Distracted kids, tired parents, smart phones and what teaching your kids the Bible should really look like

Distracted kids, tired parents, smart phones and what teaching your kids the Bible should really look like

 

mother and daughter in the garden
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

Lifeway Resarch group published the results of research they did to see what the contributing factors were in spiritual health among young adults.What they found was that overwhelmingly, kids who regularly read the Bible while growing up are likely to experience a healthy spiritual life with God and the church. I was both shaken and encouraged by these findings.

I don’t have a “typical” Christian household in which to raise my boys. Reading the Bible with my boys when my husband is not a believer has been a challenge. But the truth is, even where both parents are Christians, the practice of regular Bible reading with kids is probably a struggle, if it happens at all.  In another study byLifeway, among American Protestants, only a third say they read the Bible regularly.  If only a third of us are reading the Bible regularly, then the struggle to read the Bible with my kids is the norm.

But I wonder if at least one of the reasons we parents find it hard to read the Bible with our kids is because we are shooting for some kind of ideal family devotion. I’m sure there are other reasons, like- it’s hard to get a kid to read anything if it’s not on an app or screen, and we’re all so busy going different directions that trying to get everyone together to read seems nearly impossible. But I believe God has given us really clear instructions that help me throw my idealism out the window without throwing Bible-reading with my kids out too.

“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

This instruction from God to his people helps me so much.

Catch this sequence: God tells his people to first have his words on their own hearts. Then he tells us to “impress” his words on our kids. That means we can’t just throw a Bible, or a Bible app at them and tell them to read it. We are gonna need to get real with them. We’re gonna need to talk to them. And many times its going to feel like they aren’t listening or don’t care.

I have two teen boys. When they were little, they squirmed and fussed and sometimes sat still and listened for a whole minute. When they hit pre-teen they were tired and barked at the idea of having to sit still for a few minutes so mom could talk to them about Jesus. Now they’re at the end of their high school years and they listen a little more attentively. Sometimes. And sometimes I can drag out of them some of their own thoughts. But most of the time I have to take away a phone because they pulled it out to look at Snapchat while we’re supposed to be hearing what the Bible says. Or they get up and walk to the kitchen for a snack saying, “It’s ok mom, keep reading. I’m listening. I’m just hungry.” To which I get frustrated and have, more than a few times, given up and stopped the “devotional” time.

My point is, reading the Bible with your kids and talking to them about what God is trying to say through what you read is not going to be a neat and easy activity for most. But that’s exactly how God said it’s going to be. “When you’re at home”, “When you’re out on the road”, “When you’re getting ready for bed,” and, “When you get up,” all involve everyday life interactions. And those are never neat or easy.

The thing is we just need to start. We don’t have to forgo talking to our kids about what God says because they’re almost grown and we’ve never talked to them about it before. We don’t have to take a course on theology to start either. We don’t have to have a candle lit, and neatly-dressed, well-behaved kids sitting in a circle with their Bibles and journals opened either (although I confess this, I would love that!).  Really there are only four things we need to impress God’s word on our kids’ hearts, giving them a good start at spiritual health:

