Fun Activity to Encourage Empathy

To raise children to be active productive Christians, you need to raise children who truly understand what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself”. It will probably be easy to love people that like the same things they like or are similar to them in easily identifiable ways. But what about the people with whom they have little, if anything, in common? Or people with whom they have serious disagreements about various topics?

There is a fun activity you can do with your children to begin talking with them about differences and finding points of connection to make loving others as they love themselves more likely. You can do this activity at any time of the year, but it can be the most fun in the Fall, when the leaves are beginning to change color. (Assuming you live somewhere that it happens!)

Take your children on a lead collection walk or hike. Other than poison oak or poison ivy leaves, have them collect a variety of leaves. Sit down with all of the leaves you have collected and compare them to each other. You may even have your children place them in different types of groups – sorting by size, shape, coloring, edging, etc. Which leaves appear to be the most alike? Which two are the most different?

Now encourage your children to look at the leaves in a different way. What are some things that all of the leaves have in common? You can focus on what they can see or go into deeper scientific similarities like how they get the nutrients they need. You may want to jot down their findings for the lists of differences and similarities.

Tell your children that in some ways people are like these leaves. When we first meet someone new, the first thing we may notice are all of the differences between us. If we notice too many differences, we may be tempted to reject them as friends or decide we don’t like them at all. We may even decide we don’t want to help them if they need it, or talk badly about them to others. Ask your children if that is how God wants us to treat everyone?

Point out that if they look more closely though, they will probably find some things in common with everyone. If we are having a hard time finding those things, it can help to ask questions that will help us find those things we have in common. Maybe it is a favorite food, book, show, game or something else. Have your children give you examples of questions they can ask to help the find the things they have in common with others. Remind them to try not to sound like a police interrogation, but to ask the questions in a casual way.

After you’ve finished the activity, continue to talk about the principles on a regular basis. Encourage them to find things in common with a variety of people. It can help them be more likely to serve others and share their faith with love and kindness.

Fun Family Devotional on Comparison

One of the more difficult parts of growing up is the comparison game. Let’s face it. Before children are even born, the ob/gyn caring for their mothers begins comparing the unborn child to other children at the same gestation mark. Once children are born, many pediatricians will tell parents what percentile their children are in for height and weight compared to other children of the same age. And let’s not forget about the ever present standardized testing once they reach school age. It’s no wonder parents and children alike catch comparison fever – many times basing their own feelings of success (or the lack thereof) and even self worth by how they compare to those around them.

God never intended us to compare ourselves to each other. He doesn’t want your children to base their self worth on how they compare to their peers in height or test scores. In fact, the only perfect standard is God Himself – and that has nothing to do with appearances or test scores and grades. There is a fun devotional you can do with your children to begin talking about comparison and helping your children view it in a more godly light.

Before the devotional, gather several different kinds of salt, sugar, bread, fruits or any other edible thing for your children to compare during the activity. When you are ready for the devotional, begin by reading to them 1 Samuel 8 and 10:21-24. Asked your children why the Israelites wanted a king. Point out that they did not ask God to provide them with a godly leader of His choosing, but insisted God give them a king like everyone else around them. Ask them why they think being like the other nations around them was so important to the Israelites.

Then refer to the reading in chapter ten. Ask them if they find an interesting comparison statement in that passage. Notice that both Samuel and the people were focused on the outward appearance of Saul – that he was much taller than everyone else. They seemed to believe that Saul’s height would make him a good king. If your children are familiar with the rest of the stories of Saul’s life, ask them what kind of king he actually was. If they don’t know those stories, you can sum them up and ask them whether or not it sounds like Saul was actually a good king once he started reigning.

Explain to your children that comparing ourselves to other people can cause lots of problems. Ask them why they believe that to be true. (Teens may point out the benefits of an inspirational person. Help them understand why it is important to be careful how they use another person to motivate themselves towards a goal.) Explain that God wants us to compare ourselves to Him – not to decide if we have value in the world, but as our inspiration for how we should live our lives. You may even want to spend time discussing the old adage about comparison that you can always find someone better or worse than you are and how that makes comparison a weak measuring stick for anything – especially deciding whether or not they are meeting the expectations God has for them.

Bring out the items you have gathered to compare. Point out that while comparing people to one another isn’t healthy, comparing foods or other objects to one another can be fun and help them make wise purchases. Have fun comparing the items. Afterwards, reflect on the ways each of you has been comparing yourselves to others and how it has been causing problems. Pray that God helps your family remember that God is our only standard for perfection in spirit, character, etc.

