Teachable Moments

God is Love

“God loves you” is one of the most common things children hear in any Sunday School class; at least the ones I visited.  And, while I can’t really say it is a wrong thing to say, I also can’t advise that it is the wisest thing to say. Why? Because unless you are careful, it is probably one of the most confusing things you could say to a child.

Confusing?  What is confusing about telling a child that God loves them?  It is confusing unless you know for sure what the child is thinking.  Because it is rarely explained carefully and clearly in an age-appropriate manner, children can end up believing all sorts of misconceptions about God and what it means that God IS love.  Ask a child,“what do I mean when I tell you God loves you?” and see what they say.  It may be an eye-opening exercise for you.

To help clear up any confusion, let’s study it for ourselves.  After all, we can’t teach something we ourselves don’t know. To truly understand it, let’s study the word “love”, let’s look at how God shows it, and then, we’ll see how it affects our lives.

LOVE – WHAT IT MEANS
1 John 4:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 1 John 3:1, Romans 13:10
Love is a fulfillment of the law that in its entirety embraces the comprehensive character of God; it embodies all that God has expressed in how He orders His universe.  Love is possessive and protective inherently, as a parent would be of a dearly loved child. Love is understood in our thoughts, expressed in our behaviors, and is strongly emotional; love is an experience that touches every part of us.  Because we have a restored and intimate relationship with our God, soul to soul, we know that God is love from the inside out because of how we experience life with Him.

LOVE – HOW GOD SHOWS IT
John 13:34,  John 3:16, Romans 5:8
God is love and it drives His relationship with us.  God does nothing without love being a primary motivation because He can never do anything that is contrary to who He Himself is.  We are commanded to love one another as God loves us. Therefore, knowing how He loves us is necessary to believers participating in fellowship which honors God and blesses the believer.  God’s love is sacrificial, personal, intentional, obvious, and undeserved. He showed it in the ultimate expression of putting us before Himself by dying on the cross and rising from the dead to be the atonement, the propitiation, and the redemption that, as sinners, we so desperately needed.  His love meets the demands of His justice by giving all of Himself to those He loves, even though they do not yet love Him.

LOVE – HOW IT CHANGES US
John 14:31, 1 John 3:17-18, 23-24; 4:19, Colossians 3:14, Galatians 5:22, 23
God’s love, when experienced, is life-changing.  Someone who truly experiences the living God can not walk away unchanged or indifferent.  Love brings unity to the body of Christ, a heart that yearns to obey God, a character that is more concerned with others than one’s self, and is seen in deed and word consistently throughout one’s life.  When we believe in the triune God – the Father who rules, the Son who sacrifices, and the Spirit that abides – our faith in God is our expression of love to God that is given to us by the Spirit. Love is produced by God in us which then flows through us and is evident to all.  Love is life-changing in us and changes the lives of others who experience that love through us in ways that make us closer to God, closer to one another, and changes us, as God’s children, to be more like our Father (Ephesians 5:1-20).

Explaining it to children
Telling a child that God is love encompasses all of the above.  And you would be right to believe that not all of the above is able to be understood at all ages.  So we need to ask, what is necessary to know and how do we make it clear?

  1. We must love children.  If we are not loving the child, then we can not verbally explain to a child what love is, after all, love is seen in word and deed.
  2. We must love God.  Before we even worry about showing love to one another, are we loving God?  Am I growing in my admiration, affection, and enjoyment of the God who has given everything for me?  If children don’t see us loving God, then they won’t trust our love for them.
  3. We must think about how we articulate the love of God.  We can’t say to a child, “God loves you and God died for you.”  In a child’s mind, how does death reflect love?  How are they connected? If you love me, wouldn’t you live for me?  A child needs to understand that death is the punishment for sin; they need to know the “bad news” of the gospel before they understand the good news of God’s love.
    • The bad news (sin and death) – We, as people, have hurt God and disobeyed Him.  God, like any good Father, must discipline His children but instead of us getting into trouble (taking the punishment for our own sin), God took the punishment for us by dying on the cross.  He got hurt so we don’t have to be hurt; He took the pain so we don’t have to experience hell.
    • The good news (God’s love) – Because God substituted Himself for us, we can be reconciled to God; we can know God’s love and we can love God in return when we believe in Him and what He has done for us.  God’s love lasts forever and we will enjoy Him now and one day in heaven for God’s love brings eternal life.

