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If you want your children to be thankful—grateful—adults, you have a great opportunity to work on them during Thanksgiving.  This holiday can be so much more than Indians and pilgrims or eating and football!  We Christians have a great opportunity to re-capture the holiday from the secularists and materialists and instill in our children a grateful spirit rather than an entitled one!

Here is a list of some of the things you can do for Thanksgiving that will move your children (and perhaps yourselves) closer to the spirit of Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT):

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

  1. The Bible contains many good stories of people giving thanks for God’s goodness and blessings. One of the best is the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-17. Tell or read your child this story and then ask why the one came back and why the others did not. What might have been their reasons for not returning to thank Jesus?
  2. Make calendars to record one thing each day for which you are thankful. See how many days you can keep this going. Be sure and not let it get silly. You can do this, for instance, by always asking “why are you thankful for . . . .worms?” You can also remind your child of how God is the source of that blessing.
  3. Teach your kids the principle of Philippians 4:6 (ERV): “Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have.” When you pray at meals or at bedtime with them, suggest that they first give thanks before they start asking.
  4. If you think your children might take their blessings for granted, you might suggest having an Africa day, or a “poverty” day where they must live without their tech toys and TV, and have a very small meal or two of very plain food (rice and water, or just one-half of a bread & butter sandwich and only water to drink.) You will need to talk about this with them to help them understand what is going on. A good time to do this is at a meal prayer when we casually slide over “Thank you for our food.”
  5. Have a day of “no complaints before giving thanks!”  No complaints are allowed about anything before a “thanks” for something is registered.
  6. The internet is full of Thanksgiving games, stories, poems, and songs. You might spend some time with your child finding appropriate crafts or expressions of thanksgiving.
  7. Another activity is to find images either in magazines or online and find all the things for which we could be thankful.  You might even insert some of your own family photos. Be sure and notice actions, emotions, and/or people in the pictures, not just “stuff!”
  8. You might enjoy letting your child help you with Thanksgiving Day dinner, first by helping pick out the menu, then shopping with you for the food you need, and then, when possible, with preparing the food.  This is great together time when you can talk about God’s goodness to your family, to the children, to your church, to the country—you have many different paths for conversations, but always let your children know how thankful YOU are to God.

As you know, the best way to help your children become thankful is to model it in front of them.  I’m reminded of the scene in the old movie Shenandoah(1965) when Jimmy Stewart leads his family in giving thanks at the table, but takes all the credit for putting the food on the table http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzzyZ1M-kVU . Watch this and laugh—but be careful that you don’t live your life as if this were your prayer!

And if you do, don’t do it in front of your kids!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Colossians 3:17 (The Message): Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

 

(Repost from November 2012)

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I bet many of you have never seen Rebel Without A Cause (1955), although most have heard of it and some even know it to be a classic coming-of-age film starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo. As I have been writing about parenting/grandparenting these last few days, this film keeps popping into my head.

To tempt you a bit to rent the film or downstream it on Netflix, let me just say that the three teen idols of the 1950s all play troubled teens from good families. Jim Stark (James Dean) has a painfully weak, ineffective father and a dominating mother; Plato (Sal Mineo) is pretty much abandoned by his parents, and Judy (Natalie Wood) has the most “normal” parents, but she is the one that has haunted me the most through the years.

Let’s talk about Judy!  She is a beautiful girl, popular, fun, and successful at school—so what’s her problem?

The tell-tale scene for me is when she comes home to her good family and she tries to connect with her father, who appears to be uncomfortable around her. She practically begs him to hug her or let her sit on his lap like she did when she was a little girl, but he is so uncomfortable with her sexuality that he pushes her away—both physically and emotionally.  This refusal of affection pushes Judy into the arms of Jim Stark, and they sneak into a vacant house and, with Plato, create their own ersatz family where their needs for love and relationship are all met!

No, this is a 50s movie so they don’t sleep together, but the comfort Judy finds in her new boyfriend’s affection is not really sweet. It’s painful to me because I know her father’s rejection drove her to this point.

And this is the point I want to share with you, especially you fathers, something about raising children that I believe to be true and that we certainly practiced in our home. To be physically affectionate with your children will help them remain pure and holy until they leave father and mother and are physically loved by their marriage partner.

For some parents, showing physical affection is the most natural of all acts they do as parents—but not for all parents—especially some dads—especially those dads whose fathers never touched them except to punish them.  Even if this is you, your children need for you to change the channel, to learn to show them your love in ways they can feel.

