How a Child Grows

31 08 2017
People who work with children have the privilege of watching children grow up. Even more, we get to see them form a solid foundation for their lives with Christ. Spiritual formation is a fancy term for becoming more like Christ. Michelle Anthony, author of Family Ministry Essentials, reminds us of this process:
…Holiness is not found in some formulaic package of ingredients. It’s not necessarily defined by what we do or don’t do. Rather, it depends onwhat Christ is doing in us. This was a big “Aha!” moment for me. To see spiritual formation as something I was doing puffed me up and made me feel superior. To see spiritual formation as something Christ was doing in me as I submitted to Him was a game changer.
Recall the apostle Paul’s words in Galatians 4:19: “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth untilChrist is formed in you.”
May you see Christ formed in you and the children you serve!
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Human Sin: Avoiding Two Traps

14 06 2016

My wife doesn’t like this word, but sin sucks! Children are aware of their own sin. When approaching the topic of sin avoid these two traps: 1) Gloss over sin saying, “That’s just kids being kids.” (Seeds planted soon grow.) 2) Squash children with an overbearing weight of impossible expectations. Rather, teach awareness of personal and mass sinfulness while always holding onto hope that God has a way out.

Thorns

Sin is anything we think, say or do that does not please God.

-Child Evangelism Fellowship

No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds.

-Galatians 6:7-8

Glossy

Because children are aware of so much wrong around them, glossing over it, watering it down, ignoring it or flat out denying it only masks an oozing wound. A wound that’s infected must first be recognized before it can be cleaned. A seed of sinfulness planted will soon become an unwanted, choking weed.

Squashy

Because children are so trusting and delicate, they can be easily squashed and crushed under the weight of heavy burdens that we may put on them to act right. The wound is opened further with forced conformity and children may respond in one of two ways: 1) withdraw and pretend to behave well or, 2) resist and rebel.

Mix-y

I wonder if there’s a middle ground here-perhaps a beneficial mix. Not between glossing and squashing, but take a closer look at what good may possibly be embedded in these mindsets. I like the words awareness and hope. People who gloss may tend to want hope, however, they distort it. People who squash may tend to promote awareness, but they dwell on it. Let’s mix ’em.

Awareness and honest assessment of my personal sin will cause varying degrees of guilt and grief. This is actually a good thing, but not on its own. Hope comes along and shows us the way to complete relief and freedom from the oppression of sin. So with children, we show them the serious effects of sin which can lead to repentance (change of heart and mind), but also show them hope in a God who makes things right and brings us back together.

Here’s a simple and effective visual you can use with children to explain the effects of sin and the reward of hope. Hold your two fists together. Talk about close and enjoyable relationship. Pull your fists apart. Talk about the pain of a good relationship that is separated. Bring your fists back together again and celebrate the joy of coming back to good relationship. You could even try moving your fists slowly apart to illustrate little sins building up over time. Or try moving your fists apart quickly to illustrate something more harmful.

 

That’s what sin does: separates. 

That’s what hope does: rejoins.

Lord, don’t let sin crush us. Deliver us!





Life: Longing for the Way it is Meant to Be

5 04 2016

Life is a wonderful gift. From birth to death, every unique individual is on a journey of discovery and a search for meaning and significance. Yet death is a stark reminder that life is all too short…unless…there is an alternate ending. This is the Gospel: Christ came to bring us life. Real life. Forever life. There is no need to shy away from the topic of death with children. They may not have firsthand knowledge of it, but they can grasp eternity better than you might think. Celebrate life with kids this week as they, and you, develop into all that God has planned for you.

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Eternal life is…quality of life, life to the limit.

-John Eldredge

I have come so they may have life. I want them to have it in the fullest possible way.

-Jesus (John 10:10)

Over the past few months, I have written about lifespan development. My starting point for writing about development largely came from the book Development Through the Lifespan, by Laura E. Berk as well as the work of Erik Erikson and his observations on life stages.

From birth to death, individuals are changing and shifting from season to season, milestone to milestone and phase to phase. There are key markers to each phase, which we will do well to understand and acknowledge. Development theory is still a theory and so the markers may not be empirical fact, but there are significant observations to be made. Summarizing each phase is a difficult task, but the benefits include ‘aha!’ moments, establishing goals, recognizing challenges, preparing for what’s to come, influencing the next generation well, etc.

