Monday, February 28, 2011

Memory Monday: Enduring Forever (Isaiah 40:8)

When I was little, my mom used to save tin foil to reuse it. I remember her washing the tin foil when she did the dishes. She would use each piece at least twice. I’m pretty sure she did it to save money, but as a kid, I remember wondering why anyone would wash tin foil when you could just buy more at the store.

Our kids live in an even more disposable society than the one in which we grew up. Television and movies scream at our kids that they need the newest and best stuff. If they don’t like what they have, they should get rid of it and replace it with something newer and better.

And in this throw-away society, we no longer build things to last a long time. My girls are still playing with some toys that my mother played with when she was a child. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with many toys that my kids have today that I think will last through three generations of kids playing with them.

As products of this society, our kids have learned not to expect things to last. They are taught that everything is relative. You can change your belief system as easily as you can change your shirt. Things aren’t supposed to last forever without changing.

Against that backdrop, it’s easy to see why our kids can have a tough time understanding that God’s word is forever. Nothing in their lives seems to last, so why would they expect God’s word to do so?

Isaiah 40:8 says “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” Our kids need to know that the Bible isn’t just another book to be read and tossed aside. It’s the unchangeable word of God. It speaks to our lives today just as much as it spoke to the lives of the first century Christians.

• Use the Bible when you talk with your kids. Bring scripture into your conversation. If your child is struggling with an issue, find a verse that speaks to it. Show them that the Bible is relevant to their lives today.

• Talk with your kids about some of the people who wrote the Bible. Explain that while the Bible was written by some amazing men like Moses, Daniel, Matthew, Luke and Paul, it was God that told them what to write.

• Show your kids where the events of the Bible fit into world history. When your kids see the events of the Bible in context with the rest of history, they get a better picture of how God has worked throughout history. It also gives them a concrete idea of how much time has passed between the time the Bible was written and now, which helps them understand how God’s word has stood the test of time.

• Learn Isaiah 40:8 with your children this week. Pick or buy a flower. Place it in a vase with water and measure how long it takes for the flower to wilt and die. Talk about how this verse compares the fleetingness of a flower with the enduring power of God’s word.

God’s word is as true and unchanging as God himself. His word offers wisdom, comfort, direction and peace – and unlike that tin foil my mom washed, it endures forever.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bursting with Potential

My youngest's long-delayed (for snow) school music program was last night. The program's theme was "I Wanna Be." The kids were all dressed in costumes of what they wanted to be when they grew up. As I looked at the stage filled with aspiring artists, zookeepers, veterinarians, athletes, rock stars, astronauts, software engineers, businessmen and teachers, I thought, "Look at the potential on that stage."

Most of those kids won't grow up to be the things that they are dreaming about right now, but at 7 and 8 years old, they are filled with the potential to be and do just about anything. They will spend the next 10 to 15 years figuring out where their particular talents lie and how to use them. It's our job to guide them on that path.

What a daunting task. It would be so easy to mold our kids to be just like us -- and in some ways it's inevitable that our kids will imitate us. But, it's important for us to support our kids when they want to explore things that aren't within our sphere of influence. If your child wants to learn to build robots or join a dance troupe or join the chess club, encourage those interests. Some of them will stick, and some will fall by the wayside, but all will teach your child something either about herself or about dealing with others.

1 Corinthians 12:12 says "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ." All Christ-followers form the body of Christ. Each one of us has special gifts and talents to use for God. Discovering those gifts and talents is easy for some and takes a long time for others. As a parent, we need to guide our children as they are discovering those gifts.
  • Evaluate your kids' interests. If they want to do something that's outside what society considers the norm, don't dismiss it out of hand. Look into the situation and see if there's some way you can satisfy your child's interests within the constraints of the programs offered. Sometimes we have to think outside the box to keep up with our child's interests.
  • Don't let your child's interests bankrupt you or drive you crazy trying to get them places. Encourage exploration of talents, but keep in mind that your sanity is important as well. If something is too expensive or too far away, look for other options.
  • Remember that trying something is not a lifelong committment. Give your kids an opportunity to explore, but don't commit them to anything for more than a season. Kids have a short attention span. After a season is over, they may want to try something else.
  • Be supportive of whatever you and your child decide to try. My parents used to come watch me manage the girls' softball team in high school. I can't imagine how boring that must have been. I mean, I kept score and told the girls the batting lineup, but it made a difference knowing that my parents were interested in what I was doing. Make the effort to be a part of their activities, even if it means watching your child write on a clipboard.
  • Talk with your child about their activities. Find out if there's something else that they would like to do than what they are currently doing. I'm not advocating constantly changing activities, but it takes some kids a while to find the place where their gifts and talents are being used.
When you look at your kids today, look at them with an eye for potential. Your kids are bursting with it, and they need your help to discover how to use it for God. Be willing to walk along the journey of finding that potential. I promise you won't regret it.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This is the Stuff

Yesterday was an exercise in frustration. From the moment I got up yesterday morning, it seemed that everything was conspiring to frustrate me. I teach two Bible studies on Wednesday, the girls have a host of activities and I still had some work to get done. Before I even got out the door yesterday morning, my phone had rung four times with different problems that needed to be solved, my printer wasn't working to print of my stuff for my study and I realized when I got to church that I had left half the stuff I needed to copy at home.

When I got in the car to head to church, I was so frustrated that I threw up my hands and yelled at God, "Arrghh! Do you have a plan for today? Because this isn't working for me."

You know what? Nothing terrible happened to me yesterday, and God showed up in the studies I taught in a big way. The things that kept frustrating me yesterday weren't crises; they were simply annoyances. But there were enough annoyances that I allowed them to frustrate me almost to the point of not being able to do the things that God had planned for yesterday.

Lucky for me, when I got to church, some friends realized I wasn't having the greatest morning. Not only did they help me get everything ready, but they took the time to pray with me and remind me that it's not the stuff that happens to us that matters -- it's how God uses it. They reminded me that 2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."

