Dec 012014
 

I can think of many holiday seasons where the idea of baking cookies, watching snow fall, hanging lights, and listening to holiday music felt nothing but appropriate. I’ve also lived through holiday seasons and am currently experiencing one right now that doesn’t feel holly or jolly. The glitz and the glimmer at times feel like they are actively assaulting my soul, taunting me with triteness, reminding me of things I wish weren’t true of my life and circumstances. It’s true that grief doesn’t just surface in places like the doctor’s office or a cemetery. It can lay dormant waiting to pounce in the checkout isle of Target or during a seemingly benign conversation with a coworker. Christmas can trigger nostalgic joy and happy anticipation. It can also trigger a season of amplified loneliness and grief. It can remind us that our life doesn’t measure up to a Norman Rockwell Christmas card or even our own more realistic expectations.

My heart is heavy this holiday season. My days feel anything but merry and bright. I feel like decking my halls in sackcloth. Bearing the weight of deep sadness, disappointment, and fear my lips struggle to mouth the words of the songs my soul desperately needs on Sunday mornings. Sometimes it feels as though I expend more energy fighting tears than anything else right now.

In this season of giving thanks, I’m reminded that even in my pain there is much to be grateful for. Towards the top of my list is a season called Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It’s an opportunity to reflect on the humble birth of Christ and the anxious wait of His return in glory. It’s a reminder that we live in between the comings of Christ, the already, but the not yet. During this season, we are reminded that waiting, longing, and angst are very much a part of the Christian life. Just as God’s people and prophets groaned and ached for the Messiah hundreds of years ago, we too groan and ache for Christ to return and make everything sad come untrue.

In his book What Jesus Demands from the WorldJohn Piper writes,

When Jesus demands that we rejoice, he has not forgotten the kind of world we live in. It is filled with suffering…For Jesus the demand for joy is a way to live with suffering and to outlast suffering. Therefore, this joy is serious. It’s the kind you fight for by cutting off your hand (Matt. 5:30) and selling your possessions (Matt. 13:44) and carrying a cross with Jesus to Calvary (Matt. 10:38-39). It has scars. It sings happy songs with tears. It remembers the dark hours and knows that more are coming. The road to heaven is a hard road, but it is not joyless. 

Much of this quote reflects exactly what Advent means to me. Advent is about a deep, serious, abiding joy that doesn’t ignore the pain of life but doesn’t buckle underneath its weight either. It acknowledges the difficulty but continues to trust, hope, and rest in a faithful, loving God. Advent gives me permission to celebrate in the midst of all of my hurt this December. It reminds me that Christmas is at its core about a God who enters into our suffering and pain and keeps His promises. So I will light candles and hang lights and I will sing those happy songs with tears. Just like God’s people many years ago I will wait as they waited and I will long as they longed.

Come Lord Jesus, come redeem us, we will wait for You.

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Photo Credit

Oct 292014
 

Chances are that if you’ve volunteered for any length of time in one of our classroom, you’ve encountered some less than desirable behavior.  Our immediate response can sometimes be shock.  We’re at church after all.  Why are all these sinful children here?  Where are the perfect ones?  This response is often followed with panic.  What do I do?  Even seasoned parents and veteran teachers often find themselves unsure of how to handle situations with someone else’s child.  When should I ignore?  When should I intervene?  How do I have a conversations with a child that targets the heart rather than the behavior when there are 29 other kids here as well?  Trust me, I’ve been there too.

While there is no list I can give you that will magically prepare you for each situation with each child, there are a list of guiding principles we’d like to remind you of when faced  with some of these challenging situations.  Let’s take a closer look not just at the “what” and the “how,” but also the “why.”

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What Our Goal is Not
In his book Christless Christianity, Michael Horton writes,

“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city?  Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio.  Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastured), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other.  There would be no swearing.  The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday…where Christ was not preached.”

Our goal on Sunday morning is not a group of perfectly behaved children.  Our goal on Sunday morning is for children to hear, believe, and understand the Gospel.  Part of this is seeing our sin, recognizing our need for a Savior, and realizing that no amount of righteousness on the outside can make us right before a holy God.  We intentionally try to make our lessons Christ-centered rather than man or behavior centered on purpose each week.  As Donald Grey Barnhouse shared so many years ago, there is a real danger to  making our end goal behavior in and of itself.

