01.02.2018
Children Can
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When you live in a house, continual maintenance is needed. This maintenance does not focus on the parts of the building that are sound and intact, instead it focuses on the parts of the house that are falling into disrepair. Yet when it comes to building the church of God we often work in the opposite way, seeking to avoid conflict. It’s easy to teach doctrines that do not clash with the modern worldview. Issues such as feeding the poor and clothing the naked result in admiration from the world. Even principles such as God’s love and grace are palatable to the modern ears. It is harder to take a stand on areas where the values of the world deviates from the Word of God. Yet these are the very areas that require our most attention to ensure that the church does not fall into a state of disrepair. Right now, two of the greatest areas under attack is the traditional Judeo-Christian family unit and gender identity. Our children and young people need to be taught and strengthened in these areas. Speaking up for family Many who oversee the children’s ministry of the church have the word family in their job title. Despite this, there is a reluctance to teach in these areas for fear of offending some. As parents, children & youth ministers and pastors our teaching should strengthen the next generation where the church is weakest. In one training session I attended we were informed of the 14 different family structures that we may come across in our church work. While I acknowledge that there is a whole plethora of family shapes, as I sat there I could only think of two groups: God’s-pattern and not-God’s-pattern. The reality is every family falls into the second category to some degree. Families are made up of imperfect people and we live in a fallen world where even a perfect family has to face loss, trials and sin. Yet family is God’s idea. He knows the template that will work best for the nurturing of children and the strengthening of society as a whole. If we never teach our children what God’s best for their family is, how will they know what they should be aiming for? What if we offend? Some are concerned that if we speak about how God’s plan for family includes a mother and a father, then some children may feel like their family is second rate. I acknowledge that teaching these topics could create such feelings. But just because there is a wrong way to teach a truth, does not mean that it should not be taught. Instead we should take extra time and care to teach in a way that builds up all families, whilst encouraging them to aspire for God’s best. For example, there can be no judgement passed on single parent families. Firstly, they may find themselves in that situation for many reasons, often through no fault of their own: from death of a spouse, abuse, adultery or simple selfishness of another human being. Secondly, single parents are quite frankly heroes in our society. Battling through many adversities to raise great children, sometimes with a great network around them and other times single-handed. Yet in all my years of working with children, whatever the cause, I have never met a child who does not long to have both a mother and a father living at home with them. They may not vocalize this to their remaining parent, as they don’t want to upset them, but they still long for it. Even when the absent parent was an abusive father, they still long for a father to be around, albeit without the abuse. If we, the church, act as if there is no gap in a family when a father is absent or disengaged, then how can God fill the gaps. To acknowledge it can be the start of a healing process and acceptance that God, the father of the fatherless, is now their father. When as a whole church community we teach on family, this in turn should provoke us to action - to help be the missing brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers to the other members of our community. Defining gender Five years ago, people would have thought it crazy that schools would allow boys to use the girls’ toilet or that a teacher could be sacked for calling a girl a girl. Our children are on the very frontline of social engineering when it comes to distorting gender. At a recent parenting seminar, many of the parents were sharing how they felt ill-equipped to help their children’s process transgenderism and the confusion caused by the local primary school’s latest policies in this area. We cannot ignore this issue, for if we don’t teach them, the world will dictate their values. A great place to teach about gender from a Biblical viewpoint is within the context of our identity. In case study 2 we look at the kind of themes that may be covered when teaching on identity. (Click here to read a great blog about transgenderism by Peter Sanders from the Christian Medical Fellowship. http://pjsaunders.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/how-should-christians-respond-to.html) What does this look like practically? So how can we teach on these issues without diluting truth, stigmatising two thirds of our families or offending the rest! Here are a few suggestions:      1. Our teaching should come direct from the Bible. As we focus on God’s perfect plan we can also acknowledge that we all fall short of God’s standard. While there are robust arguments being made when discussing fatherlessness, disengaged parents, gender and sexuality, our role is not to teach sociology, but Scripture. Of course, multiple studies and evidence from many disciplines of science actually support the scriptural model as the best model for society and there is great benefit from studying these when engaged in discussion. However, when teaching our children, we do not need to address all the deviations from God’s best. We simply need to present God’s best: God made us male and female (Genesis 1:27) and intends for families to be made of one man and one woman committed for life (Genesis 2:24). This is not to bury our heads in the sand as if the distorted forms of family, sexuality and gender do not exist in our world. Rather, it is because we acknowledge that they do exist that we need to point to, and speak clearly on, what the word of God teaches in these areas. Love dictates that we do not hide truth, but speak truth in a way that will bring freedom and affirmation of every child and young person under our care. If we do this right it will help them both to process their current situation and make wise decisions for their future family as they grow up.      2. Tools to evaluate. Once we have taught what the Bible says, children have a framework with which they can evaluate any issue. If you have a box that is clearly seen, it is easy to tell if something is in the box, or outside of it. When scriptural principles are clearly defined, it is easy for children to tell whether the latest teaching they hear lines up, or conflicts, with Scripture.      