Thursday, November 29, 2018

YEAH, I HEARD THAT (A Christmas Meditation)

I love Christmas. I like the festivity and the fun and the warmth and the music and so on.

And obviously, I believe that Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of my Savior. That's the big reason for the season, the thing that puts the "holy" into this holiday. As many have observed, you can't have CHRISTmas without CHRIST.

So quit trying to pour cold porridge on my celebration.

Yes, I know Jesus was not born on December 25. I am aware of modern research that places the manger in a cave, or a roof, or a tent. I know the three kings weren't kings, there weren't three of them, and they arrived much later. I know there was no innkeeper, lowing cattle, or little drummer boy.

Furthermore, I know about the history of how December 25 was originally a pagan holiday and that many of the customs and traditions and symbols of Christmas were actually borrowed from these pagan practices.

And don't even start telling me about Santa Claus.

The critiques come from many sources:
  • The guy who comes to my door and recites all this stuff in hopes of causing me to forsake my un-biblical traditions and embrace his system.
  • The atheist/agnostic/liberal skeptic who smugly expounds on these things so that I will awkwardly admit that my faith is silly.
  • The otherwise Christian expert whose mission in life is to make sure every single jot and tittle are precisely lined up according to their own infallible scholarship.
  • Sincere people of every stripe who traditionally resist anything that is traditional.
The fact is, I can knowledgeably expound on most of the Christmas objections. Most believers who attend Bible believing churches can respond to these observations. It's not "new." Facebook posts announcing "13 Startling Things You Didn't Know About Christmas" are usually rehashed content from years gone by.

So why, in spite of everything, do I really, really like Christmas?

Christmas is a recognition that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being. He lived a sinless life, He died to pay the price for my sins, He was buried, and He rose again three days later so that, by trusting Him as my Lord and Savior, I can have a brand new life and day-to-day relationship with Him.

No, there is nothing in Scripture that calls upon us to recognize the birth of Jesus. But the importance of the Incarnation is stressed. For example, 1 John 4:2-3 says, "By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,  and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God." Do we need to hold a Western world style "birthday party for Jesus" to celebrate His coming? No. Do we need to recognize that He came? Oh yes!

So yes: I'm celebrating. All the festivities and fun and warmth and music are ultimately in recognition of the First Coming. The world may celebrate in ignorance, but like Paul in Acts 17, we can show them Who and why we are throwing the party.

If you have serious problems with Christmas, I would be the last to talk you out of your convictions. Richest blessings on you. But I want you to know why I'm celebrating.

And if you're just cranky and you want to unload your Christmas critique, I would ask you to quit trying to dampen my joy.

Because it's safe to say, I've probably heard it all before.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

BIG BLUNDERS

When I was a Children's Pastor, actively involved in the wonderful, wacky world of kidmin, I was pleased with what we got to do week after week. I rejoiced in the victories and accomplishments, knowing that it is from the Lord, who used an incredible team of volunteers to help minister to the children in our church. When we had a win, it was most definitely of God and surely an "us" moment.

And if something "tanked" or "went south," well, that was all me.

But contrary to popular belief, even failures can be a measure of success, because it is in those failures that we learn. So it is in that spirit of education that I present three of my greatest blunders in kidmin. Word of warning: these are not all the "ha-ha, lol blooper"kind of  blunders, but examples of poor planning, bad decisions, or maybe even pig-headed stubbornness that led to a less than ideal outcome.

1. And the winner is. . . 
It was uniform inspection night and I needed to select the Awana kid with the best uniform, the one with all the awards in the right place. I don't remember how many contenders there were, but there were three or four who excelled. Every leader in the place knew that Bobby was the clear winner. Their eyes shifted toward Bobby. Bobby smiled self-consciously.

I picked Kyle.

At the time, I justified my selection in that Kyle was a bright kid who tried really hard every week and probably needed the encouragement. But it was my wife who summed up what was on everyone's mind: "Did you see the look on Bobby's face?"

Yeah. Without intending to, I crushed Bobby's spirit that night. While my motivation may have been good, I really needed to find a different way of expressing encouragement to someone without downplaying the clear achievements of another.

2. New Year's rush.
The first Sunday of the New Year was coming up and I had the bright idea to give the congregation a taste of the fun music we do on Sunday morning. So I asked, begged, pleaded, and cajoled the powers that be to let our Children's Church kids do a couple of songs during the Morning Worship Service. Great way to start the new year, right?

So the week before our "performance," I told the kids what we were doing. We sang our songs just like we always did, and I reminded our children that we would be doing this for our parents next week.  I looked forward to sharing this incredible blessing with our church.

But what I know now, and really, what I've always known, but somehow ignored, was that singing in children's church was far different than "performing" in adult church. Running through our songs the week before did not constitute "rehearsal." In my haste and zeal to showcase our children, I left out the three most important ingredients of a great performance: practice, practice, practice.

The results were squirm-worthy. Most of the kids stood frozen, their eyes glazed, their voices soft or silent, and their arms unable to do the motions that I and another leader were valiantly trying to coach.It was all very awkward. The audience politely applauded, but absent was the enthusiasm for what was normally a very fun, very active children's program. I mumbled something about how stage fright could often take over with kids.  But while stage fright was no doubt part of it, the failure mostly came  from my desire to rush into our first service of the New Year without taking the time to prepare the kids and help them practice.

3. A good idea at the time.
Speaking of public performances, it is not always acknowledged that programs involving kids also involve leaders. One year, as I was planning the end-of-year calendar, I was faced with three programs: our church daycare annual Christmas program, our annual children's ministry Christmas program, and the annual Live Nativity, which was sponsored by a community organization, but staged by our church. Many of our leaders were involved in all three, so I got to thinking: wouldn't it be nice to get all of this out of the way so our leaders could have most of December to relax, have time with family and friends, and not have to worry about planning and preparing and performing? So I picked the first extended weekend in December to launch our programs. Thursday would be the Day Care  Christmas program, Friday, the Live Nativity, and Sunday, Children's Ministries program. I did it for the leaders, we would get all our programs out of the way at the first of the month, leading to a care free December.

Yes, well. . . .

The Day Care and Children's Ministry programs, of course, required rehearsal (see lesson #2 above). So it took some creative scheduling to get kids and leaders into the building often enough to practice. That didn't include coming up with costuming, props, and sets for two different events

As for the Live Nativity, it didn't take as much rehearsal (it was a procession through the town and ending at the church, with no speaking role except for the narrator), but there still had to be a certain amount of coordinating shepherds, wise men, and angels, many of whom were also kidmin leaders who were quite busy with the other two programs.

To this day, the weekend is remembered with a fuzzy haze. The kids did fine (even though some of them had more than one program), but as we progressed through the weekend, the adults seemed to proportionately drag. Being outside in the cold for the Live Nativity triggered more than a few sniffles by the time Sunday night rolled around.

Having three programs almost back to back was a big investment of time, effort, creativity, and "oomph." And a word of commendation: our kidmin leaders stepped up and excelled! But as the "leader," I should have known better. Children's pastors should minister to the leaders as well. I failed to look out for the health and well being of the men and women who served so faithfully. Not only that, but parents of kids who were in multiple performances not only had multiple commitments at church, but they had school programs as well.  By grouping three events close together, nobody had a chance to catch their breath.

There are no doubt more foul-ups throughout the 15 years I served as a Children's Pastor. I did not always make the best or wisest choices and sometimes I charged forward with an idea that really needed more refinement or wise counsel. The mistakes were there, but they carried with them important lessons that made our victories and accomplishments that much sweeter.

Did you have any notable blunders in your children's ministry? What did you learn? Respond in the comments below.