A Dream for the Spiritual Health of Our Children

skate board ramp“We dream of a local church that is willing to radically rethink what it means to worship God together in ways that are meaningful across generations. This wouldn’t mean simply tweaking  our current elements of worship to make them more child friendly, and it wouldn’t involve the juvenilization of the church. Instead it would mean turning committed disciples of all ages to worship God together. As the contemporary world brings new ways of thinking about and doing church togther, we hope this is part of the agenda.

In her book Welcoming Children, Joyce Mercer asks, “what would happen if, instead of removing children for not conforming to the styles of worship comfortable to adults, we changed some of those styles to invite the fuller participation of children?” We imagine Jesus would answer  this question by taking a child into his arms and saying,”The kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Will we follow our teacher?”

Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus, David M. Csinos and Ivy Beckwith, IVP Praxis 2013, p 125

 

 

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The Voice of Inspired Youth

A  few weeks ago I went to an evening church service where two of my students were going to preach for about 20 minutes each.  These likable lads are not always mature or wise in their decisions and behaviour – but they are great young people.

To be honest, even though they are talented young men I didn’t expect too much from them in their first sermon. I was wrong! These lads spoke/preached and delivered the word of God with a passion, zeal, maturity and sophistication. They wove Scripture upon Scripture to declare God’s word to the congregation. Like any good preacher should – they spoke for God.

I reflected later that I heard more of God’s word in these 40 minutes than I had in many so-called sermons in other churches in recent years. They did not delve into pop psychology, glib jokes and puerile anecdotes. Their aim was not to tickle ears but to speak a word that was on their hearts to the heart of the congregation.

I went home humbled. God spoke to me that evening though two of my students. God reminded me that young people have a place, purpose and word to speak in the lives of our congregations. He has gifted all of us, not just the “mature”.

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The Injustice System

A little under a week ago an official conference was arranged between my daughters and one of the young men who burned their house down 14 months ago. My wife and I went along to support them. There was a representative from the police, the young man and his mother, his counsellor, their lawyer and a Victims of Crime support worker for my family. Ironically, the support worker was there because she believed the girls needed support. However, technically, as there was no direct impact on my daughters (i.e. they were not in the house at the time) they were not seen, in a legal sense, as victims of crime, despite the fact that they lost most of their belongings and were rocked by the event.

Let me say from the outset I think these conferences are a great idea. They do allow perpetrators to hear of the damage that they have caused. The charges and outcomes were all read out and the questions with regard to motivation and reasons were put to the young man. I also applaud the fact that the system is trying to prevent these young people from committing further crimes. It was pointed out that a 6 months age difference (if technically he had been an adult) could have meant 5-10 years in gaol.

My daughters were amazing. I was so proud of them. They were gracious, forgave and reflected Christ in a wonderful way and were a witness to the gospel. The lawyer even said at one stage that he had never been at such a meeting with so strong a sense of forgiveness.

However, some aspects of  this process still sat uneasily with me.

One of the subtle aspects of this process was that the perpetrator becomes the “victim” in need of help. I agree that he needs help but he is also the person who created this situation. Yet the process seems to turn the tables somewhat. My daughters who were the victims, received no assistance, were largely left out of the information loop, were offered no counselling for the trauma suffered and, largely, became bystanders. All the attention was on the young man.

Maybe I am biased because I am the dad, but the “system” as well meaning as some its motives may be, is not a “just” system. There were all these people involved but the real victims were sidelined. That bothers me – not just for my daughters but for the many others in this situation. My daughters have a strong network of family, friends and church. Not everybody has that. What constitutes a “Victim of Crime” needs serious reconsideration.

For us as a family, however, at the end of the day, even if the legal system had been a disillusionment, we could celebrate the grace of God. We went to their new home, had a meal together and thanked God for His care over the last 14 months.

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Helping Our Children Grow in Faith – a review

keeleyOver the years I have become reticent about recommending books as I have discovered that books often resonate with a person because of the time and place they are in individually. However, I will overcome my reluctance and challenge Christian parents, teachers and Children’s ministry workers to read “Helping Our Children Grow in Faith” by Robert J. Keeley (Baker Books 2008).

Essentially Keeley unpacks 6 principles that he believes (and I concur) are important in nurturing faith in children.

  • Children need to be nurtured in their faith by the whole community of faith, not just parents.
  • Children need to be part of the whole life of the church.
  • Children need to know that God is mysterious.
  • Bible stories are the key to helping children know a God who is mysterious and who knows them for who they are.
  • Faith and moral development are both important but they are not the same thing.
  • Children should be part of congregational worship and they should have opportunities to experience developmentally appropriate worship.

Not only are these 6 points beautifully unwrapped but a lot of the incidental teaching along the way is very valuable too. For example, when discussing the power of story, he touches on the danger of simply attaching morals to Bible stories. He suggests that if we simply connect a story to a moral (“Dare to be a Daniel or David” – my examples) we prevent children pondering what God may be teaching them.

He also reflects on a passion of mine: children in worship. He says, “For children to have the kind of faith we want them to have, they need to be part of the worship experience.” Here I would like to have seen, at least, a mention of the impact that children have on the faith of adults as they can inspire us with their naïve simplicity.

