Kids


Noël, our 2-year-old, loves her princess flip-flops – as did her two older sisters. Most of the princesses’ faces have long since been worn off, but there are enough remnants of sparkles and dresses to make them her favorite shoes. The only problem is that they decrease here walking capabilities by about 50%. So as we were doing a bit of walking out and about this past Saturday, I made sure I was always holding her hand. She tripped what felt like every tenth step times, but nothing drastic happened because I was able to hold her up.

I thought of that immediately as I read Psalm 37:23-24 this morning:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand.”

What a beautiful truth for us as we clumsily walk through life, tripping on roots, cracks, and our own feet: that no matter how often we fall, if we would delight in his way, then God holds our hands and keeps us from utter destruction. If earthly fathers hold the hands of their children, then surely our good and loving heavenly Father has a good grip on ours.

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I think one of the most underrated gifts for young kids is good music. “And why is a quality CD a great gift for a young child?” you ask. Well…

  1. Music is something you share. Our kids are too young to have personal music players, so when we listen to music, we listen as a family. It brings us together as we all sing along in the van, dance around in our home, or simply hum along to the songs we love.
  2. Music teaches. Whether it’s the truth of the gospel or simply the beauty of the art of music, kids learn when they listen to music.
  3. Music creates memories. I have many memories from my childhood that are tied to music. Whether it’s the CD we listened to every vacation or the record we played every Christmas while decorating the tree, listening to those musical collections bring back sweet memories.
  4. CDs are small. Not everyone has a space problem in their home, but I love giving my kids CDs because they don’t take up too much physical space. And if I could make the jump from CDs to MP3s, I’d save even more space!

I’m sure I could give more reasons that I enjoy giving my kids the gift of music CDs, but let me instead tell you some of my favorite kids CDs. Our entire family enjoys these selections because they aren’t annoying, they are musically well done, they are fun to listen to, and I like what they communicate to my children. I though this might be a timely post as Christmas approaches, and I also thought it would be fun to do the first giveaway I’ve ever done on this blog. So if you leave a comment here on the blog, maybe listing your favorite kids CD or just saying you want the free one, you’ll be eligible to win (Facebook readers, just click through to the original post). Next Friday (12/10), I will randomly choose a winner to receive a copy of Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson’s Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies CD. I’ll get it to you before Christmas so you can choose keep the CD for yourself or give it away. Good luck!

Sovereign Grace Ministries produces some of the best in modern worship music. Their songs are biblically based, theologically rich, and musically enjoyable. This CD, intended for children, is a worship experience for adults and children alike. The entire CD is about the fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5, and while there are great applicational points in the lyrics, what I most appreciate about the CD is its focus on the fact that God in Christ is the ultimate embodiment of the fruit of the Spirit. I am constantly led to worship Christ more through the truths in these songs, and the lyrics have even helped me in teaching my children about kindness, self-control, and more. You can listen to samples and purchase the CD by clicking here.

I first heard about this CD over at The Rabbit Room and finally purchased it this past August for Lena’s birthday. I think it is just plain fun to listen to, mixing amusing, true to life lyrics with top-notch music. Seriously, the musicianship on this CD is great. While I am still learning about the nuances of jazz music, each track embodies a different “brand” of jazz music. So if you like jazz music and songs about naps, bellybuttons, and juice, you’ll like this CD. Head over here and you’ll see links for buying the CD (only $10) and even for getting 2 free songs!

I first received Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies for Christmas for myself – I let the girls listen to it though. I’ve always been a fan of Andrew Peterson, and I really enjoy what he and Randall Goodgame have done on this CD – it’s a great mixture of silliness and seriousness and everything in between. As a dad, it is encouraging to hear two dads sing about how much fun they have with their kids, how much they love their kids, and how much they want their children to embrace the truth of the gospel as they have. The new Slugs and Bugs Christmas CD, which was primarily done by Randall and just released last week, has that same great mix, making you laugh out loud on one track and having you contemplating the miracle of Christmas on the next. And just so you won’t say I didn’t warn you – “The Camel Song” has a tremendous knack for getting stuck in your head. Check out the full Slugs and Bugs website here, where you can listen to music samples in the player at the top right. You can buy the CDs from this site or from The Rabbit Room store. Or maybe you’ll win the first one!

Well, those are my current favorite kids CDs, all guaranteed to be completely devoid of all the annoying features you might associate with kids music.

Four and five year olds are great. I typically do not teach that age group in our church’s Sunday morning children’s program, in large part because I’m not smart enough. To explain something to a four year old seems much more challenging than explaining it to a forty year old. It’s as if you have to translate your words on the spot into a language they can better understand, complete with exciting voice inflection and tangible illustrations. I can’t even liven up the discussion with my dry sense of humor either – at best, it’s over their heads; at worst, it scares them. All that to say that my hat is off to anyone who teaches this age group – you are geniuses.

