Sunday, September 18, 2016

God Loves Children

It was just about this time of year 22 years ago.  We had just moved to Bedford to start what would eventually become Cornerstone and I had to fly to Colorado to attend what was called “Church Planters Boot Camp”, an intensive week long training session that included men and women from around North America.

And part of the process was each church planter was assigned a coach who would work with them through the week and would provide additional coaching as needed.  My coach was a man named Jim Griffith, who had two things going for him, he had planted 5 churches up to that point and more importantly he looked like Tim Taylor who was riding high with “Home Improvement” at the time.

Because of my experience with Jim as a coach we had the opportunity to bring him to the district a few of years later to talk to church planters and re-planters.  I remember that because it happened during the Ice Storm of 1998 and it was a crazy drive to the conference and because of two things that Jim told us at that conference.  

The first thing Jim told us was “There are three ways to measure a person’s commitment to the vision, money, money and money.”  As a matter of fact, Jim said that when someone told you how committed they were to what you were trying to accomplish you had to quote the phrase from the movie Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money”. 

Not everybody will agree with that.

The second thing he taught us has proved invaluable through the years, he said “The person who will decide to come to your church the first time will be the wife, those who will decide to come back will be the children.”

Now I know that is a generalization and that all generalizations are wrong but bear with me.

He went on to say that if we were asked to meet with a family that we should go as a couple.  He said that the two guys could talk about anything, sports, hunting it really didn’t matter.  But the women would talk about the new church.

And we would do that, I would talk to the husband and Angela would talk to the wife and it would work.  I can imagine the conversation after words, she would say “Well, honey what did you think?”  and he would say “He’s an idiot, doesn’t know anything about sports or hunting and he’s a Habs fan.”  And she’d say “Angela told me what their church is like and it sounds amazing, I think we should go this Sunday.”  And they would.

And the second part of the equation was equally true.  We have discovered that life is too short to fight with kids about whether or not they wanted to go to church.

When you and I were growing up, kids were expected to be seen and not heard, to a certain degree.  We certainly didn’t have an opinion on things like where we would go to church.
But life has changed and the reality is that children often make those choices, or at least have a voice in the decision making process.

 And we have embraced Jim’s advice. 

From the beginning Cornerstone has tried to offer a top notch kids program, and it has cost us time and it has cost us money and it has meant that we have to constantly recruit the very best volunteer base that we can.  That was true when we had to find eight out of the sixty who called Cornerstone their church home and it is equally true today when we have to find eighty out of the four hundred who call Cornerstone their church home.

And so for the first twelve years of our existence Angela headed up our children’s ministry, you seeing a theme here? She also played piano and led worship and led our women’s ministry for the majority of those years.  A well trained monkey could have done my job, but without Angela there would have been no Cornerstone. 

For the past 8 years Marilyn has led the children’s ministry team.  And our children’s ministry is still a major priority at Cornerstone, in time, effort, money and volunteer commitment.

And the passage that was read this morning explains it even more than Jim Griffith’s words do.

We are in the closing chapter of the story of Jesus’s ministry.  He is making his last journey to Jerusalem.  A journey that will ultimately end with him nailed to a cross. 

And as he makes his way to Jerusalem he continues to teach and impact the lives of the those around him.  And we pick up the story in Mark 10:13  One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering him.

We’ve all seen the paintings and pictures and there are a couple of problems with those.  The first is where did the Swedish kids come from?  Seriously.  The second problem with the picture is the age of the kids, you see the word that all three of the gospel accounts used for children actually refers to infants.

So this was kind of the equivalent of having your baby dedicated. And we don’t know why these parents wanted Jesus to bless their children.  Perhaps they had witnessed some of Jesus’ miracles.  Maybe they had seen Jesus heal the sick and figured that an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure.  Kind of like having your children vaccinated. 

Or maybe they truly saw Jesus as God’s son and were looking for a spiritual touch from him, or maybe they were dedicating their children to him.

Or maybe they just wanted their children to be touched by someone famous.  The reason people let politicians kiss their babies.  

We don’t know the reasons, but we know that the disciples weren’t having anything to do with it and the bible tells us they scolded the parents for bothering Jesus. 

And I know the guys get a lot of grief over this, but let’s cut them some slack.  Everyone is a little tense heading to Jerusalem.  Jesus knows that the end is close and while the 12 may not have known the details they knew that something big was up.

