Monday, January 31, 2011

Funny Things Kids Say--Elisha Edition

My youngest son, Elisha, is our family comedian.  He's only 4, but he's adds a lot of fun to our house.

Lately, he's been sticking his hands under cold water at the bathroom sink to make them nice and chilly before sneaking up on Tara and putting them on her back so she screams.  It's hard to correct him when your chuckling yourself.  He also likes to tickle her stomach when she's standing next to the boys' bed at night to pray with Ethan, who is on the top bunk.

On Saturday we went sledding as a family and Elisha accidentally hit a girl with his sled at the bottom of the hill.  We talked about it yesterday at lunch--here's his take on it.  "Dad, do you remember when I hit that girl with the sled and she started crying?"  ("Um, yes, I do son--it just happened yesterday," I thought.)  "She didn't move out of my way--that wasn't very so smart."

"I think I need some help," said Elisha (see picture), after he came downstairs last night after being "asleep" for an hour.

Got to love it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ages 18-22 Make or Break

Perhaps you know the staggering data that suggests that 70-80% of students walk away from their faith after high school.  That number can be overwhelming, and a lot of factors are involved.  Perhaps, you are a parent of one of those students who have walked away or maybe, you are one of those people who walked away from your faith for a time.  There is always hope.  Obviously, we want to pour God into our kids, and I mentioned some vital steps to doing that yesterday.

But here is some more good news.  I was at an Orange Tour event this fall (something for ministry leaders) and heard some very insightful research that had been done.  “Among young adults ages 23-30 who stayed in church during ages 18-22, only 6 percent do not currently attend church.”

Let me break that down for you.  While most kids are walking away from God after high school, those that are staying connected from ages 18-22 will most likely continue to be life-long Christ-followers--94% of them, in fact.  So, a very critical age is 18-22.  As parents and church leaders, we must concentrate hard on effective ways to keep our young adults connected to Jesus during the years when they are making such major life-altering decisions.  What person in that age category can you help connect to God right now?  Give them a call, connect with them on Facebook, invite them out for a chat--push them towards Jesus!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Evidence of God Stirring in a Child

A few weeks ago on a Friday afternoon,  I got a visit from a little boy in our church.  He and his mom had been getting some supplies ready for our pre-school ministry that Sunday.  They had been driving into the church and he kept asking his mom questions about God, about heaven, and other spiritual matters.  Before she knew it, she asked him if he had wanted to talk to Jesus himself and ask Him to come into his life.  When he said "yes," she was thrilled and couldn't believe she was getting this opportunity to lead her son into a personal relationship with Jesus!  How awesome when a parent has that privilege.  Over the past month here at Grace, I've heard from several parents who have recently had an experience like this or who have had questions about how to know when their child would be ready.

I usually explain that our number one goal as parents or children's ministry leaders is to help our kids have a relationship with God--that's the bottom line!  Over helping them become a successful adult and learning to live wisely, we should desperately want our kids connected to the One who can help them do all those other things.  However, every person is on their own spiritual journey, and no parent can completely dictate when their child will have a personal faith of their own, so we need to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit.

There are definite things we can do to encourage faith in children like praying with them, modeling a passionate, Spirit-led life in front of them, reading the Scriptures to them, and having them involved in a church where they will see God is alive and at work.   Those are crucial steps we must prioritize over everything else we do for our children.

When a child starts asking spiritual questions, I take that as a major sign that God is at work there.  Romans 3:10 states that no person seeks after God on their own, so if a person is asking questions, that is evidence of God at work in their hearts.  In fact, in John 6:44, Jesus says that no one will come to God unless he/she is being drawn by God.  So, again, when a child (or adult) starts asking questions about God or spiritual matters, that is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.

Then, it is time for us to really engage them with the Gospel and clearly give them a chance to respond to Jesus' invitation to make Him leader of their lives.  When you see God moving, don't wait around--jump on that chance and see what happens.

I will often ask probing questions to children (my own and children from our church) to see where they are with God.  If there is no interest, I just take that as a sign they're not there yet.  If they are interested and say things like, "I think about that a lot," then I know God is at work, and I join Him in that effort.  There is no greater joy in life than helping another person put their name in the Book of Life.  I'll don't think I'll ever get tired of that privilege--and neither should you!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why? Why? Why?

Have you ever had to explain something to a child?  They ask you, "Why?" a lot, right?  In fact, they usually ask that more than once in the same conversation.  They really are trying to understand the world around them.

In church on Sunday, I showed a clip from Despicable Me where Gru gives rules to the adopted girls that have come to live with him.  He's not much of a kid person, so his rules don't make any sense to them.  They wonder how they can live without "touching anything" or "making any sounds."  Obviously, he had a lot to learn.  (By the way, most of the kids quoted each word of the scene while it was playing--I guess lots of homes got this as a Christmas gift this year:).

My reason for showing the clip was to  compare Gru to God, Who has given us lots of wisdom to live by in the Bible.  When we follow God's "rules," life goes well for us.  When we stray away from them, we get into trouble.  Unlike Gru's rules, God's rules make sense.  There is thoughtful, loving reasoning behind each law He gives us to follow.  That's why I'm willing to follow Him, because His way really is best for my life.

