Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

May the Lord of Glory fill you with His unbreakable joy and love as you celebrate His birth!

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

We've Moved!

As of today, Pure Church has moved over to The Gospel Coalition as one of the blogs now hosted there.

Here's the new address:

UPDATE: Your feeds should automatically be updated thanks to the tech gurus at The Gospel Coalition. Your feed should update automatically with posts, etc.

If you've been so kind as to follow the blog in through blogger or another means, would you please take a moment to check whether that's working? Also, would you take moment to update your blogroll if you've had PureChurch listed? I'd love to continue to stay in touch.

If you haven't included PureChurch in your reader or blogroll, I'm not bitter. Really, I'm not. This would be a great time to add it if it's at all beneficial to your soul.

I'm excited about this move for a number of reasons:

1. I believe in the work The Gospel Coalition is attempting in bringing together brothers of like precious faith around a robust confession of the gospel. I have the privilege of being a member of the council, and I'm hopeful the Lord will surprise us all with many good things to His glory through the cooperation. We can do more together than we can apart.

Here's a little something on why I think the Coalition is helpful:

2. I get to link virtual arms with other bloggers at the Coalition who have benefited my soul for a while now. I'm fans of Justin Taylor, Ray Ortlund, Tim Challies' Ten Million Words, and Kevin DeYoung. They are now guilty by association with me, but I'm the richer for it.

3. I'm no technophobe, but I'm also no tech whiz. The design and tech team at The Coalition have been outstanding and I think that'll make the blog more useful, or at least more pleasing aesthetically. Matthew Taylor and Joshua Sowin have been wonderful to work with. Check it out and let me know what you think.

4. In time, there may be a few sponsors who appear on the right in the sidebar. I'm happy for the opportunity to commend worthy causes and resources. And I'm happy that this is a small way I may be able to generate a little revenue for both the Coalition and the local church I love most: First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman.

Well, I should end by wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas as you ponder and treasure the Savior's birth. May the Lord bless you richly as you look to Him!


12 Days of Chrismas--Acapella Remix!

This is fun:

HT: Shane

Calvinist Confessions, 3

I am a Calvinist. And I am a Pharisee. Apparently, there are others like me.

As a "Calvinist," I treasure the Bible's truths about the glory of God and Christ; the good, wise and sovereign rule of God in all things; the efficacy of God's electing grace and Jesus' definite atonement; the hope that comes from God's preservation and the call to perseverance; the present and coming-more-fully kingdom of Christ where righteousness reigns; and the promised share of His glory we'll experience in the consummation. I treasure these things, as I know a lot of people do.

But I'm also a Pharisee. I tend toward a kind of care for detail and precision, toward "getting things right," that undermines catholicity and charity (see here). As a Pharisee, I also find myself suspicious of a lot of things, including joy (see here). Tight and sober. Suspicious and narrow. Pharisee.

Most of my Calvinist friends maintain that of all Christians Calvinists should be the most joyful and the most humble. We should be. We're not. I'm not. Let me not project.

Merely analyzing the truth doesn't make us humble. Neither does merely being suspicious make us safe with the truth. Pharisees think analyzing and suspecting are enough. And so, in time, the Pharisee's life becomes almost entirely negative. It's negative in attitude. But it's negative also because it's negating; it's a "contra-" life, a life a being against things.

But we have to defend against error. We have to guard the truth. We must protect the gospel. I know. I know. Pharisee.

There's something else that makes me a Pharisee. It underlies most of the other things that turn celebrants of Truth into gnat-straining Pharisees. Here's the third reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee in the Calvinist... is afraid. Fear loiters in his heart and mind like a senior feeding pigeons in Central Park.

The Pharisee lives with a chronic fear. That's why the Reformed types are so often the 'chicken littles' of the Christian world--running everywhere, writing everywhere, screaming everywhere, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" And even when we're not as manic as that, we're quietly, respectfully afraid. Just like the Pharisees of old.

We're afraid someone will take our place--the "others" who don't believe this, who don't practice that, or worse, who do practice that! Not them! We're afraid the church will be weakened and corrupted, that tares will grow up with the wheat. We're afraid our own hollow spiritual lives will be discovered. We're afraid our children won't be believers or won't do well in school (and we're more afraid of the latter than the former). We're afraid the culture is going to get worse and overrun the church. We're afraid of men's faces.

Fear, fear, fear. Everywhere there is fear.

But didn't Jesus say the wheat and tare would grow together? Didn't He say the love of many would grow cold? Didn't the Savior say there would be wolves and false Christs and deceivers? Of course He did. But the Pharisee says in his heart, "Yes, Lord. Of course, you're right. I believe that. Let me just remove this one little tare or patch of tares over here." The Pharisee is not only afraid, he's also blind. I can't tell the wheat from the tares; the Lord's angels will one day stick the sickle in the harvest to reap. But I don't remember that because we're afraid.

Then the Pharisee speaks: "But what if that takes too long? What if bad things happen in the meantime? What if... what if... what if...." Pharisee.

Pick an issue. My first response is fear, not faith. I don't call it "fear"; I call it "concern." That's more respectable. And who is respectable if not the Pharisee. And even when I do call it "fear," I pretend I mean something other than being afraid. Gotta keep my head up; I'm a Pharisee.

And this is why Pharisaical tendencies make us such bad Calvinists (by which I mean Christians, though not as if Calvinists are the only Christians). The scared little Pharisee in me is a practical atheist. He acts as though the truth I know about God really isn't at work. And it's a nasty little cycle. My fear that God won't act--at least how I want Him to act--causes me to act in my own wisdom or strength. Which then makes me afraid all the more. And so it goes until I'm wrapped and squeezed by an Anaconda of fear. The Pharisee.

Before I was a Calvinist, I suppose you could call me a semi-Pelagian, Arminian, dispensationalist. I suppose. I didn't have the labels then, but that's a fair sense of how I thought and acted. Not everyone wearing those labels thought this way, but I acted as though everything depended on me. My action in the world was the determining factor--whether that meant I had to be especially insightful and convincing in something like evangelism or Johnny wouldn't "get saved," or whether I had to "keep myself saved" in some way. My theology was bad. And my chief fear then was, what if I fail.

Then I discovered this mighty God on whom the governance of the universe rests. He was pleased to use means--human and otherwise--but He was the One ruling and guaranteeing the success of His will. How liberating that was! So I was freed from the fears associated with my performance.

