When Things Go Bad

SalvationSeries_WhenThingsGoBad_7With sincerity deeply set inside his eyes, Alex bubbled with excitement as he described God calling him to minister to the internationals our youth group had been serving the past ten days. As we reflected upon our time spent in VBS and building projects, Alex seemed to be only a brief four year stint in college away from becoming a sold out missionary. As we all came down from our spiritual high, Alex took off for college. He never returned to church. Instead of missions, he embraced a life of sexual exploits and familial chaos.

Up to this moment, our discussion of salvation, baptism, and parental responsibility has assumed a positive outcome. Namely, all of our discussions assume that our children will get saved. And though salvation is the goal of godly parenting, it’s not the guaranteed outcome. We don’t simply push ABC and get S. Regardless of how hard we try, we cannot manipulate God into saving our children or friends via our good works. God must save.

And often God does not. Study after study has shown that Alex’s story is increasingly representative of the Millennial Generation. More than half of the children born during the 1980’s and early 1990’s to Christian parents have left the church (Ham, Beemer, & Hillard, p. 25). Now, we are asking, “What do we do when things go wrong?”

 Admittedly, I have only recently been granted full access into the parenting club. I cannot speak to this issue as a parent. Rather, I address the topic as a fellow believer who has been given several opportunities to minister to those who have rejected the gospel for sin. If you are looking for wisdom from those who have ministered to a rebellious child, I highly recommend the book, When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser. Without further ado, let’s look at how to handle the realities of unbelief.

Don’t Ignore Reality  

Perhaps the hardest thing for families and friends of unbelievers to do is to admit these lost souls are lost. Perhaps to avoid this heavy burden of misplaced shame or to excuse our need to loving confront sin, many of us walk around saying that the marijuana crazed son, or the daughter with the live-in boyfriend are still good, God loving people. After all, they used to go to church and they did get baptized. We don’t know what happened. Most likely, they are just a little confused.

Friends, the Bible does not say these souls are confused. It declares them to be unregenerate; they are lost. The apostle John clearly lets us know that “they went out from us, because they were not of us” (I John 2:19) Our children and friends did not leave the church and embrace sin because they are confused Christians. They had a form of religion for a time.  But they left because they never experienced the power of salvation. They may know the Bible but they do not know Christ. The clearest sign of unbelief is open abandonment of the church and the doctrines of grace. The apostle James writes, “Friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (4:4). If your loved one cherishes the sins and philosophies of this  world, they are not saved. There is no faith without obedience.

If we want to see our children and friends embrace Christ, we must clearly, compassionately, and consistently call them sinners. If we do not call them to repentance, we may avoid conflicts and blunt their rejection. But, we will blind them the hope and mercy of God.

Although I know there are many contributing factors to the numbers listed below, I believe Christians who excuse and/or ignore their loved ones sins have unwittingly destroyed the integrity of the Christian faith. Today, 65% of young adults identify themselves Christians. But only 6% of them actually believe in the God of the Bible (Rainer, pp. 232-33). Let’s not excuse a person’s lack of faith and make them a son of hell twice over. Let’s remind our sons, daughters, and friends that they are sinners in need of real, life transformational repentance.

Cling To The Hope of Christ

               I also understand calling your children or friends “sinners” is a heart wrenching task. And watching a loved one reject the faith is discouraging. Yet, we all have hope. Our suffering at the hands of disrespectful teens is not the end of the story. The harsh conversations, the sleepless nights spent questioning our ministry strategies, and the unanswered texts are being used by God to make us into a stronger Christian. I know that no Christian longs for suffering, but the pain caused by our children or friends is for our good. Paul says that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5). If our children or friends have or are in the process of walking away from the faith, take heart.

Hopefully the situation will be for the benefit of our loved one. God often bring us low so that we can see our need to embrace Christ as savior. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. But the family drama is ultimately for our benefit. We will come out a stronger and more complete believer. And yes, it will be difficult, and yes, you may feel like you’ve been pushed to the breaking point. A few pencils may snap and a cell phone maybe thrown against the couch before it’s all said and done. But we will achieve victory through the power of Christ. You and I will survive this hardship because God does not fail! He upholds us; he is the basis of our hope. God has done all of the hard work. Believe on the Lord Jesus. God the Father will be glorified as you daily become more like Christ.

 Get Inspired By God

Remember to love. When God saved us, we were his enemies, destined to be judged forever and condemned to hell. We were completely unlovable. Nothing made us seem attractive to God. Truthfully, we really don’t find each other all that attractive. I doubt any of you would sacrifice your son or daughter so that I could life. And I’m not offended. I would never think of letting either of my two sons die to save you.  Yet, God in his mercy saved us by covering our sins with the blood of his son. This is a radical life altering love that is so huge that it cannot be grasped by our human minds (Eph. 3:19). Oh what love we have felt!  

When we feel tempted to write off our children and friends with a puff of self-righteousness, we need to remember how our heavenly Father loved us. Since God loved us while when we despised him, how can we not show this love to our unrepentant children and friends. I know it’s not an easy task. But we can do it. We must do it. As Christians, we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven (Col 3:13). Even though our biblical advice is rejected, we continue to love these lost souls by encouraging them when they excel at work, by supporting them financially when appropriate, and by always being willing to offer them a kind hug or a soft shoulder. Although we should never directly fund a drug addiction or other sinful habits, we must always be seeking ways to love our children and friends. We are to love them with the love with which Christ has loved us.   

Nothing is Impossible

Often when our family devotion fails or our discipleship program has disappointing results, we tend to think God has failed. Nothing is further from the truth. We may have failed if we inaccurately presented the gospel or if we blunted the power of the gospel by living sinful lives. But God is still at work. Salvation via you and me is impossible, but with God nothing is impossible.

This is not to say that we have a guarantee that God will save every child raised in the church. People often think Proverbs 22:6 is a promise. The verse reads: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Simply teach a kid Jesus and he will get saved. But this cannot be right. If we claim a good discipleship program saves, then we save people through human effort. God said salvation by through human effort was,” impossible” (Mat 19:26).  The verse must mean something else.

The Proverbs are not promises to be claimed. Rather, they are short statements that reflect general Biblical truth about life. Generally speaking those who have been trained in godliness will not depart the faith. And, we do often see God saved children who have believing parents. However, there are exceptions to these general rules. Think of Jehoshaphat’s family. The ancient King brought revival to his kingdom. But, his son did “What was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Chron. 20-21). Not every child who grows up in a Christian home will become a Christian.

But with God nothing is impossible. Jesus can and does save the lost and dying. Just think of Paul he was actively arresting and having Christians killed. Yet, God saved him. If God can save Paul, he can most certainly save our children and friends. Even in the darkest of hours, hope in God! Plead with him to save your loved one!   

Going Forward

Today the youngest Millennials are finishing junior high.  The window of opportunity to reach this generation through family worship is on the verge of disappearing. But the ability of parents to evangelize and disciple this generation is not coming to an end. Almost 90% of America’s largest generation looks to their parents for guidance and advice (Rainer, p. 55). And 88% of these young adults think their parents are a positive influence (Rainer, p. 245). In other words, adult children value parental guidance. Parents, reaching the next generation for Christ is only a cellphone call, a Skype conversation, or Facebook message away.

The End

As we wrap up the Baptism Class For Parents, I want to return to where I began. Parents, God has given us an unprecedented ability to reach our kids. Whether your child is a wiggly infant or sitting calmly in a cubicle, God wants you to reach them for Christ. Admittedly how we go about reaching our kids depends a great deal on their age and the nature of their heart. But the fundamental principles that underlie our interactions with the next generation remain the same. We pursue Christ with our heart, soul, and mind. Then we share our passion for God with our children via prayer time at the dining room table or a quick text message (Duet. 6:4-9). Certainly, we will make mistakes, misdiagnose our child’s heart, and will struggle at times. But ultimately the salvation of our children doesn’t begin or end with us. God saves. Regardless of where we and our children are, nothing is impossible with God!    

Works Cited

Ham, K., Beemer, B., & Hillard, T. (2012). Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What you can do to Stop it. Green Forest: Master Books .

Rainer, T. S. (211). The Millennials: Connecting To America’s Largest Generation . Nashville: B&H Publishing Group .

 

Keep It Growing, Part B: Five Tips For Effective Family Worship

Keep It Growing: Part B 

SalvationSeries_KeepingItGrowing_6partBLast week, we discussed the necessity, importance, and purpose of family worship. We meet to worship as families because Christ has commissioned spouses and parents to evangelize and disciple their families. In an effort to help us all start or continue our family worship times, I’ve listed several principles and resources that I and many others have found helpful over the years.

5 Ways Tips For Making Family Worship Work

  1. Pick a resource that brings the gospel to your heart. For discipleship to be effective you have to teach others to follow you as you follow Christ. You begin by applying the truths to your heart before you you make it to the kitchen table. If you are not regularly learning from the devotional or being encouraged by it, find another resource.
  2. Be excited, enthusiastic, and intentional. If you think family worship is a labor of boredom, your kids will as well. Have an infectious love for God’s Word. If you struggling with your attitude before family worship, spend some time in prayer thanking God for his salvation and your family.
  3. Set realistic goals. If your goal is to have five family worship sessions every day,SalvationSeries_BaptismClassforParents6 you will probably fail. I would encourage you to try to have a family devotion at least once a week. I do understand that blended families and other situations can make even once a week undoable. Set realistic goal, but don’t let sports or worldly pleasures crowd family worship out of your schedule. Pick a reasonable goal and stick to it.
  4. Keep it simple. All a good family worship times needs is teaching, prayer, and singing. If you have little children, you be could wrapping things up with an off key rendition of Jesus Loves Me about 5 minutes after you start.
  5. Be flexible. If you are planning on talking about love from 1 Corinthians 13 and your children want to discuss the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people,” go with it. Encourage your children’s interest in the Bible. Model for them a dependence upon scripture.

Family Worship Resources

Below, I’ve put together a list of resources that I and other families have found  helpful.  Many of these resources our available in my office if you would like to borrow one. If you know of resources not listed here, please tell share them with us in the comment section.

  • Beside The Still Waters:Taken from the Sermons of Charles Spurgeon this is a short and encouraging devotional that parents and older children would appreciate.
  • The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook: Each Bible story is accompanied BIg Picture Interactive Story Book Bibleby references, a Christ connection and a question. The book also goes along nicely with the Gospel Project Sunday school curriculum, helping families and churches to work together. It a great resource for families with younger to middle school aged children.
  • Big Truths For Young Hearts: Dr. Bruce Ware has created a systematic theologybig-truths-for-young-hearts1 for kids. Using stories and conversations from his daughters’ childhoods, Dr. Ware has made deep Biblical truths understandable. Broken down into bit size sections, each chapter contains several memory verses and questions that will help you develop your family worship time. It would be a great resource for families with children of all ages.
  • Bible Book Study: Take a book of the Bible and go through it a section/paragraph at a time. If you want to go more in-depth in your book study checkout either the NIV Application Commentary or the Read/Mark/Learn series. Both are easy reads. This is a good tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Long Story Short or Old Story Long: These books are specifically designed with Long story shortfamilies in mind. Working through the Old and New Testaments respectively, each book is arranged in weekly sections that provide resources for five days of devotions. Each day consists of a passage of scripture, a brief commentary, discussion questions, and prayer points. It’s a great resource for families with younger to middle school aged children.
  • Proverbs: There are 31 chapters in Proverbs making it an easy family devotion tool. Simply take the chapter or a few verses from the chapter that corresponds to the date on the calendar. Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Psalms: There are 150 Psalms. You can make your family the devotion the Psalm of the day. After you work through Psalms 1-30, add another 30 and start the next month at Psalm 31. When you get to a month that has 31 days read all of Psalm 119.  Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  • Sermon/Sunday School Devotions: Simply note the passage of this week’s sermon or Sunday school lesson. Take your family back through the passage, asking questions that relate specifically to their lives. At First Baptist Church, we also post a family devotional on our children’s ministry Facebook page that contains scripture references, discussions and questions that go along with your child’s Sunday school lesson. Great tool for families with children of all ages.
  •  Catechism For Young Children: This is a series of 69 short question and answer chatechism for kidssequences designed to help children understand the basic doctrines of faith. After going over the scriptural references that support the question, complete your devotion by having your family memorize one question per meeting. It is a great resource for families with younger children.
  • Thoughts To Make My Heart Sing: A colorful book with short one page devotionals. Sally Loyd Jones does an excellent job of introducing important truths in an engaging fashion. It is a great resource for families with younger children.
  • The Witkowski Plan: My wife and I Memorize Scripture together, working through a book of the Bible one verse at a time. After we discuss the word, we pray out loud together. On busy nights when we get home late, we make the Psalm of the day our devotion. Great tool for families with older children.

Playing With Water

SalvationSeries_PlayingwithWaterA Shhh..splash flowed by a showering of water radically interrupted the pastor’s orderly explanation of baptism. As he tried to recover, ripples of laughter echoed through the congregation who just saw the latest baptism candidate show off his cannonball skills in the baptistery. Although I did not see the faces of the boy’s parents, I can imagine they probably had a few streaks of embracement on them. And quite frankly, most parents would be embarrassed to see their child turn baptism into a juvenile joke for quick amusement. As parents, we have a responsibility to both encourage our children to publicly display their faith and to help them understand the spiritual significance of baptism. How do we do guard against cannon balls? Well first and foremost, we must explain the gospel to our children. Our three foot tall man and our four foot tall woman cannot truly believe or rightly interact with the baptism pool without an understanding of salvation. With a right view of God in place, we then have to help them understand exactly what baptism is, means, and does.  Put on your goggles and let’s dive into the: who, what when, where, and why of baptism!

Who

Admittedly, a host of opinions about baptism have circled around the church for ages. And I have been both sprinkled as an infant and submerged as an adult. Today, I do not intend to set the world aright with this short blog post. While infant baptism is practiced in many Bible believing churches in an effort to establish a child’s spiritual heritage, I believe baptism is more than a baby dedication tool.

