Fun Family Devotional on Time

Perhaps one of the more interesting stories in the Bible is the story of Hezekiah and the shadow on the steps. Since it’s also a story your children may not have heard, it makes a great family devotional. The story is told in 2 Kings 20:1-11.

Call your children together and tell or read them the story of Hezekiah and the shadow on the stairs. Explain that in those times the sun and the shadows it created were used to tell the time. When Hezekiah asked God to move the shadow backwards, he was in essence asking God to move time backwards! The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly how God performed the miracle – whether he ”merely” moved the shadow backwards ten steps or moved time backwards and whatever that equated to – but God did the miracle Hezekiah requested.

To help your children better understand how time was told with shadows, make your own family sundial. (There are lots of instructions online, but here is one from WikiHow As you make and set up the sundial, you can dig deeper with a spiritual discussion in several ways. If you wish, you can discuss how amazing God is and how nothing is impossible for Him. Talk about the amazing things you have seen God do today.

You can also spend time talking about the importance of praying and how God can answer prayers with “yes”, “no”, or “wait”. Point out that God didn’t promise Hezekiah that he would never die, just that He would give him fifteen more years to live. We do know, however, that God gave Hezekiah those extra years, because he was praying. Had Hezekiah not prayed, he most likely would have died much sooner.

Finally, you can extend the lesson by discussing time and how we are to use it to serve and glorify God. Talk about how Hezekiah might have thought differently about time after the shadow went backwards on the steps. Discuss how we often take time for granted and waste it. Brainstorm ways you all can use the time God has given you more wisely.

Leave your sundial outside for a time. Revisit it periodically and have more discussions about time. If your area has daylight savings time, note how the sundial becomes inaccurate when the time changes from the zone in which you calibrated it. You can even use that discussion to teach your children about time zones and begin discussing missions around the world in the various time zones.

Have fun with it, but take advantage of the opportunities your sundial will give you to talk about God and time with your children.

These Questions Could Help Your Kids Make Better Choices

One of the goals of parenting should be to teach your children how to make better choices. For Christian parents, the challenge is a little more difficult. We need to teach our children how to make choices that are pleasing to God – regardless of whether or not those choices please those enmeshed in the culture around us.

For children with little life experience and often little Bible knowledge, learning to make good choices can be extremely challenging – especially if a choice that appears to have a positive outcome now could actually lead to a negative outcome in the future. The ability to think out beyond the current consequences to potential consequences in the near and distant future is a skill set that must be taught and practiced – preferably with parental guidance.

The first challenge is to teach your children how to act rather than react. To pause, think, pray – perhaps even ask for advice – before saying or doing anything when there is a choice to be made. For some children, it will take time and effort to help them understand they always have a choice about what they will say or do – even if the choice doesn’t offer any pleasant options (which to many children makes them believe there was never really a choice at all).

The next challenge is to get them to analyze the situation. There are two great questions to teach them to ask themselves whenever faced with a choice.

  • What choice does God want me to make in this situation?
  • What choice does Satan want me to make in this situation?

(Note: There may be more than one option in each answer.)

You may wonder why there is a need to bring Satan into the conversation at all. Because if we don’t consider Satan’s point of view, it is easier to convince ourselves that something that is ungodly is actually godly. Look at the temptation of Jesus. The things Satan was proposing didn’t sound all that bad on the surface. What was wrong with doing things that would have been within his power to do? Satan was even quoting scripture to prove his point!

Yet, Jesus knew God did not want him to use his power in those ways. God’s goals for Jesus in those tempting scenarios was very different from what Satan wanted Jesus to do. By analyzing what God wanted him to do and comparing it to what Satan was tempting him to do, the choice for Jesus was clear. Follow God’s will or do Satan’s. Satan’s way may have seemed easier at the time, but in the long run those choices would have been a disaster.

Give your children lots of examples from the Bible. Help them practice with real life scenarios and then as they have choices to make in their own lives. Make it a habit and they may just find it easier to make godly choices.

Sifting Through the Evidence About Teens and Social Media

A major concern of parents for the last decade or so has been the impact of computer usage, gaming and social media on their children. It was confusing though, because it seemed like for every article touting the dangers, there was another implying that everyone was over reacting. One of the things we like to do at Teach One Reach One Ministries is to sift through the actual academic studies on a variety of topics and help parents know the highlights. We believe one of the goals of Christian parenting should be to keep your children as mentally and spiritually healthy as possible so that they will be able to reach their full God given potential.

So what do you need to know about all of this conflicting information out there on all things digital?

