New School Year…New Challenges

images-1It’s back to school time, and, if you are like me, you feel both excitement and dread.

I’m excited to have made it through the summer with the children at home, bored, arguing, tracking in on my freshly mopped floor, eating a months worth of groceries in a week, and constantly, well, there and under foot.

However, I’m also feeling dread. The dread of early morning mayhem, homework, arguing, parent meetings, fundraiser, sporting events, new learned attitudes and habits to deprogram and just the lost feeling of security by having my little family constantly… there and under foot.

Amid the bipolar feelings of joy, sorrow, peace and angst, perhaps the most notable concern for me is the effect this year will have on the spiritual health of my children.

Here are a few things you can do to help prepare your child for school and nurture their spiritual health:

Pray. I know this seems obvious; but, prayer is truly the most valuable tool we have as parents. We can’t always be with our children whispering wisdom in their ear; but, God can. There is nowhere they can go to be out of His reach and that alone is invaluable. Pray with them before they head to school each morning and invite them to pray with you. Encourage them to voice their concerns to the Lord with a thankful heart. Intercede for them while they are at school and school functions. Pray over them at night while they are tucked in their beds.

Educate. Run through scenarios of possible temptations or problems and help them think through how to handle them in a godly way. The hardest part on this one is balancing the information with sensitivity to their psyche’. Sometimes running scenarios can create fear and anxiety. Provide Bible verses to back up doing the right thing and making wise choices. Two verses I use constantly with my children are

Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Combine Forces. It is much easier to stand firm when you have at least one buddy. Connect with parents you know hold the same values you do and brainstorm proactive ways to prepare your children, together, to withstand problems. Make sure the children know they can depend on each other at school and have each others backs.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

Communicate. Be in constant conversation with your child. I know this can be the most challenging part, especially if you don’t have a good relationship with your child. However, it is vital that your child knows that you care enough to ask every day and you will love them no matter how that conversation goes. Keep pointing them towards Jesus and help them make wise choices. If you aren’t sure how to get through to your child, pray! Ask Jesus to give you wisdom, understanding, and boldness to communicate truth to your child.

Also, communicate with their teacher, school staff and other parents. The more you are present in your child’s school environment, the more equipped you will be to respond to situations or even head them off.

Now, I’m not saying to be, “that parent;” but rather, be present by means of helpful and available. Your positive input into the school and classroom will help you gain credibility with the teachers and staff. When you voice a concern or have a suggestion, you are more likely to be heard instead of dismissed as yet another parent who is never there but always willing to tell the teacher how to do her job.

Bottom Line: No matter how much we prepare our children, teach them to do right, take them to church, abstain from certain shows, words and people, ultimately, it is still up to them to choose the right path and make this faith their own. Sometimes, unfortunately, it is the bad choices that nurture the strongest faith. Just keep giving them to the Lord, stand firm in your beliefs and values and love them through it.

I pray that as you continue to nurture your child’s heart for the Lord, He will bless you with a bountiful return for your labor. Have a great school year!

God Knows…God Loves…God Gave

imagesGenealogies are so daunting to read that often I just skip them. I have only read the “begats” of 1st Chronicles once, just to say I have. But, to really see the big picture of God’s grace and His loving kindness in action you have to consider the familial fabric weaved into Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew chapter 1.

First in the lineup who may give pause is Tamar. Tamar was widowed by one of the sons of Judah. And, due to unfulfilled promises of redemption through other sons, she played a harlot to entice her father-in-law, Judah, and became pregnant by him. Next is Rahab. Rahab was harlot by trade who lived in the walls of Jericho. She hid Joshua’s spies in exchange for refuge for herself and her family. Finally, Ruth. Ruth was a Moabite who adhered herself to Naomi after the death of her husband, Naomi’s son.

God honored each of these women by placing them in the bloodline of His perfect Son, Jesus. I love this fact because it echoes the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ. This is His plan for all of us. To put us in a place of honor we did not and cannot earn. We so often get lost in the ugliness of our past that we let unworthy mask the fullness of what God offers us-FULL REDEMPTION. 

God knows…God loves…God gave.

That’s the bottom line.

“For ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

What is keeping you from embracing the fullness of God’s mercy and grace?

Let it go…today…right now! God gave you full unmerited redemption through Jesus Christ. Live in this fact today!

