Lessons Learned From Christmas Visits with the Elderly

Elderly ManEvery year at Advent I visit some of the ‘shut-ins’ of our church.  That is, members who are now physically unable to attend.  I bring them poinsettias and do my best to listen.  Here are four lessons I learned from the experience this year.

1) Life Is Short

You hear this all the time, but it really sinks in when you hear it again and again from people closer to the end. Almost everyone I visited this year expressed it. Time seems to speed up as you get older. It continues to speed up in old age.

2)  Some People Are Given Time To Reflect At The End Of Life

Many people are given a space at the end of their life where they have nothing to do.  They are no longer working, cooking or cleaning.  Their spouse has passed away along with many friends and relatives. The structures that gave shape to their life are gone.

There are two reactions to this empty time. Some people do nothing, give great importance to things that are trivial and often become depressed or at least bored.  Others seek God and truth in the stillness. They pray, drink in information about God, listen, watch and serve in all kinds of creative ways. These people experience spiritual growth even as their bodies fade.

I met a man who entered into a real, vital relationship with God at the age of 84, after a lifetime attending church. When the busyness of life faded he found God waiting for him in the quiet.

3) No One Cares About Their Job Or Their Money At The End

I can imagine there are cases where people do care about these things at the end, but I didn’t find any.  The elderly still have physical needs of course and that can be expensive, but no one talked to me about money or plans to get more. No one talked about the stock market or investments.  Even more striking, no one told me about their former job. The thing they spent most of their time doing in their life was not even mentioned.

What do they care about?  Four things: God, Family, Trivial Details or Nothing. Some talk about nothing but God and Family, others only talk about the minute details of their schedule.

4) Every Life Is Both Worse And Better Than It Appears

Many of the people I visited opened up to me. Some feel the need to share things with a pastor they have never told anyone before.

Every life is worse than it appears. Beneath the surface are deep wounds, anger, disappointment, depression and struggle. And yet, if you listen long enough you can get beyond this. At the deepest level and everywhere you find a God who is constantly watching, leading, calling and restoring. Take a ‘normal’, decent life.  Look deep enough and you will find vast evil.  But do not stop there.  Look even deeper and you will find God Himself doing amazing things that mostly go unnoticed.

How to Worship With Little Kids

andrew and joy 2We have four boys, ages 11, 7, 2 and 3 months. Our two year old is loud. In church he dances all over the place and yells things during prayer. Even when he whispers you can hear it four pews away.  Yes, our church has pews. At our church the kids stay in the main service during worship.

So how do you worship when you have little kids?  Here are a few things God has shown me over the years.

Don’t Model Embarrassment

Your kids are going to become like you.  They learn from your actions more than your words. What do you want to model for them in worship?  Are you going to sit in the back because they are so loud and you are embarrassed?  What does that teach them? We need to hide our messiness from the church and from God?  Sit in the front.

What are the little things you do during church teaching your children?

Talk to Them in Worship

You have your mind focused on God.  You are thinking about all the amazing things He has done for you.  You can feel the Holy Spirit.  Does that mean you can’t talk to your kids?  No, it means you have to talk to them from the heart.

Lets suppose you are in worship and your kids start fighting.  Separate them.  Then use your prepared heart to try and draw them in.  I will take one of my fighting children, put an arm around them and talk to them about God.  I usually start by asking them if they understand the song, or what we are doing.  Or I ask about a symbol in the church. What does that dove mean son?  As soon as I find something they are interested in I answer their questions from a place of worship.

Discipline is Part of Worship

Kids need discipline.  Adults need discipline from God. We need it to make us better people. We need it to be happy. Why would this not be part of worship?

Christians claim to be a family of God.  We claim to be a community of deep love.  And in this family of love am I afraid to discipline my child the way I would at home?  Why?  I am not saying you should spank your toddler in front of the whole church. But I have heard the excuse many times that parents can’t make their kids listen in church because they can’t discipline them there.  I do it all the time.

