Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Stick Figures as an Act of Worship: 8 Tips for Helping Children Listen in Big Church

Drawing stick figures can be a spiritual act of worship. That statement may sound childish to you, but it can become a gateway into engaging your children with your pastor’s weekly sermon. And, you might be surprised at how often it causes you to engage more as well.
In elementary school, I sat in the pew of my local church each Sunday and drew pictures during the sermon. My mom bought me twistable crayons, which I thought were awesome, and I created masterpieces on the back of church bulletins. However, these masterpieces had nothing to do with the sermon because, honestly, I wasn’t listening. My mom had simply given me something to pass the time.
As a young adult, I heard a pastor say he challenged the children in his church to draw pictures of his sermon. The children often showed him their works of art afterward, and he was amazed that these children were indeed listening, and understanding, his sermons. He kept some of the sketches as reminders of how the Word of God was shaping even the youngest hearts in his congregation.
As my own children graduated from the nursery, my wife and I committed to helping them learn to worship in Big Church. More than trying to teach them to “behave and be quiet,” we wanted them to engage in the music, prayers, offerings, and sermon as best they could at their age. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how it would go. Sure, they could participate in the music and “get the wiggles out,” but could children really grasp everything in a 30-45 minute sermon? But time has proven that I underestimated how much they pick up.
It hasn’t been easy. Some weeks caused me to want to give up and default into “behave and be quiet” mode. But by God’s grace, we kept at it and little by little began to experience the overwhelming joy of seeing our elementary-age kids grasp the Word of God and grow in their understanding of the Lord. Through trial and error, we developed a pattern to help our kids stay engaged throughout the church service and draw pictures from the sermon rather than just drawing during the sermon.
Here are 8 tips we’ve learned along the way:
  1. Prepare in advance – During the week, talk with your children about how everyone in the family is going to start drawing pictures of the sermon. Talk about how fun it will be to see what they draw. Have this conversation every week at the beginning and then periodically as reinforcement thereafter. Parents set the attitude, so speak in a positive manner rather than harping on past mistakes.

    You’ll also want to prepare supplies. We bought inexpensive canvas bags for each child that we call “Bible bags.” Inside the bag they keep their Bible, a spiral notebook, a pencil, and … twistable crayons. Early on, we realized that once they filled up the back of the bulletin, they would check out, which could be five minutes into the sermon. The notebook provides a solid surface and unlimited pages to keep them drawing throughout the sermon and bundles together what God is teaching them through His Word. On Saturday evening, remind everyone of your expectations and ensure Bible bags are ready to go. Trust me, one of the quickest ways to derail your efforts is to get to church and realize your child’s bag is empty because of the mad rush to get out the door that morning.
  2. Sit close to the front – Many parents sit in the back of the auditorium because they don’t want to distract others. We choose the opposite approach and sit as close to the front as we can in order to remove distractions from our kids. They are more engaged when they can see the musicians and preacher up close. Of course, we also don’t mind taking our children out to the foyer if they become a distraction.
  3. What to draw – We keep it simple and tell our children to draw pictures of whatever they hear in the sermon. It could be from an illustration, the biblical text, or an application, but we give them free reign. Sometimes it looks bizarre. You may look down and see an elaborate drawing of a car driving across your son’s paper and think, “Oh no, he’s totally checked out and not listening.” Then, when you discuss it, he says something like, “I drew this because Pastor John said the gospel drives a wedge between us and sin.” Though it’s humorous, he got it, and that’s the point.
  4. Model it – This tip, and the next one, will make or break your efforts to build this discipleship pattern in your kids’ lives. You need to be drawing pictures of the sermon as well. My drawing skills are terrible, but my weirdly drawn stick figures have actually been an encouragement to my kids that it’s not about being a good artist. I let them copy my drawings because it shows them how to draw pictures of more abstract concepts when the sermon is not from a narrative passage of Scripture. If they don’t see you doing it, they’ll likely be less interested in it. As a side benefit, you’ll actually be surprised at how much it helps YOU pay attention to the sermon as well!
  5. Discuss it over lunch – Every Sunday while we’re eating lunch, everyone in the family takes turns sharing their drawings, which capitalizes on the innate “Daddy, look what I did,” and reinforces what they learned. When our kids have shown disinterest in drawing the sermons, we’ve often looked back and realized that we fell out of the habit of sharing our sketches at lunch. Some of the sweetest times of family discipleship have occurred during these lunchtime show and tells.
  6. Share it with your pastor – Pastors are greatly encouraged when they see how God’s Word is shaping the children in your congregation. Scan a drawing and email it to your pastor.
  7. Teach and reteach – Like other areas of parenting, it’s trial and error. Some weeks will be better than others. Some sermons will be easier than others. Don’t give up. Hit the reset button each week, and you’ll eventually see fruit in your efforts.
  8. Teaching is worship – The reason most of us fall into the “be quiet and behave” mode is because we don’t want our kids to distract us from worship. One of the most powerful concepts I’ve learned is that even if I might feel a little distracted during that worship song because I’m redirecting my son, or I might miss one of the sermon points because I’m helping pick up a rogue crayon rolling under the row in front of me, teaching my kids how to worship the Lord in Big Church is actually a form of worship in itself. One way we love God with all our hearts and souls is by teaching our children how to love Him too (Deut. 6:4-9).
 This article first appeared on TheologicalMatters.com.

