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The Most Neglected Verse in Child Rearing

Now that I have your attention I want to let you in on a secret.  This blog could have also been entitled “The Most Neglected Verse in Marriages,” or “The Most Neglected Verse in Church Disputes.”  The reality is, II Timothy 3:16 has a wide array of application points.  However, I do believe that it can truly help parents when it comes to raising children if applied properly.  Paul wrote these words to his son in the faith, Timothy:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness . . .”

In context, Paul is telling Timothy to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed,” namely, to continue in the Scriptures.  I firmly believe that if we take the four profitable truths that Paul lists here regarding the Scriptures, and apply them to how we raise our children, we may just find our parenting to be more joyful and effective.  While it is true that the Scriptures tell us “whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24), there is more to discipline than using the rod of correction.  Here we find two negative areas of discipline and two positive areas.  All four are needed in a proper balance.    

Teaching as Discipline

            To teach means to provide correct information to someone in such a way that they understand the truth.  Specifically here it is the teaching of the Word of God.  We must be committed to teaching our children the Word of God and then applying it when discipline is necessary.  For instance, when your child decides to have an outburst of anger, as parents we could allow it, then just go on about our day.  We could allow them to do it then get angry back at them.  Or, we could use it as an opportunity to teach them.  Teaching your children is really more so something that you do before they act.  Teach them the gospel.  Teach the Proverbs so that when they get angry you might be able to say, “Dear, do you remember the Proverb that we have been learning, “A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back” (Proverbs 29:11)?  If you are not teaching them the things of God daily, they have no chance really to be fully trained in righteousness, do they?  This is a form of pre-discipline.  We teach so that they can learn how to act when presented with a situation in life.  We teach them so that they can glorify God with their lives (I Corinthians 10:31).

Reproof as Discipline

            To reprove means to rebuke false teaching and admonish those who believe them.  This is the negative side of teaching.  Let me give you an example.  When your 8-year-old son throws his toy car at his 11-year-old brother who was picking at him, how should we react as parents?  Should we simply say, “Son, you should not have done that . . . now apologize to your brother?”  Reproof would look more like this.  “Son, your brother should not have been picking at you.  We will deal with that later.  Nevertheless, the Scripture says ‘don’t return evil with evil, instead return evil with good.’  That isn’t what you did is it son?  Instead of throwing your car at your brother, what should you have done?”  This is what reproof looks like.  After you reprove you can then discipline them with a proper punishment if needed.  However, you have done more than get on them.  You have reproved them.  You have brought the scriptures to bear on this offense.  You have rebuked the false teaching of “pay back.”  Your son was not seeking reconciliation but retribution by throwing the car at his sibling.  Thus, you correct the false teaching and admonish your son for seeking retribution while at the same time allowing him the opportunity to confess and repent.

            There is more to discipline than reproof.  We should also seek to correct our child.  I have heard it said this way, “No doubt we are to help a child if they have fallen, but we must also seek to stand them back up.”  This is what correction does.  

Correction as Discipline  

            Standing that child back up after he has fallen is what it means to correct them.  Correction is the restoration of something or someone back to its appropriate state.  In the previous example, it would be best understood that correction would be pointing the 8-year-old back to obedient godly living.  It might look something like this: “Son, instead of throwing your car at your brother, what should you have done?  If you cannot handle the situation with proper words, or if you cannot allow love to cover your brother’s picking at you, you need to come and find your mom or dad to help sort it out, right?”  There is a better way to discipline your child than to just get upset with them or spank them automatically.  We need to also correct them in love.  Our children are wholly human.  They need loving correction, not just a sharp rebuke. If this car tossing and anger continues as a selfish rebellious pattern, punishment will be necessary.  But they also need correction.

Training as Discipline

            Training is one of the positive sides of discipline.  “Training in righteousness” describes training that points to what is right or what is in accord with godliness.  A wise father once provided an example of what this looks like.  He reminisced about his young son, 4 to 5-years- old at the time, running in the house and slamming the door.  The father responded by saying, “Son, come here.”  The son replied, “Yes, dad?”  “Don’t slam the door,” the father responded.  The young son with a smile said, “Okay, dad.”  5 minutes went by and the son came rushing through the door again . . . and SLAM.   With patience the father could see that this was not a rebellious act, but instead simply one of a forgetful child.  He was excited about being outside and doing boy things.  The father knew that the most effective thing he could do was to train his son, not spank him for his forgetfulness.  The father looked at his son and said, “Son, stop.  Do you remember what I said about the door?”  The son said, “Oh yes, dad.”  “Okay, I want you to open the door, and now shut it quietly.  Open it again.  Shut it.  Open it one more time, and now shut it.  This is how you enter and exit a room, son.  Do you understand?”  The son shook his head in affirmation and went back outside to play.  Ten minutes later he ran back inside and slammed the door again.  But this time the young boy looked at dad and said, “Oh, man!  Dad, I am sorry.”  To which the father said again with a smile, “Do it 3 more times, son.”  You see, there is a place for corporal punishment.  No doubt there is.  However, not every offense needs it.  Often your children simply need the patient and loving training from their mom and dad.  When parents teach, reprove, and correct with love, the training part may take time but it comes easier. 

            The author of Hebrews writes, “For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).  The Word of God is sufficient for all things, even our child rearing.  To raise and discipline our children according to this often neglected verse takes time, patience, self-denial, and perseverance.  The next time your little Gideon wants to slam a door or throw his car at his brother, think about the words the Apostle wrote in II Timothy and ask yourself which of the four discipline tactics would be most helpful in that situation.  So, teach, reprove, correct, and train your children according to God’s Word.  It is the tried and true way to honor the Lord while rearing your children. 

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

No, Your Teen Doesn’t “Need” a Smartphone

I know what you are thinking after reading the title.  Maybe you have a teen or pre-teen and you are trying to decide whether or not to get them a phone.  You may be thinking, “Yes, I know they might end up spending too much time on their phone, but I will feel safer knowing that they have one.  I’ll be able to check on them whenever I want to see exactly where they are.  I’ll be able to call them any time I need them and they’ll be able to get a hold of me any time that they need.”  When the subject comes up with your kid all you hear is, “Mom/Dad all of my friends have one.  How am I supposed to keep up with what is going on if I don’t have one? This is just how things are living in our world today, you know?  If I don’t have one then I am going to be made fun of.  I will be the only one of my friends without one.”  I know it can be hard to say “no.”  You can rationalize the good in your mind.  But, I want you to strongly consider saying, “no” to that Smartphone request.   If you say, “no,” know that you will be in the minority.  However, I truly believe that you and your family will be far happier and safer if your teen doesn’t have one in their hands.  I believe that it is most wise to say no to the Smartphone until after High School.  Let me provide a few reasons as to why.

The Addiction Factor:

Let’s face it, Smartphones are addictive.  Most anyone can see it, and recent statistics confirm it.  We also know that many teenagers already deal with compulsive behavior.  Putting addiction and compulsion together is a receipt for disaster.  This is not just a teenager issue.  The reality is many adults, who didn’t grow up in the digital age, have a near addiction to their Smartphones.  If adults have a hard time finding the balance with Smartphones, teens who are still trying to learn these skills have little chance of overcoming it on their own.   According to a recent article by Harvard University, when a person gets a social media notification, their brain sends a shot of dopamine to the brain causing a euphoric experience.  Dopamine is most often associated with food, exercise, romance, sex, gambling, drugs, and now that little black pixelized box in the hands of hundreds of millions of people. When many of our teens struggle enough with compulsive behavior does it seem wise to give them something that is going to tempt them toward that end even more?  Paul, in I Corinthians 9:27 writes, “but I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  In this day and age it takes discipline to control our phone habits; discipline that many teens lack the desire or self-government to do.  If we want to help our teens hone in on discipline and self-control then putting a smart phone in their hand will likely contradict this.           

