Praying Peace Over Our Children

Well, we made it through Halloween, and now “the holiday season” begins in earnest. This is the time of year I simultaneously anticipate and dread, both personally and as a parent. Intentional Parenting through the holidays brings a special set of challenges that include travel, overindulgence (of food and gifts), missed bedtimes, and, as always, The Santa Question. For our family, the concerns have moved past Grandma’s uncovered electrical outlets and into issues of greed (“She got more presents than me!”) and getting along with extended family members (“My cousin hit me!”).

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Praying Peace Over Our Children (c) Carole Sparks

Speaking of cousins, excitement and anxiety are clearly first cousins, and easily confused by those who don’t know them well. This year, I want to keep the excitement in check and the anxiety at bay by using Scripture to pray peace over my children. Even more current, our national elections are a week away (!), and there’s tension throughout the country. If your children are feeling it, use these prayers right away to remind them of Who is in control.

We can be confident that our prayers align with God’s Will when we repeat His Word back to Him…and there’s something about saying Scripture out loud that increases its impact for everyone who hears it. So pray for your children in front of them. Lay hands on them if you’re comfortable with that. Substitute your child’s name for “my child,” if you want. Join me in blessing and encouraging our children through these verses!

Read Philippians 4:4-7, then pray verse 7.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Dear God, I pray that your peace, which we will never completely understand, will guard the heart and mind of my child through the presence of Jesus, our Lord.

I love the active, protective image of peace here—that it shields our emotions and thoughts. Anxiety eats away at our emotional condition, but God’s peace keeps us whole…and wholly His.

Read John 14:26-27, then pray verse 27.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Lord Jesus, we understand that your peace remains with my child, that you have given it to him. Thank you that this gift of peace isn’t given in the way the world gives. Help him guard his heart against trouble and his mind against fear.

What’s notable here is the intentionality of Jesus’ gift. He knew we would feel anxious and afraid, and He doesn’t want that for us! Remember, too, that the world’s idea of peace is a cessation of hostilities, really the negative of fighting or war. Shalom (Hebrew for “peace”), on the other hand, is a sense of safety or well-being, a confidence in God’s sovereignty, and a contentment with our circumstances. So when you pray this over your children, you’re not simply asking God to help them quit fighting or that He’ll calm their anxiety; You’re asking that they will be content and confident in life. (This verse is so rich with meaning! Check out The Power of Peace.)

Read Psalm 4:6-8 (or the whole Psalm), then pray verse 8.

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.

Heavenly Father, help my child to lie down and sleep now in your peace. You are the One Who keeps us safe, and we have confidence in you.

As king, David had a lot of responsibility on his shoulders, not to mention enemies everywhere he turned. Through these next two months, there’s sure to be a lot on your mind and the minds of your children. With David’s words, we turn our focus from our concerns to God’s control, which leads to a better night’s sleep for everyone!

Read and then pray Romans 15:13.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I ask you, God, to fill my child with joy and peace as he increasingly learns to trust You. May the power of the Holy Spirit cause hope to overflow in him.

Look at the progression here. God fills us with joy and peace (two of the most common words of the Christmas season). The Holy Spirit then combines these two, resulting in hope. How’s that work? I don’t know, but isn’t it great?!? We can safely say, however, that there’s no real hope—no active, confidence-building hope—without joy and peace, which come from God.

This verse is also a great one to pray if you’re watching for your children’s readiness to accept Jesus as Savior and “boss of their lives” (a phrase we used instead of “Lord” when ours were little). Thanksgiving and Christmas create a spiritual openness in almost everyone. As your children hear about Jesus’ arrival on earth, be sure to emphasize the purpose of His coming. Talk about His love and faithfulness, leaving space for them to take steps of faith on their own. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work in their heart so they accept God’s calling to follow Him.

In the next two months, many things will arise to distract us from the “peace on Earth” that Jesus brought. I hope you can use these simple verses to amplify peace in your children and within your home.

Now, on to the holiday list-making!

4 verses to pray, promoting peace in our children through the holidays. (click to tweet)

Are you like me and you find it difficult to maintain low stress levels during the holidays? What verses help you regain your peace or promote it in your family? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

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How to Study the Bible with Your Grade-School Children (in app. 500 words)

If the thought of opening the real Bible (not the children’s storybook Bible) with your children intimidates you, here’s the help you need! It’s a simple Bible study method to engage you and your children in studying His Word. It requires no weekly preparation and it should be fun.

