Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Introductions: Money Resources

My youngest daughter learned a valuable lesson yesterday about money on our trip to Wal-Mart. Both girls took $1 with them on our shopping trip. My oldest decided to buy a package of pencils with her dollar. My youngest didn't see anything she wanted to buy, so she decided to spend her dollar in the little arcade at the front of the store.

There weren't many games in the arcade, but there were a couple of those claw games where you try to pick up a stuffed animal with the claw. Both I and my older daughter warned my youngest that she probably wouldn't win anything, but she was determined to try.

After she spent her dollar and ended up with nothing, we had the expected fussing and grumbling. I told her to quit grumbling because she had been warned that she probably wouldn't win anything. When we got home she immediately went to our chore chart to find chores she could do that would replace her dollar.

My youngest definitely regretted her choice, but she learned that if you make poor decisions with your money, then you have to live with them and work harder to have the same amount. It's a lesson I could have talked to her about for weeks and not been nearly as effective as letting her learn the hard way.

It's important that we give our kids some freedom to make mistakes with their money while they are young. It just may keep them from making poor decisions when they are older. It is much less painful to lose $1 than it is to lose $10,000 in a risky investment.

Choose to use money as a learning tool in your home. Set up an allowance system that gives your kids enough money to make some choices with. Use that allowance to teach good habits in tithing, saving and spending. If your child wants to spend money on something frivolous or something you know is of poor quality, let them. If we never let our kids make mistakes, they won't learn to manage their money.

Talk, talk, talk about money. Too often, we shelter our kids from discussions about money, but we should include them. When things are going well and when they aren't, your kids need to see how you deal with money. If your family has decisions to make about how to spend money that will affect your kids, include them in the discussion. Talk about how you choose to spend your money and why. Show your kids the family budget and get them involved in planning it.

When you are planning a big family vacation or purchase, get your kids involved in saving for it. Set a jar on the counter and decide as a family how much everyone will put in the jar from their allowances each week to save for the trip. We did this when we went to Disney World and used the money in the jar as our spending money.

God wants us to use our money wisely, and He wants us to teach our kids to do the same. But we want to be sure that money is not our main focus in life. We need money to live in our society, but we don't need money to constantly be the focus of our lives. When we place the pursuit of money above God, we make it an idol. Matthew 6:24 says "No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money."

Use money as a tool, but don't let either the acquisition of it or the lack of it consume you. Use it wisely and follow God's guidelines for it. Ask for help when you need it.

Lots of great resources exist for getting a grip on money -- resources that keep the focus on God while letting us take control of our money. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Dave Ramsey -- If you're struggling with getting out of debt and setting up a budget, check out Dave Ramsey and his resources. His "Total Money Makeover" will change how you view and handle money. He also has a great set of resources for teaching kids, teens and college-aged young people how to handle money.

Crown Financial Ministries -- Crown offers biblical money guidance through Bible studies and resources. They also have a full complement of children's resources that teach your kids about handling money.

Whatever resources you choose to use, start today to control your money rather than letting it control you. God provides all that we need, including money, but He asks us to use it wisely.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Debt Has Consequences
We had the most interesting conversation at dinner last night. My oldest daughter is having some friends over to have a mystery party on Friday. The theme revolves around the American Girl doll, Kit, whose story is about growing up during the Great Depression.

My oldest daughter asked what caused the Great Depression. My husband, with the degree in economics, launched into a toned-down explanation of the causes. This somehow led to a discussion of what’s going on in Congress today with the debt limit debate. (Hefty stuff for an 8- and 10-year-old, I know.)

My youngest wanted to know what the debt limit was. As we explained, she looked at us and said simply, “The government shouldn’t spend more money than it has.”

It struck me that my 8-year-old has grasped a concept that most of the world struggles with. Debt isn’t a good thing.

Our culture has made debt seem like a necessity. We think we can’t have all that we need if we don’t go into debt. The truth for most of us is we can’t have everything we want without debt.

God is really clear about what debt does to us. Check out these verses:

Proverbs 22:7 -- The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.

Proverbs 22:26-27 -- Do not be one who shakes hands in pledge or puts up security for debts; if you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you.

Romans 13:8 -- Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

When we have debt, it forces us to serve a master that isn’t God. Debt must be repaid or it causes great consequences. Debt payments cause us to put the debt before God’s work. While our tithe always comes first, the payments on a debt can keep us from having money available to help others on a moment’s notice. It can keep us from taking that mission trip or supporting a soup kitchen. While having debt isn’t a sin, it is not good stewardship of what God gives us.

But, you say, I can’t live without some debt. Most people owe money on their houses, cars and have some amount of consumer debt like credit cards and student loans. Living in our culture is difficult without debt. It’s not the norm, and it requires us to make hard choices.

But the freedom that comes from living without debt is amazing. Not having to make a mortgage payment or a car payment every month lifts a burden off your shoulders you didn’t even know you were carrying.

So, how do we live without debt? We make tough choices, and we follow a budget. It may take you a while to pay off whatever debt you have, but the reward is worth it. Working at getting rid of debt means we stop accumulating more debt even if it means we have to give up some things that we enjoy.

Most kids today come out of college in debt up to their eyeballs. They’re 22 years old with tens of thousands of dollars in debt. And, that’s because we haven’t taught them to avoid it. They leave college with a huge burden on their shoulders that they will carry around with them for years.

Starting now to teach your children to avoid debt if at all possible is important. It will save them many years of being a slave to debt down the road. My 8- and 10-year-old grasp the concept that debt is bad, not because they’ve picked it up from their friends but because we have made a conscious effort to teach them.

Start with the easy stuff. Talk about debt. Explain that debt is simply borrowing money from someone so you can spend more than you have. Talk about how when we are in debt we can’t always do the things with our money that God wants us to do because we have to pay the debt.

Live a lifestyle that eradicates debt. If you’re talking to your kids about avoiding debt but doing nothing to get rid of your own debt, then your kids will follow your actions, not your words. If your kids see you buying things on credit and making minimum payments, that’s the lifestyle they will adopt. Kids learn what they live.

This topic is tough, and the path out of debt may seem hidden by the mountain of debt in front of you. But making an effort to get rid of your debt will free you in ways you never thought possible and give you the opportunity to serve God in ways you didn’t know existed.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Faithfulness Requires a Plan

Courtesy Thanunkorn

My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to organization. He likes to have a plan for everything, especially our money. I'm more of a "fly by the seat of your pants" type of person. Too much structure makes me feel hemmed in and stifled.

As you can imagine, that has led to more than our fair share of "discussions" about everything from why there's so much clutter on the counter to how to spend our money.

A couple of years ago, my husband decided that we needed to have a written budget and go to a cash envelope system (thank you, Dave Ramsey). I was not interested. The written budget was OK, but the whole cash thing really threw me for a loop. I mean, who pays for anything in cash these days?

In my mind, things were fine the way they were. We had a mortgage but no other debt, and we were managing to save a little. Why mess with it if it's not broken?