But I wasn't freed from being a Pharisee. I just chose other fears. Excuse me, other "concerns." The kind of concerns that keep me employed as a Pharisee for as long as I would like, because, let's face it, there's no shortage of things to be "concerned" about. I can point out problems everywhere. I'm a Pharisee.

But the problem with Pharisees is they feel their fear and they fail to do anything constructive.

So I am "concerned" and not serving. I am afraid and not loving. I am "aghast" rather than empathetic. I am "hesitant" rather than enthusiastic. I am "alarmed" rather than steadfast. I'm an expert in fear and its synonyms. I can think of seventeen synonyms right now.

But how many synonyms for "grace" or "trust" can I count? Pharisee. How many can you count?

I am a Pharisee. Hear me roar--in fear.

In the end, the Pharisee is a silly man, a silly contradiction to the Calvinist. Fear? Really? Look upon Jesus the King you silly little man! Look to the Lord of glory!

What is this new fad you're up in arms about? What is this new "movement" causing your temperature to rise? What is this weakness in your life and your church making your shoulders tense? What threat over the horizon really is a threat to the Risen King and Ruler of All Creation who defeated death, pushed back the grave, and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His church?

Why are you afraid, O my soul? Why are you timorous, O my soul? My soul, I will look to the Lord who counsels "Be not afraid for I am with you."

I am a Calvinist, and I am an afraid Pharisee. I shouldn't be. What I need is a fresh glimpse of Jesus. The One I need to fear is God alone.

I'm reminded of another Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course) who faced fears and terror everywhere--real ones. But he glimpsed Jesus. And he spoke, "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deut. 10:12-13)

O, Father, grant that perfect love would cast out all fear as we live for you and reverence your holy Name.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

CT Quadruplets Get a Wonderful Yale Christmas

This is a nice Christmas story. Quadruplets in Connecticut become the first quads to be admitted to Yale University.

The Crouches’ perfect batting average represents a first for Yale — the first time in anyone’s memory that it has offered admission to quadruplets. It is also, of course, no small milestone for the siblings, who were born more than two months premature. (Ray was the last to be released from the neonatal unit, more than four months later.)

They made up for that rough start. Their class rankings range from 13 out of a class of 632 (Kenny) to 46 (Martina) — and they have sky-high SAT scores (including Carol’s perfect 800 on the verbal part of that exam).

The Homeschool Family: Theme Song

We're a homeschool family. I had a good laugh at the parody here. Good parody builds on a germ of truth, doesn't it?

Calvinist Confessions, 2

I am a Calvinist. And I am a Pharisee. This shouldn't be the case, but it is. Admitting you have a problem is the first step in getting better.

Last time I tried to reflect on how a certain "bent" toward precision, accuracy, concern for detail seems to blend together with the rich exacting resources of Reformed theology and history to make Pharisees of those who lose sight of the object of our attention and affection: Jesus. If you care more about "getting it right" than you care about "getting close to Jesus," then you'll drift toward the Pharisees. You'll swallow a camel and strain a gnat.

But let me not project onto you the things that happen in my heart and head. I am bent toward all those things, and I lose sight of Jesus too often and for too long.

I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist. And I'm told and believe those two things don't belong together. But why do they so often come together, like a dark prize hidden in the Cracker Jacks of the faith?

Here's the second reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, another reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both suspicious.

Now I'm suspicious of a lot of things, but I'll just mention one. I'm suspicious of joy. Yep. Now, not my joy. That's another problem.

No. Like a good Pharisee, other people's joy makes me nervous. Not all people. Just those people who don't express their joy the precise way I think they should. You see, without the "appropriate bounds" their joy just may make them careless, lead them to error, hurt the church and cause of Christ. Their joy is combustible; it's dangerous. It's enthusiasm and flights of fancy that need to ballast of sobriety and sound theology.

You see, that bent toward intellectual and precise things, that concern to "get it right," sometimes leads us to suspect and question mirth, lightness, or merriment because those emotions appear too close to "trivial" for the Pharisee. If I'm serious about the truth, how can I be joyful?

I say to myself, perhaps you say to yourself, not out loud, of course: "All these happy people--happy about everything but the Truth, giving themselves to their happy little pursuits, singing loudly and clapping their hands, enthusiastic about everything--can't be trusted. They are to be suspected. They're to be watched carefully and 'taught'."

I know. I know. Teaching is good. Teaching is essential. Teaching guides the emotions. Teaching is commanded. Pharisee.

Didn't Jesus warn us of the Pharisee's teaching? For good reason. I wonder if for some of us "teaching" is simply another word for "behavioral modification," for "rehabilitation," for "re-education," for "concentration camp." People must be "taught"--by which we mean made to see everything just as I do. Pharisee.

I am a Calvinist, and I am a Pharisee. I've been "taught". Sometimes "taught" right out of joy.

Don't get me wrong. I know that joy may be expressed in all kinds of ways. I know the strong, silent type doesn't express his/her joy like the naturally outward and gregarious type. And I know that joy itself has many flavors--jubilant, quiet, solemn, tearful, and so on. But Pharisees like me only trust the quiet, solemn types. If joy gets too loud, it needs to be silenced. Pharisees like it quiet.

But then there is my good friend, C.J. Ah... there's "Reformed" spelled "p-a-r-t-y!" I love that brother! He dots all my "i's" and crosses all my "t's". So, his joy is okay. Cool, even. But he is an exception, of course, because I'm a Pharisee.

Also there is my good friend, Mark. If you think C.J. is the life of the party and Mark is a sour puss, you don't know Mark. About as silly, giddy, happy, optimistic, bright and joyful a man as you'll ever meet. Don't let the "SBC" or "Calvinist" labels fool you. Those labels are like the FBI warnings on your rented video or the "do not remove" tags on your mattress. Mark is a big... excuse me, slim ball of joyful energy. His love for the truth, like C.J., and Al and Lig' and Piper and R.C. and so many others, leads them to joy! Have you ever heard these men laugh? It's rowdy! They're serious men. And (I almost wrote "But"; you see the problem?) they're joyful men.

But not me. Not the Pharisee.

When did I become suspicious of joy? I mean joy is what the angels announce for crying out loud! (Luke 2:10)

Some of my oldest friends, going back to high school and college, would describe me as "silly." I know. I know. What happened to that guy?