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Questions to Ask Your Social Media Self

I almost choked on my cookie. During a lunch conversation, a friend told me about a recent job interview where his future employer explained that they had already researched him and his family.

How did they do this? They examined the past five years of his Facebook account … every post, every comment, every share, every photo. They knew about his kids, his love for football, and even some of his pet peeves.

My first thought: “Note to self—check your Facebook security settings ASAP.” But my second thought was that this should not be a scary scenario.

In fact, this episode is not uncommon. I’ve heard a number of stories of millennials who have been rejected by potential employers or fired by their company due to personal rants, inappropriate photos or questionable comments on their social media past and present. Full disclosure, I’ve “Facebook stalked” a few applicants myself to get a glimpse of who they are outside of their resume.

I am personally grateful that social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager or young adult. None of us would want our youthful indiscretions and naïve, know-it-all comments captured for the whole world to see for years to come.

But social media, for better or worse, captures all kinds of details about who we are … or who we want people to think we are.

On several occasions in recent years, I’ve learned my lesson about social media. I’ve had to go back and delete an embarrassing post or apologize for an immature comment. On my better days, I’ve caught myself just before posting that self-promoting tweet or sarcastic comment and slowly hit the backspace key until nothing was left but the cursor. In fact, I’ve found myself posting far less on Facebook and Twitter over the last year or so for this very reason. Like Thumper’s father told him, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.”

Maybe even more subtle are the motivations behind our posts. Sometimes we’re trying to prop ourselves up as something we’re not. Other times, we’re venting anger about some inconsequential topic. Or maybe we just want people to know how clever we are. Our motivations are often more transparent to others than we think.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar place, regretting that social media rant, self-indulgent photo, inconsiderate comment or conspicuous humblebrag. One way I’ve found to guard against this is to regularly take inventory of my social media posts. Every now and then, I look back over my Facebook and Twitter feeds for the previous month or two and ask myself a series of questions to evaluate what I’m broadcasting to the world.

Here are 10 of the most common questions I ask myself:
  1. If someone only knew me from my social media posts, who would they think I am and would they be right?
  2. What do I tweet/share about the most?
  3. What do these posts say about my general personality and mood?
  4. What do these posts say about what I enjoy and value?
  5. What do these posts say about who/what I trust in?
  6. Is there anything embarrassing or something I wish I hadn’t said?
  7. Do I need to apologize to anyone for a post or comment?
  8. How well did I point people to Jesus?
  9. What was my motivation behind these posts? Was there anything I posted as a way to make me look better than I am or as a way to impress people?
  10. What changes do I need to make in my social media habits?
These questions dive deep into our use of social media. Self-evaluation can be one of the hardest habits to form, but God can use it for our sanctification. Sometimes I come away from these reflections humbled and repentant. Other times, I’ve come away relieved that my posts have been positive, accurate, and helpful.

