FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN

TAP OR CLICK TO HEAR AN AUDIO VERSION NARRATED BY FRANK KING

If you’re an informed individual, you've undoubtedly heard the political mantra, It’s all about the children. Due to its frequency, disposition, and the subjects involved, it creates the impression that the welfare, safety, and growth of our children is the main concern of the powers that be. Clearly, this impression has no base in reality. While the politcal football of The children! The children! is kicked around, legislations are crafted and instituted (and others ignored and rejected) that develop an ever-widening cultural climate that is dangerous and harmful to children. 

POLITICAL FOOTBALL

Welfare is defined as a condition of being or doing well. That is not the condition of today's children. When parental approval is required in order to dispense an aspirin but not in order to terminate a pregnancy, something is askew. Welfare isn't the first term that comes to mind when I consider the hyper-sexualized climate of the pop culture, or the ease of Internet access that readily delivers anything imaginable to our kids. Pornographers target the child at age 11, knowing that when he is old, he will not depart from it. You can be sure that marketers and the entertainment industry know this very well.

Children are being robbed of their innocence, their naivete, their ability to even be a child.

In 1982, the work and analysis of sociologist Neil Postman was not just provocative, but prescient. The thesis of his work, The Disappearance of Childhood, states: “American culture is hostile to the idea of childhood.” Children are being robbed of their innocence, their naivete, their ability to even be a child. In our world, children are being asked to embrace mature issues, themes, knowledge, and experiences long before they are ready to process them. At a time of life when young people most need sheltering, there is a growing tendency toward exposure. Rather than I am 16, going on 17, the lyrics to The Sound of Music classic today would be I am 6, going on 17. 

This cultural trend pressuring children to grow up too fast has its own acronym: G.O.Y. (Growing Older Younger). Remember, ideas have consequences. When the line between the adult world and the child’s world becomes blurred or erased, then childhood disappears. Dr. Benjamin Spock's book, Baby and Child Care, was the child-rearing Bible when I was growing up. Translated into 39 languages and selling more than 50 million copies, this classic work had tremendous influence on parents of its time. In it, Dr. Spock counseled parents to loosen up, back off, be more flexible, and treat their kids as individuals. God forbid you should be a parent; you're supposed to be your child's buddy! The villain was the overprotective parent. In today's world, we've reached the other extreme. This is the age of the underprotective parent. Think of it: amid texting and Facebook, cyberbullying and Internet porn, Teen Mom and Bad Girls Club, cutting up and hooking up... the biggest parenting sin is protecting our kids too much. Really? “Yet we continue to let culture dictate what is normal,” says James Emery White, “If ‘everyone’ is doing it, wearing it, seeing it, going to it, or listening to it, then we feel we will be damaging our child if we don’t go along – even though parenting by ‘everyone’ is putting our children’s very childhood at risk. Yet some parents are more eager to be liked or accepted by their kids than they are to be parents to their kids.” As a result, childhood slowly evaporates. 

THE HEAT OF THE BATTLE

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.jpg

Ever since King David issued those fateful orders, "Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest; then pull back so he will be killed,” history has taught us that the most strategic conflict is found wherever the fiercest battle is being fought. On the national stage this truth played out in the rancor and contention surrounding the nomination and eventual confirmation hearings for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Only the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General was so hotly contested and polarizing, requiring an unprecedented Vice-presidential vote to be cast in order to break the 50-50 deadlock.

This historic vote came after Democrats stayed up all night protesting DeVos’s likely confirmation. The chorus of naysayers attempted to portray her as unqualified and out of touch with the educational needs of our children in the public schools. This allegation willfully ignores the fact that nearly forty years of her life and a considerable amount of her personal income was devoted to improving our nation’s educational system by allowing families to have educational choices. That alone was enough to put DeVos at the top of many Democrats' hit list. She represents a real threat to them and their union supporters, not to mention their access to taxpayer money for an entrenched but failing system.

Former Education Secretary John B. King, Jr. (under President Obama) summarized the opposition opinion by saying, “Across the country, parents, teachers, community leaders and civil rights advocates are rightly insisting that the federal role in education should be to strengthen public education, not abandon it, and to protect student’s civil rights including students with disabilities, low-income students, students of culture, LGBT students, and immigrant students.” Notice that, in this statement, very little attention is given to children’s actual education as opposed to ideologies, politicized scripts, and social engineering. Isn’t that the nub of the problem? Taxpayers forced to pay for an educational system that does not serve us?

