Reflections on Sunday School Songs: Father Abraham

Here’s the truth: I can’t stand this song. When I was young, I thought it was a subversive plot to force exercise upon us unwitting children. Now that I’m older, I think it’s boring and lacking in significant theology. Plus, I have an aversion to looking foolish, getting dizzy, and falling down. Because a friend requested it, however, I now include it in this series. You’re welcome, JV.

There’s just one refrain for this song, sung to various additional body motions. No reason to repeat ourselves here. We’ll walk through it only once.

Father Abraham had many sons
Many sons had Father Abraham

At first, this seems contradictory. From what I recall in Genesis, Abraham had only two sons: Ishmael and Isaac (respectively, the son of flesh and the son of promise, according to Galatians 4:22-23). That’s not “many.” Turns out, there were more biological children. In Genesis 25, we learn that Abraham took another wife/concubine, Keturah, who subsequently had six sons. Neither the chronology nor the terminology are clear in this case, but we know that Abraham actually had eight sons and who-knows-how-many daughters, since they weren’t usually listed. All these sons ended up fathering whole people groups, just as Isaac became the progenitor of the Hebrew people.

So there’s a not-very-exciting but true statement in this song: Abraham actually did have many (on the lower end of many, by Biblical standards, but still…) sons. Maybe this fact will help you win a Bible trivia competition. For the song, we sing it in a traditional grammatical structure, then in Yoda-speak.

But here comes the weird, wild, and interesting part!

I am one of them, and so are you…

One of my relatives recently did the DNA test to discover his/her global ancestry. Turns out, we’re part Jewish! Who knew?!? I have not, however, suddenly developed a taste for gefilte fish.

My DNA is not why I am one of the “sons of Abraham,” though.

[Abraham] is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them… -Romans 4:11b

That would be everyone who isn’t Jewish and who believes what God promised Abraham.

And he is then also the father of the circumcised who not only are circumcised but who also follow in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. -Romans 4:12

And that would be Jewish people who believe as Abraham believed.

What did Abraham believe? First, he trusted God when God said he would have descendants even though it looked virtually impossible. But even more importantly, Abraham believed that his descendants would bless the whole world (Genesis 12 and 15). We now know that one of those descendants—a great-great-great-etc.-grandson—was Jesus, which makes faith way easier for us than it was for Abraham. He trusted a promise. We trust a Person.

Short version of Paul’s argument here: Circumcision was the main sign of following the Law. Jewish people thought the Law was the way to be holy or righteous (considered right by God), so getting circumcised (just the boys) put you on the path to holiness. It was about what people did. Paul, however, said they missed the point. Abraham already believed God before he was circumcised. In fact, God said Abraham was righteous way before He told Abraham to get circumcised. Therefore, circumcision couldn’t be the path to righteousness. It had to be straight-up faith!

But still, how are we Abraham’s children? In the Old Testament, there were these sort-of apprenticeship programs, and the apprentices were called “sons of [whatever trade they were learning].” For example, Amos said, “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14), meaning he wasn’t even studying to be a prophet. This is the way in which we are sons/children of Abraham. We follow in his faith footsteps as an apprentice would follow in the footsteps of his master.

Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the Law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. -Romans 4:16

And later in Romans…

It is not the children by physical descent who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. -Romans 9:8

So let’s just praise the Lord!

What is your response to this idea that we belong to the lineage of Abraham because we believe God has created a way for us to become righteous? Don’t you want to “just praise the Lord”? Me, too.

The words “it was credited to him” were written not for [Abraham] alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. -Romans 4:23-24

I said in my introduction that there’s not much theology in this song. I was wrong! There is theology, you just have to dig into Romans to find it. And I’ve only scratched the surface. Not in the middle of a Bible study or quiet time plan right now? Spend the next week in Romans 4. I’m serious—the whole week. Oh, it’s just so deep and rich!

I hope the next time you’re forced to sing this song it will be a little easier for you as you remember the theology behind the simple words. Take a few minutes to explain it to your children, while you’re at it! Maybe they’ll have a better attitude than I did.

Father Abraham: Remember an essential truth of Romans through a silly children’s song. (click to tweet)

Do you have memories of singing this song as a child…or an adult? Do you skip it on the children’s Bible songs playlist? (I always did.) You’re welcome to share your memories or observations in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

Attribution: (public domain)ss-songs-father-abraham

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

Still to come:

  • My God is So Big
  • If You’re Happy and You Know It
  • He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands

 

Mistakes Made & Lessons Learned (guest post)

I'm pleased to host fellow Bible study writer and Mom, Emily Wickham, today. I
think you'll find her insights helpful, and I pray that her encouragement blesses
you like it has blessed me since the first time I met her! Read more about Emily
at the end of the post.

