Proverbs 22:6 – Sermon – There’s An App for That, Kids

Proverbs 22:6
There’s An App for That

Being parents wasn’t really hard for Alycia and me until the colic hit. This is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. Every night starting around 5pm Dean would break out in an uncontrollable scream and it would last until midnight or sometime later. Alycia would massage him to calm him down. Baths seemed to help at times. We would sing to him, bounce him, drive him around, rock him but the screams would continue. I felt even worse for Alycia because by the time the colic hit I was back at work and I had evening meetings, so I had an escape. She had none. But it was in those moments of struggle and pain that we realized we were truly parents. We are truly responsible for this little bundle of joy. This helpless little, round, chunky, cute little thing was ours, now what?

There are lots of moments we have in life when we realize that yes, we have replicated our DNA and now I’m responsible for the result. I asked my Facebook friends when it became real to them and some replied when the drove home from the hospital. It is scary how slower the car will go when there is 8 pounds of flesh and plastic in the back seat for the first time. Other’s said it was when they were first left alone with their new child. Those were mostly Dads that said that, my Dad included. For others it was that first night when they were peed on or pooped on or thrown up on, or all three at once. One of my friends she said, “When our first [child] came 5 weeks early…. I knew it would be nothing like I had thought or planned! I keep learning that over and over and over!”

Another person said the baby thing was easy, now that they are talking and talking back is when it is getting frustrating and hard. I have come to the conclusion every stage in childhood has its ups and downs, I know shocker! But at every stage we, as parents, keep wondering, “It’s going to get better right? They will grow out of this, God please say they will grow out of this.” In a movie I saw recently one of the characters explained having kids like this, “Its awful, awful, awful, a wonderfully sweet moment, awful, awful, awful, a tender sweet moment, awful…” You can get the picture. Sure this is an exaggeration but on some level it is true. Parenting is hard work, fantastic work, frustrating work, wonderful work, and a life time of work. The good news is that we are not alone in this task.

For every United Methodist Minister they have to answer Wesley’s historic questions before they can be ordained. There are some that talk about fidelity, money, prayer, and ministry. Then there is this one, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” Out of all the questions there is no other age group mentioned. Not the elderly, not the middle aged or young adults. The only age group mentioned is children. There must be something to this?

There are a lot of references to children in the Bible. Jesus tells us “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:4) He said this while telling the disciples to move out of the way and let the children come to him. Children are important in our faith tradition. God gave the gift of children all the time in the Bible. Abraham and Sarah, after many years, were finally given a child by God. Their son, Isaac, pleaded with the Lord to send him and Rebecca a child and after 20 years of marriage he sent them twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob had two wives, (remember two sermons ago) and Rachel could not bear children until God opened her womb and then she died giving birth to the second, Benjamin. Samson’s mother was childless until Samson. Elizabeth was old and barren but God granted her a child as well, John the Baptist. All throughout the Bible God granted this gift upon people and God still does.

But even if you have never been able to have children or never really wanted them, you still have them because you are a member of this congregation. We are blessed with 60 children and youth in this congregation so we should understand the promise we made to them. We said, With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. This is the promise the congregation makes at every baptism. We as a community promise to surround them with love and forgiveness. We as a community promise to pray for them. We do all this in order for them to grow in their trust of God, be faithful in their service to others, and to walk in the way that leads to life. For every child we baptize here, this is what you promise. It is in this moment that the child being baptized is not merely the child of the parents up there, but also a child of the church and now we are responsible for them. We are all parents.

How do we handle this responsibility? Youth is started back up and this brings to mind a wonderful little story in the Bible. After Elijah is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind, Elisha is left without his rabbi and friend. Think of it this way, Elijah is Obi-Wan Kenobi and Elisha is Luke Skywalker. Okay Elijah is gone and Elisha is probably said and misses his teacher. He is walking along and all of a sudden a gang of youth start to make fun of him. To quote 2 Kings 2: 23 “As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!” Elisha gets a little agitated about this curses them and then two bears to come out of the woods and maul 42 youth. This is everyone who has ever been picked on in Middle School’s dream. I always make it a point to remind youth what could happen if they act up and pick on preachers!

Okay that is a little bit of a stretch but how are we as a congregation supposed to deal with children and youth, our kids? Today’s verse gives us some perspective, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” The Message Translation puts it this way, “Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Whether we are training our children or pointing them in the right direction it means we, as adults, have to have some idea of where they should be going. We have to know what path leads to a good and faithful life in God if we have any hope that our children will find it at some point in our life.

