Children Have Spiritual Lives All Their Own

March 23, 2010 2 comments

We hear much about how it is the Christian parents’ responsibility to nurture their children in the faith. And indeed, it is. Likewise, it is the church’s responsibility to help parents by providing a broader community of spiritual nurture and equipping, encouraging, and supporting parents. One of the potential consequences of any passionately held perspective is to move to the extreme. For example, if a child grows up to be rebellious and to make consistently bad choices (or even occasional bad choices), it is sometimes automatically assumed that the parents are at fault. It might be asked, “What were they teaching the child as he grew up? Did they not have devotions? Prayer? Meal time Bible discussions?” But what if the parents did all of these things (or some other variation of intentional biblical spiritual practices), throughout the years and their child still chose a path contrary to Biblical teaching? What then?

No parent is perfect. Neither is any child. We all fall short. Donald Ratcliff recently was interviewed by Katelyn Beaty of Christianity Today. The resulting article is published online under the title Spiritual Lives All Their Own. Dr. Ratcliff offers a message of hope to those parents whose children may have gone estray, despite their best efforts to raise them in a godly environment. I recommend the article highly as a healthy counterpoint to the sense of responsibility we all feel to raise up the children among us as faithful Christ-followers.

To be sure, parents are responsible for the spiritual upbringing of their offspring. But children, as they grow up, especially through adolescence and into adulthood, take on the responsibility for their own decisions. We cannot control everything they do, particularly as they become independent and live on their own. I think Dr. Ratcliff’s ideas liberate us from undue guilt trips so that we can get back to the business of seeking God on behalf of our families, and confronting the real enemy who seeks to destroy both our children and marriages.

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Conversing With Your Children About Haiti

January 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Photo by Roger Clark, Missionary to Haiti, January 2010

You likely are aware that a terrible earthquake caused massive destruction in Haiti recently. In a land which already was the poorest in the Western Hemisphere and has experienced extreme hardship, this event has leveled a disastrous blow to its people. It is hard to process the degree of human suffering taking place as I type these words. It makes my thoughts seem so inadequate, as they truly are. Yet, I know that I am not alone in wanting to help in some way, as well as wanting to aid our children in their response to the news.

In addition to my pressing concern for the people of Haiti,  I also feel burdened for the families and children in the local church. I love you. God loves you. And yes, God loves the people of Haiti (John 3:16-17). At times like this several questions likely arise. Questions like why did it happen? Who or what caused such a high level of suffering? What does it mean for us? What should we do in response?

So, here are a few simple suggestions. Use them at your discretion based on the specific needs of your children.

  • Limit their media exposure. That is, don’t let them sit all day in front of the television or computer digesting constant video footage of tragedy. Same is true for newspaper articles.
  • As a corollary, limit their social networking exposure. Some of your kids are on Facebook and possibly other social networking venues. The merits of them being on Facebook at a young age (before age 13) is a discussion for another time. However, there is a lot of debate going on right now concerning the Haiti issue in Facebook comment streams. Young children  do not benefit from this kind of exposure. It is confusing. They need to learn from you, their parents, rather than various Facebook friends who might not be taking into account how their words affect children. 
  •  When your children are ready to talk about Haiti, turn off all other distractions and devote your attention to them. In some cases, you might want to have private conversations. For example, if one child is 13 and another is 6, it might be worthwhile first to have separate conversations which are age appropriate.
  • In your conversations, acknowledge the tragedy. Invite your children to share how they feel about it. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your own sadness, but also reassure them with hope. They want to feel protected, loved, safe. You have power to give them that reassurance both in terms of your protection and sharing that God loves and protects them. Yes, sometimes bad things happen and we don’t know why, but even when they do, we can work through it together with God’s help. This is true even when bad things happen directly to us.
  • Children tend to be natural born activists. They want to do something. Why not do something as a family? There are wonderful registered charities locally in Portland which have a presence in Haiti. Why not give something to them to aid the relief effort? Make it a family activity. Involve your children in the decision-making process (within parameters you set).
  • Some children may point out that the $5 or $10, or even $100 that your family gives won’t go very far in helping the Haitians. Remind them that many others also are giving, and that together we can all make a difference.