So even though I’m terrible at teaching preschoolers, I had a last minute opportunity to do so this past Sunday. The subject matter was Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and the main point was “Christ died for you” from Romans 5:8. Of course, the logical question on such a matter is, “Why?” I’m not sure preschoolers ask that “why” question, but simply knowing the fact of Jesus’ death and that it was “for me” is not sufficient. So at that point I tried to introduce the reality of sin – that we have all rebelled against God and are his enemies. This would lead to the fact that God’s wrath is justly on us, and we deserve the judgment of God on our sins, which is death. The hope then is to point them to the cross as the place where Jesus died in our place, taking the penalty for sin so that we might be saved from God’s wrath through faith in Christ. Of course, I need to explain all of this in a way that a child can understand.

So I began with the question, “Have you ever done anything wrong?” If you’ve never asked a room full of preschoolers that question, you have to try it. I’m not sure if they fall into a herd-mentality and just follow the lead of one individual or if they all truly agree, but the vast majority of children sitting crossed leg in that classroom said they had never done anything wrong. Nothing. I tried to press them a little because I have a three-year-old: “Maybe you’ve disobeyed your parents or been mean to your brother or sister….” One girl raised her hand – finally, a child who understands. “My brother is mean to me sometimes.” “Are you ever mean to him?” I asked. She shook her head no. I love preschoolers.

I love them, but the lesson, in many ways, was over. I continued to talk about who Jesus was and the fact that he had died on the cross, but the crucifixion makes little sense apart from the reality of being a sinner under God’s wrath. I can teach that Jesus was the ultimate example of love, giving his life for us so that we would follow him laying down our lives for others, all of which is true. And I can lay the ground work for them to understand the depth of the message of the cross as they grow in wisdom and knowledge. But unless I talk of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, “Christ died for us” loses its true depth of meaning. His death becomes unnecessary when it is infinitely necessary if we are to be rescued and restored.

I hope this doesn’t sound like a rant against teaching preschoolers about the death and resurrection of Jesus or anything deep. I talk to my own daughter about these things, and I firmly believe that God can open the mind and heart of a child to receive the truth of the gospel and be transformed by it. But that class was a reminder to me that a deep understanding of our sin before God is absolutely necessary for a correct understanding of the cross. To hold onto any self-righteousness is to not fully embrace salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. So my prayer, in love, is that God continues to open the eyes of these beautiful children to understand how sinful they are, so that they might fully and clearly see the depth of God’s love and the beauty of the cross. To see sin for what it really is, beyond just a mistake or a character flaw, is a work of God, and to then embrace the foolishness of the cross is a work of the Spirit – at any age.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach from Colossians 1:21-23. Paul describes who we were before Christ (v. 21) and what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of Christ (v. 22). He then offers a warning in verse 23 – a warning to stay grounded in the hope of the gospel, not moved away into finding security or salvation in anything but Christ. It being Father’s Day, I sought to make a special application of verse 23 to dads, calling us as fathers to not simply look at our own sanctification and rootedness but to ask how we are striving to keep our families rooted and grounded in the truth, not moved away from the hope of the gospel. I tried to be blunt and forthright, because I think we as men like things to be as straightforward as possible, and so I said something like, “Just having children doesn’t make you a father; grounding our children in the truth of the gospel and making sure they do not drift does.”

As we sang the closing song at the end of the first service, I found myself thinking, “I gave the problem, but I offered no solutions.” Granted, we did talk about the role of faith and the active work of God in keeping us holy, blameless, and grounded, but to beat dads over the head with a rebuke and offer no concrete solutions seemed, at the very least, incomplete. With those thoughts and some feedback from my wife, I moved on to the second service and strived to keep the force of the application, but to be a little more encouraging and to offer some practical solutions.

If you, like me, feel called to be a father who grounds his children in the hope of the gospel but aren’t sure where to start, here are some ideas for both fathers and mothers. I don’t claim to be an authority on the subject, nor do I want to communicate legalism (i.e. you and your children should never watch television or listen to non-Christian music, the only book you are allowed to enjoy is the Bible, etc.), but I just want us to be proactive. If we don’t ground the next generation, they will drift. Taking Paul’s warning in Colossians 1:23 seriously means we will do something; here are my thoughts:

  1. Read God’s Word together as a family

    Maybe at the dinner table, maybe in the morning, maybe before bed – whatever works for your family’s schedule, but everyone should be present. Yes, easier said than done, but worth the effort. And this isn’t an in-depth Bible study – just read!

