Monday, November 26, 2007

Setting Up the Christmas Tree... Three Times

We got our Christmas tree on Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). Yes, I know Christmas is still a ways off, but I LOVE the Christmas season, and the longer it lasts the better. So we hiked around a tree lot on the beautiful (yet freezing) day for an hour. It was quite the accomplishment considering the tree hunt took three hours last year. Then it was home with the tree, decorations hung, the house decked out, and festive music played. Ah, the sense of accomplishment. But then, at 1 am we had just settled down for a long winter's nap, when down in the living room there arose such a clatter. We sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. Down the staircase we flew like a flash... OK, different story. But all that to say, the cats had climbed the tree and knocked all 9 feet of it over. So instead of sleeping, we were re-standing the tree, picking up pieces of broken ornaments and attaching 70 pounds of weights and rope to the trunk to keep the tree up in case the cats decided to climb again.

The tree adventure wasn't finished though. The next day it still felt wobbly so we took it out of the stand, repositioned it and decorated it once more. On Sunday we bought more ornaments to replace to broken ones, and for the third time in one weekend, I decorated the tree.

But as I sit here, looking at its lit beauty, I love it. The cats could knock it over again and again, and I'd rehang the ornaments and lights again and again. It's worth it. Children's Ministries can be the same way. You put weeks, days and hours of work into an event only to have a small turnout. You pour your heart into leading worship only to have a sleepy response. You write email after email of details to volunteers only to hear that they never read them. But you keep doing it. Why? Because ministry is beautiful. Seeing hearts grow in their love for the Lord is beautiful. Hearing a child pray to accept Jesus as their Forever Friend is beautiful. The rewards--the changed lives, devotion to the Lord, genuine worship, and people serving in their giftings--are worth it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Being Teachable

My parents love ministry. While I was in high school, evenings were spent listening to them talk for hours about how church "should" be done. Or their latest learnings from books on ministry. Or what we need to be paying attention to in order to truly reach people. I grew to wish I didn't have to hear another thing about ministry... after all, I wasn't planning on going into it vocationally. But God works in amazing ways, and I now look back on those conversations with great appreciation. Last May, as my dad drove me and Nolan to the Baltimore Airport at 4 am, I found myself in another one of those conversations. This time, it was my dad reminding me of how essential it is as a ministry leader to remain teachable. I was sleepy, so I didn't put too much thought into the subject. But lately, his words have played through my mind with sparkling clarity.

Things have been going well lately in our Children's Ministry, and it would be so easy to just sit back and enjoy the goodness of it. To become confident in my own abilities and embrace the mentality that I have arrived. But the reality is that while an element of smoothness has been achieved on Sunday mornings, I still have so much more to learn. Being teachable means looking for ways to grow, areas to improve, and new ideas to implement.

Being teachable doesn't happen without looking inwardly. My job can't be soley about taking care of the needs of others. I need to carefully evaluate my own skills and take time for personal leadership development. So today, in an effort to keep growing, I took some time to myself. A few months ago I purchased the book, "Lead the Way God Made You" by Larry Shallenberger. Since then, I've carried it in my laptop bag every day, but haven't made the time to get past page 4. Today, I dove in at a coffee shop. Already, it's proving to be a worthwhile, educational and profitable read. And after a delicious time of reading and eating, I met with our Senior Pastor's wife for our weekly Bible study. As I drove home, I felt refreshed. Today was about me--about growing and learning--and I loved it. Imaging how much more God could use me if I took more days like this to let Him reveal Himself to me, teach me and challenge me. I love it when my dad is right.

So how about you? What do you do to make sure you keep growing? To keep being teachable, whether it's in your ministry, your parenting, your work?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Follow the Compass of Gold

I always look forward to holiday movies. It seems like the year’s best hit theaters between Thanksgiving and Christmas. While some of this year’s films are being awaited with excitement, one movie is being met with great controversy. The Golden Compass, based on the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, has stirred up discussions and controversy in Christian circles. On the surface, this fantasy movie has an enchanted look, but when the books it is based upon are examined, a strong anti-religion undercurrent is obvious.

