One Stone at a Time

One Stone at a Time
One Stone at a Time

Conveying Christ to Kids

Hi, I’m Lisa. I love talking to people, reading, traveling, cooking, baking, gardening, and flower arranging. And I love talking to people about Jesus and how he’s working in my life. 

I often say God pushed me kicking and screaming into writing this blog. But it was actually a lot gentler than that
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Children’s Faith

God Sightings: Helping Kids See Him

God sightings: Helping kids see

God sightings: helping kids see him

Years ago, one of our church series focused on “God sightings”–specific places we saw God working. For quite a while we were diligent in asking each other for God sightings during prayer time. It was fun to see our girls recognize God’s work in answers to their prayers. It was even more fun to see them recognize God’s presence in areas we hadn’t thought to pray about. Yet God was blessing us specifically in those areas anyway. Ahead of our prayers. He knew our hearts. We used to say, “Wow. I hadn’t even thought to pray about that yet.” But after a while, we forgot to look for these special moments, those God sightings.

We need God’s reminders.

The people of Israel were like us. For a while they noticed God’s blessings and talked about them. Then they forgot. God knew that would continue to be true, so he used a pile of rocks to help them remember:

21 [Joshua] said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea[a] when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4: 21-24)

We don’t live in a rocky country with a huge pile of rocks to stand as a national memorial. In fact, conservationists tell us that we might cause problems in certain habitats when we do leave piles of rocks behind to show that we have been there. So, what reminders can we set up for ourselves? More importantly, how can we point our children to the ways God is working in our lives and in theirs?

Not all reminders need to be physical.

Our traditions can be reminders. Even our daily habits can be reminders of who Jesus is and what he did for us and continues doing for us. Praying before meals, reading the Bible together as a family, praying for each other during the day–all these behaviors God uses to remind us and our kids who he is today. Can we ignore these reminders? Obviously. Did the Israelites sometimes walk by those rocks without thinking? Absolutely. But God does call us to create our own reminders and our own ways to tell our children about who Jesus is and that he is an active part of our lives today.

We need to be living reminders of the reality of Jesus Christ.

God told the Israelites they needed to love him with all their hearts and talk about him continually with their children (Deuteronomy 6:5-9 NIV). In the same way, he tells us that we need to season our conversations with the reality of Jesus Christ (Colossians 4:6 NIV). To our children, we are the most powerful reminders of Jesus they have. We need to make intentional choices in being those reminders. My husband and I chose family prayer time before the first person went to bed. For us, that has been a lasting legacy for our family–and a powerful stimulus to our faith.

I challenge you to choose either family prayer time, talking to your children daily about God sightings, or some other special tradition to become your spiritual legacy in conveying the living reality of Jesus Christ.

Desperation Parenting is the Worst

Desperation parenting of a searching child.

My mom had many moments of desperation parenting! As I have.

In my mom’s desperation parenting of me, she completely changed her focus in ways that I did not understand at the time. I only knew that Mom started telling me daily what she was talking to Jesus about and how he was answering those prayers.

My mom’s telling me of her first-person encounters with Jesus nourished my faith.

And it grew!

No one-time moment of conversion followed, but I became a believer by seeing her relationship with Jesus and following in her footsteps.

Many years later, a similarly panicky scenario unfolded for me. Though my daughter had publicly professed her faith in Jesus at a young age, preadolescence brought a crisis of faith.

In childhood she had experienced God’s nearness in profoundly personal ways, which she was no longer experiencing. Because of this change in her experience, she began to seriously doubt the existence of God.

My own panicky-mom time followed. For about six months I agonized and prayed. My husband and I prayed together for her faith continually. I also prayed with her regularly before bed, after asking her how she was doing. These conversations involved her telling me her frustrations with not hearing God’s voice and not being sure he was real. After that, I told her stories of my own and others’ experiences of the seesaws of spiritual journeys. I even told her the story of St. John of the Cross and his “dark night of the soul” experience.

In my desperation parenting nothing seemed to help.