But, my husband was insistent, so we switched to an all cash envelope system budget. That means we put cash in envelopes for things like groceries, gas, entertainment and clothing. When the envelopes were empty, that was it. I hated it. The thing I hated the most was having to go into the gas station to pay. That meant I had to haul my kids out of the car and into the gas station every time I filled up my car.

I also didn't like looking at the empty envelope and deciding we couldn't go out to dinner or to a movie because the entertainment envelope was empty.

However, as we worked at this system, it began to grow on me. We spent less. There's something about handing over cash that makes you think twice before spending it, and we began to whittle away at that mortgage. In less than five years from the time we made the switch, we were completely debt free.

Now, our income went up in that time because I started working more, but the budget made us more disciplined with our money.

A lot of money troubles come from not having a plan and sticking to it. Every family needs a written budget. A budget is simply a plan for your money that you and your spouse, if you have one, arrive at together. It lets you see exactly how far your money can go. It forces you to make choices about how you want to spend your money. And it helps us to be faithful with what God has given us.

Luke 16:10 tells us, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." God wants us to be faithful in using our money wisely, so He can trust us with even bigger responsibilities, monetary or otherwise. If we frivolously spend our money, go into debt and don't give a care for how God says we should spend it, then He's unlikely to trust us with more. But if we are faithful in the way we handle our money, then God knows that He can give us even greater responsibility and we will be faithful with it as well.

Start being faithful by creating a budget. List all your expenses and all your income. The expense column must be less than the income column. If it's not, you either need to reduce expenses or create more income because the Bible tells us not to go into debt (which is a topic we'll tackle in-depth tomorrow).

Once you have a plan, you and your family need to stick to it. When your kids see you sticking to a budget, they learn that being faithful with your money is important. My kids have learned that when the envelopes are empty, we don't go out or buy things. They may not like it, but they understand the idea.

Our kids need to know that money is not an unlimited resource and we have to make choices about what to do with it. God wants us to cover our needs, be prepared for tomorrow and take care of our fellow man. If we don't have a plan to do that, then we aren't being wise. Proverbs 21:5 says "The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty."

Teach your kids the value of a budget as early as they can understand the concept of money. Young kids can learn that they need to tithe 10 percent, save whatever percentage you decide and can spend the rest. That's a simple budget.

As kids get older, they can begin to budget for things like birthday and Christmas gifts, special activities they want to do and any miscellaneous purchases they want to make. Help them create a written budget, so they can see exactly where their money is going. Teenagers can begin budgeting for their own clothes, trips, gas for the car, car insurance and going out with their friends.

If we teach our kids the value of budgeting when they are young, it will be a habit that they can rely on when they get older.

Whether the system we use for budgeting is right for your family, is up to you, but every family needs a plan for their money. It's impossible to be faithful with what God has given you without a plan.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Bring the Tithe

Money is a touchy subject. We all have our own ideas about what to do with it. And we don't always like what the Bible has to say about it. Many pastors don't like to preach about it, and many of us don't like to hear about it.

Yet, God has a lot to say about it. There are 113 verses in the Bible that have the word "money" in them. There are another 126 that include the word "wealth." There are only 114 that contain the word "salvation." If God talks about money as much as He talks about salvation in the Bible, then He must think it's pretty important.

I think God spent so much time dealing with the issue of money because He knows that we struggle with making it, holding on to it and using it wisely. Yesterday, we talked about ownership and how important it is for us to recognize that God owns everything. He just loans it to us.

It takes that attitude to faithfully commit to tithing, our topic for today. This may well be the touchiest subject for Christ-followers. I've heard all sorts of explanations for tithing that absolve people of the responsibility. Let's look at a few of them.
  • A tithe just means a portion of my income. It doesn't mean 10 percent. There's no getting around this one. The word tithe in Hebrew means 10 percent. It doesn't mean anything else.
  • I can tithe my time or talent. Nowhere in the Bible does the word tithe refer to anything but income. It does refer to livestock and plants, but those were the currency of the day. Few people used money to buy things in those days. They traded with one another. So a tithe refers to 10 percent of your income. Nowhere is the word tithe used in reference to time and talents.
  • I don't have to tithe because that's an Old Testament ritual. By this logic, we should throw out everything that's in the Old Testament. The 10 Commandments would no longer apply as well.
The truth is that God commands us to tithe. And, He promises us a blessing if we do. Malachi 3:8-11 says:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.
“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it."

God is talking to the Israelites who were not tithing, and He tells them that by not tithing, they are robbing Him. Then He promises to bless them beyond their imagination if they tithe.

If we truly believe that everything belongs to God, then that includes our money. God commands us to tithe: "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." God graciously allows us to hold onto 90 percent of our money. He simply asks to keep 10 percent of it to do His work.

Tithing is a tough concept for many of us because we look at our money, and we don't see how it will possibly stretch if we take out 10 percent. Yet, I have never known God to go back on His word. He promises to richly bless you if you tithe. He also promises to provide for us. We'll never know the blessings, if we don't follow the command.

The easiest way I know of to stop struggling with the concept of tithing is to simply make it a habit. Decide you're going to do it, then step out in faith and write that check every pay period. You may have to make some adjustments to the budget, but God will provide all that you need.

Teach your children to tithe at a young age, so they won't struggle with the concept when they are adults. Nearly everyone I know that was taught to tithe as a child has no trouble with the concept as an adult. Every time your child gets money, immediately show them how to separate out what belongs to God. Let them put their tithe in the offering at your church. Show your kids what your church does with that money. Talk about how our tithe money lets our churches reach out to both the local and worldwide communities. Focus on the things your church does to help kids, so your child can see that he is helping other kids.

The best thing you can do to help your child form a habit of tithing is to form one yourself. Let your kids see you tithing, and encourage them to follow your example.

God promises to bless us if we tithe. I know that God's blessings are much greater than anything I can buy with that 10 percent of money that God asks to hold onto. Don't miss the blessing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's Not Yours

If you try to take a toy away from a 2-year-old, you're most like going to hear the child yell, "Mine!" Two-year-olds have no problem declaring their ownership of something for all the world to hear.

Almost from the beginning, we begin staking our claim of ownership on things. My girls can tell you exactly which things in our house belong to them. And many times they aren't interested in sharing those things.

Unfortunately, even as adults, we spend time figuratively yelling "Mine!" We want to hold onto our possessions with a tight hand. And, many times, the more we have, the harder we try to get more.

Yet, that's not what God had in mind for us when He blessed us with our money and possessions. He never intended for us to claim ownership of everything. As a matter of fact, the Bible is pretty clear about who owns things. Deuteronomy 10:14 says "To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it."

Everything belongs to God. None of it belongs to us. That's not exactly the attitude we bring to the table most of the time. When God asks us to part with our money and possessions, we often grumble and act as if none of it belongs to God.

The truth is that God blesses us with money and possessions. He graciously provides for us. In return, He asks us to follow His principles for using those material possessions.

