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Archive - September, 2009

A Christian Parent’s Greatest Moment – Part 2

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by cobalt123)

Yesterday, I was inspired by my 4-year-old daughter’s decision to ask God to “be the leader of her life” to dig up an old article on how young children can make decisions to follow Christ. That article was written almost seven years ago when my oldest, who is now 10, made his own decision to follow Christ.

Sometimes, though, a child’s decision to follow Christ can’t be pinpointed to a single moment or prayer. For some children, it is more of a realization that they are following Christ and they can’t think of having decided to do anything else. That was the case for me as a child. I grew up in a Christian household and can’t remember a time that I haven’t loved God or not wanted to follow him and be a part of his family. As I grew up, I would hear of people talking about praying “the prayer.” Since I never remembered doing that, I would raise my hand and repeat after the teacher or pastor or evangelist… on more than one occasion… to make sure that I had done the salvation thing right. Whether that’s good or bad is for a whole other discussion.

Luckily, I had parents who simply reaffirmed my desire to follow God and never questioned whether or not I had prayed some special salvation prayer. They knew that I did have a relationship with God and continually modelled what that meant through how they lived their lives.

I’m so glad that I had an experience like that because my oldest daughter, who is 7 now, never had that “salvation moment” that her older brother and younger sister have had. She simply came to the realization that she was following God and wanted to continue following God and love him and be a part of his family.

I don’t remember the exact day, but I do remember she was five years old when I realized this was the case for her. We were talking as a family during some activity about following Jesus. She raised her hand, along with her older brother, when we asked who was following Jesus. Out of curiosity of what a 5 year old’s understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus, I asked her, “How do you know you are following Jesus?” She answered, “Because I love him and he loves me. I want to do the things he wants me to do. I follow him like you and mommy and Jeremiah.”

At a point like this, the temptation would be to ask if she had prayed to ask God to be the leader of her life. In so doing, I think I would’ve crushed her declaration in faith that she was following Jesus. Luckily, I chose to affirm her. Since then she has exhibited over and over again a growing understanding of what it means to follow Jesus and the sacrifice Jesus paid to make that possible.

Last night, knowing that I was going to write this post, I asked her (in a ritual that gets repeated with my other children as well), “How do you know you are following Jesus?” She answered simply, “Because I love him and I know he loves me. I feel his love for me. I want to live the way he wants me to live. He’s my friend.”

I, then, asked her if she was worried that she never prayed a prayer like her brother or sister. She said, “No. Because I know that I’m following God and God knows, too.”

Every child will respond to the call of God’s Spirit in her own way. Some will have that cliche-ish defining moment where they pray a prayer or make some sort of declaration and can point to the exact time when they decided to follow Jesus. Others will simply come to realize that they are a part of God’s family and are following him and loving him with their hearts, souls, minds and bodies. It is our job as parents and ministers to be there to affirm their declarations of faith and continue pointing them to the author and finisher of that faith.

Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Today, Donald Miller‘s new book hit the shelves. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is a brilliantly honest book about Donald Miller’s journey of self evaluation as he works through writing a screenplay of his memoir Blue Like Jazz. After learning about the key elements of story from a workshop by the sought-after creative writing instructor Robert McKee, Miller shares his attempts to recreate the story of his own life and live more intentionally. Miller challenges each of us to listen to the promptings of the Writer (God) so that we can live out a life story that is worth telling rather than live a passive life made of random events.

When I first picked up the book, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It took me a chapter or so to really be captivated by what Miller was saying. I soon found myself wishing I had a pen to underline insight after insight that Miller shared about the elements of a good story and how we could live life according to similar principles. I found it easy to identify with Miller’s journey and appreciated the openness with which he shared his struggles (physical, emotional and spiritual) in the midst transformations God was bringing him through.

This, by far, is the best of Donald Miller’s books and is a must read. It’ll leave you wanting to live out an amazing story as well as wanting to call others to the amazing life story that God has for each of us.

You can check out an excerpt from the book below:

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Oh! I almost forgot!!! I have an extra copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years to give away. All you have to do is be the first to answer this question, “What is the name of the ‘famous’ person helping to write the screenplay for Blue Like Jazz?” Leave your answer in the comments section.