Many parents feel trapped by a system that hasn’t prioritized the needs and concerns of its students as much as the unions, the bureaucrats, and the special interest groups who have a vested interested in perpetuating an old and failed model. So, what are the “dangerous” ideas that DeVos supports that makes her such a threat? At the forefront is school choice, which would give parents more of a say in their children’s education. It offers parents the possibility of removing their children from a system of education that is remarkably substandard at producing contributing citizens.

Kids are often trapped in underperforming and even failing public schools

At her confirmation hearings, DeVos noted the disparity between wealthier families – who are able to choose better schools for their children – and the poor, whose kids are often trapped in underperforming and even failing public schools – a situation which she terms a “national injustice.” While school choice itself may not be a universal remedy to what ails our public education system, it does propagate the singular mixture of public and private education, including homeschooling.

I don't believe I'm alone in noticing the exceptional contradiction in those who fiercely defend a woman’s “right to choose” (aka, abortion) while they just as fiercely oppose the family’s right to choose when it comes to their children’s education. Mrs. DeVos’s posture runs counter to the monopoly-style public education system which enjoys a $70 billion federal budget and almost absolute control over curriculum. What do monopolies do? They remove objectivity and quality performance as criteria for funding. They hike costs and slash quality. That is a description of much of our education system.

THE EDUCATION INVASION

Most conflicts are far more spiritual than we realize. The education and the welfare of today's children has been a major spiritual and social battleground for decades. Betsy DeVos represents an opportunity to de-stabilize the leftist control and ideological stranglehold over education from pre-school through college. If they lose their grip on the minds of American children, and the billions of taxpayers are no longer forced to pay for an educational system that does not serve the people, their party and political coalition are in serious trouble.

The absurd theatrics taking place on college campuses today is the culmination of decades of radical education revision. The confusion and madness is simply the result of students acting out in a way they’ve been fed for years. Author Eric Metaxas spoke both expertly and personally as the parent of a high school senior when he said, “Every day there’s a new and maddening report of progressive insanity at our nation’s universities: so-called ‘safe spaces’ where students can hide from ideas that offend them or make them uncomfortable, Ivy League schools providing feminine products in men’s rooms, wacko professors getting tenure while those who speak in favor of traditional morality get hounded off campus.” Hardly representative of a climate of learning, this feels more like mob rule. What brought us to such a state? To a large degree, the infiltration and destruction of our educational system.  To give you a little perspective: where did many of the '60s radicals and agitators go? They burrowed themselves into the educational system.

If you review the history of radical education reform, it’s clear these agitators have been committing mind arson on the children

In 1969, Bill Ayers co-founded the Weather Underground, a domestic terrorist and self-proclaimed communist revolutionary group. During the '60s and '70s they conducted a campaign of bombing public buildings, including police stations, the U.S. Capitol Building, and the Pentagon. Ayers has devoted the last forty years to transforming schools from places of actual education to places of coercive thought reform. Stella Morabito pointed out, “If you review the history of radical education reform, it’s clear these agitators have been committing mind arson on the children, undermining their ability to think independently and clearly.”  Oh, and did I mention that he was a good buddy of President Barack Obama? In the National Review, Andrew McCarthy said, “It was a comfy fit for him and many of his confederates, once it dawned on them that indoctrination inside the schoolhouse was more effective than blowing up the schoolhouse.”

Examples of this radical education reform are too numerous to mention in this piece. What it has given us, though, is a highly politicized public school system that fosters gender-identity policies rather than actual education. The stats don’t lie. Many of these institutions and politicians know if they lose education, they lose everything. A piece by Cal Thomas in World magazine ended with this assessment: “If Trump and DeVos play this right, they will earn the gratitude (and possibly votes) of thousands of parents who yearn for their children to be set free from their unsafe and underperforming public schools. As the song says, ‘This could be the start of something big.’”

LET THE CHILDREN COME

When you connect all the dots, it takes us straight to the Lord of Lords, the Lord Jesus Christ. The One who said, “But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). He is the One who really does mean it when He says, “It’s all about the children.”

It was decades ago that I had this realization, and like everything else, it grew out of a deep-seated desire to communicate the Gospel to people of all groups. Jesus wanted to make sure His church would genuinely embrace two groups: the least and the lost. He took the most vulnerable class of people on the planet and elevated them to the highest access when He said “Let the children come to Me.”

Don’t you ever, ever, treat children like second class citizens

“A loose paraphrase of His words would sound like, 'Don’t you ever, ever, treat children like second class citizens,'” says James Emery White. “'Don’t ever give in to a culture that treats them this way. Don’t you ever do anything that keeps children from coming to me. You have no idea how precious they are to Me. So let’s get this one straight: You want to know what makes Me angry with a righteous anger? If you want to mess with the heart of God, then mess with a child.'”