Too often, we take what God gives, and we close our hands around it like a 2-year-old. If God wants us to use our material possessions for Him, he has to pry our fingers off.

God wants us to hold our possessions with an open hand, not a closed fist. If our hand is open, then it's easy for God to use what He has given us for His purposes. But, if our hand is closed into a fist, God can't get to our possessions without first opening our hand.

Having an open hand and heart about your possessions reflects your attitude about the ownership of those possessions. If you hold your material goods with an open hand, you reflect the attitude that God owns everything. If you hold everything with a closed fist, you reflect the attitude the you own everything.

All this week, we're going to look at how we can teach our kids to have the right attitude and follow God's principles with our money. But none of that is useful if we don't have the right attitude about ownership.

Memorize Deuteronomy 10:14 with your kids this week. When selfish attitudes crop up in your home this week, remind one another that God owns everything. He simply allows us to use the things He blesses us with.

God has a lot to say about money. Much of what He has to say goes against everything the world tells us to do with that money. Following God's principles for what to do with our money is a whole lot easier if we've already determined in our hearts that our money and possessions don't belong to us. They already belong to God. Since they belong to Him, we should handle them the way He wants us to.

Changing your attitude about ownership can radically change the way you handle your money. Teaching your kids God's principles for handling money can save them a lot of heartache and struggle.

It all boils down to one simple concept. It's not ours, and we shouldn't act like it is.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday Introductions: Jesus and My Orange Juice

A couple of years ago, I bought a new Christmas decoration for our home. I was at a craft fair, and I fell in love with a big, wooden cutout of the word JOY. In the center of the O, there is a wooden cut out of the manger scene. It stands about 2 1/2 feet tall.

I brought it home and set it on the mantel at Christmastime. The first time my husband saw it, he looked at it and said, "It screams joy." That decoration reminds us of the source of our joy. It's big enough that it's not overwhelmed by our 10-foot ceilings and our 7 1/2-foot Christmas tree. It's the first thing your eye notices when you walk into our family room.

That decoration captures the source of our joy and reminds us that because Jesus came to earth as a baby and died, we no longer have to be separated from God. And that brings us joy.

We want our lives to reflect that joy. We want to be like my Christmas decoration. We want our lives to "scream" JOY.

Because joy draws people in. It makes people want what we have -- a never-ending source of joy. Even in the midst of difficult times, we draw our joy from God. Psalm 30:5 tells us "weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning." While the world may seem bleak, God promises joy will come. All we have to do is tap into the source of that joy.
My friend Shannon Milholland provided some great insight into this verse this week in her blog Jesus and My Orange Juice. Shannon is a mother to four girls, wife to her husband Scott, and a talented speaker and writer. Her blog gleans spiritual wisdom and truth from the everyday events in her and her family's lives. Usually short, her devotional style writing offers a scripture, a story and a Biblical truth in each post. I know you'll love reading her blog as much as I do.
Check out Shannon's blog and as you go through this weekend, assess whether your life shouts JOY to others. If not, spend some time with God, simply tapping into the source of our joy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Joy Busters

I was tempted this morning not to finish out this short series on joy and contentment. It’s not been the best week with a sore body and a wrecked car. On top of that several things have broken, my kids have been at each others’ throats because we’ve been stuck at home and I’ve struggled to get anything done.

I got up this morning thinking today would be easy. My kids are spending the next four days at GrandCamp, their annual summer camp with Grandmommy and Granddaddy. My days are open. The only other creature I have to look out for is the dog.

Ah, yes, the dog. Our beautiful German short-haired pointer who never has accidents in the house. The first thing I got to do this morning was clean up a lovely present he left for me in his crate. I really don’t think he was any happier about it than I was, but I have to tell you my attitude of joy and contentment has already been sorely tried this morning.

After cleaning up his mess, I sat down here at the computer to write only to discover that my Internet isn’t working. My whole day today revolves around catching up on my freelance projects, which requires an Internet connection. Joy and contentment were not the first words that came to mind.

I don’t know about you, but it seems the more I focus on having an attitude of joy and contentment, the harder it becomes. Satan loves to throw things in my path that make me work for that attitude.

And, you know what? I can’t have an attitude of joy and contentment on my own. I’m simply not strong enough, nor focused enough. Joy and contentment come from God and only through His strength can we achieve a consistent attitude of joy and contentment.

Philippians 4:13 tells us “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” That includes finding our joy and contentment in Him.

There’s always going to be something trying to tear our focus off of God. When we lose our focus on Him, we lose our source of strength. When we rely on our own strength to find contentment and joy, we fail. When we rely on God’s strength to find contentment and joy, we are filled up with His strength and we can remain focused on Him, the source of joy and contentment.

Illustrate this for your kids by hanging a picture on the wall. Tell them to walk from one end of the room to the picture while looking at the picture. Repeat the exercise, only have them look at something else in the room while walking toward the picture. Lastly, blindfold them and have them walk to the picture.

Explain that when we keep our eyes on the picture, we can walk in a straight line to it. When we lose sight of the picture, either by looking at something else or not being able to see it, it’s much harder to walk toward the picture.

God is the picture. When we take our eyes off of Him, we wander away from the source of our strength. We want to keep our eyes on Him so He can give us the strength for whatever comes our way.

Don’t let whatever frustrations that come your way today rob you of joy and contentment. Keep your eyes on God and let Him fill you with the strength and joy that only come from Him. In that, you will find contentment.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Discontent in a TV Screen

We don't have a flat screen TV. We have a 15-year-old 27-inch big box of a TV. It was my graduation present when I finished college. It works fine. We can watch everything we want to watch. It's just not the latest and greatest technology.

My girls think we're the most deprived household on the block. According to them, we're the last family on the planet that doesn't have a flat screen TV. Every time they go to a friend's house that has a flat screen TV, they come home and tell us how wonderful it is.

When it comes to TV, my girls have a problem with contentment. Contentment is simply being happy with what God has provided for you. Contentment rules out jealousy and anger.

Yet, being content doesn't just apply to our material possessions. It applies to being content in every aspect of our lives, from our jobs to our families to our bodies. It's easy to look at your neighbor or friend and think that they have the world by the tail. You think, "If I only had their (looks, job, house, etc.), I could be content." But that statement is a lie.

When we're living our lives focused on what we don't have instead of what we do have, there will always be "one more thing" that we think we need to be content. To learn contentment, we have to pull the focus off of what we don't have and put the focus back on God and all that He has done for us.

Philippians 4:19 says "And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." God promises to meet every single one of our needs, but He doesn't promise to do it in our way or our time. He also doesn't promise to give us every single one of our hearts' desires. He promises to meet our needs. And He wants us to be content with His provision.

Contentment is a learned behavior. Human nature isn't naturally content. It always strives to want more. I think that often the more we have, the more we want. We're materialistic by nature. Yet, Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-12 that he learned contentment.