But first, it’s okay…

…to laugh with the Bible. Have fun; be creative; stretch your imagination. For example, what kind of face do you think Zacchaeus made when Jesus looked up in the tree?

…that you don’t have a degree in Bible. The Word of God is accessible to all. Plus, your kids don’t need a lecture on transubstantiation. They need to know what it means to take the Lord’s Supper/Communion.

…if you or your kids can’t answer all the questions. Everyone can try. You will all get better at it after some experience.

…to use the “grown-up” Bible with your children. Just find an easy-to-read translation such as English Standard Version (ESV) or New International Readers Version (NIrV) and start reading!

Before your first study time, choose a book of the Bible. Start with a gospel such as Mark or Luke—lots of stories. Read the introductory material in your study Bible. That will help you answer questions about the author and situation.

The “How To”

Pray together.

Ask for understanding, patience, listening ears, no distractions, etc.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. -John 14:26

Use stories.

Read one story, along with any preceding transitions or introductions. Then have someone else retell it or act it out. Try letting a child read the story, then you retell it.

(Next time, review previous weeks, then read the next story. Make it like a series so everyone catches the bigger picture.)

Ask interactive questions.

Use interrogatives to discuss the story. Answer the questions together.

  • Where are they?
  • When does this happen?
  • Who is there?
  • What actually happens?
  • How did people respond?

Now take it deeper.

  • What did it mean to the people who were there?
  • Why did the author include this story?
  • What connections do you see to other stories/Scripture?

Finally, application.

  • What have we learned?
  • What do we need to do about what we’ve learned?
  • What action do we need to take (as a family or individually) in response?

These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. -John 20:31

Create a ‘take-away’.

Find an object to remind you of this story, have someone draw a picture of the story, or (if everyone can read) display an application phrase in a prominent place for the week.

Extend the discussion.

Talk about the story and application as you have opportunities throughout the week.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Family devotions without a devotional book: How to Study the Bible with Your Kids (in <500 words)  <-click to tweet

Try this out, then leave me some feedback. I’d really like to know what you think!

Content and Context (part 10) – General Letters and Revelation

This is it! The end of the series. For me, it has been a labor of love. Just the other day, I realized that I was applying something from this series in a conversation with my husband. What is more, I read and/or skimmed the entire Bible in the last five months! That’s invaluable.

Sometimes I think about Athanasius, when he compiled that list of God-inspired books which eventually became our New Testament. It seems like he got through Paul’s letters, and he knew Revelation should be last, but he had some leftover letters that didn’t fit into any other category. So we have this ‘Miscellaneous’ group of books—all epistles (a.k.a. letters)—by various authors to various groups before we conclude with the Revelation of John, which is also a letter, by the way (Revelation 1:4).

GENERAL LETTERS

Hebrews

  • About: supremacy of Christ, encouraging Christians
  • Everything that God established before Jesus points to Jesus as the Final Answer.
  • Big stories: Jesus as High Priest, Hall of Fame of Faith, cloud of witnesses
  • Author: unknown (a man, not Paul and not anyone who knew Jesus directly)
  • Time: before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD
  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3

James

  • About: practical applications of faith in Christ
  • God designed our faith to be lived out in community and in the world.
  • Big stories: perseverance in trials, taming the tongue, faith v/s deeds
  • Author: James (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: before 50AD or in the early 60s
  • “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24

1 Peter

  • About: perseverance under persecution from outside the church
  • God calls us to continue in holy living regardless of our circumstances.
  • Big stories: royal priesthood, Jesus as cornerstone, women’s beauty, suffering for faith, devil is a lion
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 60-64AD
  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

2 Peter

  • About: standing up to false teachers and other problems within the church
  • God purifies his church, making it ready for Jesus’ return.
  • Big stories: destruction of false teachers, God’s patience with humanity
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 65-68AD, toward the end of Peter’s life
  • “Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:17-18a

1 John

  • About: identifying false teachers, assuring salvation, God’s love
  • God’s love is active and distinguishes believers from the world.
  • Big stories: light & dark, sinfulness in the believer’s life, God is love
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6

