By / Dec 17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17

As a younger mom, I was a master at creating Christmas traditions for our little family of five.  Some of these were carried over from my own growing up years (or my husband’s), and a few were new traditions designed just for us. The obvious ones included decorating the Christmas tree, baking cookies, and opening little windows on an Advent calendar each day.  Others were unique to where we grew up, such as eating tamales on Christmas Eve (Texan folks will get this).  Still, other traditions were, let’s just say, “pinterest fails” such as creating a special activity to do every night of December. I exhausted myself by Dec. 2 and called that one off. Caroling the neighborhood with hot cocoa didn’t last long either—though we still enjoy the cocoa by the fire on cold evenings. Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior.

Meaningful Christmas traditions

As my children have grown into teens, I have found that our Christmas traditions have become even more meaningful and important. 

Jesse tree: What used to be an Advent calendar meant to open daily with a piece of chocolate turned into creating a Jesse tree to add an ornament to each day and unveil the entire Christmas story starting with creation. 

Reading Scripture: My husband and I felt it was important that as our kids were getting older, they could begin to understand the full redemptive narrative of Christ, not just the celebration of his birth. So, we let our teens take turns reading the scriptures that point to Jesus throughout the entire Bible—Old Testament and New. We have marveled at the depth we as a family have experienced by adding this tradition to our Christmas season each year.  

Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior. 

Giving more: We have also “flipped the script” on the tradition of gift-giving with our teens. Not too long ago, our kids were lavished with many gifts, from us, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, and so forth. Now that they are older, we encourage them to be gift-givers, not only receivers. My daughter has a job, so she likes to shop and buy her brothers small things that she knows they want. My boys have no cash, so I encourage them to offer gifts of service, such as offering to do a chore for a sibling, or help their dad with yard work (with a great attitude!). 

Knowing that grandparents enjoy handmade gifts, sometimes they even get around to creating an ornament or simple stocking stuffers to hand out on Christmas morning. More than anything, this tradition has helped them understand that biblical truth, “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In the age of mass consumerism, I am happy for them to receive less and give more out the abundance of love they have for others. This ultimately points to how we worship Jesus, out of the overflow of love for him because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It’s important to note that we haven’t thrown out all the childhood traditions. That would make my “big kids” quite sad. We still bake and decorate sugar cookies with my grandmother’s famous recipe. We still watch The Grinch and Polar Express with hot cocoa, and, yes, we still get a chocolate Advent calendar to count down the days. I may or may not have my very own dark chocolate version each year. However, as the years I have with them under my roof start to grow fewer and fewer, I don’t want to miss the chance to deepen their affections for Jesus. Christmas represents the perfect opportunity to help teenagers grow in their faith and long for the coming of their Savior. 

By / Oct 15

When we talk about marriage, whether it be “marriage equality” or “traditional marriage,” it’s easy to overlook a key component in the argument: the wedding. In fact, I am convinced that the current state of weddings in the Western world has been instrumental in leading us to where we find ourselves in the marriage discussion—with a high divorce rate and an unending argument about the meaning of marriage. Weddings are far from the only factor, but they contribute nonetheless, and I think we should take a closer look.

For centuries in Western countries, weddings, and therefore marriages, were the domain of the church—be it Catholic or Protestant. In the Protestant church, wedding vows were universal, taken from the Book of Common Prayer and determined by the diligent study and arguments of many over several years. There was a commonality to marriage. If everyone said the same vows, then marriage meant the same thing universally.

Fast-forward to the present day. Just about anyone can become licensed to perform a wedding, no vows even have to be made, and the meaning of marriage is up to each individual couple (or person) to determine. In a society that places a premium on individuality, marriage can mean one of a thousand different things. And why not? Somehow we have to justify our decision to get married. So we determine why marriage is important to us and go for it.

It is worthwhile to ask why getting married is important to people who don’t see any inherent universal value or meaning within the institution. Maybe we see the wedding industry and want the whole big thrill of a wedding. Maybe it’s the rights and value assigned to being married, rather than living together. Perhaps we want what our grandparents or parents had or like the legitimacy of being married.

So we work through these questions, create a wedding around our answers, and present to our guests our own unique version of “marriage.” And really, it makes sense. If marriage is merely a construct of society, then each society, and each member therein, can determine why it is important and what it will look like in his or her own context.

Where it doesn’t make sense is in the church. When we talk about the future of marriage in the church, we cannot make the mistake of overlooking our weddings. The Bible begins and ends with a wedding. Throughout both the Old and New Testaments we see that God’s creation and institution of marriage was for a greater purpose. The one-flesh union of Adam and Eve in Genesis points all the way to the culmination of the Church’s union with Christ in Revelation 19. Marriage was created so we might understand how dearly God loves us.

