I know Christmas isn’t here yet. But I’m already starting to think about 2019.
And I’m thinking about 200 short conversations I want each one of us to have in the new year. That’s about four short conversations every week. Four weekly conversations I’ll be prodding you to have with your children or with your spouse or with a good friend. 200 short conversations that I believe can radically impact every aspect of your life in the coming year.
Curious yet? Good. Now hold that thought for a minute while I muse a minute about parenting.
If God gives us children, we have three primary assignments as we raise them. Job #1 is to do what we can to keep them fed, healthy and breathing. Job #2 is to prepare them to live as independent, functional adults at some point (the sooner the better). And Job #3 is to pour a spiritual foundation under them so that they have plenty of opportunities to hear and believe and re-believe and trust in and obey the gospel.
Physical survival. Cultivating independence and self-sufficiency. And proactive spiritual training and development. That’s the heart of our job as parents.
We can do our best in each of those areas, and there is still no guarantee that our efforts will bear the kind of fruit we’re hoping and praying for. There is no recipe that insures your children will thrive as teens or as adults. God has given them minds and wills of their own.
Our job as parents is to be faithful. The results are in God’s hands.
God has designed the local church to be a covenant community that supports the work God has called us to as moms and dads. Too many parents today see the church as the outsourcing agent for the spiritual training and development of their children. In reality, the churches role is to supplement and reinforce the spiritual training that moms and dads are doing. The churches role in the spiritual formation of children is not insignificant. But it’s also not primary.
The spiritual training of children in the home happens on two levels. Kids learn about God and faith and sin and obedience and prayer and righteousness and a myriad of biblical subjects primarily through what they observe and hear and experience in the home. What we model as parents about loving and obeying God and following Jesus is the most important part of how we pass on a legacy of spiritual vitality to the next generation.
But in addition to what we model, it’s important for us to have regular times of spiritual training and instruction in the home. Deuteronomy 6 tells us that these spiritual training times should be regular and informal – “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” We should be purposeful and intentional about the spiritual formation of our children.
Spiritual formation involves more than learning Bible verses or understanding biblical truth. But it cannot involve less than that. God’s word is the foundation for everything in our lives – and in their lives as well.
Which brings me back to the 200 conversations.
Three years ago, we began the practice during our worship service of working our way through a catechism each year, reciting questions and answers each Sunday as a corporate confession of faith – a declaration of some of the core things we believe as followers of Jesus. That first year we went through the New City Catechism. In 2017, we used the Heidelberg Catechism. This year, we’ve been going through the questions and answers from A new Baptist Catechism.
In 2019, we want to use this part of our weekly worship service as a way to set up the four or five short conversations that we hope you’ll plan to fit somewhere into your time together as a couple, as a family or with a group of good friends.
We’ll be using questions and answers from a new book called Cornerstones.
This is a wonderful, colorful book with simple questions and easy to understand answers all related to the big themes of the Bible. It’s a great resource for parents to use with children.
In addition, there is a companion volume designed for parents or adults to use to help them dive more deeply into the subjects raised by the questions and answers.
This second book can be used for personal devotions. Or a mom or dad might want to read a chapter in the book before they begin a conversation with their children about one of the questions and answers from the first book.
So here’s how I’m hoping this can work out for us. Each Sunday, we’ll have 3-5 questions and answers from the Cornerstones book in our regular catechism time in our worship service. Then sometime on Sunday or Monday, a mom or dad can pull out your copy of the Cornerstone book and ask the kids “does anyone remember this question from Sunday? And do you remember the answer?” Then, if you’ve read your chapter in the bigger book, you can maybe have a short spiritually focused conversation with your kids.
Do that two or three or four more times that week, and you’ll have an easy to execute way of providing one key aspect of spiritual training for your children,
We’re exploring to see if we can get any kind of a volume discount on the books. So if you think you’re interested in beginning this journey in 2019 as a couple or as a family or with a few close friends, email Matt Gurney and say “order one of each for me please.” Matt’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
One final note about all this. It’s easy for us to become discouraged as we try to implement regular times of spiritual conversations in our home. As our kids roll their eyes (or worse yet, close their eyes and act like they’re asleep the whole time!) It’s easy to wonder if any of this is worth it. I remember feeling that way as a dad and letting the discouragement rob me of my courage. We were far less structured and disciplined about this as a family as I wish we had been.
But even when we think our kids aren’t paying attention or learning anything, we’re still sending an important message.
