Thursday, September 27, 2007

Walking through difficulty... together

I almost did not write this post. Honestly, compared to many people and the struggles that they are going through, it is hard for me to call my struggles "difficulties". But, there are difficulties in my life. Everyone goes through difficulties, trials, struggles, whatever we want to call them.

Lately, our difficulties have included spiritual struggles, health problems, financial strains, and emotional trials. We've had relationship problems without our family and with those outside our family.

Struggles are universal. Comparatively, some have more difficult lives; some have less difficult lives. But, every life comes with its share of problems. Every person suffers in some way.

There is a difference for us though: we are not suffering alone. For some reason, explainable only as the grace of God, we have been surrounded by people who have helped us walk through difficulties. Only in the last few weeks, God has used (in no particular order) Maƫl and Cindy, Dan and Kate, Stan and Renata, Theron and Cheryl, Lew, Gary, Glenn, Dusty, Rodney and Denise, Jim and Kirstie, Anthony, and many, many other people to speak words of encouragement, to lend helping hands, to ask difficult questions, to offer support, to pray, to listen, to teach.

Recently, I was talking with a good friend who spent some time in another country. This time was difficult for him and his family. But, he also recognized how God provided certain people at just the right time to help them through these struggles.

Talking to my friend reminded me of how often I take these fellow travellers for granted. We are all walking in the journey. God allows us to cross path with many people. Sometimes, we cross paths with people so that we can help them. Sometimes, we cross paths with people so that they can help us. Sometimes, we cross paths because we need one another. Whatever the reason, I never want to take for granted the children of God that he chooses to bring into my life. Many times I find that God gives me the strength to make it through trials through these fellow travellers who humbly and gently choose to walk through difficulties with us. Sometimes, it is through these fellow travellers that God demonstrates his love, mercy, grace, and justice.

I thank God for the brothers and sisters that he regularly sends to walk with us through difficulty. I thank my brothers and sisters for giving so generously of yourselves, your time, your resources, and your energy.

Perhaps you would like to thank God for some people who are walking or have walked through difficulty together with you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Looking for the Great Feast

Joel Spencer over at the Double Edged Sword, wrote a post called, A Great Feast. In this post he compares church as we know it to eating cold chicken nuggets. So many of us have been raised on these nuggets, we have know idea that they are really nasty. He says,

Let me sum it up like this - let’s say that you’ve spent your whole life eating cold chicken McNuggets every night. You like them, you think that they taste pretty good and everyone around you rants and raves about how great the McNuggets are. You even have meeting after meeting to listen to people talk about these great McNuggets! After all, they do give you some fuel and sustenance. But the problem is, unbeknownst to you, they’re full of preservatives and processed meat and are only making you fat and unhealthy. Then the day comes when you look outside of your window and see a great table set up in the parking lot just outside the doors. It is absolutely covered with the most amazing food that you’ve ever seen. You decide to go outside and check it out. After walking the length of the table a couple of times, someone walks up to you and says that everything on this table was prepared just for you. You’re in awe as you’ve never even known such a fantastic spread even existed. You walk up beside the table and look down onto a huge plate of home-made fried chicken that sits before you. As it’s still steaming, you reach down to grab a piece. As you begin to eat of it, your senses come alive, the smell, the taste… it’s incredible! After hours of eating to your heart’s, and stomach’s, content, you turn around and see the building that you exited from standing before you. You know full well that within its walls are nothing more than cold chicken McNuggets, likely left over from last night. You now have a choice.

One morning my wife and I were talking about his post. She told me how she has realized that she has been eating cold chicken nuggets, she believes that there is a great feast outside, she can smell it. She went outside to look and it was not there. She can still smell it, she knows it is around, she just cannot find it.

I think there are a lot of you out there that are in this same boat. There is a special feast, just for you, but you are having a little trouble figuring out exactly where it is. So what do you do? Do you head back to the cold chicken nuggets? Do you wander away from everything you know in hopes of finding the feast?

Have you found the feast? Are you looking for your feast? Have you been through this?