By faith, Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. Hebrews 11:23 NASB

I don’t know about you, but I’ve made many mistakes as a mom—especially when my children were young.  Tiredness, selfishness, and fear top my list as reasons why failures occurred. As I reflect on those years, I’m thankful for God’s boundless supply of grace as described in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God’s grace redeems my mistakes into future opportunities for me to rely on Him and become more Christlike.

I wish I’d been more intentional as a young mom about seeking God’s help. Even so, God continues to grow me in this area. His grace flows into my regrets, washing away the past and renewing my mind today.

A couple of lessons from Jochebed’s life inspire me, and I’m hopeful these parenting tools will encourage you as well. As we implement the truths God reveals to us, He’ll show us more ways to please Him. The Lord doesn’t expect us to parent perfectly—He calls us to parent biblically as He teaches us His ways. (Click to Tweet)

Lesson #1: Jochebed and her husband lacked fear.

They hid their son rather than killing him according to Pharaoh’s order. I’m wowed by their fearlessness because I recognize how fear has hindered my mothering. I haven’t always realized its presence, but it has stretched its gnarly fingers into numerous aspects of my mom-identity. Perhaps its chief influence involved a repeated whisper that I’m just not a good mom, a lie from which God has delivered me. While Moses’s parents lacked fear from outward threats, I’ve battled fears from within.

Lesson #2: Jochebed acted wisely.

Rather than allowing her emotions to rule, she calmly prepared a waterproof basket for her baby son. Carefully she placed it in an area where the Pharaoh’s daughter bathed, leaving her daughter, Miriam, to offer the princess a nursemaid—Jochebed herself! Just as Moses’s mother received wisdom from God, we can gain its benefit today.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5

Instead of facing our motherhood challenges with feelings of incompetence, we should call on the Lord for wisdom. He’s available for every need, every challenge, and every crisis. He freely provides without criticizing our parenting deficiencies.

Friend, wherever we are on our parenting journeys, God walks beside us. We’ve no reason to fear because He holds our hands, and He kindly gives wisdom when we ask. Let’s allow His sufficiency to impact the way we parent here and now. Though we can’t undo our past mistakes, we can rely on God’s grace to succeed in the present.

            Loving Father,

            You are fearless and wise. I confess sometimes I’ve allowed fear and feelings of incompetence to affect my parenting actions, but I thank You for Your grace along the way. Please replace my weaknesses as a mom with Your strength. In Jesus’ mighty name, amen.

Jochebed (Moses’ mother): bold, faithful parenting in the midst of difficult circumstances. (click to tweet)

Carole here. Isn't she great? (I also thought it was nice that she wrote about
Jochedbed because I recently wrote about her myself--for a guest post!) If you
were blessed or have a response for Emily, please leave a note in the comments
or connect with her directly through any of her social media links below. Be
sure to follow and/or "like" her, too.

emily-wickham-head-shotPassionate about stirring hearts toward Jesus, Emily Wickham writes for Journey Magazine, blogs at www.proclaiminghimtowomen.com, and contributes material to ZMI Family Ministries International. A Bible study author and speaker, she welcomes connection via Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail. Emily, grateful to God for His Son, lives with her husband and children in North Carolina.

 

Respect is a Two-Way Street

We all want—no, expect—our children to respect us. It’s Biblical, right? Both the Old and New Testaments say, “Honor your father and mother” (e.g. Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:2). We are right to expect respect, but no matter how much we quote these verses, no matter how much we stomp our feet and vociferously demand respect, we don’t always get it.

Why not? Well, part of the reason is the sin nature with which both we and our children were born. Part of the reason is our culture and the influences of media, peers, etc. But may I submit something to you? Perhaps another part of the reason our children don’t respect us is because we don’t respect them. Respect is a two-way street.

In Intentional Parenting, we model respect for our own elders and superiors (at work, church, etc.). We also talk about respect, about how honoring others honors God and other associated Biblical concepts, such as “The Golden Rule.” Sometimes, however, we forget to apply those same Biblical concepts within our families as well.

Need some solutions? Here are a few age-appropriate ways to demonstrate respect toward your children. You can expect that respect to be reciprocated.

At Any Age

Follow through on your promises and commitments. If you said you’ll read a book before bed, then read a book. No excuses. If you said, “One more time and you lose [a certain privilege],” then after one more time, they lose that privilege.

This kind of integrity demonstrates that your words to the child actually mean something. When you begin to do what you say you will do, they will start listening.

Young Children

From the first visit to a playground or first playdate, institute a two-minute warning. Two minutes before you need to leave, tell the child he/she has two minutes remaining to play. (We usually tried to give a five-minute warning as well.) This simple warning has helped us avoid so many tantrums! I know because the times we didn’t give a warning were much more difficult.

When you, as an adult, are busy on a project or in a conversation, you don’t like to be interrupted. Even worse, you don’t want to be forced to stop without warning. I don’t either. Why do we think it’s any easier for our children?