So take a few minutes to scroll through your feeds and ask these questions. You just might be surprised what you’ll find.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Preach about the church to the church

Many would say the conservative evangelical church has entered a golden age of expository preaching. A genuine commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture has led to a genuine commitment to expositional preaching.

But despite this trend, what if a blind spot—a byproduct of 20th-century evangelicalism—exists in our preaching? Put plainly, an overemphasized Christian individualism may be eroding our churches and our preaching. What I mean is that we have focused on the Christian life as an individual pursuit of God and devalued the role of the local church in the life of the believer. 

The Christian life runs on twin engines—both our individual relationship with the Lord and our congregational relationship with other local believers in a covenant community, a local church. Certainly, we must emphasize the individual nature of the Christian life, but that’s often where we stop. The congregational nature of the Christian life appears to be an optional add-on or at least a minor aspect of Christian discipleship. That’s why we hear the common refrains, “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” or, “I love Jesus, but I’m just not that into the church.” Because the church is Jesus’ bride, that’s like telling me, “Keith, I really like you, but I can’t stand your wife.” Our relationship won’t be the same.

Our preaching has inherited this imbalanced Christian individualism, resulting in weakened local churches. Today’s preaching largely aims at the individual Christian and neglects a congregationally shaped view of the Christian life.

Ironically, this misses the whole objective of expository preaching. The Bible is a congregationally shaped book. It is written about God’s people, to God’s people, for God’s people. The Old Testament is written to the people of God—Israel. The New Testament is written to the people of God—local churches. Even the New Testament letters written to individuals (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus) are written to pastors of local churches, instructing them on how to lead God’s people.

Expositional preaching exposes God’s Word to his people and helps them live out the truths found in the Bible. Because the Bible is congregationally shaped, our preaching must be congregationally shaped; it must be ecclesiological. In fact, if your preaching is not ecclesiological, you’re not truly doing exposition.

Again, I’m not advocating a push of the pendulum to the opposite side and neglecting the individual aspect of the Christian life. We must maintain a balance between the two.

So what’s the remedy? Ecclesiological exposition, or what Mark Dever describes as preaching about the church to the church. While modern expositional preaching tends to be sermons to a group of individuals, ecclesiological exposition helps Christians grow in their individual walks with the Lord while also helping them relate to one another and fulfill Christ’s mission in the local church. After all, God’s vehicle for complete Christian maturity is not just quiet times; it’s the local church (Eph. 4:1-16). Congregationally conscious preaching creates a compelling community of believers who disciple one another, exhibit genuine love and care for one another, and display the glory of God to a watching world.

Like bifocals enable someone to view close up as well as far away, ecclesiological exposition keeps both the individual and congregational in focus. When we read the Bible, we will surely find applications for individuals, but we must also view the Scriptures through a corporate lens, asking, “What does this passage mean for our life together as a church?” 

On a practical level, such a paradigm shift in preaching affects the explanation, illustration, and application of the text of Scripture, as the sermon explains the corporate implications of the text, illustrates the text by highlighting its expressions in local bodies of believers, and applies the text to the congregation as a whole. As a result, a culture of discipleship and Christlike affection develops as church members see how they relate to one another, and the corporate witness of the church is broadcast to the surrounding community.

Pastor, as you prepare this week’s sermon, continue to examine what the text means for each individual Christian in the room, but don’t forget to also consider how that individual might understand and live out that passage in the context of your church. Consider what ways your congregation is, or should be, obeying the commands of Scripture as a corporate body.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Dads, give your family a gift on Father’s Day

I still remember the worst Father’s Day gift my brothers and I ever gave my dad.

