Comparison of School Options

In this series on education choices for our children, I wanted to give the notes that I collected (mostly from around 5 years ago, as Hannah was nearing school age) from families who were years ahead of us.  Nothing fancy, just the pros and cons that were given to us.  What I like most is that these insights were given to us by families who had each been involved with multiple education options, so they could give a complete and honest assessment. 
image courtesy of arroclint via

Home School
  • Advantages
  • Simple and good at an early age, with focus on reading
  • Can lay and develop a spiritual foundation
  • Maturity issue:  you can make sure that they are stable in their identity before being around a lot of kids, so they won’t get lost
  • Flexibility with time and vacations
  • Great student:teacher ratio, so you can focus on and customize education to specific academic needs
  • Great emotional benefits; kids’ love tanks are full because of so much time together
  • Children’s primary identity is to family, ahead of peer identity

  • Disadvantages
  • Be mindful of how you use time; it is harmful to be either too regimented (no one will enjoy it) or too laid back (easy to get off track)
  • Need to remember that you still have a life to live, with other roles and responsibilities.  It gets easy to isolate and draw back into the family; need to keep moving towards other relationships.
  • Can be challenging to teach multiple kids and ages
  • Homeschooling with younger children can be hard; challenge to keep toddlers busy
  • Setting stands; it’s easy as a “loving parent” to give kids a bye or overlook things.  In school, if you don’t do the work, you get an “F” – it’s not personal)
  • At some point, you need to teach them to be in and to deal with the world

Private School
  • Advantages
  • Can find a school with the same foundational beliefs
  • Smallness and openness; parents can usually come in an out any time
  • Often have great academic standards

  • Disadvantages
  • Parents can get complacent, relying too much on the school, especially for spiritual development
  • Cost
  • Can be easy to withdraw from engaging the culture

Public School
  • Advantages
  • Can have an advantage for academics because have many more opportunities, especially at higher grades
  • It is good for kids to be around non-Christians before going off to college
  • Great opportunity to teach kids to be in and to deal with the world

  • Disadvantages
  • Can be very trying because of a rough environment
  • Hard to go from a small (home) to a big (school) environment
  • Children pick up some of their identity from peers
  • School is usually not able to focus as well on individual needs

Five-Second Rule

image courtesy of flippnjj via
Though not the first group of researchers to study the 5-second rule (where you deem a piece of food edible if it's been on the floor or ground only a few seconds), I have to give it up to our own Clemson University for being part of this important field of study. 

Basically, if you drop food it will pick up bacteria.  But whether those bacteria make you sick is probably dependent on where you drop it.  And let's face it, how many of us have eaten food off the ground or floor, and not gotten sick because of it?

For me, it's not how long it's been on the floor that determines whether I'll eat it.  The determining factor is what kind of food it is.  Twizzler?  Eat it.  Green bean?  Trash it.  Good piece of meat?  Wipe it off and enjoy.  Bread?  Not worth it. 

What do you think?  Do you follow the five-second rule, or throw away any food that touches the floor?

Knowing My Wife

Everything Men Know About WomenHere are some of the reviews listed on Amazon about Everything Men Know About Women:
  • "In a little more than 100 pages, Dr. Alan Francis distills years of research and thousands of interviews to reveal the most comprehensive understanding of men's knowledge and understanding of the opposite sex."
  • "Finally, the most accurate book on the subject, perfect for any coffee table ."
  • "The perfect gift for your significant other on Valentine's Day, or for the groom celebrating his upcoming nuptial."

What's the big deal about this book, that only costs about $5?  (At that price, if you are close to getting free Super Saver shipping, it might be worth adding this to go over the minimum.)   Well, there is nothing in it but 128 blank pages, because, as one review says, "what do men really know about women?"

It's true that I have much to learn about my wife, Joanna.  As written in I Peter 3:7, I need to consider my wife, to be a student of her as I seek to show her love.  Each year, I am more and more amazed at how much I still learn about her; what does this say about the next 40, 50, or even 60+ years?

In the same way, Joanna is growing in her knowledge of me.  To be honest, I am a complicated and needy individual.  Joanna is patient and forbearing, hard-working and discerning.  I could not have asked for a better or more-suited partner for me in life.  She is growing in her knowledge of me, but this is possible chiefly because she is growing in God and learning what it means to be a woman who reflects God's image.

The Man Whisperer: A Gentle, Results-Oriented Approach to CommunicationI recently read a review of a book called The Man Whisperer: A Gentle, Results-Oriented Approach to Communication.  Like the reviewer, I applaud many of the basic principles which line up exactly with Biblical teaching, like kindness, forgiveness, respect, etc.  However, where I am concerned is when it comes to motivation.  According to the authors of this book, these authors encourage women to build up their men so that they can get what they want.  In contrast, the Bible teaches that true love always is motivated by the best interest of others (Philippians 2:3).  Even more, a husband and wife should not only aim to put their spouse ahead of themselves, but to glorify God in their marriage

Joanna and I fail so often and in so many ways in our marriage.  But not only is the gospel powerful enough to break the power of sin (which manifests itself as pride and selfishness in our marriage), but it is powerful enough to redeem what our sin has broken.  Our prayer is that we can grow in putting God's glory and each other's needs ahead of our own desires.

Fairfax Friday: What We'll Do, and What We'll Need

image courtesy of Nerian via
At the beginning of the year, I asked my kids, "What goals do you think I should have this year?"  Sender (age 4) simply and immediately replied, "Work."

Thanks for the encouragement, my son.

And this is where God led us . . .

