Intentional Parenting

Show your children God’s love by loving them and others as Christ loves you. Be quick to forgive, don’t hold a grudge, look for what’s best, and speak gently into areas of their lives that need growth.” ― Genny Monchamp. 

Parenting today takes intentionality. As parents, we want to impart a godly legacy to our children. We want them to experience the joy of a vibrant, deep and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But then life happens as it often does. The days get busy and then the next thing you know weeks and months and years have gone by and we wonder what happened to the time. Life teaches us that it takes years and years of unrelenting effort to train up a child in the way he or she should go. Good intentions are the beginning of the journey. Along the way, you’ve got to avoid a lot of wrong turns, go around a lot of curves, endure a lot of problems, fix a few flats, and keep pressing on. 

When life gets complicated we tend to look for the quick fix when it comes to parenting. We just want a quick fix to a problem or issue with our kids so we can move on to something else. Quick-fix parenting may temporarily ease a parent’s stress level, but it does little to positively impact a child’s future. Nor is is it necessarily a good fix or a healthy fix or an empowering fix, and it’s definitely not an effective long-term strategy to fix the problem. But right now we have to put out a fire. Looking for a quick fix is reactive and spontaneous and is the polar opposite of intentional parenting. Intentional parenting is a way to raise children to become healthy, independent young adults. It’s based on solid principles that, applied over time, actually, result in happier, better-adjusted, and more successful kids. Intentional parenting means you’ve got more than good intentions; you’ve got a plan.

Intentional parenting cannot be farmed out. There is no outsourcing for this. And so if you have children in your home, then God means for you to be the central means of their education, especially their spiritual education.  For Christian parents, the goal of intentional parenting is to help our children want to walk in the footsteps of parents who are living God’s way of life, and who are working to be more like Jesus.  

One of the keys to intentional parenting is demonstrating to our children that God’s way works for us. We need to be an example of what they want us to be…If children experience a parent who gives unconditional love, has clear-cut rules that are consistently reinforced and genuinely displays the fruits of God’s Spirit, it will not be difficult for them to want to do the same things. 

Successful parenting is not that complicated, yet it is very difficult to do well. At the end of the day, it involves giving up control to God. To parent well, we need God as a co-parent. God’s plan for parenting was never meant to be one we carry out without Him.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. Everybody falls into quick-fix parenting now and again. When is this most likely to happen for you?
  2. When do you most often doubt you have any influence in your children’s lives at all?
  3. Have you ever considered having an intentional plan as a parent? What has held you back?  

Caring For Orphans

“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” – James 1:27

November 10, 2019, was Orphan’s Day. There are many groups of people close to God’s heart, but none more so than orphans. They may be overlooked in this world, but God sees them and loves them as the Bible illustrates over and over again: 

Hosea 14:3 says, “…No, in you alone do the orphans find mercy.” John 14:18 adds, “No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you.” Psalm 10:14 says “…The helpless put their trust in you. You defend the orphans.” And Deuteronomy 10:18 says, “He ensures that orphans and widows receive justice. He shows love to the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing.”

People throughout the centuries have wondered what God was like. It is a futile endeavor because we could never really grasp the characteristics and glory of God no matter how hard we try. But the Bible tries to help us. Psalm 68:5-6 gives us a glimpse into our Heavenly Father: “Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families…” God’s heart breaks for the fatherless, and He mourns as they mourn. God offers Himself as the ideal Father not only to those without earthly fathers but to all who will come to Him. It shouldn’t surprise us that God would take direct action to ensure his intentions for the fatherless were carried out. God commanded his people to set aside a portion of their fields for the sole purpose of providing for this group. It created a place in which the alien, orphan, or widow could find the provision necessary to survive.  

As we discover God’s heart for the orphan, we can’t help but recognize the similarity of His heart for us – for you and me. God is our loving Father, our Mighty Protector.  He pursued us when we were abandoned, alone, and lost. He took us in, giving us the “right to become children of God.” (John 1:12) 

We are not to simply pity orphans and feel bad for them. We are called to be filled with compassion because we can relate. God wants His church to stand as one and connect their hearts with His. We were once orphans too before our heavenly Father adopted us into His eternal family. Now He’s calling us to join in His work: to love, pray, advocate, defend, sponsor, and support the orphans around us. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does God’s consistent concern for the orphan tell you about His character?
  2. What can we do this week to help orphans around the world?

