Our Children Need More than a Mirror

more-than-a-mirror

Have you ever looked in the mirror an hour or two after dinner only to discover that a portion of your meal is still stuck in your teeth? You probably took care of the problem as quickly as possible (while reviewing in your mind how many people you had smiled at since you ate). You rinsed your mouth. You brushed your teeth.

The mirror helped you see what was wrong so you could do something about it.

God has given us a mirror to help us see what’s wrong with us, and that mirror is His Word, the Bible.

In it we read words like, “Love your enemies”, “In everything give thanks”, “Rejoice always”, “Lie not one to another”, and “Never take your own revenge”. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we read those words and realize that there is something very wrong with us. We don’t measure up to God’s holy standard.

When we look at ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word it’s not as tidy as discovering a piece of lettuce in our teeth. It’s more like going into the bathroom, flashing a smile at ourselves, and finding out a front tooth has a big chip broken off of it.

The mirror has helped us see the problem, but we can’t fix it on our own. If our tooth is chipped, we need outside help. We need a dentist.

When we go to the mirror of God’s Word, we see what is wrong with us. But we also find out that we can’t fix it ourselves. In fact, without God’s renewing power, we’re dead, and if we’re dead, we definitely aren’t going to be able to fix what’s wrong with us.

We need Jesus. We need the cross.

Read what He has done for us!

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14 ESV).

Are you remembering this Good News when you discipline and correct your children?

It’s true that we need to help them get a good look at themselves in the mirror of God’s Word.

  • When they lie, we should show them verses like Colossians 3:9 and Exodus 20:16.
  • We should help them understand how they have fallen short of God’s holy standard.
  •  We should show them from God’s Word how He wants them to live and think and speak.
  • We should help them learn to acknowledge and repent of their sin.

But then what do we do?

Do we leave them with the impression that they just need to  try harder? Or do we take them to Jesus, the only One who has obeyed God’s law perfectly?

If we don’t soak our correction and discipline in the good news of the gospel, we can unwittingly lead our children to believe they can or should be able to obey God in their own strength.

We may point to a verse and say, “Here, this is what God says about what you’re doing.” We may point to others and say, “This is what He wants you to do instead.”

But if we stop there, in essence we’re saying, “So go do it.”

And they can’t do it — not in their own strength.

As we point our children to God’s standard, we need to look them in the eye and say, “You can’t do this by yourself. You’re never going to meet God’s standard in your own strength. He requires perfection. What are you going to do about it?”

Then we can point them to the finished work of Christ on the cross.

As He died, Jesus cried out, “It is finished.”

And it was.

Our salvation was won. In Christ, our sins were forgiven. In Christ, our debt was canceled. It was nailed to the cross.  

And that frees us. We don’t have anything left to prove. We can quit trying to save ourselves. We can look in the mirror and admit our sin, and we can repent, because we can trust God. We are secure in His love — a love that He proved at the cross.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5, ESV).

In Christ, we are made alive.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”. (Gal. 2:20, ESV)

We live this life by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us — not by faith in ourselves. We need to remind our children — and ourselves — of this over and over and over again.

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV).

 

 

(CC image courtesy of timlewisnm on Flickr.) 

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An Eye-opening Experience

Post by Daniel Forster

mama

Sometimes I take care of the kids for a few hours while my wife goes out. Other times, when she’s sick, I step in to help do some of her work and keep the household running. That’s what I’ve been doing the past few days.

How she ever has dinner ready AND the house clean when I come home at night, I don’t know. It never happens when I’m in charge. On my watch, dinner is late (or messed up), books, toys, and couch cushions are strewn from one end of the house to the other, and oh yeah—I forgot to move the laundry again. It’s too many plates for me to spin at once!

This never fails to be an eye-opening experience for me. How easily I forget the dedication, skill, and hard work it takes to care for a house full of little people.

Just for fun today, we’re going to give away a “busy mama” book package including all our Busy Mamas Bible studies, Shopping for Time, and Loving the Little Years ($55 value).

mamas-books

To enter the giveaway, just comment on this post with your answer to the question below.

What’s one way your husband helps lighten your homemaking load or support you as a mom?

