Category: For Families

When Your Child Asks Hard Questions about the Bible

Just the other day, the kids and I were eating dinner when the topic of the destination of the unevangelized came up. Of course, it didn’t come up in those words, but more like, “Mom, what happens to people who haven’t heard of God or Jesus before missionaries come to tell them God’s good news?”

If this topic hasn’t come up around your dinner table or while snuggled close to your kids at bedtime, then another one has. What happens to the baby that was miscarried? Why did the earthquake happen and kill so many people? Why does God allow people to do bad things to people because of the color of their skin? What will heaven be like?

As parents, we expect these questions to come, yet often feel the sense of surprise when they do. We have some general idea of how we answer the questions for ourselves, but when talking to our child about it, the ideas sometimes seem foggy, or the explanations “not enough”. We long for our child to have assurance of God’s great love for them, and also know that cutting off those questions, and that precious dialogue, may eventually be hurtful to their faith journey.

All that to be said, parenting is hard. Wading through tough questions about faith is hard. We need wise resources from people who have walked through it before us.

bible story handbook

One book that I’m reading through right now is called The Bible Story Handbook, written by Dr. John and Kim Walton. Married for many years and having raised three children themselves, John and Kim offer a theological sound, critical way at looking at the Scriptures that will allow us to teach our kids the intended messages of the Scriptures.

It’s tempting to read a passage of Scripture and then immediately figure out a way to connect it to our life. I mean, isn’t that what the Bible is for?

Well… maybe not exactly.

If a preacher or teacher is going to do a “leadership study”, you can pretty much guess what book of the Bible she or he is going to use… Nehemiah. But, the Waltons argue, leadership is not what Scripture is teaching in this passage. It’s not what the text is intending to teach, and “only the things that Scripture intends to teach carry the authority of the text.”

So, then, when we teach about Noah and the ark with all of the animals, what is the intended message of the Scriptures in that story? What do we teach our children about the story of Abraham? of David’s life? the creation of the world?

We are definitely good intentioned; at least I am. I want my children to find themselves in the Scriptures- to connect to them, to feel like the Bible is “applicable to their lives”. But all too often we pop the Scriptures of of their redemptive historical context only to make it into a nice packaged story with a good takeaway for our kids. The should be honest, obey, feed the poor,  be humble– things like that.

So if we’re not to just dive into the Scriptures to figure out how we should live, what should we do with them? The Waltons recommend first and foremost being careful to ask ourselves- what is the intended message of this passage of Scripture? What was the author trying to convey? Most of the time, it’s teaching about WHO GOD IS, not what we should do. They go on to say, “We want our students to be conformed to the image of Christ and their behavior to have been embraced as a way to imitate God. We accomplish this by helping them know God better, not by telling them that they should obey because Abraham obeyed.”

So, after this and much more (the introduction in itself is worth getting the book; I feel like I’m not really doing it justice), the Waltons go through the entire Bible and lay out lesson guidelines for parents or teachers to use when teaching on the various passages of Scriptures. They include:

  • a lesson focus
  • a lesson application
  • a short paragraph on the biblical context
  • interpretational issues in the story (this part is EXCELLENT. It will help with some of those tough questions that will come up if a child is thinking closely about the text)
  • Background information: Information about different parts of the story or words/images used that will help in gaining a fuller understanding of the message of the author
  • Mistakes to Avoid: a list of ways in which the passage of scripture is perhaps inaccurately taught to kids.

Another interesting thing that Waltons bring up is that it’s better to not teach your child a passage of Scripture than teach them the wrong thing about it. For example, one day their son came home from church and talked about how he learned about Cain and Abel in his class. Interested, they asked a few questions and learned that the lesson learned that day was “God created our bodies”. And while no one is going to argue that that is not a true statement, it’s not at all what the story of Cain and Abel teaches (acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices, murder of a brother, etc.). Most likely the teachers didn’t know how to teach this difficult passage to preschool children, so just tried to grasp at straws. There are passages of Scriptures that are inappropriate for young children to read. Skip them. Come back to them when they are older and you can teach them about it in an honest way.

Not only is this book helpful when teaching children, but it’s helpful to us as adults too. If we’ve grown up in the Church World, it can be hard to tease out the difference between what the Scripture says and what we may have been inaccurately taught about it.

Of course, as with any book, you read it and test it, but so far it appears to be an excellent resource. I HIGHLY recommend it to all parents!

 

Thanks to Crossway for a review ecopy of this book!!

