the beauty of the valley

valley

“Though hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights!” *

One fall afternoon, my daughter and I drove down a gravel back road we had never before taken. Enjoying the red and orange trees and swaying grasses of the prairie flatland, as we navigated a sharp turn, we were amazed at what we saw. In front of us was a steep path disappearing into a valley below, surrounded by hills and woods. A large creek, flanked by purple and yellow wildflowers, ran through it, and no manmade building could be seen in any direction. Against an intense blue sky, every leaf, every blade of grass seemed to reflect the gold of the brilliant sun above. We stopped the car to soak it all in; neither of us had ever been in such a beautiful, restful place! After that day, we often took the extra time to drive through what we named the Golden Valley, enjoying the changes from season to season and the perfect peacefulness it gave us.

Often in literature, and even in the context of our culture, valleys are used to represent the difficult times in our lives, the low points that are a far cry from the mountain top experiences that bring us great happiness. Disappointments, loss, pain, and horrible situations can plunge us into deep and often lonely valleys. But, if we stop to take in everything that is going on around us and pause to reflect on the difficult circumstances, we can often find beauty and even joy in the valleys.

Here are some thoughts to ponder:

We must recognize that losses will come but are for our good. We may not be able to see the purposes right away. In fact, we may never be able to understand them in this life, but we must believe that even loss comes from God’s gracious hand. We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” ~ Romans 8:28

In God’s design, there is no plan B, only a plan A. Too often we are tempted to believe that when we experience disappointments, we are forced to move on to some second-best plan that God has for our lives. But the truth is that life, in its entirety, is all part of God’s Plan A, that there is no Plan B! For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11

We may not choose our disappointments but we do choose how we respond to them. We live in a fallen world that is marred by both our own sins and the fallout from the sins of others. It is so important that we learn to take responsibility for those things that are of our own doing but learn to respond in a Christ like manner to those who sin against us. We also struggle with those things we just don’t like but must live with and must continually adjust our thinking, if not our lives, around these events. By God’s grace, all things are possible! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” ~ Philippians 4:13

 We must really know God and who He is in order to understand His ways.

We will be prepared to face every day, the good and bad, the incredibly sad and the amazingly joyous, if we prepare by being women with proper theology! Scripture is full of examples of women who were honored by God simply for their commitment to knowing Him and to knowing sound doctrine:

Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him spiritual truth as he was growing up!

The first evangelists who spread the Good News of the Resurrection were the two Marys who first discovered the stone had been rolled away!

Jesus praised Mary over her sister Martha because she chose “the better way” by sitting at the feet of Jesus to learn truth rather than being consumed by temporal circumstances!

As we know and understand God through knowing His word, we are able to appreciate and even welcome the valleys of life! “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” ~ James 1:12

* from The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett, Banner of Truth Publishing

This article was written by me and first appeared in Dear Magazine, 2016.

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5 random myths of homeschooling

grant kids

 

I am always amused by the mythological proportions homeschooling families have taken on within the culture through the years!

When we first began homeschooling 28 years ago, there was only one other family we knew of in our entire county who homeschooled….and within a few months, they moved away! The clerks at the local Hy-Vee grocery store would ask us really interesting questions…..”is that legal?” assuming, I suppose, that an armed police officer would arrive at any moment and snatch my children away while we browsed through the cornflakes aisle!

There were the well-meaning moms at church who asked us about “socialization” while their own teenagers stared at me blankly and mumbled incoherently!

There was my husband’s boss who was quite concerned because he had seen a special on Nightline about para-military families in the backwoods who were forgoing academics and instead were training their children to use weapons and start a militia in their homeschool support group.

And then there was the neighbor who wanted to know how much the government was paying me to homeschool my own kids. I got a kick out of that one…if she only could grasp that there wasn’t enough money in the world to convince a mom to do such a thing, it had to be done by conviction alone!

I imagine that over the years, and now decades, we have heard just about every single myth that comes along with the choice to teach our children at home. Those outside of our homeschooling circles have funny ideas about us, especially as moms. One older woman I know swears I am Wonder Woman, twirling and snapping my way through the day, that I am a pillar of patience, and that I am producing genius children. Obviously she has never seen my laundry pile that looks like a unit study project on Mount Olympus gone bad!

Today I thought we should talk about some myths that are common and are sometimes even being perpetuated from within the homeschooling community, not from the outside.

Myth #1

Getting through the whole book or the entire curriculum means your child will be educated, brilliant and headed for greatness, that they will be successful.

If I listen between the lines to first time homeschoolers or those who are thinking of homeschooling their children as they make their plans, one of the first things I hear are these questions: “What curriculum are you using?” or “What curriculum should I use?” After they are convinced they have chosen the perfect materials, moms start looking through the teacher’s guides and begin to fill out detailed lesson plans. They divide the number of pages of each textbook by the required number of school days that their local school system or state requires, and they figure out just how much material needs to be covered to complete each book. It is the curriculum drives the typical homeschooling teacher and child.

This whole approach was really confirmed to me a while back when I chatted with a mother of pre-schoolers who was intent on purchasing a curriculum package for her very lively little boys. As I asked her about their interests and about the type of learners they were and as I was encouraging her to not push an intense reading program on boys at too early of an age, it became obvious to me that her agenda was to purchase and proceed through a curriculum rather than to assess each of her children individually for what would be best for each of them. I smiled and nodded, but any suggestions of reading a book by the Moores were rebuffed and I was told “Oh, I have heard of the Moores and we would NEVER be interested in what they have to say. We believe in early childhood education so we need to buy textbooks for them!

This is exactly why I think following a tight curriculum schedule can often be counterproductive. We assume that learning and education are somehow equated with formal school and seatwork and doing everything in and from a textbook. And you will always find someone who will promote doing public school in your home, assuming that all children learn in the same manner and that it must come from textbooks and worksheets. There is the assumption that if a book is completed during the school year, learning and education have occurred. This is the reason both moms and children, especially boys, often burn out in the early years.

Instead, the goal should be to raise a life-long learner who knows how to find information and apply it in a variety of contexts and this usually happens along the rabbit trails you take each day!

As you work your way through a textbook, I can guarantee there will be an abundance of questions and thoughts your children will have about various topics. Textbooks by their very nature take an enormous amount of material and condense it down into bite size and simple parts. Your job as a teacher is to expand that material back out and if you are wise, to follow the lead of your children as they want to know more about particular material.

One way I have done, for example, is this is to take a particular history book and rather than use it for one year for one student, I have worked through it in 3 or 4 years with several children, adding in field trips, documentaries, detailed studies of all sorts of related topics, and particularly adding in biographies because children love real stories of real people and that is, after all, what history is! If you listen to what your children want to learn you will soon see them learning everything you think they need to know and then some! (On a side note: this brings up the myth of “grade level” but we will save that for another day!)

One of the common concerns often expressed to us over the years about homeschooling is whether or not we could possibly teach our children everything. My answer is always “no” followed by the correct observation that there is no teacher or institution or family who could possibly teach everything. And that shouldn’t even be a goal! The vast amount of information, especially technological information, that is generated increases exponentially each year.

Rather than worrying about knowing it all, our goal as homeschoolers ought to be to raise and to become, ourselves, lifelong learners. This is accomplished first by providing an environment rich in life experiences and then giving our children an introduction to ideas and concepts outside of those experiences. By teaching and training in research skills and not simply uploading them with information and allowing them plenty of space to study things they are curious about and that delight them, we have given them the tools to be successful no matter where the Lord takes them!

Let me encourage you to consider using real books from the library, a tub of art supplies, read stories rich in vocabulary, provide a variety of good music, the daily discussion of God’s Word and how it relates to the world around him, and give your kids the attention of a loving parent who includes him in all the activities of real life…these are the secrets to a great learning experience for children. Winston Churchill once lamented, “My education was interrupted only by my schooling” and how very true that can be, even for homeschooled children, especially if we think completing curriculum packages is the secret to success!

Myth #2

Old ways are best, old ways are worst.

One of my most vivid memories of the early days of homeschooling our children was how excited I was to have my children home with me and the picture I had in my mind of what I wanted that to look like! I can remember picturing myself being Ma Ingalls, children around the table learning, or playing outside and exploring as though we had our own Plum Creek, soup bubbling on the store, fresh baked bread in the oven, and that is really actually how most of our days looked as my children grew up. It was in the midst of this that someone gave me a stack of textbooks that had belonged to my grandpa who had been born in 1890 and had attended a little one room schoolhouse in a small country community. I remember being amazed at the material he was expected to know in order to graduate from 8th grade and as I looked through the McGuffy readers and the Civics books, it suddenly occurred to me that, though he had a great education for his day and it even exceeded in some ways what most young people learn today at that age, if we were to follow his path, our children would be miserably prepared for the future, for the year 2040 and beyond! There is often a tendency to take the admonition from Jeremiah 6:16: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls” and then somehow apply it to how we educate our children today, often eschewing newer ways or contemporary as wrong.