Dear Reader, teaching children the love of God is essential to the foundation of their faith.  Let’s make sure we are loving God, loving others, and thoughtfully considering how we articulate God’s love to children so they do not know confusion, but instead, know the sweet confidence and surety that comes from knowing indeed that God is love.

Blessings to you and may the love of God be yours today in rich and new ways.
Fondly yours, Elizabeth 

Teachable Moments

Framing Family Ministry

On the walls of our home, you will find many, many pictures of our family through the years. From when our children were babies all the way through to their recent weddings, our walls tell our story.  The frames I carefully choose for these precious memories enhance the image and help put the unfolding narrative in context. The frame often gives clues as to how to interpret what we are looking at. Without a good frame, any picture leaves the viewer confused and the picture seems incomplete.

Pick the frame, you pick whether the picture will be a success in telling the heart and soul of the image’s story.

The same is true in Family Ministry in the church.  When we examine Family Ministry, knowing the frame of reference helps us understand what the ultimate mission and vision of the ministry is.  

  • What does the church want us to see?  
  • What is the ultimate goal the church has for families and the spiritual formation of children?  

If we understand the frame of reference, then we have a better idea of what we’re looking at and how we can enjoy and use what is being offered.

Frame 1 – Family Integration Model: A Family of Families The emphasis of this model is almost primarily on the family.  It is in the family unit children learn about faith and grow in their spiritual formation.  Families worship together, often eat together and children learn by being in the presence of their family.  Observation and imitation of behavior modeled by adults are key features of learning as children are usually in the supervising presence of their parents.  Considered a top down model, parents are very much in charge and children are to be recipients and obeyers of the truth families impart to their children. This model’s benefits certainly bring to our attention the importance of family and honors the responsibility God has given to parents to raise their children spiritually (Deuteronomy 11:19).  

Frame 2 – Family Equipping Model:  An Intentional Parent Discipleship Strategy  The vision of this model is to disciple parents more than provide programming.  It is about making sure parents have what they need to teach their children biblical truth in a solid theological framework.  The focus is more on working with parents to work with their children than directly working with the children. It is a focus of the church that is strategic throughout – it is more about an intentional philosophy of training parents to disciple their children than a calendar of programs.

Frame 3 – Family Engagement: Age specific programs in which children and youth are nurtured spiritually within the church family along with their parents  The church is a place that supplements what parents are doing.  Therefore, churches offer opportunities in programming to learn spiritual truth at different specific age-appropriate levels.  Parent pages, activities as crafts and games, and family programs that encourage children and parents to come together to learn God’s word are created within an intentional church calendar.  Spiritual formation of children is a cooperative effort where the church and family work together like a hand in a glove to help children grow spiritually.

Dear Reader, which ministry is right for the family and the church?  It’s not so much which one is “right” but which one is “right” for you!  All these models believe in both the church family God’s Spirit creates (Matthew 12:49-50) and the family unit of which you are a part.  No matter which model is right for you, consider how you frame out the decision of how you are discipling your children and how your church is framing out the ministries they provide for families.  There are different visions and missions that God has imparted to different churches. I encourage you, with prayerful thought, to choose which ministry will frame out your family story.

Blessings as you frame out your family!  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

 

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

Socially Anxious Kids

Children feel anxiety too; for some, anxiety in social and performance situations can be so intense the child is unable to function well, if at all.  It can result in lower academic performance, negative self-confidence and unsatisfactory social relationships. Children may avoid engaging in sports or other extra-curricular activities for fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers.