(We are so highly sensitized to abusive touching and fears of child molestation that I find myself wondering if we can even talk about this; nevertheless,  I’m asking you to read this article within a framework of healthy relationships that would result in healthy and wholesome physical loving.)

Most of what I know about anything female, I learned from my wife Sherrylee. She was the one who  taught me how important physically touching our children was, beginning with changing their diapers and rocking them to sleep, then reading to them in your lap and wrestling with them on the floor.

How a parent expresses affection changes as the children change—but it should never cease! When our older son was just starting school, we would always send him out the front door with a hug, but when he started second grade, he thought he had outgrown that. The game was to let him get out the door, then run after him, catch him, and give him a hug before he went one step further.  The game was fun for both of us for a while. He’s 37 now, happily married with three of his own children, so he usually gets the hug when he comes in, but the grandkids get the hugs as they leave!

When your girls become teenagers and ever so self-conscious about their bodies, the uninhibited expressions of physical affection between fathers and daughters can disappear—as they did for Natalie Wood’s character—and too often with the same results!  I don’t think I can tell you exactly what works and what doesn’t work for you and your daughters, but I do believe that you can continue to show each other love and affection physically. Maybe your kisses move from her cheek to just the top of her head. Maybe sitting in your lap becomes just a snuggle-up on the couch. Like I said, physical expressions of affection are given their meaning by the people who do them, so how you have defined your early relationship to your children will dictate how your later relationship can be expressed.

Children, then teens who are not hugged by their mothers and/or fathers seem almost driven to look for someone else to touch them! One of the best and most wonderful things you can do to make it easier for your teenager to be pure and holy is to hug them a lot! Show them as much affection as you and they are comfortable with.

Solomon the Wise once reminded his readers in his blog that there is absolutely a right time to embrace someone (Ecclesiastes 3:5)!  Without plagiarizing Solomon, that’s what I want to say too! Hug your children, and love on them a lot!

And don’t be afraid!

 

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Your parents spanked you when you needed it. Her parents thought spanking was child abuse. Your parents were strict about bed times. His parents let him stay up until he fell asleep on the floor!  Your parents never left the kids overnight with grandparents until they were at least three years old. He wants to leave the six-month old for one night with your parents.  What do you do?

Challenging? Challenging is hardly the right word because the parenting scripts that we inherit from our parents are so deeply embedded that we sometimes don’t even know they are there until suddenly, you say to yourself, “Oh my! Did that just come out of my mouth? I sounded just like my mother!”  Even more threatening though could be the reaction: “Oh no! He just sounded like his dad!”

Most couples are challenged quite early in their marriage to begin the task of working with their own parental scripts and figuring out what parts to keep, what parts to change, and what parts to discard.  Here are just a few simple observations from our own experience.

1.  Talk to each other—a lot—about how it was in your homes! My mother was strict with us but did not raise her voice. Sherry’s mom raised her voice to discipline the kids. So Sherry would raise her voice, and the kids would be fine—but it would drive me crazy!  Knowing that it was just part of her inherited script rather than “seriously irrational behavior” made it easier for me to understand and her to evaluate.

2. Don’t be afraid to defend your own script, but don’t fall into the trap of defending your parents! If you had wonderful parents, it is natural to want to imitate them—and rightly so. Just make sure that what worked for them is still appropriate thirty years later in a completely new family. And if your spouse feels the same way about a different script from his parents, keep the conversation about your children, not about your parents—or his parents!

3.  Don’t let your discussions become either YOUR way or MY way! Try to frame the result that you want as “what God wants US to do for our children.” The ownership of our own scripts can cause us to stubbornly, proudly, selfishly, insist on winning—even to the detriment of our children. It’s not about YOU. It’s about them!

4.  Remember the temporary nature of your decisions. Our kids, at least, went through ups and downs in their development that were mildly unpredictable.  Just about the time we would pat ourselves on the back for discovering the right parenting posture—because the kids were responding so well—they would change and our approach would seem all wrong now.

I know this is where many parents get frustrated. It’s like good parenting is always a moving target.  All the more reason to stay close to the kids, be around, listen to how they are today, and don’t hold on to previously effective parenting modes out of principle. Do so only if you both still feel they are appropriate with your children as they are today.

5.  Sometimes you adopt, sometimes you blend, and sometimes you concoct! We adopted Sherrylee’s grandparents’ admonition for our teenagers: “If it is not a sin, let them do it!” We blended most areas because our parents actually gave us similar scripts so it wasn’t too hard. But to deal with our children and what to do with them in cross-cultural situations, for instance, we had to create because we didn’t have any script from either set of parents for those situations.  Don’t get stuck in Either/Or thinking. Your kids are special enough to deserve your exploring creative options as well.

