Life Together in the Home

Glen Woods as a boy
Glen Woods as a boy

I didn’t know what life would bring all these years later. I could not have conceived of the joys or the struggles, the opportunities or the suffering. I was just a boy. Full of hope. Full of dreams. Curious about the world around me and anxious to throw myself into each pursuit which captured my interest.

I remember posing for this photo. It was in Newberg at Mabel Rush Elementary School. I dressed myself that morning. Can you tell? I had on my favorite shoes. My striped pants to go with the cool pink shirt with white stripes. But most importantly I wore my imitation leather snake belt. In my imagination I caught the snake myself, intrepid adventurer that I was. Wisely, my Mom let me choose this ensemble and took me to school, proud of how I was growing up and learning to take care of myself.

So, there I was, the photographer at the ready.  I was asked to stand over by the post. The pose came naturally. I stood tall and proud, independent of mind, never realizing that over thirty-seven years later I would be writing about this photo.

Vietnam was in full swing back then. My friends and I talked about growing up and going to war. In hushed voices we knew that many died in the long-lasting conflict which had started  before our births. Violence broke out across the country with protests and assassinations. The recession had severely depressed the economy and my family felt the full force of its impact. My dad finally landed a job with the local police force, earning $7.00 per hour. There were gasoline rationing lines and unemployment was high. Yet I had hope. My parents loved each other. My family was intact. I knew God loved me and that Jesus was Lord of my life. Every night I prayed to him in that simple childlike way which so often visits my prayers even to this day. I knew then and know now that he heard me. I felt his presence with the full idealistic faith of a child. There was a sense of wonder that Almighty God would listen to me, attend to me, in my humble estate. That wonder remains today, not lost through the undergrowth of theological sophistication, or the ravages of pain which invariably accompanies a life jaded through varied experiences.

I look into the eyes of that boy and I wonder if he would be proud. I wonder if he would be surprised. Maybe even disappointed at some of my decisions over the course of time.   Not so long before the taking of this photo my mother drew me close to her and led me to assurance of faith in Jesus Christ. That assurance has never been shaken, notwithstanding the perils I have faced and the treachery of my own willfulness. God has protected me over all these years and in Christ I know I am secure. Although there are wounds that run deeply and pierce the most private places of my heart, I know that God can redeem even those hurts so that once again I can dream with the faith of the child I once was. This is part of the legacy of having been raised in a  home where the content and practice of faith in Jesus Christ informed so much of our life together.

Finding a Balance in Protecting Kids

I took a short swim in the pool yesterday evening and then decided to read a book for awhile in one of the poolside chairs. A young family was swimming in the pool. There was dad and mom, an older daughter (about 9) and a younger son (about 3). They splashed and cavorted in the pool. The laughter was an enjoyable backdrop to the nice cool breeze which tempered the remaining moments of a warm day under a deep blue sky. A variety of bird species offered their vocal counterpoint to the family fun as they twittered (To Steve Tanner, in case he is reading this: no, not the web application twitter. *grin*) about in the sky above, flitting from tree to tree. On the surface, it was a peaceful moment.

But there was a subtext underway as well. I noticed that dad and mom seemed only to be paying passing attention to the kids. They were far more interested in each other. It appeared they had delegated primary responsibility for watching the boy to the daughter, who actually seemed more interested in practicing her swimming skills. What gave me a moment of pause is when the youngest wandered off to the hot tub by himself, and none of them followed him to bring him back. Yes, he had a flotation vest on, but still, the water in the tub is too hot for children that young. It can actually be quite dangerous, especially since a small child cannot be seen in the hot tub from the vantage point of the pool.

He finally came back, and began running around the perimeter of the pool, which was soaked with water for obvious reasons. Occasionally he also jumped into the water, which was fine since he had the jacket on. Yet they did not say anything to him about the running. I suppose they figured that if he fell into the water his flotation vest would keep him afloat. But what about if he fell and knocked his head on the concrete? What then?

Were they trying to give him space to learn on his own? Did they figure they were close by so if anything happened they could come to his aid? Did they have that much trust in their daughter that they figured they could let him do as he wished and she would take care of it? At what point would they have been willing to step in to provide preventive instruction? Were they even aware of the inherent risks they were taking by allowing him to engage in this behavior? In short, what was the appropriate balance in protecting the young boy?

I realize that there is such a thing as being overprotective. The only two issues that made me wonder were the boy’s freedom to wander off by himself to the hot tub, and also to run at full tilt on the wet concrete around the perimeter of the pool. Honestly, I was so distracted by this that I found myself keeping a watchful eye on him rather than the content of my book because I did not perceive that the parents were attentive to his situation!

What parameters of balance do you set in your home or in your children’s ministry? How do you go about ensuring the safety of your children without being overbearing? How might this apply not only to obvious physical dangers, but also dangers to the hearts and minds of children through content which they consume in the culture?

Family Landmines

I read and hear often about the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) explosions in Iraq. They are horrific devices which wage an ongoing war of terror in the cities and towns in that nation. Seasoned military experts detect many of them, but not all. And the results can be catastrophic.

