Fun Family Devotional on Culture and God

Have a weekend or holiday when you can spend a few hours having fun and teaching your children about God? This one can be lots of fun, but does take a bit of extra work depending upon how “big” you want to go with the theme. The spiritual principle is that although many things change over time, God and His principles and commands do not. (It is also great for talking about modesty which is about having an attitude of modesty (not calling attention to oneself – especially in order to encourage sexual attention) and what clothing that might have meant Christians wore or rejected as immodest at the time Note: This conversation includes the males in your family, as they too can be immodest in attitude and clothing.)

The idea is to look at several times periods and compare and contrast them. Start with the decade in which your children were born, the decade their parents were born, the decade their grandparents were born, a random decade more than 100 years ago and the time of Jesus. Have fun with your kids researching clothing styles, trendy foods, cars (or donkeys/horses!), fads, costs of every day items etc. You can make a trip to the public library, look at old family photos or search online together.

If you want to really spend a lot of time together enjoying this look into the past, consider ordering a box of mixed candy from different decades, cooking old recipes together, taking a ride in a historic car or train, trying on vintage clothing, listening to the most popular songs of that era, etc.

After you have had fun, sit down together and have a discussion. Start by reading Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8. Ask your children what it means that God never changes. Read Proverbs 6:16-19. Ask your children if they think God hated those things in each of the time periods you explored. Do they think God still hates those things today? Why or why not? Point out that God doesn’t suddenly approve of lying if most of the people in the world suddenly decide lying is better than truth. We don’t get to vote on God’s commands. We show our love for God by serving and obeying Him – even if that means we look very different from our culture.

If you have older children, you may want to spend some time talking about how Christians will always look different from the world around them and why God wants it that way. Spend time talking about the mixed feelings they may have about “never really fitting in with the popular kids at school” or at times, even some Christians who have decided to adapt cultural norms instead of God’s. Revisit these conversations regularly as your children will struggle with needing to be different to please God at various times in their lives.

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.

Is Your Parenting Style Undermining Your Children’s Faith?

Have you ever met someone who had been raised by an abusive father or had an absentee father and struggled to understand God, the father accurately? Or maybe you have experienced this struggle yourself. The Bible tells us God is our father and if we have not had a father who accurately reflects God’s image, then we may struggle to truly understand the character of God.

Your parenting style in general can also become a stumbling block to the faith of your children. You don’t have to be an abusive or absentee father to negatively impact your children’s faith, and you don’t have to be a perfect parent to strengthen it. You just need to monitor your style of parenting a bit more carefully.

There are three basic parenting styles – authoritarian, permissive and authoritative. They are on a continuum, but most parents fall primarily into one of the three styles. These styles, in turn, tend to model for our children how we believe God “parents” us. When our style doesn’t accurately reflect God’s parenting style, our children grow up with serious misunderstandings about God, scripture, Christianity, obedience and other areas impacting their faith. So what does that look like in “real life”?

The authoritarian parent is the classic “children should be seen and not heard” parent. They are strict, with lots of rules and consequences that can be harsh. There may or may not be other toxic parenting behaviors present. Authoritarian parents are not emotionally close to their children and would not be considered particularly loving or nurturing in the ways they interact with them. When their children want to talk with them, they are often unavailable physically and/or emotionally. Children raised in these home environments often view God as overly strict, mean, judgmental and unloving. They may reject God because they cannot bare more strict rules and harsh consequences from a God who seems to be far away and uncaring. If they attend church as adults, it may be primarily from a sense of fear and/or duty only.

At the other end of the parenting spectrum is the permissive parent. These parents have few if any rules. If a child misbehaves or gets in trouble at school for breaking rules, not only are no consequences given (consequences aren’t given for disobeying parents, because there are few rules to disobey), but these parents may even rail against the teacher for having rules, enforcing them and giving consequences when those rules are broken. Children raised in these homes often reject God because He has rules, expects our obedience and hands out consequences for rebellion. They, too, may describe God as harsh. If they attend church as adults, they tend to only see God as a loving giver of blessings and reject any or all of God’s commands – even when they clearly appear in scripture. They may also reject the idea that there is a hell or that anyone deserves to go there for rebelling against God.