    Explaining Abortion to My Son

    If you drive down Woodruff Road in Greenville, SC on most Saturday mornings, you might see an elderly couple holding baby dolls and signs protesting abortion.  A few months ago, as Elijah and I were out going to breakfast and running errands, I saw that we were coming up on this couple, and knew what it was about.  I thought about distracting him by pointing to something on the other side of the road (sort of like what I do when he and I walk past Victoria’s Secret in the mall), but I decided to just see what would happen.   Would he even notice?

    (I’m not saying that my “let’s see what happens” thinking is the best parenting strategy.  I definitely can be on the more risky end of how I like to do things.  Pray for my kids, please, since their Dad is a little messed up in the head at times.)

    And, yes, Elijah did notice.  Actually, he saw them and started laughing, saying, “That man is holding a baby doll!  Why is he doing that?”  

    (I thought, “OK, God.  Here it goes.  Give me wisdom.”)  Here is how our conversation went as we drove down the road:

    Me:  Do you see the signs they’re holding?  What are they trying to get you to think about?
    Elijah:  Something called abortion.  What’s abortion?
    Me:  Well, it’s something people do if they pregnant with a baby, and don’t want to be. 
    Elijah:  What do they do?
    Me:  They actually kill the baby while it’s still in the Mommy’s tummy.
    Elijah:  (With deep sadness and shock in his voice) Why would they want to do that?
    Me:  Why do you think?
    Elijah:  Money.  Lots of people do stuff because they want money.
    Me:  Well, that’s true.  But I think that people have abortions because they are either too selfish or scared to have a baby.  But most of all, it’s an issue on not trusting in God.  They forget that He loves them and that He is in control.
    Elijah:  That’s really bad.
    Me:  Well, we do the same thing, in a way.  Do you ever sin?
    Elijah: Of course.
    Me:  I do, too.  And when we sin, it’s basically telling God that we don’t trust Him.  We are trying to make our own lives work for ourselves.  But we need to remember that He made us, and that He sent His Son to die for us, so that we can live for Him and worship Him.

    This post is not intended to start a rant or debate about the topic of abortion.  Maybe another post, but not here.  Mostly, I wanted to share how thankful I was that Elijah and I had this conversation.  

    I was thankful that Elijah feels comfortable to have talks like this, and that God would give me wisdom to engage my son about this fallen world.   

    I was thankful that I was the first one that got to talk about this with him; he gets to hear my thoughts first, and I want him to hear my thoughts more than anyone else’s.   

    And I was thankful that this topic disturbed him emotionally, and that we got to connect it with the Gospel.  

    Related Links:

    Which Education Option Is Best for My Child?

    image courtesy of cienpies via
    This is a parenting question that I usually try to avoid.  And if you know me, you understand that I rarely shy away from topics.  People say that you should talk about religion and politics with friends; but if we can’t talk about these with friends, with whom can we have meaningful dialogue?

    But when it comes to our choices in educating children, we can get a little defensive.  Even if you (like me) are good at agreeing on the outside, in my heart and mind I feel a pull to declare how I am “right.”  It definitely reveals the arrogant nature of my flesh, and possibly it does for you, too.

    But a couple of friends asked me (see the comments) to address this topic on this blog.  And they are right that it needs to be.  But I feel inadequate to cover all the options.  We have only home-schooled our children, even though I don’t think we always will.  So here is what I’m going to do:
    1. First, I’m going to give a summary of the personal notes (yes, I still have them, from over 5 years ago) that I have from when I picked the brains of other dads I know with kids that are older than ours.  It was before Hannah was in school, and I wanted to gain as much insight as I could as we were making decisions.  Most importantly, I talked with two different families whose children had each experienced a variety of educational choices – homeschool, private, and public.  These parents were able to give overall pros and cons from their own experiences.
    2. Second, I will give a summary of interviews from different families who have chosen schooling options.  These are all families that we have known for years in our church, and we see how they have been intentional to make choices such as schooling with the purpose of shepherding their children.
    3. Third, and you can do this right now, I want to know what schooling option(s) you have used.  Please take a moment and take the poll to the right.  Select as many options as you have used for your own kids.  It will be great to see the variety among our readers.

     Thanks for joining in the conversation.

    Kids and Exercise

    With us moving, I had to give up the gym that I've loved (Fitness 19); it had a great equipment and was very inexpensive.  But all is not lost.  I still have my kids. 

    Real Friends vs Virtual Friends -- Part 2

    I wrote last week about some things we need to remember regarding our children and technology.  We need to be mindful (but not fearful) of the physical, mental, and emotional dangers that can come with “virtual friends.”

    But we need to remember that this applies just as much to adults.  Consider how much of your time and energy goes into social media, chat rooms, texting, forums, etc.?   I am not against technology, of course, as it can help relationships from drifting too far apart.  But texting, tweeting, and Facebook are nowhere near as good at building and maintaining relationships as a phone call, coffee with a friend, or a small group.  

    As a leader, you need to grow and mature, and community is a huge part of that.  I am all for personal Bible study and reading books.  But did you ever notice that in the New Testament, the context for studying the Bible is always in community?   We are not mean to walk through life alone.
    If technology helps you connect, that is great.  But do not let it be a substitute for or a distraction from real community.

    Related Links:

    The Most Depressing Day

    image courtesy of Eggybird via flickr
    Today is supposedly the most depressing day of the year.  That is based on a mathematical equation from Dr. Cliff Arnall at Cardiff University.  This equation is based on factors such as:
    • Distance from Christmas
    • Length of time until next holiday
    • Increase in debt level (presumably from Christmas shopping)
    • Poor weather
    • Failing New Year's resolutions

    Whether or not science and math can accurately determine the one most depressing day is maybe not all that important.  It can be called Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Or, "winter blues."  Whatever it is, most of us just know that this is a hard time of the year, whether we see it in ourselves, or in those around us.