Like Us In Almost Every Way

“Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin..” – Hebrews 4:15 (MSG) 

When you’re going through a setback, nothing means more than having someone come alongside who understands what you’re going through. Jesus Christ left the splendor, beauty, glory, holiness, wonder, and perfection of heaven to walk in our world of setbacks, sorrow, sickness, and struggles. He came to earth to become one of us. A study of the New Testament illustrates that even though Jesus was fully God, He was human in every way but one. He never sinned. Hebrews 2: 17 says, “Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sister…”

It is not inconsequential that Jesus came to earth as a man. Philippians 2:7-8 says that He “… gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Jesus coming to earth was certainly meaningful for all of humanity. He saw we were powerless to help ourselves because sin had overwhelmed us. There had to be a way to bridge the gap, to save mankind from eternal separation from God. Jesus Christ is that bridge.  

But it is difficult to get our arms around the eternal God becoming one of us; becoming a human being. “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (John 1:14)  And while He was one of us He was tempted. Mark 1:13 says, “where he was tempted by Satan for forty days.” He experienced poverty. Matthew 8:20 says, “…Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He was frustrated as we read in John 2:15-16: “Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables…“Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”  He grew weary: “…Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime.” (John 4:6)  He experienced rejection. “At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him.” ( John 6:66) Jesus knew disappointment: “…How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Luke 13:34) He knew sorrow as we see in Matthew 26:38, “…My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.”  And He knew ridicule: Mark 15:19 tells us, “And they struck him on the head with a reed stick, spit on him, and dropped to their knees in mock worship.

Jesus certainly understands all that we are going through because being born fully man, He “…faced all of the same testings we do.” (Hebrews 4:15) He endured His sufferings for our sakes so that we can have His peace and power to rise above the setbacks, trials, and struggles we are facing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why did Jesus come to earth and take on human form? 
  2. What can we do this week to live as Jesus lived? 

Submission To God

“Jesus humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names” – Philippians 2: 8-9

People who write for a living know all about submission. That is because, from a writer’s perspective, the process of “submission” is never over. The writer is never done refining, working, or making things better. But even when the writing is the best the writer can make it, he or she must give it all to an editor and expect additional changes to be made. I believe this aptly sums up what the Lord expects from us. Submission is not something we say we have done once. It’s something we’ll keep doing, day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year. We’ll keep saying to the Lord, “Here I am Lord. I freely submit to you in this situation. Make any changes you deem necessary.” 

Submission is not a weakness, it is acceptance of the will of God for our lives, and our joyful surrender to it. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 ESV) Submission is an active faith in God’s plan and unrelenting trust in His promises, even in the midst of setbacks. Submission says as Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” (Luke 22:42)

Then there is Noah. God gave Noah specific directions to follow while building the ark. God told Noah exactly how big it should be and what type of wood to use. God told Noah to cover it with tar to make it waterproof. And God told Noah to make one door—and through that one door, all who entered would be saved. The best part is that Noah listened and submitted to God.  

More than anything, godly submission produces confidence that God knows what He is doing. Is there anything that moves God more than our submission to His mission, especially when it requires surrender amidst the trials and setbacks of our lives? Is there anything that better demonstrates complete trust that God knows what He is doing than submission to His plan? Is there any greater joy, tranquility or stability than knowing and trusting that because of God’s love and grace, things will work out for our good even when it doesn’t look like it?  

When we submit, we must expect the Lord to make some changes. Even when we don’t hear back from Him on time, He is working in our lives.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does submission to God mean to you? 
  2. Surrender and submission to the will of God is not always an easy thing. Where do you need to submit to the Father’s will today?

When Faced With Ridicule

“But the people mocked these messengers of God and despised their words. They scoffed at the prophets until the LORD’s anger could no longer be restrained and nothing could be done.” – 2 Chronicles 36:16.

