Favorite Tweets from December

@BuzzFeed: Well played, Florida

It's the last day of 2013, and I'm thinking about my blog. And the warm weather I enjoyed in Florida. And these Tweets.

You should think about them, too.

Tweets From Others:

@LeeClampYou know what's worse than getting beat 5 years in a row by USC? Walking back to your car after watching it happen...wearing orange.

@PaulTrippThankfully God's commitment to us is based on his character and not on ours.

@RheTelBrianDough my bread, my uncooked bread. Ray, the guy that cooked the eggs. Me, the guy that cleaned my plate.  

@plonkertonsDon't listen to disagree or agree... Listen to Understand

@Rev_NoRespectA recent study shows that 0% of people repent because they were rebuked for saying "Happy Holidays!"

@LeadersServe: Focus on the pursuit not the outcome. 

@mbspannSC:  The Christian life is a perpetual state of dying to yourself so that your heart will flourish.  

@Gospel_Project“Cut the Bible anywhere, and it will bleed. The blood of Jesus stains every page.”

@JohnSowers:  The nativity scene is only part of the Advent vision. The cross also lies in the manger, alongside the scandalous Hope of redemption.

@ClintArcher The 9 words of Christmas: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. 1Tm1:15

Tweets From Me:

: "We should have more programs in the synagogue."

My main message for about 80 students: "Get up and do something."

15 minutes late & I'm still the first one here.  

"A man's responsibility in any environment should be to make it better." Bill White

"Inside the Box" // We don't value innovation as much as we say we do.

My 6 year old: "Those hash browns tasted like potatoes."

Little Guy, Big Mind

Today, my son Sender turns 7. It's funny to think that when we moved to Allendale, that Elijah was his age, while Sender was only 4. He was just a little dude!

Like Elijah, Sender reminds me of myself when I was his age. We look alike, he loves games (including video games). But he's better at sports than I was, and he works harder at household responsibilities than I did. Plus, he knows lots more about Jesus and God than I did until I was way older.

A few weeks ago, he wrote a song, probably during his afternoon rest time, where he reads and plays by himself. While the theology has room to grow, I love that he was thinking deeply about God during that time. And I thought the general message was a great reminder for us at Christmas.

Give all your strength and all your wealth
And you'll have Someone beside you.
Who is that? Jesus Christ!
He'll always be inside you.
He'll give you strength, he'll give you faith
So don't be afraid of anything.
Because Jesus is inside you.
So don't be afraid of anything.
Don't be afraid of anything.

To Sender -- I look forward to more of your fun (and your thinking) over the next year!

Related Links:

My Christmas Gift to Myself . . . and to My Family

Next week, I have one post scheduled for this blog, on Monday (for my birthday boy). Other than that, I'm taking a week off from blogging. This break is a gift to myself, and to my family.

Have a great weekend, a great week, and a very merry Christmas!

PS -- I trust that you are ok with this decision. I hope I didn't make you faint, like Mary did in this manger scene.

7 Inspiring Articles on Christmas

Unpacking treasures stored away for a year.

Now's the time of the year where every blogger writes about Christmas. And I'm no exception.

I'm sure you have seen and read plenty of Christmas articles over the past couple of weeks. But here are some more great articles (some from last year, and some from this year) that have helped me worship Jesus this Christmas.

The Scandal of the Incarnation.  "I’m glad that the Almighty God of the universe loved his people so much that he was willing to come in obscurity, to live in humility, and die shamefully so that we might be forgiven and have life to the full."

Christmas in a Cold Prison.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent the Christmas of 1943 in prison, and again in 1944. Commenting on this fact, Tony Reinke writes, "We can miss this meaning of Christmas if our celebration is only wrapped up in comfortable warm fires and the fellowship of friends and family. We can miss the memory of our desperation that required the Son of God to suffer for us. We can miss the personal desperation met in the manger. And we can miss out on the fellowship of his sufferings."

The Incarnation.  Not an article, but a beautiful 3-minute video by Odd Thomas. You can click on the link, or just watch it here:

3 Tips for Sharing Jesus with Others This Christmas.  Adam Ramsey reminds us that we are surrounded with opportunities to share the gift of the gospel. "Freely we have received. This Christmas, let’s freely give."

Five Things to Teach Your Children This Christmas.  "Christmas provides a wonderful opportunity to pour the truths of the gospel into the hearts of our children. It’s an ideal time to show them the greatest gift they could ever receive, the gift of Jesus Christ."

Why Jesus Came.  From an Advent devotion from John Piper, it's the entire mission of Jesus in two verses.

Jesus in Prison.  An excerpt of a sermon that a friend of mine gave in a young offender's prison. The gospel could not have been made more relevant.

Santa Is Not a Salvation Issue

A few days ago, a 5th grade boy told me that he was going on a diet. I asked him why, since he's an average-sized child. He said that a pastor told him and his mom, "You have to go on a diet for three days if you want to be in the presence of God."

