Favorite Tweets for December

So long, 2011! Glad I could remember you in 140 character tidbits. You can too, if you follow me @EspinosaJoey.
  1. (In a friend's truck) My son: "What's this thing?" Me: "You turn it to open the window." Son (trying it out): "Awesome!"
  2. Read about hope & , art & the .
  3. I smile every time I'm in a local restaurant & I see the Thank You notes (posted on the wall) from students.
  4. Parents, Teachers, and the Community need to work together to improve the schools.
  5. Jesus the unbound Being was compressed into finite flesh (John 1:1, 14). Bill White
  6. I just bought some beer, and I'm about to study chemistry. These 2 things are not related. I promise.
  7. ": My professor rounded my grade up to an A, even though I missed it by 1.5 points." / Not happening at .
  8. Best kept secret in Greenville for dinner: Yia Yia's at Night. For real. (And get a coupon from
  9. Me: "Hannah, you'd like college. You can eat ice cream 3 times a day." Hannah: "ONLY 3?"
  10. I made the mistake of wearing khaki pants and a red collared shirt to Target. "No, I do NOT work here."
  11. = Disney World for women
  12. Best part of going to zoo? Seeing animals poop and pee.

Top Posts of 2011: How Do We Know That God Is Real? (#2)

This was the post that started a small ruckus -- 67 comments that I kept (a handful of crude ones that I deleted), and a series of follow-up posts. It was a simple question that my older son asked a few years back, and I gave a simple answer.

Be sure to read How Do We Know That God Is Real?  

And be sure to read some of the other related links, including my Response to the Comments.

Top Posts of 2011: Basic Problems in Allendale (#3)

Continuing with the series on my Top 5 Posts in 2011, today is actually a post about Allendale. It was originally written on this blog, but I moved it over after I created the Mission: Allendale blog.

This post, #3 in my list, is about the 3 Basic Problems in Allendale: Poor Education, Teenage Pregnancy, and Disconnected Dads. I still see these as three common issues, but I need to write more about the key problem that I see (look for it in 2012).

Happy reading!

Top Posts of 2011: Children and Church (#5)

As much as I'd think that the first thing you'll do the day after Christmas is run to your computer and read the latest post I've written. But I know better. First you'll get coffee, and then you'll check out the blog.

Or maybe I'm further down your priority list.

So, instead of posting new content, I'll use this week to list my Top 5 posts from 2011. These will be split between this blog and Mission: Allendale. Not only will it give me a break from writing, but will also give you a chance to catch up on any of these that you missed.

Today, we'll start with common issue with church-attending families: What If My Child Doesn't Want to Go to Church?

Happy reading, and happy Boxing Day to all my Canadian readers.

"How Old Are You?"

I love asking little kids how old they are and they respond with holding up the correct number of fingers. But did you ever notice how hard this is for a 3-year-old? What a cruel twist of fate, to have a combination of limited dexterity, but needing to hold up a tricky amount of fingers!

But not when the child is 5. That's perfect number, and simple. "How old are you, little boy?" A whole hand!

Tomorrow, Sender -- our youngest -- will be this perfect age. He was born just before I left Michelin to come on staff at Grace Church, and just before we bought a new house and moved.

And now he's spent most of this past year in Allendale, SC. He has enjoyed everything about this adventure, especially all the new friends. He considers his best friends to be some of the 9 - 13 year old boys at the Club, including his Zoo Buddy.

He brings so much energy and joy to people around him. Even when he's stuck in a tree, he still manages to smile for the camera (see the picture above). He sings, imitates, and dances, and he's been a key part of our weekly Talent Shows.

And I love how he praises and thanks God. So sincere and sweet! His latest consistent prayer goes something like this:
"Dear God. Thank You that I have a Mommy and a Daddy and a brother and a sister."
Sender, we're thankful for you, too.

Related Links:

They Like Me!

My Love Language is "words of affirmation." One of my strengths (according to Marcus Buckingham) is "significance." I dutifully track the number of comments, shares, and likes I get on this blog and on Mission: Allendale.

In other words, I feel fulfilled by doing great things and being told how great I am.

In other words, I have a serious issue with pride.

So, you can imagine how excited I was when I left a comment on Jon Acuff's blog post about Wishing your contemporary church would go old school during Christmas. Why? Because I got 9 like's on my original comment, and at least 8 more like's on follow up comments.

Granted, I'm not the author of the blog that gets 1000's of visitors. But I was liked by about 10 people that read his blog. That makes me kinda' special, right?

These are the things that get my juices flowing.

I'm so glad that I'm loved and redeemed by the One who liked me enough to die for me, even when I was His enemy (Romans 5:8).

image courtesy of Stuart Miles via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

An American Girl Hanukkah

 Our daughter, Hannah, has two American Girl dolls. Her first, Kirsten, was a generous hand-me-down from my cousin. Last year, my Jewish grandmother fittingly bought her Rebecca, the Russian-Jewish girl.

A few weeks ago, as our creative little girl arranging her room for the Christmas season, she told Joanna that she needed to do some different decorations for Rebecca, since (as she explained) "Rebecca is Jewish, and many Jewish families don't celebrate Christmas."

I'm not sure what my wife was more concerned about -- Hannah's fatalistic theology, or that Hannah would double the number of decorations in her room.

Either way, I loved Joanna's answer: "Well, I like to think that Rebecca believes in Jesus, so she's a Messianic Jew."