Ever been put down? Insulted? Ridiculed? Most people have at one time or another. Ever been shamed for trying to do something you believed in? Something you were convinced God led you to do? While the Bible does not say anything about people mocking Noah and his family while they were building the ark, you have to assume given the situation, that people ridiculed what they were doing.  Consider Nehemiah. He got the king to see his point-of-view. He got all the materials he needed. And he inspired the people to get to work. Then came the discouraging insults: “Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews, saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they’re doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a single day by just offering a few sacrifices? Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:1-3)  

Of course, there’s no one more ridiculed by men than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. John 1:11 tells us ”He came to his own people, and even they rejected him.” He was hounded by ridicule and accusations, throughout His earthly life, and died a criminal’s humiliating death.   

When people intentionally or unintentionally make comments that discourage you from accomplishing a task or enduring a setback, it gets all the more difficult. If you have been insulted or ridiculed, what do you do?  What should our attitude, as Christians, be when we are called narrow-minded, fanatical, judgmental, puritanical, medieval, etc? How do you pray for those who are hostile to your beliefs so they will see themselves from God’s perspective? How can you ensure that your response will make things better? The answer is to keep our eyes on Jesus especially when the discouragement comes our way. We have all heard that a commitment to Christ requires us to “take up our cross.” Part of taking up the cross is a willingness to be misunderstood, judged, ridiculed, and persecuted by a world that sometimes does not appreciate or understand our values.

Noah’s life can be seen as a model of patience, persistence, and unwavering faithfulness to God in the face of a faithless society. Surely it wasn’t easy for Noah. Noah’s warning and gospel sounded foolish to the people around him.  In the same way, what we say may sound foolish to the people who are listening to us today. We must not be surprised when others ridicule us. If you are mocked for your faith, keep your cool and bite your lip. Don’t let angry people push your button. God will give you wise words to say if you let His love control your tongue.

 Jesus said it best in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” How many of us actually obey that commandment? 1 Corinthians 1:21 says,“ Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. ( 1 Corinthians 1:21) The cross itself is God’s power at work doing what we cannot do. The message of the cross is not first of all a way of thinking or a way of living; it is God’s actual power at work to save those who cannot save themselves.

 Discussion Questions:

  1. How should you respond when your faith and beliefs are ridiculed? 
  2. Do you see non-Christians as potential friends or simply as people God wants you to tell about Him? With how many non-Christians do you have mutually beneficial relationships?

Walking With God

“These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” – Genesis 6:9 (ESV).   

In your mind’s eye, you can picture Noah stopping for a second to relax aching muscles. He is sitting on a wooden beam taking a quick break as he looks over the imposing structure of the ark. From where he sat, Noah could see what had been accomplished while being mindful of the amount of work that still lay ahead. 

The people of the region probably thought Noah and his family were fools. The more the ark took shape, the more the people laughed at the very thought of a deluge that would cover the whole earth. The disaster that necessitated Noah building a boat seemed so far-fetched, so irrational. They could hardly believe that a man would waste his life —and the lives of his family— in such a foolish endeavor. God, however, saw Noah in a different light.  

The Bible says: “Noah walked with God.” Noah obeyed God. So much so that thousands of years later, the Bible said of Noah: “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith, Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.” (Hebrews 11:7) When we think of Noah we tend to think of the Ark, and two animals of every kind. We don’t tend to think of the faith of Noah.

Faith allows us to hear the voice of God amid the cacophony of other voices. Noah heard God speaking to him and we should do the same today. Faith enables us to discern God’s voice amid all the other voices.  Noah also had the faith needed to obey God when it was completely contrary to human reason and logic. In Genesis 6:14 God tells Noah to “build a large boat…”  It takes whole shipyards months if not years to build a large boat yet God was asking Noah and his family to build a boat “450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.” (Genesis 6:15-16) Faith is when God gives you a task and you accept and act upon it however contrary to human reason it may appear to be. 