Here is a brief list in no particular order of preference:

Above all, pray with your children. You pray, and encourage them to pray, as well. Here are some ideas about how to pray:

  • Pray for the people of Haiti who have lost loved ones and who are suffering.
  • Pray that the most vulnerable in Haiti, particularly widows and orphans, will find help immediately in this desperate hour of need.
  • Pray for those trying to rescue and provide relief.
  • Pray for others around the world to give to legitimate charities who are present in Haiti.
  • Pray for aid workers who are present and on their way to help.
  • Pray that Haitian believers and pastors, and  foreign missionaries will have opportunity to share the gospel openly.
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Online Family Adventure

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Looking for some creative ways to engage your children in Bible learning? Check out reallywoolly.fraboom.com, an online Family Adventure in Bible learning from the people at DaySpring. Currently, they offer a free Happy Birthday Jesus experience for families. Of course, they hope that people will continue to use their service, but use of the initial experience is completely free and does not obligate you further in any way. Go to the website for more details!

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how do you spend your time?

November 15, 2009 Leave a comment

How do you spend your time? Do you know? Are you sure of the answer? Or are you uncertain? Here is a suggestion for discovering the truth about your time management, the daily routines you choose to embrace.

Get a day-timer or notepad for your family. Indicate where each family member is and what they are doing at any given moment based on 15 minute increments for one week, Sunday through Saturday. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it is also revealing. The patterns of your family life are to be found in your daily routines. This is especially true of those routines you hardly notice, yet they take time. During this time, live your lives normally, but record your time with discipline. This will provide you with the greatest accuracy so that you may then decide where changes are needed and what goals should be set. Once the goals are set, then you can decide how best to reach them in realistic ways.

In brief, discover your current reality. Then decide your preferred reality. Finally, set and implement specific, realistic, and measurable goals which will help you achieve it. In this case, it is a matter of deciding how best to use your time. We all have the same amount of time. We also have a choice concerning how we use it.

How is God leading you to change your use of time?

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Back to Basics

November 7, 2009 Leave a comment

There is so much information available about raising children, particularly in terms of discipleship. Books, multi-media, web, and so on. It can be overwhelming. Let’s take a moment and remember the basics, the non-negotiable essentials.

  1. Prayer. Pray for your children and with them. Worship God. Ask him for wisdom. Pray without ceasing and with joyful hearts. Pray.
  2. Read your Bible. That’s right. I said it. Read your Bible. It is fine to read about your Bible, or to read devotionals, or use Bible study helps. But none of that should replace actually reading your Bible, both privately and, using appropriate passages relative to their ages, with your children.
  3. Confess your sin and repent. Ouch. Is that really necessary? You mean in our thoughts, right? Um, no. I mean to other real, live human beings. Particularly insofar as those sins affect others. Got a consistently rotten attitude? It probably affects others, too. Looking at porn? Newsflash. It is not as much of a secret as you probably think. Enjoy talking about others in unfavorable ways? The Bible calls it gossip and has much to say about ceasing and desisting from such behavior. So yea, confess your sin. And not only that, repent of it. That is, stop doing it. Get help if necessary, either from your spouse or another family member, Pastor Phil or another mature believer in the church, or perhaps your small group. And watch the healing begin in relationships.

I could add more, but I wanted to keep this simple. Be a risk-taker. Try adding these three basic practices to your daily life. Watch out for growth in spiritual maturity, not only in your children, but also in your life. Remember, each of these should become foundational to your daily experience. Don’t take a break from them. That is why they are basics. No fluff here. Just necessary practices for the routines of your everyday life.

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Family Devotions: Babystep 2- Be yourself, intentionally

October 12, 2009 Leave a comment

One of the main roadblocks to a family devotional life, from my perspective, is the awkwardness of trying to do something which does not feel natural. This is part of the reason why, in my last post, I encouraged you to break out of the typical mold of what a devotion looks like. The problem with anything which is typical is that it suggests expectations which seem just out-of-reach. Allow me to explode the myth that a successful family devotional routine must conform to some standard of elite perfection. It just ain’t so. Especially since there is no such thing as perfection in this context.

