End-of-Year Charitable Giving

What does your family do to emphasize giving and charity? For many families, this topic is especially common during the holiday season that we're in.

Money should be a regular discussion for a Christ-centered family. After all, money was Jesus #2 topic (after judgment / hell) that we have recorded in the Gospels, as it relates to one's trust in God (or lack of it). Therefore, it stands to reason that money is also an important topic as we disciple our children.

Commonly-Used Charities

Operation Christmas Child (i.e., Christmas shoeboxes) is a popular charitable program used by many families and churches this time of the year. We have done this in the past, and I'm sure many of you have, too.

What about an "Adopt-A-Child" program, where individuals or families can help provide Christmas presents for an underprivileged family? We have sponsored children through such initiatives. However, we must be careful that we don't foster paternalism by extending the period of "emergency relief" (lessons I'm learning about in When Helping Hurts).

This year (as we have done a few times in the past), we made a donation to a program that provides sustainable help to for a family in an emerging country. As opposed to the one-time help provided through Operation Christmas Child and Adopt-A-Child, these gifts can be part of "a gift that keeps on giving."

Through World Vision, our family chose gifts that would help families in developing countries. A variety of sustainable (livestock, seeds, fruit trees, etc) and one-time (clothes, medicines, mosquito nets, etc) gifts can be selected from.

Each of our kids picked items, and when we tallied up our list, it was a little more than what we had budgeted. But our children immediately and gladly suggested that they could chip in more from their own piggy banks. My heart could not have been more pleased.

A Change for Us

We did make one big change this year -- we stopped our monthly support through Compassion International. I began supporting a child through this organization almost 14 years ago, when I was a graduate student at Furman. Since I began, I think we supported 4 different children over that time.

Continuing this support, including the regular correspondence with our "Compassion child," has been a great model for our children of how we can use our resources to love others that we have never met and probably never will.

The child we've been supporting for the past few years recently left the program. We thought this might be a good time to take a break, and to evaluate how we want to use our resources going forward. (We will not reduce our monthly giving, but simply reallocate. As I explained in My Radical To-Do List, I felt that God was directing us to give at least 10% of our income, even though most of our income is itself from donations.)

Other Options

If you are looking for other ways to make a year-end contribution, I'd like to suggest three of my favorite missionaries that could use your support:
  1. Us, The Espinosa Family. I thought of putting myself last on this list, but knew that would be due to false humility.
  2. The Osborn Family. We feel so strongly about their mission that we support them monthly.
  3. The Doster Family.  Another family we know that is soon to enter the mission field.
"Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full--pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."  Luke 6:38

What will your family do this year for end-of-the-year giving?

Whatever you choose, be sure to use the decision as an intentional discipleship opportunity with your children.

Related Links:
  **image courtesy of CarbonNYC via flickr

Let the Boy Strut

Through their home school group, my kids have been learning archery. Last year, it was just Hannah and Elijah, but this year Sender (in Kindergarten) has also been able to participate.

The students learn safety and proper handling techniques, and how to score points. And my kids love to report their scores to me, especially when they do well.

Back in September, in one of his first week's archerying shooting the arrows, Sender got 9 points (with 5 arrows). In round 2, he scored 11 points.

Joanna, watching him with the other moms, noticed that Sender walked around with a little bit of a strut. He didn't say much (not even bragging to me about his score when I arrived home). But his chest was puffed up, and he walked with confidence.

Was this OK? Should he find satisfaction in his archery skills? Or should he be more nonchalant?

For boys, especially, having a skill is important. Boys (and men) are created with an innate desire to work and overcome and succeed. These are ways for a man to reflect the image of God.

While a man's ultimate satisfaction must come in Jesus Christ and the gospel, that satisfaction is manifested by the journey of manhood. And manhood means rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, leading courageously, and expecting God's reward.

Let your sons strut a little, not to take away God's glory, but to reflect Him. Encourage your sons in their strengths, not for their own benefit, so that they can bless and serve others in them.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of LarryLens via sxc.h

Give Thanks

I'm sure you have a lot better things to do besides reading anything I have to write. But, just in case, I wish you and all yours a very happy Thanksgiving.