I suggest that in our families there can be relational IEDs which are planted by the choices we make. Hidden sin. A refusal to reconcile with others. Anger, gossip, pornography, even abuse of substances or people. All of these, plus so many others, can act as situations which blow apart families, resulting in divorce, heartache, broken-hearted spouses and children, disillusionment. They are family landmines. We guard them closely, thinking they will not hurt anyone else. And then we react in horror when they do exactly that. If real IEDs were planted in our homes we would call for help to remove them. Why is it that we sometimes choose to ignore or cover over something lethal to the spiritual and relational health of our families?

Think on these things as the Lord God speaks to your heart. NIV Psalm 66:18-19 If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.

HELP for Parents in Coaching Their Kids in the Game of Life

This morning Pastor Phil Newell and I conversed on the platform in the adult worship service. He provided key points regarding coaching kids and I added my color commentary. He began by unpacking, in simple terms, the backdrop of Deuteronomy 6: 4-6. For those who are interested, I have posted my commentary below on the four key points of the acrostic HELP which he later: Headship, Example, Light and Leadership.

Headship

Children want their parents to be parents. Sure, they enjoy fun companionship, but at the end of the day, they want Mom and Dad to be the leaders and they will test the boundaries to the fullest extent until they discover the limits which Mom and Dad have chosen to set and consistently maintain. Parents set the tone in the home. Be the leader, but communicate your leadership at eye level with your children. Don’t talk down to them from the soaring heights of your vantage point. Lower yourself to their perspective. After all, God did that for us in sending Jesus, didn’t he? When disciplining children, speak in terms of the choices they make. A choice is different than a mistake. When you accidently drop a glass of water, that is a mistake. When you throw the water at your sister, that is a choice.

Family mealtime, once per week to start, conversation, everyone contributes.

Jesus used mealtime as a significant time of relationship building. The last supper was a case in point. It was not strictly a sacred moment, as if you can divide sacred and the mundane. It was a moment of community, of relationship, which infused into its normal routine of sharing bread, wine and conversation the greater significance of Jesus’ forthcoming sacrificial death. The sacramental element was introduced in the context of community. I think this is telling. It was meant for community, not individualistic partaking. So, participating in meaningful mealtimes as a family certainly takes on greater significance when considered in this light.

Example:

Children watch parents and adults closely. Our attitudes. Our word choice. Our actions. They are especially alert to those times when we are under pressure. How do we behave when things go wrong, or when we are frustrated? The phrase do as I say and not as I do is just that, a phrase. The reality is that kids typically will do as their parents do, for good or for bad, because that is the example that is modeled for them. Spend time watching your children play. Be present with them in play. After all, with young children especially, play is their primary language and toys and the details of their games are their words. You can learn a lot about your child in their play. You also can help them mature by teaching them respect for boundaries, right from wrong, how to reconcile, how to communicate, all in the context of play and without having to lecture them. If we only lecture a child, she often simply hears static” “Blah, Blah, Blah.”

The moment by moment interactions we have with children are like the flashbulbs which will either point to the reality of Jesus, or obscure him from view, depending on the character we exhibit for children. Enter into their story and allow them into yours. Be real. Make your relationship with God accessible to the children as a normal part of your daily routines.

Light:

Be present with them in the daily routines of their lives. Each interaction is an opportunity to spark once again the light of Jesus in their hearts.

Prayer:

It comes on our knees and on our feet and as we drive in the car, wake our kids up, share a meal with them, put them to bed, all through the routines of our lives, as we worship, pray and listen to God. We need to remember that although God is transcendent, he is also immanent. He created and sustains the universe while also sending his Son Jesus to live among us, and his Spirit to indwell us. God is other, but he lives in the hearts of those who believe. Yet, why do we so often pray as if he is out there somewhere, rather than present with us? Why do we act as if God is beyond some closed door or glass ceiling? Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. When he died the veil separating holiest place from the remainder of the temple was torn. Likewise, we were given access to God through Jesus Christ. Jesus is now our high priest. We are the royal priesthood, invited in to the holiest place to worship God and converse with him directly. To be sure, we must maintain reverence. But God also invites us to call him Abba, daddy. He invites us into intimate relationship with him. This ought to inform our worship, our prayer, our daily routines and thoughts.

Quiet Time Ideas for Families with Young Children

These are some simple suggestions for parents of young children to use as they wake their children in the morning, or even as quiet times during the day throughout the week. I wrote these for families in my own church. Anyone is welcome to use them in their family or church.

The ideas might not work for every child or every family, but they provide one way to give a gentle nudge to wake up, or simply pause throughout the day. They can be used any day of the week or everyday. They can even be used during the day! The point is to create meaningful, precious, silly, heartfelt times of connection with your child.