I asked him a series of questions, trying to get him to think through this issue:
  • Does the Bible say that you have to diet in order to be near God? But the pastor said so.
  • What does the Bible say you have to do in order to be with God? Believe and do good works. (I ignored this last point, and emphasized the first part of the answer.)
  • So if a person says one thing, but the Bible says another, who or what should we trust? The Bible, but the pastor said that God has spoken to him.
  • How do you know that God has spoken to him? Because he can heal people.
  • Have you seen him heal people? No, but he's been all over the world healing people.
  • Can he heal my eyes so I won't need glasses any more? Or what about my fingers that were broken and healed crookedly? I don't know. I just know that he says I need to go on a diet so I can be in the presence of God.

Realizing that I had reached a limit in my questioning, and running out of time to talk with him, I very clearly explained that that "pastor" was contradicting the Bible. God would never give someone a message that goes against what He has given us in His word.

The boy's mom wasn't around, or I would have talked to her, too. I don't like to correct someone without giving them a chance to explain. But in this conversation about salvation, I felt compelled to contract lies and false teaching, and to preach the truth.

I used to see every topic as black-and-white, right-versus-wrong. But over the years, I've learned that not all issues are equally important to argue.

Is Santa a Lie?

Last year, Clint Archer outlined his case that parents should not lie about Santa Claus. I agree that we as parents must always be careful in the truths that we teach our children, and to say what we mean and mean what we say.

But I believe that the things we say are not nearly as important as the reasons we say them. The motive is more important than our method.

Lying is condemned in the Bible not merely for the act in itself, but for what that action usually represents -- a failure to trust God, and/or an unhealthy fear of others. In the case of Santa Claus, I think it's a sin to use the story of Santa to try to get kids to behave in a certain way.  ("Be good, or you won't get any presents!")

But what if a parent just uses the story of Santa just for the fun of it? Or even as a way to point to Jesus (see below for a link to a pro-Santa family's handling of Santa). Whether that is a good or poor decision is up for discussion, but at the least we could make a case that it does not encompass sinful motives (that is, a failure to trust God or an unhealthy fear of others).

And for all you anti-Santa families, please don't tell others that lies make baby Jesus cry, or that Santa is linked with Satan.

Our Method: No Santa

My wife and I have never "done Santa" -- not in the context of him coming down the chimney to deliver presents. That has been our choice, and I'm glad that we went that way.

But we must be clear that this is not a heaven-or-hell issue. We must be careful to not become arrogant, judgmental, and condescending in how we act towards others in the church (and definitely towards those who are not followers of Jesus). I know I've made this mistake in the past, responding to questions with a flat out, "We don't lie to our kids." Groan....

While we have made this choice, we have also been sure to teach our children that it is not their role to tell other children that Santa isn't real. (You can read more in Don't Kill Santa Claus.) For a young child, the parent is the spiritual authority, and I need to trust (and help, if possible) that the parent is leading his or her children.

(Note that when I corrected that 5th grade boy about how you get into the presence of God, I felt that was OK because that is a salvation issue.)

Friends Who Have "Done" Santa

Even though we never taught our kids that Santa was real, we have some great, Jesus-loving friends who have made the opposite choice. And do you know what I have noticed? That their kids are turning out fine. They are not scarred because "Mommy and Daddy lied to them," as many of us no-Santa families would have everyone believe would happen.

For more on how a Christian family has incorporated Santa into their traditions, check out Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1 and Part 2.

Of First Importance 

The most important thing we need to do as Christian parents is help our kids believe in Jesus. But I haven't seen any evidence to support that teaching kids about Santa makes them more likely to doubt the truth about Jesus. It's an unfounded fear that us no-Santa people have.

If kids grow up in a home that is full of love, and where they see parents seeking and growing in Christ, they will overlook any of our sins -- lying, laziness, or whatever. At the least, they'll be able to view our choices and shortcomings in the view of the Gospel.

"For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,"
(I Corinthians 15:3-4)

Just Like Me

Introducing him to one of my favorite childhood games
Today is my older son Elijah's 10th birthday. Double-digits is big time.

What I've been thinking about lately is how much he reminds me of myself when I was his age:
  • enjoys reading
  • enjoys and is refreshed by sitting on his bed and reading a book
  • loves games, including chess and video games
  • probably plays video games too much (though I was worse)
  • loves (and is good at) science and math

He also has some advantages over me. I think he is definitely smarter than I was at his age. He and works harder than I did with household responsibilities.

We also have the same struggle with pride and self-focus. I am sure that I was much worse, and I still am.

When I see Elijah struggle with pride and selfishness, I am concerned because I've seen the damage it has done in my life and in the lives of those around me. When I see him struggle with this, I feel compelled to call him out, and to call him back to the gospel. I am teaching him truths (as I preach to myself), such as Proverbs 12:23.
"A prudent man conceals knowledge, 
But the heart of fools proclaims folly."

One other way that we are both alike. . . . As a child, I know I was loved, and he is loved as well. I love him enough to accept him unconditionally, just as he is (strengths and shortcomings and all), and I love him enough to help him become all that God wants him to be. I try to love him in this way, just as the Father loves me.

In giving me a son that is just like me in many ways, my heavenly Father has once again revealed Himself to me.

Does God Ordain Specific Roles in the Family?

Recently, I've come across some questionable teaching on what the Bible teaches about family (marriage and parenting). Most of the teaching has centered on what Paul wrote in his epistles, particularly in Colossians and Ephesians. I've heard these ideas from more than one source, and it led me to deeper reflection and study.