Well, he got saved and he started with joy; then he turned into a Pharisee.

Now, I've always been serious. Really. Always. Ask my mom. She still tells family and friends about how my friends used to come over to play, and rather than play with them, I'd connect the Atari (now that's ol' school) to the TV and then go into my room and read. From my early teens, I've been the family counselor. I'm an old soul, born with a veil over his face (little family superstition, there), and serious.

But I used to be fairly joyful, too. I think. Maybe. You see... I can't remember. Perhaps you're like me. It's been so long since you've had a sustained life of joy, you can't remember the last time you were joyful. As a disposition not an episode. Do you remember? Having a joyful disposition for a long time?

Maybe you're a Pharisee, or a Pharisee in the making. Stop before it goes too far. Get happy. Now don't get serious about joy. Just get joyful. Or else you'll be a Pharisee. Like me.

The Pharisee lacks joy because he lacks Jesus. I don't mean Pharisees like me aren't Christians. I am I trust. I mean "the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field" (Matt. 13:44). There's something implicit in this parable that if not made explicit leaves room for my inner Pharisee. What do you suppose the man did after he bought the field? The Pharisee doesn't go on to imagine the answer. The joyful do. In his joy the man sold all and purchase the field so that he might possess and enjoy the Treasure therein. We may lack Jesus by not enjoying Jesus, by not coming into His presence where there is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore.

The Calvinist knows this. The Pharisee forgets this. Feed the Calvinist and strangle the Pharisee.

There once was a Calvinist (speaking anachronistically, of course), who was not himself a Pharisee but dealt with them a lot. He prayed for joy--my joy and yours. Here's how He prayed, "I am coming to you [the Father] now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them" (John 17:13). Let that sit with you. The Savior prayed for what the Calvinist Pharisee needs: the full measure of His joy.

Dear Sovereign Lord, the Joy of the world, let us know you, and thereby grant our heavy hearts liberating joy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Calvinist Confessions, 1

I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist.

Those things should not go together. But they do in far too many instances. The Calvinist should be the last to become a Pharisee. Our theology should keep us humble. Or, so we're told.

But I'm a Pharisee. And I'm a Calvinist. Which means I'm a bad Calvinist.

Here's the first reason I'm a Pharisee and Calvinist, or, one reason why those two things happen together far more often than they should. The Pharisee and the Calvinist are both exacting persons. They care about precision, about "getting things right." They care about the letter because each believes getting the letter correct is important. And it is.

So, there is this "bent" toward intellectual things. There is this tendency to live in our heads. And when that meets with a theological tradition as rich and robust as the Reformed tradition, sparks fly--in our heads. Add to that a pinch of argumentative spirit and out comes the Pharisee.

But you know what's lost? The spirit, or the Spirit. Sometimes both. The letter kills. That's what happens with us Calvinist Pharisees.

In my particular case, the letter became pretty important once I realized I had spent a few years of my life giving praise to an idol. Once I realized I had believed a lie and bowed to a god who was not God, well getting things correct theologically became desperately important. Who wants to "get it wrong" in the things of God? I certainly didn't any longer.

I didn't know it, but I began the Christian life with this impulse that could either help me grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, and/or push me into peevish, narrow, gnat straining regard for "getting it right." I've experienced both in my Christian life. The difference is made by where you're aiming: those who aim at knowing Jesus escape so much pharisee-ism; those that aim at "getting it right" become so much more Pharisaical.

Perhaps you're like me. You've had some experience that's left you zealous for getting it right. You love the Book in part because you love parsing things, dissecting them, weighing them, identifying what is wanting, tossing the chaff and holding onto the wheat. There's a joy that comes from discovery--and refutation. Soon, you're proud you're not "one of those publicans" that explains the Trinity in loose language, that balks at giving various views of the atonement, that's read the latest book from one of "those authors." "Lord," you pray, "I work to get it right. I avoid mistakes. I protect your word. I'm not like those who 'happily' accept 'weak' doctrine."


Truthfully, it isn't our theology that keeps us from the self-righteousness of the Pharisee. Our theology, and the smugness of "Reformed" correctness, are part of the problem. Oh, I don't mean we have aberrant ideas mingled with our theological outlook. We'd never have that. I mean all this heady truth barely lights our hearts. Our theology becomes the handmaid of our pride and our empty orthodoxy. Our fine theological theorems too seldom ignite liberty, joy, love, or anything else that accompanies the Spirit. Honestly, how often does your theology leave you with Jesus?

I know. The Lord reveals Himself in and by the word. The Spirit and the word belong together. Pharisee.

Do you remember that time when you were free? No, I mean happily care-free in your walk with the Lord. When there was lightness to everything?

Do you remember when you could share with others something God was teaching you, perhaps with imprecise language and a lot of enthusiasm, without first hesitating to make sure you were saying it "correctly"? Perhaps you were too liberal in assigning your enthusiasm or ideas to God, but you were happily excited about the possibility that indeed God had done something in you, for you, through you. Do you remember that?

I do. It was before I was self-consciously "Reformed." I didn't have a label then, other than "Christian" or "Baptist." Even those I held lightly. I was label-less, free. And I felt free. I did dumb stuff. I said dumber stuff. But people knew what I meant. Then I discovered what I meant, and knowing what I meant seemed to replace experiencing what I meant.

Now, "experience" is a bad word. Pharisee.

Yep. That's me.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a "Calvinist" because what we popularly call "Calvinism" or "Reformed Theology" looks a whole lot like what I understand from the Bible. I think that's what the Bible teaches, and that's what I believe. So, I'm comfortable with the label--if we have to use one. I'm just not comfortable with the self-righteousness I see all too often in my heart and life. I'm sure I was self-righteous before; after all, I was an adherent of the world's largest works-based religion. Pride and self-justification have always been there. Yep. Certified Pharisee here.

But here's the bottom line: As long as my inclination toward detail ends with "getting it right" and not with getting more of Jesus, I'm going to be a Pharisee. Our theology doesn't keep us humble. Jesus keeps us humble. I think there are a lot of Calvinist Pharisees out there, like me, who push deeper into the theology trusting the next truth to abase them before God. But we keep getting "puffed up" instead. Why? We settle for knowing more rather than knowing Jesus. We don't stop to sit at Christ's feet, to adore Him, to commune with God the Spirit. Far too often, that's not the goal we have in mind.

