Friday, May 30, 2008

The Multigenerational Household

In many cultures grandparents live in the same household as their children and grandchildren. Not so much in America. Why not? Is it because we need ample doses of personal space? Is it because greedy advertisers have taught us to reject our parents’ values to induce us to buy their latest stuff? Heaven forbid that we dress like mom or dad, or listen to their music. And once we reject their values, it’s easy to reject their company. Maybe that’s one of the reasons we put them in nursing homes when they get old, where they can watch yesteryear’s reruns. Maybe that’s why our own children might do the same thing to us in their time.

But something seems wrong with this picture. When I consider what the Bible says about multigenerational relationships (the discipleship of children and honoring of parents), I get the feeling many Americans have missed the point of family by a fat, country mile.

In the not-too-distant past, households were places of industry and productive work. Family farms were scattered all over the landscape, and people ran businesses out of their homes. Children were trained at home with their parent’s values, and they learned to contribute their share of the work on the family estate. Babies were born into the home and grandparents lived there until they died. The household was a cradle-to-grave enterprise.

With the advent of industrialization, men began to leave their homes to join the urban work force. Thus was born the apartment building, the subdivision and the single-family home. Dads went off to industrial factories and children went off to industrial schools, Eventually moms went off to work, too. Homes became like hotels, places to eat, do homework, watch TV, and snooze.

But things are starting to change. Thanks to the internet, UPS and FedEx, more and more people are using their homes as places of education and business again. Many parents are deciding to teach their own children there. No need to bus the children off to an institution. The same books that can be read at school can be ordered on line and delivered to the family's front door. The family's home computer can access the same web sites as those in the school’s computer lab. At home the children can receive individualized instruction and enjoy enriching curricula that is tailored to their particular interests, and is in accord with their parent’s values. Clubs, sports leagues and church groups are all available to enrich the social life of the family.

A number of young entrepreneurs have discovered that they can do the same work from a computer at home as they would from one at a work station in a downtown office cubicle. Many of them are thinking outside the box, and integrating their work with the functions of their household. They are finding that when family members work in their business, instead of outside employees, it is easier to have a harmonious work environment. There are also significant tax advantages to a family business, which translates into greater profitability.

Some people are bucking the nursing home trends as well. They are making room in the house for grandma and gramps. And the benefits are substantial. The costs of running two separate households are reduced to one. Energy consumption is lowered. Expenses on utilities, meals, child care and education can be consolidated. The retirement income of the grandparents can be used to help remodel the home for their privacy and comfort. Everybody wins.

Is there a down side to the multi-generational, multi-family household? Yep. Everyone must get along, which is tough for a bunch of imperfect people bumping into each other in a common kitchen, or waiting for the bathroom. And there’s always the potential for lazy adult kids to sponge off their parents, or for control freak parents to rule over their children like serf-lords. The good news is that where sin abounds, God’s grace can abound all the more.

Keep an eye out for developments in the multi-generational household. It might just be that our ever-rising gas prices and general economic downturn will be the incentive for many Christians to return to a more biblical way of “doing family” together.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Pastor Rick Warren’s P.E.A.C.E. Plan

I thank God for Pastor Rick Warren’s vision and organizational skills. His latest efforts to unite church leaders in the world to do good works through the P.E.A.C.E. Coalition is highly commendable. As an antidote to what Warren sees as the five “global giants” on the planet (1) spiritual emptiness, (2) self-centered leadership, (3) poverty, (4) pandemic disease and (5) illiteracy, he offers the following goals by way of the acronym P.E.A.C.E.

Promote reconciliation
Equip servant leaders
Assist the poor
Care for the sick
Educate the next generation.

“First and foremost, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan is about reclaiming the primacy of the local church's role in global missions,” says Warren, whose Saddleback Church has invested $3 million in producing software and training modules to implement the plan.

“At a wedding the bride is the main character, the centre, the star of the show - everyone else is supporting cast, but the glory goes to the bride," says Warren. "The P.E.A.C.E. Plan is built on the same principle. The Bride of Christ - of which the church is its local expression around the world - deserves the focus, the credit and the glory for faithfully serving their communities year after year."