Instead, the goal is to educate children for the future, not for the past and not for the present!

We must realize that in order for our children to be prepared believers who can teach and live a Biblical worldview far into the 21st century, they will need to be able to interact with and understand our current culture and how Scripture applies to it in all areas of life. I once had some homeschooled children in a co-op class I taught who were not learning any keyboard skills because their parents just didn’t see a need for it and somehow saw it as trendy or associated with things they didn’t like about the teen culture today like texting. We need to encourage our children to not only know how to use technology but also how to excel at using it and even consider how to creatively improve on it.

On the other hand, with all the amazing opportunities we have today to use this same technology via apps and online courses etc., we must also not fall for the myth that everything new is always best. Listening to music via our ipods is great but going to live concerts should also be an experience our kids have. Enjoying and understanding the worldviews taught in contemporary music and film is important but so is reading the timeless truths taught in great works of literature and drama. Finding the balance means that we cannot declare one generation or their ways better than another’s!

Myth #3

All methods of teaching and learning are equal.

A number of years ago, Clay and I were invited to spend an evening with some homeschooling couples for dinner and fellowship. Each of us were asked to bring along our favorite curriculum and to tell why we liked it and what method we would be using to teach it. We had a great time and were amazed by the incredible differences we saw around the table among the 20 or so people who shared that night. There were no duplicate books or materials and interestingly, each family had chosen materials that reflected things that were important to them as they began their homeschooling journey. The nurse and her husband, the science teacher, brought their favorite biology-related materials, evern showing us a science-based phonics program! The musicians and artists brought along biographies of famous composers, while the socially aware families brought worldview documentaries and magazines!

I enjoy listening to moms talk about their favorite teachings styles and methods of learning for their kids and often I am amazed at how willing moms are to lump all their kids together when it comes to choosing how they will teach and how their kids will learn. While this is not unusual, I think we need to be careful not to expect all of our children to learn in the same ways or to be interested in the same things that interest us.

Instead, the goal is to find the learning method that inspires, incites, and delights each child you are teaching and still get your laundry done! And we have to recognize that all methods of teaching and learning are not equal for all children.

Though we will not be able to prevent having some bias and our personal interests will obviously shine through in what we teach, we need to be aware that not only will the subjects of interest vary with our kids but so will the ways they learn those subjects.

Some of your children will never enjoy the intensity of reading the Great Books. Some will never like mathematics the way other children in your home may like it. Others will be drawn to anything artistic and others will find art projects something to barely endure. Some will be inclined to take apart every single mechanical item in your home and others will prefer to spend their days reading about the inventors of those mechanical objects! One of your roles as a homeschooling mom is to identify what your children love and then use it to teach all the other things they need to know!

I know some of you are thinking “well, how in the world do I accommodate the differences in my household?” and I think the secret to this is to not teach all subjects in all the same way but to vary them from year to year and even from course to course, even offering options for each child in to how they will approach the material. Here is one example: Together, read aloud the chapter on Westward Expansion in your textbook. Assign your researcher child a paper on the Oregon Trail and give your artist child the assignment of reading about Frederic Remington and painting a mural in his style. When both are finished, have an oral presentation from both of them for the whole family. If your personal love is current events, share with your children how what happened during that time affects us today. By finding what interests everyone and which methods are best for each of you, school time will be both more enjoyable and profitable!

Myth #4

Love, peace, and family harmony are the natural by-product of a homeschooling paradigm.

 One of the greatest joys for me is to meet and listen to young homeschooling moms. It is so fun to hear them talk with such enthusiasm about their children, about the thrill they have at watching the light bulbs come on as they teach something to their little ones for the first time! I love hearing them tell me about their husbands and how the Lord is using homeschooling to draw them close together and is giving them a tremendous life purpose as a couple.

But one thing that saddens me is to hear so many of them tell me how they attended a homeschooling workshop or conference where certain lifestyles or paradigms are promoted as being “the godly way” to raise children or that there are “the normative, non-optional roles” for all men and all women. These moms are discouraged…they have been guaranteed perfect, harmonious families where brothers and sisters don’t fight, in spite of the fact that Proverbs 17:17 tells us that a brother is born for adversity! Or they have been told that there is no higher calling than to have many babies and yet they became parents through adoption. Or they have been told that girls should only be trained to be some conference speaker’s definition of a keeper at home and yet they have daughters who are academically gifted and believe the Lord is calling them to missions or medicine. And, incredulously, some of them are even being told that they are not obeying Scripture by not going to certain churches! They are asking if these are things they should practice in their own homes and should teach to their children. After all, they heard these ideas at a homeschooling conference!  And why are these paradigms so illusive to me? What am I doing wrong? Am I sinning because I don’t fit into these lifestyles? Some are even second generation homeschoolers whose families don’t approve of the “way” they are homeschooling and they wonder how they can restore relationships that have been so damaged by these lifestyle teachings. They want to know if their commitment to their children and homeschooling must include these things. You see, they are being beaten down by legalistic lifestyle messages and are looking for hope and a genuine relationship with Christ for themselves and for their children!

We all know what being committed to our children looks like. In caring for them physically, we make sure they have well-balanced meals, see the dentist and doctor regularly, wear weather-appropriate clothing, and always buckle-up in the car. Spiritually, we teach them from their earliest days to love God completely, confess their sins, and trust Christ alone for their salvation. Emotionally, we let them know how much we love them and we hug them every day. Mentally, we challenge them with good books and creative activities.

All of these things express our commitment to our children, however, I think that too often, some homeschooling parents are committed to a paradigm, rather than to their children as unique individuals, young men and women who are image-bearers of the living God. They tend to catch a vision that a particular homeschooling guru has for homeschooling families and adopt it as their own, not taking into consideration their own unique calling as a family and as individuals within that family. They establish goals and objectives that don’t even fit their own children. They become frustrated when a child questions what he is being taught or cannot or does not want to comply with it. Then they have no choice but to renounce their sons and daughters as “rebellious,” sometimes just for asking questions. In some cases, parents completely cut off a relationship with a grown child who makes choices that aren’t what the paradigm requires, even though those choices aren’t necessarily unbiblical.

Not long ago, a wonderful godly young man who was homeschooled and is now the father of 5 amazing kids shared this with me: He said “It is difficult to be the skeptical child” and I winced when I heard him say it. You see, once you climb inside the paradigm, you are bound to embrace all of it and you begin to believe that anything that falls outside the paradigm is sinful and that is the message sent to our children!
When we first began homeschooling, we fell into this very trap. We had attended several homeschooling conferences and heard a number of men talk about their families and watched, as they listed on an overhead projector (we are old, there were no laptops back then!), the “principles” for having a perfect homeschooling family. If we were only to follow steps one through seven, we, too, would have a family that looked like the (fill in the blank) family. And then the (fill in the blank) family would come on stage and be all dressed alike and would sing in perfect harmony. (We were not family singers but I felt perhaps we should be.) And the mother would address the women and the father would address the men and we would all go home with notebooks full of formulas for success.

But, do you know what I learned? There was no room for individuality in those notebooks. There was no place for an artistic child. There was no place for a special needs child. In fact, there was no place for ordinary, average children. There was only room for a programmed child. These people told us that every normal problem that came along, problems that are the result of living in a fallen world, were really the result of some unconfessed sin or spiritual warfare that was upon us because of some root problem we hadn’t looked at! I spent too much time trying to figure out what sin I needed to confess so all my light bulbs didn’t burn out at the same time or what scriptural principle I had violated that caused my six year old to have trouble reading. I scurried around the house getting rid of things like Cabbage Patch dolls because I was told that they could open the door to demons in my home and thus attack my children. (You may think this is too weird, but, believe me, it is true!) I spent no time delighting in the goodness of God, in the wonder of childhood, in the tremendous unique gifts that were given to me in the form of creative children! I had to repent of my commitment to the paradigm rather than the commitment to my children.
I am so thankful that the Lord, in his mercy and grace, taught us a better way. He allowed us to see that paradigms are idols, calling us to worship at their feet, replacing faith and hope in God with a sure fire formula for success. He taught us that He has a plan for our family that doesn’t look exactly like His plan for another family. He taught us to really look at what is passed off as “Biblical truth” and to examine it with the spirit of the Bereans. He taught us that legalism is alive and well and often comes from the hands of those who have a scary agendas.

Instead, the goal is to build solid relationships in your own families through practicing the one anothers of Scripture…love one another, serve one another, submit to one another, forgive one another, exhort one another, etc, by God’s grace and not by following any manmade paradigm. Our children are precious treasures from the Lord. Let’s value them as such and trust that God will bless us as we commit our ways of raising them to Him alone.”

Myth #5 

Scheduling lots of activities provides lots of opportunities for learning.Filling days and nights with activities outside the home is now equated with a “well-rounded” homeschooling experience.