But you may need something to read to help you sleep off your dinner. (PS -- The whole science behind the amino acid tryptophan making you sleepy? Not true. You are sleepy because you have stuffed yourself full, and have dealt with untold family emotional dramas.)

In case you need a little light reading, check out this story from our family's memories, "Are They Pilgrims?"

I'm thankful for many things -- salvation through Jesus, family, health, and for the adventure that we get to be one. And I'm thankful for a faithful and encouraging blog community like you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!
Psalm 107:1

**image courtesy of as012a2569 via sxc.hu

EOL: The Splint and Spiritual Disciplines

An Everyday Object Lesson (EOL) is a tool that uses ordinary things in life to explain spiritual concepts. They are often useful to explain truths to children. However, one must also be clear that analogies are never perfect explanations. I will do a series of posts using EOL’s that I’ve used with my children, and I hope you can modify these to fit your context, and use them to disciple your own children. 

As best I can remember, I have broken five bones in my life – three in fingers (thumb, ring, pinky), one in my right hand, and one in my right wrist. All of them have been football related, although of them happened when I was a coach. Yes, I’m such a klutz that I get hurt coaching football.

The Object: A Splint or Cast

The worst part of my fractures was not the pain, but the inconveniences that result. Twice I had to get casts that eliminated me from competition for a few weeks. Twice I was able to continue playing (and I toughed it out and still was able to coach with my broken finger).

The casts and splints that I’ve gotten have made other tasks difficult – like showering and taking notes (especially when I broke a bone in my right hand, during the semester that I took Biochemistry and Genetics). And for my most recent injury, the splint made it very difficult to type blog posts.

But the splints and casts serve a purpose. Don’t think so? Then ask my left pinky, which never got fixed correctly and now won’t ever straighten out, outside of surgery. (“No, thanks,” says Mr. Crooked Pinky.)

But here’s the point about splints: they do not heal the injury. Nothing about a splint or cast causes your bone to repair itself. God has designed the body to be able to heal from a bone fracture, with white blood cells and osteoclasts and osteoblasts and all sorts of other things that I wouldn’t have known except that I taught high school biology for one semester.

But the splint does not initiate the healing. All it does is provide a stable framework to hold the bone in the correct place, to allow the healing to take place.

The Lesson: Spiritual Disciplines

Many Christians make the mistake of thinking that church, Bible study, prayer, etc, will make their life better. The more good and “godly” things they have, the better they will be and the closer they’ll be to God. But it’s not true.

Spiritual disciplines (like prayer, service, Bible study, etc) do not bring healing to a broken soul any more than a splint brings healing to a broken bone. All that spiritual disciplines do is provide a structure or framework for the healing to take place.

What, then, brings about our spiritual healing? Faith in the Gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit are what restore my soul to a right relationship with God.

Spiritual disciplines are good, but we must never think that they are the ultimate goal, or even that they can accomplish the goal by themselves. We need to trust in the work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit, while understanding that the disciplines are God’s instruments of grace to help His work take place in our souls.

Just as the broken bone finds healing difficult without a splint or cast, the broken soul finds it difficult to be made right without spiritual disciplines.

Related Links:

The Cost of Kids

Years ago, an old college buddy called me. At the time, we had two children, and he and his wife had been married for a couple of years. They were thinking about having children.

Now, this guy was the ultimate financial planner/worrier. Even in college, he was thinking about life 40 years out and looking for ways to make more money. He sold knives, was in a multi-level marketing program, waited tables, traded stocks – all while a full-time college student.

His wife really wanted kids, and he said he did, too. But he also did the research and calculated the cost of having a child. He said something to the effect of, “A child costs one-half of a million dollars, from birth through college. That’s a lot of money, and we don’t make that much. How can we rationalize having a child?”

My first response was to remind him that God provides. I went through some scriptures (similar to what Clint Archer wrote in How Much Does a Kid Cost?). I shared how God had provided for us, and that we were never in want, despite the becoming a one-income family and adding two kids. I shared the times when we received unexpected money in the mail, from family members, tax rebates, and dividends for stocks that I didn’t even know we owned.

