A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: faith (page 1 of 10)

Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: (Relatively) Painless Ideas to Help Kids Share Their Faith

New to this series? For the thoughts behind it, start here.

It was yesterday, walking to a train, that we met her—I’ll call her Gretchen. Conversation unfolded among us in the blistering sunshine. We were all drawn in by the details of her home country; the stories of her life there. At thirty, Gretchen is pretty and successful. She vacations around the world.

Perhaps that’s why I was intrigued by both my daughter and my son after disembarking the train, when she’d warmly wished us well and waved to us out the window. Completely separately, they asked me if we could pray for her, that she’d know Jesus, too.

I could tell you this is because I’m some kind of fantastic parent, but if anything, I hope you’ve picked up through this blog that I’m muscling my way through this parenting thing like anything else. (I’m sure perfect parenting is on the next blog over from mine.)

Spiritual disciplines, after all, are about cultivating, right? Richard Foster, author of The Celebration of Discipline, writes that in all these disciplines, we just prepare the soil of our hearts (and our kids’). It’s the Holy Spirit who moves. Or as the verse read which my sister neatly painted around the rim of her terracotta plant pot: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.

And really? That’s what sharing our faith is about, too. When I was trained as staff with Cru, they taught that evangelism is sharing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit, and leaving the results up to God.

THE KEY: For kids to be confidently equipped and constantly ready to give a reason for the hope that they have—with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16). We encourage them not to view evangelism less as a single, isolated event, more as an ongoing lifestyle of bold love. The point is not for friends to pray a prayer. It’s for them to become true and lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Here are a few ways I see this unfolding with the kids in our lives.

  1. First, the heart. This is the most long-term of any of these ideas. Any child—any human, for that matter—naturally wants to share what’s fantastic in his or her life. When a new cousin’s born, your daughter can’t wait to share it with her class at show and tell. So before sharing our faith comes the experience that our faith is unstoppably worth sharing! Kids who are excited and filled by Jesus won’t share their faith as much as a have-to as a natural outpouring of who they are. To share the hope that they have—first, they must have that hope.

 

And if I may be so bold—a lot of that is a tone set by us as parents, right? Ours is not dogged religion that “works our way to heaven”. Grace is what makes Jesus different from every other religion on the planet. Kids growing up in homes where faith is authentic and grace-motivated are equipped every day to know what their faith looks like in any given situation.

 

  1. I shared in this post about how not to share your faith, and how it’s critical love must fuel all “agendas” for evangelism (please read this post for more). My kids found the video on that post, as well as the one below, hilarious. (Note for Protestant readers: This video has a minor Catholic thrust.)

My husband and I used these to generate conversation about why these methods can be off-putting for the majority of the population. As much as tracts and other tools can give kids brilliant steps and thus boldness to share their faith, I am of increased conviction that traditional methods can actually distance people from our kids because the methods are socially alienating to a modern Western audience–which can hinder loving them well. That’s not the Cross that’s getting in people’s way. That’s our lack of understanding of people—the whole “clanging cymbal” thing.

You may remember the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple. The former’s prayer is essentially, Thanks, God, for making me better than him. The vital message for our kids: We are not the savior, but the saved. We’re about humility, not results.

  1. Equip them. (I know, I know. Now she gets to the practical part.)
    1. Help your kids to articulate their faith. For weeks in our family discussion, we’d quiz our youngest: What’s grace? We’d ask application questions, too. No, it’s not a quiz. But our kids talking to their friends first means they truly get the idea of how God saved us inside and out. Not with confusing platitudes—“I asked Jesus into my heart!”—but in ways that communicate in kid-language what Jesus did.
    2. I found this video to be a great jumping-off point for discussion with my middle-school kids. You might also try this one on sharing your faith without being pushy.
    3. Together, memorize verses that equip kids to talk about the Gospel. Here’s a good top ten list of them. You might find the music and free printable memory cards from Seeds Family Worship’s Seeds of Faith.
    4. Another gem from Cru: “The Gospel flows best through the holes in people’s lives.” In other words, people are most receptive to Jesus in the areas and seasons where they most feel their need for His answers. Talk with older kids about how to compassionately listen and come alongside friends in hard times–with true hope and comfort.
  1. Make your home the locus. Did you know that a significant portion of evangelism in the book of Acts happened from homes? In the past, I was always coached to invite people to church—and this is still a great idea! But the nuanced culture of churches can, depending on the person, occasionally increase the feeling of our friends feeling like outsiders. We’re not inviting them to a social club with all the trimmings. We’re inviting them to Jesus. I wrote here about practical ways to make your home an “open house,” and here about ways to live “sent” in your community.
  2. Pray often as a family for those around you to know Jesus. Let your prayers communicate true love and humility, and that it’s God who is the great Softener of Hearts. After all—He softened ours! He’s bringing us from death to life—and He works the same in our friends. (Prayer changes our own hearts, too.)