How often I have heard homeschooling moms lament how busy their weeks are and how much time they spend in the car rather than at home. One mom told me how their family gives one day each week to her co-op and that it takes her several days prior to their class day to help her children prepare and this on top of other subjects she hopes to cover. Other moms have 4 or 5 children to taxi to various lessons and practices each week and when added to church activities, family meal time and free time to just live in the world around them are often compromised.

Having older children who desire fellowship and friendship can be a good reason to get involved in occasional outside events and classes where particular skills can be honed is often a great idea. But the subtle pressure to provide “enrichment” for our children can often turn into an endless list of outside pursuits that steal away the hours of family living.

Instead, the goal is to say “yes” to those activities that will help you meet your overall goals and “no” to everything else!

Any time spent away from home should be measured by the benefits. Does it leave time to explore and learn new things on our own? Does it inspire creativity and further study? Does it promote a healthy lifestyle or does time outside the home mean that McDonalds and Burger King provide frequent meals for your family? Does it mean that younger children spend endless hours strapped into car seats while older children are taken to one event after another? Do you find yourself looking for ways to offer your children all the amenities of the public school system or are your children having time to serve others? Do your children spend most of their time with people who are a variety of ages or mostly with peers? Are you the one providing most of their Bible instruction and discipleship or is it done by your church? Do your children know that you always have time to listen to them and pray with them every single day? Here are some great questions to ask yourself as you decide how to schedule your time!

What are the areas of your life as a homeschooling family that are the most important to you? Brainstorm, making a list and narrowing it down to your top five priorities. Consider how the curriculum, programs, activities, and learning methods you now enjoy either enhance or detract from these goals.

Begin to eliminate those things that are not beneficial or that take time away from accomplishing these five goals. Ask yourself if those goals can be better met at home rather than outside the home and be honest. Remember that life is short and life with our children at home is even shorter. Imagine yourself, 25 years from now, talking with your adult children who are raising your grandchildren. How can you spend your time today that will best prepare them for that task?

Say “no” to new things that come along that also won’t help you accomplish your goals for your family. There is a plethora of opportunity for homeschooling families but ask yourself which options are the best choices for yours. Don’t succumb to the latest curriculum fad just because it is popular and appealing. Don’t jump on any homeschooling lifestyle bandwagon without evaluating it according to your goals. Don’t sign up for a single thing that will not help you accomplish one or more of your five goals.

Make time for those things that are important. Never allow yourself to say “I don’t have time” if it is something that will help you attain your goal. For example, if you want to develop a new family habit, wrap that activity around something you do every single day. For years we began the day as a family with Bible reading and prayer but found it difficult to keep as a routine because of Clay’s work schedule. So we decided to include it as part of something we do together every single day by incorporating it into our evening meal. We have had tremendous success!

Throw yourself into accomplishing those five goals. Read, study, and learn everything you possibly can about things related to those five goals and see how it changes your life!

Remember that the eternal always trumps the temporal. This will be a continual battle as long as we live in this world but purposing to live each day with this agenda at the core of your life will be worth it all.

I hope looking at 5 of the myths we find within the homeschooling culture has given you many things to think about and has been an encouragement to you as you anticipate your homeschool year!

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giving good gifts

gifts

One bright fall day, my friend, Phyllis, and I traveled from our homes in Bad Tolz, West Germany to a nearby town that was known for its great shopping.  Each of us had been saving money from our already-meager budgets so we could spend the day acting like tourists rather than the army wives that we were.  Before we left, we exchanged all of our dollars into marks, purposing to not overspend, and off we went.

We had wandered down the brick sidewalks and past a woman’s gift shop, when I saw the most beautiful silk scarf I had ever seen.  The background of it was a grayish brown and sprinkled across, from corner to corner, were falling leaves in all the glorious colors of autumn.  I had never seen anything so wonderful, so luxurious, or so frivolous in my life.  I was a blue jean baby.  I dressed in anticipation of spit-up.  I had nothing in a single closet or drawer that was suitable to be worn with that scarf.  But I wanted it.

Phyllis and I continued shopping and every time I considered making a purchase, my thoughts drifted back to the store with the scarf so by lunch when we sat down and relaxed in a charming guesthaus, I had not made a single purchase. Phyllis began opening her bags and showing me Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers that had been made in East Germany, and a variety of chocolates beautifully wrapped in foil.  I had nothing to show for my morning’s shopping.

After lunch, we, again, went our separate ways and I thought I might have just one more peek at that lovely scarf before I decided how to spend my money.  I hurried back to the shop where the scarf was still neatly arranged across an attractively dressed mannequin.  I knew I had to have that scarf so I quickly paid every last mark in my purse.  The clerk chatted to me in mostly German as she carefully wrapped my package, though I kept hearing some English phrases I understood, like “it is exquisite” and “what lovely taste you have, madam.”

When I met Phyllis at her car, her arms full and her feet, very sore from the weight of her packages, she took one look at me with my one, small bag and laughingly said, “You know, Karen, my great aunt used to have a phrase for this sort of purchase.  She called it having a “hyacinth for the soul.”

I don’t recall that I ever wore that scarf very often.  I once had a raincoat that it matched but I was afraid to get my treasured scarf wet so I only draped it around the coat before I wore it, and then I put it back in the drawer, where I saw it every time I opened my dresser.  The scarf eventually burned in a house fire and I was really sad when it was gone, but I was never sorry that I had owned it.  It was a gift for me and I cherished it.

Sometimes I think about that scarf when my children share with me about some item they long to own.  I see their eyes light up in the same way that I know mine did every time I looked at that scarf.  Often their longings seem foolish to me, extravagant or just plain silly.  I find myself wanting to suggest something practical, something “educational,” something that I think they should love rather than what they do love.

One of the 5 important love languages is the giving of gifts.  Dr. Gary Chapman suggests that we need to give gifts often and especially at times when they are not expected.  He also reminds us that they are never to be given in exchange for something else, that those kinds of “gifts” aren’t really gifts at all, but rather, payment for services given.

I think it is also important that a gift reflects some sort of sacrifice, either in terms of money, of the time it took to choose the gift, or the time spent in making the gift. One thing I like to do in women’s groups at Christmas time is to draw names for a gift exchange but include the stipulation that the gift be something that was made by one person for another person.  Immediately, women begin complaining that they aren’t crafty or creative.  Then I suggest things like family recipes copied and assembled in a notebook or favorite Bible verses with your own devotional thoughts attached.  They catch on and once the gifts are exchanged, they begin to see that a gift made just for another person conveys love and care in ways that a dime store trinket can never do.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes a simple but profound statement about parenting when he says in Matthew 7:11:  “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” You see, Jesus is assuming that parents, even bad parents, give good gifts to their children!  We give gifts, sacrificial, unexpected, delightful gifts to our children because it paints a picture for them of the precious gift of eternal life that God the Father gave to us through His son, Jesus!

I would like to suggest that we each ponder the idea of giving gifts to our husbands and our children, a “hyacinth for their souls,” as an unexpected act of love for them. Perhaps we could start today!

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are you a spiritual abuser or a spiritual nurturer?

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One of my friends recently shared with me the story of her kitten problem. It seems that one day Kathy came home from work and discovered a very pregnant mama cat curled up on her back step. Being a mom herself and an animal lover, she took the cat in, fed her, and made sure she had a comfortable place to deliver her babies. Within a few days Kathy was now the proud owner of 5 cats! Needing to leave on a previously planned long weekend trip, Kathy put the cat in her garage along with all the necessary food and water she would need for 3 days. When Kathy returned she found 4 frantic kittens and no mama cat anywhere. She kept hoping the mother cat would come home when her neighbor stopped by to tell her that the cat had been hit by a car and been buried, not realizing that there were also kittens. Kathy began to panic, knowing the kittens needed to be fed, she called the vet’s office, and was told that they would need kitten formula fed to them with an eye dropper every 3 hours, day and night. So a long process of feeding the kittens began, along with cleaning up after them, trying to contain them, and listening to their cries…every 3 hours. As Kathy shared this story with me, she kept saying “The mother in me just couldn’t let those little kittens die. I had to nurture them. It just is part of who I am.”

As Christians, I believe that we ought to have a similar sort of nurturing instinct, a part of “just who we are” that drives us to have compassion toward others, that calls us to continually look out for the best interests of those who are in spiritual need, that is willing to sacrifice to do the right thing in order to help and protect a fellow believer, especially those who might be weak in the faith. This is why the topic of spiritual abuse is so heinous, why it is so painful. You see, the opposite of spiritually abusing someone is to spiritually nurture them. Spiritual abuse is the antithesis of obeying the one another commands of Scripture, particularly toward those who are vulnerable and in spiritual need. It is the misuse of influence or leadership that one might have over someone else, using their need and their weakness to the abuser’s own advantage and typically it is done in such a way that requires manipulation.

