Teachable Moments

Call Your Children To Be Disciples, Not Just Christians

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”   
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Is there a difference between the terms “disciple” and “Christian” and if so, why does it matter?  

If I were to ask you, “do you want your child to be a disciple or a Christian or both?”, how would you answer?  

While it may seem like we’re splitting hairs, denoting the differences between what it means to be a disciple versus a Christian may help us find clarity in how we view our faith.  And obviously, the clearer we are, the clearer our children will be. Words matter for they define what we believe and what we believe directly influences what we pass on to them and others.

Here are some quick facts to help us distinguish between the words disciple and Christian:

  1.  The word disciple is used in the New Testament gospels while the first use of the word Christian isn’t seen until the book of Acts (Acts 11:26). 
  2. Jesus refers to his followers as disciples, but never as Christians, and New Testament believers called themselves disciples, brothers, or saints.
  3. The word disciple is translated “follower” or “student” while Christian is translated “belonging to Christ”.
  4. Christ clearly lays out the cost of discipleship (Luke 14:28, 33) which is considerable and should be expected.

The difference in terms is somewhat noteworthy when we take the full meanings of the words to heart and consider how to apply them to our everyday lives.  Reflecting on these bits of information, I find two questions come to mind:

  • Do I belong to Christ? (Christian)
    • Here we examine what we believe about God and examine ourselves, “Have I placed my faith in Christ, thus belonging to Him?”
  • Do I follow Christ? (Disciple)
    • Here we examine how we worship God through our lives, “Do I strive to imitate God in word and deed no matter the cost?”

The best of both worlds is when we see and refer to ourselves as Christian Disciples.  We know to whom we belong and in doing so, we are committed to being imitators of Christ, (Ephesians 5:1-2) following in His footsteps (1 Peter 2:21) in both word and deed.  This is a Christian Disciple and this is who God wants us to raise our children to become.

How do we encourage our children to be disciples, and not just call themselves “Christians” and call it a day?  Start simple (I suggest the following as a template).

  1.  Ask your children questions. What is a Christian Disciple?
  2. Discuss with them how to define their identity as a Christian Disciple.   Belonging to Christ and choosing to follow Him in all ways.
  3. Look into scripture and create simple points from the scripture you read to help children understand and remember the points:
     Puts Christ first in all things (Mark 8:34-38)
    Shares the gospel of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20)
    Shows one’s love for Christ (Philippians 2:6-8; Galatians 5:22-23)
    Grows in their love for Christ (Matthew 22:37-40)
  4. Pray that God works in their hearts to understand and live out a true and vibrant faith.
  5. Live as a role model so they see you as a Christian Disciple.

Dear Reader, for 2020 – I challenge us all to consider what we mean by “discipleship” and how we are living it out in our homes and churches.  What is the most important thing we can do for our children, for our church, and for all others?  Inspire one another to embrace our identity as Christian Disciples so we bring glory to God and participate in the expansion of His Kingdom.  He is worthy! 

May 2020 be blessed with His presence as you wallow in the joy of belonging to Him and live faithfully as His disciple.

Blessings Abundant – Elizabeth

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Teachable Moments

Fruit Check: The Necessity of Gentleness

I love apple picking in the Fall!  My husband and I took our kids out to an apple orchard every fall to pick apples.  (If Mom liked it, then everyone got to join in the fun.) Applesauce, apple pies, fried apples, apple chutney – you need an apple recipe, I probably have it.  Besides a feast of fruit, we also used this opportunity to teach some basic theology. The question we discussed one fine Fall day was, how do you know if someone is a Christian?  What do apples and Christians have in common?  Glad you asked!

Scripture teaches that you will know a Christian by their fruit.  Galatians 5:22,23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Fruit is referring to what is produced out of the life of a believer who is filled and walking in the Spirit.  If I have come to Christ as my Savior, then God has deposited within me His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21,22) and in fact, the Spirit of God within me is proof that I am a believer (Romans 8:9). But in explaining this to children, how do you explain to a child someone they can not see?  Children won’t argue that the Spirit exists, as most children have vivid imaginations and live in the world of all-things-possible. But they will want to know, what is the Holy Spirit like and how can I know if I have the Spirit?

The Spirit is likened to fruit.  When we went to an orchard, there were pears, apples, pumpkins and corn that we could choose from the harvest.  We could easily tell what type of plant we are looking at because we could see the fruit. How do I know if we are picking from an Apple tree?  Because there are apples. How do I know if I am picking from a Pear tree? Because there are pears. Trees bear the type of fruit that is in their DNA; the fruit bears witness to what type of tree it is.