The Best Advice We Ever Received

Perhaps the best piece of advice that Sherrylee and I ever received was from an older missionary who told us that if the kids know that Mom really loves Dad and Dad really loves Mom, then the kids will turn out OK.  I know that’s a pretty simple script and won’t fit every single case, but in general, we believe it to be true, so my last piece of advice for blending your parenting scripts is

Love each other. Treat each other with respect, with honor preferring one another.

Does that sound familiar?

 

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I grew up with two sisters and two brothers. I was the oldest child, so I was old enough to inherit a script from my parents for raising both boys and girls.

The scripts we get from our parents are two-edged swords, cutting both ways: as young parents probably our first or most immediate tendencies are to simply replay that script and do exactly what our parents did. Wisdom in parenting may often be, however, seeing opportunities to improve that script, sometimes even completely re-writing it.

Then when we marry, we introduce another parenting script into the house. Blending those scripts is one of the first challenges new parents have—and an ongoing project as long as they are actively parenting children.

First , let’s talk about dealing with your parenting scripts from your own parents:

1.            If you had wonderful, loving parents, then you know that they would want you to be an even better parent than they were, so don’t feel guilty about improving the script. It is not in any way an attack or insult to your parents.

2.            Recognize that you are not raising your children in the same environment or context that your parents did, so the new situation may require new approaches. Recently our two second-grade grandchildren each needed to interview their Grandad for school, and one of the questions each of them asked was how is it different today than it was when I was in second grade.  I hardly knew where to begin. My parents didn’t have to deal with drugs in schools, sex on TV—we only had three channels!—internet access, even premier kids’ sport leagues and serious competition in the second grade!

3.            Your family configuration is probably different from your parents’, introducing a different dynamic than what you grew up with. My dad worked six days a week and was gone from 7 until evening every day except Thursday, when he got a half-day off. We only had one car and four kids under 8 years old. Does that sound like your family? It’s not like any of our children’s families, so they, of course, need to approach parenting differently.

4.            Your children are unique, and not like your parent’s children, so their parenting needs are different. Sherrylee and I are pretty convinced that kids come into the world with their own personalities and gifts given from God. The uniqueness of each child would argue for a uniquely appropriate parenting styles.  Our three children all required very different parenting approaches. One required structured discipline, one required lots of supportive encouragement, and the other required bribery!! (And I’m not saying which was which J!)

God has given YOU the spiritual gifts you need for the children He has given you! Be confident that even a bad script is something that God has allowed for a reason. You are a parent because He made you one. You are a parent because He wants you to raise those children.

Those kids you have in your house are HIS kids! And He has given them to you for His purposes. So have confidence that He has and will give you all the experience, all the history, all the scripts, and all the tools you need to be a parent just like He wants you to be.

Be strong and courageous—and don’t be afraid!

Next, we’ll talk about the challenge of blending parenting scripts.

 

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I just watched a CNN video report about a website at the University of Chicago that provides hook-up opportunities for students, hook-ups being casual, no-strings-attached sexual experiences.  Two hundred students have signed up already because it’s “a lot of fun,” and a good way to “unwind.” Chastity is curable if detected early is one of the taglines on the site! (View the CNN report )

According to the Center for Disease Control report in 2009,  46% of high school students reported having sexual intercourse. Across the U.S., 5.9% of students reported having sexual intercourse before age 13. Furthermore, 13.8% of high school students reported having had at least four different partners–and females students reported greater sexual activity in the last three months before the survey was taken than males.

If you wait until your kids are teenagers to become concerned about purity and holiness, you are years too late!

Here are some suggestions for you who still have young children to consider!

1.  Mom and Dad must model purity and holiness consistently and not just in the area of sexuality. As I have said before, I think this means pure speech, pure jokes, pure media, pure computing, pure friendships, pure work ethics—just holy living! Hypocrisy—even perceived hypocrisy– will completely erase all of the good words you and all the Sunday school teachers in the Bible-belt might say to your child.

2. Be black-and-white about what is pure and holy! No matter who is doing it, sexual intercourse outside of marriage is wrong! Getting drunk is wrong. Vulgar (unholy) language is wrong! Looking at pornography is wrong! As adults, we recognize how to deal with borderline stuff, so we allow judgments and finer distinctions, but children need big, black-and-white boundaries until they know good from evil. Save your discussions of gray areas or exceptions until they are much older.

