"Are We There Yet?" -- Thoughts for Passover

"Are we there yet? When will we get there?"

Have you ever taken a long trip with your kids, and heard this? If you haven't heard this, then you probably haven't driven more than 90 minutes with your children.

But in truth, we are not much different than our children. We like the idea of the destination, but we don't like the idea of the journey. We want to enjoy the fruits, without the labor.

The First Passover and Journey

Recall the story of the first Passover, in the book of Exodus. The Hebrews were told by God to leave Egypt on short notice. They packed up their essentials ("go-bags," if you will), and headed out, not even waiting long enough for their bread to rise.

And off they went on what amounted to be a 40-year journey.

During those years and years, can you imagine how often the Israelite parents heard, "Are we there yet?" Those parents didn't have DVD players or a Nintendo DS to occupy their children.

It's hard to imagine, but I guess 40 years in the wilderness is slightly worse than driving down I-95 to south Florida. There is nothing like crossing the GA-FL border and realizing you have only 360 miles to go. (There's a palm tree. There's another palm tree. There's another . .") 

The Hebrews wanted out of Egypt, and they wanted to be in the Promised Land, but they didn't want to trust in God's provision of the time in-between. They wanted safety and provision from God on their terms.

Our Journey Today

When it comes to our spiritual journey, we are not much different than those Hebrews wandering in the wilderness:
  • We want heaven, but we don't want to endure in life's struggles. 
  • We want spiritual maturity, but we don't want the daily disciplines of personal prayer and Bible reading. 
  • We want the gospel to spread, but we don't want to make significant sacrifices to make it happen. 
And yet we continue to ask Jesus, "Are we there yet?" We wonder if we have endured enough, learned enough, and served enough.

But if you are reading this post (or ignoring it), you know the answer is "No."

Parenting

We parents, especially if your children are preschool or elementary-age, wonder the same. We are physically and/or emotionally exhausted and wonder when we will be done.

We want respectful kids, but we don't want to discipline that 4-year old one more time. We want a good relationship with our children, but we fail to yield our desires and schedules to build into their lives. We want teenagers who are independent, but we don't want to go through the struggle and fear of letting go (and we don't have an on-going exit plan).

(And don't think I'm judging anyone. I'm more guilty of these things than anyone else.)

Not "There" Yet

What do we do? We follow the example of the Hebrews leaving Egypt at the first Passover:
  1. Pack your bag. Understand the essentials of what you really need for this journey, as a disciple of Christ, and as a parent. 
  2. Take the first step. Realize that you may have to make many changes, but start with one. 
  3. Move. Make progress. Pursue your goal (as a disciple and as a parent) continually. Get help and support from others. Keep enduring, knowing that life will be full of pressures and challenges.
  4. Don't stop. Don't look back (one mistake that the Hebrews made). Don't settle for anything less that what God has for you. Keep the faith. Know that God offers hope, rest, and salvation. He has proven His commtement to you through sacrificing His Son as the atonement for our sins. 
"There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience."  (Hebrews 4:9-11)

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Protect My Girls



Anyone with daughters will appreciate these words from Tim Challies:
"Praying for the kids is a helpful way of training myself to remember that they are his before they are mine, and that any good they experience will ultimately find its source in God himself."
Challies then lists a few ways that we can pray for God's protection from . . .
  • themselves,
  • us (as parents), 
  • others, 
  • Satan, and
  • God.

Be sure to read the entire article.


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Burden of Virtues

I told a friend that one of my goals for 2015 was to go through 13-week journal based on Ben Franklin's strive for virtue. Following Franklin's example, each week I'd focus on a specific virtue, and note how often I failed.

My friend's response: "That sounds really depressing."

He was positively correct. And as I'm getting to the end of the 13-weeks, I'm absolutely glad I went through this depressing exercise.