As I began to ponder this topic, I began to think about the fact that moms are natural nurturers and that Christian mothers are natural spiritual nurturers. While we want to be sure our children have cozy, warm beds to sleep in at night and delicious and healthy meals for them to eat every day, we also desire for them to grow spiritually, first by acknowledging their need for a Savior and then by trusting Christ in faith as they seek to walk with Him. To that end we provide spiritual training, teaching them to read the Bible and as they get older how to use a concordance or a lexicon. We show them the importance of prayer by praying with them. We introduce them to great heroes of the faith, both living and dead, and we make sure they sit under the teaching and preaching of solid Bible believing pastors. We help them identify their spiritual gifts and give them opportunities to exercise those gifts. But sometimes it is easy for a homeschooling parent to fall into the trap of concentrating on some of the secondary issues that float around in Christian circles without actually emphasizing what Jesus called the “weightier matters of the law.” We forget that being a Christian is having a relationship with Jesus Christ and that being a parent is having a relationship with our children as fellow believers in Christ.

A while back I received an e-mail from a delightful young woman I have gotten to know over the last year. She had listened to the podcasts on spiritual abuse and wanted to share something with me. She said that as she listened to the various aspects of spiritual abuse and how they are demonstrated, she realized that her own parents had used every single technique we talked about and how it had caused such an ungodly atmosphere in their home. While, on the outside, this homeschooling family appeared to be a model one, the reality was that the perfect behaviors of the children had come at the expense of their spiritual abuse and from the hands of those who were called to spiritually nurture them instead. This lovely and gracious young woman told me that her desire is to honor her parents and to seek to build a good relationship with them now that she is grown and married but it is difficult because the issues of abuse are still there and not acknowledged by the parents. In fact, they are still a very real part of their parenting methods with her younger siblings.

Sadly, I do not think this is an unusual situation. I believe that most parents desire with all their hearts for their children to have solid relationships with Christ and others, yet they do not understand that their methods of training their children are not based on true Scriptural principles that teach and apply grace to one another. Instead, they are often harsh and laden with guilt-inducing legalism and they establish unrealistic goals and objectives that cannot ever be realized at such levels of perfection. The over-riding philosophy is that a spiritual authority is somehow authorized to use any sort of manipulative technique in order to get the desired result and so parents will ignore the voice of the Holy Spirit calling them to nurture their children and instead they follow the siren song of spiritual abuse.

So what does spiritual nurturing look like as compared to spiritual abuse? Since I believe that the homeschooling community can be a breeding ground for spiritual abuse, and that, as I Corinthians 10 warns us “if any man thinks he can stand, he must take heed lest he falls,” I believe it is necessary to talk about how the topic of spiritual abuse can relate specifically to homeschooling families. Here are just a few of my thoughts:

A spiritual nurturer is more interested in issues of the heart. A spiritual abuser is more interested in outward appearance, obeying rules, and compliance. A mother cannot understand heart issues by observing her children from the outside. Sure, there will be actions your children take that cause alarm and that need to be addressed. But simply by forcing a child to change his actions you have not nurtured him. Nurturing comes by understanding why children choose to behave in certain ways, by spending lots of time with your children, listening to them at the most inconvenient of times, sacrificing your own desires and opinions and time and money. The opportunity for nurturing comes when least expected, when you are walking by the way, when you are tucking them in at night. Nurturing comes when you place yourself alongside your child, seeking to connect as a fellow believer, being transparent and real. It requires the discernment to recognize actual sin from a dislike for their preferences and the willingness to biblically confront it if it really is a sin. Nurturing means being your own parent of your own child, trusting that God knew what He was doing when he placed your own children in your own home and not in someone else’s. It means loving them so completely that you truly seek to know them, really know them. I remember the scene in the move Little Women when the German professor who had fallen in love with Jo says to her “Your heart understood mine.” That is the state of one nurturer’s heart to another’s.

A spiritual nurturer recognizes that God is doing an amazing work in the life of someone else and wants to be used by God to see that work accomplished. A spiritual abuser seeks to use someone else to fulfill his own agenda. If a homeschooling mom is truly honest, she will admit that there have been many times where her first thought about her child’s behavior or choices has been “what will other people think of us as homeschoolers?”   When that happens, the desire for her own glory has superseded her desire for God’s glory. I remember when my son came home from college with a tattoo. How could this have happened, I wondered. He was homeschooled! What will other homeschoolers think of me when they see this? My son then told us the story of how he wanted to be sure that there was no Scripture that prohibited him from having a tattoo. So, after doing his own Bible study, he went to his Bible professor and asked him if he had missed something in his study. The professor sat down with him and went through all the passages that might apply and explained them in the Hebrew context for the believer today. Fully satisfied that it would not be a sin, my son designed a tattoo that expressed his faith and it depicts a man whose face is partially made of a cross, the symbolism being that my son was made in God’s image. How could I respond to that in any way other than to step back, forget about what others might think of him as a homeschooled young man, and to look at how my son was trying to express his own personal faith in Christ. Though it didn’t send me to the tattoo parlor to get one of my own, it caused me to repent of my own pride and the desire to have a perfect , man-made image as a homeschool mom. The spiritual nurturer looks at the way someone has been gifted and rather than reacting negatively to it, responds with a grateful heart to the Lord who gave those gifts and then seeks to recognize how God is using those gifts in the ministry of his church. A nurturer sacrifices his own preferences in order to see those gifts used by someone else. I once knew a girl who had grown up with a mother who repeatedly lamented “Oh, you are not like me at all!” The girl equated good, proper behavior as being like her mother, who was introspective and somewhat of a recluse. The problem was that this girl was naturally outgoing, friendly and loved being with other people. How sad it was that that mother could not see, until that girl was grown, that God had given the daughter different gifts and had intended to use them in spite of that mother!

A spiritual nurturer trusts in the sovereignty of the living God whose plan unfolds moment by moment. A spiritual abuser seeks to control situations and knowledge in order to accomplish his own agenda. Having an active and genuine faith in the God of the Bible requires that we live every day to the fullest, facing each new challenge knowing that God has never failed us and never will. A spiritual nurturer lives by that faith and in that moment, having no need to attempt to micromanage the lives of others or to manipulate the outcome. A nurturer simply trusts that God is working for his own good pleasure and for those he seeks to nurture.

A spiritual nurturer is honest, honest about his past, his present and his future. He knows that he is of no use to God if he cannot acknowledge God’s grace in all areas of life and share that grace with others. He realizes that his own image isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of life and sets aside that image to minister to those who so desperately need to know that God loves sinners and calls them to repentance, promising to do a new work in their lives. A spiritual abuser sometimes admits sin when it is convenient but does not understand real repentance and the fact that it means to turn away from his most cherished sins. A spiritual abuser will portray a perfectionistic lifestyle and will force his preferences on others by characterizing his beliefs as “Biblical” and the beliefs of others as “compromising, pragmatic, worldly, or post-modern.” He will not admit wrongdoing but will be the first to confront the sins of someone else. Memo: this rarely works in parenting and is not advised! It is the stuff that rebellion is made of.

A spiritual nurturer knows that God’s word is true and trusts that he doesn’t need to add anything to it to make it sufficient for life and godliness. He seeks to be able to support his own beliefs with the Bible and when he cannot, admits it, forsakes his ways, and conforms his life around God’s word. He will always choose God’s word over the traditions or doctrines of any man. A spiritual abuser looks for verses that will support his own belief system and will not think twice about adding on to God’s law. He will equate his agenda with the Bible, pressuring others to conform in order to be accepted.

Finally, I want to offer a few more thoughts on spiritual abuse and how we can respond to it when we experience it at the hands of others. Throughout the past few weeks, Matthew 5:44 has repeatedly come to mind. “Pray for those who despitefully use you.” I think it is essential that we pray for those who are spiritually abusive, especially as it relates to the homeschooling community. We need to repeatedly pray that the Lord will open the eyes of those who have refused to nurture other believers and, instead, have followed down a path of abuse and mistreatment. As we commit to pray for others, an amazing thing happens. We begin to genuinely love them and want the best for them, thus intensifying our prayers to see them repent.

Next, Colossians 3:13 admonishes us to “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” One of the saddest aspects of spiritual abuse is the bitterness that can come into someone’s life after having been mistreated by other believers, especially those who were mentors or in a position of spiritual leadership. So many times Clay and I have had people share with us that they used to go to church but haven’t been in years. And then they begin to tell a sad story of how someone treated them, often times just when they really needed encouragement and hope in their lives. For some of these people, even opening their Bibles has been tremendously difficult. The book of Hebrews warns us not to allow a root of bitterness to spring up and for good reason. Once a seed takes root and grows it is often nearly impossible to remove. In fact, look at what happens when a tiny acorn is planted…it becomes an oak tree and often can only be brought down by a severe storm or tornado. When we harbor bitterness toward someone who as despitefully used us, we close the door to repairing the relationship in the future. As tempting as it is to imagine the abuser as a vile and wicked enemy, we have to remember that we wouldn’t want someone to take a snapshot of us during our most sinful and worst behavior and hang on to it, denying the power of God’s grace to work in our lives. We must offer that same grace to another person. We must be ready at all times to welcome someone who comes to us in repentance and be willing to forgive them as Christ as forgiven us. We need to hope for that end.

