One Small Thing: Washing Dishes

In our home in Allendale, we don't have a dishwasher. Not an automatic one, at least.

Since we moved to this house two-and-a-half years ago, all the dishes have been washed by hand. Most of the time, my wife has done them. Our older two kids have been washing them after breakfast. Sometimes guests have washed them (that's what interns are for, right?).

But I've had a very small part in washing dishes. So this month's task was easy: wash dishes every day. Usually, I alternated between washing them in the morning (in place of my kids), and doing the dishes in the evening (to serve my wife).

More than anything, this goal made me appreciate the work that my family does. I often take that for granted, so it was good for me to step back from my "busyness" (because aren't we all?) and serve them.

So I commit to washing dishes more often. Maybe not every day, but definitely a few times each week.

And despite the fact that my wife told me I was doing it wrong, let the record show that no one in our family got a food-borne illness this month.

October Small Thing: Remember the Positive About Each Day

My "one small thing" goal for October also has to do with "stepping back." I was inspired by this article on How to Make Positivity a Habit.

Each evening, I will intentionally reflect on the day and take note of one good thing that I saw.

You see, I am an extreme pessimist. It's not that I call a half-full cup "half-empty." It's so bad that I see a cup that is 90% full, and I call it "10% empty."

Living life this critically (of others and of myself) can be draining. So this month, I will work to remember the great things that I observed. Especially, I want to notice when I see others doing acts of kindness.

I'm positive that this will be an emotionally-lifting experience for me.

How about you? How are your monthly or yearly goals coming along? Let me know in the comments.


Risk Your Kid

"Her" goose was much bigger

Today is memorable for us. On September 24, 2001, we ate Chinese food for dinner (bad idea), cancelled our Small Group (good idea), and then we checked into the hospital. Joanna was in labor with our first child.

Hannah was born early the next morning (Tuesday, September 25) at 12:29 AM. We were thrilled to have a healthy first child (even though she had the cord wrapped around her neck for a bit), and celebrated with family and a close friend.

One advantage of having a baby born just after midnight is that we got an extra day in the hospital (our insurance covered 2 nights, and a night only counted when it crossed midnight). We were nervous first time parents, and we were happy to have doctors and nurses watching over our every step.

Fast Forward

When Hannah was a couple of  years old, I remember our family picnicking at Furman University. We enjoyed our nice spring day, walking around the lake and feeding bread to the ducks and geese.

At one point, Hannah wandered over to a goose. It was a huge goose; the two of theme were at eye level. And they got close to each other. Really close. Like striking distance close. Close enough for Hannah to reach out and touch the goose.

Which. She. Did.

I'm watching the entire time. As she neared the goose, I wondered if I should step in. "Nah. Let's just see what happens." I gasped when she pet that perplexed animal, but the animal just stared at her for a few seconds, and then waddled away.

Now, half of you are wagging your judgmental finger at me, thinking I should have protected her better. And you are probably right. I was thinking the same thing afterwards. What if she got hurt?

My personality is more on the side of exposing my kids to risk, and I need to focus on being more protective. But if you fall on the side of protection and shielding your kids, you probably need to risk your kids a little more than you do.

Risk Your Children

Yes, we live in a scary world. We are surrounded with so much that can hurt our children. We must wisely protect our children, even when they are adolescents, since the adolescent brain changes drastically.

On the other hand, we can easily parent in fear, so we must remember that God loves our children much more than we ever will. We are called to trust God, and to trust God with our kids.

Tim Elmore cautions that two of the biggest mistakes we make as parents are 1) Risking too little, and 2) Rescuing too quickly. This is especially true for you moms. Don't let your God-given gift of nurturing control you.

We must not parent in fear, but in grace, in the full knowledge that our heavenly Father loves our kids much more than we ever will. Our children cannot be a "light to the world" or a "city on a hill" (Matthew 5:14) if keep them forever under our wing.

Risking Hannah

What does this have to do with my daughter? A lot, to me.

Hannah is now in 7th grade, past the half-way point of her schooling (not counting college). In a few years, she'll be driving (theoretically). Thirty years after that, she can begin dating.

Just kidding. That would be too strict even for me. I'll give her my blessing to date someone in only twenty years.

Already we have had to "risk" her. We've risked her by letting her climb on the monkey bars. We've risked her when we've allowed her to watch a movie at her friends house (we debriefed afterwards). We've risked her when she has sleepovers. We've risked her when we let her roam around our big yard in Allendale. We risked her (and Elijah) when we sent them to a four-night 4H camp that was almost two hours away.

We know that we have to let go.

At 4H Camp

Celebrating Hannah

We are students of our children. We learn more about them every day, month, and year.