Same for believers – what kind of a person am I – a believing person or a non-believing person?  The answer isn’t how many bible verses you can quote (though memorizing scripture is important) nor how much doctrine you can explain (though solid doctrine is important).  More important than knowledge is the character that is produced as a result of faith. Do you want to know if someone knows Christ? Then you should SEE their faith.

One of the characteristics of a believer should be the fruit of gentleness.  Gentleness is described in scripture as both a believer trait as well as something we can do.  If you do a study of gentleness (sometimes translated meekness), you can find 4 thematic qualities that help define it:

  • Gentleness is NOT harsh – calm and kind in demeanor
  • Gentleness is NOT thoughtless – considers the other person more than one’s self
  • Gentleness IS protective – cares for the welfare of others
  • Gentleness IS powerful – strength under control

The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines gentleness as, ”Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.

The fruit of gentleness has for the many centuries been touted as a key characteristic of faithful believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” Jesus was described as the gentle King (Matthew 11:29); Paul defined his ministry to the church in Thessalonica as gentle as a mother caring for her little children and in Philippians; Paul gives a final charge to Timothy to pursue gentleness and finally, Paul urges everyone “to let your gentleness be evident to all.”

How important is the spiritual fruit of gentleness?  I’d suggest very!

Dear Reader, grabbing every opportunity as a teachable moment to help our children know and appreciate theological truth is a great habit to get into.  And besides our children, it’s good for us. Are you going to eat a piece of fruit today? As you do, remind yourself that the fruit the Spirit produces in you is an indicator of how your relationship with God is going.  Are you walking with Him closely? Do a fruit check! And start with the fruit of gentleness.

Gentleness fruit check – NOT harsh, NOT thoughtless, IS protective, IS powerful:  does this describe you?

May we today be obedient to the challenge Paul gives all believers, “May your gentleness be evident to all.” And I pray others will be gentle with you.

Fondly yours with gentle blessings!  Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Parenting and the Holocaust Part 1

As I write this blog, I am in Jerusalem.  I’d suggest that whenever you travel to Israel, you make Yad Vashem a “must-see” site.  I have wandered its halls a number of times and every time I observe the stories that tell of the Holocaust atrocities, I walk away inspired by how those captured into inhumane living and dying conditions found extraordinary ways to survive and thrive.  Today, I want to ask one question from my experience at Yad Vashem.

What can we learn from the men and women who raised children amidst such pain and grief while they survived in camps, ghettos, while hiding away or who joined the Jewish Partisans to fight against the enemy?

No matter what life throws at you, if you are a parent, you know that parents don’t get to quit.  This is true now and it was true for parents in the Holocaust. These parents protected, cared and fiercely loved their children.  Their children grew up to tell their stories and we can learn from 3 primary types of emotional memories that they shared. Their emotional memories can help us teach our children wisely today.

1) Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Children’s memories will contain conflicting emotions under normal situations, let alone situations rifled with crisis and trauma.  One story told regarding a daughter and mother relationship from one of the ghettos explains,

When we examine Anat’s (the daughter’s) narrative, for example, we see that in spite of the fact she was alone for long periods in the ghetto, witnessed the severe beating of her mother and had several other traumatic experiences as a very young child, Anat also had the positive experience of her mother always returning to her. In fact, her mother remained with her until the last day of her life. While there are signs in Anat’s interview that she also feels anger toward her mother, due to feelings of fear and desertion, these are interwoven with a deep admiration and a strong sense of protection by her mother.

This daughter’s memories evoked strong emotions that ranged from the very positive to the very negative.  This wide range of emotions allowed her to build an independent life as a woman, even informing her own role as a mother.

OUR APPLICATION:  Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Understand that two very different emotions can exist at the same time and those contrasting emotions then crop up in our memories.   Our children will have both good and bad feelings about their childhood and we shouldn’t be discouraged that they express both the good and the bad as they grow older.  Listening and working through the memories is what counts more than trying to hold onto a false remembrance of perfection.

2) Emotions interpret memories

For some Holocaust survivors, the emotions that accompanied childhood memories dictated the interpretation of events as an adult.  For example, some children who had one Jewish parent and one Christian parent survived because the Christian parent was able to rescue the child.  In some cases, the Jewish parent was taken away to be housed in a ghetto or deported to be gassed in a concentration camp. As adult children remembered the separation from the Jewish parent and that parent’s subsequent death, these adult children often resented the surviving Christian parent, even though the Christian parent saved their life.  Children remembered the division of the family and the horrible anguish of that moment of separation; that anguish later turned into anger and sometimes, even hatred toward the surviving parent.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions interpret memories

We need to be aware of how our own emotions get in the way of our recall of past life events

and inform our children how emotions can skew our perspectives.  Being aware of this will help us see life in a more balanced and true-to-life way; we need to make sure our emotions help inform our life, but we are not lead nor dictated by our emotions.  Emotions can lead us to wrong conclusions. What a great lesson to teach our children!

3) Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Some survivors explained emotional memories that while very painful, reflected the physical and emotional safety their parents provided.  Researchers who reflected upon one such survivor’s story said,

Even though most of his memories express negative emotions, the intensity with which he speaks leads us to believe that the ability to recall and willingness to openly express negative emotions connected to one’s parent during the Holocaust reflects closeness, even if the parent-child relationship was a problematic one.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Even turbulent emotions show a parent-child relationship in which parents are engaged and caring about the child.  Even if parents are not always right, showing up and emotionally engaging with our children makes a big difference both when times are distressing and when the adult child looks back.  Let’s show up and engage and not worry so much about always having to be “the perfect parent”.

DEAR READER,  

We as families will experience painful times and while most of us will not experience anything close to what the survivors of the Holocaust did, we have the opportunity to learn from the rich emotional memories that survive; even the worst of history can teach us.  These brave parents who taught, protected and fiercely loved their children throughout the Holocaust can remind us of some significant truths.  May we honor their memories by learning from their lives.

Fondly yours from Israel, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

A Label Does Not Define Potential

Dyslexia, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism, Down’s Syndrome.  Each of these diagnostic labels is helpful in that we use them to communicate what is going on for a child with special needs in an effective manner.  But if we’re not careful, labels which are meant to be helpful for children can turn into a barrier which works against them.

We know with surety that a label does not represent a mistake, but an intentional challenge God has designed affecting both the child and their family.  It’s important – vital really, that we remember we are created by God specifically and purposefully (Psalm 139). Yes, labels help us navigate and communicate certain expectations, but in no way, however, do these labels define a child’s identity and importantly, they do not limit the child’s potential.

Potential is the capacity to become more than who we are today; it is about our development, our future prospects, and our yet-to-be-tapped-into success.  Potential is not predetermined nor inevitable in its scope or outcome. Potential is all about what can be, not what can’t be.

We need to have a clear understanding of potential when we know or work with children and families who navigate a disability. Remember, when you meet one child with a disability, you have only met one child with that disability.  While that precious child may possess characteristics which fulfill the diagnosis of autism,for example, that child will exhibit those characteristics in their own unique way and it in no way should assume a lack of potential.  We never take away possibility and we never stop believing in the “what could be” in one another.

In being a fan of “potential,” it doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to the limits that also exist.  Potential does not assume limitless possibility. When we acknowledge potential, we are talking about the boundaries of limits and what they are and what they aren’t.  In truth, all of us have limits we can’t exceed in our life. For example, I am unable to run a 6 minute mile. I am unable to deadlift 200 pounds (okay, can’t do 100 pounds either).  I am unable to enjoy doing math computations. Nor do I enjoy ironing, lima beans, and I really hate slimy animals – please don’t ask me to go fishing and hold the fish! Do any of these limitations define me?  Do any of these limitations make me less able to have a happy and successful future? No – I’m perfectly fine not doing any of the things I just listed. Yet, I know if I wanted to, I could push against the limits I just named and get closer to reaching my potential in each of these areas (maybe I will move from hating slimy animals to at least tolerating them).  Reality is, I don’t really want to or need to for I embrace the idea that I do not have to be good at everything; embracing my limits while simultaneously challenging my potential are two sides of the same coin. I choose where to work to maximize my potential and I choose where to embrace my limits.

All this talk about limits and potential and embracing both can be expressed in compassionate, kind and loving ways to the children and families we know who so valiantly live with special needs.  Here are some suggestions of how to do this:

  • Let’s not pretend we don’t “see” the disability.  A family who has a child with a disability knows they have the disability.  Neither extreme of focusing only on the disability nor avoiding acknowledging the disability is helpful.  An appropriate recognition that makes necessary accommodations in a tactful manner is what is usually best.
  • Ask questions.  If we aren’t sure what could be helpful or what is needed, taking the initiative to ask what is needed or wanted shows kindness.  Taking the responsibility of always having to ask for help off the shoulders of the family can be a true blessing.
  • Be a friend.  Children with disabilities often express a feeling of loneliness as do their families.  Being included and finding ways to enjoy other kids is a normal emotional desire for all children; families also want to get together with other families to have a good time.  A disability doesn’t take away normative needs.
  • Don’t judge.  Families have a lot of difficult decisions to make regarding the care of their children.  A million things need to be managed and unless we are in their shoes exactly, we really don’t know what it is like.  
  • See God’s blueprint.  Because we are all God’s creation, His offspring (Acts 17:29), we have inherent value and part of the responsibility of being a believer is to assist everyone in their God-given potential.  To help one another survive and thrive is part of obeying God’s commandment as Christians to live well with our fellow humans (Luke 10:30-37).
  • Laugh, enjoy!  All humans love to laugh and have fun.  We all need humor and a smile. Find the joy, the laugh and the smile and the challenges become easier to bear.  We are to “bear with one another” and laughing together is an easy way to do this.