We sat on the edge of my parents’ bed that late-1980s Sunday morning with eyes full of excitement as my dad unwrapped his brightly colored Jams shorts and T-shirt emblazoned with a cartoon, surfboarding Tyrannosaurus Rex. To his credit, he acted like he loved this bizarre outfit that no self-respecting 40-year-old man would want to wear in public.

From corny to cliché to cringe-worthy, Father’s Day gifts are notorious for being bad, but good dads see beyond the ugly ties and receive them with joy and gratitude.

But, dads, let me challenge you to turn the tables on your family this year. What if, instead of receiving gifts, you gave your family a gift this year? What if you gathered your family around you and committed to lead them spiritually for the next year through regular family worship?

Deuteronomy 6:5—which Jesus considered the greatest commandment—says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” What’s interesting is that the verses that follow explain one of the primary ways families love God with all their heart, soul and might:

“… And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

These verses are the foundation of a practice known as family worship or family devotions that Christians have participated in for centuries. It’s simply setting aside one or more days per week to read the Bible, talk about it and pray together. And Scripture is clear that the father should take the lead when possible.

If you’re like me, the idea of leading your family to make this a regular pattern is both exciting and scary. Most men, even those who are spiritually mature, can feel inadequate or unprepared for such a task. So many questions/objections come to mind—What do we do? How long should it be? What if I’m not that knowledgeable about the Bible?

First, let me just say that if you feel your blood pressure raising as you think about these questions, you’re not alone. Second, let me encourage you to buy yourself a Father’s Day gift to help guide you—Donald Whitney’s practical and concise book, appropriately titled Family Worship

For less than $10 and fewer than 75 pages, this is the perfect jumpstart to leading family worship. The book includes a discussion guide that you could read with your wife or another dad, and as an added bonus, you can sign up for a free five-day email course on family worship at crossway.org/FamilyWorship101.

After a short survey of Scripture and church history showing the value of family worship, Whitney dives into the how-tos and what-ifs. One of the things I like about Whitney, which can also be seen in his book Praying the Bible, is that he doesn’t overcomplicate things or give too much “how to.” For example in this book, he says family worship is comprised of reading the Bible, praying, and singing, and can last as little as 10 minutes. Those looking for detailed guidance on nuts and bolts won’t find it in this book, which is probably good. One of the things I’ve learned is that flexibility is key when leading family worship, and Whitney provides enough structure to get you off the runway, but he allows each family to determine the best flight path.

Whitney also answers some “what if” questions, such as “What if the father is not a Christian?” or “What if your children are very young?” or “What if there is a wide range of ages among the kids?” Overall, the book is a quick, helpful read for families of all ages and spiritual maturity levels.

Imagine years from now, sitting with your kids and grandkids talking about Father’s Day, and one by one your children speak of the greatest Father’s Day gift you ever gave them—the spiritual legacy you gave them as you regularly taught them what it looks like to love God with all your heart, soul, and might through family worship.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Parenting, Gender Confusion, and Child Abuse

Which of the following options would you define as “child abuse”?

A) a parent encourages a child to pursue desires that will cause irreparable physical, psychological and emotional damage, or
B) that parent protects the child from these desires, despite the child’s insistence on what’s best

The answer seems easy, but when it comes to the debate over treatment for gender-confused children, medical professionals demonstrate competing worldviews that will prove disastrous for this generation.

The American College of Pediatricians released a startling article March 21, calling on educators and legislators “to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex.” The medical professionals highlight the dangers of puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones in gender-confused adolescents—treatments that pave the way for gender reassignment surgery as an adult—and conclude that encouraging children and parents to pursue such treatments is “child abuse.”

The nationwide American College of Pediatricians (ACP) is a socially conservative medical association distinct from the larger American Academy of Pediatrics.

Key to their propositions is the biological fact that human sexuality is binary—male and female—and having these genetic (XY and XX) markers is normal and healthy. Children with gender confusion, such as a boy believing he’s a girl or a girl wanting to be a boy, suffer from “an objective psychological problem [that] lies in the mind not the body,” these pediatricians say.