Tedd Trip reminds us of this as well in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart:

“God is concerned about the heart—the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4:23).  Parents (*teachers) tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart.  We tend to worry more about the “what” of behavior than the “why”.  Accordingly, most of us spend an enormous amount of energy in controlling and constraining behavior.  To the degree and extent to which our focus is on behavior, we miss the heart.” 

“The church borrowed the old “you listen to me, kid, or I’ll cuff you” method of raising children.  It seemed to work.  children seemed to obey.  They were externally submissive.  This method fails us now because our culture no longer responds to authority as it did a generation ago.  We lament the passing of this way of rearing children because we miss its simplicity.  I fear, however, we have overlooked its unbiblical methods and goals…Let me overview a biblical vision…it involves being a kind of authority, shepherding your children to understand themselves in God’s world, and keeping the Gospel in clear view so children can internalize the good news and someday live in mutuality with you as people under God.”

When we miss the heart, we miss subtle idols, the Gospel, and the Glory of God.  Yet, we also know that a completely chaotic and unsafe environment  will often cause us to miss these things as well.  How do we address the heart and do our part to create classrooms where children feel safe and are able to hear, participate, and engage with the lesson?

Again, Tedd Tripp reminds us that we have the ultimate example of what our roles should be as someone in authority:

“Jesus is an example of this.  The One who commands you, the One who possesses all authority, came as a servant.  He is a ruler who serves; he is also a servant who rules…You must exercise authority, not as a cruel taskmaster, but as one who truly loves.”

One of the best things we can do is to exercise our authority as a ruler who serves and a servant who rules.  That means not making a child’s behavior about us (something I struggle with consistently.)  That means that we don’t handle it through manipulation or other practices that seem easier or as a “quick fix” on the surface.  That means we don’t handle things cruelly, but we also don’t roll over either.  We set healthy boundaries.  We say no.  We pull kids aside to have conversations when necessary.  We communicate with parents and get their input (partnering with parents is one of our core values, after all.)  We target the heart rather than the external behavior as much as possible.  Here are just a few practical tips that may help you in the trenches on Sunday mornings.

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The “What” and “How”

  • One way to “love” and to “serve” the children we shepherd is to be proactive, thoughtful, and intentional about the environment we create.
  • Sometimes we can anticipate hindrances for them, but also hindrances for us.
  • We are all sinners serving sinners and out of an overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak.  Take time to prepare yourself to serve on Sunday morning.  Pray for individual children who may have trouble on Sundays.  Ask God to soften your heart toward them and give you wisdom as you interact with them.

Practical Proactive Tips

Getting their Attention

  • Clapping
  • Turning off Lights
  • Show me your listening eyes, ears etc…
  • “If you can hear my voice say ________,” etc…

Transitions

  • Not Everybody All At Once—“If your birthday is in ___________,” “If you’re      wearing _________________,” etc… 
  • Agenda/ Sequence of Events—Let children know what you’re planning to do,     if/when you’re having snack, order of events, etc…  This is especially helpful for students with Autism or other special needs.
  • Time Frame—“In a minute, but not yet.,” Counting Backward, Song, Giving a Time Constraint with Reminders (In 3 minutes, in 1 minute, etc…)

Developmental Appropriateness

  • Kindergartners and 5th Graders are both alike and different.  Consider adapting your strategy based on your audience.

Proximity

  • Sit near child, move closer, etc…

Movement

  • Recognize and honor need for movement
  • Change things up
  • Limit Pocket Time

Transitioning/Distributing Materials

  • Centralized Location?
  • Pass Out Ahead of Time?
  • “Leading into temptation…”  (If I sit this in front of them, are they going to play with it instead of listening to directions, and will that drive me nuts?)

Multi-step Directions

  • Break into smaller chunks
  • Have children repeat
  • Model/Show Example

Take the Time to Listen, Laugh, and Have Fun

  • Individual conversations/relationships
  • Morning Meeting

What happens when “proactive” doesn’t work?