Hannah is our creative one, and our messy one (do those qualities always go hand-in-hand)? She has a great eye for photography, art, and crafts. She occasionally dabbles with her blog Hannah's Brain (appropriately subtitled "a jumbled mess of creativity").

She loves to read and loves doing science experiments. She struggles with math and spelling, but is getting better at both. Her teacher from a science camp this summer specifically told me that Hannah "is very intelligent and innovative and helped the team keep moving forward."

And though she loves to talk (20,000 words per day would be a conservative estimate), she tends to be a watcher and listener when in groups. Her student ministry leader at Grace Church noted that when she would be in town, she would bring an air of calmness and peace to the group.

Hannah means "grace." And we pray that she would always be a giver a grace.

Happy Birthday, my Sweetheart!

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What Sons and Daughters Need from Their Dads

Dads -- I have an assignment for you. (Moms -- feel free to share this post with your husbands.)
  1. If you have a son, print the list of 7 Things a Son Needs from His Father. And if you have a daughter, print this list
  2. Schedule a time to go out with your child (each individually). This can be over a meal, or just an afternoon milkshake.
  3. Give your child the list a few days ahead of your scheduled outing. Ask him (or her) to read it, and mark 1 or 2 needs that you are meeting, and 1 or 2 that he (or she) needs you to do more of. (Note that this will probably work best if the child is at least 6 or 7 years old, but the premise can still be useful with younger kids.)
  4. Go out, and discuss the list.
This is similar to when I let my kids evaluate me. It's a good idea to do this exercise regularly. For the record, I when I did this assignment recently, all three of my kids (without them discussing with each other) said that I need to do better giving them attention and being present in the moment. Message received.

Who's with me? Will you try this?

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**image courtesy of US Navy via Wikimedia

Artificial Foods: Just the Facts, Ma'am

Aspartame contains wood alcohol, and a by-product causes multiple sclerosis and lupus.

The preservative in vaccines contains mercury, which has been shown to cause autism.

Margarine was originally manufactured to fatten turkeys.

Within the last few months, I've read blogs containing these (or similar) statements, especially when the articles are shared on social media by my friends.

What do the statements have in common? They are all false.

My Thoughts    

As a scientist, I'm probably a little defensive when people give chemicals a bad name, so I have to be careful myself that I come to the discussion with an open mind.

And I am not saying that diet sodas, margarine, and artificial preservatives are not bad. The truth is, excessive amounts of those foods probably should be avoided.

On the other hand, people who say that natural is always better don't really believe that. After all, poison oak, tobacco, and arsenic are all natural products, but you won't catch me intentionally ingesting large amounts of them.

And as a blogger, these articles catch my attention, often because they are just recycled content from old emails, blogs, and forums. (A quick check on Snopes can be helpful.) At best, re-posting this material is deceptive, often because the "author" has something to gain. At worst, it's plagiarism.

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

We all have biases. We all know certain facts. But no matter how much we believe (or even know) something to be true, that doesn't give us a right to us falsehoods to back up that claim.

What bothers me most is when the people who share such articles are Christians. After all, they surely wouldn't think to use these tactics when evangelizing.

For example, we Christians would all agree that helping others believe in Jesus is our number when focus when it comes to others. However, does that mean we should . . .
  • tell someone that if they believe in Jesus, then nothing bad will ever happen to them again; or
  • make up a story about how they had a problem, and then Jesus appeared in a vision and solved their problem?
 Would the end (of evangelism) justify the means (of deception)? No way!

Just The Facts

I'm all for people eating healthier. And I'm all for a discussion with you about what constitutes "healthy" and "unhealthy." But when we discuss that, let's please talk from a basis of facts and science, not fear-inducing rhetoric.

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**image courtesy of jensoi via morgueFile

The Day of Atonement

The holiday of Yom Kippur begins at sundown on Friday, September 13th. Being a Jewish follower of Jesus, I love talking about the connection between Judaism and Christianity. More specifically, I believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of all that God spoke to Israel in the Old Testament.

Two years ago, I wrote about what I have taught my kids about Yom Kippur. Here are the highlights:
  • Yom Kippur is translated as the Day of Atonement, the day when all sins are atoned for (or, covered).
  • Because it deals with judgment for sins, Yom Kippur is one of the most holy days of the year, and is a day of fasting for those who follow Judaism.
  • God commanded that two goats were needed. One was slaughtered as a sin offering to God. The other (the "scapegoat") was let go in the wilderness.
  • Both of these goats pointed to Jesus the Messiah. He was our sacrifice for sins, and He carried our sins away (John 1:29).
Sinclair Ferguson digs deeper and explains (from the book of Hebrews) that the Day of Atonement wasn't the model of sacrifice, but a copy of Christ's atonement.

Sacrifices Today?

For many of my friends, I'm their "token" Jewish friend. I don't mind at all. It's nice to feel useful.

