Kinda Dangerous Family Devotions

One of the most important things you can do as Christian parents is to have regular family time in scripture. There are a lot of ways to do that, but probably the most popular is the family devotional. Unfortunately, many families avoid having family devotionals because the parents are unsure of what they should actually do during the devotional time with their kids.

We are always on the look out for new devotional books your family might find helpful. Recently, we were sent The Very Best Hands-On Kinda Dangerous Family Devotions by Tim Shoemaker to review. The concept is great – 52 family devotions that get families into scripture, but also have fun out of the box activities that go with them.

The set up of the book is parent friendly. At the beginning of each devotion there is a section outlining the materials you will need. There is also an area clearly marked that tells you what you need to do before you call your family in for the devotion – a must for those of us who skim or don’t like to read directions and then things don’t work well. The rest is standard devotion material – an activity and a discussion of the scriptures the activity was designed to help your children better understand.

The theology is pretty basic, although I would say this book is not for a family of very young children – I would say preschool and definitely elementary children would benefit the most, although some of the devotions teens would enjoy, too.

Fair warning though. There is a fatal flaw in this book for some families. Many of the materials required for the devotionals are not necessarily things you will have around your house – especially if you are not a DIY type of family. Having to purchase some of the needed items would make a few of the devotions a little pricey – especially if you will never use those items again.

The devotions also take a bit of prep time. Not outrageous amounts of time, but most of these devotions can’t be pulled off with no advance preparation. Honestly, I like that the devotions are that out of the norm and force parents to think and prepare before actually teaching their kids. I wish the author had encouraged parents to do some Bible preparation in addition to setting up the activity – it never hurts to drive parents back to the Bible more, too.

This is a great family devotion book if you like hands-on, family activities and don’t mind finding random objects and spending time preparing them. It could be the book you need to get your family doing regular family devotions.

This book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review. An affiliate link is included for your convenience.

Becoming a Family Who Serves

For a few years public and private schools required students to participate in acts of service. The thinking was that it would raise up a generation of young adults who gave selflessly of themselves to help others.

For some young people, it may have worked. Many however, just put in their required hours and moved on with their lives. God asks us as His people to serve Him, in part by helping others. The story of the Good Samaritan is a Christian classic. How can you raise kids who serve as part of their Christian identity instead of merely replicating what schools have done with mixed results?

The difference is in the heart of first you – the parents – and then how that is passed on to your children. The key is to make being children of God a part of your family’s core identity. Serving others should be more a part of your family DNA than the secular things that define your family identity.

There are some things you can do to make serving others a natural part of how your children interact with others:

  • Serve others regularly. If your family only helps others once or twice a year, it’s more of something you do to fill time – not part of your family’s DNA.
  • Start when your kids are toddlers. It’s amazing how much even the tiniest of children can do to help others. If your kids are well behaved, most groups will welcome them to work along side you as you serve others.
  • Don’t wait for formal programs. Look for opportunities to serve neighbors, friends and family. You want to teach your kids how to see the opportunities God gives us to serve others each day – not just when someone organizes a big service project.
  • Help your kids find ways to serve using the gifts God has given them. Don’t worry too much about those spiritual gifts in Corinthians. For now, focus on the talent gifts God has given them. Help them discover and develop the gifts God has given them. Then help them find creative ways to serve others using those gifts. Making a direct connection between the gifts God has given them and serving others will connect a lot of what your kids are learning about God to their actual life.
  • Don’t forget the faith piece. As things happen while you are serving, refer back to scriptures that discuss those issues. Find ways to share your faith as you serve those who aren’t Christians. Find ways to encourage the faith of the Christians you serve. The ministry of Jesus is a great example of connecting serving others and sharing the good news of the Gospel. Teach your kids how to do the same with those they serve.
  • Don’t forget to have fun. Yes, serving others and sharing our faith is serious business. That doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. The fun doesn’t all have to be silly, laughing fun (although we still talk about the time our then four year old accidentally had her hair painted by her Nana as we were serving an inner city ministry). There is also fun to be found in using your gifts, seeing the relief or joy on the faces of others, learning new things, seeing new places and having new experiences.

