Category Archives: Family

Why Wait for Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is Friday. (Husbands, read that sentence again!)

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Leah and I have never made a huge deal of the holiday, but we always go out on a date and enjoy some time with the kids. We don’t buy extravagant gifts, but I do still ask her to be my valentine. Of course, now Turner asks her, too, so I have some competition!

I hope you are planning something special for the day, but I’d like to ask: why wait until Friday? Why wait until Valentine’s Day?

You don’t have to wait to tell your husband or wife “I love you.”

You don’t have to wait to get a little surprise gift.

You don’t have to wait to get a sitter and go out to eat.

You don’t have to wait to send a romantic text or email.

You don’t have to wait to add a few extra seconds to a kiss or hug.

Holidays are wonderful, and they do help us mark certain dates as special. Valentine’s Day should help focus us on our marriage and how blessed we are to have one another. But shouldn’t that be true each and every day?

Take a moment today and do something “just because” that too many folks will wait until Friday to do. Make it more like Valentine’s Day before Valentine’s Day ever comes.

QUESTION: Why do we wait for holidays too often to show our spouse how special they are? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Photo credit: Esparta Palma on Creative Commons

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How to Lead Your Family in Home Devotionals

[Note: The following in the manuscript I am using for a lecture at the annual Freed-Hardeman University Bible lectures on the theme “How to Lead Your Family in Home Devotionals.” Although much longer than my usual blog posts, I hope you find it encouraging.]

It is 8 PM and your home is still and calm. The children have already cleaned their rooms so that a maid would be jealous of the perfection of their work. They have taken their showers, and you are sure that there is not a single germ or speck of dirt to be found anywhere on their bodies. Their teeth are gleaming white, and you are certain that the dental floss has removed every last molecule of plaque from between their teeth.

Now, the children gather on the couch in a room that is so well-kept you are just certain that Southern Living is going to knock on the door to take photos of the room for their latest feature article. The children wear smiles because they know that daddy is going to take the next 45 minutes to expound unto them the deep-seated nuggets of truth of the prophecies of Ezekiel, and this is what they have waited all day to learn. Forget the time outside, playing tag with the friends from up the street; hearing these lengthy discussions about the intricate nuances of the Hebrew language in poetic prophecy—that’s where it’s at!

If you are sitting here today, and this describes your home devotionals, then I’ll just say this: You need to be down here teaching this hour! Because the picture that we painted above may sound wonderful and may sound ideal, but it is certainly not what most—or any—of us experience when we try to have devotionals in our homes.

Before moving on, let me make this remark by way of introduction. This was a difficult topic to discuss in the lectureship book. That volume is usually filled with quite scholarly material, and this is not as much of an in-depth subject. What I tried to do, then, was lay a deeper foundation in the book that you can go back and read at your own leisure. In this hour, our goal is to talk a bit more about the practical side of things. We also want to share a few resources—among countless ones we could share—that might help you if you need such for your home.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. It could be a devotional. In our home it’s “Bible time.” For some, it’s family worship, and there are many other names. The point of this effort, though, is simple: it is dedicating a few moments on a regular basis to focus the entire family on God and His Word. In fact, that last sentence is going to serve as our working definition as we consider “How to Lead Your Family in Home Devotionals.” So, here is that statement again: A family devotional is dedicating a few moments on a regular basis to focus the entire family on God and His Word.

Using that description as our working definition, we will discuss 6 areas this afternoon that should help us as we seek to lead our families. I would like to state that this track on the lectureship is called “Especially for Young Families.” I am going to emphasize those homes in this lecture, but I will try to point out some things that can be useful if your children are a bit older. Of course, much of what we will say is true across the demographics, but our examples will mostly be considering those who are younger.

With that said, let’s use our working definition to consider how to lead our homes in this area.

1. Dedicating. We will not spend a lot of time on this first section, but it needs to be said and emphasized: For family devotionals to occur, there must be dedication to this idea as important. I am not going to suggest this afternoon that, if you haven’t been having devotionals or if you are hit-and-miss with them, that you are lacking in your spirituality. I don’t think you would come to a session like this, or to this lectureship as a whole, if you lacked in spiritual dedication.

What I am suggesting is that you must be dedicated to the importance of family devotionals if you are going to not only have them, but keep them going. For that to happen, it must be something that is not just in your head, but in your heart. And, if we are honest, only the Lord can truly change a heart. Spend time in prayer about your devotionals and your willingness to lead them. Pray for wisdom in how to handle these devotionals, and ask humbly for God to give you the wisdom and the patience to keep going when there are days that don’t go well.

Why? Trust me: not every devotional will go well. In fact, probably only a small percentage will go exactly as you had planned. When you are used to working at things and having them go according to a plan, it is easy to get discouraged when things don’t work out as you might like. That’s when your dedication must kick in.

Before moving on, I will add this quick thought. Married couples, you both need to be dedicated to this idea, too. If one is on fire to have home devotionals and the other won’t even turn off the TV to take part, the kids are going to pick up on that very quickly. One of you may be more interested than the other (in fact, that’s only natural), but both of you need to be dedicated to the idea that this is important.

