Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, is a favorite of mine. The title has served as sort of mantra for me over the years. But today, thinking and talking to God as I do my errands, it hit me that a better motto for my life may be: A long repentance in the same direction.
Every year around this time I pull out a journal I only use after Christmas and before the new year. I purchased it 17 years ago, when my marriage seemed to be over and I was pregnant with our second son. The cover of the cheap journal is now faded. The red poinsettia print is a dark pink. But the word “Faith” on the cover still holds.
Each year I’ve written prayers and confessed my weariness in those pages. When I read that journal at the end of every year, I’m actually embarrassed that I keep struggling with the same fears and desires. Desires that never seem fulfilled.
Tonight I opened my new copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I’m not Anglican. There’s not a bit of High Church in me. But I’m drawn to the structure of the BCP. Tonight’s reading from the evening prayer is all about repentance.
He heard me in the car. He knows my path. Every year I press on in the direction of Resurrection Day. And my daily progress towards that day is not so much a straight path of obedience, but a detoured, dizzying trail of turnings. Turnings away from bitterness towards tenderheartedness. Getting up and turning from head down faithlessness, towards my Father, believing He is good. No matter what.
“I’ll get up, go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.I’m no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went to his father. But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. “
A couple weeks ago, while listening to Wendell Berry, I decided to stop waiting for the ideal situation and start planting a garden.
I’ve realized something about myself since that day. I like to do simple things. Tasks that require hands on practice. And not much research or technical skill.
Gardening seems like it should be pretty straight forward. Take a seed. Put it in the ground. And water it. But it turns out there’s more to planting a productive garden than simply pressing a seed into the earth.
There’s a need to know about the climate where the garden is planned. There’s a need to know what grows in that climate at this time of year. There’s a need to prepare the soil. And to learn what preparing the soil means.
And so, I suppose like anything one is new at, gardening requires learning new skills. And I think that’s why seriously undertaking planting a garden scares me off. I’m lazy. I don’t want to have to research what the soil is like in the “low desert” of Arizona. ( I had know idea the area I live in is called “low desert” until I started researching how to plant.) I don’t want to have to spend weeks preparing the soil.
But I don’t want to be an expert couch potato either. And so today is week 2 of my repentance from laziness.
Last week I researched and asked questions. Planted herb seeds in a little indoor greenhouse tray. Marked the 12 x 5 foot area in the earth where I decided to plant. Shoveled goat and chicken droppings and scattered them on my garden plot. Watered it daily. And didn’t plant anything.
This week, I tilled the soil. And took my neighbor’s advice (she’s an expert gardener), added more goat droppings and covered the area with wood chips from her yard. Watered. Put up a chicken wire fence around the garden. And planted nothing.
Through the week I’ll keep watering. And maybe on Saturday or Sunday I’ll plant the seeds the experts say grow well in Arizona’s low desert this time of year.
I’m tired now. My back is sore from bending and hoeing and digging and raking and squatting. I’ll sleep well I’m sure.
Laying here about to die to the day. I can’t help but think about the grace that gives us God’s work to do. Seed planting isn’t the only or even the first work. The labor is observation, learning, asking questions, listening, praying, caring, and waiting. Then the seed is planted. And then it’s God’s turn.
“I planted the seed of the teaching in you, and Apollos watered it. But God is the One who made the seed grow.”
I’ve been in a church since the week after I was born. Every church I’ve been part of has impacted my life in a unique way. Like an arm is different from the liver, these churches were all very different. Among them were bad teachings. But at each church I grew. I learned. I love Christ more because of them all.
It seems there’s a reckoning happening in the American church. There are good reasons why some have left titles or denominations behind. The Church is in need of washing and pruning, discipline and rebuke. But She is also the source of health and growth for the Christian. See 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Where I learned the hymns that saved me
From birth through fourth grade my parents brought me up in a non-instrument, no classes Church of Christ. I didn’t realize it until I was in my late teens, but the church of my childhood believed it was sinful and a show to use musical instruments in the church gathering. We were to “sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another” in the church gathering.
My childhood church also prohibited classes of any kind. Not for kids. Not Sunday school. No classes. But they loved to sing well. Since there were no instruments I guess they honed in on making sure we were all in tune.
I remember seeing the man leading us in hymns blow on his tuning pipe, then humming to tune his own voice, then putting his arm in the air to conduct the congregation in the right tempo of the song. We sang, “Some glad morning, when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away,” and “There is power, power, wonder working power. In the blood. Of the Lamb.” The women harmonized with the men. The heart rumbling tone of the baritone men, singing their part, is forever in my memory.