Like so much else on this blog, the following post is not so much intended to teach others some great truths, but a way for me to process and learn. Nonetheless, I hope this post can be helpful to some.

As I've dissected the questionable teachings / writings, I could categorize the principles in a four mis-truths, some of which you have probably heard, either in the church or in the culture. They are:
  1. The concept of specific roles is outdated and man-centered.
  2. We are called to mutually submit to each other.
  3. The key problem within families is that the individuals are shallowly connected to each other. 
  4. Our sin leads our kids to sin.
Having reflected on these ideas, below are my counter-arguments. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on Colossians 3:18-21.

18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. 20 Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Roles Are Not Outdated, But Are God's Ideas

One person attempted to explain away the gender- and age-specific commands by pointing to verses 3:22 - 4:1. "This passage talks about slaves, and since we know that slavery is not a good thing, we have to reinterpret this passage."

Of course, such a cursory view of this passage's mention of slaves and masters involves unsound bible exegesis. The scope of this post is not to explain what slavery was like in biblical times, but let's at least agree that we can't brush it aside in a few seconds.

Furthermore, roles are not man-originated. Look at the Trinity -- the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. There are roles in the Trinitarian model of God: the Father sent the Son, and the Son obeys the Father, and the Spirit is sent out by both the Father and the Son. God puts a high value on roles, because roles are an essential part of who He is.

Family Members Are Not Called to Mutually Submit

In Ephesians 5, just before Paul writes to wives, husbands, children, and slaves (similar to his teachings in Colossians), he says to "be subject to one another in the fear of Christ" (v. 21). Some translations use submit in the place of be subject. Therefore, goes the false-teaching, the idea to submit to each other (Eph. 5:21) supersedes the idea of a wife submitting to her husband (v. 22).

The problem with this deduction is that the context before verse 22 is the church, not the family. Paul clearly teaches that there is a head to the family, and it is the father. The wife is commanded to submit to him.

This headship has been abused for centuries, and still is today. But that does not make it less of a command and ordination by God. Let's be clear that biblical headship (one role of a husband) is about responsibility, not tyrannical authority. However, it surely does include authority. In a two-person organization (such as a marriage), someone's vote logically has to carry more weight.

And let's be clear what the command to submit entails. This does not mean that the husband can command the wife to submit, or make the wife submit. The Greek word for submit is in a verb tense which means "wives, submit yourselves." When Paul (under the direction of the Holy Spirit) tells the wife to submit to her husband, he is speaking to her and her alone. 

Even worse is the attempt to try to explain that parents are called to be subject to their children. Parents are the God-ordained authorities over their children.

The Core Problem Is Vertical, Not Horizontal

When you look at families, especially families that are struggling (and aren't we all to an extent?), the main problem isn't that we fail to respect each other. The main problem is how we view Jesus and how we respond to Him.

Our motivation should not be to have better relationships or to have people treat us like we want to be treated. Our motivation should be to obey and trust Jesus, no matter how others treat us in return.

In the nine verses from Colossians 3:18 - 4:1, the "Lord" is pointed to at least seven times. Paul centers this passage in the perspective that how I treat my family and others is rooted in my relationship with the Lord, not in how I want them to respond.

Kids Sin Because They Are Sinners

Some say that our families are dysfunctional because parents are sinning against God, and this leads their children to rebel against God. This point is true, to an extent.

Does my sin affect my children, and model wrong behavior to them? Absolutely! But does my sin cause my kids to sin? No, they are sinners regardless of what I do. Their own sin nature causes them to sin.

This is a good thing for my kids. I am glad that their hope and salvation is not based on how well I parent, or they'd be in deep trouble!

Their hope (and mine) is based on a perfect Savior who made us (Genesis 1:27), who died for our sins (Romans 5:8), who was raised again to conquer sin and death (I Corinthians 15), and who sent His Spirit to live in all those who put their faith in Him (John 14:16-17).

What would you add to the idea of roles in the family?

Related Links:

**image courtesy of maddox74 via pixabay

Small Things in 2013

Sneak preview of my book

I'd like to say that I wrote a novel last month. But the truth is that I still have at least 10,000 words to go. The best laid plans of mice and men . . . .

Then again, even if I don't finish this book, or even if I limp across the finish line with "completed" book that never gets published, I'm better off for having attempted this goal. I'm a better person for having to focus on this task, for processing thoughts and for disciplining myself to do this. As author Max Lucado told Michael Hyatt, "You wanna' write? Then put your butt in that chair and sit there a long, long time."

I will put my butt in that chair this month and finish this book. Just so you know, it's a fictional story about a couple of young men (one black, one white) growing up in Allendale, SC. It's a story of hope and redemption, as their separate lives become intertwined. I'm calling it "A Companion of Fools."

There. Now that you know that much, I feel the pressure to complete it.

I'm not going to have any other "1 small thing" goal this month. I'm going to use that time to:
  • finish this book,
  • rest from 11 months of goals (see below),
  • plan my goals for 2014. 

