Discipleship Quick Tip (5/17/2011)

Share with your children challenges you faced where God was working, but you didn’t understand it at the time.

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5)

What does it mean to love the Lord with all of your soul?

Your soul is the part of you that is eternal, so it has the ability to perceive the eternal truths and character of God, so that we can see the big picture of God’s will and ways. This means we can love Him even when our immediate circumstances stink.

Share with your children a difficult time in your life, that, when you look back at it, you see that God was at work even when you didn’t know it. For example, once I lost my job in a very unfair set of circumstances, and we struggled with the injustice of it all, and with our own anger. Looking back, though, we can see that God was actually protecting us from later, worse, situations that took place at that organization. His provision for us was my job loss! Understanding God’s promises that He has plans for us (Jer 29:11), that He works things out for our good in the long haul (Rom 8:28), and that the path to spiritual maturity is loaded with difficulties and even persecution (e.g., James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-4) helps you put life’s difficulties in eternal perspective. Understanding this helps you love God with your soul.

Pray for opportunities to share eternal truths with your children.

Discipleship Quick Tip (5/15/2011)

Do a quick check with your family of the ways your family reflects the greatest commandment. Where can you improve?

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5)

In the introduction to this passage (Deut 6:1-3), Moses instructs parents to carefully obey the commandments of the LORD in order to receive generations of blessings (see my earlier blog). And here are the first two parts of  the commandment: 1. Acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah, and His right to your love and worship and obedience. 2. Love Him in a way that matters for your attitude and behavior.

Loving the Lord requires a heart transplant. The heart is your spiritual core; the source of your attitudes and behavior. Do your attitudes reflect a complete commitment to theses spiritual truths? Just as importantly, do your actions reflect a heart that has been redeemed by Christ? If you are being transformed, the things you say and do must change as you grow, because “the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matt 15:18) and “The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” (Luke 6:45).

Sit down with your family and ask yourselves: Do our attitudes reflect love of the Lord? Do the words that proceed from our mouths reflect redeemed hearts? Do the things we do reflect hearts that love God, or hearts that love ourselves?

If you have found areas of your heart, words, attitudes, and actions that don’t reflect the love of the Lord, pray for Him to guide you to make the changes He wants you to make. Then act on them!

Discipleship Quick Tip (May 11, 2011)

Talk to your children about a challenge you faced at work, and how your faith helped you through it.

Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many.
I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.
Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life. (Proverbs 4:10-13)

One of our goals as Christian parents is to train our children in how to live as mature Christians, even in the most challenging times of our lives. We do this by passing on the wisdom we have gained from the combination of living life and learning our own lessons, often the hard way. Several years ago, it became clear that I was going to lose my job, in an unjust move by my employer. Even though I had some really bad days in that season of my life, Deb and I decided to keep our older sons “in the loop” about the challenges facing our family and me as a father-provider, because one day, our young men would be heads of households, and very likely to face similar challenges. By talking with them about the problem and the challenges, the Lord gave us the opportunity to model for them how men and women respond to those challenges with Christ-like character.

Take a few minutes this week and talk with your children about a challenge you recently faced, or currently face at work. Speak very clearly to them about how your faith helps you to respond to the challenge, and how you were or are trying to be Christ-like in your attitude and behavior. Let them see you work through your problems, and so pass on the wisdom you have acquired.

Discipleship Lesson: Journalists for Jesus!

writingHere is fun and easy idea for helping your children (and their parents) learn about the process used for putting together the Gospels. We did this activity with our whole-family Bible study last week and it worked really well; you can do this with any small group, but it’s particularly fun with tween-age children. 

The point of the exercise is to illustrate how the gospel accounts were constructed; how people can come up with slightly different versions and descriptions and details about events; and how they all still can be reliable sources of information despite these differences.

