What is My Child Listening To?

When I was a teenager, my dad taught the Youth Sunday School class at our church.  It was not uncommon, therefore, for me to come home on a Saturday night and find my dad sitting up watching music videos on MTV.  (Yes, there was a time when MTV played music videos).  When I asked him why in the world he was watching MTV, he said it was because he wanted to understand what kind of music and messages the kids he was teaching were listening to.

As parents and as mentors to young people, it is important not only that we communicate positive messages to our children but that we stay informed about the messages they are hearing outside of their home or church.  Unfortunately, it is hard to listen to every album or watch every move that comes out.  So here are some websites that might help you stay up-to-date on today’s media as well as consider some ways to dig gospel jewels out of secular messages.

  • http://ethicsdaily.com/section/movie-reviews – Ethicsdaily.com, a product of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has an entire section of movie reviews.  These reviews are not so much about whether a movie is bad or good.  Instead, the reviews provide a brief synopsis of the story and helpful insights as to how a message within a movie might serve as a jumping off point for discussion of more spiritual topics.  The review will also tell you the movie’s rating and why it received that rating.
  • http://parentpreviews.com – This site reviews primarily G, PG, & PG-13 movies.  They use a report card style approach to quickly inform parents about issues such as profanity, sexuality, and violence in a movie.  They also provide discussion questions to help parents talk about issues a movie raises.  This site is not affiliated with any specific religious group.
  • http://www.commonsensemedia.org/music-reviews – this site also review other media, but I wanted to focus on the music side of their site.  The initial landing page shows the music reviewed, a suggested appropriate age for such music, and their rating of the music using the star system.  As always, sometimes the stars are a matter of personal preference.  Still, when you click on an album, there is some great information, including warning about language and themes that parents may not be comfortable with.  In addition, there are some great suggestions of questions for parents to discuss with their kids.  These questions don’t just deal with the messages in the music but also the real lives of the artists that sing these songs. This site was a new discovery for me, so I thought would share their mission statement with you:”Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.

    We exist because our nation’s children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development . As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.”

You may know of other sites that you or other parents use.  Feel free to pass them along.

Run It Out

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything. (Psalm 138:1-2)


Baseball managers will often praise a player who “runs out a ground ball.”  For those of you who may not be sports fans, this means a batter will hit a ball on the ground to one of the defensive players in the infield.  999,999 times out of 1,000,000, this is an automatic out.  A good number of players will make a half-hearted run towards first base, assuming the out.  However, there are those players who, when they have hit an almost-assured ground ball out, take off for first base with the same speed and hustle as a player who has hit a base hit to the outfield and wants to try to stretch a double into a triple.  Yes, most of the time, they are still out.  But sometimes, that one in a million chance happens, and a mistake is made:  the ball is thrown past the first baseman or the first baseman drops the ball.  And because the batter is hustling with all his strength to first base, a sure out turns into a potential scoring opportunity.

In Psalm 138, the Psalmist says he gives thanks to God “with my whole heart.”  When I read these words, I think of that batter who hustles down the first base line, willing to believe that what is assumed is not what necessarily will be.  I think this is what it means to come to God with a “whole heart”.  It means that we come in the face of every assumption, every diagnosis, every hard truth, every fact, every life reality, believing that what we and the world assumes is not necessarily what will be.  It means believing that, in the face of sometimes overwhelming powers and forces, God is truly exalted and established above all.  Giving thanks to God with a whole heart means worshiping, serving, and praying with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength because we see and live by the possibilities of the kingdom of God as opposed to the assumptions of mankind.

In his book Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey tells a story from the hearings of the South African Truth & Reconciliation Commission hearings.  After Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s president, he formed the Commission to defuse the anger and hatred of generations of apartheid rule.  If a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime and acknowledged guilt, he could not be tried or punished for that crime.  While some argued such policies were too lenient, Mandela believed his country needed healing more than it needed justice.