Children have always been some of the most vulnerable and needy, lost and in need of direction, of any human beings on the planet. These are not just the words of a self-serving politician, but they come straight from the heart and mouth of Jesus, Lord of all. Someone has remarked that if we reach children when they’re 5,6,7, then we won’t have to rescue them in their teen or later years. I believe we’ve been incredibly blessed with some of the most dedicated and creative people who’ve caught this vision to minister to and shape the next generation (Next Generation Ministries)

Along with a full-fledged children’s ministry service on Sunday mornings, there is a highly successful puppet ministry, a young servants discipleship program, an annual takeover service on Grandparent’s Day, a week-long, vastly innovative ministry during our Conference week, where we rent out not only the TCC Music Hall, but the adjacent Leo Rich Theater for children’s ministry and impact.  

Recently I had a growing compulsion to make regular and significant deposits of God’s Word in our K-8 grade kids, so we established our children's Bible hour, Quest 119, on Wednesday nights. The curriculum follows our commitment to give the Word of God free course, and it has been quite fruitful. Most of all, it has been more effective than traditional Sunday school in ministering to children of all ages. I’m not saying it’s perfect, or for everyone. But it is in keeping with Jesus’s command, “let the children come.” Does it cause a little bit more stress and effort on parents to be on time Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m? Yes. But, what price tag can you put on the impact of a rich deposit of the Word of God in the lives of both parents and children?

In studies involving children’s education inside and outside the church, the key factor is the parents’ involvement

Repeatedly, in studies involving children’s education inside and outside the church, the key factor is the parents' involvement. The Scriptures certainly agree. The closing words of the Old Testament in Malachi 4:5,6 leave us with this promise of a blessing or a curse: "Look, I am sending you the prophet Elijah before the great and dreadful day of the Lord arrives. His preaching will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise I will come and strike the land with a curse."  Can you see that this dynamic of blessing and cursing is contingent on the parents’ openness and involvement?

Last week, we conducted a funeral service for a longtime member of our church family. She was a woman with a sincere burden for and involvement with children in our church, and this was expressed in various ministries. She was referred to and remembered by many as “Mama” Lupe. But it was the origins of her involvement in the church that particularly intrigued me. Many years ago, an 11-year old girl told a 5-year old girl about a cool music scene at a church called The Door. The 5-year-old girl came to check it out and gave her heart to Jesus. That five-year-old girl was one of Lupe’s daughters. Not front page news in the paper or on the Web, but what a significant transaction in the kingdom of God!

It was out of that contact that Lupe also got saved and started coming to church. And from there grew a beautiful relationship, a 30-plus-year bond with the Gutierrez family that continues unbroken to this very day. Who ever said that God can’t do great things through the lives of our children? How many times throughout Scripture, when God was ready to do great things, did He begin with a child?

Above: Next Generation Ministries workers and students.

Above: Next Generation Ministries workers and students.

SET YOUR SAILS FOR 2017

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TAP OR CLICK TO HEAR AN AUDIO VERSION NARRATED BY FRANK KING

As I spend these final days of 2016 lying on my side in a wound care regime, various musings on year’s ends and beginnings strike me. Specifically, I’m inspired by the idea of momentum. No, I won’t bore you with a technical definition of momentum as it touches the impetus gained by a moving object. I’d rather explore the figurative, spiritual dimension of momentum as it touches our launch into 2017.

If you’ll forgive me yet another sports illustration, I dare say most of you have witnessed this sort of momentum on the playing field. Watch any football, soccer, basketball, or ice hockey game and you will see and feel tangible shifts in the momentum of the game from one team to another. The winning team is most often the one that seizes and builds success from this momentum.

You must recognize that there are spiritual obstacles that seek to counteract your forward momentum

But how does this translate to our spiritual life and personal walk with Christ?  In this context, the Bible doesn’t limit the definition of momentum to just one aspect. It speaks of the momentum of the grace of God empowering our lives in Christ in Paul’s words to Timothy: “My dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1). Momentum is also defined as a product of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. From “walking in the spirit” to “Peter being full of the Spirit” and proclaiming the Gospel, this is spiritual momentum in action. We also read of the spiritual momentum brought upon our lives by the precious “favor of the Lord.” Peter insisted upon this dimension of momentum when he said, “but grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” So, how do we generate spiritual momentum as we move into the new year?

