If you work with kids, or have kids, or know kids, you are sure to come across a broken-hearted child: one who has a downcast spirit due to the actions of someone else. It might be after one (or more) of their peers has been cruel to them, or maybe it’s after someone talks behind their back. It might even be a foster child whose own mom or dad has broken the sacred trust of parenthood.
What are you investing in? Most of us spend the time (and money) for our kids' extra batting practice, swim lessons, and homework tutors. These things are great, but none of them are as valuable as time spent hiding God’s word in a tender young heart. Which of these activities will sustain them when a family member is diagnosed with a dreadful disease? Which will guide them when peers are pressuring them to do something they shouldn’t? Which will lead them toward a relationship with the all-knowing Creator of the cosmos who happens to be crazy in love with them?
Right now, if your children are young, you are with them quite a bit, giving them much needed guidance. But as your kids grow older, you cannot be with them every day. And you shouldn’t be! None of us want to be hovering, controlling parents. We should be raising our kids to be independent adults. However, if you invest the time now, God’s word WILL be with them. His word is living and active. And it’s always 100% perfect! None of us can say that about our own words. It is far better that they have God’s word in them than to have us next to them (John 16:7). And John 14:26 tells us that God’s Spirit will remind them of those very words they have hidden in their hearts. Let’s give the Spirit something to work with.
There is a young couple in our church that recently got married. When they began dating during their junior year of high school, they came up with goals for their relationship and agreed on certain behaviors that would help them meet those goals. They wanted to seek God first, to remain pure, to be a witness to others. This all came from these two 16 year old kids–not their parents. One of the behaviors that would help them with purity was never to be alone in a house together. If they weren’t hanging out with friends or family, they would stay out in public at a park, a restaurant, etc. If they were out together and wanted to go home to watch a movie or eat, they would call home to make sure someone was there so they wouldn’t be alone.
One day the young man called his mom to see if anyone was home because the two wanted to hang out there. His mom told him the family was out but they should be home in about 20 minutes. It was a precious sight to the young man’s parents to drive up to the house and find the young couple sitting on the front steps in full view of the neighbors because no one was home when they arrived. Let me reiterate, they made this choice–not their parents. By the age of 16, they had hidden God’s word in their hearts and they were led into righteous living by God’s Holy Spirit (Psalm 119:9).
As parents, we really want our kids to have the inward motivation. If you have to “voice-activate” all of your child’s behaviors, the next voice that comes along can have the same affect! Inward, Spirit-led motivation is what counts!
The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. – Psalm 37:31
Summer is upon us. It’s a great time to first review the verses your kids soaked in during the KidzLife season. Those seeds are planted and they might just need a light watering. (Easy tip: Play your Memory Verse CD while you take a road trip.) And then, find verses that hold a special meaning to your family and memorize them together. Set a realistic goal and make it fun.* Summer is footloose and fancy free in so many areas that are usually stressed and hurried. It’s a great time to be extra intentional in memorizing His word. You will never regret the time you spend on it.
* Write your verse in the sand every day on vacation, make up a song as you road trip, write it in sidewalk chalk, write each word on a separate piece of paper and do a scavenger hunt, etc.
Several years ago, when my son was about ten years old, ready to shake off the remainder of his 5th grade year and launch into middle school, we had some deep discussions about apologetics. The first convo started something like, “Mom, I know what the Bible says and all, but how do I know if it’s really true?” Fueled by our discussions at home, I asked my small group at church (comprised of 5th grade girls) to raise their hands if they had questions about how we know the Bible is really true. They looked at me for a moment. I assured them it was fine to be totally honest. Not just one or two hands went up. Every. Single. Hand.
I didn’t panic. Instead I was overwhelmed with gratitude that God had revealed it. I was so thankful that they were honest enough to share it. It gave us time to talk about it. In fact, our team immediately planned a weekend retreat for all of our 5th graders so we could dive headlong into their questioning. We invited an expert in apologetics who specializes in speaking to youth to explain how literature is dated and the various ways we can authenticate scripture from sources outside of the Bible. We allowed time for Q&A. It was a weekend well spent.
Pastor Tim Keller once said, “A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”
Can we afford for our elementary kids to move into junior-high and high school without spiritual antibodies? Certainly not! That’s why we must give kids ample time to discuss their beliefs and even their doubts. As a parent, don't fear the doubt, and be sure not to dismiss it. Think of it as an opportunity to go deeper with your child. Consider working through books like Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ (student edition) with your child.