Feeling like a total failure as a mother, I just kept trying. Night after night I prayed with her. She did not pray, but she did not object to my praying with her. But she was used to it, having grown up with nightly family prayer time.

Somewhere during our struggle, I began crying out to God, “Please, Lord! Show her who you are. Don’t leave her in the dark! Show her how real you are. Allow her to see you for you are, as she used to do! This is your beloved child. Do not allow her to wander away from you in her pain. PLEASE show yourself to her!”

At some point, she started telling me she was “doing better,” so we stopped having these conversations. But I kept praying for her.

A year or so later she said to me, “Mom, do you know how I finally knew God was real?”

I was stymied. But I had always wondered.

She explained, “Because when I don’t know what to do, I go to you. And when you don’t know what to do, you go to God.”

A wave of relief and amazement washed over me. God had used me—his broken vessel—to show his power through.

Is God using your experiences of doubting as a child? Or of having a child who doubts? Is there a way you can make that more likely?

Children Questioning Why: Fruitful Inquiry

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Children Questioning Why

Thinking back to my years of children questioning why, I remember wondering if their questions would ever end. But they always did. Because their “But why?” always led me to the only final answer: “Because that’s the way God made it.”

With my first child, I remember thinking she would not be satisfied by that answer. And she did always initially ask why God had made that choice.

But when I told her that I didn’t know and we could ask him when we got to heaven, that seemed to satisfy her. Until she thought of her next question.

The pattern repeated itself with my other two children. Always curious. Always wanting to know why. And always wanting to know why about the answer.

Each child repeated the pattern of questioning a surprising number of times .

“Why can’t we see the end of the lake? If there’s land on the other side, why can’t we see it?”

“Why does it get dark at night?”

“But why do I have to sleep at night?”

“How do you know candy is bad for me?”

“But why do dogs bark? And why are they so loud?”

“Why do the leaves turn different colors?”

I started thinking my children questioning why were a sign of the God-shaped vacuums within them.

When Pascal said that each person is created with a God-shaped vacuum within, I don’t think he meant only adults. Our children’s questions also demonstrate their need to know who God is and what he is like.

Their native curiosity demonstrates their growing intelligence, but their willingness to accept God as the ultimate answer is powerful.

They know he is the prime mover. They couldn’t tell us that. But they know its truth instinctively. They know the truth is bigger than us as human beings.

Our need to tell them this truth is just as important.

We need to explain that we don’t know why some fish are created to live in salt water, some in fresh water, and some in both. Because our children need to know we don’t know everything. We may want them to think we know everything. But they need to know we don’t.

And our need to acknowledge that God knows so much that we can’t possibly know fits with our own God-shaped vacuums. We may not always feel the need to tell our children that we are limited.

But it’s an important part of our modeling dependence on him.

And, when we think about it, don’t we as adults constantly have questions we can’t find answers to?

I used to think I had so many questions I planned to ask God as soon as I got to heaven. Then I started thinking I wouldn’t need to ask him when I got there. I would already know. But now the more I learn about the new heavens and the new earth, the more I think learning will be one of the continual gifts of eternal life.

Learning is one of the prime gifts God gives us on earth, so it makes sense that our process of learning in heaven might be even more magnificent.

[photo by joshua-alfaro-353879-unsplash]

Growing Roots Deep into Christ

Starting young with growing roots deep into Christ.

I love this photo of the boy sitting in the huge tree. The enormous tree seems to be wrapping its arms around him and bringing him contentment. A child this age can’t understand the root system of a huge tree like this. Nor does he know the concept of a child growing roots deep into Christ. But he can know where he feels safe.

Rooting ourselves deeply in Christ makes us feel safe in the arms of God, as this boy feels in the tree. And it can start so early. Praying with a baby who is fussing for a reason we can’t understand. Praying with a toddler over something he feels terrible about. Little ones can learn that Jesus answers their prayers in amazing ways and that he is their ultimate safety.