Don Whitney, the author of the book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life tried as a father to make sure that time in God’s word and in prayer together was a regular family activity. He persisted, even though he often doubted whether the time together was having any positive spiritual benefit.
In an interview on FamilyLife Today, Don shared about the power of consistently pouring into his daughter’s life. Here’s what he shared:
At the Christian school where she graduated, it was the tradition for the parents to present the diploma to the graduate / to their child; and then they would make some remarks, encouraging the child, and congratulating them as a graduate, and blessing them. And then, the graduate would, in turn, speak some prepared remarks to the parents, thanking them and so forth.
My daughter thanked my wife and said a number of very precious things to her; and then, she turned to me and she began by saying how much family worship had meant to her; but she never got finished, because she just collapsed on my shoulder, in cap and gown, in tears.
I am not exaggerating when I say she wept harder than I had seen her since she was a preschooler. The picture of us together is my favorite picture of the two of us. She gave me, later, the transcript of what she’d prepared, and it was thanking me for what family worship had meant to her.
Now, lest you misunderstand—they may think that that means, when we had family worship, she sat in rapt attention with her hands folded—I mean, not one time, ever, would I have walked away from family worship saying: “Oh, the Spirit of God came in great power upon us tonight. We were on our faces before God; the Spirit’s presence was just atmospheric in our home,”—never would I have said that. Most of the time, I would have walked away, saying: “I wonder if that did any good whatsoever. I wonder if anything happened.” There was nothing remarkable, ever.
And you know, what it’s like until this day—I mean, she’s married and has her first child of her own now—and to this day, when they come home—we have family worship in our home—do you know what it’s like? “Hey, would you all put your phone down please? We’re trying to have family worship. Would you all listen up? I’m trying to read the Bible here.” That’s the way it always was; that’s the way it always is.
Let’s start making plans now to make regular deposits into our children’s lives and into our own lives in 2019.
If you were in church last Sunday, you saw the picture of Bruce and Maria Goff with the newest member of their family – Gloria Jeanne Goff, born on Friday, November 30.
If you’d like to jump on the mail train to help the Goffs with a dinner or two during the next couple of weeks, click here and sign up.
You should have received your e-vite for the Ladies annual Christmas Tea and Brunch. It happens this Saturday at 10:30 am at the church. All ladies are welcome. Just make sure you respond to the e-vite, or let Emily Davidson know you’re planning to attend. email@example.com.
And if you’re interested in helping to host our Christmas lunch for the staff at David O Dodd Elementary School on Monday, December 17, let Matt Gurney know that you’d like to help out. Mattgurney77@gmail.com
You, your family and friends are all invited to our annual Candlelight and Carols Service. We’ll gather for an hour at 5:00 pm on Monday to sing and pray and celebrate the glad tidings of great joy that the angels brought to shepherds 2000 years ago. The Christmas Eve service is always a special part of the season as we come together to light the Christ candle in our advent wreath and to focus our hearts on the birth of Jesus.
In last week’s newsletter, I talked about having a series of three Monday night meetings in January for the men in our church. We’ll be meeting on January 7, January 21 and January 28 to watch a new three part video series on the subject of pornography.
Guys, if you haven’t already, please grab your phone and add these dates to your calendar now. We’ll meet at 7:00 at the church. I’m hoping that every man in the church will make this a priority. This is not for guys who are looking at porn. It’s for all of us.
Three nights. That’s it. Let’s do this.
Here’s another January date to add to your calendar.
Some of you are familiar with the great work that Matthew Smith and Kevin Twitt and others have been doing taking classic hymn texts and coming up with fresh melodies and musical arrangements. If you haven’t heard of Indelible Grace, you can check out some of their hymns here. You’ll find a few of my favorites here and here and here.
On Friday night, January 18, we are co-hosting a get together with our friends at Covenant Presbyterian Church. We’ll have dinner together at their place, followed by a concert/hymn sing with Matthew Smith. Matthew’s latest album is called QuietHymns.
A full band. Old hymns. New music. A free concert. And dinner to boot.
Plan to be there. And think about friends you can invite who may be fans of acoustic/Americana music.
If you spent six months living in another culture focusing on how to advance the gospel in that place, don’t you imagine you might learn a few things in the process? About yourself? About God? About the transcendence of the gospel message?
This Sunday, John and Julie Majors are back with us for the first time in six months. And we’ll hear from them about what they learned from their time in Fiji.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!