Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Thoughts

Oh, give ear, Shepherd of Israel,
You who lead Joseph like a flock;
You who are enthroned above the cherubim, shine forth!
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh, stir up Your power
And come to save us!
O God, restore us
And cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved.
                                                - Psalm 80:1-3

Advent is a time or preparation: buying presents, preparing food and drink for our feasts, decorating, but mostly preparing our hearts for Christmas. We become aware as we look to our hearts and to our world, that all is not right, nor peaceful, nor filled with good will. We quietly reflect on how much we need...something... to save us. And so, in the midst of celebrating the advent of Christ, our thoughts and hearts are drawn to the second coming of Christ when He will make all things new. Christmas can then become a time for commemoration, and a time of anticipation.

Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
                                                 - Luke 1:78, 79

Readings suggested from Seeking God’s Face

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Learning to Listen, Again

The Marshlings stay in the service with us and we have, from earliest times, been concerned about them developing bad habits (like only appearing attentive) or getting nothing of spiritual value from a sermon. Our solutions are not perfect, nor even perfectly applied, but they do represent our best effort to make sure our children learn to listen attentively and with open hearts to the preaching of God’s Word. As they grow and we all learn what is effective and what isn’t, we modify our practices.

We have made it clear to our children why we all stay together in the services. They understand and agree with the rationale but also recognize that it is sometimes hard to pay attention. So, all of six of us are consistently looking for ways we can help each other glean the most benefit from a sermon.

The 'Sermon Kit'

To begin with, everyone is prepared. Each person has, at the least, a Bible, a notebook and a pencil or pen. The notebooks are used only for taking notes on the sermon, not for colouring, or other purposes. Similarly, the Bible is for looking up the passage being preached upon or related passages that the message prompts, but not for reading unrelated to the message.

During the sermon itself, the older ones can take their own notes and have learned how to listen carefully enough to outline a sermon. If the speaker has a clear outline so much the better. A PowerPoint presentation with his main points? Best of all. Of course, the speaker who is a little fuzzy or lacks a clear structure to his message can be frustrating to the children, but then, that sort of message can be frustrating to adults as well. The goal is to never the less glean what we can from the message.

Ready for a sermon!

The younger ones who can not yet write quickly enough to take notes will sit near their mother or I who will outline the message for them: writing out each major point. They will then be asked to draw (and perhaps even colour) a picture that illustrates the point.

At lunch, and sometimes even in the van on the way home, we will discuss the message. Because we have all heard the same teaching it is much easier to address any questions or clarify any confusion. If there was a point someone disagrees with or is uncertain about, it is a wonderful time to gather together around the Bible and explore what it says about the subject. This can prompt terrific conversations which will sometimes spill in to the rest of the week.

Not all speakers are equally gifted or prepared, so this is also a good chance to teach graciousness and understanding. Rather than have “roast preacher” for lunch, we talk about the good elements of the teaching and discuss things that might have been clarified.

A final game is to test each others listening. Based on the sermon, sometimes I will ask the question, sometimes one of the children will. Questions can be as obvious as the title of the sermon or as obscure as the example he used to illustrate his final point. It is a fun way to keep each other attentive and the children love an opportunity to try to trip up Daddy (or each other).

These are all simple, straight forward things we do. There is nothing terribly original and it requires a lot of work from both parents and children, but then, learning always does. Our hope and prayer is that our children will learn the art of listening while they are young so that when they are older, they can continue to derive rich benefit from hearing the Word preached.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Learning to Listen

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

“And now, just before our speaker comes to open the Word for us, we’ll sing Hymn #328. During the singing of the final verse the children will leave for Sunday School.”

So, at the assigned moment the children and their teachers dutifully troop out of the main meeting gathering. Except the Marshlings; they stay in their seats, causing some helpful people to gesture to them, thinking we have forgotten about Sunday School. But, once the final song is sung we all reach for our Bibles and notebooks.

For some time we have kept our children in the worship service with us. From the earliest age they could manage (~ 2 1/2) they have been with us, sitting under the teaching of a variety for gifted men of God. We have tried to be very sensitive to the teachers and other parents who choose to have their children in Sunday School. We recognize that all parents are responsible for the training of their children and many choose to make use of the variety of resources that are available to them: including Sunday School classes. We’re also pleased with the strong desire teachers have to impart the Word of God to young people and the dedication they show in preparing lessons each week. However, we have decided as a family that our children can learn and grow best when they stay in the worship services.

The public gatherings of the church are intended for the glorification of God and the edification of all believers. In the case of the Marsh family, that includes all of the children who have made professions of faith. Put another way, we do not think it’s right for the people of God to be apart in the worship of God: the spiritual unity should be symbolised by physical unity as well. This gathering together is beneficial for the Church as a whole because it represents one of the few times and places in our culture that people from all demographics are united in a common cause and common purpose: a powerful testimony to the world around us.

We are also pleased to be gathered together with our children because it is an excellent forum in which the younger believers can learn from those who are older and wiser instead of being grouped together with people of a similar age and experience. If they have questions or comments about what is said or taught, it provides material for wonderful conversations on the ride home and around the table at lunch. We are able to feast upon God’s Word as we feast upon our Sunday meal. It binds us together not just as a family, but as fellow believers.

Of course, keeping the children in the service with us has shortfalls and potential dangers. They will possibly get nothing of spiritual value from the sermon. They may hear the words, but have no understanding. They may learn to ignore sermons while appearing attentive.

Keith Green lamented “Christian” bumper stickers and worried we were just inoculating the unsaved with little doses of Gospel that deadened them to the real thing. Are we doing the same to our children by keeping them in the sermons with us?

I’ll write next week about how we try to avoid that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Learning to Feed Ourselves

“Daddy, listen to what I learned about Jesus while reading this morning.”

“While I was praying this morning Daddy, I thought...”

As a father, those are the statements I long to hear from my children: it will demonstrate they are not only growing in knowledge and love for Jesus, but that they are seeking out more knowledge and a deeper relationship with Him.

My children receive a good amount of formal theological instruction. In addition to the theology books they study as part of their schooling (Studying God’s Word, Christian Liberty Press), we read a chapter of the Bible or go over catechism questions before meals and they hear two sermons on most Sundays. If that weren’t enough, this year (after years of Awana) we are participating in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). So, I am generally satisfied with the amount of Bible and theological knowledge they receive.

As they age, my larger concern is that they learn to be self-feeding Christians. That is to say, I want them to be Christians who are able to study God’s word for themselves and glean truth from it. Even more importantly, they should be Christians who have a vibrant prayer life and a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a far greater challenge and one that has stymied us for some time. We have tried a number of different approaches with limited success. Of course, as they get older, the approach needs to change as well.

Our most recent effort is possible because of my modified schedule: we meet by the fireplace at 7:30 each morning. After a brief prayer, we silently read the passage I have selected for that morning. Anyone who is finished before the allotted time is encouraged to re-read the passage slowly and look for any words, phrases, or truths that stand out to them and to reflect upon them. We then briefly discuss the passage together and pray silently for five minutes about the concerns of the day, our friends and God’s glory.

It is a new approach for us and is only possible now that the children can read, but so far they seem to be enthusiastic about it and are getting more and more from it. In fact, we recently were planning a trip to Toronto that would see us leaving 7:30. So concerned was Emily about missing our prayer time that she began suggesting ways in which we could modify our schedule to accommodate it. Now that’s the kind of encouragement a father needs!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tough Schedules and Spiritual Instruction

With the demands on our time that busy schedules bring, we have had an increasingly difficult time fitting a formal, extended Worship Time in to our week. We have experimented with different methods and approaches in the past and the main components that have worked well for us is singing, prayer and a structured study of God’s Word.

In the absence of more formal Worship Times, we have been trying to incorporate other instruction in to the times we have available: specifically the time before meals. We had been reading through the Bible on a schedule, one chapter a day before meals, but recently have begun using a catechism based largely on the 1689 London Baptist Confession. The version we are using (with appropriate Marsh modifications) also comes with proof-texts which have helped us become more familiar with our Bibles, examine the Biblical basis for what we believe and discuss the meaning of doctrines in more detail than we otherwise would.