I would love to hear your stories. I know it would greatly encourage my wife and others on this same journey.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Outsiders

Have you ever felt like the "outsider"?

Here is a story of a couple and their recent experiences with the church.

Right now, my wife and I feel like outsiders. Some people in the group we meet with on Sunday mornings seem to treat us, especially my wife, like we don't belong. Why? Well, our best guess is that we do not meet the "good Christian" standards.

You see this really all started a few months ago when the vocational pastor came to us to say that he has been really burdened for us. At the time we had missed a few Sunday meetings. We had wonderful excuses for missing them (not that they were needed), but we were out of town, my wife was sick, we decided to rest on one Sunday, etc. I suppose he was trying to be polite, caring, even loving. Truthfully, it seemed more condemning than anything.

Since then things have been worse. My wife says she gets awkward looks. I do not tend to notice these things, but I sense that some of the "leaders" think of me as a type of nuisance. I have a tendency to understand things a little different than they do. We have not been able to attend regularly at all this summer, and that is probably a big part of it. But we have had some major family obligations that have kept us literally out of state every weekend for about a month.

We have been around for the past two weekend though. What really gets us is that they planned and held a family fun day a few miles away from us (within our subdivision) and they never called told us about it, or asked us to come. The vocational pastors wife at least told me that she told him to call us... he said that he thought we were out of town again.

Are we wrong to feel like we're being treated like outsiders?
What do you all think? Have you experienced similar things? Are you in the midst of these feelings? How are you handling it?

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Heart of God

Last week, three friends of mine prayed that God would provide them opportunities to serve him by serving other people. Within the week, God answered all three prayers. In each case, God answered in a way that was not orchestrated or initiated by the people involved. These examples seem to illustrate a very important concept that I find in Scripture: God cares about people. This is the heart of God.

Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets depend upon a two-fold commandment: Love God and love others. John tells us that we demonstrate that we are God's children when we practice (not confess) righteousness and love others. Paul says that the Holy Spirit produces his fruit within us, and that fruit begins with love. Love for people is the heart of God.

As we live our lives - as we attempt to follow the Spirit and live according to Christ-likeness and bring glory to God - many things and situations and circumstances cross our paths. Often, these things distract us from acting according to God's heart - that is, from responding out of love for other people.

According to Jesus, we are distracted or hindered from loving other people by sin in our own lives, which can be manifested in pride, self-centeredness, love of money, love of position, love of authority, and even tradition.

How can we ensure that we are living and making decisions in such a way that we demonstrate that people are more important to us than other things? How can we live according to the heart of God?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Journey West

Well, I want to share with everyone a little about the past month in my “Life in the Journey.” Last month, my family moved from Wake Forest to San Francisco for my husband, Ed, to begin work on his PhD. We lived in Wake Forest for three years, welcoming our first son into the family and being involved in an awesome church family.
We did have our reservations about moving away from our church family, but we had always been pretty open to change and thought it would be a fun adventure. We weighed the options of staying in Wake Forest or moving to San Francisco, and decided that we would move. I didn’t want Ed to regret not taking the chance to work on his PhD with a professor he really loved. Plus, if Ed wanted to pursue a career in teaching, he would need to get the degree.
It has been a month now since we moved, and we feel more homesick now than ever before. We are feeling very alone and isolated. There are other couples here on the campus, and we have gotten together with them. I’ve made a few friends. But I can’t seem to shake the feeling that I am so sad. We are both feeling it, and we talk daily about what we should do now that we are here and wishing we were back home.
I asked Ed if he thought we made a mistake in coming out here. We both agreed that it was the right thing to do. God had opened the doors for us to be out here, with Ed studying under the professor he really wanted. No, we don’t feel like we made a mistake in coming here. But should we stay? We don’t know.
As I pray about this, I’m reminded that I need to be asking, “What’s God teaching me in this?” I don’t want to miss out on how the Lord is leading me through this. The problem is, I don’t think we’ve figured it all out quite yet. Ed and I agreed that we have learned that our focus and our hearts’ desire is to be molded by Christ. We have felt a lot less emphasis on “what we’re going to do in life” and a lot greater desire to be the man/woman, father/mother, husband/wife that God desires us to be. And we’ve learned just how important family is to us. We miss our church family like crazy. And we miss my family as well.
I’m not sure what the future holds for us. And I guess we are learning that we have to continue to trust in the Lord for that. We are scared to “give up” and go home. Ed doesn’t want to feel like a failure, and I don’t want to let him down. But I know in my head that we shouldn’t be afraid of what people will think about us. God reminds me of the Scripture to “fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of my faith.”
I don’t have any great conclusions, because I don’t feel like I’m at a point of conclusion in any of this. We’re definitely a work in progress. But I want to be transparent in what God is doing in our lives. We’ll keep you posted…

