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?