The interviews
Have children interview adults about an event that occurred in the adult’s life; consider having multiple children interview the adults; assign one older child to be the recorder of the information. Choose some fun or happy event, or one that isn’t particularly lengthy to describe; it would be best to make the event something the interviewers were not present for. In our group we had children interview parents from a different family about how the married couple met.
Have the children report back to the group about the event, telling it in their own words; the recorder can do the reporting, but let the other children chime in when there is a detail they remember that the recorder doesn’t include, and let the interviewed adults insert vital corrections.
Point out when some details differ slightly; that the order of the events as described might not have been the exact order in which the events occurred; that the adults may have remembered or described some details slightly differently; and that the reports are still truthful.

Bible Study
When we read the gospels, we might envision Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John secluding themselves in a desert retreat and writing their books straight through from beginning to end. But it probably didn’t work that way. While the authors of the gospels used some common material, it’s also helpful to think of these men as first-century historians or journalists.
In fact, they probably put together their reports in a way that is similar to the interview activity we just did. We get a clue that this might be the case from the opening verses of Luke:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, NAS)
Ask the basic reporter’s questions about this passage (Who, what, where, when, why, how); let the people, including children, in the group answer. The leader should make the following points when appropriate.

Question: Who wrote this, and who was it written to?
Answer: The author does not tell us his name. Very early in Christian history Luke was accepted as being the author (a good Study Bible or Bible Dictionary will help you with this point). The book was written to “Theophilus” (thee-OFF-ill-us). We don’t know exactly who this is. It may be a person named Theophilus; it may be a made-up name to protect the identity of a real person; or it may be written to all Christians, because in Greek theo means God and philo is a word for friend, so theo-philus meansfriend of God.

Q: What is being written?
A: “An account of the things accomplished among us.” Luke is telling his readers about Jesus’ life and ministry, and later, the experiences of the early church (Acts). 

Q: When was it written?
A: To get this, we have to think about who was interviewed to write the book; the events “were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” Luke doesn’t claim to be a witness to Jesus’ life, but often uses the first person (“we”) in the book of Acts. Note that your interviewers didn’t see the events that occurred, but they were able to talk to eyewitnesses who did see or participate in the events. Luke’s sources were the eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life, including his death, burial, and resurrection. (More than 500 people saw Jesus alive after his crucifixion and death, and many of them were still alive when Paul wrote his letters; 1 Cor 15:3-7.) The fact that Luke was writing when his eyewitnesses were still alive is important, because it means if he made things up, people were around who would correct him, exposing his account as false; therefore, he had a strong motivation to give a truthful, accurate history. Since the apostles were not afraid to challenge and correct each other (e.g., Acts 15), Luke would strive to be accurate. Note that this is how your interviews worked; did a recorder make a mistake in his or her reporting, or leave out an important or interesting detail? Was it easy to correct the error?

Q: How was the information compiled?
A: Luke “investigated everything carefully from the beginning.” Lacking Google, he relied on eyewitness testimony. Would his information (starting from before the conception of John the Baptist and going through Jesus’ resurrection) have been acquired in the exact order it occurred? No, he probably picked up bits and pieces of different events and conversations, depending on who he was interviewing, and what they saw and remembered. In fact, Luke felt compelled “to write it out for you in consecutive order.” Remind your interviewers what it was like gathering the information just from the couple of people they talked to. (One of our 10-year old “recorders” even wrote the information out in the order it was received, and then during the “reporting” intuitively reorganized the information chronologically when he told the story.)

Q: Why was this account written down so carefully?
A: Luke writes that he did this so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught.” Luke’s purpose is to communicate clearly truths, to reinforce the information that Theophilus already had heard. 

Conclusion
By conducting interviews with eyewitnesses about events, the participants in this discipleship activity can learn some important lessons about how the gospels and Acts were put together. If your experience is like ours, it will be fun; there will be some laughing in the telling of the stories; and there may be some poignant moments. I have to believe that as Luke was interviewing the people who knew and loved Jesus, it had to be the same. It wasn’t some sterile, boring lecture, it was real people relating and reliving their personal contact with the most wonderful and loving person they ever knew. The fact that many of those people were still alive when Luke wrote it motivated him to write it accurately. In itself, Luke’s introduction makes a great case for the accuracy of his gospel.