How the Journal Works

Ben Franklin's Virtues Journal (from the Art of Manliness) has multiple parts:
  1. A virtue of the week, including some modern day applications. 
  2. A scheme or schedule for each day. 
  3. A place to plan what good things you will do for that day. 
  4. A place to record what good things you did that day. 

If you don't have a way to record points 2 - 4, this journal is a handy tool to use. However, in my daily journaling time, I usually cover points #3 and 4. And I use a steno pad and Google calendar to plan my scheme for the day.

Note:  My latest time management technique is based on this Big-Medium-Little idea, though I modify it slightly.

The Burden of Virtues

Franklin's goal was to make himself more virtues by his own attention and efforts. Maybe it worked for him, but it hasn't for me. I find myself committing the same sins over and over. I fall short of my own standard of virtue, much less God's.

But my own weaknesses and failures are exactly why I'm glad I did this exercise. Instead of driving me toward self-righteousness, I have been pushed towards Jesus.

Over the past few months, I have realized more and more that I can never be perfectly virtuous / righteous / good on my own. I need Jesus' righteousness credited to me. And that is exactly what Jesus offered through His life, death, and resurrection.

"We have all become like one who is unclean, 
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. 
We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, 
like the wind, take us away."  (Isaiah 64:6)
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."  (2 Corinthians 5:21)

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Self-Esteem and Parenting

A lot has been going around about how praising your kids too much can make them narcissistic. I agree, to an extent. What I've learned (through much trial and error) is that instead of praising talent, we should praise:
  1. Strategy 
  2. Persistence
  3. Effort

Furthermore, we need to help our kids learn to esteem God and others more than they esteem themselves (Philippians 2:3-4).

Here are some more thoughts, from an article called When the Obsession with Self-Esteem Creates Unlikeable (and Spiritually Deficient) Kids:
"Our kids should get their sense of worth from our teaching them that they are precious in God’s sight. They should feel loved unconditionally, not desperate to prove to everyone why they should be appreciated. When we allow them to brag, we are solidifying the false notion that we are probably born with that says our worth is based on our performance."
Or, take Jimmy Kimmel's advice:



What do you think? Can we praise kids too much? Or do we just praise kids for the wrong things?

How God Is Using My Trials to Teach My Kids (and Me)


I'm in a tough season now, especially with working two half- to full-time jobs. And because I'm in a tough season, that makes it tough for my family as well.

But like with any trial, this lessons from challenging time must not be focused only on myself. Already, God has allowed us to use this opportunity to teach our children some very important lessons, about Providing, Serving, Pursuing, and Being Sharpened.

Teaching My Kids

Providing

I've had great discussions with my children about why I'm working the jobs that I am. More than anything, I need to provide for our family. Work is not always easy, but it is honorable to do it to provide for others, especially when the job situation is not always fun and enjoyable.

Serving

When I asked one of my sons why I took the job at Lead Academy, he said, "Because they needed someone." He's right! I believe in the vision of that school, and they found themselves in an unfortunate situation of needing someone to fill in.

As a former football player who spent more time on the Scout Team (i.e., practice squad) than the game field, I am used to filling in the gaps. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.

Pursuing

I want to be a constant learner. My natural (passive) self is usually content to stay in the same routines. But I need to regularly get out of my comfort zone, and to pursue new opportunities. And of course, I want my children to do the same. My working this "uncomfortable" job provides a model for them.

Being Sharpened 

One of the main focuses for our family this year is to be sharpened (Proverbs 27:17). Within my first week on the job, I had to go to my bosses for help. I asked for their advice and criticism, because I knew I had a lot to learn.

Was it easy to admit that I don't have all the skills needed, and to hear their constructive criticism? No! It's humbling. And I want my children to see that being humbled is a wonderful thing, because it follows the example of Christ (Philippians 2:5-6).

I don't just need to hear their counsel. I need to put it into action. That in itself is extra work, but it will help me provide, serve, and pursue even more.


Teaching Me

Of course, God has been growing me through these trials, but in a way that caught me off guard.

