Thinking Out Loud

August 13, 2017

For the Grandmas

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:19 am

Her daughter didn’t take the boy to church, so when she heard that he was willing to spend a week with him, she knew that this would be an opportunity to share the Jesus story with him. As an experienced children’s worker, she had no shortage of resources at her disposal to do this.

The boy responded positively, and knowing that her daughter might never give permission for this to take place in a church, she took the boy down to the lake and baptized him, something not entirely unusual in her faith tradition.

The mom was not pleased…

…She never mentioned him again in our subsequent conversations and as it had been at least a year, I got curious this week and asked her how the young boy was doing with his faith.

She said when she saw him recently, he ran toward her and gave her a hug and said, “Hi Grandma. I still have God.”

I still have God.

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November 13, 2015

Before the Kids are Born, Decide Which December Story You’re Going With

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, parenting — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:38 am

jesus_asks_santa

Had an interesting discussion yesterday with the grandmother of a young girl who, although she has grown up in a Christian home, has been saturated with the Santa Claus story as well. And now that she is getting older, the reindeer are coming home to roost, so to speak.

The grandmother, caught between a North Pole and a hard place, is trying to ease the pain by — wait for it — buying the girl some extra gifts for Christmas this year. I hope she signs the cards as being from Grandma and not Santa.

This girl knows that Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. But the jolly fat man with the red coat and white beard seems to be an equal part of the story. And if Santa isn’t real, what about the thing about the baby, the manger; and shepherds and wise men and sheep, oh my? In her brain, she is probably wondering when that ‘myth’ gets deconstructed.

So why do we do this to our kids? What do we introduce a narrative as if it’s true, knowing that at some point we are going to have to tell them it is false. Did you grow up with Santa? What are you telling your kids?

July 14, 2014

You Hear Stories Like This…

Filed under: parenting — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:32 am

The stories like the one that follows are always anecdotal things that have been passed on from unknown sources. You find them in the back pages of Readers Digest or on email forwards or on Facebook. Never from someone you know with zero degrees of separation. Never knowing if the stories are true or just creative writing…

We got to know Jim Forde through a small group we attended a few years ago in Peterborough, a city about 90 minutes northeast of Toronto.  Since everybody was from ‘somewhere else,’ we tended to meet only every six weeks. Recently, I discovered Jim on Twitter and last night he posted this, creatively bending the 140-character limit.

James FordeA year ago a family in our church lost their son in a tragic boating accident. He was just 18. I was asked to do the funeral with the local community youth pastor giving a message at the end. He was the perfect choice to speak. The youth had been trying to figure out how to be a play hard and love God. The speaker nailed the message. Just perfectly.

The Monday before the funeral my wife made a meal for the family and explained to my 4 year old that I had to go meet with this family. She explained that a mommy and daddy lost their son and they were very sad. With very little said he walked outside and started to pick flowers. He picked until he couldn’t hold any more in his little 4 year old hands. He asked Leah for a mason jar. I was to take the flowers with me.

I arrived at the house with the meal another local pastor and this jar of flowers. The food was set on the counter with all the other meals (my town feeds the grieving well!) but the jar was given a special place. Their son loved picking wild flowers and putting them in mason jars for his mom. His way of saying “thank you” and “I love you mom.”

Two days after her son left without a chance for a good bye or “I love you” she felt it one more time with the act of a little boy.

February 3, 2014

Kids and Communion: Sacrament or Snack-Time?

This is a topic that was covered here twice before, in February of 2011 and December, 2011. I’m presenting both complete today, but including the links because the December one attracted a number of comments. You can join that old comment thread or start a new one here that might get seen by more people.  The first article is more practical, the second more doctrinal. The first article also appeared on the day after a piece about children and (immersion) baptism, which is why it begins…

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed. Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great. I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (no longer available)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday. As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’ She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

(more…)

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites —  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

July 4, 2013

When Faith Doesn’t Stick

Recently, my wife and I have had a number of recurring conversations prompted by comments overheard that among some Christian parents we know that their children have arrived at their late teens or early twenties only to reveal that the Christian faith they were immersed in, for lack of a better phrase, didn’t take.

At that point, I usually shake my head in despair and usually lament the time and energy that was poured into their Christian education would appear to have been entirely ineffective, at least to this point. Specifically, my comments repeatedly run along the lines of:

  • “…all those Sunday school classes…”
  • “…all those nights at youth group…”
  • “…all those weeks at church camp…”

and other variations you can fill in. 

The other day when I was finishing up this litany my wife said something that arrested me in my tracks. Now remember that, (a) she is very wise, and (b) she had the advantage of experiencing multiple repetitions of my soliloquy before issuing a comeback.