The Pornography Factor:

When many of us were teens pornography was hard to come by (praise the Lord).  But that is not true in today’s world.  27% of all unfiltered internet is pornographic.  In 2020 a study was done that showed some 51% of all 11-12 year-olds polled were aware of and had access to pornography, 13-14 year-olds . . . . 66%, 15-16 year-olds . . . an astonishing 79% .  It is available on almost every social media platform.  The accessibility to pornography is near unfettered.  If a teen has a Smartphone, internet access, and a desire to see pornography, they can find it in a matter of seconds.  Pornography can rob your soul (Matthew 16:26).  It can cost personal relationships (Ephesians 5:3).  It can cost a person sexual joy with their future spouse (Song of Solomon 8:4).  Paul says that we are to “Flee sexual immorality”(I Corinthians 6:18).  A loving father or mother would not give their child a pornographic magazine nor a XXX movie for their birthday.  However, you are inviting these things into your home and the mind of a pubescent curious teen by giving them a Smartphone.  You may not be able to keep your son or daughter from having lustful thoughts, but you can keep the digital temptation and call of the Siren out of their hands.              

The Time-Sink Factor:

According to Common Sense Media, 53% of American children own a Smartphone by age 11.  The average teen in the U.S. spends some 7 hours a day on their Smartphone (outside of school and any extracurricular activities.)  This is a lot of screen time. Just like adults, teens can easily get sucked into the blue faced vortex of their Smartphone as they mindlessly scroll through social media.  The Apostle Paul commanded the church in Ephesus to redeem the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16).  There is a place for leisure.  There is a place for playing games, reading articles, and catching up with friends.  But, we all know the allure of that digital mistress.  Teens have so many wonderful things that they could be doing with their free time that could be productive.  Time is a gift from God for teens.  They will never again have as much free time as they do now.  This is precious time that they will never get back.  Smartphones can be the source of a massive waste of time if not checked.  Time is a gift.  Help your teens to be good stewards of it.      

The Safety Factor:

Many parents may think that there is more danger outside of the home than in the digital world.  But recent statics have shown that violent crime has significantly dropped over the past 30 years.   One of the most dangerous places for teens to be today is actually online. Cyberbullying is no joke.  It is reported that between 50-60 percent of teens who are on social media have been cyberbullied.  Since the invention of the Smartphone 10 years ago teen suicide rates have quadrupled.  Diagnosed anxiety has more than doubled since the invention of the Smartphone.  These are some alarming statistics, both of which are closely tied to Smartphone usage. 

Yet, bullying is not the only danger.  There is story after story about predatory behavior as well.  It can come in the form of sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse through apps and other online sources.  This can happen without the other person ever being in the same room.  Sadly, some of these encounters have eventually led to real physical abuse.

Now this isn’t limited to Smartphone users.  This can happen through any device that hooks up to the internet.  But know this: if your child’s Smartphone connects to the internet the safety factor increases exponentially.  Jesus told his disciples, “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  As parents we must heed these words from Christ when considering the safety of our teen or pre-teen.  You must ask yourself, “Am I being as wise as a serpent when considering this phone?”  Because, I promise, smartphones are not nearly as innocent as they may seem.   

Applying Wisdom

What I have laid out here, I believe, it to be based on biblical wisdom.  I am aware that a Smartphone itself is not sinful.  However, we must ask if it is wise and best for our teenage sons and daughters? I know there are circumstances where a Smartphone may be necessary for your teen (to monitor their health for example).  I know in this day and age it will likely put your teen on the outside looking in with their friends.  But remember this: you are their parent.  You get to decide what is best for them, not their peers.  Not society.  Don’t give in to your son or daughter’s tears or youthful persuasion.   You are going to stand before God to answer for how you shepherded your home.  Fathers, you particularly will be judged on how you protected your family as the head of your home in this matter.  So, I ask you to sincerely consider what has been written here before busting out your credit card for another monthly payment on that $800 iPhone for your 13-year-old.  However, if you have prayed through it and you still believe that your teen “needs” a phone, let me provide a couple of safe(ish) options for you. 

The Gabb Z2 phone: 

It looks like a Smartphone, but without the worries.  It has no social media, no web browsing, no games, and no app store.  It cannot hook up to the internet at all.  So, no worries.  What you do get with it is 14 essential apps: music, phone, messaging, contacts, camera, video, gallery, calendar, calculator, clock, voice recorder, FM radio, file manager and settings.  It also has a built in GPS.  If you are looking for a smart phone that isn’t so smart, this one might fit the bill (It is only $100).

The dumb phone: 

That’s right, a simple flip phone that we all had back in the day that takes horrible pictures and can only text and call.  If your teen needs a phone, the old trusty flip phone may be the best choice.

No phone at all:

I think it is wise to have an extra cell phone or two for your family.  When your children are old enough to drive it seems wise that they would have a phone with them in case it is needed while driving.  However, I know many families who just have a “family cell phone” that they grab while going out the door.  It isn’t any one person’s phone.  It is just for the purpose of having access to the phone when it is needed.  It is not constantly on a person but is picked up when walking out the door.   

Concluding Thoughts          

My final admonition as I close would be to take 90 minutes to sit down with your spouse  and watch the film Social Media Dangers Documentary — Childhood 2.0.  I am convinced that it will open your eyes to a world that you may have never knew existed, but it is one that your teen or soon-to-be teen will live in (for better or worse) when it comes to Smartphones and social media.  May the Lord guide you in this area with his rich biblical wisdom.  And for the sake of your children and future grandchildren remember this little proverb: when it comes to a phone for your teen, the dumber it is, the wiser and better off your kid will be.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

Act Like Men: What boys need to know to become mature godly men

I have three energetic but wonderful sons, and for the past several years I have sought to find some sort of boyhood to manhood scope and sequence list that could help me and other fathers know what to be striving for (spiritually, developmentally, and practically) in raising our sons.  I have asked many older and wiser fathers who have raised godly young men if they knew of anything like this, but no one knew of any such list. So, after much time, conversations, and research I have compiled a list that I hope will be helpful for my sons and yours.  But, why make a list?  Why have such goals?

I believe we live in a time of perpetual adolescence.  A time when many fathers are not training their sons up in the Lord, but also are simply not training their sons up at all except to enjoy their entertainment or sport of choice.  In I Corinthians 16:13 Paul writes, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.”  We also read in Luke, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52).  Notice it says that Jesus grew in respect with men, even as a preteen boy.  Yet, He also grew up in respect to God the Father. When I look to the scriptures I see a call to fathers to raise their children up . . . to train them.  Why?  So that they can live a godly life (1 Thessalonians 4:11) before God and man to the glory of God the Father. I want to know how best to do this. The heart behind this list is to have something for fathers to strive for in their training, but also to have something those young men can set as a goal and put sweat into to achieve.