Dear Reader, knowing that labels do not define people and knowing that we can embrace both the limits and the potential of life is a God-given opportunity.  May we not miss it! I hope this week you will find opportunities to encourage the potential you see in others, especially any family or child who bravely navigates any disability or special need.  May we be people who see what can be, not what can’t, and may we all look beyond the label.

As always, fondly yours, Elizabeth

“There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” Henry Ford

 

Teachable Moments

New Things

What is it like to introduce two young children (who have never been swimming) to a hotel swimming pool for the first time? I got to witness the introduction of this fascinating new activity while at a retreat with some friends who had 2 small children.  At the hotel, the children, who loved their baths, were expected to make the adjustment to the pool seamlessly. After all, isn’t a swimming pool just a bigger version of a bathtub?  For one of the children, it was just like that – easy, fun and exciting. The other one – not so much. They did not see the joy of an extraordinary size bathtub as a good thing, but rather something to be feared and if possible, avoided.  I could see the terror and confusion in the eyes of this little one who was wondering why in the world their parents would want to go into such a large body of water anyway. This was obviously dangerous.

The problem was not the pool, nor the parents, nor the child.  There really wasn’t a problem, but it was a matter of perception. And this idea of perception when it comes to “new things” is not a new problem for people; rather, we can find it existing all the way back to the people of Israel. Recorded in Isaiah 43:19, God spoke to Israel through Isaiah saying:

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

In Isaiah 43, God reminds His people of who He has proved Himself to be again and again to them, and assures them that because of who He is, they can trust Him no matter their circumstances. This chapter speaks both to the past troubles of the nation in which they experienced God’s protection and His necessary future discipline of them due to their disobedience.  And yet, there will come a time when the discipline is done and God will do a “new thing” and if observant, His people with eyes of faith will see what God is doing in their midst.

As believers in Christ, we can learn from Israel’s relationship with God; we can have the same assurance as the Israelites did that God does not abandon us when something troubling or terrifying comes our way.  He does not give up on us even when we have sinned and need His discipline. We may feel confused or alone, but we can be assured that our God is at work even when we can’t easily perceive it. God may need to ask us just like He asked Israel – do you perceive it? Or rather, don’t you see it?  Don’t you sense it? I am doing a “new thing.”

New things are sometimes hard to face and we may not want to see what God is up to.  Or, we may be lost in the wilderness and we just can’t see it. I know my friend’s young daughter, as she gazed at the humongous pool of water, couldn’t possibly believe that all would be well.  It was new; it was scary, and she couldn’t see why her parents would want this for her. The good news, her parents introduced her to this new thing and she soon realized that this opened up a whole new world.  What helped her acclimate? She hung on to her Dad for dear life as he slowly entered the pool. Because she trusted in him, she buried her face in his neck and just “went with it.” As his daughter, I could see the faith she had in him to protect her.  God was Israel’s Savior (Isaiah 43:3) and He is ours (Luke 2:11). And just as this little girl had faith in her Dad, we can have faith in our Heavenly Father as His children to save and care for us as we enter into the “new things” He has made for us. We can trust Him to care for us even if we have been disobedient and needed His discipline.  Our God is faithful to us and is about doing “new things.”

As Parents or Grandparents, how do we apply Isaiah 43 to our relationships with our children?

  • Remember WHO God is when you are trying to figure out what is going on in life; you can’t comprehend what God is doing until you are sure of who He is in His being
  • Have you experienced a wilderness time in your spiritual life?  Are you perceiving God doing a “new thing” and leading you out of it?  Give testimony to His grace through your words and actions – speak of His grace and then, pass the grace on to others by serving at church, in your community or in your family.
  • Study Isaiah 43 and learn the many ways God revealed Himself to Israel.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8) and as such, He is the same God who is with us.  Tell your children who God is and how He revealed Himself to Israel and how you see His attributes in your life.  

May “new things” bring us closer to Him and allow us to worship Him and may we be “perceivers” vs. “unbelievers” to our God who is definitely at work in our lives even when we can’t readily see it. Like my friend’s child first afraid but then full of faith when new things arose, may we also hold on to our Father God and perceive with faith the “new things” God is doing in our lives.

Dear Friends, blessings to you!  I pray for you to have eyes to see and minds to perceive what God is about in your life this week!  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth