Thoughts and Reflections on Why The Back 2 School Connection Matters

back-2-school-blog-picThe buzz around the 2017 Back 2 School Connection was louder than a bug zapper on Middle George summer night. The first drove into the FBCE parking lot at 8:40AM. A line happy parents and sleepy kids began weaving around the sidewalks of First Baptist Church Eastman at 9AM. The event did not start for another hour.  When the glass doors to FBCE’s Children’s Ministry Center were swung open at 10AM, more than 300 people began pouring into FBCE.

The stats alone reveal that the 2017 Back 2 School Connection was an amazing success. But the greatest part of the Back 2 School Connection was the event’s ability to foster relationships.

info-graphic-for-back-to-school.jpgBack in 2015, George Smith, former Associate Pastor- Joe Daniel, and I launched the Back 2 School Connection.

Our heart was twofold. First, we know that many hardworking families struggle to provide for their children’s needs. We wanted to bless and encourage the single moms and the couples who are working hard but continual find the bank accounts short.  We also wanted to directly encourage kids and so that would feel at home when the come to FBCE.

But second and most importantly, we launched the event desiring to foster meaningful relationships with people outside the walls and culture of FBCE for the expansion of the gospel. We wanted the Back 2 School Connection to be one of many front doors into our church. We wanted our nieghbors to experience the truth people that FBCE is more than the big, cold, scary building on the corner of Oak and Sixth Street. We want our friends to know to that we are a thriving, living body of men and women dedicated to loving God and loving each other.

I am happy to report that the Back 2 School Connection is proving to be a bridge into the families of Dodge County. Unknown faces that walked though our doors three years ago, our now the familiar.  They are now the faces of children who regularly attend our Wednesday night program. They are now the faces of kids who come to camp with us. They are now the faces children who come to Sunday school. They are the faces of our friends and neighbors.

And they are also the faces of our new neighbors. This year several new families came onto the FBCE’s campus for the first time. They learned that we have a youth group; they learned that we have kids programing on Wednesday night. They learned that there is a church in Eastman that has a heart for them and that wants to share Christ with them.

These relationships are vitally important to FBCE and to the expansion of the kingdom. Many people think evangelism consists of running quickly through a tract, demanding a prayer before running back home to your church as fast as you can. We fear getting deeply involved in people’s lives.  That is not the gospel.

The gospel model by Jesus consists of eating with people; it consists of inviting people into our homes and churches; and, it consists of getting deeply involved in the lives of others. If we hope to reach the world with the gospel, we have to take the time to know our neighbors. And as we fulfill the law of God by loving others, we will have ample opportunity to share the good news of Jesus.

The numbers are great because they point to opportunities for relationships and for kingdom expansion.

I am happy to report that did have some amazing numbers. We served over 300 meals! We handed out 491 backpacks to children in Eastman. And we connected with 227 families. Literally hundreds of families were blessed with the backpack and were introduced to the gospel and to the people of God.

The Back 2 School Connection was an amazing success. I am so thankful for all who help! To God be the Glory!

If you helped with the Back 2 School Connection or would encouraged by the event, please share your experience below!

Do I Need To Win My Child To Christ?

paul-bence-221565Are we responsible for the salvation of our toddler who just jammed an entire waffle into her mouth and the teenager who just texted us that she might have hit a pole when backing up? Will God find fault with us if we fail to usher our children into the kingdom of God before trade in their pig tails for a college I.D. card?

Some pastors would say, “Yes.” Paul proclaimed, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them to Christ” (I Corinthians 9:19). As the following verses make clear Paul did anything and everything he could to win people to Christ. He suffered all kinds of hardships; he argued the gospel from all kinds or perspectives. He worked hard to win many to Christ. “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some, ” he reported (I Corinthians 9:22b).

Paul appears to be implying that parents must work hard to win their children to the Lord. We parents seem to be responsible for making sure little Johnny walks the aisle and for making sure little Sarah gets baptized. We must talk, persuade, and influence our kids until they are willing to accept the Christian life. We must win them for the Lord while the day is young.

While such thinking is pervasive in SBC circles and in evangelicalism in general, such thinking is not ultimately biblical thinking. Flip back to 1 Corinthians 1:1-2:1. Paul tackles the Corinthians’ boastful thinking by reminding them that God does all the work. God saves sinners as the apostles preached (1 Corinthians 1:21). God chose those whom would believe (I Corinthians 1:27,28, 31). Paul clearly did not believe that his sermons, his evangelism strategies, and his programs caused people to repent and believe.

He wrote in I Corinthians 2:1-2 these words:

And I, when I came you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and hum crucified.

Paul saved no one.

We will save no one. Even if we get junior to repeat a prayer after us, we have saved not saved Junior. We are not responsible for winning our children to Christ. We do not have to play the right music, leverage the right amount of guilt, or seize the perfect moment when our kid is both still and awake. Nor do we have to hold our kid hostage in a spiritual timeout, suspending our family movie night until our girl repents and believes.

We can save no one with our passion, sincerity, and skill.  Only God brings dead souls to life through his Word (Ephesians 2:4-5).

