Three Things I would Stress to a Young Man

Dear friend,

You asked about priorities to stress to your teenage son as he begins to think about marriage one day. I know these are not exhaustive, but it should help you form an outline. I would stress three things:

First, I would stress “savings.” Eating out with friends is a luxury, not a habit. As for clothes, I would encourage him to have a couple of nice suits for special occasions. Look for quality, but don’t allow them to be drawn by the idiotic commercialism of the day. Also, if he doesn’t have a bank account, he needs to open one up now. If a man comes to me one day and says, “I would like to date/court your daughter,” but has nothing in his savings account, I would like to kindly encourage him to come back later when that scenario has changed. How much savings should he have? Enough to show his competence. Situations will vary, but that’s a good starting place.

Second, I would stress “skills.” If your son’s skills are limited to a box in his room, you need to have a conversation. Let’s assume he has no idea what he wants to do. There are aptitude/career tests he can take. And I would certainly encourage him to talk to a pastor or teacher who may know a bit more about his abilities. If he does have something specific in mind he wishes to pursue, like engineering or business, he still needs to have an additional skill to fall back in the interim. There are always gifted people in your local church from whom he may learn or even do an internship.

Finally, I would stress “service.” If your son is not engaged in helping the local church or if he is merely a consumer at home, that needs to change. If he is to love his future wife, sacrifice for her, serve her in sickness and in health, and yet, has no interest in serving right now, that is problematic. A service-oriented husband is not created in one day.

Much more could be said, but I hope this helps you direct your son in the right direction.

Yours truly,
Pastor Brito

The Spirit in Reformed Life

We can talk about the Father, we can speak of the Son, but the Spirit is often left out of the equation as a mystical presence reserved for special occasions when we are feeling extra emotional. At that point, we say, “Yes, the Spirit is in this place.” One famous scholar observed humorously, “The Catholics have the Father, the Presbyterians have the Son, and the Charismatics have the Spirit, and none are letting go of their God.” Well, thankfully the Triune Godhead is not bound to denominational labels.

We need to liberate the Spirit from self-imposed denominational boundaries. The reason Reformed theology is not regarded as a tradition that is Spirit-filled is that we fear that if we talk about the Spirit, we will suddenly start speaking in tongues or forsake the Christo-centric nature of our theology. But the Reformation never operated under such assumptions.

The Reformed writings of John Calvin would probably shock many Calvinists. Arminian writer, Roger Olsen concluded:

Calvin was no charismatic, but he was closer to it than some Reformed people readily admit.

Calvin was known as the theologian of the Spirit. He spoke clearly of the work of the Spirit in the life of the church, in the means of grace and His indwelling power in each believer. Let me urge you not to allow abuses to dictate how the Spirit operates. Let God be God. Let the Spirit be Spirit. Believe in Him, trust in him, pray in his name, commit your labors to him, depend on him, lean on him, be satisfied in him and let him be your guide to heaven this morning for Christ is only known by the power of the Spirit.

Jonah, Introductory Notes

If we are to understand the Book of Jonah rightly, we need to see Jonah as a theologian in Israel, a faithful pastor, and one deeply committed to God’s people. We often view this prophet as an ignorant prophet; an ancient Pharisee. But God is doing something spectacular in the Jonah Journey. He consistently asks Jonah, “Jonah, do you love me?”

This question is answered throughout these four chapters in various ways. In the end, Jonah becomes a scholar of paradox whose silence is itself the answer to Yahweh’s question.

Fatherhood Trinitarian Style

Fatherhood functions best when it is served in Trinitarian style.

Our Father in heaven is the great Maestro, guiding the world with compassion; earthly fathers are called to lead their children with a compassionate spirit; to musicalize the home by tuning their children to the tune of heaven.

But earthly fathers also need the sacrificial life of Jesus. Healthy and honorable fathers sacrifice for their own; they give of themselves when there is little left to give; they cherish a life of faith when no one around them is seeking the welfare of the city. Fatherhood is Christocentric. It gives and gives and gives.