I’m looking forward to learning :-)

(One entry per person. Ends at midnight PST on Friday, 1/23. One random winner will be drawn and notified on Monday 1/26. Ships free to US addresses only.)
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Why One Mother Is Glad Her Children Don’t Obey

WhyI'mGladLink012015I’m heading to Florida this weekend for a one-day conference. I fly all day Friday, talk on Saturday, and get back on a plane at 6 a.m. (which will feel like 3 a.m. to me) on Sunday morning to fly back home. :-P

So I’m trying to shift my body from Pacific Time to Eastern Time now, since I won’t have much time to turn my internal clock around while I’m there. This morning, while I worked on keeping my eyes open at 4 a.m., my attention was drawn to these words as I took a quick glance at Facebook — “Why I’m Glad My Children Don’t Obey”. That woke me up a bit more, and it certainly aroused my interest!

It was a great article! I want to share it with you here, because I know it will be an encouragement to you as you face the daily challenges of raising your children! Read, enjoy, and learn from this wise mother’s insights!

“Why I’m Glad My Kids Don’t Obey”

 

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How I Survived Motherhood

How I Survived Motherhood

I remember some pretty exhausted seasons of parenting.

It used to feel like my children were taking shifts. One would challenge us in a particular way, and then, about the time it felt like we were figuring out what to do with that situation, the next child would punch in with a completely different problem.

Sometimes their “shifts” were each only a few minutes long and the problems were resolved fairly quickly. Other times a bigger, more perplexing issue would continue for several weeks or even months, looming over us while the little challenges still continued to arise on a daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment basis.

On top of those child-related challenges, I was getting acquainted and reacquainted over and over with the different versions of me that came with pregnancy, postpartum, and in-between-pregnancies hormones. You probably know what I’m talking about.

I can remember hiding in the bathroom, tears flowing, begging God for wisdom – and for the strength and patience and courage to open the door and go back out to face my precious children again.

I loved them.

But I felt so inadequate and unqualified for the job God had given me. And just plain exhausted.

I look back now and can see that God used those days of helplessness to change me – and to prepare me for the future challenges He had (and still has) in store for me.

Over time, as I struggled with the demands of motherhood, I became much more aware of my sin and my utter dependence on God. It’s no coincidence that, at the same time, I became much more aware of and grateful for the inexplicable grace of God. He was there – all-powerful, all-wise, always-faithful, and ever-loving – whenever I was humble enough to turn to Him.

It took awhile for God to get through to me, in my “I-grew-up-in-a-Christian-home-I-should-be-able-to-handle-this” arrogance. But as I think back over those oh-so-challenging first years of motherhood, I can see at least three gifts from God that contributed to my survival.

1. Prayer

  • I became desperate enough to finally look to God for answers. It’s true, when James says,“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Over and over, God gave wisdom when I asked for it.
  • I started asking Him to change my heart as I confessed sinful attitudes and actions.
  • I asked Him to change the hearts of our children instead of trying to do it myself. God is the one doing the work in their lives.

2. Brothers and sisters in Christ

  • They gave us counsel. Some of our toughest parenting years were during a period of time when we were in between churches, without the support and encouragement of our fellow believers. Then God graciously planted us into a body of believers who had a powerful influence on our children’s lives.
  • They prayed for us. “The effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16b). 
  • They helped in practical, loving ways when I was too tired to do it alone. It’s amazing what the body of Christ can do.

3. God’s Word.

  • God used our challenges to drive me back into His Word, after becoming distracted and “too busy” during our family’s early years. As I read, God changed me.
  • God’s Word became the standard of right and wrong that we could point to every time we disciplined the children. As we read, they changed, too. As they left home, they took that standard along with them.

God graciously walked with me through those challenging years of motherhood — encouraging me to come boldly before the throne of grace to find help in time of need, loving me through the loving deeds and words of His children, and speaking to me through His Word.

I give thanks, knowing that He will continue to display His perfect grace through my weakness, and that He will continue to walk with me in this new and sometimes-quieter season of motherhood, still blessing me with the privilege of prayer, fellowship and His Word.

 

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My Priorities for the Preschool Years

My Priorities for the Preschool Years

As a dad of four children ages 1 to 5, sometimes I’m tempted to think these early years are unimportant. But I know that’s not true; the way we treat a child from age one to five will have a huge influence on how the rest of his childhood and his life will turn out. These early years of life are likely the most critical and formative ones.