2. A few moments. Now, at this point, some of you may question my faithfulness, because I am going to tell you that these family devotionals should not last more than a few minutes. For some of us, especially us preachers, we might think that we should work up a 45-minute exposition of some relatively unknown passage dealing with prophecy or with how to handle uncleanness (after all, you have small children, and uncleanness is a constant!), but if we are realistic, we know that these long expositions are not really how best to teach in this way.

The fact of the matter is, especially when your children are smaller, you can accomplish so much in very little time. In our home, most of our devotionals last about 10-15 minutes, and I would say that they are more often closer to the 10 minutes than the 15. We do not go by the clock, but that seems to be about the average range.

Why such a short period of time? There are a couple of reasons. One is that we are busy, just like you are. We try to keep our calendars pretty clear, but if we are going to be active in the work of the Lord, good citizens, and also have a good family life, those calendars are going to fill up quickly. We all understand that. Some people hear the idea of having a family devotional and think, “It’s just something else to do.” That’s one reason these need to be brief. We are already so busy.

But I also suggest a shorter period of time because so much can be done in a short period of time. I want you to think back to the last day of work you had before going on vacation last year. Maybe you were leaving on a Friday to head off to the mountains or away on a cruise. Think back to that Thursday then; the day before you left. In just your first 10 or 15 minutes, how much did you accomplish? For most of us, on days like that, it is a tremendous amount of work.

Why? Because we are clear about what we need to do. The same is true in your family devotionals. We’ll talk more about focus in a few minutes, but it helps in keeping these times brief if we have a plan. Would you rather your children (or you, for that matter) know one thing really well, or barely know a few random things? Take a few minutes and focus on that one thing.

Also, consider the majority of educational programming your children watch. Most of the shows may be the same length, but they move between scenes quickly. They get in, teach a lesson, and get out. And we all need to recognize that, for a great number of kids, it works. It’s not a bad way to approach considering the length of our devotionals.

3. Regular basis. Here is where most of us struggle. We decide we are going to start having home devotionals. Maybe you make that decision as a result of this session today, or just as a result of being around this wonderful group of people this week. We get the energy and motivation to start something like this, and we say, “Next week on Monday night, we are starting this.” And, wouldn’t you know it? That’s the day little Susie comes home from school with a fever. And you forgot that there was an all-hands-on-deck meeting at work that night. Before you know it, it’s been a month since you made the decision to start having devotionals and you have yet to have your first one.

So, how are we supposed to stay in a regular schedule when life is so chaotic? Let me offer a few suggestions to help.

                *Do not be confined to a specific place. I’ll admit that we aren’t perfect at this, but there have been a number of times where we have done our family devotional in the car. Maybe it’s a short drive across town, but just singing a few songs or reviewing a Bible story can happen in the car. If you decide that you can’t have your devotional in any location other than your living room or around the dining room table, it’s going to be much more difficult to get in a rhythm. After all, for most families, how often are we in the same location—even at home—at nearly the exact same time every night?

                *Schedule more than one per week. Think with me for a moment. If you say, “Our devotionals are going to be on Monday nights,” and then you miss a Monday night, it’s a full 14 days between devotionals. Just missing one or two can easily get you out of the regular practice because it is so long in between times together. Instead, if you try to have 2 or 3 each week and you happen to miss one, it is much easier to stay in regular practice. Of course, there are other reasons to have a devotional more than once each week, but this is a wonderful extra benefit.

                *Put it on the calendar. Full disclosure: this is not something we literally do. Leah and I share a Google Calendar and you will not find “family devo” or “Bible time” on the calendar. The reason is that we are just in the habit of doing this. If you are not, though, put it on your calendar, or set your phone to remind you at a certain time each day to have your devotional. It is remarkable how, what we put on our calendars seems to get done. Also, if you put your Bible time on the calendar and someone calls and wants you to do something, you can honestly say, “I already have a commitment for that time of the evening. Can we choose a different time?”

                *Remember: brevity! If you are trying to have hour-long devotionals, you are going to struggle to carve out the time on a regular basis. But, no matter how busy you are, if you are only looking for about 15 minutes a couple of times each week, it’s much easier to stay in rhythm. Even if it’s time in the car, it’s not hard for most of us to find that kind of time. And, I’ll just say it, if it is hard to find 10-15 minutes, maybe we are too busy, and this can be a great time to triage the calendar and do some evaluation!

Before we leave this idea of our devotionals being on a regular basis, I would also add that we need to consider what time of day you want to have your devotionals. We have been assuming in this lesson that these times will be in the evening, but that may not work well for your family, and you’ll get frustrated and quit. Maybe daddy is involved in shift work and it would work better for the family to meet around the breakfast table a few minutes before the bus comes or before homeschool begins. If you homeschool, maybe dad can come home for lunch and that’s when the devotional can happen. Maybe it’s right when the kids get home from school. Or right when dad and/or mom get home from work. Maybe it is as soon as everyone is done eating supper. The key is to make this your family devotional time, making it best fit the life of your family.

4. Focus. I want to camp on this fourth point for a little while, because this is so key. It is here that we’ll share some resources as well in just a moment.

In reality, this is the key to what our assignment for this session is: “Leading Your Family in Home Devotionals.” If those who are leading are not focused, then how can we expect the devotionals themselves to have focus? Now, as we’ve said throughout, life is chaotic and every devotional period is not going to perfectly follow some amazing “script” you plan out. There are going to be some very frustrating evenings, and there are going to be times when you just aren’t feeling like keeping things on track. But I would challenge you: make this the exception rather than the rule.