Early Elementary

Allow your children to make as many decisions as possible. Before you correct (or laugh—even worse!), ask yourself if it really matters. Toy storage locations, everyday clothes worn, books to read, interests to pursue…all these are decisions a six-year-old can make. Maybe you prefer the Legos in the bin on the left and the doll clothes in the bin on the right; maybe there are even good reasons for your preference, but as long as there’s no danger, allow your child the choice. That “ownership” in the location of the toys may even help at clean-up time.

Children at this age long for independence, but they have so little. By allowing their decisions to stand, we demonstrate the validity of their choices and affirm the children as independent thinkers. Besides functioning as a confidence builder and sign of respect, this approach will help your children know that when you do object, there’s an important reason.

Middle-Grade Children

Elementary and middle-grade children have so many stories to tell. Let’s be honest, though. Some of them are boring. Long and boring. As parents, we may be tempted to interrupt with something unrelated or jump in and quickly finish the story ourselves. Don’t interrupt. Allow them to finish the stories. (At our house, we have a sign for “make this shorter” when the story gets too long. It helps.) If it’s necessary to interrupt, say “Excuse me,” just like you would if interrupting an adult.

From the time they could speak, we’ve taught our children not to interrupt us. Allowing them the same honor says their experiences are valuable and their family participation is important.

Tweens and Teens

If your child asks you not to show affection in a certain way or say a certain thing in front of his/her friends, don’t do it. Respect their public image. Public displays of affection, pet names, even cheering too loudly may infantilize our teenagers (at least in their own eyes), and it may be fodder for teasing or bullying among their peers. Our teenagers don’t deserve that. Don’t worry, they’ll still enjoy the hugs, pats, and verbal affection in private. Also, refrain from telling embarrassing stories or showing naked baby pictures no matter how cute they are.

Let’s face it; we will embarrass our teenagers. It’s inevitable. But our efforts to minimize the embarrassment demonstrate our respect for their increased maturity. That respect will surely be reciprocated.

Reciprocate Respect

The world says respect is earned, not given. Contrary to the world, however, the Bible says every person—regardless of position or power—is a unique creation of God Most High (Psalm 139, for example). We begin there: every person deserves respect. This is not a burden to lay on our children (that they should respect us) but a principle to lay under our interactions with our children (that they are worthy of respect). At the same time, however, we parents should live lives worthy of our children’s respect. That’s just a given. We clear the way for respectful responses when we demonstrate respect in our interactions with them. Respect is a two-way street.

Respect your children at every age and you can expect respect from them-5 ideas. (click to tweet)

I thought about sharing stories of parents carrying their children from the playground in the middle of a temper tantrum, but let’s not do that. Instead, use the comments below to share some positive stories of reciprocated respect. Let us hear from you!

respect-2-way-street
Rainy road (c) Carole Sparks

3 Approaches to Allowance

I have some really practical Intentional Parenting thoughts for you today about our children’s allowances. There are a few different approaches we’ll look at, and I’ll let you know why we chose the one we did.

There are three broad approaches to allowances. (I’m making up these categories.)

  1. The Beneficent Ruler approach
  2. The Employer/Employee approach
  3. The Citizenship approach

The Beneficent Ruler Approach

In this approach, there are no allowances. The parent buys the child what he wants. While it feels generous, this approach is subject to the mood of the parent, who might choose not to buy a new toy because she is angry with the child or in a hurry. The parent may also be tempted to bribe the child in order to influence the child’s behavior in the store. Furthermore, as the child grows, his expectations will become more and more expensive, creating problems for the parent who will inevitably have to start saying “no.”

I don’t recommend this approach after the child learns to count money. In addition to the issues above, the child will not learn the value of money or how to save it. He also won’t understand why some shopping trips result in toys and others don’t.

No matter which of the next two approaches you take, an allowance is a good idea. It helps your children learn how to manage money and how to save for things they really want. I am so thankful my mother taught me how to spend and save money. I’m fairly sure it’s that experience which has helped my own family stay out of credit card debt!

The Employer/Employee Approach

In this method, parents pay children for the completion of chores. Although we don’t use this approach, I have friends who do, and there are some benefits to it. Children learn the value of their work—that effort has rewards. Parents sometimes quantify purchases, saying things like, “That book costs five dishwashings.” This can be helpful for children who don’t grasp the concept of paper money and coins yet. Children will also have incentive to do their chores because of the reward, and the punishment for incomplete chores is built into the system.

The Biblical basis for this approach comes from verses like 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

The Citizenship Approach

In this method, all members of the family possess certain rights and responsibilities inherent to their positions as family members. Members have the right to an allowance, that is, to a small amount of money that can be used at one’s discretion. They also have a right to be heard and to provide input into big decisions (financial and otherwise). At the same time, family members have certain responsibilities simply because they are part of the family. Parents go to work or work from home, children go to school, parents drive places, parents buy groceries, children obey parents as governing authorities, etc. Everyone does household and yard chores appropriate for their ages and strengths.

Even if you don’t do your chores all week, even if you get disciplined every day, you still get your allowance (unless part of your discipline is the loss of that allowance, which we’ve never done).

