Church – The Teen Edition?

Series | Church

Thanks to Micah Lugg for today’s weblog title. As we were on our way to Starbucks this morning he was describing some of his reaction to my earlier blogs on segregation, specifically the self-defeating segregation of students, and he commented in jest that “it’s like, church: the teen edition.”

By the way, for all three of you blog readers out there, you might also want to check out M.Lugg’s blog, J.Martin’s new blog, and D.Zimmer’s new blog. Blogging seems to be the recipe for good times. And oh yea, you can also still read mine…if you want to.

So it seems like I’ve really been on a tirade of late against the separation of church and students (however that happens, whether to another part of the church or to some place beside the church). And before I lose any further integrity or credibility, let me explain at least one of the reasons why I can still be a youth pastor and not be searing my conscience with a hot branding iron every stinking day.

This is the thing, I am not saying that there should never, under any circumstance, be a ministry purposefully aimed at students. I do think it is possible to have a biblically based, God honoring, whole Body integrated student ministry.

I believe the most significant argument for this kind of concentrated effort is that it is an appropriate and efficient way to “focus on the few to reach the many.” Our model Paul was “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). This vision of impacting “everyone” is huge. It is consuming. It requires individual attention and personal contact with each and every member.

So in our church, the board of elders has assigned me a particular part of the flock on which to concentrate. As Pastor Z and I have often discussed, I am to be a specialist (working with students) with a generalist mentality (fitting in to the entire local body). As the overall goal of the elders is to shepherd “everyone” in the church, my assigned emphasis is to teach and warn and seek to present “every man” in student ministries complete in Christ.

But again, even though it is reasonable and necessary to pursue particular persons for discipleship we must remember that the context of that discipleship must be in the corporate congregation. We must make sure to teach students (or whatever sub-group) about their role in the bigger picture. That is why I teach that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that it recognizes itself as a part of the local body.

This is why I do what I do. I am a co-laborer among the whole body with the primary responsibility of laboring among students. May God give us more grace to use our giftedness as member of one another (Romans 12:5-6).

An Example of Self-Defeating Segregation

Series | Church

If you haven’t read the weblog from 05/07 you should do that before reading today’s entry. The bottom line of that entry was to question the prevailing pattern of dividing up (or away) certain groups in (or from) the church. Let me consider just one example that is close to my heart–student ministries.

There are a few (I believe illegitimate) reasons some people–both the students and the older generation–in the church have argued for separating the youth into their own group.

First, young people are so different, they really need their own thing. Young people really are much more cool and sic than the old people. Their taste in music and clothes generally could not be more opposite, their speech and communication are to say the least different, and sometimes it seems the only thing the two groups have in common is disagreement. Segregating the two seems to make great sense, then, so that each can have what they want.

Second, young people are often so immature, they need somewhere (else) to grow up. Kids will be kids, right? But who wants to be around them? So put them in a room, send them down to the basement, and don’t let them come out until they’ve grown up! What adult really wants the crazy kids around, being loud, running around, and generally causing trouble. Until they reach a certain age–where they become human–it is best to keep them separated. Besides, they are not ready for ‘adult’ topics and they’ll just be bored if forced to sit through sermons for old people

But there are a few biblical problems with age segregation.

How, for example, would we expect Titus 2 to take place if the young people are separated away from the older people? How are the older women to teach the younger women and the older men to teach the younger men if they are never around each other?

And second, how will the various parts of the Body work together if they aren’t actually ever together? Numerous NT passages talk about the Body of Christ. The most significant for our discussion is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. There Paul speaks about the fact that though we are individual members, we make up part of the whole body. If you are a Christian, no matter what age, you are a member in His body. And though it seems sort of silly to say it, no individual member can survive on its own apart from the rest. To amputate the young people away from the rest of the body is spiritual suicide.

Third, doesn’t this segregation leave us with the equivalent of the “blind leading the blind.” It is like driving behind a person whose bumper sticker says, “Follow me, I’m lost.” Gathering a bunch of immature people in a room and letting them counsel one another on how to be mature is not a clever idea. It is the epitome of pooling ignorance.

So ironically, by segregating the youth for the purpose of facilitating their maturity, we can actually hinder the maturing process. In reality we will kill student ministries if we are only concerned about student ministries.

