Monday, September 28, 2009

The Butterfly Circus

Stars Eduardo Verastegui from Belah (read his story here) and Nick Vujicic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Book Review: This Momentary Marriage by John Piper

Working with a marriage ministry, and knowing that there are dozens (if not hundreds) of new marriage books published each year, I was giddy to get my hands on the new marriage book by John Piper. If you've read any of Piper, you'll come to find much of what you love about his writing in this book. Instead of tips and tactics, it is a careful theological treatment of the purpose of marriage.

The verse he uses as the title for the book reminds the reader that marriage is a temporary condition – since the scriptures make it clear that there will be no marriage in heaven (Matt 22.30). This sets up his central premise in the book, one that is repeated over and over again, because of Noel's (his wife) encouragement. When asked for advice on the book, she said "You cannot say too often that marriage is a model of Christ and the church." Piper goes on to say that not only is marriage a model of Christ and the church, but that the deepest meaning of marriage is to display Christ's covenant keeping love to the world. He says, "Staying married is not mainly about staying in love. It's about covenant-keeping."

I had a strong reminder of this covenant-keeping love in my kitchen this week. My parents were in town visiting for a few days. My mom was up first one morning, reading her Bible at the kitchen table. When she heard my father stirring, making his way to the kitchen, she stood and eagerly awaited his arrival. He entered the kitchen and they embraced. As I watched my parents hold each other close, I flashed back to those moments as a five-year-old when I found great comfort and security in their affections. They could not wait to see each other again after a night of sleep. Even though I am an adult, I am still moved with feelings of comfort with each of their covenant-enduring embraces.

For Piper, seeing marriage primarily as reflecting Christ's covenant-keeping love also shapes his view on divorce. He believes that divorce should be extremely rare, and that re-marriage is prohibited while your spouse is living. He defends the view well (and also clarifies that he is in the minority among evangelicals with this view) in chapters 14 and 15. He says, "If the blood-bought church, under the new covenant, ever ceases to be the bride of Christ, then a wife may legitimately divorce her husband." Though in the Old covenant, God sent Israel away with a decree of divorce (Jer 3.8), in the new covenant, Christ says "I am with you always" (Matt 28.20) and "I will never leave you nor forsake you" (Heb 13.5).

This view of marriage also informs our parenting – for if marriage reflects Christ's love for the church, then what does that say about the Father? Ephesians 6.4 reminds fathers to bring up their children "in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." It also says "do not provoke them to anger." Why this specific instruction to fathers? Piper says, "Dad embodies authority. Apart from Christ, the child embodies self-will. And when the two meet, anger flares." He offers this encouragement. "Even more important than avoiding the obvious aggravators, we fathers should think about what kinds of preemptive things we can do that don't just avoid anger but diminish or remove anger. That's the real challenge." He continues, "Don't just stop doing things that provoke anger; start doing things that prevent and overcome anger."

So many men struggle with anger because of their fathers, but all men have a chance to "sever the root of the whole cycle of anger by savoring to the depths of your soul the preciousness of God's forgiveness and God's promises… Show them in your own soul how it can be replaced with tenderhearted joy" (p150-154). Why is forgiveness so powerful for breaking down anger? Anger says, "You owe me something before we can be right." Forgiveness says, "I am taking the initiative to restore our relationship and remove any debt between us." The father is the adult and it is his role to seek forgiveness – to model Christ like love in all of his relationships. And as you seek to overcome anger, you model the Father's love by being the one that seeks and grants forgiveness quickly, willingly, and often.

My one disappointment with this book was that Piper did not share more stories from his experiences with his wife. I know from a few friends that have spent time around John Piper that his marriage has endured many difficulties and challenges – enduring a very dry season. I would have loved to have heard specifics about how they fought through such a season. But I think this book is his answer: the way he fought through the dullness was to come to understand the theological basis for marriage. And as he gained a greater appreciation for the nature of Christ's love, his love for his wife was renewed and strengthened.

There is so much more in this book that could be unpacked here, such as his handling of roles and singleness, both of which are extremely helpful. For now it is safe to say that the book is worth reading for every married couple. And the timing of this reading was especially encouraging for me, as my wife and I celebrate TEN YEARS of marriage this week!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Master of the Metaphor

I've been listening to Tim Keller preach through the book of John (to prepare for my trip to Rwanda – to teach through the book) and I've been continually amazed by his masterful use of metaphor (or real-life examples that illustrate his point) in preaching. Below is one example used during his sermon on worship (this quote is not word for word, but based on my best recollection):

"My 7 year old son has a cabbage patch doll [this message was given in 1991] that brings him great comfort. If you were to offer him a Brownstone home here in New York City in exchange for that doll, the best you would get from him is a slight hesitation. But at the end of the day, he would not give up that doll. 'How foolish!' you cry. 'Absurd!' you proclaim. Yet we are no different. We hold on to the little things that bring us comfort, yet are of infinitesimal value in comparison to the value of a life given over to Christ. You rightly ascertain that this child has no sense of perspective. He's not able to comprehend how much more that home will serve him for the rest of his life. All he knows is what seems to bring him comfort now. And we are no different."

