Shelters Shatter, Luck Runs Out, but Training Overcomes: Raising Kids in This Culture

youth-trainingCaitlyn (Bruce) Jenner received the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs.

The United States Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states.

41% of 13-17 year olds are on Snapchat; 71% are on one of the 7 major social media platforms.

When should parents begin talking to their children about these issues? Yesterday.

As parents, we have three basic options when it comes to our children and how they will interact with culture. We can shelter them; work to preserve their innocence by cutting off harmful influences. We can hope it all balances out; trust they will assimilate enough good from the world to offset the bad. We can train them; take an active role in helping them process and interact with the world in a Christ-centered way. While all parents will sometimes shelter, sometimes hope, and sometimes train, we will all default to one of these as our main approach.

I contend that every parent’s default mode should be to train their children to approach culture in a Christ-centered way. Yes we must shelter them from harmful influences. Yet the surrounding culture is too pervasive to be ignored and shelters can collapse in a moment. Yes we must trust they will turn out alright because we can’t control everything. Yet the surrounding culture is eager to disciple our children if we sit back and let it.

Now is the time to train our children to engage the world in a Christ-like way. The world, now especially so, is actively seeking to disciple them into its ways. The Bible instructs us to train:

Proverbs 22:6 – Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Deuteronomy 6:6-7 – And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

1 Timothy 4:7-8 – Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.

It’s amazing the time, effort, and money parents invest training their children for sports. I love sports and believe they do great good. What if we applied the same level of effort and intensity we do for a game to godliness? Here’s some of what that might like look like:

We make church a priority we schedule around instead of an option we schedule over.

We are as committed to learning the Bible and growing in faith as we are to learning math and growing in grades.

We watch and listen to entertainment together to discuss their meaning and morality.

We instruct regularly on God’s design for sex, marriage and gender. Josh McDowell (who has been speaking on these issues since I was a teen) recommends beginning in kindergarten.

We discuss the culture around us from same-sex marriage to Miley Cyrus to Caitlyn Jenner to Planned Parenthood so children know how to think about these issues.

We guide into the wise use of technology and install filters, set boundaries, and monitor use.

We invest family time into studying the Bible, prayer, serving, and being a witness.

We create an atmosphere of grace so children to run to us when they fail and fall and not away from us.

I won’t lie, this is hard work. But so is everything else worthwhile in life. The very word “train” should evoke thoughts of an Olympic athlete conditioning every part of their body and adjusting every part of their life to win a medal. We should do the same for a much greater prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)

While children need some sheltering from the world, it is not enough. Shelters can shatter in one minute of internet access, five minutes with a friend, or ten minutes unsupervised. Our work crashes down and our child is unprepared. It is not enough to trust everything will work out. The culture is actively discipling them to follow it. Our passive resistance will not be enough to overcome its aggression.

Children are not tabula rasa – blank slates we can nudge into goodness. They are sinners who desire to “follow the course of this world” and “carry out the desires of the body and the mind” (Eph. 2:1-3). They need a Savior and gospel-centered, grace-saturated, goal-oriented training to live successfully in this life and to prepare for the next.

-Brian

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Woodstock Students Internship

WoodstockStudents logo - w topWe want to raise up the next generation of gospel-centered student ministry leaders and place them in significant student ministry positions around the world. We are looking for men and women who have a passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ, a heart for students, and a love for the local church to serve as interns in the student ministry at First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA. Is that you or someone you know?

We believe student ministry should be about four things: gospel, relational, disciple, missional. We want to raise up students who are grounded in the gospel through all of the Scriptures and for all of life. We want truth to be communicated in the context of healthy relationships among students, leaders, families, and the lost. We want to make disciples who are following after Jesus and making more disciples. We want our students and leaders to live on a mission to make the gospel known and give God glory in every facet of life and to the ends of the earth.

As an intern, you will have the opportunity to minister on school campuses, lead discipleship groups, teach Sunday school, plan events, participate in mission trips, prepare worship services, connect with students, work with media, function as part of a team, and speak to hundreds. You will be coached by the First Baptist Woodstock staff, attend conferences, develop tools for ministry, read good books, gain invaluable experience, and be launched into significant ministry for the future. This is a full-time paid internship that lasts for one to two years and we provide housing. We have interns for both the middle and high school ministries.