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Homosexuals and the Church

Many of you may have heard of High Point Church in Texas. They have made some headlines, because they refused to allow a homosexual's memorial service in their church. The American Family Association has linked to an article called, Texas church refuses to host memorial service that would have glorified homosexuality. Here is a link to the High Point Church statement regarding this issue, High Point Church Could Not Allow an Openly Homosexual Service in the Church.

A member of this group had an ill brother. When he passed away the Church offered the use of their building for a memorial service. They were in the process of putting together a video of the mans life when someone noticed some openly homosexual pictures. After alerting the pastor, they decided that they need to withdraw their initial offer. They could not allow them to use their facilities for a homosexual memorial service.

The statement reads, "The issue was not whether we would hold a memorial service for someone in a lifestyle of sin. We have assisted many families in this regard. The issue was whether we would allow an openly homosexual service that celebrated and emphasized homosexuality in our church. . . . We will not allow homosexuality to be glorified in this house of worship whether it is in a memorial or in a wedding."

But they did not leave the family high and dry, the statement continues, "To assist the family in securing another location, an alternative venue was paid for - which the family declined. We produced for the family the memorial video they requested without the inappropriate photos. We also prepared and delivered food for the family and one hundred relatives and friends."

After reading these articles I sense that the major issue was the building, not the man who had died. They could not allow a man who lived in open sin, and a service that promoted that sin, to exist inside of their "house of worship." They felt that this act would show that they condone homosexuality. Yet, they had no problem offering to pay for the use of another building for this man's memorial service.

Now, I believe that homosexuality is a sin but is it possible for an open homosexual to be a Christian?

Do you think they made wise decision by withdrawing their offer?
Do you think they made a wise decision by offering to pay for another building?

What do you think Jesus would have done in this situation?

Personally, I do not think Jesus would have owned a building, but he probably would have gone to the memorial service to teach, disciple, discipline, and heal.

Have we put the institution, the building, above the people?

Monday, August 13, 2007

Would you trade your life for someone else's life?

For those who have not heard, on Sunday, August 12, 2007, a gunman entered a church building, killed three people, wounded five others, and held several hostage until he finally surrendered to police. This is one account of what happened during the incident:

Witnesses told police that Saimon held a gun to one man's head and asked if anyone in the church was willing to trade their life for the man's, an investigator said. After no one stepped forward, the gunman shot the hostage, he said.
Now, this is a witness' report to police. Is this the way it happened? We don't know. Maybe. Maybe not. But, these two sentences have caused me to stop and consider a very important question: Would I trade my life for someone else's life?

As I talked about this with my family, we all agreed that there were some people that we would give our life in order to save. Of course, it is easy to say this when we are not staring down the barrel of an automatic handgun. I think Margaret's (my wife's) response was the best - and I have to admit that I did not think of it first. She said, "I especially hope that I would be willing to give my life for someone who is not saved."

But, what about you? Would you be willing to give your life in exchange for someone else's life? Is there someone - are there some people - who you would not sacrifice yourself to save?

If we are not willing to give our lives from someone (anyone), what does this say about our understanding of death, life, and love?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Unbiblically Burdened?

I want to talk about something that has been on my heart for a while now: people who are unbiblically burdened. This burden comes in many forms, from a pastor* who is over-worked, a deacon* who is emotionally drained, or even a congregant* who is made to feel guilty.