I wrote this list with my children in mind.  Thus, it is very contextual.  This list is not universal.  If you are reading this and you live in Miami, Florida, the whole “driving in the snow” will likely not be a need for your son.  In your context you might want to think, “When should my son know how to prepare a house for a hurricane?”  This list doesn’t have to be your list.  However, my hope is that maybe you will take this list and make it your own.  Use what is useful and helpful and toss the things that are not useful for your context.  My encouragement would be for you to think through the list and see what you would want to add to it, and then add to it and start the process with your sons.  Your desired age may look different than this one, but let me persuade you to not set the bar low.  Remember the words of the great missionary, William Carey, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  If you want your sons to attempt great things for God, you have to put them on that trajectory to do it now—when they are young.  So, make a list; check it twice.  Act like men and teach your boys to do the same.    

What to know?Age?
1Memorize and understand the 4 part biblical metanarrative 6
2Ride a bike without training wheels 6
3Know their parent’s phone number 6
4Know their home address 6
5Swim without help 7
6Do a proper push-up 7
7Know the books of the Bible in order 7
8Know how to read an analog clock 7
9Prepare their own fishing rod 8
10Own their first knife 8
11Memorize and understand the 7 “C’s” of history 8
12Talk to an adult by looking them in their eyes 8
13Have the 10 Commandments memorized 9
14Have a thorough understanding of the basics of the gospel 9
15Know how to sharpen a knife 9
16Throw a football properly 9
17Have the Romans Road memorized 10
18Shoot a gun 10
19Know gun safety 10
20Be able to read a map 10
21Do their own laundry 10
22Cook a simple meal 10
23Have a proper understanding of  the fear of God in all things 11
24Tie a proper knot 11
25Start a fire 11
26Read a 200 plus page book 11
27Have a “purity” weekend retreat with his father 12
28Mow the lawn 12
29Tie a tie 12
30Understand basic self-defense 12
31Have read “Pilgrim’s Progress” 12
32Read and use a tap measure 12
33Have a proper firm handshake 12
34Shoot a basketball properly 12
35Have a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood 13
36Start a first job 13
37Split firewood 13
38Proper handwriting 13
39Read the Bible through 14
40Brew a pot of coffee 14
41Know how to pray—biblically 14
42Change a tire 15
43Check the oil in a vehicle 15
44Drive a car 15
45Fix a leak 15
46Have a chapter in the Bible memorized 15
47Jumpstart a car 15
48Perform basic car maintenance 15
49Write a proper letter 15
50Have 10 hymns of the faith memorized 16
51Know how to shave 16
52Know how to drive in the snow safely 16
53Use a chainsaw safely 16
54Understand how to manage a budget (biblical economics) 16
55Have their own bank account 16
56Have some basic carpentry skills 16
57Play an instrument 16
58Have an overarching redemptive understanding of the Bible 17
59Negotiate a deal or barter 17
60Have some basic home electrical skills 17
61Drive a manual transmission vehicle 17
62Back up a trailer on a hitch 17
63Type 45 WPM 17
64Proficient using a computer 17
65Fell a tree 17
66Have critical thinking/situational awareness skills 17
67Have a basic understanding of biblical apologetics 18
68Grill meat properly 18
69Have $1,000 in a savings account 18
70Iron their clothes 18
71Know how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver 18
72Know how to perform CPR 18
73Have a library of at least 25 theological books 18
74Know how to properly pursue a young lady 18

What should happen on Sunday? The 8 “E’s” of the Lord’s Day.

The Lord’s Day is special.  It is the only day of the week where most of us get a break from the normal rhythms of our life.  It is also a day when we get a small foretaste of eternity.  Richard Baxter provides a great reminder of this when he said, “What fitter day to ascend to heaven, than that on which He arose from earth, and fully triumphed over death and hell. Use your Sabbaths as steps to glory, till you have passed them all, and are there arrived.”  What a blessing that Sunday, the Lord’s Day, is. 

            When I think about what should take place on a typical Lord’s Day I find myself coming up with at least 8 things that should be present each week.    

Exalting  

            The Lord’s Day is the Lord’s day.  It is about celebrating the resurrection of our Lord.  It is about worshiping Him and Him alone.  This is how the day should begin and end.  It is an entire day that is set aside for this primary purpose; exalting the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  We must do it with our words, our actions, and our attitudes.  If you are not doing this primarily then you are not truly taking this day seriously.   The day must be a day of exaltation of our Lord. 

Exposition

            This word simply means “to expose.”  It means to comprehensively explain an idea.  Primarily this will be done through preaching.  Expository preaching is simple, but effective.  It simply means that you read the Word, explain the Word as it would have been understood in its original context by careful exegesis, and apply the original meaning of the Word to the listening audience of today.  Expository preaching may look and sound different according to the preacher, but this is what we should be listening to on any given Lord’s Day coming from the pulpit. It is through proper exposition that we find the bread of life and the living water that we need.        

Equipping

            Part of the pastor’s job is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4). While this can be done during a Wednesday prayer service or a Tuesday morning bible study, it should be a part of the Lord’s Day, as well.  In the hearing of prayers, it should equip us better to pray.  In the singing of songs, it should equip us for personal worship.  In the giving of offering, it should equip us to give sacrificially every day of our life.  The Lord’s Day should be a day of equipping. 

Edifying

            Edification should be part of our normal Lord’s Day as well.  To edify means to build someone up.  In the Christian life it has to do with building the character of a person.  This is typically done through teaching but it is also done by the ordinary means of grace.  It can also take place through good and godly conversation with a wiser brother or sister before or after church.  This, no doubt, can and should take place at time other than on Sunday, but the Lord’s Day provides a unique opportunity for it.  It is the one day when your closest brothers and sisters in Christ are gathered together.  It is when the things of God are at the forefront of our minds.  The Lord’s Day is a good day to be built up.  It is a good day for the work of edification. 

Exhorting

            Exhortation is what sets teaching apart from preaching.  Most often teaching is more about the transfer of information.  The preacher wants you not only to understand the information, but also has a deep desire for you to do what has been taught.  This is where exhortation comes in.  To exhort means “to urgently call the listener to respond.” A mother may exhort her son to clear his room before his father gets home.  A coach may exhort their athlete to push through with two more reps while bench-pressing, believing that those reps is what will push the team over the edge in victory.  Yet, for Christians, we should go to church with an expectation of being exhorted from the Word.  The Lord’s Day is a day for exhortation. 

Encouraging

            There should not be a more encouraging day on your calendar each week than Sunday.  When we go to church we get to meet with our spiritual family.  We get to fellowship, to serve, to worship in song on the Lord’s Day.  We get fed by the Word in Sunday school or small groups.  We get to pray for one another.  We get to feast upon the Word through preaching.  In all these ways, the Lord’s Day should be a day of great encouragement.

Evangelizing

              To evangelize literally means “to announce or declare the good news.”  This good news is that Jesus has come to set the captives free and to save all who believe in him.  He came to die for his bride, the church, by providing himself as the perfect, blameless, and righteous substitute.  He stood in their place and took the just wrath that his people deserved.  Yet, he didn’t stay dead.  He rose from the dead on the third day as our victorious and conquering King. The good news is that for all who profess Jesus as Lord and repent of their sins shall be saved.  The Lord’s Day is all about celebrating this.  It is a day where, through the proclamation of the gospel, those who have not yet bent their knee to Christ are evangelized.  Historically, it has been a day when many in the church have purposefully set aside time to evangelize their neighbors and friends. It is the one day when the evangelion (Greek for “the good news”) should be shared from the pulpit to the neighborhood park.           