2 John

  • About: loving others, rejecting false teachers
  • God shows us how to love and how to discern truth from deception.
  • Big stories: “walk in love,” don’t assist false teachers
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 6

3 John

  • About: hospitality for God’s messengers
  • God’s children must take care of each other.
  • Big stories: John’s condemnation of a harsh church leader and commendation of another leader
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11

Jude

  • About: counteracting false teachers
  • God always knows the true believers from the false.
  • Big stories: ungodly people punished (lots of nice imagery)
  • Author: Jude/Judas (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: 65-80AD
  • “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20-21

Revelation

  • About: faithfulness through persecution, Christ’s ultimate victory
  • God’s victory is sure, and all believers will join Him in it.
  • Big stories: letters to 7 churches, visions of Heaven, fall of Babylon & rise of New Jerusalem, final judgment
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 95AD
  • “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:5b-6

Content and Context (part 9) – Paul’s Letters cont.

With these last two letters to churches and then his letters to individuals, I feel like we’ve taken a peek into Paul’s personal journal. Here’s Paul the mentor, the father-figure, the wizened patriarch of the Church universal. Here’s Paul the very human man, near the beginning of his ministry and then looking at the end of his earthly life. For our children, we find so much wisdom about what church is supposed to be and how we are supposed to live in this world. Take your time through these books, and let it all sink in.

As usual, I welcome your comments and observations. What do you think the theme verse for each of these books should be? How would you summarize any of them in one sentence (that starts with ‘God’)?

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 2)

1 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, encouragement through persecution
  • God has expectations for our lives on earth and a plan for the end times.
  • Big stories: Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica & desire to return, a life that pleases God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51, possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters (see Galatians)
  • “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

2 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, Godly living (same as 1 Thes.)
  • God calls us to fully live in the present even as we anticipate the end times.
  • Big stories: end times prophecies, don’t be idle
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51-52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

1 Timothy

  • About: encouraging and advising Timothy regarding church leadership
  • God has ordained a proper way for the Church to act and interact.
  • Big stories: false teachers, behavior in worship, leader qualifications
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad63-65
  • “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5

2 Timothy

Map of coastal ports of Smyrna, Ephesus and Cnidus plus Loadicia and Colosse inland. – Slide 17

Courtesy freeBibleimages.com

  • About: Paul’s relationship with Timothy, guidance on leadership (like 1 Tim.)
  • God calls church leaders to faithfulness, perseverance, and discernment.
  • Big stories: guidance for church leaders, false teachers, relevance of Scripture
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad67-68
  • “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:12-14

Titus

  • About: leading well despite opposition, doing good inside and outside the church
  • God intends for us to live so that our actions set us apart from the culture.
  • Big stories: qualifications for elders, directions for age groups (older/younger)
  • Author: Paul (Titus is on Crete)
  • Time: ad63-65 (same as 1 Timothy)
  • “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in his present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13

Philemon

  • About: the slave Onesimus’ return to Philemon, his master
  • God receives us as family and servants when Jesus advocates for us.
  • Big stories: Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding Onesimus
  • Author: Paul (Philemon is in Colossae)
  • Time: ad60 (see Ephesians and Colossians)
  • “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Philemon 15-16a

 

Praying Scripture for Your Children: 4 Areas

We all want to pray for our children more. For me, the topic has come up repeatedly in  discussions, blog posts, and other places recently. (Maybe God is trying to tell me something!)  One of the most effective ways to pray is to quote Scripture back to God or use Scripture as the framework for our prayers. That principle stands when we pray for our children as well. So here, I offer you 4 areas in which you can pray Scripture for your children, all based on Luke 2:52.

We have so little documentation of Jesus’ childhood, and all we know of Mary’s prayers are that she spent time thinking about her memories (Luke 2:19, 51). I’m not even sure that’s a prayer. At any rate, it’s not much guidance for us in the 21st century. Ah, but there is something… Recently, someone drew my attention to Luke 2:52, noting that this verse covers every major aspect of Jesus’ life.

And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

Wisdom is intellectual: knowledge, understanding, and application of learning.

Stature is physical: height and strength.

Favor with God is spiritual.

Favor with man is social/emotional.