And with the pressure of time they probably saw this as one more interruption that they didn’t need. 

I would suspect that if the parents had of been bringing sick kids to Jesus there wouldn’t have been a problem. Sometimes we are quick to elevate the physical needs of our children above the spiritual needs.  I have more people ask me to pray for their kids’ physical needs then I have people ask me to pray for their kids’ spiritual needs.  Just saying.    

Let’s keep reading in the story.  Mark 10:14  When Jesus saw what was happening, he was angry with his disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

It’s not often that we see Jesus getting angry, other translations say that he was greatly displeased or indignant but you get the picture, he wasn’t a happy camper.  And he told the disciple to do two things here.  1) to let the children come and 2) to not to do anything to stop them.  

So what do we learn from the story?  Why do we need to go out of our way to insure that the children will come to Jesus?

The first thing is we need to realize that It is Important for our Children and the Children of Others 

As Christian parents we have the primary responsibly for introducing our kids to Jesus.  It’s not Deborah’s job in the nursery, or Marilyn’s Job in Cornerstone Kids, or Stefan’s job in Consumed.  It’s your job. 

And maybe you think that it’s best to allow them to make that decision without you, or to wait until they are older. 

Seriously?  We don’t let our kids decide if they will go to the dentist, or when they will go to school or to the Doctor.

It was Frank Sonnenberg who wrote “If you don't pass your values on to your kids, someone else will.”

And Lenin said Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.”

You have the primary responsibility to introduce your children to God, but we want to be here to help and to help with the journey.  And we need your help, not just with your children but with the children of others.

It’s easy to be passionate about what our kids are being taught but our responsibility has to go beyond just our kids.

Sometimes we have parents who will be willing to serve in Nursery, Children’s Church, Junior Church, Ignite or Consumed, that’s our youth ministry, as long as their children are part of the program.  But it can’t just be about your kids, there are other children as well who need to hear the story.  Other kids who need to come to Jesus.

And it takes special people to reach them.   You understand that not everybody at Cornerstone can teach children.  There is a process, and that is why we don’t advertise that we need volunteers.  Because we aren’t looking for warm bodies we are looking for ministry partners.

Before someone is asked to teach we discuss your possibility as a staff, then a personal invitation is extended, there is an interview, there are references to be checked and training that has to happen.  Police forms are filled out and checked.  Why? Because this is important.

We were in a church on vacation once and part way through the service the pastor announced that so and so was going to take the children out to children’s church.  A half a dozen kids got up to go out but so and so wasn’t there.  And so the pastor says “Is there anyone who can take the children out?” 

And nobody responded.  Now we knew the pastor so Angela volunteered and the children were sent off with a lady who had been in that church six times in her life.   That will never happen under my watch at Cornerstone.

But the question is still; why is it so important?  Because Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

It’s Important for the Church’s Future

The church is always one generation away from extinction.  We attend churches while we are on vacation.  And more times than not they are small churches, because I remember pastoring a small church and how encouraging it was to have visitors. 

Just as an aside, do you visit churches while you are on vacation?  Or do you take a vacation from God as well?    Seriously there are all kinds of churches out there and most of the people who go to them don’t bite.  Or at least don’t bite strangers. 

There is a message about the importance or lack of importance of corporate worship that you are teaching your children.  That was an aside.

But all of those small churches were lacking one thing, children.  Oh there might have been one or two but primarily they were churches full of old people, and we’ve been back to visit some of those churches only to discover them closed.

And they weren’t always like that, if you look around the churches, which I sometimes do, you’ll see classrooms and toys and posters that remind you of a different time.  But that was then, and they didn’t reach out to families with children and what holds true for local churches holds true for denominations and for the church as a whole.

Our city is full of empty churches that were once full of families and children. 

If we don’t reach the next generation, there will be no future for the church.  Throughout the book of Acts in the record of the early church it talks about whole households coming to faith.  And in Paul’s letters he addresses both parents and children.

Why was reaching children important to the early church?  Because they understood that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

But It’s not just the future of the church,

It’s Important for Our Children’s Future 

If we believe what we say we believe about there being a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned then reaching children should have an eternal importance.

We are not just teaching your kids bible stories and morals; we are leading them toward a relationship with Jesus.  Why because we think it important that they go to heaven and not go to hell. And it should be important to you as well.

