“I just played my last high school soccer game” our son, Jonathan, said amidst tears and hugs from teammates, classmates, parents, and coaches. Tis the season of lasts for our youngest son as he finishes his last year of high school. Being a 4 sport athlete and highly involved in the life of his school, Jonathan knows he has some more lasts before his year’s done. So based on the sadness he felt after his last soccer game I think he’s already dreading the next major last.
So on our way home from his last game I reminded Jonathan that a season of lasts doesn’t last forever. In fact a last of something means a first for something else. Though I acknowledged to him that early in the season of lasts it’s not always clear what the new first will be. For example Jonathan knows he’ll be going to college, which is comforting at a certain level, but he doesn’t know where. And not having a clear and specific picture of the first can make the season of lasts most difficult.
Yet once there’s clarity about the new first – in this case where Jonathan will be attending college, it’s easy to move from the sadness and loss to excitement about the promise that new first brings. But the key is finding that new first, to have a real and tangible plan beyond the last last. The more specific the plan, the easier it is to have the lasts feel like they’re giving birth to the new first instead of bringing an end to all things good and happy. That’s why this week Jonathan, Denise and I are making our first official college visits. Not to run away from the lasts but to put them into a different light, a light of a new first.
Now this all sounds really good as I’m saying it to a 17-year-old but here’s the real test of my fatherly advice – with Jonathan being our last child it also means Denise and I are also experiencing a season of lasts. After nine high school soccer seasons as a parent, Jonathan’s last game was also our last soccer game, his last basketball game will also be ours, his last day of school will be ours. I’ll admit I’m very sad about it all and already feel the loss that having no kids in school will bring to our lives.
Yet now it’s time for Denise and me to heed our own advice and have a plan and envision a life as “empty nesters”, and to discover our next first. What will it be? I don’t know but I’m excited to find out.
“Aaron, both Denise and I want to thank you for the investment you’ve made in MD over the last four years, including shepherding he and Carissa through their marriage preparation and officiating their wedding. We’ll be forever grateful.
MD, Carissa, today I don’t intend to share with you any advice about how to have a strong marriage or a healthy family, the reason is anything I would say in these few moments could never carry the weight of the two of you watching and living with us, your parents, over a life time.
Instead what I’d like to do is plant a seed in you of a vision for what your marriage can mean not just for you and your family but what it can mean for God’s Kingdom.
To do this we need to do a little review of redemptive history (you’re NMCS and Calvin grads so I know this is all ingrained in you). As you know there are three significant events in redemptive history – Christ’s first coming, his future second coming and then the horrific events centered on a fruit tree in Genesis 3. Everything changed in the world at this tree – literally history can be divided between life before and life after the tree. Before the tree we have a world aligned with God’s Kingdom, where there was no death, no pain, no tears, but after the tree, because of man’s rebellion against God, the world became shrouded in darkness and filled with all that darkness brings.
Yet the covenants God made with Adam and Eve before the tree are still valid and intact after the tree. One of those covenants as we’ve heard Aaron already speak about, and why we’re here today, is the covenant of marriage. So I’d like to take a moment for us to reflect this question.
Why would God call us to live out the covenant of marriage after the tree, in the midst of brokenness, evil and pain, when it was instituted before the tree in peace and harmony?
Well first, I believe marriage harkens us back to the world before the tree reminding us of what God intended life and marriage to be. And second, marriage gives us a taste of what life will be like when Christ returns again and makes all things new. So marriage gives us hope and a yearning for the restoration of God’s Kingdom. Therefore marriage should be a testimony, a vision of hope, and a light to others of something bigger and better and eternal here in this time of darkness.
But this only works if our marriage reflects these kingdom values, if people can see something different in our marriages and families, they then can get a glimpse of something sacred, something eternal that goes back to a time before the tree and points them to hope of coming of Christ’s Kingdom.
Mom and I, and Carissa I know your parents raised you for this purpose – to bring the light of Christ to every part of the world you’re called to – whether school as we’ve seen you do, and now in your new careers and in the communities you’ll live.
But here’s how, after today, you’ll do this – you’ll do it together, in the context of this sacred covenant of marriage. You have an opportunity to give the people in your lives a glimpse of what was and a taste of what will be in the Kingdom to come.
So here’s the challenge I want to leave with you, the vision I pray you’ll have for your marriage – that through the power of Christ, you’ll live out this sacred covenant of marriage in such a way that others will be drawn not to you but to the only person who can make marriage all that it’s meant to be – Jesus Christ – and by doing so, you’ll bring a little of the Christ’s Kingdom to the world you’re now entering.”
Sometimes there are books we just need to read. We read them even if they’re not entertaining, up – lifting, or full of new information, but because we need to hear the message straight up, in a clear and concise way. This describes John Dickerson’s recent book “Great Evangelical Recession, The: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare“.
This is a book that needs to be read by Christian leaders and by anyone who cares about the Church.
Dickerson is an award-winning journalist turned pastor who’s applied his journalistic research skills to identifying major movements within the Evangelical Church today and diagnosing their impact on its future. Then, with a clear and engaging writing style, accompanied by ability to synthesis vast amounts of data and research, Dickerson, outlines 6 significant trends that he believes will lead to an “Evangelical recession”. In addition, he also spells out 6 remedies the Church can take to either change the course of these trends or to navigate effectively through them.
Be warned these 6 trends may shock you. They’re shocking because of the strong case Dickerson builds for each one. They’re also shocking because many of us live inside the Evangelical bubble so do not see ourselves clearly in the context of the rest of the world (I read most of the book on a plane to New York City. As I walked the streets of Manhattan I had no doubt that Christians living in New York would wholeheartedly agree with Dickerson’s conclusions). Yet I also have to admit, at some intuitive level, I’ve known these trends were a reality so part of my shock was that they also confirmed my worst fears.
Amazingly, even with Dickerson’s strong research, I found some reviewers of the book believing Dickerson’s got it wrong, that his assessments are to negative. Ironically many of these folks live and work in places other than cities like New York; instead they live in places such as Colorado Springs, Grand Rapids, or countless communities in the Bible Belt. Personally I’ve concluded that even if Dickerson has over stated his case 50% (which I don’t believe he has), the trends would still demand the prayerful self-assessment by the Church and its leaders. So as a result, our Board and Senior Leaders are reading it, as well as we’re making it available to all our staff and supporters who may want to read it.
So my recommendation is that you make “Great Evangelical Recession, The: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare“ one of your summer reads. Read it with an open mind and a willing heart to hear the hard realities of our world. Then be prepared to do your part to help the Church effectively navigate through these trends.43.928283-85.286682