I prefer this approach because it’s not really about the money. It’s about the family and each person’s permanent place in it. Through it, we teach our children about our (and therefore God’s) everlasting love and generosity but also our response of obedience. We fulfill our duties because we’re part of the family, not because we get something for it. We receive an allowance because we’re part of the same family and not because we did something to deserve it. Sure, it makes chore completion more of a hassle, but I think it’s worth it.

The Citizenship approach refers to our citizenship in the Kingdom of God. The Biblical foundation for this approach comes from verses such as this:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:17

Details

Just a couple of details, if you’re interested.

  • Each person’s allowance (including parents) is half their age. So the 10-year-old gets $5/week. (We might have to change this in the later teenage years, but it’s working for now.) This helps us modify amounts as the kids get older. Because we parents get an allowance, too, the children watch us go through the same waiting times and decisions as they experience. They don’t think we can just buy anything we want because we have the ATM cards.
  • We give occasional advances if there’s a good purchase that probably won’t be available later. We are faithful, however, to ensure that it’s repaid. Learning about debt is part of the experience.
  • The children tithe on their allowance, as practice and as an act of worship.

3 Approaches to Allowance for Intentional Parenting. (click to tweet)

What about your experience as a child or as a parent? Please share some good allowance strategies or ideas in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Of Soft Toothbrushes and Soft Answers

She liked to play quietly and she went to sleep without any problems. She was an easy-going three-year-old for the most part…

Except for twice a day, when it was time to brush her teeth.

For some reason, she hated teeth-brushing. It wasn’t the paste (designed for kids). It wasn’t the bristles on the brush (extra soft). It wasn’t the brushing (very, very gentle). It wasn’t my attitude…at least at first. Nevertheless, when she saw me squeeze the paste onto the toothbrush, she inevitably started squirming. She would wiggle and refuse to open her mouth. I would raise my voice. She would start crying. I would grip her jaw more tightly and hope her Dad could be home for the next session. By the time we finished, she and I both needed a time out.

I tried logic: “Brushing your teeth keeps your mouth from getting sick and helps your teeth be strong. You want strong teeth, don’t you?”

I tried identifying with her: “We all have to do things we don’t like to do. Mommy doesn’t like washing dishes, yet she does it every day. It’s just part of life.”

I tried bribery (but not with candy because would have been just too hypocritical): “When we finish here, you can watch a video!”

Nothing worked. This happened twice every day, but we had to brush her teeth. Such things aren’t optional. Still, she and I both dreaded it.

I felt silly, but I took our problem to the Lord. We had awkwardly prayed through potty training, and this felt similar. Like most of us, some of my prayers were of the “change her” variety and only a few were of the “change me” variety. (Just by the way, “change me” invariably works better.)

Not immediately but rather quickly, the most commonplace of verses came to mind:

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1 NKJV

Really, Lord? Is that all I get?

I tried it at our next teeth-brushing session. Even when she protested, I stayed calm. I kept my voice soft and gentle. Then, instead of crying and becoming more difficult, my child responded to my gentleness and calmed down too. We made it through the process without tears or harsh words or threats!

Quotefancy-4366-3840x2160
http://www.quotefancy.com

It’s been ten years since those terrible teeth-brushing days, but I’m still thankful God sent us through them. I learned something about my child—about most children who haven’t been conditioned otherwise—that remains true. She doesn’t respond well to raised voices, yelling, or harsh tones. I wish I could say I’ve never yelled at her since those days in the yellow-and-white-striped bathroom, but I can say this: Raising my voice has never been effective with this one.

Reading recently, we came upon this:

Her face was pure, furious, madder-than-mad human. “Did you hear me, boy?”
I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t good at quick answers when people yelled.
-Joy Cowley in Stories of the Wild West Gang

Looks like my child is not alone.

Two things here. I pray they help you with whatever parent-child struggle you are currently facing.

  1. God hears our parenting prayers and often answers them through His Word. (click to tweet) Just pay attention.
  2. In Intentional Parenting, it’s the parent’s responsibility to pay attention to the child’s responses and learn how best to discipline each individual child.

What about you? Use the comment section to tell us how God has guided your parenting though His Word! 

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: The Wise Man and the Foolish Man

beach storm
beach storm (c) Carole Sparks

Just as I went to bed one night last week, it started storming. Thunder rattled the windows and rain battered the roof. Did I lie awake in bed, worrying about the effects of the storm? Did I think my house might go splat? No. In fact, I probably went to sleep faster because the sound of rain relaxes me. I have the freedom to relax in a storm because I know my house is solid and the weatherproofing on my windows is strong.