It's when I am weak, that God can use me because I have to rely solely on His strength, not my own. When the little moments of life frustrate us to the point of throwing up our hands and yelling at God, that's when God can use us -- if we let Him.

Frustrations can get to our kids, too. Sometimes my oldest will come home from school in a funk. She can't point to any one thing that is bothering her, but just a whole bunch of little stuff. When our kids get overwhelmed by the "stuff" in their lives, we need to show them how to let God use their weakness to make them strong.

Try this illustration with your kids. Give them something really light to lift, and something really heavy (make sure they can lift it, but make it be a struggle). Have your kids lift each item. As they struggle to lift the heavy thing, ask them if others would think they were strong if they watched them struggle to lift it. As they lift the lighter item, ask them the same question. When they are done, talk about how others can see God's strength more when we're weak. It's like lifting a feather or an empty bag. God's strength is so much more than ours, but if we are trying to do things in our own strength, then it's tough for God to "pick us up" and for others to see His strength.

When the little stuff of life overwhelms us, we need to remember that our strength comes from God, and He is made perfect in our weakness. Turn that "stuff" over to Him, and let Him use you in ways you never thought possible.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pride Has No Place in Discipline

Have you ever been out in public when your child decides to present their worst behavior to the world? What's your first reaction? Anger? Embarrassment?

My youngest was not an easy baby or toddler. She wanted things to be her way, and she wanted them now! She was also a world-class tantrum thrower. We pretty much gave up eating out in public with her for more than a year because it was such a miserable experience for everyone. Many times I gave up on my errands and took her home during the time when she was between 18 months and 3 years old.

My overwhelming thought when she was throwing a fit in public was to simply get out of public sight. I felt judged as a parent and embarrassed that my child would act this way. It really wasn't any different than what she did when she got angry at home, but we were, gasp, in public, and I just knew everyone in the store was staring at me wondering what kind of parent I was.

When she would throw a fit at home, we would put her in her room and let her scream it out. When she was done, we would deal with the underlying issue. Out in public, that wasn't an option -- plus there were people watching. There were times when I would get upset with her simply because I was embarrassed.

You know what I learned through dealing with my toddler daughter in public? An embarrassed, angry parent does not make good decisions about discipline. You see, discipline is loving correction. It's meant to teach and to change the heart attitude behind the incorrect behavior. When we discipline our children when we're angry or embarrassed, we're not worried about their heart, we're worried about our image.

Pride can get in the way of effective discipline in a hurry. Proverbs 16:18 tells us "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." We don't want our pride to cause destruction, especially not the destruction of our children. When we discipline out of pride, we miss the opportunity to grab a teachable moment and change our children's hearts. Discipline should be done out of love and never anger or pride.

Here's the silly thing about our children acting up in public. Many times our kids misbehave in the middle of the grocery store or the mall where there are lots of people to see. But, how many of those people do we know? Usually none. Why do we care what a bunch of perfect strangers think? Is their opinion more important than grabbing a teachable moment with our children?

So, what do you do when you're out in public and your child decides to show the rest of the world how terribly behaved they can be? Take a deep breath. Find an out-of-the-way corner of the grocery store or the mall or the playground. Pray and ask God to help you administer discipline with an attitude that focuses on your child's heart, not on your own embarrasment. Then, deal with the situation at hand.

I've been known to stand my kids in the corner of the grocery store for a time out. I'll take away privileges or if we're in the grocery store, I'll take away the opportunity to get the free cookie from the bakery. I've also been known to take my girls home and deal with the issue there. There's nothing wrong with any of those options as long as they are done out of love and a true desire to change a child's heart and behavior and not out of anger.

The next time you're out in public, and your child starts acting up remember that to deal with your child effectively, the focus needs to be on her heart and behavior and not on your pride.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

An Out-of-Control Imagination

About 20 minutes after we put the girls to bed last night, my oldest was standing in front of me, tears streaming down her face explaining that she couldn't go to sleep because she kept thinking about some scary stuff someone at school had told her. God has gifted my oldest with an amazing imagination. She can draw entire comics, write extremely creative stories and make up song lyrics on the spot. I can send the girls out to play with the neighbors and with nothing more than a rock and a bucket, my oldest will create an elaborate plot for the girls to follow as they play. I am in awe of this gift that God has given her.

But, sometimes, that gift can take a scary turn. Because she has such an active imagination, she's extremely open to suggestion, and the time before she goes to sleep can become a terror fest for her. She'll start to dwell on something that someone told her. Lying there in the dark, she can create situations in her mind that are terrifying. This usually ends either in nightmares later in the night or, as it did last night, with her standing in front of us crying because she's scared to go to sleep.

For many parents, the scenario I've just described is a familiar one. It's also an extremely teachable moment. So, we need to put aside our frustration at what may seem like "silly" fears and teach our children how to stop letting what God intended for good be used in a way He never intended.

Psalm 34:14 tells us "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." Within this short, little verse is the key to putting our kids on the path to using whatever gift God has given them for good. Now, my daughter is not "evil" because she lets her imagination get carried away, but the things she is dwelling on that scare her are "evil" because they rob her of the peace that God promised her.