  • Check our hearts first.
  • Go back to the why: Go back to the heart.
  • Remember that when we miss the heart, we miss subtle idols, the Gospel, and God’s glory.
  • Have an individual conversation.
  • Ask Questions (See Wise Words chart in the Elementary Cabinets.)
  • Pray for/with child.
  • Communicate with families.

And sometimes we’ll then need to recognize that even after doing all those things, we still won’t have perfectly behaved children or classrooms and that as we talked about earlier, that’s o.k. because that’s not the end goal.  Moments like this are opportunities for us to remember our limitations.  Moments like this are opportunities for us to remember who is really in charge, who really changes hearts.  They’re moments for us to pray and preach the Gospel to ourselves.  They’re moments to remind us of what Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson say in their book, Give them Grace:

“We are always to do our best, striving to be obedient and to love, nurture, and discipline them.  But we are to do it with faith in the Lord’s ability to transform hearts, not in our ability to be consistent or faithful.  Seeking to be faithfully obedient parents (*teachers) is our responsibility; granting faith to our children is his.  Freedom to love and enjoy our children flows out of the knowledge that God saves them in spite of our best efforts, not because of them.  Salvation is of the Lord.”

Know that we pray for you and your time with children each week.  Also know that we’re here to support you when these situations arise, and pray for us as well.  We are all still in process with all of these things.  More than anyone else I know, I need God’s grace and wisdom in this arena of life on Sunday mornings.

Jul 252014
 

I’ve been struggling with headaches for two years now–ever since I was done nursing my last child. They seem to have gotten more frequent–about once a week I end up in bed.

I’ve linked them to lack of sleep, sitting at my computer/behind the wheel, lifting kids, and stress in general, at various times. Sounds like every mom I know, right? I’ve tried all kinds of remedies. Nothing has definitively worked; some have helped minimally.

This post is not to complain or have you feel sorry for me or to help me fix my headaches. The only reason I share this is that my headaches have served an important roll in my life lately. They’ve pointed me to an issue that keeps coming up over and over. God seems to use difficult or just annoying things in our lives to do that, doesn’t he? Continue reading »

Jul 222014
 

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Last Sunday as I pulled into the parking lot, I took notice of the construction site around the building in a new way.  This is because a large chunk of my last week was spent in a remote village in the mountains of Guatemala working with a team of people from The Crossing and Guatemala to build a new church.  When you sit down to have a conversation with their pastor, Miguel Anjel, it would be easy to focus on the ways his job is different from ours.  He works in an extremely impoverished area where the basic needs of those he pastors quite often are not met despite the grueling way the people work.  He works in an area where most of the people are Mayan and speak a dialect of Quiche, a language the Bible has yet to be translated in and a language that the people quite often only know how to speak, not read.  He lives on the side of a mountain, a mountain people quite often have to hike up an hour or more just to attend church.

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When I listened to Miguel talk about his church and his people, though, I was more struck by what we have in common.  When Miguel talks about what’s happening in Chuabaj, he talks about how God is changing lives.  He tells stories of people whose hearts and lives and marriages and addictions and pain are being transformed by the Gospel.  When Miguel talks about how the rough structure they currently meet in can no longer contain the flood of people who walk up and down the side of a mountain, he talks of making room for someone else the way others made room for him.  Even organizing a lesson for the children of the church reminded me of Sunday mornings at The Crossing.  Originally we were told to expect 40 children.  When we opened the doors, a stream of 88 made their way into the room!  Our culture, our language, our geography all might be drastically different, but our similarities are all the more impressive.  They too are building to change lives.  They too are making sacrifices, albeit far more drastic, so that others can hear the Gospel.
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You are likely aware that The Crossing financially supports the ministry of ASELSI in Guatemala along with supporting Ron and Sally Widbin.  The Crossing also sponsors two trips each year where The Crossing pays for the supplies the group will need to accomplish what the group will do for the week.  This year a large chunk of the $5,000 went to build a church in Chuabaj.  When Ron and Sally went to purchase the building supplies, they were met with complete disbelief.  Disbelief that a group of Americans would care about what God was doing in their village.  Disbelief that 28 gringos would carry the supplies up and down the hill alongside their Guatemalan brothers and sisters.  Disbelief for how the Lord provided for them through people they had never met.  Disbelief that what was once a lofty dream for the region is slowly becoming a reality.  They were overwhelmed by the generosity of The Crossing, the first church in Guatemala or the U.S., to partner with them in this way.  They prayed for us, they cried tears of joy and amazement, and they even killed their own chickens that they worked so hard to purchase and raise to make all 28 of us an extremely generous lunch.  They gave their very best.  The truth is, the members of this church continually give their very best.  The labor on the church is done 100% through church volunteers who give up a day’s wages to create a place for more people to worship.  Aside from The Crossing’s donation, those same cinder blocks are purchased as people who have very little give what they do have.
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Whether you realize it or not, God is using you to grow His kingdom, not just in Mid-Missouri but all over the world.  He is using you, your talents, your finances to change lives both in Columbia and in places like this remote mountain village in Guatemala.  Over and over again the people told us to share their thanks with those who sent us.  Thank you.
Jul 182014
 