  2. Pray together

    At meals, before bed, before leaving for work, before going on any car trip. Make it a routine to praise God and seek his help and guidance. Pray for your kids, pray for others, pray for the church.

  3. Listen to gospel-centered music

    Some of this is surely preference, but I love Passion and Sovereign Grace. I’ve heard great stuff about Seeds as well – that’s more kid-focused.

  4. Memorize Scripture

    (Simply imagine me looking guilty – I don’t do this like I should!)

  5. Read God-centered books to your kids

    I’ll take suggestions!

  6. Be the driving force behind your family’s church attendance

    Make it your goal, barring extreme circumstances, to never send your family to church while you stay at home – consider the message it sends

  7. Follow up on their Sunday School lesson

    Ask them what they learned. Look at their take-home paper, and take some of the suggestions for parents if they are offered on the paper.

  8. Have them serve others with you

    In the church, outside of the church, and in every area of life. Show them how being a Christian is something that takes over every aspect of life.

  9. Monitor what they watch and listen to and how much media they take in

    We are to ground our kids in the truth, and also keep them from being drawn away from the truth. What is shaking the foundation of God’s truth in your child’s life? What contrary messages are they hearing? What are you doing to correct false messages or guard them from them? Surely there is a tension between sheltering them and allowing them too much freedom… still learning!

  10. Model

    Surely this is the key, and probably the backdrop to everything listed above. If I let my children see how the hope of the gospel has changed me, how it influences everything I do, how I am striving to be grounded in it, then they will see its value and hold to it. What do our kids see us doing? Are we in God’s Word? Are we devoted to prayer? What’s on the radio and in the stereo? What do our kids find us watching on TV? What books are on our shelves? How do we respond to the stresses of life? What is our attitude towards church? Do we love others as a result of our love for God, or is it just legalism.

These are far from earth-shattering suggestions, and doing them without modeling a heart transformed by such practices will have the opposite effect. Kids will sniff out our hypocrisy. But are we as parents doing these things and others? Are we being transformed by the gospel? If not, how can we be sure our children are being grounded in the truth and not drawn away?

So, what are your ideas? These are from the perspective of a father of a toddler and an infant – the list is far from exhaustive or creative!

A few days ago my wife pointed out that we have been married with children longer than without – Elaine turned three yesterday, and our 6th wedding anniversary won’t be until September 1st. I have vague recollections of those days of virtually carefree living before children. For the first 3 months of our marriage I was the only one working, and at Starbucks for that matter. Our entire relationship had been long-distance, so we soaked in the time together. When Andrea began work in January, life got a little busier, and when I started Seminary in the fall, we learned to value our downtime together even more. Having a child wasn’t on our radar screen – how could we make time for that amidst our busy lives? We knew we wanted kids, but not until things slowed down. Then, amidst the start of my second year of schooling, we found out we were having a baby.

It’s funny how children define your life even before they are born. The budget finally became something to seriously stick to, and our once spacious apartment began to feel slightly cramped. Even our definition of what it meant for life to be busy was shattered.

Marriage and children are gifts from God and have probably been the greatest means of making me more like Christ, second only to Scripture. Joining my life with my wife’s was a tangible step in helping me see more clearly that the world doesn’t revolve around me, though my immature mind probably simply pulled her into the center of the universe with me. Sure, theologically and philosophically I would have said that all things are created for God’s glory, as are my wife and I, but more often than not I functionally placed myself and my wife (probably in that order) above the glory of God. Sadly, I’m still prey to the same trap. Having Elaine 3 years ago and Lena last August have both been strong pushes on my ego, sending it further from the center of the earth’s rotation.

The removal of me from the center, though, should not result in the placing of my wife or children there, causing me to simply focus on their wants or even needs. Surely I have a responsibility to provide for my family and seek their happiness, but allowing my life to be focused wholly on them is the wrong approach. My wife and children are gifts, and the danger with such immense gifts is to exalt them above the Giver. God has not blessed me with an amazing wife and two beautiful little girls so that I will exalt them, but so that I will exalt Him, the Giver of all good gifts. The point of God gracing me with such breathtaking gifts is not so I worship them, but so that I worship Him.

In fact, my family should point me toward the greatest gift: the gift of salvation through Jesus. All other gifts are the fruit of that priceless and completely undeserved gift, the greatest example of a gift that glorifies the Giver, not the totally unworthy recipient.