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How am I supposed to have joy when my world’s a wreck?

joy in sorrow

It needs to be said: I am a teeny bit of a freak show right now.

Yesterday, we moved out of our house, which was (after months of supreme effort) stripped and echoing, like a rumbling empty stomach. A half an hour before we left, we said goodbye to our dogs, who wagged their tails obliviously down the dirt road on their leashes with their new owners. (My children were in tears.) We said goodbye to our closest Ugandan friends. (My husband and I were in tears.) We prayed in a tight circle on the front lawn.

It was at least a month ago when my husband looked at me, my face pink and slimy again from tears that seemed to squeeze out at all the wrong times for months on end. He said, “I’m not frustrated you’re crying. I’m just remembering that you’re grieving, and that takes a long time.”

(Have I mentioned I love him?)

I was reminded of is words when a friend mentioned that in the year after someone dear passed away, very few people walked that road with her. Grief is…lonely. And we grieve in waves. Sometimes the waves are close together, sloshing upon each other with slopping, crashing forces and sucking undertow.

 

Shouldn’t Christians be happy?

I’ve written before about the hidden art of Christian lament and profound grief; of bringing our deepest questions into the sanctuary that is our worship and gratitude. One of the most mystifying words in the Bible to me is joy. What in the world does “joy” mean? When I think of it, I consider someone who’s, say, lost a child. What’s joy look like there, when the edges of your world curl black?

I find value in the words of John Piper:

We [Christians] are a happy people. But we are not what you might call “chipper.” There is a plaintive strain in the symphony of our lives. I think Jesus was the happiest man who ever lived. And O how sorrowful! A man of sorrows…

[The world] need[s] the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands…They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”

A friend shared with me an exercise she learned in counseling. She took a sheet of paper, and chose a color to represent every emotion she was feeling. Then, she covered her paper with circles whose size was proportionate each emotion. I think of this when I realize I’m often experiencing many emotions at the same time. Even on our blackest days, we have a pervasive, underlying sense of contentment, hope, and even happiness in God.

 

Happiness is…?

Yet joy might not even be accurately described as an emotion. The words of Tim Keller were a balm to me this morning:

…we must remember that in the Bible, the ‘heart’ is not identical to emotions. The heart is understood as the place of your deepest commitments, trusts, and hopes. From those commitments flow our emotions, thoughts, and actions. To “rejoice” in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who we are, and what He has done for us. Sometimes our emotions respond and follow when we do this, and sometimes they do not. But therefore we must not define rejoicing as something that precludes feelings of grief, or doubt, weakness, and pain. Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.

Here is how it works. The grief and sorrow drive you more into God. It is just as when it gets colder outside, the temperature kicks the furnace higher through the thermostat…The weeping drives you into the joy, it enhances the joy, and then the joy enables you to actually feel your grief without its sinking you. In other words, you are finally emotionally healthy.

When I think about grasping joy in grief, I find it inextricably braided with trust; with God’s inexplicable, unshakable care for me—that inimitable trio, faith, hope, and love. So hope, to me, is a defining characteristic of Christian grief: We do not grieve like those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).

Our grief is different.

 

What hope is not

Here is what hope is not always. It doesn’t always mean

  • Answers (see Job).
  • Rescue (see Jesus).
  • Lack of weakness (see Paul).
  • Lack of doubt (see John the Baptist and Elijah).
  • Happy feelings (see David).

Emily Dickinson famously wrote, Hope is the thing with feathers. It takes us beyond here, beating with life and promise.