I hereby and forthwith give you permission to be yourself. However, there is a caveat. You kinda figured that was coming, yes? When I write, “be yourself,” I am not suggesting that you go back to the default behaviors which have brought you to this place of seeking solutions for your family’s spiritual health. I am, however, saying that God has given you a wonderful, creative personality, full of adventure (yes, even those of you who feel awkward, or dare I say it, resistant), and poised to make an impact on your children as only you can.

Tap in to that creativity. Tap in to the resources available to you. Network with other Christian parents. Perhaps you are in a small group with other parents. Share your struggles and needs. Share your creative ideas. Help each other out. Create an ongoing conversation with one another. Above all, be yourself as God intended for you to be.

Here are a few thoughts to spur your thinking and actions:

1. Follow Jesus with all your heart. I know you work hard, and some of you have all kinds of hobbies you enjoy. That’s great. But above all of that stuff, follow Jesus and help your children, and your spouse if you are married, to do the same. Be their spiritual champion!

2. It’s okay to make mistakes. You will try something new, and maybe it won’t fly very well with the kids. That’s okay. Learn from it. Keep trying. Make adjustments.

3. Pray, pray, pray. Nuff said, but we better do it.

4. Be the spiritual leader. You set the spiritual climate of your home. No excuses. It is true for me as a single person with no children. It is true for the single parent. It is true for two-parent homes. We are the adults and we are responsible for the spiritual climate of our homes.

5. I will conclude with this one: You CAN do this. You can. More resources and ideas are on the way. But remember, you are able. God equips those he calls and he has called you to lead your household toward spiritual maturity, children and adults alike.

Be blessed as you journey on. I am praying God’s richest blessings for your homes!

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Family Devotions, Babystep 1: Unlearning the One Right Way

October 3, 2009 2 comments

There IS no ONE right way to do family devotions. However, the name “family devotions” itself carries with it a loaded connotation that, indeed, such a “right way” exists. It looks something like this: We gather the children into a comfortable room, perhaps the family room. We open our Bibles, or maybe a devotional book and we read it. We might even take turns reading, including those children who are old enough. And then we discuss what we have read, especially thinking about ways to apply it to real life, including the day’s events. Sound familiar? Now, there is nothing wrong with this scenario. Nothing at all. But that is only one way to carry out a family devotion. For some families, it might work marvelously. For others, perhaps even for most after awhile, it probably will grow painfully boring for the children.

I suggest an exercise to break out of the sit, read, and discuss mold. Take your children on a nice, Autumn hike. The weather is supposed to get nicer this next week, so this should be doable. It can be in your backyard, a local trail, or even into a national park. Be creative. Make it an adventure. Add your bicycles if that helps. Maybe even pack backpacks, a picnic lunch and some games to play. Use your imagination. Don’t forget your Bibles, of course. Then find a place out there, somewhere, to explore and marvel at God’s creation. Tomorrow in Sunday School your children will be learning the second half of the ten commandments. During your journey talk about how it must have felt for the Hebrews to journey, but not know completely, where they were going. If you are near a water front, such as a lake, river or even the Pacific Ocean (yes, feel free to go that far!), imagine the parting of the Red Sea, which then led to the liberation of the Hebrews. Or if you are at or within view of Mt Hood, imagine Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai to give the ten commandments.

Family devotions should engage all the senses, not just reading and discussing. Reading the text is important, of course. But children want to experience the story itself firsthand. They want to BE Moses, or the Hebrews, or the Egyptians. You get the idea. You could even bring bread to act as manna!

If the weather is yucky after all, then have a campout in your family room. Hike the hallways, through the kitchen, outside to the back and around to the front, and back inside again, never telling your kids where they are going. Even go to the attic if possible! Make it fun, surprising, and mysterious. Sort of like it was for the Hebrews who had been enslaved for 430 years before their captivity ended with the exodus. If they want, let the children take turns leading the hike. You could even make it a follow-the-leader adventure. Create memories with them, and also cause them to learn what God did for the Hebrews back then, and for us here and now.

Does this help? Do you have any ideas which were sparked from this post? You can share here or on facebook. Let’s spur one another along in faith!

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