Taking the time to regularly serve together as a family – making sure to bring God into the process – will help serving become part of your kids’ core identity. With hearts that belong to God, they will be well on their way to becoming productive Christian adults.

Fun Ways to Focus Your Family on Reflection

The Bible has a lot to say about reflecting or meditating on God’s Words. Philippians 4:8 also tells us about the types of things about which we – and our kids – should be spending our time thinking. Deeper thinking can help kids put together the pieces of what a Christian life is – what God is calling them to do – who He wants them to be.

Unfortunately, most of us were never really taught how to meditate, reflect or do deeper thinking – even about God and His Words. While some with a more analytical personality may naturally do these things, for many of us it will be a learned spiritual discipline.

Learning anything requires practice if we want to become good at it. Which means if we want our kids to practice thinking more deeply about God and His Words, we need to have engaging activities to help them better understand the spiritual discipline and practice it.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Take your kids to a beautiful sight in nature. After you’ve explored, sit down and talk while you rest or enjoy a snack or picnic. Ask thinking questions like, “Why do think God gave us so many beautiful things to enjoy?” or “What is your favorite thing God created for us?”. Older children and teens might enjoy thinking questions like, “How do you think God wants us to be good stewards of His Creation?” or “What do you think God wants us to do when He said mankind was to have dominion over everything He created?”. Hopefully, some deeper questions will send you all back to the Bible for a deeper dive into what else God may have to say on a particular topic.
  • Allow a few extra minutes at bed time for reflection. Talk about what they thought went well that day. Ask them where they think God would want them to do something differently if the same things happened again or how they saw God working during the day. There are all sorts of deeper questions you can ask. Remember though that kids will see this as a way to stall bedtime. Or your conversations may be so good you lose track of time. If that happens, think of ways to put a comma in the conversation until the next night or have the discussions on nights that don’t require an early wake up time the next morning. (I’d suggest making bedtime earlier, but we all know how well that will be received!)
  • Have family dinners. You may have seen “table talk” cards that are encouraging conversation at the dinner table. Often, these are just deeper thinking and sharing questions. You can easily make your own set of table talk cards. They don’t have to all be spiritual in nature. Sometimes a simple conversation will gradually lead to talking about much deeper faith type subjects.
  • Solve mysteries, logical fallacy stories and logic puzzles together. Technically this is a purely secular activity, but it teaches your kids to look past the obvious. Often things that are said which are negative about God and all things Christianity seem logical and reasonable on the surface. Dig just a tad deeper and the logic falls apart. We also need to be aware that just because a Christian may use poor logic when explaining something in the Bible doesn’t necessarily mean they are wrong in their conclusion about what God wants. Logical fallacy stories are a great way to have these conversations. Ultimately, your kids need to understand they need to keep checking everything by the Bible and what it actually says. (The Fallacy Detective Series was one of our favorites when our daughter was young.)
  • Have fun “what if” conversations. The topics don’t matter. Watch for opportunities as you have these conversations to mention things God would want them to know on the topic. For example, if your question is “What would you do if you won a million dollars?”, you can work in all sorts of comments about generosity, helping others, being good stewards and more.

Have fun with it, but spend time focusing your family on God’s Words, commands and principles. Spend time encouraging your kids to think about the plans God has for their lives, how to use the gifts He gave them and other important spiritual topics. Reflection is a great way to encourage spiritual growth in your family. It’s definitely worth your time and effort.

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Focusing Your Family on Reflection

When you think of spiritual disciplines, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think of prayer or reading the Bible. Hospitality and fasting may also come to mind. If you’ve been working on getting your family focused on some of these as a way to strengthen your children’s faith foundations, great!

One spiritual discipline doesn’t get talked about much in Christianity – at least in Western cultures. That’s the idea of reflecting or meditating on God’s Words. Often in the West, meditation is associated more with religions like Hinduism, so many Christians avoid the topic entirely.

