Monday, April 3, 2017

When churches say "no" to children in service

I'm just a traveler. I move every 3 months - in and out before you know it. But I always get excited about finding my new church family in every new location.

What's disappointing, though, is when I visit a church that forgets the whole family...the kind of church that's a one-time visit because I can't comfortably return there. I had one of those moments yesterday, just minutes after sitting in the pew, as the pastor stated, "No children under 10 should be in service.

That's a pretty brief statement that many would dismiss, especially a single woman with no children who's simply passing through the area. But I could not easily let it go.

You see, 20 minutes after the pastor stated that children were not permitted in the sanctuary, this same pastor spoke of the importance of "worshiping communally as a church family." That's interesting...because the last time I checked, the church family is comprised of more than just people over 10 years old.

When churches say "no" to children staying in their services, here are 6 things they're really saying:

1. "Families shouldn't worship together."

Not all children are appropriate for sitting in "big church" with their parents every Sunday, but the value of that experience, when appropriate, is completely discredited when it's not encouraged and supported. When children aren't allowed in service, families aren't allowed to worship together. Children aren't afforded the opportunity to be challenged by wisdom from their pastor or ask their parents questions about the things they don't understand. They can't raise their hands or dance in between the pews during worship music - or witness change that occurs at the altar. Families miss a chance to by physically close to one another, sitting in the pews and sharing their Bibles. And children and parents alike are not taught the importance of a strong family dynamic because they're intentionally separated from each other every Sunday morning.

2. "You have to trust us."

That single mother coming from a background of abuse and neglect might not want to trust strangers in the nursery or children's department yet. That couple who just moved to the area might not be ready to leave their young ones in a class before they get to know the foundational truths of the church. That little one with severe separation anxiety might not be prepared for 2 hours away from mommy and daddy. Just because this is a church and it's most likely a "safe place" doesn't mean that every guest who walks through the doors will believe that right off the bat. Guests need to be given the opportunity to set their own boundaries and to trust at their own pace - and they need to be respected through that process.

3. "It's more important to be distraction-free."

I won't deny that kids are a little distracting (how many 4 year-olds do you know who can sit still for at least an hour?), but we have a choice in how we respond to that. Do we embrace it as positive energy that God gave them and let them be who they are - or do we teach them that there's only one acceptable way to worship? Do we shame parents who can't "control" their children - or do we encourage growth and wise teaching of discipline while also understanding that kids express themselves differently than we do (and that's okay)? Do we love Jesus' little children and show them that we are filled with joy by their presence in church - or do we give them glances and make it known that they aren't welcome in this part of the church? It's our choice to make.

4. "It's not your role to decide when your child is ready for this."

The local church body doesn't have the right to speak over the knowledge we have of our own children. We know our children well...better than they do. If I feel that my child is mature enough for participation in a church service, she needs to be encouraged in that. When she steps into the sanctuary, she doesn't need to hear "Let me walk you back to the children's department." No. She needs to hear, "Can I walk with you to the altar?" Teach her to take initiative in her faith. Teach her to be a follower of Christ and a leader for other kids. Teach her that she is precious in the sight of her Creator and she is always welcome at the foot of the cross.

5. "Young families aren't welcome here."

If a new mother brings her newborn baby to church on Sunday, she should not feel obligated to hand her baby to someone else - or burdened to leave the church altogether because she desires to continue bonding with her infant. Furthermore, let us not forget that a lot of new mothers are also millennials craving for an environment that loves and accepts them...we need to make it known that their presence, and the presence of their baby, is absolutely desired and smiled upon, never frowned upon.

6. "Christ's message to the children doesn't matter."

I know: that sounds a little harsh...but we can't deny it. In Matthew 19:14, "Jesus said, 'Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.'" He didn't say, "Let the big kids come my way, but keep those little ones away." He didn't attach the phrase, "unless they're too distracting." Jesus didn't have limits or rules about how mature they had to be before sitting at His restrictions. He told His people to let the little children come...unhindered.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

What's in a name?

Have you ever researched the meaning of your name?

When you dig into the Word, you find that names often had a purpose. Even in the Old Testament, names were given with reason. I mean, Jacob and Esau's names were based solely on how they presented at birth - "holder of the heel" and "hairy" respectively (Genesis 25:19-34).

(Can I just take a moment to thank my parents for not naming my twin sister and me based on how we looked at birth? I can't imagine what those names would be.)

But let's think about Jesus. Jesus was named for the will of God and ultimate purpose of His life: to save the world (Matthew 1:21).