A Christian Parent’s Greatest Moment – Part 1

(picture originally uploaded to Flickr by babsteve)

This past Sunday when my wife dropped off my 4-year-old daughter in the JK/SK class I teach, she gave me one of those your-daughter-has-exciting-news looks. When I asked my daughter what her news was, she ran over and excitedly whispered in my ear, “I made God the leader of my life.”

As a Christian parent, I can’t imagine too many other moments in my children’s lives that could bring me more joy. It brought back memories and emotions from when my oldest son had a similar moment when he was three. Soon after he had expressed a desire to put God in charge of his life I wrote the following article for my church’s newsletter (you can also find it at the Kidology website):

The evening came and went so quickly. It was a moment that I had been praying for and anticipating for just over three years. My three-year-old son prayed, “Jesus, you can come in my heart. Take my naughties away. Help me not to be naughty. Amen.” It was a decision he made by himself without coercion or coaching. In his own three-year-old way he understood his need for God and God’s desire to enter his heart.

Is it possible for a child so young to understand what it means to make Jesus the Lord of his life? Some people will argue that until a child reaches the elementary school ages, she doesn’t have the capacity to become born again. They contend that the concept of repentance and the redemptive work Christ accomplished by dying on the cross is too abstract a concept for little children to understand. Yet, how many adults can adequately explain and understand what was accomplished on the cross?

It has been my experience in children’s ministry that little children can independently make a decision to ask Jesus into their hearts and understand that by doing so Jesus is removing the sin in their lives that separates them from God. A child may not be able to articulate it in that way, but they do understand at their developmental level. Fortunately, I don’t have to base my belief on my experience alone. Jesus tells us that children are more capable of knowing what it takes to enter heaven than adults do. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3, NIV).

How does a little child reach the conclusion that she needs God in her heart? It is a process. Everyone has to go through a process, initiated by the Holy Spirit, before they come to a decision to allow Christ in their hearts. For little children, though, that process can begin as early as, even before, conception. There are three things that my wife and I have done to help our children understand their need for God: (1) Pray for them; (2) Be intentional in their spiritual training; and (3) put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives.

Prayer is the most powerful tool given to us as parents. “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16b). The wonderful thing about praying for your children is that you don’t have to wait until you have children to begin praying for them. My wife and I began praying for our children soon after we were married. We knew that we would eventually have children and desired that they would some day come to know Christ as their personal Savior. Much of our prayers were centered on equipping us to effectively model and pass on our faith to our children.

Once my wife became pregnant, our prayers became focused on our child. I can remember many evenings placing my hands on my wife’s belly, feeling my son move around, and asking that the Holy Spirit already place a desire within his heart to seek out a relationship with his heavenly Father. As our son has grown, and now a daughter, we have continued to pray for them. We pray that their desire to know God increases with each day.

As soon as our children were born, we realized a need to put our prayers into action and be intentional with their spiritual training. From birth, I’ve sung hymns and choruses to my children. I am constantly reminding them that God loves them, has a plan for their lives, and wants to live in their hearts. The evening before my son asked Jesus into his heart, I asked him, as I did on many nights before, “Who has a plan for your life?” My son answered, “God.” He then asked me a question, “What is God’s plan for my life?” I told him, “Only God knows that. Maybe He’ll tell you while you sleep.” I will always remember the contented smile he had on his face as he nodded and said, “Yup!” The next evening he knew that Jesus wanted to be in his heart and followed through with the first step in God’s plan for his life.

We need to be intentional in the spiritual training of our children by not letting any moment pass to recognize God’s hand. As you admire a beautiful sunset, point out God’s wonderful creativity. As you hold your child tight, let her know that God loves her even more than you do. As you tuck him in for the night, read an age-appropriate Bible story to him and pray with him. Be sure your child is saturated with spiritual instruction at home and at church.

As you pray for your children and intentionally teach them spiritual truths, be sure to put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives. As soon as our son was able to verbally communicate and understand, we began connecting his behavior with how Jesus would react to it. If he misbehaved, it not only made mom and dad sad, it made Jesus sad as well. When he behaved, he knew that Jesus had a big smile on His face because Jesus wants us to obey our moms and dads. When he hears an ambulance siren, he knows that Jesus wants us to pray for the hurt people. On the day he asked Jesus in his heart, my son told my wife, “Jesus wants to come in my heart. He wants to take my naughties.”
If children are taught from a very early age to consider what Jesus would do or how he would feel in certain situations, they will take that with them as they grow older and begin to make moral decisions on their own. “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Can parents ensure that their children will choose to follow God for the rest of their lives? No. Each person has the free will to choose how they will live their lives. We can, though, lay a foundation that our children will be able to build upon. As parents we must be proactive in steering our children toward God. We live in a fallen world and must safeguard our children while we are able to. Pray for your children. Be intentional in their spiritual training. Put Jesus first in all aspects of their lives. It is never too early (or too late) to start.