Jesus knew what a big storm feels like. We have documentation of his presence in a couple of storms (e.g. Matthew 8), and I imagine he lived through many others before His ministry became public. Jesus had this fantastic ability to take the everyday “stuff of life” and use it to instruct his listeners…and us. That’s what He did with the storm. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us a parable (which is an analogy or word picture presented as a short story) to help us understand the importance of His teachings (Matthew 7:24-27/Luke 6:46-49). Many, many years later, someone (we’re not sure who) created this children’s song about it. Let’s dig into the parable and song for a minute to see what parents can take away from what’s seemingly “just” a children’s song.

wise man, foolish man
car window on a rainy day (c) Carole Sparks
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
The rain came down and the flood came up
But the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand

And the rain came tumbling down

The rain came down and the flood came up

And the house on the stand went SPLAT!

We can assume these two men are equally dedicated to their task, using quality materials and excellent craftsmanship. We can assume they equally desire to protect and comfort their families.

What’s the difference between them? Below the foundations of their homes, they have different substrata. It wouldn’t even be apparent at first. Both families move in. Both families throw housewarming parties. But at some point, a huge storm comes. As the rain beats against the windows and the shutters creak in the wind, one house hangs on…possibly a bit worse-for-wear, maybe a few shingles missing and a cracked window pane, but still solid. The other house? Well, it goes SPLAT!

The parallel is hard to miss. The conviction needs little explanation. What’s under your family?

flash flood
flash flood 2015 (c) Carole Sparks

It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into parenting if your foundational faith system is misplaced. Think how much time and money the foolish man wasted because he built in the wrong place, on the wrong soil. Your family may look good and function well for a while, but eventually—when the inevitable difficulties arise (a.k.a. storms)—your Pinterest-worthy family structure will crumble. You can provide your own examples. I know you’ve seen it happen.

On the other hand, parents who rely primarily on God’s direction (through His Word) will weather the difficulties and stand tall against the storms. They may have to fight, and they may come out with some scars (Trust me, I know.), but they survive intact. Not because they are better than the other families but because they located their family structure on the One and Only Solid Rock.

A simple song reminds us to reevaluate the assumptions that underlie our family culture. (click to tweet)

Maybe you didn’t start your family on the Solid Rock. Maybe shifting sand better characterizes your first years of marriage and/or parenting. There’s good news: it’s not too late! Like those big trucks that come in and move existing houses to new locations, your family can resettle. It’s painful and might require some major upheaval, but it’s possible. I know a family who did it well!

This admonition from Jesus is certainly for all believers, but there’s a similar warning just for women.

The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down. -Proverbs 14:1

Two random things in my mind now:

  1. “The Three Little Pigs.” Anyone else reminded of them? No? Hmm… Might be a good lead-in to a discussion of this parable with your children.
  2. My Hope Is Built on Nothing Less by Edward Mote, is a “grown up” hymn based on the same parable. It’s one of the best!

Want to share your story? Please leave your response in the comments!

Attribution: unknown, public domain

wise man foolish man score

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

I’ve Got the Joy

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham
  • My God is So Big

Raising Whole Kids in a Broken World (guest post)

I recently read a post by fellow Bible study author, Leigh Powers, in which she described the scene below. It led me to think (again) about how we help our children deal with the almost-daily crises of our world. So I asked Leigh to share that story and how she helps her children walk through world events. You can read more about Leigh at the end of the post.

As we entered the museum lobby, my mind was on getting tickets and getting through the crowd. I didn’t pay much attention to the two metal beams until one of my children asked me about them.

“Mom, what are those for?”

I thought the twisted metal was a sculpture and said so as I walked over to read the plaque. But it was two support beams from the World Trade Center. I wanted to go see dinosaur bones and play with light, not explain how evil the world can be to my children who have never known a time before the towers fell. But honest questions deserve honest answers, and so I told my son that fifteen years ago some men had flown planes into a tall building in New York. The building fell down and a lot of people died, so the beams are there to help us remember.

It was enough of an answer for the moment, but it came back up at lunch. “But why would people fly planes into buildings?”

I gave the only answer I could. “Because some bad men wanted to hurt people and to make us afraid.”

He accepted it and we went on. But it wasn’t the only conversation we’d have that week. The day after our museum visit, a sniper fired on officers in Dallas, killing five. And as the news came on the radio, he asked again. “Why, Mom? Why would someone do that?”

And what else can you say? “Because a bad man wanted to hurt people and make them afraid.”

I wish sometimes I didn’t have to explain the evil of this world to my children. I’d like to wrap them up in warm blankets and shelter them away from everything that might make them worried or afraid—and there are times when that’s appropriate. But I also recognize part of parenting is equipping them to face the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. Our world is broken, but I want my kids to live whole. Part of that training is helping them to think theologically: recognizing that there is evil, but God’s sovereignty means we don’t have to be afraid. As we have these conversations about current events and the problems of the world, here are some truths I want them to know.