Here are five priorities my wife and I are focusing on during our children’s’ preschool years:

1. Teach them to obey

The clearest instructions to children in the Bible involve obeying and honoring their parents. Some call this repressive parenting, but teaching our children to obey will bring them many blessings. Besides promoting their safety (by preventing actions like touching a hot burner or running in the street), learning to obey at an early age gives our children the ability to make their own choices as they mature. As Andrew Murray says, “Train a child to master his will in giving it up to his parents’ command, and he acquires the mastery to use it when he is free.”

We can make it easier for our children to obey us by earning their trust, making sure they know we have their best interests at heart.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” (Eph. 6:1)

2. Teach them to be peacemakers

Our young ones must learn to temper their own desires and consider the needs of others. This is not an easy one! Every day in a house with littles provides opportunities to teach peacemaking.

We can teach them biblical methods for responding to offenses, such as “talk to the person who wronged you first, before you come to me” and “if he hits you, it still isn’t right for you to hit him back.” I have to keep reminding myself that they don’t just know these things; we need to model the right responses and walk them through what they should do, and they may need to hear it fifty times before it sticks. Often we will stop and re-play the situation that just happened, coaching them through the right words and actions. Eventually, they will be able to work through most problems without needing our help.

We can also set a good example by apologizing to our children when we make mistakes or wrong them in some way. Our failures can actually become prime teaching opportunities.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (Matt. 18:15a)

3. Teach them to concentrate on a task

Before they can become diligent students and helpful members of our household (or responsible adults, for that matter), our children need to develop enough self-control to concentrate on an activity or job and see it through to completion.

Our young children are often interested in “helping” with whatever we are doing, whether it’s washing dishes, changing the car oil, shopping for groceries, or typing on the computer. It isn’t always convenient, but we try to include them when we can. I hope that the helpful spirit will grow if we encourage it.

We’ve also started assigning each child simple chores after breakfast, like making their beds, helping clear the table, or sweeping the floor. This requires some coaching from us, but they are getting better already. This ability to focus on a task and get it done will be essential as they get older and we begin homeschooling.

“The hand of the diligent will rule” (Prov. 12:24a)

4. Impart a love of learning through stories

“Tell me a story, Daddy!” is something I hear a lot these days. A little tot scoots across the floor, eagerly pushing a board book in my direction. I don’t want to dampen their enthusiasm, so I’ve had to brush up on my storytelling skills and repertoire. (Our bookshelves are overflowing with storybooks too!)

Learning should be fun, and stories make it so. As a long-time reader of almost exclusively non-fiction and how-to books, I have to thank my wife Katelyn, and N.D. Wilson for opening my eyes to the power of stories. As it turns out, we enjoy and remember stories much better than the facts we learn from a textbook.

If reading and discussing stories can make learning not a chore, but a fun, natural part of our family life, then homeschooling will be that much easier when the time comes.

In addition, God has revealed Himself and much of His Word through the stories given to us in the Bible. The preschool years are the prime time to surround our children with the best stories ever written – stories that will form the foundation of their faith and their relationship with Jesus as they grow.

“We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.” (Ps. 78:4)

5. Build a close relationship with each child

My parents used to hear it all the time: “Just wait until they’re teenagers.” But the predictions of doom never materialized. They were purposeful about building relationships with each of us six children, and they say it just got better as we grew older. I’m sure it still wasn’t easy, but we all had strong relationships with our parents through the teenage years, and we still do today.

I also want close relationships with each of my children, and now is the time to start building them. This means learning what communicates love to my children and making time for it. They like early morning snuggles, making forts, and watching movies together. They love to ride on my back or talk with me when they’re going to bed. Sometimes we go out for a quick dessert date or shopping trip. The girls love doing craft projects and showing us their dress-up outfits. The boys love playing with toys on the floor or helping push the lawnmower around the yard. Building relationships with little people is pretty simple – which is why it’s important right now!

I think of my Grandpa, whose simple love for Jesus and for his family has had a tremendous impact on our family and on me. His love helped us believe in God’s love. If I only succeed at one thing as a parent, I want my children to know they are loved, both by me, and by their heavenly Father.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (Jn. 15:12)

God has given us these little followers, so young, trusting, and impressionable. He’s entrusted us with a great responsibility. May God give us wisdom and strength to love and train them for His glory!

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They Say I’m Old . . .

Birthday2My granddaughters say I’m oldAfter all, I do have gray hair, and I did turn sixty-two on Tuesday.

