Monday, December 19, 2011

The Last Blog of the Year

During this time of year it is crazy, and things really don’t slow down for any of us until the middle part of January. Because of that…this will be my final blog of the year. I want to tell you “thank you” for taking the time out of your busy schedule and reading this blog through the year. Thank you for the comments (mainly on facebook) that I receive from you, but also the e-mails. I am a blessed man… God has done an incredible work in the life of Trinity this year and I must say that the last 6 months have been some of the most enjoyable I have ever had in my ministry. To see where we have come from to where we are - to watch the wonderful families God has brought us as new additions to our church family (as well as some blessed subtractions we have said good bye to), the strength, the passion for discipleship, the desire for accountability, the understanding of how the gospel impacts our life on the daily basis, the passion for God’s glory, the unity – all of these are evidences of grace that I do not go through a Sunday without seeing! In a few weeks Michele and I will be celebrating our third year at Trinity.  When I came I had no idea how difficult it would be, but I also had no idea the prayer, support, encouragement and hunger for the Word that God would cause to spring forth. Thank you for allowing me the trust and honor to walk book by book, verse by verse with you through the Word of God. Thank you for the encouragement and prayers you have given our incredible staff and me throughout this year. Thank you for holding fast through the storms and rejoicing in the victories the Lord has given us. I love you and look forward to many more years of serving our Lord beside you. I love you Trinity family, thank you for the joy of letting me lead you as your Pastor.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Happy Birthday Jesus Celebration

In the very early days of my ministry there was a family who celebrated Christmas by having a big “Happy Birthday Jesus” celebration and, while they made it a lot of fun for the kids, they thought the best present to give would be an additional offering to the church that their family all contributed towards. When I heard about this and thought it through…and then considered the time that this family took in going about this, I felt it would be a great idea to introduce this to our church. I began this in about my second year of being a Pastor and it has always been a special time for our family and fellowship. Last year, our fellowship had a wonderful time doing this and I believe this year will be even better. On Sunday night we will have a very unique worship service then we will have a time to bring our gifts to the altar as a family. I want to encourage you to use this week to allow your younger children to make cards to package your gift and use this as a teaching time to explain what this holiday is all about. Share with them the importance of the cradle because it led Christ to the cross. Use this to herald the gospel to your children! This is a holiday which the world, Santa Claus and parties have all clouded the great gospel message. Don’t waste the opportunity we have as a church body to have fun, but also focus on Christ during this all too busy time of the year. Don’t forget to be here Sunday evening as we will have a time worship, praise and food at the end of our service. I am looking forward to how God is going to use this time in our fellowship at Trinity!

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Final Perspective to Consider....

Let me state from the onset that there is a much that Mark Driscoll teaches that I disagree with…but, this is not a blog on the differences between Driscoll and me. However, I believe he does a great job in writing concerning his view about Santa Claus and it just gives us another perspective to think through. I hope this series has been helpful.