    The Resurgence blog has a series called God and Depression based on Psalms 42 and 43.  If you or someone you know is struggling with any level of depression, you need to read this.  Here are summaries of the posts that I've read so far, which talk about causes for the Psalmist's depression:
    1. Lost His Sense of God.  It is normal, but extremely difficult, to have seasons where God seems to hide His face from you.  But this is a time to grow, a time where your heart is tested.
    2. Lost His Community.  "Just as it is in God's nature to thrive in partnership, so it is with us."  It was God (not Adam) who decried that it wasn't good for man to be alone.  But building community, and lasting in it, takes effort.  "You can either close yourself off and avoid connection with people, or be like Jesus, pushing through and making it work."
    3. Lost His Job.  Men and women are given roles, gifts, and passions.  To not be able to use them can leave us confused and depressed. 

    image courtesy of
    Why am I interested in this topic?  As a scientist, I know that the brain is probably the most complicated organ we have.  We cannot fully understand how it works, and how all the body's hormones affects it.  Depression and mental illnesses are real, and we must figure out how they line up with life and with the Gospel.

    As a friend, I have more friends and family members than I can count on my fingers that are struggling with depression.  I want to know how I can love them and minister to them.

    But mostly I am interested because it has affected me personally.  I have had seasons (even going back to my teenage years) where on the outside everything seemed to be going my way, but inside I was struggling.  The most recent season was about 12-14 months ago.  I knew that I wasn't doing well, but couldn't figure out what it was, until I read Silent Suffering: Pastors and Depression.  A light went off in my head, and I knew I needed help.

    God was gracious to carry me through the season, and helped me take some steps that I would recommend to anyone else:
    1. Pray.  I had to realize that I needed Him more than ever.
    2. Talk to your spouse.  The day I read the article, I printed it and gave it to Joanna, and we talked about what was going on.  I could not have asked for a better partner in life.
    3. Get others on your team.  I didn't broadcast it to the world, but I did confide in a few close friends.  Friends who are close enough to love me, and even tell me hard things that I needed to hear.  Friends who could help me live by repentant faith.  Being depressed means we need true community more than ever.
    4. Go to your church for help.  This may mean a pastor, and this may mean your Small Group leader.  Probably both.  I sure hope you are already in Biblical community.
    5. Get professional help.  I talked with a counselor, who, after listening to my situation, was the first one to say, "Yeah, this sure does sound like depression."  If you are in the Greenville, SC area and want a reference, email me.  
    6. Get rest.  I knew that I needed to be more intentional to Sabbath, on a weekly and monthly basis.  I needed to be able to pause, even momentarily, and look at the great things God was doing.

    Most of all, I learned that my feelings (of despair, sadness, depression, blues, whatever you want to call it) were a tool that God was using to help me grow in Him.  Though I did not enjoy that season, I'm glad that I went through it.  God showed me how much more I needed to love and trust Him, and how much more He had for me than I was receiving.

    Related Links:

    Incredible Wiffle Ball Pitches

    It's coming up on baseball season.  Honestly, I couldn't care less, but this video is amazing.

    Wanna' learn how to do these?  Fortunately, there is a tutorial:

    Jesus Is Adequate for the Task

    This was the perfect week to read this article on 3 Lessons from Jesus Feeding the 5000.  All week long, I reminded myself of these key principles:
    1. The needs always exceed the resources.
    2. I am always inadequate for the task.
    3. Jesus is always more than adequate for every task challenge I face.

    Thank You, Jesus.

    Where Am I?

    image courtesy of lusi via
    You'll never guess where I'm writing this from.

    Well, some of you who know us will know what's going on.  But so much as happened in less than three months, that it has all seemed like such a blur.

    Have you guessed yet?  If you're brave, say it out loud.  (Do you think people literally "laugh out loud" whenever they write LOL?  I did once, reading a really funny text from a friend while in Panera Bread Company.  It was a little embarrassing.)

    OK, ready?  I'm in Allendale, South Carolina.  Actually, right now, I could be in a number of places in Allendale County (which is near the SC-Georgia border).  Whereas Allendale is the county seat, the next major town is Fairfax.  And let's not forget about Ulmer or Sycamore. I might even be in neighboring Barnwell County.

    You may be wondering how I wound up here.  There's a lot to the story, that I'll be glad to share, so please feel free to ask any questions.  But for now you can know that it all started last October, on a Sunday night, as Joanna and I had just lay down in bed.  We had spent a few months trying to discern what God wanted from us, what our next step would be.  I uttered these now-infamous (to us) words:
    "I have a crazy thought."
    (Guys, just as a heads up -- the best time to get into a life-altering discussion is probably not at 10:30PM on a Sunday night.)

    Joanna and I started there and continued talking over the next few weeks, and the next thing you knew, we were considering moving to Allendale.  And the next thing we knew, I was applying for and then (just one day later) accepting a job offer with the Boys and Girls Club for Allendale County.  As soon as we get our ducks in a row, we'll all move down here permanently.  Or, whatever "permanent" means in God's timing.

    You may have figured out that this is one reason I conducted a poll the last few weeks, about what type of place you grew up in.  It was a small sample, but over half grew up in the suburbs, and about one-third of the people taking the poll grew up in a small town or rural area, as Joanna and I did.  But in that post I left out this part of the story about our family visiting Cincinnati -- as we walked out of the city, I distinctly remember telling my wife,
    "It's funny that both of us grew up in small towns, but our kids will never grow up in a rural area."
    (Guys, another heads up -- be careful when you say that something will never happen.)

