The Most Important Message Your Kids May Never Hear

While I don’t want to be negative about the future of the church, I just have to look around at the rate at which we are losing our kids and then just keep making resolutions about doing all I can to awaken parents. While traveling down the road on the Lord’s Day and contemplating the need to get moms and dads to see the urgency of godly parenting, I stopped in to a congregation of His people. It was a Sunday night and the congregation I had visited earlier in the day was blessed to hear Brad Harrub speak on the family, so I had family on my mind. I sat near the back behind a father and his two young sons, one about 12 years old and the other, perhaps sixteen. The sixteen-year old was accompanied by his girlfriend. The youngest son had on a t-shirt advertising a beachside bar, the father wore an expensive, leather decorated fishing shirt, and the older son and girlfriend were nicely, albeit casually dressed. 
The lesson was taken from the early part of Revelation, specifically having to do with the church at Laodicea in chapter three. It was about the danger of becoming lukewarm. The young preacher described the wealth of the community in which we were worshipping, the ease with which the families in the church there daily lived and the danger of becoming absorbed in material things, while becoming nonchalant about spiritual things and about the sacrifice of Calvary.  As he did, all of these three young people played on their individual cell phones.  He talked about the people who were uninterested in the things of scripture and how the Lord wanted to spew them from His mouth. Even as he spoke imploringly about this, they showed each other their incoming texts and they laughed at messages appearing on each other’s phones. Occasionally they would involve Dad in the fun, as well. From my vantage point, it was hard to listen. I sincerely hoped they were community visitors. But they were not.
One little girl walked forward during the invitation song and asked to be baptized into Christ. It was a moment of rejoicing and I noticed the father in front of me moving toward the aisle, as well. His younger son looked at him questioningly and he explained that he needed to go help with the baptism. He saw that several of the men had already gone behind the baptistery, so he decided it would not be necessary for him to go. Then the older son and the girlfriend exited out the back door while the song before the baptism was being sung. 
Now I know that I am not omniscient, but some things seemed apparent to me:

  1. This father wore the name of Christ, since he had been assigned the task of working in the baptismal room.
  2. These folks were affluent people since all four of them were dressed nicely and had cell phones.
  3. These children were not the least bit interested in the worship service.
  4. This father was oblivious to the need for them to pay attention to the lesson about overcoming a lukewarm mentality.

I know I could possibly be mistaken in my assumptions. Perhaps this father was doing the best he knew. Maybe he was a new Christian. Maybe his wife had left him with these young sons to rear alone. After all, she wasn’t there. But, whether or not this is true, I know that, all too often, parents in churches across our land are living a message of materialism in front of our children that is louder and clearer than any message about spirituality that may be heralded from our pulpits or in our classrooms. When we accept half-hearted worship, allow our kids to enter and exit the auditorium at will, and smack gum during the song service, we shout our own disinterest. When we can get “majorly” worked up at a ballgame, but give a yawning nod to the sermon and check our messages two or three times during the service, we convey other messages to our kids about priorities. 
I don’t know exactly why I need to get this “off my chest.” I realize that those who are reading this are mostly moms and grand-moms who are very serious about bringing up children for the Lord. In this sense I am “preaching to the choir.” But something inside me just feels so sorry for the children. So many are “poor little rich kids.” They have everything money can buy, but they are spiritually destitute. And the longer they go through the formative, growing years without spiritual nourishment, the more dull they will become to their hunger for the Word. They will be affluent. They will be “with-it.” They may even be community movers and shakers. But they will be lost. 
The message from the pulpit that night was exactly what those kids in front of me needed to hear. But the cell phone messages were more interesting, the messages in chatter were more compelling and the message of indifference from Dad was overwhelming. May we, as parents, not get in the way of transmission of the most important message our kids can hear.

A Much Needed Recovery Operation

I could add little to the many reports and testimonials you’ve heard about the devastation brought by last week’s storms in and around my home state of Alabama. Suffice it to say, that, after praising and thanking my God for my family’s safety, I looked around and learned a lot of needed lessons about priorities, power, and peace. It’s in the calm after the storm that introspective contemplation results in spiritual resolve.

The very best of healing for the hearts of my family in Christ at West Huntsville happened last Sunday morning. After praying for this family for 3 days of very limited contact with each other, we came together, as we always do, on Sunday morning. It wasn’t just like all the other Sundays. We didn’t get hot showers before we came and whatever we had eaten for the past three days had been cooked over an open fire. Some of us smelled like charcoal smoke and, for the first time ever, the preacher wasn’t wearing a dress coat. It was hot and there was no air conditioning. We met in the foyer instead of the auditorium where we could see one another’s faces clearly as we worshipped in the light that streamed in through the glass entry wall. Chairs were packed in the large foyer and the two huge stairways and an upper walkway were packed with people, too. Though over half of us were missing, because many had evacuated or gone to places with electrical power, it was still a big family.

