Results tagged “children” from Reformation21 Blog

Feeling Forsaken, But Not Forgotten: An Infertility Story

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I met my husband, Pete, in April of 2004. We were set up on a blind date by a mutual friend who knew both of us well, and our friend thought we would be the perfect match. The only glitch, I lived in South Carolina and he lived in Germany. Pete had been stationed there for several years and had come to visit some friends in the States. That's where our story began. We met for coffee that afternoon and talked for hours, only to say goodbye--never to know if we would meet again. Several months, many emails and phone calls later, we met again and spent a few weeks together getting to know one another's family. After a nine-month deployment, Pete proposed and we were married over Labor Day weekend in 2005. Just after the wedding, I moved to Germany with two suitcases and my violin. It was truly a whirlwind romance.

Living in Germany was like a fairytale. Castles around every corner, rolling meadows, idyllic landscapes, open-air markets, and cobblestone streets were part of my new home--not to mention, the best cappuccinos ever! We traveled as much as we could and we tried to consume all of Europe in the short time we had left. After about 18 months of bliss, we left Germany to begin a new adventure. Pete had a strong desire to become a pastor so we began to pray about the when and the how of our new adventure that were ready to start as soon as possible.

Sadly, all fairytales come to an end. Joanna, Pete's 23 year old sister, was battling brain cancer for the third time, and we made the decision to move to Boca Raton, Fl, to live and work near family so we could support Joanna. Shortly after we moved to Boca, Joanna went to her eternal home where she was finally healed and made whole. It was a very long and painful goodbye, but we thank God for the opportunity we had to be with her daily. 

During this time, we were also beginning to feel the weight of our inability to have children. After our first few months of trying, we thought it would just be a matter of time. As months passed, I became more and more confused. I was only 31. I thought this would be easy, but I quickly discovered that this process would be very difficult and painful. I started asking questions. Was there something wrong? Was I exercising too much? Did I need to gain weight? Did I need to change my diet? Did I really just need to take a vacation and stop stressing? When struggling with infertility, the irrational thoughts and strange questions you have never cease. Even more, trying and concerning are the dark and twisted questions you ask about your faith: Is God angry with me? Is He punishing me for my past sins? I was starting to re-write my theology and it was dangerous. When you endure long periods of silence and suffering, this is one of the greatest pitfalls the enemy seeks to weave into your life.

Every doctor will advise you to wait at least 6-12 months before seeking out medical testing and intervention. After a year and a half without success, we began the long road of tests, procedures and more questions. It is an incredibly stressful and emotional process. And for us, this process went on for the next 6 years. My whole life began to run by the calendar, my body's cycle, medications, blood work, tests, surgeries and a lot of waiting. 

Where do you turn when your emotions vacillate from happy to sad in one day? What do you do when you can't handle baby showers, Mother's Day, or just seeing families together at church? I knew all the theologically correct "answers" in my head but connecting them to my heart was the most challenging part of living out my faith. 

I began to withdraw from social settings centered around babies and would cry after spending time with families whose children I adored. Being a high energy over achiever (aka - a "Type-A control freak"), I naturally wanted to solve my problem quickly. I researched everything on the subject of infertility, met with several different doctors for second and third opinions, changed my diet/lifestyle, went to counseling, joined support groups and prayed fervently. We asked people in our small group at church to pray. We asked our pastors to pray, our family, friends and anyone else who asked, to pray. Psalm 121:1-2 says, "I lift my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth." This was our answer. I knew God's promises were true and that He always hears the prayers of His people. Not always answering according to our desires or on our timetable, but always in His wisdom and time.

After 5 years of medical treatments, testing, as well as naturopathic and holistic medicines and treatments, we were still barren. We decided to pursue adoption simultaneously with treatment, hoping and trusting that the Lord would answer our prayers to grow our family. Our friends, family and church community truly carried us through this trial with their prayers and encouragement as we pressed on. Our pastor and church officers offered us a special prayer and anointing service and prayed over us, asking God to bless us with children. Next to our wedding ceremony, this ceremony was equally as sacred and beautiful. Witnessing the tears and cries of men as they pleaded with God on our behalf was moving and transformational for our spirits. We left with new life and joy in our hearts.

A year later, we had finished our adoption home study and were waiting for placement. Around the same time, the reproductive endocrinologist had sent me home with sad news - he wouldn't be able to perform another IUI (In-Uterine Insemination) because my ovaries were covered in cysts. It was in these darkest moments, that the Lord met me in the most unexpected ways. I had kept a praise journal over the many years, chronicling all of the ways He had met me.  Notes, gifts, phone calls, surprise visits and many more examples of unexpected encouragement. This day was no exception. As I cried and prayed, I picked up the mail only to find a package with a book inside. A friend had ordered a book for me which arrived the very day I needed it the most. The Infertility Companion had been on backorder and arrived that day. What a gift it was my to my heart! I gave thanks to God for His faithfulness and the strength He continued to supply for my weak spirit.