Hannah was quite content with that solution. Crisis averted -- the doll's soul is saved, and Hannah's room only vaguely looks like a scene from Hoarders.

This week, we are excited to be celebrating both Hanukkah (starting at sundown on December 20) and Christmas. Be sure to read the post from last year on Why I Celebrate Hanukkah, to learn why a Messianic Jew like me finds this season especially worshipful.

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Christmas: Head to Heart to Action

via Amazon
I had been working through a theology book (Basic Theology) for the past year or so, reading a couple of chapters per week. Much of it was deep and over my head, but I knew it was worthwhile for my own spiritual growth. When it was done, I posted this status on Facebook:
"Just finished reading a theology book. My brain is full."
A friend, a long-time pastor whom I've known for over 9 years, replied, "The purpose of theology is to move from a full head to a full heart."

I pondered his words for days afterwards. He was right. The goal isn't to just know more about God. It's so that my heart might be more intimate with the joy of Him and of His salvation.

This past weekend I heard another pastor teach, from Matthew 2. He preached on how different people in the Christmas story responded to Jesus' birth:
  • King Herod was selfish, though he looked spiritual.
  • The chief priests and scribes were complacent.
  • The Magi were full of joy and worship.
In comparing King Herod (who lived in Jerusalem) and the Jewish leaders (who should have been the first to know about the Messiah) with the Magi (pagans from hundreds and hundreds of miles away), the pastor added this:
"Proximity to truth is meaningless if that truth doesn't move us to action."
image courtesy of abcdz2000 via sxc.hu
Of all the characters in this event, the Magi could not have been further from the source of the truth. But they followed a star, a small sign in the sky, with eager anticipation.

Theological truth is important, but it must move from my head to my heart. And a full heart will be manifested in my actions.

Yes, the Magi endured, and they were faithful, and they worshiped. But the reason they did these things were because they had joy. They found what they were looking for, and "they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy" (verse 10).

Here's a clip from a pastor from Grace Church, reminding us that Christmas is about acknowledging and humbling ourselves before the true King.

As you continue in this Christmas season, remember to move past your head knowledge of the story of Christmas. Let your heart be filled with joy, and let this joy move you to action.

Related Links:

Sarcastic Parenting

I love good sarcasm as much as anyone, or more. Probably too much. Unless you get sarcastic with me. Then it's not so funny. (And I wonder why I don't have many friends.)

But something is effective about sarcasm. It catches you off-guard and wakes you up in a way that a flat out lecture doesn't.

I've heard and read plenty of parenting advice, and I try to pay attention. But these links caught my attention because of how they present themselves, right from the titles. I think you'll enjoy them, too:

Birthday, Anniversary, and Mentor Weekend

We had a great weekend. Let's re-cap:

Birthday.  Elijah turned 8 on Saturday. I love this boy so much! I love watching him learn, build, and create. I love that he has a best friend at the Boys & Girls Club in Allendale. I love that for all that he knows and is serious about, that he's also still a kid who loves to play and laugh. I'm So Blessed to Be His Dad!

Anniversary.  Yesterday, Joanna and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. Besides going to Savannah (see more below), we didn't do anything really special. But I am reminded how grateful I am for My Excellent Wife.

The past couple of weeks, one of the staff at the Club has been out a good bit, due to a family situation. With 45-50 kids each day, and only 2 remaining staff, I've needed her there. So, for most of the past 2 weeks, she has been educating our kids all morning, and serving at the after school program (until at least 6pm) every afternoon. Joanna is my partner, and I could not do this without her. (For a great article on marriage, read The Truth About Marital Compatibility from The Resurgence.)

Mentoring.  We took a quick trip to Savannah to see a family that has been mentors for us for a number of years. The husband was my boss for 4 years, and personally mentored me for at least 2 years before that. The wife has poured into Joanna since before Hannah was born (10 years ago). And, to make the circle complete, Joanna and Hannah were at their house 8 years ago, the day that Elijah was born. (Joanna left her place just after lunch, and Elijah was born at 3:25 PM.)

Since we're in the midst of a job change in Allendale, this trip to see these mentors was timely. We enjoyed "downloading" all that has been going on with us, and getting feedback. We appreciated how they loved on Elijah with brownies, ice cream, and a gift. We were thrilled to serve and worship alongside them on Sunday morning.

One of the biggest encouragements we received from them was something they said that was not in a structured teaching moment. We were sitting around the table eating lunch, and our children were chattering away about all the "important" stuff on their minds. Joanna and I tire pretty easily of their constant talking, and maybe you parents understand this, or maybe you are a lot more patient than we are.

But, in the midst of all this, these mentors (who, in less than a year will have only one of their three children still at home) said, "We miss this." What?! "We miss our kids being around the table talking, with everyone enjoying each other." 

We saw and felt what they had enjoyed, and now were now missing. And we were encouraged and challenged all at the same time. Though we are often tired and frustrated and impatient with our children, we need to cherish what we have for now. It won't be long before it's gone.

If you are an uptight worrier and planner like Joanna and I are, be sure to slow down, and to step back. Enjoy the moment with your children and of your children. Unlike with Christmas shopping, there are no returns in parenting.

Related Links:

"You Smell Like Beef and Cheese! You Don't Smell Like Santa."

I figured there is no better way to start off a post about Santa Claus then a quote from Buddy, everyone's favorite elf.