 From:  Mark Driscoll's blog
What we tell our kids about Santa

image by Patrick Mahoney
'Tis the season . . . for parents to decide if they will tell the truth about Santa.
When it comes to cultural issues like Santa, Christians have three options: (1) we can reject it, (2) we can receive it, or (3) we can redeem it.
Since Santa is so pervasive in our culture, it is nearly impossible to simply reject Santa as part of our annual cultural landscape. Still, as parents we don't feel we can simply receive the entire story of Santa because there is a lot of myth built on top of a true story.
Redeeming Santa
So, as the parents of five children, Grace and I have taken the third position to redeem Santa. We tell our kids that he was a real person who did live a long time ago. We also explain how people dress up as Santa and pretend to be him for fun, kind of like how young children like to dress up as pirates, princesses, superheroes, and a host of other people, real and imaginary. We explain how, in addition to the actual story of Santa, a lot of other stories have been added (e.g., flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, delivering presents to every child in one night) so that Santa is a combination of true and make-believe stories.
We do not, however, demonize Santa. Dressing up, having fun, and using the imagination God gave can be an act of holy worship and is something that, frankly, a lot of adults need to learn from children.
What we are concerned about, though, is lying to our children. We teach them that they can always trust us because we will tell them the truth and not lie to them. Conversely, we ask that they be honest with us and never lie. Since we also teach our children that Jesus is a real person who did perform real miracles, our fear is that if we teach them fanciful, make-believe stories as truth, it could erode confidence in our truthfulness where it really matters. So, we distinguish between lies, secrets, surprises, and pretend for our kids. We ask them not to tell lies or keep secrets, but do teach them that some surprises (like gift-giving) and pretending (like dressing up) can be fun and should be encouraged. We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa's lap for a holiday photo if they so desire. For parents of younger children wanting them to learn the real story of Santa Claus the Veggie Tales movie Saint Nicholas is a good choice.
The Truth about Santa Claus
The larger-than-life myths surrounding Santa Claus actually emanate from the very real person of Saint Nicholas. It is difficult to know the exact details of his life with certainty, as the ancient records are sparse, but the various pieces can be put together as a mosaic of his life.
A Gift-Giver
Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, a village in what is now Turkey. He was born into an affluent family, but his parents died tragically when he was quite young. His parents had raised him to be a devout Christian, which led him to spend his great inheritance on helping the poor, especially children. He was known to frequently give gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.
Perhaps his most famous act of kindness was helping three sisters. Because their family was too poor to pay for their wedding dowry, three young Christian women were facing a life of prostitution until Nicholas paid their dowry, thereby saving them from a horrible life of sexual slavery.
A Bishop and Saint
Nicholas grew to be a well-loved Christian leader and was eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city that the apostle Paul had previously visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also traveled to the legendary Council of Nicaea, where he helped defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325.
Following his death on December 6, 343, he was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians, with some two thousand churches named after him. The holiday in his honor eventually merged with Christmas, since they were celebrated within weeks of one another.
During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.
The legends about Santa Claus are most likely a compilation of other folklore. For example, there was a myth in Nicholas' day that a demon was entering people's homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas cast it out of a home. This myth may explain why it was eventually believed that he came down people's chimneys.
Also, there was a Siberian myth (near the North Pole) that a holy man, or shaman, entered people's homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. According to the legend, he would hang them in front of the fire to dry. Reindeer would reportedly eat them and become intoxicated. This may have started the myth that the reindeer could fly, as it was believed that the shaman could also fly. This myth may have merged with the Santa Claus myth, and if so, explains him traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplace mantles before flying away with reindeer.
These stories of Santa Claus were first brought to America by Dutch immigrants. In the early twentieth century, stores began having Santa Claus present for children during the Christmas season. Children also began sending letters to the North Pole as the legends surrounding an otherwise simple Christian man grew.
In sum, Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved and served Jesus faithfully. So, we gladly include him in our Christmas traditions to remind us of what it looks like for someone to live a life of devotion to Jesus as God. Our kids thank us for being both honest and fun, which we think is what Jesus wants.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Continue to Think Through this "Santa" Thing!

I wanted to post a few blogs that give some fuel for discussion for this time of year regarding Santa. If you will read my previous blog, you will find that I am not one of these guys that just believes Santa is another word for Satan. But, I do think it is something that Christian parents must think through at the very least.

Thinking About Santa

Over the years, we have chosen not to include Santa Claus in our Christmas stories and decorations. There are several reasons.
First, fairy tales are fun and we enjoy them, but we don’t ask our children to believe them.
Second, we want our children to understand God as fully as they’re able at whatever age they are. So we try to avoid anything that would delay or distort that understanding. It seems to us that celebrating with a mixture of Santa and manger will postpone a child’s clear understanding of what the real truth of God is. It’s very difficult for a young child to pick through a marble cake of part-truth and part-imagination to find the crumbs of reality.
Third, we think about how confusing it must be to a straight-thinking, uncritically-minded preschooler because Santa is so much like what we’re trying all year to teach our children about God. Look, for example, at the “attributes” of Santa.
  • He’s omniscient—he sees everything you do.
  • He rewards you if you’re good.
  • He’s omnipresent—at least, he can be everywhere in one night.
  • He gives you good gifts.
  • He’s the most famous “old man in the sky” figure.
But at the deeper level that young children haven’t reached yet in their understanding, he is not like God at all.
For example, does Santa really care if we’re bad or good? Think of the most awful kid you can remember. Did he or she ever not get gifts from Santa?
What about Santa’s spying and then rewarding you if you’re good enough? That’s not the way God operates. He gave us his gift—his Son—even though we weren’t good at all. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He gave his gift to us to make us good, not because we had proved ourselves good enough.
Helping our children understand God as much as they’re able at whatever age they are is our primary goal. But we’ve also seen some other encouraging effects of not including Santa in our celebration.
First, I think children are glad to realize that their parents, who live with them all year and know all the worst things about them, still show their love at Christmas. Isn’t that more significant than a funny, old, make-believe man who drops in just once a year?
Second, I think most children know their family’s usual giving patterns for birthday and special events. They tend to have an instinct about their family’s typical spending levels and abilities. Knowing that their Christmas gifts come from the people they love, rather than from a bottomless sack, can help diminish the “I-want-this, give-me-that” syndrome.
And finally, when children know that God’s generosity is reflected by God’s people, it tends to encourage a sense of responsibility about helping make Christmas good for others.
Karsten, for example, worked hard on one gift in 1975. On that Christmas morning, his daddy stepped around a large, loose-flapped cardboard box to get to his chair at the breakfast table. “Where’s Karsten?” he asked, expecting to see our excited three-year-old raring to leap into the day. Sitting down, I said, “He’ll be here in a minute.”
I nudged the box with my toe. From inside the carton, Karsten threw back the flaps and sprang to his full three-foot stature. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them . . .” He had memorized Luke 2:8-20 as a gift for his dad. Karsten knew the real story.
In fact, a few days later, he and I were walking down the hall at the church we attended then. One of the older ladies leaned down to squeeze his pink, round cheek and asked, “What did Santa bring you?” Karsten’s head jerked quickly toward me, and he whispered loudly, “Doesn’t she know?”