As a small group leader, welcome the opportunity for more discussion. We always say that small groups are “where the rubber meets the road.” It’s where kids have a voice; it’s where kids are not just allowed–but encouraged–to talk about what they think and what they believe. It’s where loving leaders can clear up misunderstandings and point them to the rock of God’s word. It’s in the discussion and the digging deeper that our kids (and all of us, really) grow the kind of faith that stands up to scrutiny and hardship down the road.
The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” – Mark 9:2
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27
In His image. Three words we are so used to hearing, they may not really register anymore. Take a minute to let them soak in once again. Every person. Every single one is an image bearer of the King. Let’s do a quick rundown of who this includes:
- your spouse
- each member of your family
- the widow next door
- the homeless man downtown
- the wealthy Hollywood starlet
- the self-destructive addict
- the politician you adamantly disagree with
- the criminal on skid row
- the co-worker who drives you crazy
- the barista who crafted your morning blend
- and most certainly, every child that crosses your path
Yes, sin was invited in, so now each one has been distorted from its original design, but every one still bears His DNA (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9). Do we see people this way? Can we?
Are you ready for a beautiful, radical idea? Caesar Kalinowski, executive director at GCM Collective, says that he actively looks for the ways those around him display the image of God and he TELLS THEM. Can you imagine it? Instead of “Hey, I like the painting you did,” you might say, “I just love how creative you are. It reminds me of how God came up with all the amazing colors to paint the sunsets.” How simple is that? None of it is made up; all of it is true. But it redirects the glory from the person onto the Creator. And hearing a compliment framed in that way gives the person a sense of whose image they were formed in. This is especially beautiful for those who do not have a relationship with their Creator. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to plant a seed of the divine creation into those who errantly believe their existence is a random collision of stray molecules? And to do it with a compliment disarms as it educates. You can’t get a better plan than that. Let’s all keep our eyes peeled for the Imago Dei so we can intentionally draw attention to it today.
Are you losing sleep over something? Maybe it’s something someone has said or done to hurt you, or a time when you were treated unfairly. Maybe it’s a mistake you made. Maybe it’s knowing you were excluded from something. Whatever it is, it gets under your skin, and although you try to move past it, it’s stealing your joy.
At the beginning of this year I set out to read the Bible in a year. So I found a chronological reading plan that looked doable. And there it was – in day one of my reading. How quickly God’s word jumped off the page with a very clear message for me. You see, I had been losing sleep over something. Something real. Something hurtful. Worse than hurtful to me, it was hurtful to my child. If I typed it out, your jaw would drop and you would completely agree with me. But no matter how “right” I was, the causer of the pain wasn’t losing sleep. I was. And my child was. Right there in Genesis 1-3, was the answer and it was an answer I needed to share with my child.
Genesis tells us that in the garden, God set two choices before Adam and Eve. They were free to eat from the tree of life (gen 3:22) or the tree that would cause them to die (gen 2:17). They chose death. How many delicious, nourishing options did they turn their backs on? Hundreds? Thousands? God had provided innumerable fruits that would sustain them (in addition to the tree of life), but they ate from the one tree that doomed them.
Instantly, I knew that’s what my child and I had been doing. We were choosing death. God has given us innumerable blessings but we were honed in on the one negative situation. I confessed. Lord, I know the "situation" is sucking life out of us. What options are you setting in front of us that we are ignoring? What should we do? Two words flooded my mind. CHOOSE LIFE.
The truth is, our habits often foster the pain: Replaying the conversation or situation over and over in our minds, dreaming of what we should have said, talking to a friend who is not steering us toward restorative behaviors, incessantly checking social media, entertaining vengeful thoughts, etc. Each of these behaviors is equivalent to nibbling on toxic fruit.
If you find yourself losing joy because of an emotionally painful situation, take it to the Lord. Confess any part that you may have played. Accept His forgiveness. Take all the Biblical steps you need to take (see Matt 18). Then–and this is important–ask God what you should stop doing that is fostering bitterness, and ask what you should be spending your time on which is good and life-giving. And when it applies to them, guide your child through each of these steps.
I shared this revelation with my child and now we have a two-word mantra to encourage each other whenever this or a similar situation comes up. CHOOSE LIFE!
“Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards–for our vineyard is in bloom.” Song of Songs 2:15 (NET)
If this resonates with you, you'll be blessed by listening to “Good to Me” by Audrey Assad: http://noisetrade.com/audreyassad/good-to-me
I used to be terrified that I was ruining my kids when I didn’t model the right Christ-like behavior. Many times, this came in the form of running short on patience or losing my cool with my very strong-willed child. Later I would agonize over what I said or did, and how I didn’t respond in grace.