Writing a talk the other day, I thought about how our children began putting down their roots into Christ at an early age. Inspired by Trent & Smalley’s book The Blessing, we gave one of our daughters the symbol of a young tree. It symbolized how we saw her in Christ, as a child who loved Jesus and sought to live for him. At her young age it was impossible to know all the fruit God would allow her to bear. But we saw the beginnings. We gave her the symbol of a very young apple tree and found a real one to take her picture standing near.

The passage we chose for her was Psalm 1, with an emphasis on verse 3:That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.”

As an adult growing roots deep into Christ.

That verse has realized its promise. We’ve seen our child become an adult woman who has an active prayer life and active ministry to the many people God has placed in her life.

Another favorite passage that now fits her and is a challenge for each of us is Colossians 2: 6-7So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV).

Remembering the traumas she experienced in her young adult life, I am so grateful that her rootedness in Christ allowed her stay safe and know she was in the arms of Jesus. Even when she wondered what in the world God was doing in allowing her to get so sick. Multiple times even when she nearly died.

Growing roots deep into Christ moved her from being a child who played church–preaching to and baptizing dolls and stuffed animals–to a grown up who preaches to and baptizes real people. When she was four years old, we had no clue that it was more than play. But God knew. And he grew those roots and built her up in him.
[photo by martha-dominguez-de-gouveia-567149-unsplash]

Human Neediness and a Magnificent Dream

A few years ago in a gorgeous mountain setting, the contrast between God’s grandeur and our human neediness struck me.

We were vacationing with a young family with charming children. All of us were excited to be together and were loving the surroundings. Then the oldest daughter confided her fear of death for herself and for her parents. Her sudden feelings of neediness surprised me.

A few minutes before, she had been happily swinging and loving being outdoors. But the coming nightfall brought to her mind her recurring nightmares.

Her nightmares repeatedly told her that she was going to die and be punished. This little girl had committed her life to Jesus and was regularly reading her children’s Bible. But Satan was still planting fears and doubts in her mind.

Having recently lost my beloved mother-in-law to death, I was able to share with this little one the power of knowing that my loved one is currently in heaven with Jesus.

I told her how much I still missed Mom and that many people do, but that Mom is now forever happy with Jesus. My little friend loved the image of happiness after death.

I reminded her of Revelation 3: 20. Jesus tells us, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”

I reminded her that she had asked him into her heart. She could trust Jesus that he would keep his promise.

I also told her the story of my experience of neediness and fears when I had been about her age.

My best friend’s mom, a good friend of our family, had died after being confined to a wheelchair for many years with rheumatoid arthritis.

I had been distraught. Inconsolable. My parents had repeatedly shared encouragement and verses from scripture, but I just had not been able to take comfort from them. My emotional neediness took center stage.

Then God gave me a dream.

In my dream I saw Aunty Libby walking toward me with a glowing face and a look of indescribable joy. Not only was she walking, but she looked healthy in a way I had never seen her in life.

I was so excited that I ran to her, calling her name. She did not hear me but continued walking forward with an ecstatic look on her face.

When I turned to look at what she was walking toward, I saw indescribable beauty. The only way I can attempt to describe it is that I saw a very bright light that was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.

I threw myself down on the ground in awe. Obviously I was way too young to have read anything about people at the end of life seeing bright lights, or people lying face down in worship. But somehow that’s what I experienced.

When I woke up and saw my family at breakfast, I was so excited: “Aunty Libby’s in heaven! Aunty Libby’s in heaven!”

My parents expressed surprise, since they had both been working unsuccessfully to convince me of that. God had seen my stubborn disbelief in my grief and had reached out to give me a dream to illustrate his truth and answer my neediness.

That dream forever canceled any fears I could have of death. The pain of suffering before death can still cause dread, but death itself has always seemed a wonderful transition ever since that dream.

I shared this dream with my little friend and read her some of the description of the New Jerusalem from Revelation 21.

She was comforted. But what seemed to strike her most was my actual happiness that Mom is now in heaven. That though I still miss her, I rejoice for her.

My little friend’s face lit up as she heard my stories. She said, “I don’t think I’m going to have nightmares anymore. But will you still pray with me before bed?”