Ease

            You may have heard that the Lord’s Day is supposed to be a day of rest.  This is a hold over for the seventh day Sabbath that we find rooted in creation and then codified in the law of God to Israel.  According to Hebrews 4:9-11, the Christian’s Sabbath rest is now ultimately in Christ and not the seventh day of the week.  We are not bound to the Old Covenant’s demands of Sabbath keeping as Israel was, although many of the principles still apply for the Lord’s Day.  Just as God rested on the seventh day of creation after working for six days, so man was meant for both work and rest.  Just as Israel was commanded not to work on the Sabbath but to rest and worship, man was meant to rest from his normal work and worship the Lord on it.  The Lord’s Day is the day set aside to do that for most of us (duties of necessity and mercy aside).  Sunday should not look like every other day.  This is not what the Lord intended for his people.  Matthew 12:8 teaches us that the Sabbath (and by extension, the Lord’s Day) was made for man’s benefit, not to enslave man.  It is made as a day for us to rest and worship to rejuvenate both our physical body and our spiritual soul.  Thus, the Lord’s Day, even if it is filled with morning worship, evening worship, and fellowship in between, is supposed to look different than the other six days the Lord has given us.  It is supposed to be a day of ease for the soul, even if the day tires the body at times.     

            The Lord’s Day is a gift to God’s people.  It is not to be a burden but seen as a blessing.    Remember that as you are preparing this Sunday: a gift, a blessing.  Be reminded of the 8 “E’s” of the Lord’s Day and enjoy (a 9th “E”) every second of it.  You will never regret it.      

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell 

Fathers . . . You Must be a Fighter

Fathers, you must be a fighter.

            The Lord may have given you a strong personality.  If so, you must fight to keep it in check and submit it unto the Lord.  Your strong personality needs to be a sanctified personality. The Lord may have given you a more passive or meek personality.  Praise the Lord for tenderness and meekness!  Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek.”  Nevertheless, your meekness cannot be used as an excuse to lay your fight down.  You must fight against that possible vein of passivity. 

            If you are a father or a husband you have been called to be the protector of your home, no matter your personality (I Corinthians 16:13).  The Lord has given you that personality for his glory.  May it be sanctified and may it cause you to fight. 

Ways to fight for your children . . .

Fight to protect your children’s eyes (Matthew 6:22-23)

Fight to protect your children’s mind (Romans 12:2)

Fight to protect your children’s heart (Proverbs 4:23)

Fight to protect them from pride (James 2:16)

Fight to protect them from the sin of this age (I John 2:16)

Fight to protect them from laziness (Proverbs 13:4)

Fight to protect them from a low view of church (I Timothy 3:15)

Fight to protect them from a high view of self (Proverbs 16:5)

Fight to protect them from low view of self (Genesis 1:27)

Fight to protect their entertainment choices (Philippians 4:8)

Fight to protect their love for you (Ephesians 6:1-3) 

            Fathers, you are to be the earthly protector of your home.  It is time to get off the couch and prepare to fight.  I assure you . . . the world, the flesh, and the devil are all fighting for your children.  The Lord has given you the tools to fight and win.  You’d better get in the fight.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

What Constitutes a Biblical Marriage?

As a minister of the gospel one of the joys of my job is being able have a part in so many weddings of my congregants. This weekend I get the special pleasure of officiating my very first wedding.  As I have studied and prepared for this extraordinary day the question popped into my head, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  The Bible is clear on the role distinctions in marriage.  It is clear that marriage is meant to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.  Yet, when does a marriage actually start?  What elements are involved in the beginning stages of a marriage?  What seals the marriage to say, “This is when my covenant and union began”?  The Bible is not silent on the matter, but it doesn’t speak definitively either. Thus, identifying the precise moment a man and woman are married in God’s eyes is a bit difficult. Yet, after much study and meditating I believe the answer lies, at least in principle, with three “C’s.”         

Ceremony

            While a wedding ceremony is not prescribed in the Scriptures, we most definitely see it described and illustrated in several places.  A wedding was very much a community and social event.  In Psalm 45 we find the sons of Korah explaining what a royal wedding ceremony looked like.  It was filled with festivities, beauty, gifts, and feasting.   In John 2 we find Jesus performing his first miracle at the wedding ceremony in Cana, a social event.  In John’s Revelation, chapter 19, we find the marriage supper of the Lamb.  This is the symbolic meal culminating and celebrating the marriage of Christ and the church.  In Matthew 25:1-13 we find Jesus telling the parable of the ten virgins.  In verse 10 He says, “And while they went away to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage feast . . .” Thus we find here and in all of these verses the idea of some sort of ceremony being part of a Christian wedding.  The point that I am making is that it was a common practice for there to be a celebration or a ceremony for the wedding couple.  We find this all over the Old and New Testament.  For that matter, we find it in every culture throughout history.  The ceremony seems to be part of the expectation of a marriage. The festivities that we find in Scripture would often last for days (Matthew 22) and would ultimately culminate with the vows and the giving of blessings.  Thus, for a marriage to take place it seems fitting that there would first be a ceremony.

Covenant

            Besides the ceremony, the most important aspect of the wedding festivities was and is the exchange of the vows, the promise and covenant.  When we look at the biblical record we find that God established marriage in the beginning.  He instituted it in the garden with our first parents, Adam and Eve. The first marriage was based on a covenant promise (Genesis 2:24). The act of marriage consisted of three things: leaving, cleaving, and becoming one flesh. The Genesis 2:24 commandment was repeated by Jesus in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8.  The Apostle Paul also used this covenant format in Ephesians 5.

            We find other references to the marriage covenant all over the scriptures. Yet one of the most prominent is found in Malachi 2:14.  The prophet writes, “But you say, ‘Why does he not?’ Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.’”  Here the prophet explains that a marriage covenant is not just “between you and the wife of your youth” but also with “the LORD” who was a witness of this solemn promise and vow.  While we do not have examples of the exact words that were spoken in a marriage covenant we do find certain promises that are to be made between a man and a woman in their covenant.

For the Men:

  • It is a promise to love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25)
  • It is a promise to live sacrificially for his wife (Eph. 5:25)
  • It is to lead his wife spiritually (Ephesians 5:26)
  • It is to leave his parents and cleave alone to his wife (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

For the Woman:

  • It is a promise to joyfully submit to her husband (Ephesians 5:22)
  • It is a promise to respect her husband (Ephesians 5:31)
  • It is a promise of monogamy (I Corinthians 7, Hebrews 13:4)

Therefore, for a marriage to be a marriage in the eyes of God a covenant must be part of the process. 

Consummation

            While this aspect of a Christian marriage and wedding was not public it was expected.  Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is the ultimate fulfillment of the “one flesh” principle found in Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, and Ephesians 5:31.  This act is the final seal on a marriage covenant.  Paul P. Enns remarks:   

“On the first night, when the marriage was to be consummated, the father escorted his daughter to the bridal chamber (Gen. 29:21–23; cp. Judg. 15:1). The bride’s parents retained the bloodstained bed sheet to prove their daughter’s virginity at marriage in case the husband attempted any recourse by charging that his bride was not a virgin (Deut. 22:13–21).”[i]

While consummation closes the wedding, it also marks the beginning of the marriage.  The “two becoming one” motif does start with the sexual union of the married couple but this “one flesh” union is much more than a simple act of sexual intimacy.  Notice the Matthew 19 progression: the man leaves his parents, the man joins (marries) his wife, the two individuals become one.  The last step is what consummates the marriage, but there is much more to it than this. The two are to be so knit together that they behave as one person.  While they are two separate people, this “one flesh” union makes them one, together.  Consummation marks the end of the old individual life and the start of the “one flesh” union that will continue through marriage for the couple.  Therefore, if the couple is biologically able to consummate the marriage, this should be the final seal of the wedding.   