My grandmother couldn't cite you two theological terms if you paid her. She probably never heard of the theological "giants" of church history, and certainly never read them. You know what she did? She "had a little talk with Jesus, told Him all about her troubles. He would hear her faintest cry, and answer by and by." With all her "little talks with Jesus," she had infinitely more than I've gotten from my books. She walked with the Lord about like Enoch.

I know. Books are not the enemy. Books are our friends. Communing with the saints is important. That's how we get it right and avoid mistakes. I know. I know. Pharisee.

There was another "Calvinist" (speaking anachronistically, of course) who won his bout with his inner Pharisee. He wrote: "I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8). I want to be more like that brother--gripped by the greatness of knowing Jesus.

Lord, let us know you and cease the pretension of Pharisees.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Prison Changes Your Friends

Martha Stewart, after a brief stint on da block, is now baking brownies and droppin' lyrics with Snoop D-O-Double G. Check it out here.

Two questions:

1. How many of y'all didn't know vanilla was brown either? C'mon. You know you was trippin' like Snoop.

2. What do you think they used to make the brownies green? Ans: Herb.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Who Owns the Blogosphere?

Some snippets from a post by Eric Barker:
An examination of the Technorati rankings for recent years reveals that turnover among the top 50 blogs has become increasingly rare. Even as the total number of blogs has swelled to 133 million from 27 million in 2006, the top 50 have remained relatively static. On March 15, 2006, 30 blogs out of the top 50 were new to the list, never having appeared at the top in any previous year; last month, that number was down to 18.

Of the top 50 blogs, 21 are owned by such familiar names as CNN, the New York Times, ABC, and AOL.

An immense proportion of the online readership—roughly 42% of all blog traffic—flows to the top 50 blogs.

What do you think? Is the "democratic" nature of the blogosphere being bought up by titans?

The Cost of Following Jesus: Helping Andy and Angela

Remember Angela and Andy? They're a young couple who have been dating for the past year and they've now come to you/your church to be married. As you speak with Andy you learn that both have been divorced. This will be their second marriage.

In Andy's case, his first wife had been unfaithful and they eventually divorced over the adultery. Andy and his first wife were professing Christians. In Angela's case, she had been unfaithful to her husband, leading to a divorce. At the time, neither Angela nor her husband were believers.

Andy's first wife has gone on to remarry and now lives with her second husband and four children across town. Angela's first husband has not remarried.

These are individuals who will find that following Jesus requires counting the costs, denying themselves and bearing their cross. I think we sometimes forget the weightiness of this for people looking to follow the Savior.

The Costs

Most people would say that Andy is free to remarry since he was not the one who broke the marriage covenant with his first wife. I think that's the majority interpretation of passages like Matthew 5 and 19. But there are some who argue that remarriage isn't appropriate even for Andy. See here for one example.

But what is certain is that Andy cannot continue a relationship with Angela. The cost of following Jesus will be ending a one-year romantic interest on the verge of marriage. And that won't be easy. I think most people in this situation would make an appeal to forgiveness or grace or freedom, and leave off any personal application of the divorce and remarriage passages. They'll miss the import of Titus 2:11-12; grace teaches us to obey Christ. Grace never makes it okay to disobey. The challenge for Andy will be deciding that marriage to Angela is not a "right" to be jealously grasped. Rather, he must embrace the freedom that comes from obedience and choose what appears an inconvenient and perhaps foolish course.

Angela will have the same cost to pay: she cannot marry Andy. Moreover, as I understand the Scripture, she cannot ever remarry. To remarry would be adultery.

Consider the cost of following Jesus for Angela. There is terminating the relationship with Andy. There is the foreclosure of any romantic relationship for the remainder of her life. There is the preclusion of ever having children naturally. Having known the joys marital intimacy, there is now a life of celibacy ahead.

For most people, that's a staggering list of costs. In my short experience, most would rather disobey the Lord and pursue these desires than obey Him in love. When presented with these issues, many walk away from the faith and the church, unwilling to pay the costs once counted.

Helping Andy and Angela
It's the church's call to help this brother and sister walk worthy of the callings they have received in Christ. What does that look like?

1. Helping Andy and Angela think in biblical terms about grace. There's much that could be said here, but at least two aspects are critical. First, as Titus 2:11-2 points out, saving grace actually teaches us to say "no" to ungodliness and to live sober, godly lives in this evil age. One dark, domineering thought they each will have is: I can't do this. This is too much. I don't want to say 'no' to this desire. How will we make it? The answer from the Scripture is God will teach you with His grace.

Second, this means that in whatever situation God calls us, His grace will be sufficient for us. People in this situation imagine the happy, harp-playing glories of love and marriage. They daydream about a life of joy and bliss on one side of the ledger. And they compare that to an imagined life of unrelenting suffering, loneliness, and so on. Their imagination is rigged, biased in favor of their desires and against God's calling. They are sympathetic with their own sinful impulses and resistant to God's path and wisdom. In that sense, they're loving darkness rather than the light. What they need help to see is that a life of fruitful, joyful singleness is not only possible but real for many. Moreover, the same grace that meets them in their sin provides for them in all God's callings and commands. His commands are not burdensome. His yoke is easy. He will not quench the smoking flax. Grace calls us to imagine that the best possible future lies in the path God chooses instead of the path of our desires.

2. Help Andy and Angela understand the necessity of the local church family. Rather than leave the church, Andy and Angela should be helped to plug even more deeply in their local fellowships. They'll need the support and counsel of godly family in the household of God. They'll likely want to go places where no one is "butting into their business," or someplace where people tell them what they want to hear. They'll likely begin pulling away from the family. But this is when the family needs to be most aware of their struggles and most caring. Whether through a small group of fellow saints or with concentrated one-on-one discipleship, Andy and Angela need to be tethered tightly to the church so that they're helped to think in biblical ways, process their feelings, and walk out their callings.

3. In time, help Andy and Angela with finding ways of expressing their desires. This may mean helping Andy to remarry as the Lord provides a woman free to marry. This might mean helping Angela consider adoption if she wants to parent. The difficult part of this situation is that Andy and Angela can't have the lives they desire with each other. But that doesn't mean they can't have elements of their desired lives at all. Careful counseling, pastoral leadership, and support from the church family should work to encourage each of them to fully embrace the range of life opportunities the Lord provides within the good boundaries of His word and will. There will be a million opportunities for glorifying Jesus with their lives, even if they aren't the traditional ways of doing some of them.