By His Wounds

From the archives…Easter 2012

People react differently to scars depending on their origins. If it’s from a sports wound, a c-section or even a gunshot wound obtained in the line of duty, the scar may be displayed proudly like a trophy serving as a positive reminder of one of the happiest or bravest moments of your life. Regrettably, some scars are not so glamorous. The ones from the wounds of physical abuse inflicted by another or self or even the emotional wounds that haunt the bearer bringing shame and regret.

In His 33 years on earth, Jesus was wounded. His friends betrayed Him repeatedly, authorities sought to discredit Him everywhere He went, He was falsely accused, beaten and brutally killed. His wounds were deep. His scars plentiful. The 39 lashes that crossed His back and ripped the skin with each recoil of the cat of nine tails. Nails pierced His hands and feet securing Him to the hard, splintery cross. The crown of thorns used to mock Him penetrated His skull as soldiers shoved it further into His head with each blow as they struck Him over and over again. Then finally, the wound from the sword that punctured His side to prove, “It was finished” as He proclaimed. The astounding part of this for me is that He could have stopped all this at any time yet He endured. Why? Because Isaiah prophesied that by His wounds we would be healed. (Isaiah 53:5) Jesus knew that all scripture must be fulfilled and He was the One-the Chosen Messiah. (Mark 14:49)

When Jesus was resurrected three days later, the scars from those wounds were the proof that He was (and is) the risen Savior whose blood cleansed and covered all our scars and skeletons. By His wounds you are healed.

What if Jesus had hidden His scars?

When you become a child of God, you are given the power to overcome-the power to endure. At that moment, you are truly forgiven for all sins and screw ups. Sometimes, though, those screw ups leave some pretty nasty and unsightly scars. Our natural human instinct is to cover or hide our scars from the world. But what if your wounds could help heal another? As we share our stories (our testimonies) we help people with the same struggles identify with us giving us the opportunity to point them to Jesus- the One who truly heals.

 

Three Essential Truths Children Need to Know

 

teensEphesians 4:24

“You were taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, to be made new in the attitude of your mind; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Alright, I’m going to be blunt here. Christians are not living in true righteousness and holiness. In fact, most of the time it is difficult to pinpoint who in a crowd is a believer and who isn’t. There is just as much perverse talk, corrupt actions and negative attitudes in Christian environments than in secular. The only difference being that the Christians are doing it behind the backs of those who will call them out for their actions. And this is true for our children too.

One of my sons suffered culture shock when he entered middle school. Three elementary schools were mixed together, so there were numerous children he didn’t know bringing in untold back-stories, home-lives and faith; but, this wasn’t the problem.

What bothered him was seeing his friends lives take a 180. The same children he grew up with, who professed Jesus in elementary school were cussing (including the “F” word), indulging in perverted conversation, bullying, and disrespecting authority, themselves and each other.

This bothered him so much that he became physically sick at the thought of having to go to school. He even opted to eat lunch in the counselors office rather than sit with his peers.

We were talking about it at the dinner table, trying to console him and give him a pep talk in preparation for the next day, when my high school son decided to offer his consoling remarks, “You think that’s bad, just wait till you get to high school!” My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I felt sick. Then I uttered the most un-motherly words to my high school son. I said, “Please don’t ever tell me what goes on in high school.” He laughed…but I was serious.

The truth is, the age of innocence is dwindling. This degradation of moral character is trickling down to the elementary level at an alarming rate.

I learned this the night I helped chaperone an elementary school lock-in. Girls were parading around with cell phones, engaging in caddy conversations and talking about boys. Guys were huddled in groups whispering, laughing and pointing at others. One boy made a sexual comment toward a girl who, thankfully, had no clue what he was saying. It was an eyeopener.

We can’t isolate our children from worldly influences-nor should we want to; but we do need to educate them to handle it.

Here are three essential truths that children need to know.

  1. As a child of God you are not ruled by sin-When you accept Jesus’ payment for sin, there is a transfer that takes place, Dead to Sin~Alive in Christ. This doesn’t mean the absence of temptation. It means that the option to say, “No,” comes with the power of God helping you resist. Our children need to know that they will be confronted with the desire to do ungodly things, they will want to do some, if not all of them, saying no may be difficult and unpopular but it is essential for their spiritual growth.
  2. Sticking to godly principles in the heat of temptation displays true maturity-Satan has our youth believing that indulging in worldly pleasures displays their maturity, like a right of passage into adulthood. When in fact, it takes more maturity and strength of character to resist temptation.
  3. Developing godly character takes time-You are a new creation created in Christ Jesus; but, there my be a breaking in period. That old self with it’s sinful desires will not give up easily. Temptations will hit daily and the desire to give in will still be there. The key is to feed the spiritual nature so it is more dominant in their mind and will hopefully be the “go to” voice in the heat of temptation.

Temptation is indispensable for providing growth opportunities and refining godly character. But when our children are ill-equipped to withstand it or fail to see the need to resist; they will live fruitless lives or abandon their faith all together.

What Defines You?

imagesI have never been a trendsetter. Chances are, if you wouldn’t be caught dead in what I’m wearing or doing what I am doing, then there is a good chance you are cool!

I am just rebellious enough that if something is “all the rage,” then I don’t want anything to do with it. But rebelling against the norm doesn’t mean I don’t want to be accepted. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to be recognized as a valuable member of society. We may claim that we want to be different but that doesn’t change our need to be accepted in spite of our difference.

Being Cool. What does that mean, anyway?

I would love to say that cool has a different meaning depending on your station in life. But, that’s not true. On the surface, cool may look different if you are a teenage from business man or a mom or an artist; but the core is the same. At the core of cool is confidence. Confidence in who you are, where you belong and what you believe.

As a believer, we know that confident identity can only be satisfied in Jesus Christ.

The world wants us to seek this identity in stuff and status but those things are only a band-aid on a gushing wound. The world tries to mask the truth that the only true cool is in Christ. The only true confidence is in His unchanging love for us and who we become because of Him and His sacrifice on our behalf.

It is easy to lose sight of this truth. Especially when you are in a job you hate, a bad relationship or no relationship or just feel lost or alone. When the world says, “This is what happy is suppose to look like,” but that is not what’s happening for you. We just came out of Valentine’s Day and those flowers are starting to wither and the candy is gone…or now only visible by scale, and maybe even that boyfriend/girlfriend is gone. You may find yourself wondering, where is the love? Where is that feeling of belonging that was there just a few days ago?

I say, it’s time to redefine what defines you. Where do you find your significance? What are you going to root your identity to?

Relationships, status, job titles, money, fame? All of these fade and none of them satisfy that core desire. This place is reserved for Jesus Christ alone. God created us to have this longing need that only He can fill.

I love what David wrote:

Psalm 139:13-16
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

God knows the plan He has for you. This plan is different from what the world says is normal or necessary for happiness and success. I know this knowledge doesn’t always remove those innate desires to marry, have children or find that perfect job, etc; but, there is an indescribable and incomparable peace and satisfaction in life knowing these things were never meant to be your identify.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22
Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set His seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

1 John 3:1
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.

So, what are you going to let define you?

[Photo credit: crayon2papier.deviantart.com}

Bring Back the Shoe Box!!

Screen shot 2012-02-08 at 10.27.26 PMAs a child, I loved Valentine’s Day…the elementary version that is. You know, the one where everyone gets a valentine from everyone. Then, you spend the next few days reading them from the coveted decorated shoebox or a huge construction paper heart. It was very sterile and generic but effective. Everyone feels equal. Everyone feels loved. If only it would remain so easy and so innocent.

I’ve always thought it so ill-timed that just as the pubescent, awkward, self-conscience phase hits, (also known as middle school) suddenly Valentine’s Day becomes validation…especially for a girl.

Getting a valentine means you aren’t ugly or at least, not as ugly as you feel and you’re not an outcast in society. It doesn’t matter if you like the boy who sent the valentine, it just matters that you got one. Receiving that valentine becomes a beacon of hope! Hope that you won’t remain single and unloved for the rest of your life.

Sound overly dramatic? I know; but, I assure you that these are the thoughts of most teenage girls.

I was a late bloomer and not really interested in dating until high school but even I secretly hoped to get at least one valentine.

This should not be. No girl should ever have to feel unattractive or unwanted because of not receiving a valentine. No boy should fear being rejected by unreciprocated feelings nor feel pressured into a huge romantic gesture.

But too much pressure and significance is placed on the premise behind these little notes of fondness that this “holiday” becomes a time of dread, depression and loneliness. And, unfortunately, it get worse with time.

So how do we help our teens reclaim the innocence of Valentine’s Day? How do we shield them from being damaged by the societal significance placed on this day?

The normal Christian answer is to make sure they know their true significance through Christ Jesus; and, actually, this is still good advice. Advice that needs to happen every day of the year.

Unfortunately, as much as you know this as a teen, it still hurts not to get that valentine. So, here is a thought.

Send the teen girls in your life a valentine from Jesus. Order a rose or a school “gram” from their biggest admirer and put a Bible verse on it like:

1 Corinthians 13:13

So now faith, hope and love abide, these three but the greatest of these is love.

 1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.

 John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in  him will not perish but have eternal life.  

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

How has Valentine’s Day affected your teen?

What creative ways have you come up with to combat societies warp of this holiday?

My Child Would Never Do That…

tugof_war_teens (1)I had an interesting conversation with some friends the other night at church. The statement was made, “You never really know your children.” At one time, I would have argued that this wasn’t true. “I know my children and they would never_________,“ fill in the blank with whatever anti-godly “pleasure” teens struggle with.

However, over the course of the year, I have had several parents shock me with the stories of their good natured, godly children. Children who compare in demeanor and faith to my own sons. Children who grew up in church and accepted Jesus as their Savior at a young age. Children who have a good support system at home. Children who know better but still gave in to temptation.

These stable, well-grounded children are trying drugs, having sex, stealing, and getting drunk. Things they have been taught are not good for you nor permissible from a spiritual standpoint. But it’s happening.

I don’t like this topic. I don’t like the thought that this could be my child. I would love to offer some revolutionary “how to” list but there really isn’t one. We just have to keep doing what we know to do:

  • Pray for them, with them and over them. Entrust them to the only One who really know them and see their heart. Ask God to help you know when you need to step in and when you need to back off. If He’s giving you the gift of peace them proceed with that peace in what your child is doing. If He is prompting you to take action, then by all means, do so. You may not always be able to trust what the surface relationship with your child is indicating but you can trust God’s prompting.
  • Talk to them. Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure they know you are still interested in their lives and watch for changes in behavior. As teens grown and develop and start changing; they can be difficult to talk to. So, often, we have the tendency to back off and disengage, waiting for them to come to us. Don’t do that. Stay involved. Be connected. Ask questions and more importantly, make sure they know you still care what is happening in their life. Continue to nurture them through this time but recognize that they are in a new stage in life. Don’t just tell them what to do, help them come to the right conclusion and learn to make the right choices.
  • Complement them. It may sound silly but I know this gets harder to do as they get older. Not because they do less noteworthy stuff but they have a tendency to roll their eyes or get embarrassed when you point out their great qualities and achievements. Don’t let that stop you. Let them know they are valued!
  • Go to the Word!! Keep pointing your child to the never changing Word of God. When they need advice, back up your response with scripture. Part of our role as Christian parents is to help our children develop a life-long relationship with Jesus Christ. It is vital that they know the answer can always be found in Scripture.

 Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Ephesians 6:4

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. 

Proverbs 22:15

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.

Proverbs 29:15

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.

Blessed to Be the Least…

One of the many things I love about God is that He doesn’t look for flashy, bold, popular,  rich, known, famous, best-seller, brilliant, award-winning, or even significant. God delights in using the weak, unpopular, insignificant, forgotten, broken and least of these to fulfill His kingdom’s purpose.

David is a great example of this. As a shepherd boy, he was the least in size of his brothers. So insignificant that his own father didn’t even beacon him from tending sheep in order to be considered as the chosen king to replace Saul.

But, God saw him. God knew he existed. He and David already had a relationship. David depended on God to help him protect his father’s sheep from predators like bears and lions. They shared long hours in the fields. The book of Psalms is filled with beautiful prayers and songs David wrote to God. He earnestly loved God and desired to walk with Him.

When you may feel small and insignificant, take refuge in knowing that your feelings do not define who you are. Your feelings do not reflect what God thinks of you.

He sees you–the real you.

He knows your heart and hears your thoughts.

He loves you with an everlasting love that defies time and obliterates the chains of sin.

1 Corinthians 1:27-31

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him. It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

Continue reading

A Life Worth Pursuing…

DSC09181Matthew 3:1-3
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for Him.’”

John the Baptist. A truly unique fellow. I enjoyed reading about him this past week and really giving thought to his life’s call and the significance and depth to which it was carried out.

John lived his whole life in humble servitude, preparing the way for Jesus. Never seeking his own comfort nor accolades, restitution, titles nor followers.

He lived in the wilderness, dressed in camel hair and ate locust and wild honey. He poured all of his energy into teaching people about God and proclaiming the good news of the coming Messiah. His whole life was pointing people to Jesus.

In fact, John was so in tune with his call to prepare the way for the Messiah that he could detect The Lord’s presence while both of them were in the womb! His mother, Elizabeth felt John’s praise as he kicked in her belly and she was assured that Mary truly carried the Son of God. (Luke 1:39-45)

There are so many things in this life that deter people from seeking Jesus. First and foremost, is themselves; but for so many it is Christians. Interacting with people who claim to be Christ followers yet bear no distinguishing marks nor actions to set them apart.