To avoid all of the debate and confusion, let’s call it reflection or deeper thinking. The Bible actually has quite a bit to say on the topic. Many of the verses on reflection or meditating on God’s Words are found in Psalms. My favorite verse though is Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

This verse is great for a couple of reasons. First, it addresses the idea of reflection or deeper thinking in a practical way we can understand. Instead of sitting in a lotus position repeating a meaningless phrase, this verse tells us the types of things we – and our families – should be thinking about constantly. It also tells us by the process of elimination the things our families should spend a lot less time thinking about every day.

Secondly, the next verse gives us a model for reflection and deeper thinking. “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Reflection is more than just reading a good verse and repeating it over and over.

Reflection is ultimately thinking about the things God has said to us through scripture, what those words mean, how to live them and then practicing them. Reflection is then thinking about how practicing what God has commanded went that day and repeating the original process.

Why don’t we do this more often? Why aren’t our kids taught to do this? Because reflection requires time, attention and for most people quiet and solitude – things our culture rarely provides. Reflection requires being intentional and creating the time and space for it to actually happen.

What often happens to us and our children is that if there is free time or quiet, we become uncomfortable. Instead of filling it with the things God wants us to fill it with, we fill it with noise. The noise may be actual noise, but it can also be metaphorical noise. Instead of reflecting on things that can strengthen our faith and help us be more godly, we fill the time with meaningless things.

Teaching our kids to reflect on God’s Words, on all of those good things in Philippians 4 requires even more intentionality. We have to fight against the natural inclination of children to be in constant motion. We have to fight the cultural expectation that every moment is planned for our kids with activities and lessons. We have to take the time to find ways to guide our children in reflection and then help them practice it.

Tomorrow, we will share fun ways to help you and your kids spend time in reflection and deeper thinking. Until then, pull out your family calendar. Where can you carve time each day for your family to engage in reflection? Do you need to let go of some activities to make room for your kids to learn how to think more deeply about what God wants from them and for them? It’s a spiritual discipline worth finding the time to learn and practice as a family.

Tips for Focusing Your Family on Hospitality

When was the last time you had someone in your home that didn’t live there? If you are like most Americans, it may have been awhile. A quick read through the New Testament though and you will notice it seems like people were regularly inviting others to come into their home for a variety of reasons.

Barna recently published research that had an interesting twist. They found Christian homes that worked actively with their children on spiritual things by praying and studying the Bible were not as successful in raising children to be active Christians as those that did those things and also practiced hospitality. The authors of the study aren’t sure if the hospitality made the difference or the types of people who were hospitable made some sort of difference, but they felt hospitality was key.

If you aren’t used to having others into your home, the idea of hospitality may make you break into a cold sweat. You may be fearful of people seeing your messy house, judging your decorating choices, hating your cooking or a hundred other nightmare scenarios.

Actually, most visitors to your home don’t really care about any of those things (unless perhaps your house was recently condemned by the health department!). They are just thrilled to be invited somewhere. They feel special someone thought of them and liked them enough to include them. Oh, they may pick at some food, but that’s probably more about them than your cooking.

In fact, make it easy on yourself if you are concerned. Invite people over for ice cream. Or popsicles. Or muffins from Costco. Use paper plates. Serve take out. Eat a picnic in your yard on plastic picnic cloths.

Evidently, it doesn’t really matter whom you entertain either. Family counts. So do your kids’ friends. So let them have that sleepover they’ve been begging to have. Let your daughter plan a tea party for her grandmother. Invite the neighbors to bring a lawn chair and sip lemonade as you watch the sunset.

Why does hospitality matter? We may never really know for sure. What we do know is that it is something God has always encouraged His people to do. Plus it’s a great way to build relationships that will give you opportunities to serve others and share your faith. Or to encourage Christian brothers and sisters. Best yet, it teaches your kids how to truly show God’s love to others. It really is worth taking the time to focus your family on hospitality.