Well, that's my sense of things. No easy answers. Or perhaps there are some easy answers, but the implementation is emotionally taxing and messy.

Your Turn

I would love to hear what you think. How would you counsel a couple in a situation like this? Do you know any situations like this and how have you helped/failed to help in the past? What can we learn from each other?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Favorite Books from 2009

I enjoy reading other people's lists of their favorite books, or favorite anythings for that matter. In fact, one of my favorite songs is "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things." I particularly like the

I'd love to hear Bobby McFerrin do "Favorite Things." Here's why:

McFerrin is simply an extraordinary talent. Check this out:

But I digress. Which really is a good word to describe my reading this year: digressed. I don't think I've had a particularly great reading year, though I've read some particularly great books. And here are a few I'd commend if you don't mind being uncool because your titles are a year or two behind (because let's face it, the "what we read this year list" hopelessly entraps us in a "I'm pretty smart because I can read new stuff fast" attitude). Okay, now I digress and I get snarky. Sorry.

So, a few of the books I really enjoyed this year, not because I'm smart but because by some miracle I love to read and someone loved me enough to teach me how:

What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng. Heart-rending is too weak a phrase to describe this book. It's an emotional and at times overwhelming look at "the Lost Boys" of Sudan's bloody civil war and genocide. Amazing use of flashback and Ralph Ellison's invisible man-styled narration. Here's a NY Times book review. And here's a link to the foundation named in honor of Valentino.

My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience. My brother Michael Lawrence gave me a copy of this book following our trip to S. Africa this year. South Africa and it's people were amazing. A profound trip. And this is a profound book by a man, Rian Malan, descended from the architects of S. Africa's Apartheid regime. This is a look at the underbelly from an insider struggling with all the contradictions of "race," culture, politics and life. Could not put this one down, though you could feel the heaviness of horror on its pages.

The Kite Runner. Afghanistan before and after the Taliban revolution. War, love, immigration, culture. This novel has it all. When you do book blurbs or reviews, it's tough to stay away from cliches like "page turner." But this one was--a "page turner," not a cliche. Again, not for the faint of heart. but a gripping drama inspired by real life events and the people affected by them. This one has been made into a movie, which I've not seen. Don't want that "can't believe they left that part out" feeling you get when books are turned into movies.

D. Martyn Lloyd Jones (volume one and two). "The Doctor"--not J--but D. Martyn Lloyd Jones is one of my Christian heroes. He was one of the first authors I read as a new Christian, and I greatly admire his preaching. After first reading Lloyd-Jones some 14-15 years ago, I've finally gotten around to reading Iain Murray's two volume biography of Lloyd-Jones. In a word, fascinating. The first couple chapters were a little slow for me, but then the entire biography soared. So glad I read this.

Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion. Kevin and Ted are insightful and funny. When I the books opening chapter, I instantly thought of about a dozen people I wanted to give copies to. this is a helpful book encouraging love for and participation in the local church. Well worth the read!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Continue Praying for Matt Chandler and Family

JT posted this update from the Village Church on the pathology report that Matt and Lauren Chandler received yesterday:

Dear church,

In the first chapter of Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes that whatever imprisonments, beatings and trials he may have suffered, they all “serve to advance the gospel” of Jesus Christ. We implore you to keep the gospel of Christ as the main focus as we walk with Matt and Lauren through this trial.

On Tuesday, Dr. Barnett informed Matt and Lauren that the findings of the pathology report revealed a malignant brain tumor that was not encapsulated. The surgery to remove the tumor, the doctor said, was an extremely positive first step; however, because of the nature of the tumor, he was not able to remove all of it.

Matt, who is being released from the hospital today, is meeting with a neuro-oncologist this week to outline the next steps of the recovery process. There is a range of treatment possibilities but the exact course of action has not yet been determined. He will continue outpatient rehab.

The Lord is calling Matt and Lauren and The Village Church body to endure this trial. It will be a challenging road for Matt, his family and our church body. The gospel is our hope and the Lord is our strength. Matt and Lauren continue to find solace and hope in Christ. They weep facing this trial, but not as those without hope and perspective. The gospel clarifies their suffering and promises more of Christ through it all.

You have done a wonderful job respecting the family, and we ask that you continue to do this. They are processing all of this together and need you to give them precious space. Please do not visit them at their house unless personally invited by the Chandlers. The best way to serve the family is to continue to be faithful in prayer. Specifically, pray for the following:

  • Wisdom for all the coming decisions
  • Strength and peace to endure
  • The kids’ (Audrey, Reid and Norah) hearts; pray the Lord is merciful as they process and that their little hearts do not grow embittered
  • The Chandlers and The Village would suffer well because of the gospel and for the sake of Christ’s name

As you hurt and weep for the family, do not do it alone. Gather with your home group and with other believers in homes and pray together. This is a time to walk together with others and to endure this trial in community. If you wish, send cards and letters to Matt and Lauren at 2101 Justin Road, Flower Mound, TX 75028.

We will continue to keep you informed as new information is made available. Please be patient with the frequency of the updates. May God strengthen us all and may His glory shine brightly through this.

Please do pray for our brother, his family, and his church.

Yesterday he wrote on his Twitter account: “Path report is 2ndary at best…good report doesn’t mean much, bad report doesn’t mean anything…my days r numbered and nt by ths report.”

That'll Preach!

"Our best duties are so many splendid sins."
--George Whitefield

Read the excellent quotation on "the archaeology of repentance" over at Christ Is Deeper Still.

DG Pastors' Conference

Every year the folks at DG put on an outstanding conference for pastors, featuring excellent teaching and joyful fellowship. Here's the trailer for this year's conference:

Humor Break

One Sunday morning, a priest wakes up and decides to go golfing. He calls his boss and says that he feels very sick, and won't be able to go to work.

Way up in heaven, Saint Peter sees all this and asks God, ''Are you really going to let him get away with this?''

''No, I guess not,'' says God.

The priest drives about five to six hours away, so he doesn't bump into anyone he knows. The golf course is empty when he gets there. So he takes his first swing, drives the ball 495 yards away and gets a hole in one.