    For about a year now, we've been trying to figure out what the Mission is that God has for us.  More exactly, since we pretty early on discerned that it most likely involves equipping the next generation, we have just been trying to figure out how to live out that adventure.  In this opportunity in Allendale, we think we found the intersection of:
    • our skills (of working with children and leaders of children), 
    • our passion (to reach the hearts of children for the sake of Christ),
    • our experiences (especially since we both grew up in small towns), and  
    • opportunity (since our church has already partnering with people here for almost 2 years). 

    (I'd like to say that it was very obvious and easy to figure this out, but God had to shut some doors pretty hard in order to get our attention.)

    I figured that this adventure in our life fits nicely into this blog, because it is "A Different Way" in these ways:
    • It is in many respects a very different place to live and parent, compared to Greenville, SC.  Rural doesn't even begin to describe much of this county.
    • We know that we'll learn a lot about what's really important in parenting, no matter where we may live.
    • Through the Boys and Girls Club, we will definitely learn a lot about working with children.

    So, stay tuned to the new label on this blog called Fairfax Friday.  You can stay connected through email updates or RSS post feeds (see the gadgets to the right).  And please forward this on to anyone you think may be interested.

    Lots more to say over the next few weeks and months.  Any questions or thoughts about Allendale?  Have you ever been there?

    Related Link:

    10 Principles for Shepherding My Child Through Salvation and Baptism

    Baptizing Hannah (November 15, 2008)
    I spent some time thinking about what I wrote about baptism (both theology of baptism and why your child is probably not ready for baptism), and about some feedback I received, through comments and personal messages from friends.  Even more, I realized that I need to spend more time thinking about this issue for the sake of my own children, especially with the questions that Elijah has been having.  

    The biggest action step I took was going back and listening the audio recordings of an event that we did in April 2008.  The Children’s Ministry of Grace Church hosted an event called “Shepherding Your Children Through Salvation and Baptism.”  I highly, highly recommend you downloading and listening to the podcasts.  The first audio is the teaching from Pastor Bill White, and the second is a follow-up question-and-answer session with three other pastors.  

    You can find the audio recordings on one of this web page, under Children. (I'm trying to figure out how to add the audio straight to this blog; any help would be appreciated):

      While listening to these teachings, I made some notes on some key things that God was teaching me and reminding me of.  I hope this will be a prompt for you to go and listen to the audio for yourself:

      1. Teach the story of the Bible.  Virtually everything I teach my kids should tie back into one of these three concepts:  
        1. Creation.  We are created in God’s image, and are called to reflect Him.  
        2. Fall.  We are broken sinners in need of a Savior.   
        3. Redemption.  Christ has worked to take care of our sin issue, and the Spirit is still at work in the lives of those who follow Him.  
      2. I need to focus less on the act of conversion, and more and the process of following Jesus.  
      3. I cannot require perfection as a requirement for knowing they are ready to be baptized.  My kids are not going to be perfect, any more than I am.  
      4. How do I know if their hearts are regenerate?  One indication is whether I can see God dealing with them in their hearts, both formatively and correctively.  It can’t just always be me who disciplines them; if they are really following Jesus, God will be doing true heart change in them.  
      5. I must not compartmentalize faith.  Faith is about our entire lives.  We need to live it out and discuss it in all areas of our life.  Worship is not just what we do on Sundays, or during family devotion time.  True worship is all day, every day.  
      6. When they ask about baptism, salvation, etc, don’t be afraid to slow the process down, saying, “Let’s wait for now and keep talking about it more.  We will get there together.”  
      7. I need to challenge my kids in their faith, but I also need to let them own it.  There are times where I need to intentionally engage them, and times where I need to intentionally back off and give the Spirit room to work.  
      8. Remember that there is no magic formula.  I am going to mess up.  Continually.  I am a fallen sinner (see #1, and #3).  But God can and will redeem it all.  
      9. I need to share my story with my children.  They love and connect  with real stories from the present and past.  Tie everything back to the core issue of following Jesus
      10. Let them know from your own life that following Jesus (such as in baptism) is hard.  Discipleship is about giving up your life.  But also remember that God is good, and “He rewards those that earnestly seek Him [in faith]." (Hebrews 11:6)

      Real Friends vs Virtual Friends

      image courtesy of annisat via
      Do your kids like to play games online?  Have they come across sites that give them an opportunity to make "friends" and chat?  We've been there, too.  Hannah, in particular, has had the tendency to want to accept all these friend requests.  After all, what is wrong with making new friends, even when you can't see them?

      We have had to lead her to understand that making "friends" like this is not always bad, but it's not always the best thing.  The danger of making (and even sustaining) friendships online can be put into one of these categories:  physical harm, emotional escape, and relational disconnect.

      Physical Harm.  I think this is the primary concern for most parents when it comes to internet safety.  The principle to remember and to communicate to our children is that we never really know who is on the other side of the computer.  Is it another child, or an adult predator?  Do they want to be friends, or steal your identity?  I don't think we need to fill our kids with fear, but with wisdom to make good choices.  There are tons of resources out there on this topic, so I won't try to list a lot here.  But here are a couple of links for Keeping Kids Safe Online and for Internet Safety Software.

