Family Friday Links 8.25.17 #Charlottesville

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We've taken a few weeks away from Family Friday Links (Everyone needs a rest!), but I'm pressing back in this evening with a themed version. Two weeks ago, violence erupted in Charlottesville, VA after one of the largest white nationalist rallies in a decade. One young woman was killed when a car was driven into a crowd of protesters.  In the days that followed a number of articles appeared geared toward helping parents to talk with their kids about the evils of racism and white nationalism. I'm saving what I believe to be the best of those articles here for all of us to refer back to as our kids continue to process the news.

It's particularly important that kids and youth hear their pastors standing against injustice and oppression. I'm particularly thankful for this statement from Manhattan pastor John Starke. John writes, "Likely, none of us would identify as a white supremacists or a racist. And that may give us some relief, that we can distance ourselves from this problem as 'over there' and not have to think about it at all. Here are three reasons why we may not be able to do that..."

One of the first articles I noticed was this LA Times piece, "How to talk to your kids about the violence in Charlottesville" by Sonali Kohli. She gives nine helpful tips for helping your kids process the news. Two of the best are to turn the TV off, and process what is happening in light of its historical context. Kohli interviews one mom who says, "I didn’t think today was going to be a day of ... history lessons, but it was...” then went on to tell her children why the rally was happening — "she explained who Robert E. Lee was, what the Confederacy was and why people were fighting about it."

Speaking of the importance of educating the next generation, Sally Lloyd-Jones pointed to this this article by Maria Russo, children's book editor at the New York Times. She writes, "Given the language and images many children heard and saw in news reports about the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va. over the weekend, these children’s books about people — including kids — who helped in the fight against Nazis and against racism here in the U.S. may prove... inspiring." 

Dr. Brent Bounds points us to gospel hope in the midst of racism in his article "Children, Race, and the Gospel" at The Gospel Coalition site. Brent writes, "There is real hope for change in our culture’s struggle with racism. The greatest potential doesn’t rest in the hands of politicians and activists, however, but in the hearts of our own children."

Finally, Patrick pointed to me to this call to prayer from Matt Guevara at the International Network of Children's Ministers. Matt writes, "Talk to your children about Charlottesville, but don’t stop there. Talk to God with them. Do it every day and with passion and purpose."

After the events in Charlottesville, what articles did you find to be helpful? Share with us in the comment section below.

Where Family Starts

As a pastor, I love hearing young couples approach me and say something to effect of, "We're thinking about starting a family."  Most are sharing their excitement about trying to have kids. While I understand what they're communicating, it leads me to remind them that it's not kids that make a family but rather when a man and woman covenant together to become a husband and a wife.

A family starts when God leads a man and a woman to commit their lives to each other in holy matrimony. This is a holy covenant they make before God, family, and friends. This covenant is not about their happiness, but their holiness. The couple leave their current families thereby creating a new one (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, Eph. 5:31). It's in the "two becoming one" that at a new family is formed.

I remind couples of this truth all the time in pre-marital counseling as well as the couples who are adding to their family, and I give them another encouragement as well. I encourage them to be intentional about practicing family worship--the disciplines of prayer and Bible study together. If they can establish these habits early and consistently, it will already be in place when kids arrive. Of course, family worship looks different when kids are in the mix, but the pattern will already be there. 

Since our immediate family is the first ministry calling of married believers, it's important to figure this out as early as possible. But there is still hope for those who are new to practicing spiritual disciplines together as a couple. It's never too late to start. Family discipleship doesn't have a critical start date. All it requires is simple faithfulness to God and his Word.

If you're a newlywed, share below what has helped you make prayer and Bible study a priority early in your marriage.  

Music for Little Ones

It is often what a person sings about God that he or she really believes and takes to heart. Dr. Hugh T. McElrath once said, “Singing is the most practical theology taught.”  If we care about what our children think about God, the music we select for them to sing truly matters.

So, what criteria should be used when writing or selecting music for children?

Biblically Accurate  

Children need to hear songs that are true.  They need to sing songs that present the Bible’s teachings with clarity and accuracy. It is important to note that there are songs that are biblically accurate but not readily understandable to children. There are also songs that are simple and clear but a bit sloppy in asserting truth about God. Ideally songs should be clear and true.