Time out. Take away a toy. For older kids taking away a privilege later. All these are effective means that can be done right in your seat.  What if they still don’t listen.  Then you pull them out of the middle of the service and deal with it thoroughly. Last month I made our two year old take a nap in another room for half the service. He screamed bloody murder. Some people heard it. I missed part of the service, but the last few weeks have been much better.

Use Their Presence to Make Your Worship More Authentic

Our kids aren’t going to be perfect.  We often put up such a perfect image in worship.  We are clean and nicely dressed and happy and singing with our hands lifted up.  Our kids bring a dose of real life into worship. Use it.  Your kids are part of you and you of them. The things they do right or wrong are also in you. Take everything you are, kids included, and place it before God.

Church Experiments: The Awakening Part 2

alarm clock…this is part two in a series.  Click here for part 1.

Staff Awakening

December, 2008. There were seven adults and six children involved.  All seven committed to the practices in Part 1 and the kids participated in limited ways.  Each person also gave up something they enjoy for the entire 29 days.

During this time we became like a family. Particularly important were the daily phone calls and the shared meals. Conflicts arose after a couple of weeks between people who had never been in conflict before. This was good. In every case it led to deeper relationship. Almost every member of the group commented on personal problems they usually had that were not present during the Awakening. The experience was a mountaintop and spiritual high point.

At the end most of the group was excited to continue in some way. We decided to have meals together once a month and to call each other occasionally. We all agreed to this, but it never happened. Our relationships went back from being like family to friends and co-workers. Once the required discipline and commitment was taken away, all the shared practices and the community that was formed by them evaporated.

Youth Awakening

February, 2009. Seven youth and five leaders committed to do the awakening.

As with the staff the experience created a sense of unity, purpose and seeking after God together. It took longer for this to happen, but by the third week and especially after the retreat everyone in the group felt a real sense of belonging.

This Awakening was much more work for the leaders than the first had been. By the end almost everyone was excited and positive about the experience, including parents. However, before it began there was resistance both from parents and youth over the idea. This was overcome through prayer, listening and explanation.

During the awakening there were amazing changes in many of the youth. Some who had discipline problems and trouble paying attention became helpful and engaged. Some who were shy became excited and involved. Some who prayed only when I made them began to pray on their own. Some read more Bible than required. The three who were baptized were very excited.

Overall, it was a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. I felt as if I had entered the battle instead of sitting on the sidelines. The fight was hard, but things happened. The changes that occurred in this one month were greater than the changes I had seen in three years prior.

Final Thoughts

Our hope was that the Awakening would create a core membership of the youth group that would be united, seek God together and that this core would then draw in others. Over time it succeeded. This group became the core around which a whole new youth group was formed. The new group is larger and much more focused on Christ. Amazingly, Jesus’ strategy of starting with a deep, committed core of people actually works.

However, the Awakening did not work for everyone. Some people who were very committed during the experience could not maintain their commitment to Christ without that community and slowly drifted away.

Our Homeschool Pomodoro Lifestyle

tomatesThis is the second year my wife and I (mostly my wife) have homeschooled our two older children. They are currently in grades 6 and 2. Here’s a snapshot of what I call our homeschool pomodoro lifestyle.

First, what is homeschool?  It does not mean teaching your children anti-social tendencies along with math and reading alone in your basement. Homeschoolers don’t have to be weird or particularly intellectual.  Some are, but so are some kids in public school. For us homeschool means learning in a community based on families instead of one based on classes and age.

We are part of a group called the South Delta Home Learners.  We chose that group because it is big and active. The group, along with our church, makes up our kids social and educational world. They do swimming lessons, choir, scouts and all kinds of special educational events with these same people. These are the friends they play with.  They know all the parents and the siblings. Some they call auntie and uncle.  The line between education, recreation, friendship and family is blurred. 