If contentment can be learned, it can also be taught. We want to teach our kids now how to be content with what they have, so when they get older, they aren't always striving after the next best thing. We don't want our kids to live a life of misery and discontent as adults, so we need to work with them now to create an attitude of contentment.
  • Examine your own attitude. Are you constantly striving to get something new? Do you model an attitude of contentment? If you are always talking about something that you want -- whether tangible or intangible -- or if you're frequently talking about things that make you discontent, then you're modeling an attitude of discontent. Ask God to help you be content with what He has provided. Then, be vocally grateful for those things.
  • Have your kids write down on a piece of paper 10 things that God has provided for them. Talk about your lists. Have them explain why they chose the things they did. Talk about how God provides for us. He provides beauty in the natural world. He provides friends and families. He provides food and shelter. When we look longingly at the things that someone else has, we are telling God that we are discontent with what He has provided. Not only is it an attitude of discontentment, it's an attitude of ingratitude.
  • Look up facts about your kids' favorite animals. Talk about how God has provided everything that animal needs. Read Matthew 6:26, "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Talk with your kids about how if God supplies the needs of the animals, He has said He will supply all our needs as well. When He does, He wants us to be content with what He has supplied.
  • Create a code word with your kids that will be a signal your family can use to hold one another accountable in your attitudes. It can be something fun or something no one else would notice. Whenever someone in your family exhibits an attitude of discontent, anyone can say the code word as a reminder that God doesn't want us to be discontent. He wants us to be content with what He provides. The discontent family member then needs to state one thing for which he is grateful God has provided.
Contentment isn't easy, but it is something we can learn. If we take the focus off what we don't have and put it on the things that God has provided, we can quickly conquer the discontentment monster -- even when it comes to a flat screen TV.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Attitude of Joy

It isn't easy for adults to be joyful in the midst of difficult circumstances. It's even tougher for kids. Children, with their concrete-thinking minds and lack of maturity, live in the moment. They often can't see beyond the immediate. Often they act like the crisis of the moment will never end.

So, living with an attitude of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances is hard. We need to help our kids see that joy is a choice. It's not dependent on what is happening to you. It's dependent on knowing that God is in control and that He loves us and wants a relationship with us.

Paul says in Philippians 4:4, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" He doesn't say "Rejoice when things are going well" or "Rejoice when everything is just the way you want it." He says "Rejoice in the Lord, always."

That seems impossible. Crummy stuff happens in our and our kids' lives. Someone makes fun of your child at school. Your daughter doesn't make the soccer team she tried out for. Your son strikes out three times at his baseball game. People get sick. Finances are in a shambles.

Yet in the midst of those trying moments, the Bible says "Rejoice!" Because we know that this is not all there is. We know that the eternity we gain when we accept Christ into our hearts is so much better than this troubled world. When we live with an eternal perspective, we discover that we have reason for joy.

Joy is a condition of the heart. It's not dependent on anything going on in our lives. We can be joyful even in the midst of the most dire circumstances because we know that God is in control and we have a relationship with Him because Jesus died on the cross for us.

Teaching our kids the difference between joy and happiness when they are young will give them an eternal perspective from which to approach the trials and frustrations of this life.
  • Have your kids make a list of the things that make them happy. Think of Maria in "The Sound of Music," singing "My Favorite Things." That's the type of list your kids are creating. Have them write down the things that give them a pick-me-up. Talk about how all of those things are external things. They are things we can do or see or touch or eat. While they may make us happy for a few moments, they won't give us a long-term joy. Explain that our joy -- a long-term attitude -- comes from knowing God and having a relationship with Him. That type of joy lets us have a joyful attitude even when our external circumstances stink.
  • Give your kids a Goldfish cracker or some other type of easily crushable cracker. Put the cracker on a paper towel. Tell your child to crush the cracker with his fingers and look at what happens. Then give your kids a wooden block. Ask them to crush the block with their fingers. The cracker will break into a bunch of tiny pieces, but unless you have a child with Herculean strength, the block won't even budge. Explain that bad things happen in our lives, and we can choose to either let those things crush us or we can choose to find joy in God despite our circumstance. If we choose to let external circumstances dictate our attitude, we're like the Goldfish -- easily crushed. But if we choose to find our joy in our relationship with God, we are like the block, and we can stand firm in the face of difficulties.
Help your kids understand that happiness is fleeting, but joy gives us strength. An attitude of joy lets us face whatever comes our way strong in the knowledge that the God of the universe loves us and He wants to have a relationship with us. That is the source of our joy, and no outside circumstance can take that joy away.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Memory Monday: Being Content (Philippians 4:11-13)

I’m teaching on joy at our Women’s Summer Series at church tonight. We’re going to walk through the book of Philippians and discover how our joy comes from knowing God and all that He’s done for us and not from our circumstances.

I received lots of opportunities this weekend to practice what I’m preaching. Saturday morning started out great. I got the best night’s sleep on Friday night that I’d had in weeks and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to strike things off my to-do list on this rare open Saturday in our family. I even decided to take my youngest daughter rollerblading.

About a quarter mile from home, I did something I have never done on my rollerblades. I wiped out – badly. Road rash on my leg, a badly bruised shoulder and a knock on the head. Without my helmet and wrist guards, I probably would have broken something. I spent the rest of my day trying not to move too quickly.

Yesterday, still feeling sore, we went to a different church to hear a friend speak and had the opportunity to enjoy lunch with our friends. On the way home, we got in a car wreck. Everyone was fine, but the front of my car is a mangled mess.

This morning, my shoulder is still sore, my car is still undriveable and my to-do list is as long as it was when the weekend began.

Yet, in my brain, I hear the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Now, Paul’s circumstances were way worse than my weekend when he wrote those words. He was under house arrest in Rome, dependent on friends for his well-being, unable to leave his home and guarded around the clock by Roman soldiers.

I have to tell you that as I was lying on the pavement trying to decide how badly I was injured, I wasn’t content. Nor was contentment my first reaction when I first got a glimpse of the front of my car after our wreck.

As I studied for my teaching time, though, I realized that my source of joy isn’t found in whether my car works or my body doesn’t hurt. My joy comes from knowing God and all that He has done for me.

Paul found joy despite his circumstances because he knew his joy came from his salvation in Christ. He found contentment because he relied on God’s strength and not his own.

When we find ourselves in circumstances beyond our control that threaten to rob us of our joy, we need to refocus on God and ask Him to give us the strength to be content despite our circumstances. We must find our joy in knowing that God loves us and sent His son to die for us.

The rest of this week’s blogs are going to focus on teaching our kids how to find joy in Christ and contentment through God’s strength. As you memorize these verses this week, keep your hearts focused on the joy of knowing Christ died for you – and not on your circumstances.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Introductions: Terri Lynne Underwood

I've been struggling this week with God's plans for me this fall. I've been teaching ladies' Bible studies for nearly a decade. I love it. I love watching women experience God's word in a new way, some for the first time. I love seeing women's lives change because God is working in their lives. And I love the sweet fellowship that comes from a group of women getting together and studying God's word.