We also need to be careful to not allow our experiences with spiritual abuse to become confused with our relationship with God or our ability to worship Him, read His word, or pray. Unfortunately, this is too often the case. As I have shared before, when we experienced terrible mistreatment at the hands of a group of elders, a friend of mine suggested this. He shared that when he, too, had been through the same experience and with the same church leaders, he sat down and began to read through the Gospels, looking at Jesus and His ministry, paying close attention to the details. He then went on to read in the book of Acts and eventually through the epistles. He told me that it was such a time of cleansing for him personally and the Lord used that experience to draw Him closer to God and to give Him a deeper relationship with Christ. I followed his suggestion and found myself with a renewed joy for the word and a greater love for the Lord. But something else happened as I read through the New Testament. I started to note that Jesus whole method of dealing with those who were truly seeking Him was one of kindness and gentleness, forgiveness and compassion. He also leveled his harshest and most biting rebukes at those who sought to add to His word and to place burdens on the backs of those who sought to follow the one true God. That exercise gave me the perspective I needed to see things I had missed before in the Word and I can honestly say now that if I had to go through it all again, I most certainly would to be in the place I find myself now!

We also need to examine what we really believe the Bible teaches about spiritual authority within the church and the home. Not every Christian will come to the same conclusion about church government, whether we believe in a congregational rule or an elder rule or some combination of the two. Spiritual abuse can be found in all these forms of church government. But there are some basic things all Christians must ask when looking at a church home, which ever type you believe to be biblical.

Does this church uphold the genuine biblical qualifications for church leaders? Here is what Scripture teaches about those who would lead a congregation: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.  Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,  not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,  for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

Does this church believe that all believers, men and women, adults and children, are a royal priesthood? 1 Peter 2 tells us “As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him– you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ….you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” And then in 1 John 2:20 it says “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth.”

And what about relationships within the family? Again, as we employ the one anothers of Scripture, we will live in harmony with our husbands, wives, children, and fellow believers, nurturing rather than abusing each other. Will we fail? Absolutely! But we know what we are supposed to do and are thankful that repentance, turning away from our own sins of abuse, and forgiveness toward those who have abused us will result in living a life of blessing.

We must remember that as painful as spiritual abuse can be and as tempting as it can be to perpetrate it against another believer to our own ends, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith. One of my favorite passages of Scripture is Psalm 73.   In it we find Asaph, the worship leader in the temple, struggling and suffering at the hands of those who sought to bring harm to him.   After pouring out his heart to God, he comes to this conclusion “Whom have I in heaven but thee? There is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” May this ever be our own heart’s cry as well.

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organic family life

Organic Family Life Series

This series of articles that originally ran as blog entries during the summer of 2009 seek to examine what one anothering looks likes as it is naturally put into practice with our children.

organic family life ~ part one 

One of the phrases that my nearly 87 year old mother often repeats, as old women are apt to do, is “Your father would have loved….fill in the blank.” Rhubarb pie, a new baby, a good dog story, a grandchild’s college graduation, you name it, we all know what Dad would have loved.

Well, one thing he would not have loved is the penchant I have for showering my flowers with Miracle Gro. He hated the stuff, along with anything else that could either synthetically entice geraniums to bloom profusely or bugs to die on the literal vine. My dad was an organic gardener, a compost zealot, a manure connoisseur.

I often think of my dad and his gardening philosophy when it comes to relationships both with God and with other people. Too often books and articles that define and describe “biblical” relationships within the home and the rest of the body of Christ are anything but natural or organic. Instead, they are contrived and mechanical, propped up by gimmicks or ideals that have stood neither the test of time nor the wisdom of the ages. Often they even defy common sense. They may get results, even spectacular ones, but at what price?

Over the next few weeks I am going to look at what organic, natural, God-glorifying, and people edifying relationships look like, what it takes to make them happen, and what some of the threats are to their existence.

Organic gardeners will tell you that there are two very important things to know. The first one is that organic gardening involves continually replenishing your resources, making sure that you are adding healthy, nutritious, soil-enhancing material to the garden.

I think that this is one area where homeschooling families, for the most part, shine. Many of the areas of life that threaten a healthy Christian walk are just not part of how we live. We don’t accept wrong behavior as normal and we recognize sin for what it is, doing what we can to avoid it when we see it or repenting of it when we practice it.
Also, many of the materials we use for educating our children are exceptional and have been written specifically for parents as they disciple their children. But we need to always pay particular attention to the content of these resources. Sometimes they contain time-wasting “junk food,” useless trivia that is basically what Mary Pride always called “twaddle.” Other times they include poison, little seeds that are planted that can and often do grow into bad theology and life practice when they come to maturity.
The second thing organic gardeners need to realize is that there is always a bigger picture to consider, that growing plants naturally means cooperating with all of nature, seeing your own small garden as part of our whole Eco system.

There is a tendency within homeschooling families to become so self consumed and inwardly focused that we miss the fact that all Christians are part of the body of Christ, that we must work together to build His spiritual kingdom. The results of our efforts are to bring edification to the body, glory to Christ, and a thirst in others who have not yet tasted of the Living Water. It is as we work toward that end that we will be setting the stage for producing fruit that is pleasing and healthful.

Organic, natural family life does not just happen by itself. Next I will be sharing about the “soil” of organic family life.

organic family life ~ part two

“But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

Summertime for my children meant spending evenings running through Grandpa’s yard, catching fireflies and playing hide and seek under the butter bean tent in his garden. Marching precariously through the perfect rows of pepper and tomato plants, pausing to follow the lady bugs as they wound their way around the squash vines, they came to a perfect parade rest in front of the corn, soft, black soil oozing up between their stubby little toes.

They were intrigued with grandpa’s homemade composter churning its way through coffee grinds, banana peels, and egg shells. Grandpa would often pull out the thermometer to proudly show them the ever-rising temperatures inside, its pungent smell causing them to wrinkle their noses and then off they ran to munch on radishes or sugar snap peas.

During the winter months my dad spent hours planning his garden, researching the best means of preparing his soil, knowing that an organic gardener’s top priority is having soil that will grow healthy, vibrant, fruitful plants.

The first year in his garden, he began the process of repairing the soil that had been damaged by harsh treatment from the previous owner. So every fall he planted rye that could be turned over in the spring to enrich the soil. He composted and recycled anything that would add nutrients to the earth, trying to put back into it as much as he took out of it. He recognized the need to feed the soil itself, not just the plants, purposing to work with nature and not against it. He knew that he had to rotate his crops, that diversity was a key ingredient to gardening year after year. He also had learned from years of experience that tending the soil in his garden was an ongoing process, that keeping bugs at bay and the ph make-up of the soil balanced was crucial and a never ending job. But he also knew that his commitment and perseverance would pay off in the end.

When I consider the importance of the organic nature of family life, the first thing that comes to mind is the type of soil into which our families are planted. As with the gardener, moms and dads know that it is the most important first step in producing Kingdom fruit.

In Matthew 13, Jesus told the following story about soil:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…..

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”

In this story, Jesus stresses the importance of the quality of the soil into which the Gospel message is planted and I believe it holds true for family life as well, since the Gospel is central to all relationships we have within our families. So what are some things that will give us the kind of soil we need for organic family life?

1. Family members must put at least as much back into the life of the family as they take out.
 Families are made up of givers and takers and these roles change depending on the seasons or circumstances of life. Infants and small children require constant care and tending; they have needs that must be met at the expense of the needs of others. The same is true for elderly family members who can no longer participate in ways they once did. So those who are able must meet the needs of others, restoring and renewing each other. We cannot only take from a family, we must give as well, naturally caring for each other as the seasons of life wax and wane. Like replenishing the soft, black soil into which we place tiny plants, each one giving to the needs of each other replenishes the souls within each family.

2. Healthy organic family life happens as we recognize the strength it has in its diversity and as we encourage the natural abilities, gifts, and talents of each one.
 Half the fun of being part of a family is learning to enjoy the differences each member has that make up the whole of the group. Just because children are created from the same gene pool doesn’t mean that they will be the same in gifts or temperament or personality. Delighting in those differences refreshes and enlivens family life.

3. Sometimes reclaiming the soil of family life requires that parents recant their previous harsh teachings and repent, seeking forgiveness from their children for past wrongs. Many evangelical parents over the past couple of decades have succumbed to the harsh teachings that abound in the church regarding raising children. Many of those teaching have done so much damage that the soil of little hearts cannot receive any message. Before they will hear, they must see fruits of repentance for past sins against them. The same is true for the family soil. Showing favoritism or allowing children to have mean spirits toward each other can also prevent the grown of healthy relationships.

The same can also be said for the relationship between mom and dad. In the business of raising children, the marriage is often neglected and what might begin as small irritations can turn into anger and grudges that are even shared by the children against one of the parents as they take up offenses for the one who was hurt. Healthy soil must begin with cleaning up past messes!