  • This world is broken. Living in this world means confronting the reality of sin and evil. Bad things happen. People do horrible things to one another. Sometimes our own sinful actions hurt others. In this life we will have hardships and pain, trouble and sorrow. Though God did not create the world this way, we have inherited a world broken and warped by sin. As they grow into maturity, I want my children to recognize that though we live in a broken world, Christ makes us whole.
  • God is sovereign. Our world is broken, but God is still in control. Even when bad things happen, we can trust in God’s unfailing presence and power. Knowing that God is real, that he is good, and that he is ultimately in control can give us peace. When it feels like the world is falling apart, I want my children to be able to trust in God’s sure and certain reign.
  • There is a day of redemption. This world will not be broken forever. Though God now is patient, allowing time for people to repent and turn to him, there will come a day when God says enough. We have seen the end of the story. God has a glorious future for his people where there is no more sin, no more sadness, no more death. Sin and death and evil will all be destroyed and we will enjoy God’s goodness and mercy forever. I want my children to hope in the glorious future that awaits the people of God.
  • We don’t have to be afraid. The Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:7). We don’t have to let fear determine our decision making because the power of the Spirit gives us courage. I recognize that my children will inherit a world where faith and conviction carry a higher price than I have known. But I also believe God will supply what they need when they need it so they can stand unashamed. I want to model the courage of conviction for them and encourage them to do what is right even when it is hard.

I don’t know what tragedies the future holds, but I know there will be more conversations with my children about things that are hard—things that reveal the brokenness and twistedness of this world. But I am confident we can live whole in our broken world because of what Christ has done for us. And by his grace, this world won’t be broken forever.

Remind your kids: We can live whole in this broken world because of what Christ has done for us! (click to tweet)

Carole here. As a parent, how have you integrated these four truths into conversations and experiences? Leigh and I would love to hear your stories. Please share in the comments!

Related: Talking about Tragic Events with Kids

Leigh Powers headshotLeigh Powers is a pastor’s wife, Bible study and devotional author, freelance editor, and mother of three from small-town West Texas. She is passionate about helping women find hope and healing by connecting with God through his word. She blogs at My Life. His Story (www.leighpowers.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

New School Year, New Parenting Practices

4 Habits to Draw Your Family Closer to Christ

It’s that time of year! No, not Christmas (although we’ll see it in the stores any time now). In the USA, it’s the beginning of a new school year. Many of the school systems around us begin classes this week or next, and every homeschooling mom I meet has an imminent date in her mind as well.

As a parent, mid-August feels more like a new beginning to me than early January. With the establishment of new school schedules, after-school activities, etc., this is a fantastic time to implement or refresh some Christ-centered practices in your family life as well. Consider any or all of these four ways to ‘up’ your Intentional Parenting game.

  1. Establish Family Devotions

I will just confess right here that we don’t do this. In fact, my impetus for writing this post is my desire to finally start a weekly study time with my family!

Rather than depending on a pre-written devotional (sorry, writer friends!), try reading through a gospel such as Mark. Do one chapter or one story  each week. Be creative; act it out if your children like that kind of thing or play charades or draw pictures or just take turns reading aloud. Leave time to talk and to pray for God to help you respond to what you’ve received. For older children, you might study a paragraph per week from an epistle such as Philippians.

If the thought of discipling your children like this leaves you weak in the knees, come back next week. I’ll post How to Study the Bible with Your Grade School Children in 500 words or less.

Intentional Parenting perk: When we prioritize Bible study…when we model digging into the Word, obeying what we find, and living according to God’s guidance, our children naturally learn to do the same.

If you just don’t know how to fit this intentional time into your family calendar, look at #4. We’re making it a priority this fall—finally—and I’m praying you see the value in it, too!

  1. Implement Drive-to-School prayer time

We started this last year, and it was such a blessing. If you deliver your child(ren) to school, turn off the radio on the way. Ask what he/she anticipates in the day to come:

  • Academically: tests, homework, projects, presentations, PE expectations
  • Socially: friends, lunch conversation, locker break
  • Emotionally: disappointing grades, difficult teacher

Repeat the names of classmates and friends to help you remember. Ask for clarification if necessary. Show that you are really listening.

After listening, pray aloud as you drive. (Don’t close your eyes, obviously.) If you feel led, offer a very little bit of counsel…maybe a Bible verses that applies. This isn’t the time to advise; it’s the time to support. Let him/her know you’ll be praying through the day.

Intentional Parenting perk: This habit says, “I love you and I care about you, my child.” It also demonstrates that God is interested and active in our day-to-day lives. Just watch after God works in something about which you’ve prayed!

Give God a chance to prove Himself faithful in your child’s life through voiced prayer. (click to tweet)

  1. Create After-School Conversation Time

My introvert just isn’t up to processing her day the moment she gets in the car after school. She needs some quiet. My extrovert wants to talk right away, and he always has multiple stories (some of which don’t make any sense to me, but that’s okay). The when isn’t important. It might be immediately after school, over dinner, or just before lights-out. The point is to spend some time processing with your child, holding him accountable, and helping her see how God did answer those morning prayers.