God has given each of our children talents that they can use for Him or that they can use in other ways that aren't pleasing to him. The key to teaching our children to use their talents for good is teaching them to recognize when they are straying from what God intended and then teaching them to seek and pursue peace when using their gifts. Sounds easy, right? It's easy to talk about, but even as adults, we struggle with this. Teach your kids a simple process to recognize when they are letting their gifts and talents serve the world instead of God.
  • Talk with your kids about the gifts and talents God has given them. Ask them how they think they can use those gifts and talents for God. Then, ask them if they can think of any way that they could use those gifts and talents in ways that aren't pleasing to God.
  • Give your kids this simple process to follow: Stop, Ask, Pray, Replace. It works like this. Whenever they are in a situation where they find themselves using their gifts and talents in a way that either scares them or that they aren't sure is pleasing to God, they should Stop what they are doing. Next, they should Ask this question: Is what I'm doing pleasing to God? If the answer is yes, they can keep doing what they are doing. If the answer is no, then they move on to step 3. They should Pray and give their gift or talent to God. They should ask God to remove whatever fear their use of their talent has brought them and ask God to show them how to use their gift for Him. The last step is Replace. They should try to replace what they are doing with something else that is pleasing to God.
  • This process looked like this last night with my oldest. We asked her to identify the problem, which was that she had let her imagination run away with her, which led her to worry about things that weren't likely to happen. We talked about how that wasn't what God intended for her to do with her imagination. We prayed with her and asked God to take away her fear and to help her not to let her imagination create fear. We also asked that God would replace her fear with peace. Then, we gave her something else to think about. We told her to build the best ice cream sundae ever in her head until she fell asleep.
The next time your son or daughter gets caught in a spiral of using a gift or talent that God has given them in a way that's not pleasing to God, help them follow the Stop, Ask, Pray, Replace method to find peace and to use their gifts for God.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Memory Monday: Seek God's Counsel (1 Kings 22:5)

My oldest daughter wanted to know the answer to some random question that she had, so we looked it up on the Internet. In the course of our conversation, I mentioned to her that when we were in school, we didn't have the Internet. She looked at me in shock and said, "How did you look things up?" I explained that we looked things up in books and encyclopedias -- which led to a long explanation of what an encyclopedia was.

Today's kids have a vast array of resources from which to get their questions answered -- all available at the click of a button. It's tough to teach our kids that not everything they read on the Internet is true, and it's even more difficult to teach them what constitutes a reliable source of information. With so much information readily available at their fingertips, teaching them to discern the wisdom from the ridiculous is a daunting task.

Even as adults, our first inclination when we need information is to "google" it. We seek parenting advice, job advice and relationship advice on the Internet. Yet, our first source of wisdom shouldn't be Google. It should be God.

Ahab was a king of Israel in the Old Testament. He did the B.C. equivalent of googling when he wanted some wisdom on whether he should go to war. He turned to Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, and asked him what he should do. Jehoshaphat answered "But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the LORD” (1 Kings 22:5). So, Ahab called together his 200 "prophets" who all said he should go to war. Jehoshaphat wasn't convinced, though. He asked Ahab, "Is there no longer a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of?" (1 Kings 22:7)

So, Ahab sent for the prophet Micaiah of whom he said "There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad" (1 Kings 22:8) When Micaiah came, he prophesied death and defeat for Ahab. Ahab ignored him, had Micaiah thrown in jail and went to war anyway. Ahab died in battle.

With so many sources of "wisdom" available to him, Ahab followed the advice of his 200 prophets instead of the wisdom of the God. Helping our kids learn to turn to God and not the Internet or their friends teaches our children the true source of wisdom. But, how, do we make turning to God the first place our kids want to turn?
  • Examine your own life. Do you turn to God first when you need wisdom? Do you seek out what the Bible says and pray about the situation before making a decision? Your children will learn what they see you live. If they see you turn to Google or pick up the phone and call your friends before they see you seek out what God has to say, they will learn to do the same. There's nothing wrong with gathering information on a problem, but we need to seek God's wisdom first.
  • Introduce your kids to an online Bible program, such as Bible Gateway. Use the Internet to seek God's advice. Show them how to type in a word and pull up all the Bible has to say on that word. For example, if your child is having trouble with friends, open the program, type in friends and read all the verses the Bible has on friends.
  • Pray with your children for wisdom when they are facing a difficult issue. Ask God to show them what they need to do.
  • Talk with your children about seeking God first. Ask them if they think the wisdom of Google and their friends is better than the wisdom of God. Talk about how God has given us great resources for gaining wisdom, but He wants us to seek and follow His wisdom first. Share the story of Ahab with your kids and compare the 200 prophets to seeking wisdom for other sources than God.
As you memorize 1 Kings 22:5 this week, remember that God is the ultimate source of wisdom and choose to help your kids seek God's wisdom first.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Finding Your Passion

The ice rink where my daughter plays hockey shut down about a month ago. In a town where ice is already a precious commodity, losing two sheets of ice has made a mess of the hockey schedule. We have had games and practices all over town. One weekend we drove to a town more than an hour north of here to play a game, then drove to a town an hour east of here to play another game an hour and a half later. Last weekend the team played back-to-back games against two different teams. Talk about tired legs.

I have to admit that my husband and I have not been overly thrilled with the changes. Rationally, we understand that it's no one within the hockey organization's fault, but it still places a lot of stress on our weekend schedules. To top it off, hockey practice got moved to the same night at nearly the same time as my older daughter's soccer practice, so it's been a struggle to get everyone where they are supposed to be.

Through all the running around, I've learned something from my daughter. Not once has she complained about the crazy schedule. I know that sometimes she's exhausted playing so many games in a weekend. She doesn't like riding in the car for a long time to get to her games, either. Back-to-back games aren't a whole lot of fun for her 7-year-old legs. Yet, for her, hockey is a passion. She loves it so much that she's willing to play any time, anywhere.

It's part of our job, as parents, to help our kids to find their passion. God created each person with a unique set of passions and desires, so He can use those to glorify Him. Psalm 139:14 tells us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made." Our job is to nurture those passions in our kids. Sometimes, it takes a while for your child to find that thing they are passionate about, and it may not match your own. When we started playing hockey, my husband didn't know icing from slashing, but he's learning. When my oldest started playing soccer, I didn't know a scissor kick from a maradona turn, but I'm learning.