      Emotional Escape.  Especially for teens and preteens, the pressures of life can seem overwhelming.  As parents, let us not minimize or dismiss what they are going through.  (I always say that I would not go back to middle school for a million dollars.)  Escaping into a world of avatars, chat rooms, fantastical or romantic heroics, and world domination can be so enticing, rather than the real world of hormones, tests, chores, and bullies.  An article I read recently reminded me that parents must take control.  While it is commonplace nowadays for teens to spend hours online and send hundreds of texts every day, I am struck that one 12th-grader "says he sometimes wishes his parents would force him to quit playing and study, because he finds it hard to quit when given the choice." 

      Relational Disconnect.  Hannah, who is in 4th grade, is entering into the phase in life where friendships become much more meaningful to her.  Of course, it was my wife who pointed this out to me last year, and is helping me to understand what this stage is life.  This may be more true for girls, but relationships are important for all people -- adults and children, male and female.  What we have explained to Hannah regarding online relationships ("friends," "chatting," etc) is that she needs to be pouring her time and energy into building real relationships.  We all have a limited amount of time and emotional energy, and both of these are required to connect with others in a meaningful way.  While technology can be a tool to facilitate the building and maintenance of relationships, it can also be a hindrance to true community. 

      Do you have any other recommended articles and resources for internet safety, especially for children?

      Related Links:

      Tim Hawkins on Parenting

      Most of us make resolutions for the new year.  Mine is to not parent like Tim Hawkins.


      You Are a Leader, and You Need Help

      If you are reading this, then I'm willing to bet that you are a leader.  And being a leader doesn't mean that you know it all; it means that you still have a lot to learn. 

      You may lead a staff of 100 people, or 8.  You may lead a team of 15 volunteers, or 700.  You may lead your wife, and/or children.  It may be all of the above.  But no matter how many or how old the group that is under your care, one thing is clear -- God has given you a responsibility to help others and to make their lives better.

      Best of all, He has not left you unequipped.  He has given you His own Spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline, so we have no reason to fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

      I am always looking for opportunities to grow as a leader.  That's why I was excited to see a link last week, in which Pastor Mark Driscoll is offering Leadership Coaching.  I saw the list of what was being offered, and signed up immediately.

      What about you?  Are you going to sign up?

      At What Age Do We Need to Dictate More Modesty?

      This question came from a parent of a 7-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl.  These two siblings have always been close to each other, and are too young to understand the full ramifications of gender differences, especially physical uniqueness.  So, if the kids are oblivious, should we dictate more modesty, or wait until they start to notice?

      We are in a similar situation ourselves, with Hannah being about 26 months older than Elijah.  They shared a room until the summer of 2009 (Hannah was almost 8, and Elijah was 5 1/2).  When they were much younger, they took baths together (they had fun, and it saved on water).  And at certain ages, all of our kids has been known to run through the house "streaking."  I say this to let you know that we're not completely conservative with regards to this issue.  We have good friends that we love (and that are so much better parents than we are) who are much more restrictive in this area. 

      But, I do think that we needed to be ahead of the curve, to be proactive in what we are teaching and dictating for our children.  At some point, we were the ones who stopped bathing Hannah and Elijah together.  (Occasionally, though Sender, age 4, will bathe with her.  But since she's changed his diapers some when he was younger, she doesn't need to be protected from knowing the male anatomy.  But we will stop this soon, to protect her modesty from him.)  We told Hannah some time ago that she had to dress in private, away from her brothers; it's only since then that she herself feels the need to seek privacy.  Yes, as best we can, we need to be making proactive decisions before our kids really notice and understand.

      Like a lot of parenting discussions (including those centered around sexuality, drugs, college, etc), if you wait until you feel like they are completely ready, it's probably too late.  Instead, we need to think of sexuality as one big conversation, broken up into hundreds of portions throughout their childhood and teen years.  In fact, making decisions to enforce more modesty when they are young is definitely a part of this conversation.

      7 Ways to Grow in Faith

      You Can Change: God's Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative EmotionsThese thoughts were originally posted on the Grace Church Children's Ministry Parenting Blog.  I thought that it was worth bringing up again here, and to give some additional thoughts as it relates to discipling children. 

      Last year, I read You Can Change, by Tim Chester.  While the title makes it seem like a typical self-help book, it is actually far from that.  In fact, the author is intentional to remind the reader that we absolutely cannot change on our own.  We need the power of the God, working through the Holy Spirit, to change us from the inside out.  It's not about behavior modification; it's about heart transformation.

      My tendency is to make a checklist of personal achievements, disciplines, and goals, and when (or, if) I accomplish them, then I assume I am a better person.  However, Chester gives us a list of things in chapter 8 as means that God uses to help us grow in our faith.  Our role is to repent and believe (Mark 1:14-15); God will strengthen our faith through these areas:
      1. The Bible.  "The Bible is the source of truth that counters the lies of sin that the world perpetuates." 
      2. Prayer.  "Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart."
      3. Community.  We are to remind each other of truth, serve each other, provide accountability for each other, and more.
      4. Worship.  "Worship isn't just an affirmation that God is good. It's an affirmation that God is better."
      5. Service.  "Sin is fundamentally an orientation toward self. . . . Serving God and other people can help redirect us outward, taking our attention away from ourselves."
      6. Suffering.  It "reveals the true state of our hearts. It's God's diagnostic tool, preparing the way for the medicine of gospel truth."  And it gives us the choice to either get angry and bitter, or to find joy and peace in God.
      7. Hope.  We should spend time thinking about our future life in heaven.