The next month, I was a few days late in my cycle and laughed off the thought of a pregnancy, knowing it was seemingly impossible. A week later, I humbled myself and took a pregnancy test. It was positive. I drove to the store and bought about ten more tests, to to be sure! I was filled with disbelief and bewilderment. How could this have happened?! Surely the test was wrong and had expired from old shelf life and dust in my cabinet. After the sixth positive test, I decided to get a blood test just to confirm the results. I wish I could say that I was filled with joy but my heart was anxious. We had struggled for so long that the reality of having a baby was too hard to grasp. The results came back positive. We were pregnant! And it took the entire 9-month pregnancy to accept the new reality that we were really going to be parents. God had answered our prayers in His time. Brynn Piper Whitney was born February 19, 2013 and we moved to Savannah, July 6, 2013 as Pete was called to be the Assistant Pastor at Kirk O' the Isles Presbyterian Church.

Two years later, on June 1, 2015, I gave birth to twins--a boy and a girl. I often joke that the prayers of the saints were too powerful. Ecclesiastes 11:5 says, "Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things." God had answered our prayers in the most miraculous and mind-blowing ways! And just to make sure we were removed of any doubts and concrete in our faith, He has opened my womb again at age 41 and given us another miracle that is due in 4 weeks! As if twins weren't enough for our hearts and home, our hearts are so full now they feel as if they might burst at times. Every tear, heartache and disappointment was caught and carried in the hands of God. Psalm 58:6 says, "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book."

Our faith has been tried, twisted, strained, strengthened and fortified tremendously over the last 10 years as we've witnessed His faithfulness in our lives! Spurgeon says, "No faith is so precious as that which lives and triumphs through adversity. Tested faith brings experience. You would never have believed your own weakness had you not needed to pass through trials. And you would never have known God's strength had His strength not been needed to carry you through." Soli Deo gloria!

 

Nan Whitney lives in Savannah, Ga with her husband, Pete, and their three children, Brynn, Sadie and Landon. Pete is the Pastor at Kirk O' the Isles Presbyterian Church. You can friend Nan on Facebook

 

Tuned in Parents on the Technological Frontier

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I am a child of the technological frontier--the brave new world of exciting potential and seemingly limitless possibility. I learned how to type on a typewriter; but, how to spell on a Speak&Spell. As a young boy, I played video games on Commodore 64 and Atari. It wasn't until I was about 12 or 13 that Nintendo became a household object. Our family had one small TV with a rabbit ear antenna. We didn't have cable until the mid-90's. I distinctly remember my mom being enamored with Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and that she really didn't like me watching the Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy (which I, incidentally, loved watching). I'll never forget the day that my dad walked us into a computer store to buy our first home computer. I was around 10 or 11. The salesman tried to convince my dad that we would never need more than 256 MB of memory (we had absolutely no idea what that meant at the time, but now realize that he had no idea what he was talking about). Neighborhood friends had boxes full of floppy discs--on which they traded video games with each another. When I was 13, one of those friends showed me pornography for the first time on one of those discs. This brave new world of technology was becoming a frightening new world of evil breaking into our neighborhoods and homes. Now, fast-forward 30 years.

Computers, smart phones, video game consoles, held game systems and just about all other electronic devices give us instant access to everything the world has to offer. Our children will grow up in a world of virtual reality and interactive online communities. There are an estimated 4 million pornographic websites online. That number will only increase. What was once filled with shame and indignity is now celebrated and promoted at an alarming rate. Tragically, more and more children from Christian homes are being drawn to cutter websites and pagan forums--often unknown to their parents. Many are simply being secularized through the influence of their friends online. There is no way to know exactly how quickly things are moving or where it is all heading; but, if our parents were concerned about how to protect us from the worldly influences on the radio, videos, magazines and cable TV, how much more do Christian parents need to be informed, alert and vigilant in seeking to protect our children in this day of technological hyper speed!