This is so important when thinking through boundaries and rules for our kids.  If you have weird rules that don't make any sense, as your kids get older, they will see right through them and be frustrated.  Be willing to explain the reasoning behind them and be open to dialogue on the matter.  This is a conversational generation we are raising, and they're not just being disrespectful.  Dialogue is an important value to them.  If you want respect, be willing to give respect as well.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King Day always reminds me of our need as Christ-followers to cross over racial and ethnic barriers to learn from and love each other.  Jesus certainly did that when He was alive--He elevated other ethnic groups, women, children,etc--He always reached across divides that others wouldn't approach.

Here we are 2,000 years after Jesus life, decades after King's life, and sadly, today in America one of the most segregated hours all week long is Sunday morning!  Our schools and work-places are integrated (because we're forced to) but our churches are not, and I believe with all my being that this grieves God's heart...

Tara and I have had the privilege of living in culturally diverse communities, and it can be a beautiful thing.  We even get to live in a diverse family as you can see above in the picture with my kids and their cousins.  When we were moving from Philadelphia to Goshen six years ago, one of the reasons we chose the neighborhood we live in is because we knew our kids would be in a diverse school with diverse cultures.  I think every person at some time in their life needs to live in a different culture--whether it's on a short-term project or a long-term move--people need to get away from their cultural roots long enough to learn about other ways to live life.  Whether that's an African-American understanding Asian culture or a white American living in a place where they are the minority.  Your whole world-view will change when you learn to walk in someone else's shoes.  (Sounds like something Jesus did--see Philippians 2.)  That's why we take our 5th graders from our church on a week-long mission trip each year--they need to experience and see God move in another part of the map. 

Two Saturday nights ago, our family had the privilege of having dinner with two families who are brand new to our community.  They had to get away from their situations in Atlanta and Chicago and come to a safe place to start over--these families were from different parts of the country and different ethnic groups.  It was good for our kids to play and talk with their kids--you know, laughs and giggles all sound the same no matter the language or color of skin.  It was good for Tara and I to rub shoulders with and serve these moms who need some of heaven's grace right now.  Look for ways like this to live out your faith in front of your kids and teach them that God loves everyone the same.  Why wait 'til heaven to be part of the mosaic God is painting today?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Are your kids touch-starved?

Last night Tara and Ethan (above) left for a mommy/son trip to Pennsylvania for a cousin's wedding.  Ethan was especially excited because he was taking along our DVD of the Phillies' run to the World Series in 2008 to watch in its entirety in the car!  Such a thing would never be allowed under normal circumstances by his brother or sister, so he was pumped.  My love for baseball and the Phillies has definitely been passed down to this guy:)

Before he left, he came over about four different times to give me a hug.  It was a reminder for me of the high value of touch between human beings and the powerful messages communicated by it.  Without a word, he was revealing love and the fact he would miss me.  Touch is powerful.

In fact, I heard a news blip this morning that super high tech ultrasound research now shows twins reaching out to grasp hands in their mom's womb at 14 weeks!  From our earliest days, God put something inside of us that craves physical interaction and connection.  There is much concern over the amount of physical and sexual abuse happening today in our world.  Without any care, predators are sending shocking messages of pain to kids everywhere.  This has caused many caring adults to become paralyzed and avoid appropriate forms of touch altogether.  No touch or little touch can be just as damaging.

I noticed this morning in Luke 5:13 (yes, small group, I did my reading for today) that Jesus reached his hand out to touch a man with leprosy and heal him.  This man who had been touch-starved because of his horrible disease received both healing and love from Jesus.  Can you imagine the joy welling up inside this man who hadn't been shown that form of love in a long time?

Make sure you give plenty of hugs, kisses, hi-fives, shoulder squeezes, and other forms of appropriate touch to the kids around you.  If it's not something that comes naturally to you, then make it a new habit.  Set a goal to give 5 appropriate touches to kids around you each day, and then grow from there.  They need it...and so do you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Awesome Impact of our Words

I have been contemplating starting a blog for a few years now and after some prompting from others, it became one of my new goals and challenges for 2011, so here we go...

This morning I was reminded of the incredible power our words have for good.  I was reading a book where the author recalled something one of his elementary teachers had said to him as a child.  My mind began racing back through my own life and I could picture a number of scenes where someone poured courage and confidence into me.  One moment, in particular, stood out.  I was sitting at a local restaurant, The China Gate, back in Lebanon, PA with my varsity baseball coach, George.  I was a senior in high school, still young in my new faith, and I was sharing with him what my next steps were following high school.  In that little restaurant, amidst all the Americanized Chinese decor and the placemat telling me I was born in the year of the duck, I remember him looking at me in the eye and saying, "I believe God has big plans in store for Jon Rauch."  All these years later, I can still feel the sense of confidence and courage that statement poured into me at that time in my life--in fact, I was choked up this morning thinking about it.  George probably didn't realize then (or even, now) the impact that dinner would have on an 18 year old heading out in the world.

You and I probably don't realize the awesome impact our words today might have on a child or adult.  Above is a picture of my precious little Elli--she is a real gem, and I hope she knows how proud I am to be her daddy.  Take time to seek out a kid in your life, put your hands on their shoulders, and let them know you believe in them.  Throw in a little sweet and sour chicken, and you might affect their life forever...