We can take these areas of growth and apply verses from other parts of the Bible as we pray for our own children under these same headings! I’ll just give you a couple of examples on each. I’m also including a suggested prayer with each verse. If you’re not accustomed to praying Scripture, let this be your introduction.

Wisdom

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom…then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  Proverbs 2:1-5 (1-11 is better!)

Heavenly Father, please give my child a tender heart to receive correction and direction from me (and show me how to frame my words to be more effectively received). Show her heart what real wisdom looks like so she can recognize it…and the many counterfeits out there. Reveal yourself to her in both Your awesomeness and your gentleness.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.  2 Peter 3:18

Lord, help my child retain what he learns about you: the facts of your time on earth, yes, but more importantly, help him understand your grace as we know it from the Bible and from experience. I pray that, as his knowledge increases in all areas, he will draw closer to you and celebrate you rather than rejecting you, as some do.

Stature

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

O God, please show my child that her body is borrowed, that it belongs to you. Help her treat it like something precious and save it for Your glory: sexually, yes, but also regarding exercise, food, substances, sleep, behavior, and everything else.

Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…  Isaiah 40:30-31

Father, please strengthen my child’s confidence in you. Don’t let him depend on his youth or his physical strength but rather let him place his hope in You because You alone can sustain him through the physical trials he will face.

Favor with God

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 3:20

Heavenly Father, please help my child learn how to be obedient—not for my convenience but for Your glory. Let her experience Your pleasure as she obeys the many authority figures in her life.

Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Ephesians 5:8b-10

Lord, I pray that my child is always interested in pleasing You. I ask that he will live in Your light, loving everything good, righteous, and true.

Favor with people

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 1 Peter 3:15-16

Father, I pray that my child always acts and reacts with gentleness and respect, especially when she’s sharing about Jesus. I pray that her words and behavior will be so excellent that her enemies cannot find anything to criticize.

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

Lord Jesus, you know that I want a well-behaved child. We all do. I pray, however, that I will not expect or seek good behavior for my own glory. I pray that my child’s behavior reflects well on You. I further pray that he and I both learn to be quick to give You credit.

 

If the Lord leads you to a great verse in any of these four areas, please let everyone else know by leaving a comment! I’m going to keep an on-going list to use as a resource.

 

Content and Context (part 8) – Paul’s letters

This week we tackle the thickest, most chocked-full book of the Bible: Romans. There is no way to adequately present the content and context of this book with six bullet points (although I gave it a try). In it, we find the foundations of our theology, an understanding of Israel’s place in the New Covenant, and connections to much of the Old Testament. I don’t necessarily like reading Romans because there are very few stories, but when I study it, I find so much to “chew” on and so many areas in which to grow spiritually.

After Romans, the Corinthians and that set of four small books (You know, the ones we learned using acronyms such as ‘Go Eat PopCorn’ or ‘General Electric Power Company’) feel comforting and simple. If you want to dig into Paul’s writings with your children, I suggest you start with Ephesians or Philippians. They are straightforward, and Paul employs some word pictures that help us all understand our faith. What is more, it’s not too hard to memorize big chunks of verses here such as The Armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20) or the Christ hymn (Philippians 2:5-11).

Did I leave out something important? What changes or additions would you suggest? Let me know in the comments section below.

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 1)

Romans

  • About: system of salvation, God’s big plan
  • God is knowable and He has a clear plan for our salvation.
  • Big stories: God judges everyone, Romans Road, victory for believers
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: about mid-way through Paul’s ministry; prob. ad57
  • “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” Romans 1:16-17

1 Corinthians

  • About: cultural influences in church, Christian/church behavior
  • God intends for his church to represent His purity, mercy, and love.
  • Big stories: church practices, spiritual gifts, “Love is…”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans; prob. ad55
  • “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” 1 Corinthians 1:25

2 Corinthians

  • About: the challenges and joys of Christian ministry, God’s high standards
  • God’s calling involves both blessings and difficulties.
  • Big stories: jars of clay, ministry of reconciliation, Paul’s “pedigree”
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: shortly before Romans but after 1 Corinthians; prob. ad55
  • “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

Galatians

  • About: justification by faith, freedom in Christ
  • God provides salvation to all people, separate from the law.
  • Big stories: Paul’s calling and apostleship, faith v/s works, fruit of the Spirit
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: possibly the earliest Pauline letter we have; ad48/49 or 53
  • “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