Faith is doing the will of God even though you are the only one doing it. Noah did what God asked him to do even though he was the only one who was doing so. And faith is going on with God’s work in the face of opposition or setbacks. How many times he must have been tempted to ask, “is it worthwhile?” Or “am I mistaken after all?” Noah probably received some epic criticism from the people around him. But through it all, he remained faithful to God. 

Discussion Questions:

  1. We learn from Genesis 6 that God spared Noah because he walked in close fellowship with God. (Genesis 6:9) What does that mean to you?  
  2. What can we learn from the faith of Noah?

In All Things Give Thanks

Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.”- Psalm 103:2. 

David is telling himself to never forget the good things God has done. Fast forward thousands of years and we too can sometimes forget all the things God has already done in our lives. So many times we ask the Lord for blessings in prayer and forget to give thanks when we receive them. And we also forget to give thanks for the things we didn’t ask for, but the Lord knew we needed them and gave them to us out of His love for us. When asking for blessings today, we need to remember to thank God for all the blessings we have already received. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

We have so much to be grateful for in this life. But we lose sight of the fact when we face setbacks or trials in our lives. Or we are so busy that we don’t make time to pause and give thanks, for all that God has done, and continues to do in our lives. We’re strengthened by His peace, refueled by His joy.

Do I praise God and give thanks so He gets the glory and others can see His goodness and kindness? We can always be thankful to God in all circumstances. 

“The great difficulty spiritually is to concentrate on God, and it is His blessings that make it difficult. Troubles nearly always make us look to God; His blessings are apt to make us look elsewhere”  ~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Jan. 22)

The quote above from Oswald Chambers is a reminder for me to be thankful in all circumstances and not to forget the good ones that I can so quickly take for granted.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is it hard for you to be thankful in every circumstance? Why?
  2. What can we do this week to show God more gratitude for all He has done for us?  

Lead Me Not Into Temptation

I can resist everything except temptation.” – Oscar Wilde.  

Perhaps you have heard the idiom that opportunity only knocks once, but temptation knocks continually. Temptation never seems to stop knocking. It never stops trying to find a way into our lives. We have the choice to resist and persevere through them, or we can give into them. And temptations are heightened in the midst of setbacks.  Is it possible to eliminate temptation from knocking on our door?  The short answer is no. Sorry if you were hoping otherwise. 

There is often a disconnect between what we know about God and what it means to truly know Him. As a result, we find it difficult to understand why God does not eliminate or at least reduce the temptations that always seem to be popping up. When we continually face temptations we wonder why God isn’t willing to help us. Nothing could be farther from the truth. God wants to help us overcome our temptations. What we need is the involvement of the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit takes everything God has given us in Christ Jesus and makes them a reality in our lives today.  He empowers us to walk in our new lives in Christ. Although God has already given us the Holy Spirit who lives and dwells in us, we will not live in victory here on earth until we walk, or engage with Him. 

When you’re facing some sort of temptation, it can feel like you’re being tempted beyond your ability. If you are looking at your individual ability to deal with temptation, you probably are right. But you are never tempted beyond the Holy Spirit’s ability in you. People will not give in to temptation when you are in tune with the Holy Spirit, seeking His wisdom and strength to help you overcome the temptation you are facing.  Paul said it quite simply: if you want to conquer temptation, walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 (TLB): “I advise you to obey only the Holy Spirit’s instructions. He will tell you where to go and what to do, and then you won’t always be doing the wrong things your evil nature wants you to.”

When Paul tells us to “walk by the Spirit,” he’s saying to let everything we do be guided by the Holy Spirit’s influence. The Holy Spirit will empower us to accomplish everything God created for us. The Holy Spirit will not force His desires on us. Although His power is freely available to us, it will make no impact in our lives unless we acknowledge His presence and yield to Him by faith.

Temptations that expose our human imperfections are certainly among the most trying hardships we can endure. To struggle courageously against temptation is one of our biggest challenges. We can only triumph over temptation with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How is a temptation different from a trial?
  2. What can we do this week to improve our walk with the Holy Spirit? 

