Again, I Say Take Your Children to Church

Again, I say go to church. And take your children.

I say this observing men and women with their littlest ones, one end of the spectrum of life and the other crisply displayed. But it’s the invisible space—the space in between child and adult—that actually has my attention.

It’s this middle space where the ingredients are added. From boy to man, from girl to woman, all of the space in between is even now undecided—the character, the imagination, the belief systems, the ways that life will be lived, the caliber of man sought for a husband and the measure of a woman desired for a wife—all of these will be collected along the way and will simmer in this middle space.

Parents, the middle space is a powerful and determining time. Be mindful of this, and spend that time well. Go to church. Take your children. Season the middle spaces of their lives with the salt of Christ and His holy Word.

It is the most important ingredient in the recipe.

 

Take Your Children to Church

Go to church. And take your children.

Yes, yes, I know that in general children are not very good at listening or sitting still, and this can make worship very challenging. Still, I say go to church—and take your kids—because, for the record, there is something that children do magnificently.

They imitate adults.

Invisibility

I wanted to start off this morning by sharing a link to a video that a friend of mine shared with me. It shows a family doing a pretty good job of convincing their youngest daughter that she’d become invisible. You can view the video here.

So, what did you think? I should add that when it comes to a good practical joke, I’m all in. In fact, I have a fairly high threshold when it comes to practical jokes. Almost anything goes, as long as it doesn’t break the law. As a kid, practical joking was pretty much a way of life for me, my brother, and my sister. My brother is now with the Lord in heaven, so he can’t testify to this truth, but you could certainly ask my younger sister. She’d tell you just how hard it was for her to keep her Barbie dolls from being strapped to rockets and out of trees. And she’d affirm the terrorizing things my older brother did to me under the cover of darkness.

The point is, I have plenty of experience, both on the giving and receiving end of the mayhem. Even better, as a parent, such experience serves as a wellspring from which to sip when I’m in need of ideas for tormenting my own kids. Feel free to ask them, too.

But I’ll admit that the trick in this particular video bothered me a little. It was funny at first, but then I began to see and hear a palpable terror in a little one who had come to the realization that she was completely invisible to the people around her, namely her mother. In that brief moment between humor and fright, I realized something.

No one wants to be unseen to others. No one.

Sure, someone might say that he or she wants some alone time—a time to be invisible to the world. I get that. I feel that way sometimes. But that feeling comes and goes for various reasons, and some of those reasons, I’d guess, probably do emerge from the invisibility factor—the fact that so much of what we do and say and labor to accomplish is seen a certain way, and the rest of who we are is completely invisible to the ones standing right in front of us. Sometimes I need to get away from that.

From a different perspective, watching this video and admitting the shackles of a digital age—one full of smart phones and laptop computers and tablets—I wonder if we’re actually training ourselves to be so isolated from human contact that the only possible outcome is human invisibility.

I remember one evening this past summer having dinner with my family at Buffalo Wild Wings in Fenton. It was truly a time of joy just sitting together and laughing, talking about the details of each other’s lives, and just being the Thoma family. I remember leaning to Jennifer’s ear and whispering to her about my growing discontent with another little family a few booths away. It was a young couple with an infant child in a high chair. Both parents had their faces locked to the screens of their smart phones while the child sat there staring into nothingness. There was no interaction whatsoever with the child, and none between the parents. I concluded that this must be normal for them, because if they were so willing to display this in public, they most certainly lived this way in private.

I fear that child is at this very moment growing up invisible to the ones who matter, and this invisibility is because the time with the digital devices are more important to the parents.

Psalm 127:3 reminds us that children are a heritage and blessing for the Lord. Even more so, take note that whenever anything is happening in the Old Testament involving God giving blessings to His people, children are almost always ushered to the front of the line. In the New Testament, there’s no shortage of joy for children. Jesus Christ declares a great love for the little ones in Mathew 18 when He heralds their great value to our Heavenly Father. He does this again in the very next chapter when He rebukes the disciples for not permitting the children to be close to Himself. In John 21, before the Lord’s command to Peter to take care of His sheep, He first implores, “Feed my lambs.”