3. We should facilitate children and families to reflect together on their own family. This will give families an opportunity to celebrate what is good, whilst also discussing what can be improved and accepting what can’t be. It can also help to open up conversations within families. this can serve to enlighten parents on what their local schools are teaching in this area, give the child opportunities to discuss areas where they are confused and allow dialogue on past hurts that have been buried, allowing God to bring healing to the family. (See Case Study 1, below, for more details on this).      4.  We should give the children opportunities to encounter God for themselves. When our ministry allows the children to not only learn about God, but to encounter him in prayer and worship they can experience God’s unconditional love for themselves. When children discover their identity in God they can face the world from a position of strength, no matter how challenging their personal circumstances may be. (See Case Study 2, below, for more details on this). One child came from a challenging family. His parents were both drug users and his life was erratic. He started his time with us by announcing that he didn’t believe in God. He then spent much of this time rolling around on the floor with his back to all that was going on. After he had encounter God’s love for himself through the team, but more importantly direct from God in times of ministry, this boy started to change. Before long he had discovered that God not only believed in him, but that God loved him. At the end of the week he shared a testimony, three words that melted the heart of the whole team: “I feel happier.” Case Study 1 As part of our leadership training school for children we took several weeks to focus on the family. We looked at God’s plan for family and how no family is perfect. One week included a Bible study on Genesis 37:1-11. The children had to read through the passage from Jacob’s perspective to underline any way Jacob caused a problem in his family or was upset by a problem. They then read through the passage again, using a different colour to circle all the places where Joseph caused a problem in his family or was upset by a problem. Finally, the children read through the passage a third time looking at the family from the brother’s perspective. The children were also encouraged to think about how they can deal with problems in their family and how they can improve things too. Part of this process includes the following assignment: 1.       What areas of your family are good? 2.       What areas of your family are not good? 3.       What things do you do which help the other people in your family? 4.       What things do you do which do not help your family? 5.       What can you do to help your family be better? 6.    Talk about your answers to questions 1-5 with your parents (saying sorry if you need to for things you have done that you should not have, and talking about ways you are going to try to change). This assignment led to many fruitful discussions as families focussed on God’s best for them together and aimed for it. Case Study 2 In wanting to see our children grow into their full potential with God, we realised that a huge part of this includes them discovering their identity in Christ. This is an ongoing part of any discipleship that appears through much of our teaching, but it provides a great forum for discussing our gender in a wider context of our purpose. Here are some of the themes that we keep returning to as we help children to discover their own identity. God does not make mistakes. He did not make a mistake when he put you on earth at this time (think of Esther who was there for such a time as this). He did not make a mistake when he made you male or female. God put you here to fulfil his plan. The power of a name/label. God named many people in the Bible and changed the names of many others to reflect their new identity in him. Famously, Jabez also asked God to ignore his name and grant him a fresh identity. We are made in God’s image. We are called to reflect something of God’s goodness and glory here on earth. What we worship we will become like (see Psalm 115:3-8 and 2 Corinthians 3:18). As we worship God we become like his image (how he created us to be). When we worship an idol, we become like it (less than God’s best for our lives). God has a plan for us to fulfil. This area includes both the general plan that God has for every believer and the specific calling he has for each individual. Our life fulfilment comes not from following our own desires, but from pursuing our life purpose which is only fully found when we desire God above everything else. Included in this teaching are opportunities for ministry that look at where our perceived identity does not match God’s view of us. Perhaps by words spoken over us from others (labels given) or through lack of faith. For example in one ministry time we spoke about how God will give each of us a new name written on a stone (see Revelation 2:17). We gave each child a white stone, and they had an opportunity to reflect and pray on what their new name might mean for them. Further opportunities are given to seek God for our unique callings and to share testimonies about the impact of choosing to follow God even above our own desires. One young teen used to wear layers of makeup and a heavy attitude. After teaching on identity and a time of ministry she arrived at the next meeting makeup-free and smiling. The rest of the group wee stunned by the transformation in her as they could see she now had peace. She went on to explain how God had shown her she was beautiful on the inside and so she no longer felt the need to wear the makeup. Conclusion Anyone who ministers the Bible to the next generation should take the time to minister into the areas of family and gender identity. Let’s help our children to discover the grace of Christ, exhibit the character of Christ and hold to the morals of Christ; all the while demonstrating the love of Christ. We are called to be salt, seasoning the world around us. We do not want to lose our saltiness. Instead let’s raise a generation who can impact the world for His glory.