Authoritative parents are what one might call moderate parents. They are often strict, but their rules are in their children’s best interest. These parents are willing to discuss rules and boundaries and may adapt some of them as children grow older. Their rules are consistently enforced and just consequences given for rebellion. Authoritative parents are physically and verbally affectionate and nurturing. They listen to their children with respect, but expect respect in return. They apologize when they make a mistake and they forgive their children when they repent. They are the most reflective of how the Bible portrays the character of God and how He treats us. Children in these homes are most likely to not only remain faithful, but also obey God’s commands (as much as possible) out of respect and love. They are most likely to be productive Christians – serving others and sharing their faith. They tend to have an image of God that most accurately reflects scripture, accept God’s commands as Truth and understand Heaven and Hell are real – as are the eternal consequences for a rejection of God and His commands. Children raised in these homes are also more likely to see the wisdom in God’s commands and view them as a way God protects them from the natural negative consequences of disobeying them.

It’s important to be honest about your parenting style. Ask close friends and relatives which parenting style best describes you. Think about your parents’ parenting style – yours is probably a close replica or the exact opposite. If your children are older, ask them. Or think about how you view God and how your children see Him and which parenting style that view matches..

If your style is not authoritative, make necessary changes. Apologize to your children, as changing your style will impact them. Make sure the ways in which you describe God and discuss His commands is an accurate reflection of scripture and not a response to how you were parented. Being an authoritative parent is best for your children in general, but it can also make them more likely to be faithful Christians as adults.

Using Fun Family Devotionals to Reduce Family Screen Time

I am normally not the type of parent who panics easily about the latest trends harming children and teens. Many times the articles are click bait about fads impacting a handful of children and teens – usually with parents who don’t pay attention to their children. However, screen time, and the impact it has on all of us, is something that should greatly concern every parent.

While I was researching our newest parenting seminar, Parenting Children In a Tech Obsessed World, I discovered so much disturbing research about the negative impact of screens on young people that I think it would be difficult to over react. Part of the problem about weaning ourselves and our children off screens is that we have become lazy about finding alternative, healthier activities to amuse ourselves and our children.

Hands-on family devotionals are a great way to engage the entire family while providing a fun alternative to using screens. They take a little more effort than a more traditional devotional, but provide more time for bonding, talking and teaching while you work on the activity together. We have lots of them you can search for in this blog, but here’s a great one to get you started.

Share Jeremiah 18 with your children. For younger children, you may not want to use the entire chapter. Older children and teens may benefit from a deeper discussion of what can happen if God finds us rigidly against Him. There are also other verses in scripture about God as the potter and us as His clay with other concepts like, Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9 and others.

Give each family member a lump of clay. The lesson works better with “real” potter’s clay, but you can use other types if you choose. Encourage each person to make something useful or decorative. As you are working, discuss how the clay must yield to the potter. Point out that we can refuse to yield to God’s instructions, commands and plans for our lives, but the results will not be as wonderful as if we had just yielded.

After everyone has finished their creation, take another piece of clay and work as a family to mold a simple pot. (Note: It will end up destroyed, so don’t let anyone get too attached and don’t tell them about the future destruction.) If it is not air dry clay, go back in a few hours and change or add something to your work. Several hours or perhaps a day later in certain climates, you will be able to etch a design on it, but changing major things will be destructive. After a time – especially if you dry it in the oven (look online for correct temps and procedure), attempting to make any changes will require destroying the vessel and reconstituting the clay with water and other intensive processes.

Point out that if our hearts remain pliable, God doesn’t have to do much to mold us. The more stubborn and resistant our hearts become to His will, the more likely He may use some painful method in order to try and save us from complete destruction. Discuss ways your family can be more responsive to God’s hand as your potter.

Taking the time to find fun, healthy, productive ways to engage your children offline is one of the best ways to convince them the “real world” – even with all of its flaws – is more rewarding than any virtual world.

Top Tips for Raising Bible Readers

Your children are going to have a tough time living the life God wants for them if they don’t know what’s in the Bible. Even if they attend church and Bible class every Sunday until adulthood, they will only be exposed to a small fraction of scripture. The Apostle John wrote that if they had written down everything Jesus said and did while on Earth, it would fill volumes. It would seem then that the scripture we have is what God felt was important for us to know. Think of it as a complete spiritual education in one book.

Reading scripture daily does more than just give your children instructions for living the Christian life. It can provide comfort and wisdom. It gives them the history they need to make sense of the world. It tells them how to communicate with God and how to get help from Him. The Bible has everything they need to know to lead a rich, full, godly life. In fact, if all the books in the world, except the Bible, suddenly disappeared, your kids would be okay.