That might sound old, but I don’t think I’m old — definitely not as old as I thought a sixty-two-year-old would feel when I was in my twenties and thirties . . and forties. . . and fifties.

But I am old enough to agree with David when he says, in Psalm 37, I have been young, and now am old ; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.”

God is faithful. He doesn’t forsake His children.

That means any energy I’ve invested in worrying during the past sixty-two years has been a complete waste of time — and an insult to God’s great love and grace.

By His grace, I am in Christ. He is not going to forsake His Son, so He’s not going to forsake me.

He will always be there, ready to give more grace, more strength, more wisdom, more forgiveness, right at the time they are needed — just as He has been for the first 22,647 days of my life.

Father, help me to remember this. Help me to truly trust You, resting secure in Your love and faithfulness, drinking deeply from the well of Your grace.

 

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How to Be a Wise Steward of the Next Year of Your Life

How to be a wise steward of the next year of your life

I’ll admit right now that I’m a goal-setting junkie. This time of year is always exciting and full of new possibilities!

Setting goals has always been an important part of my life. Growing up, I enjoyed reviewing the past year and setting new goals with my parents during our Christmas break each year. Now my wife and I have our own goal-setting tradition, and I can hardly wait for this week’s coffee-shop-planning-date where we’ll discuss new goals for ourselves and our family in 2015.

Wise people keep saying that life just gets faster and crazier. My oldest is just five, but I know they are right when they tell me “You watch out; you’ll blink and they’ll be all grown up on you!”

Life moves fast, and we’ll all be looking back on 2015 in no time. What do you want to see when you look back a year from now?

This week is a prime time to consider this question. Get some time alone if you can, and think about what is truly important to you in the coming year. To help you set meaningful goals, here are six simple questions that can help you set better goals and grow in faithfulness this year.

(You may also use this free printable planning sheet to write down your own goals as you consider your answers to these questions.)

1. How intentionally do I want to spend this year of my life?

Without deliberate planning, most of us could survive alright, just taking life as it comes. But it’s too easy for the ever-present “urgent” things to crowd out our real priorities when we live this way. As my pastor so aptly put it, “Do you want to keep playing whack-a-mole with your life?”

Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, but in the big scheme of things, our lives make a greater difference and God gets more glory when we’re intentional about how we spend our limited time on this earth. Don’t feel bad about taking time to plan; it’s time well-spent.

2. What responsibilities has God given me?

It’s not hard to think up a few of my own goals or wishes for the new year. Knowing what I want for myself comes pretty easily. But our goal setting changes when we approach it from outside of ourselves. Rather than asking “what do I want out of this year?” I should ask “what does God expect of me this year?”

What commitments have we made to others? What life roles have we assumed that need to be fulfilled in a godly manner? As children of God, as husbands and wives, and as parents, we have certain obligations that should shape our dreams and desires for 2015. Every relationship we’re in carries some kind of responsibility, and those responsibilities are a great place to start when we consider our goals.

Example: My goals are organized according to my areas of responsibility, starting with “Personal/Spiritual” and including “Marriage”, “Children”, “Church” and more. (You can list each of your own responsibilities on this planning sheet.)

3. What does faithfulness look like in each of these areas?

Once we’ve identified our important relationships and commitments, we need a clear picture of what faithfulness looks like in each of these areas. What, specifically, do we owe to God, to our spouses, to our children, and to others around us? Stop and imagine (or better yet, write down) what it would look like to have a closer relationship with God this year. What would it mean to be a more godly husband or wife? What would it look like for us to take our responsibilities as parents more seriously?

If the picture is not clear in your mind, ask God for guidance. Perhaps this will provide direction for your next Bible study :-)

Example: While helping create two new studies on godly love this year, I’ve become aware of how much room I have to grow in my love for others. My desire for the “Personal/Spiritual” dimension is to be continually growing in godly maturity, and this year, I specifically want to become more of a loving person. This theme carries into my goals for my marriage and my children as well.

4. What specific goals can I set for each of my areas of responsibility in 2015?

With a picture of faithful living fresh in our minds, now we can set goals that will bring us closer to those ideals. How would you like to see yourself grow in the next 365 days? Do you see sin in your life that God is calling you to overcome? What can you do in 2015 that your spouse, your children, or your friends will appreciate? What do these people need from you? What specific changes or accomplishments would you like to look back on one year from now?