What’s a Pomodoro?  It’s the Italian word for Tomato.  It is also the name of a productivity system named after a tomato shaped kitchen timer. Check it out at www.pomodorotechnique.com.  The pomodoro system is based on focused work for short periods, followed by breaks.  The idea is that by doing this you will be much more productive than if you work straight through the whole day. I believe that’s true. Our experience of homeschool is a lot like the Pomodoro system.

Every morning the kids eat breakfast and begin their work. They focus for an hour and a half.  During that time they get ready, dress, brush teeth, make beds, read their bible, do their chores, and do all their Math, Reading and Writing for the day.  What?! Only an hour and a half?  Yes, that’s right, in that amount of focused time every day they can easily keep up with provincial learning objectives for those subjects.

After that their days are different.  Sometimes they play the rest of the morning then go to a friend’s house.  Sometimes they have structured activities: swimming, scouts, music lessons, church groups, etc. Anyone who went to public school, like me, would think their schedule is remarkably free. Every Thursday we take a rest day, as I have written about here.  Our entire family essentially does nothing for whole day.

So far the results of this homeschool lifestyle are fantastic. The kids like school and even enjoy the subjects they don’t like a little. They keep up with school and are able to spend lots of time having new experiences and doing what they want. They have more friends than I ever had growing up and these friendships are of a different kind. They are friendships between families. We focus hard, then we rest and play. I am not suggesting homeschool is the only way, just that it can be pretty awesome for some families.

 

by Isaac Whting

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Book Review – Everyday Church

Image

 by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Summary:  The church is at the edge of society. We need to accept it and redefine church as small groups of people living life deeply together with a purpose to spread the gospel.  Our main thing needs to be small groups sharing life and mission together instead of Sunday morning.

Good Stuff:

“We have a loose connection with Christians on Sunday but then largely we go back to living our everyday lives on our own.”

True Biblical rebuke and correction can only happen when people share everyday life together.

“The church leader is someone who is sacrificed from the front life to equip everyone else for the front line. “

Law says “You Should…”  Gospel says “You need not…”

“We need truths we already know pushed down into the everyday realities of our lives.”

“Many Christians function as if the church is a meeting…an entity with structures such as constitutions, ministers, elders, committees and so on.”

Ministry is something done by ordinary Christians with the support of pastors.

An interesting section on how to speak gospel ideas into everyday conversations.

“A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society.”

“This is what we are all about: just hanging out, doing nothing spectacular, but with gospel intentionality.”

“If the bulk of a church’s time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen.”

Complaints:

Some of their suggestions for how to do everyday mission sound like it is only for super social outgoing people. They say you should eat meals with other people as much as possible, walk places and be a regular at certain stores so you can strike up conversations with strangers and you should be exciting not boring.  “You will never attract people to Jesus if you are not excited about Jesus.”  “Our job is to have fun to the glory of God!”

In their conclusion they say groups of believers living together on mission must be more important than Sunday mornings for it to work.  But then they suggest you could keep the current model of church and just add some small gospel community groups to it. Which one is it?

Conclusion:

Overall a good book. They ran out of steam a couple of places, but most of it is useful.  It goes over the standard missional church story but doesn’t spend too long on it. There is lots of practical advice and examples.  If you have no idea what missional church is or are confused by it like most people, this is a good book to read.

Why You Should Never Grab Your Children

ImageWe have three-and-a-half children.  Sometimes we want to run away screaming.  However, we consistently get compliments about their behavior. A dozen times old ladies have given them candy or money because they were so impressed. Being a parent is complicated, but here is one rule that goes a long way.  Don’t Grab Your Children!

I see it constantly. A child is doing something that embarasses her parents. Maybe they are running in church or going after that fragile decoration on a friends coffee table. Mom or dad tells them to stop and is ignored. So they grab her. The parent physically stops the kid from doing whatever it was. This is always a mistake.