The question may arise, “what about cultural and governmental expectations in marriage?”  Time would fail me in parsing out all of the nuances that are involved in the question.  But in short, while I believe the government has no place in the marrying business, a Christian should do all that is possible to live within the government guidelines for marriage in its land (Romans 13).  Thus, if possible, a couple should follow whatever cultural practices are required by law for them to be recognized as a legally married couple.               

For this article today, I have sought to answer the question, “What constitutes a biblical marriage?”  I believe the biblical evidence, in principle, points to these three C’s: Ceremony, Covenant, and Consummation.  If these things are present and true, then in the eyes of God I believe this constitutes a genuine marriage before the Lord.


[i] Enns, P. P. (2003). Weddings. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1664). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

“How I trained my little ones to sit still and quiet” (by Jessica Burrell)

This is a follow-up post to my previous post Help, The Church Nursery is Closed! in which I reference training your children at home to be content to sit quietly.  Once you are out in public, it is too late to ask them to behave in some new way that you have never taught them.  This post is an effort to convey how I trained my little ones in the peace and comfort of our home.  The Lord says to train up our children in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6), to train them in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4), and to teach them to have a quiet and gentle spirit, which the Scriptures say is “precious in God’s sight” (1 Pet. 3:4).  I have tried to apply these Scriptures in some practical ways at home while teaching my children to sit quietly and respectfully.

So how do you start? Start slowly.  Start with 5 minutes, maybe less.  Sit on the couch with Mommy and children together reading a book or singing a hymn, all engaged in the same activity.  The purpose is to stay in the designated place for the duration of the time.  Most children love this quality time of having Mommy’s attention to themselves, and they rarely have any trouble complying.  The next step is to tell the child that they must read (or look at) their own book while Mommy reads a book separate from the child or works on something independent from the children, while still sitting on the couch right beside them.  In the first step, the child is the central focus.  In this second phase, the child will begin to realize that the point of being on the couch is not for Mommy to cater to their wishes, but rather for them to find contentment on their own.  While you need to be instructing the child in step one, this second step is more where reinforcing and teaching the child your expectations really comes in.  Tell the child “you may not squirm around and climb down to the floor.” And “Mommy has a timer set for 5 minutes. When it beeps, we will be all done.  Then you may get down and play.”  The child may not ask “how much longer” or similar questions.  The child must learn to be content to wait patiently until the time is done and Mommy says that it is time to get down.

I should clarify that “Still and quiet” time in our home meant no talking or moving around.  You stay in your place and entertain yourself with one quiet toy or book.  If this object was used to harass a sibling, it would be taken away, and the remainder of the time would be spent with hands folded neatly in the lap.  I do not exaggerate when I say that I can count on one hand how many times objects had to be taken away from my children in public.  They learned this lesson very well at home!  Consider anything a small child will normally do when they do not want to be still…roll around on the seat, scoot down to the floor, then they end up under the seat, or army-crawling to a nearby location.  Their innate intent is to push the limits and see how far is too far.  You as the mother need to decide what will be acceptable for your children while in public.  Are you okay with them sitting on the floor at the doctor’s office or crawling on the floor down to the end of the pew at church?  If not, be sure that you are firm in your training at home.  For us, no arm waving, clapping, or moving off the seat was permitted.  Depending on age, lying down quietly in one’s spot (not rolling) was permitted.

After the children have gotten the hang of a 5-minute interval of being quiet and occupying themselves with Mommy on the couch, the next step is to have Mommy get off the couch and do something else nearby, while leaving the children on the couch having their “still and quiet” time.  For example, I will tell the children to come and sit. Then, once they have been reminded of the rules of “still and quiet” time, I will step away while warning the children that I will be watching to make sure they do a good job.  I might sit in another area of the same room and make a call to schedule dental cleanings, while maintaining frequent eye contact with the children so they know I am paying attention to their behavior.  If a little one decides they aren’t interested in the training session, their behavior is quickly dealt with and they resume their time on the couch.  Quick and consistent discipline is necessary in this training time.  You will be training your children regardless of how you handle the situation.  While they are in the living room, it might be easy to warn them, “Mommy said get back on the couch… I mean it!”  But consider if this method will be an option in church or in the doctor’s office.  You want to train them to listen the first time, not the second or third.  They must learn to obey immediately and to realize that there will be swift consequences when they do not.  There will be no “easy out” if they disobey.  The training session will continue on after discipline has been handed out.

Once the children are able to sit quietly while you perform other tasks in the same room, the real test comes.  “Still and quiet” while Mommy leaves the room!  This was always our children’s favorite part of the training times.  I would have the children sit (they were permitted one quiet toy) while I left the room to set a timer and then come back in to check on them and see if they were still in the same place and quiet.  I might go put a letter in the mailbox but quickly return and pop in the room to surprise the children.  This can be a very fun activity.  The children never know what corner you might pop out around or what you might be wearing on your head when you return.  The “away” might be anywhere from 5 seconds to 15 seconds to begin with.  You want to help them keep their attention on the task at hand.  Don’t make this sitting session a miserable thing for them.  My children would often forget the toy they had in their lap and prefer to watch out for when I would pop my head back in the room to see how well they were doing.  I would give silent accolades whenever I peeked in and saw that the children were still doing as I had asked.

You may notice a natural progression in this: very small and familiar steps to begin with, then moving up to bigger steps.  This will not happen overnight.  I would recommend having a practice session every day, or a five-minute session in the morning and another one in the afternoon, depending on the age and personality of your child.

After the children can manage a 5-minute segment of time on the couch on their own with Mommy in and out of the room, it is time to add more time to the clock.  I would graduate them to 10-15 minutes on the couch with one quiet activity of their choice, whether it is a toy, a reading book, or a notebook with a pencil or crayon.  If the children are misbehaving or not obeying the way they should, the offending child must be removed and disciplined and brought back to resume their sitting time.  Meanwhile, the other children are expected to continue sitting quietly.  This has helped immensely during the years that my husband has been in a pastoral position and has been unable to assist me in the pew with the children.  I have been able to take the rowdy child out of the service to address behavior while leaving all of the other children (yes, even a two-year-old) sitting quietly in the pew without me in the room, knowing that they would sit still because they dare not be the next one leaving the sanctuary with me.

I have one last comment on praising your little ones for doing well.  Rewarding our children when they do well is not the same as bribery.  Bribery is a parent’s last attempt at getting what they want from their child.  It is a negotiation that puts the child in control of the situation and puts the parent at their mercy.  Rewards and positive affirmation for good behavior are very different than that.  When I ask my child to do something and they do it right away and with a cheerful heart, rewarding them in some way is a great way to help encourage and motivate the child to do it again.  They have honored me, and I want to bless them because of it.  This is a good and wholesome way to encourage good behavior in our children.

In my other post, “Help, The Church Nursery is Closed!” I talk about preparing for Sunday morning by starting on Saturday.  I mention that “less is more” when packing activity bags for kids in church or the doctor’s office, and I give a few other ideas like finding a seat near the exits and arriving early to claim it.

I hope this post has been an encouragement to you!  It is not always easy, and it is never a fast process to train up our little ones in the way they should go.  But, as the Lord commands us to do it, I hope this will be of some small encouragement to you as we strive to please Him!