Your child may not even know what their passion is. They may need a little nudge from you to pursue it. Fear of failure can be a powerful force that will convince your child not to even try. Your job is to be an encourager and a sounding board. Encourage your child to try something new. If they fail, encourage them to try something else. If they succeed, become their biggest champion. Most of all, help them to recognize that that passion comes from God, and He wants them to use it for Him.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rooted in Love

God loves you, and He love your kids. His love isn't conditional on what we do or what we say or even if we love Him back. He loves us just because. He loves us so much that He was willing to sacrifice His son so that we can have a relationship with Him.

So much of the love in our kids' lives is conditional. It's based on how well they behave or how well they fit into a group or even how good they are at a sport. Kids are smart. They see how much more attention and adoration the star player on the team gets vs. the kid who is just learning to play.

Kids who know that they are loved, that they have value beyond how they perform are ready to face whatever the world throws at them. Our job is to make sure our children know that they are loved. They need to know that not only is God's love not conditional, our love is not conditional.

I was lucky. I can't remember a time when I didn't know that my parents loved me and that God loved me. Never in my life have a questioned those two things. They are the foundation of my faith and my life. To me, those two things are simply facts. They are as true fact that the earth rotates aroundthe sun.

Many of you may not have grown up in homes where those truths were taught. Don't make that mistake with your kids. Ground them in the love of God and your love so that they never have to doubt that they are loved and valuable.
  • Tell your children that you love them and that God loves them. Talk about how much you love them. Talk about the qualities of God's love. Psalm 13:5 tells us that God's love is unfailing. Ephesians 3:17-19 talks about how great God's love is. It says "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Share these verses with your kids so that they can begin to comprehend how amazing God's love is.
  • Ask your kids what they would give up because they love someone. Start small. Ask them if they would give up their dessert because they love someone. Move on to a favorite toy or stuffed animal. Keep upping the ante until your child says no. Talk about how God loved us so much that He was willing to give up His son. Remind your children how amazing it is that God would love us that much.
  • When you discipline your kids, always remember to do it in a manner that doesn't cause them to question your love for them. This means taking anger out of the equation. Don't discipline your kids when you're angry. Walk away for a few minutes, then deal with the situation. When you remove anger from the situation it's easier for your kids to understand that you love them, but you don't like their actions -- just like God deals with our sin.
  • Find out your child's love language and implement it. Read "The Five Love Languages of Children" by Gary Chapman and begin speaking your child's love language.
If our children are rooted in God's love and in our love, it will be much harder for others to shred their self-confidence and their self-image. Knowing that they are valuable to you and to God just because of who they are will give them the confidence to stand firm no matter what the world throws at them.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Your Kids Need a Parent

Somewhere in the past 30 years, parents have lost their way. Somewhere along the way parents became more concerned with being their children's friend than with being their parent. I want to let you in on a little secret: Your child doesn't need another friend; he needs a parent.

There's nothing wrong with sharing fun times and laughter with your kids. In the end, though, your role is that of parent -- someone who guides, sets limits and loves unconditionally. When we strive to be our child's friend instead of her parent, we blur the lines of responsibility and set our kids up to be confused.

When you act like your child's friend instead of his parent, you make it difficult for him to respect your authority. Without that authority, we will find it difficult to set limits and make them stick. It's hard to administer discipline that means anything without that authority.

When we become more concerned with whether our children like us than we are with teaching them what's right, that's a problem. There are going to be times as a parent where your children don't like you. They won't like your rules or your discipline. Those are the moments to hold firm and grow a thick skin. Proverbs 13:24 says "Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them." Now, this verse isn't advocating beating your children. It's simply stating that discipline is part of loving your kids. It's impossible to effectively administer discipline if you are more worried about your children liking you than you are in molding their character.

Enjoy your children. Have fun with them. Laugh with them. Encourage them. Share in their joys and sorrows. Through it all, remember your primary role is that of parent. Don't compromise your ability and God-given role to help your children grow and become the person God wants them to be by trying to be their friend instead.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Holding a Grudge

My youngest daughter has an excellent memory. She can describe, in detail, things that happened years ago that I don't even remember. This memory serves her well in things like studying for a spelling test or saying her memory verses for AWANA. But that memory makes it really easy for her to hold a grudge. She can remember every wrong committed against her, and, if she chooses to, she can hold it against that person for a long time.

We don't want our kids to carry grudges, and we shouldn't want to carry them ourselves. Hauling around an extra dose of anger does nothing but make us grumpy, unkind people, and it often hurts no one but ourselves. If we follow God's example, we will lay down our anger and let go of the offenses committed against us. Psalm 103:12 tells us "as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."

If anyone has a right to hold a grudge, it's God. He's perfect, and He created a beautiful world for us. All He asked in return is that we keep His commands. Yet, every day, we sin. God could hold that against us and condemn us to an eternity separated from Him, but He didn't. Instead, He sacrificed His son so that we could be reconciled to God. When we admit our sins to God, He separates them from us, and He forgives us. He doesn't hold a grudge.

We want our kids to emulate God. It's so easy to hold a grudge when someone hurts us, but God expects us to forgive and not hold onto our anger. Forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean putting yourself in a position to be hurt it again. It simply means letting go of the anger and bitterness that we have toward a person. That action helps us, not the person who wronged us. It lifts a huge weight off our shoulders, and it pleases God.
  • When your kids are angry with someone, talk with them about the reasons for their anger. Remind them that God tells us " 'In your anger do not sin': Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:26-27). Help your kids to ask God to help them let go of their anger and forgive the person who made them mad.
  • The next time your child is having trouble letting go of their anger, hand them a bag filled with rocks. On the outside of the bag, write anger. Have your child carry the bag around for a little while. Talk with your kids about how anger and unforgiveness really only hurts the person who is angry. Holding a grudge is like carrying around a bag of rocks all the time. It takes energy to carry that burden around, and it makes us difficult people to be around. When we give God our anger, He can help us to forgive those who hurt us.
  • Give your kids something bitter to taste -- horseradish or a lemon. Talk about how it made their tongue and their mouth feel. Tell your kids that when we hold a grudge and carry around our anger, it can make us bitter. When we are carrying around anger, there's little room for things like love and compassion for others. Then give your kids something sweet to eat. Explain that when we offer forgiveness and let go of our anger, we are like the sweet thing with love and compassion to share.
Remember that anger and unforgiveness don't usually hurt the person who hurt us, but they become a big burden for us. So, the next time you or your kids are angry, lay that burden down at God's feet and let Him replace it with love.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Memory Monday: Jesus is Alive (Romans 6:23)