Jesus fulfilled, and continues to fulfill, the purpose for which He was named. I want to do the same. I want to live by the definition of the word that was assigned to my life.

When I researched my name, I found that it could hold any of the following meanings: defender of mankind, joy, courage, full of risk, going on a voyage, or happy angel. I'd be pretty content with any of those life missions, really, but my favorite definition is this one: offering with both hands.

Offering with both hands...that hits me. What would my life look like if I lived it as a constant offering, giving of everything that I have? That's a challenge for me - a big one - but whoever said that our life purposes were supposed to be easy to fulfill? I think the best ones are the ones that capture our hearts but challenge us to do really hard things for the betterment of the Lord's kingdom.

So, what would it look like to live out my life purpose? It would look like two hands covered in the dirt of the ground and the dirt of messy lives. It would look like two hands strengthened by carrying the burdens of my brothers and sisters. It would look like two hands handing out love and grace like the free gifts that they are. And it would look like two hands reaching up to meet the hands of God in praise, awe, and surrender.

It would be a picture that could encapsulate every one of the remaining definitions my name might carry. It would be a picture of selflessness. Those hands would be taking the hands of others to lead them to Christ, embracing everyday people in a message of safety and warmth, and holding broken hearts while working diligently to patch up wounds. And there would be cuts and scrapes, resulting in lasting scars...each one labeling a valuable, life-shaping memory.

It would be hard.

But doesn't that sound like an offering worth making? Doesn't that sound like a life truly worth living? One that would be blessed by the Heavenly Father?

It's a challenge I'm willing to accept.

What about you?

Now, I get it. Not all names have deep, profound meanings that motivate you to change the world or change your life. And not all people have names that really coincide with who they were designed to be. However, I challenge you to reflect upon your own name and the meaning behind it. Is that meaning a real part of you? Might it help you define a purpose? And if it doesn't, then what name would? What word or phrase do you want to truly define your life? What words would you want people to read and think, "Yup, that's him" or "This is how she lived in a nutshell"? What message is God really placing on your heart in this time of your life on earth?

Find it. Define it. And pursue it...with everything God has given you.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Once Upon a Thaime

Photo credit: Connie Lengkeek Rock. Sign reads, "#1-GO-GO. 
50 gorgeous girls plus a few ugly one's [sic]."
It's been almost a year now since I went to Thailand for the experience that would break my heart daily; cause me to fall to my knees in gratitude for the blessings I've taken for granted; and challenge me to find the words that would describe what I saw, felt, and encountered.

I never found those words.

But there are women and children whose stories need to be told, whose lives need to be wrapped in your prayer. So I reach out to you...and with that, I will try to attach words to the experiences for which no words were ever created.

Once upon a Thaime, there was a little girl, maybe 6 years old, who walked the streets of one red light district - every night after midnight. She carried a bouquet of roses and asked visitors if they would like to buy some. The secret many people knew, that I didn't at the time, was that this little girl wasn't just selling roses...she was selling her body. She was "just" another numbered victim in this tragic game of sex sales. She was "just" another girl who never smiled and always looked straight past your eyes when you spoke to her because she couldn't bear to form an emotional attachment with someone. She is not just a number. She has a name.

Once upon a Thaime, there was an adolescent girl dancing on the stage of a bar, wearing high heels and a rubber ducky that symbolized innocence and newness to the industry. If you asked her mama-san, the girl was 18 years old. If you asked the girl herself, she was only 13 years old. How could she have chosen this fate for herself? How could she have known where this path would take her heart? She couldn't have known. She just couldn't have known.

Once upon a Thaime, there was a young woman who entered a bar in another red light district, prepared to apply for a job. As far as she knew, this was her only option. She needed to help her family and, without a high school diploma, she couldn't even work at 7-Eleven. She couldn't work anywhere but here. She spoke the words, "I can't do anything else." She listened to the words of a woman who was there to help her, someone who took a risk and walked behind a curtain to secretly intervene. She heard in her native tongue, "I can help you" and "We can train you to do something else." She heard, "Come find me when you are finished here, and I will help you." This young woman was already tied to her interview session, so she put on her uniform (a bikini) and stepped up onto the stage for her audition. Her arms were locked over her abdomen as she hid behind two experienced dancers and waited for the song to end. Men in the room ogled. The mama-sans observed. And she kept her eyes locked on us - the ones who would give her hope. To our misfortune, our mission was revealed and we were removed from the bar...prohibited from seeing the girl again...when the girl wasn't even in the room to know that she wasn't just abandoned by the ones she thought were there to help.