Gospel Centered

What does not concern us deeply, will not interest our readers, whatever their age.
— C. S. Lewis

When people look for Christian songs for children, they ask themselves, “What do the children need to learn?” In an essay entitled “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” (1952), C. S. Lewis wrote, “If we ask that question, we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask, ‘What do I need?’ For I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age.” In other words, children are just as human as adults, and they very often need to learn the same things.  Kids need to praise the mighty Creator for all of His dazzling greatness. They need to sing about humanity’s rebellion against God, and confess their sins corporately through song. Children’s music should teach them how to confess faith in Christ—in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. Children need to sing about how Christ speaks to the Father on behalf of Christians, and how he will one day return and restore this broken world. Children need to hear the gospel in their music—just the same as us.

Musically Excellent

Children need culturally appropriate music that is excellent in its own genre.

Children need culturally appropriate music that is excellent in its own genre—good music that even adults will like. In the same essay quoted earlier, C. S. Lewis said, “A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.” The same goes for a children’s song. Of course, musical tastes will vary. Musical genres are a matter of aesthetics and not morality. It does not matter whether you are a protégé of Isaac Watts, Matt Redman, or both. Whatever style of music you prefer, write and play it in a way that reflects God’s excellence. Write and play to the glory of God. If you are a composer, write creatively as a reflection of the Creator. Since children love repetition (“Play it again, Daddy!”), whatever songs you sow in their hearts will be heard again and again. Yes, we may be listening to that song in the minivan all the way to grandma’s house!

Accessible

Children need music that is singable. Children’s songs should be in a range that is appropriate for young children (pre-puberty) to sing. This is NOT always easy to find.  Unfortunately, too many songwriters write for their own low voices and not for kids’ voices. Children’s songs should also have a well-crafted memorable melody that is easy to learn.

Age-appropriate

The bottom line: a song’s meaning needs to be as clear as possible for children. Consider their age.  Because young children have a difficult time with abstract concepts, we must avoid songs with a strong use of poetic and symbolic imagery and seek songs that have concrete language.  For example, a poetic song may say: “I look to the cross,” rather than saying more concretely: “Thank you for Jesus. He died on the cross for my sins.”

Liturgically Diverse

"You follow a liturgy with your children?" you may ask. Well, yes. We believe that a liturgy is a great tool to teach kids about the various ways that Christians express faith—praise, confession of sin, thanksgiving, confession of truth. Incorporating these different types of songs will help children learn about God and learn to pray to him. It will give them thoughts about him and words to say to him they might not otherwise have. Along the same lines, following the Christian calendar helps the children to think about the Lord throughout the year and to remember him. Remembering is taught throughout the Scriptures as the means by which God’s wandering children repent from sin and embrace him again. We want our children to remember the Lord all year long (from Easter to Christmas) because are prone to wander and forget, too.

Fun! 

After all, we’re talking about kids. Children love to laugh, dance, and do hand motions when they sing.  And the Lord doesn’t ask us to only bring him a dirge.

At most churches, you will have only a limited amount of time to teach and sing music with kids. There are countless songs we could teach them.  When we select music for children, we should earnestly pursue the same Scriptural accuracy and God-honoring musical excellence we pursue when selecting songs for adult services. When evaluating a song, ask yourself, “In light of these standards, is this song good, better, or best?” Then, choose only the best. It would be easy to pick a bunch of church songs for our kids, skimp on planning, and simply entertain the kids as if you were at a library sing-a-long. But we are called to a higher standard. We must lead our children to sing to God.

Check out Clap Your Hands, Stomp Your Feet, a 5-day curriculum for VBS and Bible Clubs that teaches kids about responsive worship. The starter kit includes a director’s guide, games guide, craft guide, assemblies, printables, and much more. Learn more or purchase now New Growth Press. 

I worked on this post in collaboration with Chandi Plummer. It originally appeared at The Worshiping Community.

Be Who You Are: Teaching Kids About Gender

My favorite scene in Toy Story takes place at the Dinoco Station. Woody and Buzz fight, and their squabble sends them falling out of the minivan onto the concrete. The argument goes on for a moment when, suddenly, Woody stops. He looks up and watches in horror as Andy and his mom drive away. Woody chases after the car for a few steps. “Doesn’t he realize I’m not there?” he shouts, “I’m lost. Oh, I’m a lost toy!” Woody experiences deep anguish, because he knows who he is.

You see, the toys in the world of Disney and Pixar’s Toy Story movies want nothing more than to bring joy to their owners. They want to love and be loved by their kid. After all, Woody’s kid Andy wrote his name in permanent marker under his shoe. Toys like Woody live for playtime. They revel in it. It’s what they’re created for. But, for a toy like Woody, being lost or replaced is your greatest fear. The older and more worn out a toy gets, the more danger there is of being donated, discarded and sent to a trash heap, or just stored in the attic forgotten. And getting left behind at a gas station is close to the worst that can happen.