Children are by no means invisible to the Savior.

My hope for you today is that you would behold your little ones—no matter their age—and see them as the Lord sees them. He gave them to you because He loves you. He gave you to them because He loves them, too. That’s an incredible bit of information that, thankfully, was not left to the realms of invisibility, but rather was revealed by God’s Word for the benefit of His world, namely the wonderful underpinning of society known as “family.”

By the way, do you want to know one of the best ways to strengthen your family? Go to church.

You knew I was going to say that eventually, didn’t you?

Yes, worship together. Sing the hymns. Kneel in prayer. Listen to the Word and preaching. Approach the altar and gather together with other families to receive the gifts of grace in the Lord’s Supper. Be strengthened and then sent out by God’s holy benediction to be His Christian families in a world that truly needs the stability provided by the bright beaming light of His love through you.

Letting Her Go

(A Facebook Post.)

We just dropped Evelyn off at Camp Midicha, which is a week-long summer camp for kids with Type 1 Diabetes. Needless to say, I am experiencing a strange mixture of emotions.

In one sense I’m terrified. And why? Because no one knows the particulars of her disease like her parents—not her doctors or her friends. Not even her siblings have it wrangled like we do. We know her numbers, and we know her physical cues. But we’ll be offline for a week—unplugged from her care while others do the tending. In a way, this teeters at the edge of nightmarish.

In another sense, I’m so happy for her. In fact, she was sitting on my lap while we waited to register and she leaned in and asked, “So, everyone here has Type 1?”

“They sure do, honey,” I replied, kissing her cheek. “All of them. Even most of the counselors.”

She gave a sigh. “I’m not alone,” was her priceless reply.

That’s right, you’re not. You’re going to meet so many other kids who are fighting this monster just like you. And although it’ll be lurking there in the midst of the camp, you’re all going to have so much fun, it’ll be like a collective punch to the fiend’s face.

Lastly, I feel guilty. Why? Because as I said in the beginning of this little jaunt, Jennifer and I are now completely unplugged from the scene. In a sense, we get a break from the constancy of our daughter’s care. But I don’t want a break. She doesn’t get a break, and so I don’t want a break. It’s with her day and night, and so I want it to be with me day and night. I want to carry as much of the load for her as I can. With that, there’s guilt.

In the end, I know the experience will be a wonderful one for her. She’s going to make a lot of friends and she’s going to learn so much about how the other kids wrestle through it all, too. Who knows? Maybe by the time she gets home she’ll finally be convinced by a cabin mate that she really should try an insulin pump. Either way, I know the Lord will bless and keep her in His loving care. And when she comes home, we’ll be here to scoop her up, hear all of her wonderful stories, and then continue on together from where we left off, knowing that one day, in the realms of heaven, this stupid disease will be a thing of the past.

But again, until then, we’re in this together and we’ll keep going.

Keep At It, Mom and Dad!

I love the fact that we have so many children in worship these days. Indeed, it serves the heart well.

This is true because it means that when you look around the room, you’ll see moms and dads taking very seriously the Lord’s words in Matthew 28:19-20 where He instructs and emphasizes that Christians are actually made through the two-fold event of washing with water and the Word (Baptism) combined with a regular diet of all that the Lord has given (teaching). Baptism and teaching are inseparable parts of the same mandate.

To put this into perspective, if someone were to come to me and ask that I baptize his or her child, and yet would state an unwillingness to raise the child in the Christian faith, I would say no. I’d have to. Baptism and teaching go together. You can’t have one without the other.

So, when I look around the church during worship and I see the little ones with their parents, it always makes me smile. It reminds me of the living faith that Christ gave those parents in their baptism, and it points all of us to a horizon where we see the next generation equipped to do the same.