Of course, the problem still remains that I am a YOUTH pastor and I still haven’t given any validation for my job! Perhaps I’m even going the opposite way. So are there any legitimate reasons for student ministries? And is it possible to do student ministries (or any other ministry for that matter) in a way that promotes the entire body? We’ll have to see tomorrow.

If some of this sounds familiar, good! That means you have been paying attention, because today’s weblog was adapted from my sermon “How to Kill Student Ministries” preached in June, 2003.

Leaders of the Flock – What (else)?

Series | Church

It is always beneficial for us when our vision is in line with God’s vision. By using the word vision I am not referring to some supernatural dream from God, but rather to the target and scope of our work. And God’s revealed target for His shepherds is an open letter challenge to any and every specialized ministry.

The vision of a New Testament leader should include the entirety of, and diversity in, the Body. Various gifted men have been given to lead and teach and “equip the saints for the work of ministry until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12). Note that leaders/shepherds are to be concerned for “the WHOLE body” and “EACH part” (v.16). They are to “be on guard for…ALL the flock” (Acts 20:28).

These descriptions are devalued if only applying to a family or ‘specialized’ ministry. In fact, focused leadership energies toward particular cultural sub-groups, age groups, or gender groups is short-sighted at best and self-defeating at worst. This is ESPECIALLY so when these organizations or ministries operate outside the watchful oversight of the elders in a local church.

Please understand me. I am NOT saying that every small group or Bible study should be as diverse as humanly possible, or that there can be no ‘little-er’ groups at all. I am not against some reasonable grouping of similar people for the purpose of concentrated shepherding and discipleship. Since discipleship cannot take place except on the level of the individual and since much discipleship occurs in the context of regular relationships, it is natural that some separation will occur anyway.

But I am most intensely against leaders intentionally isolating themselves and their sub-group of choice away from the church or even from the rest of the body within a church. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Call in a fellowship; call it a crusade; call it an agency; call it a parachurch group; call it your family; you can even call it a ministry. Call it whatever you want. The reality is there are many members in one body–and amputating some parts away from the others for extended periods of time will result in losing the limbs entirely. We will not survive divided.

Of course, your obvious question at this point should be, “If that is what you believe, how can you be a YOUTH pastor? Isn’t that completely inconsistent with what you just said?” There is an answer. I’ll see if I can find it by tomorrow so I can keep my job – or at least so I can do it with a clear conscience!

Leaders of the Flock – What?

Series | Church

Yesterday we took a brief look at some of the implications of who New Testament shepherds are and where they do their work. Today I’d like to quickly consider one distinctive of what biblical leaders do.

Shepherds in the church have a distinct kind of work–it is spiritual, eternal work. Leading the church is not the same as managing a business, coaching a team, building a network of friendships, or securing good public relations with the community. But today’s Christian leaders seem more familiar with these temporal objectives.

I keep re-reading Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Some of his beginning thoughts summarize this idea about the spiritual nature of shepherding. Think about these few quotes:

The political and religious atmosphere of the world pushes us–if we have ears to hear–relentlessly toward the unprofessional center of faith and ministry: the brutal, bloody, hideous, heaving, crucified God-Man Jesus Christ. We are driven more and more in these years to say with the apostle Paul, ‘I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified….Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). (p. ix)

Insulated Western Christianity is waking from the dreamworld that being a Christian is normal or safe. More and more, true Christianity is becoming what it was at the beginning: foolish and dangerous. ‘We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles’ (1 Cor. 1:23). (p. ix)

the center of Christianity and the center of pastoral ministry is the dishonorable, foolish, gruesome, and utterly glorious reality of the tortured God-Man, Jesus Christ More and more, He must become the issue. Not a vague, comfortable, pleasant Jesus that everybody likes but the one who is a ‘stumbling block’ to Jews and ‘foolishness’ to Gentiles. The closer you get to what makes Christianity ghastly, the closer you get to what makes it glorious. (p. xi)

The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual. They are not shared by any of the professions….We are most emphatically not a part of a social team sharing goals other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).” The love of popularity and acceptance “kills a man’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in the world (p. 3).