My childhood church’s doctrine on water baptism, women being silent and submissive, singing strictly acapella, and classes being prohibited made a huge impression on me. And not for the good. But despite the bad teaching, the Holy Spirit reached me there.
At age sixteen, listening to an acapella singing of Amazing Grace at a Bill Gothard conference, I heard the Lord call me to follow Him. At my childhood church I learned to love the hymns. And I learned to love the simplicity and commonness of the gathering of God’s people. My childhood church taught me to receive the reading of scripture, engage in the singing of hymns to each other, and to partake of the Lord’s Supper in memory of Jesus.
Where I learned to love the Bible
In my early adult years I looked for a church alone. My husband and I were newlyweds and I was newly aware of his lack of interest in going to church. I was also a new believer. I was hungry for God’s word. And I found a church that fed me. Calvary Chapel.
I remained in a Calvary Chapel for more than ten years. During those years I learned about the Holy Spirit, prophecy, spiritual gifts and the power of the Bible. The pastors and teachers at Calvary Chapel showed me that anyone, in the context of the church, under the authority of elders, could open a BIble and teach God’s word.
In those years at Calvary Chapel I didn’t realize how the emphasis on a certain interpretation of the end times was impacting me. I would later come to see this over-emphasis on a pre-tribulation interpretation of scripture as distracting from the gospel and discipleship. But in my years at Calvary Chapel I learned to pray, listen to God, and study my Bible.
Where my childhood beliefs were challenged and I was loved
When my sons were just entering elementary school I began attending a Bible church. In this small Bible church I learned about church history and the words church people have for different theological stances.
I learned about Calvinism and Armenianism. I learned about cessationism and dispensationalism. And I learned that there are churches that don’t baptise people in water.
This was a source of wrestling for me. I grew up with a theologically heretical teaching that said you had to be baptised (emersed) in water at a Church of Christ to be accepted into those pearly gates we sang so well about in our accapella hmns. I knew that teaching was off, but no water baptism at all? The Bible church’s pastor challenged me to examine the meaning of baptism.
Even though I don’t agree with the reasoning for no water baptism, that Bible church showed me what it means to love the members of your church. That church supported me when my marriage was about to end. They bought me a car. Gave me a bed. And sent me to Oregon to visit my family. They also whet my taste for church history.
Where the gospel was held high and I learned to lead
This brings me to my current SBC affiliated church. This church, I love her. The pastor and leaders in my church have made the preaching of the gospel powerful and applicable. They’ve taught me the importance of discipling others, making friends about Jesus with open Bibles and open lives in small groups. They’ve taught me to lead, which has filled in a void from my childhood where I was taught women were never to lead anything. But mostly, they’ve taught me to respond to the gospel as a believer with faith and repentance on a day-in, day-out basis.
The Church has sin that needs to be confessed and repented of. Wickedness that needs to be purged. Abuse that needs to be exposed and condemned. But She also has the truth that builds up the Christian, deepening her roots in the love of Christ and helping her to produce fruit for the glory of God and the good of the kingdom. I’m grateful for the Church. I love her.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21
In recent months I began serving as the kids ministry director at my church. For me, getting on the floor to teach toddlers about Jesus has become a joy. But I’m discovering not everyone feels this way. And actually, I didn’t always feel this way.
I realize there are people who should never work with kids. But the reasons for not serving in a children’s ministry I hear from most people don’t stand to reason. The main explanations I hear for why people don’t want to serve in a ministry to children could be summed up in three categories:
They aren’t “kid” people.
They don’t feel equipped or comfortable teaching.
And they need to be in church not with kids.
I’d like to show you here why those three arguments should not be reasons to not serve children the gospel.
Your theology needs the humility of snotty noses
Ministry to children is not dignified. When I ask people to serve in kids ministry and their response is, “I’m not a kid person,” I want to say, “Well that’s nothing you can’t repent of!” Unless you have a history of abusing children, your aversion to teaching and serving children as a Christian needs repentance, not a refusal to serve.
When Jesus was teaching the adults and crowds who followed him, his disciples were annoyed with people who were bringing their kids to hear Jesus. They thought Jesus was too important for slobbering, loud, disruptive kids. And when Jesus saw that the disciples were shooing the kids away, he was mad! He scolded Peter, James, John and the other men with him. And then he told them no one would even enter the kingdom of heaven, unless they humbled themselves to the position of a snotty-nosed toddler.