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Question that ALWAYS Comes Up!

We have had so many new families come in our church and so many of them have younger children, inevitably we are asked about what our response should be concerning Santa Claus. So…I am re-posting a blog from 2009 hoping it at least gives food for thought:  I will also post another blog I mentioned in 2009 at a later date. I hope for the next few weeks this will at least cause people think through some of these issues.

The Most Controversial Blog

I remember as a child on Christmas listening for Santa on the roof of my house. I remember the joy of waking up excited to see what presents were waiting for me under the tree - and I remember not understanding why my parents were so tired on Christmas morning! Then, I became a parent…and then I couldn’t believe how difficult Fisher Price made it for “Santa” to put together a child’s toy! I couldn’t believe how tired I would be on Christmas Day after only getting a few hours of sleep - because it took my boys so long to go to sleep and I couldn’t begin “Santa Duties” until the boys were fast asleep. Growing up, both Michele’s family and my family enjoyed Santa Claus, and we did the same with our children. One of my dearest friends in all the world - who happens to be our Children’s Minister - never did Santa with his children. I believe that “Santa” is an individual family’s decision, and Bro. Jeff’s children never told my children any different. Now for the shocker…If I had it to do all over again, I would not do Santa with my children. Now, in family this would probably call for a collective gasp at this point, and let me state I don’t think a parent is wrong regardless of their view of Santa…but I do look back and see some difficulties in the way we handled things with our boys.

Michele and I always agreed if our boys ever point blank asked “Is there a Santa?” we would not say yes. However, we did present Santa to them as Omniscient (all knowing), one who rewards us based on our actions, one who can do the impossible, and so on. We take them to see Santa, we talk about Santa, we read stories about Santa - but then on Christmas Eve we talk about Jesus to them while they are anxiously awaiting Santa. Now, I do not feel my parents, nor most parents are “lying” to the children - they are just allowing the innocence of a childhood imagination to run wild. This is fun, it is fairy tale land, however, there is really no other fairy tale that we ask our children to live out or act upon and have faith in like Santa. Then, on top of this, there are many churches across our land that will have Santa come to Children’s Church, putting those parents who do not want to play Santa in a very difficult position. Now, while it is up to each family to make their decision if they will “do the Santa thing”, I don’t believe it should be answered with an easy “of course” as Michele and I did. If I had thought through the questions my children would ask, and thought through the confusion it could have caused, in all honesty I probably would have let my kids be kids and enjoy their toys, and their pretending and all the joy of the cartoons during holidays… but I would have passed on Santa.

I write this knowing some will get more angry about me “Rethinking Santa” than if someone were to actually speak negatively about their brother and sister in Christ (oops, sorry most don’t get very upset about that). But, it would do all believers well to understand that there really is someone who sees them when they are sleeping… and knows when they are awake….knows every action (bad or good, right?)…but even more, knows our hearts – and loves us with an unfailing love….

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Keeping Christ in Christmas...