One of the most popular series of posts on this blog was not even written by me. It was an interview I did of some friends about their views of Santa Claus. You'll want to read (or re-read) "Questions for a Santa Family" -- Part 1 and Part 2. Also, be sure to read Don't Kill Santa Claus.

For a more humorous take, watch the video below (from the makers of Why First Time Moms Lose Their Minds).

What do you do with Santa? Has that changed over the years? Let us know in the comments.

Related Link:

The Social Media Habit

I've written before about the lure and danger of virtual friends. Here are some more links that go along with this topic:

And for the grand finale, here's a video from three years ago, which means (in tech years) it's waaaayyy out of date. But still dang funny.

After watching the video, let us know in the comments. What do you hate about Facebook?

I'll go first in the comments.

    Is My Slow-to-Respond Child Being Disobedient?

    I recently received a question from a friend of mine, a mom of two boys -- one is 2-and-a-half years old, and the other an infant. She and her husband have been diligently training their older child to obey, but had a practical question about this. With her permission, I am sharing the situation (paraphrased for brevity), and my response.
    “Our biggest issue with disobedience now is [our son] taking his time to obey when we ask him to do something. Would you consider this defiance? And if so, what practical methods should we use to discipline him – spanking, time-out, warning, etc?”
    So, if a child is doing what we ask of him, but on his timing, is that obeying or disobeying? Great question, and is an issue that we've had to deal with many times over.

    Don’t Ask, DO Tell
    Be careful about how much you “ask” your child. I distinctly remember being taught this principle, before I was even married, by a man who was discipling me. Our heavenly Father doesn’t ask His Son (or any of us, His children) or His servants to do things. He gives commands.

    Of course, we must be careful to not continually bark commands with gruffness, but we must not fool our young children into thinking that they are part of a democracy. A young child (especially through age 5 or 6) must be taught to submit to authority, as discussed in my previous post The Phases of Raising Boys.

    Be Clear
    When you do give a command to our child (or, even when you do ask them to do something), you must be sure that you are clear in what you expect. For a young child, “Clean up your toys” can have many interpretations. Better is, “Put your blocks in the bucket, and put your books on the shelf.”

    Here are some tips to giving clear commands to a young child:
    • Be simple. Don’t overload his brain with a string of commands. At a young age, one or two steps at a time is age-appropriate.
    • Make eye contact. Lazy as I am, I'd rather call out a command from 15 feet away, even as I am walking out of the room. But I need to make sure to speak directly to him, including making eye contact. Train your child to look at you when you are speaking to him. It’s a life skill that will pay off his entire life.
    • Have your child repeat your command. If she can recite back what you told her, you know that you have been clear. You can have her repeat the command verbatim, or even better is to ask, “What are you going to do?” and let her verbalize it in her own words.
    • Manage your expectations. Simply enough, know what your child is capable of, mentally and physically. 
    If you are not clear in you directions, it is harder to make a case that your child is being disobedient.

    First-Time Obedience
    I’ve learned from authors and speakers such as Tedd Tripp (Shepherding a Child’s Heart), James Dobson (The New Strong-Willed Child), and Ginger Plowman (Don’t Make Me Count to Three) that we need to say what we mean and mean what we say. But we often can confuse our children by training them to ignore our directions. How?

    When the norm for your parenting is having to repeat directions 2 or 3 or more times, the child is learning to ignore your first command. He knows, “Mom doesn’t mean it this time. She always says it a few times before getting really mad.”

    Ironic, isn’t it? We parents give mixed signals to our children about what we expect of them, and then we they don’t meet our expectations, we get frustrated. We cause our own angst!

    Obedience is more than doing what one is told. A better principle that we need to train our children in is submitting to authority. Obedience is a physical and mental issue – hear what is said and do it. Submitting is a heart-issue. You can make your child obey, without reaching his heart. But God is concerned about the heart.

    A Language for Heart-Level Obedience
    Here is some language that I’ve (ahem) “borrowed” from other books and resources, that have helped us remember how to train our children in what true submission looks like. To obey at the heart-level, a child must obey . . .
    1. Quickly, Immediately, and Happily
    2. All the Way, Right Away, and With a Happy Heart
    Pick which language you want (or any variation that works for you), and go with it. If your child violates any of these three principles (like by taking his time, or by stomping away grumpily), there must be consequences, for the purpose of training him in righteousness.

    So, in the case of our toddler in question, if he has received a clear command that he is capable of obeying, and since he did not obey immediately, then he is acting in defiance against you. According to biblical wisdom (such as found in the book of Proverbs), he is not being childish, but foolish. This foolishness and rebellion of the heart must be addressed.

    What do you think? What advice would you give this mom?

    Related Link:

    image courtesy of hoyasmeg via flickr

    6 Posts (and 1 Song) to Help You Get Ready for Christmas

    When does the Christmas season begin? Some people love Christmas music at the beginning of November. Others only want to here it after Thanksgiving.

    Me? I just like to watch both sides argue.

    But regardless of which of these camps you fall into, we are definitely in the Christmas season now. So, here are some thoughts from last year to get you ready for Christmas:
    1. Twelve Christmas Traditions.  Hmmm . . . A few of these may not make the list this year (like waking up in our own house on Christmas morning).
    2. Angels Are NOT Wimpy.  One of my biggest Christmas pet peeves.
    3. What Christmas Means to Me.  A revelation I had 13 years ago.
    4. Life of Jesus.  A video from a couple of years ago.
    5. Merry Christmas.  Links to a few articles about the phrase "Merry Christmas."
    6. Jesus Is Still Immanuel.  What does it look like for us to be "incarnational" like Jesus?