05.12.2017
Children Can
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Christmas has been commercialized: decorations, lights and cards that have little to do with the real meaning of Christmas and can all serve as a distraction from Jesus. Deuteronomy 11:18-20 says that we are to constantly teach children and talk to them about Jesus throughout the whole year and it instructs us to write these things on door frames of your houses. Our homes should be the centre piece of faith development. Christmas time is a time when we should be more intentional so faith is not buried under the wrapping of Christmas. So here are seven thoughts, in no particular order, about how to do this. Be intentional about keeping Jesus centre. The main thing is to keep the main thing as the main thing. Build into your Christmas routine things that intentionally keep Jesus at the centre. Plan both in the time of advent and on Christmas day itself to keep definite signposts to Jesus. You would not have a birthday party where the celebrant is ignored by all, instead they are celebrated by everybody. Give your children an opportunity to celebrate Jesus, that the joy of this season will be inextricably connected to Him.      2. Tell the story In the build up to Christmas read the Bible passages that tell of Jesus’ birth and the prophecies that told of His coming. On Christmas morning read the story, act it out and have fun as a family. You could even go further and work together as a family to prepare costumes for your home-drama.       3. Real fact-finding mission Look into the real facts of the Nativity. For example, most children are surprised there is no innkeeper mentioned in the Bible account. The word inn is the same word for guest room; this same Greek word is used to describe the upper room where the Holy Spirit fell in Pentecost. It is more likely that Mary and Joseph went to stay with some family friends, but the guest room was already taken. Instead they stayed inside the person’s house, where the animals would also be brought in for the night to protect them and add to the warmth inside.     4. Counting down to Christmas Have a countdown to Christmas. You may tell a Christmas story, light an advent candle or simply get together as a family each day to pray for someone in need. Victoria Beach has a great website called www.godventure.co.uk. There you will find 30 ideas of activities you can do throughout advent as you countdown to the big day.      5. Jesus’ Birthday Cake Make a birthday cake for Jesus. This could be done at any time, but many families like to do this on Christmas Eve. How will you decorate yours?     6. Reaching out at Christmas time as a family We need to teach our children that Christmas is a time for giving, not for getting. It is at Christmas time that God loved the world that he gave his only son. It is at Christmas time that we can remember those who are less advantaged than ourselves and will not be sharing all the joys of Christmas. Be intentional about giving your children an opportunity to give and to love those who are hurting and lost. Encourage them to find ways to help people who are under privileged those who need a little bit of extra love and care. It’s easy at Christmas time for our children to become inward looking as they wait for their presents and all the excitement of the season, let’s help them to look outwards. Go out and find the local soup kitchen, make little ornaments for people that have gospel messages on it, prepare Christmas boxes to send to overseas missionaries.      7. Drawing on the traditions from other countries Be intentional in reminding our children what Christmas is all about. The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas (St Nick), who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. His wealthy parents, raised him as a Christian, but died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. One story, that may or may not be true, talks about a poor man who had three daughters. He was so poor, he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn’t get married. One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant his oldest daughter was then able to get married). The bag fell into a stocking and had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with his second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping the bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man not to tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from St Nicholas. Be purposeful and intentional in sharing Jesus with and through your children this Christmas. In all the craziness that Christmas brings let’s celebrate who it all about, have fun as a family as we discover new truths about Christmas and be a Deuteronomy 11 led family who keeps Jesus the focus, not just one day of the year, but the whole year round. Merry Christmas Everyone!
Halloween conjures up all sorts of thoughts feelings and fears for people. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has sat at home, willing my doorbell not to ring on 31st October. Every year children of all age groups are dressed up in costumes which are scary even for adults, and then knock on the doors of total strangers and ask for sweets or a trick will be played on them. My concern as a mum was that my children would see these graphic masks and struggle to sleep with these images in their mind. I would usher my children away from the door and tell them not to look out of the window so they didn't see the costumes people were wearing. Then God stopped me in my tracks..... 'These people are coming to your door, wanting something from you, why don't you give them Me?' Of course, I realised, I was missing out on the best evangelism opportunity of the year. All these children and families who were innocently coming to my door not really understanding what they were celebrating needed to be pointed back to Jesus. Halloween was taken from All Hallows' Eve  which falls on 31st October each year, and is the day before All Hallows' Day, also known as All Saints' Day in the Christian calendar. The Church traditionally held a vigil on All Hallows' Eve when worshippers would prepare themselves with prayers and fasting prior to the feast day itself.  A few centuries on, this was twisted into something more sinister. So off I went to the shops to stock up with sweets. I also ordered some bags of hope from UCB. Each bag contains a full colour Bible-based booklet, The Bible App for Kids Book of Hope  It’s a great way to bring the light of God’s love into an evening which traditionally draws attention to darkness. Then we sat back and waited. With each person who came to the door we greeted them with a huge smile and told them as well as some sweets we wanted to pray for them. Was there anything they would like us to pray for? We then went into the house came back with the Bag of Hope, asking, "Have you decided what you would like us to pray for?" We had many prayer requests that night which ranged from world peace, more sweeties and their mummy and daddy getting back together. God did something in that night in my heart. As a Christian we should always be thinking of how we can share him to others, but Halloween is a gift to us as the lost turn up on our  doorstep wanting something sweet. Lets give them Jesus!