As Elaine was flipping through her children’s Bible this morning, we came upon a page that taught about the fact that Jesus prayed and, therefore, so should we. I asked Elaine if she knew what it meant to pray. After some mumbling I helped her out with something like, “Prayer is when we talk to God; that’s why we say, ‘Dear God.'” Of course, what does the word “dear” mean to a two year old, and why do I say, “Dear God,” as if I’m dictating a letter? Another one of those routine prayer phrases, I guess; maybe a twist on “Our Father.” I’ve obviously over-thought this…

Anyways, I then asked her why we pray before we eat, though I think I phrased it, “Why do we pray for our food?” I was expecting an answer from her, and was not disappointed when she responded, “Because it’s hot.” I knew it was coming, because a lot of times when we sit down to a meal and I say it’s time to pray, she says, “But my food is not hot.” I’m not sure where the connection was made – maybe as she gets ready to dig in, we always say, “Not yet – it’s still hot…. Let’s pray.”

I realize more each day that teaching children about God and the truths of Scripture is far from easy. Not only is it hard to phrase things in a way their minds can understand, but keeping up with the daily routines that teach them to honor God can easily fall by the wayside or become stale and lifeless. During another recent “theological discussion,” the subject of death came up because we were talking about two of her great grandmothers who passed away during this past year. I didn’t try to go too deep, but I did explain that they were with God in heaven. Her follow-up question was unique: “Are you God?” I assured her I was not, to which she simply said, “You look like Him.” Wow. I’m not sure what she meant, but my immediate question to myself was, “Do I? Am I reflecting the character and likeness of God to my wife and children, not to mention everyone else I come in contact with?”

As I’ve mulled over these things, I’ve been reminded that I will never be able to answer all of her questions about faith or God or prayer. There are things I know to be true that I will teach her to the best of my ability with God’s help, but mystery is always on the fringes. I will do my best to pray at meals, get her in the Bible each day, and make sure she goes to church, but the routines will sometimes fail. So above all of these ways of teaching my child about the God I love, I think my primary job is to do my best to look like Him. My prayer is that both of my girls hear about the great God their mom and I serve, that they will be graciously saved by Him, and that they will look back and say that, in some small way, their father looked like their heavenly Father.

Last week was one of the most intense weeks of my short life. On Sunday evening, my grandmother, who had fought cancer for a short period of time, passed away at 78. Andrea, my wife, was (note the past tense) pregnant at the time, which made decisions about me going to the funeral difficult, but she solved those on Tuesday morning around 12:45am when her water broke. After about 28 hours of labor, she gave birth to Lena Irene at 5am Wednesday morning. She was 7lbs, 6oz, and continues to be content… as long as you’re holding her. With Andrea’s mom here and Andrea’s permission, I left for Ohio at 3am Thursday morning, arriving at the funeral home at 10:30am for an 11am funeral service, at which I emotionally shared some thoughts about my grandmother – it was harder than I had expected. The time with family, though sad, was very nice. My sisters, brother-in-law, and I were able to go to grandma’s house and spend some time remembering grandma’s life, surrounded by walls that held so many memories. We also spent time together as an extended family, complete with a football game, Apples to Apples, and a Bob Evans breakfast on Friday morning before I hit the road to return to my newly expanded family. Friday and Saturday involved lots of sleep.

As people continue to offer congratulations and condolences simultaneously, I can’t help but think about how intricately tied life and death are, though apparently opposites. My life, other people’s lives, and history itself has a way of plodding along, not respecting the contradictions of each day. Yet my belief in a sovereign God helps me know that such events in close proximity are not accidently but divinely ordained. I’ve thought about how the life, death, and resurrection life of Christ allow believers to die to self, live to Christ, and have the hope of eternal life. I’ve thought about how my grandmother, because of her faith in the saving power of the death and resurrection of Christ, is more alive now than she ever was. How she had to die in the land of the dying so she could live in the land of everlasting life. And I’ve thought about how for Lena, though young and just days old, physical death is a threat and spiritual death is a reality. That all who live to old age and die were once a tiny son or daughter, dependent on family for life. I’m sure there’s more to this life/death dichotomy, but these are the thoughts that have come to my mind over the past days. I thank God that things happened when and how they did, and I believe that “it is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart” (Proverbs 7:2).

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In contrast to these deep thoughts, I have to share three things that have cracked me up lately, while resisting talking about how laughter and sorrow are intricately tied…

  • I received a phone call yesterday from a pet grooming business, reminding me of my appointment to have my two yorkies groomed. I informed them that I did not have any dogs, but the fact that she used the word “yorkies” made me smile for a while.
  • A week or so ago, Andrea and I were having a political conversation at the dinner table. Elaine informed us that Joe Biden was in the church nursery and had cried for his mommy.
  • We have begun reading the Bible and praying together as a family. We all take turns. Yesterday, Elaine’s reading of her upside down, pink New Testament went like this: “And Jesus was walking around by himself. ‘A egg!’ he shouted.”