For parents or children’s ministry volunteers, especially, being able to identify that the most important target for an infant is developing trust, we can pool our efforts into that one area more effectively. Or in your family, understanding and appreciating what your parents may be feeling or working through may increase your ability to strike up meaningful conversations.

Perhaps a child wasn’t from a home where skills could be learned without shaming or she never had a safe place to struggle with her identity. Knowing this can increase your empathy, the ability to understand or share the feelings of another. Recognizing this in yourself can be a humbling first step to receiving the help you need and making the next appropriate step in your personal growth.

The bottom line is this: God values every life greatly. He created real life and has set eternity in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). We are all changing, shifting, developing. Yet, to know God’s design for life we must wait, for our best life is yet to come. Let us live and develop and mature as God meant us to and as much as we are able. Let us wait and long for the full realization of what God has planned.

Here are the links to all of my posts on development:

Lord, help me celebrate your gift of life today.





Late Adulthood: Fulfilling Reflection

22 03 2016

Late adults (65+) are those who’ve been blessed to live a full life. They’ve entered a time of harvest from all they’ve experienced. They are to be highly honoured and not forgotten. They have much wisdom to offer. But here, despair can set in if regret overwhelms. Before you enter this stage, ask yourself, “Will I have lived a meaningful life?” While you live out this phase, ask yourself, “What are the best parts of my life that I can share?” The next generation greatly benefits from the wisdom of its ancestors.

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Life ought not be wasted.

-John Piper

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

-Psalm 90:12

Life in this phase, as hard as it is, can be lived with fulfilling reflection. 

Whatever has happened in your life to this point, there is something positive to reflect on. If you’ve lived with many regrets, set those regrets aside and search, as for treasure, for what you can be grateful for. If you’ve lived well, finish well also. There is much from your life that you can share.

In your biological family and church family, honour your elders. Spend time with them. Interview them for their life experience and wisdom. Value them.

Let these final years (or decades?) be your best years. Stare death in the face with hopeful joy. Connect with those closest to you. Mend broken fences. Teach, encourage and strengthen others. As Paul wrote to his protégé Timothy towards the end of his life, you can also say,

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

Here are some suggestions for finishing your race well:

  • Journal to aid your reflection
  • Beware of cynicism or arrogance taking away your joy
  • You are nearing death so face it with dignity and integrity
  • As your body continues to decline, treat it well with regular exercise and beneficial eating habits
  • Tell your life story
  • Spend time with children and youth for their sake and yours
  • Exercise your brain. Examples:
    • learn an instrument
    • read with a pen in hand
    • take up an art such as drawing, painting or crafting
    • solve puzzles and problems (the game kind and the real life kind)
  • Your habits may seem to be set in stone, but continuing to learn new skills and try new things will add to your enjoyment of life
  • List 100 things you’re especially grateful for and make them visible
  • If you’ve stayed married to this point, congratulations! Satisfaction in this relationship will likely increase so pour out your best energy for the other.
  • Don’t let retirement be an excuse to give up!
  • Volunteer often
  • Seek leadership opportunities and roles in your community
  • Find creative ways to benefit your children, grandchildren or other close family members or church family members:
    • write a letter
    • babysit
    • offer advice, but be careful of meddling
    • create something as a gift
    • put together a family tree or, even better, learn about genograms
  • Continue to find ways to connect with a local church
  • Remember that life is greater than you and reflect on God who transcends our understanding

What suggestions would you offer for maximizing the joy in this phase of life?

Lord, thank you for the heritage of our elders.





Middle Adulthood: Leaving Your Mark

17 03 2016

Middle adults (40-65) are at a critical juncture. They are realizing the brevity of life and their unique opportunity to build a nurturing and equipping legacy filled with deep meaning. This is not the time to fade out or burn out! You have life experience to share! Fan your desire to contribute to the next generation.

Our lives become the sum of all whom we have loved.

-George E. Vaillant

We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord…

-Psalm 78:4

There are many endeavours that the middle adult can be involved in. Career enrichment, family satisfaction, business decisions, investment securities, health improvement, etc. Life at this time can be very full and flourishing. Yet, if not handled well, can become empty, stagnate and stale.

You may begin to ask yourself questions like these,

What do people get for all their work? Why do they work so hard on this earth?

-Ecclesiastes 1:3

But when your life is lived for others and not for self, you will begin to move toward deep satisfaction and not toward bitterness, resentment or callousness.

Individuals at this stage of life who recognize that meaningful care is the hallmark of an enduring legacy will enrich their own lives as well.