Here's a quick review of what I did (or tried to do) each month in 2013, and how it affected me in the long-term:
  1. No sugar.  Made me more aware of my calorie intake, and how many foods have added sugar.
  2. Photo-a-day.  Kick-started my Instagram (@JoeyEspinosa) usage habit.
  3. 5000 pushups.  Finished with 5200. Was the first of several exercise-related goals.
  4. Lego-a-day.  My kids' favorite.
  5. Exercise every day in May.  My second exercise-related goal, which helped show me that I need to be taking better care of my body.
  6. 10 mindful minutes.  Complete failure. Let's keep moving . . . .
  7. Running a "marathon."  For someone who hates running, this was big. I still hate running, but I still am averaging 6-8 miles per week.
  8. Expand my taste palate. Better than my "no sugar" goal. But I'm fine with eating the same thing things as a routine.
  9. Washing dishes every day.  I've kept up this goal, just not every day. I will do more now that football is over.
  10. Positive reflections.  A good exercise for me to remind myself of.
  11. Writing a novel.  See above.

And for the record, we were 99% successful to keep our family goal of using no pennies. (I cheated some, but my wife cheated more.) We kept them in a tin container, and then rolled them up with our kids. We got a whopping $7. Our kids want to use that windfall (combined with $5 they won at Bingo the other night) to buy a gift for someone.

How did your goals for 2013 come along? Are you thinking of anything for 2014? Would love to hear from you in the comments.

Related Link:

Favorite Tweets from November

Pregame sideline action at a USC game.

There is a lot for me to be thankful for this past month:
  • Took three Allendale-Fairfax football players and my two sons to a USC football game.
  • Coached four football games -- one to win the region championship, and three in the playoffs.
  • Wrote about two-thirds of my novel.
  • Kept my blogs going (especially thanks to a couple of guest posts). 
  • My wife and kids giving me the freedom to do all of the above. 
  • Read and shared some great thoughts on Twitter.

Tweets from Others:

@FurmanPaladinsFINAL!!! 16 Georgia Southern 14!!!!

@TheFatherEffectAs a dad, it's okay to admit you don't have all the answers. &Authentic

@MatthewMurphyDiscipleship is meant to be done in community. Get in a Gospel centered community that is on Jesus' mission and you will grow in Jesus. 

@PastorTullianThe hub of Christianity is not "do something for Jesus." The hub of Christianity is "Jesus has done everything for you."

@j_harkey:  Be the salt of the earth. Or even pepper. Whatever. Just don't be oregano. Never ever be oregano. 

@jjtru:  People need more than your used clothes. They need the family of God in their neighborhood. - Dr. John Perkins 

@BackRowBaptist:  Sure, you catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar, but you can catch WAY more flies with a dead body. 

@pedrodeabreu: "Cry in the dojo. Laugh on the battlefield." -- Japanese proverb 

Tweets from Me:

At another game. First time for my sons! @ Williams-Brice Stadium

Today I'm thankful for having a wife who tells me I’m a great dad   

Challenging: "Our money, our gifts, our time, our influence, our family — they are not ours to do with as we please."  

"10 percent of the world’s population possesses 86 percent of the money."

isn't about having a perfect story but one that endures. --

Thanksgiving + Hanukkah = Thanksgivukkah?

Hanukkah started at sundown yesterday (November 27), so today is the first day. It last coincided with Thanksgiving in 1888, and it won't again for over 77,000 years. I don't think we'll make it. (And read this article to learn when, and why, Hanukkah will coincide with other holidays.)

I hope you get to enjoy your day with family and friends.

Want to learn about Hanukkah? Then ignore this video: (Really, it's terrible, except for a laugh.)

If you want more accurate resources, check out Why I Celebrate Hanukkah. And for an old story from our family on Thanksgiving, check out "Are They Pilgrims?"  

Today, you may be celebrating . . .
  • Thanksgiving 
  • Hanukkah 
  • Black Friday (because apparently, it now begins on Thursday)
  • anything else!

Whatever it may be, I hope you have a great day and a great weekend.

God bless!

Let's Hear It for the Girl

Saturday morning robotics workshop

In three years of blogging here, I realize I haven't given a shout-out to my wife on her birthday, though I have written about our anniversary in 2010, 2011, and 2012. For the record, her birthday was yesterday, and, no, I didn't forget.

I am celebrating the last year of her 30's with great joy, having known her for 15 years and married to her for 14. She is my perfect partner in this adventure we are on. She stays busy with discipling and teaching our three children, with volunteering (and leading) in our after school school programs and camps, and with serving in other ministries in Allendale.

And while we prefer serving together, she also partners with me by giving me the freedom and strength to use my gifts in unique ways. Coaching football consumes a significant portion of my week during the fall. I spend hours each week blogging. And she has supported me in all my crazy goals this year, including writing a book this month (only 20,000 words to go!).

Happy birthday to my treasured wife! I love you, Joanna!

How Are Babies Made?

How are babies made? NOT like this:

But if you want ideas for having a real talk with your child about sex and babies, try these posts:

And if you want to learn some amazing facts about babies, try this video:

Big Truths: On a Mission Like Jesus

I shared this photo last month (Instagram: JoeyEspinosa).

I love visual illustrations and reminders. I regularly confiscate our family's dry erase board to pen thoughts and inspirations. And I often use it to sketch visual ideas of what I'm trying to teach our kids.