What are some ways to focus? The best way is to ask one question: “What do I want my children to learn right now?” Now, I know, there are probably 100 or more answers to that question. After all, every one of us, no matter the age of our children, wish we could just open up their heads and pour in wisdom and knowledge, because we see so many areas where they need to learn, grow, and mature.

But, in answering that question, try to focus your thinking on just a handful of things that you want them to grow in at this stage of their life. Here are a few areas you might want to consider:

 

  • Maybe it is simply knowing accounts from Scripture better. This could be the case if your children are small, or if your family is new to Scripture. There is no shame in saying that you’d like to know more about some of the great stories and people of Scripture, and we all surely want our children to know them better.
  • Maybe it is Scripture memorization. Family devotionals are a wonderful time to memorize a few verses together, especially if they are verses about a certain area in which you want your children to improve. Psalms and Proverbs both contain verses that are practical and quite easy for memorization, even by smaller children.
  • Maybe it is just worshiping together. This can be so helpful if your children struggle to act well in worship. Taking a few minutes to sing together and pray together is a great way to teach them about the wonderful nature of worship, as well as helping them learn how to act in worship.
  • Maybe it is morality. Especially as your children age, devotionals provide a great way to focus on how to handle certain moral situations. Just remember to point them to the Scriptures, and not some type of situational ethics or selective morality. But teach them to look at situations through Biblical glasses and to think about how God would have us handle difficult decisions or struggles.
  • Maybe it is leadership. For boys, family devotionals can be a tremendous way to practice leading in worship. They can learn to direct singing, read Scripture, or lead a prayer in front of just their family, who they know will support them, but also help them improve. For young ladies, she can learn how to read out loud to someone who is in the hospital or she can prepare the materials for a devotional, so that she is learning about preparing Bible lessons for class settings.
  • Maybe it’s service. One great way to spend family Bible time is in doing an act of service for someone else, and talking about the importance of helping others. It could be writing or making a card, or helping mommy pack some cookies for a neighbor who is sick. All the while, the conversation is about why we do things like this. We are teaching that this is done in the name of the Lord and to His glory.

Are you beginning to see that the possibilities are quite long? This is by no means an exhaustive list, but maybe you see something that makes you think of your own children and something you would really like to place some emphasis on.

At the beginning of 2014, our family laid down what we would like to do in our family devotionals. We’ve had them for some time, but we tried to think realistically about what we could do each evening, and how that would help our children where they are right now. So, at our house, here is how we are currently striving to handle our devotionals. You’ll notice that there are a few different areas of emphasis, but we like the variety during the week.

*Monday night is Bible review. This works well for us for a couple of reasons.

One is because we can take something from a Bible class on Sunday or Wednesday and make it useful for our home. You know all those zillions of pieces of paper and crafts that those wonderful Bible school teachers help your children make? They send them home, and then you aren’t sure what you are supposed to do with them, right? For most of us, we can’t keep all of them, but maybe you can keep a few and use them in this way. Leah builds a small notebook for each of our kids of some of the projects, worksheets, and crafts. At times, we use these for review, while at other times, we think of something else for them to draw, make, or just tell to review that part of Scripture. Sometimes, we just talk about a Bible story, and we even let the kids act them out at times. When daddy is Goliath, things get a little interesting!

Monday nights being review night also works well for us because at least one Monday night each month, I have a meeting at the church building, and Leah can handle the devotional on those nights with or without me. In fact, she is far more talented in this area than I am, so if I cannot be there for the devotional, I know it’s going to go very well. We’ll talk more in a few moments about the whole family being present, but we all know there will be a few times where that just isn’t possible. We try to think about that in these plans.

*Tuesday night is KidSing night. At Lebanon Road, we have KidSing on Sunday evenings before services. This is much like a pew packers program, but our emphasis is on memorizing Bible facts. We take the cards that Glenn Colley makes available on the West Huntsville Church of Christ website (which I’ll give in a moment). I modify them slightly and on Sunday evenings before services, I review these cards with our K-6 group at Lebanon Road. We really want our children to know these cards well, so we take Tuesday nights to rehearse the cards in our home devotionals. If our kids have been paying attention in KidSing, this doesn’t take long. If they haven’t, these can be some frustrating nights.

*Thursday night is object lesson night. We have yet to start these on a regular basis because Thursday nights are also our nights to either (1) have guests over for a meal, or (2) Leah and I to have a date night out. So far in 2014, we have had a lot of guests, which is great. However, on nights we are home, we will take an object lesson and present it to the kids. Again, I’ll give you a resource in a few moments, but these are simply taking a common object and developing a moral and devotional thought from it, much like Jesus did in teaching through parables.

*Saturday night is worship night. For us, these are simply brief evenings where we sing a couple of songs and maybe read a passage from the Bible or something else that reminds us of a Biblical principle. These evenings are brief, but the emphasis is on helping us begin to prepare our minds for worship on Sunday.

Is that how you have to do this in your home? Of course not, and this is a new way we are holding our devotionals in 2014. I doubt it’s perfect, and I’m sure that, as our children get older, it will change. I just wanted you to see that we are trying to remain focused on a few areas and stay regular in doing these things with our children.

