Questions

questions

This Lord’s day, I am finding myself asking many questions.  Hard questions.  Questions for myself primarily, but questions that may help spur others on to deeper reflection as well.  Questions like these:

Why does our church life not seem to look like what we see in the book of Acts?  A church that is thriving, growing exponentially, and confronting the world because of how different the love of believers was for each other and for the world?  What are we doing wrong?  Is church just a social club for us; somewhere we go out of duty or because our friends and family go there and that is where we click?

When we sit down to read the Bible, what are we doing?  Are we reading it as God’s revelation to us of Himself and how to have a relationship with Him that reaches out to help others?  Or are we reading it merely out of obligation, to check off a box on our daily spiritual to-do list?  Do we really believe that as we know the mind of God we will be transformed more into His image?  Do we even read closely enough to remember what we read an hour after we finish?  Do we hunger and thirst for the word of God, or do we just coast by, reading when we are able?

When we pray, do we really believe we are communing with the God of the universe?  Do we really believe that the Spirit who rose Jesus from the dead dwells within us, and that we have access to the very throne of God by the grace of God which is ours in Jesus Christ?  Do we truly believe that prayer makes any difference, or do we merely pray as another part of our to-do list?  Do we stay in constant communion with God throughout the day (praying continually), or do we just set aside a set amount, no more and no less, to pray?  If the latter, how would our spouse feel if we did the same thing?  Do we believe that God loves us and wants to guide us through our lives as any loving parent would?

Do we really believe that Jesus’ death not only set us free from the wages of sin but also offered us a new life that begins now, an eternal kind of life that is being made stronger in us as we follow Him?  Do we really believe that Jesus came not just to forgive our sins but to take away our sins, increasing our level of holiness and purity day by day?  Do we believe that God actually wants to change us to be more like Christ, not just in totality when we die but in stages now as we live?  Or do we make excuses for ourselves when we give in to temptation to anger, lust, gossip, jealousy, worry, etc?

Do we really believe we are called not just to make converts, but to make disciples, people who will learn to follow Jesus in their lives, walking and talking as He would if He were living their lives in their place?  Do we realize that this is not just a command for us to reach out to strangers, but to disciple everyone we are able, especially those closest to us, such as our spouses and children?  Do we realize that to do this, we need to do more than just teach doctrine; we need to demonstrate a lifestyle of following Christ so that others may follow our example as we follow the example of Christ?  Are we allowing the seriousness of this expectation to influence our daily lives?

I could go on with questions, but that is quite a list as it is.  These are personal questions, so no one person can give an answer for someone else, as it will be different for each of us.  These are questions I am pondering in my own life, and they are hard hitting to me.  I hope that reflecting on them will help you in your walk as well.

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In Praise of My Wife

heart

Proverbs 31:10 says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels” (ESV).

Well, I found an excellent wife.  And she is, indeed, more precious than jewels.

My wife headed off today to a training several hours away from here, and she will not be back for about 4 days.  They say “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and it is certainly true.

I am blessed indeed!  Here I am with both of my children, trying to do everything that Chrissy and I normally share in terms of chores.  I don’t think I usually realize just how much she does until she is not here to do it.

I realize she is only gone for a few days, and many people have to go away far longer.  I have the utmost respect, for example, for those in the military who deploy for long periods of time and in some cases very frequently.  To those in the military, thank you for your sacrifice!

Still, while she has only been away for several hours at this point, I miss her terribly.  I miss her smile.  I miss her laugh.  I miss her voice.  I miss talking with her and sharing life with her in general.  She truly is my other (and much better!) half.

I realized this morning I don’t thank her enough.  I don’t feel that I show my love nearly enough.  I definitely fall way short of the biblical mandate to love her as Christ loved the church!

Chrissy sacrifices so much for our family.  She sacrifices money, time, and energy nearly every day to help me and the children.  She is strong when I am weak.  She is a constant source of encouragement to me.  There is no doubt that she loves us with everything inside her.

Proverbs 31:28-29 goes on to say, “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:’Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.'” (ESV).  How absolutely true of my wonderful bride!

Thank you, Chrissy, for all you do.  I love you more than words can say.