20.05.2017
Children Can
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Under Pressure Children sat in class are requested to accept that there is no difference between male and female, that gender is subjective and self-determined. In church, they learn that God made mankind male and female. Constantly pressured to compromise or fear being shunned, our children are placed on the cutting edge of modern dilemmas in this world. Sectors of society are trying to redefine tolerance – no longer do they want it to mean that I can disagree with someone’s opinion but still live with them. Now you are considered intolerant simply if you disagree. When the Bible is no longer the basis for our moral code, the potential for eroding Biblical values is endless. The self-appointed thought police take jurisdiction over any area of life they choose, even if it changes centuries of established wisdom and practice. In this context, are we raising a generation who will be able to continue to stand for God, with love, but without compromise? Every New Doctrine? Many children raised in church are finding themselves tossed backwards and forwards by every new doctrine that comes their way (Ephesians 4:14). In our attempts to make the program fun and engaging for the children we have deprived them of adequate nutrition. The Bible not only contains our moral framework, but our very reason for moral living, a relationship with the living God. If our children only feed on spiritual candy, we should not be surprised when they suffer from spiritual cavities. We should be encouraging our children to be still and meditate on God’s word instead we have fed them a spiritual diet that causes them to become hyperactive and gloss over truth. Some will argue that this is inevitable in a fast-moving culture, where attention spans of children are decreasing. I disagree. We shouldn’t give up in the battle before we have even started. Indeed, the more of God’s manifest presence the children experience, the more of God’s peace I have seen them manifest. At times, we have seen the Holy Spirit hold the attention of even very young children for far beyond their natural attention span. I am saddened travelling around the Western nations to see how weak our teaching has generally become to this next generation. At a time when Christian values are under attack we should be ensuring that our children are stronger to face the fight. Instead many children in the church are spiritually weak, unable to stand against the pull of the world. Not Yet Teachers? There is a famine in our land. It is not a famine for food (the obesity epidemic in Western nations makes that clear). Instead it is a famine for hearing God’s word. To rectify this we need to stir our children’s faith, a faith that comes by hearing God’s word. This is not a new thing. In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 Paul speaks of his frustration that the believers in Corinth are still sold out to the world and so are not yet prepared for meat. The writer in Hebrews felt the same frustration: he wanted to feed solid food to the church, but he was having to feed them milk again. He writes in Hebrews 5:12 “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” There are members in our churches who have been attending for a decade and yet still need to be fed milk teaching. Is this what is happening in our children’s ministries? Instead of children being released as teachers to impart all God has deposited in them over their years of ministry in the church, we are having to spoon-feed the basics to them again. Milky Teaching When you read the list of milk teachings in Hebrews 6, it provides a challenge for us all to step up to as we expect our children to grow in the kingdom. The milk teachings in Hebrews are: Repentance from dead words Faith in God The doctrine of baptisms Laying on of hands Resurrection of the dead Eternal judgement. Regular Feeding So how can we make sure we are feeding our children spiritual meat and not just sharing sweet stories? Teach doctrines, not just stories. When you tell a story, use it to bring out doctrine (teaching) on the nature of God and our relationship with Him. Delight yourself in God’s word. Let your children see you enjoying the word as you teach them with your Bible open. Share the revelations that God has given you from his word. Teach children to read the Bible for themselves, pulling the meat off the bone and chewing it over. This means they need to read God’s word regularly, study it (with skills we can help them with) meditate on it and live by it in their everyday lives. As an aside, while Bible reading notes can be helpful, they can also distract children from engaging directly with the Bible. Speaking with children, I have found that just because they read their Bible study notes, it does not meant that they are reading the Bible! Encourage families to read the Bible together. Encourage them to memorize scriptures, hiding God’s word in their hearts (Psalm 119:11). Encourage children to share testimonies. It may be a testimony of them learning a principle of God’s kingdom from the Bible and putting it into practice or of standing up for righteousness in school. This will encourage other children in the group to do the same.
28.02.2017
Children Can
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Over the years, we surveyed the children under our care so we could look after them better and target the ministry to where they were at. Time after time the same concerning result would come back. No matter what we did there was a hard core of 20% of our regular church children, raised in Christian homes, who believed that you had to be good to go to heaven. Every month we made sure the Gospel message of God’s grace was included somewhere in our teaching programme. So much so that one seven-year-old even commented to his mum after church,  “Mum, I think I’m ready for adult church now.” “Why is that dear?” “All we talk about in children’s church is the cross and I know all about that.” Long pause while the mother processed this fact. “But that’s all we really talk about in adult church too!” Of course, we covered many topics over the months, giving the children as much of the meat of God’s word as we could, but this seven-year-old had clearly picked up our repeated emphasis on the message of God’s grace through the cross. We ran multiple outreach events where our regulars would come and hear the Gospel, yet still there was a hard core of children, who managed to unlearn the most essential message we had to share with them. Why did they still think that you must be good to get to God? I blamed the parents. I blamed the schools. Then I realized that we were partly to blame! When we taught the Ten Commandments as a guide for living and as God’s standard for the Israelites, the children heard a list of rules that they had to follow to be accepted by God. When we taught the fruit of the Spirit, the children heard a list of ways they were expected to behave (to be loving, kind, patient and so on). Even when we mentioned that this fruit came as a result of being rooted in God, some children heard that they needed to try harder to please God and so be accepted by Him. Some of the ways the children heard the wrong message were more subtle. When a leader struggles to keep discipline in the group, the children hear the desperate pleas of that leader to behave (perhaps even with a nod towards pleasing God with our behaviour). Before they even open the Bible and delve into the teaching the children have received the message: external behaviour is what we are looking for in this group, more than a relationship with Jesus. None of this is what we intended to say (or indeed what we are actually saying), but it is what some of the children heard. In fact, many of the Christian children’s DVDs do the same thing. If they are not retelling Bible stories, or even if they are, they are preaching good morals: love your neighbour, be kind to others, forgive other people. Now we are certainly not talking against good morals, or against raising good citizens to live in this world. However, the emphasis of our faith is not about doing good works, but about being with God. Being good will not save anyone from the consequences of their sin, only Jesus can do that! If there were any other way, God would not have put his son through the pain of death that Jesus endured. Being with God transforms us to become like Him, reflecting His image and glory as God intended the human race to when he first created them. In the New Testament letters we see this emphasis over and over again. The first half of many of the letters explain again the glory of the Gospel. This grace gives us freedom from sin. Take a look at Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Titus (chapter 3), Hebrews, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John to see this worked out. Having emphasized strongly the message of God’s grace, urging God’s people not to depend on their works there is then a turning point in each of these letters. Bouncing off the springboard of grace they explain that because of this free gift of salvation we can now live in a way that honours the Lord. Romans 6:1-2 1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? In Romans 12:1 Paul shows that a moral life is a result of a life with God, not a basis for it.  Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Take a look at Galatians 5:13-16 where Paul spells out the link between God’s gift of freedom and our desire to serve the Lord because of this gift. 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Every time we look at God’s plan for us to live lives pleasing to Him, we should always start by emphasizing God’s grace first. We love because God first loved us. Every time, our teaching should give this clear balance. Our children need to hear and know that now there is now NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ. Let’s help our children grow with God, free from the bondage of religious expectations.  Then they will be free to live their lives in service to God. 