The Ideal Sunday Morning Experience for my Children

Moving comes with a set of new challenges. Finding new friends, figuring out where to grocery shop (it took me 2 whole months to realize that the giant store down the street from us is a GROCERY STORE), discovering the best library (it’s honestly one of the first things we do when moving to a new city), and … finding a church community to become a part of.

Insert spreadsheets, questions, frustrations, rants, tears, pro/con sheets, and lots and lots of prayer here. 

While lots of things go into finding a church community to be a part of, what our kids think is a huge factor in deciding what church community to join. It’s certainly not the final say for us, but their voice absolutely matters in this decision. I want them to LOVE going to the church gathering on Sunday mornings. I want them to associate the church gathering with warmth, love, and fun as they are engaging with the Scriptures in developmentally-appropriate ways.

IMG_6271

This month the Mom Mentors at Graham Blanchard are sharing our ideal Sunday morning experiences for our kids. The one I shared combines the best of the best of all the church experiences we’ve had:

What an interesting question! I think it would be a combination of all of “the best” parts of various church experiences we’ve been a part of:

Relationships: It’s super important to me that my children know the people who are teaching them on Sunday mornings. It’s powerful to have other men and women integrated into the life of a child—these adults don’t just teach them for one or two hours on a Sunday morning, but these are men and women who show up around their dinner table or in their yard to play a family game of flag football.

Developmentally-appropriate experience: I want the Sunday church experience to be a really fun time of learning about the Bible with other kids their age in ways that make sense to them. I want my kids to LOVE gathering with the church, and I want it to be nurturing to their soul.

Community-based: Ideally the church building would be in our neighborhood, and the other kids in my children’s classes would be kids they go to school with. I would love for my kids’ spiritual formation to be so integrated that “church” isn’t something totally removed from their everyday life.

To see what other moms shared, head on over to the blog!

Review: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

This year for Advent our little team is using Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift family devotional. What’s different about this devotional than other traditional Advent resources is that it widens its focus to include the whole story of Scripture instead of only the Christmas story. I’m pretty excited with this alternative because it goes along nicely with Jake and I’s attempt this year at helping the kids learn the big story of Scripture.

61FMe05U7ZL._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_

Part of the using the book involves making a Jesse Tree. Ann says that, “to make a Jesse Tree is to trace the family line and heritage of your own forever family- the family of God.” So each day we’ll use this book to:

  1. Read a portion of Scripture.
  2. Read a family friendly devotional written by Ann. The devotionals are 2-3 pages long and are really well written. If you need something to compare it with, I would say that they have the same feel as the Jesus Storybook Bible.
  3. Talk about the story (she gives a couple questions).
  4. Do an activity. She gives a couple options, so we’ll do what we want and skip what we don’t. Some activities require some preparation, but many do not. For example, one of the days she says to “Turn off all the lights in the room except the Christmas lights. notice how the darkness makes the light seem even brighter. Thank God for being your light, even in the dark times” (76).
  5. Finally, we’ll hang up a paper ornament onto our Jesse (Christmas) tree that goes along with the Scripture that we read. The paper ornaments are free (downloadable from her website with a code in the book), but there are also real ones that can be bought from incourage.me. While I’m not a huge fan of the style of the ornaments, they’ll have to do for this year. I’m throwing around the idea of having the kids draw their own ornaments some of the days.

PicMonkey Collage

The pages of this book are beautifully illustrated, and the writing is powerful. Ann does a wonderful job at pointing us towards Jesus and the good news of the gospel that so many of us need to hear again and again and again.

As for the age range of readers, I’m guessing that my almost 4 year old will possibly lose interest at some parts, just because of her age and attention-span, but I think that my elementary schoolers will be very interested.

Does your family celebrate Advent? If so, what do you do? 

Thanks to Tyndale books for providing this complementary copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Review: Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children

Discipling our kids is easy, in a way. Discipleship happens all day, everyday. Our mini-mes are watching us and picking up on what things are important and valuable to us, as well as discerning what being a follower of Jesus looks like. It’s happening whether we’re trying or not.

Discipling our kids is also really hard. Because we mess up. Or have habitual sins that we can’t shake but are so glaringly ugly. Often we want better for our kids than we do for ourselves. And we are keenly aware that at times, our behaviors, attitudes, words, etc. are certainly not ones that we wish for our children. Do as I say, not as I do.