In one hearing, an elderly woman confronted the policeman who had shot and burned the body of her 18-year old son and then, 8 years later, had arrested and burned her husband.  The judge asked the woman what she wanted from the officer, a Mr. van de Broek.  She asked the officer to go the place where he and his companions burned her husband’s body and gather up the dust so she could give him a decent burial.  Then, she said, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give.  Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.   And I would Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too.  I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real.”

Someone in the courtroom started singing “Amazing Grace”, but Mr. van de Broek never heard the hymn.  He had fainted.

Talk about wholeheartedly running it out.

Where in your faith journey are you living by assumptions rather than the possibilities of the kingdom?  What would it mean for you to thank God with a whole heart?

Running Back to Bondage

In their book Religion in America, Winthrop S. Hudson & John Corrigan include a quote by Ezra Stiles in 1760, talking about the need to protect religious liberty in America:

The right of conscience and private judgment is unalienable; and it is truly the interest of all mankind to unite themselves into one body for the liberty, free exercise, and unmolested enjoyment of this right. … And being possessed of the precious jewel of religious liberty, a jewel of inestimable worth, let us prize it highly and esteem it too dear to be parted with on any terms lest we be again entangled with that yoke of bondage which our fathers could not, would not, and God grant that we may never, submit to bear. … Let the grand errand into America never be forgotten.

Stiles and others of his time were arguing against those in the new America who believed that the country would be best served establishing a state religion.  They wanted to make America like the countries of Europe from which many had left to come to the new world.  Of course, many had left Europe in the first place because of religious persecution, and it was the promise of being able to worship as they were called and led to worship that brought them to these shores.

This week, we celebrate not only religious freedom but all the freedoms which this country was founded upon and which so many have lived and died to protect.  However, it occurs to me as I read these words from Stiles that there seems to be something within the human conscience that, while craving and celebrating freedom, still feels a tempting tug towards enslavement.

Whether we are talking about the addiction of drugs or alcohol or the peer pressure to “fit in” or the belief that faith should be legislatively forced upon others, our nature will at times try to argue with us, telling us that we would be better off as slaves.  We see it even in Scripture.  In Exodus 16, just a few verses after God brings the Israel through the Red Sea, the people complain that they would have been better off remaining slaves in Egypt that moving freely towards their new home.  The temptation of bondage is that it claims to be easier, and answers and solutions to problems seem simpler.  Of course, they are simpler because there are usually fewer options to choose from, and what options there are only serve to further enslave us.

Jesus said to his disciples, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. … So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-32, 36).  This freedom that Christ brings produces love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Do the other powers we would enslave ourselves to produce such fruit?

Where in your life are you being tempted to forsake freedom for bondage?  Examine your heart, and claim the words of Paul in Galatians 5:1 – “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Memory

One of the games that I used to love to play as a kid was Memory.  The premise of the game was very simple:  lay the cards out on a table, then each player took turns turning them over 2 at a time.  The object of the game was to find as many matching pairs as you could.  This meant you had to be able to remember where on the table particular cards were as you saw them.  The interesting thing about the game, the deeper you got into the game, the easier it got.

Last week, at our Vacation Bible School, the children were asked to memorize a different Bible verse each night.  It was so much fun to watch them come up and share their memory verses with Margaret each night.  As the week went on, the verses got a little longer.  The last night, the verse was three sentences long!  However, it didn’t even seem to faze the children.  They just picked it up as easy as they had every other night.

Our memory is something that we have to engage and challenge, and it seems like the more we do, the easier it gets to remember things.  As we are in the summer time and our kids don’t have as much school work pressing on their minds, perhaps this is a good time to challenge them to memorize some Scripture.  Not only can it keep their minds active, it can plant seeds of faith and guidance that will benefit them as they grow and mature.