    One song in particular that was meaningful for me last year was The First Noel. I picture myself as one of the people in the Christmas story -- the shepherds, the wise men, or whoever. What would it have been like to have seen a sign, and then meet the Savior as a baby (or for the shepherds to meet the angels)? Here's a great rendition of this song:

    Be worshipful as you prepare for this season.

    Related Link:

    image courtesy of Schlottie via sxc.hu

    Favorite Tweets for November

    You can follow me: @espinosajoey
    1. A Culturally-Engaged weekend for us in . It was about friends, candy, and, ultimately, the .
    2. Fried chicken from Clara's (#AllendaleSC) = Food of the gods
    3. Mural at Pink Garden, . Just about done in only 2 hours of work. http://twitpic.com/7butcv 
    4. Heading to a men's breakfast with Vision Ministries in . Thankful for the fellowship from this church.
    5. I made my son laugh so hard and continuously at dinner that he fell out of his chair twice, and he snorted.
    6. Physical activity impacts overall quality of sleep: / Or, "Why we should play football on Thanksgiving."
    7. "It is the work that God does through us that counts, not what we do for Him." Oswald Chambers 
    8. Enjoying my Kenyan Javahouse coffee, courtesy of . "I will bless those who bless Joey." (Or something like that)

    Which is your favorite?

      4 Effective Consequences for Disciplining a Young Child

      Making disciples of children (I agree with this article that "making disciples" is a better term than "parenting") looks different depending on the stage of life. For the purpose of this post, we'll consider a child that is under age 5 or 6, i.e., the stage in which he must learn to submit to authority.

      When their children are this young, parents often overemphasize "leadership development" in their training. The truth is, a child cannot learn to lead unless he first learns to follow.

      Parents must be proactive in teaching their children to willingly submit to authority (more on this in a future post). But, when a child fails to follow God's command (such as Ephesians 6:1 "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right."), there needs to be consequences.

      Remember that the purpose of consequences and discipline is not to bring about punitive punishment, but the goal is life change. Having said that, here are 4 practical consequences for training your young child to submit to authority: warnings, loss of privileges, time-outs, and spankings.

      Be careful about warnings – how you think about them, and how you use them. A warning like, “You had better start cleaning up before I count to 3 . . .” actually trains the child to ignore your first command. Avoid those types of warnings.

      Additionally, avoid making empty threats. I’ve made this mistake before. When my daughter was about 3, we were all at a social function. It was time to leave, and I had told her two or three times to come to our vehicle. Finally, I half-jokingly said, “Hannah, if you don’t come now, we’re going to leave you.” Joanna (rightly) called me out and reminded me not to do that. You need to say what you mean and mean what you say.

      However, a warning can take the form of pulling your child aside and saying, “Your behavior is not right. You are being rude [or selfish, rude, destructive, etc]. You need to rethink the path that you are on, and make some better choices.”

      Loss of Privileges
      The amount of freedom and privileges a child (or an adult, for that matter) should have should increase with his proven responsibility. This principle is known as “parenting inside the funnel” and can be explained by the parenting video in this post.

      When your child fails to be responsible with the freedoms that she has, her privileges should be reduced. As discussed in Teaching Stewardship, you need to lead your child to the level of responsibility (and freedom) that she is mature enough to handle.

      You can read more about this concept in a previous post about us taking away our kids' Legos.

      When your child is exhibiting foolish behaviors and attitudes, it is wise to pull him out of the situation for a moment. Giving him a time-out gives you the quietness you need to speak to his heart and head, and allows him to feel the discomfort of isolation. Additionally, what your child may need is a few minutes to “cool his jets.”

      The duration of a time-out should vary based on the age of a child, and according to her temperament. Be sure to include an intentional heart level conversation at some point during the time-out, to ensure that the child understands the reason for and purpose of her being isolated.

       The topic of spankings will definitely bring out strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. The purpose of this post is not to give a full discourse on this issue. But I will say that we have used spankings as a disciplinary tool, and I disagree strongly with those who say that spanking is always wrong.

      Here’s what we need to remember: Rebellion must not be taken lightly. We need to remember that training our children is not about us, and about our own position of power. This is about a God-ordained responsibility, that parents are to lead their children. So, when your child defies your command, he is not just rebelling against you, but against God.

      This is that serious. Do not shrug-off the seriousness of a child’s rebellion and foolishness against God. Your job as a parent is:
      • To help expose that rebellion,
      • To help the child realize his sin and rebellion against God
      • To lead your child towards the Cross, to help him trust in the grace and sufficiency of Jesus.

      Without going into the details of the methodology of a spanking, I know that nothing gets my child’s attention like a spanking. The point of a spanking is not to vent my frustration, and it’s not a punitive action. The point of any method of discipline (such as a spanking) is to use a physical reality (pain or discomfort) in order to expose a spiritual problem (sin). A spanking is usually the most effective way to help a young child understand the seriousness of his sin.

      Do you have anything to add to these types of consequences? Let us know in the comments.