Yet, when I got an email from our Bible study coordinator this week asking me what I was going to be teaching this fall, I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the task. I've been praying all summer about teaching this fall. God never gave me any clear direction on teaching a study. And the more I thought about teaching, the less excited about the prospect I became.

This week, I sat down with our discipleship pastor and his assistant and asked them to help me figure out a direction for the fall. I was surprised when they both said, maybe I should take a rest and spend some time letting God fill me up rather than teaching others. I had toyed with the idea of taking the semester off but had pushed it aside, thinking that couldn't possibly be what God wanted. I mean, why wouldn't He want me to teach His word, right?

Yet, the more I thought and prayed about it, the more convinced I became that taking at least one semester off is what God is calling me to do. While I love teaching, and I will certainly go back to it, I know God is calling me to do some things with the Everyday Truth ministry that I simply don't have the time or the energy for if I'm also teaching a study every week. I also know that this fall is going to be crazy busy with my girls and their activities, and I have clearly heard God saying that this is a time when my girls need my attention.

As I pondered taking a rest, I came across a fantastic website that just happened to be in the middle of a series on Biblical rest. It was confirmation for me that I needed to slow down and take a break. If you're looking for a Biblical perspective on rest check out Teri Lynne Underwood's blog "Encouraging Lives Where the Sacred and Secular Collide." Her series on Biblical rest is encouraging and challenging.

On her site, you'll also find some great posts on parenting, marriage and living a balanced life. Terri is also the author of an e-book, Parenting from the Overflow.

If you're trying to decide if God is calling you to rest, check out her series "Slow: Understanding Biblical  Rest." God designed us to need rest, both daily rest and rest from certain activities at certain times. She points out that not only do we need rest, but we need to teach our kids to rest as well. The constant go, go, go of our lives keeps us from seeing and hearing God. We need rest to be close to God.

Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.: (Matthew 11:28) He is the source of rest, but we can't enjoy that rest if we are too busy to come to Jesus. It is in the restful moments that we hear God and can be filled with His grace and love. If we can't be still, we can't truly know God.
So, as I enter a season of rest, I hope you'll check out Terri's take on the subject and consider whether God is calling you to a season of rest, so you can get to know Him better.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Fun: 39 Clues to You -- Week 6

"I can do it myself." We have all heard those words (usually said in a less than pleasant tone at a less than pleasant volume). We all seem to have an innate need to be independent.

I think Americans are more prone to having independent natures than a lot of places in the world. Our culture is steeped in the historical lore of men and women who came to this country and made something of themselves with nothing but hard work and determination. While this trait is good in many ways, it can also be isolating.

Because we are so determined to do things on our own and not rely on anyone else, we can unintentionally cut ourselves off from fellowship with others. We all need community. We need  people we can rely on when things get tough. And we need people who can simply share our lives with us.

Too often, our kids get caught up in a "my way or the highway" attitude, which alienates their friends and leads to someone stomping off mad. Put four kids in a room, and I guarantee that it won't take long for one of them to get upset because the other ones won't do something that she wants to do.

Today's installment of our summer adventure is going to focus on the importance of working together and respecting others. Our verses for the week are Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

To make the point that we need one another, we're going to do a task that isn't a whole lot of fun. I'm going to dump a bunch of Legos on the floor and make the girls pick out all the blue pieces. Now, we have a lot of Legos in this house, so the task is going to seem daunting. But with six girls, they should make short work of the job.

We'll talk about how working together made that overwhelming task seem easier. If we have any frustrations with each other, we'll talk about how to resolve them so we can all work toward the same goal.

When the girls are done, we're going to talk about how God wants us to work together for Him. I'll give each of the girls three pieces of yarn. We'll see how easy it is to break a strand of yarn all by itself. Then we'll twist two pieces together and try to break that. We'll braid three pieces together and try to break that. The braided piece should be strong enough that we won't be able to pull it apart.

We'll talk about how when we add God to the mix in our relationships, we create a bond that is not easily broken. We'll talk about how when we have disagreements with our friends, we need to think about what God would want us to do in that situation. And we'll hit on the importance of taking those issues to God in prayer.

Our featured child for the day is my youngest daughter. I'm going to take them all ice skating tomorrow, but today, we're going to do one of my daughter's other favorite things: cooking. We'll make cupcakes, and everyone will get a chance to read part of the recipe and add some ingredients. When we've finished making the cupcakes, we'll talk about how all the different ingredients worked together to create a yummy cupcake, just like we need to work together to accomplish God's plans.

Before they leave today, I pray these girls will have a better understanding of their need for each other and the importance of working together.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Remembering to Be Thankful

I spent a lot of time when my kids were toddlers teaching them to say "thank you." We started before they could talk and taught them sign language for thank you. When they could speak, we gently reminded them to always say thank you when someone had done something for them.

Having our kids say thank you is polite. But I think telling someone else "thank you" is as much a reminder to us to be thankful as it is a sign of politeness. Unfortunately, too often our thanks becomes rote. We simply say thank you because we are supposed to, not because we feel any gratitude at all.

I think this is true in our conversations with God as well. Our prayers of thanksgiving can become a habitual recitation of the same things. It's not that we're not grateful for those things, it's simply that we've lost the awe and wonder involved in true gratitude.

Our kids tend to struggle with this as well. In our materialistic culture, it's easy for them to overlook all that they have because others appear to have more. We need to help our kids cultivate an attitude that recaptures the awe of knowing that God provides for us.

Psalm 106:1 says "Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Our thankfulness should be rooted in our knowledge that God is good and He loves us. Because of those two qualities, He gives us good things.

When we let gratitude take over as the attitude of our hearts, we can find the good in all situations. It will change our perspective on just about everything. Teach your kids to live their lives with an attitude full of thanksgiving so they can focus on what God has provided and not on what others have that they don't. It's impossible to be jealous and thankful at the same time.
  • Model an attitude of gratefulness for your kids. If you're always bemoaning the things you don't have, your kids will assume that behavior is OK. When you are tempted to be jealous of something someone else has, make a list -- mental or written -- of all the things you have to be thankful for.
  • Have your kids make a thankfulness list. Give them a piece of paper and have them write down everything they can think of that they are thankful for. Post the list somewhere and use it as a reminder to be thankful when your kids are tempted to be jealous of what others have.
  • Have a thankfulness day. Give everyone a little notebook and a pen. Tell them to write down everything they are thankful for during the day. At the end of the day have everyone share what they wrote. This is a great way for your kids to see how much they truly have for which they can be thankful.
  • Express your gratefulness by making thanksgiving a specific part of your prayers. Encourage your kids to thank God every day in prayer for different things.
When you create an attitude of gratitude in your home, selfishness and jealousy will take a back seat. When we begin to view the little things in our lives as things for which we can be grateful, we take the focus off of ourselves and put it on God, our provider. Begin creating a grateful attitude in your home today and watch the atmosphere in your home change.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Beating the Mid-Summer Blues

It's been over 100 degrees here for about the past four days. I heard on the radio this morning that it's going to drop to 90 tomorrow and that might be the lowest temp we see for the rest of the month.