We were driving home from AWANA last night when my older daughter mentioned that she was having trouble answering one of the questions in her AWANA book. For those who don't know, AWANA is a progam for kids that many churches use. It includes some hefty scripture memory, games and a large-group teaching time. The kids work on finishing a workbook every year.

So, I asked my daughter what the question was. She said, "Why is it important that Jesus rose again?" I nearly wrecked the car as it dawned on me that we had clearly done a good job of teaching our kids that Jesus had died for them but we had done a terrible job of helping them understand that Jesus' death would have been worthless if He hadn't risen again three days later.

I think this is a common failing in the way we and the church present the gospel to our kids. We focus so much on Jesus' sacrifice that we forget to give equal focus to his victory over death. Jesus' death on the cross would have been just another death if He hadn't risen from the dead three days later. Of all the religions in the world, most of them claim to have prophets or gods that walked the earth. But, they all died. Only Jesus conquered death and rose again.

Romans 6:23 says "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." This means that when we sin, we deserve death, both spiritual and physical. For Jesus' death to be a sacrifice for sin, He had to conquer the consequences of sin, which is death. If He had simply died on the cross, it would have meant nothing. By rising again, He showed that He had power over death, making his sacrifice on the cross an action that can keep us from an eternity without God.

As we teach our kids about the saving power of Jesus' sacrifice, we need to keep in mind that His resurrection is equally important as His death. Without resurrection, there is no victory.
  • Memorize Romans 6:23 with your kids this week. Talk about how the consequence for sin is death. Remind your kids that Jesus conquered death when He rose from the dead after three days and that's why we can have eternal life with God.
  • Whenever you talk with your kids about Jesus' death, remember to talk about His resurrection as well. Make sure your kids understand that one action without the other would not have provided a way for us to have a relationship with God and the opportunity to have eternal life.
Think of Jesus' death and resurrection as a matched pair -- one without the other is worthless. Remember that His resurrection is an equally important part of the story and we need to make sure our kids understand that.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fear of Oranges

My oldest daughter is currently terrified of oranges. Yep, oranges. She actually loves oranges. They are one of her favorite fruits, but yesterday she choked on one -- the air pipe blocked, heimlech manuever needed kind of choke. Along with being some of the scariest moments of my life, that experience has made my daughter vow never to eat another orange.

At the moment her fear is so great that she's willing to miss out on something that she loves. Now, I have no doubt that she will eventually eat another orange, but who knows how long it will take to persuade her that the orange wasn't responsible for her choking.

Too often, we do what my daughter has done and allow fear to paralyze us, which keeps us from experiencing all that God has for us. God doesn't want us to be afraid. Over and over again, the Bible tells us to "Fear not." God gave us a fear reflex as a protective mechanism, and healthy fear keeps us from sticking our hands into a fire or stepping out in front of a speeding car. But unhealthy fear keeps us from enjoying the abundant life that Jesus promised us in John 10:10.

Here's the thing, no matter where we go or what we do, God is there. He has promised to go with us no matter where we are. That promise alone should be enough to settle our fears. We can't go anywhere that God can't go with us. We are never out of His sight.

Fear can keep our kids from using their talents -- they may not try out for a team or a group. It can keep them from making new friends. It can keep them from trying new things. We don't want to raise timid children who are paralyzed by fear.
  • Examine your own life and see if you are living a life paralyzed by fear. If you are making decisions based on your own fears, then your kids will follow that model. Ask yourself if the fear you have is meant to protect you or your kids or if it's getting in the way of abundant life and make your decisions accordingly.
  • Have your kids learn Joshua 10:25 "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Be strong and courageous." Whenever your kids are irrationally afraid of something to the point that it is holding them back, remind them of this verse.
  • Get out a map of the world. Show it to your kids. Try to find the spot on the map that is the farthest away from where you live. Talk about how big the world is. Then talk with your kids about how God is always with us, no matter how far away from home we get. He's with us in every situation and in every place that we go. Deuteronomy 31:6 tells us "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."
  • Create a word or phrase to use with your kids when they are afraid to remind them that God is in control. It can be as a simple as "fear not" or it can be the name of their greatest fear. Make it somethiing that's easy to remember and is significant to your child, so when they hear it, they will remember to not be afraid because God is with them.
So, whether your kids' greatest fear is oranges, public speaking or the dark, teach them that God is with them, and He can handle that fear.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Standing Up For What's Right

I'm always surprised by how mean kids can be to each other. I really shouldn't be because kids have been being mean to each other since the beginning of time (Cain and Abel anyone?). But the extent of the cruelty that kids can dish out to each other is sometimes astonishing.

The collective power of a group of kids when they decide to target a "weaker" child is a force to be reckoned with, and it can be hard for other kids to stand against the tide. We all want our kids to stand up for what's right, and allowing another child to be bullied is never right. Yet, telling our kids to stand up to the crowd is somewhat like telling them to stand on the beach and stop the waves from crashing.

Generally, kids, by themselves, have a hard time stopping bullying, especially when the bullying is verbal and emotional and not physical. That type of bullying is even sometimes difficult for younger kids to recognize as bullying. It's our job to give our kids the tools to recognize bullying when it happens and to understand when it's time to get an adult involved. But teachers and other adults can't stop what they don't see.