If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we are made, we’re delusional.

Buzz Lightyear’s reaction fascinates me in this scene. He doesn’t understand the importance of catching up with Andy. He doesn't understand the great tragedy of being lost. Buzz thinks he’s a real spaceman having an adventure on an uncharted planet; he doesn’t know he’s a toy. What Buzz can’t see is that he’s more lost than he knows.

We are just like the toys in those movies. They’re lost without Andy, and we’re lost without God. God made us as his children—to love and be loved by him. We're his cherished sons and daughters. God made us his representatives. We bear his name. It's etched on our very souls. If we try to take account of our lives without considering the One for whom we were made or how he made us, we’re as delusional as Buzz.

While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men, with their complementary differences, to get a complete picture of God’s loving character

So, how did God make us? Right at the beginning, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…male and female" (Gen. 1:26-27). These verses show us that the biological differences between men and women are a fundamental part of God’s design—a part of who we are and a part of the essence of God’s image. God made us to live in community with one another so we can image forth the kind of relational life the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have eternally shared. While God made each person to represent him in some unique way, we need both women and men, with their complementary differences, to get a complete picture of God’s loving character.

Let’s take it one step further. God didn’t just create men and women to be together, reflecting his glory. He also created men and women to work together, accomplishing his purposes. Just like the cowboy and the (eventually self-aware) spaceman must work together to get back to Andy, men and women must work together to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). As Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup observe:

By creating them as male and female, God invested their bodies with strengths and weaknesses that would bind them together in mutual dependence as they fulfilled the Creation Mandate. The woman’s body would allow her to cultivate new image bearers, but this would also make her more vulnerable. The man’s body would be unable to bear life, but his physical strength would allow him to protect and provide... The differences between them were not an end in themselves… They were the means by which they would together cultivate the good bounty of the earth and their own bodies. Together they would rule and reign over the new creation as King and Queen.

God’s in the business of gifting his children so they can use those gifts for his glory through loving and serving others. Our biological sex is one of the first of these gifts, and it’s a gift we need to help our children steward. But how? 

Simply put, we need to train our boys and girls to be who they are—to pursue Christ-like gender expression that corresponds with their given biological sex.

The term biological sex refers to the compositional differences between men and women written into our DNA from birth—XX for girls and XY for boys. This compositional difference gives rise to the kinds of physical differences in reproductive systems and muscular-skeletal structure Anderson and Alsup describe in the quote above. The term gender refers to the “attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex.”

Some gender expressions are culturally bound. In Scotland, a kilt seems manly, but in the States, wearing one might seem more appropriate for a school girl. According to biblical teaching, other gender expressions—particularly the engendered covenant roles for men and women in a marriage and the church (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Tim. 2:12-13)—should follow our biology. For example, when a biological male gets married (according to the biblical model), he becomes a husband not a wife (and vice versa).

Binding biology and gender together in this way is a constraint that’s out of fashion, but I it’s truly freeing. When gender flows from biology it becomes clear that manhood and womanhood are not status levels you achieve by pursuing certain cultural expressions of gender. Rather, instead being a man or woman, being male or female, is a gift. Our responsibility is simply to teach our kids to live a Christian life in accordance with this given identity.

For young men, this means parents should prepare them to live as servants-leaders—to take initiative, work to cultivate good, and fight to protect what’s true:

  •  Take Initiative. Think about how God commissioned Adam—before the Fall—to live as a servant-leader. God sent Adam to name all the beasts (Gen. 2:19-20). He names Adam as head and representative of the human family (Rom. 5:15; 1 Cor. 15:22). We see this confirmed in the order of creation (Gen. 2:7; 1 Tim. 2:13). But ultimately Adam failed (Gen. 3:6). Only Christ truly shows what it means to lovingly serve as head by humbly considering others as greater than himself (Phil. 2:3-8).

    If we’re going to raise young men to serve as faithful covenant heads of families and churches, we must teach them to serve sacrificially. When a cup spills at the dinner table, boys shouldn’t wait for mom (or his sisters) to grab a paper towel. Teach boys to jump up and move toward the problem with eager humility (Prov. 3:27). This is important. We must show young men that taking initiative doesn’t require always being in charge. Even when they enter a headship role as husbands or fathers, leadership should look like spirit-empowered service (Eph. 5:23; John 13)
     
  • Work for Good. A man’s physical strength allows him to provide for his family. He was created with an orientation toward work. Genesis tells us the Lord formed Adam from the ground (2:7), and then he placed the man in the garden “to work [the ground] and take care of it” (2:15). If a husband or father refuses to work and provide for his family, this is tantamount to denying the faith (1 Thess. 3:10; 1 Tim. 5:8). A lazy man fails to steward the strong body God gave him for the others in his care (Prov. 12:24). He fails to conform his life to Christ, who sacrificed his own body for our sakes.