      Related Links:

      Happy Thanksgiving

      Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving to all my readers. Hope your day is filled with joy. For most of us, it will include one or more of these F's"
      • Family
      • Friends
      • Food
      • Football
      We're glad to be back in Greenville with family and friends. Looking forward to worshiping with Grace Church on Sunday.

      And for the record, tomorrow is Joanna's birthday. 29 and holding!!

      Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
      go into his courts with praise.
      Give thanks to him and praise his name.
      For the Lord is good.
      His unfailing love continues forever,
      and his faithfulness continues to each generation.
      (Psalm 100:4-5)

      Science and Family

      Having written about Nature vs Nurture: Women & STEM, and getting some feedback from friends and other readers, I have continued to be intrigued about this topic of women working in the field of science.

      And I'm not the only one. Here's a list of articles that give more insight into this topic:
      • Women's Quest for Romance Conflicts with Scientific Pursuits.  A woman's pursuit of romantic goals may be due to environmental cues, innate design, or personal choice. But in any case, the more she she wants to be romantically desirable, the less likely she is to show an interest in math.
      • Many Top U.S. Scientists Wish They Had More Children.  Interestingly, while more top female scientists wanted to have more children, the life satisfaction of the male scientists was more significantly affected.
      • Women Aren't Becoming Engineers Because of Confidence Issues.  According to this study, it's not that women don't become (or leave) engineering because of wanting to start a family. It's more related to the confidence they feel. While we can't pinpoint where that lack of confidence comes from (nature vs nurture plays a role, I'm sure), one thing that may help is bringing practicing engineers into college classrooms to share their experiences.
      • Nature and Nurture Work Together to Shape the Brain.  Now here's a theory I can get behind. Who we are (and who we become) is more than our DNA, and it's more than our environment. "Our genes and environment work together to influence brain development throughout a lifetime."

      When it comes to decisions about life, career, and family, there so many factors involved. But ultimately, it's about choices. And once those choices are made, you never get to rewind the clock. You pray, seek counsel, and make the best decision you can.

      This was the case with me. In 1999, as I was getting my Master's degree in chemistry, I turned down an opportunity to pursue my PhD. I thought that was the best choice, and felt at peace about it.

      But that I made the right choice was confirmed one Saturday morning in the spring 2004. I suddenly hit me that if I had gone for my PhD, I would just around then (at the earliest) be finishing my degree. While Joanna and I would probably still have gotten married, I knew that my life would have looked significantly different.

      I looked at my life at that point, with my wife of 4.5 years and my two great kids, and I knew that I made the right choice.

      Related Links:
      image courtesy of LindsayT via flickr

      Losing Privileges Can Hit You Like a Ton of Bricks

      We had to do it. As much as we love watching our children create with Lego bricks, we took them away a few weeks ago. Our kids were crushed. If you saw their reactions, you'd have thought that we were going to make them march in the Cooterfest parade completely naked. Yes, it was that traumatic.

      Packed Away
      They hadn't been very responsible with their Lego collection, leaving pieces all of the living room floor (and coffee table, and flower pots, and . . .). In fact, they weren't taking care of other toys as well, from American Girl dolls to trains, from stuffed animals to action figures. They weren't being good stewards of things that ultimately didn't belong to them, since the truth is that nothing actually belongs to them.

      Even more, they were being selfish with Legos. They repeatedly failed to share, and saying things like, "Those are my people." Basically, they were treasuring these Legos over their siblings. As loving parents, we could not let them continue to do this. We are trying to teach them to love people over possessions.

      (And you know it's bad when they start manipulating Biblical principles to get what they want. Sender, particularly, likes to grab toys from his siblings while yelling, "It's not yours. It's God's!" I have to remind him that that principle is supposed to remind him to share with others, not to be selfish.)

      As I wrote in Teaching Stewardship: Practical Application, we felt it was best to take away their Legos for a time. This act of discipline was not for punitive purposes, but for the goal of change. And not just a change of behavior, but to reach their hearts. If their hearts are broken, sorrowful, and repentant, their attitudes and actions will follow (Luke 6:45).

      We explained that we'd remove these toys for an unspecified period of time, until we felt that they could be responsible and generous stewards. We need to make sure that their privileges match up with their level of responsibility.

      How's it going? Well, a week later we let them play with the Legos again, but they quickly went back to their selfish ways. Back to the storage bins went the Legos. We'll try again soon and keep talking with them about "considering others as first" (Philippians 2:3).

      Or, we'll just hold this bin of toys and re-gift it to them on Christmas.

      Have you ever had to take away privileges or possessions from your children? How did it go?

      Related Link:

      Things to Think About and Do for Thanksgiving

      Here are some links and resources, as you prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday.
      1. Seven Things to Do With Your Family This Thanksgiving.  Agreat list from Vision Forum.
      2. The 1st Thanksgiving.  Making a time-line with your kids. I'm not into crafts and activities very much, but you may be.
      3. Desiring God Teaching.  A list of past sermons by John Piper.
      4. Family Matters.  Principles and practical ideas to help Thanksgiving be a time of thankfulness, not stress.
      5. Overview of Some Books for Thanksgiving. You could buy them in time for next week, or maybe find them in your local library.

      Do you know of any other suggestions or resources?

       image courtesy of monmart via sxc.hu

      A Zoo Buddy

      Last Saturday, our family went on a trip to Riverbanks Zoo with 32 others from Allendale -- 27 children and 5 adults. The event was sponsored by Radius Church in Lexington, SC (I've known the student pastor since he was in middle school).