4. Healthy families recognize those influences that harm either individuals or the entire group and they seek to remove them from their lives and avoid further entanglements. It requires much discernment to recognize those things that may seem so good but that can lead to even bigger problems.

A few years ago, farmers in the Midwest brought in Asian beetles that would eat the pests from the leaves of soybean plants, believing this would organically solve many of their problems. Now we have regular infestations of these smelly, biting bugs, something that seemed like such a good idea until they took over!

Wise parents and children who are taught discernment will be on the lookout for those things that could harm the soil of their organic family life and will do whatever it costs to protect each other.

5. Healthy family life rests on the principles of placing good nutrients in the soil of their “family garden.”
 Gardeners will know what nutrients are needed in their soil by testing. Even what looks like fertile ground might contain elements that would damage young tender plants. Times of testing and struggle, even for young children, will give us clues as to what they are lacking in their spiritual lives, in much the same way we can tell if our children are hungry or in need of rest.

Like the rich, fragrant compost that organic farmers mix to feed their soil, we, too, need to be certain that our families “feast” upon good spiritual food. Regularly reading God’s Word, hearing edifying and grace-filled messages from pastors and teachers, and sharing the testimonies of God’s grace in each others’ lives on a regular basis will all build up the soil of family life, creating an environment that is fertile and producing good fruit, a harvest for God’s glory.


organic family life ~ part three

During the summer of 1988 we experienced the hottest and driest weather I can ever remember. Days and weeks and months went by without any pattern of rain. Wells went dry, garden plants shriveled on the vine, extreme heat day after day kept me indoors with three grade schoolers, one toddler, and a very pregnant tummy. We had only one window unit air conditioner in our house and we all parked in front of it, taking turns leaving the “cold room” to get drinks or pop cycles for each other, reading books and watching way too many movies.

At night we placed the window fans on high and I would soak a bath towel in cold water, ringing it out and draping it across my stomach as I tried to find a comfortable position for sleeping. We were certainly a miserable lot. Too much dry, hot weather produced nothing fruitful in the garden or in our home!

This year, up until the past week or so, it has been just the opposite. We were still seeing 40 degree temperatures in the middle of May and even now are way ahead in rainfall. Cold, wet weather is not conducive to lush crops either. Balance has tremendous impact on fruitfulness.

As I have been thinking about the external factors that affect the organic nature of family life, someone asked me if I wouldn’t consider looking at the whole concept of parental repentance that I briefly touched on last week. As I write, I am certainly not implying that parents are the only ones who sin in their homes. I believe that the Bible says is true, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Perhaps I will write about the sins of children one of these days but, quite frankly, it seems to me that there is a glut of information out there that dwells on the things children do wrong and very little that talks about what we as parents have done to sin against our children.

So today I am going to begin to look at those areas of family life where parents are required in Scripture to do certain things in their families, how we fall short of obeying these commands, the fruit that is produced in these environments, the need for repentance in these areas, and what that repentance ought to look like. I am starting with the admonitions to parents.

First and foremost, parents are instructed to love their children.
 Initially we might think it is silly to be told to love our children. From the moment they are welcomed into our home, we have a natural affection for them. As moms, we notice every little move as they float around in our wombs, being aware when their movements slow down and frantically calling the doctor when there is a concern. We endure the inconveniences of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, the sleepless nights of infancy out of love for our children. It all seems so natural.

But Scripture repeatedly admonishes us to “love one another” and it instructs the older women in the church to teach the younger women to love their children. Love isn’t something that simply comes to us in our sinful state as human beings. We have to be reminded that love is a willful act, something we decide we will do. And yet, the closer we walk to the Lord and live in obedience as faithful Christians, the more naturally our genuine love for our children will flow from us. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us what that will look like: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

The second admonition we have as parents is to pray for our children.
 In warning the children of Israel to stay away from false gods and useless idols, the prophet Samuel acknowledged that he, too, would be in sin if he ceased to pray for them. (1 Samuel 12:23) So often we have expectations on our children that they will stay true to the Lord and not be overcome by the world, but we fail to lift them up in prayer. We forget to recognize that only by the grace of God and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in their lives, will they accomplish the will of their Heavenly Father. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 And when we pray for our children, we are to expect that He will answer: “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation!” Psalm 5:3

organic family life ~ part four ~ the importance of the blessing

Penelope and I sat snuggled on the couch.  We had just finished reading a Little House on the Prairie book and began talking about our long-awaited and upcoming trip to the American Girl Doll store.  Perusing the latest catalogs for the past few months, she had decided on Felicity, the Revolutionary War era doll.  At five, she is just now beginning to have a small concept of history, of times long ago before she was born.

In the midst of our very grown-up conversation, she said, “Grandma, I know you are so glad to have me.  You had boy after boy after boy after boy after boy and then you finally got me.  You are so glad I am here.”  I had to smile, those big round eyes were so sparkly and serious!  I had told her that a long time ago and I meant it.
While she was at my house, she and I baked bread.  She was intrigued by the yeast, how it bubbled clear over the top of the bowl and the fact that it was “alive.”   We rolled dough with the old wooden rolling pin that had belonged to Clay’s great grandmother, carefully shaping the ends and placing them into pans.  Penelope placed hers in the miniature pan, one just for Grandpa.

When they came out of the oven, she was delighted and couldn’t wait for Grandpa to see what she had done.  Of course, he praised her, emphatically pronouncing it the best loaf ever, and thanked her for baking one just his size.  And she was so proud, so happy to have pleased him.

Through these simple acts, of showing a child their value to us in the history of our families, of praising them well and often, of continually recognizing the use of their gifts, we are extending a blessing to our children (and grandchildren) that will hold a life-long influence over their choices and in their ability to bless others.
In part three of organic family life, I began discussing the topic of parental repentance by listing some of the duties that parents have toward their children. Today I am continuing by looking at another one of the greatest duties that is needed and one that, if ignored, will cause life-long pain and brokenness in the lives of children.  Moms and dads must pass on a blessing to their children, individually, while they are in the womb and all throughout their adult lives.

The concept of giving a blessing to our children is rooted in the practices we find in the Old Testament.  As we read the stories of one generation handing down a blessing to the next, we see that it is done from parent to children and also from church leaders to their congregations.  It is part of passing on our faith and instilling a picture of God’s purposes in the lives of His own.

As I have been thinking about the concept of blessing our children and have been reading references to this idea in Scripture, several key things have caught my eye.  This list is by no means exhaustive but I hope it offers food for thought.

1.    Receiving a blessing from your parents is something that is highly coveted and hoped for. 
The story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25 shows us the great desire that children have to be loved and accepted by their parents, sometimes to the point of sinning against others in order to receive it.

2.    Sibling rivalry can come from not blessing all children. This same passage also demonstrates the fruits of favoritism in a family.  Verse 28 tells us that Isaac loved Esau but that Rebekah loved Jacob, a situation that set everyone up for conflict.  In fact, Jacob, though he wrestled in the wilderness with God and received God’s blessing, still showed partiality to his own son, Joseph, causing bitterness and jealousy among his children and furthering the conflict into the next generations.

3.    Blessings vary from child to child and family to family and are often expressed in the names that children are given. The sweetest sound to every human soul is that of their own name.  How much more valuable is that name if there is a special meaning attached to it?  How often we are told in Scripture that someone’s name means such and such, implying that it has defined that person.

4.    Blessing is not based on works, but on grace, and is not given because of what we have done but because of who we are in Christ.
 This is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, the sense that they are valuable to us simply because God has given them to us.  When I was a small child and heard my father talk about me being adopted, it was also told in the context that God had given me to my parents.  What a precious memory that is for me!

5.    In Jesus Christ we have every blessing we would ever need, so for those of us who might not have received a blessing from our parents, we can take great comfort in this truth. Have you ever known someone who was several decades old who had never received any sort of affirmation or approval from a parent?  Perhaps this is the saddest thing imaginable, to believe that you are not loved solely because of who you are, because of who God made you to be,  to feel that you are a disappointment to a parent not only by the things he said to you but by the things he didn’t say. These are burdens that are so difficult to bear that they often cause future generations to stumble and fall.

I know a woman whose mother often told her “you are not like me at all” implying that the right way to be was like the mother, which was quiet and introverted; she was nearly a recluse.  But this young woman was gregarious and outgoing.  For many years she lived with the idea that something was wrong with her because she loved being with people so much!  The difference in personalities between the two of them was so obviously annoying and distressing to the mother that she would often tell her child “you are the bane of my existence.”  The daughter never fully understood what that meant until she was looking up a word in the dictionary one day and her eyes fell on the meaning of the word “bane,” which means poison.  Imagine the sense of worthlessness she experienced at that moment.  Cruel words from the lips of a parent can cause lifelong pain.  Not hearing encouraging words can also be a grief that is too painful to bear.

I knew just such a man who struggled with this pain his entire life.  Growing up on the mission field, he spent many years attending a school for missionary children, only seeing his parents during holidays and vacations from the time he was 5 years of age.  He could not remember hearing his mother or father say “we are so sad to be apart from you” instead he continually heard them admonish him to be willing to sacrifice all for Christ.