And family was just the feeling we had in that room as we sang praises to our father and remembered out older Brother around that makeshift communion table. Before and after the service we hugged each other and shared our thankfulness for mutual safety. Those hugs were extra tight and there was great comfort in them. I realized as I sat there on a high stair beside four of my favorite five and six-year olds, who were all about flashlights and generators and creeks that had turned into rivers, that this fellowship and worship was really what I had needed most. The tension of the chaos and real-life drama of the past few days just seemed to lift with the echoing praises and then ascend to the throne on the wings of prayers led by faithful men. We sang about being true and faithful and trusting Him. We sang about going to a bright and blessed place on a day of rejoicing. We sang about how, in spite of the wreckage all around in our temporal worlds, that all is still well with our souls.  I have never seen a body of people more prostrate in spirit before His throne as we reckoned in our souls with His power and faithfulness to provide for us, His children. I knew that at the table with my family, I would find the first real calm after the storm…and I was right.  It was a time of reassurance and renewal.

We’ve been so blessed. It is our West Huntsville family that gets to carry the food and gift cards and chain saws and assistance to others whose lives have been damaged beyond full repair this side of heaven. It’s members of our family who’ve attended funerals of neighbors and friends, rather than those whose funerals have been conducted. We can praise Him with the prophet:

For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat (Isaiah 25:4).

 

Questions and Answers: What about Attire for Worship?

Question: 
Does the way people dress (jeans, t-shirts, shorts, etc) make a difference to God when we come to a worship service? I don’t mean if you don’t have nicer clothes because of a lack of money, but, in general, shouldn’t we be giving God our best? Does that reflect our respect for/faith in God?

Answer:

This is a difficult question and one that I think remains in the area of judgment, to a great extent. It is my judgment that we should make the best presentation that we possibly can make to our God. This would primarily include the obeisance of our hearts, the humility of our characters before Him and the respect for His authority that would cause us to strive to worship Him exactly as He has prescribed. However, I believe that most of us would naturally want to appear before Him to worship in clothing that would reflect respect and an attempt to honor Him in a way at least similar to that we would wear when being presented to an earthly magistrate. I believe, out of respect for the office of the President of the U.S. we would, if summoned, give our appearance attention and dress in the nicest clothes available.

We must, though, as in so many areas of practical Christian living, exhibit a sense of balance in our dress. If we were to attempt to wear the very best every time we worship, wouldn’t that limit our attire for worship to the same outfit every time we worship (assuming we each have one best outfit)? That seems to me to be a bit of an extreme. On the other hand, if I take no thought about preparing for the worship services, I might often appear in the same clothes I was wearing to weed the garden or clean the toilets. This seems to me to be the other extreme of the worship attire spectrum. It is my judgment that we should find ourselves somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, taking care to be neat and clean and respectably dressed, but also taking pains to avoid dressing in a way that would portray an emphasis on the outward attire rather than the motivation of a pure heart. So, in short, we should determine to give God our best and follow our Word –trained consciences about what that includes.

Although I cannot tell you exactly what attire might be appropriate and what might not, I can tell you some attire-related decisions with which I’m pretty sure God is not pleased.

One is the decision made by a woman to criticize a young ball player for showing up at the gospel meeting in his ball uniform. Did she think about how blessed she was to have in her congregation a young man who, although he was an integral (you might even say crucial) player on his team, walked off the field in a late inning in a very tight game because he was more committed to the Lord than the team? Pretty sure God was not offended by his decision or his attire. I think He was glorified. And I think he was likely ashamed of the woman who made the call to criticize this faithful young man.

Another is the decision many young women make each Lord’s day to attend worship services wearing scanty clothing that surely must make it difficult for men who might sit near them or glance in their directions to keep their thoughts pure as they offer their worship. As I spoke with a friend one day about the assembly in her town, she told me that several of the men of the congregation had specifically asked not to be listed to serve communion in the “college section” of their building because these men admitted that they had difficulty focusing on the cross when the dress in that section tended to be so immodest. I’m pretty sure God was pleased with the decisions of these men to avoid the temptation placed before them. I’m pretty sure He was not pleased with the dress of the girls in that section. Just recently I worshipped at a congregation in another state and sitting at the Sunday school table with me was a college student whose V neckline plunged to the bottom of her breast line. The skirt of her dress was a good six inches above the top of her knee as she stood. I was glad she was in an all girls’ class. But then of course, we proceeded to the main event of the Lord’s Day—the worship. It was there that a faithful young man was serving the communion in her section. I feel for such young men.