He knew these truths, that our God is sovereign. He knew these verses, but he still was struggling. He needed something more practical.

So, I responded to his continued doubts. I told him, “Hey, I tell you what. Don’t have a kid. Don’t have any kids, and find me in 18 years. I want to see the million dollars, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, in your bank account. Guess what? It won’t be there. Because just like God always finds a way to provide for our family when we need it, we always find a way to expand our lifestyle into our income.”


He calmly said, “That’s a good point.” And that was pretty much the end of their conversation.

Fast forward to 2012.

This couple now has three beautiful children, and one more on the way.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of svilen001 via sxc.hu

I Don't Know Much, . . .

If you wanted me to finish the title of this post with “But I Know I Love You,” you either:
  • Are a big Aaron Neville and Linda Rondstadt fan (there must be dozens of you still out there)
  • Know me very well.

But singing a 80’s love ballad is not my main goal here today. Sigh . . . .

Two Years Running

I have had had this blog for over two years now. In that time, over 63000 page views have been recorded; more than 10,000 of those page views have been for more than 3 minutes each (a good indicator of reader engagement). 

This blog has more than 100 regular followers (primarily Email and RSS subscriptions), plus it receives more hits through Facebook, Twitter, and Google searches. Thanks to everyone who has been a part of this community, including those who have left one (or more) of the 700+ comments.

The Journey

I started this blog as a way to assist parents, church staff, and volunteers, but also as a way to express my thoughts, and to allow others to do the same. I believe this blog has been helpful to others (at least I hope so), but it has also provided an outlet for me.

Never claiming to have all the answers, I called this blog “A Different Way,” because I felt it could give different perspectives on parenting, compared to what is seen in the culture and even what is heard from other Christian leaders.

Along that lines, I have tried to explain the dangers of “Biblical” parenting and how some churches fall short.

I’ve answered common parenting questions, such as:

I’ve enjoyed interviewing other parents we know, especially those who think and do things differently than we do. We asked some friends why they are a Santa Family. We asked three other couples why they have chosen Public School, Private School, or Homeschool educations for their children.

I’ve ventured into more philosophical questions. On one fateful day, I posted a link to my blog post How Do We Know that God Is Real? on a particular website. I never expected the 2000 hits I would get, nor the viscous comments, nor even the defense from an unknown atheist.

And I’ve shared stories, photos, and videos from our family. Maybe these have brought a smile to your day, or given you an idea. Or, it’s just been a way to collect and catalogue memories for our own family.

The Changes

Since I started this blog, so much has changed for us. My kids are older (including having a middle schooler!). We moved from Greenville to Allendale. On this blog, I had a tag for Fairfax Fridays, where I shared my experiences in Allendale (at the time, I was living and working in Fairfax – the 2nd largest town in this county).

Fairfax Fridays grew into a separate blog, Mission: Allendale (which itself has over 16000 page views in just over a year). More and more of my writings have been on that new blog. Due to time constraints, I now limit my writings on this blog to two days per week.

What I’ve Learned

In my journey on this blog, and in my parenting, I’ve learned that I really don’t know much. For everything I begin I learn, another 10 questions / worries / doubts arise in my head.

To be honest, I really thought I’d be a much better parent than I am. I would have thought that I'd have been a lot further along in 11 years of parenting, and several years of blogging. I don’t know much – about parenting, blogging, or ministry. But I think that realization is good. It makes me depend on God all the more. I fail often, and I realize that I am weaker and more in need of grace.

In my parenting, marriage, ministry and everything in my life. I need Jesus. And I must remember that I am not marked by my successes or failures. My identity is in Jesus, and what He has done for me.

In the words of Jared Wilson in A Gospeled Man:
“I have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, and now by God’s grace I am empowered to love well and serve well and husband well and daddy well and pastor well.”

I’ll close with a few stanzas from “Jesus Paid It All” --

I hear the Savior say,
“Thy strength indeed is small;
Child of weakness, watch and pray,
Find in Me thine all in all.”