Ephesians

  • About: the purpose and goals for the church
  • God wants His followers to know and follow through with His plans.
  • Big stories: unity of all believers, husbands & wives, armor of God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60
  • “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:17b-19

Philippians

  • About: perseverance, joy, humility
  • God’s presence and blessing are unaffected by human circumstances.
  • Big stories: suffering for the Gospel, Christ’s humility, everything a loss in comparison to Jesus
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad61
  • “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Philippians 1:20-21

Colossians

  • About: refuting false teaching
  • God’s provision of Christ is completely sufficient for our salvation.
  • Big stories: supremacy of Christ, freedom in Christ, life in Christ
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: while imprisoned in Rome; ad60 (same as Ephesians)
  • “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” Colossians 2:9-10

 

Content and Context (part 7) – Gospels and Acts

We return to our Content and Context Series today (see the beginning *here*)—just in time for the Advent season. It’s the perfect opportunity to focus on Jesus’ life and purpose on earth. Simply pick a gospel and start reading; you can’t go wrong! Then, when it’s time for New Year’s resolutions, turn to Acts. The early church models the called-out life in a way that remains relevant today. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to make a change.

Of course, all the Gospels are specifically and intentionally about Jesus. All tell about the miracles He did and the parables He told, all provide details about His crucifixion and His resurrection, but each has a specific audience or purpose and each is told from a clear point-of-view. That’s why it’s so great to have four of them. We have a much fuller picture of Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection. For this outline, I have tried to differentiate the four so you (and your children) can see God’s purpose in each. As we approach Christmas, I pray that a fresh understanding of Jesus blesses your holiday season.

THE GOSPELS AND ACTS

Matthew

  • About: Jesus as the expected Messiah
  • Through Jesus, God fulfilled the Old Testament Messianic prophecies and provided a Savior for His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jesus’ birth, Sermon on the Mount, Great Commission
  • Author: Matthew/Levi (a disciple)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “All of this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”  Matthew 1:22-23

Mark

  • About: Jesus as teacher and miracle-worker
  • Through Jesus, God gave us wisdom about life on earth and modeled suffering.
  • Big stories: John the Baptist, Greatest Commandment, Passion Week (1/3 of the chapters)
  • Author: John Mark (based on Peter’s preaching)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” Mark 14:35-36

Luke

  • About: Jesus as world-wide Savior
  • Through Jesus, God made a way for every person (regardless of gender, politics, social status, etc.) to be saved.
  • Big stories: Jesus’ birth & childhood, Jesus’ focus on women/social
    IMG_6563.JPG
    the author’s childhood Bible     (c) Carole Sparks

    outcasts/Gentiles, parables (more than any other Gospel), Emmaus Road & Ascension

  • Author: Luke (a doctor who traveled with Paul)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:31-32

John

  • About: Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man
  • Through Jesus, God demonstrates His love toward us and we are connected back to Him.
  • Big stories: Nicodemus, “I am” statements, Lazarus raised, upper room discourse, Peter’s restoration
  • Author: John (a disciple)
  • Time: when Jesus was on earth
  • “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31

Acts

  • About: the early church, the life of Paul
  • God uses believers to spread the gospel across continents.
  • Big stories: Pentecost, Stephen’s stoning, Peter’s dream, Paul’s conversion/missionary journeys/trial
  • Author: Luke (a doctor who traveled with Paul)
  • Time: the 30 years following Jesus’ ascension
  • “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

 

Content and Context (part 6) – Minor Prophets

Our last survey for the Old Testament. These guys are fascinating, and so much of what they said reverberates into our century. If it’s been awhile, just read through Amos or Habakkuk and see what God says to them…and to you.

After today, we’ll take a break from the Content and Context series. While it is good and helpful (I’ve learned many things in writing it!), we need some real how-to-parent-with-intentionality postings. I’ll intersperse the New Testament charts over the months ahead.

