Sunday, March 18, 2012

Where Are The Tipping Christians?

'Look at that...' photo (c) 2011, Kevin Lawver - license:
A dear Christian brother of mine manages a sit-down restaurant. We get together for breakfast on Tuesdays and, occasionally, I get to hear his wild stories about things that happened at work. Some of them make me laugh. But honestly, many of them make us both want to cry.

For example: did you know that there are people who regularly enter restaurants with every intention of getting a free meal? Their plan is simple: feign dissatisfaction every step of the way until the restaurant breaks down and offers to pay for the meal.

Many of these people even passive-aggressively act like everything is fine in front of the wait staff, then unload on the manager on their way out the door—or on the restaurant’s customer feedback web page when they get home. The gift cards come in the mail, and they get to eat the next 2 meals for free. Then the cycle begins all over again.

The ubiquity of social media has made it possible for damning customer feedback to go global in seconds. This raises the stakes extremely high for service industries of all kinds to bend over backwards to please their patrons, lest a conversation explode on Twitter about a bad experience. And with that comes even more of the situations I describe above. People are leveraging the power of social media to get handouts—because it works.

But perhaps the most disconcerting stories I hear from my friend are the ones about openly professing Christians who dine at his restaurant. He’s been in the restaurant business for a long time. And apparently, it’s a well-known fact in the restaurant industry that the people who are more open about their Christianity (either by their gospel presentation during the meal, or by their leave-behind tract on the table) are the lousiest tippers around.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying these people can’t really be Christians. But something is terribly wrong with a theology that isn’t tuned to the obvious, everyday opportunities to express common courtesy and surprising generosity; with a theology that places outward piety above personal sacrifice; and with a theology that views people as projects, with no regard to their physical or financial needs.

This is where I climb off my soapbox and attempt to turn this conversation into something positive.

Joy and I were talking in the car on our way home from a restaurant this morning when this topic came up. She has a Christian friend working part-time as a server who had echoed the same tipping experience to her. Joy’s response was, “I can’t let it bother me. I’ve just decided to be a 20% tipper myself, and to leave the occasional $20 bill on the table when I can.”

“Be the change you want to see,” I said. “I like it.”

We should be grieved that people are marring Christ’s reputation at the restaurant table (of all places). But knowing this, and knowing the Gospel of Christ, should free us and motivate us to offset this sad epidemic with unusual generosity—to compliment and respect our servers; to make it easier for them to bus the table; to be patient and forbearing with them when things are busy; and doggone it, to put our money where our mouths are on our way out the door. This generosity is not something we do to earn God’s favor; it’s a spontaneous response to God’s favor.

If you think you can’t make a difference today, take heart. We have an opportunity to show a peculiar Christian kindness and generosity (both personally and financially) in places like retail stores and restaurants, where common courtesy is sadly so rare.

Here’s to changing the story.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Frank Sinatra’s "Same Old Saturday Night" written for the 21st Century


Went to see a movie show
Found myself an empty row
Thought the show was just “all right”
Same old Saturday night

Then I made the usual stop
Coffee at the coffee shop
Friendly face no where in sight
Same old Saturday night

I really thought
The papers I bought
Would help me forget you for a while
But believe me, honey
The funnies weren’t funny
They didn’t even make me smile

How I wish you’d lift the phone
Fun is fun but not alone
‘Til you’re here to hold me tight
Same old Saturday night

Went to see a 3D flick
Brad Pitt played a backwoods hick
Texters in my line of sight
Same old Saturday night

Then I made a Starbucks stop
Latte with whipped cream on top
Wi-fi and some megabytes
Same old Saturday night

I really thought
The iPhone I bought
Would help me forget you for a while
But believe me, honey
The news feed wasn’t funny
It didn’t even make me smile

How I wish you’d tweet me now
Fun is not this Farmville cow
‘Til you’re here to hold me tight
Same old Saturday night

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Demystifying "Family Devotions" - Part 4

I conclude this four-part series (click to read part 1, part 2, and part 3) with three final tips on leading your family in daily devotions.

Sing really, really exuberantly … whatever that looks like. It’s a great blessing to see and hear children sing to the Lord with complete abandon. We are a musically-inclined family, which makes it easier to lead songs with the kids. I have an acoustic guitar I keep in their room to accompany us on songs.

If you aren’t musically inclined, don’t let that be an excuse for not making music a priority during family devotions. In an era where there are many ways to download, transport and play music, it’s quite easy to simply play songs for the kids to sing along with — which is every bit as effective as a live accompaniment.

Our kids have a fairly short list of favorite songs: Their most-requested songs are The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength, The B-I-B-L-E, I Will Enter His Gates, Jesus Loves Me, and The Perfect Ten (a song that teaches the Ten Commandments). It’s no coincidence that songs with 3 easy chords have made it onto our short list, since I am your textbook “3-chord wonder” on the guitar.