From then on, I prayed with her every night–that Satan would not disturb her sleep. Every morning she excitedly told me that she had slept so well with “NO NIGHTMARES!”

She practically danced into the breakfast room. And I was grateful that God had shown his power in canceling her fears and giving her joy. His unconditional love for us is amazing.

[Photo by ales-krivec-335251-unsplash.jpg]

God is good, says my little grandson.

Sitting on the beach playing with my twenty-two-month-old grandson, I was overwhelmed by God’s goodness.

This is a baby who was prayed for long before he was even conceived and who came into the world with much trauma. Just before his birth I had also experienced trauma with my back injury and surgery. Now the two of us can sit together on the beach and play for hours. I felt so strongly that God is good.

With my heart overflowing, I said aloud, “God is so good, little one. He has blessed me so much by you.”

His immediate response was, “God is good.”

I was startled and then even teary eyed as he repeated it over and over. At this point he had spoken very few sentences in his life.

Obviously, a little one knows when he has hit on something that pleases an adult. So he said it probably a dozen times, and I repeated it with him, as we continued to play. My joy increased.

But what surprised me just as much was his saying it hours later, while he was eating and listening to the adults talk. His mother was talking about something great that had just happened, unrelated to him.

Our toddler’s nonchalant “God is good” surprised us all.

It is so true in general and fit perfectly as a commentary on the conversation. Even though his mother had not mentioned God in that particular conversation, she tells him regularly about God’s love for all of us. She has taught him to add into their prayers together people and things he is thankful for.

He is learning—before he can fully talk—both the goodness of God and the reality of Jesus Christ in his life. It amazes me how God works in our children before we can even know they understand.

We know that adults sometimes come to know Jesus through sudden commitments and radical changes in their lives. But children—and even most adults—usually come to know Jesus gradually, a bit at a time. We have no idea how early they come to know the reality of Jesus Christ in their lives.

My dad—a church planter—always said most people come to faith in Jesus sort of like the opening of a rose. As we come to most relationships. Some people fall into a “It feels like we’ve known each other for years” relationship, but most develop friendships gradually over time.

So it is with our walk with Jesus.

Though we know that “God is good” from the mouth of a toddler is not a dramatic conversion experience like that of Saul of Tarsus, we know it shows God is working. It also shows the importance of little comments we make around them without much thought.

 

As our late Pastor Norm Meyer said repeatedly, even on the day he told the congregation he was dying of bone cancer, “God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.”

 

Broken Reflections of God’s Character?

Are we broken reflections of God’s character?

When our children were little, my husband and I tried to teach them well. We tried to teach them to love Jesus, to behave well, to be nice to each other. Many times that worked well.

But what we did not realize until years into this parenting gig is that children do not automatically accept our values. We know that’s true of teenagers. We brace ourselves for that during those years.

But I did not expect it so early. I did not think of the possibility that my five-year-old would not accept the values of honesty and respect of others’ property.

The fact that lying and stealing are wrong does not necessarily matter to a five-year-old. And every carefully thought-out punishment cannot change that. Believe me–we tried everything.

Then I read Josh McDowell’s Right From Wrong–a book based on extensive surveys of churched and unchurched teenagers. Wow! He was right. I too had been trying to teach my daughters right from wrong through turning biblical principles into behavior.

I had been missing the why. The perfectly righteous character of our God is the reason we need to act justly in love and truth. As his children we need to reflect his character to those around us.

But too often we are broken reflections of God’s character.

As are our children. But when we focus on their behavior, as McDowell’s book demonstrates, we reinforce for our children their desire not to get caught rather than their desire to be truly good.

I’m grateful my parents never worried to me about what others would think if my sisters or I misbehaved. But even so, I internalized too much of a focus on good behavior, rather than on the reason for the good behavior.

What I needed to realize is that my experience of living as God’s child should make me want to reflect his perfectly righteous and loving character. We seek to do good not to earn God’s love but to reflect the goodness of the God who loves us.

Reflecting God’s character also needed to be the motivation for my children.