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: Perspectives on Family Ministry

Southern Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky, has been working to develop their Family Ministry program. As a result, they've commissioned the writing of a book, edited by Timothy Paul Jones, called Perspectives on Family Ministry. This is an area of great interest for me and I was grateful to be able to review a pre-release copy of the book (due out in October). In the book, they attempt to give an acceptable definition to "Family Ministry" (no easy task) and present what they believe to be the three most common models for family ministry in the church. The three models are as follows:

Family Integrated
: "In this approach, all age-graded classes and events are eliminated… Generations learn and worship together, and parents bear primary responsibility for the evangelism and discipleship of their children" (p42). Those who promote this model (Voddie Baucham, Doug Phillips, Scott Brown, and Paul Renfro) believe that the church has become far too fragmented, undermining the Biblical mandate for families to worship God together.

Family Based
: "No radical changes occur in the church's internal structure… [rather] each ministry sponsors events and learning experiences that are intentionally designed to draw generations together"(p43). This model most closely reflects the modern church approach of a collection of compartmentalized ministries to children, youth, singles, adults, and the elderly. But the Family-Based approach attempts to make some effort within each ministry (though still separate attempts) to draw the generations together.

: This term was coined by the editor of this book and it is the approach Southern Seminary is promoting in their new Family Ministry degree programs. In this model, "Church leaders plan every ministry to champion the place of parents as primary disciple-makers in their children's lives, asking 'What is best for families?' at every level of the church's ministry…. [this model] reworks the church's entire structure to call parents to disciple their children at every level of the church's work." (Some promoting this model are Jay Strother, Brian Haynes, Steve Wright, Ben Freudenberg). This model may or may not require that some programs/ministries be dropped or significantly altered within the church. It all depends on what the church decides when they ask 'What is best for families?'

As mentioned above, the book is definitely trying to make the case for the Family-Equipping model as the approach churches should embrace. But I found the writing and logic presented in the chapter defending the Family-Integrated (FI) model most compelling. Here's just a few of the strong arguments put forward by Paul Renfro (author of the chapter defending the family-integration model) that were not adequately refuted by the other authors in this volume.

  • "Age-integration creates a network of meaningful multigenerational relationships." The author argues that "never in Scripture do we find an example of systematic age segregation in temple, synagogue, or church. In fact, we find the opposite…" (p.68). The results demand careful evaluation: "The fact is that the age-segregated structure has consistently failed to reach and to retain youth and children… The largest rise in full-time youth ministers in history has been accompanied by the biggest decline in youth evangelism effectiveness" (p91).
  • The FI model most closely resembles the biblical precedent of the home being the primary place where evangelism and discipleship of children is meant to occur.
  • The FI model helps to re-establish the church and the home as the primary influences in a teenager's life. In a culture where "Schools, media and peers are the 'disciplers' of American's children," this model re-elevates the importance of the influence of adults – both for the children and the adults. The fact that it calls the adults up to this role may be more important than what it does for the kids. He also states "In some cases a young person is so tightly connected to a youth group that he or she is more committed to that youth group than their own family" (p74).
  • The FI model frees up more time for families to spend together and to focus on doing ministry together. Since families are not overly busy with church-based programs in the FI model, they are free to reach out to the community in creative ways as a family.
  • Singles are intentionally brought into families where healthy family relationships can be modeled. The author argues, "Why would we want to isolate singles in a singles group? Such a practice assumes that the primary place where singles and single moms feel comfortable is with people like themselves. Yet singles need interaction with older saints who have traveled further down the road to maturity." I can speak from experience that though I loved spending time with other youth in our church youth group, the main reason I went was to spend time around the youth minister and his wife. And of all my youth group memories, the ones I cherish the most are those of the youth minister allowing me to come into his home and just experience life around his family.
  • The FI model is most easily transferred across cultures, since it models the structure of the family, something that exists in all cultures.

No question that the FI model is also most likely to be immediately rejected by most churches, since the change appears to be the most radical departure from the way the majority of churches do ministry. The hardest part of moving from a Family-based model to the FI model is retraining the parents. Parents have become so conditioned to the drop-off the-kids-and-let-the-church-train-them mentality, that it will take many, many months of meetings to help them capture and embrace a new vision for the primacy of the home in child training. Of course, even a move towards the Family Based model would be incredibly beneficial to any church. Either model, the FI or the FB, strives to get at the root issues underlying the lack of spiritual depth in today's churches. At the root is the problem of the incongruence between church and home.

The following quote by Richard Baxter sums up the importance of embracing one of these models in today's church (found on p65):

"Get master of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labor, but will much further the success of your labors… You are not likely to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase."

– Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, p93.

If you are a pastor or have some ability to influence your church's philosophy of training youth and children, then I highly recommend you read this book and wrestle with the concepts it presents.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Boy-Man

He looks like such a little man in his tie. It's his first day in a tie - and he asked to wear it. It's a manly thing to wear a tie - because someone has to teach you how to tie it. Boys don't spontaneously start putting ties around their necks. Someone has to teach them.

Now that he's five, I've started talking to him more about what it means to be a man. Wearing a tie doesn't necessarily make you a man, but you don't usually see knuckleheads running around in ties. Maybe in the 50's, but not so much these days. So we're talking more about the differences between being a boy and a man. Things like ALWAYS being respectful towards your mother. ALWAYS treating ALL women with respect and kindness. Being grateful for all things - in all situations. These are the main things we're working on these days... Because boys naturally want to stay boys. A boy doesn't become a man on his own. It takes a man to pull them up towards being a man. A boy will watch and read dribble his whole life, unless a man helps him develop an appetite for manly things - like great literature, poetry, hard work, and Jesus. Things that do not come naturally for a boy - and things for which a father must be willing to fight.