Example: My specific goal in the “Personal/Spiritual” category is to spend time reading and studying the Bible and praying each day, which will provide the grounding and direction for pursuing most of my other goals. This will include finishing the Thirty Days in 1 Corinthians 13 Bible study with my wife and gaining a better perspective on godly love.

5. What will it take to reach those goals over the course of this year?

Specific goals are good, but often it takes one more step to get the ball rolling. If I leave my goal at “Read the Bible and pray each day,” the chances of realizing this goal are pretty slim. We need to get down to the tactical level and devise a sufficiently detailed plan for achieving each goal. Ask yourself “What will it take for me to accomplish this goal this year?”

Examples: I have a goal of reading the Bible and praying each day. Unfortunately that won’t happen unless I specify when and where that will happen. So, I’m scheduling 30 minutes in my office in the morning when I won’t be interrupted, and I’m laying out my Bible and study materials on a desk for that purpose. On weekends, I will plan for a shorter study time in the evening after our children are in bed.

6. WHY will I pursue these goals in 2015?

This is the important question that is easy to miss. As Michael Hyatt helpfully points out, people often fail at goals and resolutions because they aren’t connected to the WHY behind their goals. Personally, I find it exciting (and fairly easy) to make plans and goals, but it’s much harder to actually do them. I’m learning that I need to be more aware of what actually motivates me as I set goals. Knowing what’s at stake helps us stay committed and see our goals through to completion.

Furthermore, if we’re pursuing big goals and accomplishments to feed our own pride or build a sense of control, then it’s all a waste of time. Our motivation needs to be God-centered, not self-centered.

God calls us to deliberately pursue wise goals as His servants. Let’s plan now to be faithful stewards of the relationships, time, resources, and gifts He has given each of us this year.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12:1 ESV)

 

(If you don’t have your own system for setting goals, you are welcome to print and use this PDF for your goal setting. Consider spending some goal-setting time with each of your children as well, if they are old enough.)

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O Come!

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Yea, Lord, we greet thee,

born this happy morning,

Jesus, to thee be all glory given;

Word of the Father,

now in flesh appearing;

O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

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All Things

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“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32, ESV)

It’s easy to take it for granted — God becoming man. We know the story. It’s what we celebrate every Christmas.

But how much thought do we really give to this miracle? Jesus, God’s Son, willingly came to earth. He grew for nine months in the darkness of a womb. He was born in a barn. He was raised by imperfect parents. He lived among us for thirty years before He even started His earthly ministry.

He came because it was part of the Father’s plan. God sent Him into His creation in order to show His love and to save us from the punishment our sins deserve.

If God loves us this much, is He really going to withhold any other good thing from us?

We can trust Him. He’s always giving, even in the midst of trials.

He will give us strength when we think we can’t keep going.

He will give us joy when we have good reason to despair.

He will give us wisdom when we realize how helpless we are.

He will give us His love when we have no more love to share.

He will give us all things because He has already given us His best — His Son.

Let’s celebrate.

 

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A Christmas Scavenger Hunt

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Here’s fairly simple, no-prep activity to help your children learn about or review the Bible’s account of Jesus’s birth.

In a translation your children can understand, read Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 2:1-20; and Matthew 2:1-15. If your children are very young, you might choose to read a storybook about the birth of Jesus instead of .

Then have a little Christmas scavenger hunt. You can do this all together as a group, or you can divide the children into two teams. You could also let each child individually hunt for items and see who can find them all the fastest.

Have the children look for items that relate to each of the following people and places in the Christmas story:

  • Angels
  • Mary
  • Joseph
  • Inns in Bethlehem
  • Stable
  • Shepherds
  • Wise men

There’s room for creativity with this game. They can bring you anything that relates to each part of the story. It might be an angel from one of your nativity sets, a stuffed animal lamb, some straw, a plastic donkey, or some rags to wrap around baby Jesus.

If your children can read, give them a written list of the items they need to find. Then let them see how fast they find them all.

If your children can’t read, simply tell them the first item to look for. When they bring that one to you, tell them what the next item is.

When they have found everything on the list, have them retell the Christmas story to you, using the things they have gathered as props.

If you want, finish up the hunt with some cookies and milk, a good Christmas video, or some read-aloud time together.

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