Now, I will also say that we need help in this. Leah and I will admit that we are not perfectly creative, and to come up with this much stuff on a regular basis is not easy. So, we turn to resources. Let me give you a few that we have used through the years, and there are countless others that are out there to help.

  • The One-Year Children’s Bible. When our kids were smaller, they got this book for Christmas, and we read through it. Now, we did not read every day, but sometimes read a couple of entries in one evening. We did, however, read through this book in about a year. It’s a great way to get the children used to seeing the whole picture of the Bible. You may have to edit an entry or two throughout the year, but not many. Each of the 365 entries takes about 2 or 3 minutes to read, making it great for small children.
  • Family Devotionals” by Kaio Publications. These are CD-roms that have object lesson you can print out from a pdf format. Currently, there are four CD’s available, and each one has 30 short devotionals on it. The ones currently available are “object lessons from the yard,” the kitchen, the garage, and the house. More titles are coming, by the way. But, right there, you can have 120 print-and-teach devotionals ready to go. The goal is to eventually have 360 devotionals in the complete set, but 120 is enough for most of us to get started!
  • KidSing cards. You don’t have to have a pew packers or KidSing program at your congregation to use these cards in your family devotionals! You can get them for free at http://westhuntsville.org/youth/KidSing.php. Or just look at those and decide on your own areas of Scripture to emphasize for memorization in your family devotionals.
  • Hannah’s Hundred. We love these CD’s and a lot of the songs we sing are memory verses from them. We also make up a few of our own, which the kids love. Each of these CDs helps the children (and you) learn 100 verses of Scripture. These are perfect for the nights when you are traveling and need to have your family devotional in the car.
  • Acts by the Numbers. This is a resource on our family blog, but it is also something we did at Lebanon Road in 2013. These provide a fact-sheet for each of the 28 chapters of the book of Acts. Each sheet talks about one chapter and has 1 summary statement, 2 memory verses, 3 review questions, and a 4-minute activity. I will admit, in reviewing these, a couple have a mistake on them, but I think you’ll still like them as a quick-printable devotional idea for your family. These are totally free at our website.
  • Lads to Leaders rulebook. You may have noticed that some of the things we have discussed are quite similar to some of the events at Lads to Leaders. You may not be involved in Lads, but that’s okay. That’s not what I’m saying in this lecture. Some of the events are good ideas for some areas to emphasize in your home devotionals, and can be tailored to fit what you do.
  • Devotions for the Children’s Hour. Kenneth Taylor, who paraphrased The Living Bible, wrote this collection of short devotionals for kids. We use this sometimes on Saturday nights, but I will say that you’ll skip or reword quite a few lessons. There’s a lot of “chaff” to be removed, but you can get a lot of good ideas from this book. Lessons are things like “Why do some people not believe the Bible?” and “Why can I trust God?” This is a good idea book, but you’ll have to do some editing for doctrinal reasons.
  • Finally, as your children age, I would suggest selecting good books from some of our brotherhood companies to work through as a family. Those famous “13-chapter” books often contain a good amount of material that maybe you divide up over the course of 2 or 3 evenings to discuss.

The key is to ask around for help. There are nearly countless resources online that can help you with whatever areas you wish to place your focus on. Ask a Bible school teacher, or call a brotherhood bookstore. If you like crafty stuff, head to Pinterest.

No matter what, get focused. Decide what you want your children to learn at this stage in their life and then lead them in learning those things.

5. Entire Family. I mentioned to you that there are a few evenings where I cannot be present for our family Bible time, but those are exceptionally rare. We take this time as a family very seriously. This is not something that should be done by part of the family. Family devotionals are a time that need to be enjoyed, yes; but they also need to be expected.

Dads, I’ll just speak to us for a second. This needs to be an area where your leadership shines. You may not be too creative, but just your emphasis in being present and showing leadership will teach volumes. In fact, it may teach more than the actual lesson being presented during the devotional time. Please make this a priority and be present a vast majority of the time, but also be involved. Let your kids see you read the story or sing the song. Memorize the verses with the kids and help them when they struggle to understand. You won’t regret leading in this way.

Moms, may I speak to you for a moment? Your husband needs your support! It may add something to your day to help get something together for the devotional, but wouldn’t you love to have a man willing to lead his family in this area? Help him come up with ideas and offer your area of expertise. Maybe you can help with a craft or printing out a worksheet. Maybe you can help select some resources for him to use. Maybe you can run (shall we call it) “crowd control” when the devotional isn’t going as well as you might like.

If you have older kids, let me speak to you. This is a time when you will strongly need to evaluate when you have your devotionals. Teenagers will be heavily involved in so many things. Maybe they are an athlete, or they are great in the band. Maybe they have a job. Whether they are in public school, private school, or homeschool, they will be busy. It may be time to move the family devotional to the morning or to just after dinner. But do not let them off the hook just because they are busy. If they can get away from this now for being busy, they have a ready-made excuse to never start devotionals in their own home one day. This is about family and it is about priorities, and being together as a family for this purpose must be a priority.

6. God and His Word. Here is where we will end, because it needs to be the focal point of everything. We haven’t mentioned a single Bible verse yet, but we want to change that to help us draw our thoughts to a close this afternoon.