      Not just for your own growth, which is crucial if you want to make disciples of the next generation, but we can think about how these seven means can be applied to reach the hearts of children for the sake of the Gospel. 
      1. We need to teach children the Bible.  Yes, fun is important, but so is knowledge of our heavenly Father and His Son, the Savior. Not only teach them, but help them learn to study the Bible themselves.
      2. Pray for your kids, and with your kids.  
      3. Besides your need for community, consider how to help them have good friends.  Be involved in your local church.  Make your home a place where your kids' friends want to be.
      4. Again, be involved in your local church.  This is not just about "going to church" once per week, but realizing that worship is what we do every day.  
      5. Let your kids see you serving, and include them as much as possible.
      6. When you go through suffering and hard times, how do you respond?  Are you more concerned with your comfort and self-righteousness, or how God can be glorified in any situation?
      7. Always talk about your future hope.  As you comfort a hurting child, remind them that Jesus will one day end all suffering and pain.

      And as we teach them these things, remember also that the goal is for them to want to grow in these areas for themselves.  I want children to have a heart that yearns for and depends on God, and that they know that these means are a way for them to know and grow more intimately in Him.

      This book provides a great mix of theology and Biblical principles, with practical application.  It is a great resource for personal growth, for leader development, to go through with a friend, or a Bible study.  Want to learn more?  I encourage you to get a copy of You Can Change

      Related Links:

      Poll: In What Kind of Place Did You Grow Up?

      Walking in Cincinnati, OH
      This past summer, on the way to visit some family in Indianapolis, we spent a night in northern Kentucky.  Instead of hanging around the hotel, Joanna had the great idea to go into Cincinnati for dinner.  It was especially great for our kids, who had never been in a big city before (no offense, Charlotte and Fort Lauderdale).  It lead to some great dinner discussion about the differences between living in the city, the suburbs, and in the country.  All the kids agreed that although they've only lived in the suburbs, they'd each like to live some portion of their lives in the city and in the country.

      As I share on the About Me page, I spent my middle and high school years in a small, small town (Swansea, SC; high school graduating class = 117).  Joanna grew up in even a smaller town (Great Falls, SC; graduating class = 80).  But since graduating from college, we have both lived in Greenville, or just outside of this city.

      You may have noticed that I added a gadget to the right, about an informal poll I'm doing with you, the readers.  I am curious about where you grew up.  Please take two seconds to select which option best answers the question.  (I'm a data hound, in case you didn't know.)

      Thanks for playing.

      Let Your Kids Evaluate You

      I get an email almost every day from All Pro Dad, which contains links to stories, tips, and questions for evaluation.  In just a few seconds, I can scan the email and determine whether that day's topic applies to me and if I need to take an action step.  About half the time it does apply, and the rest of the time I just delete the email.  Most of the action items involve a simple question to ask my children or wife.  This has been a simple and easy tool that has helped me lead and engage my family.

      Not too long ago, the email was for a Kids Quiz, which consists of 12 questions that my children needed to answer, as a way to evaluate how I am doing as a father. It was a multiple choice format, with questions like, "Does your dad spend time with you?", "Do you all eat together as a family?", and "Does your dad know your friends?" 

      I gave a copy to Hannah and Elijah (separately), and I asked them to take the quiz.  I stressed for them to be honest, and I think they were.  I explained to them that this was a great way for me to learn and grow, and to show my kids that they can actually help me become a better man.  Also, it was a great way to model humility for my kids (they need to see me want to grow).

      Their responses were a combination of challenging and encouraging; most were very positive.  Here's a sampling of some of their answers that may indicate some areas I need to take to heart:
      • Elijah said that he wants me to spend more time with him.
      • Both said that I know only a little bit about their friends.
      • Elijah said that he's not sure how much time we'd spend together when he moves out of the house.  That concerned me at first, but upon talking to him more, I figured that he meant it from his perspective, not mine.  He knew that when he is an adult his primary focus will not be me, but his own family.

      Dads, I encourage you to try this quiz for yourself, and also to sign up for the daily email, called the Play of the Day.  (Moms, there is a companion site called iMOM.)

      And if you want to go deeper on this particular topic, here are 10 Sacrifices a Good Father Makes for His Child 

      Anyone else going to let their kids evaluate you? 

      Related Links:

      A Punch in the Arm

      image courtesy of .A.A via flickr
      In Don't Change the Rules, I talked about how our kids have been enjoying playing the "Punch Buggy" game.  I was relieved that, unlike my experience as a child, I didn't have to deal with them beating each other up physically.  My older brother and other friends left countless bruises on me.  (I, in turn, tattled on them countless times, so it all worked out.)

      But I did have to teach my kids that even more important than keeping peace with each other is being willing to sacrificially love each other and put others first.  We had to get to the heart of the issue, to expose how they created a system that managed a difficult situation.

      But we do the same thing, right?  We change the system and manipulate our circumstances in order to keep ourselves from dealing with the root issues.  For example:
      1. When we have a conflict with someone in our church, we avoid eye-contact so we don't have to try to be pleasant and kind.  We might even intentionally walk the other way when we see them.  It's much easier to just not talk to them.  
      2. Even worse (I think), when we are in conflict and tension, we do smile and exchange pleasantries, ignoring the fact that there is a real rift in the relationship, we refuse to address it with them in a loving and God-honoring way.
      3. When a friend asks, "How are you?" we instinctively say "Fine" with a smile, instead of sharing the burden in our heart.  I'll never forget the time years ago when I asked a friend how he was doing, and he honestly replied, "I'm tired.  Really and deeply tired."  
      4. Instead of engaging your spouse when he or she hurts you, you keep it in, creating an illusion of peace, versus using that opportunity to grow in oneness.
      5. When you feel slighted by another, it's easier to talk about it with a third party, instead of addressing it directly with the offender. 