Are you interested? We are looking for those who have a call to ministry, are presently involved in ministry, and have graduated at least high school but preferably college or seminary. Click on the link below to find out more and to fill out the application. Mail it to the address on the application or email it to Pastor Brian at brian.jennings@fbcw.net.

Student Ministry Intern Information and Application

If you still have questions about Woodstock Students, check us out at www.woodstockstudents.com.

You can also check us out on instagram and twitter @WoodstockSM, on YouTube and our Facebook page.

If this is something you want to be a part of, fill out the application, send it in, and we’ll go from there! If you have additional questions not answered in the packet, please email us. If God leads, we would love to have you as part of the team at Woodstock Students!

Have More Fun and Less Stress in Preaching!

bad-church-signs-hell1Preaching is one of the most glorious and frustrating tasks in ministry. It feels great to invest in the preparation of a message, deliver it with confidence and clarity, and witness God apply it to the lives of listeners. It also feels a lot less than great to struggle in the preparation of a message, deliver it with fear and fumbling, and wish you could run and hide after it’s all said and done.

Preaching is physically depleting; you speak energetically and animatedly for a long time. It’s emotionally draining; you pour yourself out and the needs of others in. It’s spiritually demanding; you must remain close to and speak for God. It’s mentally difficult; you need to explain, illustrate, and apply Scripture correctly and effectively. It’s personally daunting; your ministry hangs on communication and you’re constantly evaluated.

How do we preach so God is glorified, listeners are edified, and we aren’t terrified? How do we finish a message feeling good and not feeling like sending a resume to the postal service? I’ve finished a lot of messages less than satisfied. Here are six culprits I’ve identified in my preaching that can give me a strong desire to hide in the closet after a message.

Forcing the Bible into my own framework. I have a great message I want to communicate so I cram it into an unsuspecting passage. When the main point(s) of my message is NOT the main point(s) of the biblical author I’m headed for trouble; even if my point is implied in the text or based on godly wisdom. I spend more time away from the Bible, trying to connect my point to it, filling up space with my wisdom, and justifying my authority instead of resting on Scripture’s authority.

Fearing man and not God. I want to impress people. I want their praise. I want to appease critics. I want to avoid offense. I want more and better opportunities. I want visitors to come back, perpetually upset members to recant, and particular sinners to repent. Because of pride, I make man bigger than I make God and worry more about people reflecting my glory back to me than reflecting God’s glory back to Him.

Failing to balance and prune the message. When people lose interest in the message, it’s often because I failed to effectively illustrate and apply the biblical text. I exposit and exegete so long I leave my less biblically fit listeners in the dust. Other times I am overconfident in my content and ability; failing to prune what is unnecessary. As the message drags on and loads up on information, everyone is worn out including me.

Forgetting God’s ongoing work in my life. I forget I’m not preaching by accident. The Holy Spirit has been at work in my life preparing me and my listeners. My sanctification has come a long way but still has a long way to go. My ministry is bigger than my preaching. While it may be the most visible, it is not the only fruit of my ministry. I must deliver my message with a humble confidence in who God is and what He is doing in and through me.

Feeling other concerns and distractions. Yogi Berra famously said, “90 percent of the game is half mental.” I think he meant focus and concentration were crucial to baseball. They are even more crucial to preaching. When distractions from the worship service, church, people, circumstances, and life cloud my mind the message gets lost in the fog.

Finding identity in preaching and not the gospel. According to Ephesians 2, I was a dead slave of sinful desires and a child of wrath. But God, because of His great love, made me alive in Christ so I might know the riches of His grace for eternity. I did not earn this identity, it was a gift. When I’m a great preacher and lives are changed I add nothing to my identity in Christ. When I’m a sorry preacher and I can’t wait to get out of the building I have subtracted nothing from my identity in Christ. If I fail to rest in Jesus, preaching becomes a plea for validation, approval, and significance. If I rest in Jesus, I am free to make preaching all about the glory of God and the beauty of the gospel.

Ultimately, God can take our weakest messages and use them for His glory and let our best messages fall on deaf ears. Preaching depends on Him. And yes, some crowds are tough, spiritual warfare is real, and some things are beyond our control. We can’t manipulate our way to success. Yet, I’ve found if I stay true to the Bible, cultivate a fear of God, balance and prune the message, remember the bigger picture of God’s ongoing work, stay away from distractions, and seek my identity in the gospel my messages are much more fun. Hopefully these observations I’ve made of myself will be beneficial (I especially hope you enjoyed the alliteration in my main points). God help us bear the weight of preaching with the power and grace only He provides!