In the previous post, I mentioned we grant humanity to those around us when we don’t walk around their pain, but lean into it. (Think the Good Samaritan here.) I am increasingly willing to walk through others’ pain. But what about walking through my own funk, when my own soul sprawls there, feeling robbed? As I texted a friend this morning who asked how I was doing: I am getting the idea that God wants me to walk through all this and not around it.

Wherever this finds you, may you unearth joy not after your sorrow, but even further within it.

 

Like this post? You might like

Cry: On the Hidden Art of Christian Grieving

For the Days When You Feel Powerless, Parts I, II, and III

Doubting the Dream Weaver

On Keeping Your Heart Soft When Times are Tough

 

 

 

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Living Sent: An Updated Job Description (Guest Post)

Quick role-play. Let’s say you, your spouse, your kids—you’re all headed back to the Western world from some distant land. You’ve been missionaries somewhere; Africa, maybe. (You pick.) You’ve been helping people gain clean water, maybe, or teaching refugees, or advocating for orphans of AIDS.

How would you live in your home country?

This is actually my personal, particular predicament. My family and I have been living and working in the developing world for five years now, and are now headed to suburban America. I’m asking a question that perhaps many of you are already asking: What does it look like to be missionaries…who stay?

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’m helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com. We’re exploring what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. This month, as we pray for our communities, I’m looking in to how to live “sent“–no matter what zipcode in which you find yourself. Check it out here on everthinehome.

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Off-season: When You’re Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There–Part II

Off-season: When You're Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

In three weeks, my family and I will quietly glide across the line sectioning our lives into before and after. And it will be as innocuous as stepping onto an air-conditioned airplane.

With an escapade like living in Africa—and really, in many ways embedding ourselves, and it in us—we bear the marks inside. Strangely, truthfully, I have fear this plane will land me back in a place I was giddy to leave seven years ago.

My thirtieth birthday was approaching. From childhood I’d pictured and prepared myself for a lean, vibrant life overseas. Instead, my approaching birthday found me squarely in Little Rock, a fistful of miles from where I graduated high school. I wielded a deep inner fatigue unique to welcoming four children in five years. (No. No twins. A couple did feel like twins.) Insert the picket fence and the dog—and you can picture the level of contentment I both seized with two hands and questioned, even while cherishing my life. I mean, I knew how I got there. I was grateful I was there. But still, I wondered. How did I get there?

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No Place Like…

I’m already bracing myself for it, even as open duffel bags, plastic storage bins, and carry-ons line the walls of my house. Maybe the question will come at church, shaking hands as we walk in from the parking lot, or when we’re handing over a loaf of banana bread to a new neighbor (strategically timed before my kids’ Nerf wars propagate any noise violations).

“So, where are you guys from?”

Um.

Central Illinois. Arkansas. Texas. Oklahoma. Colorado. Uganda.

Nice to meet you! I actually have no idea. Do you have a different, easier question? Maybe ask how many kids we have. I have gotten that one right several times.

Home is such a nuanced, funky question right now. Perhaps an open duffel is just the metaphor for me. I feel transient. Half-packed. Misshapen. Awkward.

I was asked the other day what signified home to me, and…it took a little while for me to answer. While there are a few objects that have made it with us around the world—like the rest of us, home tends to be with the people I care about. Perhaps it’s a no-brainer that I’m a mzungu, a foreigner, here. But sometimes I feel just as much the mzungu in my “home” country.  My mind seems to perpetually be working out, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4).

As returning to America spreads before me, the term Nile Perch out of water comes to mind. And truthfully, so does the term lonely.

But perhaps the opposite of lonely is what home is: a place where you belong.

C.S. Lewis’ words capture this exquisitely for me.

We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory…becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. (The Weight of Glory, 8 June, 1942, emphasis added)

When my husband and I first came to Uganda, I remember standing on a porch, overlooking the Nile as it rushed by steadily in the starlit dark. Hebrews 11 will always remind me of that night, when I decided to put all my eggs in an invisible basket. The Message puts it this way:

By an act of faith [Abraham] lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

(Perhaps this explains why sometimes this work doesn’t bring tangible, number-crunching results: because it’s building an invisible city. This is what I hope.)