This is what I don’t get about typical youth ministries, many churches, and certainly most parachurch groups. I don’t get how games and fun and entertainment and comfort and self-esteem and popularity and status are consistent with the biblical picture of Christianity which includes dying to self, living as exiles on the earth, abstaining from passions of the flesh, killing love for things of the world, and thinking it gain to die.

And I believe it is a slippery slope when we begin borrowing organizational structures from the world for our Christian organizations. Positions such as (parachurch) “ministry presidents,” “C.E.O.s,” or men with other similar titles are not equal to the leaders of the body of Christ. The church is not a corporation with a board of trustees and committees and executives that carry out memorandums. These other terms apply more to corporations and businesses rather than the organism of the Body. Leaders of the flock are not equivalent to professionals.

And not only must we be careful with our titles, we must be careful about our goals. Our goals are not marketing goals. Our aim is not to sell a product, increase our market-base, promote our company, etc. Our mission is not to make buddies and make everybody happy and win the game. We do not judge our success by numbers and respect and position.

Instead, our purpose is to “present every man mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Our emphasis is on commitment, not success. Our expectation is to receive no greater treatment than they gave our Master (Matthew 10:24-26). Our priority is on the unseen, eternal things and not the visible, transient things (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We will not win the world by becoming like the world. We should stop thinking that is what will happen. And we should stop thinking that is what God’s leaders do.

Leaders of the Flock – Who? and Where?

Series | Church

We are back again to consider the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and today I’d like to consider the fact that local churches always had leaders who were spiritually gifted and qualified, who were identified with individual local churches, and whose charge included the entire flock.

In the New Testament leaders are identified as elders (also addressed as pastors, overseers, and shepherds) as well as deacons in local churches. Both of these offices and their qualifications are described in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. And as I mentioned in the chosen channel, Paul charged Titus to “set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

As with the truth that NT churches are identified by geographical location, the fact that NT churches had recognizable leadership also has some important implications.

First, notice who the leaders are. Actually, I really want you to notice those who the leaders were not. Fathers were not the ones addressed by default as the leaders of the churches. Though undoubtedly fathers have spiritual shepherding responsibilities for their families, “fathering” in the home is not equivalent to shepherding over the church. Fathers shepherd thief families–elders shepherd the flock (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Though elders are oftentimes fathers, not all fathers are elders. (I suppose this may seem painfully obvious, but we should not take it for granted.) This means that church leadership is not equal to fatherhood (contrary to typical “house church” teaching).

This also serves to make the distinction between families and churches that we took into account on Monday.

A second major implication relates to where leaders lead. That shepherds in the NT are associated with definite flocks is quite clear. Elders (and deacons, though deacons are not by definition equivalent to shepherds) are identified with particular assemblies. They expend their energies in the endeavor to feed and protect the sheep in their own field.

This means that they are not gatherers of misfit or misplaced sheep from multiple other flocks. hey are not charged with creating or overseeing para-flock groups to reach all the brown-spotted firstlings or all the black-speckled females, etc.

Instead, they are called to “be on guard…for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). This directive from Paul to the Ephesian elders is both narrow and broad. It is broad in that they were to oversee “all the flock.” We’ll consider tomorrow how this broad element has implications for what leaders are to be doing.

But take in the significance of how narrow their calling was. They were called to concentrate on the flock “among” them. And who determined where they were and what sheep were present? The Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit not only gifts certain men to be leaders, but He also providentially puts those leaders in particular places for the particular purpose of shepherding particular people. This is just a different way to say the same thing, namely, that leaders of the flock work with just one flock at a time.

More to come.

The Chosen Chanel

Series | Church

If you’ve been in “Big Church” on Sunday mornings during the last couple of months you know that Pastor Z is in a series about the church. Hopefully God’s Spirit is illuminating the truth of the Word to your mind and helping the fact sink into your heart that the church is God’s chosen channel in this period of redemptive history.

Since the church takes precedence in God’s plan, and since “repetition is the mother of learning,” I thought I would take a series of weblogs and recap some of the distinguishing traits of New Testament churches.

For today let’s focus on the fact that New Testament churches were always identified by their geographical locations. The letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians are all addressed to believers gathered in specific communities. This classification is further verified by the fact that Paul directed Timothy to appoint elders in “every town” (Titus 1:5), thus delineating groups of gathered believers by location. Of course, this is not the same thing as saying that the church is a building, but it is the people (Christians) in a particular place.

