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!

catching fire

Who Is the Enemy in the Hunger Games?

catching fireThe previews and posters for Hunger Games: Catching Fire implore us to “Remember who the enemy is.” But who or what is the enemy in this series?

Author Suzanne Collins describes a dystopian future where the remains of the United States have fallen under the oppressive control of The Capitol which rules the twelve districts of Panem from which it obtains resources to finance its lavish lifestyle. To maintain control, the Capitol hosts annual Hunger Games where they select two tributes from the children of each district to fight to the death in an arena for the entertainment of the nation. The Hunger Games tells the story of Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She volunteers as a tribute in the place of her sister and fights in the games, eventually emerging victorious alongside her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark. Their victory becomes a powerful symbol of rebellion against the Capitol and has the potential to unite the districts in revolution.

The villain of The Hunger Games is the Capitol and its blood-scented ruler President Snow. Before entering the games Peeta says, “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than just a piece in their Games.” And later, after the death of a tribute Katniss contemplates, “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.” The Hunger Games series seems poised to tread familiar territory – a group of unlikely, semi-reluctant freedom fighters are out to overthrow oppression; see Star Wars, Harry Potter,  Braveheart, etc.

Yet Collins is a different kind of author and The Hunger Games is a different kind of story. Collins’ grew up with war. Her grandfather was gassed in World War I and her uncle received wounds in World War II. When she was 6, her father left to fight in Vietnam and she struggled with his absence. Upon returning, he endured nightmares that lasted his whole life. Her family moved around with the military, spending time at West Point and Brussels. Her father took every opportunity to educate her about the realities of war. A family trip to a castle which she imagined would be “fairy-tale magical” became a lesson on fortresses. She says, “My dad’s holding me back from the tour to show me where they poured the boiling oil, where the arrow slits are. And then you’re just like, wait a minute! This isn’t what I had in mind.”

Collins’ inspiration for the Hunger Games came one night while flipping television channels between reality television and Iraq war coverage. Concerned about the desensitizing effect of television on younger viewers, she decided to write a series that would educate teens about the realities of war – like her father did for her. She says, “If we wait too long, what kind of expectation can we have? We think we’re sheltering them but what we’re doing is putting them at a disadvantage.” She rejects any attempt to morph her books into an allegory for the struggles of adolescence, saying, “I don’t write about adolescence. I write about war for adolescents.”

Enter The Hunger Games. The world created by Collins is devoid of anything transcendent. There are no churches, no mosques, no temples, and no religious beliefs of any kind. Religious names have disappeared; Michael, Mohammed, and Mary are replaced with Primrose, Peeta, and Plutarch. There is no expectation of life after death or any purpose beyond the daily struggles of existence. Katniss’ initial exchange of herself for her sister is noble but she fights in the arena simply to survive. She helps others along the way so she can live with herself should she escape. Neither she nor anyone else is fighting for love, truth, justice, liberty, goodness, or any other transcendent quality. Even the desire for freedom is grounded in dislike of the Capitol’s oppression, not any belief about the right of humanity to be free. The general motivation of those who oppose the Capitol seems simply to be: Capitol bad, anything else better. When Katniss asks what people want to replace the Capitol with, she is told a republic with elected representatives because it worked in the history books. A far cry from Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty or give me death” or the bold declaration of inalienable rights each human is endowed with by their Creator that inspired the first American republic.

For all its cruelty and vanity, The Capitol is an inadequate enemy for Collins. The real enemy of The Hunger Games is war. That is why Panem lacks anything transcendent. Love, justice, liberty, religion, etc. are not worth fighting for because the ultimate problem is the fight itself. As the series continues this is why each character in the story becomes morally compromised; war dirties us all. This is why the body count rises exponentially; war spares no one. This may be why many readers left the final book of the series “Mockingjay” feeling disheartened. As the top reviewer on Amazon states, “When I first closed the book last night, I felt shattered, empty, and drained.”

This is not Harry Potter’s fight for love which, though it claims many lives, ends with love victorious and the world a better place. Readers and viewers alike will wrestle with the question: Is the world of The Hunger Games a better place after Katniss’ efforts or has the enemy of war ultimately won?