Actually the Bride Groom, Christ Jesus, is the star of the show. I don’t mean to be a hair splitter, but the distinction between who receives the glory seems important. As soon as we shift our focus from His glorious work on the cross, and His justifying, sanctifying, mediation for His elect, we set ourselves up to be the measure of righteousness on earth based on our good works. The principle that right doctrine precedes right deeds, is as important as it ever was. Christ is the head, the church is His body.

Our striving to solve the problems of the world is noble and necessary. After all, the Bible declares that faith without works is dead. And we are called to let our light shine before others, so that they may see our good works. Yet all things are to be done to the glory of the Father, not to the church (see Matthew 5:16).

Perhaps I’m overreacting to Warren’s illustration, which might simply need some fine tuning. I hope so.

I pray that the Lord will use the P.E.A.C.E. Plan to glorify the PRINCE of PEACE in the world and to proclaim His GOSPEL.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The TULIPs of Preaching

Here are five principles to help rookie pastors like myself blossum in their preaching.

T = True to the Text
The foremost purpose of preaching is to faithfully declare what God has said in His Word. My desire as a pastor and teacher is to faithfully exposit the scriptures. My aim is to understand God’s inerrant, infallible Word in its historical, grammatical, and doctrinal context. Since scripture interprets scripture, I must examine any text in light of the full counsel of God. I must be familiar with the entire canon of scripture, Old and New Testaments, and appreciate God’s sovereignty over the transmission of His Word through diverse, human prophets and scribes over time. It has been said that any text without a context is a pretext. Scripture must not be made to conform to our current cultural dispositions. We must conform to the scriptures. To depart from the text is transgression, whether by detraction or embellishment. Preach it true to the text.

U = Useful
God’s Word is intended to transform, bless, and direct the lives of believers. The Scriptures are intended to accomplish God’s purposes for those who read it and hear it. The Bible is meant to be obeyed and practiced. It is essential for godliness. Pastors do well to present the usefulness and applicability of scripture to transform the way we think and behave, and to equip the body of Christ for the works of ministry. Preach it useful.

L = Loving and Logical
Preaching must be sincere and understandable. As a shepherd, it is prudent for me to consider the condition and maturity of my flock as I attempt to lead and teach them. I must be loving, patient and as clear as possible in my instruction. The outcome of my teaching should be greater understanding, rather than confusion. I have found it useful to state the objective of my messages and give a roadmap of direction for moving through my sermon content. The logical flow of the main proposition, broken into key points, and supported by details and illustrations, helps the learner to follow along without getting lost. It is a comfort to the young wigglers in my congregation (and their parents) to know when the end of a message is in sight. Preach it loving and logical.

I = Interesting & Inspiring
I wish all my messages were inspiring. Realistically, I strive to make them interesting. A judicious blend of faithful, theological exposition and interesting illustrations helps to keep the congregation awake and engaged. Candor, humor and self-disclosure are useful in proper measure. Both laughter and seriousness are good for the soul. I find that using relevant, personal illustrations, deepens my relationship with my listeners and helps them track with me as I develop a message. I happen to have a background in graphic art so I can’t resist using photos, graphs, diagrams and lists to emphasize points. Power Point slides should not be the tail that wags the dog. Still it's good to recall that a picture is worth a thousand words. Preach it interesting and inspiring. Or try to.

P = Passionate
Preaching is more than conveying information. It is imparting God’s very Word to the hearts and minds of the hearers. Energy and passion is appropriate when one is sharing the good news of the gospel or the hazards of sin. If you don’t care about what you’re preaching, others won’t either. While the pulpit is not a theatrical stage for dramatic performances, sermons need not be delivered like emotionless lectures. Preachers should preach as if lives depended on it. They surely do. Preach it passionate.

I’m not the first person to use the TULIP acronym for preaching tips. Steve Brown (speaker for KeyLife, a prof at Reformed Seminary, and a Preaching Magazine senior consulting editor), has used it to suggest that preaching be ...