Supplement the reading of Scripture with good fiction that fosters redemptive conversations. We often read fiction that contains types of biblical characters, metaphors of redemptive truths, and God-centered themes in which He is the hero. 

We have read through most of the Narnia books with the kids. C.S. Lewis is most known for his fiction, but some may not realize that he was one of the most notable Christian apologists of the 20th Century. He does not check his faith at the door in his fiction. His stories are wonderfully engaging, with kid-friendly narratives that open up all kinds of conversations about God’s sovereignty, holiness and majesty.

Right now, we are reading through a kids’ version of John Bunyan’s crowning work The Pilgrim’s Progress, where the characters are children instead of adults, and it is written in a kid-friendly way. Our kids are on the edge of their seats as they listen to Little Pilgrim’s Progress, and will often ask to read one more chapter. The beauty of this book is that it fully exposes kids to the incredible suffering and trials that characterize complete surrender to Christ. Christian and his band of Pilgrim friends experience all of the hard things that come with following Christ like the Slough of Despond, the Hill Difficulty, and the Pit of Despair, as they travel the road to the bright, glowing Celestial City on the distant horizon. These themes call kids to count the cost of discipleship, looking unto Jesus with joy set before them, rather than candy-coating the Christian life.

Don’t view your family as a group, but as a collection of individual souls. Although family devotions is important, we must not neglect the opportunities to initiate 1:1 interaction with each of our family members on a spiritual level. Each of them will hear and respond to it differently. Family devotions give you the opportunity to identify where you need to meet each member of your family at the individual level.

Last year, our 8-year-old started asking questions during family devotions that signaled two things: 1) he was thinking very deeply about the things of God, and 2) he did not believe. In fact, one night he looked at me and said, “Dad, I’m starting to think this ‘God’ thing is just a big joke.”

His comment came right around the time Dr. Bruce Ware was at our church for a Bible conference. I was scanning the book table of books Dr. Ware had written and saw one called Big Truths for Young Hearts. It was a book that explained deep theological truths in language geared toward 8-year-olds and up. So I bought it, and what a mercy of God to have placed it in my path. My son and I stay up after the other kids have gone to bed and we read what he affectionately calls “the white book”. It is a long book, but the chapters are short. And those conversations have slowly brought him from a place of skepticism to a place where he is starting to savor the deep, rich truths about the God of the Bible.

Meet your kids where they are. Maybe they are struggling with fear, or jealousy, or selfishness, or people-pleasing in order to win God’s favor. Be intentional about taking them aside to work on these things.

* * * * *

Family devotions is not rocket science. It’s not about having a clear strategy and a meticulous plan. It’s simply a matter of faithfulness and glad obedience. The time God will give you each day will vary, as will the kids’ readiness to participate. But like anything, we need to ask for the grace to help us make the most of the time we have with the little souls to whom we have been entrusted.

May we raise the chins of our little ones to see that glorious glow of the Celestial City, and be enthralled with the King who is seated there. And may God be pleased to awaken their hearts to the obedience of faith through our feeble, yet faithful leadership in family devotions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

“Kind and Merciful God, We Have Sinned”

'Music (232/365)' photo (c) 2011, tim geers - license:
Today’s contemporary worship music in America skews heavily toward the sappy and the celebratory.

Indeed, in Christ there is much to celebrate. But when I enter into a time of corporate worship, I am often distant, preoccupied, anxious and even guilty.

I bring burdens into the moment, as well as sins with which I have not properly dealt. These all work together to confound my clarity. They barricade me from fixing my eyes on heavenly things, where Christ is seated. In these moments, I don’t need sentimental, celebratory sap. I need gospel help.

Far too often, churches engineer their corporate worship services to sound like one big climax, with no escalation or movement. Bands blast songs right out of the gate with driving drumbeats and repetitive chants of praise. They call people to sing with total abandon from the first measure, as if the baggage doesn't matter, or even exist.

I need time to deal with my sometimes wandering, contrite condition going in. Like adjusting my body to the temperature of the air or water, I need to adjust my heart orientation with honest meditations that give me time to deal directly with the things that are hindering me from having a right spirit. If I dive in with both feet before my heart is right, I lie. It's that simple.

I have found the Trinity Hymnal to be tremendously helpful for this. If you flip through it, you’ll notice that hymn after hymn has been written with this honest contrition and brokenness in view. And what’s even better, these songs are not content to keep me in this state. They take me by the hand and lead me through them, so I end up in a better place than where I started.

The song Kind and Merciful God, We Have Sinned does this so well. From “living in the shade I have made” to “lifting up my head”, this hymn meets me in my sin and does not let me stand still. It transports me from one place to another by calling to my mind the one thing that can change me—Christ’s death on the cross.