Book Review – “Blotch” by Andy Addis

Blotch

Trying to determine the best way to explain the gospel to my children has been an ongoing question for me.  I want to be sure that they are accurately understanding what happened when Christ died on the cross for their sins, especially if it seems they are wanting to give their lives to Him.

That is why I was excited when I heard about Blotch: A Tale of Forgiveness and Grace by Andy Addis from B&H Publishing Group.

The book traces the story of Blotch, a boy who has spots on his skin, as does everyone around him.  The spots increase as people do more things they shouldn’t.  He goes on mini quest to try to determine how to get rid of the spots.  In the process,  he meets several different groups of people: the Hiders try to cover up their spots, the Pretenders act as if the spots do not exist, and the Pointers blame others for their spots.  Obviously, none of these groups help Blotch get rid of his spots.  Finally, he meets the King, who explains that he is able to take away the spots if only Blotch will acknowledge his wrong and believe that the King can help him.  He does, his spots appear on the King while disappearing from himself, and he goes on to tell others that their spots can be taken away if the go to the King in belief. As he is leaving, he looks back and the spots that were on the King are now gone as well.

I thought it was a great story, and a great way to present substitutionary atonement in a way young children can understand.

The back of the book has a recommended family discussion guide.  It recommends taking 5 days to read the book (one chapter a day).  Each day’s discussion includes an activity to make the meaning of the story stand out to children, as well as questions to discuss with them.  For example, the first day it has the family crumple paper into balls to throw at a basket, yelling “hit” or sadly saying “miss” depending on whether someone makes it or not.  This is then tied into the idea of sin meaning to “miss the mark” of God’s standards.  There is a section on “A Parent’s Guide for Leading a Child to Christ,” to walk them through the gospel and pray a sample prayer, if your child decides he or she is ready to turn to Jesus.  It also includes follow up items for after a child decides to repent and trust Jesus.

There are great illustrations by Tatio Viana throughout this 64-page hardcover book.

While I have not read the book yet with my children, I look forward to doing so.  If you are looking for a book to help explain the meaning forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice, I strongly suggest you consider Blotch.

*Note:  I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.  

Family Worship

family praying

One area I have really done a poor job on is being the spiritual leader of my family.  While I read the Bible and study a lot for my personal edification, I have never really done well at reading it with my family.  For a while, we used The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones, and I loved it, but it was very hit-or-miss.  I also have not done a good job at praying with my family.

This is something that has convicted me for quite some time.  I wanted to remedy it, but I was not sure how.

A week or so ago, Crossway Publishers posted a link to sign up to receive emails for a five-day mini-video series by Don Whitney on family worship.  I immediately signed up.  The videos are around 5 minutes long each, and provide a basic overview of family worship.  I would recommend others sign up for it if they are able. (I posted a hyperlink in the text above to make it easier for those interested.)

The three aspects of worship that Whitney encourages families to practice are Scripture reading, prayer, and singing.

So far, we have read the Bible and prayed together briefly every day for the past week and a half or so, with only one missed evening.  For us, this is a huge step!

I decided to read through the gospel of Mark with my wife and children.  So far, we have read through four chapters of the gospel in the ESV.  I try to stop and explain the Scriptures as we go.  This has also been eye opening as I realize how many things I either don’t know or never thought about in such a way as to be able to explain it to a 6-year-old and 4-year-old child.

I then ask everyone if there is anything they would like us to pray for, and we take a couple of minutes to pray together.

We have not yet tried singing together (more than one time with just my children and me, but that didn’t go so well).  I hope to try to add that soon.

I’m also working on memorizing a little with my children.  I am starting with the Lord’s prayer from Matthew 6.  That, too, has been more sporadic than the reading and praying, but I am taking baby steps.

Honestly, this still feels a bit unnatural and uncomfortable.  I hate that I have to type those words, but it’s true.  I believe that with time, it will be an expected and natural part of our family life.  I was encouraged the one night we missed the time of family worship when, as I was tucking my son into bed, he reminded me that we didn’t read the Bible.  I apologized to him and told him we would the next day.  The fact that he asked was exciting, as it showed that it is becoming routine to him.

My prayer is that my children will grow up knowing and believing God’s word.  That they will learn to pray from me, and will desire to talk to God on their own.  That they will feel comfortable asking me questions on the Scriptures, and that I will be able to help them wade through those questions in a way that is faithful to the Bible.  And that ultimately they will carry on this tradition with their own families in the future.