Avoid yes/no questions, and make sure you ask about whatever they mentioned in the morning. Beyond that, we’ve used these two questions since our first one started Kindergarten. They know to expect the questions, so they look for answers as they go through the day.

  • What was your best thing from today?
  • What was your worst thing from today?

You may have different questions or more questions. Don’t get too complicated or long, though, especially for younger kids.

Intentional Parenting perk: The purpose of this habit is to communicate your enduring investment in your child’s life and to coach them through their days away from you.

  1. Set a Family Schedule

It’s super-easy to over-commit at the beginning of the school year. Everything seems like a good idea: PTA council, STEM scouts, sports teams, after-school clubs, service clubs, tutoring sessions, music lessons, Bible studies. Before you know it, you’re wearing out your mini-van tires on the road to school, church, the field/court and back!

With planning, you can create blocks of open space for family, so don’t say ‘yes’ yet! (click to tweet)

Before school starts, sit down together and, keeping your family mission statement in mind, decide how many activities each child will participate in or how many evenings/week you are willing to be out of the house. Decide this before the offers and ideas start rolling in.

After school starts, wait until everything is ‘on the table,’ include AWANA or whatever evening programs your church offers. (I realize some parents may be shocked by this, but sometimes the best choice for your family will be to skip Wednesday night church programs for this year.) Talk through which parent will drive where, how long the commute takes, what it means for family dinners, finances, homework plans for those days, longevity (such as continuing piano lessons), etc. Some options will automatically be disregarded. For the rest, make decisions as a family. Even the youngest ones can participate. This is hard. Believe me, I know. We have said “no” to so many good-but-not-best things, but our family is stronger and closer to Jesus because of those tough decisions.

Intentional Parenting perk: As your children watch you model responsible, Christ-centered time management, they see what’s important to you and to your family and they learn to make intentional decisions for themselves.

Small changes in your family routine will go a long way toward peace and understanding in your home. Or, to make a bread-baking analogy…

Knead some small changes into your new school routine and watch your family rise into richer Christ-centeredness. (click to tweet)

What about you? What small changes do you hope to implement at the turn of the school year?

Want more? Check out any of these posts:

How to Make Room for the Important by Kelly Smith at The Glorious Table. Kelly has guest posted on Intentional Parenting before, so you know I like her. This post is for the moms and dads who fell led to adjust their own schedules—especially applicable at this corner-turning time of year.

4 Tips to Start Off the School Year by Sarah Anderson at Parent Cue. Sarah has very young kids, so her tips are different from mine, but I found the post insightful.

Also, my Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me* post may be helpful if your children are in middle or high school.

Reflections on Sunday School Songs: I’ve Got the Joy

When I recall this song from my early childhood, there’s hand-clapping. Only…we weren’t any good at it. The effort of my 3-year-old self to clap in time to the music was so strenuous that sometimes I forgot to sing.

My more introspective (or maybe cynical) adult self has learned to clap with the rhythm, but sometimes I look at the words to this song, and I’m the one asking, “Where?”

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart (where?)
Down in my heart.

Sometimes, the joy feels so deep down in my heart that it isn’t springing up far enough to reach my lips or my mind. When joy becomes elusive, what then?

Fish for it. You know you still have it because the Scriptures say joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23). Use verses about joy to reach deeply into your heart and pull out the joy that’s stagnating down in that cave.

When the daily drag of parenting looms large, sing this simple song to yourself—a declaration of truth! (click to tweet)

Because the song repeats joy four times, consider memorizing four verses about our joy as Christ-followers. Then you’ll have them ready the next time your joy feels like it’s waning. Want some suggestions?

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the nations are idols,
    but the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
    strength and joy are in his dwelling place. -1 Chronicles 16:25-27

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. -Psalm 5:11

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. -Psalm 16:11

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. -1 Peter 1:8-9

What happens when you start saying—I mean declaring—these verses to yourself? You bring your mind into alignment with your heart (where the joy already dwells) so that your outlook begins to change. It more closely resembles Jesus’ perspective.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

This joy that you know exists down in your heart…it’s a permanent thing. It’s there to stay. I don’t believe it’s something you can conjure up or create out of nothing. You can, however, call it up. (See my post, On Joy for more about this.)

Joy: You can’t conjure it up, but you can call it up. (click to tweet)

It’s about a refocusing…a shift in mindset from the groans of earthly life to the glory of the Kingdom.

I’ve got the peace that passes understanding down in my heart…
I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus down in my heart, down in my heart
    to stay!

Time doesn’t permit a discussion of the additional verses to our song, but you can apply the same principle of Scripture memorization and/or application on your own.

Sometimes those simple songs speak truth into our hearts when we need it most. Let’s use this one for His glory!

What verse helps you maintain your joy? Please share in the comments below!

Attribution: according to hymnary.org, this one is by George Willis Cooke (copyright not renewed after 1926).