No kid wants to be a snitch, but we can offer our kids alternatives to going directly to the teacher in full view of the class. The most important thing we can teach our kids about situations where other kids are being bullied is that God stands up for the weak. Psalm 82:3-4 tells us "Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked."

Jesus was often concerned with the weak and the oppressed. He hung out with the lepers, who were ostracized from society. He ate dinner with tax collectors, who were considered the lowest of the low in Jewish society. Jesus was concerned with protecting the weak and the innocent, and so we should be.
  • Make sure your child knows how to identify bullying. Every child recognizes that someone hitting someone else is a form of bullying, but many child may not realize that a constant barrage of mean and belittling comments qualifies as bullying as well. Talk with your child about different situations that can constitute bullying.
  • Read Psalm 82:3-4 with your child. Talk about how if God is concerned with defending the weak, then we should be, too. Talk about different ways that your child can defend another child: don't participate in the bullying, offer the bullied child support, tell an adult what is going on.
  • Create an environment in your home where your child feels comfortable telling you what is happening. Your child may not feel comfortable telling the teacher what is going on, but they may tell you. Praise your child for telling an adult but don't force them into telling their teacher if that's not a step they feel comfortable with. Come up with alternative ways to let the teacher know what is going on that make your child feel comfortable.
  • If your child tells you about a bullying situation, don't sit on your hands. Take the initiative to tell the teacher. This takes the burden off your child to publicly "tattle" on their friends but still lets the teacher know what is going on. Live by the motto, "If this were happening to my child and another parent knew about it, would I want them to get involved?" If the answer is yes, then it's time for you to step up and get involved. Talk to the teacher and/or the school counselor.
Too many kids get up in the morning and dread going to school because other kids are making their lives miserable. Encouraging our kids to stand up for what's right and stepping into the fray when the situation warrants aren't just good ideas, they're what we are called to do.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Would You Like Some Cheese to Go With That Whine?

My children are champion complainers. I think all children are. Sometimes it seems like no matter what you do with and for your kids, they can always find something to complain about. And it can make you want to throw your hands up in frustration.

Last night, my youngest daughter had hockey practice -- outside. Now, we don't normally practice outside, but the rink where she plays closed down and some of the other rinks in town offered us ice time. Our team got sent to the outdoor rink in town. The most important piece of information that you need to know about last night is that it was 9 degrees with sub-zero windchills. Oh, and did I mention it was snowing?

I have to tell you that I was in a mood to grumble about the insanity of having practice in those types of conditions, but I bundled her up in as many clothes as I could fit under her pads and off we went. On the way there, we talked about not complaining about the weather. I told her that her coaches knew it was cold and it wasn't going to make it any less cold if she complained about it.

I fully expected her to come off the ice at the end of the hour complaining about how cold she was. She actually came off the ice with a smile on her face and couldn't stop talking about how much fun she had. It was amazing. The only comment she made about the cold was that her toes were tingling. I was so proud of her.

You see, complaining is all about attitude. If we teach our kids to go into a tough situation with a positive attitude and a commitment not to complain, then their attitude is focused on the good stuff -- not the bad. God's not a big fan of complaining either. Philippians 2:14-15 tells us "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe."

But it's tough not to complain when something doesn't go our way, especially when you're a kid. Make it a point to teach your kids the value of not complaining.
  • Help your kids memorize Philippians 2:14-15. Talk about how not complaining makes them stand out from a crowd. Take them outside on a clear night and look at how bright the stars are. Talk about how when we refrain from complaining about things it makes us stand out like the stars stand out on a clear night.
  • Have your kids make stars to hang somewhere in their rooms. Tell them that every time they look at the stars, it should be a reminder to them that God wants us to do everything without grumbling or complaining so that we can shine.
  • Examine your own attitude. Your example is the one that your kids will follow. If you tell them not to complain, but then you complain about the things that go wrong during your day, then your kids will follow your example.
  • Recognize the difference between complaining and explaining a problem. You don't want to make your kids afraid of bringing their problems to you. You simply want to cut down on the whining.
  • Praise your kids when they don't complain about difficult situations. If you know they are going into a tough situation where complaining would be easy, remind them to focus on the good stuff and to refrain from complaining about the bad. When they pull that off, praise them.
Learning to focus on the positive and walk through a tough situation without complaining is a valuable skill for kids to learn. It makes them stand out, but remember that it's not easy. Encourage your kids to ask God for help when they are tempted to whine or complain. God gives us strength to do the tough stuff -- including overcoming the urge to complain.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feeling Inadequate

Usually this blog is easy for me to write. I sit down to write and the ideas just pour into my brain. But this morning, I have written and erased this first paragraph at least a half dozen times. You see, God wants me to share my heart with you this morning. He wants me to share my inadequacies and fears this morning, and I'm not sure I really want to do that. However, I know that at least one of you, dear readers, needs to read this, so here goes.

I'm getting ready to teach two Bible studies on parenting. This morning I woke up with the thought "What am I doing? I can't even get my girls to pick up their dirty socks. What do I know about raising great kids? Heck, my kids haven't even reached 10 years old yet. Why on earth did God ask me to teach others?"

I'm not a perfect mom -- no one is. And to be truthful, some days it seems like I'm not even a good mom. Like you, I have days where I yell when I shouldn't, tear down my kids instead of build them up and treat my children as nuisances rather than treasures. To be honest, many days, I sit down to write and feel completely inadequate to tell you how to teach your kids because mine just walked out the door fighting with each other.

Yet, in the midst of all this feeling inadequate, God spoke up and reminded me that I don't have to be adequate -- I just have to be available. God has more power than I could ever need. I'm not raising these kids to be like me. I want to raise them to be like Him. To do that, I have to tap into His power.