Friday, May 23, 2008

Demographic Winter

Another letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

Dear Editor,

Did you know we’re in the autumn of a demographic winter? I didn’t, until I watched a recent documentary by The Heritage Foundation. The sociologists, demographers and economists in the film present research data on depopulation trends around the globe. According to their findings, the overpopulation predictions of the past have given rise to an anti-child mentality in the world. The implications are chilling.

As one sociologist puts it, the population explosion of the recent past was “not because people started reproducing like rabbits. It was because they stopped dropping like flies. It was a health explosion.”

Ironically, the advances in medicine and technology that led to larger and healthier populations, have produced declining birth rates. Contraception and abortion are readily available worldwide, and children are commonly viewed as an economic liability rather than an asset. Birth rates have now fallen below replacement levels in many of the world’s nations, and the ratio of young people to the elderly is slowly being inverted. In time there will be too few workers to support the dependent elderly among them. The long term solvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in the United States are in jeopardy due to such trends.

The researchers have found a curious exception to the case. People of faith still value children, and they are raising them. The Bible declares that “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3). May God bless America with children. It could be a short winter, followed by a beautiful spring.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Cost Of Family Break Down

One of my ministry goals is to engage the culture with Biblical truth. Writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper is a way to inform, exhort, and rebuke the community audience.

My latest piece:

What is family breakdown costing American taxpayers? According to a recent study by The Institute for American Values and the Georgia Family Council, it is a minimum of $112 billion a year. The principle causes of these astronomical expenses are high divorce rates and an increase in the number of out-of-wedlock births. Today 36.9 percent of all children and 69.9 percent of black children are born out of wedlock.

America is not alone in its woes. Great Britain is also reeling from family fragmentation. Justice Sir Paul Coleridge, a senior Family Division judge in England, has pronounced “The collapse of the family unit is a threat to the nation as bad as terrorism, crime, drugs or global warming. The government must put the family at the top of its agenda, alongside the economy and the war on terror.”

Clearly we have an expensive problem that needs fixing, both at home and abroad. The solution, I believe, requires much more than government attention. Family breakdown is a moral problem. We need spiritual revival and reformation. An ancient prophet has said that God would one day “turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6). May that day soon dawn.

One of the reasons Coram Deo Church has chosen to be family-integrated is to counter the ongoing trends of family-fragmentation. We believe strong families are a blessing to our community and to the nation.


Pastor John Sleadd

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

American Stealth Revival

For well over two decades a quiet revolution has been occurring across the American landscape. My friend, Pastor Gregg Harris of Household of Faith Community Church, has called it a stealth revival.

In virtually every state of the union a growing number of Christian families have been opting out of the secular school system and educating their children at home. They do so for a variety of reasons, but the main appeal of home education is the superior results. The benefits include individualized instruction, flexible scheduling, integration of curriculum with daily life, family bonding, and the freedom to pursue areas of special interest. For many, there is also the desire to bring all of life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ in accord with a thoroughly Biblical worldview.

Home education is a picture of academic entrepreneurialism, with mom and dad choosing the curriculum and determining how and when it will be mastered by the kiddos. All over the nation students finish their morning chores and slip into their scholastic routines on the couch or at the kitchen table. No institutional desks. No lining up for lunch. No hallway passes. No social cliques. No bullies or drug dealers.

On average, the cost of parents teaching their own children at home is one-tenth the cost of sending them to a public school. With such dazzling results, why don’t more Christian families teach their own kids at home? The answer in three words: It’s a sacrifice.
Mom works long hours without pay. The kids may not get to play on a sports team or be part of a music ensemble.

Modern Day Puritans
I think homeschoolers are modern day Puritans. The English Puritans were not the witch-burning, black-hatted legalists as caricatured in the public school history books. This is revisionist history for sure. While they were certainly not perfect, the Puritans’ commitment to family, faith and righteous self-government led them to establish the colonies (Jamestown and Plymouth) that would birth our Constitutional Republic. They loved God. They loved freedom. They were devoted to raising hard-working children with a vision of multigenerational, providential dominion. Like today’s homeschoolers. Puritan leader, John Winthrop, called the Massachusetts Bay Colony a “city on a hill,” an example of Christian charity and community for all the world to see.