And once upon a Thaime, there was a 24 year-old graduate student who entered this country with enough research to fill the pages of a book but no real idea of what to expect.

She questioned everything.

She was angered by the men whose wedding rings glimmered in the lights of the bars where they were meeting sex-workers for instant's just a perk with coming to Thailand on business, right? No one has to know.

She was caught off guard when a man extended his hand with what appeared to be 2-300 Baht (5-7 US dollars), offering to pay her for a sexual service she wasn't there to provide. Was that the going rate? Was a woman's worth in this industry valued at $7.00? Who decided this? And how does this monetary value impact a woman's inner self-worth? These girls don't know that they are worth far more than rubies, already bought at the price of our Savior's ultimate sacrifice. They just don't know. They need to know.

She was amazed and uplifted by the joy of the women she met who had successfully transitioned out of the sex trade and into productive employment...the love they had for one another as a family...the laughter they shared as they danced and sang with their hearts...and the hope that came with starting to develop a relationship with Christ.

She was confused by the women who said that the sex trade saved their lives, that they chose this path voluntarily because it would give them better lives than what they knew outside of the city. Lesson learned: no story in this industry is ever the same.

But, in Thailand, they have a common saying they use for everything that goes, "Same, same, but different." I think these are the words we can attach to these stories. Same, same...but different. Each of their stories is different: there's a different beginning, a different reason why the sex industry became part of her story, and a different search for something better. But there's always brokenness. There's always a need to be loved. And there's always a hope for tomorrow. Thank God for that hope.

Please join me in prayer over each of these young ladies and their stories. I'm just the girl who saw what I could and then went home to my comfort and security. God reads the hearts of the girls before me and He hears the cries of you and me...He knows the words that we don't have...we need only approach Him.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Power of a Half Hour (Book Review)

It is 2:13pm. I will use a half hour to write this blog post. The Power of a Half Hour.

What an interesting concept. You can change your life by doing everything in 30-minute increments. Writing, communicating, working, cleaning, planning, developing relationships, ministering to the broken...even reading this book (which was conveniently written in short chapters) can be done 30 minutes at a time. And the results? As the back cover states, you "turn your fleeting minutes into defining moments."

When I started reading this book, I thought, Ok, that's interesting and it makes sense. But is it realistic? It is. I know because I tried it. I realized how much of my time is seriously wasted in a day. How often do you get bogged down by lengthy to-do lists that cause you enough stress that you don't even know where to start, so you plant yourself on the couch and don't do anything? I can spend an hour on Facebook before I even realize I did nothing productive with that time, but the reality of it is this: that hour spent on Facebook could have been used to complete TWO productive tasks.

This book is about time management and productivity, getting things done, and turning thoughts into actions. But it's also about so much more. It's about noticing the 30-minute moments that occur naturally in our everyday lives, and it's about how much value can come out of each of those moments. It's about taking risks with the time you give away and invest in order to see amazing return, and it's about watching God move in your life and in the lives of those around you. It's about building healthy habits, relationships, and dreams. All in 30 minutes. Over and over again.

And this book provides deep and practical wisdom for each of those moments. Reverend Barnett has answers for how to turn that quantity of 30 minutes into a quality set of moments that will impact you and someone else - even your own kids (I marked the chapter on parenting for when I have my own children!).

I know it sounds crazy, but you will fall in love with his concept for life-change. I guarantee it. "You will be amazed at how God can use just thirty minutes of your time to lead you on a journey that may push you out of your comfort zone but ultimately will bear tremendous fruit" (p. 161).

Start with one thing that you want to accomplish. Maybe it's cleaning your house, maybe it's getting closer to your son, maybe it's starting a ministry God has placed on your heart, or maybe it's deepening your trust in God. Set aside 30 minutes of every day (1/24th of each day - such a small fraction) and devote that time to this ONE thing. Use the strategies Reverend Barnett outlines in his book. And then decide for yourself if this crazy plan of his is worth pursuing with more of your life. With such little time required, it's worth a try...right?

It is 2:45pm. Hey, look at that. Almost exactly a half hour.

For more information about this book, click here.
For more information about author Reverend Barnett, click here.
I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Good News about Marriage (Book Review)

The Good News about Marriage: Debunking discouraging myths about marriage and divorce.

Already, we are off to a great start.