    Teach sons to cultivate their bodies, minds, and relationships—not for selfish gain, but for the sake of God and others. If a young man doesn’t love God, he’ll work with the wrong goals in mind (Gen. 4:19-24; 11:1-9). We can teach young men to get a job and start investing early—not so they’ll be millionaires by forty but instead to learn the character and skill necessary to provide for a family. Boys need dads and other older men to model service in church and community. They need to see men working with humility for the sake of justice and mercy (Micah 6:8).
     
  • Fight to Protect. Finally, our goal should be to raise young men with self-control, who will use their physical and emotional strength to protect others. Some men fail to control their strong emotions and become foolish hotheads (Prov. 14:16-17). Others take it to the next level, using their physical strength for violence and abuse (Gen. 4:1-16). Adam neglected his strength. He should have spoken up to protect his wife from the serpent’s lies (Gen. 3:6). But in Adam’s failure, we receive the promise of one who would finally fight and crush Satan (Gen. 3:14-15; 1 Cor. 15:25).

    We have an opportunity to participate in Christ’s victory when we fight for what is good and true (Rom. 16:19). Throughout the Scripture, we’re given examples of men who use their strength to protect others. Abraham went to war to save Lot. David fought again and again to save Israel. Not all our sons will learn to wrestle or do martial arts, but they can all learn to speak up and fight for what is good.

Just as we prepare young men to be servant leaders, we should call young women to live in conformity with Christ’s character as influential helpers and nurturers:

  • Give Help and Influence. When God made the woman for Adam as his wife, he created “a helper suitable for him,” because it wasn’t good for the man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). A few verses later, we see the woman “taken from Adam” (Gen. 2:22). This is parallel to the man who was taken from the ground and called to work it (Gen 2:7). In the context of marriage, the woman’s orientation is toward her husband—to give him her help and influence.

    This is a unique way women image forth God’s character as help and salvation for his people (Ps. 33:20, Ps. 70:5; Ex. 18:4). It should inspire every woman and humble every prideful man to see that every major era of biblical history begins with a woman. (Eve—Gen. 3; Miriam and Pharaoh’s daughter—Ex. 2; Hannah—1 Sam. 1; Mary and Elizabeth—Luke 1). Notice that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t give birth to Moses, but through him she brought deliverance to the Hebrew people. Her compassion gave her saving influence (Ex. 2:6).

    The woman was made as co-ruler with the man (Gen. 1:26); there’s shared authority in that statement. But often times influence accomplishes more than authority ever could—both for good and evil (Prov. 8-9; 31:10-31). Eve didn’t need to flex her muscles or get political to influence Adam to eat the fruit. She simply gave it to him. Her actions had destructive power. Teach your daughters their actions and words have influence (1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:1-5). Then teach them to ask, “Is what I do and say a help or a hindrance to others? Do I think about how I can help and serve or do I only consider how I want to be served?”
     
  • Nurture and Empower Others. After the Fall, God named the woman Eve, mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). This was a grace. The man and woman received the wages for sin but not yet fully; the woman’s body could still give life. This is a great gift. A woman’s body is designed to incubate and sustain a baby’s life from conception to birth. Her milk alone can sustain her newborn for the first part of the baby’s life.

    Not every woman will become a wife or mother, but every one of our daughters can provide life-giving care for others. Paul instructs every woman in the church to develop others (Titus 2:3-5). We see examples of this in Priscilla’s ministry to Apollos (Acts 18:26—her name is listed first before her husband!), in Philip’s prophet daughters (Acts 21:8), and in Timothy’s grandmother Lois (2 Tim. 1:5). Such women model what it means to nurture and empower others in the faith.
Manhood and womanhood are not status levels to be achieved.

I hope I’ve been abundantly clear. Young men and women don’t need to “be more of a man” or “more of a woman.” Like Buzz Lightyear, they simply need to know who they are—who they’ve been created to be. As both sexes grow in maturity and transform into Christ’s likeness, the integration of their body and soul will ensure they are more fully formed as men and women.

An earlier version of this post first appeared at champthornton.com