Newest research shows that 40 million Americans are currently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder of some kind and not all of these are adults.  Right behind specific phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD for short) is the most common anxiety disorder with onset typically beginning in youth.  Statistics estimate 7 – 9.1% of our population suffer from SAD.

What Social Anxiety Is Not

Social Anxiety Disorder is not extreme shyness, though many teens and adults diagnosed with SAD report experiencing extreme shyness as kids; but, this correlation does not infer causation.  Shyness does not necessarily produce SAD, but it surely can set you up to more likely experience it.

What Causes SAD

SAD is characterized by the emotion of fear of social judgment which manifests itself from feelings of embarrassment, criticism, rejection and scrutiny.  SAD is also characterized by the belief that “I do not have what it takes to deal with what life requires of me.” Social anxiety is both intense fear and an overly critical self-appraisal which cripples a person from living happily, at peace while building relationships and meeting goals.

Does my child or myself have SAD?

If you answer yes to the following questions and can have said yes for over 6 months, you or your child may be suffering from SAD.

  • Do you experience extreme, persistent fear of others judging you?
  • Are you painfully self-conscious?
  • Do you avoid social situations where you meet new people?
  • Even though you have positive outcomes in your social interactions, do you still find yourself criticizing yourself and discounting the positive feedback you get to the contrary to your own negative self-evaluations?
  • Do you consistently try and avoid most of the following because of how bad it makes you feel?
    • Beginning or ending conversations
    • Walking in a room where you know no one
    • Asking or answering questions with others watching
    • Asking for help
    • Asserting your “no”
    • Talking about yourself

Social Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed with the fear of being judged or rejected in  a social or performance situation, to the point where the intense anxiety significantly impedes everyday life functioning and inhibits us reaching our life goals.  It is painful and it is real and there is help.

How Can I Help My Child

First, listen carefully to how your child is feeling.  It is important that you listen without judgment or comments, but with acceptance and compassion.  Show mercy. Be gracious. (Colossians 3:12)

Second, pay attention to the judgmental and overly critical comments that the child says to themselves.  What is the dialogue going on in their head? What negative statements is the child saying again and again to themselves?  Does the child recognize their negative self-speech? Self-awareness is the first step toward coping with anxiety. (Proverbs 4:23)

Third, accept what the child is saying without trying to change the meaning.  Accepting their reality is more important than understanding why the reality is there. (Romans 15:7)

Four, help the child focus on what feedback they are receiving from others – real evidence (often the positive results of social interactions) vs false evidence (the negative self-critic that they anticipate, but doesn’t occur). Reinforce the positive experiences they have with others. (1 Thes. 5:11)

Five, when the child doesn’t know what to do, ask for their ideas versus giving them answers.  We don’t want to reinforce their belief that they aren’t capable of dealing with life. Instead, help them realize their ability to come up with ideas of how to solve their problems by asking questions and processing with them vs. producing answers. Go for talking with and not talking “at.” (Ephesians 4:2)

Six, encourage curiosity.  Encourage the child to consider others’ lives and who they are. Redirect the focus off of self-criticism to engaging in curiosity of others.  (Phil. 2:3)

Dear Reader, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a real, painful and often debilitating fear that interferes with life.  It is not the abundant life Christ would desire to give to those who follow Him. However, as with any pain, SAD also gives us the amazing opportunity to be compassionate, patient, thoughtful people who love unconditionally and offer timely wisdom.  What a pleasure especially when the people we most lend a helping hand to are our children. I pray the suggestions offer hope and help where help is needed.

Blessings and peace, fondly yours, Elizabeth.