      This pastor and four others drove down, leaving their homes at 6:30 AM, in order to ride on the school bus with the Allendale kids. While additional members from the church met us at the zoo, the bus ride gave them an additional opportunity to connect with the children and leaders.

      It was Hannah and Sender's first time on a school bus, and Elijah's second, as he and I rode to a game with the football team a few weeks ago. Sender had his own personal "Buddy," a middle schooler from the after school program. They crashed out on the trip home.

      For many kids, it was their first time to a zoo, and we were also treated to a box lunch from Chick-fil-A. Oh, the joys of civilization!

      Here are some links where you can see other pictures and thoughts from this day:
      • Zoo Guests. From the Radius Outreach blog. The commenter Sheila Leath is the principal from Allendale Elementary School.
      • Radius Students. The same zoo pictures as above, but I was impressed with all that these group of students are doing to engage their culture.
      • More pictures (on my Facebook page). Disclaimer: Some of these were taken with my camera by one of our Allendale kids.

      Thanks again to the leaders and volunteers from Radius Church for making this trip happen!

      And just for some more of Sender's thinking, he said his favorite animal was the "koala with the rag on his bottom." Upon further question, we figured out that he mean the (red-bottomed) baboon.

      My Son Called Me Out

      For all that I love about my job, there are some challenging aspects which have caused us to adjust our family's routine. In particular, our evening schedule is different than it was a year ago.

      When I had a "regular" job, we had a normal schedule of: get home from work, dinner, play, bathe kids, put kids to bed -- with it all concluding by 8 or 8:30 PM.

      However, since I do not get home until 7:30 or later, we typically rush through dinner and bath times, and even playing one short game with our kids means a bedtime of 9PM. Not only are they worn out by then, but so are Joanna and I.

      I can't say enough about My Excellent Wife, how she pours herself out all day. She home schools in the morning, serves in the after school program every afternoon, to maintaining the home, gives rides to kids and volunteers, keeps in touch with friends, and more. She is full-speed all day.

      But me, I've been realizing how much of a slacker I've been. After dinner, I am more apt to relax, or go through paperwork, or (more typically) check my email or Facebook "one more time." You know, I'm that important that someone might need me ASAP.

      The truth is, the people that need me the most are not the ones I talk to over Facebook and email. They're the ones in my own living room.

      I'm constantly amazed how I push aside my own family during the final hours of the day. Sometimes I go into my world of self out of an escape from the days troubles. Sometimes it's out of pride or misplaced priorities. But usually, it's just laziness.

      My 4-year-old son helped me see this recently, as I was putting him to bed. He had a little bit of a cough for a few days, and just before I was about to leave his room, he said,
      "Daddy, will you pray for my cough?"
      I overlooked the most important thing to him at the moment. No, not just feeling better, but knowing that his Daddy cares. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I prayed with and for him at bedtime. The same with my other kids.

      I'm usually in such a rush to get them in bed, so I can get some "me-time." But is the 10 extra minutes of "me-time" worth them thinking I don't care? Is it worth not investing in them physically, emotionally, and spiritually?

      Of course not.

      I'm thankful for the grace of God, that He is going to work in my kids' lives, despite myself. I'm thankful that He used my young son to call me out, to remind me that I need to be leading and loving my family.

      Related Links:

      Sender's Thanksgiving

      Our 4-year-old (5 next month!) loves to pray before meals. Here's the latest of what Sender has been thanking God for. Don't you love a 4-year-old's sweet and sincere prayers?
      • Peace and sleep
      • Jesus dying on the cross
      • Helping me lose two teeth
      • Mommy and Daddy helping kids with homework at the Club
      • Our family being in Allendale

      And has been doing great sitting still in the pews during our worship services at church. (It's far different than what he was used to at Grace Church's Children's Ministry.) He likes to copy words from the screen, hymnals, Bibles, etc onto the church bulletin. And when I preached at a small church in Allendale the other week, he sat right next to me until I went on stage. Somehow, it felt really comforting.

      But before you think he's all super-spiritual, here's another conversation that he and I had recently:
      Me: "Sender, do you want a hamburger or hot dog for lunch?"
      Sender: "I want a hot dog. . .  A wiener. . .  A long one. . . .  I want a long wiener."
      Joanna can only shake her head.

      Related Links:

      KidMin Articles and Radio Show

      When I laid out my New Plan for the Blog, I mentioned that I would start contributing to KidMin1124, a site for leaders who volunteer their time in children's ministry. As an author, I hope to share from my experiences as a children's pastor. As a reader, I have learned some great perspectives and ideas from the other contributors.

      Here is a list of articles that I have contributed to this point, and I hope to write about two each month:
      1. Are All Volunteers the Same?  
      2. Volunteer Coaches: What, Who, Why, How  
      3. Do You Have a Titanic Ministry? 

      Additionally, I had the privilege of taking part in a radio show hosted by the leaders of this website. The topic was Child Discipleship, a topic that has been on the forefront of our minds in Allendale, as we are trying to hone in on our ultimate purpose.

      You can listen to the hour-long program here, or on the KidMin1124 site. (I had some technical difficulties early on -- the joys of Allendale infrastructure!)