So when I said, “…all those years in church…” she said, “Yes, but you don’t know what was said in the car on the way home.”

True.

Or over dinner.

I can’t imagine that any of the parents in question would do anything knowing that it had the least potential of undermining the nurture of their children’s faith, but that’s just the point, isn’t it?

How many kids are destined for a young adulthood (and beyond) without a faith component because we inadvertently did a really crappy job of modeling for them what Christ-following looks like?

You don’t want to think about that.

So parents, be careful what you say in the car ride home on Sunday. Your comments are being picked up by little ears.

Coincidentally, The Pew Research Forum has just released a report on the religious life of Canada, my home and native land. The charts and graphs all speak for themselves — two are reproduced below — but the message is clear that an attrition is taking place in the church as we’ve not seen before. Furthermore, in Canada and the United States, the religious landscape is forever changed because of immigration policy.

Pew Research - Canada - 1

Pew Research - Canada - 2

The results are similar to a study done by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), called Hemorrhaging Faith, which we reported on here a few months ago. That study looked at four demographic areas: Evangelicals, Mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics in Quebec, and Roman Catholics Outside Quebec; and divided respondents into Engagers, Fence Sitters, Wanderers and Rejecters.

The Pew Study looked only at Protestants and Catholics, as well as respondents from other religions and the rapidly growing category known as “the nones” (not nuns) who check off the “none” box on census and other surveys. Unfortunately in the EFC study, the results for Evangelicals — while showing stronger adherence — did not point to a much brighter future over the long term.

Survey companies like Barna and Pew make money selling reports, and the very nature of the business means that bad news tends to get more attention. So books like David Kinnaman’s unChristian are better known than the counter response found in books like Bradley Wright’s Christians are Hate-Filled Hypocrites: And Other Lies You’ve Been Told reviewed here. People will flock to buy a book on how the sky is falling, but not so much toward one which advises the sky is intact.

But the Pew Research study and the Evangelical Fellowship’s study highlight statistics that are undeniable: Kids are leaving the church in record numbers.

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

May 9, 2012

Wednesday Link List

I always type a ‘filler’ introductory paragraph here when I start, only last week, I didn’t update it and you were left with the rather lame, “Wednesday is here again.”  If you’re reading this, I didn’t catch this one, either.

  • For one week, Talbot Davis cancels the morning service at Good Shepherd United Methodist in Charlotte in favor of having multiple home church meetings instead, though they do gather at the church later in the day.  “You don’t bring your family to church… but we are living, breathing churches; the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we actually take the church with us to the campus each Sunday to celebrate in community what God is doing is in the home.”
  • For some people, the upcoming weekend just hurts, and church services just amplify that hurt. Those are the people dealing with infertility. Russell D. Moore rethinks Mother’s Day:”What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile? In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness…”
  • Save the date: June 21-24 — The second Wildgoose Festival in North Carolina; with the most amazing mix of musicians and speakers. If I could get to only one U.S. summer festival, this would be it.
  • Here is Proverbs 1:8-9 in the new Social Media Bible: “My followers, read your father’s tweets & do not delete your mother’s messages. For they will be retweetable.”  The genealogies in Matthew are especially interesting.
  • Antioch Baptist Church pastor Ken Hutcherson says, “I am the gayest man I know.”  But then he explains what that means. “…Hutcherson is not a homosexual, nor does the happily married man have a same-sex attraction of any kind. He is, however, on a mission to take back words, phrases and symbols he believes groups…have “hijacked” from the American lexicon.
  • Michael Belote thinks that both at home school and public school, children aren’t learning how to learn.  “…we have become a nation of individuals who are firmly entrenched in philosophies that we do not understand: we are loyal to paradigms of which we remain mostly ignorant with regard to detail…”
  • Rebecca St. James narrates Mother India, a documentary premiering this fall about the real backstory in another film,  Slumdog Millionaire.  “…a compelling documentary following the adventure of 25 courageous orphans living as a family along the railway as they make pivotal decisions that will directly impact their future… filmed in January 2012 in southern India with a small production team…”
  • Karen Spears Zacharias has released a true story highlighting the impact of child abuse. A Silence of Mockingbirds is released through MacAdam Cage Publishing, which means this one may not be at your local Christian bookstore.
  • Does your church sing a lot of worship songs that are exclusive to your church; songs that were written by your own worship team leaders?  Bobby and Kristen Gilles recommend finding a place of balance.
  • An interesting dinner date: Canadian cult-watcher James Beverley dines in New York with Peter H. Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan. “…His positive characteristics are nonetheless evidence of God’s common grace…”
  • Don’t know where Tim Challies finds these things, but here’s an interesting blog about an Australian couple now serving in Mongolia.  This is a general link, scroll back and follow recent developments in a country where even buying a chair is a major accomplishment.
  • Michael Kruger suggests five different ways technology is affecting us in Rescuring Church from a Facebook Culture.  “…It is a low-commitment and low-accountability type of interaction.  We control—and entirely control—the duration, intensity, and level of contact.  At any moment, we can simply stop.   But, the Christian life, and real Christian relationships don’t work like this…”
  • Here’s another piece about technology at church, as in Matt Hafer’s Showing VHS’s to a Blu-Ray World. “Our financial giving isn’t where it needs to be and we brainstormed on why. One of the reasons that was plain to us is, we pass a bucket around and tell people the drop in cash or checks. The problems is, no one in 2012 carries cash and most people under 35 write a check about once a month…”
  • To post or not to post?  Matthew Paul Turner found this picture of a rather disturbing piece of fashion he called The Jesus Mini-Skirt.  If the image isn’t here, then you’ll have to click; it means better judgment prevailed.
  • Not exactly a Christian story, but CBN News reports on Chinese students being given IV hookups to amino acids to boost energy as they prepare for college entrance exams. It’s controversial, but not believed to be harmful.
  • Eugene Peterson didn’t just get up one morning and start translating the Bible. Several steps led up to the creation of The Message including: “…He read translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, from Greek to English. He discovered the translation principles use by these translators.”
  • The Grace Television Network now claims to be “Canada’s Largest 24/7 Provider of Christian Programming.”
  • As I type this, on Monday, Jon Acuff is at Stuff Christians Like #1199, but if I remember to update this, he will have passed the twelve hundred mark. [Later…] SCL #1200 was inspired by some people who chose to talk all through the service on Sunday… while sitting in the front row!
  • If you feel you must criticize something your pastor did or didn’t do, save it for Tuesday. Many pastors have a tougher time getting through Monday than Sunday.
  • Click the images to connect with more comics from ASBO Jesus (above) and For Heaven’s Sake (below).