In their book The Family-Friendly Church, Ben Freudenburg and Rick Lawrence provide some Scripture memory activities.  Maybe these are some things that you would like to share with your family this summer:

  • Select one verse for your home.  Post it somewhere in the house, like the refrigerator, and everybody try to memorize it.
  • Ephesians 6:13-17 (the armor of God) and Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruits of the Spirit) are fun passages to learn and easy to incorporate artwork into.  Have kids draw pictures of the different pieces of the armor, or use the produce section of the grocery store to link a particular fruit to a fruit of the Spirit.
  • Make a memory-verse puzzle.  Write the verse on a piece of paper, then cut the paper into several pieces.  Invite your children to the put the pieces back together.
  • Use self-stick notes to put verses around the house.
  • Write a verse on a card and put it under your child’s pillow.  Each evening at bedtime, review the verse with your child.

“I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11

He Keeps Us Singing

“When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” – Matthew 26:30

Do we ever consider just how unusual this is?  Jesus has just finished sharing his final meal with his disciples.  As they were gathered around the table, Jesus has already told them that one of them is a traitor who will betray him and that his body is about to be broken and his blood is about to be shed.  So how does the meal end?  With everybody singing.

From this side of the cross, it is easy for us to sing “Victory in Jesus” and “Down at the Cross … Glory to His Name!”.  However, if we put ourselves at that table that night, knowing only what the disciples knew, I don’t think these are the songs we would be singing.  As a matter of fact, I think our song might sound more like the song of the Babylonian exiles preserved in Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon – there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.  On the willows there we hung our harps.  For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’  How could we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?  If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand wither!  Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.  Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, ‘Tear it down!  Tear it down!  Down to its foundations!’  O daughter Babylon, you devastator!  Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!  Happy shall they be who your little ones and dash them against the rock!”


Anger, frustration, vengeance – that is the tone of Psalm 137, crying out the emotions of those who have seen everything taken away from them.  I think, as one of those disciples gathered around the table with Jesus, these would be my feelings as I really considered everything Jesus was saying.  Do I feel like singing?  No, I probably feel more like Peter, ready to strike with my sword anybody who comes to take Jesus.  Or I feel like running away and hiding in fear as the other disciples.

Jesus, on the other hand, asks us to put down the sword, to put away our fear, and to pick up the tune of a song.  It may not be a toe-tapping number.  It may be a song of hurt and anger and frustration, crying out for retribution or groaning in agony.  But we are asked to pick up a song that takes the powers of violence out of our hands, that responds to the temptation to betray with an assurance of hope, and puts our struggles into the hands of a Savior who has already told us that there will be resurrection.

Put down the sword, and pick up a song of faith.  When we are hurt or angry, these are the moments when we are tempted to become least Christ-like.  Facing the cross, Jesus invited his disciples to lay down their instincts and to sing a song.

What do we do when confronted with life’s crosses?  Would we be willing to sing a song of faith in God rather than act according to our own instincts and desires?  What song of faith would help you turn towards Christ in difficult moments?

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know, fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go.”

A Father’s Love

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”

With Father’s day coming soon I felt inspired to share something that happened with my daughter that got me thinking about how important a father’s words and love is to a child.

Recently my daughter came up to me and asked if she was a good singer. I replied “ I guess so.” I had not really given it much thought before. I have heard her sing numerous times. She said, “ Dad, it’s a Yes or No answer.” Of course I told her yes. It does not matter if she is or is not a good singer, but that she sang for me. What was important to her was that I thought she was good.

How often do you as an adult act as a child before the Lord our Father? Do you ask if He liked what you did? We all want to be like our fathers and imitate them in some way. We want our fathers to smile upon us when we look over, and know they saw us do our best. The acknowledgement from that smile can drive us to do anything. We should all strive in our day to day lives to perform some action that would make our Father smile upon us.

By saying yes I hope that I have encouraged her to always try her best at everything even if you’re not good at something. I do not want them to ever just give up just because they feel they are not good enough to continue. We all want our fathers to look upon us with pride and acceptance. It is what motivates us to keep going no matter how difficult the task at hand is. I often tell my children that I love them unconditionally, and always will no matter what. I love you for who you are, not what you are.

I think George Strait said best in the song “A Father’s Love.”  “You see daddies don’t just love their children every now and then. Its a love without end, amen, it’s a love without end, amen.”