Jesus told us, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30, NASB) Did Jesus lie? When I look around I see souls who are heavily burdened and most of them do not even realize it. The burden has become a second nature to us, we do not realize it is there, but if it were missing it would probably make us very uncomfortable.

Our brothers and sisters all around us are feeling unwelcome, unwanted, and not needed. Yet, they are all asked to come back, to bring their friends, family, and strangers. They are asked to join more programs, give more money, do more stuff - but for what? Where does this all lead? Some say it is for the Glory of Christ - maybe, but does this go against what he said about his burden?

Should the pastor* be working 60+ hours a week, preparing lessons, counseling strangers, visiting hospitals, funerals, weddings, neglecting his family, etc.?

Should the deacon* be making major decisions about minor things, visiting every church member's* home, worrying about temperature control, the phone system, utility bills, etc.?

Should the congregant* be working 40 hours a week, only to feel guilty for not being at church* on Wednesday nights, not signing up for this years Awana or VBS, missing Sunday School to go to the Beach, etc.?

All of these things and many more make people feel like they are not doing what they should be doing, what they need to be doing to be righteous in God's eyes. A lot of time we feel guilty for not doing just a few of these things. Some will even doubt your salvation if you are not as involved as they think you should be. It is common for people to associate this guilty feeling with the Holy Spirit urging them to meet these requirements. But is it the Holy Spirit?

I wrote this post because I want you to know something; sometimes that guilty-feeling is not coming from the Holy Spirit. If someone says something the right way, a lot of times we do not think twice about it, especially if we trust the people speaking. If everyone else is doing the same thing, we might believe it is what we need to do too.

This is where discernment comes in. The best question anyone has ever asked me is this, "Where is that in the Bible?"

The next time you feel guilty about something, ask yourself, "Where is that in the Bible?" and then do a long Bible study. Do not stop with the first answer someone tells you - sometimes people whom we consider to be very Godly have beliefs based on misinterpretation, Scripture taking out of context, or just plain old tradition. Dig deep and hard, pray, talk, pray, ask questions, pray, study, pray. You just might find that Jesus' burden is much lighter than the load you have been carrying around, the load others expect you to carry. Then I would encourage you to use what you have found to help and encourage others. This way, they are not stuck carrying a load Jesus cares little about.

*I use these terms very loosely to fit the structure of the traditional church - forgive me.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shaken or established?

Last Sunday morning, I continued to teach from Proverbs on the subject of trusting God. This time, I began with the following verse:

No one is established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will never be moved (shaken). (Proverbs 12:3 ESV)
Similarly, another proverb says:
When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever. (Proverbs 10:25 ESV)
Everyone faces storms in their life... the tempest is always near. What happens when the storm is blowing your world away? Do you find yourself shaken? Or do you find yourself established?

The way we respond to "storms" in our lives could be one way to evaluate whether we are truly trusting in God or if we are still leaning on our own understanding. These storms can come in the form of health or financial problems... job woes... relationship issues... but, they all boil down to one thing: Can you trust God even when he acts in a way that you do not expect?

As I've mentioned before, this concept of "trust" is about finding our safety and security in God alone. As long as we continue to trust what we can explain and what we can understand, then we are still leaning on our own understanding. If we find that we can stand firm - established - seeking safety and security in God alone even when life does not go as we expect, then we know that we are learning to trust him.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Knowing God's Will

Lately I have been thinking on the topic of knowing God's will. I believe that God's will is something that Scripture says we can know (Rom. 12:1-2). Some aspects of God's will are even clearly stated in Scripture. For example, 1 Thess. 4:3 says "For this is the will of God, your sanctification..." But what about those decisions we have to make in life that Scripture does not directly speak to? How are we to discern God's will in those decisions? How do we know whether it is God's will for us to take that new job, move to that new city, or use the resources he has given us in a certain way? At a more basic level, does God's will have anything to do with these types of decisions or can believers just decide what to do based on logic and their own wisdom? I have a few thoughts on how I think God reveals His will to us in these decisions, but I would love to hear the thoughts of others before I offer my own.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Your everyday, ordinary life

As I've mentioned before, I'm reading various sections of the New Testament in The Message. I finished reading the book of Acts Saturday night, and I was looking through a couple of passages Sunday morning, when I read this passage:

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. (Romans 12:1-3 The Message)
I love this sentence: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. This is truly the desire of my heart, and I believe it is the type of worship that God desires - worship that comes from the everyday, ordinary life that has been transformed by God... "by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him".