Then this question came to me: If God only used perfect people to be parents, who would He use?
The answer is obvious. There are none. We all fall short (Romans 3:23). We will lose our temper, react in fear to a certain situation, or say an unkind word. And our kids will see it. There are just too many moments in a 24-hour day to respond to each one in just the right way.
Being perfect is not doable. So here’s what you can do: When you blow it, first take it to the Lord - confess and repent. Then go to your kids. Apologize and explain God’s truths to them. Even explain what you should have done. One time, I actually drove to my son’s school and pulled him out of class to apologize for my short-temper that morning. I trust that he will remember that apology much longer than the offense that caused it.
Sanctification is a lifelong process. You are a work in progress (Philippians 3:12). Being honest about this is a priceless gift to give your kids. And so is humility. Never let your pride stand in the way of forgiveness and reconciliation. That would be a victory for the enemy (James 3:14-15).
Let’s face it: your kids aren’t perfect either. One day, they will be the parent staring into the stubborn face of a toddler who refuses to get into his car seat! And that child of yours will have learned from your mistakes. They may handle it better, or they may simply have learned that God has grace for that. In the end, we are equipping our kids to be the best parents they can be when we are transparent in our successes–and failures–as a parent.
And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:16-17
Someone once asked Michelangelo how he was able to craft the magnificent sculptures he chiseled out of stone. “In every block of marble I see a statue as though it stood before me, shaped and perfected in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”
Somehow, in his mind’s eye - in his imagination - Michelangelo could see the completed statue before he ever touched the massive block of stone. In a way, he could picture the beautiful future of the stone. Then he would simply chisel away everything that wasn’t part of the image he envisioned, so that everyone else could see the figure the way he had pictured it. Michelangelo was certain his insightful imagination was a gift from God.
“Many believe - and I believe - that I have been designated for this work by God. In spite of my old age, I do not want to give it up; I work out of love for God and I put all my hope in Him.”
A blessing is born out of a very similar process. A blessing is the ability to see into the future of a person, and picture the beautiful things God has in store for him or her. The children under your leadership might be rough on the outside. Maybe no one else can see the talents and qualities God has placed inside there. But you know the many promises God has proclaimed for them in His word. And you can ask God to show you His plan for each child.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. - Ephesians 2:10
Ask God to help you see every child this way (especially the ones you have trouble seeing this way right now). Then make a habit of praying blessings over the kids in your life. Speak the blessings out loud over them. It might feel a bit awkward at first, but it is ever so Biblical (from Genesis to Revelation) and kids will remember you as the one who always believed their future would be beautiful.
It might be something like: “Lord, I see the way Lucas’ peers look to him to get his opinion before they form theirs. I ask you to develop his leadership abilities and that he would always use his God-given influence to lead people to Jesus and works of justice.” Or: “Lord, I love watching Katie with her little brothers and sisters. Thank you for her nurturing heart. I ask you to expand your kingdom through the way she cares for people.”
Then continue to pray for God to bring the blessing to fruition! Ask God to strip away everything that hinders the divine transformation He has in mind. Set a goal to bless each one of your kids before this school year ends.
Ask anyone who Eve is (even those who don’t claim to be especially religious) and 9 times out of 10, you’ll hear that she’s the one who ate the forbidden fruit. Everyone knows that, right? Eve’s identity is: the first sinner. And sin, as we know, leads to death. Eve’s decision led everyone toward death. So that has become Eve’s identity. But that’s not the plan God had for her–far from it.
Eve’s very name means “life.” God created her, unique from Adam, to be the means by which every other human being would come into existence. She would birth the very first babies on earth, and all other children would come from them. God’s identity for her was the very essence of LIFE.
So what turned the tide? What caused Eve to live out an identity so utterly opposite of what her loving Creator planned for her? Simply her belief. When she stopped believing the truth about God, and instead believed the lie that He was withholding something good from her, she stepped into the devil’s snare.
The same was true of Saul of Tarsus. When he believed lies about Jesus–that he wasn’t God's Son, and that he couldn’t have been resurrected–Saul’s identity was that of a vengeful murderer. Everyone in the greater Jerusalem area knew his reputation, and believers fled the city because of him. But then, Saul came face-to-face with the glorious risen Jesus. Suddenly Saul knew he had been dead wrong about everything. He had seen the light (in every sense) and he stepped into the identity God created him for. “Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) What beautiful words: chosen, instrument, messenger. The old identity, born of lies, led to death. The new identity, illuminated in truth, led to life.