  1. Get God’s word on YOUR heart first.  Parents, grandparents… whoever you are raising kids, if you don’t take in God’s word and wrestle with it yourself, you’ll have nothing to give your kids. Spend time reading, asking God and other Christians your questions about what you read. Write down your thoughts. Confess your doubts or angst. Praise God for what speaks to you.
  2. Share the above with your kids!  The other day I sat down at the table while my 16 year old was perusing IG and said, “Hey son, can you put that down for a minute. I want to tell you something.” He put his phone down and gave me his attention and I told him I had read a Psalm that morning and it helped me because the person who wrote the Psalm basically told God, “Why aren’t you answering me? How long is life going to be this hard?” My son looked at me kinda blank and said, “Okay….” I got up, put my arm around him and said, “I just want you to know, God knows how you feel. And he wants you to talk to him about it. He is working through it all. He loves you. And I love you.” My son accepted the hug and said, “Ok, thanks mom.” That’s it. No big revelation. No hour long reading with questions and reflection. That was it. This kind of conversation can and should happen throughout your day. Every day.
  3. Engage your kids. And require them to engage. I know with my kids, it’s been hard. They’re teens. They’re boys. They’re distracted by the screen that’s become a part of their hand. They don’t like to read. They want to go off-roading and build a bonfire. But notice this verse in Deuteronomy says impress God’s word on your kids’ hearts. In the original language that means “to pierce.” I’m a busy mom. I work full time, I’m tired. I have to fight the urge to let reminding my boys to read their Bibles be enough so I can relax and watch my show on Netflix. It’s going to cost you and it’s not going to be easy. You might have to tell your 5 year old to stop twirling in circles and look at you and listen 10 times in a 1 minute talk. But do it. The message we bring should pierce our kids. That doesn’t mean we all have to be Spurgeon, but we should seek to get a response of engagement from our kids. For me, with teens, that means I ask them their thoughts and require a thoughtful answer, not just, “I dunno, can we go now mom?”
  4. Let the everyday things of life guide what you talk about from the Bible. This verse in Deuteronomy instructs parents to engage their kids with God’s word in everyday life situations. You can use a book or guide to engage your kids in God’s word. Those are good and helpful. I use my church’s daily reading or an app my kids’ youth group is using. But also, when you’re driving somewhere with your kids and a song comes on the radio that makes you think of something God’s been impressing on your heart from what you’ve read or heard taught from the Bible, tell them! Let the everyday rhythms of life be the fodder for drawing your kids’ attention to the good news about what God has done for us in Jesus.

Christian with kids, you have been entrusted souls to point to Jesus. Don’t let your idealism, your lack of Bible-knowledge, or even your busy life keep you from reading the Bible and talking about the message with your kids. Doing this is, as my pastor says, putting kindling around their hearts, that God will light it on fire for Jesus.

Christian, you are in ministry

Christian, you are in ministry

man raising his left hand
Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

 

Tomorrow, people all over the U.S. will go to a local church. I have an opinion about what most of us going to church tomorrow think doing ministry means. I’d guess if you asked the average church attender, who among them is doing the work of the ministry, I bet they’d point to the pastor, the elders, the worship team, the children’s ministry leaders and teachers, and the student ministry leaders. I’d guess very few would say, “Me. I am doing the work of the ministry.” But that is exactly who the Bible says is to be doing the work of the ministry.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” Ephesians 4:11-12

I serve as the kids ministry director at my church.  This isn’t the first time I’ve served in kids ministry in church. But this is the first time I’ve ever been on staff with a church and the first time I’ve submitted myself to learning to lead others well for the kingdom’s sake. This year I’ve come to realize what the mindset about ministry is among those of us who go to church and serve in some capacity on a team in our churches. The prevailing thought seems to be something like, “I serve at my church. But the pastor and the kids ministry director and the worship leader… the staff are ‘in ministry’.”

I have a theory about the connection between the lack of passion among church members about their role as Christians in the church, at home, at work and in their neighborhoods. I believe the lack of zeal among us is at least in part because we think of ministry as something that the church staff or pastor or missionaries do. We don’t think of ministry as what the nurse, the pool guy, the college student who works at Dairy Queen and the stay-at-home mom does.

I believe the thought that ministry is something pastors or missionaries, not average everyday church members do, creates a task-oriented service mindset. Without “the saints” being equipped and having a passion and conviction within themselves that they are called to ministry, volunteerism and service teams in churches will lack passion and gospel growth.

I’m in a great local church. There’s a healthy mantra among the staff and leaders in my church that says, “We don’t use people to build the church. We use the church to build people.”  We believe the heavy lifting is on our knees, asking God to move on hearts, save our friends, and fill us with joy in serving one another. But I’ve noticed in myself and in other volunteers in the church, when feel burned-out or run-down in serving, it can almost always be traced back to what motivates us to serve. If we see serving at church as a good thing to do, as sort of a holy task we add to our weekly to-do list, we run out of steam. When we drag our busy lives along with us and add church on at the end (or beginning) of a busy week, serving in any capacity on a Sunday feels like a tax.

But when we see our lives in light of the gospel; when we see our lives as not our own; when we see our lives as being for, “…the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ,” a fire of love drives our service.

The Bible lays out the case that every Christian is in ministry. Each one of us makes up a, “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As a side note, I wonder if a lot of the drive behind women in some Christian circles striving to be honored as pastors comes out of a lack of belief that every Christian (male or female) is in ministry. But I digress.