Previously in this series:

This Little Light of Mine

The B-I-B-L-E

Deep and Wide

Zacchaeus

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Still to come:

  • Father Abraham (maybe—if I can get over how silly it is)
  • The Wise Man and the Foolish Man
  • My God is So Big

 

 

Four Intentional Decisions in Parenting (guest post)

Isn't it great when God plants a similar call in separate people's lives? When I 
started this blog a few years ago, I had never heard the phrase, Intentional 
Parenting. But just recently, I found someone else with the same heart...and the
same tag line! So of course, I had to ask him to guest post for us. Please welcome 
Phil Conrad and take some time to really hear what he shares today. You can read
more about Phil and how to connect with him at the bottom of this post.

Over the course of our years as parents, my wife, Heather and I have made several decisions that we found to be extremely beneficial to our family. I believe that part of being an intentional parent is making decisions that glorify God.

Decision 1. Cutting Cable out of our Home

Eleven years ago, we decided to shut off our cable. While we do watch some shows via the internet or DVD, we can be more selective about what we choose to watch. This decision came as a result of attending family camp (see Decision 2) to allow more time for us to serve the Kingdom more than ourselves. I enjoy watching TV, maybe too much. I would waste away hours every night flipping through different programs, watching sports, movies or whatever would grab my attention. The only thing this did was make me a dud dad.

I did not want to waste the precious time I had with my kids on mindless entertainment. Add to this the fact that commercials were becoming more sleazy, television programming was becoming more risqué, we did not want to expose our kids to this on a consistent basis. We didn’t want to expose ourselves to that garbage either. So we cut it off. Admittedly, it was difficult for the first couple of weeks and we missed watching some of the shows we enjoyed. But we soon got used to it and found more valuable ways to spend our time.

Decision 2. Vacationing to Family Camp

We love Gull Lake Ministries (GLM) family resort. (You can hear about it on one of my podcast episodes.) GLM is great for all ages, provides sound Bible teaching, a safe environment and includes a planned-out agenda. We enjoy the opportunity to unplug from the world for a week as we listen to God’s word preached in the morning and relax on the beach in the afternoon. Other activities to enjoy with your kids include a zip line, tennis, a water pad, pickle ball, bowling, paddle boards, swimming, and many others.

We have been going there for over ten years to either the week long family camp or weekend retreats. It’s difficult to explain how great the time of spiritual refreshing is; you just have to experience it. You will draw closer to God and to each other.

Decision 3. Serving in Ministry

We have been blessed with opportunities to serve in ministry including some leadership positions in our church. We enjoy this because it gives us the ability to involve our kids in ministry and serves as a growing impact on them. Through these opportunities, we have learned to trust God by saying ‘yes’ to some of the opportunities that have come along.

One example is when I was asked to be the youth leader. I led our youth ministry for over eight years. When our kids were too young to be in it, we involved them whenever we could. One of the events they enjoyed was “Chill with Phil.” About once a month, we’d invite the teens over for an evening of fun and games. It was an encouragement to both the teens and our kids to interact together over Farkle or Catch Phrase. It was a fantastic way to build relationships in our youth group as well.

Decision 4. Homeschooling our Children

In 2010, we made the decision to homeschool our kids. Heather is a stay-at-home-mom and early in our marriage we told ourselves that we would never homeschool our children. However, as time went on, it became something we would evaluate each year and spend time praying about.

As we continued seek the Lord and Godly counsel, we became convinced that God was leading us to homeschool. We started our oldest with homeschool in 6th grade and our younger two in 3rd grade. So for a couple years, we had only our youngest going to public school until he reached 3rd grade. Though difficult, we have found so many benefits to having made this decision. I could probably go on for another blog post about this alone!

An Intentional Decision

Especially if your kids are young, I encourage you to consider what intentional decision you can make for the benefit of your children and your family. Through each decision our focus is always on drawing our family closer to Christ. I love my kids. I love spending time with them. I would venture to say that they love spending time with me and Heather too. It is thanks, in part, to these (and other) decisions we have made along the way that have made a huge impact.

Ask: What intentional decision can I make for the benefit of my family? (click to tweet)

IP-phil-conrad [3103732]

Phil Conrad is the founder of Intentional Parenting at IntentionalParenting.net. He is a speaker, podcaster and blogger  focused on equipping and encouraging moms and dads in their role of  parenting. Phil and his wife, Heather, have three children and reside  in northwest Indiana.

You can connect with Phil in any of these ways:
Twitter – https://twitter.com/phillip_conrad
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/IntentionalParent/
Google Plus – https://plus.google.com/101670583680738916999/posts
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/phillip.conrad/

Carole here. I think Phil and Heather made some great decisions for their family,
but it's not about their specific decisions as much as it's about making real,
purposeful decisions for the good of the Kingdom and your family. What difficult,
sometimes counter-cultural decisions has God led you to make in parenting? How did
your obedience affect your family life? Please share in the comments. I'm sure 
Phil would love to hear from you just as much as I would.