It also makes me want to help those families with children in any way that I can. It’s one reason why we supply the pews with those Kids in the Divine Service booklets, which are designed to be a helpful resource for teaching the “why we do what we do” of the life of faith in worship. It’s also why we encourage parents to take the kids out when they get a little rowdy but then to bring them back in as soon as they are ready. Sure, every kid gets restless, and so when they decide to bang the hymnal against the pew, or shout at the top of their lungs, or run their Tonka truck up and down the hardwood pew, that can be incredibly loud and distracting and it’s a good idea to take them out in respect of others. But once the appropriate recalibration has happened, get them right back into the church as soon as possible. The little ones belong in there with the rest of their Christian family—with their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Are there other things that we can do as a community to help parents? You bet! We can be sure to give mom a hug and say, “Keep at it, mom,” or give dad a pat on the back and say, “Good job, dad.” These gestures and words make a difference. I know they helped us when our kids were smaller.

Another thing to keep in mind (and it’s something that many folks with older children already know so well) is that so often parents of little ones feel as though they are working so hard and doing all they can just to get to and keep the child in worship, all the while feeling as though as parents, they aren’t getting anything out of the service because they’re so busy with the child.

This is a very real concern, and it’s one that when I hear it, I not only do what I can to encourage the parents—reminding them that this is a very important time in their life when faithfulness to Christ in holy worship looks and feels less like something spiritual and more like riot control. Still, they are being faithful to Christ in their service, and He by no means intends to leave the parents out of the blessings being bestowed to the whole Christian family in the worship setting. With this, I also try to remind them that the Word of God is so much more powerful than we often give credit. When it comes to worship, just being there, just being immersed in the liturgy which is entirely comprised of God’s holy Word, is by no means an empty experience for the Christian. To this, in a practical sense, I try to add that for most who come to worship regularly, the liturgy gets written into the heart and mind in a way that allows a mom or dad to do mom or dad things and still receive. Because of the liturgy, the service becomes more or less memorized, and now mom and dad can follow along and be fed without needing to juggle a hymnal, ordo, baby bottle, and infant all at the same time. They become people who live and breathe the words of worship, and what better example do we want to display for our kids than this?!

Thanks be to God for the little ones in our midst. Thanks be to God for the parents who stick with it, who give it their all to make sure that their baptized children are being raised in the Christian faith. “Therefore, my beloved brothers,” Paul said, “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Of all efforts in the church, perhaps the job of parents doing all they can to get their kids to and keep them in worship is most appreciated by this text.

To such folks I say: Know that I’m rooting for you, and so are many others in our midst.

A Child in Prayer

I don’t know if I’ve shared this with you or not, but throughout the school year, I’ve called up the eighth grade boys to something new. I’ve scheduled them to help serve as lectors during the Monday chapel services. This means that sometime between arriving at school and the beginning of the Matins service at 8:10 a.m., the one on duty for that day makes his way down to the nave, gets vested, and then looks over the Epistle reading appointed for the upcoming Sunday. And then during the service, he reads it to the children.

I can say that over the course of the year, the young men have gotten much more comfortable in the effort and are doing a splendid job. But simply to report this is not why I am sharing the account. I want to share something a little more inspiring—something that serves as a reassurance to all of us that our Christian Day School is worth every bit of toil and tears we’ve put into it over the years.

When I walked into the nave to set the lectern and lectionary in place for the service (which I usually try to do long before anyone else is in there), the student for the day was already there, vested, and kneeling at the altar rail praying. I, of course, did not do what I’d gone into the nave to do until he was done. I didn’t want to disturb him.

But there he knelt in the vastness of an empty nave—the candles aglow beyond him, the windows darkened by the early morning snow—and he prayed silently. One of God’s little ones was acting on God’s promise that he had complete access to His Savior, offering petitions from his heart that he had, in that moment, been moved to speak.

If I could’ve taken a photo, I would’ve. It was an instant reminder that we aren’t just trying to educate children according to the typical philosophies; that is, we aren’t just trying to create workers who have skills and personal styles to fill and perform jobs, or to develop active citizens who recognize their own capacity for personal achievement and contribute to the society. Of course we try at these things, but in the end, we have a much more important goal behind our efforts. Everything we attempt to do here at Our Savior arises from the objective truth of the Gospel—the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And with that as our constant heading—our north star of calibration—we are really striving toward a better thing, which in my opinion, Luther defined pretty well when he took a moment to comment on the goals of Christian education. He said so simply that the job of a Christian school is to bring children “to believe, to live, to pray, to suffer, and to die.”