Christian homeschoolers are making waves by training up God-fearing children who are anchored in the faith, and who are eager to transform the world around them. They are independent minded. They love liberty. They are pro-faith, pro-family, and pro-life. Many intend to have gobs of kids, and homeschool them in the tradition of their own upbringing.

Homeschool families are several million strong and growing. They are entrepreneurial. And they are politically active. It is likely that from their number the next generation of gifted churchmen and statesmen will emerge.

An ancient psalmist was onto something when he wrote, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed” (Psalm 112:1-2).

Monday, May 5, 2008

Election and Evangelism

Does Predestination Mean We Don’t Need To Evangelize?
No, it just guarantees the outcome.

Forgive me if this blog raises your blood pressure. It’s just that I’ve heard the misconception that election eliminates the need for evangelism often enough that I wanted to take a shot at explaining why that's not the case. Here goes.

First of all, God is sovereign. That means He runs the whole show. He knows everything, and He can do anything He wants. He created everything, and He controls it all. From the stoutest galaxy down to the scrawniest subatomic particle, God is in charge. He numbers the stars, and He knows how many hairs you have (or used to have) on your head. He dictates the rise and fall of nations, and He knows our thoughts before we can speak them. He comfortably manages everything that happens in the universe, including our salvation from the wrath that we deserve, thanks to the big fat sin problem we inherited from Adam.

Secondly, God is good. That means that when He does whatever He wants, it is good. Our salvation doesn’t depend on our good works. God saves us by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8), according to His will. For those who are called according to His purpose, all things work for good (Romans 8:28).

Thirdly, God predestines His elect. That means that God decides who He will save, according to His own good pleasure. Shucks, He even chooses them before they exist (Ephesians 1:4). Figure that one out. He has His good reasons, probably just because He can. Remember, He's totally in control. Those who He predestines, He calls, and those who He calls, He justifies, and those who He justifies, He glorifies (Romans 8:28). When people get agitated over predestination and election, I remind them that God is good, and He does what He wants. They can read Romans Chapter 9, and then take their dill pickle expressions directly to God.

Fourthly, God commands us to evangelize. That means we are to spread the gospel and make disciples everywhere, in obedience to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 15:16). It’s not our job to persuade anyone into God’s kingdom, as if our methods close the deal. That's for brush salesmen, not evangelists. It is God’s Spirit who effectually calls sinners to saving faith. Yet, God includes us in the evangelism loop, even though He decides in advance who He will save. We don’t know who these people are, but since He has predestined them to be saved, our efforts to preach the gospel are guaranteed to be fruitful.

In conclusion, we should be zealous to preach the gospel and make disciples. God has promised that His Word that goes out will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). Our message of hope will be like a monsoon rain falling on a parched field, bringing new life and growth.

In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! (Romans 10:14-15).

Hey, God's elect, why not take a few bold steps with those fabulous feet of yours and spread the good news that Jesus saves sinners? As you do, pray for the Lord to send out more laborers into His harvest.

Ship Shape Salvation

Biblical Ignorance
The Bible says that “my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). This is certainly true today, when a meager 9% of those who call themselves “born again Christians” actually hold a Biblical worldview.
According to commentator, Chuck Colson, Christians don’t really know what they believe. It seems that sentimental slogans have replaced doctrinal knowledge. Many church-goers can recite bumper sticker sound bites like, “Let go and let God,” or “God said it, I believe it, that settles it,” but they can’t accurately explain what salvation is, or what justification means.

In ancient Israel, the priests failed to declare God’s scriptures to the people. They were sell-outs, idolaters, and religious adulterers. Thus, God judged and punished the entire nation. Such folk are active in the church today. They have blended materialism, individualism and multiculturalism into spiritual smoothies for consumers to slurp up. Their Sunday sermons depict Jesus as an inspiring example of a purpose driven life. A role model for overcoming obstacles. A ticket to the good life. They may sing “Jesus take the wheel,” but they’re still holding on for control and they want to operate the brakes and the accelerator.