You may be saying to yourself right now, “OK. So what? Why is that so important?” I believe there are at least two major implications that come directly from this truth.

The first implication of this fact is that no church was ever identified by a particular family or house. Even though they may have sometimes met in individual homes rather than public meeting places, a church is bigger and broader than a family unit. It is true that churches are made up of multiple families, but they are never biblically defined by as a congregation of a family or families. The church is the “household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15) in specific locations, but not “households” by definition.

A while ago there were some questions about “house churches” on the discussion forum. The little bit of research that I did on home churches yielded more than a few concerns on my part, but one of the clearest problems is that the house church movement fails to take into account the Scriptural representations of local churches. Additional evidence comes from observing that Paul ministered BOTH in public and from house to house (Acts 20:20), further confirming a distinction between the two. There is a place for smaller group Bible studies, prayer meetings, and fellowship in home settings, but a small group is not equal to a church.

A second implication of the fact that churches are identified by their place of gathering is that churches were not identified by their ministry dream/scope. That means that a church is not a group that focuses on ministering only to youth, or just to the elderly, or just the Jerusalem Track & Field Association, or just the women, just businessmen, etc. In a few days we will talk about the fact that there is considerable diversity in New Testament churches, again emphasizing that a church is not simply a narrow-banded bunch. The common bond in a local church is belief in Christ, beyond that there ought to be a great variety and assortment of people.

These implications challenge the many assorted (and anemic) definitions of what an actual church–as identified in Scripture–really is. We’ll take a look at the second distinguishing trait of New Testament churches in the next weblog.

Eagerness vs. Necessity

As a preacher it is a regular occurrence for me to hear criticism. Actually, I am amazed that I don’t get more disapproving comments from my teaching, and am quite thankful to God that He has permitted so much positive fruit. But still there are occurrences of strong disagreement or subtle challenges to the content or approach of any given message.

Perhaps one of the most common “suggestions” that a preacher gets is to “focus on what we agree on” and stop focusing on disagreements. We are told to concentrate on things we have in common. We are advised to “stop majoring on the minors.” And certainly, at all costs, we should not negatively attack those who disagree.

But consider Jude’s response to such ideas (verse 3):

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

The word “contend” may be defined as “to struggle on behalf of,” “to fight for,” “to exert intense effort on behalf of.” It is the conscious application of one’s powers for the achievement of a goal.

And in this case, the goal, the reason, the aim of our struggle is “the faith.” We fight for God’s revelation. We contend for God’s doctrine. We struggle to protect God’s message. The church is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), and without the truth–we cannot be free (John 8:32).

Consider the following thoughts from J. Gresham Machen, a New Testament scholar who taught at Princeton Seminary and who founded Westminster Theological Seminary. He wrote the following on June 17, 1932 in London:

Men tell us that our preaching should be positive and not negative, that we can preach the truth without attacking error. But if we follow that advice we shall have to close our Bible and desert its teachings. The New Testament is a polemic book almost from beginning to end.

He illustrated his point with this story:

Some years ago I was in a company of teachers of the Bible in the colleges and other educational institutions of America. One of the most eminent theological professors in the country made an address. In it he admitted that there are unfortunate controversies about doctrine in the Epistles of Paul; but, said he in effect, the real essence of Paul’s teaching is found in the hymn to Christian love in the thirteenth chapter or I Corinthians; and we can avoid controversy today, if we will only devote the chief attention to that inspiring hymn.

Machen continued,

In reply, I am bound to say that the example was singularly ill-chosen. That hymn to Christian love is in the midst of a great polemic passage; it would never have been written if Paul had been opposed to controversy with error in the Church. It was because his soul was stirred within him by a wrong use of the spiritual gifts that he was able to write that glorious hymn. So it is always in the Church. Every really great Christian utterance, it may almost be said, is born in controversy. It is when men have felt compelled to take a stand against error that they have risen to the really great heights in the celebration of truth. (J. Gresham Machen, “Christian Scholarship and the Defense of the New Testament,” in What is Christianity, 132-133).