Choosing the Best Bible for Your Children

The Bible never changes, but the variations of translations and special features available to consumers does change from time to time. It can be difficult to keep up with the alphabet soup of translations, much less things like publisher speak like thought-for-thought. You may also have questions about all of those little extras placed in Bibles today. What types of things are helpful and which might either confuse your children or quickly make them believe they have outgrown a particular Bible?

We are going to try and cut through some of that confusion and list some of the more popular versions and why we believe they may or may not be the wisest choice for your children. Then we will list what we believe are some helpful additions to some Bibles and why we believe they may add value to a purchase. So, let’s get started!

NIrV Bibles. This has been our top recommendation for a first personal Bible for independent Bible reading for many years now. This is based primarily on the fact that it has been the Bible with the lowest reading level, making it easier to understand for beginning readers and more advanced readers who are beginning independent Bible study. (There is another version at that level now, that will be discussed later.) The “r” is important because that means it is the version of the Bible written on a third grade reading level. It is not a paraphrase per se, but does appear to be moving more towards the thought for thought translation rather than word for word. The downside is that it is not the most accurate version (most believe the word for word translations are in general the most accurate), but to my knowledge the only huge difference one could argue the interpreters have made is making it somewhat gender neutral (for example people instead of mankind). Although not perfect, it is still the best Bible to get children and even many teens. Why? Because any Bible with a reading level too far ahead of a child’s current reading level will be a frustration text and convince the child that the Bible isn’t worth reading for themselves because it is “too hard”. Most of the remaining popular versions range from 7-12th grade reading levels.

International Children’s Bible (ICB). While also on a third grade reading level, this version has one major flaw… its name. Anyone who works with children and teens understands that beginning fairly early in elementary school, most young people don’t like to be thought of as children. While I did find some covers that weren’t childish, I still believe once they see the name of the version, most young people won’t be nearly as interested in using that version. Which is a shame, because otherwise it would have jumped ahead of the NIrV on our list since it is slightly closer to the word-for-word end of the spectrum.

NIV. For many people, this is the automatic choice. It is closer to a word-for-word translation that the two earlier translations on this list, but is still not even quite half way there. It also contains a lot of gender neutral words that were not in the original. The reading level is 7-8 grade, meaning it is not a great Bible for any child reading below about the 6th grade reading level (your child’s school teacher can tell you the reading levels of your children). The one benefit is that many churches read from the NIV in worship services and Bible classes, making it easier to follow along.

ESV. In recent years, this version seems have to become more popular with teens and young adults. It’s advantage is that it is much closer to a word-for-word translation than the NIV.

Teaching Your Kids About Wisdom

If your children are to reach their full God given potential and grow up to be mature, productive Christians, they will need to learn to find, respect and obey wisdom. While all wisdom comes from God, one of the problems with being young is that it isn’t always easy to apply God’s wisdom to the situations that they encounter in their every day lives. They will need wise people to help them understand how to apply God’s commands and principles to the situations they are encountering that are perhaps slightly different than those the people in the Bible encountered.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where knowledge is easily confused with wisdom. Where those most respected are those who are tech savvy and not necessarily wise at all. Where those who are older and hopefully wiser are considered out of touch and not worth listening to at all… much less asking for and heeding any wise, godly advice they may have.

To counteract that dangerous cultural norm, you will have to teach your children how to recognize wisdom and to find the people who possess it and will share it with them. They need to learn how to compare it to scripture and then follow the advice if it is a match for God’s wisdom.

You can start by having a fun little devotional about wisdom. Call your kids together and ask them who is the smartest person on Earth. Their answers will vary depending upon their ages and interests. Ask them why they believe those people are the smartest on Earth. After they explain how they chose those people, ask them who they think are the wisest people on Earth. If you haven’t talked about knowledge and wisdom much before, they may be stumped or tell you that they just answered that question.

Tell them the story of Solomon asking for wisdom and then the story of the visit from the Queen of Sheba. (1Kings 3:3-15 and 2 Chronicles 9). Point out that although there is a connection between knowledge and wisdom, one can have knowledge and little if any wisdom. Explain that knowledge consists of all of the things you learn. Wisdom is knowing how to use that knowledge to make a decision that involves applying the knowledge in such a way that it has a positive result.

For example, learning the ABC’s is knowledge. Learning spelling and grammar is knowledge. Wisdom is taking all of that knowledge and writing something that helps others. If you want to take it a step farther, godly wisdom is applied knowledge that encourages others to obey God. Ask them if they can think of other examples of knowledge and wisdom that uses that knowledge.