If you have not set up a time for family worship, I would strongly encourage you to do so.  We need Christ to be central in our home, and what better way to start than to set aside a time every day to learn about and talk to Him as a family?

If you already have a time of family worship, I would love for you to comment and let me know what you do.  Since we are just getting started on this endeavor, I am open to ideas and suggestions!

Blessings!

Book Review – “Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World” by Kristen Welch

Grateful Kids

It seems that a sense of entitlement is the natural state of affairs in our society.  I wish I could say that it was limited to children, but adults live with it, too.  Honestly, I struggle with it more than I would like to admit.  As a result of struggling with it myself, seeing it in some of the students I teach, and seeing it in my own children, when I had the opportunity to read and review Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World by Kristen Welch (published by Tyndale House Publishers), I jumped at the chance.  Boy, am I glad I did!

The book is about 240 pages, including notes.  There are three appendices: “Cell Phone Contract Between Parent and Child,” “Christian Parent Manifesto,” and “Recommended Resources.”  There is also a discussion guide before the notes.

Welch does a wonderful job of discussing the ways in which are children are entitled, and provides many helpful ideas of how to help our children become more grateful.  The book’s focus, however, is on what we, as parents, need to be doing ourselves to ensure that we are communicating a grateful attitude in our homes, as we cannot expect from our children what we are not living ourselves.

Chapter 1 deals with the subject of wants versus needs.

Chapter 2 tackles the idea of how times have changed and how it is necessary, as parents, to be sure that we are instilling a biblical worldview in our children that is counter to our society’s constant desire for more.

Chapter 3 talks about seven ways that we, as parents, have struggled in raising grateful children and provides instruction on how to do fix it. A few of the reasons we falter on the issue are “We Want Our Kids To Be Our Friends” (p. 51), “We Are Afraid To Say No Because of the Fallout” (p. 53), and “We Don’t Want Them To Feel Left Out” (p. 57).

Chapter 4 talks about how our homes often become child centered, and the ways that this negatively impacts our children.

Chapter 5 discusses ways parents need to take precautions and think through the issue of technology use with their children.

Chapter 6 talks about helping children learn obedience and to go against the flow of our culture in terms of expectations.

Chapter 7 talks about “Living Out God’s Love In Your Home” (p. 129).  This chapter was especially good, laying out ways to be sure that our homes are centered around Christ.  This is, in some ways, the key stone to everything else discussed in the book.  If Christ and His word are not central to our homes, then going against the flow in society as discussed in the other chapters simply doesn’t make sense.

Chapter 8 reminds us that we have to choose to be grateful.  The chapter briefly discusses the benefits of gratitude before giving some practical ways to cultivate gratitude in our lives and homes.

Chapter 9 puts the information from the other chapters into practical use, providing “Seven Steps to Raising Grateful Kids” (p. 176).  Some of the ideas are teaching children to value hard work, teaching them the value of money, and teaching responsibility and how to manage consequences.  All of the steps are much needed in our society.

Chapter 10 is titled “Dear Parents.”  Rather than being a traditional summary and wrap-up chapter, this chapter reminds parents that the things discussed in the book are difficult to follow through with and that they may cause difficulties in the home and in the children’s lives.  How could we expect less?  When we ask our children to go against everything the culture around them teaches, there will me misunderstandings, loneliness, and push back.  But, as the author points out, that is what we should expect as followers of Christ.  I like the fact that the author doesn’t sugar coat this; instead, she calls it like it is and helps parents figure out how to prepare children for it and deal with the issues as they come up.

Each chapter ends with a section of helpful tips called “Going Against the Flow.”  There are always a few notes directed directly to parents, followed by some ideas for putting the ideas from the chapter into practice with toddlers/preschoolers, elementary students, and tweens/teens.  It is very helpful to get some practical insight on how to apply what you are learning as you read.

I would highly recommend this book to all parents.  My only regret is not having this book earlier, perhaps even before we had children in the first place.  Already I have shared portions of the book with my wife, and she plans on reading it herself.  We may even read it together.  This is definitely one book I plan on keeping and passing down to my kids to read as they get older.

If at all possible, buy this book and read it prayerfully.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.