Can you or I by our earnest talking break the power of Satan over a man’s life? No. Can you or I give life to the spiritually dead? No. Can we hope to convince sinners of the truth of the gospel by patient explanation? No. Can we hope to move men to obey the gospel by any words of entreaty that we may utter? No. Our approach to evangelism is not realistic till we have faced this shattering face and let it make it’s proper impact on us. – J.I. Packer

We do not have to worry about saving our children. We are not called to win them or anyone else to Christ. We are called to proclaim the gospel. As Mark Dever cautions us, “Evangelism must not be confused with the fruit of evangelism.”

We can rest assured that our job is only to teach our kids about the gospel. We can be like Paul and share the gospel with the son who thinks he can work his way to heaven by obeying his parents’ rules. We can evangelize our daughter who believes she can find joy apart from obedience to Christ through self-fulfillment via sex. We can point our son to Christ as he grieves his latest break up; we can point our daughter to Christ as she mourns her rejection from her top college of choice. We can at all times and in all circumstances point our children to Christ.

To be a soul winner is to be a parent who sacrifices all for the chance to share Christ with their children.

We have to be willing to skip our favorite T.V. show, mess up our vacation plans, and lose money on non-refundable tickets. We have to be willing to play with dump trucks and rub a sore knee, and do everything in between. We have to be willing to be all things to our children. J.I. Packer said,

The truth is that personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other person.

Do we have personal relationships with our children? Are we sacrificing all to get to know our children so that we can love them, train them, and point them to the gospel? Or are we just the bank, the shuttle driver, and the tutor? Do we know the kids sleeping under our roof?

We should know our kids. But, we do not have to add ‘salvation’ to our list of parental responsibilities. To be a soul winner is to be a preacher of the gospel. We can do this.  Moreover, we must do this as our own obedience and the vitality of our faith is directly tied to us sharing Christ with our children (Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6).

Thankfully, many of our kids are open and receptive to hearing the gospel from our lips. Some eighty-six percent of Americans today claim that their family influenced their identity. How you respond to your kids’ angry bat toss, their perfect report card, and their completion of their driver exam will shape them for better or for worse.

What are will telling our kids? Are we sharing the gospel with them?

Is the Cross Plan A?

plan-1Is the cross plan A? It is a simple question and yet a deeply profound question. Did God always plan to die on the cross or was it simply a response to our failings? Is God’s divine plan playing out in the theatre of the cosmos or is he frantically attempting respond to our bumbling use of independence?

The theologians Gregory Boyd and John Sanders advocate for the later. John Sanders writes, “The path of the cross comes about only through God’s interactions with humans in history. Until this moment in history other routes were, perhaps open.”

Commenting on Judas’ betrayal Boyd adds,

If Judas had gone down a different path, he wouldn’t have fulfilled the prophecy of the Lord’s betrayal…perhaps no one would have betrayed Jesus, and the passages that are now read as predicting his betrayal wouldn’t be read as such.

In short, God does not control the universe and the destiny of men and women. There is no ‘blue print’ as Boyd likes to say. Rather, God is responding to our failures out of love, working as best he can through the broken vessels of humanity to accomplish good.

This view easily connects with our hearts. We very much like the thought that God loved us enough to radically change his plan for the universe. We love thinking that God changed to redeem us. But is such a thought biblical? Jesus says no.

In Mark 9:9, we read “And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” Christ did not think his death, burial and resurrection were in doubt. He was not responding to the plans of men and women.

No, he had planned to die from the beginning of time. He knew Judas would betray him. He knew he would hang on a tree and die. He knew it because he had decreed it. Three times in the gospel of Mark, Jesus foretells and prophecies his death (8:31-33;9:30-32;10:32-34).

And, we should not be surprised that God can know the future. In Isaiah 48:9-10, we read

Remember the former things of old, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,

We are not constantly taking away from and adding to God’s plans. Rather, we are moving within God’s ordained will.

In Revelation 13:8, we read of the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Before Adam and Eve took a breathe, God knew they would sin. And even better, God had planned to rescue them and us. He had planned to send his son to pay for the sins of the world, so that Jesus might be the first of many brothers (Rom. 8:29).

And here is the great news for you and for me and for our children. God can be trusted. God is not simply bungling through life like some Greek god who has to manipulate men to get what he wants. We do not pray and call out to him hoping that God might somehow be able to overcome the odds and help us.

No, we call out to the God of the universe who rules all. What makes God so amazing is not that he makes much of us. What makes God amazing is that he redeems us to make much of him. God saves us so that we can experience the glory of the divine.

And this has always been his plan. He is not responding to us. He is doing what he always planned. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the other.” (Dan 4:35).

Such knowledge should excite all Christians. Because God rules, we can cry out to God with confidence.  As the Pastor Paul David Tripp wrote,

Your world is not a world of constant chaos controlled by impersonal forces. Your destiny is not in your hands or the hands of other people. You are held in the hands of your Father, who rules everything…Because he rules heaven and earth according to his wise plan, I need not live in anxiety and fear.

We can trust God’s promise to grow our faith. We can trust God’s promise to care for us when we get cancer and when family members hate us. We can trust his promise that sting of death has been removed. We can trust God because he rules.

There is no plan B,C,D. Yes, God reacts to us within the narrative of human history. Yet, ultimately that narrative is of his creation. He planned it, he guarantees it, and he accomplishes it. Because plan A was at work in Genesis 1, we can be sure it is at work in Revelation 1. We can trust God with all our worries and concerns. Do you believe in the cross is plan A?