Even if your family has been great about having family devotionals and spiritual conversations, you aren’t going to be with your children every moment of every day for the rest of their lives. They have to know what is in scripture and how to find in it what they need. The best way to insure your children turn to scripture as the source of wisdom in their lives is to help them develop the habit of daily Bible reading.

Often, adults make some key mistakes when attempting to help children develop the habit of independent Bible reading and study. These mistakes can cause children to believe the Bible is an extremely difficult and boring book to read. Thankfully, a few simple changes can teach them to enjoy and value daily time in scripture.

So what do you need to know to raise independent Bible readers? Here are some of our favorite tips.

  • Get your children an NIrV Bible. There are a lot of different reasons to choose various versions of the Bible and everyone has a favorite. For children and teens, the NIrV (Note the “r” is critical in buying the correct version.) is the easiest to read. Written on a third grade level, the actual process of reading the Bible will be easy – even for struggling readers. To the best of my knowledge, the other versions are anywhere from two to ten reading grade levels higher. Those versions make reading the Bible a frustration text for many young people. Which means the process of reading is so frustrating, the don’t want to even attempt to read it anymore – even when their reading level progresses to that point.
  • Buy them paper Bibles. Absolutely, encourage those with phones to put the Bible app on them. Those who want can choose various reading plans in their preferred versions. Educators have found though that what people read from a paper book is remembered better than would the same material if read in ebook form. The NIrV was initially only sold in covers for children, but now you can find it in a variety of adult covers as well.
  • Teach them to think of the Bible, not as one huge, overwhelming book, but as a library of books. This will not only make reading the Bible seem less intimidating, but it gives them the opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment every time they finish reading a book of the Bible.
  • Don’t force them to read the Bible sequentially. If they start in Genesis and attempt to read the Bible straight through, most will get bogged down and quit somewhere in Leviticus or Numbers. Instead, encourage them to skip around – focusing on story heavy books at first, like the Gospels, Acts, Ruth, Esther, Kings, Judges, Genesis, etc. Older children and teens often prefer the practicality of books like Proverbs or James. If they are having a tough time emotionally, Psalms can be a great book to read. As they become more comfortable reading and studying scripture independently, you can encourage them to read all of the books they missed.
  • Talk about what they read (and what you are reading) in the Bible. This gives you an opportunity to check for comprehension and correct any misunderstandings they may have. This is especially important for young readers who are still concrete thinkers. It also gives you an opportunity to discuss with them how to apply what they have read to their daily lives.
  • Consider a chronological Bible (for those with enough experience) who want to read through the entire Bible. You may have noticed some stories in the Bible are repeated with different details or from a different person’s point of view. The books of prophecy aren’t next to the stories of the kings to whom the prophecy was given. A chronological Bible can help young readers because it takes everything from the Bible from one time period and places it all together. There is a little guess work involved for books like Job, but in general, it makes the overarching story of the Bible clearer.
  • Encourage them to switch up the amount they read each day occasionally. For children trying to start a new habit of daily Bible reading, a verse or a chapter a day is often the easiest to maintain. In fact remind them regularly, that reading even a verse of scripture a day is better than none at all. Over time though, encourage them to read a book of the Bible the way they might a regular book. Some of the shorter books can be read in one sitting. You can purchase various books of the Bible in book format now, with the chapter and verse numbers missing, so they read more like a regular book. Or help them find a Bible reading plan that is built around a theme of interest to them. Just make sure the daily readings required aren’t too ambitious to be maintained by them.
  • Provide study helps and teach them how to use them. Whether you purchase a study Bible, study aids like concordances or show them online resources, it is good for them to know ways they can get help understanding some of the more confusing passages in the Bible. By teaching them about resources you trust, you also minimize the chance they stumble across false teachings in a Google search and believe they are valid.
  • Set a good example. I knew if I woke up early at my grandparents’ house, I would catch them reading the Bible. That made an impression on me as a child. Your children will be more likely to develop a habit you have yourself. If you struggle, be honest. Find ways to encourage each other in reading scripture every day.

Giving your children the gift of independent Bible reading will make it easier for them to grow and remain healthy spiritually. It is worth taking the time and effort to help them develop those great habits while they are still young.