There Are No Perfect Kids

The goal of parenting isn’t to create perfect kids. It’s to point our kids to the perfect God.” – Lindsey Bell

We all want perfect kids. We attend seminars, read books, and talk to others about parenting when our first child is on the way. But when the “little one” arrives, we realize that babies can get their days and nights switched, Little Joey or Sarah didn’t sleep a minute. Nor did staring at the clock and wondering if this whole parenting thing was such a good idea. And that is only the beginning. All kids are different and will provide different challenges for their parents. But one thing is certain: there is no parent that has it all figured out on how to guarantee perfect progeny.

The father in this famous Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11–32) would have wanted perfect children too. Instead, the parable offers much to teach us about being a parent of imperfect children. We meet two sons. The younger son asked his father for his inheritance before the father died. Dad had to know this would not be in his son’s best interest, yet he gave him the money. It ends in disaster. 

When we understand that a parable is an imaginary story to illustrate a spiritual point, we can quickly perceive that Jesus is using this account to teach us of God the Father’s love for each of us. And while we are all sinners, as was the prodigal son, it is heartwarming, comforting, and, yes, almost incomprehensible that God the Father is willing to accept us back, given the mistakes we have made.

There may be times in our lives we’re like the prodigal and other times our attitude is more like the old brother’s, but the truth is we are all called to be like the father. This isn’t just a story of a boy who wanted to experience the wealth of this world or a brother with a bitter heart. It’s the parable of the compassionate father. He loved his sons and showed them grace and forgiveness in different ways. 

Our heavenly Father’s love for us is beyond measure. When we are far from home, He eagerly awaits and yearns for our return. And while we are still far from His doorstep, He rushes to meet us and walk with us the rest of the way. In the same way, He has such compassion and understanding for those who have trouble welcoming the prodigals. And He will walk us into the party too. We are in His family and our Father loves all His children.

Furthermore, He is “patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). He “wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What do you usually think of the story as being “about”?
  2. Do you think of it as having a happy ending? Why or why not?

The Other Son

All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” – Luke 15:29-30.

The parable of the lost son is a parable for today. It offers hope for all who long for reconciliation. Whether it be with a child, a parent, or a friend from the past, this story points to hope.  Imagine for a moment the day the father goes out to the hill and sees his son coming up the road. His heart immediately reaches out to his returning son, his feet quickly propelling him forward. Both father and son are together again, the distance bridged and the time apart forgotten. His years of hope and longing are summed in the declaration, “for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found…”  (Luke 15:24).

This is where the movie would end fading to black with dramatic music. But that is not where the story ends. While the parable’s focus is primarily on the younger lost son, Jesus concludes by speaking about the elder son. He’s never left his father’s home. He’s never rebelled, messed up, squandered his father’s money, betrayed his family, or disgraced himself. He’s never told his father that he can’t wait for him to die and could he have his inheritance money now please thank you very much.

So when his father throws his wayward brother a welcome home party, the elder son refuses to enter and join in the celebrations. He explains bitterly that he has never put a foot wrong, he’s worked hard for his father, and yet he’s never once been thrown a party in his own honor.

Once again the father shows his wisdom. The father’s words demonstrate mercy and redemption. He responds to the bitterness of the man who stands in the shadows and refuses to come into the warmth by saying: “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Luke 15:31-32). There is no competition with the Father. What He celebrates with the prodigal, He shares with the rest of His children. The bond forged between the father and the older son could never be broken. Such relationships need no party or grand demonstration of the fact. Trust was simply there.

In this parable, Jesus gives a vivid picture of God and what God is like. God is truly kinder than we are. He does not lose hope or give up when we stray. He rejoices in finding the lost and in welcoming them home. You are a son or daughter after the Father’s heart. I hope that reading this devotional has helped you discover at least one way that the Father loves you. 

 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How do you react to the older son?  
  2. What can we do this week to repent and restore our relationship with Christ?   

The Prodigal Father

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” –   Luke 15: 20-24.