I think sometimes the dog days of summer are almost as difficult to deal with as a mom as the freezing cold, snowy days of winter. At least in the winter, we have school to take up part of the day.

When it gets this hot and humid, the girls don't want to go outside and even the pool is not an option when the sun is high in the sky. This fair-skinned family gets burnt way too quickly to hit the pool before late afternoon. That leaves some long days to fill.

Some days, my inclination is to turn on the TV or Wii and let the kids watch or play. Other days, we work together on some project around the house. By this time in the summer, we're all starting to get tired of spending every waking moment together. The girls are tired of each other and me, and, to be honest, I have days when I'm tired of them.

These are the moments when we need to shake things up with our kids. It's easy to get in a rut during the hot days of summer. It's tempting to simply let teachable moments with your kids slip by because it takes effort.

This is the time of year when I need a renewed sense of purpose. I need to beat those mid-summer blues that keep me from being an effective mom to my kids.

God doesn't want us to just go through the motions. He wants us to be on fire for Him. Revelaton 3:15-16 says "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth."

I want to have a hot heart for God, yet here, in the midst of the hottest days of the summer, I find myself lukewarm. Stymied by the demands of everything in my life, I give up my time with God, and I pass on opportunities to share His love and wisdom with my kids.

If you find yourself in a similar spot, try something different. I find that shaking up our schedule and our focus will often shake me out of my funk.
  • Make a new plan. Spend some time thinking about the things you want to concentrate on with your children. What character qualities do you want to focus on with them? What do you want them to know about God? Then, find a fun, creative way to share those things with them. I often find when I'm planning something for my kids, God uses that time to speak to me, too.
  • Re-examine the schedule. If you're having trouble finding time to spend with God on a regular basis, then try a new time. See if there are moments in your day that you can reclaim to spend with God. You may need to rearrange a few things and reset some expectations in your household, but if you're not finding time to be filled up by God, you won't have much to pass on to your children.
  • Get out of the house and look for everyday opportunities to share God with your kids. Whether its a trip to the pool, the mall, the zoo, an amusement park or a local play space, there are plenty of opportunities to share God's perspective on life with your kids. You can talk about the water of life at the pool, God's provision at the mall, creation at the zoo, fear at the amusement park and abundant life at your local play space.
  • Hook up with some friends. Sometimes our frustration with our children, and their frustration with each other simply comes from spending too much time together. Adding some other children (and a mom for you to talk with) adds some perspective to your entire family's life. It adds some new adventure and excitement to the day and leaves you feeling refreshed.
So, in the midst of the heat and humidity of these long summer days, don't get discouraged. Make time to let God fill you up and reclaim your focus on sharing his love with your kids. Do one thing today that shakes up your routine and lets you refocus on God.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Memory Monday: Getting Tangled Up With God

I was enjoying lunch at my favorite wrap place on Saturday with my family, when my blog came up in conversation with the girls.

My youngest looked at me and said, "You should write about my hair." My youngest has beautiful, blond, curly hair. She really does have the kind of curly hair that most of us with straight hair have always wanted. It hangs in gorgeous, loose spiral curls all over her head.  However, I  had no idea how writing about her hair would fit with this blog.

"Why should I write about your hair," I asked.

"Well, my hair gets tangled all the time," she said. This is true. Curly hair comes with a price, and that price is tangles. Combing and styling her hair takes patience and care not to hurt her tender head. Yet, I was still missing whatever connection she was trying to make to the blog.

"And we should get tangled up with God," my youngest finished.

As I sat in stunned silence that my 8-year-old daughter could come up with such a great analogy, I realized that, in seconds, she had grasped a concept that I have been struggling to come to terms with for weeks.

The past few weeks, I've been struggling with all the demands of mommyhood. My kids are in a phase where they seem to think I am a maid, playmate and chauffeur, available at a moment's notice for their convenience. We've spent a lot of time together in confined spaces in the past month with two long car trips. My parents were out of town and had company for the past three weeks, making mommy breaks hard to come by.

To tell you the truth, I haven't really wanted to be a mom lately. I've felt underappreciated, overwhelmed and just plain grumpy. I apparently didn't hide it well, either. My best friend took me out for ice cream the other day, simply to find out if she had done something to upset me.

To top it all off, besides writing this blog, I've been struggling to find any time to spend getting tangled up with God. My youngest daughter is an early riser and after a day of working, dealing with my kids and filling whatever other commitments we have, I'm ready to go to bed by 9 p.m. Summer makes it hard to find a few moments to myself during the day. I feel like I did when my kids were toddlers. I just want 10 minutes to  myself.

I can tell you that all of these things have combined to make me a less-than-pleasant person lately, but they are just symptoms of the problem. The problem is that when I'm not rooted in God's word and spending time with Him, the little annoyances and frustrations in my life add up and leave me sounding and acting like a shrew.

Colossians 2:6-7 tells us "So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness."

That verse does not describe my life lately. When you look at the roots of a tree, they often resemble my daughter's tangled hair. The roots are tangled with the dirt, which holds the tree firmly upright. When a root gets chopped or dies, it weakens the tree. If the dirt is lacking nutrients or water, it weakens the tree. A weakened tree won't stand up to a storm.

We're just like a tree. If we don't sink our roots into Christ's love and God's word, then we walk through the storms of life like a weakened tree. It's easy to push us over.

When we are rooted in Christ's love and God's word, it shows in our lives. Our lives reflect the fruits of the spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

I know that these qualities have been sorely lacking in my life lately, especially joy and patience. So, this week I'm going to focus on getting my roots tangled back up with God. And, every morning when I comb the tangles out of my 8-year-old's hair, I'll have the perfect reminder to do so. I hope you'll join me.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday Introductions: A Holy Experience

Sometimes, it's easy to get caught up in the busyness and crazyness of our lives. Between school, work, activities and sports, church and ministry commitments and simply finding time to spend together as a family, it's easy to get overwhelmed and miss the blessings that have been sent your way.

When I find myself overwhelmed by my circumstances and wanting to cry out like David in Psalm 22:1 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?" I know I need a reminder of God's grace and goodness.

When we're running on an empty tank and we've lost sight of God's grace and goodness, His word is always there to fill us back up. But, sometimes, I need a nudge in the right direction.

When that happens, I head over to Ann Voskamp's blog, A Holy Experience. Through Ann's amazing writing, I always find a lesson in God's faithfulness. Whether she's tackling a spiritual practice that draws us closer to God (which she does every Wednesday), sharing pictures of her family or talking about life on their farm, I never fail to find a message of God's goodness.

Her site is loaded with free downloads about everything from parenting to Bible memorization. I know you'll find something on Ann's site that will fill you up and focus your thoughts on God.

Ann is the author of the New York Times bestseller One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are. If you need a reminder of how God blesses us even when circumstances seem dire, then read this book. It will focus your heart on recognizing the gifts you've been given.