November 7, 2011

Petition Launched to Stop Sale of “To Train up a Child”

The human rights organization change.org is currently hosting a petition requesting that Amazon.com stop selling the book To Train Up A Child by Michael and Debi Pearl because of the book’s association with cases where children who were victims of severe corporal punishment later died.

The petition reads:

Currently there are several books available to buy on Amazon that advocate, endorse and advise on parenting methods that involve the physical abuse of children. Examples of titles include To Train Up A Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl; Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp; and Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman.

Such books, and other like them, promote behavior which is abusive of children. All of the above books advocate the use of a rod and other implements on children under one.

Such behavior is abusive to children, and it is also ‘offensive’, which is contrary to your Content Guidelines.

It may well also be illegal, as it seems to go far beyond the ‘reasonable chastisement’ currently sanctioned by law in the UK. Not only is beating on a regular basis with a rod likely to leave a mark, which is illegal, it is also likely to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment, which is a breach of human rights.

We wish Amazon to urgently review their decision to stock any book or other product which advises the physical abuse of children.

We’ve covered Michael and Debi Pearl in various Wednesday Link Lists here (use the search bar, upper right) and in this article: When Child Discipline Goes Too Far.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

You may also read a just published New York Times article about the petition.

Christian booksellers: You should also read this article concerning potential 3rd-party liability if you sell this book.  (This story also contains a link to a recent CNN news clip about another child death.)

September 14, 2011

Wednesday Link List

In case you’re wondering, the reason I’ve never done a pun here based on sausage links — even though we’ve done lynx cats and cuff links and chain links — is because the necessary pictures are all really disgusting.  Just so ya know.

Here’s where my epic adventures took me this week, though after the gazillion links posted here on Monday, I am a bit worn out…

God remains our source of courage when we’re traumatized by terror.
When we’re haunted by the headlines and the violence everywhere.
Hear God whisper in the silence, “Don’t despair, I’m in control.
Hurting hearts and broken cities will at last one day be whole.”

God recalls that tragic Tuesday when twin towers disappeared,
when 3,000 people perished and our hearts were numbed by fear.
Yet God whispers 10 years later, “Justice will in time be done.
I will stand with those who need me ’till my Kingdom fully comes.”

God invites us to be trusting when we find that faith is hard.
When we’re fearful for our safety and our nerves are frayed or jarred.
Still God whispers in the silence, “Even when your faith is weak,
I will keep your feet from stumbling when your way is dark and bleak.”

Greg Asimakoupoulos as quoted at Pilgrim Scribblings

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