I must admit, I am very eager to talk about our common salvation. I would love the harmony and sweet fellowship of dialogue with those who hold fast the faithful word (1 Corinthians 15:2). But however enthusiastic I may be to be “agreeable,” it is sometimes necessary to point out on what we disagree. A true shepherd will identify wrong teaching and teachers (Titus 1:9), and guard the flock from savage wolves (Acts 20:28-30). We are promised that “in the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. It is these who cause divisions” (Jude 18-19).

So remember, whether we enjoy controversy or disagreements over truth or not, it is our responsibility to fight for the faith. It is necessary!

The Battle over Surface Earth

*Yesterday was a monumental day in my life. Although there was no parade and no fireworks, it was an absolutely great day.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I mowed my own yard with my own, brand-new mower! I’ve mowed a lot of times before, but both of the above details made this occasion truly historic.

First, I have never “owned” a yard. I’ve mowed my dad’s yard many times. I’ve mowed neighbors’ lawns; I’ve mowed strangers’ lawns. I’ve mowed for businesses; I’ve mowed as a business. I’ve mowed for fun; I’ve mowed for funds. But every other time I’ve been taking care of someone else’s property – never my own. Until yesterday I’ve never known the great sense of pleasure and “ownerly” pride in manicuring my own lawn.

Second, I’ve never had a brand new mower. I’ve used push mowers, self-propelled mowers, riding mowers, lawn tractors, and small farm tractors (there are differences, you know). There are a lot of ways to cut grass. But a true “mowing man” always envisions the day when he will push his very own, never-used, first-pull-starting, not-a-nick-on-it, shiny, new mower out of the garage and engage the evil Lord Grassgrowwild in the epic battle for dominion over Surface Earth. And now I too have joined the ranks of Sod Soldiers with my very own red, Craftsman 6.5 horse power, 21” deck, rear bag mower/mulcher. It really is a mowing man’s dream machine!

Some of you have read all this and are thinking to yourself, “Mowing is a chore – not a drama!” Others perhaps are thinking, “Who stinking cares?” And I guess on one hand the whole discussion is somewhat silly. On the other hand, there is benefit and blessing in the work. I think one of the reasons I like to mow so much is that it gives an immediate and quickly increasing sense of fulfillment. There are a lot of things that we do that we don’t see results from, and many more things we do that we will never be done doing anyway.

Even though mowing is something that needs to be done on an ongoing basis (as long as the grass keeps growing), with each pass through the yard and with each revolution of the blade there is advancement. It is obvious. It is progressive and “profitable” labor. It is always encouraging to see something “get done.” The ability to work is great, but the opportunity to see results from our work is no less a good gift from God.

Whatever it is that you do, or need to do, or like to do – you should enjoy it. In fact, it is the gift of God to be given the power to enjoy and rejoice in your labor (Ecclesiastes 5:19). It is “fitting to…find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot” (5:18). Seeing the completion and accomplishment of our work is just one of the ways we are able to enjoy our labor.

So remember: In all mowing there is profit, but mere talk leads to overgrown landscape. (cf. Proverbs 14:23)

Scoffer Sensitive Services

Off and on for the last twelve years or so I have been reading the “proverb of the day.” When I was in high school my youth pastor pointed out to me that there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs which easily associate with the 31 days in most months (on the other months that are shorter than 31 days you just have to read a bunch of chapters on the last day!). Anyway, that seemed like a reasonable amount of reading to me–a chapter a day, and it also seemed like reasonable content to read since the proverbs are intended to give the “youth knowledge and discretion” (Pro. 1:4).

I am sure that in the future many days of weblog will be dominated by some verse in the “proverb of the day.” How about we make today the first?!

Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease. Proverbs 22:10

Perhaps at the first reading this seems like many proverbs – a short statement of observation on the way things typically go. I think all of us have experienced this. We’ve been part of some class or team or group or club or neighborhood or ministry that had a scoffer (or more than one) in it. Never content to scoff alone, the scoffer freely shares his disdain for the leader or the program or the material or whatever with any who would hear his preaching. And there is always widespread relief when providence relocates the scoffer to another location, the further away the greater the relief!