I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.

I will never forget the night I sat down with a seemingly incorrigible young daughter–and talked about reflecting God’s character.

This evening after a series of misbehaviors, I asked her, among other things, if she was a child of God. “Yes,” she answered begrudgingly. I asked her if God ever lied. “No,” with eye rolling. Did God ever steal? “No,” in an even more exasperated voice.

Then I asked her if children usually look like their parents. Then if she, as a child of God, wanted to look like God. All her answers were easy until the last one. The question that changed her was “What would it look like if you as a child of God were to look like God?”

She probably took two solid minutes to think that over before answering in a bewildered voice: “Not lie. Not steal.”

After she told me she wanted to look like God, we prayed together that God would give her his power to change. God answered that prayer powerfully. The family could hardly believe the change in her behavior. And that it lasted.

But God changed me through that exchange as well. I realized how important it is to strive to minimize broken reflections of God’s character by focusing on him more than on behavior.

[Photo by romello-williams-385888-unsplash(1).jpg]

 

Disoriented by my Parents’ Indecision

Disoriented

I felt disoriented, almost dizzied by my parents’ indecision.

Parents are supposed to know what’s happening in life and be in charge, right? At ten, my world felt flipped over because of my parents’ not knowing what to do. It disoriented me. First, they believed God was calling my dad to a different ministry. Then they weren’t sure. My mom and dad needed to pray about it more.

For what felt like a long time—probably only a few weeks—my sisters and I didn’t know whether we were going to continue living in Tri-Cities, Washington, or move to Portland, Oregon. The memorable thing is that while my parents were praying and waiting for God’s answer, my sisters and I felt disoriented–unmoored. As children, we obviously found our security not in God but in our parents—and in their knowing what to do.

Our family had moved from California to Washington the year before, which had disoriented us in different ways.

Initially I had experienced great homesickness, believing I’d never again find wonderful friends like the ones I was leaving. But by this time my sisters and I had all adjusted. I think we were not so much scared of the potential move as freaked out that our parents didn’t know what to do. One clear memory is of the three older girls gathered in a closet for a meeting and having a secret “vote.” It was probably my crazy idea. We each gave all the evidence we had on either side and then “voted” by “secret ballot” on whether we thought we were going to be moving or staying.

We were looking for some sort of certainty in ourselves, since we were not seeing it in our parents.

Ironically, the sister vote was unanimous for Portland, but we ended up staying in Tri-Cities. We later learned my parents had also initially believed God wanted to move them into a new ministry. But then God showed them otherwise. During those weeks of their indecision a number of people committed themselves to the Lord and to our local church, giving evidence to my parents that the elders were correct: God had been using their gifts of evangelism. And he wanted them to stay and continue to work there.

God continued to bless their ministry in the church abundantly over the next decade.

Clearly my parents had heard God correctly. What I remember most powerfully, though, is my parents’ waiting to hear what God wanted them to do. I never heard them discuss either the advantages of friends in Washington or the culture and beauty of Portland.

It was simply “What does God want us to do? Where does he want us to serve him?”

As a child, it amazed me that adults would make major  decisions simply because of what they understood Jesus wanted them to do.

Jesus became much more real to me as a result.

I wish I could say I began then to instantly trust Jesus for daily decisions in my life. I didn’t. But I did perceive for the first time this important practice.

How do we show others that we trust Jesus for major decisions?

 

 

Family Devotions Fail for Six Reasons

#6— Dinnertime family devotions fail because schedules hardly ever work for everyone to even eat at the same time.

#5— Mid-evening devotions fail because each person has so much to do that there’s no time.

#4— Bedtime devotions fail because of people’s exhaustion and crabbiness then.

#3— Morning devotions fail because people are much too tired to get up even earlier than otherwise necessary.

#2— Family devotions fail because the kids are too little yet to be blessed by them.

#1— Life is just too busy right now for everyone and will work better when things settle down.

The truth is that the main reason family devotions fail is that parents are tired and feel stretched to the max. With so much on our to-do lists, we do what is urgent. We think it’s better to wait for better circumstances than to do family devotions poorly.