02.11.2016
Children Can
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Tuned in or Zoned out? We are living in a day and age where the screen has power! iPads, smartphones, tablets and computers are integral parts of everyday lives, so that most of us don't leave home without at least one device on us. After all we may need to connect with others, complete everyday tasks, shop, educate and entertain our children. But there is one place where they should surely not be used. That short time of worship before the children leave for their own groups (because we believe in all generations worshipping together, right?) or even the whole service where the children's team volunteers have a week off, sees parents reaching for their devices. After all we don't want to be distracted from our worship? Some parents even come prepared with headphones, allowing their children to be zoned out, completely cut off from their surroundings. It’s time to reverse this trend. It is easy as parents to reach for the most pain-free option - after all we don't want our children to be fidgeting their way through the service. Yet in the Old Testament children were expected on occasion to sit through a reading of the entire Pentateuch (that’s the first five books of the Bible!). We can make the excuse that today’s generation of children simply cannot sit still because of over-stimulation, yet in doing so we are denying them the option to learn to be still and tuned in to what God is doing. We are allowing our children to miss out on an opportunity to tune into God. Not only that, but the same screens which grab the attention of our children, also serve to distract others around them. Now, I understand that some children struggle to sit still, I have a 4 year old daughter who not only struggles to sit still, but is still learning that asking me a question in her loudest voice during that quiet moment of waiting on the Lord is not the best thing to do. But I am determined to help my children listen to engage in the worship and to listen to the preacher, after all this is a prime opportunity for God to sow more seed into their lives. If we actively teach them to disconnect from church while they are sitting in the same room as the adult service we are not doing them any favours. In helping them to tune in to the service, it may distract me from giving my all in worship, but this is also a part of their discipleship. The more we help them, the sooner they will be able to listen, engage and even grow during the ‘adult’ ministry. After all it’s not exclusively for the adults - it’s for the whole church. The last time I checked my Bible that includes the children. After sitting through one service recently that the preacher confessed was not intended for children (the children's ministry had been cancelled with very little notice), my four year old repeated part of the end of the sermon that she had sat through as I tucked her into bed. 'Mummy, I know you and God both love me because I’m your daughter. The preacher had been speaking about the Father's love and my 4 year old had received the revelation of God’s love. Let’s not allow the 'prophets' Apple and Samsung to direct the future of our children. It’s something we can choose to be intentional about, but let’s not take the easy way out and allow our children to zone out from the service. If you don’t have children yourself, please be patient with any parents who choose not to take the cop out option, but instead try to help their children participate in the service. Perhaps you could even offer to sit with the children of that harassed mother who has made it to church and needs every single second of down time she can get. The Sunday service is a key time for the Church. Let's encourage our children to tune in, not zone out.