Seriously, how many of us have heard of that 50% divorce rate? How many of us have quoted it ourselves at some point? Personally, I heard it for the first time when I was just 16 years old and sitting in one of my first psychology courses in college. I had just started dating and I was already being exposed to this horrifying statistic that said to me,"Half of all marriages fail. Psh...good luck." What does that tell young people just entering the dating scene? What does that tell young adults who are about to enter marriage? Adults who are married and trying to survive? Thrive?

Shaunti Feldhahn (and Tally Whitehead) finally challenged this myth with actual science. Yes, REAL research providing REAL statistics. I think that is what I love the most about the points made in this book. None of the information provided is merely opinion; it's information that is supported by scientific evidence. Not only that, but this author took her research a step further by contacting researchers and asking for datasets, requesting analyses that were not previously run, questioning how and why results came up as they did, and seeking out truth. She found that many researchers have been misquoted, their results misinterpreted and cited inappropriately.


Do you know what she found? We are making marriage sound awful compared to how it is and how it truly can be for anyone. The actual divorce rate is only 20-25% among Americans and - wonderful news - it's much lower for Christians who worship God together! There's evidence, right here, that portrays the importance of placing God in the center of our relationships.

Thank you, Shaunti!

Ok, I won't give away all of the details.  But I know you're getting excited - and this book is well worth the read to find out more. It provides solid evidence for the truth - the good news - about marriage. It is an encouraging resource for single men and women, married couples, and all those out in the community who work with and support marriages/families (counselors, pastors, social workers, etc.).

If you would like to read the first chapter of this book to get a taste for it, click here.
If you would like find out more about Shaunti and her other books (I HIGHLY recommend "For Men Only" and "For Women Only"), you can check out her website here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Crash the Chatterbox (Book Review)

Let me preface this by saying two things:

1. I have read 2 other books by Pastor Furtick - and I really liked them; I talk about them frequently.

 2. Prior to reading this one, I already had mixed feelings because of some "sketchy" and questionable things that have come up now about Furtick. I am not judging him, but I am questioning his intentions for God's Church. Some of these things include: children's coloring pages that portray himself in the way a cult leader would be portrayed, "spontaneous" baptism that is actually staged to reel more people into seeking baptism, living in a multi-million dollar home that also raises questions of whether it was built with his money or the church's, and refusing to be transparent with finances as most pastors and churches are expected to do. But I won't go into anymore details about these things - you can do that for yourself if you are interested. I only bring up this point so I can be clear that I was a little wary going into this book and, thus, it's possible that contributed to my overall perspective on this book.

 Now that all of that stuff is out of the way, I can move right into my review of the book.

 I didn't like it.

 When I read Christian living books, I try to read them with these questions in mind: Would I want my child to read this? Is this appropriate for everyone, someone specific, anyone at all? And what is the point, the purpose, of this book? I would not give this book to a child or teenager.

 Let me start with the basic stuff.

 1. The book opens with the following quote: "I wish I had a little devil on my left shoulder. I could flick him off and tell him to go to hell." It's one of those statements that isn't bad or wrong, because there's truth to it; but it's what I would label as a "borderline" statement. I would not want a child repeating this because I would not want him generalizing that statement to other things.

 2. The quote at the top of Chapter 1 is from Jay-Z. Is that really appropriate? I understand that you don't have to be a good role model to say something meaningful, but, at the same time, I don't think the quote was powerful and meaningful enough that it couldn't have been replaced by something said by someone more admirable or reputable. The quote was simply,"I'm losing myself, I'm stuck in the moment. I look in the mirror, my only opponent." I typed this into Google and found that it comes from a song by Jay-Z and Kanye West titled "Welcome to the Jungle." And I counted at least 6 "F" words, one time the Lord's name is taken in vain, and at least one time it mentions marijuana (it specifically says "weed" then, but there may be innuendos thrown in there). Excuse me? I don't listen to this kind of stuff because it is inappropriate. I do NOT think my pastor should be familiar with these lyrics either. And I do NOT want my kid to read this quote in a Pastor's book, like the quote, then get on Google and look that up to listen to the music...thinking that it must be okay since the Pastor listens to it, too. No!

 3. Is it necessary to make a joke about Cialis ("Because discouragement will arrive at the doorstep of your mind as certainly as a Cialis commercial will air during the Masters.") in this book? Again, this is something that i had to look up online. Sorry, I'm not familiar with all the medications out there for erectile dysfunction. And quite frankly, I hope my children don't. But I guess if they ever read this book and decide to Google what that is, they'll also learn all about that. So, again, not something for my children...especially little girls.