Finally, earthly fathers function best when they are abiding; being present in the life of those around them. Fathers who imitate the Spirit are more concerned about intentional being, than just being. Our presence, men, must daily reflect the presence of the Spirit in our lives who is unchanging. When our children say, “We’re never here,” it’s an indictment on our Un-Trinitarian ways.

Be like the Trinity, Fathers! Orchestrate, sacrifice, and abide.

How to Explain the Death of a Loved One to a Child

Dear friend,

You asked me about how to talk to your child about the death of a loved one. I have given this some thought. Here are a few ways to approach the subject of the death of a loved one with your little children:


First, make this a family affair. Gather the children as soon as possible to explain that a loved one has died. Conversations of such magnitude need to take place in a safe environment. If a child hears about the death from someone else it might lead to confusion and even anger.


Second, death is a horrible human reality. One of the consequences of the Adamic sin is death (Rom 5:12). We will all die, and likely we will see and witness many friends and family members die before we do. It is helpful to explain that death is an ugly thing and that as Christians we hate death. Taking our little ones to that familiar story of death in the Garden is a healthy way to contextualize the news to them. Death is first and foremost a theological issue, even if explained in the language of a three or four year old.


Third, do not be afraid to use the word death. If you say that such a person has “passed away” or “gone to sleep forever” this may cause confusion or fear in the child. A child might go to sleep at night fearful that he will never wake up. Clarity is fundamental. Tell the child that death means we will never see grandpa or grandma again in this life.


Fourth, do not be afraid to weep with them. Sometimes children do not understand mom or dad’s feelings after the death of someone. Feel free to explain your feelings to your children. “I am crying because grandma died. I am going to miss her.” If they begin to cry, join them in their tears and comfort them.


Fifth, when children discover that a loved one has died, they may assume that you will die also. They may ask questions like: “Are you going to die too, mommy?” At this point, it is important to let the child know that most people die when they are really old or very sick. And then let them know–if it is the case–that mommy or daddy are not sick and are still full of youth. If someone close died of a very young age, let them know that it is not very common, and then point out the young people around him that are alive.


Finally–and I am aware that much more could be said–inevitably, little children will ask questions about what will happen to grandpa or grandma, or mom and dad after they die. As Christians, we need to stress that Jesus overcame death at the cross and resurrection. He died and was raised so that we might live forever. This is a wonderful time to remind them of the promises of Jesus. “Grandma is now in heaven with Jesus. She is at peace. One day when we die we will join her in heaven. Jesus says that when we go to heaven we will never die again; we will live forever.”


Our children do not need a fairy-tale narrative about death. They need a compassionate, biblical approach that is sensitive to their thinking as little ones and faithful to the narrative of the Bible.
There is a lot to navigate here, but I think this question is an important one.


Sincerely,

Pastor Brito

God in Three Persons

Sometimes it is easy to go back to our early days in the Christian faith. Back then everything was so simple. We believed in Jesus, everyone believed in Jesus, and life was simple. Of course, we then grow up and we learn more about the Scriptures, and we discover that Jesus is one with the Father, that He sends the Spirit, and then we hear the language of the Trinity. It’s in our confessions, our creeds, and in every Systematic theology. And then we learn that if we do not embrace the Trinity, we are not true Christians. But why can’t we just believe in Jesus, after all, He is the answer to every question we can’t answer?

It’s good to grow up; it’s hard to grow, but it is ultimately our goal. And part of growing up means we become more mature in the language of the Bible. We come to know that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. The Jews and the Muslims criticize the doctrine of the Trinity by saying that any doctrine that cannot be reconciled logically is not true. How can there be Three Persons and One God? Thomas Jefferson expressed the frustrations of many when he said that the doctrine of the Trinity should be abandoned altogether:

“When we shall have done away with the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one and one is three…when in short, we shall have unlearned everything, which has been taught since His day, and get back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples.”[1]

Thomas Jefferson, of course, is part right and part wrong. “He was correct in the sense that Christians needs to focus on Jesus more,” but he was sadly mistaken that this would bring us back to simple doctrines and away from the Trinity. The reality is that at the precise moment we begin to focus on Jesus we are led directly to the doctrine of the Trinity. It was precisely through Jesus that the disciples knew the Trinity; it was precisely through Jesus that they learned that all authority has been given to Him! By Whom? The Father. Through Jesus they learned that the paraclete, the Spirit, would be sent after His ascension, and through Jesus they learned that the baptism of the nations, young and old, must be done not only in Jesus’ name, but into the Name, notice, not NAMES, but into the NAME=One God, Father, the Son, and the Spirit= Three Persons. God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.