27.09.2016
Children Can
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Parents think their children do it too much. Children want to do it more (they already do it more than six hours every day on average). The online world is drawing our children deeper in and while some embrace this without reservation and others shun every aspect of new technology, desiring the life of the Amish community, most of us are stuck somewhere in between these two extremes. Going out of town on rural retreats with a group of young people can be amusing. “What’s the wifi passcode?” is quickly followed by “What! No wifi!” Yet perhaps amusing is the wrong word. Surely bemusing even concerning is more appropriate. Surrounded by God’s creation, which shouts out, declaring the glory of the invisible God who is clearly seen, our children are not in sync with their surroundings, but looking for their next download fix. Could it be that a yearning for the virtual world is masking a desire for the spiritual? One of the greatest challenges in discipling this generation is to manage the screen time of our children. If you agree that our children should not be allowed unlimited, unrestricted access online, the question then becomes: Where should we draw the line? The previous generation of parents have mostly not walked this way before to be able to advise us – this was not a parenting discipleship issue a generation ago: children’s TV only lasted a couple of hours a day, the internet was not in the home and computer games took 45 minutes to load on cassette (if you don’t know what a cassette tape is google it!) only to crash after 30 minutes of playtime. We need to talk about it, seek God for wisdom and be proactive in rescuing our children from this trap of the enemy. With the advent of Pokemon Go, the blurring between the virtual world and the real world seems to be increasing further at the expense of the genuine spiritual. Satan loves to work in the counterfeit, producing something that seems spiritually fulfilling, but leads to a deadening of the senses. Excessive screen time damages the brain.[1] Satan wants to steal and destroy, but Jesus wants us to have life in all its fullness.[2] Instead of watching other people’s experiences, we should be experiencing God's life for ourselves. If we taking Philippians 4:8 as a guide to what we should be filling our head with, how does the world of virtual games and virtual friendships compare. This world is not even true. The more technology we have to connect to the more disconnected we become from each other. Are our children in a spiritual battle? Is there a battle going on for the souls of this generation? Yes! The enemy wants to destroy this generation of world changes, pulling them down and causing rapid cultural shifts away from Biblical norms. Many of these shifts are taking place through the media. Is the demonic realm real? Very much so. We are therefore called to be gatekeepers in our homes. Deciding what we will allow in and what we will resist. In an age of information overload this is a challenge. After all not every game is evil and the internet can be very informative, but whilst this is true let’s also not deny that for many young people the internet is at risk of becoming more important to them than the world around them. This generation of Christian children are called to stand out from the world. Jesus says that one way they will stand out as His disciples is if they love one another. That is real genuine relationships. Sin and isolation are a barrier to this. While gaming is not necessarily sinful it is isolating in nature. Even when played with other people around the world, there is not the capacity to reach out and touch each other or communicate genuine feelings. Virtual friendships are degraded to a shared experience over the internet, instead of genuinely walking through life’s bumps together. There is no way I can present a detailed and balanced argument for the dangers of the virtual world overtaking the genuine spiritual world we are a part of in 1000 words. What I hope this has done is to put into words what many instinctively feel. A child or young person who spends too much time online is in danger of disconnecting from the world around them in a way that is detrimental to their spiritual growth. So if you are concerned for this area what can you do? Define clear boundaries. Set a time limit, put on internet filters, do whatever you have to, so that you are a gate keeper in your home. In our home we have a weekly limit for screen time and a strict ‘no electronics upstairs’ rule that even the parents have to comply with. Many families have a no-electronic-devices-at-mealtimes rule. If this really is a defining issue for this generation then we should be prepared to model healthy usage, set clear boundaries and review them as our children grow and technology develops. Discern when it is becoming an issue for the children in your life. As Peter writes in 1 Peter 5 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.” Discern if specific games are unhelpful in their wider journey with God and let’s fight for our children to have a deep passion for God, and to eagerly desire the best gifts.[3] Psalm 127 describes parents as warriors fighting on behalf of their children. Let’s fight the good fight of faith[4] on their behalf.  Discuss these concerns with the children around you. What do they think about it? More importantly what is God saying to them about it? With some studies showing that gaming can decrease a child’s ability to empathise with others and with the Bible commanding us to show love and put on love above all things, how can they make sure that love for others is more important to them than reaching the next level on their game. Use this as an opportunity to encourage them to seek God’s kingdom first[5] above everything else, knowing that this will lead to a fulfilled life. Train your children to hear and obey the Holy Spirit in this area of their lives, that they may discern what is pleasing to God and pursue Him with all their hearts. Distract the children around you with a balanced life. Encourage them to connect with the people in the same room as them, not just the people on their phone. Find healthy life affirming activities, not to overload the diary with clubs, but to enhance life together as a family. Let's fight for this next generation, rescuing them from the schemes of the enemy and releasing them into their divine destiny with God. [1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain [2] John 10:10 [3] 1 Corinthians 12:31 [4] 1 Timothy 6:12 [5] Matthew 6:33
01.07.2016
Children Can
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The day Helen fell pregnant I noticed that all the advertising boards seemed to be advertising baby products for the first time. Had they not done so before? How did they time it to coincide with our first pregnancy? The answer of course is not in the advertisers. When you are not pregnant you do not notice the bombardment of advertising targeting new parents. This subculture is hidden from the rest of society in plain view as our antennae are switched off to pregnancy and the unborn. So why should we give attention and invest time in those who are not yet born within our church communities, even if we ourselves are not pregnant? Here are four simple reasons: 1. God is interested in people from before they are born. God spoke to Jeremiah and said, before I formed you in the womb I knew you and set you apart. God knitted us together in our mother’s womb. God is interested in us and engages with us from before we are born. 2. The enemy wants to destroy the unborn. We know that the enemy of mankind is seeking to steal, kill and destroy. Satan’s plan is to eradicate the next generation. If the enemy is fighting to destroy then we should be fighting on behalf of the children to bring life. The battle over abortion is the most obvious form of the enemy’s destruction. Many of us around the world have looked on in horror as Planned Parenthood’s strategies for making money out of selling baby parts has been exposed. Here in the UK we are far from innocent. When the chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (responsible for helping babies be born) released a new position statement on behalf of all its members to say that abortion should be allowed for any reason at any stage of pregnancy you know that a battle is raging. Read more here. 3. It is the right time to start supporting parents. Parents are called to be the primary disciplers of their children. Where parents struggle to do this it is usually down to a lack