In Deuteronomy 6, we know the passage that says that the Israelites were to instill the law of God on the hearts of their children. Starting in verse 4, Moses wrote, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” That’s one of those great Old Testament emphasis passages that grounds us in the importance of our work as parents and leaders of the home.

But we see it lived out in another well-known passage from the New Testament. Paul wrote to a young preacher, sometimes called his protégé, named Timothy. As he did, Paul wrote about the sincere faith that was in Timothy, but that was first seen in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Timothy 1:5). Knowing that heritage of faith, it is no wonder that Paul would write to that same man these words in 2 Timothy 3:14-15: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

I know those verses do not say, “You must have family Bible time.” I get that. But I also know that my children will likely place emphasis and value in what we do as parents. I want them to see that we place emphasis in God and His Word, and in learning that together. I want them to see that we place value and emphasis in meeting together as a family to do that.

My children need to see that our family gets together to focus on God regularly, so that I can instill into their lives what they need at this point in their growth and development.

Why? Think of what the passages in Deuteronomy and 2 Timothy teach us. We need to place this emphasis…

Because this world needs more who

Number one: have the commandments of the Lord on their heart,

Number two: are willing to teach their children who will teach their children,

Number three: are acquainted with the sacred writings,

Number four: firmly believe those writings,

                And number five: are saved by the message of Scripture.

As long as I live, I will pray for my children and their spiritual growth and maturity. But, practically speaking, I’ve only got a few years to have them right there with me where I can guide them so closely. When those years have flown by—and they are flying by—my children will head out into a world that does not have the commandments of God on its collective heart, that will not teach children (my grandchildren) the Scriptures, is not acquainted with the sacred writings, clearly does not believe them, and—tragically—will be lost because of that.

Why, then, would I ever hesitate to focus as much as I can with these wonderful treasures that God has given to me? You may call it a devotional, or Bible time, or family time, or any number of other names.

But whatever you call it, treat it as sacred, and God will bless your effort.

Let’s not just have family devotionals. Let’s lead them.

11 Things I Regret and 1 Thing I Never Will

Maybe the hardest part of forgiveness is self-forgiveness. There is no doubt that God forgives, and I’m grateful for so many in my life who have shown me forgiveness throughout the years. However, I know my weaknesses, and my brain–like yours, I’m sure–refuses to let me forget things that I know I’ve been forgiven of.

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Some of that isn’t good, but it’s not all bad, either. A feeling of regret is helpful when confronted with the same temptations or struggles later in life. Wisdom demands that we remember and use that regret as motivation to do better.

This post is not meant to be a “tell-all” (sorry if you were expecting that), but I do want to share 11 things I regret.

I regret…

…times when I have not been “there” for my kids the way I should have, and put them far further down the priority list than they should be.

…days when I don’t listen to Leah closely, showing her that her thoughts are truly important to me.

…missed opportunities to invite others to worship or speak a word for the Lord.

…losing my patience with the kids, and not showing them how to properly handle anger or frustration.

…many entertainment choices in years gone by (which is one reason I blog about it quite often).

…tons of sermons where I know I preached the truth, but didn’t do so with passion.

…not bridling my tongue when “going for the laugh,” often at someone else’s expense.

…times when I didn’t visit the sick or shut in like I should (something I’m improving at, but still struggle with).

…struggling to be committed to prayer, especially when things are going well.

…dealing with laziness, especially at home.

…too often, being reactive instead of proactive.

…not honoring my parents and sister as often as I should. (They so much deserve honor!)

Now, before you get ready to comment and say, “Oh, it’s okay. We all struggle with stuff,” let me get to the point of this post.

That list could be quite a bit longer. I have lots of regrets, some general and some specific. My mind can go back to many events, moments, and conversations when I was not what I should have been. If we’re honest, we can all do that.

But there is one thing I will never regret.

As many things as I may do (or fail to do) that bring regret, I will never regret that when I fail, it’s because I’m striving to reach the standard of Jesus Christ.

Though I’ll never get there, I can live without regret because He’s helping me be more like Him, and His hand will help me rise up and over my regrets each day.

And that’s something I’ll never regret!

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Photo credit: Richard Summers on Creative Commons

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“The Wolf of Wall Street” and a Vanishing Conscience

506.

According to Variety magazine, that is how many times a movie-goer who sees the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” will hear one particular curse word.

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You read that correctly. In the three-hour (exactly) movie, just one curse word is used over five-hundred times. It averages out to 2.8 occurrences per minute over the course of the 180 minute film.

I have seem some Christians on social media mentioning this “extreme” use of language. Thankfully, they are not people who have seen the movie, but those who are just reporting–as I am in this post–this awful use of language.

Listening to the radio the other day, we heard a dj mention this as well, and say that several of his friends had walked out of the theater, due to the language.

But it got me thinking. Why does it shock us that a movie would have this much language in it?

And that led me to another question: where is “the line?”

Why are we shocked and appalled by 506 curse words in a movie, but we will justify a movie that “only” has a hundred or so?

We are quick to point out a movie’s “clean” nature, but think of how we talk.

  • “It was great, and it only used a few bad words.”
  • “There were a few cuss words, but it’s still worth seeing.”
  • “I guess there were a few bad words, but the acting is great.”