Explain that sometimes the two get disconnected, even when they seem to still be the same. For example someone who has a lot of technical knowledge can design a computer game. While that is applying knowledge, if it isn’t helpful or in fact harms people, then it isn’t true godly wisdom. This concept is more abstract and children may struggle with understanding the difference. Teens, however, should be able to begin to understand the difference… especially after giving multiple examples in both types of situations.

Explain that true wisdom will never contradict scripture… even if everyone else claims those contradictory statements are wisdom. Show your children some popular affirmations that sound wise, but are contrary to God’s wisdom, like “You are perfect just the way you are”, or “You deserve everything you want in life”. See if they can find the flaw in each affirmation and explain how it is different from God’s wisdom.

Take it a step farther by inviting godly older people over to your home for dinner. Let them know ahead of time that you would love for them to share a few tidbits of godly wisdom with your children. Also encourage them to tell an interesting story from their lives. Children and teens often fail to realize that the old “boring” people at church often have had very exciting, interesting lives. Hearing some of their stories will help your children begin to realize that older people just may be different than they thought they were.

If your children are teens, you may want to have later devotionals using Proverbs and Ecclesiastes – examining the wisdom and the later folly of Solomon. No matter the age of your children, regularly talk about wisdom and humility. They will need both to live a mature, productive Christian life.

Could This App Make Family Devotionals Easier?

Recently I received an email from Focus on the Family sharing an initiative they have started to get families reading and talking about scripture together. Since I am a fan of daily family devotionals as one way of parents and children interacting with scripture, I decided to check it out.

Full disclosure. I am in general a fan of many of the Focus on the Family resources. Our daughter loved the Adventures in Odyssey series when she was little and subscribed to several of the magazines they had for children at the time. On the other hand, I am perfectly happy with the Bible app I already have on my phone and am always reluctant to add any new app to my overcrowded phone unless I believe it adds real value. For this review, I did download the app, register and interacted with it as suggested by Focus on the Family.

The app is called Public Reading of Scripture. If I were involved in promoting this app, I would suggest a quick rebranding. The name sounds a bit overwhelming – especially to young Christians…. almost like a Pilgrim from the 1600’s named it. The other odd thing was that by clicking through the email to their landing page and then clicking the download app button, it took me straight to GooglePlay… not my preferred app store. I was able to find it by using the search function in the Apple app store.

Downloading and registering on the app was pretty standard. Focus on the Family suggested clicking on their icon and looking at the Daniel reading plan first. The first thing you see once you get into the Daniel plan is one of those cartoon introduction videos by The Bible Project. At just under nine minutes, it has decent information but I think is probably not something that will grab the attention of the average child or teen.

You can skip the video though and start right into the suggested reading for the first session. For me, this is where it really started going off the rails. First the graphics for the scripture reading are horrendous – like old time DOS horrendous. It’s white graphics on a black background and the five chapters of scripture are so run on, it is hard to tell where one chapter stops and the other begins. For the amount of money these groups have, I would have expected a reading interface similar to my regular Bible app. Instead it looks cheap and messy. The reading did begin with a few interesting facts, which I appreciate, but honestly they are more of a summary than actually adding facts that would be interesting to children and teens about things that would spark their curiosity. It would also have been nice to have a guiding question they could consider as they listen to the reading.

My next problem is the amount of scripture they expect a ”normal” family to read (presumably) each day. Five chapters? That’s way too much to expect from most families. It is probably more realistic to ask families with little or no current Bible reading in the home to cut each session down to one chapter. Also, many children have trouble understanding large chunks of scripture read aloud to them. Having been translated from other languages, the phrasing is sometimes awkward sounding and the text is often filled with unfamiliar words and cultural references. Telling them a Bible story covering that many chapters is difficult enough, but reading them five chapters in the allotted 23 minutes (Is that supposed to include discussion, too?) means many younger children will get little if anything from the reading.

The devotional suggests questions for the entire family to discuss and a couple of additional questions for each age group of children in the home. I like the idea of the age appropriate questions, but once again I wonder if they actually field tested these with real families unused to having family devotionals. The graphics for the questions are the same as the scripture – horrible. There were some prettier pdfs you could print on the Focus on the Family website, but that’s an extra step you are asking people to do or a second website they have to toggle to during the discussion. It’s just awkward.

The app does have an Adventures in Odyssey section under the Focus on the Family tab. It is various characters reading passages of scripture out-loud. Once again, the readings are multiple chapters and I am not sure how much the hook of a character reading it encourages young children to listen.

My conclusion? Great idea, poor execution. Maybe after a lot of improvements it will be helpful to more families, but right now I believe using family devotional books or just choosing to read a book of the Bible together and discuss it at your family’s pace will probably work better.