Phillip Pullman, a talented and gifted British author, is a an agnostic. Pullman explains that his book “depicts the Temptation and Fall not as the source of all woe and misery, as in traditional Christian teaching, but as the beginning of true human freedom something to be celebrated, not lamented. And the Tempter is not an evil being like Satan, prompted by malice and envy, but a figure who might stand for Wisdom.”1 The characters in The Golden Compass discover that life is about living for yourself and your own desires. The conclusion in the third book, The Amber Spyglass, reveals that everyone came from Dust instead of a Creator, therefore everything the church had sought to serve never existed. While the first movie of the trilogy is based on the books, the strong anti-religion themes won’t be as obvious. “Several key themes of the novels…are to be diluted in the adaptation.”2

So how do we, as Christians, respond to The Golden Compass? 1 Peter 3:15-16 instructs us to “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” We need to remember that no matter how we respond to this movie, God must receive glory.

In an interview, Pullman was asked, “Do you believe in God?” His response was, “I don’t know whether there’s a god or not… there may well be a god somewhere, hiding away. Actually, if he is keeping out of sight, it’s because he’s ashamed of his followers and all the cruelty and ignorance they’re responsible for promoting in his name.”3 Pullman doesn’t recognize the Truth. As believers, we need to be careful in our reaction and not prove Pullman’s point about the church. Instead, we should be like the compass in the books, and point toward Truth. Only the Truth we know comes from God, while the truth in Pullman’s books is found in man.

The Golden Compass isn’t the first book or movie to have anti-Christian themes, and neither is Pullman the last agnostic author. I hope that we can sift through the onslaught of media we face each day, and stand in love for God’s truth. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground...” (Ephesians 6:13).

As Christian parents, take a stand for the truth. Know what movies your children are watching. Know what books they’re reading. Use God’s Word as the compass of gold for your family, and remember Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

1. Question and Answer Session with Philip Pullman:
2. The Golden Compass (film):
3. Philip Pullman Q&A:

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Serving Our God as One

I’ve really been enjoying the show, Kid Nation, and all of the challenges the kids participate in. Each week, the children are faced with an opportunity to show teamwork. As individual districts, they are working toward the goal of social standing in Bonanza City. As a city, they are working toward a prize. All four of the districts need to complete their challenges within an hour in order to get something great like a washing machine or a disco party. The older kids take on heavier, specific roles in many of the challenges, while the littler ones are given tasks within their strengths. Each person plays their specific role in order to help the whole. Without everyone succeeding, there is no prize.

As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that the church works the same way. Each ministry is working within itself, using people in their strengths and gifting in order to achieve what we call Children’s Ministries, Student Ministries, Credo, etc. For the most part, we do it really well. We complete our tasks. But it seems so easy to forget the second part of the challenge—working as different ministries toward one big goal, the big prize. We keep ourselves separated, forgetting that we belong to the church as a whole.

So how do we unify? How do we continue to make our individual ministries happen without ignoring the greater needs of the church? It takes unity and support. It takes an understanding that while your ministry is valuable and important, it shouldn’t be a priority over any other ministry. It takes recognizing that God has gifted you in one area but not necessarily another. Appreciate those who are gifted differently. I’m so thankful for our middle school pastor! If I had to do his job, we’d have a lot of dead kids on our hands. While my ministry to children greatly differs from Pattie’s ministry to women, we still need to recognize the importance of both while respecting the varied methods. It warms my heart when our college pastor says there’s no way he could ever do what I do. In the same way, I could never do his job.

With mutual respect comes support. Stepping out of my ministry box and understanding that it might be insulting to the other ministries to have a kids’ kitchen against the wall in the auditorium while they try to present themselves as relevant to a critical culture and therefore storing it away midweek shows support. Sure it takes extra effort to pull the large piece of plastic out and put it away each week, but being able to support my fellow ministers is worth the work. In the same way I love their support in respecting the items in our Sunday school classrooms throughout the week.

When we all work hard within our specific areas, we can do great things for God. But when we all join together as a church, amazing things can be accomplished. While the ministry I do with the children, their parents, and the volunteers doesn’t give me social standing as it does on Kid Nation, something is achieved. But just like the kids in Bonanza City, the best reward doesn’t happen until the ministries I work alongside accomplish their goals as well. Do I want to see our church grow spiritually? Would I like to see new families join our fellowship? Am I overjoyed by commitments to Christ? Yes! But can I do it by myself, on an island, without the support of those I work with? No. True church takes unity and support. It happens when the body of believers, gifted in a variety of ways, join together united to serve our God as one.

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