I asked my son this morning where Jesus was. He pointed to his chest and said, “He’s in my heart. He’s bigger!” Exactly!

Since writing that article, I’ve had two more children. (Yes, if you are keeping count… that is 4 kids! We’re crazy.) It is my hope and desire for all of my children to realize at a young age that they can follow God and have a friendship with him. From that point on, it becomes my wife’s and my responsibility to help them continue to follow God and grow closer to him and become more aware of him and experience him as they are able to through their different development stages.

A question, though, that needs to be asked is, “Do all children have that cliche-ish ‘salvation moment?’” I don’t think so. Tomorrow, I will post about my oldest daughter’s experience in her realization that she is a part of God’s family.

Book Review: The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna

When I first saw The Seven Faith Tribes by George Barna, I was excited about reading descriptions of the faith categories Barna had identified in America:

  • Casual Christians
  • Captive Christians
  • Jews
  • Mormons
  • Pantheists
  • Muslims
  • Skeptics

I was even captivated by the subtitle: “Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter.” I was expecting a look at the faith makeup of the US and get a better understanding of what these different tribes believed. Then, I read the back of the book:

“Do you want the United States to be great again, badly enough to do what it takes?”

While the first few chapters that describe each of the Tribes is somewhat informative on who the tribes are and what they might value, the rest of the book focuses on how this information can be used to “restore America” and save it from becoming a moral cesspool.

OK, I might have indulged a bit on the “moral cesspool” talk, but really? Is the goal of understanding these faith tribes for the sake of making America great? I would think a much worthy ambition would be to find commonalities that could draw these faith groups together to work for good. In turn, relationships could be built between captivated Christians and other faith tribes that could point to God and thus benefit the Kingdom of God rather than a nation that will be here for an age and then be gone.

I was greatly disappointed by the focus of the book.

Though, if you are interested in checking the book out for your self, you can read a sample chapter here. You can also pick up the book from your local bookstore or online.

Video Salvation Presentation For Kids?

A friend of mine, Gina McClain, over at LifeChurch.tv posted the above video that was put together by the LifeChurch.tv content team.

Gina asked me to repost the video here for some feedback. Jonathan Cliff also has it posted over on his site. The LifeChurch.tv team is wanting to have something available for parents, primarily, and anyone else who would like to have a brief presentation of salvation that can be shown to kids. As they are developing this, they are looking for feedback from people to see how they can put out something that is quality and effective.

So go ahead and leave a comment here with your thoughts!

Here are some of mine:

I think the art and animation are pretty good. I would say that the style is probably attractive to children from 4 years old to at most 7 years old. With that being said, the language used in the video needs to be simplified further. What I mean by that is there are some phrases and concepts used that would not be understood by children that young. There is a lot of time used to explain what a cross is while “Jesus dying in our place” is not given any explanation. Also, while I do like the ABC presentation, I prefer to use Choose rather than Confess for C.

On another stylistic note, I would lower the volume of the “boinging.” It’s louder than the voices, and it should probably be more of a background sound.

The only other comment I have is to maybe add a note that children can talk to a parent or pastor or church group leader or someone like that about what it means to follow Christ. If this is really meant as a tool for parents, then the video shouldn’t take leading their child to Christ themselves away from them by having it in the video. I’m not saying take the prayer out of the video but giving the option for children to pray with their parents or whoever is watching the video with them.

Someone from LifeChurch.tv had posted on Jonathan’s blog asking what might work for older kids… I think that any kind of animation would be lost on kids 7 and older for something like this unless you had access to movie quality animation (I’m talking Disney here). What might work better is something live. Most of the older kids are watching Hannah Montanna, iCarly, Suite Life on Deck, etc. When my wife and I were talking about it, we thought that even an updated (cultural-wise) version of McGee and Me type videos might work.

So what about you?