MINOR PROPHETS

Hosea

  • About: God’s covenant, Israel’s idolatry
  • God loves His people and wants them to have a faithful relationship with Him.
  • Big stories: Hosea loves his unfaithful wife, Israel worships other gods
  • Author: Hosea
  • Time: just before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom in 722bc (Isaiah, Amos)
  • “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” Hosea 14:9

Joel

  • About: locusts, Day of the Lord
  • God uses a natural disaster to remind the people of coming judgment followed by restoration.
  • Big stories: invasion of locusts, promises for the day of judgment
  • Author: Joel
  • Time: unclear, but probably before the fall of Jerusalem
  • “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” Joel 3:16

Amos

  • About: social justice, honest worship
  • God wants His people to live with integrity, experiencing authentic worship.
  • Big stories: Amos’ calling, fat cows of Bashan, call to repentance
  • Author: Amos
  • Time: about 30 years before Israel went into captivity (Isaiah, Hosea, Jonah)
  • “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

Obadiah

  • About: Edom (shortest book in the Old Testament)
  • God will punish Edom for participating in Israel’s devastation.
  • Big stories: Edom’s failure to help Israel
  • Author: Obadiah
  • Time: probably just before the fall of Judah (Jeremiah)
  • “The pride of your heart has deceived you…you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. Obadiah 3-4

Jonah

The sailors took hold of Jonah and threw his overboard. Immediately the storm stopped. – Slide 23
(c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: disobedience, ethnocentrism (belief that your culture is superior)
  • God cares about other people groups as well as His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jonah swallowed by a fish, Jonah preaching to Nineveh
  • Author: maybe Jonah or maybe someone who knew him
  • Time: after Amos & Hosea but before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom
  • “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” Jonah 3:1-3a

Micah

  • About: divine judgment and deliverance
  • God’s judgment is certain, but so is his restoration through the coming Messiah.
  • Big stories: prophecy about Bethlehem, call for social justice
  • Author: Micah
  • Time: before & after the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom (Isaiah, Hosea)
  • “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Nahum

  • About: fall of Nineveh
  • God’s people can be sure He will judge their oppressors.
  • Big stories: descriptions of Nineveh’s future destruction
  • Author: Nahum
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (Zephaniah)
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.” Nahum 1:7-8

Habakkuk

  • About: complaints and questions to God
  • God’s timing is always perfect.
  • Big stories: God answers complaints, Habakkuk’s confidence in God
  • Author: Habakkuk
  • Time: before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah)
  • “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

Zephaniah

  • About: the Day of the Lord, judgment
  • God’s justice will prevail not only among His people but around the world.
  • Big stories: warnings for Judah and other nations
  • Author: Zephaniah
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (King Josiah, Jeremiah, Nahum)
  • “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” Zephaniah 1:7

Haggai

  • About: priorities, the temple’s glory
  • God calls for His people to be faithful, then they will be blessed.
  • Big stories: rebuilding the temple, blessings for faithfulness
  • Author: Haggai
  • Time: 520bc, when exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Zechariah)
  • “’I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:7

Zechariah

  • About: encouragement, Messianic prophecies
  • God is sovereign and keeps His promises.
  • Big stories: vision dreams, social justice over fasting, the coming Messiah
  • Author: Zechariah
  • Time: after exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai)
  • “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6

Malachi

  • About: breaking the covenant, the coming King
  • While God will preserve a remnant, His judgment is surely coming.
  • Big stories: list of covenant violations, blessing for tithing, scroll of remembrance
  • Author: Malachi
  • Time: post-exilic (Nehemiah). Probably the latest of the OT prophets.
  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

A friend of mine just posted a poem about prophets. Since we’re in the Minor Prophets, it seems appropriate to share it *here*.

Are They Really Saved?

06-30 spice farm 18
starfruit tree – 2012

Someone said to me recently (not an exact quote), “I want to make sure my children are really saved before they are baptized,” and this comment got me to thinking . . . Jesus said, a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:32). But what about when the tree is still a sapling?  What fruit blossoms on so young a tree?  Similarly, can we document any evidence that our children have “accepted Christ”? Should we even try?  I’ve heard enough salvation stories to know that we give too much credence to a moment of salvation when, for most of us, it’s a process with perhaps a documentable occasion when we realize what we already believe.  If you fall very strongly on the predestination side of things, you might even take issue with that.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that people accept Christ and become saved (with God always knowing they would accept) or that our children are predestined for salvation partly because God gave them to us, and we are His chosen ones.  Whatever.  Read this through your own theological lens.  It will still be relevant. Is it any of our business?  It also needs to be said at the outset that it’s really not our job to judge some else’s salvation state. The Scriptures say, Judge nothing before the appointed time; . . . at that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).  Even with our children, God calls/chooses them personally.  But I can appreciate what this guy in the first paragraph was saying.  It’s our job to guard our children’s hearts (Prov 4:23), to guide them along the right paths for His Name’s sake (Ps 23:3), to help them get things in the right order and understand the sacraments of our faith (Deut 6:7).