Recently, (especially dealing with job struggles, or the lack-of-a-job issue) I found myself thinking this, "God has abandoned me. For all I've done for Him, I deserve better than this."

Boom. I froze at the thought. I know better in my head. I know He is loving and faithful. But my heart and flesh were failing me. I felt hopeless, and I felt ashamed of feeling this despair.

The trial I am going through was not causing me to doubt God. Instead, my trials merely exposed my lack of faith in Him.

I'll keep praying for "grace, mercy, and peace" from God (2 John 3). And I'll keep praying for His wisdom (James 1:5). And I know that our faithful and generous God will give me both.

And I know that as I wrestle with God, He wrestles back and wraps His loving arms around me. And when I get through a trying season, God's glory will be made know. How can I say that God is great, if I don't go through trials which give Him the opportunity to show His greatness?
"Can anything ever separate us from Christ's love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?"  Romans 8:35

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**image courtesy of BigB via freeimages.com

[Book Review] Case for a Creator for Kids

Do you have questions about how science and faith interact? I have, for over 20 years. And I still do.

What about your children? Through your parenting and through church, you are teaching them what the Bible says. But you are also concerned with messages they are getting from books, movies, and even school.

If you have questions for yourself, or to help you engage your children on this topic, I highly recommend Case for a Creator for Kids by Lee Strobel. My older son (Elijah) and I recently read through and discussed this book, and my younger son is now reading it as well.

Like other parenting books that cover "tough" topics (science and faith, sexuality, etc), the biggest benefit isn't in the content of the book itself. The biggest benefit of this book is that it is a tool to engage your children in discussion.

If you want to learn more about the book, check out my review on Brave Reviews. Then buy a copy for your family.

PS -- If you want a preview of the book, here are Elijah's three main take-aways (his written words, verbatim):
  • Best evidence is for an intelligent Creator.
  • Big Bang is very similar to creation. 
  • Chances are that God is real. 

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My Daughter's Mission Trip

As soon as she heard the announcement about the summer mission trip, she could not wait to fill out her application. Seriously. For someone who likes to procrastinate as much as anyone, my daughter filled out her application a full month before it was due. The student ministry leader said she was the first one to fill it out.

Last year was Hannah's first mission trip (not counting our 3+ years of living in Allendale), and God taught her a lot about Himself, others, and herself. She has been waiting anxiously for the next time she could participate!

If your child has an opportunity to go on a church-led mission trip, encourage them to go! If you won't listen to me, read how Hannah answered some of the questions on the mission trip application:

How has serving shaped your relationship with Jesus? 
I always feel closer to God because I realize that I am needed where I serve. When I went on the middle school mission trip in seventh grade, it made it more fun to serve when I thought about how my work was going to help other people. Even though some of the work was tough, I just knew that God was there and he would help me when I needed help.

How has God been growing you in the past year?
Before I came back to Grace Church, I didn't really take notes at church. I think that Grace Church is more engaging, and I'm able to actually take something away from the sermon. Also, at 24 seven [the middle school program at Grace Church], I feel even more engaged because the leaders are actually talking to me, a teenager, and not just adults. When I first started coming to 24 seven, I really didn't know how to take notes. . . .Now though, I've learned to be able to take more away from the teaching and write down what I really thought applied to me and my relationship with God. 

Why do you want to go on a mission trip? 
I want to go on the mission trip because I had so much fun last time and It was totally a life changing experience. I made a lot of new friends, which was good because I had just moved back to Greenville. Working right next to my friends made the time fly, and the work more fun. The sessions were great, and they really spoke to me. We covered 2 Corinthians on the mission trip, and now, whenever I don't have anything to read in my bible, I'll turn there. It was fun being able to serve so much, and even though some things we did weren't my favorite, I know that's what God wanted me to do. Overall, though, the mission trip lest year was one of the most fun things I've ever done, and I hope I can experience that again!


Will your child be going on a mission trip this summer?