Now, I am no bleeding heart.. I am a believer in spanking at the right moment and age. The problem with grabbing your kids is that it doesn’t work. The child is out of control. They need something to control them. But when you grab them the point of control is outside their mind and body.

Imagine you are the child. You know you are doing something wrong. That is the seed of responsibility and self control. As soon as mom grabs you it is taken away.  It is mom’s responsibility to hold you back, not yours.  You learn that you can do whatever you want and someone else will make sure you don’t go too far. That is a super bad lesson to learn.

But you say, what else can I do?  The answer is simple and bears incredible fruit.
Don’t Grab Your Kids!
I like to think of it as a game.  Here are the rules.

1) You must get them to stop if you said no.

If you say no you have to deal with it.  You face it head on every single time, even if it is small.  If little Billy is climbing on a table and you have never told him he can’t then fine, you can let it go on.  But if even once you say ‘No climbing on tables’’ you MUST confront Billy until he stops.

2)  You cannot touch them  

You can’t grab Billy and pretend to hug him so he doesn’t climb up anymore. You must use your words. You can promise consequences as long as you follow through.. This means Billy has to think. The point of control is inside himself.  You are giving water and sunlight to that seed of responsibility. The choice is his.

3) You can punish them in appropriately

Billy is going to ignore you. He must have consistent consequences just like he will later as an adult. Spanking and timeouts can be good, but be creative. Most times there are more important things you can take away. Don’t think of this as doing something against your child.  You are helping them.

That’s it!  Win the ‘Don’t Grab Your Kids Game’  and soon your children will learn responsibility. They will respond when you say something and little old ladies will love them.

Tell me what you think –  Isaac

The Baptist is Coming to Wreck Your Party

ImageChristmas was great. We watched the kids dress up like sheep and tell us about the baby Jesus. We opened presents and drove a long way. Things aren’t perfect but they are pretty good. Time for a New Years party!

So what happens next?

What comes after the baby Jesus?  The answer is John the Baptist.  He lives in the wilderness. He eats bugs. He wears clothes that rub his skin raw and he breaks into beehives with his bare hands. His hair is all matted and he has a crazed look in his eyes. Run!  The Baptist is coming to wreck your party.

Here is the deal.  John the Baptist lived a life that should scare us sober.  He was Jesus’ cousin. An angel told his parents that he should follow certain rules for his entire life, the rules of a Nazirite.  You can find these in Numbers chapter 6.  He couldn’t eat or drink anything made from grapes.  But people drank wine at every meal and ate a lot of raisins.  No parties for John. He could never be near a dead body.  If his mom died he couldn’t go to the funeral.  And he could NEVER cut his hair. Just like Samson.  Samson had long braids.  In John’s case think dreadlocks.

At about 13 he left home and lived in the wilderness.  Hot, desert-ish scrubland. He was alone there for 15 years!  What did he do?  He prayed, listened and looked for God.

Around the age of 30 he began yelling a message from God.  Word spread and thousands of people went to hear him.  He yelled at them and then he baptized them. Jesus came. John screamed something about this guy being a lamb and saving the world.  About four people paid attention.

After that he called the king a godless sinner.  They arrested him and chopped off his head.

What kind of life is this?  No friends. No family.  Virtually no childhood. No job, no parties, basically no food, no stuff, no nothing. An entire life devoted to just one word:  REPENT.

And what does that mean?  It means recognize that something is wrong. The world is not just okay. Your life is not just okay.

We are so used to the things being wrong that we put on a smile and ignore them.  The people John spoke to lived in a world filled with evil, corruption and oppression.  But that is how its always been right?  Can’t do anything about that. Just do your best and enjoy what you can.  John said NO.

It’s the same for us. We are blind to the things we do wrong. We shake our heads at the news every day, but do nothing. And just think of all those family issues you ignored last week. John says NO.

The baby Jesus came to bring peace.  But no one can receive Jesus unless they accept what the Baptist has to say.