Truth be told, many of us want Jesus on our own terms. Often, when we say “God has a wonderful plan for my life,” we really mean, “I have a wonderful plan for God in my life.” This is a man-centered view of faith. Some have called it therapeutic, moralistic deism, as if a distant god wants us to be our best, but lets us work out the details. We treat Jesus like a personal trainer. He might coach us, but it’s up to us to do the workouts. And once we master the program, we think we’ve outgrown the coach. Jesus becomes optional. The scriptures, however, present a thoroughly God-centered worldview. It’s really not about us.

The Good Ship Faith
Picture yourself floating out in the middle of the ocean. You are dead. A bloated carcass tossed by the waves, oblivious to your condition. Then God, by His sovereign mercy, brings you to life. You realize your predicament. You are lost and alone. Struggling. Perishing. The waves will soon swallow you up.

Now picture a ship on the horizon sailing directly toward you. You cry out to be saved. The Good Ship Faith arrives, its fluttering ensign a crimson cross. A sailor throws out a lifeline and commands you to grasp it. You hold fast and are hoisted aboard. You are soon dried and clothed and cared for.

In time you are instructed in the ways of sailing. The Good Ship Faith, under the orders of her Commander In Chief, Jesus, is commissioned to patrol the oceans, engage enemies of the Kingdom, and rescue those adrift in the ocean. You are adopted as a member of the crew and equipped for duty. You are grateful for your salvation, and you are eager to serve in the ship’s ongoing mission. You delight to recount the story of your rescue: You were dead, but were brought to life. You were saved by orders of Christ. Now you throw life lines to those who are perishing.

As a teaching Elder at Coram Deo Church I have used this illustration to emphasize the theological fact that salvation in Christ is ...
By Grace
Through Faith
From God’s Wrath
For good Works
For God’s Glory

By Grace – Grace refers to God’s divine and unconditional favor, freely given. We are spiritually dead, unable to seek or choose God. Yet He chooses to save us, not according to our deeds, but according to His own sovereign purposes. He gives us new life, enabling us to recognize our sin nature and our perilous condition. Our regeneration is therefore an entirely supernatural act of God’s Spirit. We are passive. God is active.

Through Faith – Faith is not a desire, or wishful thought. It is the exercise of trust in someone or something. Faith enables us to repent (turn from trusting ourselves) and to trust Christ to save us. God has ordained that faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of Christ. Our regenerated hearts and minds respond to the gospel, which is a summons to take the life line, to receive salvation. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit we will remain spiritually dead. We cannot and will not respond to the gospel and trust Christ. The gospel is foolishness to us. To our peril, we choose to trust ourselves rather than Christ, like a drowning man refusing to be saved because he rejects the rescuer.

From God’s Wrath - We should tremble with fear as guilty sinners before a just and holy God. God has decreed that the penalty of sin is death. He has established hell as a place of eternal torment. Fortunately, God demonstrates His great love for us by allowing His Son’s crucifixion to fully satisfy His righteous requirements for punishing sin. Jesus received God’s wrath in our place. Those who refuse Christ as Savior bear the full weight of their guilt and will be cast into hell.

For Good Works - Our salvation is more than being spared from punishment. We are justified (legal requirements fully satisfied) and adopted into God’s household of faith. We are converted and transformed into Christ’s likeness by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who gives us gifts for righteousness in service to God and for the building up of His church. Good works are the result and the evidence of saving faith in us. The absence of good works is evidence that we are spiritually dead and do not have the Holy Spirit living in us.

For God’s Glory - God receives the glory for our salvation. It can be said that we contribute nothing to our salvation, but respond to it with joy and praise. We have not earned or deserved what we have received. We are chosen, justified, sanctified and glorified--all for God’s glory. While we certainly participate with the Holy Spirit in our sanctifying walk, we ultimately persevere in our faith by God’s superintending power and grace.

The solution to Biblical ignorance is to gain Biblical knowledge and wisdom. The Lord gave us His Word to bless us and direct us. By the power of His Spirit, the Scriptures illuminate and transform our minds, enabling us to be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4). May you delight in God's Word, and obey it as you sail through this life and into the next on the Good Ship Faith.