This was a simple illustration which we had discussed as a family over breakfast. Here's what I was teaching them:
  • Jesus had a mission to bring Good News.
  • He was sent on this mission by the Father and empowered by the Holy Spirit. 
  • Likewise, we are sent by the same Father and empowered by the same Spirit to bring the Gospel to the world.

I'm not great about doing regular family devotions, and when I do them, they usually do not involve a grand euphoric moment where my kids tell me that I'm the best dad ever. But it is important for me to teach them God's truth from His word. So, I stumble along and do my best (by the power of the Spirit, of course).

Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God I've already recommended the book Big Truths for Young Hearts (by Bruce Ware). I love how this book methodically takes deep concepts, and puts it in a language that I can explain to my kids.

If you don't have a copy, be sure to buy one soon! Your kids will tell you that you're the best parent ever.

Well, maybe not. But your kids will learn some important theology. And that's more important than any praise you get from them.

PS -- Some of you know that I also gave my kids this follow-up assignment. We had talked about two roles that the Holy Spirit has in the lives of Christians (gives us new life, and brings us into one body/family). They were to come up with His other main task.

See if you can come up with the 3rd role:

My answer (actually, Bruce Ware's answer) is that the Holy Spirit changes and empowers us to say and do things that bring glory to Jesus. My kids had focused on specific tasks, like evangelism, service, and making us holy. But I think the author's answer encompasses all of that.

Do you want to have family discussions like this? Then buy your copy of Big Truths for Young Hearts today!

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Seeking God with $20

A few weeks ago, as a result of an unexpected gift, we gave each of our kids $20. I told them that they could do whatever they wanted with it, but they had to spend a few days thinking about it and asking God what He wanted them to do.

Honestly, I was not going to sway them at all what they should do. This was as much an experience for them as it was a way for us to get a peek into their hearts.

I had this idea a few years ago, and wrote about it on an old children's ministry blog. I will re-post it below (with edits) and then talk about what happened this time around.

Seeking God with $20 (adapted from 2009)

I had been trying to figure out how to redeem our family's time and money during this Christmas season. Plus, God had shown me that I have not led and shepherded our children well in a few areas, particularly in the areas of prayer and money. So, I came up with a way to combine all this into one "project."

I explained to our three kids that I was going to give each of them $20, and they could use it on whatever they wanted. If they wanted to save it, or spend it on themselves, or give, or buy something for someone else, that is fine.

I did not want them to do anything based on what they thought I wanted them to do. The only thing they had to do was consider what God wanted them to do. Normally, they feel so much pressure from me to "do the right thing" and "be good kids," but they need to learn that they should seek to please our Lord. Before anything else, we need to seek Him and His will.

When I did this two years ago, Hannah immediately said that she was going to buy a gift for her best friend. Elijah said that he was going to give it away. I asked them if that's what God wanted them to do. They were confused, since those were "good deeds." I explained that those were good choices, but they may not be want God wants at this time.

Soon, Elijah asked, "But can I ask you for advice?" What a great question! Of course he can, but only after he learns to ask God. Within 10 years, I will no longer be a primarily authority figure in his life; I will be in a role of delegating responsibility, and later we will be in partnership.

This project was a great opportunity to sow nuggets of truth as we seek to disciple our kids according to Deuteronomy 6:7 - "Repeat [these commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up."

What we hoped our children would learn through this endeavor:
  • Whatever we do with what God has given us can be an act of worship. That could mean sharing, saving, or even enjoying His blessings.
  • Just because something is good does not necessarily mean that God wants you to do it.
  • I will always love them, no matter what choices they make.

(You can read about the results of this project from 4 years ago.)

What They Did with $20

A few days after I gave them this "assignment," I asked them what they came up with. We went from oldest to youngest (so the youngest could have a chance to observe and learn).

  • Hannah wanted to use the money to make something to give away. After brainstorming with us, she decided to use the money to buy fabric so that she could sow skirts for some of her best friends (Greenville and Allendale). We thought this was a great way to combine generosity with her God-given skills.
  • Our boys were more "by the book." Elijah gave $11 to God (i.e., the local church), $6 to savings (they want a new Wii remote), and kept $3 for himself. Great.  
  • Sender gave $5 to the church, $5 to savings, and kept $10 for himself. Also great.

A very simple project, that you may want to do before the end of the year.

Related Links:

She Doesn't Want Me to Fix It

Men, we know we like to fix things. But our wives just want us to listen and be sympathetic.

No matter what.

Seriously, though. My 14th anniversary coming up next month, and I can think of only a handful of times when I've done this well -- when I've responded with sympathy instead of my "ingenious" solution.

When our immediate response is to "fix" her problems, we are saying, "It's a good thing you have someone as smart as me to help you." How condescending.

Guys, if we can do more listening and more feeling, she will appreciate it. And in terms of strengthening our relationship, we'll hit the nail right on the head.

How Do I Know If My Child Is a Christian?

How do you know if your child is a Christian? Probably no other question burdens the minds of evangelical Christian parents.

Brian Croft answers,
"Admitting the obvious—that we are not God and cannot see the heart—I maintain certain evidences can help us discern the legitimacy of child or teenager's profession of faith."