of knowledge: how to fulfil the responsibility that God has given them. This is especially true in a society where the relationships between generations is breaking down and many Christian parents have not grown up in a home which modelled how to pass on their faith in the home. Many in the church want to help parents to fulfil their spiritual role with their children. The trouble is, inviting parents to a meeting, let alone a whole course, in the busiest season of their lives (namely when they are looking after small children) and when they have already developed patterns of parenting that are now harder to change can be an uphill struggle. When parents are expecting their first child, there is often a utopia of hope as to how their child will turn out and what kind of parents they will be. At this stage they are forming ideas of how they want their family to run and what values are important to them. This is the best time to come alongside parents and show them from the Bible the responsibility God has given them as parents to raise their children in the ways of God. Supporting parents and equipping families at this time will bear fruit for generations to come. 4. Life in the womb has an effect on life in the world. Numerous studies have shown how events during pregnancy can have a profound effect on people throughout their lives. As we bring children in the womb into the presence of God they can taste and see that He is good. That early relationship with God can be part of the spark that the Spirit of God will use to draw them on their lifelong journey with Him. After all a newborn baby know that God exists. As Romans 1:20 explains the invisible God is clearly seen. Verse 21 goes on to say: “because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” When young children encounter the God who is clearly seen and who they know, they have greater opportunity to go on to glorify God as He deserves. So don’t hold back from supporting ministry to unborn children and their families. Let’s work together to raise the profile of the unborn and concern for their spiritual lives and their future destinies. After all these children are God’s solutions for the problems of today’s world. The kingdom of heaven often starts as just a seed before it grows to something great. At this early stage of their lives this is when they need the most support and prayer. What can you do? We need people in our churches to be ambassadors for this next generation who will support pregnant families in the churches and community and encourage them to expose their babies to the presence of God and trust in God throughout their pregnancy, labour and indeed when their parents. We have seen when a whole church community takes this seriously from the womb it changes the perception of family and the children’s ministry of the church. If any of you are interested in being ambassadors you could: 1. Invite any pregnant people in your church to join us at Expectant – an event specifically for Christians parents who are expecting. You can find out more here: expectant.childrencan.co.uk. 2. Give out copies of Jesus, Your Baby and You in your church (you can buy 10 for the price of 5 from our website). 3. Start a womb ministry. Ask us for more information.
29.04.2016
Children Can
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How to Not Die Last year, while I was in the middle east, a lady from Iraq came and spoke with me. We have helped our children to learn how to pray, and many of them are becoming intercessors. Now we want to help them to evangelize. I have one question for you: How can we help our children to evangelize without being killed? This is not a problem that we often face in the West, indeed it was humbling to learn so much from her zeal and focus for the kingdom. Yet even as she spoke the Holy Spirit whispered the answer: We must teach our children to be Spirit-led. Many of us have shown our children how to lay hands on the sick. We may even have taught them and prayed for them so that they can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to them. But in both these cases, although the children have connected to the Holy Spirit, they have not been led by the Spirit. Instead they have chosen to listen and to pray in response to our instructions. These are great first steps in their journey with God, but now it is time for a Spirit-led generation to emerge. What would it look like? A Spirit-led generation obey God’s leading and hold to God’s principles no matter where they are. Imagine a generation ready to obey God any moment of the day, even if it meant changing their plans (Acts 16:6-7). Earl's Court Station One day, John was stood waiting for a London underground train to arrive at Earls Court tube station. As he waited for the train, he heard the Holy Spirit speak to him and instruct him to go to a different platform. His train was still quite a few minutes off, but it was a good five-minute walk within the station to get to the other platform. John obeyed and, as he stepped onto the other platform, he saw a girl from his school that he had been praying for over the past few weeks. They got chatting and he had just enough time to lead her to Jesus before her train arrived. Sprinting back to his platform, he arrived just in time to step onto his own train. His act of obedience – and indeed the immediacy with which he acted – resulted in one more soul being added to the kingdom.” Excerpt taken from p89, The Josiah Generation, by Olly Goldenberg. What can we do to help our children become Spirit-led? Here are three simple things we can do to help our children: 1. Encourage them in their daily personal walk with God. We can encourage the children to spend as many minutes a day in prayer as they are years old. Of course this is not the end point of discipleship, but we have found that this is an achievable first step for children as they establish a habit of prayer and reading the Bible. Many children who get into the rhythm of this, find themselves spending much longer times with the Lord. If your children are not sure where to start then why not get hold of a copy of our resource The Spy Kit, which has been created to help start children’s quiet times with the Lord. Jesus took time out to pray (Luke 5:16) and we need to help our children to do the same. When we meet with the children we can ask them how their times with God have been this week. How many days did they manage to pray for as many minutes as they are years old? Was there anything that stopped them from doing that? Do they need any help? As we talk through these issues we are helping them to build a stable relationship with the Lord that will put them in a place where they can be sensitized to the leading of the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 shows us that when we choose to let the Holy Spirit lead us, it changes everything. 2.       Help them to learn to recognize God’s voice. Take time each week to give our children an opportunity to hear God speaking to them. If they are following God they will be able to hear His voice (John 10:27), though God may speak to them in a different way than He does to others. As they learn to hear God speaking to them at home and in their church they will be more likely to recognize when God is speaking to them at school or in the park. My father was born in the Sudan and has a very different accent to my British one! If he were to call you up, you would probably not recognize his voice the first time he spoke to you. If, however, he called you every day for a month, not only may you consider taking out a restraining order against him, but you would learn to recognize his voice. The more we stop to listen to God the more we learn to recognize His still small voice (1 Kings 19:12) and know that it truly is His Spirit leading us. 3.       Share testimonies of God at working through each other. As we hear stories of how God has used others during the week, it encourages us to expect God to do the same through us. Testimonies are powerful – give space for the children to share what God has done for them and keep a record so you can look back and remember. Revelation 19:10. The Israelites were often encouraged to speak of and remember what God had done for them (Exodus 12:14). Of course it is still a choice that our children have to make. They have to choose to be led by the Spirit and therein lies the heart of discipleship: are we prepared to take up our cross daily (Matthew 8:34), become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1) and truly give our all to God? Let's allow God to work through us and help raise His army.