Yet another is the decision portrayed in James chapter two to exalt the person who dresses in “fine clothes” and wears the gold ring, while humiliating the one who wears the dirty clothes. God’s view of this attitude is made very clear in verses one through six:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
2 For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in,
3 and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, You sit here in a good place, while you say to the poor man, You stand over there, or, Sit down at my feet,
4 have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
5 Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?
6 But you have dishonored the poor man.

Most of us can likely make wise choices about what to wear if we envision ourselves sitting on the pew beside the Lord when we arrive at the place of worship. Most of us can guard our attitudes about what others wear by asking ourselves what He would think. This “if-Jesus-were-here” decision monitor can help us make so many decisions if we are honest with ourselves. The key to following through with good choices is remembering that He is with us wherever we go.

Where’s the Joy? (part 3)

THERE IS JOY IN REPROACH     

“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled’” (1 Pet.3:14). “But rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy” (1 Pet. 4:13).

First Peter is the epistle on suffering. It is replete with exhortations and encouragement for those first century Christians who were being persecuted for their faith. We thank God in our assemblies today for the privilege of gathering to worship without fear of persecution. That line was not in their prayers. We ask God to help us be faithful unto death. This was not mere rhetoric in their prayers. The tyrannical powers of the Roman Empire were thirsty for the blood of Christians. The methods of torture inflicted on believers were unthinkably inhumane. Real life issues for them were not about whether or not it was socially acceptable or politically correct to confess the Savior. The issue for them was whether to confess and die or deny and live. While 1 Peter was written against this backdrop of incredible persecution it could just as aptly be called the epistle of joy, for joy and hope fairly oozed from the parchment as the words of this great apostle were read in the quiet and hidden rooms of worship.   These were Christians who, earlier in the same day, had likely been placed in real and perilous situations because of their alliances with Christ. The Holy Spirit was, through this letter of Peter, giving people who desperately needed comfort, security and hope, a reason to leave those secret assemblies with determination to endure for Christ, whatever the cost. 
      
We sit on padded pews in buildings that have large signs in the yard proclaiming that what we are doing inside is worshiping. In our assembly each week, there are police officers and elected officials, who not only endorse what we are doing in the service of Christ, but participate heartily. So when 1 Peter is read in our meeting places, we may not receive the same blessing they did in the first century. Some may even think the comfort offered in 1 Peter seems like overkill in our comfortable society.  After all, a spiritual survival kit like I Peter is hardly necessary when we have it so easy…or is it?
      
Consider the words of Paul in II Timothy 3:12:
      “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
      
I’m convinced that if we are His…really living godly lives in Him, we will suffer some form of persecution. I’m convinced that if my life is void of sacrifice and any discomfort resulting from my faith, then my faith is not what it should be. I think of our teenage girls today in the Lord’s body. I look at the styles of clothing that are the norm in our society. I cannot imagine a teen girl today who exhibits modesty at all times not being excluded from certain activities or facing taunting because of her “different” look. I think of the entertainment crazed culture around us and am sure that those who refuse to be entertained by movies laced with profanity and sexuality must be excluded from certain groups or activities and face the ridicule of their peers. I reflect on the materialism that drives parents, even in our churches, to allow others, even non-Christians, to be the primary caregivers for their children.  When I think about this societal norm, I come to the conclusion that those who choose to sacrifice income for Christian child-rearing are doing just that…sacrificing for the cause of Christ. So how does joy factor into this picture of sacrifice?
      
I confess that, at times, it’s difficult to recognize the joy in sacrifice. But I believe joy results from sacrifice, first, because if 1 Peter teaches anything at all, it teaches this.  Secondly, I believe joy results from sacrifice because I understand that the biggest part of Christian joy happens when I’m finished living here on earth. (1 Peter says that, too. Check out chapter 1, verses 6-9.) Thirdly, I believe that sacrifice comes from joy, because the fact is recognizable in my life and in the lives of those around me. My daughter was baptized on a night when she was sacrificing a play rehearsal in order to attend a gospel meeting. That was a time of joy. I know of many teens who’ve sacrificed parties, proms, movies and more because they were Christians. I don’t know a single one who regrets having made the sacrifice for Christ. I know of many who wish they had.  I know a host of mothers who’ve given up careers to fulfill godly roles in the home and 100% of those I know who have done it have experienced joy because of this decision.
      