The article condemns attempts to normalize transgender treatments, citing the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association that “as many as 98% of gender-confused boys and 88% of gender-confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.” Noting that suicide rates are 20 times higher among adults that use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, the ACP asks, “What compassionate and reasonable person would condemn young children to this fate … ?”

The LGBTQ community will likely do everything it can to discredit these physicians and their claims. Certainly they cannot allow the massive surge in the acceptance of the transgender movement, popularized by last year’s media frenzy over Bruce Jenner’s “transformation” into Caitlyn Jenner, to lose steam. After all, don’t they hold the rights to the term “child abuse” in reference of parents who refuse to allow children to “be who they really are”? This claim shows just how skewed the term “child abuse” has become.

Make no mistake, this is about opposing ideologies.

The medical analysis of the ACP flies in the face of doctrine given to parents of children with gender dysphoria (the medical term for gender confusion) who are told they are abusive to force their kid to accept their biological sex.

Take, for example, the story of Mela Singleton, mother of 12-year-old “Evan” Singleton. She first noticed her daughter Evie’s desire to be a boy when she was just 2 years old. As a toddler, Evie rejected anything “stereotypically girly” and threw fits when people would refer to her as “she.” By age 7, Mela and her husband decided that Evie must have a boy brain with a girl body, so they acquiesced to their adolescent’s wishes, changed her name to Evan, and gave her a boy’s haircut and clothing.

Two years later, “Evan” became the first patient in the Children Medical Center Dallas’ transgender program, absurdly called Genecis (GENder Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support), the only pediatric clinic of its type in the Southwest and among the 40 such clinics nationwide.

“It’s my job as a parent to help him be his authentic self,” Mela says, adding, “it’s not about me; it’s about raising a child to be the best him that he can be.” Evan, whether conditioned by his parents or the Genecis program, simply wants transgender to be normalized, stating “it’s not that big of a deal.”

But what if “raising a child to be the best him that he can be” actually means raising him as a her, which is her God-given biological sex. That is, after all, what the data presented by the pediatricians at ACP suggests.

Sadly, an over-idealized concept of individual freedom runs rampant in our culture, asking, “Who are you to refuse to let someone choose who they want to be?” My answer to that question is simply, “I’m the dad.”

As parents, we face difficult choices over what is best for our children all the time, and these decisions often come at the protest of our children, who think they know best.

What if my 5-year-old daughter, who has her dad’s sweet tooth, says she thinks M&M’s are the healthiest food for her and throws a fit when I place anything else in front of her? What if I acquiesce to her wishes and feed her only M&M’s because “that’s just who she is”? Or what if after she complained of a headache, I handed her a bottle of Aspirin and encouraged her to eat as many as she wanted to make her feel better.

I’m pretty sure in both of these cases that Child Protective Services would be knocking at my door.

Let me be clear, gender dysphoria is a serious psychological disorder in children, and I would never encourage parents to ignore it or say “he’ll get over it.” Parents should patiently and prayerfully seek help but also be aware that recommendations they get from some doctors will go against God’s design for human sexuality.

At the same time, just because your daughter likes to skateboard or doesn’t like the color pink doesn’t mean she’s a boy trapped in a girl’s body. And just because your son is more effeminate, it does not mean you should pursue medical treatments that could jeopardize his health and his life.