Yes, God is concerned about our obedience in the big things, but when we learn to lay before him our "sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life", then we begin to understand what it means to worship him in spirit and in truth. I'm not sure that we can worship God in the big things, if we have not learned to worship in our everyday, ordinary life.

For two of the last three Sundays, I've been teaching on the topic of "trust in the Lord" from the Proverbs. The main text was Proverbs 3:5-6 - Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (ESV) As I studied the phrase "trust in the Lord" in Proverbs, I realized that if we truly trust in the Lord - that is, find our security or safety in him - then that trust will demonstrate it through our lives in obedience (Prov 16:20), humility (Prov 28:25), and complete submission to him (Prov 29:25).

Again, this trust is demonstrated in big ways in our lives - our families, our jobs, moving to a new location, etc. - but it is primarily demonstrated in the small, everyday, ordinary decisions that we make - the way we speak to a friend, the way we spend a small amount of money, the way we get upset when our favorite television show is pre-empted.

Trust God in the small things, and the big things will fall into place. Worship God in the small things, and the big things will fall into place. Forget about God in the small things, and the big things will be for ourselves and not for God.

I'm learning - I hope others are learning - that God is interested in my everyday, ordinary life. Can others see God demonstrated in your everyday, ordinary life?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

What about Prayer?

God has been teaching me a lot about how to communicate with him. It has been a struggle I have had for years (probably since the Holy Spirit indwelled me). I first did what every "good" Christian does - prayed every morning, every evening, over my meals, etc. That is what I was shown/told to do, so I fell in line. My prayers were usually filled with "God," "Lord," "Father" all over the place and all the time. I think it is pretty much what we do instead of saying "um." You have probably prayed like this... it sounds something like:

Father Lord God, Please, Lord, heal so-and-so, Father. Father God, bless so-and-so. Oh Lord, reveal your will to so-and-so, Father, God, Lord. Lord, Father, be with so-and-so, Lord God, as they do such-and-such. Father, thank you for such-and-such, Lord, God. I pray this in Jesus' Holy name. Amen.

A while ago I realized how silly that is. I mean, imagine if you were talking to me and you repeated my name at every pause. I would think you are nuts! So I made a dedicated effort to only refer to God one or two times during a prayer. So my prayers sounded something like:
Father, thank you for such-and-such and please be with so-and-so as they do such-and-such. Please reveal your will to us and allow us to accept it. Father, forgive us for such-and-such and protect us from the evil one. In Jesus name I pray, amen.

But then my prayers began to decrease. Why? Well because of my understanding of cause-and-effect and my understanding of God's sovereignty. I knew that we were suppose to pray, you know, "You have not because you ask not" and other verses that indirectly teach us to pray. So I did pray; mostly trying to be obedient, but in a way I thought it was futile because I knew that God knew what I needed and I knew that God was in control. In a way it was because I had faith in God that I did not really see the need to pray for things. But again, I did pray and did so out of obedience---I just wasn't really convinced it was necessary.

After a while I read a few articles and books on prayer to see what God was teaching others about prayer. I found them lacking and no real help to me. I already knew most of what they said and it did not help me weed out any of my beliefs. I waited, I continued to pray as I knew how, and then something "occurred" to me.

Regardless of what I believe about the world (cause/effect) and God's sovereignty. It did not stop me from having conversations with my friends and family. So why should it stop me from having a conversation with our father?

I am still learning and trying to understand prayer, but now I come at it almost entirely different. I still pray over some of my meals and ask God to bless them. I still pray for guidance, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, revelation, etc. I still pray that His will be done as it is in Heaven. But I also pray to him just for the sake of having conversation. I tell him what is going on in my life and what is troubling me. I tell him about the driver in front of me who must be drunk or stupid - and I ask that he help me not think things like that about complete strangers. Sometimes we talk about the things I see in the church that upset me or the things I see in myself that upset me. We talk about my two dogs. We talk about my lovely wife. We talk about the people who are discipling me. We talked about this blog post, past and future blog posts as well. We talk about sudden issues that happen to come up - a sickness, a death, an accident, etc.