As he grew older and answered the call to the ministry himself, he struggled as his father criticized everything from his choice of seminary and denomination to individual sermons.  Eventually he gave up trying to please a father who did not accept him and their relationship was one that produced grief and unfulfilled longings.  In spite of a series of personal losses that included the death of his beloved wife and children who rejected the Gospel, he preserved until his father died.  Only a few months later, this dear man took his own life. I have often wondered what might have been had this missionary who had given his life to serving and ministering to others had invested in his own family, in a son who so desperately wanted the blessing of his father.

For those of us who have suffered from this experience, the precious truth that we were chosen by Christ before the foundations of the world, were purchased with His blood, are saved by His grace alone, and are of immeasurable worth to Him, is what ought to bring us healing, comfort, joy, and a great hope.

I would encourage you today to consider how you might bless each of your children, in word and in deed today, that it might give them confidence in the Lord and in their relationship with you.  And I would also encourage those who struggle as the result of not having received the blessing of a parent.  I pray that the Lord will continue to pour out His grace and healing to you.

For some incredible insights into the concept of the importance of blessing, I would highly recommend the book The Blessing by Gary Smalley and John Trent. I will be reviewing this book in the future as well.

organic family life ~ part five ~ repenting of provoking our children to anger

A couple weeks ago while I was relaxing poolside, watching Grandpa Clay playing with the grandchildren in the water, I couldn’t help but hear and see an interesting interaction between a mom and her near teenage daughter.  While three younger siblings were splashing around and enjoying themselves, the oldest girl sat under a beach umbrella, sullen and pouting, her arms crossed and daggers coming from her eyes.  Someone had offended her and she was letting everyone know.

A few minutes later, her mom spoke up from the pool. “I can’t believe you scratched him like that.  Just look at the marks on his back,” she shouted.

I looked over at the younger brother who was swimming and joking around, oblivious to the scratches but obviously delighting in the dressing down his mom was giving to his sister. “But he kept trying to dunk me and wouldn’t stop pulling on me,” the girl replied.

“I don’t care,” said the mom, “You can just sit there until you can behave.”

At this point, the girl answered her, “I might as well go back to the room then.”

“No you won’t.  You will sit right where I have told you to sit.”

This conversation was louder with each retort and eventually the girl said nothing while the mother continued to let her know not only how she had misbehaved but how she had embarrassed her in front of everyone and that her whole attitude in life needed to change, etc.

I felt very uncomfortable and I was embarrassed for both of them.  This girl was just at that age, needing to feel approval and acceptance as an emerging young woman who feels unattractive and unsure about herself every day.  She may have been completely wrong in what she did, though in watching her brother’s glee, I was not so sure he didn’t get the desired affect he sought.  I suspect that this conversation was only one of many just like it that was shared in that home.

I was also embarrassed for this mom who needed to let everyone within ear shot know that she was in charge, her parental authority feeling challenged by a daughter who would soon be grown.  I knew that whatever the relationship was between the two of them, it had been damaged by the mom’s decision to admonish the daughter in public and in a manner that belittled her.  Though the daughter may have been absolutely wrong and her attitude was a problem, this mother was provoking her child to anger by public humiliation and it was her responsibility as the parent to set the example of proper relationship building.

I think that one of the greatest assets a mom can possess is the ability to empathize with her children, to be able to put herself in their shoes and actually try to look at situations from their vantage point.  In organic family life, this is perhaps the most essential ingredient to good communication.

We are exhorted to admonish one another, to confront each other in love when we see sin.  As parents, this is an important part of teaching and instructing our children.  But we must also be mindful that our words and actions hold much more significance in the lives of our kids than we realize.  Correction and reproof when done ought to be administered in privacy and with the goal of further building unity and trust.  Think of how you would want them to admonish or correct you.

As I thought of ways that I have failed in this area, things I have done that I have had to repent of because they caused my children to be provoked to anger, I began to make a list.  I cringed as I typed, the thoughts coming fast and furious.  I know from experience, either from my own life or from listening to what others have shared with me, that these are areas where we easily fail as parents.
Jumping to conclusions
Not trusting them
Talking about them to your friends
Not expecting the best of them
Not showing empathy
Trying to make them like the same things you like
Belittling them, especially in front of others
Failing to praise them or even reward them for the good things they do
Telling someone they will do something without asking them
Critically looking them up and down, examining their clothing choices, hairstyles, friends etc.
Being nitpicky; making mountains out of molehills
Not paying attention to the things that really matter to them; minimizing their hopes, dreams, beliefs, questions, concerns, convictions
Dissembling information to them; being hypocritical by “interpreting” the Bible to them in ways that only show your legalism rather than your dependence on the Word of God and the grace of Christ; calling things sin that the Bible doesn’t call sin in order to manipulate them
Refusing to give them increasing responsibilities all the time or giving them responsibilities but continuing to treat them as though they were younger
Assuming their time is your time and they can be interrupted at will to meet your needs
Ignoring the gifts God has given to them
Showing your preference for another sibling
Forgetting things they have told you
Yelling at and scolding them
Belittling, minimizing, or ignoring their doubts and faith struggles
Not protecting them enough
Being overly protective
Thankfully, by God’s grace we are promised that if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)  We need to continually recognize what things provoke our children to anger and then to repent of this behavior, seeking forgiveness for doing these things to our children and purposing to not do them again. Relationships with our children depend on it.

organic family life ~ part six ~ comforting body and soul

Sometimes mothering experiences sprinkle down upon you like a gentle rain, the shirt-spotter kind of rain and nothing more.  Other times we are overwhelmed and things “come in threes” as my grandmother used to predict that they would. I will never forget my initiation into the world of multiple sick children, a flash flood upon my garden of pre-school parenting, my grandma’s words making sense to me for the first time.  My older three children were 4, 2, and 1 when they came down with chickenpox within hours of each other.

The sweltering July heat and Illinois humidity grows bumper corn crops and even bumperer rashes.  I don’t believe there was a single crevice on those miserable little bodies that wasn’t affected!   Having air conditioning in only one room of our old farmhouse, I set them up on the hideabed with fans blowing the air around them and a baking soda paste covering them from head to toe.  I rationed out the Benadryl and fed them popsicles while we watched endless episodes of Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow. Why wasn’t that the week Mr. Rodgers did a special on skin and childhood diseases? And we all waited, day after long day, for Dad to get home from work!

When our children are sick, the world seems to stand still.  They are needy and restless, they are not easily entertained and our hearts break for them because they are feeble and cannot understand why they feel the way they do.  I remember thinking of Psalm 103:  “for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
I was so blessed by my conversation with Kathie Kordenbrock as she talked about this “dust factor,”  the physical limitations of children and the importance of mom’s remembering how children’s bodies work and the needs that are unique to them.

As moms, we often forget that children need lots of time for physical activity and just as much if not more time to explore the world around them without being encumbered by “seat work” and pre-scheduled lessons.  They need time to think and process the new experiences they have and they need to continually be introduced to new thoughts and ideas as well.

It had been a long time since I taught anything to a 5 year old but while I wandered through the natural history museum with my granddaughter, I consciously bent down to look at the exhibits from her eye level, to see what she was seeing, to answer the many questions she had about the animals and plants we were discovering together.

As she talked to me, I realized that it was comforting to her when I explained what we were looking at, for a grandma to know answers to so many things that were new to her.  I could feel her small hand relax in mind as I told her about the buffalo and the raccoons and the huge skeleton of the whale that hung above our heads.  Children need the assurance that they are being mentored by people who adore them and that no questions are silly and all are worthy of real answers.  They need to feel that both their bodies and their minds are safe.

Children also need the comfort of having a family meal time where the food is nutritious, delicious, and almost as satisfying as the conversation around the table.  In our American culture, people eat meals in between their other activities; it is the half-time refreshment.  We have much to learn from other countries where the meal is the main event and begins with choosing the best ingredients, preparing the food in the kitchen, often together as a family.  The culmination is the relaxed time of eating and discussion, the coming together after a long day, each sharing their own day’s experiences.

As my children have begun leaving home, I have come to realize that there was a certain comfort for them around the table.  They could count on the fact that, no matter how bad the day had been, supper time would be spent enjoying a meal mom had prepared with them in mind and that we would all be together.  And that relaxing time was spent talking and listening to each other, laying the groundwork for greater talking and listening yet to come.

A very important part of feeding our children is making a space for those great thoughts and exchanges to take place, an opportunity for children to stretch their ideas and impressions in a safe and relaxed environment while the whole family is participating in something they enjoy. After all, Ronald Reagan was correct when he said “All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

We also need to remember that comforting a child’s soul is a responsibility we have been given and we ought not to take it lightly. While we spend many hours helping our children memorize Scripture or the catechism and even more hours in actual Bible instruction, comforting a child’s soul, one of our greatest responsibilities as moms and dads, happens when we spend lots of time with them, walking alongside them every single day.