 4. Another thing I did not enjoy was the story about the time he yelled curse words in his front yard in front of his young child, who repeated it. Not only that, but the background of the story was that this was Christmastime and, since this was a busy time for him, he wanted to relax and, thus, only wanted to be in the car with his quietest the rest of his family left for their trip early while Furtick and his son left later. Why is Pastor Furtick telling us that he just didn't feel like sucking it up and spending that extra time with his family in the car at Christmas? And the only happy ending was that he read this part of his book to his son (years later) and his son said he didn't remember the curse word being yelled. Well, that's good. On a similar note, he told another story about taking his whole family on an extended vacation to a lake house but basically locking himself down to write this book instead of actually spending time with his family. Way to teach good parenting?

 Ok, now let's get a little more into the meat of the book.

I thought this book was pointless. The book is about "hearing God's voice above all others." This book did a great job at telling us about all the bad chatter we are hearing on a daily basis. From others, from ourselves, from the devil's influence. We got a lot of negativity thrown at us daily and it can wreck our intimacy and trust in God. And, in a way, it's comforting to know that pretty much everyone experiences this. We are not alone in wondering where God is sometimes, wondering why we can't hear Him, or wondering what in the world we are supposed to do next when we feel like the world around us is crashing and burning.

 But he stops there. I found very little information in this book to be practical. He told stories - lots of them. He even provided a diary entry from Mother Theresa that showed her doubt and worry, her own calling for the Lord to pour His love over her when she felt lost and uncertain. But there was nothing to follow. There was no guidance, no direction, of what to do. How are we supposed to "Crash the Chatterbox" if we've only scratched the surface of what the Chatterbox actually is? This book had so many opportunities to dig deeper and tell us what we are missing. WHAT should we be doing? HOW are we supposed to hear God's voice above all over things? Is this even possible?

Pastor Furtick missed the mark when he completely neglected to add the "What Now" portion of this book. The only practical pieces included were thrown into stories (ex. he said, at one point, that we begin with gratitude and being thankful, which was a valid point) and those points were really quite few. At the very least, he should have summarized and included a list or a short description of what to do, especially for young believers who do not have a firm grasp of the Bible yet.

 Pastor Furtick closes the book by repeating "CRASH!" multiple times. Unfortunately, the only thing that crashed was my excitement for reading his future books.

 I received this book for free from Blogging for Books in exchange for a review.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Unstoppable (Book Review)

Unstoppable by Nick Vujicic is a powerful set of memoirs written to inspire. The author's genuineness, honesty, and vulnerability give readers a window into Nick's life while also providing a comfort and a hope for their own lives--in the midst of whatever struggle or challenge they may be facing.

The beauty of this book is that it appeals to all people. The anecdotes and truths in his writing, both from experiences in his own life and experiences shared with him through the lenses of people he has known, are incredibly diverse. He addresses issues from self-harm, depression, and suicide attempts to anxiety, addiction, fear of never finding love, and trust issues. He addresses issues from broken families, domestic violence, and bullying to doubts and lack of direction. And he addresses medical conditions and disabilities that, in the past, have been viewed as debilitating. Nick shows people how disabilities aren't taking away from the person; they are giving the person new and different abilities. It's empowering and enlightening for all, regardless of ability.

Not only that, but it's a great reminder that we are loved and treasured by a God who is bigger than any mountain we will face. As the old Veggie Tales song goes, "God is bigger than the boogeyman." We are of value and God will never leave us behind. He will protect us and provide for us, and see us through the pain and the fear.

My recommendation when reading this book is to view it as a challenge. Understand that this book will give you hope and motivation to do something great--that is, something greater than yourself. When Nick Vujicic acknowledged that God wanted to do something big--something meaningful and powerful--through the abilities with which God graced him, he listened. He followed God's lead. He didn't take "no" for an answer. He went where God called and He trusted God for provision along the way. That's something that we don't typically do--regardless of our medical or mental status. We aren't a people of risk-taking when it means that we have to offer a load of faith in order to get a miracle. But God wants to see our faith in action.

After all, we are His people and we are called to do His work, so why aren't we doing it? He gave us each a purpose. Nick stated it perfectly: "Nothing will bring you down faster than living without a purpose or losing track of whatever you are most passionate about: the gift that gives you joy and makes your life meaningful" and "You are custom-made for your purpose, just as I am for mine."

Let's allow God to make us all unstoppable.

If you would like to read chapter one of Unstoppable, please click here.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.