So, the next time you find yourself running on an empty tank and you need a nudge to remember God's faithfulness, head on over to Ann's blog. I know you'll find refreshment and encouragement.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Fun: 39 Clues -- Week 5

I woke up to thunderstorms. Considering the fact that we have swim lessons, 39 Clues and soccer practice today, this is not a good thing. As I listened to the thunder rumble at 5 a.m., I was quickly thinking of all the ways I could move our 39 Clues adventure inside. None of my options are good today. So, I'm praying that it stops raining so we can have our duck race outside.

Now, I'm sure you're wondering why we would have a duck race. That doesn't represent a talent of one of the kids. Today, though, our featured child is my next door neighbor's middle daughter. And if there's one thing that stands out about her, it's that she loves ducks.

She loves ducks so much that last Easter her dad thought it would be a great idea to bring home live baby ducks (without telling mom), but that's a story for another day. Suffice it to say that the ducks are now living a happy life on a nearby farm.

Ducks are what this little girl is passionate about. Oh, we're also going to have her teach us how to tap dance, which I cannot wait to get pictures of, but ducks are her thing. And that's what this summer is all about -- learning to appreciate other people and their likes and interests. I want my kids to know that just because someone else has a different interest from you, that doesn't make them weird or wrong. It just makes them different. And we need to value those differences in others.

So, today, we're going to talk about Philippians 2:3-4, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." We're going to talk about what it means to value someone else and how selfishness can rob others of their value.

The kids will each get a dollar, and I'll ask them if they want to trade that dollar in for other currency of varying amounts. The point is to get the kids to recognize that with money, some things are more valuable than others and how we care for that money shows how much we value it. If we lose a quarter, we're not going to be as sad as if we lose a $100 bill.

We're going to talk about how people aren't like money. Even though we're different, God values each of us. And He wants us to value one another as well. He wants us to treat each other as if everyone is as valuable as a $1,000 bill. We'll talk about what that means and how we can show others that we think they have value.

Then, we're going to focus on our duck-loving child. The girls are going to draw ducks. We're going to have a rubber duck race in our little kiddie pool. The kids will get a chance to practice being good winners and losers like we talked about in this space yesterday. I'm hoping to get the chance to explain that even in competition, we need to let others know we value them.

We're also going to let our featured child teach us how to tap dance as she's participated in dance for the past year. I can't wait to see how my non-dancing girls do with this activity.

We'll end the day with prayer and a challenge to show others that we value them this week. The girls will get to take their $1 bills home and put them somewhere that they can see them this week to remind them that God wants us to value others.

So, I'm hoping the rain stops, so we can spend some time today showing our friends how much we value them.  Even if it takes a duck race to do that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Winning and Losing Well

My youngest daughter hates to lose. It doesn't matter if she's playing in a playoff hockey game or racing her sister to the car, she wants to win. Much to the frustration of her sister and friends, she would rather quit in the middle of a game than finish it and lose.

While that drive to win can be a great motivator, it can also be a liability. I don't know how many tears have been shed in this house over the years over losing a board game or a Wii game. We spend a lot of time talking about not being a sore loser.

But as important as it is to know how to lose well, it's also important to know how to be a gracious winner. My youngest daughter tends to be a bit on the obnoxious side when she wins something. I do believe the words "In your face" and "I'm the best" have been known to come out of her mouth on occasion.

In the past six months, we've been working with her on learning to win and lose well because winning or losing in life is often based on talent and/or luck. How you act when you win or lose, however, is based on your character. Whether you win or lose says nothing about who you are. How you win or lose reflects what is in your heart.

Our kids are going to win and lose at things all through life. How they deal with the highs and lows that come along with those wins and losses reflects back on God. Graciously congratulating the winner when they lose or complimenting the loser for a well-played game when they win shows humility and maturity.

Proverbs 11:2 tells us "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." When our children are arrogant winners or poor losers, it's a reflection of pride taking a hold in their heart. That poor reaction to losing is rooted in the idea that "I'm too good to lose." The obnoxious celebration of an arrogant winner stems from the attitude that "I'm better than you."

Neither of those are attitudes that are pleasing to God. Humilty isn't easy to teach, especially if you have a child who doesn't like to lose. But it's an important lesson that will make a difference in our children's lives as they mature.

  • Before your children enter into a sports, dance or other competition, pray with them. Pray that they would do their best and that they would accept both winning and losing with a gracious spirit.
  • Institute a no quitting rule in your home. Whether it's a board game or a championship game, it's important to finish what you start. If your child is allowed to quit every time he thinks he's going to lose, the he never learns to lose well.
  • Don't shelter your children from losing. Always letting them win at a game is not giving them the opportunity to learn to lose. It's OK to beat your 4-year-old at CandyLand sometimes. It gives them an opportunity to deal with the feelings that come with losing. If our children never lose at anything until they're older, it's a lot harder for them to learn how to deal with it.
  • Make sure your kids know that their value to you and to God is not tied up in whether they win or lose a game. Our kids will place too much value on winning if they think that is the only way they can gain our approval. Even when your kids lose, find things to focus on that they did well. Use the loss as a learning experience about what to do better next time but also find time to focus on good things they did in the loss.
  • Talk with your kids about how to handle a loss. Explain that temper tantrums and blaming the other person or team for a loss does not reflect humility and graciousness. Encourage them to find something good to say to the other player or team, congratulating them on their win.
  • Talk with your kids about how to handle winning. If your team is up 10-1, then celebrating your eleventh goal with fist pumps and jumping up and down is just rude. While it's exciting to score, we need to always take into consideration the fact that the other people playing the game have feelings, too.
  • Remind your kids that how they win or lose is what is important. Winning is fun, and losing is tough, but our reaction to those circumstances is much more important than whether we actually win or lose.
It's never fun to lose. I don't know anyone who says, "I hope I lose this game," but winning isn't the most important thing in life. A humble spirit and a willingness to reflect God's love to others is much more important to God than whether you win a game. God cares whether you win or lose well -- not whether you win or lose.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Training Every Day

As I told you last week, I spent the week taking my daughter to hockey camp. She spent six hours every day last week doing something related to hockey. Of that six hours, she only spent 2 1/2 hours on the ice. Much of the rest of the time was spent doing dry land training.

Dry land training is where the kids strengthened their muscles and their skills off the ice. At my daughter's age,  that consists of playing games and working on stick handling and agility. As the kids get older, they focus on training their muscles and building their endurance by doing things like running stairs.

Dry land certainly isn't the most fun part of training to play hockey, but it is necessary. The things the kids did off the ice got them ready to play on the ice.

Our spiritual walk is much like training to play hockey. We can be actively involved in ministry and in living our lives as God wants us to. We can put up a good front and never spend any time alone with God. From the outside, it looks like we have a close relationship with God, but on the inside, we're just skating by on what we already know. We're not growing in our relationship with Him because we're not spending any time with Him.

In hockey, your game won't get any better if you don't spend time off the ice perfecting your skills and training your muscles. When faced with the pressure and intensity of a game, you won't have enough knowledge or skill to win.