Undoubtedly, this debate will rage on, but I appreciate physicians like those with the ACP who are willing to stand against the trends in psychology and medicine in order to more clearly identify the true definition of “child abuse.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

6 Principles Baptists Can Glean from the Episcopal Church’s Suspension

When news broke a little over a week ago that the Episcopal Church of the United States had been suspended from the Anglican Communion over its official affirmation of same-sex marriage, it signaled a huge step in a debate that has raged for more than a decade. The Anglican Primates (senior bishops of the 38 Anglican provinces) voted to censure the Episcopal Church for three years—denying its ability to represent Anglicans on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, restricting it from participating in Anglican committees and decision-making, and demoting it to “observer” status—with the hope that the Episcopal Church will repent and return to fellowship with the Communion.
While many conservative Anglicans called for broader sanctions or for the Episcopal Church to voluntarily withdraw from the Communion, the decision signifies a deep line in the sand over doctrine, and the Anglican Church should be applauded for reaffirming their commitment to Scripture’s teaching on marriage as between one man and one woman for life.
Certainly, as a Baptist, I disagree with Anglicans on a number of matters related to doctrine and polity. Additionally, I probably would have pushed for stronger discipline and a shorter timeframe than the senior bishops agreed upon. But, there are some principles that can be gleaned from the disciplinary actions of the Primates with respect to the practice of church discipline within a local body of believers.
In recent years, the practice of biblical church discipline has seen somewhat of a renaissance, especially among Baptists. After decades of avoiding the practice, many evangelical churches have seen the need for the grace-based, restoration-focused discipline outlined in Scripture (most specifically found in Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13) in order to re-establish regenerate church membership.
The following six principles seen in the Anglican Church’s suspension of the Episcopal Church follow the New Testament guidelines for church discipline:
1.     Standing on doctrinal and moral principles. It would have been easy for the Primates to simply ignore the Episcopal Church’s theological drift “for the sake of unity.” Instead, they recognized the serious departure from Scripture and believed that there are truths worth separating over, no matter how difficult that break-up may be. Paul rebukes the church in 1 Corinthians 5 for tolerating open sin. Unrepentant sin must not be acquiesced to or swept under the rug. If there is serious doctrinal error or moral sin in the church, leaders and members must address the issue head on.
2.     Loving call for repentance. Along with standing for truth, there is a sincere and loving call to repentance. The Anglican bishops are right to call for the Episcopal Church to renounce their position and return to the clear teaching of Scripture in order for fellowship to be restored. Similarly, when sin is exposed in a local church, brothers and sisters in Christ should lovingly call the offender to repent of the sin in order to have fellowship restored. Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 18 outline multiple levels of confrontation in order to provide multiple opportunities for repentance.
3.     Desire for unity. As Paul instructs in Ephesians 4:3, we must be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” within the church. The Anglican bishops showed that a “unity at all costs” mindset is untenable. In fact, true unity is only strengthened through their actions. In their statement, they said, “Over the past week the unanimous decision of the Primates was to walk together, however painful this is, and despite our differences, as a deep expression of our unity in the body of Christ.” So, too, when autonomous churches carefully walk through the biblical practice of church discipline, they must always keep unity in view. A haphazard, graceless approach to discipline could result in a valid excommunication from fellowship for the unrepentant, but it can also result in fractured unity within the church.
4.     Clear timeframe and consequences. The Anglican Primates were specific in giving a three-year suspension as well as a clear explanation of what would happen if the Episcopal Church did not repent of its error—excommunication. In local churches, a clear timeframe must be given within which an individual or individuals must repent or else they will be removed from membership of the church. In some churches, this “watch care” period can last from 3-6 months up to a year, in which time members are asked to pray for the offender(s) and lovingly encourage them to repent. For example, the case could be presented to the church at a quarterly business meeting and a vote of restoration or excommunication—depending on whether repentance has taken place—occurs at the next quarterly meeting.
5.     Action to suspend leadership. Just as the Episcopal Church has been restricted from representing Anglicans and participating in decision-making while this interim period plays out, so too should a church immediately remove someone from areas of leadership while the discipline process takes place. This protects the church and serves as a visible reminder of the relational distance between the church and the offender.
6.     Goal of restoration. - As receivers of grace, our goal in church discipline should always be grace-fueled restoration. Regardless of how unimaginable it might be for the Episcopal Church to reverse its stand on same-sex marriage, I fully believe that if they repent, the Anglican Communion will graciously welcome them back into fellowship. Likewise, in the local church, discipline should always have forgiveness and restoration as its aim. It’s no surprise that Jesus follows up his instructions on discipline in Matthew 18 with a teaching on the extent of our forgiveness (77 times) and the parable of unforgiving servant. Forgiving and restoring a repentant brother or sister in Christ is a magnificent picture of the gospel.
As can be seen in the actions of the Anglican Primates and the clear teaching of Scripture, discipline is sometimes necessary, but the process should not be entered into lightly. Maintaining our unity in Christ, we must lovingly call for repentance and graciously restore those who repent. At the same time, we must lovingly discipline the unrepentant and break fellowship for their sake and the sake of the gospel.  