3.  Optional boundaries—actions that are not in violation of God’s law, but not good for children– may be better taught as “family rules,” not God’s rules. We did this with drinking alcohol. We decided with our first child to never keep alcohol at home or serve it at home. We did not want to send the message that it was a sin to drink alcohol because we did not believe that. The message we wanted to send was that children—especially teenagers—should not drink alcohol. 

You may have to make decisions about gambling, types of clothing, movie ratings, certain types of hangouts, even certain video games and maybe some verbal expressions. The danger of making something God’s rule without it really being concretely commanded by God is that as the children get older, they may come to a different opinion about biblical teachings and feel like you have either not been truthful or accurate with them.  In either case, young people are tempted then to lump all of “God’s rules” into one big pile and get rid of all of them.

4. Help them choose friends whose parents have similar values to yours. You should try to be very consistent about this as long as you can because your influence over friendships tends to diminish with each year of school.  This also means being aware of the people YOU choose to be friends with—and with which values they are raising their children.  Don’t sacrifice your kids to your own friendships.

By the way, this is where “family rules” can help you keep your kids from learning to be judgmental towards other parents or children who have different “family rules.” Just remember, family rules do not replace God’s rules; they are just training wheels until the child can ride the bike by herself.)

 

In the world we live in, even we Christians almost feel embarrassed to use words like purity and holiness. Chastity and modesty seem like words our grandparents might have used.

As you pray for wisdom to be a good parent, ask God to give you quiet strength to be pure and holy and to give your courage to use the words with your children—not in a preachy way. Maybe you could teach them the old but simple song Purer In Heart, O God

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

May I devote my life wholly to Thee;

Watch Thou my wayward feet, Guide me with counsel sweet;

Purer in heart, help me to be.

 

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

Teach me to do Thy will most lovingly;

Be Thou my Friend and Guide, Let me with Thee abide;

Purer in heart, help me to be.

 

Purer in heart, O God, help me to be;

That I Thy holy face one day may see;

Keep me from secret sin, reign Thou my soul within;

Purer in heart, help me to be.

(Words: Mrs. A.L Davison)

Don’t worry about the King James’ English. It will help your kids when they have to read Shakespeare in the 8th grade!

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A ten-hour plane ride is ten-hour block of time—a rare opportunity!  Many people sleep it away, but from London to Dallas, you fly during the European and US daylight hours, so sleeping just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes I read, but I almost always check out the movie offerings. For me, those ten hours are an opportunity to watch movies that I probably would never pay money to see.

 I’m not necessarily looking for entertainment. As most of you know, I taught film and used popular culture extensively in my classes as a professor at Oklahoma Christian. I’ve always been interested in what popular culture tells us about the world around us.  So here is what I watched on Thursday as I was flying back home from London—with just a few review-like or random thoughts about each piece.

 Glee: The Pilot and one early episode – I had seen all kinds of headlines about this TV show since it appeared on TV screens in 2009, but I had never watched it. Glee is about a high school glee club, its members, and the faculty and students of a mid-western high school.  Much is absolutely predictable: the jocks vs. everyone, the beauties vs. the nerds, you know the groupings from your own high school days—so how could it be any other way! The show is meant to be optimistic and fun while dealing with problems of relationships, of emerging identities, and a pretty sizable dose of teen sexuality.  That sounds like high school to me also.  Here are my questions about its portrayal of high school in 2010:  are today’s highschoolers really that open and casual about sex, and are the teachers in the high schools so much like the adolescents?  It’s not a show for young children, maybe not for your teens if you like them sheltered from all of the possibilities out there, but it might be educational to you parents if you are of the protected variety yourselves.

 Vampire Diaries: Pilot  The massive interest in vampire stories is pretty interesting to me. Vampire stories have always included lots of suspense, sexual tension, questions about immortality, and, of course, the choice of life or death.  Perhaps the “hooking up” generation needs something edgy to make relationship stories interesting to them.  I did not see anything in the pilot that was the slightest bit different from the Twilight Series movies—just a TV version of the same. Maybe it has grown from the beginning, but I’m probably not going to find out—unless next year they have the second season on the airplane menu.