Saint Peter watches in disbelief and asks, '' Why did you let him do that?''

To this God says, ''Who's he going to tell?''

We Need One of These for Our Church Elevator

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cost of Following Jesus: Angela and Andy

Today I want to pick up our periodic series on "The Cost of Following Jesus." This is a series where we present a case study usually involving new converts to Christ who will face significant "costs" for following the Lord.

In our opening posts (here, here, and here), we considered the case of "Brad" and his long-time live-in girlfriend and three children. We considered the cost of Brad following Jesus and how the church should help him to pay that cost.

We've been thinking of Luke 14 as one foundation text for this series. There, the Lord says:
"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. 27And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, 30saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'

31"Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

So, we're left to understand that those who turn from the broad path of the world to the narrow path of the Kingdom will need to count and pay the cost of following Jesus.

Scenario 2: Angela and Andy, Divorcees Wishing to Remarry

Today, I want to introduce a different scenario. Meet "Angela" and "Andy." They've been dating for about a year now. Both are professing Christians; they understand the gospel and give evidence of loving the Lord. They're in their early thirties and are active parts of two different local churches.

"Andy" is a member of your church. They've decided to marry and have come to you/your church seeking marriage counseling and to have the wedding there. As you speak with Andy you learn that both have been divorced. This will be their second marriage.

In Andy's case, his first wife had been unfaithful and they eventually divorced over the adultery. Andy and his first wife were professing Christians. In Angela's case, she had been unfaithful to her husband, leading to a divorce. At the time, neither Angela nor her husband were believers.

Andy's first wife has gone on to remarry and now lives with her second husband and four children across town. Angela's first husband has not remarried.

The Questions:

Can Angela and Andy remarry? If so, both of them, or one of them? Why or why not?

In your opinion, what are those costs in this situation? And how can you and your church help them bear those costs?

You don't have to be a pastor to answer these questions. I welcome your thoughts as a church member who might be called upon to help in a situation like this. The more the merrier!

C'mon... You Know You Do This!

Don't pretend you know the words to this song. You sing it just like this in the car on the way to work!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Rick Warren Addresses "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" Proposed in Uganda

After some pressure from various groups, Warren has issued a video and print statement opposing the Ugandan bill that would legislate a death penalty for homosexuals in the country.

Warren gives five reasons for his opposition:

First, the potential law is unjust, extreme and un-Christian toward homosexuals, requiring the death penalty in some cases. If I am reading the proposed bill correctly, this law would also imprison anyone convicted of homosexual practice.

Second, the law would force pastors to report their pastoral conversations with homosexuals to authorities.

Third, it would have a chilling effect on your ministry to the hurting. As you know, in Africa, it is the churches that are bearing the primary burden of providing care for people infected with HIV/AIDS. If this bill passed, homosexuals who are HIV positive will be reluctant to seek or receive care, comfort and compassion from our churches out of fear of being reported. You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation.

Fourth, ALL life, no matter how humble or broken, whether unborn or dying, is precious to God. My wife, Kay, and I have devoted our lives and our ministry to saving the lives of people, including homosexuals, who are HIV positive. It would be inconsistent to save some lives and wish death on others. We’re not just pro-life. We are whole life.

Finally, the freedom to make moral choices and our right to free expression are gifts endowed by God. Uganda is a democratic country with remarkable and wise people, and in a democracy everyone has a right to speak up. For these reasons, I urge you, the pastors of Uganda, to speak out against the proposed law.

Our brother catches a lot of flack for a lot of things... but hanging an anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda of all places around his neck? Well, that's going a bit far it seems to me.

This guy doesn't think Warren is strong enough and goes too far with self promotion.

Here's Rachel Maddow's spin. You really don't want to be featured on her show.

But what do you think?

The "eeds" of Leadership

Margaret McSweeney guest posts over at Michael Hyatt's site and offers 12 leadership lessons from her father, Dr. Claude H. Rhea, Jr., whom she describes as "a strategic visionary, a 32-year colon cancer survivor, a member of the prestigious Royal Society of the Arts, an accomplished international lyric tenor who recorded five albums (one with the Concert Orchestra of London), a published author (including his autobiography, a cook book and two song books for children), a Dean of a Music School and a President of a College."

His lessons:
  1. Creed.
  2. Heed.
  3. Read.
  4. Knead.
  5. Feed.
  6. Seed.
  7. Weed. (If you're in the Caribbean, California, or Oregon, it's not what you think :-))
  8. Speed.
  9. Greed.
  10. Deed.
  11. Exceed.
  12. Need.
I liked the rhyme scheme, and the lessons are helpful, too. Read the entire brief post.

Pictures from Last Night's Christmas Cantata

Last night wrapped up our choir's Christmas cantata at the church. Tonight, they sing at the men's prison and there is perhaps a couple other performances at other places around the island. It's been a full week for the choir, and the Lord has sustained and blessed them powerfully. You can see it in the joy of the people who've come to the cantata. It's been awesome. Here are a couple more pics (click the photo for bigger pic and better resolution):

Against Sideways Communication

Came across this well-written and helpful admonishment against that kind of "communication" that's almost always a hidden agenda that hurts or divides without ever taking ownership.

A snippet:

The Great A&W Incident, as it’s known around our house, baptized me into the murky waters of church ministry and the sideways, backhanded, upside-down channels we use to communicate with one another in the family. Before The Incident, I assumed we would all talk to each other. Not around each other.

What a naive dork I turned out to be.

It was a small thing, The Incident. But it fit into a larger pattern of crooked-line communication that one day, years later, helped break a church into a million tiny pieces.

Sadly, this kind of communication breaks a lot of relationships--churches, marriages, business partnerships--into a million tiny pieces. Read the entire piece here: "Is Anonymous Your First or Last Name?"

Zealous Husbands Who Destroy Their Marriages for the Ministry

C. Michael Patton:

Friends (and especially young zealous husbands or soon to be husbands), don’t make the mistake of having your passion for ministry end your marriage. Your first ministry is your marriage. If you don’t get that, you are not qualified for ministry. In the spirit of Priscilla: Do you not think that God is powerful enough to call you both into ministry or do you think he only has enough power to call one of you? If so, then he is not a God worth your time anyway. In short, if God does not call your wife, he is not calling you. Period.