As our children grow up the scariest moments for me are when I realize they are just like me. If I watch Dean there will be moments when he does some mannerism that stops me in my tracks because he does what I have always done. Whether he has watched me to it or if it is embedded in his DNA, it was just like me. That is scary. No you know what I am talking about because as adults we have all had that moment in life when we do something and we think…”ah man…I’m my father” or “that was so my mom.” We are like our parents and our kids will be like us. This is because we adults are the source of knowledge, discipline, and examples our kids see.

Our children are not born into our faith. Merely because you are born to Christian parents doesn’t mean you are a Christian. Now for the Jewish faith this is true because to be Jewish is both a religion and a race. For Christians though it is different. There comes a moment in everyone’s life that we make a profession of our own personal faith. Sometimes this comes during confirmation when we ask 6th graders to profess publically that they believe in God and in the salvation found in Jesus. But for others it will come later in life. What this means is if we want our children to grow up to be Christians than we need to be the examples they can follow, mirror and strive to be like. But in reality the choice will be up to them. Or as Anne Frank put it, “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”

Parents we have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask are we doing everything we can to do what the Proverb says, “Train children in the right way?”
When I went to THE University of North Carolina located in Durham, I had the privilege of taking ethics with one of the best theologians in the world, Stanley Hauerwas. It was a big thing. He is world famous in theology circles and he was named by Time Magazine America’s Best theologian. It was a big deal to be in this class and I was excited about what I would learn. That first day in class he looked at all of us wide eyed students and in his high pitched voice he told us, You do not know how to think. It is my job to teach you how to think.” He also went on to tell us “to raise moral children then we need to realize that ethics cannot be taught, ethics is an activity.”

Children don’t know how to think, they have to be taught. Children don’t know right from wrong, they have to experience it and witness examples of it. Children will one day be able to think and act on their own but how they handle that will depend on what they see in us, the adults their lives. If we want our children to grow up and use please and thank you, then we as parents need to ask them to do things using please and thank you. If we want children to think about others and who give graciously to help those in need, then we need to be doing that. If we want our children to worship God, pray, and read the Bible, then they need to see us doing it. If we want our children to see God as the most important thing in life, then we need to make sure God is the most important thing in our life. This last one is hard because for many of us we make our children the most important thing in our life. In order to give them the proper perspective we have to let our kids understand they’re not the most important thing in this world, God is.

As adults we are the example and image of who are children will become. Our decisions and ways we live our lives influence how the 60 children and youth will live out theirs. If you look back at your childhood and look at the adults who influenced you, many of them weren’t your parents. They were your Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, the candy guy at church, or the people that always made you feel welcomed and loved. They were the people who took seriously the promise at your baptism to love you into a deep relationship with God. Are we doing enough to be that example for those children we made that promise to? Are you following the proverb to, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

And all God’s people said…Amen.

What My Little Girl Will Learn

My niece is crazy into the whole princess scene. She can quote Little Mermaid word for word at the age of four. Everything is princess. I know my 6 month old little girl will probably go through a similar phase. But what do these movies teach the little girls about being a woman. (via Neatorama) has a picture which sociologically deconstructs what little girls learn from these princesses. Thought it was interesting. I guess the bar is set pretty high at a very early age for girls/women theses days. If you aren’t pretty enough, you won’t go anywhere in life. (click image to go to link if it is hard to read.

They also provide one for the boys too about how to attract said women.

…The Children in Every Place

As I sat in Stuart Auditorium this past June, listening to the business of the Western North Carolina Conference, an statement caught my attention. Bishop Goodpaster was asking the ordinands the historic questions. I thought he did a great job with this because when I went through with a past bishop the microphone was placed in such a way that we had to look at the bishop’s back as he asked the questions. Goodpaster had a similar setup but insisted that the ordinands bunched up and moved to the side of the stage where he could look them in the eye. As he asked the questions he would pause here and there and reflect on the meaning behind the question.

He paused after asking this questions, “Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?” He told the annual conference that John Wesley was only mentions one age group in the questions, children. There is no mention of the elderly or young adults, only children. I found that very powerful.

This year for Charge Conferences, one of the main questions we as a congregation have to report on is how are we living this out? We are launching a children’s fellowship on Sunday nights and will be having a confirmation class in January (first one in three years). We can answer this question with confidence at Trinity, but many church’s cannot.

In our Charge Conference packet they also provided some other stats on why ministry to our children is so important. Here is one of their points…

The Barna Group, researching the spiritual lives of persons in the USA, concludes that persons ages 4 to 13 have a 32% probability of accepting Christ as [their] savior and promising to serve him as Lord. For ages 14 to 18, that probability drops to 4%. For the remainder of the adult life, the probability of accepting Christ is 6%. 58% of people in the USA never make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. If churches do not teach the children and invite them into a relationship with Christ and the church, the odds of those children becoming Christians later in life is at best one in ten.