In Luke 15, we find one of the most compelling stories about God in the Bible and the greatest short story ever told anywhere: Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In this well-known parable, a son asks his father for his inheritance, then squanders it recklessly as he lives a life of indulgence. With nothing left of his fortune, he is forced to work as a hired hand for a pig farmer. He is so destitute that he longs to eat the food of the pigs. Realizing that his father’s servants have better working conditions, he resolves to return to his father, beg forgiveness, and ask to be his servant. 

You’d think after all that, when the son decided to go back home, that the father would be standing, waiting on the deck, arms crossed, foot-tapping, a frown spreading across his forehead, impatiently listening to the whole speech the son had prepared, maybe making him grovel a little bit more before consenting to take him back to the worst job in the house. At the very least, you’d expect a severe reprimand and some sort of punishment. But that didn’t happen. Instead of a bitter reception, he got a warm welcome, with hugs, kisses, gifts, and a party. The father immediately welcomes his son back into the family, lavishing his love on him in every way he can.

In this story, Jesus gives us an unforgettable picture of God as a loving Father beyond our wildest imagination.

Ephesians 1:3-8 says, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” 

The story of the prodigal son is a picture of God’s love for us as His children. God’s love for us does not depend on our faithfulness; it is unconditional. He loved us while we were still sinners. Though we are demanding and do not remain faithful, God is still our faithful and loving Father.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What aspect of God’s character does this parable display?

Can You Imagine?

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21. 

Young children tend to be curious, possess great imaginations, and have seemingly unlimited creative capacity. The dog can morph into R2 D2. A stick can become a light saber. And a couch turns into the Millennium Falcon.

Chances are, although you are no longer a child, you still have a healthy imagination. Imagination plays a powerful role in our lives, so it’s not surprising that the apostle Paul mentioned it in his prayer for the followers of Jesus in Ephesus (Ephesians. 3:14–21). In verse 16 he says, “ I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit.”

Paul prayed that they would be able to grasp and experience the full dimension of the love of Christ (vs. 17–19). In closing, Paul gave glory to God who “through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (v. 20). He is giving us a reminder that regardless of your imagination, God has something better.

Think about that for a few moments. God, working through you, has plans that you can’t even imagine and haven’t even crossed your mind.  That should boggle our minds.  

You see, God’s plans are greater than ours, not just because God is bigger than us, but also because God’s ultimate objective is so much greater than what motivates us daily. We tend to pray about our daily needs, our daily wants – and God does care about those things – but He knows we will be most fulfilled when we have experienced His will for our lives. We taste life to the fullest when we are in a relationship with God, and when we are living each day with a divine purpose.

God, who He is and what He does, will do, and has done is immeasurable. We only see and know a slice of the whole pie in the sky.  All we ask of God isn’t all He intends to do through us. The more time spent with God in His Word, the Bible, and in prayer and worship, the more we begin to see through His perspective.  

Paul is praying for the Ephesian church to be blessed beyond anything they have ever dreamed. But he is also praying that the glory of God will be experienced through this church.

May we be reminded that our imaginations are so small compared to what God has planned for our lives through His power and glory.

Discussion Question:

  1. How do you rate your imagination? 
  2. How does knowing that God can “accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” impact our lives? 

Are We Glorifying God?

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father” – Colossians 3:17. 

God calls us to glorify Him in all we do. Or perhaps to put it more precisely: One of the great ways God glorifies Himself is by calling and enabling us, His people, to glorify Him through our holy conduct. Doing everything to the glory of God sounds exhausting. Do you ever find yourself wondering how to do this every day? What does my daily mundane schedule have to do with the glory of God?  

Theologian Jonathan Edwards once said: “From time to time [in Scripture], embracing and practicing true religion, and repenting of sin, and turning to holiness, is expressed by glorifying God, as though that were the sum and end of the whole matter.” 

If the creation could talk, and in a sense it does, it would say, as the psalmist writes, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Psalm 19:1) Since we are part of His creation, we too should strive to glorify God.  Again, the psalmist writes, “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!” (Psalm 22:23 ESV) But this isn’t just a command for Israel but it is for us as well: “Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.’” (Isaiah 43:7)

So what does glorifying God mean in our daily lives? In Colossians 3:17, the apostle Paul says in his letter to the Church as Colossae, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (ESV) He was reminding the Colossians that their ultimate purpose on this earth was to give God glory by showing God’s love and walking in peace with one another and doing all things with a heart full of gratitude.