He lists five evidences based on teachings by Jonathan Edwards. They are: 
  1. Growing affection and need for Jesus and the gospel.  
  2. Heightened understanding of the truths of Scripture.
  3. Increased kindness and selfless toward siblings.  
  4. Greater awareness of and distaste for sin. 
  5. Noticeable desire to obey parents.

Want to learn more? Be sure to read the entire article, Is Your Child a Christian? 

Related Links: 

Taking a Blogging Break . . . Sorta'

Since I'll be writing a novel this month, I need to cut back on my blogging. After all, averaging 1667 words per day is quite enough writing, don't you think?

But I won't let this blog go completely dormant this month. I plan to post:
  • short posts
  • funny videos 
  • links to parenting resources
  • guest posts
  • old posts that have been re-worked

Thanks for giving me this leeway. In the meantime, would you please take this quick poll on my other blog? With just one click, you can let me know the first thing that you think of when you hear the word POVERTY.

I appreciate your help. Have a great week!

Favorite Tweets for October

Happy Halloween! Here are some sweet tweets from October:

From Others

@TeachForAmerica"The barrier for my students is that they don't think college is possible. But they just need motivation and information."

@PaulTrippYou have hope because God's glorious, unstoppable grace means he will not turn his back on you, even on your worst day.

@DaddysinCharge:  Kids: 0 to 100 mph the moment they wake up.

@FirstWorldPains I hate being overweight, but the one thing I hate more than being overweight is exercising.

@GraceChurchSCWhat have you left OR what do you need to leave to follow Jesus? Luke 5

@mwbuckingham:  Passion isn't something that lives up in the sky, in abstract dreams. It lives at ground level, the details of what you're doing every day.

@MarkMerrill Our children need to know that we love them for who they are, not for what they do or don’t do.

@donaldmillerIf I’m not excited about spending another day with God, I’ve likely lost track of how good God is.

@CoachWithLove:  Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell. 

@DavidAllston:  Just heard on the radio about a pastor who has discovered a biblical code to help me make money. Count me in!!

From Me

Why do & think it's a good idea to have babies near spring break? A damper on our plans for soccer camp.

Great reminder (via ) if you are traveling overseas: Don't give money (or gifts) to poor children.

At my first game in 20 years. Recruiting trip. No, not for me. For the 4 football players with me.

One Small Thing: Positive Reflections

I am a pessimist. There is no denying that.

I tend to look at negative statistics, instead of the positive. I fret over everything that could go wrong, instead of what will probably go right.

Having an outlook of happiness is healthy for you. And in my life (and maybe yours), this negativity has led me to struggle with depression.

But happiness has to more than just being healthy or not depressed. Belle Beth Cooper writes that "happiness alone isn’t enough for us to feel fulfilled. Sadly, chasing happiness is really common these days, and most of us don’t realize why being happy isn’t enough for us to be satisfied with life."

Is Happiness Enough for Positivity?   

So then, it's not just about thinking about good things, but remembering the good things that make a difference. Therefore, this past month, every evening, I spent time thinking about something positive that happened that day -- either what someone else did to bring me happiness, or what I was able to do to bless someone else. (This was another tip from Ms. Cooper.)

I had already failed miserably at spending 10 mindful minutes every day. I wondered if I would fail at this one. (See that? I was being negative right at the get-go.)

Thankfully, I did accomplish this goal of remembering positive things. Here are a few examples:
  • My daughter and I started working through some material on adolescence. I'm glad that God is empowering and equipping us to lead her through this transitional phase.
  • So many people in our community worked together to host a neighborhood fish fry. We had a great turnout!
  • Chatted with very kind tellers at our local bank.
  • On a weekday where we had no football practice (a rarity), I got to play with my kids outside for about an hour, and then played board games with my youngest son later that evening.
  • Exchanged emails with some guys in prison, whom I co-labor with in ministry. One of the guys told me that they pray for me regularly.
  • I get to participate in "Abba's Kitchen," a ministry by Allendale Baptist Church in which they provide (partnering with other churches) a meal and a devotion for 50-80 college students every Wednesday night.

What did I learn this month?

First, I can find joy in the simplest and most mundane parts of life. Happiness and meaning aren't found only in monumental events. (Watch this 2.5 minute video from Jeff Vanderstelt, Finding Joy in the Everyday.)

Second, every single day, I have the opportunity to be an agent of positive change in my family, job, ministry, and community.

November Small Thing: Write a Book

Next month, I am going to write a book. I've thought about doing this for a while, and a few friends have asked me if I would do it.

I have some ideas of things I could write about for a non-fiction book, based on what we've learned about poverty, education, community, etc. over the past few years. This seems logical, especially considering of our upcoming move from Allendale.

But in the spirit of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I will write a novel. The specific goal will be to write 50,000 words in November.

As a perfectionist (is that connected to my negativity?), the hardest part of this may be the number one rule for writing a rough draft:
"Do not touch the Delete key."

Note: Because of the strain of this goal (I need to average 1667 words per day), I will cut back drastically on the amount of blogging this month. If anything, my blog posts on both of my blogs will consist of links to other articles, guest posts, short questions, photos, etc. Thanks for giving me this leeway.