What did you think about the video? Do you think it’s a good idea?

What do you think of a video as a salvation presentation tool?

What ages do you think this would appeal to?

Be honest. Let’s help out the LifeChurch.tv content team! I’ve really appreciated their generosity in making their resources available for free at OPEN.lifechurch.tv. If you are looking for curriculum, videos, sermon series, graphics, etc. check it out. It’s all FREE!

Top Ten Children’s Ministry Blogs

Tony Kummer over at Ministry-To-Children.Com posted his list of the Top 10 Children’s Ministry Blogs. Check it out. I’m pretty partial to #9, but the other blogs are OK, too.

While you’re at it, if you don’t already do it, you should use a blog reader like Google Reader or Bloglines (I use this one) to subscribe to those blogs, Tony’s blog, and any others you might be interested in.

Hearing From a Gay Father (via Andrew Marin’s blog)

Amy Dolan over at Lemon Lime Kids tweeted this a while back:

So, I checked out the link to Andrew Marin’s blog.

The post is a letter from a gay father who desperately wants to worship in a more traditional setting but is having a hard time finding a place. I encourage you to hop on over to Andrew’s blog and read the entire post, but here are some excerpts from the letter:

“The truth is that Mark and I have no desire to divorce ourselves from each other. To do so would be disruptive to our boys, who’ve already dealt with separation issues related to their time in foster care. We’re both content with our lives. We both have good jobs, fun kids, distracting pets, and a nice home. We’re well-matched husbands for each other. All things considered, we’ve been blessed by God and I thank Him every day for what we have together.”

“My point is, most churches only seem willing to accept our family if we dissolve our household. One of the most stabilizing elements in my life – my husband and our family – are treated like the most harmful thing that I could maintain in my life. I recognize and reject this crazy paradox of thinking and so do other gay families like us. And that’s why most of us won’t worship in Christian churches.”

How does the church reach out to families like these in loving ways without affirming their lifestyles?

I know there are varying thoughts on how to deal with a situation like this one that range from telling this man that he needs to turn or burn or, instead, accepting him for who he is and not prying into his personal life. Are those the only two options? Is there another approach to this situation?

Personally, I think it is a bit of a cop-out to simply quote scripture about how homosexuality is a sin, and the only way for this man to be a “true Christian” is to stop living in sin. I don’t know if I have an answer, though. I would start off by loving this family with no strings attached. Then I would spend lots of time in prayer and seeking counsel from a variety of people on how to go from there.

For me, it comes down to following the Jesus Creed: Love God and love others. It’s the job of the Spirit to change what He wants to change in lives as people respond to Him. It’s our job to love people and keep pointing them to the God who loves them and cares more about them than I ever could.

I have many other questions that go through my mind, but I thought I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts?

Book Review: Fearless by Max Lucado

“Imagine Your Life Without Fear.” That is the front-cover tagline for Max Lucado‘s new book entitled Fearless that was released today (September 8, 2009) by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Take a look at this one-minute video about this new book:

Lucado takes a look at some of the many fears that plague us–the unknown, worst-case scenarios, safety of our children, finances, death, insignificance–and reminds us from Jesus’ words through each specific instance that we need not live in fear. In Lucado’s trademark style, he uses personal anecdotes as well as powerful stories to illustrate the strength of God to overcome our fears regardless of the outcomes in our lives. We are reminded that there is an all-powerful, loving God who lives in the midst of our uncertainties and fears and is there to bring us through them to a life of courage… a life that does not have to be a slave to fear.

At first glance, this book has a huge potential to be trite, full of glib axioms with little meaning or depth to them. As I dove into the content of this book, though, I was delightfully surprised at how straightforward and simple (in a good way) Lucado was at addressing some of the real fears that I and many friends of mine face from day to day. While Lucado does direct people to see God as loving and in control, he thankfully does not paint a rose-coloured view of life in our battle against fear. In the midst of uncertainty and evil and just plain bad things happening, I think, does a great job in reminding us that despite what may be happening around us and our lack of understanding of what may be happening around us, God has a plan of cosmic proportions, knows and cares about what is going on in our lives, and has the power to make all things right in the end.

If you are interested in taking a closer look at Fearless, check out the link below. The book is available online through sites like Amazon or at your local bookstore. There is also a companion website for the book at www.thefearlesstimes.com.

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