How often are we focused on the everyday activities that we forget that they are not an end to themselves; we go through the motions looking for things to satisfy a longing in our soul that only living a God-glorifying life can satisfy. We were made to worship and glorify God, and He gave us the gifts and abilities in which to do that every day.

It means to worship and advance Christ in everything we do. In Philippians 1:20, we see that Paul’s attention was focused on one thing and one thing only.  While in prison, unsure of what his sentence might be, he maintained that laser focus. He expected that Christ would be exalted in everything he did. His one focus was glorifying Christ in everything. And he meant everything. In fact, he taught this in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  

God is worthy of all glory: “You are worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power. For you created all things, and they exist because you created what you pleased.”(Revelation 4:11).  Matthew 5:16 says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” 

Discussion Questions:

  1. Who are we living for on a daily basis?  
  2. What can we do this week to glorify God? 

How Spiritually Resilient Are You And Your Children?

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.” – Proverbs 24:16.

One of the reasons for the popularity of comic book superheroes on the movie screen is that they constantly demonstrate resiliency in the face of challenges. A spouse leaves us. A client sues. Unemployment strikes us. Our dreams fail to come true. How can we live a resilient life—a life that can weather these storms, and even grow stronger after them? 

The believer in Jesus Christ is upheld by God’s power and so is naturally resilient. “We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8–9). The key to resiliency is faith in the Lord: “The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand.”  (Psalm 37:23–24).

Paul showed great resilience after his life-altering encounter with Jesus (Acts 9). When he was transformed from religious Pharisee to radical Christian, many were not happy with his message. He was beaten, stoned, criticized, jailed, and nearly killed many times (2 Corinthians 11:24–27). One incident especially shows Paul’s exceptional resilience. In Lystra, he was stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead, but, when his enemies left, Paul simply got up and went back into the city (Acts 14:19–20). His missionary endeavors continued unabated. Godly resilience enables us to be undeterred from our mission, regardless of the opposition. But what about our children?

The definition for resiliency is the same for a child as it is for each one of us: resiliency is having a faith foundation that is so strong it can withstand anything the world throws at it.  Spiritual resilience isn’t automatic. There are building blocks to create a strong foundation upon which spiritual resiliency can be built. Your kids will need your help if they are to become spiritually resilient. First, they need Bible knowledge and understanding. In order for your kids to bounce back easily when encountering trials, they need to know what God wants them to know about life and how He wants them to live it. They need to understand God’s commands and principles. They need to know God’s character and His promises. No matter how great your church is, your kids will not learn everything they need to know at church. You have to also teach them at home. Don’t forget to help them develop independent Bible reading habits. They will need to read scripture for the rest of their lives to stay spiritually resilient.

They need to pray. To be spiritually resilient, your kids need to be in constant communication with God. They need a thorough understanding of prayer. Your children need to understand that prayer isn’t merely submitting an order to God for the things they want, but sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns with God. While praying as a family is wonderful, your kids need to also have personal prayer lives – even when you aren’t there to remind them to pray.

Raising children to be spiritually resilient takes time and effort. Without spiritual resiliency, however, your children will find it difficult to be who God created them to be for their entire lives. It is worth taking the extra time and effort to help them develop it.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What does being spiritually resilient mean in everyday life? 
  2. What can we do this week to become more spiritually resilient? What can we do to help our kids be more spiritually resilient?

Love Powered Parenting : Starting With A Strong Foundation

“The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them.” –   Proverbs 20:7.

Parenting is more than merely training and disciplining your children for a productive life on earth. It’s more than taking them to baseball practice, dance recitals, and music lessons. It’s even more than taking them to church and memorizing a few Bible verses. Parenting, rightly understood, is part of God’s mission for the world. In bringing children into this world and in raising them to love and serve God, you are part of God’s mission. It all starts with a strong spiritual foundation. 