-Brian

Sports, Ponies & Humanity’s Quest for Community

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image2559459For centuries, most humans found community in fixed and enduring institutions, organizations, and groups. Strong communities were formed through family, religion, tradition, professional, ethnic and national identity. These communities remained relatively fixed and shaped the identities and destinies of their members.

Not so much anymore. Now the individual endlessly customizes, changes, and rearranges their life to fit their personal preference, deciding for themselves who they are and what they want to do. As a result, Millennials are abandoning traditional sources of community like a sinking ships. Half of all babies born to millennials are out of wedlock . Thirty percent now claim no religious preference. They expect to stay in a job for less than three years. Just under half claim to be patriotic persons.

Community based in God, family or country may be fading but the yearning for community is alive and well. Even as many choose not to identify with a religion, plenty are identifying with a team. Just half a century ago only 30% of Americans considered themselves sports fans. By 2012, the number had risen to above 60%. Sports feeds the hunger for community by uniting thousands of people across gender, class, and racial lines. We watch the games and buy the apparel to be accepted and then talk about our teams using pronouns like “we”, “us”, and “our.” Academics Chris Beneke and Arthur Remillard explain the phenomenon in an essay for The Washington Post,

“Modern sports stadiums function much like great cathedrals once did, bringing communities together and focusing their collective energy. This summer, the Archdiocese of New York is expected to outline plans to close or merge some of its 368 parishes; 26 Catholic schools in the archdiocese have ceased operation. By contrast, the city and the state of New Jersey spent hundreds of millions to build new baseball and football stadiums.”

Or consider the phenomenon of My Little Pony, a 22 minute cartoon promoting colorful toys for preteen girls that draws 12 million viewers, has 92,000 followers on Twitter and 815,000 on Facebook. The mantra of the show is that “friendship is magic” and it tells the story of six ponies whose friendship is the superpower that makes the world safe. This picture of community is contagious. It is estimated there are 7 to 12.4 million people in the United States who identify as “bronies” – a name that is a combination of “bro” and “pony” adopted by adult male fans of the show. These fans are typically college educated and between the ages of 15 and 35. They create artwork, post in forums, write fan fiction, wear “cutie marks”, attend conventions (8,000 attended BronyCon in Baltimore in 2013), and do charitable work. The show’s creator, Lauren Faust, explained to New York Magazine that “Friendship is Magic” came from her first real experience of friendship as a teenager:

When I made those friends, they were so precious to me. Sometimes I wonder if that’s the appeal of the show. When you take a look at the Bronies, they’re probably the odder kids in their school. They’re not typical. They must have caught on to that message under the surface of My Little Pony: that friendship means we’re all being ourselves and we’re all accepting of one another.

Humans hunger to be themselves and be accepted by a community. Whether that community is the Big Blue Nation of Kentucky basketball or BronyCon.

Yet our modern idea of community is contradictory. We want all the benefits of real, authentic, enduring community enjoyed by humans for centuries but on the terms of the individual; it cannot be too restrictive, time consuming, or dogmatic. We want community to make us better people while we cry foul every time it intrudes into our personal space. We want it to give us powerful emotional bonds while we remain noncommittal, options open. We want it to be meaningful and significant while we abandon ancient doctrines for slogans and trends. The community our culture wants ultimately doesn’t exist and the attempt to attain it will leave us empty and unsatisfied.

The church can be the answer. Not by conforming to culture’s design by stripping away doctrine, softening commands, and fluffing up worship, but by being the kind of community God gave us in the New Testament. A community that changes people because it has the audacity to intrude into life and tackle sin and suffering (Galatians 6:1-2). A community with strong bonds because it meets regularly for worship, encouragement, and service (Heb. 10:22-25) despite the costs. A community with eternal significance because it is united by enduring and revealed truth from God (Isaiah 40:8) rather than trends or products.

Many won’t accept the church because it’s not on their terms. Yet for those left empty by the culture’s version of community, the church can become salvation – not just from sin and death but from meaningless, anonymous isolation.