It’s the same for our kids today. God has created each of them with unique gifts and abilities perfectly suited for the identity He has planned for them. But the enemy has an opposite plan in mind. As their parents and leaders, we have the blessed opportunity to guide them toward truth and away from lies. When we teach them the authentic word of God, we train them to quickly identify any counterfeit. When they confide in us, we can help them single out voices they hear that are not in line with God’s. When we hear them murmur disparaging words about themselves that were hurled at them by a peer, we can remind them that the Creator of the cosmos sings over them (Zephaniah 3:17). One of the most profound questions we can ask a child is, “What does God say about that?” Pointing our kids to God’s truth and praying they encounter Jesus is the very best way to help them discover their true identity–the one that brings abundant life.
The LORD God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:15-17
Take note. When this conversation took place, Eve had not yet been created. Only Adam heard the clear warning from God. God gave Adam freedom to eat his fill of every tree–except one–or he would surely die. Then God said that Adam should not be alone, and then He crafted Eve from Adam’s rib.
As Eve’s husband, one of his main tasks would be to protect her. God entrusted Adam with His command. It was Adam’s job to pass on the truth God spoke to him. It was his honor to convey the beautiful, lavish heart of God’s provision, as well as the dire consequences of disobeying. Did he?
It was some time later when Eve was wandering in the garden, near enough to lay eyes on the forbidden tree. We can imagine the sly intonations of the serpent as he cast doubt on what Eve had been told. “Did God really say you must not eat from any of the trees in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) It’s interesting to note that Eve’s reply entails her adding extra words to God’s command (Genesis 3:3). Within moments, Eve was convinced that the serpent’s plan was better for her than God’s. She took; she ate; she offered it to her husband.
We are not privy to Adam’s conversations with Eve. We don’t know whether he failed to convey the word and the heart of God accurately. But we certainly know how important it was for him to give it all he had. It’s hard to imagine Eve being so easily swayed if Adam had spent the previous days walking her through the lush garden, excitedly pointing out how good and creative and kind God must be to bless them with the rich bounty of delicious fruits He had given them.
As leaders of kids, we have the same mandate as Adam. We have been entrusted with God’s word and it’s up to us to share it accurately: nothing added and nothing taken away. It’s up to us to express the good, faithful heart of God so our kids have every reason to trust Him when temptations come their way. It’s our honor to be God’s messengers. Let’s ask Him to empower us, because there is so much at stake.
It has been said, “We cultivate what we celebrate.” So at KidzLife, we’d like to celebrate the abundant fruit God brought forth in 2014. In each of our curriculum series, we present kids with the opportunity to respond to Jesus (always in their own words). We’d love to share just a few of their responses.
And several of our churches ended the year with baptisms during KidzLife! Families were invited to attend as these precious young souls proclaimed their faith in front of their friends and leaders. What an exciting time it was for everyone who lovingly invests in these kids.
If you listen closely, you can almost hear the celebration in the presence of angels! (Luke 15:10)
We have a saying around here: Church can either be a cruise ship or a battleship. It can either be a place of light entertainment, or it can be a place to ready its inhabitants for combat. If this sounds over-dramatic, please consider the words of Jesus, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” (John 10:10a) Our kids are under assault. The enemy craftily conspires to steal their innocence, destroy their families, and take their very lives. And the weapon he most readily uses is deception. He can accomplish his mission when he entices our kids to believe his lies. The only counter to lies is truth.
This is not to say we don’t have fun! Quite the contrary, our kids love coming to KidzLife and they often invite their unchurched friends. Our evenings are loud with the style of music kids love, and it’s even crazy at times. We incorporate technology and we strive for excellence in all that we do. But we never lose our focus of presenting God’s truth, because the enemy is on the prowl.
So often children’s workers believe we need more bells and louder whistles, when what we really need is truth. Rest assured, the truth is irresistibly attractive when we teach it accurately:
The God of the universe is so crazy about you that He gave His very life to make a way for you to enter His kingdom (Romans 5:8-10). He wants you to live a righteous life because it is the best possible life, and the only way for you to be fulfilled (Proverbs 13:9). His way is not a list of rules that we strive to keep through our own power (Romans 3:21-28). His way is a changed heart set free from sin and empowered by His very Spirit (Romans 8:2). As Jesus concludes, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b)
Our kids have been prepared for the battle. They have been groomed for victory. They are armed with the truth of the Living God. Therefore, we should not be afraid for our kids to step out into the world; the world should be afraid of our kids!