I've been considering these things with an ever-increasing sense of urgency and sobriety as my sons near the age at which they become more and more susceptible to the allure of the evil in the world. There are several things to which I return again and again as I seek to counsel myself and other parents in our congregation regarding this issue. Here are four things to which we can commit as we labor to bring our children up in a way that is pleasing to the Lord:

 
  1. We Must Make Every Effort to Protect Our Children from the Unwanted Influences of the World.
  This necessitates that we are tuned into what our children are doing. We need to take an interest in what they are watching and in that with which they are involved online. I'm not suggesting that we suffocate or micromanage their lives. However, it is incumbent for us to protect our children, as much as possible, from the evil influences of the world around them. This does not mean that we will not have our children in the community--playing sports and actively involved in community events--or that they will not be allowed to have friends from unbelieving homes. It will mean, however, that we will closely monitor what they are saying and doing in the community and with those friends. It means teaching them what it means to be a witness to Christ to their unbelieving friends. After all, the Apostle Paul, taught the members of the church in Corinth that there was an expectation that they would have relationships with unbelievers:

  "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world" (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  Protecting our children from the unwanted influences of the world will mean using programs like Covenant Eyes on every electronic device on which we can put them in our homes. It might mean locking down their smart phones so that they cannot download apps that will give them unfiltered or unmonitored access to the internet. It does mean that we should know who they are texting and what is being texted. After all, the world can now reach into the lives of our children in their bedrooms in a way in which it could never in all of human history before the invention of the internet and smart phone.

   
  1. We Must Learn to Talk with Our Children about the Dangers That They Face.
  This is crucial. If we don't speak with our children about the wickedness of the world, rest assured that others will. It's vital for us to come to terms with the fact that we must start talking to our children about the evils with which they will be confronted. Recently, I was speaking with someone who has a friend involved with Backyard Bible Club (a Christian outreach to public school children) in a significant Southern town. The individual to whom I was speaking told me that sex was the overwhelming focus of the conversation of the fourth graders being picking up every week. We must now assume that children are being exposed to conversation about sexual matters at a much younger age than was true for many of us. A few months ago, I wrote a post at the Christward Collective that deals with the necessity of teaching our children the raw portions of Scripture. Teaching our children a biblical view of the blessing of sex and the evil of sexuality immorality is one of the best things that we can do for them. Teaching our children, from God's word, about the forms of evil with which they will be face is vital.

 
  1. We Must Remember that We Can't Change the Hearts of our Children.
  No amount of sheltering our children from the evil of the world without will keep them from acting on the evil of their hearts within. We can neither regenerate our child's heart nor bring him or her to a place of spiritual maturity. We must teach our children the Scriptures, pray with and for them, gather with the people of God for weekly public worship and discipline them in love...but you can't secure results. Only the Spirit of God, taking the finished work of Christ and sovereignly applying it to the hearts and minds of our elect children, can do this work in their hearts. The Spirit of God is the only One who can regenerate our children and He is the only one who can bring our children to spiritual growth and maturity.

 
  1. We Must Seek to Model Godly Living and Marriage in the Home and Church for our Children.
  While we recognize that we are powerless to change our children's hearts, we also recognize that the godly example that parents set in the home is one of the ways that the Lord works in the lives of our children. The means of grace that God has appointed in the church for the salvation of His people (i.e. the word, sacraments and prayer) are complemented by the godly example of believers. If our children see us loving our wives and modeling for them what it means to be a Christian family in the home--delighting in Christ together, as well as being deeply committed to Him in weekly worship and service in the Church--we can expect them to want to follow that example. If our sons see us speaking lovingly to and about our wives and showing affection for them (and for them alone!) that will be a powerful example for them to follow. At the end of the day, we want our children to see how different a Christian home is from the world--not in a fundamentalist or separationist sense, but in a Spirit-filled, word-saturated and Gospel-exalting sense. While I wandered from the Christian home in which I was raised, the godly example my parents set in the home was indelibly etched in my mind and heart. It stayed with me through the years of rebellion and wandering, and, has continued to aid me as my wife and I seek to raise our own children. The importance of godly example is something that is not always emphasized in this regard.

     

Bringing Our Children to Jesus

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One of the most important things we will do at Second Presbyterian Church is disciple our children to a living, personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We live in a society that assumes that when children grow up they will jettison the family's beliefs and values. But the Bible sees things differently. The book of Proverbs says that the childhood years have a formative influence that lasts throughout life: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Prov. 22:6). 

There are a number of mistakes that I have observed Christian parents making over my years in ministry. One mistake is to think that our duty as Christian parents consists solely of disciplining our children. To be sure, the Bible clearly states that Christian should be disciplined (see Heb. 12:6; Prov. 13:24). But discipline - the process of bringing the will into submission - is not enough. Another mistake is have seen consists of the belief that need only provide a good Christian environment for our children. We bring them to Sunday School and church, we home school them or educate them in Christian schools, we ensure that their friends are from believing families, we send them to Christian camps, etc. I am certainly not against any of these things. But providing a Christian environment and structure is simply not enough for the Christian nurture of our children. Our generation is seeing a shockingly high percentage of young people raised in a Christian environment who do not continue in the faith outside of the home. Surely, the primary reason is the poor quality of Christian faith in so many churches and homes. But I am persuaded that another reason is that many parents do not recognize their role in discipling their children in the faith. 