Monday- This is a wake up chant which a parent can use on those typically hard to wake Monday mornings:

“It’s Monday, it’s Monday, and I will love you all day. So rise up, and stretch out, or you have something to giggle about. It’s Monday, it’s Monday, and God will love you all day. Jesus rose up from the grave and that is something to praise him about.”

Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Tuesday- This song is sung to the tune “Oh Be Careful Little Eyes What You See.”

“Oh I think I hear a squirming little one. Oh I think I hear a squirming little one. As the sun begins to rise, I look deeply in your eyes and remind you of my love, little one. Jesus made you like you are, little one. Jesus made you in his Image, little one. As the sun begins to rise, I look deeply in your eyes and remind you of God’s love, little one.”

Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Wednesday- Song sung to the tune, “Mary had a little lamb.”

“Our Father had a great idea, great idea, great idea! Our Father had a great idea and it included you! God made you just the way you are, way you are, way you are. God made you just the way you are and he said it was good! Even though sin makes him sad, makes him sad, makes him said. Even though sin makes him sad, he sent Jesus to help. Then Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again. Then Jesus took all our sins and washed them all away!”

Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Thursday- Sing or say, “Oh my child (or child’s name) is so special, she (or he) really is to me. Oh I love to hug her everyday and help her really see that Jesus really loves her and has a plan for her. So open up your eyes right now and we will get to pray.”

Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Friday- A rhyme which a parent can either sing or say to the child:

“Wiggle, Wiggle, where are your toes? If you smile I’ll kiss your nose! Snuggle up right next to me. Let’s pray right now like busy bees.”

Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Saturday- Gently and quietly sit by your child as she wakes. Simply listen and be with her, hearing her concerns as she wakes for the day. Then, take a moment to pray with your child and remind her of your love and care for her.

Sunday- These lyrics may be sung to the popular children’s tune, “Skip to my Lou.” The kids learned the song at church and it may be adapted as a cheerful wake up routine to prepare for a day of community worship. After singing it with your child, take a moment to pray with her and remind her of your love and care for her.

Praise to the Father!
Praise to the Son!

Praise to the Spirit!
The Three in One!

Praise to the Lord God
for all He’s done!
Praise to His name this morning!

"What Would You Do?" Children’s Bible Study Series

I am in the process of writing a new children’s church Bible study series for the kids in my church. It is called, “What Would You Do?” We are working chronologically through the biblical text using key stories–some well known, others less so–to illustrate choices which biblical people faced in their settings, and then applying them to today in ways with which they can identify.

Last week we watched Adam and Eve encounter the serpent in the Garden of Eden as portrayed in the form of a puppet show. All of the children wanted a chance to handle the puppets so we took turns and told the story several times. Adam and Eve were faced with a choice of unimaginable proportions. I wonder. Did they know the extent of the consequences for their choice? If not originally, then later? When I asked the children what Eve should do when the serpent tempted her to eat of the fruit from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they unanimously cried out, “Run away!” It is easy to make that judgement from the relative safety of several thousand years and a better understanding of the consequences of their choice. But surely we also would have been beguiled had we been in their situation. I don’t know about you, my kind readers, but I have an inkling of the deceitfulness of my own heart, the struggle I face to make good choices of a much smaller magnitude. Or are they smaller in magnitude?

This week we saw Cain and Abel (in puppet form) bring their sacrifices to God. Cain displeased God with his offering. Abel pleased God and thus experienced God’s favor. Cain then became angry to the point of bitterness. As God inquired about this, Cain hardened his heart and then began to plot against Abel, carrying out a plan to murder him. He plotted against his brother. Surely, Adam and Eve must have felt the weight of this in their hearts. When God looked for Abel he inquired again of Cain. Cain’s response rings through the ages to this day. We see it in governmental policies around the world, including the USA. We see it played out in homes, in communities, in churches, on the streets and in the public square. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” This is the inaugural moment of verbally expressed individualism. It smacks of arrogant rebellion. It was a public act of defiance against God and against another human being. Note its utter contradiction of what later would become known as the two greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.

When I asked the kids today what Cain should do when he learned his sacrifice did not please God, they suggested that he should learn from this wrong choice. Perhaps he could have brought a better sacrifice at the next opportunity. Yet, as they soon learned, Cain spiraled into a series of disastrous choices. This question sparked a fascinating discussion between the kids. Why did Cain make this choice? Why did he not apologize and make things right? Why did Cain get so angry at his brother Abel and God? This then allowed us to make application here and now in our lives.

I reminded the children that I have seen a lot of kids come and go over the years. Some have grown up and have kids of their own. I know of at least one from my previous church who spent time in prison. Others also have made extremely bad choices. With all the love and compassion I could muster, I told them to be mindful of their choices now, because it sets the tone for their choices in the days to come when the choices will become much harder and more serious.

What I love about the Bible is that it does not pull punches. It is not a book of fairytales as some would have us believe. It tells it like it is. Life is portrayed as unvarnished with all its difficult contradictory problems. It is real. And the Bible shows us life as it really is. I find this comforting and helpful as I lead children and adults in the discovery process of finding out what God has to say to us in the biblical text.