Imagine that you are out taking a walk in your neighborhood and you stroll down a street that is a little unfamiliar.  The road is lined with sidewalks and trees, the houses are evenly spaced with a bit of yard for each.  The houses are nothing fancy, just small, American Dream with a white picket fence sorts of houses.  As you stroll along, just as the shadows begin to lengthen and the creeping dusk begins to carry with it the scent of a coming rain, one lighted window catches your eye.  You pause and find yourself caught by an image.  Young adults, seated around a table with a card game on it, joined by an older couple.  Children playing together on the floor.  A gray-haired elderly man walks in using a cane.  You are not sure why the scene has so captivated you, you really must be getting home before the rain begins to fall, but something about the sight of extended family enjoying each other’s company keeps you rooted for longer than you should have stayed.
What are your thoughts as you stand there, feeling chilled by the damp in the air yet unwilling to walk away just yet?  Are you filled with a longing you can’t quite explain?  Does it remind you of your own family and the time you had with them just the other week?  Do you wonder what bitter fights and disappointments lurk in a room more removed from the street views?
What is it about a family?
New Family
We all want one.  Even those who say they don’t need anyone around would, I dare say, wish deep inside for a perfect family to love them.
Even the word itself brings a picture of love and peace, acceptance and light.  The idea of multiple generations caring for one another is enough to set our hearts yearning for an ideal.
Four Generations
Does family really matter?  In this world that would tell us that career is more important than children, that independence is better than living intertwined, is family truly that important?
Yes.  Emphatically yes.
Families were designed to bring us back to God.  There is much about the workings of a family that draws us in, that points our hearts toward God.
The miracle of the birth of a baby, for instance, turns your mind toward thoughts of God, especially God as Father.  When you hold your own baby for the first time, your heart is drawn to mystery, drawn to contemplate the miracle of creation.  I just read this in WORLD magazine:
The baby daughter of writer Whittaker Chambers helped to move him from Communism to Christ. Chambers wrote inWitness (1952), “My eye came to rest on the delicate convolutions of her ear—those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: ‘No, those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.’”
These children are gifts from God sent to turn us back to Him.
Other purposes of family?  Those who have been raised in godly families are more able to see the goodness of submitting to God’s authority because they have seen how good life is when we submit to the authority of our parents.  Birth and death connect us to God far beyond most other events in our lives, and we can truly experience this connection best if we are surrounded not by institution alone but by those who know and love us best.
Family after a birth
Our families are shrinking in size.  We think nothing of moving far away from our parents and grandparents.  We fill our lives with so many activities that we lose sight of the hearts of those who are most precious to us.
Sometimes these things are unavoidable.  Yet if we do not at least deliberate and ponder this mystery of what was intended by the One who created the very idea of family, I fear that we will lose something sacred, some thing that keeps us close to the heart of God.
And anything that keeps us close to the heart of God is too rare and precious to be tossed away careless.

Why You Should Make Mistakes With Your Kids

Our middle daughter (can I say “middle” when the youngest is still inside my belly?) turned two years old this week.

As I watch her and her four-year-old sister growing up so incredibly quickly, I sometimes start thinking about how much of what I do, both with them and in front of them, influences who they become.

This thought almost makes me start hyperventilating. I start feeling almost physically weighed down with the pressure to do things perfectly with my children.

I was recently reminded, however, of how much God loves these girls. He loves them even more than I love them. That idea is difficult for me to wrap my mind around, considering how deep is my love for them, but it is truth. 

God loves my girls more than I do, and He wants them to fall in love with Him even more than I want that to happen. 

And if God wants something to happen, well…

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? ~ Romans 8.31-32

This is, like most issues in my life, a refusal to trust, a difficulty in letting go of my pride. I have to trust God with the hearts and lives of my children and I have to realize that I am not the most important influence on them

God is more than able to make up for my myriad of mistakes.

In fact, I am learning that it is good for me to make mistakes.

When I make mistakes with my little ones, when I mess up in front of them, I have the chance (if only I took it more consistently!) to show them how to make mistakes. I have the opportunity to teach them how to apologize, how to ask for forgiveness, how to ask God to change your heart and help you to do better.

How to do this, how to wisely use this chance, is something that is indelibly imprinted in my heart: it is the image of my dad asking me (a tiny, humble kid!) for my forgiveness. His actions taught me a beautiful lesson.