So what is, “the work of the ministry”? We certainly aren’t all to quit our day jobs and start vocational roles as pastors, teachers or missionaries. So what does it mean to be in ministry for those not in full-time vocations of teaching or preaching or leading in the church?  I’m sure it means more, but I see at least three things it means. To do the work of the ministry is to:

  1. Build up other people in the local church so they can become more like Jesus. Ephesians 4 says that Christ gave pastors and teachers to the church to equip us to do the work of the ministry so that we would grow mature in Christ. Jesus calls us shift workers, artists, plumbers, students and parents to ministry so that the other people in our local church will grow up! We help each other grow. The work of the ministry isn’t philanthropic or volunteer work in general. Ministry is how one Christian serves another person in the local church to help them become more like Jesus.
  2. Be ambassadors for Christ to the those in our neighborhoods and work, outside the church. An ambassador is a representative of one country stationed in another. Christian, we are ministers and ambassadors of Jesus’ kingdom as God works through us to bring the hope of the gospel to those who do not believe (2 Corinthians 5:14, 20). That is ministry every Christian is called to. We represent Christ to the world. And that leads to the last thing I see doing the work of the ministry means.
  3. Serve Christ with my whole life. For eternity we will be talking about the riches of the grace Christ has poured on us, bringing us into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5-7). We give nothing- no services, no sacrifice- that is not first given to us in Jesus. And so to do the work of the ministry is to give myself with zeal daily to his service. Whatever I do, whether it be at my local church on Sunday morning, or on Tuesday evening with my kids doing homework, or on Saturday with my husband cleaning the house, or any other thing I do all week… my life is not my own.  Christ died for me so I would stop living for myself and start living for him, as I was made to (2 Corinthians 5:15).

All of life for the Christian is ministry. And when we see our lives that way, serving in some capacity on a Sunday will be one way we are doing the work of the ministry, building others in the church up to make them more like Jesus.

Looking to 2020 and the shalom beyond

Looking to 2020 and the shalom beyond

double rainbow sunflowers 2018

My family is making fun of me tonight because I’m watching, for maybe the hundreded-and-eleventieth time, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.  When people ask me what my favorite of anything is I usually have a hard time picking one thing, but when it comes to movies, hands down, The Lord of the Rings series is my favorite!

Ending 2019 watching the Fellowship of the Ring seems fitting to me. In my heart I feel i’m living an epic tale of unlikely victory and bravery, uncommon grace and endurance, and unmatched friendship and fellowship.

I usually spend time reflecting on the year past, and praying for wisdom and help in the coming year. But tonight I spent a bit of time combing through a decade of photos on Facebook. Looking through all those images I see so much growth in the past 10 years. My sons have grown taller and more independent. Soon they’ll be out on their own. I miss the days of Legos on the floor and nap times. But tonight, while one son is with his friends, and the other has a friend over to stay the night, I realize a shift is happening.

In 2019 I was called into ministry to children and parents. I began to learn how to lead others. I started helping patients and their families as a case manager. My oldest son began driving, was in his first car accident, proclaimed his faith in Christ and was baptized, had his heart broken, and is trying to navigate the stormy waters of that transition from boy to man. My youngest grew taller and stronger and has been testing out the flex of his own strength. My husband began teaching and made our home’s curb appeal amazing. I wrote more articles this year than I thought I would, and I was a guest on a podcast about marriage. A lot of growth and stretch for all of us.

Part of me wants to shrink back from all this growth and change. I just want to pack up and go back to the shire. Adventures await me as I follow Jesus, and so does danger. There is no going back. My heart aches for a comfort and wholeness that won’t be found in the temporary comforts and deep joys I’ve experienced in life. But the times of safety and peace I have known give me glimpses of that shalom I’ll one day enter. One day I’ll reach the shire, but first I must press on in this adventure of following Jesus.

O Lord, come back to us!
How long will you delay?
Take pity on your servants!
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love,
so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.
Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery!
Replace the evil years with good.
Let us, your servants, see you work again;
let our children see your glory.
And may the Lord our God show us his approval
and make our efforts successful.
Yes, make our efforts successful!

Psalm 90:13-17 NLT

Why I love “The Little Drummer Boy”

Why I love “The Little Drummer Boy”

The_Drummer_Boy_William_Morris_Hunt

Dr. Russel Moore, me and my gone-to-Jesus Grandma Oleta have something in common: The Little Drummer Boy is one of our favorite Christmas songs.