Our entire walk with the Lord comes down to one key principle: Belief.
And when He took the scroll, the four living beings and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp, and they held gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. - Revelation 5:8
While this passage is deep with symbolism and meaning, consider this one simple thought: God keeps our prayers. In gold bowls, He keeps our prayers. Why do our meager thoughts and utterances mean so much to the Creator of the Cosmos? It may be because our prayers are ultimately proof of our faith. When we pray we are telling God that we trust Him. Why else would we ask for His help? Why in the world would we waste our time and energy coming to Him if we were not convinced that He IS and He holds all the power? Indeed, our prayers are little scraps of evidence that we believe. Therefore, He stores them like precious mementos in a treasure box.
Belief is what God wanted from Adam and Eve in the garden. We can almost imagine God begging the question (in a very humanized paraphrase): “I told you this would harm you. I know best. Why won’t you believe Me?” And several millennia later, Jesus echoed His Father’s sentiments. When asked what works could be done to please God, Jesus answered, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:29).
This core principle of belief is what we must impart to our kids. Our goal is not moral kids who tow the line and look clean-cut on the outside. That would be far too shallow an outcome! No, we want kids who BELIEVE God. When they truly grab hold of His goodness, they’ll trust His instruction, and their behavior will (super)naturally fall in line. And, much more importantly, they will live in relationship with God as He designed it to be (Leviticus 26:12, John 15:4).
We often hear the phrase “share you faith” in the context of evangelism, using a gospel presentation such as CWT or Romans Road. But consider how the disciples shared their faith in Acts 3.
Peter and John headed to the temple to pray. On their way, they passed a man who had never been able to walk. He could only beg for his basic needs because someone placed him next to the temple. Day in, day out, he knew the drill. As he sat on the ground, his line of sight, if you can imagine, was fixed on all the healthy legs walking past him. He had no hope of ever walking himself. He was resigned to the cold, hard, fact that he was–and would remain–a cripple. His highest expectation was a coin tossed in his direction. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” This fellow had no confident assurance that he would ever walk. But along came two who did!
Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. – Acts 3:4-8 NIV
Peter didn’t have material wealth to offer; he had something far greater! He had faith. He was certain that Jesus would heal this man. Where the beggar had no hope, Peter reached out and shared his, as if saying, “I am sure. Lean on my assurance.” And sure enough, the no-longer-lame man’s faith exploded! Then he had faith to share (verse 10).
That’s what we do. As parents and as children’s ministry workers, we share the confidence and hope that God has given us with those who come behind–those who haven’t experienced what we have, those who need a faith to lean on.
We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD, about his power and his mighty wonders… so the next generation might know them—even the children not yet born—and they in turn will teach their own children. – Psalm 78:4,6 NLT
The Psalmist cried out, “Lord, give me understanding according to your word!” (Psalm 119:169)
Have you ever read a verse to kids and then realized the words were way over their heads? I still remember, several years ago at church, a 3rd grader recited Hebrews 10:7 to me verbatim. Job well done. But when I asked, “Do you know what ‘atonement’ means?” he shrugged his shoulders with a very matter-of-fact, “No.” In fact, most of the words in the NKJV translation he had committed to memory were foreign to him. He might as well have been studying another language. And the saddest part was, he had grown so accustom to this practice, he didn’t even seem to realize that the words might actually have meaning behind them.
So I began to explain each word and its definition. Now, there is nothing more fun than describing the incredible work of Jesus–especially to a child! But what I realized was, I was basically translating the translation he had memorized. I became a “middleman” of sorts. I was, on the fly, pulling words together to replace the words that were encrypted in his mind. Wouldn’t it be better for him to memorize words he already understood? I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Our team set out to find a translation that kids could more easily understand. We discovered the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV), which is written on a fourth grade level. Based on the NIV, but referring back to the best and oldest copies of the Hebrew and Greek, the NIrV is simple and easy to understand. Shorter words are used in place of long or complex ones, and lengthy sentences are shortened. The highly skilled translators of this Bible poured over the original texts for untold hours and used the most appropriate words they could find. When a child reads this version, he understands for himself. When he memorizes it, he gets the meaning, and it can begin to transform his heart, and therefore his actions–no “middleman” required!