Teachable Moments

What Makes Us Special

“Mommy!  Why am I so special?”  was the question the little guy in front of me in the Walmart aisle was demanding his Mother answer.  His Grandma who was with him had just told him that he was so special, had pinched his cheeks and then kissed and hugged him enthusiastically.  Giggling and squirming aside, this little guy wanted a rationale for the explosive gestures of love he had just been showered with.  His mother went on and on about all his cute physical qualities, his amazing personality characteristics and how great he was as a son and brother; lists of attributes which set him apart was the basis of her reply.

Now on first listen, we may not think anything of her answer and in truth, there is nothing really wrong with it.  However, if we leave our “specialness” as people to what we are like, what we do, and what makes being in a relationship with us so wonderful, we actually miss the deeper theological truth we can share with our children.  Yes, tell them how great they are, but let’s not leave it at that.

What makes us special?  In Genesis 1 and 2, God lets us know that we alone in creation are made in His image; we are the object of His special love and the pinnacle of His creation. Being an image bearer sets us apart in some way, so now, we just have to figure out what that way is. Throughout the centuries, it is man’s communicable qualities with God, or his mission and function in the world or his relationship abilities that have been tied to image bearing.  And while all of these have merit, there is nothing that uniquely qualifies man to be set apart which is equally displayed throughout all the human race. We are indeed a diverse bunch!

What is the image we bear?  If we view Genesis 2 as an unpacking of Genesis 1, the one thing that emerges in Genesis 2:7 is that God breathed life into Adam; this can be translated the breath of life or perhaps even better, the Soul of life or the Spirit of life.  If we view this as what makes us special, then this explains why God sees all humans as equally valuable. Only humanity has what is required to be a participant in God’s special love (special providence).

If the soul qualifies us for specialness, then all external factors are secondary.  So whether our children are gifted intellectually or struggle, whether they have perfect eye sight or require braces to walk, whether they connect with everyone or are unable to attach to anyone, every person has a complete God-given soul which makes them equally valuable and a recipient of His redemption and glory; God’s general love applies to everyone.  

How do we communicate this image-bearing specialness to our children?  Children want to hear what makes them special and their unique qualities are great to articulate so it gives them an idea of how God has made them individually unique.  However, there is a specialness about them that has nothing to do with individual qualities but rather celebrates their uniqueness as a part of the human race. Connecting them to the whole of what it means to be human is just as important as what sets them apart from everyone else.  

Being made in God’s image, we as people are special because:

  • We are different from the rest of creation
    • See how beautiful the stars are and the flowers that bloom?  See how fun our puppy is and how cuddly our kitten?  We are more special than these.
  • God is Spirit and so are we; we have a soul.
    • We are the only part of creation that has the very breath of God (Genesis 2:7).  God took His very essence and placed this within us.  
  • As believers, our soul can be united with God.
    • We all sin; but God so values us, He removed the sin that separates us from Himself and unites our soul with Himself if we believe (John 3:16).  He does this for people alone – not angels, not mountains, not animals.  Only people are united with God spiritually
  • What makes me special is my soul, so it doesn’t matter if I’m not the prettiest, smartest, strongest or most popular.  I am already special no matter what anyone else says.
    • Everyone is worthy of compassion, time, attention and help merely because they are human.  Our worth is not based on our comparison to one another, but the mere fact that we have a soul, given to us by God.  We see this truth in the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

What makes me special?  When God revealed who He was to Moses, he said to tell the people that “I Am” sent you.  We could take this apologetic and echo it in our defense of our worth; I am special merely because I am.  That is enough. We are of infinite value and worthy of respect, and kindness and love merely because we are.

Dear Reader, how freeing it is for each of us and our children to realize our worth has nothing to do with what we can and can’t accomplish, or what our personality is or isn’t like, or what other people do or don’t enjoy about us.  My worth, your worth, their worth is untouchable. I encourage you to give your children a sense of their worth by not just telling them what makes them individually special, but why amidst all of creation, their worth is found in God’s design of them; they are image bearers with a soul and thus, they have an unshakable value.

Blessings to each of you!  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Deuteronomy 4:29)