Edit: Here is a sneak preview of the book.

Do you have any goals for this month? How about your yearly goals (2013 is almost over!) . . . . How are those goals coming along for you?


**photo courtesy of Viewminder via foter.com

Weighing the Options: Should We Have a Baby? Should We Celebrate Halloween?

If you're reading this blog post, you've probably already decided to have a child. And if you have a child, you've probably made up your mind about what you are going to do about Halloween this year. But who would have thought that there was an even more important connection between these two decisions?

Doghouse Diaries. That's who. (You can see the comic below, but be sure to click on the link for additional commentaries in the caption and a mouse-over.)


Thoughts on Halloween

I don't think our kids know for sure what they are going to dress as for Halloween, which begins (for us) this Saturday at Allendale Elementary School's Trunk-or-Treat. But we have always allowed our kids to do so.

Last year, I gave some Thoughts on Halloween for a Christian Parent, including articles that might have encouraged or challenged your viewpoints. Here are some additional articles that I came across that could do the same:

Four Reasons My Family Trick-or-Treats (Cripplegate Blog).  My favorite: "Relationships with my neighbors are strengthened through this day."

Halloween and Evangelical Identity (Russell Moore).  How do you know what kind of evangelical you are? Read this short and funny article to find out.

3 Reasons Christians MUST Celebrate Halloween (Jeremy Myers).  First, to be a light in the darkness. Second, to demonstrate generosity. Third, free candy!

5 Tips for a Happy Christian Halloween (The Resurgence).  Winfield Bevins reminds us to use this as an opportunity to communicate and demonstrate the gospel -- to our kids, neighbors, and even to those who disagree.

Halloween: Trick, Treat or Missional? (Verge Network).  Jo Saxton isn't a big fan of Halloween. But she still makes the most of this opportunity to connect with her neighbors.

5 Practical Ways to Be Missional on Halloween (Verge Network).  Like every other article listed here, the author of this one encourages us to use this day to build relationships in our communities and neighborhoods.

If you have any thoughts, or any other articles (including from your own blog), please leave them in a comment.

Science and Magic

If you know me, you know that I love science.

As best I can remember, this love of science began in elementary school, when the teacher burned a strip of magnesium metal. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. From that moment on, I knew that I wanted to be a chemist.

(That may seem odd, because chemists don't usually try to cause fires. But here's the lesson for teachers: if you want a child to be interested in science, don't stress over standards and definitions. You just have to do something that makes them say, "Wow!" That's it.)

Suddenly, my mind was inclined to all things science. My worldview was shaped by materialism and pragmatism. Therefore, any thoughts about God and Jesus and religion were immediately met with my inner voice screaming, "That's all just stories. I need evidence."

You can read more about my journey from atheism to faith in Remembering My Salvation. But let's get back to the topic of science. . . .

CS Lewis and Scientism

I first read C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) when I was in middle school, long before I was a follower of Jesus Christ. I enjoyed that series immensely, as pure entertainment. But when I re-read those books in college, after I became a Christian, I saw them on a whole different level. That's a testimony to Lewis' ability to connect with a variety of mindsets.

I recently watched the documentary The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism. Scientism is effort to use the methods of science to explain and control every part of human life. It states that the bar of science is the standard by which every human discipline should be measured.

Scientism is not the same as science. Justin Taylor notes that under scientism "science (a good thing) can be twisted in order to attack religion, undermine ethics, and limit human freedom."

The Twins of Science and Magic

Lewis considered science and magic to be twins:
  1. Both attempt to give MEANING to life. Therefore, they both have the ability to function as religion.
  2. Both encourage a LACK OF SKEPTICISM, by telling you to trust the "experts." Numerous psychology and sociology studies have shown that "people will believe almost anything if it's dressed up in the name of science." (See the Milgram Experiment, for example.)
  3. Both involved a quest for POWER, as they involve a desire to control our world.

If you are interested in science and philosophy, I encourage you to watch the entire video. But you can at least skip ahead to learn more about:
  • Scientocracy (22:46), a society that claims to be based on science, but is actually ruled by a certain clique of people, who claim a right to rule based on their scientific expertise.
  • Governmental tyranny (27:51). "I dread government in the name of science. That is how tyrannies come it." 

Where I Stand

Now that I come to faith, some have accused me of being anti-science. Again, if you know me, you know that that is not the case.

I love science, and I want others to love it and explore it, too. It's my job, after all, and I enjoy exploring science with my own children.

But we cannot get sucked into the circular logic that claims, "If science can't prove it, then can't know that it's real." Neither science nor magic can rightly claim to give all of life's meaning, truth, and power.

Stuart Firestein reminds us that it's not like there is a finite set of truths (in our perspective). Everything we learn about the universe only shows how much more we don't know. And science cannot claim to give us all those answers.

“In an honest search for knowledge you quite often have to abide by ignorance for an indefinite period.” -- Erwin Schrodinger

Related Links:

 **image courtesy of vierdrie via rgbstock.com

[Question] Helping Your Preschooler Understand: "What Does It Mean to Glorify God?"

Here's a question a friend asked me a few months ago?
What's a practical explanation to a 6 and 4 yr old of what it means to glorify God? What we've found is that in teaching our kids they internalize it by "works" instead of by the hearts orientation.