Here are some ways to really care:

  • Tell stories to children
  • Find someone to mentor…fast
  • Donate from what you have acquired
  • Volunteer your time any way you can
  • Teach the unique skill set you have developed
  • Build something that will last
  • Play games with children
  • Put less value on your physical traits and more value on your contributions
  • Find contentment with whatever you have and have become
  • Discover how you can maximize and share your life experience and practiced abilities
  • Don’t run from the reality that declines in your body are coming, but face it with grace
  • Find ways to challenge and stimulate your mind, body and spirit
  • You may be launching children, but don’t neglect opportunities to connect
  • Don’t run from your aging parents, but keep them close and take care of them
  • Spend time with children and really listen to them

Lord, help us to age with impact.





Early Adulthood: Avoiding Loneliness

8 03 2016

Early adults (18-40) are craving a life enriched with intimate and committed relationships. Yet many are experiencing perpetual loneliness. More than many realize, loneliness contributes to many illnesses and depressive tendencies. This week make a concerted effort to extend friendship to someone in your community. Authentic friendships will do more to change the world than most anything!

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Loneliness is a distressing, painful experience which humans…want to avoid.

-Kraus, Davis, Bazzini, Church, Kirchman

Now you are my friends.

-Jesus (John 15:15)

As Erik Erikson summarizes, loneliness can lead early adults to promiscuity or exclusivity, both dangerous extremes.

The pursuit of this phase is committed intimacy.

Commitment in relationships will lead to long-lasting satisfaction including emotional and mental health. Here are some suggestions for moving toward committed intimacy:

  • Find a group to be a part of such as sports, music, crafts, hobbies, reading, arts, etc.
  • Connect with a small group at church
  • Find opportunities to volunteer and give back with others
  • Study God’s plan for marriage and make the decision to marry very carefully
  • Make life-long learning a habit you do not just on your own, but with others also
  • Network in a way that adds value to others
  • Find a mentor…fast!
  • Mend broken family relationships or seek ways to connect or reconnect intentionally with family members
  • Look for ways to be of service to employers, colleagues or employees
  • Be aware that loneliness may peak at this phase, but can decrease from here on out as commitment increases
  • More than likely, you will begin to stabilize in the community you are a part of as your relationship habits solidify.

Lord, make loneliness disappear!





See: Using Visuals for Greater Impact

15 12 2015

…paint a power-packed picture for all those visual learners out there.

-Aaron Reynolds

Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light.

-Jesus (Matthew 6:22)

God created this world with striking visual stimulus. He wired us to learn visually. Children learn especially fast and effectively when visual elements are woven into our conversations, teaching and stories. If you don’t have any props, paint a mental picture. But by grabbing some key objects, you can power home concepts that would otherwise be lost. Fill ‘em up with transformational light!

Common visuals that teach:

  • Stuffed Lamb, staff (agrarian themes, Lamb of God)
  • Sporting gear (training for the Christian life)
  • Art (draw, paint, craft, video)
  • Lighting effects (flashlight, turn off lights)
  • Costumes
  • Games (useful for recall)
  • Personal hobby items (relate with personal interests)

Object Tips:

  • Hold the item and describe it
  • Pass the item around if reasonable
  • Ask questions about it, explore it
  • Tell a story with it
  • Search for the word in the Bible to help illustrate

How to paint a mental picture:

  • Visualize it yourself first
  • Describe the details
  • Feel the emotions yourself
  • Express feelings strongly with your face and gestures

Here’s an example combining both elements.

God has a plan that can’t be stopped. Check out this basketball play (Use a basketball video replay or other sport that fits your style and the idea of changing plans. Alternatively, you could plan ahead of time and draw some movement using Xs and Os on a white board.) I love basketball. Take a look at this. The way it bounces and feels is awesome. Feel this for a moment (pass it around). Now the goal of the player is to move the ball into a good position to get a basket. The defence is trying to stop him and so his plans are constantly changing as to how he’ll get there. Frustration sets in when he gets stopped (show disappointment). But he doesn’t give up when he’s forced to move in a different direction (show determination). He keeps trying different options until he can score. Our life choices cause us to make plans, change plans and sometimes leave plans altogether. But no matter what, God’s plan to make a way for us to be forgiven can’t be stopped!

Isn’t that so much better than just talking about basketball?

Lord, your wonders abound. Help me show them to any children you put in my path.








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