Jessica E. Burrell

“Help! The Church Nursery is Closed!” (by Jessica Burrell)

Today has brought about many changes in our culture: schools shutting down and mask-wearing becoming a requirement in most establishments, to name a few.  Many of these changes in recent days affect our everyday life, even for the stay-at-home mom.  While we may be inconvenienced by some of the new CDC requirements, like trying to keep masks on our squirming children while in public, there are some challenges that prove more difficult than others.  As Christian mothers, one of the greatest difficulties we face may be that of the closing of the church nurseries.  Due to the light-speed way that children can transfer germs from one person or surface to another, most churches have closed down their nurseries for the time being.  This leaves parents with younger children only two options: stay home and live-stream the service from the living room, or attend church as a family, all in one pew, squirming children and all.  I will be approaching this issue as a sister in Christ, loving mother, and wife of a pastor.  This is a difficulty facing many young families today, and there is no easy answer.

Don’t Stop Going To Church

As hard as it may seem to take your family to church and sit in the pew with the entire family while you try to keep the young children quiet as the pastor preaches, this is your calling from the Lord.  Whether you are a pastor’s wife and your husband has to sit on the front row or stand in the pulpit while you try to manage the children in the pew alone, or whether you have two parents with grandparents able to help share the load, whether you are a single mom or dad bringing your children to church who have never once sat through a church service because they always go to nursery or children’s church, your God-given calling and obligation is to have your family in church – assembling together with the saints.  We might think that live-stream is an easy “out,” or a suitable alternative, but I would suggest that this is not the case.

Many churches are re-assembling with caution and are keeping live-stream available for those who are at risk and for those who are maintaining a “shelter-in-place” lifestyle.  For the rest of us, families included, we are in some part back to the grocery stores, vacations and outings.  If this is the case for your family, it stands to reason that you should be back to church as a family, as well.  There are many factors that could cause difficulties with bringing children into the church who are not used to sitting in the pews.  Regardless of the factors involved, this is no excuse to forsake God’s commands (Heb 10:25); this is simply a new growth opportunity that the Lord has placed in your path.  There is nowhere in the Scriptures that makes provision for the church to forsake the assembling together until nursery or children’s church is available.  No matter the age of your child or children, you need to be in church, and so do they.  As much as it is difficult to adjust to this (whether by choice or for lack of any other options), many of us are being required to turn “family integrated” for a time.  I know these are not easy words to speak, and I can say from experience that it is even harder to live out.  It can be a very difficult thing to adjust to, but just because it isn’t easy, doesn’t make skipping church an option.

How I Got Started on this Journey

For me, this journey started when I had four young children.  Our oldest was 6 years old (a girl). After her, we had three boys in a row (5, 3, and 16 months).  Our youngest son had seriously injured his hand and was in need of multiple surgeries and frequent doctors visits.  It was an hour drive to the Pediatric Hand Specialist’s office, and after having four young children strapped in their car seats for an hour, they were then expected to wait in a waiting room and accompany me into the patient room where the three oldest would have to be left without my watchful eye as I took their little brother to a nearby room for x-rays.  After we returned to the patient room, we would wait until the doctor arrived to discuss this very serious situation with me.  All the while, there were four children, 6 and younger, going completely stir-crazy and one frazzled Mommy trying to control the situation and have a coherent conversation with the doctor.  This was a very rude wake-up call for me when I realized that I had no choice but to somehow survive this situation again and again at every doctor’s visit, every x-ray, and every consultation.  It was impossible for my husband to take more time off work to help me after he had already taken time for two hospitalizations and hand surgeries for our little guy.  My only option was to train my children at home to behave the way I needed them to so that we could make it through all of these trips without chaos and tears for all five of us!

It may sound crazy to expect so much from a little one who many say can’t even reason yet, but there is nothing ridiculous at all about teaching your child to sit relatively still and occupy himself quietly for a little while.  As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to say that the parent who never trains their child to be still for a length of time is actually depriving their child of learning self-control at a younger age when it comes a little easier.  The practice of sitting “still and quiet,” or whatever you will call it, will be a blessing to you as the parent, as well as anyone you encounter.  You will also find that God rewards your child with a more content spirit when they are taught to be still for short periods of time.

Trust me when I say, “You can do this.”  But while you are sitting in a church service with 100 other people trying to listening to a 30-45 minute sermon, you will realize that this is NOT the time to teach your child how you expect them to behave.  This will only frustrate you and your child (Eph. 6:4).  You must work on training your child to sit quietly while in the comfort and safety of your own home.  If you are interested in the way I trained my children at home, please look for my follow-up post.  “How I trained my little ones to sit still and quiet”

Keeping Your Kids in the Pew Begins At Home

I would like to give a few practical pointers to help you wrap your mind around this concept.  From the early infancy age through toddlers and preschoolers with the wiggles, it is not easy to ask children to sit “still and quiet,” as we say in my home, for an hour-long service.  But they can do it.  It is also important to be considerate of those around you and not insist on keeping a screaming toddler in the service during his entire tantrum.  My first suggestion would be to find an area in the church that has easy access to one of the exits.  Next, plan to arrive at church early enough to claim this area for your family so that you ensure an easy exit if someone gets too rowdy or disruptive.

Next, you must plan for Sunday morning the night before.  You don’t want to show up to church frazzled and frustrated before the service has even started.  This will not help you to have the patience and grace needed to guide your children through the worship service.   Saturday night, be sure that all baths are taken care of, clothes are picked out and ironed if needed, shoes are found and matched, hair bows are selected, etc.  In our home, everyone must have Mommy approve their outfit before dinnertime on Saturday so that there is not “whoops” on Sunday morning.  Sunday morning your only goal should be to make sure everyone is clothed, fed, and ready to leave.  Once in the pew, I have found that less is more as far as busy activities go.  I used to pack a full bag of books, toys, snacks and crayons, only to find that at the end of the service I had an entire half-acre of mess to clean up.  Not to mention needing to offer apologies for the new “art” on the underside of the pews.

When thinking about your child’s needs for the service, pack appropriately according to their age.  If your child is able to write, give them a few writing tools and a notebook.  You can draw a word, for example: “God,” and your child can copy it.  Then you can draw a picture on one side of the page and your child can write it on the other side.  At this point their imagination usually takes over and they will doodle quite happily for a while.  If you have a young child, be sure that you pack pacifiers, quiet (and not messy) snacks, and a select few books and toys in a small bag that the child can access easily on their own to play with quietly.  As you make all of these preparations on Saturday night, remember that your training begins at home.  Be sure that your children understand your expectations before you get to the church.  We now have seven children in our home and can easily fill an entire pew.  There was a season when we had to assign each child their “spot” and tell them which siblings would be sitting on either side of them so that we would not have any arguments or disruptions in the pew.

Don’t Grow Weary – You Can Do This

Last of all: do not grow weary in doing good (Gal. 6:9).  There have been Sundays in church or weekdays in a doctor’s office that I wanted to throw my hands in the air and say, “I’m done training today!  We’ll be waiting in the car!”  We have had a few days when I had to abandon the grocery cart in the middle of the store and head to the van to deal with behavior that couldn’t wait.  What I came to realize was that the grocery shopping was not my highest priority.  Taking that moment to train my child would last a lot longer than those groceries did.  I would encourage you to keep the same perspective when sitting through worship.  Is it fun to take a child out and deal with behavior, walk back into church, only to have to leave and deal with them again?  No.  But what you are doing is training your child that this behavior is not an option.  No matter how many tantrums he throws, the result will be the same: correction and re-entering the service.  I would caution against staying in the foyer to allow the disruptive child to play for the rest of the service.  If your child is having a day where he is completely uncooperative and is a distraction to everyone else in the sanctuary, look for a bench in the foyer to sit on.  But still practice sitting quietly during this time so he sees that his defiant behavior is not rewarded with playtime.  If this level of disobedience in public is common, maybe this is a sign that more time needs to be dedicated to training at home.