What do I mean by discipling our children? Ted Tripp put it this way in his excellent book, Shepherding a Child's Heart: Discipling is "the process of your children embracing the things of God as their own living faith... to see your children develop identities as persons under God" (p. 198). Discipling arises out of the bonded relationship parents are to have with their children. We see this throughout the book of Proverbs, which was written in the form of counsel from a father to a son. Proverbs 23 is especially filled with this kind of language. Solomon writes, "My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad" (Prov. 23:15). He adds, "Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old" (Prov. 23:22). My favorite - and this verse presents the heart behind the wisdom of Proverbs - reads: "My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways" (Prov. 23:26). How important that statement is: children will follow our ways only if they have given us their hearts. 

So how do parents foster a close relational bond that results in their children following in our ways? I would offer parents four commitments designed to build a strong discipling relationship with their children. I base it on four easy-to-remember words: Read - Pray - Work - Play. 

First, parents (especially fathers) must read God's Word to and with their children. Countless Christians raised in strong believing homes will remember the influence of their father's fervent and faithful ministry of reading (plus explaining and discussing) the Scriptures. Paul states that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Therefore, our children's faith will feed off the hearing of God's Word from the mouths of their fathers and mothers. This takes many forms. Little children should be read Bible stories and memorize simple verses. The every-day speech of parents in the home should liberally include the truth of God's Word. In my view there is no substitute for regular family worship, in which the whole family gathers to study God's Word and pray. And of course, our children need to see our own devotion to God's Word lived out in the home, experiencing first-hand from us the righteousness, peace, and joy that comes from the gospel. 

Second, parents must pray for and with their children. How it warms a child's heart to know that his or her parents are fervently praying on his behalf. Parents should have regular times of prayer with the children and should frequently pray individually with their children. A child's heart should be warmed by the voice of her mother and father beseeching God's blessing and help for her. Thus parents should make sure that their children know they are praying for the specific challenges and trials that they are facing. This requires us to be involved in the affairs of their hearts, which discipling always requires. 

Third, parents should work with their children. This means that parents should be involved in the children's work - mainly schoolwork - both to help and guide them. But it also means that we should invite our children into our work. Shared work builds relationships. Work in the kitchen, work in the yard, work painting walls or repairing furniture. Children love to work alongside their parents, and the process of growth and shared experience forges a strong bond. Families should also engage in works of Christian service together. 

Fourth, parents should play with their children. This involves our participation in their play and our invitation for them to join in our play. When a father gets down on his knees to work on a model or Legos with his boys or to do crayons with his little girls, the relationship bond is strengthened. When mothers share books that she loved growing up or sits down for a game with the kids, her knits their hearts with hers. Parents should share their passions with their boys and girls and invite them into the fun of hobbies and pastimes. All of this play has a very serious purpose: the bonding of hearts in loving relationship through joyful, shared experiences. 

"My child, give me your heart," says the Bible. This assumes, of course, that the parent has already given his or her heart to the child. This will always take the form of time: serious time and play time, time in worship and time in service together. If we will give our hearts to our children, we will find their hearts eagerly offered back to us, so that we may then lead them into the reality of our faith in Christ. Indeed, the nurturing, discipling bond between a parent and a child is one of the promised results of Christ's coming: "He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:4). 


*This first appeared on Ref21 in August 2008. You can find the original post here

Advocates of "family-integrated worship" -- a fancy term for keeping kids of every age in church services rather than shuffling them off to the nursery/crèche, Sunday School (UK), or Children's Church (US) -- generally claim their practice as the historical one up until rather recent times. "What we advocate," writes one proponent of family-integrated worship, "is nothing new, but is rather the practice of historic Christianity. [...] It was not until the philosophy of age-segregated education inflitrated [sic] the educational regimen of the nations, and then was adopted in the churches, that the people of God had to face so many family disintegrating forces." With considerably more levity, the brilliant forces behind Lutheran Satire recently named age-segregated worship as a modern invention (courtesy of Mr. Thompson and the Vicar) fundamentally at odds with "the multi-generational model of worship so foolishly employed by all the Christians in the history of forever until five seconds ago."

Whatever the merits of including children from early on in church services (and there are, I think, many), I'm not convinced the evidence for such being the unequivocal practice of previous ages is all that strong. Too often the argument from history on this matter seems to be one from silence more than anything else. Moreover, Kirk session records from the sixteenth-century suggest that Scottish church leaders at least thought keeping younger kids out of church services might be in the best interest of the whole congregation, even if there is, admittedly, no evidence that they spent any effort devising a wholesome alternative to corporate worship for the youngsters.