Earlier this month, I stumbled upon a great post while reading Kevin DeYoung’s blog. At first glance, I thought this post, 10 Promises for Parents, was another helpful list of verses to use with our kids to encourage their faith or use in our prayer for them. Instead, DeYoung shares 10 verses that are promises of God that will encourage parents and spur them on in their parenting. Because, let’s be honest, parenting our children can be hard work. We know in our core we can’t do it on our own. We can see our failures daily in the way we disappoint our kids, loose our patience with them, and helplessly watch them struggle with friends and grades and behaviors.

Yet, we are not alone. God is with us. He sees our struggles and failures and he continues to walk beside us in our parenting. Our holy and great God gives us some beautiful promises in His word to remind us of his character and covenant with us. God’s promises should encourage us immensely. Consider: His promises will never be broken. There is nothing we can do to keep God from keeping His promises. God will fulfill his promises to us because He is just and true. Kevin DeYoung’s list of 10 promises for parents was balm for my soul on a rainy parenting day when my kids were a mess, my house was a mess, and my heart was a mess. God sees my mess and He still keeps His promises to me.

Here is Kevin DeYoung’s list of 10 Promises for Parents. Parents, savor these promises.

1. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3). Since the verse refers to trials ofvarious kinds, I assume that James is talking about more than martyrdom and death. Sleepless infants, tortuous bedtimes, muddy feet, spilled orange juice, moody teens–they all count too. And we should count them all joy, even when they feel like the biggest pain. God promises he’s at work to produce steadfastness.

2. “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:10). You’re tired, scared, defeated, weary beyond all reckoning. Good. Get low, and God promises to lift you up.

3. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). It doesn’t depend on me. It’s not about me. My kids are not for me. Stop freaking out. Stop trusting in horses and chariots.

4. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). They are. They really, really, truly, actually are. Whether you have one child or two or ten or twenty, God has given you those children because he loves you. The world thinks they are burdens. God tells us they are blessings.

5. “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Yup, that verses is for parents too. The anger in our kids is from their hearts, but the mouthy way they learn to express that anger may be from our example. Why do I think my gasoline will help put out their fires?

6. “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Proverbs 16:32). The only way to be a strong parent is to be a parent with self-control.

7. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Parenting is hard work. Period. But parenting up to the expectations of your (fill in the blank: mother, mother-in-law, girlfriends, next door neighbor, own little taskmaster) is impossible. Parent for Christ’s sake. He promises not to weigh you down with impossible burdens.

8. “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). God knows that you sacrifice your time, your desires, your sleep, your money, and often your own dreams for your children. He sees and he smiles.

9. “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox” (Proverbs 14:4). Everything is a mess, all the time. What else did we expect? We have dirty oxen running around. But there’s joy, memories, laughter, sanctification, and gospel growth from those wild animals too.

10. “But he gives more grace” (James 4:6). Ah, sweet grace. Grace to forgive your impatience (again) and your laziness (again). Grace to get you off the ground. Grace to get you walking. And grace to lead you home.