      Some key points:
      • Discipleship is possible (and is necessary) in children's ministry, though the practical applications may differ from discipleship of teens and adults.
      • Discipleship includes a combination of Biblical Teaching, Caring Relationships, and Good Deeds.
      • Discipleship of children is accomplished best when a group of people is working together, coming alongside the parents. The parents are the primary agents of discipleship, and we must help give them credibility in the eyes of their children, especially as they get older.
      • Churches need to make sure that we are partnering with and equipping parents, instead of focusing solely on what happens inside the church walls.
      • We need to create a top-down culture of discipleship, from Staff to Coaches to Volunteers to Children.

      Related Link:

        Bible Islands

        My children love playing video games. No surprise there, since most kids do. We have a Wii, but they also like playing a variety of games online.

        Of course, not all games are equally appropriate, and even games within the same website can vary in the maturity of their content.

        Recently my kids tried out this new online game site, Bible Islands. In collaboration with organizations such as Thomas Nelson Publishing and Answers in Genesis, the developers of this site have created a kid-friendly game that combines Bible-learning, cognitive skills, and adventure.

        The targeted age-range is 4 to 8. There is a fee to play (with discounts for longer-term subscriptions), but you can get test the waters with a free trial. Click here to get started with your account!

        Once you try it, let me know what you think, and if you have any questions.

        Boys to Men

        Would you trust this guy?
        The other day, I asked my son Elijah, "What makes a boy a man?"

        He answered: "Responsibility."

        Love it. Has he been listening to the teachings from Men's Roundtable? According to the teaching from this material, a real man is one who:
        • Rejects Passivity
        • Accepts Responsibility
        • Leads Courageously
        • Expects God's Reward

        Related Links:

        Two Videos for Practical Applicaiton

        • Concepts:  Two of my favorite parenting principles is to think about stages, and to parent inside the funnel.
        • Application:  Register for the Future Women event.
        • Read More:  Future Women

        Fastzkie Support

        Favorite Tweets for October

        You can follow me on Twitter: @EspinosaJoey

        1. . Haiku submitted. What do you think? http://scwordsmith.com/2011/09/26/its-fair-haiku-season/
        2. My Amazon wish-list is growing faster than my budget, and my allotted reading time.
        3. 5 Things Better Than an Obedient Child. / Great post for .
        4. . I will be fasting today, in between meals.
        5. Marvin Love & @jdkeever are opposing captains in kickball. This might be the end of relationship btwn @gracechurchsc & Vision Ministries
        6. "Purity is something far too deep for me to arrive at naturally." Oswald Chambers
        7. Hannah & I are at the school's Student Council induction ceremony. Almost half of the council are kids fr the Club. http://twitpic.com/7368lm
        8. My daughter, at the state fair: "You can get deep fried ANYTHING here!"

        Being Meek and a Peacemaker

        My kids struggle with wanting to get their way. Not sure where they learn that from. Just kidding. Of course, that's inherited on the X chromosome (from their mother).

        Sometimes, this selfishness is manifested in them claiming “their” Legos. Sometimes it’s playing 4 Square at the after school programming, and insisting that they weren’t out. Sometimes it’s not getting to play the game or watch the movie they want.

        It’s about a focus on and worship of self.

        A few weeks ago, I read through the “Beatitudes” (Matthew 5:2-12) to my kids. We talked about this passage, and the entire Sermon on the Mount, and I explained that you could think of Jesus' words in a couple of wrong ways:
        1. A list of rules from Jesus.
        2. An admirable message from Jesus, with no challenging application. (See these thoughts about the Sermon on the Mount.)
        Not just rules or a "feel good" message, Jesus is describing is what a life of following Him looks like. It’s about the Spirit’s work in our hearts, as we grow in trusting in Him.

        Why is this a big deal? Because we have a choice of what reward we will have. My child can choose his short-term reward (getting his way), or he can choose to expect God’s eternal reward. Which reward they get is up to them, as we meditate on these challenging words from Jesus in this Sermon:
        • verse 3:  He can strive for his own meager "wealth," or focus on God's kingdom and glory
        • verse 4:  He can try to comfort himself when life goes bad, or seek the arms of Jesus
        • verse 5:  He can try to enforce his way and defend himself, or he can let others win and trust that God will give him an inheritance
        • verse 6:  He can be self-righteous and empty, or be satisfied with God's righteousness through Jesus
        • verse 7:  He can seek vengeance, or give mercy (just as God has been merciful with him)
        • verse 8:  He give in to sin and selfishness, or desire to see God
        • verse 9:  He can fight for his own "rights," or bring about peace among God's people
        • verse 10-11:  He can sulk when he is mistreated, or remember that God will make everything right in the end

        For my kids, they need to learn to put others first, to be willing to lose out. They need to be more concerned about peace with others, instead of arguing about who is right, or who hit the ball out of bounds.

        They need to remember the grace and love of Jesus, and let that motivate and empower them to show the same grace and love to others.

        Even more, they don't need to do these things merely because "it's the right thing to do." They need to follow in the example of Jesus, that
        "Though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant . . . " (Philippians 2:6-7).

        Related Links:

        **image courtesy of Kimeone via sxc.hu

        Future Women

        If you are in the Greenville, SC area on November 4-5 (Friday-Saturday), you do not want to miss the equipping event called Future Women. Teachers from Grace Church will be giving a theology, language, and practical application for making disciples of the next generation of women, like these:

        The material will be applicable to parents, other relatives, and leaders of girls. And even if you only have boys in your life, you should attend this event, as it will give you a framework for helping those boys understand women, including their future wives.