 Winter’s Bone (2010) This was a very raw portrayal of rural life of the poorest in almost anywhere in the deep South. The language, the morals, the requirements for staying alive –well there is very little that is civilized portrayed in this film. It has the feel, sometimes even the music, of Deliverance. Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, a seventeen-year-old girl, trying to protect, and deliver her crazy mother and two younger siblings from losing their home because their father is running from the law for cooking meth.  The portrayal of the backwoods mafia families and codes of conduct is frightening. Ree’s determination and courage are the only redemptive values portrayed.  Not an easy film to watch, but not a bad film.

 Getting Low (2009)  I saw the trailer to this film at the theater years ago, but the trailer made it look like a goofy movie about an eccentric hermit who wants to throw his own funeral party.  The previews did this film no service; it was much better than the trailers portrayed.  Robert Duval just never stops being a great actor! And he has a special affinity for roles that are mildly moral, religious, even Christian—just think about Tender Mercies (1983) and The Apostle(1997). The story is really about a man who has jailed himself away in a cabin for forty years for a sin he committed in his youth. Now, in old age, he wants to confess his sin and be forgiven.  Sissy Spacek, Bill Murray, and Lucas Black all do outstanding jobs as well in this fine little film.

Book of Eli (2010) Much has been written about this film, so I will be brief. Denzel Washington is and has always been one of the best. Most of this film is rather bleak and often violent, but the moments when Eli has his emotions called out are just as good as the unforgettable moments in Glory when the new, young actor Washington, steals the movie.  And The Bible gets good press in this movie; even the villain knows the power of the Words, and like all Satans, wants to use them for his own power and glory.  There is no doubt about the outcome.

 Airplane movies are usually cleaned up, so I have no idea what the theater version might contain that I did not see.  That’s my disclaimer in case you rent any of these and are shocked that I would watch it. I do, however, believe there is a difference in watching to learn and watching to be entertained—but that’s a topic for later.

 Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to you!

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Several of you have commented on this series or have written with specific questions, and I just want you to know how much I enjoy hearing from you!  One of your comments that I have heard several times is how much you appreciate the concrete suggestions that I offer you for raising children with a heart for missions.

I have observed a certain reticence in many younger parents that we are around, a hesitance to be both concrete and confident in their own child-rearing ideas.  I’d like to just talk with you briefly about knowing what you are doing because I think it is pretty important if you want to raise children with hearts for the mission of God.

Post-modernism says that you can’t be certain. Most young couples are highly influenced, if not completely post-modern in their thinking, and so this worship of relativity has framed their thinking about child-rearing as well.  It’s suggested in all kinds of common remarks:

  • You don’t just want to indoctrinate your kids!
  • Each child just has to find his/her own path.
  • I don’t want to over-control my kids.
  • Who knows what they will become!

The best lies have a certain truth to them, and so it is with these comments! But for Christians, there are other Words that are more important than what we hear from our surrounding culture.  Try these Words and see if you can get comfortable with them.

Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.[a] 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. 6 And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. 7 Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 8 Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

This does not sound hands-off to me!

Come, my children, and listen to me, and I will teach you to fear the Lord. Psalm 34:11.

This sounds like parents who know not only what they believe, but WHO they believe, and they want more than anything else that their children will be believers also.

Have you ever thought what a statement and commitment the act of circumcision was for both the parent and child? At eight days, the parents committed their child to faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They physically marked the child to distinguish him from all the children who were not of Jewish families.  And circumcision was the command of God, so it wasn’t thought up by over-zealous, religiously, fanatical parents.

Here are now my words of encouragement to you about parenting your children so that they will have a heart for the mission of God.

  • Be confident in your own faith, so confident that you MUST share it with your children first! Youthful questioning and searching needs to give way as we become parents, not to dogmatism, but to confident faith—faith that doesn’t have all the answers, but knows that God is God!
  • God picked YOU to be the parents of your children; it wasn’t an accident. YOU were chosen to be the caretakers for one of His precious children, so He must believe YOU can accomplish with those children what He wants.
  • Of course, you have to depend on HIM for wisdom and help in child-rearing because you feel inadequate! But God has put ALL of His earthly treasures in earthen vessels. He is OK with our weaknesses and inadequacies. If we are fearful because of our weakness, we are confessing our own doubts about the power of God in our lives.
  • Enjoy the work of God! We are happiest when we are doing His work within His will. Teaching your children to love God and walk in His way is undoubtedly His work and His desire, so . . . delight in doing it!  Then your children will delight in Him also!

Letting children just happen is not the way of God! Your children are meant for Him. Your children were created for Him!  And God blessed your children with YOU! Be confident in your parenting and repeat the Word of God to them “again and again!”

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