Finally, I know there is joy in reproach because of the words of Christ in Luke 6:22, 23:

Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you,    
and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of    
Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your    
reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the         
prophets.

This is a promise of Christ. The reaction that I should have to this promise is specified. When I am blessed, yes blessed, with an opportunity to sacrifice something that’s important to me, to be excluded from a group of my peers, or to be ridiculed because of my spirituality I should rejoice and leap for joy!  I can do this but it takes a retrospective look at the prophets who have already suffered for their faith (verse 23), and an anticipatory look, by faith, into heaven (verse 23). What this means, in practical terms, is that I can do this IF I stay in the Book. When I am buoyed by the victories of those great heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11 and by the precious promises of my God, I can rejoice when I am called to suffer reproach in this life. 
                                
YOU ONLY GO AROUND ONCE
So you might as well be joyful in Christ. You can view Christianity as a life of restrictions and that’s what Christianity will be…restrictive. You can view Christianity as a life of joyful commitment and that’s what it will be. If you view it as a joyful commitment, you can say with Paul,  “For this reason I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed (emphasis added) unto Him until that Day.” And that Day will be the most joyful of all!
      
Oh, by the way, the happiest man I know is not in an asylum.  He is an elder who studies his Bible and seeks to restore, to reproduce spiritually, and often bears reproach.  His joy is found in his commitment.
      
(This post and the previous two are taken largely from ‘How Shall I Be Remembered?” Edited and produced by Freed Hardeman University Associates and available at Freed Hardeman University Bible Bookstore.)

Do You Trust Him?

I went to lunch recently with a couple of friends from a denomination who wanted to talk about women and ministry. It seems they had a close girlfriend who was an extremely talented speaker. “She’s got this amazing ability to convince and convict non-believers. She’s a better preacher than any man we know,” they said. “Don’t you think God expects her to use her talents to speak to people about him?“

The answer is “yes.” Of course there are settings in which all of the talents God has given me can and should be used to His glory. But just because I’ve been blessed with a talent, doesn’t mean there are no divinely imposed restrictions regarding the use of that talent. My husband is a great guitarist, but he does not play the guitar in worship. My daughter is a great cook, but she doesn’t prepare her famous macaroni and cheese for the communion table. I like public speaking. Is that a talent I can use in worship to God?

Let’s look at the passage from I Timothy 2 again: “Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived was in the transgression (1 Tim. 2:11-14).

In a context that is addressing worship issues, women are commanded to be silent. They are commanded not to have authority over or dominate a man in worship. Before we address the reasons given in the passage, let’s look at a parallel scripture:

Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church (I Cor.14:34,35).

The devil has often used the tool of feminism in our society to make God’s people ashamed to adhere to clear teachings of the New Testament about the role of women in worship. After all, this is the 21st century. Women are astronauts, engineers, CEOs and presidential candidates. Can we really continue promoting this antiquated notion that women are to be silent in our worship assemblies?

Romans 12: 2 tells us “…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”.  Sometimes when we think of worldliness, we think of immorality. We think of drinking, gambling, reckless affluence, and illicit sex. But being conformed to the world is simply allowing the culture around us to influence us to disobey God.  The teachings about a woman’s role in worship are some of the plainest teachings in the New Testament.  We need help to misunderstand them.  The fact that they are not politically correct in our culture does not change them.

Frequently, I will have someone ask “Couldn’t this teaching have been for Paul’s culture only? Does it necessarily apply to women today?”  In our text, it is almost as if the Holy Spirit anticipated this question. Notice he proceeds to give the reason for the command: “For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.”

Notice that the reason, (what happened in the Garden of Eden), has to do with people far removed from Paul’s culture. In I Peter 3; 4, 5, Peter reiterates the submission principle, in this case speaking about submission of a woman to her husband. Notice the woman who modeled submission for the first century Christian women was Sarah. But Sarah lived a couple of millenniums before the first century.   She was definitely not part of Peter’s culture.  See, the teaching about submission in the church and in the home is not a culture-limited teaching. It began in the Garden and continues to apply in God’s new covenant.  It applies throughout all eras of time and across all cultures.

While I can see many reasons for God’s imposed limitations for women in worship, it’s important to remember that whether or not a command makes sense to me is irrelevant to its importance or the consequences of disobeying it. As a matter of fact, if I choose to obey only the commands that make sense to me, then I am not really trusting God. I’m not really doing what God says because he says it. I’m doing what I think is best. While our faith is a reasonable, logic based faith, it goes a step beyond logic. Faith says “I will obey when it makes sense to me and even when it doesn’t, because I trust that God knows what’s best for my life.”