You see, we have these conversations daily, throughout the entire day. As I sit and reflect on different things, I bring it to him. Somehow he has shown me how to do that. It was not anything I read from scripture, or anything anyone told me, at least not that I recall. Rather, I think it was just a realization that we are suppose to have a relationship with Him. How can I have a relationship with someone that I do not really talk to?

Where is God taking me now with my prayer life? I do not yet know, but I have been reading through Genesis lately and I realized something. When the people from that time spoke to God, they spoke to him with a boldness that I do not see today. I think this directly reflects what it means to have a true relationship with Him. So, now I try to approach him with boldness. After all, Paul does tell us that we do have a bold confidence to enter into his Holiest Place because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross (Hebrews).

I would love to know your thoughts on prayer?

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Journey

Whether we believe it or not, we, God's children, are on a journey. We are on a journey with Christ as our guide. There are many different stages in the journey and every journey can be different. But I believe the journey is all to the same place.

There are some who are slowly walking through the hottest of deserts with Jesus looking for a water source.

There are some who are scaling the side of a mountain with Jesus one step ahead of them checking for danger spots.

Some who are deep within the deepest of valleys with Jesus making them a trail.

There are some who are strolling calmly through a wide open field with Jesus strolling by their side.

Some have stopped and Jesus is calling for them right over the next ridge.

Some thought they knew a better way, so Jesus is following them - urging them to turn around.

Right now, Jesus and I are resting on the trail. Jesus and I have had some great conversations, I have learned a lot about him and he has listened to a lot of my woes. He has comforted me, he has cried with me, he has listened to me, and he has encouraged me. Now, He is getting ready for our next hike. Where is Jesus taking me? I do not know. How long will we be on the trail? I do not know. What I do know is this, if I rely on him, he will guide my path. If I rely on him, I will not be forsaking. If I rely on him, I will survive this journey.

So, I want to know, where are you on your journey with our Lord?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Children and discipleship

I am following the blogs of two women who have recently left organized religion. Recently, both women have asked questions concerning children and discipleship. While they were part of organized religious groups, they both relied on Sunday School to teach their children about God and how to follow Christ. While they both realize that this reliance was always misplaced, they are now wondering how parents should disciple their children.

For example, "a former leader" writes in her post "The Church Lady and Her Un-Churched Kids" that she realizes that she never took responsibility for discipling her children:

Of course we all know that we (the parents) are responsible for their spiritual training. That was always told to us by our churches. I told this to others – partially to absolve the church when their kids turned out bad. After all, you can only claim responsibility when it looks good for you. When it does not work out to your advantage – bail and let them know it was their responsibility all along.

The only problem I see was that no one ever actually really took responsibility that I know of. We let the Sunday School teachers do their job and “presto” our kids knew all about Jonah and the Whale and Noah and the Arc. (In there was probably some really good spiritual training although, to tell you the truth, I never saw how they could take a story about God wiping out the whole human race – every living thing – and teach it to any child who would not run screaming from the room and never love God again. It worked though if you needed people to be afraid of God to obey him. Hmmmm…….)

Of course Church Lady was always too busy to teach Sunday School.
Similarly, Mary from "One Thing is Needed" responds in her post called "Learning the Language of Love". She compares training children in the ways of Christ to teaching people a foreign language. She suggests that "immersion" is the best form of discipleship:

I used to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) to international students. What I taught them in class could only go so far, though. I noticed that the students who really excelled and learned the language the fastest were the ones who immersed themselves in the English language. They hung out with English speakers, listened to English music, read English books, spoke as much English as possible, and taught what they knew to others. They immersed themselves in this new language. If they continued like this for a few years, they would find that they began to think and dream in English. By contrast, the students who struggled to learn English only spoke it during class. They didn’t immerse themselves in it and spoke their native language outside of class. They were the ones who were more likely to get frustrated and give up or learn just enough to get by.