I am not going to be Pharisaical about this, but I really think Christians should take stock in what they are supporting when they pay money to go to the theater. Further, we need to be very careful about how we talk about our entertainment choices. If we aren’t careful, we can end up justifying seeing nearly anything, simply because it’s “not as bad as” some other film.

…that could lead down a very dangerous road!

And that is just what Hollywood wants. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before a movie sets a new record for curse words. With the moral sewage that regularly emanates from the movie industry, 506 curse words may be old news in just a few years.

But, if (when) that happens, will some of us talk about “The Wolf of Wall Street” as “not as bad as” this new record-setter? That should be an eye-opening question.

So, what will you be watching over the next few days? Will you allow whatever is in the news or the latest blockbuster to be your determining factor, justifying it as “it’s just entertainment?” Or, will you think in Biblical terms about holiness and the need to guard your heart and mind as holy instruments to be used in the service of the Lord?

“O be careful little ears what you hear…”

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Photo credit: Goksan Ozman on Creative Commons

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Tears of Faith

Recently, I had a wonderful visit with an aging saint. He has been through quite a number of health issues, and is a widower of a little more than 10 years. He is fairly quiet, but we enjoy each other’s company.

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On this day, he had great news from his doctors and was wanting to talk. It was a joy to hear his good news and then just to “shoot the breeze” for a few minutes. To say the least, we had a great visit.

However, during the course of our time, this man shed tears.

Twice.

But he taught me so much in those moments that I pray I do not forget anytime soon.

This could be a post about keeping a tender heart or about how it’s okay for real men to cry, but that’s not what he taught me through his tears.

He taught me about what is really important.

His first tears fell from his face as we were just sharing memories. He had told me that his heart doctor had given him good news, and that he took that news very seriously. This wise man said something like, “That heart will get you if you aren’t careful. And often without warning.”

Then, he sobbed. Why? Because, through the tears, he said, “Just like it did my wife.”

She died from a sudden heart attack over 10 years ago, but that memory still floods this good man with emotion. He showed me pictures (she was beautiful) and talked about some of their family traditions.

Our conversation continued for a little while on various subjects, when he turned the talk to Lebanon Road and what a good place it is. Part of the pain this man has been through for many months is that he has not been able to drive. And, even if someone could bring him to worship, there have been very few days when he could come. The pain was just too much for him to bear.

As he talked about that, tears began to flow again.

As they did, he said, “I sure miss church. I’ve wanted to go to church.”

Here was a man who has been through so much for quite a long time. His pain is unthinkable to me, and he has been able to do very little for himself. He has faced frustration and pain that I would not wish upon anyone, and has done so with a great attitude.

But what brought him to tears?

He missed his wife and worship.

Talk about a wake up call for all of us.

When you are thinking of returning “that” phone call to “that” girl, or chatting with that “old flame” on Facebook, think of my friend, who built a marriage that shows what love and dedication is all about.

Or,when the beach or “the big game” seems more important than worshiping God, picture my friend sitting at home where he can watch whatever he wants on TV, but would do anything to gather before God in worship.

If his tears didn’t remind me of where my priorities should be, then I’m not sure my emotions can be touched. What will touch yours?

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Photo credit: Alisha Vargas on Creative Commons

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We Homeschool, But You Don’t Have To (or, “Why a Lot of Homeschoolers Give Homeschooling a Bad Name”)

Yes, we homeschool our children.

Yes, we have since they started school. We are in year 3 now.

Yes, we think it’s what is best for our children (at least at this time).

But no…we do not think you have to in order to be faithful parents.

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I saw it again very recently. I was scanning my Facebook feed and noticed an article someone had linked to. It was about some controversial matter in another state in a public school (by the way, the person who linked to the article doesn’t even live in the state where the event happened). It was one of those matters that is good to know about, and I’m glad this person linked to it as a sort of “f.y.i.”.

Then, however, I read it. It was the comment on the link which said, basically, “This is why we homeschool our children.”

Then, this person added…

“…and you should, too.”

I groaned.

We love homeschooling our children. We love what it gives both to them and to our family. When people ask about it, we try to be enthusiastic about what it means to our family. If they are considering homeschooling, we try to tell them that they can do it, and we strive to show the benefits.

But we do not try to tell people (1) that’s is a utopia, or (2) that it’s the only answer!

Let’s be honest: a strong argument could be made against homeschooling. That whole “salt” and “light” idea comes to mind, just for starters.

Are events like the one I read about on Facebook a reason why we homeschool? Absolutely. But that drift in many parts of our country away from Biblical morality is not the only reason we made this choice.

But far above that, way too many of us who homeschool talk about it as if it is “the only answer” for schooling children. The fact of the matter is, that’s just not the case. We plan on homeschooling throughout our children’s “school years,” but we also are honest enough to say that we need to evaluate that decision each year. Is this decision the right one for “this” child at “this” time?

We are very enthusiastic about our choice, and we think it works for us. A lot–I would even say, a vast majority–who homeschool feel the same way. They love it, and it works well. However, my job as a dad who homeschools is not to tell you that you should choose the same for your children. I don’t know your children like you do. I don’t know your home situation like you do.