      God doesn't want us to create a false peace.  He wants our hearts to worship Him alone, and to put away the idols of self, security, and comfort.  And He wants to expose and break our hearts, no matter how much it hurts in the short term.  

      And trust me, that exposing and breaking hurts -- more than a hard punch in the arm from my big brother.

      Is My Child Ready for Baptism? Probably Not.

      In yesterday's post, I gave an overview of what baptism is and who it is for. Today, I will try to give direction for how this applies to parents of young children.

      A young child's faith and belief system are very interlocked with that of his parents. However, as the child ages, his thinking becomes less dependent on the parents. For example, we almost never find a healthy and mature 7-year-old who has immature or dysfunctional parents, but we see it much more often with teenagers. Older children have more opportunities to struggle, to sin, to love, to pursue their own things. These opportunities give parents the chance to assess where the child is spiritually, or even for the child to make their own decisions about spiritual growth.

      In the previous post, I made the case that a candidate for baptism must have an understanding of the Gospel, a living faith and trust in Christ, and a conscience that cries out for cleansing. The important thing to note is that all three factors must be present, not just the first two. My experience has been that:
      1. Virtually all children can learn the Gospel message, as long as they have sufficient training and discipleship.
      2. Most children (again, those who are being discipled) are growing in trust, wisdom, and obedience.
      3. Very few children (especially before around middle school age) have come to a point where they are crying out in repentance. 
      This third point is crucial. For salvation and baptism, one needs more than mere theological understanding, and more than a simple response to these facts. After all, even demons believe in one God, and they have an emotional response of fear (James 2:19). It is noteworthy that the first two factors listed above depend heavily on parents and other adults to disciple (although the Holy Spirit must also be at work). However, the third factor -- a conscience that has been pierced -- is completely a work of the Holy Spirit.

      Baptism should be a meaningful experience for all believers, and it is my experience that most young children should wait until at least middle school age (or late elementary school, at the earliest) before becoming baptized. But even if your child is preschool- or elementary-age, now is a great time to begin discussing salvation and baptism with him. For additional information about this topic, see the website for Grace Church (Greenville, SC).

      You can find additional resources for parents in the section regarding children age 12 and under. In particular, you should listen to the two audio recordings from an event we did a few years ago, about Shepherding Your Child Through Salvation and Baptism.

      And especially for young children, if he has never seen someone being baptized (because of involvement with Children's Ministry programming or Children's Church), make sure you let him sit with you sometime. It will be a great aid to your dialogue.

      I'd love your thoughts, comments, and questions.

      Related Links:

      Is My Child Ready for Baptism? Theology Is Needed.

      A few weeks ago, our older two children joined us in the adult worship service.  I knew that communion (the Lord's Supper) was being offered, so I made sure to let Elijah know ahead of time that he would not be taking communion with Joanna, Hannah, and I.  Why?  He has not yet been baptized, and I believe that baptism should precede communion.  I know that others may disagree with this theology, so in another post I give some reasoning for why baptism should precede communion.

      (Understandably, Elijah was somewhat upset that he would be left out of communion.  Sure, I could have just let him take communion; that sure would have been made us both feel better.  But, as I explained to him, I am responsible for leading him in this area of discipleship.  If I let him do this but he is not ready in God's eyes, then God would hold both him and me accountable for our actions.  Also, I hope that by letting him struggle with this issue, that I can use it to drive him towards the Gospel.)

      Before we ask, "Is my child ready to be baptized?" we must be clear on what baptism is.  It is clear from scripture that baptism is an ordinance that Christ gave the church, as a one-time act of obedience that is an outward testimony of a person's belief in Christ.  So, baptism is directly connected to a person's relationship with Christ. Therefore, even a bigger question than "Is my child ready to be baptized?" is "Is my child a true believer in and follower of Jesus Christ?"

      While only the Lord can truly know the spiritual condition of someone's heart, in practical terms we can look for three things to help us discern where our children are:
      1. Understanding of the truth of the Gospel.  The candidate for baptism must know and be able to articulate truth about Jesus, sin, salvation, baptism, etc.
      2. Trust in Christ.  This trust is best demonstrated by how the person responds to and makes decisions based on truth.  Works do not determine salvation, but they are an indication of faith (James 2:14-17).  It's not that anyone who has been redeemed will live perfectly, but someone who has had a true heart conversion should be living out a pattern of obedience. 
      3. A conscience that cries out for cleansing.  For example, in Acts 2:27-38, we see where the people's hearts were pierced by the Gospel, and Peter told them to repent and be baptized.  

      For young children, their relationship with God is primarily through their parents, and especially how they obey their parents (quickly, completely, and happily).  Be cautious -- it is often hard to distinguish between normal maturation and true heart change.

      Also, if the topic of baptism comes up with your child, the first question should be "Why do you want to be baptized?"  If he or she cannot give a clear, Biblical, Gospel-centered answer, that would be a red flag for sure.

      Read more tomorrow as I will try to give more direction for how all this applies to parents and leaders of young children.  For now, I'll say that, in general, while children can have a certain amount of faith that is real, most young children are not usually pursuing Christ on their own and are not eager for spiritual growth.

      Has any of your children been baptized as a believer, or asked about it?  I had the awesome experience of baptizing Hannah in November 2008, and as I wrote above, we're in the process of leading Elijah in this area.

      Read the next post in the series, Is My Child Ready for Baptism? Probably Not. 

      Related Link:

      Read and Share Winner

      Thanks to everyone who participated in the Read and Share contest.  Being someone who's Love Language is "Words of Affirmation," I was grateful for all the feedback. I always enjoy reading comments, even as much as I enjoy writing.