But first, some thoughts on children and salvation . . .

The question in our house was never one of belief in the historicity of Jesus or His actions. I think my children were always comfortable with the fact that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected so that we can be forgiven and join Him in Heaven (probably because we presented it as an unquestionable fact, along the same lines as “The sky is blue.”).  The challenge we put before each of them, and thus the way we mark their “salvation”, revolved around this life.  Knowing that eternal life starts now, we would ask, “Are you ready to make Jesus the boss of your life?”  This is the more difficult—and more relevant—question.  The five-year-old who wishes she could boss herself and already feels like she has too many other bosses (parents, teachers, etc.), doesn’t necessarily want to add yet another boss to the list even though she truly wants to go to Heaven.  As our four/five-year-old came to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the peace with which we (her parents) lived in the here-and-now, committing this life to Jesus became more acceptable.  By the way, it wasn’t a once-off thing; there were many conversations—all started by her.

What you may see when children accept Christ’s Lordship

If children grow up in a Christ-centered home, they learn right and wrong from the outset. Typically, they don’t lie (often), steal (much), hit their siblings (very hard), or intentionally disobey (in the big things).  They haven’t lived long enough to need forgiveness or freedom for any “big” sins (It’s our scale that labels it ‘big’, by the way.), nor do they have any sinful habits such as swearing or pornography.  So when they “accept Christ,” we can’t expect any major behavioral changes.  In our home, I saw two significant attitude changes that confirmed their declarations of faith.  This happened with both our children.

  1. Contrition. When they sin—and they still do—the Holy Spirit convicts them, and they feel sorry about it. Not sorry about getting caught but sorry about the words/action.  My son comes to me saying, “Mom, I need to confess something.”  We sit down together and talk through his actions and his heart.  Sometimes, there is discipline, but more often than not, I can see that he understands his sin and truly feels sorry, so there’s no need for further reinforcement.
  2. Compassion. Children are inherently selfish. (Most of us never grow out of it, actually.)  After they began to follow Christ, I saw my children become more considerate of others—especially the feelings of others.  Sometimes they see the results of their harsh words before someone corrects them; sometimes they choose to forgive others without being asked; sometimes they stand up for a weaker child or comfort a lonely child or have patience with a difficult child on the playground.

Sure, you can teach compassion, and perhaps you can even bring your child to a point of contrition, but after my children made Jesus “the boss of their lives,” I saw a significant change in these areas without any change in my parenting. Such growth confirmed to me that God was working in their hearts. Feel like you need to have this conversation with your child?  Consider starting with Luke 9:23.

Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

  • said to them all – He said this to everyone around Him—not just a select few. In Mark 8:34, He actually calls the crowd over to hear Him.
  • wants to be my disciple – It starts with wanting to follow Jesus.
  • deny themselves – Think less about yourself and more about what pleases God.
  • take up their cross” – There are duties and hardships involved in being an authentic Christian. It’s not going to be easy.
  • daily – The parallels of this verse (Matt 16:24 and Mark 8:34) don’t say ‘daily’, but the rest of Scripture bears out its relevance. Following Christ is not a one-time, prayed-a-prayer, good-to-go kinda deal.
  • follow me – Do what He says—the Holy Spirit leads in a way that is consistent with the Word.

Now don’t hold this verse up to your child like a gauge or checklist.  Don’t hang it beside the how-much-you’ve-grown marks on the wall. It’s a place to begin talking about what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Sometimes, my children still massively “blow it” . . . but so do I. All of us live with sin even after you put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Colossians 3:5).  Even the Apostle Paul said, I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).  We cannot expect perfection from our believing children, but it’s safe to expect—and even look for—change as the Holy Spirit produces His Fruit (Gal 5:22-23) in them. So maybe saplings can bear fruit.