        The teaching will be a perfect complement to what has been taught in our women's ministry (Feminine Reflection), and from the Future Men event in 2009 (see a video here and here).

        Related Links:

        StandOut Results

        image courtesy of javajones via flickr
        I could totally be a groupie for Marcus Buckingham. I'm a huge fan of his strengths-focused books and seminars. I think I have all of his books, which are arranged in Stonehenge-fashion on my bookshelf, in an act of worship.

        Just kidding. But when I first read Now, Discover Your Strengths about 4 years ago, I was definitely hooked. For much of my career, I was told that I needed to be a well-rounded employee, showing at least average competency in up to a dozen different areas.

        The Latest Book
        But Buckingham has a different take, that we need to focus on developing strengths (and, as needed, managing around our weaknesses). The brain is better hardwired to get better at the things your more naturally do, instead of learning new tricks. And it seems to match up well with the Biblical principle that God has uniquely created and gifted each person.

        I recently received a copy of his latest book, StandOut, through a give-away. I couldn't wait to read it and take the on-line assessment.

        I've taken his previous assessment tests, which helped me see my strengths in Analyzer, Harmony, Arranger, etc. But whereas the focus had been on 30+ strengths, StandOut focuses on 9 types of roles that best suit you. The results are easier to remember, and more applicable as well (especially as you receive a detailed report that blends the top two results).

        Just the Facts
        Here is a quick overview of my top 3 results, and how I think they fit me:
        1. Connector.  Collect information about topics and people, to store away for the right time. Fascinated by people's gifts and strengths. Think in terms of practical realities. Connect others together, for mutually-beneficial partnerships. Be detailed and specific.
        2. Simulator.  Energy-giving. Encourage. Call upon others to contribute. Not soft and gentle. Feel responsible for others' emotions. Driven to make everything right. Need intentional downtime, and to be liked. Support superlative statements with facts.
        3. Equalizer. Driven to keep balance in this moral world. Hate unfinished work, and people lying. What you see is what you get. Facts are solid. Take a stand for a cause.
        Apparently, I am about facts. I need facts, not opinions. I collect facts. I give facts to help and energize others.

        Your Turn
        These ideas have encouraged me, and have helped me understand how I can be used in the ministry roles and work that God has for me. (And I bought copies for my wife and for the two people on staff with me in the after school program.) If you don't have it yet, I highly encourage you to buy a copy of StandOut today.

        How about you? Have you read any of Buckingham's books? 

        South Carolina State Fair

        Our kids thought that Allendale's Cooter Fest (on Mother's Day weekend) was great. Then, they were amazed by the Orangeburg County Fair. They could not imagine how the SC State Fair could be any better.

        They were wrong. And we all had a great time.

        Thanks to our local 4-H representative, we had wristbands for free admission for the 5 of us. Along with close and free parking, we were already off to a good start.

        We didn't arrive until close to 1PM, so we started with a small lunch. Steak sandwich, chicken tenders, hot dog, chips, and a lemonade (to share). $26. Ouch.

        We walked around a bit, winding up near the cattle (we were looking for our 4H friend, but never saw her and her son, who I think was "showing" his heifer). Fortunately, the kids avoided stepping in any "cow pies."

        Past the petting zoo, you could buy a ticket ($5 per person) to ride either a pony, camel, or elephant. Elephant should always beat the pony. The kids enjoyed the wobbly ride, and petting the elephant's skin.

        We "only" bought 22 tickets (for $25), but it took us a surprisingly-long time to use them up. Sender really enjoys the tamer rides. Which is also surprising to me.

        Hannah road the "Crazy Mouse" with me. Rather, she convinced me to join her. Here's a view from waiting in line.

        Here's a video of us on it. I was more concerned with holding onto my phone than I was about my own daughter. What a great dad, right?

        The kids really wanted to try their skills at games. We successfully steered them away from the most rigged or difficult games (the rigged basketball shooting, and the impossible ring toss). Elijah tried a multi-person Whack-a-Mole, and came in dead last. He was heartbroken.  

        But they all tried throwing darts at balloons. Each balloon popped would mean a prize. They each got three darts, and they each popped the balloon on their final throw (Sender somehow hit one of the prizes with his first throw. Oops.) We came away with 3 new stuffed animals.

        By far the best deal of the day was our fried desserts. We got the sampler platter, and added the fried butter for $1 extra. Have you ever had these? Here's our opinions:
        1. The Milky Way and Reese's Cup were good, but a little too sweet for my taste.
        2. The Oreo was incredible.
        3. The butter was even more incredible. It's a little square or ball of better, with cinnamon. Tastes like a Krispy Kreme "Hot Now" doughnut, with cinnamon. 
        We talked to some of the guys who worked there and found out a couple of cool facts:
        1. For the week (plus a few days) of the SC state fair, this one booth will sell 15,000 fried Oreos. (How many calories is that?)
        2. During the fair, this booth will use one ton of funnel cake batter. That's 2000 pounds, and doesn't count all the funnel cake, elephant ear, etc, kiosks throughout the rest of the fairgrounds.

        Hannah (upon seeing a sign for fried Cool-Aid) said, "You can get deep fried ANYTHING here!"

        It had been about 18 years since my last state fair, but I have a feeling that it won't be that much longer to my next one.

        Edit:  I was right. See these photos from the 2012 State Fair.