Marriage matters. And if the wedding is day one of the marriage, then it matters too. When we—a man and a woman—choose to vow our love and devotion to one another with words that reflect God’s design for marriage, we are starting our lives together on a firm foundation. When we proclaim that our ability to keep our vows is dependent on the grace of God—that we will fail, but he is faithful—we are setting up a cornerstone that we can look back on when difficult days and years come. When we gather with friends and family in corporate worship in our wedding ceremony, we are demonstrating the reality that our particular marriage is not just about us. We are saying it is about the glory of God, and it is dependent upon the encouragement and support of the church.

My prayer is that the church might come alongside engaged couples and encourage them in the freedom of how truly meaningful a wedding can be. I believe Christian weddings can be the most joyful, reverent, and celebratory events we have the privilege of witnessing. And perhaps as we embrace and proclaim the meaning of marriage in our weddings, we will build a firm foundation for marriages that, by his grace, point to Christ, build strong families, and transform the world.

By / Feb 25

Hello, I am Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions & Ethics. This is the program where we take an issue that you are struggling with and look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ.

Our question today is one that I am being asked a lot right now because of some press reports about a megachurch where, apparently, there is a time of spontaneous baptisms. And at least some media reports are saying that this church is planting people in the congregation to walk forward during the invitation to be baptized in order to present the illusion of momentum in that invitation so that that will kind of break the ice and free people up to be able to come for baptism who are needing to be baptized.

I don’t know whether or not in this church’s case that is really what is happening. I have seen media reports misrepresent people and misrepresent churches and misrepresent me sometimes. So, I am not suggesting that that is the case for this particular church, because I don’t know. And that is one of the reasons why I am not naming the church. But I think it is a valid question to say would that be the right thing to do? I have seen churches where they have had people do this at the invitation time, not as it relates to baptism, but just in terms of walking down the aisle to sort of give people that sense that they are not alone if they walk forward.

So, theoretically, would it be right if you were to have spontaneous baptisms—to have people come forward and be baptized in order to help loosen other people up to do it? And the answer to that is no. And here is why.

Baptism is not just some sort of church program. Baptism in scripture is a word that Jesus is speaking, the congregation as the body of Christ is speaking on behalf of Jesus, “All authority has been given to me,” all authority on heaven and in earth. Jesus says I give that authority to you. You take the gospel to the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. In the act of baptism, the church can only speak where Jesus is speaking, and Jesus is speaking only to those who have come to know Christ.

Of course, I am a Baptist. Some of you are of other faith traditions. You will disagree with me on that, and we can talk about that later. But I think, biblically, that is who is qualified to be baptized. Jesus is speaking to that person saying you are united with me in death, burial, and resurrection. You have a pledge and a promise coming from me that at death you are going to be lifted up out of the grave in resurrection. That means you have died to your sin. You are a new creation in Christ. And that word that is being spoken in baptism is being announced from the local congregation to the outside world. This is somebody who is being marked out as one of the people of God and someone who now is under the authority and accountability of the church, the body of Christ.

That is a serious, serious act. It is not something that we can use as some sort of pretend drama in order to get something done within our congregations. It is frankly deceptive to have people who are pretending to be repentant sinners. I cannot imagine that taking place on the day of Pentecost when the Apostle Peter is standing up and preaching, “Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins!” and to say that we have James and John and Nathaniel out here in order to kind of prime the pump of the crowds gathering around. The only way you could ever come to that conclusion is by so instrumentalizing and pragmatizing baptism that it no longer has any kind of connection with the radical break and departure from the old life that we see in the New Testament—an act that frankly, as a Baptist, I am particularly indignant about because so many of our forefathers were harassed and even killed!

I was just looking this morning at a set of paintings out of the revolutionary era of a Baptist being held face down in the water, being dunked by people who are doing that in order to ridicule him for the fact that he believes in a free church believer’s baptism. So many people have died, have given their lives, been whipped, been exiled for baptism, and then just to use that in some sort of manipulative, emotionally deceptive sort of manner, I think, is a travesty. Again, I don’t know if that is happening in that one particular church, but it wouldn’t surprise me, with the way that so often we turn people into statistics, if it weren’t happening in some churches. And yes, I think that would be unethical. I think that would be wrong. And I think that would be a shameful thing to do.

What’s your question? Thanks for listening to us here on Questions & Ethics. And if you’ve got something that you are thinking about and you are wondering as you are reading your Bible or as you are talking to a family member or a neighbor; or maybe you are witnessing to an unbeliever in your community, and you are saying I just don’t know how to answer this question; or I am trying to deal with this issue in my family or in my workplace or my church, and I’m just not sure what’s right, well, shoot me an email at [email protected] or send me a message via Twitter with the hashtag #askrdm, and we will talk about it here on Questions & Ethics. Until next time, seek the kingdom and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.