A friend and former missionary kid wisely told me this past weekend about one advantage of our overseas lives. She noted we truly understand that as lovers of Jesus, we are “foreigners and aliens in this world” (1 Peter 2:11). Her father told her that because Jesus is preparing a perfect place for us, nothing’s ever going to measure up here. We will always be longing to be more home.

 

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

An orphaned Ugandan friend of mine is struggling with the new nationally-mandated identification cards. How do you find a birth certificate when you don’t have one? What if you were given a surname by the person who took care of you, and you now have to go and procure the “real” one the government will accept? As I think of her, I wonder what emotions this unsettles in that sludgy silt at the bottom of a girl’s heart. So tonight I put my arm around her: I want to let you know that you belong. You and me, we’re sisters. God says our spiritual ties are much thicker than blood (see Matthew 12:46-50). He says You belong with Him. He’s going to give you a new name. His name.

It was one of those moments where I felt a little sheepish, because maybe I should be listening to these words of comfort I was so eager to hand out. You belong, mzungu. You belong with Me. I am the Home you’ve been looking for all Your life. You’ve seen glimpses, but just wait till You get a load of the real thing.

And this is the verse that came to mind:

O Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1)

You, God, are our home.

 

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Welcome Home

FREE Printable Scripture Art: Psalm 90:1

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God’s Long Game

God's long gameWhat I loved recently in the U.S.: some conversations with parents of kids my husband and I had in the youth group back in the day. (When I was…more youthful.) We leaned forward with them over our Pick Twos from Panera, or perhaps chatted in the slanting afternoon light of their living rooms.

And here is what I will remember: I am thankful for God’s long game.

They were the parents of kids with whom we remember sitting with late into the night, wrestling with questions of faith. I had a slumber party with the girls; we probably painted our toenails a few times. My husband tossed the football or grabbed a Coke with the guys.

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Suffering–and the People We Become

We lounged in the lamp lit half-dark: my husband and I, and our college friend. We’ve been friends for about two decades now, which makes us feel impossibly old. We still easily bend over in outright laughter over hilarious references to our college days and their mishaps. Now, though, we have things like minivans and tax returns, and my friend and I swap tips on how cast iron is really the best way to cook fish, or omelets, she says.

But years aren’t the only thing under the bridge. That night, I marveled sadly how out of our six parents, we wouldn’t have guessed we’d have lost two of them by this point. My husband and I have moved to Africa, caught malaria, gotten robbed, etc. My friend has dealt with multiple nightmarish diagnoses of those she loves.

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Freebie Fridays: FREE Printable Scripture Art–Psalm 128:11

Free Scripture Art Printable Psalm 128:11

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,

who walks in His ways.

Psalm 128:1

I’m welcoming Friday with open arms this week!–and with free printable Scripture art of Psalm 128:11 to usher in the weekend, too. Hope it encourages your family.

Feel free to share! (I ask that you please link back to my blog, and respect my copyright. Thanks!)

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Freebie Fridays: FREE Printable Scripture Art, Psalm 62:11-12

free printable Scripture art Psalm 62:11-12My fridge is pretty much an explosion of Scripture printables. They’re also lining the sides of our bathroom mirror, the back of the bathroom door, and their bedroom doors. I find a lot of benefit in literally displaying verses on our doorposts (Deuteronomy 6)!

So today for Freebie Friday, I’ve got printable Scripture art for you, taken from Psalm 62:11-12.

Once God has spoken

twice have I heard this:

that power belongs to God,

and that to you, O Lord,

belongs steadfast love

May it encourage your family.

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Guest post: Why Our Kids Need to Struggle

My family and I are headed back from Africa, which twists my heart in all sorts of new ways. But with that, my kids will be attending school for the first time—American school. Any of you mamas out there imagine the ways that messes with a mama’s heart?

So many of my prayers are poured out like water over their adjustment. Over finding just one solid friend. Over teachers and my son’s learning disorder and my kids’ abilities to be kind in the face of insult. And I think this is as it should be: asking God’s generous favor, slathered all over our kids.

But there’s this. I was reading Brene Brown last night, who occasionally helps me get my emotional head screwed on straight. And she reminded me of this: “Hope is a function of struggle. If we want our children to develop high levels of hopefulness, we have to let them struggle.”

I’m thinking out loud about this over on WeAreTHATFamily.com again. Want to hop over and check it out?

May you have all you need this week to do things hard and holy.

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