Oh how we need this more pronounced sense of movement in our worship.

Kind and merciful God, we have sinned in Your sight,
We have all wandered far from Your way;
We have followed desire, we have failed to aspire
To the virtue we ought to display.

Kind and merciful God, we’ve neglected Your Word
And the truth that would guide us aright;
We have lived in the shade of the dark we have made,
When you willed us to walk in the light.

Kind and merciful God, we have broken Your laws
And in conduct have veered from the norm;
We have dreamed of the good, but the good that we could
We have frequently failed to perform.

Kind and merciful God in Christ's death on the cross
You provided a cleansing from sin;
Speak the words that forgive that hence-forth we may live
By the might of your Spirit within.

Kind and merciful God, bid us lift up our heads
And command us to rise from our knees;
May our hearts now be changed and no longer estranged,
Through the power of Your pardon and peace.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Demystifying "Family Devotions" - Part 3

This was originally a 2-part series, then a 3-part series (read Part 1 and Part 2), but for the sake of space, I’m splitting these five final tips on leading your family in daily devotions into two more posts.

But before I proceed, I wanted to share a little bit of my personal story from boyhood, during a time when I was on the receiving end of the family devotions my parents faithfully led.

One of my earliest memories is hearing my dad lumber up the steep, squeaky stairs in our 100-year-old farmhouse at bedtime. Nearly every night, he would come up to read my brother, my two sisters and I a Bible story, mostly from the book The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes in those earliest years. After reading, he would always have us pray. Then he would pray and lovingly tuck us in bed. His prayers were soft, reverent and God-centered, and still are to this day.

Though today it would not be my first choice in Bible storybooks (more about that later), I will always have its beautiful color illustrations emblazoned in my mind.

To this day, when I hear or read the story of the birth of Moses, I see the mesmerizingly rich illustration that accompanied that story, which is also on the cover of the book. The daughter of Pharaoh is wearing beautiful white linen and a white headband with a beautiful pink flower in it, bending over to lift the large basket out of the river rushes, while one of her handmaidens help. All of the paintings in the book are similarly beautiful and photorealistic, with fine detail in each scene that brings the stories to life in my mind’s eye to this day.

Occasionally, Mom would lead us when Dad was working late. For Mom, nothing was too small a thing for which to thank God. We didn’t have much, and she would earnestly thank God for what little we had. Mom’s prayers taught me that it’s impossible to be too thankful, and that every good and perfect gift comes from above.

So without further ado, two more from the list.

Integrate Scripture memory. Admittedly for us, Scripture memorization has not been consistent. But the times we have done it have been incredibly fruitful. Kids have staggering memorization skills. From the time they are able to talk, they will memorize verses with impeccable accuracy and recall. Take advantage of their season of sharpness as children to let the Word of Christ take up residence and dwell richly in their young hearts and minds.

It's important to be sensitive to when kids are starting to get frustrated about their progress. Let them go at their own pace. Make it fun. Help them break verses down into manageable chunks, and give them tips for how to remember a verse.

When I was a boy, my mom was teaching me Psalm 139:7, which says, "Where shall I go from your spirit, or where shall I flee from your presence?" We lived off of Route 139, which had a grocery store called the 139 Market. Mom helped me remember the reference by saying, "We go to the 139 market at 7. And in Psalm 139:7, David is saying, 'where shall I go from your spirit'." Needless to say, it was that simple relationship that helped me remember that verse—and its reference—permanently.

Here is a clip of our then-two-year-old daughter reciting one of the verses we worked on during family devotions.

Choose your children’s Bible storybooks carefully. The children’s Bible storybook market is a bit overwhelming, as is the spectrum of homiletical approaches you will find out there.

Earlier, I mentioned that The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes wouldn't be my first choice in Bible storybooks today. That’s because it really “siloed” the individual stories into isolated, unrelated “snapshots” from the Bible that had no obvious connection to each other, or to the whole. Each story was like a small porthole into which we'd peer, with little to no broader context about what led up to the story, or what flowed out of it.

Many great children’s Bible storybooks have come on the scene in recent years that have broken away from this pattern of presenting the Bible as a series of unrelated episodes. Many of them today teach Scripture in the way it was intended: as one progressively unfolding Story, where each story within the Story is intricately woven into the fabric of the larger message about God’s redeeming a people for Himself—which, of course, culminates in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.

Just a few of these great books are The Big Picture Story Bible, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, and Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book. Even the titles of these books hint at the approach I describe above. Each of these views the Bible as one Story about Jesus Christ that is foretold in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New Testament.

I realize that these books are just a few of the real good ones out there, and we're always on the lookout for more. What devotional books have you found helpful for leading your family? Please share them with all of us in the comments!