WIPFSTOCK_Template

Because discipleship is easy and because it is also hard, I am on a constant lookout for resources that will help me be more intentional with them. One such resource I’ve had the pleasure of reading is Exploring and Engaging Spirituality for Today’s Children: A Holistic Approach. This great collection of articles is written by a variety of authors and it is a truly thoughtful, interesting work! The scholars and practiioners who wrote the articles were also presenters at the Children’s Spirituality Conference in 2012 at Concordia University in Chicago.

The book is divided up into 4 sections. The first part explores the historical and theological foundation of ministering to children. The topics have a broad range, but they all fall into the scope of how children’s spirituality and ministry in the church sits in history or in Scripture. One of my favorite articles from this section is an article, “Beyond Sunday School: How Child-Centered Studies of Religion are Transforming Our Understandings of Children and Their Traditions.” In it, author Susan B. Ridgely observes: …”virtually all churches discuss children as ‘the next generation’ of believers. Thus congregations position young people as future, rather than current, practitioners of their traditions even as they actively engage in Sunday school and services, even if it is just to protest their forced presence in these places” (p. 68). Isn’t that the truth? How can we as parents and we as the bigger church view kids and treat kids as young people who are seeking God and an active part of the current church?

In the second section, scholars discuss how churches can equip parents and their congregations to participate in the active discipleship of the children in the church. I learned something from each article in this section, and it took me forever to get through them all because I felt like I had to stop after each article to think on the information and suggestions they shared. From introducing the church calendar into family life to helping kids learn Scripture in a deep way to helping children recognize the experience of God in their daily lives, these articles are filled with important information for parents and churches. How can the church equip parents to disciple their children at all ages and stages? Research has found that most parents know it’s important but don’t know what to do or just don’t do anything. These scholars want to help churches fill that gap.

The third section explores various methods of ministering to children. They write on a variety of subjects: the importance of physical movement in the spiritual development of a child, learning how kids learn and how that affects their spiritual development, even adapting some of the Ignatian spiritual exercises to kids.

The final section zooms in on ministering to justice issues surrounding children and what that means for the church- at-risk youth, child pornography, social justice, sex education, and intercultural contexts. My favorite article in this section was the one on how our culture affects how we help form children spiritually. Do we have them memorize prayers or pray spontaneously? Do they participate in the corporate worship service or are they taught in a different room? What expectations do we bring to the table in a church and how might other families from different cultures expect different things? Sadly I guess most churches in America don’t have this problem because they tend to be monocultural. BUT, when we do (I have hope!) what are some conversations that we’ll need to have?

And last, but not least, I’ve discovered no less than 30 more books that I’d like to read sometime (one of my favorite things about reading scholarly articles- the references at the end of them)! This books makes me wish I would have taken more spiritual development of the family classes as Asbury… :).

 

Thanks to the publisher, Wipf and Stock for providing a complimentary copy in exchange for an honest review. 

 

 

Review: Your Core + Book Giveaway!

YourCoreCoverClearConers-300x300

Graham Blanchard Publishers just released an important new books called Your Core. In it, kids learn that PEOPLE have cores, just like apples, balls, and the earth, and that these cores all have a purpose. It is in our core (or soul) that God resides. The soul is a super tricky thing to explain to kids, and I think that this book offers a really simple illustration that will help kids to begin to form an understanding of their “inside life.” It ends with Ephesians 3:16-17:

“I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

The illustrations are super sweet and include diverse characters which I really value in a kid picture book. As always, this book gets a strong recommendation from me!

Learn more about Graham Blanchard at www.grahamblanchard.com.

AND, because I just love these books, I’m giving away a couple on the blog today!

Mud Puddle Hunting Day and Close as a Breath

Enter to win by just leaving a comment below :).

Edit: Congrats to Tracy as the winner of this book set! 

Review: The sticky faith guide for your family

When we find out that we’re pregnant, or we apply to adopt, many of us begin reading. Whether it’s What to Expect When You’re Expecting or The Whole Life Adoption Book, we start reaching out for any information that is going to help make this life transition a bit easier. We are eager to plan our baby or child’s room, decide who is going to take care of them after they are born and maternity leave comes to an end, and we even have some ideas about activities we can do to help them successfully meet the important developmental milestones.

But what do we do to prepare ourselves for our child’s spiritual health? Sadly, there aren’t as many books about that. Many of our churches are helpful in that they provide a good curriculum for kids to do on Sundays, but what about the rest of the 166.5 hours in the week?