Read the entire piece.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Treasure and Ponder

This year, the Lord seems to be speaking to me these words over and over: "treasure and ponder." Last week, a brother sent me a devotional study with this as its theme. I'd been noodling on it a little bit and decided to share it at our seasonal performances this year. So, at the Christmas recital for our young children's program and our choir's annual cantata, I've been sharing brief gospel appeals based on Luke 2:19--"But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

Today, Challies linked to a prayer from Scotty Smith on this same text. Read the prayer here. It thought it was encouraging and convicting.

Is Sunday Your First Day or Your Last?

A couple weeks back, my deacon of finance commented over lunch: "How different do you think things would be if Christians treated Sunday as the first day of the week rather than the last?"

it was a great question. The question puts its finger on our entire approach to the Lord's Day. Far too often we approach Sunday as the day we rest from the week gone by rather than the day of first fruits, of beginning with the Lord and shaping our hearts and souls for the week ahead. When that happens, God gets the leftovers and the world gets the best part of us.

On Sunday nights, most of us will begin routines designed to help us get off to a good start for the week. We'll select the children's clothes for school. We'll perhaps pack lunches. Spouses will coordinate schedules, being sure important meetings and outings are highlighted. Thoughts will turn to work: tasks to get done, meetings to attend, and so on. In short, we prepare for the week now that Sunday is over.

How would it affect our souls and our weeks to simply back the preparation up one day so that Sunday is the first day of the week and the Saturday the night of our preparation for all that's ahead? What if we invested considerable energy planning to get off to a good start with the Lord and His people, and planning to give the leftovers to lesser lords? How would we benefit if we lived for the Lord's Day rather than living for the weekend? I think the effect would be noticeable and almost immediate.

1,000th Post

Well, what do you know? This marks the 1000th post here at PureChurch!

When I started this blog, it was at my wife's suggestion. As always and with everything, she has been my biggest supporter and deepest partner in life. Even as she opens the blinds in the house this morning, I'm feeling deeply grateful to God for her and profoundly privileged to be her husband. The Lord is treating me better, far better, than I deserve.

And when I started this blog, I didn't think anyone would ever visit or comment. But many of you have, and I am grateful for you, for your thoughts and ideas, for the ways you either affirm or challenge my thinking, and for your being one means by which the Lord continues His work of sanctification in my life. Over these 1,000 posts, I've come to know many of you as friends and co-laborers in gospel fields. I've benefited from your prayers, and many of you have received mine as well. The blogging community has been a wonderful community to join. Thank you for making this a far, far more interesting blog than it would have been otherwise.

I didn't think I had much to say by post 100. Now that I'm at post 1,000 I think I have even less to say. We'll see how things progress, what the Lord gives us to discuss, and how He uses it all for His glory and our joy.

Grace and peace to you on this Lord's Day! May you be excited by the presence and power of Christ as you praise Him!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pres. Obama's Acceptance Remarks for the Nobel Prize

I've just seen these comments released by the White House. I've not read them all yet, but I appreciated the humble and forthright way the President acknowledge that more worthy recipients have received/deserved the award, and that he receives the award while the country continues in two wars.

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the considerable controversy that your generous decision has generated. (Laughter.) In part, this is because I am at the beginning, and not the end, of my labors on the world stage. Compared to some of the giants of history who've received this prize -- Schweitzer and King; Marshall and Mandela -- my accomplishments are slight. And then there are the men and women around the world who have been jailed and beaten in the pursuit of justice; those who toil in humanitarian organizations to relieve suffering; the unrecognized millions whose quiet acts of courage and compassion inspire even the most hardened cynics. I cannot argue with those who find these men and women -- some known, some obscure to all but those they help -- to be far more deserving of this honor than I.

But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by 42 other countries -- including Norway -- in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Perhaps a few more thoughts when I've read the entire speech.

Did Christianity Cause the Economic Crash?

"America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture...."

That line in Hana Rosin's article, "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?", nearly ripped my eyes out of the socket. "America's churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture."

I don't think Rosin meant this as an indictment. In the article, the sentence serves simply as a transition between paragraphs.

But how woefully true that statement is. And with the force of a sledgehammer, I'm reminded this morning that churches are supposed to be other-worldly. There is supposed to be a pilgrim's attitude and dress adorning the church, a sojourners longing for home with Jesus where righteousness reigns.

It's too easy to beat up on the church for being materialistic. The evidence is too plentiful. We've reached the point where writers like Rosin can even ask if a worldwide economic crash isn't in fact fueled by "Christian" materialism and greed. Rosin writes:
Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America’s middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture—a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

Greg Forster over at The American takes issue with the link Rosin draws between Christianity and the economic crash. Blaming Christianity for the crash may be too simplistic, but there can be little doubt that "a shift in American (global?) conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth" has occurred. And with that shift comes a fundamental shift in our conception of God himself. No longer does God work in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Now God works on Wall Street, or at least at my local bank, and his wonders are performed for my personal account and net worth. No longer is God ultimately interested in His own glory in the redemption of sinners, but for many God is mainly interested in me, my prosperity, and my ambitions. Any salvation is a means to prosperity now, in this life. And that has deeply affected the personal decision-making and emotional state of millions and millions of people in the States and worldwide.

A "personal relationship with Jesus" isn't much different than a "personal financial advisor" for many professing Christians. Sure, Jesus is more powerful than your commission-working certified financial advisor; but in the end, it's basically the same line of work.

Rosin describes the pervasiveness of prosperity theology in America's churches:
Among mainstream, nondenominational megachurches, where much of American religious life takes place, “prosperity is proliferating” rapidly, says Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University and an expert in the gospel. Few, if any, of these churches have prosperity in their title or mission statement, but Bowler has analyzed their sermons and teachings. Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful. It’s an upbeat theology, argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Bright-Sided, that has much in common with the kind of “positive thinking” that has come to dominate America’s boardrooms and, indeed, its entire culture.

And yet, the negative economic effects of this theology, according to Rosin, occurs among poorer African Americans and Latinos. Case in point, home foreclosures and risky loans:
Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. “Hyper-segregated” urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin. Reliable data on foreclosures by race are not publicly available, but mortgages are tracked by both race and loan type, and subprime loans have tended to correspond to foreclosures. During the boom, roughly 40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans; Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites.