What if I applied this principle of learning another language to teaching my children about Jesus? What if, as a family, we daily immerse ourselves in the language of love (love the LORD with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself)? Our children will learn that “language” much faster than if they only learn it during a weekly church service. If we continue to live this way, they will begin to think in this language and dream in this language. It will become second nature to them. That’s exciting to me.
I think these discussions are very important and very beneficial.

Many have trusted structured times of teaching (such as Sunday School) as the sole method of training their children to follow Jesus. Structured teaching is beneficial to a point. This is true of any type of classroom setting, whether it is Sunday School, or public school, or college, or seminary, or even a structured home school class, or a structured time of teaching children in the home. It is easy to dispense large amounts of information during a structured teaching time. As I said, this is beneficial. However, there are dangers as well. For example, some assume that there is a correspondence between the amount of knowledge acquired about a given subject (i.e. Bible or theology or the life of Christ) and the level of maturity or obedience. This is not necessarily the case. Also, structured teaching easily leads to evaluation based on performance. Thus, it is possible for some children (and adults) to assume that they are better people because they perform well in the classroom, or for others to assume that they are not as valuable as a person because they perform poorly in the classroom. So, while structured times of teaching are beneficial, there are problems that can arise if this is the only type of teaching and training for the child.

Others have turned away from structured teaching and prefer unstructured, unplanned teaching by example that occurs naturally as the children live their lives with their parents and others. I have found that many people (children included) learn more from object lessons - especially object lessons that come naturally during the course of life - than they learn from classroom lessons. Thus, parents teach their children how to trust God by trusting God themselves. Parents teach their children how to love others by loving others themselves. Being fair, however, there are also dangers with this method of teaching. It is possible for a child (or adult) to focus on one aspect of life with Christ, especially if that aspect is more natural for the child than other aspects. For example, a child could learn much about loving others, but very little about trusting God, because either the child naturally loves but doesn't naturally trust, or because the parents model loving better than trusting.

So, perhaps the best way to disciple children (and people in general) is a combination of the two approaches. We have tried to use both means to disciple our children. They are part of almost every structured teaching that we take part in. Also, we try to teach them in unplanned times that come up in the course of life.

Do you take responsibility in discipling your children? How do you disciple your children now? If you do not have children, or if they are very young, how do you plan to disciple your children? How should we plan and carry out structured times of teaching? How do we teach children by example such that they emulate our good examples and not our bad examples? What part does the larger community of Christ play in discipling children?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Life... in the Journey

Those of us who are in Christ have abundant life in Christ. That abundant life does not begin after we die. Instead, we are to live a new life in Christ now. This is not a life that we live alone. Primarily, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit and, thus, we live this life in the presence of God, by his strength and enablement, and with his direction. Through this fellowship with God, we also have fellowship with other believers. God forms us into a community in him. This community lives together, works together, walks together, learns together, and grows together toward maturity in Christ.

This blog is about living the abundant life in this journey that we call life. Since we live the abundant life in community, this is a group blog. The contributors to this blog are connected to one another through their mutual relationships with God, but they are also connected through personal relationships with one another. The discussions that take place on this blog are instigators, echos, and samples of discussions that take place in the physical world as we attempt to encourage one another in this journey in abundant life.

We also hope that other people who are walking in this journey with Christ will join these discussions through comments and articles on their own blogs. We will gladly link to other blogs and encourage discussions in the comments. In fact, we also encourage those who disagree with us to join this discussion. We need one another. God placed us all together for a reason. We accept that even those who disagree with us are necessary and important for the proper growth of the body of Christ. So, please take part in the discussion.

Life... in the journey is about love, service, justice, unity, discipleship, mercy, hospitality, finances, obedience, family, trust, leadership, community, grace. We will examine Scripture, books, and other blogs to learn about living life with Christ. We will also share our own stories, and perhaps some fictional accounts, that help us live our life in Christ.

Will you join us in this abundant life in the journey with Christ?