We have been blessed to have 53 children under the age of 10 (one just born today). This is only the fourth month in the last ten years we won’t have someone pregnant in our congregation. For a church of only 190, that is incredible. Yet if we don’t minister to our kids, only five will become Christians as they get older. With all the pulls in our society, we as a church need to pull a little harder, maybe even yank, to make sure we are living up to our promise when we were ordained but also what we promise each time a child is baptized.

1 in10…not on my watch!

Matthew 28:16-20 – Sermon – Mission Statement Part II

Matthew 28:16-20
Mission Statement Part II

Last week I introduced the new mission statement of Trinity UMC. It is…Serving Christ, Making Disciples. Last week I talked about the importance of having a mission statement that can guide and direct us in our ministry. The Long Range Planning Committee came up with this new one which was accepted at Administrative Council. This mission statement gives us purpose and reason. It gives us what we need to focus on and how we need to be church for this community. Last week I talked about what it means to serve Christ. It means to follow the example of Christ and to be willing to get dirty. So dirty that you are washing feet. We have to be willing to follow Christ where Christ goes and love the way Christ loves. To serve is to follow.

This week I am talking about the second part of this mission statement, Making Disciples. This is found in the great commission that Jesus gives the disciples before he leaves them in Matthew’s gospel. Hear again that commission statement from the Gospel of Matthew 28:16-20. [read scripture]

We, as disciples of Christ, are to make more disciples. But what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower of a teacher. In Jesus’ day people would be called to follow a rabbi and learn from that rabbi. The rabbi would only choose the best of the best to follow him. These disciples would follow the rabbi so closely that as the scriptures says, ‘they were covered in the dust from their sandals.’ They would learn his interpretation of the scriptures, his worldview, and his ways in order for that disciple to teach others the ways of the rabbi. We are called to make disciples who can teach others the way of our rabbi, who is our savior. We are called to help created people who follow Jesus so closely that they are covered in the dirt from his sandals.

But how do you do it? How do you make disciples? That is when we get to this dirty word for us mainliners, evangelism. I was at Wal-Mart the other day shopping for some band-aids with Dean. I had Dean in the cart who is a little too excited about picking out band-aids to cover his skinned knees. When we get to the isle there is an older man who is standing in front of the selections. We pull into the isle and Dean and I attempt to look around him to decide whether to go with Diego or Handy Mandy, all while thanking God they didn’t have Lighting McQueen and Mater band-aids because then Dean would want to wear all of them at once. It was during this prayer of joy that I notice the man is not moving and as I look up I can tell that he wants to talk with me. As he starts to talk he reaches his hand into his pocket and pulls out a track.

Now I have received plenty of tracks in my life, those little comic books that end up telling you to accept Jesus as your personal savior. I have found them on gas station pumps, urinals, and concession stands. And I think I have already mentioned that I received one in the middle of the woods from a man carrying a shotgun. I don’t know what it is about me but people think I need to be saved and I need to know Jesus. So as this gentleman in the band-aid isle in Wal-Mart starts to go into his rehearsed speech, I stop him midsentence. I told him that I appreciated the gesture but that I am a minister here in town. I wanted to say, “Look this is really a bad way to bring people to Jesus. When I am at Wal-Mart I like to get in an out and you are interrupting that process. Plus I have a 2 year old who is annoyed he cannot pick out band-aids. This may not be the best way to do evangelism.” I left the isle with Handy Mandy Band-aids and a track telling me to say a prayer and be saved from hell.

When you think about evangelism you may conger up an image like that, I do. I mean that is why we have so many Baptists that worship with us, they trying to save us, right Henry? There is a book called Reclaiming the Great Commission that puts evangelism in a different light, one that I prefer. It says that to make disciples there are three keys to someone’s proclamation. This is the way to make an invitation for someone to join in our faith journey. “This invitation communicates three distinct but powerful nonverbal messages to the unchurched person: 1. I have a faith by which I live. 2. I am part of a community of faith. 3. I am proud of my community of faith and believe that you could benefit from being part of it.” That doesn’t sound too hard does it.

Evangelism is an invitation to join in on a faith journey. It doesn’t need to be walking up to strangers at Wal-Mart and asking if they know Jesus as their personal savior. It is talking to the people you know and inviting them to participate in the church you love and that you think they could grow by coming here as well.