First, you must recognize that there are spiritual obstacles that seek to counteract your forward momentum, causing inertia. Max Depree, former CEO of the Fortune 500 company Herman Miller, Inc., anchor of the Fuller Seminary Board of Trustees for 40 years, and author of classic books on leadership, was asked what was the most difficult thing that he personally had to work on. This was Max’s response: ‘It’s the interception of entropy.’”

Entropy is a principle of thermodynamics that deals with available energy in the created universe. The loose layman’s definition is simple: everything left to itself has a tendency to deteriorate. It’s also called depreciation. The moment you drive your new car off the lot you lose thousands of dollars because entropy is a factor. Entropy is the enemy of momentum, to be sure. An even greater truth is that entropy is a great enemy of the human spirit.

Just as physical things left without attention and renewed energy will certainly deteriorate, so it is in human life. When you become apathetic or complacent; when you settle for the path of least resistance, it is then that entropy sets in. Dreams die. Hopes fade. Then a terrible thing happens: you learn to live with mediocrity. It’s not a great life, but you teach yourself to tolerate it. Mark it down: if you put any important area of your life on auto pilot – the care of your soul being the greatest – you risk entropy that is both subtle and destructive.

As we near the end of 2016, you may already find yourself there. Any project we embark upon will certainly face opposition, and it may be tempting to take the easy way out. It’s not unlike Nehemiah who was tasked with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He faced ridicule, greed, enemies without and enemies of false brethren within. But here is an insight to his victory, found in Nehemiah 4:10: “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish (clutter) that we are not able to build the wall.” One of the most common and insidious obstacles to momentum is clutter. Here we see Nehemiah and his crew coming at a monumental task with great vision, fresh willingness and resolve, and true unity of purpose… but all was almost derailed by the build-up of past debris. The clutter threatened to stall their momentum and allow entropy and enemies to gain the upper hand. But Nehemiah identified and counteracted the threat, allowing the momentum of building the wall to continue.

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I can easily relate to this story. Whether in my office, my closet, or my garage, it’s amazing how easily things become cluttered. I remember when we were building our house, I resolved that everything would be organized and put away in such a way as to allow the garage to be a place for parking our cars rather than a cluttered storage area. It was only after this had occurred that we felt we had truly moved in. You and I constantly fight against the “stuff” that seeks to encroach upon and clutter our space. The same battle takes place in our souls, where our surrender may carry far more damaging consequences. The clutter of regret, worries, financial problems, physical health, failed attempts of the past, can all build up and steal our momentum.

Defeating entropy and gaining spiritual momentum is going to require our focused involvement and our informed response. I love the poem “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (I need to set it to memory):

But to every mind there openeth,
A way, and way, and away,
A high soul climbs the highway,
And the low soul gropes the low,
And in between on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.

But to every man there openeth, 
A high way and a low,
And every mind decideth,
The way his soul shall go.

One ship sails East,
And another West,
By the self-same winds that blow,
'Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales,
That tells the way we go.

Like the winds of the sea
Are the waves of time,
As we journey along through life,
'Tis the set of the soul,
That determines the goal,
And not the calm or the strife.

 

Brilliantly true: “’Tis the set of the sails, and not the gales, that tells us the way to go.” How do I set my sails to catch the wind of the Spirit, and so gain and experience continuing momentum in my Christian life? The answer: Don’t just look for a formula, but look deeper.

This is the flaw in making New Year’s resolutions. We believe the formula of reflection on the past and contemplation of future commitments will change our lives for the better in 2017. While change is rooted in something deeper, I don’t think New Year’s resolutions are just a pointless cultural expectation foisted upon us every year. It’s the essential nature of human beings to desire a change for the man in the mirror. To dream of a better version of yourself is a good thing. Unless you've given up hope, become cynical, or are on the verge of quitting the human race altogether, it seems to me that most of us are wired this way. I believe it's part of being made in the image and likeness of God. We all desire growth and change for the better.

Grace produces change from the inside-out, through heart renewal and transformed motivations

The big question we’re asking throughout, then, is How? How do we gain momentum and see change and spiritual growth in our lives? There’s one approach that you must reject, and that is the moralistic approach. The one that says we can become better people by keeping rules and simply striving to be good. Scott Saul reminds us that moralism calls for change from the outside-in, through cosmetic, behavior-focused sin management. He points out the critical difference: “Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being and communicating with him. Grace produces change from the inside-out, through heart renewal and transformed motivations. Change happens only as our motivations and desires change when we are led by the Spirit, our ‘God-desiring’ nature over and against the flesh, our ‘sin-and-law-desiring’ nature.  For example, to destroy a pornography habit, then, the desire for pornography must be replaced by another, deeper desire. The heart must come to desire purity over objectification, covenant love over consuming lust.” Overcoming this or any sin, then, follows this universal principle: behavior is always driven by whatever we desire most. For behavior to change, desire must be transformed first. It’s inside-out, not outside-in.