      Seems like the most popular posts have been about Santa, and especially the posts from a "Santa Family."  I'm trying to not be emotionally-scarred by the fact that the most popular posts are the ones I didn't even write. (Thanks again, Burns.)

      So, from everyone who left a comment (except my brother, who didn't follow the rules), I randomly chose a winner, and congratulations to . . .
      • Kelley Haff -- winner of a $25 gift card to Chick-Fil-A
      • Jenn Davis -- since the Haff's already have this Bible, Jenn will get the Bible

      Thanks to everyone for participating.  If you didn't win the Bible storybook but want to own one, you can order it from Amazon.

      Please keeping on reading and sharing, and here are some tips to help you do so:
      • Read:  You may want to subscribe to email updates or to RSS feeds; both options are available to the right
      • Share: Have you noticed the buttons under each post?  They make it easy to share via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. 

      If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment or email me.

      Teaching Preschoolers About the Crucifixion?

      image courtesy of scazon via flickr
      Next in our list of parenting questions that we've been working through was from a single mom.  She has two children who she has been teaching them about Jesus being crucified.  This has led to her 4-year-old talking more about death and being with Jesus one day.  Also, the child expressed how she doesn't like the Roman soldiers (the "bad guys") who killed Jesus.  The ex-husband doesn't like the child talking about "being excited to be with Jesus," and this mom was wondering if Jesus' crucifixion is an age-appropriate topic for preschoolers. 

      I told her that I absolutely think that the crucifixion is an age-appropriate topic for young children, even toddlers.  (Of course, the specific terminology that is used can make a difference, and needs to be age-appropriate.)  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the foundations of our faith.  Nothing else matters outside of the context of these topics.

      I would say that these conversations need to be part of the regular and continual dialogue that we have with our children.  Here are some basic principles that should be incorporated into these dialogues:
      • God created us and loves us.
      • We are all sinners who do not deserve to be near God.
      • God cannot be near sin, so our sin needs to be dealt with if we want to be with God.
      • We can never be good enough or work hard enough to deal with our sin.
      • God sent Jesus, who was fully God and fully man.
      • Jesus died on the cross, to take the punishment for our sins.
      • After 3 days, Jesus rose from the dead, proving His power over sin and death.
      • Through faith in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, we can have eternal life with God.

      As far as the child expressing dislike for the "bad guys", we need to remember that our call is to love everyone.  Even more, we are ALL the same as those "bad guys."  It's because of our sin that Jesus died on the cross; we are just as guilty, if not more so, than those soldiers or anyone else.

      Bernard and I (Nairobi, Dec 2007)
      What a great opportunity to talk to our children about life and death!  We should be excited about being with Jesus.  I am reminded of the sermon by our partner in Kenya, Bernard Kabaru, who taught at our church last fall.  With all the suffering that Bernard sees day by day, part of him can't wait for Jesus to return, to put and end to suffering and death.  But part of him wants Jesus to wait, so that there is more time for people to come to faith in Jesus.

      So, until God calls us to be with Him, our role now is to know Him more and to tell others about Him, so they can have the opportunity to be with Him, too.  You can use this topic of conversation to be stirred to action.  Talk about this with your child:
      • How can we share the love of Jesus with others with our actions?
      • How can we share the love of Jesus with our words?
      • Who can we tell about God's great plan of redemption?
      • Who can we pray for to believe in Jesus?

      Related Links:

        Read And Share Storybook Bible

        As I've said before, I'm pretty skeptical of storybook Bibles (though I do use them).  But I promised last week that I would give a review of the Read and Share Bible, and then give away a copy.  Over the past few weeks, I've been looking through this Bible, and reading some to Sender, our 4-year-old.  There are a lot of features that I liked about this storybook Bible, including:
        • Breadth of content.  There are over 200 stories in this Bible.  Many storybook Bibles cut out so much great content.  This one touches a lot of topics that others do not.
        • Brevity.  Each story is just two pages, including great pictures.  This makes me and my son want to keep reading more, which is better than having each one drag out and me wanting to just be done.
        • Discussion prompters.  At the end of each story, there is a question or statement that you can use to continue the discussion with your child.  I'm a big fan of dialogue and keeping the conversation going (as I described here), whether talking with adults or with children.  Thinking of life and discipleship as one big conversation seems to fit with a Deuteronomy 6:6-9 type of philosophy.
        • Mostly accurate depictions.  I liked that the angels seemed to be drawn as males, and without halos.  I like that it says that Adam and Eve ate "fruit" (not an "apple").

        There were a few minor things that I wish were different:
        • More discussion questions.  I would have preferred fewer statements and more questions as the discussion prompters at the end of each story.  A statement tends to end conversation, while a question gives the listener (such as your child) a chance to share his or her thinking. 
        • More depth of content.  I realize that this is in direct tension with me liking the brevity of the stories.  But for many of the stories, I just wished there was a little more to them.
        • Pictures that instill more awe.  Angels that are a little more menacing (remember, they always caused people in the Bible to react in fear).  A bigger ark for Noah.  Just a little bit of blood.  And why do all the men have big, peach-ish noses?

        Overall, I've enjoyed using the Read and Share Bible, and I would recommend it for parents and leaders of preschool-age children, maybe even up to first grade or so.  Additionally, you can get the DVD Bible, each of the four volumes has thirteen 3-minute stories.  This would be a good tool for families, and our church as used it in our weekend programming for preschoolers.  See the video trailer below, and you can order it here.

        (Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing copies of the Bible to review and give away.)

        Related Link: