Food Stamps Don’t Get You To Heaven

food stampsBack in March, Mr. Nicholas Jackson made the news for all the wrong reasons. On Sunday March 20, he tried to use his food stamp card (which looked a lot like a credit card) to buy a brand new BMW. Quite naturally, the dealership rejected his offer. But Jackson was not to be denied. Later that night, he broke back into the dealership grabbed the car keys and took off with his new ride. He would have had a clean get away but he forgot one little thing, gas money. It turns out he didn’t have enough money to fill up his new ride. And so, sheriffs’ deputies quickly caught up with the car thief and tossed into jail.

Mr. Jackson’s attempt to get a BMW failed because he did not have the funds to buy and operate the car. Food stamps can buy a few bags of groceries. They are worthless when it comes to buying luxury cars. And its not that shocking because food stamps were never designed to deliver big ticket items.

In much the same way, the law was not designed to save people from their sins. The law can show us our sin (it is our tutor). But, is was never designed to buy us eternal life. And if we are trusting in our own righteous works to earn our way heaven, we will miss the kingdom of God. We will wind up being tossed into hell.

Jesus makes this point in Mark 2:18-22. Fasting does not save. Avoiding certain movies, wearing the right length skirt, listening to the right music does not make us right with God. And if we trust in our works to get us to heaven, if we trust in our systems to impress God, if we trust in our traditions to make ourselves righteous we will miss heaven. Just like a food stamp card can’t by a BMW, our works can’t by salvation. Sure, they may run for a time. People may be impressed. But eventually, we will run out of gas. We will get caught.

If we are going to be like Jesus, if we are going to teach the gospel faithfully, we must never return to the law for salvation. We must never give kids the impression that obeying a bunch of commands will save them. We must never teach that salvation consists of the cross and memorizing verses, or donating to mission, or whatever else may be swirling around. Salvation exists outside of manmade systems. Fresh wineskins have arrived. Jesus prohibits us from sticking works back into the gospel.  Righteousness comes through the blood of Christ.

When little Sussie leaves our Sunday school room, we need to make sure we clearly offer Jesus and only Jesus. Yes, those who love Jesus will obey his commands. But obedience apart from love does not honor God. It’s like trying to buy a BMW with food stamps. It doesn’t work. Every time we teach our kids, we need to make sure that they know that salvation consists of only two things, repentance and belief. We just ask, and God gives us eternal life. He buys the BMW and gives us the gas money that we could never get on our own. If we add anything to the gospel, we malign God’s free gift by adding a price to it. We attempt to by a BMW with food stamps.

What Every Sunday School Teacher Needs

sunday school teacher blogThe other night while rounding kids up for an event, I heard a little gal remark, “Ooo…he’s getting angry; you’all better listen.” That little comment shocked me back into reality. I was getting frustrated with the kids, my heart was moving towards sin. And the kids knew. My heart needed to be humbled by that little voice .

To lead well, to teach well, and to do kids’ ministry well, we must live well.

Kids can spot our hypocrisy faster than a toddler can spot candy. They know when we fail. They listen when we talk about humility, patience, and forgiveness. And then they watch to see if we ever display humility, patience, and forgiveness in our lives. Are the words we saying just words or are they our life? Do we really live by every word of God?

The answer to these questions will determine whether or not we are a good Sunday school teacher, Wednesday night leader, or nursery worker. To teach kids the gospel, we must live the gospel. Remember that James commands us to, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Faith without works is dead. Kids know this.

Paul tells Titus, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity” (Titus 2:7).  As kids hear us teach their Sunday school lesson, they don’t hear a bunch of principles from Lifeway, Group Publishing, or NavPress.  They hear us. They look to see if the gospel has truly changed us. Our authenticity matter more than anything else.

Yes, God saves people with his word, regardless of who the teacher is. John Wesley led people to the Lord before getting saved. And Paul was content to see people preach Christ out of envy (Phil. 1:15). But the most effective teachers are the most obedient teachers. Pastor Bryan Chapell said it this way:

The character and compassion of a minister more than the characteristics of the message preached determine the quality of the message heard.”

The same can and should be said of Sunday school teachers and small group leaders.

Admittedly, no pastor or teacher is perfect. But the question that we need to consider is this: “How do we react when we sin?” Do we repent and ask for forgiveness or do we rationalize it, ignore it, and defend it? To be effective teachers, there is only one option. We have to deal with our sin. On more than one occasion, I have had to publicly apologize to the kids in my ministry. And I will do it again if I keep on living. Are we ready to take our sin seriously?

While we should always try to find methods, analogies, and crafts that help us to convey the gospel message better, we need to remember that our lives are the best teaching tool. The best Sunday school teachers aren’t necessarily the craftiest, most well-spoken, or the most technologically with it gal at church. The best teachers are the ones who daily commune with God.

What things have helped you become an authentic teacher?

3 Steps Towards Developing A Great Kids’ Ministry

3 steps to essential kids ministry blogI’ve talked with children’s workers all over the South. Regardless of the size of their church, we all have the same passion for reaching kids with the gospel. But to do so effectively, we must be prepared for the children we will interact with. We must create times, spaces, and lessons that facilitate the proclamation of Christ crucified. After 15 plus years in kids’ ministry, I have can point to three things that keep kids’ ministries thriving:

1. Get Organized: Whether we are teaching 3 kids or 300 hundred, we must be organized. We should plan activities and lesson in advance. Each teacher needs to know what their roll is and how to fulfill it. The teacher lecturing needs to have his lesson prepared, including analogies, stories, and activities to engage the kids. The teacher leading the craft needs to have all the supplies in the room before the kids arrive. And remember, our classes begin when the first child arrives and end when the last child leaves.  When we host lock-in at FBCE, we have the kids watch a movie both as they arrive and about 10 minutes before they leave. This way kids who arrive 30 minutes early and those who leave 45 minutes late have something to do.

2. Get Your Building Ready: One of the biggest turn off for new parents is dirty, old
facilities. If the paint is peeling off the ceiling, if there is a hole in the wall, or if the playground backs up to a blog lego manfreeway, parents aren’t going to trust you with their kids. I don’t care if your kids’ director is Charles Spurgeon. New families will not stay. You wouldn’t house a corvette in an old barn. Don’t put your kids, the future of your church, in a dark, dirty basement fit for child-molesters. I’m not saying you have to spend a million dollars on constructing an indoor playground to reach kids. But, you may need to spend some money here or there to clean things up, to make things healthy. To reach young families, we need facilities that look clean and that smell like Lysol.

3. Prioritizes Safety: Run background checks on all your workers; maintain worker to kid ratios; and, regularly sanitize your toys. But most of all keep your program orderly. If parent’s fear that their kid’s glasses will get broken when they attend your church, they won’t come. (I can speak from experience on this one.) I like to joke that as long as drop-off and pick-up look orderly, it doesn’t matter what you do the rest of the time. And while touch overstated, the sentiment is true. If parents sense that things are chaotic they will not leave their kids. Fight to keep things orderly and safe. Workers will buck you on safety issues and kids will not always like having to follow the rules. But the success of your kids’ ministry depends on you keeping everyone safe. Don’t give up!

Admittedly organization, good facilities, and safety doesn’t produce salvation. But they do open the door for gospel proclamation. If we don’t do these things, we limit our opportunities to minister to parents and to reach kids. And here is the sad thing. Parents and kids who find your church scary, don’t necessarily move on to the next church. They may simply just dropout because their relationships, their connections are to you and your church. Maximize your opportunities to reach the world for Christ. Get prepared to minister to the next generation!

What steps have you taken to reach faithfully reach the kids in your community?