  • Someone has finally taken the time to look at a lot of studies closely to find out if there are any patterns. Not every academic study is created equal. Some are well done and others are thrown together to meet an academic or publishing deadline. There are also various types of studies used to obtain different types of information, so certain conclusions can only be accurately drawn from certain types of studies. It’s also important to read past the summary of any study to better understand some of the factors that may result in a particular study getting different results than another similar study. This group took the time to do that and you can read their full article here:
  • Gender plays an important role on how various types of media impact young people. One of the dangers of the current gender denial movement is that it puts young people at risk for things that may have been prevented had their gender been taken into account. For example, social media – and particularly Instagram – have a significant negative impact on teen girls. The impact on teen boys is much less for Instagram, but other studies find they struggle from exposure to violent content and video games.
  • There is a lot of money to be made from having young people addicted to their devices and streaming content, gaming and social media – therefore it is designed to be addictive. This is not some crazy conspiracy theory. There is a science to encouraging addiction and the industry is using that knowledge to hook young people on the various products available to them on devices.
  • Children are meant to participate in play that provides exposure to managed risks and with ever increasing independence encouraged. This type of play is how children learn about the world around them. It also teaches them confidence and problem solving strategies – as well as often giving them opportunities for social interaction. Movement to phones instead of normal play activities also means the develop of children has been hampered because of a resulting reduction in sleep and socializing with friends and relatives.
  • Because they are addicted, taking away or limiting devices will not improve a negative mental state immediately. If you’ve ever watched someone try to stop smoking, it is the same dynamic. Detoxing from devices often results in a worse mental state initially that can last for several weeks. After that time, studies found that mental state usually improved and often significantly.
  • It is often easier to prevent an addiction from starting than breaking one. In general, young people also often respond better to avoiding or curtailing something when they feel it was their decision rather than something imposed upon them. You have to do what is best for your child, however, and that may mean limiting or denying access to anything that is causing your child harm – regardless of whether or not your child is happy about it.
  • Peer usage of devices needs to be understood and cooperation amongst parents and young people in peer groups encouraged. The authors of the study I mentioned in the first point wrote something in passing that they never really revisited. There was a somewhat negative impact if, for example, a teen girl got off Instagram, but her friends did not. They attributed it to a feeling of isolation from their friend group. Obviously, I have no evidence to back up my theory, but it seems quite plausible that if an entire friend group agreed to drop Instagram, they would develop other ways to connect and be healthier from dropping Instagram with not even the slightest negative impact of decreased social imteraction.
  • Depression, anxiety and aggression have been found to have links to digital use. Girls reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety from social media use (particularly Instagram), while boys playing violent video games were found to have increased aggressive behaviors. There doesn’t seem to be any connection between content and other mental health conditions. (Although as we learn more, that could change.)
  • Money is keeping your kids at risk. Did you know the statistical link for the negative impact between Instagram and teen girls with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts is stronger than the link between lead paint and lowered IQ? There is just not a lead paint lobby and paint companies didn’t lose enough money by changing their product to ignore it like the impact of digital content and social media and the money connected to it encourages.
  • Doing what is best for your children will be extremely counter cultural and difficult for many parents – even many Christian parents who are used to counter cultural parenting. If I had a nickel for every parent who told me their kids are different and aren’t impacted negatively by streaming, gaming and social media, I would be rich. Ostrich parenting isn’t good for your children. Pretending something isn’t negatively impacting your children doesn’t mean it isn’t. By the time you realize you are wrong, a lot of damage may have been done to your child.
  • Adults aren’t immune to the negative impact of digital content and social media either. One of the dirty little secrets of academia and academic studies is “publish or perish”. Careers are advanced when studies are published. Which would be published first – a study every parent will want to read about how something may or may not be hurting their child – or a study pointing out how yet another bad adult habit is messing up your life? Just because you are an adult, doesn’t mean you aren’t experiencing the negative impact of constantly looking at your phone. A digital detox may just be wonderful for your entire family.

The evidence is overwhelming. The question is: are you going to protect your children or leave them vulnerable because you are afraid to do the hard part of parenting?

Fun Activity to Teach Kids About God’s Purposes

One of the interesting things about being a Christian is that sometimes while two things may seem the same, the one tied to God’s Will has different purposes. For example, a Christian and a non-Christian can help someone in need. Both may even claim they do it because they love the person. But for the Christian, there is an even deeper purpose – to point the person to God in hopes that they may one day decide to follow Him.

There is a fun family devotional you can do that will engage your children over a period of time, while also giving you opportunities to discuss God’s purposes with them. You will need a very large container of salt and a similar size one of baking soda, a Tupperware type container with a lid, a gutted fish and some rubbing alcohol. You may also wish to have some herbs that smell good.

Call your children together and ask them what they know about Egypt. Ask them if they know what a mummy is. Explain that the Israelites lived in Egypt for several hundred years. Joseph knew, however, that eventually the Israelites would return to the land promised to them by God. He wanted his body to be buried in his family cave when they returned. In order to perhaps make that easier and because they were living in Egypt, the Bible tells us they mummified his body. (Read them Exodus 50:26. Note that the body of Jacob was also mummified and carried back to the family tomb while Joseph was still alive.)

Explain that for the Egyptians mummification had to do with their false worship of manmade gods. They believed the person needed to have in his or her tomb what they would need in the afterlife. That included a well preserved body and their organs in a separate jar! Yet God’s purpose for the instructions Joseph gave about his body were different. He knew God would provide everything he needed in Heaven. His mummy and the request to take it with them when they left Egypt forever would serve God’s purpose of reminding the Israelites that the hardships they endured as slaves in Egypt would not last forever. One day they would take the mummified body back with them when they returned to the Promised Land to live.