In her fascinating work The Culture of Protestantism in Early Modern Scotland, Margo Todd observes that infants and young children were "systematically excluded... from Sunday sermons" in sixteenth-century Scotland in the interest of making sure that more mature parishioners were hearing and benefiting from the preaching of God's Word. Indeed, presbyteries and sessions went so far as to impose monetary fines on parents who breached ecclesiastical regulations against bringing potentially distracting youngsters to Sunday worship. Glasgow's churches apparently made 8 years of age the "cut-off" for attending the sermon. Aberdeen excluded children from corporate worship until they had reached school-age and demonstrated their ability to "take themselves to a seat." In Kingsbarns, just south of St. Andrews, the laity were ordered not only to exclude "little ones and young children" from worship, but to keep them enclosed at home (to prevent them from distracting worshippers by "running up and down" and making a racket in the vicinity of the church building). Church legislation in Perth in 1582 threatened parents with a hefty fine of six shillings and eight pence and/or imprisonment for bringing their "bairns... [to] kirk in time of preaching."

As Todd astutely points out, the exclusion of infants and children from worship presented a difficulty when it came to baptismal services "since one could hardly exclude the baby" to be baptized from such. Perth legislation of 1587 offered a resolution to this issue by ordering that infants "be holden in some secret place til the preaching is ended" and then brought forward for baptism, lest the crying of the baptismal candidate create "din in time of preaching, so that others incoming thereto are stopped from hearing."

Such efforts by early modern Kirk authorities to regulate the attendance of infants and young children at church might prove to be a historical anomaly. But I suspect that some digging would demonstrate that early modern Protestant churches elsewhere engaged in similar exercises. Of course, we need not necessarily follow the lead of our (Scottish) forebears on this particular issue. Personally (for what it's worth), I'm in favor of including kids in worship from pretty early on. I suspect that carpeted floors and the amplification of the preacher's voice has made some (though not all) of early modern kirk sessions' worries about the distraction children might cause other congregants less pressing in our day. Regardless, it seems to me that such worries shouldn't be permitted to trump the reality that faith comes through hearing, and so the benefit of situating our covenant children under the authoritative preaching of the Word of Christ from their earliest days (Rom. 10.17).

Perhaps the most appropriate lesson to be learned on this point, then, is simply not to make assumptions too quickly about how Christians did things in the past. It's all too easy to project our own ideas and customs on to persons or groups that inhabit days gone by, and then to turn around and claim historical precedent for our ideas and customs on that (illegitimate) basis. We must, rather, engage persons from the past truthfully and charitably. After all, the Scriptures that urge honesty (Ex. 20.16) and charity (1 Cor. 13.7) upon us in our interactions with others contain no qualifications about whether the "others" in question are living or dead. 

Very Presbyterian problems

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If you have wandered around at all online you have probably seen one of those silly articles that purport to offer a string of very British problems, most of them variations on the joke about two British people marooned on a desert island, rescued ten years later, and found never to have spoken to one another because they had never been properly introduced. Mark's article on Presbyterian parenthood put me in mind of such things: problems that arise from the very nature of the beast. That, of course, is not to suggest that there are no tensions or questions in a Baptist approach to the same issue: as a Christian parent, how do I deal with my children?

Mark's historical survey introduces some of the debates that have characterised Presbyterian discussions. My angle on those would, of course, be different, as I am not working from precisely the same set of convictions. I also appreciate and face some similar difficulties. At the same time, I believe that a Baptist solution to the problems is more scripturally simple and straightforward, as well as avoiding any danger of making baptism a saving ordinance, and avoiding discussions about the difference between actual and federal holiness, and what seems to be the more-than-mere-tension of not knowing whether or not something is true but still judging it to be so. I suspect that Mark would endorse many of the elements of my parenting (and I would doubtless do the same with regard to his). I also know his esteem for particular Baptists (probably Particular Baptists), whatever he may think of yours truly (no need to respond, brother - we try to keep things civil here).

However, I thought that it might be helpful to offer some thoughts from a Baptist parent trying before God to raise his children in a way that becomes my convictions.

My children hear the gospel in the family and in the church. Although I do not presume them to be disciples, there is a sense in which I "teach them diligently" the ways of God, and "talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Dt 6:7). I want them to learn to see the world through God's eyes, as it were, defined by divine assessments and directives, so that they may respond appropriately, as the Spirit works in their hearts. I teach them, therefore, from the book of general revelation, so that they may know that there is a Creator who made them and to whom they are accountable, and from the book of special revelation, so that they may know that there is a Saviour from whom they may receive salvation. I am deeply conscious of the particular privileges that they enjoy growing up in a home where Christ Jesus is known and loved and proclaimed, and I urge them to improve those privileges by trusting in and serving the Lord Christ.