So, how does lasting character change happen? How does the fruit of the Spirit grow in us? In the same article, Scott Saul gives us three important thoughts:

First, we must reject the belief that a self-improvement plan or ‘resolution’ can produce lasting change. If we don’t like something about ourselves, what do we usually do? We adopt some sort of a plan to address the problem. This is what fuels the ever-growing popularity of self-help books. We look to such sources to help us design a program of behavior modification rather than seeking heart renewal and inside-out transformation.

Second, we must belong to Jesus. Paul tells us “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:24). One of the first components of lasting change is that we must belong to Jesus. For character to grow, it must be preceded by a desire for Jesus and a love for Jesus that supplants all other loves and usurps all potential rivals. Mark it down: the closer we get to Jesus, the further sin gets from us.

Third, we must be with Jesus. This is what living and walking in the Spirit is all about. The Holy Spirit is the one who shows and repeatedly reminds us – chiefly through ordinary means such as scripture reading, prayer, fellowship, gathering for worship both privately and publicly – that Jesus is the greatest treasure of all. One element that will keep us stuck is the amount of effort we spend on trying to be like Jesus relative to the investment we make in simply being with Him.  Right here is the beauty, power, and importance of the various spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, and fellowship. These are not rules or a self-improvement regimen to get higher on the ladder and finally be more like Jesus. No, they are God’s grace gifts to help us to be able to be with Him. That’s where discipleship happens.

Mark’s Gospel relates that “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to Him those He wanted, and they came to Him. He appointed twelve that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). Please notice the order: first and foremost, they were to be with Him. It was out of this that they found their marching orders to preach the Gospel. Finally, this became the source of their spiritual authority, with Him

So, here I've come all this way – until nearly the end of 2016 – and have failed to give you the Magic Formula, or the 40-Day Program, or the Five Ways to Get You Closer to Jesus. Again, allow me to quote from Scott Saul: “Everyone seems to have a program. A Presbyterian may tell you that the key is to learn sound theology. A Baptist may tell you to say the sinner’s prayer. A Pentecostal may say speak in tongues. A Prosperity person will say give your money to the preacher. A Bible person may tell you to read your Bible every day. A Pious person may say throw out your TV and stereo. A Social Justice person may tell you to minister among the poor.”  None of these things are inherently wrong, and some may be the very thing you need. But you’ll only know if you are living closely with Jesus. Living in the Spirit means practicing whatever moves you closer to Jesus, repeating recent successes by doing those things that point you in the right direction and bring you closer to Jesus. That, my friend, is where the momentum that we need and seek comes from. 

While there may be no simple, sure-fire program for gaining momentum in 2017, here's what we have to work with:

FIRST, we have the prayer the Father will answer: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 13:11). This is the Spirit’s momentum-building work in us. Go ahead, ask! 

SECOND, there is the practical obedience in momentum that comes from taking one step at a time. The psalmist tells us “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in his way” (Psalm 37:23). A sister who recently re-dedicated her heart fully to following the Lord told me, “The Holy Spirit is pressing me to just get back to basics. Obedience. I was wanting feelings, and not feeling ‘it,’ but as I’m obeying the simple things, I am feeling it!” It is this truth of “First Steps” that inspired me to have Pastor Marty Carnegie write a guest blog to go along with this idea. Please read these two blogs in conjunction.

THIRD, there is the confidence of being armed with 365 promises of fresh mercies for each day.  The writer of Lamentations shines light on this truth: “The faithful love of the Lord never ends.  His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘the Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hold in Him!’” (Lamentations 3:22-24). Paul Tripp wrote: “One of the stunning realities of the Christian life is that in a world where everything is in some state of decay, God’s mercies never grow old. They never run out. They are never ill timed. They never dry up. They never grow weak. They never get weary. They never fail to meet the need. They never disappoint. They never, ever fail, because they really are new every morning. Custom fitted for the challenges, disappointments, sufferings, temptations, and struggles with sin within and without are the mercies of the Lord.”

Knowing all these truths we can look at the year 2017 and say, “Bring it on!” Not with some attitude of cockiness or self-reliance, but with the quiet confidence in a God and Savior who dwells in our hearts to grant us the spiritual momentum we need. The beat goes on!

 

1.  “Intercepting Entropy”:  John Ortberg, Preaching Today, July 2008
2.  “On New Years Resolutions: Is Change Possible?”: Scott Saul, 12-25-16