One question I have received over and over is:
"Why don't Jewish people still do sacrifices? Clearly it's not because they believe Christ was the ultimate sacrifice for sins, right?"
The simple answer is that the temple was destroyed in 72 A.D. The temple was where the sacrifices (at least the central, main sacrifices) were done. So when there was no temple, there could be no sacrifice.

Of course, this presented a problem. The Old Testament (= Hebrew Bible) clearly teaches that each of us has the problem with sin (Psalm 51:5, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Isaiah 53:6). In His grace, God gave Israel a system of sacrifice to deal with this sin issue.

The interesting thing thing is how Judaism got around this. They basically created a new system to "deal with their sin issue," so to speak. This system is based on 3 things: t'shuva (repentance), t'fillah (prayer), and tz'dakah (charity).

In other words, God's perfect sacrifice gets replaced by our imperfect works. Doesn't make sense to me. How Yom Kippur is celebrated today is far different than God intended.

But let us praise God for His perfect plan of salvation through the Messiah, His Son Jesus.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace."  Ephesians 1:7

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**image courtesy of alexbruda via

Let's Talk About Sex

When my kids were little, I was diligent to read parenting books and listen to teaching on parenting. Some of the advice I applied immediately, while some was for further down the road.

When I learned how important it was to talk to kids about puberty and sexuality, I said, "Absolutely!" When someone taught that the Dad should lead the conversation, I wholeheartedly agreed.

It's easy to talk about theory and general ideas of growing up. But now that we are closer to talking specifics with our kids, it makes my gut tighten up.

Despite my nervousness, I know that my kids need me to lead and to engage them. So I will. In fact, we've already started.

Beyond "THE Talk"

Talking about sex with your kids is less about "THE Talk" and more about it being one large conversation over a long period of time. And when you think of it like that, you can feel more comfortable answering kids' questions at the level they can handle at the time. You don't have to download everything at once.

My wife and I have researched books. Some of these books will give us ideas and discussion prompts, so that we can better educate our children. And other books we will read with our kids.

This series of four books was recommended, and we've already began discussing with our kids (keeping in mind the age-appropriateness):
  1. The Story of Me (for ages 3-5)
  2. Before I Was Born (ages 5-8)
  3. What's the Big Deal? Why God Cares About Sex (ages 8-11)
  4. Facing the Facts: The Truth About Sex and You (ages 11-14)

Pros and Cons

I loved how this series takes the conversation in a step-wise fashion. And each book has more than enough information for the child, so a parent can easily skip over parts that he or she feels is not necessary. For example, I didn't feel like our youngest needed to know about Cesarean sections.

Maybe I'm too conservative or our kids are more sheltered than most, but I think the recommended ages were too low. I might add a year or two to the age range for each of the books, based on the content covered in each one. Alternatively, you could just skip sections of each book, and come back at a later time.

Another great part of this series is it doesn't matter if you're "starting late." For example, I read the first book with my 9-year-old son, and then will continue with the second book at a later time. Your child doesn't need to know that the book is too "young" for him or her.

If you have a child that is at least 3 or 4 years old, I recommend that you buy this series. It will help give you a starting point for this one long-term conversation about sex.

(You can purchase each book from Amazon, or the entire series, by clicking on the title of the book.)

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Is It OK to "Accept Jesus in Your Heart"?

I never liked the phrase "accept Jesus in your heart." Before I was a Christian, this cliche' was confusing. And when I become a Christ-follower and started reading the Bible, I never saw Jesus, disciple, or apostle use this phrase. At best, it is unhelpful; at worst, it is misleading.

Instead of inviting Jesus in our hearts, we should be believing and trusting in Him, and following His ways. And as parents, we need to making disciples of our children, not getting them to repeat a simple prayer.

On the other hand, a couple that mentored us (including  premarital counseling, parenting classes, and the husband and I having lots of meals together) did use the phrase "accept Jesus in your heart" with their children. In their perspective, they used this phrase as a part of how they taught their children to follow Jesus.

On the other hand (is that a third hand, or back to the first?), I agree with David Platt in the video below. Using this phrase is a dangerous path, that might give parents false assurance.

So while it is not inherently bad for some to use the phrase "accept Jesus in your heart," it may be dangerous for churches (and believers) to teach others to do that. We need to focus on helping others to respond biblically to the gospel and to the full glory of God.

What do you think? Do you think it's OK to say, "Accept Jesus in your heart"? Why or why not?

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**image courtesy of Elizabeth Thomsen via flickr

I'm a Parent and I Know It

So glad that I'm a parent. I'm not sure I would find this funny otherwise . . .

And for you moms . . .

Note: If you want to see the original video, here is Sexy and I Know It. Be warned -- you might go blind.

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