I explain to them the context, realities, invitations and demands and promises, and consequences of God's salvation in Christ Jesus. I tell them that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13). I assure them that "the LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth" (Ps 145:18 cf. Rom 10.12). I urge them to do what any sinner should do in order to be saved: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31), emphasizing that  "the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2Pt 3:9). I do so, confident that all that the Father gives Christ will come to Christ, and the one who comes to Christ he will by no means cast out, for it is the will of the Father who sent the Son that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and Christ will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:37-40). I would - in essence - insist upon the same gospel for my children as I would for anyone else.

In similar fashion to John Bunyan, I want to point them to Christ out of a sense of their own need of a Saviour. In dealing with the more specific problem of whether or not we should teach children forms of prayer, Bunyan answers:
My judgment is, that men go the wrong way to teach their children to pray, in going about so soon to teach them any set company of words, as is the common use of poor creatures to do.

For to me it seems to be a better way for people betimes to tell their children what cursed creatures they are, and how they are under the wrath of God by reason of original and actual sin; also to tell them the nature of God's wrath, and the duration of the misery; which if they conscientiously do, they would sooner teach their children to pray than they do. The way that men learn to pray, it is by conviction for sin; and this is the way to make our sweet babes do so too. But the other way, namely, to be busy in teaching children forms of prayer, before they know any thing else, it is the next way to make them cursed hypocrites, and to puff them up with pride. Teach therefore your children to know their wretched state and condition; tell them of hell-fire and their sins, of damnation, and salvation; the way to escape the one, and to enjoy the other, if you know it yourselves, and this will make tears run down your sweet babes' eyes, and hearty groans flow from their hearts; and then also you may tell them to whom they should pray, and through whom they should pray: you may tell them also of God's promises, and his former grace extended to sinners, according to the word.

Ah! Poor sweet babes, the Lord open their eyes, and make them holy Christians. Saith David, "Come ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Psa 34:11). He doth not say, I will muzzle you up in a form of prayer; but "I will teach you the fear of the Lord"; which is, to see their sad states by nature, and to be instructed in the truth of the gospel, which doth through the Spirit beget prayer in every one that in truth learns it. And the more you teach them this, the more will their hearts run out to God in prayer. God never did account Paul a praying man, until he was a convinced and converted man; no more will it be with any else (Acts 9:11). (John Bunyan, A Discourse Touching Prayer, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2006), 635.)
When my children sin and ask for forgiveness from God, I assure them that the Lord delights to hear such prayers from the hearts of truly convinced sinners, and is ready to forgive those who come to him through Christ Jesus. I assure them that age is no bar to salvation, and that the Lord Christ welcomed people of all sorts and ages. If they have come to him in repentance and faith, then he will forgive them, and he will help them to live in accordance with it. I explain the difference that salvation makes, and what I would expect to see in the heart of a Christian boy or girl, a love for God, his word, his people, his holiness, that is in keeping with their circumstances and relative maturity. If and when I see those things developing in the heart and life of my child, I rejoice in hope. At the same time, I recognise that - because of the very nature of a child - there may be a measure of willingness to please Dad and Mum, and that they are in an environment in which they are largely defended against and protected from some particular outward pressures and temptations. And so I seek to train them and equip them, trusting that I will in due course see the measure of tried and tested spiritual understanding, maturity and development that gives me and them confidence that a true work of the Spirit has taken place. As and when that comes to an appropriate and demonstrable fruition - a credible profession of faith, which, for me, necessitates a measure of mental and emotional development and maturity - I hope to see them baptized (and, as every honest Greek scholar will inform you, which doubtless includes my erudite chum, Mark, that means immersion) as a testimony of their having been united to Christ by faith, identifying with him in his death and resurrection.

With regard to obedience, I emphasize that the commands of God are right and true, but that we need the grace and strength of the Spirit in order to obey. And so I do not hold back in making plain the things that God requires, urging them to understand that only in Christ are they able to obey from the heart in a way that is pleasing to God, and trusting that - if they see their own falling short of the glory of God - it will be a means of their casting themselves upon him for salvation. When they sin, I point out to them the dynamic of forgiveness that operates within the family, and trace out the parallels in God's readiness to forgive us.

I don't know whether or not my children can sing "Jesus loves me, this I know." I actually think it tends toward the twee, and tend not to teach them such stuff. Besides, I am not sure that they are ready for a disquisition on the kind of love with which the Lord may be said to love different people. I urge them to sing, and hope that the same sense of spiritual reality will impress itself upon them as they learn of God's glory and goodness. I urge them to consider whether or not the words that they sing are coming from their mouths or their hearts.

I want them to call upon the Lord as Saviour. I want them to pray in the light of God's gracious dealings with them as a benevolent Creator. I can honestly say that the most often expressed desire of my children in prayer is that the Lord would save them. I believe that the Lord answers that prayer from the hearts of even the youngest, and I prayerfully hope to see the fruit in due course that will prove that they were not simply parroting words, and that the Lord is indeed gracious to those who come to him.

I would be quite happy for my children to have a "boring" testimony - any variety of testimony, in fact, as long as it is a testimony of God's saving grace to a sinner. The dawning light of salvation may enter a soul suddenly, as when the curtains are suddenly thrown open on a summer morning, or more gradually, as when the curtains are left open and the gradually rising sun slowly floods the room with light. Either way, there is a passing from darkness to light. I would hope that my children will say, in essence, "One thing I know: that though I was blind, now I see" (Jn 9:25). I have known children from Christian homes who have been converted with very little trauma of soul, and some who have wrestled in agony. Some have turned against all they have known and fought hard before being cut to the heart; others have felt the deepest pangs of conscience despite an outwardly benign life, feeling the sin of their hearts. Some have simply, under the Spirit's influence, accepted the truth of the Christ who saves. Others have fought long and hard before being subdued. I simply ask that the Lord would do all that is needful to make my children his. "Daddy, am I really forgiven?" "My son, my daughter, if the Lord has drawn you to Christ with faith and repentance to trust in him for the pardon of your sins and peace with God, you are indeed."

This all makes sense to me as a Baptist, and I can do it all with a clear conscience and an earnest hope. It makes far more sense to me, the lines being more clearly and scripturally drawn, in accordance with my understanding of the Word of God, than the resolutions that Mark proposes. I am sure that other Baptists will have slightly different approaches or nuances, but I imagine that a number of them will have essentially the same approach. I think it is plain that there are points of overlap in the answers that Mark and I have given, even measures of common understanding and expectation. I would anticipate that, and am delighted with it. However, there are also some very significant and substantial differences, and I hope that this stimulates some thought and discussion.

"Every precious blessing"

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6 5. 6 5 (North Coates)
Every precious blessing
Comes from God above;
Everything we have is
From his heart of love.

Jesus is the best gift,
Coming down to save:
Dying for his people,
Rising from the grave.

Gracious Spirit, give us
Hearts to trust the Son,
Souls that overflow with
Praise for all he's done.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Out of the mouth of babes

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Mark's post about how Christian parents deal with their children raises some interesting questions to which I may, in due course, offer some answers. In the meantime, I will provide a hymn that I wrote primarily with our children and younger Sunday School classes in view. If nothing else, it may spare Mark some of the agony of finding something less potentially twee for his children to sing. That said, he has dropped his bombshell and fled to Brazil, so he may be eaten by Luis Suarez and never have the joy of this interaction.

Come, you children

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Just around the corner from our church building is a junior school. We have a reasonable relationship with the school, extending to taking occasional school assemblies, depending on who is responsible for arranging them.

Over the last fifteen years or so, since the neighbourhood was established and our church building erected, we have built up something of a routine with the school. Every year or so, as part of their religious education classes, about 120 ten and eleven year olds visit our church building in two groups. The idea seems to be that they visit a number of "faith communities" nearby for the purposes of comparison and contrast. Yesterday was such an occasion.

With each group I get about half an hour, sometimes a little more. My usual pattern is to set out a few key facts and then to invite questions. My introduction centres on three things. The first is the pulpit, on which sits a Bible which is the Word of God, which tells us the good news about the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who came into the world to save sinners, dying in their place and rising again in victory from the grave. The second is the baptistry. Here those who - having heard the good news and been persuaded of their need of a Saviour - have trusted in Jesus Christ to save them from their sins are baptised in the name of the triune God, testifying publicly of their union with him in his death and resurrection and becoming members of the local church. The third thing is the communion table where there is a cup and a plate which would normally contain wine and bread, a meal for those who belong to Christ's church, in which we enjoy real fellowship with him, a meal which points us back to what he has done, up to where he now is, and ahead to the day when he will come again. We thus seek to make plain that the church is centred around Jesus Christ - he is the beating heart of all we are and do. We seek to make clear the need of sinners to turn from their sins and trust in him to be saved, and invite the children and their families to come to learn more.

Obviously, the main benefit of this meeting is the chance to preach something of the good news to the pupils and any teachers and parent helpers who come along. In addition, it means that the children know us a little, meaning that we might be able to make some more connections in our other evangelistic labours. Furthermore, it means that they have actually been into the church building, which strips away some of the barriers that some feel who have no experience of a nonconformist place of worship. Finally, there have been occasions when - years after their first exposure to the truth - we have met these pupils on the streets and at their doors, growing or grown up, and have been recognised and been able in some measure to pick up where we left off.

However, these occasions also give them a chance to ask some questions. This is where things can get fun. The standard questions are fairly straightforward: building design and furniture, differences between this and other buildings, and the like. But every so often, and yesterday was one of these, things kick off. Usually, it is a particular question that gets the ball rolling, something a bit more substantial or insightful. Then another child will pick something up from the answer, and then the hands start to shoot up, and it turns into a bit of a feeding frenzy. It is almost as if the kids suddenly get the sense that they can ask this bloke in front of them just about anything and he will try to give them a straight answer. It demonstrates a freshness and depth of thinking that often surprises the grown-ups, and reveals a willingness to hear and consider the truth that has sometimes been hammered out of adults. The fact that these things bubble up almost unbidden from their souls is a powerful reminder that God and eternity are written into our humanity.

As this process develops, the teachers, assistants, and parent-helpers can go through quite a fascinating range of emotions (and skin shades). Some of them are grinning as the preacher mentally leaps about like a cat on a hot tin roof, trying to cover all the bases. Some of them are stunned that such questions are pouring out of the minds and hearts of their charges. Some of them are infuriated by the answers that are given. Some are terrified that we are trampling merrily across the hallowed boundaries of political correctness. Some of them are simply bewildered by what we believe. Some of them come up afterwards and ask their own questions more subtly.

Our prayer is that all these things might serve, in the Spirit's hands, to convince the lost of their sin and misery, enlighten the minds of those in darkness, and renew the wills of those mired in spiritual death, so persuading and enabling them to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to all in the gospel. If I might borrow the words of the psalmist, "Come, you children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord" (Ps 34:11).

For interest's sake, I attach below a record of various questions that have been asked in these kinds of meetings. Some of them come out of the blue, others are built upon previous answers. It is worth our while to consider how we might answer them.

  • Who made God?
  • What does God look like?
  • What does it mean that God is a spirit?
  • Where does God live?
  • How is God everywhere?
  • Is God the air? Is God nature?
  • How can we know God if we can't see him?
  • How can God see everything?
  • Where did the world come from? Did God make it?
  • Why are some people different to others? Why did God make them that way?
  • Did God make space? Why did God make black holes?
  • Did God get baptised?
  • What is a pastor?
  • What is the difference between a pastor and a vicar?
  • Where does the word "pastor" come from?
  • What does a pastor do?
  • How much do you earn?
  • Can ladies be pastors?
  • Must a preacher/pastor/vicar be a Christian?
  • What is a disciple?
  • When you become a Christian, do you have to do what the Bible says?
  • Do you have to be a Christian to come to church?
  • If you belong to another religion, can you become a Christian? [and vice versa]
  • Does God love people who aren't Christians?
  • What happens when you become a Christian?
  • Is the baptistry a bath? A swimming pool? A birthing pool?
  • Can you go for a swim after you've been baptised?
  • What do you wear to be baptised? Can you wear goggles?
  • Is there something special about the water in the pool?
  • If baptism uses ordinary water, why is it so important?
  • What does baptism mean?
  • Can children be baptised? Can girls/ladies be baptised?
  • What's the difference between christening and baptism?
  • Is baptism safe?
  • What is the church?
  • If the church is people, why do you need a building?
  • Why doesn't the church have a bell?
  • Why don't you have stained glass/statues/pictures?
  • What happens when we die?
  • What is the difference between burial and cremation?
  • Why don't you have a graveyard?
  • Why are other churches different?
  • Why do you have an organ?
  • Why are most churches the same shape? Why are churches in other countries different shapes?
  • Can disabled people be baptised?
  • Can you worship God outdoors?
  • How can deaf people hear sermons?
  • When is the church open? How often do you meet?
  • How long has the church been here?
  • If you stop being a Christian, do you get "unbaptized"?
  • Why does the Bible talk about "drinking the cup"? You can't drink cups.
  • How do you know that the Bible is true?
  • How do you know that Jesus is real?
  • Why do you trust the Bible?
  • If God is good and in control of everything, why do we have wars and tidal waves and earthquakes?
  • What is sin?
  • If you have sinned, can you still get to heaven?
  • How do I escape from hell?
  • Doesn't God give you a second chance?
  • Does God have to make you a Christian?
  • If God is all-powerful, can he make a rock he could not lift?
  • How does someone stop being a Christian?
  • If God is in control, why do scientists say that everything began with a big bang?
  • If God cannot die, how can Jesus die?
  • How can you be God and man?
  • How do we know that Jesus is real and/or rose from the dead?