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Wedding Rings: Metal or Silicone?

Photo via Amazon.com
If you’ve ever attended a traditional wedding, you have likely seen the minister hold up the rings and explain the symbolism behind them. For example, the shape of the rings—a circle—represents the never-ending commitment between the two people. 

Sometimes, the minister will also reference the symbolism inherent in the rings’ material composition. The use of a precious metal—typically gold—signifies the purity, value and permanence of marriage. The metal has been tested by fire and purged of impurities, and marriages likewise must be kept pure as they endure many hardships. Similarly, gold does not tarnish or fade, and neither should the couple’s love toward one another. Additionally, the costliness of the ring denotes that marriage should be treated as a precious treasure and not carelessly discarded. And, finally, the strength and enduring quality of metal should symbolize the resolve and permanence that must characterize the marriage.

But does the substance of your wedding ring symbolize the substance of your marriage?
That’s the question I asked myself when I saw an online ad for silicone wedding rings, which are marketed to those who can’t or don’t want to wear traditional metal wedding rings to work or to work out because of the safety hazard. They’re perfect for the mechanic who’s afraid to get his ring caught on a piece of machinery and for the CrossFitter who wants to display her marital commitment even while hoisting a kettlebell above her head.

I assume that many of those who buy a silicone ring will only wear them temporarily and then go back to their original bands, but there are actually testimonials on the site of men proposing marriage with these rubber rings, which suggests it might be the only ring they wear. But, don’t worry, the rings only cost around $20; you can get them in all different colors to accessorize with your outfit; and instead of an endearing personalized inscription on the inside, you get the company’s logo.
Let me be clear, I’m not bashing the use of silicone rings. I understand the practical reasons for wearing such a ring, and I celebrate those who want to wear a visual symbol of their marriage at all times. After all, there’s no biblical mandate to wear a wedding ring, and the practice itself is relatively new on the timeline of human history.

I do, however, wonder if these elastic substitutes unintentionally reflect the way our culture views marriage today—cheap, flexible, temporary and disposable. While I’m sure the average couple planning their wedding these days fully expects their marriage to last, many have less hope than they let on.

I believe part of the problem for this is the romantic notions people believe about love and marriage—the kind of fairytale, star-crossed love stories found on the big screen. If you ask an engaged couple if they want their marriage to last, they will certainly say yes. If you ask them why they think it will last, you’ll probably either get blank stares or the idealistic “because we are in love.”
Those who live by this latter notion should remember that no matter how many times Captain and Tennille sang “Love Will Keep Us Together,” it proved insufficient in the end.

I prefer to follow different advice given to me in college: “You don’t fall in love; you fall in ditches. You choose to love. Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.”

If we want marriages that will last, we must take the vows “for better or worse … ‘til death do we part” seriously. This sometimes means standing by your commitment even when you don’t feel like it. Those who enter marriage with the mindset that divorce is not an option have a much better chance of seeing it through to the end.

Enduring love requires commitment, sacrifice and the grace of God. God demonstrated the ultimate expression of this love through sending his Son (Romans 5:8), and Paul points to this as the model for marital love (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s only by God’s grace and through his help that we can give and receive this enduring love.

Marriages that depend on warm feelings to carry them through have the shelf life of a silicone ring. Marriages that depend on God and practice Christlike commitment and love experience the golden joy of endurance.