When you see the teens who are baptized at Cornerstone, they are often teens who have been brought up at Cornerstone, brought up being taught and led toward that relationship.

Jesus said in John 14:6  Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

I understand that Church isn’t the only thing in your family’s life, and I understand that church activities aren’t the only activities that you have your kids involved in. 

But listen carefully, their eternity won’t be determined by how high they can jump in basketball, how fast they can skate in hockey, how many flips they can do in cheer or how goods their marks are in school.  Their eternity will be determined by whether or not they know Jesus.  And while you can’t make that decision for them you can do everything in your power to make sure they have every opportunity to make that decision for themselves. 

Remember what the bible tells us in Proverbs 22:6  Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

They will need to make their own decision, but we are responsible for directing them unto the right path to start with.  Why?  Because Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

But it’s not just because for the church’s future or the future of our children.  L
Psalm 112:1-2  Praise the LORD! How joyful are those who fear the LORD and delight in obeying his commands.  Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.

It’s Important for our Children’s Children’s Future    You understand that the values that we pass on to our children, they will pass on to their children.

The Prophet Hosea was speaking of how the people of Israel had rejected God and the consequences of that decision for the next generations when he wrote Hosea 8:7  “They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind.”

We are reaping the seeds that were sown a generation ago.  For two thousand years church was a priority in the lives of Christian families.  It was what they did on Sunday.  They worshipped together as a family.

Earlier I spoke about those churches in the city and around our country that used to be full, many of them were built for the children of the baby boom, but at some point church became less and less important for the boomers and because of that it became even less important for gen x and y and the millennials. 

In a moment of introspection, what values are you passing on to your kids about the value of church attendance?

Has church become the thing you do with your family when there is nothing else to do?  There are no games, no practice, no chores, no family visits, no camping?

And maybe you are thinking, “but Denn, if church takes priority over sports and other activities it will teach my kids to resent the church.”

Really?  What will it teach your kids when sports and other activities take a priority over church?

We have parents at Cornerstone who take their kids to cheer or hockey or soccer on Sunday and still get them to church, they might be wearing their uniforms and might be a little sweaty, but that’s ok, they’re here. And kudos to those parents.
It was Aristotle who wrote,  “Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you the man.”

And it’s because we hold the future of our grand-kids in our hands that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

If I was to ask you “Who was responsible for more people coming to Christ, Billy Graham or Edward Kimball?”  What would your answer be? 

Most of us are very familiar with Billy Graham and have never heard the name of Edward Kimball, so it seems the answer would be an easy one.  Edward Kimball was a Sunday School teacher and one of his students who he introduced to Jesus was a boy named Dwight L.  Moody. 

Yes, that Dwight L. Moody, the man who went on to become one of the most influential evangelists of the 1800’s.  And one of Moody’s converts was a man named Wilbur Chapman, who would also go on to become a preacher. 

In the late 1800s a professional ball player by the name of Billy Sunday committed his life to Christ, Sunday would eventually leave Baseball and become an assistant to Wilbur Chapman, who mentored the former baseball player and through that process Sunday became the Billy Graham of his day, or more correctly Billy Graham became the Billy Sunday of his day. 

At one of the meetings where Billy Sunday was preaching a man named Mordecai Ham turned his life over to Christ. 

You kind of see the pattern here right?   Yep, Ham also became an evangelist and it was during one of his meetings in Charlotte North Carolina that a young man named Billy Graham committed his life to Christ. 

Yep that Billy Graham, the man who is reported to have preached to more people than anyone in history including the Apostle Paul.

So, I’ll ask you again, “Who was responsible for more people coming to Christ, Billy Graham or Edward Kimball?”  The evangelist or the Sunday School Teacher?

And it is because of that that Jesus said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

And maybe you are sitting there thinking “Denn, you are making us feel guilty.” 

Perfect, I love it when a plan comes together.  I don’t often play the guilt card, but this is of eternal consequence. 

Ed Stetzer, is a Baptist preacher with two master degrees and two earned doctorates, he has planted numerous churches, lectured around the world, I’ve heard him in Orlando and Sussex, and written 15 books on church health and church planting and is the executive director of Lifeway Research. And after years of research and study Stetzer has come to the conclusion that  “Too many churches love their traditions more than their children.” 

And so the question is: What do we love more than the children of Cornerstone?

And when you are thinking of your answer remember the words of Jesus who said  “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them!”

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