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I’ll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

And when before the throne
I stand in Him complete,
I’ll lay my trophies down,
All down at Jesus’ feet.


And thanks again for being a part of the journey.

How Do You Get Your Kids to Stay in Your Bed?

Do your children wake you up in the middle of the night? Do you want them to stop?

Last month one parenting magazine advised parents in training children to sleep. Apparently, when a child wakes you up in the middle of the night, you are supposed to calmly tell them, “Thank you for waking me up. Now, let’s get you back to bed.”

Another source says that the child should have options that he or she can decide between in the middle of the night.

Ahem. That's not exactly how it goes in our home
It’s a matter of principle and character. After all, saying I’m thankful that you are waking me up would be a lie. (Isn’t being kind and loving a character issue, too? Yeah, but let’s not go there.) And I don't know how many 4-year-olds can rationalize to make good choices at 3 AM.

Rude Awakenings

Our 5-year-old son Sender has been on a recent streak of waking us up. And by “us” I mostly mean Joanna, since she is closer to the door.

Wanting to protect my wife, Sender and I had this conversation one morning a few weeks ago:
Me:  “How about you stop waking Mommy up?”
Sender:  “Can I wake you up?”
Me:  “Well, on second thought, . . .”
Later, we continued our conversation:
Me:  “Why are  you waking Mommy up?”
Sender:  “I need to ask her a question.”
Me:  “What question could be so important?”
Sender:  “My nose is stuffy.”
Me:  “That’s not a question!”

Losing It

If you think I’m being insensitive to him, you should know I could be (and have been) much worse.
Elijah, Sender, and B (December 2006)

For the first 5 years or so of his life, he was very attached to a particular “blanket bear,” which we all called his “B.” He always had to sleep with it, and even wanted to carry it around during the day.

Of course, he’s lucky he was the third child. Being as Baby Wise as we were, we never let our oldest child develop a sleep crutch. But with Sender, all those rules went out the window. We just needed him to get to sleep.

But when he was about two-and-a half years old, he misplaced his “B” – we later discovered that he put it in a big toy chest, mixed up with lots of dress up clothes. At bedtime we assured him that he could sleep without his treasured “B,” and he did go to sleep in his crib without too much trouble. He did not cry.

At least, not until 1 AM.

I heard the banshee-like wails. As I stumbled down the hall to his room, I heard what the fuss was about.

“I want my ‘B’!!! I need ‘B.’ I . . . want . . . my . . . ‘B’!!”

I threw open his door, to see him standing up in his crib, holding on to the rails, as if that gave him the leverage he needed to scream his point across his room, down the hall, to my pillow, and through my eardrums.

What did I do? Well, of course, I thanked him for waking me up. I was gentle and considerate. I gave him some options.

Really? No way, Jose.

Actually I cut off his screams sternly, 
"Sender, YOU lost your ‘B.’ We told you he needs to stay in your crib, but you wouldn’t listen. It’s your fault he’s missing. Now, you CANNOT keep every awake because of your mistake. That is rude and selfish. So you need to lay down, be quiet, and go to sleep!”
I would have loved to know what he thought of me in that moment. Who is this monster? All I asked was for a little stuffed animal, and this crazy man walks in. Why didn’t Mommy come? She would at least have given me a hug.

He slunk to the back corner of his crib, getting as far from me as possible. Eying me with suspicion and fear, he slid down, back against the rails. Then, he curled up and lay down. He never made another sound all night.

Let’s not think of the deep psychological scars he has from that fateful night.

A Warning

Like Sender, Hannah also had a season in her preschool years where she insisted on getting up, both at nap time and in the middle of the night.

Sometimes she would come to the side of my bed and stand there. I had no idea how long she remained there, or if she tried to wake me up. All I know is that my eyes would open, and there she was, staring at me. I often wondered if we had one of the Children of the Corn.

Back then, before I was worn out from having three kids, I actually was a lot more sensitive. I would just carry her back to her bed, tuck her in, and give her a kiss.