 In reality, the best devotions are often brief ones that bless the parents and then bless the children.

If we as parents take a few minutes to seek the Lord through his Word—even when exhausted—we will all experience blessings.

When parents—as leaders of the family—find blessings by meeting God regularly, children see blessings as well.

Is it possible that babies will sometimes cry? Yes.

Is it also likely children will adapt to the routine? Yes.

Might children sometimes express boredom? Yes.

Are they also likely to find interesting what their parents do—eventually? Yes.

Might one or two family members make so many jokes that the family is laughing hysterically and postponing Bible reading? Guilty. Both as a child and as an adult.

But did those occasional times actually increase family bonding? Yes.

Many excellent Bible materials are available in age-appropriate formats for children.

Children are capable of learning so much. That’s why they’re often called little sponges. What better material for them to soak up at an impressionable age than the Bible?

My parents traded off between reading the Bible with an adult devotional and reading a children’s Bible storybook. My husband and I used a Bible storybook when our girls were little. Later, they were all ready for regular Bible reading and an adult devotional.

Suppertime worked well for us. I know some people choose to do devotions together before the first child goes to bed. Some parents choose an after-school slot. Some parents even insist early in the morning is best for their family. I am so not a morning person that I can hardly imagine doing that!

Family devotions sound like such a good idea—for some day in the future when life is a little calmer and more predictable. Right?

Is there a part of you that wishes you could do them right now as a family? Might there be a way to try a very short version of them at whichever time of day suits your family best? If you have ideas on how this works for you, I would love to hear them.

Creating Good Traditions

creating good traditions

Who needs tradition?

It’s boring to do everything just like our parents and grandparents. Besides, it will make our children think that Christianity is just a bunch of empty habits, and they’ll reject it. Right? Or is creating good traditions possible?

At one point, our girls went through a period of rebelling against church attendance. And Satan certainly did his best to reinforce their rebellion. Lost shoes, people not feeling well, hair that seemed to snarl worst on Sunday mornings. General crabbiness.

Then we countered with a special tradition a pastor had suggested: a yummy, sweet breakfast only on Sundays.

Coffeecake actually helped. Who would have guessed? One friend calls it “Fighting Satan with cinnamon rolls.” 

How can we choose our family’s habits—or traditions—intentionally—to establish what my friend Jeff Fisher calls “the scaffolding of our faith” And how do we choose actions that will reinforce in us and our children our love for the Lord Jesus and his centrality in our lives?

As we think about building this spiritual scaffolding, we need to remember that scaffolding is not fun, nice-looking, or desirable in itself, only in what it allows us to build.   We don’t want our children unhappy. Still, habits—even excellent habits—can be uncomfortable at times, until we grow into them.

For example, family devotions after dinner with very young children can make everyone crabby at times. As can prayer time with the entire family before the first person goes to bed, delaying bedtime. And asking a child for a prayer request each morning before school may feel pointless when a child’s daily answers sometimes hardly vary—“I don’t know. That I have a good day.”

Sharing some of our fears and inadequacies with our children and asking them to pray for us is scary.

Because we may not want them to know that we are feeling emotionally fragile that day. Or that a parent’s job is in danger. It might even seem likely to limit their trust in us as parents.

Yet God calls us to share with our children and others around us the ways he is working in our lives.

He is not terribly concerned that we might not like feeling vulnerable.  

But he is concerned about our showing him as the surpassingly awesome Lord of our lives!  

And he wants us to share with our children how he is answering our prayers. As we think back over ways God has grown our faith one stone at a time, we are called to be intentional in choosing our family’s traditions in ways that help grow that faith.

Creating good traditions is good for each family member.

If, like me, you grew up in a Christian household, you may have traditions that blessed you. You may have already adopted them. Or you might plan to start once life feels a little less hectic. Or you may not have spiritual traditions to choose from. No matter our history, God calls each of us to be intentional about faith with our children.

I encourage you to choose one new spiritual tradition to establish in your household.