Having Compassion on Our Children

“As a father has compassion for his children, so the LORD has compassion for those who fear him.” – Psalm 103:13

“And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

“Because I said so.”  I waited my whole child and teenage life for the day when I would finally be able to say those words.  “But Dad, why can’t I do this” or “Why do I have to do that”?  “Because I said so.”  As a kid, I would dream of the day when I would have the authority to command my children with no explanation other than my own order and direction.

Now, though, I find myself reading Psalm 103 and Ephesians 4 and asking, “But why do I say so?”  What does it mean to have compassion for my children?  Perhaps it is understanding that the authority I have not only as a parent but as an adult and role model for a younger generation is an authority that is to be used not for the sake of wielding power but for the sake of discipling a future generation.

I think that the words in Ephesians are not a restriction against ever doing anything to make our children mad.  There are things we have to do and say that our children won’t like but we know we have to do for their protection and proper development.  I think what Ephesians 6:4 reminds us is the authority we have been given over our children is not to be used simply to show them who is boss.  That use of power, whether in the home or in a community group or in a nation state, will always provoke anger and revolt.  As Peter Parker learned, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  Our authority as adults and parents is given to us by God that we might instruct and guide our children to grow in wisdom and stature so that they can become disciples of and ambassadors for God’s kingdom.  We are given authority not to prove we are better, but to help our children become better.  When we put authority to use for the sake of others rather than for our own sake, then we begin to develop the compassion that Psalm 103 speaks about.

Who are the children that God has put in your life and given you authority or influence over?  How can you work with God to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”?

It’s Time to Hope

In 2 Corinthians 4:1, the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart.” Interesting that Paul has so much hope about “this ministry”, because it certainly involved much frustration and pain. As a matter of fact, Paul writes this very letter to try to make amends with the church at Corinth, a congregation with whom he seemed to endure a rather strained relationship with. These type of situations are often the ones that cause us to lose heart and hope, questioning whether or not we understood God’s voice correctly. Yet Paul views his struggles with the congregation at Corinth not as an invalidation of his ministry but as a real opportunity to reflect on the truth of the gospel and discover hope.

Too many times we see struggles and frustrations as evidence that God is not working in a particular way. Perhaps we should question this assumption and ask instead if such trying times are an invitation to claim the hope that comes from God’s mercy.

Is there a place in your life where you have an opportunity to hope because of God’s mercy rather than surrender because of frustration?

Growing a Child’s Prayer Life

Often when we think of children and prayer, we think about praying at meals or saying prayers at bedtime.  Most of these prayers are poems or songs that express thanks to God for food, family, or (in the case of some children) everything in the whole world.  These prayers and these times are crucial moments of spiritual formation for our children and blessings to share and remember as parents.  Recently, though, I have started realizing the importance of helping our children expand their prayer life.

My youngest son, of his own volition, started praying regularly for an elderly woman in our church who had to move into an assisted living facility in another town.  When he says his bedtime prayers or when we pray together at our corporate prayer time at the church, he always asks God to “help Ms. Anne”.  I recently had a chance to visit with Ms. Anne, and she told me that several folks had told her about my son’s prayers.  She asked me to tell my son how touched and how blessed she felt knowing that my son was constantly praying for her.

As I left her room, I realized that my son was growing in Christ, moving from praying only for how God works in his life to praying for God to reveal himself in the lives of others.  As a parent, I am proud of him for taking this step in his spiritual growth and I am made aware of how infrequently we specifically ask our children to pray for the needs and worries of adults.

Jesus invited his disciples to come to him “as a child” (Mark 10:13-15), yet we still sometimes reserve so much of our interaction with Christ as “big people talk”.  Who better to speak honestly and plainly to God about a situation than a child who is not worrying about the “right” thing to say and who will come into God’s presence with no reservations about God’s power and presence!

As parents and as churches, we can encourage our children’s continued spiritual growth by actively engaging them in praying for the specific needs of their family, their friends, and their church.  It is a great way for them to learn that prayer is not only communication but mission and ministry.  What prayer requests can you share with the children in your life?