But remember. The answer to the question about whether I should use my teaching talents in the kingdom was “yes.” So if I cannot teach in worship, then how can I use this talent?

I know a young lady who started a community Bible study for ladies in her hometown. She obtained permission to use a town hall and soon had about 50 women in attendance, half of whom were not members of the Lord’s church. I dare say she was reaching more non-Christians with the gospel than her husband who was the local preacher. But was she in any way having authority over men? No.

I know a teenager who started a weekly devotional for girls via email. Her weekly emails strengthened and blessed the lives of dozens of girls each week. Was she using her teaching talents for the kingdom? Oh, yes. But she was not violating the passage. 

My daughter and I often have the chance to speak for ladies groups:  ladies’ days, teen girls’ days, ladies classes at lectureships, girls’ sessions at youth rallies, mother-daughter banquets, youth camps and retreats. All of these are wonderful times of fellowship and learning for all involved, especially us. But in none of these cases are we violating the passage. 

It has been my experience and observation that those of us who are concerned about being Titus 2 women (as noted above), evangelizing the lost, and caring for the needy have far more to do in the kingdom than we can possibly accomplish in this lifetime, without clamoring for positions of leadership that God reserved for men. It has also been my observation that when women step into positions of leadership in worship, important jobs best done by women (the care of their children, hospitality, the guiding of the house) are neglected. But let me say it again: It doesn’t really matter if I can see the wisdom in the prohibition. God said it. Faith is doing what God says to do. Period.

The Hard Part of Worship

Once I sprayed the clothes I was ironing with cooking spray. Another time I sprayed under my arm with hairspray. I’ve stored the Saran Wrap in the refrigerator and accidentally emailed things to myself. I steal something almost every time I go through the self-checkout and have to go back in and pay for it. I have called my cell phone from the landline, so that I could find my phone and then, when it rang, I answered it. But the other day, I added this to my long list of blonde activities: I shaved one of my legs and thought “This razor is too dull. I’m going to get another one.” I got out of the tub to throw it away and get another, when I felt the dull blade with my fingers and realized the plastic cover was still on the brand new razor I was about to toss. I have glasses to help the vision problem, but last I checked, they aren’t doing brain transplants. That shave was a perfect example of doing something “in vain.” I went through the motions, but affected no change whatsoever.

My friend, Jennifer Webster, recently said that her 8 year-old daughter asked her dad if he thought it would be wrong to pray that the tooth fairy would bring her ten dollars for her lost tooth. Her dad answered, “I guess it would be alright to pray for that, but that would probably be a good example of praying in vain.” Again…something ventured, nothing gained.

In vain…Jesus said that it’s possible for us to worship in vain. Remember doing something in vain is going through the motions without the desired effect. Hear Jesus:

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:9)

In the context, this passage was addressed to people who honored God with their lips and came near to him with their mouths, but their hearts were far from him. It is important to remember that the God we serve reads minds and hearts. We may have all of our ducks in a row in the eyes of men, while God sees the chaos of our hearts. We may be doing all the right things, while God sees all the heart’s sin. We may be praising him on the outside and rebuffing him on the inside. He knows. When our lips are 100% and our hearts are struggling in the single digits, He knows. In this case, when we praise God with fervor and teach things that are inconsistent with His Will, He easily identifies the vanity of our worship. I constantly remind myself of His omniscience, because my lips honor Him and my mouth draws nigh to Him in a very public way almost every weekend as I travel and speak to women. I want to be sure all that travel, expense and, most of all, that worship, is not vain. I ask Him to help me never teach the commandments of men, but I need to study more. I constantly ask Him to help me be all about the cross and His glory and never about my glory when I talk to ladies, but I need to pray more and with more focus. I pray about my heart and about the hearts He will bring to the sessions, but I need to evangelize more. I want my heart and life to be on the same page with my mouth.

Just remembering we can go through all the right motions and yet, if our hearts are “out of range,” it’s all for naught can help us to get our mouths and our hearts in the same proximity around His throne. Worship, done right, requires a lot of intellectual effort. That’s the heart part and the hard part. That’s the part that makes me want to teach for doctrine His Will and His Will only.  That’s the part that conditions my will for the tough things once I’m out the door of the house of worship. The hard part of worship is what makes resisting temptation outside of worship a little easier. It’s the heart of worship that produces the desired effect.