There was a time I wanted to lead a women’s ministry. And when I was asked to serve in kids ministry, I felt disappointed. I felt like it was beneath me. And the Holy Spirit convicted me of my desire for an “honorable” position. Not that there’s anything wrong with ministering to women or adults, but if I am not in a posture before God that sees the goodness of bringing children to Jesus as an honorable position from which we grow in the Kingdom of God, I’ve got Jesus’ kingdom values all turned upside-down.
If you know your Bible, and believe sound doctrine, but when it comes to teaching the next generation the good news you know like the back of your hand your response is, “I’m not a kid person!” Repent! You don’t have a personality problem, you have a sin problem. If you won’t lead a child to Jesus because kids get on your nerves, repent of hindering children from knowing Jesus because of your pride, anger, impatience, lack of love, etc. You’re theology needs a dose of snotty-nosed humility. Humble yourself, get down on the floor with some disruptive kids and share your passion about what Jesus has done with them!
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them.” And God commands his people, all of his people, to proclaim his goodness to the next generation.
You learn the best when you teach another
A very well-known fact about learning is that when you teach someone what you’re learning, it sticks. I work in a hospital as a nurse and the gold-standard for teaching patients and families is what they call teach-back. In teach-back, the patient or family member teaches the nurse what they are learning. This demonstrates that the patient comprehends what they were taught and can apply it to their life.
One of the more common replies I get when inviting people to serve the church in teaching kids about Jesus is, “I don’t feel comfortable teaching.” Upon further discussion I find what’s behind that is a feeling that they don’t know the Bible enough or don’t know how to teach. But the very thing they’re avoiding doing is keeping them from growing in the area they feel insecure about.
The best way to get a handle on the message of the Bible is to spend time reading it, wrestling with God about it and telling someone else what you’re learning. I know for me, if I’m not teaching kids or telling someone else what I’m learning as I read the Bible, I won’t read it nearly as much. Teaching kids the Bible forces me to study the scriptures like I otherwise wouldn’t have .
The reasons behind God’s command to teach the coming generation about what he has done in Christ is not singular. It’s not just so the next generation will know. It’s also so we will know! Telling others what God has done helps us grow. Jesus’ final command to us was to go make disciples and to teach them all that he has taught us. Surely this is meant to grow us up in Christ as well as lead others to follow him with us.
Teaching kids what you are learning from the Bible as you follow Jesus is one of the best ways to learn your Bible and grow in knowing Jesus.
Jesus is there
“I need to be in church, not with kids.” This is the third most common reason for not serving in kids ministry I hear from tired and weary people who are depending on Sunday’s preaching and singing to be the gas that fills their tank for the week.
We suburban, American Christians tend to use church like Burger King. We go to church to get our dose of worship and Bible and then head out into our week, running on spiritual fumes till the next week. We treat the church like consumers instead of a covenant body.
We are to come to God hungry and desperate, but he feeds us more than just for an hour on Sunday listening to good preaching and good singing. We are to consume what God feeds us, but he doesn’t feed his church the way the teenage cashier at Burger King feeds us, giving us what we want and sending us on our way.
Jesus said to his disciples once, “I have food you know nothing about.” He was talking about the time he had just spent telling a woman their society pushed to the margins that he was the living water she was looking for. Jesus was fed where he poured himself out. The same goes for us.
Jesus is not just in the sanctuary, or big room gathering on Sunday. He is on the floor with kids in the nursery and in the elementary room opening Bibles to find out what God has been doing. He’s at home, and in the office, and at the grocery store and on the street. He’s with us. He’s with his people. And he wants to feed us. He wants to help us grow strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. But this spiritual muscle and healthy growth in Christ happens in obeying what the Father tells us to do.
The strength our weary souls desire is not found in escaping the denial of ourselves. It’s found in embracing the denial of ourselves to serve others in Jesus’ name.
In my Bible, Psalm 78 has a title over it that reads, “Tell the Coming Generation.” In it, the psalmist is charging the people of God to hear him. He’s admonishing them not to hide the wonders God has done from the next generation. One thing that strikes me about this psalm is in verse four. It says, “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” It strikes me that this isn’t a plea for parents to teach their children, as in Deuteronomy 6. But it’s a plea for God’s people to teach the children of other people in the congregation. We are to teach other people’s children.
Teaching kids the gospel of Christ through the Bible opened with young children, through songs in the nursery, through stories about Jesus to toddlers, is for all of us in the church. May the Spirit turn the hearts of the adults in his church to the children.