The foundation is the most important part of a building because everything else rests on the foundation.  A solid foundation means a strong sturdy building.  If you have a faulty foundation, the building will not stand near as strong or as long. Your child is the building, and the foundation is a faith in God. Several times Jesus is referred to as a cornerstone or a foundation stone. A cornerstone is the most important stone in the structure because all other stones are built around the first one. The cornerstone determines the final location of the finished building. Giving a strong foundation for your child means they build their life with Jesus as the cornerstone.

Love is the very foundation of everything. The two greatest commands of God is based on love.  In Matthew 22:34-40, it says, “Jesus replied: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.  The moment we genuinely believe in our Lord Jesus, our lives start to change.  The Spirit of God begins to reveal God to us through His Word, and as we get to know the goodness of God in our lives, we start to love Him. And the more we love God, the more we begin to love others. 

The stronger foundation is the foundation of God’s unconditional love. If you think God loves you on your good days, but not so much on your bad days, you don’t know how powerfully God loves you. Romans 8:1, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” Families that love, families that understand God’s love is never going to be taken away from us and will have a firm foundation. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 John 15:9 tells us that “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me.” Jesus is saying that I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved Me. Make yourselves at home in My love. You want to be a great parent? A great son or daughter? A great aunt or uncle? Realize how deeply God loves you. Develop a relationship with Christ and then live in that relationship of love, of unconditional love every single day.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why is parenting through love so important? 
  2. What can we do this week to build a better foundation? 

Loving Your Kids The Way Jesus Loves You

“Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.” –   Proverbs 22:6.

Loving our children like the One who is love seems like a daunting task. How do we move beyond ourselves – our selfishness and our busyness – and dig deep into our hearts to access a love that is Christlike for our children. How do we love your kids the way Christ loves us?

God, in such pursuit of us, sent His son to die in our place. And Jesus, in such pursuit of us, agreed to live faithfully, teach the truth as the Word made flesh, and die so we could find freedom. Jesus came to live among us so He could know humanity and so that we could know Him. What a powerful picture of pursuit. I know in order to love my kids like Jesus, I must be in constant pursuit of their hearts. I must learn and understand them so I can give them what they truly need. A heart of pursuit seeks to learn about the unique children God has given us and pursues an understanding of what they need and how they need it.

We need to tap into the ultimate and greatest source of love, Jesus Christ. Our foundation must be built on the Rock. When our foundation rests upon God then we can derive a much deeper sense of purpose and meaning in our parenting. It goes well beyond our personal willpower and strength. And it can and will last for eternity leaving a legacy for generations.  

As John 1:16 tells us, it starts with grace: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (ESV). The idea of grace, of receiving something we do not deserve, is embodied in the person of Jesus. Jesus is God’s grace personified. A heart of grace gently corrects our children with love as the driving force in order to help them understand the gift that is freely available to them, no matter their state.

Then it is a matter of priority. What gets your time and attention is within your control; you make a choice on where and what you spend your time on. Choose to develop love-powered parenting. Establish goals that you aspire to in your parenting. Love drives it all. Love will be the result of your efforts. Love is the priority from the underlying motivation to the ultimate goal in your parenting.

Everything we need to love our kids like Jesus comes from the truth of who He is and what He did for us. It’s that simple. Now it may not seem simple in the daily grind of parenting but if we can take a step back it will all come into focus. 

There are days we will fail to love our children as Jesus loves us. Fortunately, His mercies are new every morning. The best part of the reality of His love is that we can get up tomorrow and try again.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can you love your kids like Jesus this week? In which of these areas do you need the most grace?

Where Is God?

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. If you are insulted because you bear the name of Christ, you will be blessed, for the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs. But it is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his name.”  – 1 Peter 4:12-16.

The school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, brings to mind some lines from the musical Hamilton. “There are moments that the words don’t reach, there is suffering too terrible to name, you hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable.” The image of ashen-faced and visibly shaken parents waiting outside the school to find out if their child was killed is truly an unimaginable horror. It always begs the question, “Where was God in all of this?” 