Show your children the gutted fish. Explain that you are going to mummify the fish to better understand mummification and how it preserves living things. Show them how the organs have been taken out of the fish. Explain that the Egyptians removed all of the organs from the body because they might rot during the mummification process and ruin the mummy. They were usually placed in a jar near the mummy.

Rub the fish inside and out with rubbing alcohol (make sure your kids wash their hands well if they touch the fish). Mix enough salt and baking soda to cover the fish at a 50/50 ratio. Place some of the mixture on the bottom of the Tupperware container, then put the fish on top of the mixture. Cover the fish with the remaining salt/baking soda mixture, making sure every part of the fish is inside of the mixture.

Place the top on the container. You may want to place herbs near it to reduce any odors, just like burials in Bible times. Check the fish once a week and place it in a fresh salt and baking soda mixture. Full mummification looks like dehydration. It may take several weeks depending upon the size of the fish.

While you are mummifying the fish, talk about some of God’s purposes for Christians. What are some things we do that might look the same as what other people are doing, but have a deeper purpose given to us by God? Point out that most parents correct their children and give consequences when they disobey. For Christian parents, it is deeper than just correcting behavior, however. God’s purpose for Christians is for them to have “soft hearts” that obey, worship and serve Him. Your correction has a deeper purpose – to keep their hearts soft for God – instead of becoming hard, selfish and stubborn.

Each week when you change the mixture, revisit the topic. Share another story from the Bible when God had a deeper purpose for something. Other examples of pointing the people to the coming Messiah, like Jonah and the big fish, make great examples, but the Bible is full of them. Remember to also discuss the deeper purposes God has for the things they do in their lives.

God’s purposes are abstract and difficult for children to understand. Regularly discussing them and relating them back to the mummy of Joseph and the mummy you are creating can help them begin to understand the concept.

Teaching Your Kids Godly Ways to Self Soothe

What do your kids do when they are upset? Do they depend upon you to soothe them – even though they are old enough to try some things on their own? Or are they engaging in self harming behaviors like drugs and alcohol to help them “forget” what is upsetting them for a short time?

Unfortunately, the average young person hasn’t been taught resiliency skills like self soothing. So when upset, they will often default to behaviors suggested by peers which can actually make matters worse instead of better. The solution? Start teaching them godly ways to self soothe when they are very young and encourage them to practice them whenever they come to you upset. (Not in place of your nurturing, but in addition to it.) Then when they are older and it isn’t always convenient to come to you for comfort, they will already have several helpful strategies that don’t add to their troubles.

So what are some strategies to teach them? There are plenty, but here are a few of our favorites.

  • Deep slow breaths. Stress and anxiety tend to make us breathe more rapidly, which in turn quickens our heart rate – adding to the feelings of anxiety. Slow down the breathing, the heart rate will also slow and the anxiety will often ease.
  • Praying. Teach your kids to imagine God is sitting right across from them listening as they tell him what is bothering them in prayer. Encourage them to ask God to help calm them.
  • Reading and memorizing comforting scriptures like many of the Psalms. Many Psalms were written by David and others when they were feeling strong emotions. If your kids are feeling similar emotions, the Psalm can soothe them. Attempting to memorize scripture is also distracting and takes the brain our of the flight or fight mode for many.
  • Teddy bears. There is something comforting about stuffed animals and dolls. Even teens often keep stuffed animals around as “decorations”, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a few are hugged in stress.
  • Exercising. Depending on the circumstances either vigorous exercise or calming exercises like stretching can prove soothing. Some may find combining the two types helps them the most.
  • Playing with animals. This is so helpful many schools, hospitals and universities bring in animals for young people to play with during stressful times.
  • Math. Believe it or not, math uses a different part of the brain and can be calming. Of course, this may not work as well if what is stressing you to begin with is math class!
  • Crying. While constant crying is not the best long term strategy, sometimes a good cry will release all of those pent up negative feelings.
  • A good night’s sleep. It really is true that some things seem better in the morning. Often heightened emotions and a lack of sleep make things appear even worse that they are.
  • Laughing, playing games, having “good, clean fun”. Sometimes distraction eases the stress – even if just for a bit. It also keeps the brain from getting stuck in a negative thought pattern that can get harder and harder to shift back to a positive one.
  • Talking to a trusted adult about what is bothering them. Sometimes the conversations we have with ourselves in our head when we are stressed can make things worse. An objective, mature, Christian can point out some potential weaknesses in our thought process and help us calm down. Your children may have friends who can also do this, but teach them to avoid sharing with people who end up adding to their stress or suggesting negative coping strategies.
  • Music. King Saul was on to something when he had David play the lyre to soothe him. Music can impact our emotions. Encourage your children to listen to music that calms them. Have them experiment with different genres and artists to find the songs that help when they are stressed. Playing an instrument can also help.
  • Arts and crafts. Arts and crafts help us express emotions while the movements needed to create something can also help soothe. Even providing something as simple as plain white paper and crayons can help.

Giving your kids lots of acceptable options to use to ease stress can help avoid using techniques that may do more harm than good. It’s worth taking the time and effort to help them master the various methods.