No evidence of a life worth pursuing.

Instead of a beacon to draw people to seek God, we become barriers, creating obstacles to be overcome instead of avenues to show the power, grace and love of our Heavenly Father.

This past week I was at the workplace of one of my friends. As she sang through the halls and I heard her voice I said, “I just love her.” Her work-mate replied, “She’s why I went back to church.”

My friend has a truly contagious love for the Lord, a vibrance for Jesus that permeates every part of her being. She has not had an easy life; but she knows it was God who brought her out of tough circumstances, who gave her a second chance at life and who, more importantly, died to give her eternal life. She is truly thankful and it is apparent to everyone around her.

This work-mate said she saw my friends joy in life and passion for the Lord and said to herself, “THIS is how it’s supposed to be.” She wanted that same passion for herself. That same joy. This woman told me that she grew up in church but Jesus was never her passion, nor had she ever witnessed anything like it before. My friend’s love, devotion and thankfulness to the Lord pointed her work-mate back to Jesus.

What a powerful testimony!

Praise God for people like my friend who motivate other to action just by living their Christian life with true joy and thanksgiving.

Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him!

Guest Post with Christi Brooks

Have you ever struggled with guilt or regret about where you are or aren’t in life? My friend Christi has and she is sharing with us today what God has shown her as she worked through these feelings.

DSC00023Drat Those Missionaries!

Today I grudgingly watched a video my missionary friends made about their work in China. Every month they send updates on their ministry and how we can pray for them. I am ashamed to admit it, but I greet those updates with groans instead of grins and self-pity instead of praise.

I think I have developed such a bad attitude about those updates because they have become little email reminders of my failure as a Christian.

I grew up in the church where my dad was a pastor and I accepted Jesus at the age of six. I spent countless hours in Sunday school and discipleship classes learning about the Lord. Every Wednesday night our Girls in Action missions class would dutifully pray for the overseas missionaries listed in the little printed magazine that came with our lessons. I always figured one day a class of little girls would read my name there.

Fast-forward 25 years and instead of sending out my own missions updates, I am receiving them from college friends who were just beginning to walk with the Lord when we went to school together. I remember praying for their walk with the Lord to become deeper and richer. I remember teaching Bible classes where they were students. And now they are the missionaries and I am, well, not?

Every time I open up that dreaded email to see the Kingdom work they are doing, I feel questions tugging at my heart. Why am I not there with them? Why am I not spiritual enough to sacrifice my comforts to go to the foreign mission field? Real Christians are foreign missionaries. Where did I go wrong that God didn’t ask that of me? Or did He ask that of me but I wasn’t listening to His voice? Did He make a way for me but I was too selfish to see it?

For the first time since I started getting these updates, I decided to stop for a minute to pray about my feelings concerning these emails. I poured out my heart to God and waited for Him to respond to my overwhelmingly selfish attitude. Shouldn’t I be spiritually mature enough to open the emails and have a heart for the people they are ministering to? Why was I always so focused on my feelings and my hurt about their ministry?

At first I heard nothing. Only my selfish tears fell. The song playing in the background of the video penetrated my consciousness, “Build Your kingdom here, let the darkness fear…”

There were other words to the song, but only one phrase stuck in my soul, “build Your kingdom here, build Your kingdom here, build Your kingdom here.” It was as if God whispered only to me, “Christi, that is what I have you doing. You are to work on My kingdom HERE. My kingdom work is right here, where you are, not just overseas. I want representatives in America too. I want you in the grocery stores, among My church, in the public schools, on the baseball diamonds, and in the carpool lane. You are working with Me to build My church. You are doing it HERE, where I have assigned you.”

Oh, God I praise you for using me here. I praise you for validating my mission. I love your heart for this selfish, broken Jesus girl with tears streaming down her face. I don’t know why you choose to love me and use me, but I am thankful.

And Lord, please bless the missionaries in China!

1616318_10151847825355443_649626354_nChristi Brooks is a writer and publisher. She loves to help new authors find their voice and get their words out to the public. Chaplain Publishing offers Christian publishing with a personal touch.

She and her husband are co-writing a Bible study curriculum called un/divided geared toward helping people accomplish more and fully engaging in their families and communities not by multitasking but by giving the present task or person our un/divided attention.

You can reach her at christi@chaplainpublishing.com