There is much to commend about The Hunger Games. Collins creates a fascinating world with compelling characters and a narrative that sucks the reader in and refuses to let go. It also pushes back against the glorification of violence and the emptiness of the media in our culture. Katniss herself has good qualities; she sacrifices herself for her sister, serves others (if occasionally for selfish motives), takes responsibility for her family, faces adversity with courage, and possesses unique talents and abilities.

Yet Katniss is a hero without conviction. She is largely motivated by survival, anger, and pragmatism and is not guided by any purpose, truth or standard beyond herself. She exists in a world that lacks any meaning or higher cause worthy of sacrifice. Should war and conflict be vanquished in Panem, will the people have anything to live for besides a higher standard of living?

The gospel story is different. It features a hero who believed so strongly in love and justice that he died a violent death so both could triumph. He gave us a world full of meaning, lives with incredible purpose, and a cause that makes every sacrifice worthwhile. Yes, there will be war, conflict, and struggle. But when the author of the gospel is finished writing the story of this world, we will not be disheartened but will have inexpressible joy that goes on forever.

-Brian

Interview of Suzanne Collins from New York Times

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YEC East Session One

At the end of January I had the chance to speak at YEC East for SBCV in Virginia Beach. I had a lot of fun and was blessed by Matt Papa and Kristian Stanfill leading worship and illusions from Harris III. Below is my message from Exodus 14 from the Friday night session for those churches who were able to brave the snow and make it out!

Brian Jennings: YEC East from Innovative Faith Resources on Vimeo.

On Your Shelf: A Bible and an Elf

elfonshelfThat latest research confirms 2.5 million American homes have adopted a new Christmas tradition: Elf on the Shelf, a storybook accompanied by an actual elf doll.

Any family can have an elf. Elves are adopted, taken home and given a name. Once a year, during the Christmas season, families read the elf story together and their elf comes out of hibernation! He is placed prominently in the house so he can fulfill his chief task: observing behavior. Each night, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa all the good deeds and not so good deeds. It is from these reports Santa makes his final gift decisions.

The elf moves around the house all throughout the Christmas season…you never know where he will show up: the freezer, the bathtub, under the table or on top of the ceiling fan.  It is with great anticipation that children wake up to find him in his new spot each morning and with great diligence they behave well for him throughout the day. After all, Christmas presents are on the line.

As exciting and magical as the Elf on the Shelf tradition might feel during the Christmas season, the reality of being constantly observed and then rewarded based on behavior is a weighty burden for everyday life. Many wrongly believe this is how the God of the Bible relates to humanity.

Unlike the elf, God never sleeps (Psalm 121:4). He sees and has always seen all good and evil deeds on planet Earth. Unlike the elf, God does not see our physical actions only, but straight through to our thoughts and motives, hearts and souls (Jeremiah 11:20). Unlike the elf, God is not logging a report of  behaviors (Psalm 103:10-13) to determine the kind and number of gifts He will give; He is storing up wrath against sin (Colossians 3:6). Those who have rejected Him will suffer that wrath (Romans 2:8). Those who have repented and believed in Jesus will escape it, as He stands in their place (2 Corinthians 5:21).

God isn’t looking down to separate the good little boys and girls from the bad; He came down because we were all bad (Genesis 6:5, Romans 3:10). It is because we are bad God freely offers the greatest gift known to man: the free gift of salvation and eternal life in Christ (Romans 6:23). Even on our very best, most well-behaved day, we cannot earn it.

In the comings and goings of your household this and every Christmas season, consider what you most desire to impart to your family. What will you lift the highest, teach the loudest and champion with the greatest zeal? Will it be the earning of temporary gifts by offering temporary good behavior to a temporary tradition? Or, will it be the truth of an eternal God Who came for a hopeless people to exchange their bad behavior for His righteousness? The true answers to these questions will come years from now, from the mouths of our children.

In the gospel, God gave to us because he loved us, not because of our behavior. May Jesus Christ, infinitely greater than the elf, be the source of your joy and worship this Christmas.

Thanks be to God for His inexpressible gift!” – 2 Corinthians 9:15

-Emily

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Sheep of Justice: Who Are the Least of These in Matthew 25?