I think believers’ baptism is a more faithful and accurate fulfilling of Christ’s command to baptize “them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:18-20). The word baptize always means immersion or “to dunk” when used in the Greek. Moreover whether it’s the believers at Pentecost, the Philippian jailer, the Ethiopian Eunuch, or anyone else, baptism as recorded in the Bible is always a direct expression of faith by those who have repented of their sins upon hearing the gospel. As the theologian J.L. Dagg wrote, “the apostles and their fellow-laborers required repentance and faith as qualifications for baptism” (p. 69).So who gets baptized? Those who have repented and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ should be baptized.

A Quick Caution

In our effort to faithfully practice baptism, we must be careful not to make the church ordinance, “the basis of division among Christians” (Grudem, p. 967). Rather we should seek, as Dr. Bruce Ware’s encourages us, to:

“be gracious with those of different practices…let’s work to understand and follow as best we can what the Bible teaches. Baptism matters, to be sure. But the truth that baptism points to matters even more” (p. 205).

Even though they sprinkle, we can and should still fellowship with Presbyterians, Lutherans and others who affirm the gospel. Let’s be careful not throw the church out with the baptism water.

What

Baptism is a physical sign established by Jesus to picture what happens in our hearts when we believe on the finished work of the cross (Romans 6:3-7). Christians go under water to symbolize that they have died with Christ from sins of this world. Then seconds later, they pop out from the water, revealing that they have been given new life “through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him [Christ] from the dead” (Col 2:12). The ordinance of baptism is a beautiful picture and public declaration of how God redeems the lost.

When

The easy answer is: “As soon as a person repents of sin and confesses Jesus as Savior, he/she should be baptized.” We see both Philip and Paul baptizing new believers shortly after they confess Christ (Acts 8:36; 16:33). And when adults who have counted the cost of following Christ embrace Jesus as their Savior, they should be baptized quickly.

SalvationSeries_BaptismClassforParents6But we also want to protect the waters of baptism from religious cannon ballers who pursue the sacrament either hoping to please parents or to appease the Christian culture. Before the onset of the middle ages, the church responded to this dilemma by requiring baptism candidates to attend a three year training class (catechizing) to ensure that they understood the faith. Today, the church expert, Mark Dever, recommends that children should not be baptized until they reach an age of maturity during the end of their high school years (Dever & Alexander, p. 106).

At FBCE, the staff follows a more Grudem-esk view of baptism believing:

“It is impossible to set a precise age that will apply to every child, but when parents see convincing evidence of genuine spiritual life and also some degree of understanding regarding the meaning and trusting in Christ, then baptism is appropriate” (p. 982).

In short, we will baptize children upon a credible profession of faith. We define a credible confession as the ability to clearly articulate the gospel, the nature of baptism and one’s personal testimony, citing the evidence of good works. We also want to know if the child’s parents have noticed their child displayiing the grace of God in her life. Once a child has met with a pastor, written out her testimony, and demonstrated her love for God in her daily life as observed by her family, the FBCE staff will baptize a child. Admittedly the process is rather elastic, taking weeks and even years to complete. But as Pastor Art Murphey noted, “Children need time to understand and show signs of maturity before they are baptized” (p. 127). Baptism is not a race to see who can get the wettest the fastest.

Where

Being the doorway into the blessings of church membership, baptism should always occur within the context of the local church (I Cor 12:13). The location of the baptism matters little. As long as your local church is present, an ordained church member (pastor, elder, or deacon) performs the baptism (signifying that church affirms the work of Christ within the heart of the person being baptized) and immersion occurs, a baptism is truly a baptism.

Why

We are to pursue baptism as a sign or act of faith. Going under water does not save; nor, is dunking necessary for salvation. As I Peter 3:21 makes clear, “the removal of dirt” does not produce salvation. Moreover, the thief on the cross repented and was never baptized. Yet, he was promised eternity by Jesus (Luke 23:43). Regardless of our or our children’s piety, their baptism will never save them.

Rather, baptism is act of obedience in faith. If you “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” then you will naturally want to follow all of Christ’s commands (Romans 10:9). What is Christ’s first command after repent and believe? It is to be baptized (Acts 2:38). In the New Testament, all who trust Christ eagerly identify with their Lord and Savior via the waters of baptism.  Christians go into the waters of baptism proclaiming that God has already regenerated their hearts.

Recommend Resources:

Manual of Theology: Second Part A Treatise On Church Order. Dagg, J. (1990).Harrison : Gano Books .

. The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Dever, M., & Alexander, P. (2005)Wheaton: Crossway Books.

Systematic Theology . Grudem, W. (1994).Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House .

The Faith of a Child: A Step-by-Step Guide to Salvation for your Child . Murphey, A. (2000). Chicago: Moody Publishers .

Big Truths For Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God . Ware, B. A. (2009). Wheaton: Crossway.