Back when my first children were toddlers, the phrase “quality time vs quantity time” was all the rage.  I can remember Phil Donahue blathering on and on, assuring moms that they didn’t need to worry if they were away from their children for 12 or more hours every day as long as the time they spent with their children, no matter how little it was, was “quality” time. This seemed as nonsensical to me then as it does now.  It is like saying “well, I can only give you one little bite of food so I will make it steak instead of a bite of a jelly sandwich.”  How satisfying would that be? Children need both quality time and quantity time and giving it to them is a duty that God has given to us as parents. Nothing comforts the soul of a child as much as time with a parent who loves and cherishes him.  And nothing is as important…no job, no ministry, no special interest, no hobby.

There are various reasons that young adults who were raised in Christian homes abandon their faith but research repeatedly shows that a nurturing, open, and comforting relationship with someone older who has invested lots of time in them is what keeps children true to the Lord.

Organic, natural family life is lived in the presence of comfort and nurturing of both body and soul, giving bread and not a stone to our precious children, turning our hearts to them as unto the Lord.


organic family life ~ part seven ~ refusing to be the unfaithful shepherd

“Jesus said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” John 21:17

My first introduction to 2:00 am feedings did not come with the delivery of my first child 34 years ago. Rather, I learned this very important aspect of caring for an infant when I was about 7 and my dad brought home an abandoned lamb from a nearby farmer.

The vet told us to mix up a formula of cow’s milk and Karo syrup and to serve it warm in a pop bottle with a special nipple attached. Though I was sleepy-eyed and uncertain, I trudged down to the basement a couple times each night to feed my “baby,” her wobbly legs and wiggly tail delighting me each time.

Soon she was able to eat grains and run through the grass in the field behind our house and we kept her until she was older and had a few babies of her own. It wasn’t until I was grown-up with babies of my own that the concept of shepherding in Scripture began to make sense to me and my heart was quickened at the similarities between my children and that tender little lamb that had needed my care.

Mothering is a job of total sacrifice; it begins while that child is in the womb and I am not sure when it ends. It requires not only all your time, energy, and resources, but it requires a measure of attentiveness that, prior to motherhood, you don’t even know exists. Like the shepherd who is mindful of those things that are prone to attack sheep, moms keep their eyes open for any signs of danger that might harm their little ones. In the heart and eyes of a mom, harming a child seems like impossibility. But sometimes we do harm our children in spite of ourselves.

In the past few months I have been struck by the need to discuss parental repentance as it relates to homeschooling parents. It began when Clay and I met a young homeschooled woman who is struggling to find her identity both in Christ and as an adult after years of emotional and spiritual abuse at the hand of her parents. In listening to her story, we were so grieved at the broken relationships and the unnecessary severing of both family and extended family ties.

As time has gone on and we have considered this woman’s story, we have thought about how difficult repentance can be, how moms and dads, especially homeschoolers who have given, in some instances, decades to raising children, find it so hard to acknowledge that perhaps their paradigm or personal preferences weren’t necessarily the “biblical” way, that their agenda was not appropriate for the various callings the Lord was placing on their lives of their children. What makes someone hold on to something that can neither be supported by the Word of God nor shown to build solid family relationships? What motivates someone to shepherd sheep, ie, raise children, in such a way as to destroy the lambs under their care and render them ineffective in service to the Great Shepherd?

Interestingly, the Bible is not silent on this. In Ezekiel 34, we read about the treatment of the sheep at the hand of unmerciful and wicked shepherds, those who were given the duty of nurturing and protecting their charges but who, instead, destroyed them for their own selfish gain. Though we typically look at this passage in light of cult leaders and abusive church leaders, I believe there is much for us to learn as we examine our own shepherding methods as homeschooling moms.
Here are a few observations I would like to make:

1. The shepherds fed themselves, taking the best food and the finest clothing to use for their own purposes. I believe this is talking about shepherds not only indulging themselves but it implies using the sheep and what the sheep can produce to profit themselves.

When I read this I couldn’t help but think of the series of podcasts I did on the militant fecundity movement and the teaching that having a large family will increase the family economy as well as the kingdom of God. Instead of seeing children as the precious treasure they are, they are looked at as a means for financial success and shepherds who do this are condemned by the Word of God.

It is good and right for children to contribute to the family through helping with family chores and even perhaps a family business. But parents should never see their children as a means for providing for the household expenses either by requiring that they work full time without pay or by confiscating their outside earnings to add to the family till.

Not long ago I was reading in an online forum where the mother was talking about her adult son working in the family business alongside her husband and hoping that he would marry one day. But rather than paying the young man so that he could be saving to prepare for marriage, she talked about how he will occasionally pick up the tab for him when the family goes out to eat and he is allowed to eat at the family dinner table. This is exactly the attitude I believe this passage of Scripture is addressing.

I have also known homeschooling mothers who expected their oldest children to become surrogate mothers to the younger siblings and keepers of their homes to the point where the mother did little of the actual raising, nurturing, or teaching of the younger children or the running of the household. Again, family members must work together and share responsibilities but moms and dads should work alongside their children.

Another way parents use their children for their own gain is to promote their children as the best examples of homeschoolers and putting pressure on them to perform in certain ways. Though no financial gain may be at stake, parents often demand perfection in order to gain popularity or status within their own homeschooling circles or to gain acceptance in their families or among friends.

2. The shepherds did not strength the lambs in their weakened state and did not heal them when they were sick.
 I believe this speaks to the need for moms to be attentive to all the needs of their children, the physical, emotional, and spiritual. Children are vulnerable and need our protection as well as our encouragement lest they become frustrated and want to give up. They are unable to withstand the pressures that an adult can handle. Especially during the tender years as they approach adulthood, hormones and self-doubt cloud their perspectives. If we minimize their very real feelings and thoughts during this difficult time, we have not strengthened them in their weakened states nor have we healed their infirmities.

I also think this can apply to the way we teach them. Some children are auditory learners, others are hand-on learners, and still others learn by sight. If we insist on teaching them in a way that they are not wired to learn, we are not strengthening them and are only adding to their sense of frustration.

3. The shepherds did not go after the sheep that had wandered from the fold and did not heal their injuries. This is perhaps one of the most difficult things for me to observe. There is the attitude of some parents who think once a child reaches a certain age they ought to leave home or, more commonly with homeschooling parents, if they are difficult to live with (perhaps not wanting to follow the family paradigm), they are turned out on their own so as not to influence the rest of the siblings.

The example of the Lord Jesus is not one of waiting for us to repent, hoping beyond hope as he “softly and tenderly” calls us. Rather, he pursues us with a passionate love, draws us to himself, and won’t ever let us go. Is this not the example we must have? If a child has wandered and is disobedient, do we not love and offer love and understanding? Are we not to do all we can to care for and maintain a relationship with a child, even one who is disobedient or perhaps wayward? Is this not the time to reexamine our beliefs and convictions under the influence of the Word of God rather than our own traditions or the teachings of some man?

And what of those children who have wandered from the fold and as a result have suffered consequences that perhaps will affect them for a lifetime? Is that not the time to extend grace and mercy to our children, bearing their burdens as the Lord surely bears our own? We are to restore our children in a spirit of meekness and gentleness, caring for them even as our heavenly Father cares for us. “And while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

4. The shepherds ruled the sheep with force and harshness, scattering them and leaving them vulnerable to wild beasts that would devour them. I believe this is one of the saddest things I have witnessed, the “my way or the highway” attitude that I have seen parents display, the child training with such harshness and often brute force that their children, in desiring to escape from their homes, go out on their own and become easy targets to the “wild beasts” in our culture.

Often young people who have been abused at home will find refuge in the first nurturing, caring environment they can find. Often, for girls, it is an older man who takes advantage of them sexually. Sometimes they find comfort in a cult. Other times they completely embrace philosophies and lifestyles that are wordly and they fall prey to alcohol and drug abuse. They become scattered and unable to have healthy relationships of their own.

If we read to the end of this chapter in Ezekiel, we learn two things.

First, for those who read here and are suffering from sins your parents committed against you, the Lord promises that if you come to Him by faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross, you are one of His sheep. He will rescue you. He will give you rich grazing land for food, both physical and spiritual, and clean water for drink. He will bind your wounds, strengthen you, and promised that He will bring justice.

Secondly, we learn that God will punish those who have mistreated His sheep. And the irony is that the shepherd, who seeks to gain at the hands of the sheep, loses in the end. All the use of the sheep for his own agenda is gone and he has nothing. Sadly, this is what I have seen in families where the moms and dads treat those under their care in this way. They are alone with their principles and perhaps that is God’s punishment to them this side of the Last Day.

However, there is good news! We are promised that God will show mercy to us if we repent of the sin of lording it over those sheep who are under our watch care. What a merciful Savior we serve that while we were yet sinners, He loved us and saved us and redeems our lives for eternity and in the here and now!

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