In life, if you aren't filling yourself up daily with God's word and spending time with Him, then when faced with the pressure and intensity of life, you will falter and fall. Psalm 119:58 says "I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise." If we're not spending time with God each day, then we're not seeking His face with our whole hearts like David.

God called David a man after His own heart. We want to follow in those footsteps and become men and women after God's own heart. The only way to do that is to spend time getting to know God's heart.

Spending time with God is a habit -- one we have to take the time to cultivate. It's important that we spend time with God every day, and it's important that we teach our kids to spend time with God every day.
  • Set aside a time in each day that will be your family's quiet time. Our time is in the morning before school.
  • Get your kids an age-appropriate devotional book and Bible. There are some great versions of the Bible out there, but my favorite for elementary school-aged children is the New International Reader's Version (NIrV). It's written in an easy-to-read style for kids without watering down the Word. It's a full Bible. It just doesn't have a lot of the really big words.
  • Talk with your kids about the importance of spending time with God every day. Get three pictures -- one of their best friend, one of someone you see a couple of times a year and one of their favorite sports star, movie actor, or singer. Ask them to tell you how well they know each person. Ask them if they know that person's favorite food, favorite TV show and favorite color. Explain that the more time they spend with a person, the better they know them. We know about the celebrity, but we don't know the celebrity. We have never met them or spent any time with them. We know a little bit more about the acquaintance that we see a few times a year, but we don't know them intimately. Your child will probably be able to tell you all sorts of things about her best friend because she knows that person well. She spends lots of time with her. Explain that the same is true with God. We can know all about Him and never spend any time with Him. To know Him, we have to talk with Him and listen to what He has to say to us. We have to understand who He is and how He wants us to live. If we love Him, we'll want to spend time with Him. We want God to be like our best friend, someone whom we know intimately.
  • Spend time with God yourself. The more connected you are with God, the better you are able to parent your children and help them create a relationship with God.
We can go through life, just skating by on what we already know about God, but that creates a shallow relationship with Him. When we hit the thin ice in our lives, we'll know we haven't trained hard enough off the ice to survive the intensity of being on it.

Let your relationship with God bring you strength for the intense moments in your life. Spending time with Him every day means you let Him fill you up with grace and strength so you and your kids can get in the game and face head-on any challenges that come your way during the day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Memory Monday: Let Freedom Ring (Galatians 5:1)

Happy 235th Birthday, America. I love the Fourth of July -- the parades, the cookouts, the fireworks, the friends and family. I love the opportunity to teach my kids about the courageous men who had a radical idea called democracy. I enjoy getting the chance to talk about the sacrifice that men and women in our armed forces have made over the centuries so that we can continue to enjoy the freedoms that those men in 1776 embraced.

As much as I enjoy teaching my kids how lucky they are to live in the United States, with all its freedoms and benefits, the Fourth of July is a great time to talk about the ultimate freedom -- freedom in Christ. We can use today to teach our kids that while freedom to do what we wish is one thing, freedom from sin is a greater blessing.

There are people all over the world today living in countries where their physical freedoms are restricted. Places where you take your life in your own hands if you want to meet with other Christ followers and worship God. Places where simply sharing your faith can get you arrested. Places where it's not safe to walk outside because there's a war going on. Places where no matter how smart you are or how creative, you will never rise above the class into which you were born.

Our kids need to know that places like this exist. When you  are born and raised in the United States, it's easy to take your freedoms for granted. Most of us have never had to put our lives on the line to worship God. We've never wondered if the next knock on our door will be the one that takes us to prison. Today, we should be thankful for the countless sacrifices that have made that possible.

  • Talk with your kids today about what freedom means. Explain that there are countries where people can only do the things the government tells them they can. Talk about how that means that those people may not be able to leave their homes at certain times. They may not be able to go to church. They may not get to choose what sport they play or what school they go to. Ask your kids how that makes those places different from the United States.

  • Explain to your kids that even in situations where people aren't physically free, they can still be find freedom in Christ. Jesus sets us free from sin. Sometimes people think that following Jesus takes away our freedoms because God asks us to live a certain way. However, when we realize just how much Jesus has done for us -- He made the ultimate sacrifice in dying on the cross for us -- we choose to follow Him out of love. Share Galatians 5:1 with your kids: "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Talk about how Jesus sets us free from our sin. He takes it away and forgets about it. If we keep dwelling on the things that we have done wrong after we have confessed them and been forgiven, then we make ourselves slaves to sin again. Teach your kids to confess their sins and then move forward, so that they can enjoy the freedom that Christ has given them.

  •  If you go to a parade today, you will probably see a soldier or two. Explain to your kids that Jesus is like those soldiers. Our soldiers sometimes sacrifice their lives so we can have physical freedoms. Jesus sacrificed his life so we can be free from sin. While physical freedoms are wonderful, spiritual freedom allows us to be free even when our physical freedoms are missing.
Celebrate your freedoms today with food, fun and fireworks. In the midst of the celebration, take a moment to thank God for both your physical freedoms and your freedom from sin.

Friday, July 1, 2011

When There Are No Words

Usually on Fridays, I devote this space to sharing another website or blog that I like with you. But this week, I feel it's important to share something else with you. I'll have another Friday Introduction for you next week.

Last night after dinner, I opened an email from my daughter's school. I expected it to be details about the upcoming book exchange. Instead, I was stunned to learn that one of my 10-year-old daughter's classmates had passed away from complications from surgery.

My daughter wasn't good friends with this little boy, but he had been in her grade level since kindergarten. She knew him. She saw him every day. At 10, you don't expect to leave school for summer break and come back in the fall and be missing a classmate because he died.

My daughter was understandably upset, but she kept it together until bedtime. As soon as she laid down for bed, the floodgates opened. She cried and cried. I climbed in bed with her and just held her.

I sit and write this blog every morning, filled with words. I speak to mom's groups, offering Scripture and object lessons. Yet, last night I had no words for my daughter.

What was there to say? Fourth-graders aren't supposed to die. I don't understand why it happened. There really aren't any words to fit that situation. There's no object lesson that makes it easier to bear that grief.

So, we laid in her bed, and we cried together. She talked about the things she remembered about her classmate, and beyond telling her it was OK to be sad, I said very little.

Because sometimes our kids just need us to be there. They don't need us to offer words of wisdom or spout Scripture or platitudes. They just need us to hold them. They need us to pray with them and for them. They simply need to know we are there.

God promises to comfort us. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). As parents, sometimes we get to be the physical comforting arms of God. We bolster our kids with a hug or a pat on the back. We hold them while they sob. And we remain silent because they don't always need us to speak. Sometimes they just need us to silently share their grief and pain.

And those are some of the hardest moments as a parent. Moments when there is nothing you can do to fix the situation. You can't make it better. You can only lessen the burden by sharing it.

I pray that those moments are few and far between, but when they come, remember that sometimes you don't have the right words for your kids. And that's OK. In those moments, your presence is simply enough.