But the verb “drive out” is a piel imperative, (the Hebrew piel tense is an intensifying form; the imperative obviously demands our response). Therefore, this proverb is more than simply a statement about the peace that comes when scoffers quietly disappear on their own. Instead, wisdom calls us to take an active position against scoffers. We are to chase out, banish, deport, reject, show the way out, turn away, discharge, disregard, expel, leave out, remove, etc., those who mock and deride and belittle and ridicule. For us to have peace among our families and our churches and our social circles, the scoffers must be scooted out!

Now, the immediate objection that some sensitive person will naturally raise is, “That is not a loving response. That is not gracious. That is not kind or patient or long-suffering.” And this is a reasonable, if not entirely biblical concern. We should examine all that we do in relation to scoffers. There is a priority on love (Matthew 5:43-47; 22; 39; John 13:34; Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Ephesians 4:2; 5:2; Colossians 3:14; etc.). There is great need for us to avoid anger and bitterness and all of the other sins that so easily respond to those that attack us or others around us.

But if this proverb is right (and since it is inspired it must be), and if this proverb reveals the wise way (and since it comes from Wisdom is must be), then we must at least admit that there are times when we must actively, proactively seek to see the scoffers leave. We are not to have “scoffer sensitive” worship music and small groups and messages. Those who complain and cause division and stir up strife are to be warned, and warned again, but if their antagonism continues we are to “have nothing more to do” with them (Titus 3:10). We are to drive them out.

At stake is the unity of the body, the purity of the body, and the honor of our group as it reflects the honor of God. As the mocker is forced out so the fighting and bickering and feuding and quarreling will go out. When ridiculers are rejected the stains of strife are cleansed away.

The Ugliness of Unthankfulness

I thought that I might be able to skip over this thought in my head, but providence apparently had another idea. The thought came up yesterday while Mo and Maggie and I were out driving around, doing a little shopping for our remodeling efforts at the house. And we were, of course, all packed into the little cab of our truck so that we would have room in the bed of the truck for all of our large purchases. Needless to say, we were in close quarters, and we were in those close quarters all afternoon.

So far what I’ve described is probably not that awful for a person who can have fun no matter the situation, and there were a lot of reasons for me to be having fun with the family, but I wasn’t! I was cramped. I was uncomfortable. I was tired. I was thinking of all the other things I needed to be doing.

As the afternoon passed into early evening Mo and I became aware that Maggie had not taken advantage of our many miles on the road to take a nap. We noticed this, not because little kids come with a digital display of their sleep tank, nor because they are given the gift to communicate the state of their situation with verbal clarity and completeness, but rather because God has given them another avenue of announcing their displeasure with their world: whining.

And you know, whining is ugly. There is no beauty, no attractiveness, no charm, and no grace in whining. Whining is repulsive and uninviting. Whining is an expression of self-centeredness, selfishness, and unthankfulness. That makes whining ugly.

So Maggie and I had a little father-daughter chat about the attractiveness of happiness and the beauty of joy. I told her that we wanted her to grow up and be a pretty young lady and that she would be most appealing in proportion to her being most thankful.

That was great. I had taken responsibility to direct my little girl’s heart in the way it should go. And as my sense of fatherly pride welled up within me, I realized that I had failed to direct my own heart in the way it should go: the way of thankfulness.

I am better (perhaps some would disagree with this!) at concealing my lack of thankfulness than perhaps a 20 month old is but, even if my outside is not ugly, my heart is. I thought about it all last night and I thought about how ridiculous it is for me, or for anyone, to be unthankful.

As providence has planned it, this morning when I took my copy of God’s Word to pick up my reading from yesterday, I began in Psalm 136. And Psalm 136 verse one says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” Then verse two begins, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And then verse three, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.” And not to be outdone, Psalm 138 verse one starts out, “I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.”

I started singing the song in my heart: “Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. And His love endures, forever. Call upon His holy name. And rejoice in the Lord; Rejoice in the Lord. Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord, rejoice.” And while I was singing in my heart I thought of the numerous times that we are commanded to be thankful throughout Scripture. Specifically I thought of Colossians 3:15, “And be thankful.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We know that those who are filled with the Spirit will be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

So whatever is happening you today, be thankful. And pray for me that I will increase in my thankfulness…because being unthankful is ugly.