By messing up in front of my girls, I can show them that God loves them no matter what they do

My eldest is already learning this lesson. Every night, as part of her four-year-old routine, she says, “Mommy? Did you know that God loves you even when you disobey?” And I respond “Yes, darling. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?”

This is what I want to teach my girls. That God loves them no matter what. That we can’t ever be good enough and that is why Jesus came to rescue us, why the Holy Spirit has to work in our hearts to heal them. I want them to rest secure in God’s love, enjoying His presence and loving Him right back.

I sit in awe and praise God that in His mercy and grace, He uses my mistakes, my imperfect and messed-up self, to show my girls just that.

The Future of the Church

I overheard someone the other day. 

I wasn’t trying to “drop any eaves”, but he was speaking quite loudly. 

“Our churches are turning into places of moral relativism, places where young people come to hear abstract ideas that have no bearing on their daily lives. What’s the matter with young people today? Why can’t they understand Truth?”

It’s a fair question. It does seem as though many who claim to follow Christ show up at church every now and then but ignore Him at all other times.

This older man’s complaint made me think of a book I read a few months ago: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. He speaks of this idea quite a bit and says things such as this: 

Consumer Christianity is now normative. The consumer Christian is one who utilizes the grace of God for forgiveness and the services of the church for special occasions, but does not give his or her life and innermost thoughts, feelings and intentions over to the kingdom of the heavens.

Many things in this book caused wonderings to whirl about inside of me (Dallas Willard does this to you). Is this really true, that Consumer Christianity is normative in our time and place? If so, how can I protect my children against this? How can we, as a Church, change this?

It is not often that I find a book that directly and perfectly answers a set of ideas and questions that I have been mulling over, but I found it in this case in a book called Souls in Transition by Christian Smith. 

This is a book full of numbers, statistics and research, a book that I struggled in places to understand, but it is also a book about what young adults believe about God and religion and, more importantly to me, what in their youth caused them to believe those things. 

I won’t bore you with the details of their research; for this essay suffice it to say that there were significant numbers of youth that were followed and interviewed over many years as they grew up.  I surmise that even my statistician brother would be content with their procedures and numbers.

I was, I admit, overwhelmed and saddened to read about the common beliefs in the majority of these young adults:  

  • that the purpose of religion is to help people live good lives 
  • that the church is not a place of belonging for them so they turn to other, non-religious groups for a sense of belonging from others
  • that the religious beliefs that they do hold are abstract – they do not affect the way they live
  • that religion is blind faith and without evidence or proof no one can know the truth

How has this happened? How is it that our churches are not giving our teens and young adults a sense of belonging? How is it that even those who attend church have such a disconnect between what they believe and how they live?

As frightening as all of the statistics were, however, the statistics about those young adults who did have a strong internal and external faith were encouraging. It has almost everything to do with the parents.

Did you hear that?

Even in this day when peers are so very influential to teenagers, the parents still have the most influence of all!

That is a beautiful thought.

The importance of faith, prayer and Bible reading in the parents’ lives makes “enormous substantive difference in religious outcomes during emerging adulthood”.

Be encouraged, you parents.

Those of you who pray with your children, read the Bible with your children, show your children how to live a life of faith – it is affecting your children’s hearts and it will be the most important factor (earthly factor, of course!) in the shaping of their adult lives.

I was so relieved when I read those words. I get nervous about the teen years, as do most parents, and was grateful to discover that I and my husband will still be the most important influencers in their lives, even as teenagers.

Yet I still wondered about all of the children who do not have godly parents. Are those children simply out of luck? 

And then I read this: almost as effective as having faithful parents was having another supportive, religious adult who played a major role in the teenager’s life. 

What grace from God! What a beautiful way to design things: even if the parents of a child do not obey God, as long as someone else is willing to step into that role, the teen will still remain faithful as a young adult.

Do you see what that means? 

It is up to us, the church, to influence our world, our teens for God. Grandparents, parents, singles, young adults, it is up to you. 

Be encouraged, you church.

God has given you the power to change lives. You who pray, read the Bible and serve – bring a teenager into your circle. You can be a huge influence in shaping their adult life, even if you are not their parent.

Talk with your youth minister, your children’s minister; look around your neighborhood. Find out if there are any nearby who need your support, who need you to listen and to speak truth into their lives.

If we each only took one? I imagine that we could change that “normative consumer Christianity” into normative discipleship Christianity. 

That is a beautiful thought.