I know what you are thinking but you’re wrong. “Jim, everyone I know is a member of a church. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t go to church.” Yes, I said it, you are wrong. The Stewardship Team has been getting our roll books on an excel spreadsheet. We have 191 people on our roll. We average 90 people a Sunday. That leaves 100 that call this church home that we don’t see on a regular basis. You are related to them. You call them friends. They are people who need to be re-invited to join in on the journey of faith.

Outside these walls there are even more people. The Western North Carolina Conference has joined up with a new company to provide some demographical information about our conference. This company allowed me to go in and ask for specific reports about the community around our church. I asked it to give me some stats on the people who live one mile away from 609 Liberty Dr. I got some interesting results and some that are scary. Did you know the population increased by 15.2% from 1990 to 2000 but only 2.2% from 2000 to 2008 and is only projected to grow 1.6% by 2013. This means that we are not in a growing area. The fastest growing ethnic group is Hispanics who are projected to grow by 13.1% by 2013. Our neighbors are changing. People ages 18-24 will grow while single and young families will decrease. The average household income is $40,827 and number of single parents will grow by 17.4% by 2013.

The scariest stat for me comes out of the “Adult Religious Practices” section. 18.4% said that “my faith is really important me” which is above the state average. Still, only 18.4% of the people said their faith is important, that means there are 81.6% of people who think it isn’t. Here is what really hurt. 14.9% of people said it was important to attend religious services. 15% of the people living within a mile of this church think it is important to attend the 5-7 churches in the same area. 85% of the people think going to church isn’t important. I really don’t know what to do with that.

What this means though is all those people you know who are members of churches may not be attending them. It is our job to let them know that church is worth attending. If you enjoy worship here at Trinity than what is holding you back from sharing that with the people you know? Why is it so hard for us to say, “I really love going to church, do you want to join me some day?” That starts the discipline making process.

The church continues that process. Remember a disciple is one who follows the teachings of their rabbi. In our case that means we need to learn what our scriptures and savior teach us. Trinity needs to be providing opportunities for people off all ages to engage in growing in their faith through Bible studies, small groups, Sunday School, retreats, mission projects and worship services. Once people come through the door they need to know ways they can grow in their faith. This leads to some hard questions though. This means that we have to start asking ourselves, “Is what we are currently doing Making Disciples?” We have to ask ourselves is the stuff that makes up the life of this church focused on Making Disciples? If not, do we need to let that ministry go or do we need to start something new to speak to that need?

There is another area, beyond your neighbors, that we can all help make disciples and that place is at home. You are not born a Christian. You can be born Jewish because being Jewish is a race and religion, Christianity is not. Even if you are born to and grow up with Christian parents at some point you have to make the decision for yourself that you would like to be a Christian too. It is a decision that each individual has to make for themselves. One way we can make disciples is making sure that our children understand the importance of having a relationship with God. To do that means making God a priority in our lives.

Growing up I knew that was not the case for my Dad. My mom was the one who dragged us to church week in and week out. If my mom and sisters were out on a Girl Scout trip and it was just my Dad and I at home, I knew we were sleeping in on Sunday. Yet, when I was in youth group something changed. My Dad started to take his faith seriously and started to attend worship regularly. Even when it was just my Dad and I we would wake up and go to church. He gave me an example to follow and whether I knew it or not I was learning that Church and God came before everything else.

Our society tests us on this fact. Our children have tons of opportunities on Sunday morning that competes with what we do here. I also know that we lose that battle much of the time. I don’t have any magic words or special talents that will make what we do here on Sundays at 11:00 more impressive, more special than what the world offers. I have rattled by brain to figure that out. This is what we, as a congregation promise to do: We will surround this child with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust in God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. It is a promise we as a congregation make and we are failing our children when we don’t make church a priority. We are not making disciples.

Growing up, if I had the option, I would have chosen anything else but church. But what I learned in Sunday School, the little bits I picked up in sermons along the way, and the people that had a life changing effect on my life, all came from attending church on a regular basis. I am a disciple today only because of those experience. It laid the ground work, the foundation, for me to hear a calling in my life. We have to demonstrate that to our children if we have any hope that they will be followers of Jesus Christ one day too. If we chose sports, sleep, and society over church every week, we will lose that generation because they will not have a foundation for anything to be laid on.

Disciple Making is a huge task. It means reaching out to people and letting them know that we have a faith we live by, a faith community we are a part of, and that they might be able to grow by coming along with us on this journey. We need to be making changes in our church to make sure that people can say this about Trinity and that we are offering up what is needed to grow disciples. We also need to be willing to be the example for the disciples we love the most, our children, and place a priority on God.

Like I said, our mission statement gives us a wide range of opportunities and is what we need to drive our congregation into the future. We have to Serve Christ by reaching out and loving people. We need to Make Disciples by looking at the people around us, our neighbors and the people we live with and asking them to come along with us on this journey of faith. When we do that we are living into the great commission that Christ gave us. When we do that we are serving Christ and making disciples.

And all God’s people said…Amen.

Making Disciples of our Children

This week I am discussing the second part of our new congregational Mission Statement, Serving Christ, Making Disciples. Disciple making is what Jesus tells us to do in the Great Commission. We do that through baptism and through teaching them what Jesus has taught us. For most of us we think about making disciples by going out and doing it with individuals we call ‘strangers.’ Yet I believe one of the most important, vital, and hardest jobs we have is making disciples of our children.

You are not born a Christian. It is a choice that everyone makes some time in our lives. Being born of Christian parents does not equal you being a Christian. This means that as Christian parents we have to do a better job raising our children to be Christians. This means we have to show them that a life with Christ is the most important thing in our personal lives and make their Christian formation a priority.

That is something young parents are having a hard time dealing with in my community. (WARNING, I JUST STEPPED UP ON MY SOAP BOX) In my last post I mentioned that only 15% of the people within a mile from Trinity think that attending worship is important. I would like to suggest that many of those 85% are also have a membership in one of the 5-7 churches within that mile radius too. The thing is church is not a priority.

Parents in this community are committed and loving but just not to church. I have at least three families who are gone almost all spring because of travel baseball. Their 7-9 year old sons play in baseball tournaments all over NC. These are weekend long (Friday-Sunday) tournaments. I have other families who are committed to dance and travel dance competitions and recitals during the spring as well (gone 5 weekends out of two months). I have other parents who say they just can’t get up in time for church. We only have one service and it is at 11:00 am!

I am not against having kids play in sports or extracurricular activities. I cannot wait to be on the field watching my son and daughter play sports. The thing is on Sunday morning there is only one place they will be, church. When we choose sports over church we are teaching our children that church is something you do when there isn’t something better to do. We are then raising athletes instead of Christians. We aren’t involved in disciple making.

I have had grandparents complain that “sports on Sunday just didn’t happen when we were raising our kids.” Yes, it is a cultural change to have sports programs setting up games on Sunday morning but here is the thing. If the parents thought church was so important that they didn’t allow their kids to play on Sunday morning and all of a sudden half the team wasn’t there on Sunday morning…maybe they would switch their schedules around? Yet when the parents show up (on time of course even if it is early in the morning…another soapbox post for later) and the grandparents show up to watch…we are simply giving them permission to continue with the schedule making.

It would be hard for a grandparent to look their grandchild in the eye and say, “I’m sorry I’m going to miss your game but I have to go to church. I think being in church is that important. I love you and I’ll be here for your afternoon game.” If we are going to make disciples of our children, we have to demonstrate how it is done by living it out in our own lives and making it a priority. When my son and daughter are 25, will they be better people because they were on a ball field 5-6 nights a week when they were 9 or because they were in church and learning about how to have a deeper relationship with God? (Stepped off my soapbox)

Paternity Leave

Tomorrow I am discussing paternity leave with my DS. I think it is wonderful that the UMC offers the same amount of time for fathers as they do mothers. I took time off with my first child and plan to do the same with my second (more details to come). Has any other father taken this time to be with their family? What message does this give the congregation (positive and negative) ?

Here is what the policy is as found in paragraph 356 of the Discipline states:

Maternity or paternity leave, not to exceed one fourth of a year, will be available and shall be granted by the bishop and the cabinet, and the executive committee of the board of ordained ministry to any local pastor, probationary member, associate member, or clergy member in full connection who so requests it at the birth or arrival of a child into the home for purposes of adoption.

1. Persons desiring maternity or paternity leave should file their request with the committee on pastor-parish relations after consulting with the district superintendent at least ninety days prior to its beginning to allow adequate pastoral care for the churches involved to be developed.

2. During the leave, the clergy member’s annual conference relations will remain unchanged, and the health and welfare benefit plans will remain in force.

3. A maternity or paternity leave of up to one-quarter of a year will be considered as an uninterrupted appointment for pension purposes.

4. Compensation will be maintained for no less than the first eight weeks of leave.

5. During the leave time, pastoral responsibility for the church or churches involved will be handled through consultation with the committee on pastor-parish relations of the local church(es) and the district superintendent.

6. Special arrangements shall be made for district superintendents, bishops, and those under special appointment.