I am convinced that Satan's most powerful tool against women is making us feel inadequate. He tempts us to focus on our own failings and inadequacies instead of on God's power. If we make ourselves available to be used by God, then He can fill us with His power. We can use that power to be the parents that God intended. We simply cannot do it ourselves.

In Ephesians 3:20, Paul tells us that God is "able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us." But the only way for us to tap into that power is to make ourselves available to God. We may do an OK job of being a parent under our own power, but imagine how much better we can be if we let God be the power in our parenting.

So, make yourself available for God to use today. Tap into his power and let Him chase away your inadequate feelings. Lay your fears and insecurities before God and let Him wipe them away. Because God chose you to parent your precious child, and He didn't make a mistake.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Memory Monday: Identifying Evil (Psalm 97:10)

Has anyone else noticed that evil seems to have disappeared from our world? We talk about things being bad or sad or scary, but few people talk about things being evil. Evil has become a word relegated to comic books and scary movies. Our society has become so "tolerant" that we're afraid to label anything as evil.

But just because we refuse to call something evil, doesn't mean that evil has disappeared from our world. There's plenty of evil out there, whether we choose to call it that or not. Persecution, drugs, abuse, murder -- it's all evil. When we refuse to call it what it is, we lessen its impact.

Our kids need to know that evil exists. When men fly airplanes into buildings full of tens of thousands of innocent people with no intent other than to kill as many as possible, that's evil. If we downplay the evil and it's effects in an attempt to be "tolerant," we keep our kids from understanding that Satan is alive and well and working really hard to turn people away from God.

Psalm 97:10 tells us "Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked."  God tells us that if we love Him, we will hate evil. Hate is a pretty strong word. It kind of rules out a timid response to evil. God hates evil. If we love Him, then we need to hate it, too.

The last thing we want to do is to scare our kids into thinking that the world is a place to scary to set foot into. However, by ignoring evil, we give our kids a false sense of security about the world. What we want to do is see evil and name it for what it is. The second half of Psalm 97:10 states that God guards us and delivers us if we are faithful.

The next time you encounter evil in your world that your child notices, talk about it as being evil. Identify it for your kids, so they know that it's from Satan. Teach your kids to be able to discern the things that are of God from the things that Satan put in their way. Show them how to test everything they see against what the Bible has to say. Sometimes evil can look nice on the outside -- Hitler was a handsome man who, by all accounts, had an amazing amount of charisma when he spoke, but no one would deny that he was evil -- but we need to teach our kids to look past the pretty exterior to discern good from evil.

As you memorize this verse this week, be on the lookout for opportunities to help your children be discerning. And don't hesitate to name evil because your kids won't know what it looks like if you don't teach them to identify it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Answered Prayers

Three and a half years ago my youngest daughter's best friend moved halfway across the country. He took his parents with him, leaving my husband and I miles away from some of our best friends as well. We kept up through e-mail, phone calls and visits. The visits were sweet but oh so difficult to end. Watching my daughter and her friend tell each other goodbye every time was heartbreaking.

Despite the distance and the passage of time, our families have remained close friends. Through a series of pretty difficult circumstances, our friends moved back here a couple of months ago -- without a job. When they came back, we told our daughter that it might be only temporary. It just depended on where her friend's dad found a job. We encouraged her to pray that he would find a job here -- and she did. Many nights her bedtime and mealtime prayers would end with a fervent plea for her friend's dad to find a job -- here.

Two days ago, I got to tell her the fantastic news that her friend's dad had, indeed, gotten a job -- here. There was much rejoicing knowing that her friend would "get to stay." Her bedtime prayer that night included a fervent thank you to God for letting her friend stay here.

The deepest desire of my daughter's heart for the past two months has been that her friend would remain nearby permanently. We encouraged her to pour that desire out to God. We celebrated with her when God granted that desire.

It's so important that we teach our kids to pour out their hearts to God in prayer -- and that we acknowledge when God answers their prayers. Sometimes those answers aren't as fun to hear as the one we heard this week. Sometimes, God says no, and we have to help our kids understand that God's plan is bigger and better than anything we could design. But, we need to make sure our kids always understand that God does not let prayers go unanswered. He either says yes, no or wait, but He never ignores us.

  • Encourage your children to pour out their hearts to God -- both the good and the bad. Tell them not to hesitate to ask God for what they want, but talk about their motives first. Requests made out of selfishness and a desire to better themselves are not what God wants to hear. Matthew 6:33 says "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." We have to be seeking God first, then asking for the desires or our hearts.
  • Listen to your children pray, and be ready to point out when God answers their prayers. Talk about how when they ask you for something, sometimes you say "yes," sometimes you say "no" and sometimes you say "wait." God answers our prayers in the same way. We don't always understand His reasons, but He never ignores our prayers.
  • Celebrate when prayers are answered and remember to thank God for the answered prayer.
  • Have your kids keep a prayer journal where they write down their requests and the dates those prayers were answered. This gives your kids a tangible picture of how God answers their prayers.
No matter the answer to your prayers, remember that God has a plan for you, one that will prosper and not harm you (Jeremiah 29:11). Keep seeking after God and sharing with Him the desires of your heart -- and He will answer.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

God is not a Spy

For Christmas, we gave our girls and four of their friends a "spy sleepover." Tonight, I'll have six little girls in my house cracking codes, completing missions and saving the world. My girls love to play spy. They like sneaking around and peeking around corners to see what other people are doing. Sometimes they write down what they see in their spy journals.

Too, often, I think, our kids see God as something of a spy. From the time they are little, we talk to our kids about how God can see everything and He knows everything. Too many time, kids can take those characteristics and create an inaccurate picture of God. If we aren't careful to point out the many characteristics of God including His unconditional love and amazing grace, then our kids are left to fill in the blanks of God's character with their own imaginations.