I read Dr. Moore’s, “In Defense of ‘The Little Drummer Boy‘” this morning and smiled. I’ve been driving through busy traffic, writing to-do lists, wrapping presents, and trying to stay on top of the full calendar this December with the motivating live rendition of The Little Drummer Boy by For King and Country playing on repeat.

Dr. Moore’s mention of the Christendom that I grew up with, where the Little Drummer Boy was the “carnal Christian’s” favorite Christmas song because it wasn’t Biblically accurate and repeated the non-churchy phrase, “Ba-rum-ba-ba-bum” made me chuckle. I remember hearing my late Grandma Oleta say her favorite Christmas song was The Little Drummer Boy, and somehow in my family that was interpreted by me to mean she didn’t know her Bible very well. But even as a girl, I secretly agreed with my grandma- I loved the Little Drummer Boy!

In Dr. Moore’s article he shared how he longed to tell the Drummer Boy, “You don’t really need to perform for him. You really don’t need some token of excellence, to make you worth loving, worth being here. You’re loved and received already. You’re adopted for life.” I understand Dr. Moore’s empathy with the Drummer Boy from that perspective. I understand that conviction and desire to receive from Jesus his un-repayable love, and stop trying to earn his approval. But unlike Dr. Moore, that’s not where I feel a connection with the Drummer Boy. Like the Drummer Boy, I am a poor boy too (actually a poor girl, but I digress), and I just want to bring an offering with my life, my skills, my weakness, my poverty, my child-likeness, to Jesus.

The message I’ve spoken to myself this Christmas season has been, “Bring an offering Sheila. Prepare an offering. The Father loves your offering. As little and ineffective as your offering is on it’s own, bring it. The Father will light it on fire! He’ll make it powerful and effective. He’ll receive it as an offering of thanks, love and worship and he’ll use it powerfully to draw others to Jesus.” That is why I feel the Little Drummer Boy beating in my soul this year! And looking back on my precious Grandma Oleta’s broken life and legacy, I think she wanted her life to be an offering to Jesus too. She felt her poverty, but came as she was. She wanted to bring a smile to her King. So do I.

There’s a definite danger the Little Drummer Boy, Dr. Moore, my grandma, me and other poor boys face- the danger of thinking we can earn Jesus’ favor. But if we check our stuffy, defensive, Bible-literacy at the stable door, and with the child-likeness of a poor boy who knows how to bang a beat on a drum, approach our King wanting to play for him; just wanting to bring an offering, we’ll march right past all that looming danger and enter the worshipful relationship we were intended to have with the King of the Universe.

All that to say. Here are the five reasons the Little Drummer Boy has become one of my favorite Christmas songs:

1. The Drums! There’s something visceral, soul-shaking; a ring of command, order, and mission that makes me want to stand up against all odds and march behind my feet-washing King Jesus all the way home when the drums play.
2. Bring your gifts to honor him. You and I could never offer Jesus anything fit for his Alpha and Omega-ness. He’s the King of the Universe. But like the Drummer Boy, we should bring our gifts and offerings in response to what Jesus has done for us. We should beat our drums, or paint our paintings, or sing our songs, or build our bridges, or care for our kids, or whatever we do, we should do it as an offering of adoration for our King.
3. “I am a poor boy too.” Jesus knows our poverty! He became dependent and poor so that we could be free and rich in his Kingdom. Come in your poverty. Come like my grandma. Our sins and the sins of others have robbed us. But we come offering our lives too the one laid his life down for us.
4. “Mary nodded.” Mary’s life tells me to pay attention to Jesus. To look at him. To do what he says. To treasure in my heart what I don’t understand but sense is way bigger than me.
5.”Then he smiled at me.” Poor boy or girl, Jesus loves you. He loves your childlike offering. He receives it as worship. You’re not trying to earn his favor, you just want to honor him with what you have. He’s smiling.

Learn from my mistakes

Learn from my mistakes

close up of wedding rings on floor
Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

I’ve been married for over 26 years to a man I deeply love, a man who doesn’t love Jesus with me. Through our hard marriage, God has helped me see the error of my ways and led me in better ways when it comes to loving my husband.  This morning, one of the typical tests I’ve faced, and frequent mistake I make, came up. My husband was watching a YouTube video and said, “Hey, did you know a bunch of Christians believe the earth is flat?”