Community in the church doesn’t magically happen alongside of programming and a busy calendar. Many have turned to sports and internet for community because churches have failed to be what God has called them to be. Yet if the church has a passion and plan to get people into gospel community the world may see that “friendship is magic” can’t compete with the grace of God in Jesus Christ. It may see that sharing a favorite team is small potatoes compared to sharing membership in the Kingdom of God.

The gospel is the best hope for a culture seeking out community in plastic toys and rubber balls. Are our churches working hard to build gospel-centered community that points the world to Jesus?

-Brian

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New Study Questions Religious Kids’ Grasp on Reality, but Should It?

childwonderThe 1999 Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace, left many fans of the original trilogy scratching their heads. But as annoying as Jar-Jar Binks was, perhaps the most unsettling part of the movie was how it stripped away the mystery of “The Force.” In the first Star Wars movie (1977), Obi-Wan Kenobi explains:

…the Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together…. A Jedi can feel the force flowing through him.

In The Phantom Menace, another Jedi Master reveals – through a blood test – that the force is actually caused by microscopic organisms called Midi-Chlorians which reside in living cells. There’s really no mystery about who is strong in the force. The same test that measures cholesterol can tell if a person has the chemistry to raise an X-Wing Fighter out of a swamp. In other words, the real menace of the first Star Wars prequel is that it kills the mystery and awe that existed long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Enter a new study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science. According to a Huffington Post article, the study claims “young children who are exposed to religion have a hard time differentiating between fact and fiction.” It went on to describe how researchers had come to their conclusion:

Researchers presented 5- and 6-year-old children from both public and parochial schools with three different types of stories — religious, fantastical and realistic –- in an effort to gauge how well they could identify narratives with impossible elements as fictional.

The study found that, of the 66 participants, children who went to church or were enrolled in a parochial school were significantly less able than secular children to identify supernatural elements, such as talking animals, as fictional.

Forgive me for being skeptical, but 66 participants? It sounds like these researchers went to two classrooms in an afternoon and decided to publish a paper on it. To claim all children who grow up with religious teaching may confuse fact and fiction based on 66 five and six year olds seems a stretch.

But let’s say the study is accurate. This would only concern us if we buy into two unwarranted and unproven assumptions.

First, that materialistic naturalism is true. Or to put it another way, there is nothing real beyond what we can measure with our senses and science. Commenting on this study, Yale professor of psychology Paul Bloom said, “The problem with certain religious beliefs isn’t that they are incredible (science is also incredible) and isn’t that they ruin children’s ability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. It’s that they are false.” So there you have it. The problem isn’t that young children might believe a fantastic story but that they might believe the wrong fantastic story; a religious one instead of a naturalistic, scientific one. But if one doesn’t arrogantly presume religious claims to be false, there is no reason to be concerned.

Second, that one of the goals of our progress is to strip the world of a five year old of its awe and mystery. Going back to Star Wars, the introduction of Midi-Chlorians ruined the concept of “The Force” for many fans because it took the fantastic, untamable energy that bound the galaxy together and made it ordinary and measurable. Is that what we want to do to our children? Suck the wonder out of the world ‘cause science says it ain’t so? And if it’s not what we want to do, then why does this study even matter? Is the measure of a healthy five year old that he knows miracles don’t happen or that he laughs, runs, and plays while imagining adventures with dragons?

Eventually our children will grow up and have to face the harsh realities of the world. But it is fantastic awe and wonder that that makes the world better. C.S. Lewis once answered the objection that children should not be told fairy tales in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by saying:.

Fairy stories do awaken desires in children, but most often it’s not a desire for the fairy world itself. Most children don’t really want there to be dragons in modern England. Instead, the desire is for “they know not what.” This desire for “something beyond” does not empty the real world, but actually gives it new depths. “He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.”**

If religious stories and fairy tales do connect with the desires of children for “something beyond” why is that bad? As they grow older they will be able to determine for themselves the truth of these stories. In the meantime, let them live in the wonder and mystery. As Albert Einstein said,

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

If all true art and science comes from the experience of the mysterious then we should spend less time studying children’s ability to define reality and more time letting them stand in awe and wonder. They may be on to something in the world that dreary, hardened, adult researchers have silenced long ago.

Things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done. –Psalm 78:3-4

Brian

**paraphrased by Jon Rigney in the article “Three Objections to Fairy Tales and C.S. Lewis’ Response” posted at Desiring God (http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/three-objections-to-fairy-tales-and-c-s-lewiss-response)

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