On Purity

As I tucked my then-nine-year-old into bed one night, she asked, “Mommy, what is purity?” Since we hadn’t had The Talk yet, and since her question wasn’t actually about sex, I hesitated.  I shot a silent prayer up to God for a simple, understandable answer and took a deep breath.

Whatever is noble . . . whatever is pure . . . think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The phrases bounced into my head (not the reference—just the words), and I answered: “Purity is about keeping your thoughts pure, about never letting your mind dwell on things that God doesn’t like.”  (Or something like that.  It was a few years ago now, so I can’t remember word-for-word.)  She was satisfied, but the Lord launched me on a long-term thought process that continues to bear fruit in my mind.  It began with the conviction that purity is something much bigger than the box into which we have presently placed it.

Having started college in 1991, I was too late for True Love Waits. (You can go to the TLW blog here.)  I hear wonderful things about the movement, so don’t read this as a criticism of the program or the way God has used it to honor Himself in many lives.  True Love Waits espouses sexual purity, but we American Christians don’t even like to say the word “sexual”—much less talk about it—so somewhere in the last twenty years, “sexual purity” became just “purity” and we all knew what it meant.  But we lost something big when we did that.  We lost the rest of what purity really is.

Virginity is just one branch of the purity tree, and a low-hanging, usually-chopped-off branch at that. Is there no longer a need for purity after you get married?  That’s just ridiculous; of course there is.  And having sex within a marriage doesn’t make you impure.  (I wonder how many newlyweds have struggled with this . . .)  So we really need some expansion here.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart . . .  Psalm 24:3-4

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matthew 5:8 (emphasis added on both)

Real purity allows us to stand unstained before God. It is about seeking God first, about not allowing anything to come between me and God.  It’s about keeping intimacy with God as my number-one objective and testing everything else to see how it contributes or detracts from that intimacy.  It’s about removing everything from my mind that is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8 again).  Real purity brings me closer to God.

What are the branches of the purity ‘tree’?  (Not an exhaustive list—I’m just brainstorming.)  But first, let’s assume that the one pursuing purity is a Christ-follower, rooted and built up in Him (Col 2:7).

  • integrity. This includes taking credit only for your own work, being honest, leaving others’ possessions alone, ‘owning’ your mistakes, and much more.
  • intimacy. It’s not just about intercourse.  God restrains what we share of our personal lives, family lives, physical bodies, and emotional situations.  He also limits what we need to see of others’ intimacy.  Mom and Dad kissing?  Fine and good.  Couple having sex on screen (especially at the movie theater, where it’s SO BIG!! . . . okay that might just be me)?  Not healthy.  Married women who look to each other rather than their husbands for secrets and support?  Not good.  The motivation behind that phrase, “technical virgin”?  Anathema.
  • interactions. Paul says, Let your gentleness be evident to all (Phil 4:5).  How we think of and speak to other people measures what is in our minds.  Thus, Jesus gave interactions the second-most-important place in obedience:  Love your neighbor as yourself (See Mark 12:29-31).  Furthermore, acts of violence are unacceptable; committing them–definitely, but even watching them . . . well, it’s something to consider.  Ask yourself, “Does the violence in this movie make it more difficult for me/my child to keep my/his mind pure?”
  • ideas. Sometimes Satan just throws sinful thoughts into our minds (especially if we have a less-than-pure past).  Entertaining them tarnishes our purity.
  • language. (Somebody PLEASE give me a word that starts with –i- for this point.  It’s driving me crazy!!)  If you expose yourself to an excess of coarse language, such terms sink into your mind and eventually come out of your mouth.  There’s a reason it’s called a “potty mouth”.

This list feels prescriptive, now that I’ve written it.  Just remember that it all begins in one’s mind; the key verse is Philippians 4:8.  Also, I was really trying to stay away from a list of negatives here, but if you want one, consider Colossians 3. Paul doesn’t specifically say “pure” or “purity” in that chapter, but look just before the list:  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).  Isn’t this a great description of full-bodied purity? Set your heart and mind on Him. Wow.  I love it when the deluge of details boils down to something simple.

So sexual purity is important, of course, but it quickly descends into simple behavior modification and doesn’t focus on the heart of my preteen. The better approach will be to help our children focus on living a pure life with God-centered boundaries in every area, which honors Him and permits them to walk into adulthood with a mature and fruitful purity.