My first instinct was to roll my eyes and argue.  I didn’t think before I spoke this morning, or even pray. I just started laying into how ridiculous it was that he was getting his information about Christians from YouTube. I tried to win an argument with him and then walked away exasperated, wondering if I’d ever get to experience the joy of worshiping Jesus with the man I’ve loved since I was 17.

Here’s a married-to-an-unbeliever life hack for you: When your unbelieving spouse wants to argue with you about unimportant or controversial issues, you may be tempted to try and win an argument. Don’t do it. Jesus shows us a better way.

This morning, while I was pouting in my bedroom after arguing with my husband about faith, science, Christianity and credible resources for information, Jesus’ words came to mind.

“…as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Getting ready for today’s Thanksgiving feast, asking God, “How long?!” for the seven billionth time, God’s word gently and powerfully reminded me there is a way to love unbelievers: The way Jesus loved me!  In that passage in John, Jesus was about to suffer the condemnation of all my sin, and all his disciples’ sin in his own body, and he bent down and washed feet, even the feet of the one who would betray him. He didn’t love them by arguing with them about petty things. He loved them by serving them and bearing the pain of their sin in his body.

There is no magic argument that will win your unbelieving spouse, relative or friend to Jesus. There is no Petri dish of circumstances you can create that will grow faith in them. If your spouse or child or neighbor or friend or relative bends their knee to Christ and worships him it will be an absolute miracle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. You and I should do what Jesus leads us to do and what the Bible tells us to do and then offer up our faith and obedience to God, praying he would light it on fire, and save our loved ones.  We should follow Jesus example, and with his power at work in us, put down our arguments (even if we could win them), and instead just vulnerably love and serve the unbelievers we are in relationship with.

We must love our spouses well, and entrust them to God.

Today after confessing I’d been a jerk, I told my husband, ” I love you. I wish you believed Jesus and followed him with me. I don’t want to argue with you… What time do you want to eat our feast?!” It’s vulnerable and tender to speak the truth like that. But it’s the way Jesus loves.

Yesterday I received my copy of the winter edition of The Joyful Life Magazine: Treasure. In it, there is an article titled: Marriage: When the Yoke Is Unequal.I wrote it. Sometime in early 2020 the Daily Grace podcast will publish a podcast interview with me on this same subject.  I never wanted to grow up and be a woman who wrote and spoke about my hard marriage. I wanted to be an author, or an archaeologist. I thought I’d write children’s books or poetry or dig up old things out of the dirt. I didn’t think I’d dig up treasures out of the ashes of my life and write or speak about them. But here I am, blogging, writing and speaking about my mistakes, what I’m learning and the treasures and trials I’ve found as I bend my knee to Jesus under this unequal yoke.

I hope these blogs, articles and the coming podcast will help you follow Jesus in your circumstances. I hope they’ll give you courage.

Nine

Nine

shallow focus photo of moon
Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

I have the ability to detach
let the fog roll in and relax
into oblivion.

But the flowers on my table
and the crisp, cool morning air
draw me back to beauty.

I have the ability to check-out
and act like everything is fine.
I can move and watch myself
carry on.
Pressing on.
Walking on.
No one knows its me.

I want to run away.
Drive away.
Get away.
Flee like a bird to
that mountain in the Psalms.

Rescue me.
Don’t let me sink.
Don’t let me grow numb.
Don’t let me lie down and sleep
my life away.

I have the ability to seek peace
and pursue it.
I have the ability to stand in the war
and fight for you.
I have the ability to help you hear
and believe.

 

It stings

It stings

old wooden boards
Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I once had a splinter of wood deep
in the tip of my thumb.

I thought it healed.
But pain continued
where the conniving shard had been.

Red, tender flesh pushed up like play-dough
pressed through a hole in a toy.

This wart-looking-thing festered
bled and hurt so bad,
I sought a doctor.

The doctor diagnosed it: granuloma.
“It’s probably some foreign body
that got under your skin.
It may be a thorn, that caused this.”

I thought the thorn was gone.
Healed.
But it rises, raw and tender
and makes it hard to hug.

Betrayal may be the thorn that never stops festering.
It may be the scar
spontaneously
emerging
painful
and sensitive.
It stings.