[1] Quoted in Darrel Johnson’s Experiencing the Trinity, pg. 12-13

Corporate Charismatics

While we generally associate charismatic with a movement, the word “charisma” simply means “gifts”; something freely given. The Spirit of God gives charismas to us as a church. And the gifts of the Spirit are almost always gifts expressed in the church by the church. In short, if it does not benefit the body, it is of no use.

How strange it is then that some take the gifts of the Spirit and act as if it’s a prized individual possession to be administered like a bank account. No, the gifts are to be given to the church and then outwardly expressed by the church. True charisma, that is, true gifts edify the body and glorify God; they are not spontaneous expressions, they are orderly acts that are embodied by the congregation when she meets each time.

If we individually decide to respond when we feel appropriate, the service would be utter chaos. But where the Spirit’s gifts are given there is unity. The Church ought not to be subject to outward expressions as one sees fit, but as the body sees fit jointly.

In this sense, we are corporate charismatics. We respond, hear, and sing jointly with one voice by the power of One Spirit.

A Letter to a Friend who is Warned about the Danger of Children

Dear Friend,

People keep warning you about children. You are not even expecting but they, “the mature ones,” already are throwing out their apocalyptic warnings about the “terrible twos” and “terrible teens.” “You have no idea what’s waiting for you!” they warn us, like prophets in the streets of Jerusalem. “Doom!” “Doom!” Here is my humble advice: Smile, and move on!

There will be sleepless nights, difficult conversations, and sometimes C H A O S all around. The volume level will be between a 4 and a 9 in the Richter Scale. But you want to know the reality? The reality is that for every sleepless night, you will get a hundred smiles; for every difficult conversation, you will hear 100 beautiful ones; for every chaos, there are 100 peaceful moments; for every high volume request, there will be 100 sweet snuggles.

I have often said that those who are anxious bring people into their anxieties. People who warn you of such things may be well-intentioned in their warnings, but they are setting a horrible precedent for future parents. They’re “terrible teachers.” They are not instructing accurately, nor giving you a full picture.

Parenting is such a joy and every phase provides new challenges undoubtedly, but overwhelming joy. You should look forward to the birth/adoption of your first child. There is nothing apocalyptic about child-rearing; but rather, there are millions of awe moments. I can’t wait for you to see, experience, and enjoy these little gifts.

Sincerely,
Pastor Brito

Letter to Someone Concerned about Empty Ritualism

Dear friend,

In light of my recent C.S. Lewis quote I posted, you asked how we can “dance” while avoiding “going through the motions.” The question stems from the fact that in a liturgical environment, words, phrases, and paragraphs carry enormous meaning. The fear is that this repetitive feast turns into a requiem for the dead; what some would call “empty ritualism.”

I understand your fear which is why the things we do in the church needs to be done in a highly intentional fashion. What I mean is that we need to shout our worship (Ps. 100:1) rather than whisper it. The liturgy of the Psalter, for example, was always exuberant. God speaks in a still small voice, but we are called to shout unto the Lord. We must sing vigorously, recite faithfully, and hear with great attention. When we mumble our way through the liturgy, we are saying that the “dance” is uninteresting, lacking intrigue, and a necessary check mark on a list of tedious weekly activities. But you don’t just come to church, you have the privilege of coming to church. Therefore, know the liturgy and because of that knowledge, do the act of worship with knowledge and insight and strength.

Yours truly,
Pastor Brito

Catholicity, Orthodoxy, and Lordship