Although this task seems at times insurmountable, it is doable!  Trust me; I didn’t start until I already had four children.  Talk about challenging!  There were many times I wanted to give up.  I often felt as though there would never be a break and that I could never get a thing out of the worship service unless all of my children were tucked away in their classes and I could just focus on the pastor alone.  This is not true, though.  And as soon as we thinking that “just one thing” will make it all better, we need to make sure we aren’t manufacturing an idol in our hearts.  God didn’t give you a quiet pew without children.  God gave you those adorable rowdy children to love and care for, and He still requires you to come and worship Him.

I know that this may only be a short-term goal for you.  Perhaps you are only going to keep your children in the service until nursery becomes available again.  You must understand that this is a worth-while effort and a God-required effort you must make to bring your children to church.  We have to expel the notion that we are coming to church for our own selfish good.  First, we do this because the Lord commands it (John 14:15).  He gives us the desire for it, which is a blessing, but more than that, He requires it.  If it’s “no fun,” or “I don’t get anything out of it right now,” that’s okay.  You are honoring the Lord with your self-sacrifice.  Just remember that it’s not all about you.  It’s hard to live this out, but it’s true.  And for most of us, this season will get easier.  Our children don’t stay little forever.

We don’t have it all figured out.  And if you come to the church where we worship, you will see squirming kids, hear rustling papers, and probably even see a little one being taken out for a “talk.” And that’s a good thing.  Actually, if you were to come to church this week, you wouldn’t even see our whole family in the pew.  One of my children has a medical condition that has prevented her and me from returning to church yet. It is at this time more than ever I am so grateful for the Providential situation all those years ago when I was forced to teach my children how to be content to be still.  My husband is a pastor and elder in our church and cannot sit with our children during the entire service.  When he is on the platform, it is such a blessing to us both to know that our children have been trained to obey us and sit still and respectfully while he does what he needs to do.  That little 16-month-old with the hand injury is now six years old and sits quietly, taking what notes he is able to, or drawing a picture of his Daddy reading Scripture from the pulpit.  We don’t have it all together, and we never will.  But God has been faithful to do a work in our children, little by little.  We are weak vessels through whom the Lord has been pleased to exhibit His strength.

I hope this article has encouraged you and caused you to consider your responsibility for raising your children before the Lord.  If you are interested in a more how-to based article where I describe how I practically trained my children in these concepts at home, please look for my follow-up post.

Jessica E. Burrell

Why We Are Going Away From AWANA

If you have been a Baptist in the United States over the last 50 years, it is likely that you have heard of the discipleship organization known as AWANA.   Not only are they a popular discipleship program for Baptist churches, but according to their web site they are used in over 100 denominations worldwide.  Pray’s Mill Baptist Church in Douglasville, Georgia (where I am the pastor of families), has used AWANA for some two decades.  Hundreds of children have learned the Roman’s Road, John 3:16, Genesis 1:1, Psalm 19:1, the books of the Bible, the 10 Commandments and a whole host of other biblical information during this time.  What a blessing to have God’s Word hidden in the hearts of so many over the past 20 years.  However, as is with every good program, they should regularly be reevaluated.  We shouldn’t just do something because “that is the way we’ve always done it.”  Every program or every tool that we use needs to be measured by its usefulness in any given season.  There are times when a once good tool is found to no longer be as effective as it once was.  This is part of the reevaluation process.

As I, as well as other pastors and key leaders, have been thinking, evaluating, and praying about our discipleship and family ministry we have come to the decision that it is time for a new season in the life of our church.  As we looked at the scope and sequence of what we believe would be the best for our kids and their families we came to the conclusion that it was time to retire our AWANA ministry.  Our next season of ministry will focus not just on scripture memory but theology as well.  Instead of simply memorizing scriptures from different parts of the Bible each week, we want to help our children know the Word in a more systematic way. . . . in a more historical way.   We want our children to understand the “whole counsel of God.”  Our new ministry will help them to do that as well as teach them how to rightly interpret the scriptures in their context.

So, what caused us to make this shift away from AWANA? Well, there are some practical reasons and some theological reasons for making the shift.

The Practical Reasons:

Just to be honest, this pandemic has hurt us.  We knew that this year was going to be very difficult on our Wednesday ministries because some of our volunteers are not even back at church yet.  There are a variety of reasons for this, but it is simply a reality. Because of this reason, in God’s providence, we felt like this was the right time to make the changes that we had been talking about for a few years.  The pandemic has caused us to fast-forward those plans.  As we looked at our children’s ministry landscape, we noticed a few things that have led us to this point that I would like to share.

  1. The sheer number of volunteers needed to make this ministry run smoothly.

We are not a massive church.  On any given Wednesday night we run 100-125 total people.  On average there are at least 25 volunteers needed for AWANA.  Many have been working in AWANA for two decades (what a blessing).  Yet, in that time some have expressed their desire to also be in the adult class.  Many of our AWANA workers also work with children on the Lord’s Day and this keeps them from any meaningful small group opportunities with adults.  With our new format, we will likely only need half the number of volunteers.  We consider this to be a win for our people in light of our current circumstances.

  1. We desire to streamline our children’s ministry so as to be intentional about connecting what they are learning.

When we looked at what all our children were learning we saw a very sporadic approach to their learning. There was intention behind it, but it was a very broad approach.  There is a disconnect between what our kids are learning in AWANA and in their Sunday School class.  If they went to Children’s Church (K – 2nd grade) they got something different. When they were in corporate worship and or family worship . . . you guessed it . . . all different.   We understand that children are able to take in a lot of different information on different subjects.  They do it all the time in school.  However, it is our desire to streamline this for our children.  We want to connect what we are doing on Wednesdays to what they are getting in our sports ministry, our Wednesday night ministry, and in the home for family worship.  We want a more systematic approach for our kids and families instead of a more sporadic approach that we have been doing.  While these are some of the more practical reasons, there are also theological reasons for this shift away from AWANA as well.

The Theological Reasons:

  1. A doctrinal shift

Over the past few years, we have seen that some of AWANA’s convictions do not line up with ours.  Are they heretical positions?  By and large, they are not.  Yet, they are some concerning secondary doctrines that we very much disagree with.  Though their “What We Believe” section on their website seems to be broadly orthodox, their social media presence appears to be heading into the deep waters of the Social Gospel movement. One article that sheds light on this subtle shift was entitled, “How to Talk (With Our Kids) About Racial Equality.”  In this article, the author props up Martin Luther King, Jr. as a near hero of the faith.  While I am grateful that the Lord used King for some much needed social reform in the United States, I cannot, as a Christian, look at him as a hero of the faith due to his liberal theology and his known marital infidelity.  Even more troubling than the lauding of King is the suggested reading at the end of this article.  The author, and AWANA (by virtue of allowing the article to be published), believes that James Cone’s book “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” is quality Christian literature.  The truth is – it’s heresy.  James Cone is the founder of the modern “Black Liberation Theology,” which is a false gospel, and antithetical to the true gospel.  It is troubling that AWANA would tout this as something profitable for Christians to glean from.  This is just one example of why we cannot support these decisions and this new direction from AWANA.