Overall, an excellent book that is worth reading, re-reading and discussing with family, colleagues and congregation so that we can all assist in the nurturing of that all import faith in the most vulnerable in our families, schools and churches.

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A Late Start to a New Year

I know that the New Year started on January the 1st but I have been slow getting back into the blogging saddle. Over our Summer break here in Australia, apart from cooking though an incredible heart wave, I have been camping for a few nights, reading, pottering around the house and video editing.

Two books with which  I have been incredibly impressed are Brennan Manning’s “The Furious Longing of God” and Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat’s “Colossians Remixed”. Reviews will come.

Two short video clips I have put together are linked below. The first is about our trip to the Arctic Circle two years ago and and the second is a bit of family history.

The Arctic Circle

De Hezenberg  

I look forward to another productive year reading your blogs and writing a few of my own.

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Christmas Gloom?

The following is a guest blog from my wife, who like usual, doesn’t beat around the bush. She explores some of her feelings about how we as a society celebrate Christmas.

This Christmas time I have a profound sense of gloom regarding the Message of Christmas. Particularly, the proclamation of it.

Perhaps it is because, for the first time in many years, I haven’t told a child (or several hundred children) the story of Jesus’ birth. Or it could be because I tried, unsuccessfully, to find a new home for my huge stash of nativity costumes and props. Nobody does Nativity plays with the Sunday school kids anymore.

Or maybe it was friends telling me about their church’s children’s service, or the friends and neighbours’ Christmas service- all taking place weeks, if not more than a month before the 25th of December.

Or the depressing trips to the shopping malls, where I hear lots of Carols proclaiming the Good News, but nobody’s listening. It has just become seasonal background noise.

So what will the Church of our Messiah, who was born at Christmas, be doing on Christmas morning?

Celebrating? Families will unwrapping presents, stressing about food preparation, and steeling themselves for that afternoon they must spend with relatives they don’t like. Children will be overwhelmed by gifts that will be broken or discarded by the end of the year.

Worshipping? Most churches have a service. It’s earlier, shorter, and attended by the few poor souls who don’t have pressing family commitments. Where possible, the senior pastor has given the job of delivering the message to the idiot who first asked “Are we having a service on Christmas Day?” Nobody stays for coffee afterwards, because everyone needs to be somewhere else.

Ignoring the whole thing? Yep, there are plenty of Christians who shun Christmas altogether. The anti-Christmas brigade, I call them.

In my ideal world I would have Jesus’ Church celebrate His birth on the day that history has recognised for centuries. Whether it is the exact day or not is irrelevant.

Children, in full costume, would tell the story before a packed house; choirs would sing carols; pastors preach their best sermon; the choicest and sweetest treats shared for morning tea, over which people would linger until it became lunch.

This day would be eagerly anticipated and planned for months.

And the world would know what is most special for Christians at Christmas.

 

 

 

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Another Christmas Poem From The Past – The Shepherds

The Shepherds – a narrative

It was like any other night in winter.
We were alert.
The predators are always hungry in these months.
Lamb is always on their menu.
The cold, froze our words.
We were shivering
and then
we were still shivering
but now in fear.
Out of nowhere, 
well, the sky really,
this amazing light shone.
Day, in the middle of the night!
Shivering, trembling, cowering.
Paralysed.
Nothing to hide behind -
except sheep.
Even Big Jacob was jelly!
 
The bright being declared,
“Don’t be afraid,
I’ve come to give you news
of the Christ – the Messiah.”
 
It’s a baby!
In Bethlehem! 
 
So we bolted for Bethlehem,
The sheep could look after themselves,
for a while.
This news was too good to miss!
 
We found a mum, dad and baby,
by a feed trough,
and somehow,
as the mum, Mary
showed the baby to us,
we just knew, what the angel said was true.
She held God in her hands!
And our lives, and the world,
Would never be the same
again.
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Advent Poem No. 7 (2013) The Herald

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him …

DSC_0444Luke 1:76

Zechariah cried,
“The crier has come”.
Not with a baby cry,
but the booming voice
of a herald,
a proclaimer,
… a final prophet
of the old covenant.

His John
would shout and convict,
baptise and point,
and guide to one to come
soon.

Zechariah’s child
was the path smoother,
the way maker
and light shiner.

He would
lose his head
but gain his life
as the promises
he proclaimed
came true.

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Advent Poem No. 6 (2013) Bethlehem

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.         Micah 5:2

Bethlehem,
small and undistinguished,
draws no attention to itself.

But God does.

Rachel’s tomb and
Ruth’s second marriage are
found here pointing
to a royal line.

David, his brothers
and his dad Jesse
called it home.
Little knowing
a greater home awaited.

Philistines
under Satan’s command
were fought
back at this hamlet.

Yet from you would come
the Messiah:
the hope of Israel

and the world

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Our Inner Child

When our inner child is not nurtured and nourished, our minds gradually close to new ideas, unprofitable commitments, and the surprises of the Spirit. Evangelical faith is bartered for cozy, comfortable piety. A failure of nerve and an unwillingness to risk distorts God into a Bookkeeper, and the gospel of grace is swapped for the security of religious bondage.
“Unless you become like little children …” Heaven will be filled with five-year-olds.

Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

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