This is a difficult topic to address, not simply because it rattles our brains, but because it is usually discussed when our emotions are high and our hearts are rattled. Pandemics, Tsunamis, young people being shot in our schools, and then on a more personal level: why did I have to get cancer? Why did my daughter have to die? Why did I lose my job and now I can’t feed my family? 

It is easy to assume that because such evils exist that God must either be 1) not good, 2) not all-powerful, or 3) or not caring. As Christians, we try to react differently to difficulties. When troubles find us, we try to react and respond with the traditional Christian stiff upper lip. And why not, we believe God will work it out. We trust God, and why we can’t see the good that comes out of this today, we believe there is a reason even if we can’t see it. But sometimes, all those words fail us and we wonder if this trouble in our lives was really necessary.

There are many examples of people who suffered in the Bible. The most often cited example is Job. Job had suffered in ways incomprehensible to most of us. And that suffering had left him confused and searching for answers. The searching for answers is instinctual because when tragedy strikes we want to know why. And what we don’t want to hear is that “God has this so don’t worry about it.” There are many other examples such as Paul and his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7). And Joseph. Most of the disciples suffered in life or in death. Why? There is no one answer. There is no pat explanation.

Though it is human nature to want to master all knowledge, we simply must concede that much of life is a mystery. I can accept that by trusting that God is greater and wiser and has the answers we seek. We may not know the reason for each specific instance of pain and suffering, but we have been clearly shown the bigger picture, and we can be certain that all suffering will pale in comparison to future glory. “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.” (Romans 8:18).

There are no easy answers to what is, this side of heaven, unexplainable. What we need to remember is that life is not the meaningless chaos it seems to be. God is at work in the universe. We need to weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn, as Jesus did at the grave of Lazarus. In short, we need to be a people of the cross, a people whose God is not distant and blank but a God who instead loved the world enough to send His Son to die for our sins.

Discussion Question:

  1. Why do we want an explanation of tragic events when they occur? Do we believe that an actual theological explanation for our suffering will bring peace and comfort, joy, or hope? Why or why not?

The Responsibility Of Stewardship

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV). 

There comes a time in our lives where faith and logic collide; one of those is stewardship. God has created us to be logical thinkers and problem solvers, but He also created us as spiritual beings who trust in His ability to do things beyond what our logical minds can comprehend. When we are on the fence between reason and faith, the Bible is the ultimate arbiter. We are called to be obedient to His word even when logic or reason would determine otherwise. And that includes stewardship. Reason is never too far away, however. If I give a percentage of my time, talents, and treasures to the Lord, then the net result will be that I no longer have access to those that time, talents, and treasures. Whatever I give to the church, I have that less money to use as I see fit. 

Jesus described how God has given each person unique resources, and how He is looking for “the faithful and sensible steward”—people who are faithful with the resources they have been given. Through faith, we understand many things that at first appear quite illogical to us.  Love, for example, is at times most illogical. There are successful marriages where the two people seem polar opposites and there is no logic to them being happy and content together. Through faith we understand. It is also through faith we understand something of God’s plan and purpose for our lives; and by accepting what we do not understand, we rise above the gravitational pull of our old natures and lives.

So what is the secret to stewardship? Paul tells us to start with our hearts, not our heads. True stewardship is a faith thing, not a reason and logic thing. God calls us to move as our heart tells us to move and not as our logical minds might move. Second, he tells us “not to give not reluctantly or under compulsion.” We need to freely give in such a way that the left-hand doesn’t want to pull out of the offering plate what the right hand just put in. We need to give as the Lord is moving us to give.  

 In the process of making giving decisions, we really establish our alignment with God on stewardship. As we continually decide to give, we constantly confirm how much we value our relationship with God. When we truly look at ourselves as stewards, then the decisions to give are as simple as thinking and praying about how He wants us to allocate His resources.

Stewardship is a freeing experience as it connects us more closely to God relationally. The ultimate outcome is that those who give as stewards experience a sense of intimacy with God that all followers of Christ long for. Giving becomes worship. Giving becomes a way of saying thanks to God for His grace and promised provision. Giving becomes a deep part of our personal connection to God.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you deal with the question of logic versus faith when it comes to stewardship? 
  2. What role does giving play in your relationship with God?