We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
My german shepherd Lukas has different barks for different things. One of his barks is very aggressive and intimidating. His body lunges, his teeth shows, he barks from his chest. That’s the, “there’s a predator” bark.
At 5 am this morning, Lukas let out an incessant “there’s a predator” bark.
I shot up off the couch and ran toward the back door and there I saw the most horrific sight: A coyote with Mrs. Miyagi in his mouth. I opened the door, commanded Lukas to, “GET HIM!” and the chase was on. My 2-year-old shepherd took off on the heals of that coyote, but the coyote clamped down his mouth on Mrs. Miyagi and ran the quarter-mile length of our alley-way toward the desert, leaving Lukas in his dust.
Mrs. Miyagi was our Frizzle hen. She was our smallest, most vulnerable chicken, always waddling behind the flock and sleeping in the dog house outside the chicken coop next to the goats. And today a coyote spotted her from our alley and found an opportunity because our back gate was opened. We had failed to secure the back gate. We mind as well have put a signal out in coyote language saying, “Come here! Free chickens for breakfast!”
The traumatic events of this morning made me think about the American church and the vulnerability of the weak among us, and how we leave the back gate open for predators to freely enter.
The Houston Chronicle’s series shone a bright light on the shadows where child predators have found easy prey in the churches associated with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) this past week. I’ve been grieving and reminded once again of the horrors I heard about in my childhood conservative church. The part of me that wanted to put her head in the sand and pretend everything is O.K. didn’t want to read the Houston Chronicle articles. But as a staff member and leader in kids ministry at my SBC church I had to expose myself to the horrors that have been hiding in dark places, sneaking in through open gates.
As I sought God’s answer and direction in prayer, I asked, “How should I pray Lord? What’s going on? What do I need to do? What do we, the church in America need to do?” James 3:16 was on my daily reading and it was a clear answer to my prayer.
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. – James 3:16
Pastors and leaders shaming, blaming, ignoring victims of sexual abuse, not reporting sexual abuse, allowing abusers to continue leading and having access to children in the church, grooming, and abusing children… everything I read in the Chronicle’s report is without a doubt “vile practice.” And according to James 3:16, the cause of such evil is jealousy and selfish ambition.
We need to see this. I need to see this. This chronic horror of sexual abuse thriving in churches has the lust we have for power at its root! The fault of so many exposed in the Chronicle’s report is an unwillingness to expose the evil in their midst and let the law-which God has ordained as the sword cutting off the wickedness among us- deal with the predators. And why were they unwilling? Why was the vile practice of sexual abuse covered and ignored? James 3:16 says it’s because of the lust we have for power and position.
It seems to me God is letting the horror of sexual abuse in the church be exposed to highlight the back gate we’ve left wide open: the lust of power and position.
Today I spent the day in prayer with a 73 old neighbor and sister in Christ grieving and praising God for shining light on this darkness and pleading with him to move in the hearts of leaders in the American church to repent- with actions- of their lust of power and position.
Jesus has harsh words for the leaders in his church who would let sin tear down one of his little ones.
May there be a mass of those willing to go to the bottom of the sea with millstones around their necks, and those willing to cut off arms and gauge out eyes and give up their positions of power and influence in exchange for face-to-the-ground repentance.
May the Holy Spirit clean his house and restore the joy of our salvation.
Jesus is the gate of the sheep. And no predator gets past his dead and resurrected body. He will have vengeance.
May we be willing to cut off the jealousy and selfish ambition that has left the back gate open for the vile practice of child predators in our midst.
“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” -John 14:21
A short meditation before I leave for work this morning. As I read this “verse of the day” on my phone through squinting, puffy, morning eyes, I was faced with the an argument. Too tired to argue with myself at 5 am, I made coffee instead and then looked at the verse again. The mocking accuser rose up with his old worn-out argument, “See, loving God is obedience and you don’t obey all the time so you don’t love God.” Instead of ignoring, I engaged. An “it is written” refutal arose in my heart. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32)
Obeying Jesus is repentance of disobeying him. And that is loving him. And by the grace of God, I can do that.
This kind of engagement happens often when I read scripture. I hear an argument, and seek God’s word for a refutal or understanding, and then I find way more treasure and peace than I was expecting.
Don’t hide from hard things, hard words, accusations. Bring them out into the light. Let God’s word shine on them and change the way you think and send that old accuser packing!