In any school, there are struggles and there are successes. I just witnessed one of the fruits of success, and for that, I am humbly thankful to God that Our Savior Evangelical Lutheran School exists and that it continues to move forward supported by you as you are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel!

Keep it up! Consider this little story for all that it is: a Gospel-driven encouragement to “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58)!

The World’s Rip Current of Busy-ness

Can you believe that Thanksgiving is only 16 days away? That’s only 23,040 minutes! Considering that many among us plan our schedules by the minute rather than by the day, all of the events that land on our calendars with the intent of consuming our time sometimes leaves us thinking that life feels a little more like a rip current—a turbulent flow carrying us away from shore even as we try to swim against it—rather than a sometimes slow and sometimes fast stream that provides for both leisure as well as challenge. I read an article last week about how this is affecting children. In it, the author said:

“For years now, a consensus has been emerging that a subset of hard-driving, Ivy-longing parents is burdening their children with too many soccer tournaments, violin lessons and cooking classes. A small library of books has been published with names like The Over-Scheduled Child, The Pressured Child, Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids and so on.”

A little further into the article, he suggested a solution:

“The antidote to the problem… is to make sure children have enough time with no activities, parents have enough time with no work and the two sides come together to create activities of their own.”

As I read this, I couldn’t help but think that God provided the solution to this problem long before the clinical child psychologists ever started pondering it.

Take a look at the following portion from Luther’s Large Catechism regarding the meaning of the Third Commandment, which is, of course, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”

“To offer ordinary people a Christian interpretation of what God requires in this commandment, we point out that we keep holy days not for the sake of intelligent and well informed Christians, for these have no need of them. We keep them, first, for the sake of bodily need. Nature teaches and demands that the common people—man-servants and maid-servants who have attended to their work and trades the whole week long—should retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Secondly and most especially, we keep holy days so that people may have time and opportunity, which otherwise would not be available, to participate in public worship, that is, that they may assemble to hear and discuss God’s Word and then praise God with song and prayer.”

I think it’s kind of interesting, too, that in the very next Commandment—the Fourth Commandment, which deals with the honor due parents as Godly authorities—after some pretty lengthy instruction for children, Luther turns toward the parents and writes:

“Parents should consider that they owe obedience to God, and that, above all, they should earnestly and faithfully discharge the duties of their office, not only to provide for the material support of their children, servants, subjects, etc., but especially to bring them up to the praise and honor of God. Therefore do not imagine that the parental office is a matter of your pleasure and whim. It is a strict commandment and injunction of God, who holds you accountable for it.”

When you put these two commands together, first you see the one particular time and place that God has given for us to rest and be refreshed together as a family—holy worship. And second, you see how important it is to God that parents would be faithful in setting aside all of the busy-ness that would distract from or take priority over being together as a family and keeping the Sabbath day holy. A thorough reading of both explanations of these commands and you’ll more than see the urgency for doing this, not only for the sake of rest, but for the sake of establishing the right foundations for faith.

God knows the world tries to pull us into the rip current. He knows that if we try to swim against the current, we’ll become exhausted. With this, He has given His Son to die and rise for us, giving us the Holy Spirit through the Gospel to see that there’s a way out. In a real rip current, to escape really isn’t that hard. You need only to swim to the right or to the left of it. In this life, getting what God has for your refreshing and re-strengthening isn’t that hard, either. It happens every Sunday. And what’s even more amazing is that to be in holy worship is to be lifted up and out of the rip current completely. You don’t do any swimming. He does all the work. There is worship you are rescued, your are set on shore, you are given dry clothes—the robe of Christ’s righteousness—and you are well nourished for the next wave that may come and try to sweep you away. If you and your children don’t receive this nourishment, if you try to swim without what God provides, you will drown. That’s the hard truth.

By God’s grace, be encouraged to be with Him in His presence to receive this nourishment as often as it is provided. He loves you, and He wants for you to be refreshed alongside your resting Christian family.