Most of us care deeply about our spiritual development as well as that of our children. We pray for them, we fill their bookshelves and nightstands with Bibles and books that point them towards God. We probably pray at meals and bedtime, and maybe before we send them off to school (or start the school day at home). We talk about the moral compass, and encourage them to “be good”.

While all of this is good, there’s a lot more to their spiritual life than that. While God is absolutely the one who makes the garden of their hearts grow, He certainly uses family to plant seeds, provide some water, and weed :).

_240_360_Book.1293.cover

The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family: Over 100 Practical and Tested Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Kids gets that, which is why Dr. Kara Powell wrote this book. She and a team of researchers and practitioners at the Fuller Youth Institute have been researching families and the spiritual development of kids (from birth on through college) for many years now. While their first book, Sticky Faith, shares a lot of what they found in their research, this Sticky Faith Guide for Family gives some more practical tools for helping families evaluate where they are at, what their next step is, and lots of ways of how to get there. They get that families are very different, and that sometimes no matter how hard we try, our kids are going to make the ultimate decision about their spiritual  journey. I know that for me, even though this is true, I’m going to do everything that I can to help create an environment that is nurturing of their spiritual development. I definitely don’t want to look back and realize that I could have done so much more.

In this book, Powell talks about very common issues- mistakes/forgiveness, creating close family relationships, connecting with teenagers, building a Christ-centered community that our kids are a part of, communication, serving others, transitions, etc. While this book is probably geared best towards families with elementary-high school kids, I can’t really think of a reason why parents of younger kids wouldn’t want to start thinking about this. The reality is, faith formation starts at birth, and many of these thoughts could ideally be started in the toddler and preschool years.

I’m a huge fan of the Fuller Youth Institute. They have done some really careful research that doesn’t care about making news with numbers as much as they do with presenting the problem as clearly as they can, and then offering suggestions (not solutions) that are helpful and that have helped families and children who have come before us in this parenting journey.

While I typically say that books shouldn’t be bought, but instead should be borrowed, this is one that is a good one for the bookshelf. Libraries don’t like their books to be underlined, highlighted, and dog-eared :).

Thanks so much to Booklook Bloggers for providing the excellent book in exchange for an honest review. 

Please note that some links are affiliate links.

How Can We Help Make the Scripture Come Alive to our Kids?

Over on the Graham Blanchard Mentor Mom’s page, we’re talking about how we help make the Scriptures come alive to our kids. Here’s my contribution:

One of the great things about kids is that they love stories…and they like to read the same stories again and again… and again. There are a lot of Bibles for kids out on the market, and not all are created equally in the storytelling department. We’ve found a few staples that are beautifully written for the various ages and stages of our children. Choosing the right kid Bible is a huge part of making the Scriptures come alive to our kids.

If we need a little extra something, we like to act out the story we are reading, adding our own props, voices, and details. We talk about what we think the weather was like during the story, the everyday lives of the characters, what it smelled like, etc. Days after we act out the story, I sometimes find the kids using parts of the story in their everyday play. It’s then that I know they are trying to make sense of what we’re reading and learning in the Scriptures.

There are a ton more ideas… so head on over to check it out!

Book Review: Faith Forward

9781770645745 Faith Forward: A Dialogue on Children, Youth, and A New Kind of Christianity is a compilation of 21 articles written by some of the presenters at the 2012 Children, Youth, and a New Kind of Christianity conference (CYNKC). The purpose of the conference was to “help practitioners, parents, professors, and all sorts of other folks spend time together in conversation and contemplation about nurturing faith in young people; faith that is generous, innovative, contextual, and even controversial.” Out of this conference Faith Forward was born, an ecumenical organization “dedicated to seeking ideas and practices for sharing new kinds of Christian faith with children and youth.”

What is this book about?

The authors in this book come from a variety of backgrounds- evangelical, mainline, Catholic, Protestant, etc. They present information and ideas about all sorts of topics: sexuality, environmental stewardship, sparking children’s imaginations, race, peace, girls, children with autism, missional ministry, compassion, grace, etc. I can guarantee that something in this book will be stretching to every reader, no matter your faith background. Some of the topics will be a bit uncomfortable for some (no matter if you are more conservative or liberal in your theology). This book contains some conversations that you may not know much about, but it’s a safe way to peek inside and learn something new.