But I do know this: no matter what choice you make, you must be involved! No matter how you choose to educate your children, you are still the steward of a life entrusted to you by God. If your children go to public or private school, you need to be involved in seeing that values are upheld. Remember, it’s not “their” job to educate your children. It’s your work to raise them in God’s nurture and admonition.

So, may I make an appeal? It is an appeal from a dad who homeschools to all the other homeschooling parents out there. Be enthusiastic about it. Go at it as best you can. Let this decision be one you are proud of and that truly impacts your children.

But please, stop trying to make it sound like every family should make the same choice. It’s a good choice. We think it’s a great choice…

…for our kids…

but we are going to pray that you make the best choice for your kids. And we’ll support your decision, and hope you’ll support ours.

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Photo credit: Jimmie on Creative Commons

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The Parable of Two Stained Shirts

two stained shirts

The First Shirt

A certain man was wearing a white-as-snow dress shirt for a date with his wife. He worked quite hard all day on the job, and though his job was boring, he worked with a smile, knowing that his effort was bringing in money to support his family. His home life was stressful, but pleasant, and he was so excited, because tonight was a long-overdue date night with his wife.

The sitter was actually a few minutes early, and the couple left for their date in the cold weather of winter. When they arrived at the restaurant, the man–being a gentleman–helped his wife take off her coat and get in her seat. Then, he walked around to the other side of the table and removed his coat.

As he did, he realized that his pen from work had been slowly leaking ink, and his shirt had a stain right at the base of the pocket. He was ashamed, because he wanted to look nice for his wife, who always was beautiful. Though the stain was small, he knew that her eye would be on it, because…well…that’s what people do.

Of course, she saw the stain. It was hard to miss on this crisp white shirt. And it was especially difficult for her to miss, since she had gotten up early that morning to iron this shirt, because she thought he looked especially handsome in it. Now, all that hard work seemed to be tossed aside by the ink that probably ruined the shirt.

But, the wife, bringing honor and respect to her husband, smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it, honey. When we get time, I’ll do everything I can to clean it up. We can save the shirt, but it will take some work. You just need to get rid of that pen!”

The Second Shirt

Another man, who worked at the same office, was also going home that night. He didn’t know what he was going to see, because his life at home was chaotic. He had “checked out” long ago, and it was obvious that his wife was more interested in raising the kids than in falling in love with him again.

Still, he dressed well for work. Just by coincidence he also donned a crisp white shirt that day that he had ironed the night before while watching the game. He also worked hard all day, because they had to pay for all the cell phone bills, car payments, and cable packages that seemed to bring some entertainment and smiles to the house. They were the only things that seemed to any more.

As he got home, he saw his wife and went to the closet to take off his coat. Wouldn’t you know it? His shirt also had a stain from a company ink pen! Just as with the first man, it was small, but noticeable.

Just as he saw it, his wife came around the corner. As you would expect, her eye went straight to the stain. Her face dropped and she said, “Just throw that thing out. It’s not worth the effort.”

Moral

Every husband or wife, just like the shirts, has stains. We will notice the stains, because that is human nature. The only question for each husband and wife to ask is, Am I willing to do all I can to help and work through the stains, or will I take the “easy” way out and throw my marriage away?

The choice is yours. Your marriage is essential, but are you treating it as dispensable?

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Background photo credit: Robert Sheie on Creative Commons

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A Prayer for Single Christians

Father,

Thank You for blessing the Church with committed Christians. It is a joy to get to work beside such wonderful people, and You have made it so by placing us all together in a wonderful family. Thank You, and we praise You for this blessing.

I confess, though, that I often focus more on those who are married, though not intentionally so. I fear that, too often, I fail to remember my brothers or sisters who are not married, but who are single Christians. But they are so special, and the work done by Your people would not be what it could be without their effort.

Today, Lord, I’m praying to You for them.

I pray for those who would like to find a spouse, but who struggle to do so. Give them strength to press on in patience, even when they feel lonely or even like they are not desirable. Help us to show them they are truly important, and that we could not do all we do in Your Name without them.

I pray for those who have no desire to marry. They are strong, but have to sit through service after service where families are emphasized, knowing all the while they do not have that desire for their own lives. They are dedicated to Your cause, and use their singleness as a real asset. Forgive us when we fail to utilize that asset in our planning and work.

I pray for those who are “single again,” and I ask them to forgive me if that phrase is not one they find proper. Some are hurting, because the person they thought was that “special someone” is still alive, but has walked out, leaving feelings of loneliness, hurt, and abandonment, and adding more pressures in this life than they should have to bear. Help us shoulder those burdens with them, and show Christ in our attitude of compassion.

My prayer is also for those who hurt when certain dates come around, because the man or woman they spent years–or even decades–with has passed from this life. They have so much wisdom from experiences, both good and difficult. May we use their wisdom, while giving them the care and compassion they so much deserve. Father, thank You for these amazing men and women, who show faithfulness through grief.

Lord, help the Church to be a place where those who are single always feel important, and where they can use their talents, wisdom, time, and money to help Your Kingdom grow. Whatever they may need individually, give all of us wisdom and care to see and meet their needs. Whatever they may have to offer in Your Name, let them know that You see their good works, but You also see when they have pain. Help them to know You as their King, but also as their caring Father.