This is a challenge for parents -- trying to explain abstract concepts to children, who better process concrete information. And the goal of Christian parenting is not just to do behavior modification, but to help orient their hearts towards God. By reaching their hearts, you allow God to change them from the inside out.

The basic definition of "glorying God" is to think highly of someone or something, and to want others to think more highly of him or it. Let's consider a practical example for a preschooler, and then use it to work back to the abstract idea.

Glorying the Moose

Pretend that you have a favorite stuffed animal. In honor of my Canadian friends (I have two of them!), we'll say it's a stuffed moose, named "Maple."

Now you love Maple the Moose. You always think about Maple. You look after him, and make sure no one messes with him. He's the best, and you want everyone to know it.

There are some things you do for Maple the Moose because you love him so much.
  • You don't let him get dirty. 
  • You always put him on top of your pile of stuffed animals.
  • You sleep with him. 
  • You tell everyone how great Maple is, because he is special to you, and you think he should be special to others.

Yes, you take concrete actions, but those actions are only because of one thing: you really love him. You think about Maple all the time. He's the most special thing to you . In fact, it's not that you think about DOING so much for Maple, but that you love him so much that your actions are natural and automatic.

Glorying God  

In the same way, glorifying God is not about a bunch of actions that show how much I love Him. Glorifying God is just about recognizing how great He is, and wanting others to know how great He is. Sure, some of that requires actions, but more than actions, it's an internal awareness of all that He is, and all that He has done.

I know this gets close to being about "works," but I think that is a struggle for us adults as well.
Not sure if that helps or not. I might have just turned your kids into moose worshipers.

Does this analogy help? Or have I turned your kids into a bunch of moose-worshipers?

If you can come up with a better analogy, or offer any changes, I'd appreciate it. Let me know in the comments (or if you having trouble leaving a comment, contact me some other way).

Related Links:

**image courtesy of sideshowmom via morguefile

Book Winner: Leading a Special Neesd Ministry

Well that was easy!

Last week, we offered to give away a free copy of the book Leading a Special Needs Ministry. And we have a winner!

Shelly Burkey -- please contact me to send me your address, so you can get your book.

If you didn't win, you can still buy this book from the Orange store, with a discount. From now until the end of the year, use the Coupon Code LSNM2 to receive $2 off the cover price. 

Edit: Now available to buy on Amazon

What We Spend -- and Don't Spend -- to Raise a Child

About a year ago, I shared a story about a conversation I had regarding The Cost of Kids.

From this article in the New York Times, it turns out that calculating how much parents spend on their children is not one-formula-fits-all. The amount spent depends on the income level of the parents.
  • Low-income parents (who earn less than $60,640 annually) spend about $173,000 from birth through high school.
  • Middle-income families (earning between $60,640 to $105,000) spend about $240,000.
  • High-income families (bring in more than $105,000 each year) spend nearly $400,000.

Therefore, this report from the USDA doesn't so much show how much it costs to raise kids, but what is NOT spent on some children, particularly on those growing up in poverty.

The difference between children from the lowest and highest income groups is about $12,000 per year. So, those children are missing out on $12,000 of resources, opportunities, and benefits. At the least, they are dependent on others (outside of their parents) to provide them.

It's not that children from low income families cannot succeed. But when you look at the bigger picture, it becomes obvious that the well-resourced families can provide better opportunities for their children, who in turn are able to provide better opportunities for their children. And so on and so forth.

"When you look at the forest, rather than at the trees, financial statistics like these do reflect different outcomes for the children whose experiences they shape: true economic mobility is becoming more a pipe dream than the American Dream, and children are likely to stay within the income category to which they are born."

For additional reading, check out these posts from my other blog:

**image courtesy of Nick Nguyen via flickr

Book Review: Leading a Special Needs Ministry

Does your church have a ministry to children who have special needs? If so, do you wonder how to have a bigger or better impact? And if your church doesn't, are you looking to start one?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you MUST buy Leading a Special Need Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee.

Far from remaining at the theoretical level, this book has a subtitle that says it all: "A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families."

It would be easy to read through this book and feel  overwhelmed, since it contains so many tips and applications from churches across the country. But Amy does this for a purpose. She wants the reader to pick out what is helpful, and to ignore the rest.

Of course, I have a tender spot in my heart for Appendix 7.3, "Training Event for Church Hosts and Sunday Morning Greeters." This section was based on an equipping event we led for Children's Ministry Volunteers at Grace Church. (You can learn more about the special needs ministry at Grace Church by clicking here.) 

And there's more good stuff. . . . We will be giving away a FREE copy of this book. All you have to do is leave a comment with your full name and one sentence explaining how this book can be helpful for you.

(If I don't know you personally, you should also email me your email address, so that if you win, I can get your mailing address. If you are having trouble leaving me a comment, you can email me your name and your sentence, and I will enter in your results.)

The contest will close on Sunday October 13. If you don't win, be sure to buy your copy from the Orange store.

**And more good news!!!  From now until the end of the year, use the Coupon Code LSNM2 to receive $2 off the cover price. Don't miss out!

Edit: Now available to buy on Amazon.

Related Links: