed them…

I’ve had my ups and downs spiritually, have made some good decisions and some unthinkably foolish ones; but I’m 52 and I’m still deeply, deeply in love with my Savior. This didn’t happen by accident. My parents steered me toward a relationship with God–very intentionally–and part of that involved raising me not just as an occasional visitor to His house, but a regular. It was all I ever knew. Sunday was His day, and very few times was it pre-empted for something else. And because I got to experience needing to exercise my faith, worshiping God in a setting of young and old, being encouraged to seek out my gifts and use them for His glory; and seeing the consequences of when things aren’t handled right by believers actually protected me. It kept me from becoming jaded from offenses and hurts and church splits and injustices–because unfortunately, those things happen. Your child needs to be conditioned to deal with the very things you wish they didn’t have to see.  I learned that men may fail you, mistreat you, withhold favor, betray you…but that God will not. Ever.

If you will live Jesus Christ before them, and be genuine in your faith, your kids will be ok even if they see others who don’t walk the walk. If you’ll value their spiritual growth as much as you value them making first string on the ball team, you are securing something even more important than whether they get skilled enough to win a sports scholarship and a free ride to college. Your kids need to be able to cope with life in a wicked, wicked world. They will worship somethingand if you don’t teach them and model before them how to put the Lord God first in their lives, you may lose them to the world system. If they see you indifferent about your commitment to Christ, don’t be surprised if they grow up completely detached from faith. It’s not going to be enough for your children to say, “Oh yeah…I believe there’s probably a God.” Or, “Hey, I might not be where I ought to be, but I still pray…sometimes”. The time to sell them on the value of that relationship is now, while they’re still impressionable. Your kids need Him for eternal life. They need Him, because drugs and alcohol and debauchery and pornography and crime and suicide are all waiting to grab hold of them.

Some of you prayed that God would bless you with children. Now that you have them, will you truly dedicate them to Him or will you instead teach them that life is all about what they can achieve and get and buy and own and collect and play? Will they encounter His presence or will their lives be all about getting numbed out by newest level of their favorite video game? Don’t raise them up not to know who their Father is, and don’t raise them not to know about a hell that’s to be shunned and heaven to be gained. it’s a matter of eternal life and death.

Being a church kid wasn’t–and isn’t–a bad thing to be. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

That’s all.

Never Departing—Raising Kids with Values and Not Just Skills

arrows“Dedicate your children to God and point them in the way that they should go, and the values they’ve learned from you will be with them for life.”  (Proverbs 22:6 TPT The Passion Translation®. Copyright © 2017 by BroadStreet Publishing® Group, LLC.)

Your child’s real future isn’t in scholarship, it’s in #discipleship. Scholarship says, “I got it all because of ME.” Discipleship says, “yes I have talent, but even that is because of HIM.”

Praise the Lord for favor and open doors, for free rides to college, and I’m all for getting all the education and credentials we can; but please, Christian parents, don’t elevate your child’s talent above his or her spiritual well-being. If we teaching our children it is all about their earthly goals, we are teaching them to build on sand instead of the Rock. If their entire hope is tied up in their talent—their life plans formed solely around what their own hands can do–then their future is as fragile as one unfortunate sports injury or failed entrance exam. And what good would a scholarship be on the timeline of forever if that renowned college were to transform your child into someone who no longer believes there even IS a God? Celebrate that talent, but don’t make talent an idol. Don’t neglect the foundation in favor of making the facade look good. Want eternity for your kids even more than you want moments...yes, let’s want heaven for them even more than we want a degree from that prestigious university hanging on their wall! If we seek Him first and His righteousness, did our Lord not say that “all these things” (the things that the world would make the primary or sole focus) would be added to us?

I get grieved when I see once God-focused homes where the celebration is no longer on the children’s Jeremiah 29:11 future, but on exalting nothing more than skills and beauty and temporary achievements. Are your children discovering their spiritual gifts? Are they growing strong in their relationship with God, connected to stable children’s or youth church groups where they are fortified by other young believers and godly adult mentors? Are they being brought to see and participate in the move of the Holy Spirit in revivals, prayer gatherings, youth camps, and worship services, or is there never time or desire for those things because of all the other pursuits we have enabled? Do they hear prayer and the Word read in the home, or does God only receive honorable mention from time to time? Are the dreams they chase guided by godly wisdom and balance, or are we endorsing paths that lead far away from God by not teaching them to use those talents for His divine purpose? If we aren’t training them up in the way they should go, how can they stay on a path they were never taught not to depart from!

Lord, speak to our hearts today as Christian parents and recalibrate our focus. Forgive us for grooming our kids to grow up as unbelieving adults who were raised in lukewarm, powerless Christian homes rife with duplicity. You gave them to us as arrows; show us when the problem lies in our aim. You have blessed us with healthy, smart, beautiful kids–and we will teach them how to use their gifts to glorify You rather than to replace You.

Help us to train them to be as effective in fervent prayer as they are in the fast pitch; to tear down strongholds even better than they can sack the opposition’s quarterback; to be Esthers instead of divas; Solomons instead of just intellectuals; Davids instead of rock gods; Daniels instead of conformists. Help us to model in front of them a burning, living relationship with You instead of just a religious experience we once had. Help us not to have poisoned our kids with pride and self-absorption! Remind us to tell them often that we are pleased with them not just because of all they can do but rather, who they are in YOU! Help us not to live our lives vicariously through our kids, trying to recapture our own missed opportunities. We want them to be successful and strong, but O God, we want them to love You even more than we ourselves have loved you. We want them to rise and be the ushers of a last-day awakening, who use their gifts and talents and testimonies to draw people to the Savior!

We choose today to openly to put You first, and to teach them to put You first, too. We will guard our conversations in our homes, what we take into our gateways of eyes and ears. If You tell us we need to change some things, add or take away some things, we will not ignore Your voice! We will communicate to our kids that no matter what else they do or don’t become, we want them to love and serve You first and foremost. We will help them hone their skills, but will teach them to give You all the glory for what those skills help them achieve. We will instill eternal-mindedness into them, and we will live lives in front of them that back up what we teach. It will show in how we invest our time, our money, our affections. We will have great fun with them and laugh and make memories; and we will teach them how to have compassion, how to give, how to love with perfect love, and how to flee from temptation. We will teach them how to cling to truth, stand firm even when the world bullies them for what they believe, and we will teach them how to forgive and be forgiven. We will love them like You want us to love them–unconditionally–and will love them too much to let them be deceived and led by the devil away from their life purpose!

Help us to hear Your voice concerning our kids, Father. Your planned future for them is better than anything we could lay hold of for them on our own. As we trust You for that future, we will be good stewards of our little arrows; and by Your grace, they will grow to be arrows hitting not just any mark, but the actual destinies for which You handcrafted each of them uniquely, fearfully and wonderfully!. We consecrate ourselves, our homes, and our children today. Bless them, protect them, do great things through them, and let them never depart from You, in Jesus’ name.

(Adapted from my Facebook status, August 11, 2017)

Fruit Forthcoming

chestnutI was three years old when we moved to our little house in North Matewan. There was a young tree growing on the left side of our house that, for years, was just a trunk and branches and leaves. It was said that it was a chestnut tree; but yet, there was no fruit. When I was 10 or 11 years old, green burry-looking pods came out all over and that fall, the most beautiful, huge, sweet, crunchy chestnuts you ever saw were inside. I was thrilled and from that year forward, looked forward to picking them off the ground and taking them next door for Grandpa and me to peel and eat.

It took some time for those chestnuts to prove that the tree was indeed a chestnut tree, but you know something? It was still a chestnut tree. From the moment the first little green sprout popped through the ground up until the day my Dad cut it down.  There were chestnut trees on the hillsides and in other parts of the neighborhood, but none had the quality of fruit that this lone little tree wound up bearing.  Yep…the same tree whose identity seemed questionable for the greater part of my childhood.

My point?  We spend way too much time analyzing one another and looking for fruit whose time has not yet come. Lighten up and love the people around you! Entrust them into God’s hands because whatever He created us to be, that potential is deep inside of all of us from conception. Pray, be patient, be a good example, and never make that person feel as if your approval is some unattainable goal; forcing it can stunt his or her growth and delay the fruit even longer!

We have the assurance in God’s Word that when we train up a child in the way he should go, when he is old he will not depart from it. I meditated on that yesterday and thought about this: it says, “when he is old.” Give those in-between years to God and pray a hedge of protection around your children. They may have several years in their lives when they are unproductive or even producing BAD fruit…but you just keep sowing into them. Keep being that example. Keep telling them how good they are and how pleased you are with them. Keep speaking truth in love, but never speak things over your children that declare something negative: you will get exactly what you speak. Keep pleading the blood of Jesus over them. One day, the pods will open and the fruit will be exactly what it was ordained to be.

Peace, love, and light to all of you on this Monday.

Emboldening Your Child in the Face of Christian Persecution

Romans 1 v 16God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.  God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.  You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.  You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  Matthew 5:10-16

We all try to shield our children from being bullied and from being a bully, and as well we should.  No one likes to encounter the milk money monster who waits on the curb every school morning for that one intimidated child.  And, while the clique of mean-spirited girls who pick on that one whose clothes and hair are not as nice as theirs may get some snickers of approval from other kids, they will carry the brand of a bully and a snob for the rest of their lives in the memory of that person whose life they made a living hell.  Some things may be more called-out nowadays than they used to be; but all-in-all, not much has changed across the generations.