In this sense, the effects of false theology on the church is a tale of two churches--one significantly more vulnerable than the other. Rosin's final lines captures where this vulnerability comes from:
Once, I asked Garay [the pastor featured in her story] how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.”

Pastors who promise great riches as God's will for your life, only to fall back on Russian roulette explanations for failures, are a cancerous pox on the lives of so many people. They shrug, "there always another this or that," and drive out to the suburbs or exurbs in their long Benz. There will be another sheep to devour at the next big money revival meeting.

How can you tell the difference between a wolf in sheep's clothing and a sheep?

By what they eat.

Blowing the Roof Off!

Last night our choir had it's annual Christmas Cantata. It's no boast to say that their performance is outstanding every year. But last night was as moving and powerful a cantata as I've seen. The power in the voices and the lyrics was simply amazing.

I don't have any video or audio yet--perhaps someone will post some soon. But here's a pic from the Adams:

Friday, December 11, 2009

What Was I Doing?

Read this over at Z, and decided to get back to my sermon for Sunday!
From Henry Cloud’s book The One-Life Solution: Reclaim Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success:

The most effective people I know are people who have times when they give their entire focus to whatever they are working on — and there is no way they are going to stop what they are doing to see what just showed up in their in-box or on their BlackBerry. Certain blocks of time are guarded, and an e-mail or a phone call is not going to interrupt them or change the agenda.

Breaking Down Our Giving Habits

I'm always finding great stuff over at Mockingbird. Like this chart from the National Center for Charitable Statistics:

Question: Are religious and conservative people more generous than secular and liberal people, or are they just better at hiding their money from the tax man?

Thoughts for Parents and Children Who Don't Do Santa

With the re-post yesterday, a few folks have asked in one way or another, "How do we help our children talk about our focus on Jesus rather than Santa without being self-righteous?"

What a great question. First, let me say, if you want answers without pride and self-righteousness, I'm not your best teacher. I'm certain others have written more helpful stuff and lived more consistently than I have. Perhaps we could all benefit from reading a book like Humility just before the holidays.

But here are a few things I thought about in response to that excellent and practical question.

1. Prepare your children before they're in the situation. In general, I fall down on this way too much. Too much of my instruction comes after the fact. Consequently, it's damage control or re-directing rather than insulating equipping. So, I'd encourage us all who avoid Santa to talk with our children about why we choose not to, giving them a sense of the superior joy of focusing on Jesus. And talk with them about the fact that many, many others--both Christians and non-Christians--do include Santa Claus in their Christmas celebrations. Be sure to explain that doing Santa doesn't make a person a bad Christian, but that you think Jesus and the gospel are clearer without Santa. And part of our preparation, should be a little role play or instruction on how to respond when they're asked things like, "What do you want Santa to bring you for Christmas?" When I used to train people on interviewing techniques, we used to teach people to think of the questions they would like not to be asked and decide how they're going to answer them if they come up. That principle works here I think.

2. Don't leave your children hanging; model the response you're hoping for. Invariably, there will be that neighbor or friend who sees you in the grocery store and turns to ask that awkward question of your child. They'll mean well and will do a pretty good job of engaging the child directly... bending down to eye level, smiling, and giving all kinds of joyful non-verbal encouragements. (We should engage children like this all the time, really). Your child will look at this smiling giant and then look to mom and dad with a silent plea, What do I do now! You're the one leading this thing! Say something!

So, we should say something. Graciously, with a smile, bring the conversation back to adult-to-adult. And say something like, "At Christmas, we enjoy focusing on the birth of Jesus and what it means to the world?" Hopefully, that opens some opportunity to explain what it means. If your child is old enough and familiar with the gospel, you might even relieve the tension by turning to the child and asking, "Why did Jesus come? And what does that mean for the world?" But the point here is to encourage the parents to lead with a little modeling. We're not out for Santa fights in the produce aisle of the supermarket. So, aim for something short, winsome, and simple so your child can emulate it.

3. Teach children to take an interest in the traditions of others. We can go on the "offensive" here as well. We should teach our children not to be in a defensive posture about Christmas celebrations, but to be in that people-seeking, gospel-communicating, offensive posture of the Great Commission. So, it's good if we're the ones teaching our children that people celebrate differently--some of that is cultural and ethnic, some of it is just preference. Some of it is well thought-out and reasoned, some of it is just cultural response. We can show genuine interest in people by asking what kinds of things they do to celebrate Christmas, and by asking how they came to embrace those practices. We learn about others and we hopefully deepen a relationship.

4. Finally, we have to teach our children how to handle objections. Well-meaning people, after hearing that you don't do Santa Claus, will assume that means you don't do joy at Christmas. They'll assume you don't give gifts or that you're robbing the children. And they'll sometimes give voice to these objections by asking the child something like, "Aren't you gonna miss out on Santa and all the gifts?"

Here, we need to know two things. First, we need to know if our children are missing those things or longing for them. To what extent is materialism creeping into their hearts? Talking with them about this is helpful for us as parents apart from simply preparing for these kinds of conversations. And if they admit to struggling in this way, it's an opportunity to do a little heart work with our children.

Second, we need to know if our children are prepared to respond in situations like this. These kinds of questions are actually a lot of pressure to put on a 3-, 4-, or 5-year olds. Answering towering adults who obviously disagree with you can be intimidating. So, again, we should be ready to step in and model a response. But we should also teach children how to handle objections and disagreements. Learning short answers can be helpful:

Q: "Won't you miss all the presents?" Ans: "The best present comes from God in Jesus. That's what we enjoy most."

Q: "What will you do when the other children have lots of new toys?" Ans: "Share their joy with them, and continue to enjoy all the toys I already have."

Q: "What's wrong with believing in Santa?" Ans: "Others can. But I think it's better to believe in real things that are wonderful and beautiful, like Jesus."

Q: "Well, what do you do for Christmas then?" Ans: Fill in whatever your family does.

Whenever the child answers an objection graciously, joyfully, and honestly, affirm them. Join in by saying, "Yeah, that's right. We...." Again, don't leave them alone. Model how to respond and model that it's a family tradition. Lord willing, that'll pay off when they're one day defending the gospel itself and sticking together with the family of faith.

Just a few thoughts. I'd love to hear from others.

How do you teach your children to talk about why you do or don't include Santa in your Christmas celebrations?