Teach us, Lord, what to say–and what not to say–so that our precious brothers and sisters feel close and comforted by our words as we all seek to serve You together.

Again, Lord, thank You for the family that is the Church, and for every member, no matter their stage in life. And thank You for sending Jesus to make that possible.

In Him,

Amen.

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2014: The Year You Do Your “Great Work”

He was nearing completion of one of the most remarkable renovations of all time. Though a trusted man, he was still just a servant of the king, but was allowed to go home to lead a construction project that boggles the mind in its scope.

…and Nehemiah did it.

In just 52 days, he led a downtrodden people in the rebuilding of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, and in repairing the gates that hung around the wall. It is a remarkable work, but one that could have ceased had Nehemiah lost perspective.

The enemies of the work tried several ways to stop the progress. They realized that, if the people could do this amazing work, they would be re-energized and would be a force. The enemies also realized they could not ransack a city with walls as easily as one that was in ruins! So, they set about to stop the work. Thankfully, due to Nehemiah’s leadership, the enemies failed in their plot.

As the work was nearing completion, the enemies sent a letter to Nehemiah asking for a meeting on the plain of Ono. Nehemiah saw through the little scam, as we are told his realization, “But they intended to do me harm” (Nehemiah 6:2).

His response is one that needs to be our response to naysayers. Read it carefully: “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down” (Nehemiah 6:3).

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Here was a man who saw a terribly difficult work, but saw it as great. He saw the danger, but he also saw the finish line, and he refused to let anything stand in his way of doing this great work.

Here is my challenge to you. It is one that challenged me when I got this idea from a recent sermon by Andy Stanley. The challenge is to select your “great work” for 2014 and not let anyone or anything distract you from finishing it.

To help you, we have created the photo that serves as this post’s title header for you, utilizing Nehemiah’s great answer. We want you to put this picture in a place that will inspire you to do your “great work” in 2014.

Maybe for a homemaker, the picture needs to be printed and put on the bedroom door of her children. Moms, you are doing a “great work” in building into the lives of those children. Don’t let anyone steer you away.

Maybe for a businessman, the picture needs to be put above the photos of his family in the office. Ever since that new woman started working down the hall, you’ve let your mind stray a little, and you need to keep about your “great work” of providing for your precious family.

Maybe for a college student, the picture needs to be the wallpaper on his laptop or tablet, so he isn’t tempted to view porn after a late night of studying. The “great work” for him is overcoming a growing addiction that is encouraged by his peers on campus.

Maybe for you, the picture needs to be the background of your phone, because you have a relationship that has gone way too far, and you need to have the encouragement to hit “decline” when he or she calls again. Your “great work” is ending that relationship; stopping it cold.

Maybe for a preacher, the photo needs to be placed inside your Bible, to remind you that, as discouraging as your work might be right now, you are doing a “great work” in being faithful to the Word, no matter how far others may drift away from it.

For you, maybe the picture needs to be placed in your wallet, so the next time you are in the gas station, you won’t spend those few dollars or swipe that card again for cigarettes or a cold one. The “great work” you are doing is overcoming something that has become a habit.

And maybe for you, the picture needs to be on the inside of your front door. Why? So that, each time you leave, you are reminded that someone–a neighbor, coworker, classmate–needs to hear about Jesus, and your “great work” is to share Him…today.

Download the picture, or print it out and put it wherever it will most help you to do your “great thing” for the Lord. Let’s make 2014 the year that our enemy–the devil (1 Peter 5:8)–tries with all his might to get us to stop, but we say, “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down!”

COMMENTS: What is your “Great Work” for 2014? Where will you put the picture to help you? Share in the comments to encourage us all as we strive to do a great work for the Lord!

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Photo background credit: Ski China on Creative Commons

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Praying for the Hurting This Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” So goes the often-played Christmas song that is beloved by many. For a lot of folks, the holiday season–especially Christmas–is the time of year they most look forward to. There are traditions galore that lend themselves to a happy time for so many people.8192128105_462cc2884a_b

However, for some others Christmas is a very difficult time. They may enjoy a lot of the traditions, but there is a heart that is aching inside. As family and friends enjoy get-togethers and other traditions, they usually have fun, but it is tempered by hurt and pain.

This holiday season, I want us to remember them in prayer. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some who need our prayers.

Recent Divorcees. This is especially true for the innocent party. They remember special gifts or how they had started some new Christmas traditions. Now, those dreams are dashed and they know there is one fewer gift under the tree.

Widows/Widowers. I have talked with some widows, especially in the first year of their loss, who literally dreaded Christmas. There was so much emotion invested in this holiday, and now that is gone. Each year, that place at the table is empty, and it hurts.

Others Who Has Lost Loved Ones. Some families have lost children this year. Can you imagine the pain of not being able to buy gifts and see those little eyes twinkle on Christmas morning? Others have lost a parent or dear friend. They will hurt when they do not see that person around the table.

Doctors and Nurses. I put these on the list, thinking particularly of those who must work on Christmas day. Those who work in nursing homes or assisted living homes also need to be considered. They will do their best to spread some Christmas cheer in places where that is not easy to do.

There are many others who could be added, but I’d like to hear your additions to this list. In the comments, share other people who need special prayers this time of year.

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Photo credit: R. Nial Bradshaw on Creative Commons

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