In this society where tolerance and acceptance are being talked about night and day, there’s a new form of soft persecution going on in the Christian faith:  the pressure to avoid having to be recognized as the “outsider.”  Believers have fundamental moral codes which come from the Word of God; and cultural relevance takes a backseat when it comes to truth.   When truth is priority in a person’s life who walks among peers with only self-serving motivations, there’s bound to at some point be a dividing line.  Children are hearing so much about tolerance and acceptance (and in some ways it’s a good thing) that they’re feeling a pressure to do whatever it takes to be tolerated and accepted–including compromise in the area of their faith.   We will probably continue to see that dogma of inclusion being strengthened toward other belief systems and choked off on the side of evangelical Christianity.  It’s an unusual time, the last days…where evil is called good, and if you embrace good, you’re considered evil, closed-minded, bigoted, prudish, and a reject.

As a parent, what you do need to teach your child early-on is that it is ok to be rejected for Christ’s sake…and the best way you can enforce that in your child’s life is for him or her to see you modeling it in yours.  If you’re becoming increasingly tight-lipped about the Gospel–if you’re hiding or relaxing your faith in order to get promoted on the job or accepted in certain social circles–that’s the example your child sees and will probably follow.  Just as we teach our children the beautiful truths of God’s Word, we must also be transparent with them about the reason why Jesus wound up being crucified.  Though it was ultimately the plan of God to purchase our salvation, it was carried out at the hands of men who hated Christ’s teachings and wanted to silence Him at all costs.  As our children get a little more mature, we shouldn’t conceal from them that there have been martyrs throughout the history of our faith who bravely gave their lives rather than deny Jesus.  Don’t be afraid that your child is too young to “get” the message of the cross.  I mean, look at the things you allow him or her to watch on tv!  Even if you’re very protective about what you already low, children manage to be exposed to sex, violence, drugs, and the stark ugliness of life far sooner they should.  They know much more than we did at their age!  So in the matter of eternity?  If they can handle the movies and video games available nowadays, I think they can more than handle the truth.

Have more than one heart-to-heart with your child about boldness in his or her Christian faith!  Reassure your child that, if persecution, bullying, or exclusion should happen, he or she has nothing to be ashamed of.  Certainly, we need to defend our children when someone’s treating them unfairly; but God does reward the tenacity of His children when they refuse to compromise for the sake of popularity.  There are life lessons your child will be confronted with soon enough; and you need to have prepared him or her to trust in God for His protection and vindication.

Whenever you as a parent are pressured to allow your child to participate in events, parties, even holidays that go against your Christian conscience, please, hit your knees before you make foolish decisions.  Your child may get teased for not being allowed to go to a seance, a sexually-explicit or contraversial movie, or a party where alcohol may be being served to minors; but I promise you, you’re not doing your child any justice by violating conscience to avoid peer pressure.  If your children see you ashamed of the Gospel, they’ll have no hesitation in being ashamed of Jesus themselves.  The subject of persecution is by no means a fun one to address, but remind your children, when they experience difficult times, of the story in Acts Chapter 5, where the apostles were arrested, publicly humiliated, commanded not to use the name of Jesus (sound familiar?), even beaten for their faith, then went away rejoicing that they’d been counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ.  A very unpopular message in today’s world–but it’s at the heart of the very faith we embrace!

There are going to be hard times.  There may even be times when your child messes up, or gives in to peer pressure, or does as Peter did–denies Jesus three times before the rooster crows.  Strive to have an open enough relationship with him or her to talk about these things openly…and help your child quickly recover and move forward from stumblingblocks.  If our children know they can come to us and openly confess their sins, and receive forgiveness not only from Jesus but from their parents, they’ll run to that place of sanctuary called “home.”  When your child does encounter persecution for the sake of his or her faith, as a parent, be your child’s cheerleader!  Be an encourager, a praiser, and quick to show your child you’re proud of him or her for being resolute in the faith.  Reinforce that meekness isn’t weakness.  Christians don’t storm around angrily demanding that people celebrate us, not as the world does.  Teach by example.  We can share Jesus without being obnoxious or overbearing.  We can pray for others without constantly hounding them or looking down on them.  It’s very important that we be salt and light in this lost world–something our children can see and emulate.  We must remind our kids as well as ourselves that our calling is not merely to fly under the radar and escape this world undetected; we are called to shine a light to a very lost world.

We do need to teach our children the hard lessons of life concerning a bold witness, but not just so they’ll be a little tougher.  In truth, if we can’t help them remain steadfast under the relatively benign persecutions of our American culture–the shunning, the exclusion, the teasing–how can we ever expect them to be bold enough, should a swordsman ever stand over them and demand a recantation of their faith or else suffer execution?  I pray that we never see the same horrors as our Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of the globe; but that’s something we cannot guarantee we won’t encounter in our lifetimes.  We should teach our kids that they can put their trust in God to keep them safe; but we also must gradually prepare them not to be jaded by the cruel reality of the world in which we live.  There is an enemy who, 2000 years later, still vehemently opposes and despises the cross and all who call on the name of Jesus.  May our children be taught by us to remain strong, unwavering; a next generation of the faithful who may very well be the last generation before the end of days!