Excuses, Excuses, Part 3

“But Moses pleaded with the LORD, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though you have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” – Exodus 4:10

The next excuse Moses used was he was neither a gifted or eloquent speaker. That was probably fair. Moses understood that speaking was not a strength of his. In fact, Moses said that he gets tongue-tied and his words get tangled. Given that, Moses had to be thinking to himself, “Why God, would you choose a guy who has a tough time speaking to be your leader? You know how painful it is for me to speak in front of crowds, to pronounce the words correctly, to think and say, just the right thing.” He had real doubts he could pull this off. 

Don’t we all.  Sometimes, we are like Moses thinking, “God there must be someone better than me to lead this small group; somebody who is funny or more intellectual; a deeper thinker; someone who commands the presence of people. I can’t be the best You have.”

But listen to what God says after all the excuses have been given: “Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” God is once again sharing with and assuring Moses that He will be with him. I will help you with the words to say. I will teach you how to inspire people. I will be with you Moses. What do you say, Moses? Are you ready to lead? Are you done with these excuses? Are you willing to trust and put your faith in me? 

Moses decides to summarize his doubts: “…Lord, please! Send anyone else” (Exodus 4:13) God, I am begging you! Please, send anyone other than me to do this job for you. I really don’t want the job. Moses could only see himself as a nobody, a person who lacks answers, a person that is not believable, and someone who is slow to speak. Moses is telling God, I am no leader. I tend to sheep. 

God sees something else. God sees the final product in Moses. God knew Moses was the right choice in spite of his flaws. God had been preparing Moses his whole life from the time he was a baby and was scooped out of the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. Yet Moses gives one excuse after another culminating in his pleading to send someone else. In the end, Moses went and with God’s help did a great job. 

When God calls us to do something, it takes faith and belief on our part. Moses was full of excuses as to why he could not lead. All God wants from us is to put our faith in and believe in Him. Often we won’t have all the answers. But we need to exhibit faith in God to overcome those obstacles. Philippians 1:6 says “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever made excuses to not do what God asks you to do? Why do you think it’s so easy to make excuses to God?
  2. Before we judge Moses, we each need to look inward and ask ourselves how many excuses we have given God the last few days, weeks, months, or years. Are we making some of the same choices that Moses made? Are we making excuses so we don’t have to do what you know God wants us to do? Are you making excuses for why we will not trust Him?

Excuses, Excuses – Part 2

 And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” – 2 Peter 2:4.

God answers Moses’ first excuse with “Who am I?” But that doesn’t seem to cut it for Moses. Moses is still worried. Moses is still worried about all that could go wrong. Moses is worried about things going south because of him. So he takes the position he doesn’t have all the answers. How does God respond? Exodus 3:14, “God replied to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.” 

God’s response to Moses’s second excuse is if somebody asks you who sent you, you can tell them “I AM” sent you. I AM is the Father of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—The Almighty and Eternal God. God is re-assuring Moses that He will be with him. God is willing to answer the questions. God just wants Moses to trust Him and believe in Him. 

It can be difficult in the middle of a setback to feel like God will have our backs. We can focus more on the fear or on our own insecurities rather than on the promises of scriptures.

Isaiah 41:10 says, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” This scripture reminds us that God is someone that is here to strengthen us, help us, and give us victories. But staying focused on the Lord can be hard. The flesh prefers to seek security by thinking through all possible angles. Like Moses, our tendency is to weigh what we think could happen against what “experts” say will happen and then to evaluate possible ways of preventing our worst fears from coming true. Instead of becoming more confident, we begin to realize how powerless we are. Thankfully, we serve an almighty God who says, “I will strengthen you.” Through every setback and comeback, there is nothing to fear, no need to be afraid. God is always with us.

Someday when you have some time to burn do a search in the Bible for verses that say: “He is above all things,” and “He is in control of all things” and read them slowly. You will find verses like 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 which says, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.”

God is with us and He is a big God. If you have a small God, you will always have big, overwhelming problems and setbacks. But if you have a big God, then little by little, those problems you face — won’t necessarily be less painful — but they will become smaller and smaller.

Discussion Questions:

  1. List the benefits of God’s presence and leadership in our lives.
  2. What can we do this week to trust God in all circumstances?