Despite the numerous instructions, consequences, and pleadings, she continued to walk right out her door to come see us. Not knowing what else to do, I had an idea. I made a STOP sign out of construction paper and taped it next to her doorknob. I figured that as she reached for the door, she would see the sign, and remember to STOP and go back to bed.

And, surprisingly, it worked. Most of the time.


So, if your child is waking you up in the night, here are my suggestions:
  1. Finagle it so your spouse has to deal with it.
  2. Scream at your kids to instill fear in them.
  3. Make a simple art project.
Note:  Elijah was our good sleeper. You would tuck him in his bed, and he'd stay there. He would stay flat on his back, even if you checked on him hours later. We said it was like putting him in a coffin each night.

What about you? Do you have kids that like (or liked) to wake you up? What did you do?

Related Links:

Election Day 2012

On this election day, I'm not going to give a defense of any political position. I rarely do that (and much prefer to point out each side's problems). Instead, I want to remind you that our ultimate hope can never be in which political group is in power, or what laws are enacted. Our hope can only be in the truth that Jesus Christ is working in and through all things to redeem this world.

Here are some links to articles that can help us remember this:

Christian America?.  An article that I wrote earlier this year that challenges the idea that the USA has even been a "Christian" nation, or that we should ever hope that it needs to be.

Dual Citizens: Getting Oriented During Election Season.  Justin Taylor warns us that some of us care too much about politics, and some too little. We do need to care, but for the right reasons -- for God's glory and to love others.

Politics and the Kingdom of God.  "Neither an overly pessimistic nor an overly optimistic view of politics serves Christians well. Those who act as though politics are the primary way God has determined to bring about the kingdom of God will inevitably downplay the significance of the church as God’s agent through which the Spirit works in the world. On the other hand, those who avoid all political or cultural involvement as inherently evil will miss or downplay the social and cultural ramifications of the gospel of Jesus."

Against a "Christian Government."  On one of my favorite, newly-found blogs (the Cripplegate), Jesse Johnson makes a solid case that a government with religious pluralism actually helps to spread the gospel.

Why I Voted.  Mike Glenn reminds us that Christians are commanded to be blessings to others, even the government. And that's irregardless of who is in charge.

Now, all that being said, I do have one particular candidate that I love and support in Allendale. Lottie Lewis has been working to Make Hope a Reality.

Related Link:
**image courtesy of woodsy via rgbstock.com

Favorite Tweets for October

With two come-from-behind wins in October, the Allendale-Fairfax High School Tigers finished the regular season as undefeated and region champs. I know many of you enjoy my Friday night updates on Facebook and Twitter.

These Tweets in October Inspired and Amused Me

@chrysolisIt is arrogant to say that God cannot be known if God has in fact made himself known.

@anonbaptistChanging "Library" to "Media Center" because we now have more than books. We also have the Bible on cassette.

@FastzkieBahamasI am praying for the Lord to help me live from faith to faith: rather than faith, to doubt, to unbelief and then back to faith.

@k_sanders1Had date day with one of my boys. Went to get Halloween outfit. Now I have a ninja living with me. Sweet times!

@Lecrae:  Failures should cause us to run to God and not from God. 

@greg_boyd:  If I thought America was "the hope of the world," which seems to be a mantra every candidate is required to recite, I'd be in total despair.

@DailyKeller:  If you don’t preach like there are lost people present, there won’t ever be any.  

My Tweets That Others Enjoyed 

To see change in your community and your church, YOU need to change.

Me to my 5-year-old: "How about you stop waking up Mommy in the middle of the night?" Son: "Can I wake you up?" Me: "On second thought..." 

One of my players gave me a hairband to hold on to. No, I don't coach girls. I coach a bunch of guys with long dreadlocks. 

In order to lead, I need to listen more & speak less. (via )  

Deone is trying to check out a girl in Wendy's. I loudly ask him if his rash has cleared up yet.

Effective isn't about a formula, but about a caring relationship with someone who is made in God's image.   

Our big God dwells with little man. (see Isaiah 57:15) 

It took almost a full 24 hours, but finally these guys from felt like they belonged.