Well, 2011 is at a close and we want to thank all of you who have read, shared, and commented on the articles here at the Entire Gospel! To celebrate the end of this year and kick off the next, we are going to reveal and repost our top 5 most viewed articles of 2011! Coming in at number 5 is “Sheep of Justice”:

Are you sure you know what a passage in the Bible means? Be sure to check yourself before you wreck yourself (and anyone who will listen to you). One Sunday night I planned to teach on the parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew 25. I was looking forward to the opportunity to do what I had done numerous times before – press my hearers to abandon their selfishness and involve themselves in ministry to the poor and hurting of the world. But as I studied and wrestled with this parable I ran into a problem – that’s not what Jesus was saying.

You know the parable. At the end of time the Son of Man will come in his glory and gather all nations before him. He will separate out the people like sheep and goats based on how they treated the “least of these”. Those who gave them food and drink, who welcomed them, clothed them, and visited them while sick and in prison are the sheep. Those who did not are the goats. The sheep depart to eternal life while the goats depart to eternal punishment. So this is a pretty big deal.

Now for those who think Jesus is teaching we must earn our way to heaven through acts of social justice let me put your mind at ease.  When understanding Jesus’ parables it is important to know who his audience is. In this case, it is his disciples (Matt. 24:1) who are already in the kingdom of heaven. This parable is not telling them how to enter the kingdom but how those in it will live. If this parable was addressed to the crowds it would be a different story, but it’s not (?). It is telling those who are already sheep how sheep will live their lives between Jesus’ first and second coming.

Now for those who think we are off the hook, let me disturb your peace. The reason it seems Jesus sends people to eternal life based on these actions is because he meant it to seem that way. Actions of mercy to the “least of these” flow so naturally from saving faith that if someone does not do them it brings into question whether or not they’ve met Jesus. To put it another way – feeding the hungry and clothing the naked won’t save you; only faith in Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection will do that. But that kind of faith necessarily produces acts of mercy and kindness to the “least of these”. Sheep act a certain way. If you don’t act like a sheep you’re probably a goat.

Ministry to the “least of these” is vitally important for anyone claiming to be a follower of Christ. So who are they? Anyone that is hungry, thirsty, poor, sick, or in prison, right? After all, this is one of the key passages for those claiming Jesus’ message was ultimately one of social justice – not one of personal salvation.

Setting aside Jesus’ overall message, that is not his message in this parable. The “least of these” are not just anyone, but the hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or imprisoned who are followers of Christ and thus part of His body. While we’re familiar with the phrase “the least of these” we are less familiar with the two critical words that follow it – “my brothers”. Who are Jesus’ brothers? I’ll let him answer from Matthew 12:49-50:

And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

A brother of Jesus is his disciple who does the will of his father; in other words, a Christian! Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus call anyone a brother if they do not believe in him. Now the parable begins to make more sense. The people in prison sheep are to visit are probably persecuted Christians. The reason meeting the needs of the “least of these” is like ministering to Jesus himself is because they are part of the body of Christ. Craig Blomberg in the New American Commentary explains the phrase “the least of these my brothers” this way:

Who are these brothers? The majority view throughout church history has taken them to be some or all of Christ’s disciples since the word “least” is the superlative form of the adjective “little ones”, which without exception in Matthew refers to the disciples, while brothers in this Gospel when not referring to literal biological siblings, always means spiritual kin.

The parable of the sheep and the goats shows Jesus’ followers the critical importance of caring for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world after his first coming and before his second and may be the fuel behind the radical sharing of the early church in Acts 2:45.

Two questions arise. First, can’t we go on applying this parable to all of the needy in the world? We can’t because it would be a lie. We would be misrepresenting Jesus Christ and using the Bible for our own purposes. Second, won’t Christians lose their passion for the starving and suffering of the world? No they won’t because Jesus addresses the needs of those outside the faith elsewhere. While they may not be our brothers, they are our neighbors who we are commanded to love as ourselves as seen most clearly in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Just because the Bible teaches something, doesn’t mean it teaches it in every passage. Let us faithfully teach each passage of Scripture without having to bend it to our agenda. At least that’s probably what a sheep would do.

-Brian

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