When preaching to our church family, I have stated on several occasions that I believe we, as believers have placed ourselves at a disadvantage by not using our celebrations to focus on Christ enough. In the Old Testament there were all kinds of celebrations set up which caused their children to ask questions the meaning of the celebration…this gave Dad and Mom and opportunity to point to Christ during fun events. After all, we know that children love to celebrate! In fact, there is no celebration that children love any more than Christmas! As Christian parents our desire is to use each moment in our children’s lives to point to Christ, and while Christmas seems like an easy time to do this the truth is, we fall into the commercialism of the culture much the same way the world does. So, at the beginning of December I want to offer some very practical ways we can have more of a focus on Christ this year:

  • If you are a member of Trinity, begin now talking about our Happy Birthday Jesus service. This is where we give an additional offering to the Bride in celebration of our Savior’s birth. We do not do this as an ordinary offering, but we put this gift in an envelope or card. In the past we have talked to our boys about how much we are giving as a family and when they were smaller they made a card that we could place at the altar during this service. As a church family we have a birthday cake and celebrate the birth of our Savior.
  • Create ornaments with the names of Christ on them to hang on the tree. Take some time in your family worship to discuss what these names mean.
  • Invite a widow to have Christmas dinner with your family.
  • Minister to a family who has specific needs.
  • If you are in the Memphis area, visit St. Jude’s Hospital and take something small to the families who are going to have be there during Christmas.
  • Get involved with Operation Christmas Child as a family. We always participate in this church wide.
  • Make something for your neighbors…especially those whom you have been trying to reach for Christ.

If you do something as a family tradition or have any other ideas, tell us about them!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gushing Gospel Gratefulness on Thanksgiving!

As you celebrate this Thanksgiving with your family and friends, I pray that you will take the time to truly be thankful for what God has done and is doing in our Church family at Trinity.  I know for Michele, the boys and me, we are truly thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside you!  Know that we love you dearly and wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving!  

We will "finish out" our staff blogs with a final offering of thankfulness from Bro. Brad Walker...hope you enjoy! 

From Bro. Brad:
When the holiday season rolls around, I often reflect on the things in my life for which I am most grateful. I have never gotten over the fact that a sinner like me was met by the saving hand of God and confronted by the truth of the gospel.  It is a divine exchange beyond comprehension: the righteous for the unrighteous, the innocent for the guilty, and Jesus ‘perfect record for my filthy rags (II Cor. 5:21).  Likewise, my Heavenly Father has called me to be a Pastor, and it is an absolute joy that I get to fulfill my calling at Trinity Baptist Church.

During a couple of week stretch in October, the student ministry had a Student Ministry Vision luncheon, Man vs. Wild (2 day boys’ campout), Pampered Pajama Party (2 day girls’ retreat), and a 5th Quarter (after football game student gathering).  During this time, I was reminded both of my inadequacy to do ministry alone, and the unbelievable joy to see the Body of Christ in action serving as a team at these events.  From all of the parents that spent the night as chaperones, to the ones that baked, or decorated, or served food, or did manicures, or set up, etc… I was overwhelmed by how blessed I am to have such a dedicated support system.  We had church members that kept our three kids (not easy) so that Elicia and I could serve at the spring break events.  We have had grandparents, student leaders, parents and people with a heart for students who have given up much free time to organize, plan, and to serve so that the teenagers of Desoto County will be impacted with the gospel.  I am so grateful for our Student Leadership Team of Mentors that believes and live out ministry with students, and for servants that serve in logistics behind the scenes where no one sees.    At our vision luncheon, many of our families were there, and I was reminded of the amazing work that God is doing in transforming lives and families in our midst.  Marriages are being restored, broken lives are being put back together, Dads are stepping up to lead their families and children are trying to honor them.  I am so grateful that I serve a group of students that are hungry for the Word and are eager obey it.  I am fully aware that I do not deserve such wonderful people to serve, and God has been more than gracious to allow me the privilege of serving at TBC.  

Few people on this earth wake up every day excited about their vocation, and I am one that is blessed to have such a job. While there are many challenges in student ministry, we absolutely love it! It meets the needs of my family financially and provides me the opportunity to fulfill my calling with joy.  This joy is enhanced by the Godly and talented staff team and pastors that I serve with. I am so thankful for Emily Beitz, my former assistant, who very capably assisted me with much skill and recently took a promotion as a “stay at home mom,” and for Jerebeth Mehler, who now helps me in amazing ways and has taught me much about authentic, compassionate ministry. The depth of fellowship that our staff has in the midst of spiritual battle is deep, and the fun we have is great. I am also thankful for a senior Pastor that is my pastor, boss, and friend.  There is no other pastor in the world that I would rather serve with than my Pastor.  

Finally, the number of acts of kindness, babysitting, notes of encouragement, cooked meals, and loving gifts that we have received from our church family are too numerous to mention.  Thank you TBC for loving me as one of the Pastors of your church body. Thank you for loving my family and serving us in a way that humbles and edifies us.  Thank you for extending grace for my many weaknesses.  Thank you for helping us to raise our boys. Thank you for keeping us accountable to God’s Word. Thank you for reminding us often of Jesus Christ and His work. Thank you for being our family. 

Bro. Brad