01.04.2016
Children Can
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Effective learning Do we teach our children Bible memory verses effectively? Will they remember those verses a year from now (or even next week)? These questions have bothered me for some time. As we travel through Africa we see children aged five who know huge portions of Scripture. When we travel through the Western nations we find that often many children raised in the church do not know John 3 verse 16! This is not the only verse in the Bible, but surely it is the first one that most people should learn, with the whole Gospel packed inside. When it comes to teaching verses I have vacillated on other questions too: What version of the Bible should we teach our children memory verses from? Which verses should we teach them? Over the years I have swung between these two options. I love the short sentences of the ICB: For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son.  God gave his Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. This element of our ministry to children is essential to laying a foundation in our children’s lives for their future walk with God. Knowing verses from the Bible allows for: ·         more effective intercession ·         better preparation for sharing the Gospel with other people ·        an opportunity to chew on a Bible verse more deeply, changing our character and revealing God’s nature, during the course of a day. Even if they choose to walk away from the church at some stage in their life, they will never be able to walk away from the word of God that has been hidden in their hearts. Which verses? So what verses should we teach our children? After years of experimenting and considering this questions, this is my conclusion. Teach the same verses over and over again until the children really know them. Let’s allow our children’s brains to be saturated in the Word of God. Jumping from one verse to another each week will not help them to build up this store of knowledge. Here are my top ten verses that are a great place to start: Matthew 28:18-20 John 3:16 John 14:16 John 15:4 Romans 3:23 Romans 6:23 1 Thessalonians 5:17 2 Timothy 3:16-17 James 6:16-18 1 John 1:9 After that let’s encourage our children to learn chunks of Scripture as well as other key verses. Here are some great passages to start with: Psalm 23 Psalm 1 Matthew 5-7 Currently many people around the world are learning a whole Gospel by heart. Whether it is with YWAM under their http://www.wordbyheart.org/ or a Bible School in China preparing saints for persecution in Bible college (see the Heavenly Man by Brother Yun). Children have an incredible ability for memorization and as we encourage them to learn the Scriptures we are providing them with a store to feast on in the future. One Sri Lanken church has challenged their older children to learn the whole of Proverbs over a few months. The girl who was telling me this has learnt up to chapter 29 so far! What version should we use? Should we teach the verses from a children’s translation of the Bible or an adult’s version? If we use a children’s version, they will be able to understand it more easily and will be able to find it in their Bible as they read through it. If we use an adult version, this is something that will last them for life and will potentially match future versions of the Bible that they will use. On the other hand, children are capable of learning: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV) Or “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) One of the key reasons for teaching memory verses is that they will last for life. As such I think the children should learn the adult version. We may need to explain some of the words to them, or even read them the same verse from a children’s Bible to help them understand it, but the verses we are encouraging them to imprint in their memories. This leads to the next dilemma – which adult version should we choose?  Different congregations have their own favourite version. This will in part be dependent on the church culture. Whichever version you choose for your setting let me encourage you to: Continue to encourage children to use a child-friendly version of the Bible for their own devotional times. Use the same version for all the verses. Jumping between versions ultimately gets confusing for everyone. I reiterate we can explain tricky sections of a verse to the children and they are able to learn more complex words. Use a version that leans towards word-for-word translation rather than paraphrase: Lean towards the NKJV and the NIV rather than the Living Bible or the Message. The chart above shows where many of the popular versions lie on this spectrum. The children’s versions are great for their personal devotions and even for Bible studies together. These versions help the Bible to become more accessible to them now, instead of having to wait until they are older. What method should we use to teach? All of them! Let’s use music, rhythm, visuals, cards, rewards, drama, rote learning. Different methods will help the verses to stick with different children. Remember the only wrong learning method is the one that you use every week! What tools are available? A quick search on google will bring up lots of options to help you. Here are three that may be of help to you:   Make your own memory verse cards: http://www.mcscott.org/ http://www.seedsfamilyworship.com/ full of Scripture songs and resources for every generation. Take up John Hardwick’s Big Bible verse challenge to learn 52 songs in one year (all songs are set to music with visuals and are available for free on youtube.com). See  http://johnhardwick.org.uk/general/bbvc for more information. Whatever we do, let’s make sure we are not neglecting the important aspect of memorizing Scripture as we encourage the next generation to hide God’s word in their hearts that they may not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11). For God’s word is a light to their feet and a lamp to their path (Psalm 119:105).

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