Sometimes, our kids come up with a picture of God that makes Him seem like a spy. They see Him as this all-powerful being who is just waiting for them to mess up. He can see everything, and when He sees them mess up, He writes it down in His "spy journal." That's not an accurate picture of God, and it's not one that we want our kids to have. It makes God seem like he's out to "get" us.

When we give our kids a complete picture of God's character, we reveal an all-knowing, all-powerful God who loves us and desires to have a relationship with us despite our unworthiness. Romans 5:8 says "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." That's the picture we want to create for our children.

  • Find out what kind of picture your kids have created of God. Ask them what they think God is like. Have them write it down or draw a picture. This is a great starting point for you to understand which parts of God's character your kids are missing out on. If they've created a picture of a sneaky, spying God, you'll know that you need to focus your conversation on God's love and grace. If they create a picture that's all love and compassion, you might need to introduce some conversation about God's love of justice and righteousness.
  • Understand that creating a picture of a one-dimensional God doesn't benefit our kids. God is so much bigger than we can understand. If we create a one-dimensional picture of Him, then we make God small. If we can completely describe and understand God, then we have made our picture of Him too small. God doesn't fit in any "box" we can create, and if He does then we have an inaccurate picture of Him.
  • Talk with your kids about the different aspects of God's character. Ask your kid to describe her best friend in detail. Have her focus on the character qualities that make up her friend's personality. Talk about how important it is to a relationship to really know the other person. Talk about what happens when she makes an assumption about her friend's personality that isn't true. Then ask her to describe God, focusing on His character qualities. Talk with your child about their description of God. Flesh out any areas that she is missing. Talk about how just like with knowing our friends, it's important to know God's character so we can have a close relationship with Him.
Remember, God is not a spy, watching and waiting for you to screw up. He loves you and wants to have a relationship with you, but the only way He can do that is if we seek to know Him better and understand all facets of His character.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Digging Out

Like much of the Midwest and Great Plains states, we are digging out from more than a foot of snow this morning. When we shoveled the driveway yesterday, we had to scoop through 2 1/2- to 3-foot snow drifts. It took us close to an hour to shovel, and by the time we got done the wind had blown so much snow back on the driveway that you couldn't tell we had shoveled.

Sometimes dealing with the sin in our lives is like shoveling out from the great Blizzard of Oz (yes, we live in Kansas). God makes us aware of the sin, but we sit and look at it rather than deal with it because it's so much easier to just maintain the status quo than it is to work to change it. I certainly didn't want to go outside and shovel that snow. It was much more cozy in my house than it was outside. However, the snow was not going to move itself -- just like the sin in our lives isn't going to just disappear without some effort on our parts.

Once we were out shoveling, the temptation was to just shovel half the driveway so we could get one car out and leave the other half for later. It was hard work shoveling a foot of snow. I was hot, tired and my shoulders and back hurt. Digging out of our sin can be just as painful and tiring. Especially, if, like the snow, we've let ourselves become entrenched in that sin. It takes working at it one shovelful at a time. And sometimes we have to shovel the same path over and over until we have purged that sin from our lives.

The most frustrating part of shoveling was getting to the end of the driveway, turning around and seeing the driveway covered with snow again. Sometimes, we dig out of our sin only to return to it later, like the snow returning to my driveway. Yet a little sun and a little more shoveling today will clear my driveway of the snow, just like letting God lead the way will clear that entrenched sin out of our lives.

While I can shovel the snow under my own power, I cannot get rid of sin on my own. Paul talks about this in Romans 7:14-15 when he says "We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do." Only God's power and love can do that. My job is to turn away from that sin and tap into God's power to stay away from that sin. It is only through God's power that we can dig out from under the weight of our sin.

So, as you send your children out to help you shovel the driveway, use the moment to talk with them about how difficult it is to dig out from our sin. As you heave that snow to the side of the driveway, remind your kids that it's only through God's strength and power that we can clear the sin from our lives.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Blizzard Warning

For nearly a week, the weather forecasters have been telling us we're going to get hammered wtih snow today. We're under a blizzard warning, and school is cancelled even though it hasn't even started snowing yet. It's been a long time since our area has seen a blizzard warning. This is unusual weather. The grocery stores were doing a booming business yesterday as everyone stocked up for the storm.

With all the talk about big storms, my husband suggested that I write about snow days today. I told him I had already exhausted my store of snow day ideas on all our previous snow days, but as I thought about it, I realized that a blizzard is an entirely different animal.

Did you know that back in the pioneer days, homesteaders would tie a rope from their house to the barn, so they could use the rope as a guide when the snow was blowing so hard they couldn't see? They would keep one hand on the rope so it could guide them to the barn. That rope was a lifeline. Blowing snow can blind you and get you so turned around that you don't know which you are going. If you lost contact with the rope you could wander around in circles and freeze to death just feet from your own front door.

When trials and danger come our way, God has given us a rope, too -- His word. The Bible is our lifeline to guide us through the blizzards of life. It keeps us on the path and helps us find our way home. Psalm 119:105 tells us "Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path." God's word offers us guidance and comfort as we weather the storm.

But, like a person in a blizzard, if we let go of the rope, we can get lost. We can be close to where we want to go and never get there because we're not following the path God laid out for us in His word.

If the blizzard is headed your way, tie a rope between your front door and a tree in your yard. When the wind is blowing crazy hard, and it's hard to see, bundle up, and have everyone put a hand on the rope. Use the rope to walk from your front door to the tree. Talk with your kids about how the Bible is like that rope. It guides us and helps us to know what to do when a storm comes in our lives.

If you're not in for a blizzard or you just don't want to get cold and snowy, tie a rope between two places in your house. Blindfold your kids and have them use the rope to get from one place to the next. Use the same explanation after you have finished the task.

If you are in the path of this storm, stay safe and warm. Find a teachable moment today and grab it. Use the storm to show your kids how to keep their hand on the rope of God's word so they can weather the storms of life.