  • How do we minister to those with autism (an ever-growing trend)?
  • How do we talk about sexuality in a way that helps teens to have a theological framework to work from as they make decisions about their sexual activity?
  • How do we minister to girls and the sometimes crazy world that they live in? How do we allow them to understand who they are and what it means to live in a sometimes overwhelming world?
  • How do we teach our kids about grace, compassion, and service….starting first in our families and communities?
  • What does ministry look like in a multicultural America?
  • How do we engage the hearts and minds and imaginations of our children and youth with the Scriptures?

Why did I choose to review this?

I want to do be fully equipped to disciple my children and I want to share good resources with other parents who want to do the same. Much of the “same old, same old” is certainly not cutting it. Huge percentages of kids are just not getting it. Read anything by Christian Smith, and you’ll come away with a realization that something needs to change. Also, as I’m now 6.5 years into parenthood, I realize that my way of living and thinking about my faith hasn’t always translated well to nurturing my kids’ faith journey. Jake and I are question-askers and sometimes like to hang out with ideas on the margins. While I’m comfortable doing that myself, I’m not always comfortable offering that to my children. However, I’m also not comfortable handing them a jonah coloring page and having them color it while I read the story out of a children’s Bible. I want Scripture to come alive to them. I want them to be compassionate, risk-takers in loving others, generous, authentic followers who can recognize the Spirit guiding and ministering to them, as well as see that another world is possible. Or, as Shane Claiborne puts it in the book’s introduction:

We need to cultivate holy habits in children and youth, the disciplines of love and grace. We need to talk with young people about what it looks like to live as God’s holy counterculture in the world. We need to talk about what it means not to conform to the pattern of this world, but to imagine new ways to live.

How do you teach that? I don’t know, but I thought this book would give me some ideas that are not found in typical church or family ministry books.

My Takeaway:

Many of the articles were really inspiring and sparked my imagination. I’ve been encouraged to not only tell the stories of Scripture, but to think about how I tell them. The articles have given me a few new ways of engaging my children’s imagination and senses in the story, and teaching them how to ask good questions of the text. The articles have also encouraged me to think about the other stories I tell my kids- stories of grace, of hope, of peace, of Kingdom-coming-stuff. The authors have given me real tools to refashion Bible stories so that kids are able to hear them again, with fresh ears, and open hearts. I’ve observed kids (and adults…and myself!) with an “I already know that story” mentality in Sunday school, and they are then unable to encounter God through that story because their prior knowledge doesn’t allow their hearts to be open to something new that God might want to say. This is a fantastic resource that I’m recommending to those who have children of any age, as well as those who work regularly with children and youth in the church.

Thanks to the publisher, Wood Lake Publishing, for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Waiting for God to Show Up

Tonight I was putting one of my littles to bed, and we talked about how she has had some rough days lately. I asked why she was having a hard time controlling her emotional outbursts. She sadly said that she didn’t know; that it was really hard for her. Instead of a lecture or more ideas on what she could do instead of yelling/freaking out (because believe me, we have lots of those conversations), I snuggled in closer to her, and asked her if we could pray about it. She said yes, and asked if I would pray. About halfway into the prayer, she stops me.

IMG_1272

“Mommy, we don’t have to pray anymore. God has already said no to all of those things that you are saying.”

“Aly, why do you think that?!”

“Because, I have been asking and asking and it’s not any easier to control myself.  I don’t know how to do it. His answer is no. Mommy, why did He say no?”

*Heart breaks.*

I said something about waiting and patience and using our methods of controlling our emotions. She wasn’t listening really. To her, God had already said no and she wasn’t going to be convinced of anything different. I laid there a little longer, my heart a little heavy.

God, you have to show up for this little girl. She is trying so hard to control these big, scary emotions that you gave her. Her strength and will isn’t enough. She’s needs your grace. She needs You to say yes.

These are the moments that create faith in a little one’s heart. While I can try and give her the simple answers of why her prayers aren’t “working” (and isn’t that a super loaded conversation all by itself), I can’t solve this for her. This one is between her and God. All I can do is wait, pray, and watch carefully for the Holy Spirit to show up. This may be one of the hardest things I’ve faced in parenting so far.

Anaya’s Dedication Prayer

Anaya just turned 9 months and we just today finalized her dedication prayer and verse. Obviously she’s the fourth kid. Poor kid will probably never have a scrapbook. 🙂

Here’s what we came up with!

Our prayer for you, Anaya, is that the creator of all would through you shift the eyes of the broken toward the beauty of the Trinity and the ears of the hopeless toward the One who answers so that they may find their true selves.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” – Ephesians 4:32-5:2

In case you’re interested, here’s the other kids’ prayers and verses.