  1. We want our kids to not just know the Bible, but the God of the Bible.

We are told that it is good to “hide the Word in our heart” (Psalm 119:11), but we are told to do more.  In 1 Corinthians 14:19 Paul says, “In the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue.”  In Acts 18:25 Apollos said that, “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord.”  The word “instruct” in the Greek is katecheo. This is where we get the word “catechism” from in English. Catechism simply means to teach Biblical truth in a systematic fashion in the form of a list of questions and answers to be memorized.  If we put the commands of Paul together and marry them with his admonition to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13, (“Follow the pattern of sound words which you heard from me“), we find the purpose of the catechism. We want to help our families to hide the word of God in their hearts, but we also want them to be “instructed in the way of the Lord” in light of the whole counsel of God.

  1. Catechisms have long been used by the church to teach the Word and theology.

There are several historic catechisms that we could choose from.  Have you ever heard the question asked, “What is the chief end of man?”  The answer is, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Many Christians over the past 300 plus years have answered this question in the same way.  Why do so many know this answer?  It is because it is the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism (one of the most popular catechisms ever written for Protestants).  There is a reason why the church has used this method of teaching and Bible study for hundreds of years.  These catechisms are great tools for helping to hide God’s Word in the hearts of God’s people and they provide a means of understanding deep theological truth in a methodical way. Our plan is to use them in this way as well here at Pray’s Mill.  We will use, “A Catechism for Boys and Girls” for our K – 3rd-grade children and the “The Baptist Catechism” for 4th – 6th grade as we start our new season of discipleship on Wednesday nights this fall.

AWANA has been good for us over the past two decades.  Yet, in God’s providence, we believe that it is time for something new for our families.

The New Season: T&G Kids  

Our new Wednesday class will be called T&G Kids.  What exactly does T&G Kids stand for?  T&G stands for “Truth and Grace.”  Founders Ministry produced three books called Truth and Grace.  These three books are meant for three different age brackets.  Our plan is to use book 1 and 2 for kindergarten – 6th-grade children.  Each book has, the catechisms (with scriptures that coincide with the catechisms), selected Bible memory verses, Bible basics (10 commandments, Lord’s prayer, historic creeds), hymns (old and modern) for use in family worship, and a worksheet to track the children’s progress.

Our plan is for each child to receive a book.  Each Wednesday the child will come prepared with their Bible, book, memorized catechism question and answer, and their verse memorized as well. Each Wednesday we will meet for an exciting time filled with interactive games, Bible lessons based on the catechism question, and a time for our adults to hone in and help our kids learn their catechisms.  As we do all of this it is our hope that in this process our parents will use this opportunity to ask these catechism questions to their children during family worship each week.  This will not only help the child to memorize the catechism but it will help the parents as well. Part of our jobs as pastors is to “present every person mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).  We believe that T&G Kids will help us to accomplish this for our people.

At the end of the day, our job as the church is to do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.  Part of that commission is the maturing of disciples (“teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. . .”).  There are a variety of tools that can help us accomplish that goal.  AWANA was a successful tool for many years in the life of Pray’s Mill to do just that.  However, it is now time for us to walk away from AWANA as we seek to continue to fulfill the Great Commission.  The right tool for this season we believe is an old tool . . .the tool of the Q&A session . . . the tool of the catechism.  It is now time for T&G Kids to be used to help our families grow in the knowledge and holiness of God.  May the Lord use it for his glory, the growth of our families spiritually, and the Kingdom of God as a whole.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell

T&G Kids Slide (Blog)

Husbands, Are You Willing To Die For Your Wife?

I know I am going to date myself, but at one point in time I was a young starry-eyed romantic.  At 14, 15, and 16 years old I would stay up listening to the “soft rock” station so as to be able to tape-record the love songs that I liked (Yes, that is the way we once had to record songs . . .  on a blank cassette tape, before there was online file sharing).  One of my favorite songs was by the early 90’s Canadian star, Bryan Adams.  The song’s title was “Everything I do, I do it for you.”  Some of my favorite lyrics, “Yeah, I would fight for you. I’d lie for you. Walk the wire for you. Yeah, I’d die for you. You know it’s true. Everything I do. I do it for you.”  As a teenage boy, there didn’t seem to be anything more romantic than a song like this.  Yet, now as a married man, and having a much more sensible idea of romance I ask myself, and to those reading this, “are you really willing to die for your spouse?”  Now that the feelings of romance are much less than they might have been before.  How about now that life seems to just be routine?  Are you stilling willing to say words like the above mentioned with as much enthusiasm as a young teenage romantic?  If you truly have a Christ-centered marriage, I would hope the answer would be yes . . . though not in the same way as you would have as a freshman in high school.

I have heard it said, “It is harder to live as a martyr than to die as one.” I believe the same is true when we think about our marriages as well. A one time major sacrifice can be easier than a life filled with little ones.  So, my question is, “Are you willing to die for your spouse daily?”

Dying According to the Scriptures

Our daily Christian life is to be one filled with dying to oneself (Matthew 16:24-26).  It is to be one about putting others before ourselves (Philippians 2:3).  It is about doing unto others, as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).  As we look to Christ, and worship him, this is the task that he assigns us to.  In other words, Christianity is not a self-centered religion.  It is not a religion of romance.  It is to be Christ-centered, which leads us to have a love for others.  Dying to oneself is to be the daily habit of the Christian.  Are you willing to die daily for your wife’s needs?  Are you willing to put her desires before your own?  If we truly desire to keep the Lord’s commands there is no better place to start than with the one you made a covenant with.  Are you dying for your wife according to scripture?

Dying as Christ Died

You are likely aware of Ephesians 5 where Paul speaks of a Christian marriage in terms of the covenant between Christ and the Church.  Husbands are told to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”  We don’t see this sacrificial covenant love through the eyes of a Greco-Roman romanticized understanding of love.  No, we understand and see this sacrifice that was filled with blood and wrath.  It was a love that led to a substitutionary death and Paul says that this is how we as men are to love our wives.  So men I ask you, “Are you willing to die for your wives?” Christ died for his bride when his bride deserved to die.  If this was some Hollywood tale it would have made for a great romantic movie.  However, this is not a Hollywood tale.  This is the truth about a holy God sending his holy son to die for an unholy bride which he in turns makes holy.  Christ didn’t die for her out of a desire to be romantic instead he died for her in order to make her righteous.

Romance is a wonderful thing.  If I am honest, I would say that I still enjoy going back from time to time and listening to some of those sappy romantic songs from my youth.  They are good for nostalgia and date nights with my wife.  However, when I hear that old Canadian pop-star sing “Everything I do, I do it for you” it speaks to me in a much different way today.  After being married for 12 years I hear, “Am I willing to die to my desires to have a little free time in order to be there for her?  Am I willing to free her to go to Bible study on Saturday while I watch our 7 kids?  Am I willing to lose sleep to take care of our sick 2-year-old so she can catch up on some sleep?”  My understanding of dying for her has changed a lot over the past 12 years.  I can safely say that I love my bride more today than I did the day we said our vows.  I really had no clue what being willing to die for her meant back then.  It looks much different now.  Yet, when I look to the Lord and His Word I start to see it a little better as each year passes.

Husbands, were you once a romantic but now that your wedding day is over a decade or a quarter century ago have you lost that loving feeling?  If you were once willing to hang the moon, climb the highest mountain, swim the widest ocean, or even die for your love back then, are you still willing to die for her today?  I would encourage you to look to the scriptures and to Christ to see what this looks like in the mundanity of life for your wife.  Christ died for his bride, and as long as we live we should be willing to die for ours as well.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Adam B. Burrell