A few thoughts and a prayer as my heart aches for the families of Newtown, CT…

Yesterday I had the blessing of being with my family on one of our little one’s – Ella’s – fourth birthday. With the events of today in CT, I was once again reminded not to have any regrets for missing work to be with family.

My heart has been aching since I heard the news of 20 children and 8 adults whose lives were lost in a small New England town this morning. Tragic is an understatement. Everyone has been taken off guard. It was at an elementary school. An elementary school!!!

I’ve struggled through anger and tears this afternoon. I cannot imagine, as my sister-in-law articulated on Facebook, how those family members will feel tonight as they sit around their living room looking at presents under a Christmas tree (or hidden in a closet) marked for their child who did not come home today from school.

This is yet another reminder of the death present in our world and the importance of our mission as followers of Jesus to live sent with His presence. Leaders, including today, cry out again that these things happen because “they keep God out of our school.” What bologna! God won’t be out of our schools until someone removes the Holy Spirit from those who follow Him as they go there!

We are not asked by God to legislate righteousness. We are not persuading and proselytizing for an alternative religion here. We have been loved by the God who came near compelling us to go near with His love to those who have yet to believe beyond the death and selfishness of the here and now. Our mission is not so trite as only to be about moralism in school or making a better culture. It has all to do with displaying the message of resurrection life so that hope can be found and dead can be made new again.

As Peterson so eloquently and appropriately wrote:

The church is a colony of resurrection in the country of death.

Jesus. You wept over the effect of death. Thank You, as the One who made us, for having a heart of grace for us when we, as the ones who were made, chose to eat of the tree that opened our minds and hearts to all we could know about what we are so beautifully as well as horrifically capable of. Thank You for resurrection. Thank You for hope. Amen.

I am thankful for my family. What is one way you are thankful for your family?

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I am thankful for my family.

For my wife who is my best friend, whose beauty is unmatched, whose faith is unwavering, whose passion is our children’s hearts, whose affection is beyond fulfilling, and whose wisdom is so edifying.

For children who anticipate my arrival home, who are perseverant of my parental flaws, whose laughter fills up my heart, whose hugs are therapeutic, and whose imaginations take me on unforgettable adventures.

For a father who mirrored and modeled our heavenly Father’s gracious, generous love. For a brother who invited me along with him to learn and live the ways of Jesus. For in-laws who welcomed me into their family, encouraged me to take Jen’s hand in marriage, and who support our family with uplifting fellowship that we treasure beyond words.

I am thankful for my family.

How are you thankful for yours?

This week, in prep for our “Family Conversation” Sat night, let’s consider five contrasts between parenting from grace versus parenting for moralism.

This week, I wanted to share five posts, one each day from today through Saturday, containing thoughts that swirl in my head and heart regarding “grace based parenting.” It is in preparation for our Westpoint Church “Family Conversation” this coming Saturday night @ the Roper YMCA in Winter Garden, FL at 6pm.

It has been inspired by such resources as:

:: Grace Based Parenting by Dr. Tim Kimmel
:: Give Them Grace by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson
:: Gospel-Centered Parenting by Rick Thomas
:: Gospel-Centered Family by Tim Chester

For those planning on being there, please consider reading these five posts I will post this week prior to coming Saturday, as they will certainly enrich our learning conversation together. For those who can’t make it, I hope they encourage and sharpen you in your parenting.

Hopeful for more “on earth as it is in heaven” in our homes and kids’ lives.

-jason

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contrast 1 _ parenting with the Gospel versus parenting for moralism

Let me begin by stating the obvious – my wife and I may have six kids but that doesn’t mean we are good parents. In fact, we are very aware of our mistakes, and we try to be confessional about them with the Lord and with each other.

Furthermore, may I suggest that God did not intend for the goal of your parenting to be GOOD. By that I mean the Scriptures never seem to call us to focus on our own goodness and improvement, measuring our performance while expecting perfect results. This is a sure fire formula for severe disappointment, both in ourselves and our kids.

Notice what Moses commanded the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 6:

Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. When the Lord your God brings you into the land He swore to your fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He would give you-a [land with] large and beautiful cities that you did not build, houses full of every good thing that you did not fill [them with], wells dug that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant-and when you eat and are satisfied, be careful not to forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-12 HCSB)

Among the many things one could say about this Scripture, notice that Moses challenged them to remember who God is and what He had said and what He was doing and that He wanted to be as close to them as in their heart, involved in the everyday rhythms of their lives. Also, notice that Moses challenged them to be cautious when they got into the land not to reflect on their own goodness and accomplishments forgetting the goodness and nearness of God. God’s goodness was to be highlighted so that their kids would know Him above all else.

It’s almost like Moses expected them to forget God gave them what they had. It’s almost like Moses anticipated their pride and their tendency toward making themselves the idol as well as making for themselves an idol. After all, he had quite a history with them that demonstrated this pattern.

We are prone to wander, too. Prone as people to forget the God who so loved the world instead living like we, the world, need to perform perfectly to earn His love. Prone as parents to try to be good enough so that our kids will turn out good instead of remembering that even our best efforts still won’t guarantee our kids make the best choices. Prone as families to create cultures within our homes filled with expectations that kids maintain a certain image, modifying their behavior with self-improvement tactics instead of living lives eager to confess when mistakes are made, highlighting a Savior who invited us to deny self and follow Him daily.

May we never forget all that God does in and through us in spite of our stubbornness and in the midst of our mistakes.

Moses never challenged the people to be GOOD parents. Maybe because God wants us to trust that His goodness is enough rather than trying to be good enough?

Does God want us to parent our kids on a foundation of grace or from a foundation of self-improvement?

Let’s consider the purpose of marriage. Is it to grow in oneness with the Father together as a couple while growing toward intimate oneness that leads to being fruitful and multiplying in many ways, including dying to self in order to give life into one another as well as into the next generation? The Garden story seems to declare this.

Let’s consider the purpose of parenting. Is it to love God with all of our heart and soul and strength, learning and living His ways together as a family and emphasizing His teachings in our everyday rhythms such that our children get to know and never forget this God who has come near and invites them along with Him? Deuteronomy 6 seems to declare this.

Let’s consider the pragmatism of parenting. What will cultivate for our kids living a Jesus-centered life? Will it be raising kids in an environment that demands moral perfection creating kids so clean and tidy they never think of even needing the Gospel? Or will it be raising kids in an environment of gracious relationship where wrongs are confronted with opportunities for confession and rights are encouraged with grateful affirmation? It must be an environment where selfishness is challenged at all costs. And all kinds of selfishness – both the self-indulgent kind as well as the self-righteous kind.

My prayer is that our children will grow into adults who recognize knowing Jesus as a desperate need rather than an opportunity for improvement and advancement?

The goal of our parenting may need to be adjusted from our kids having good behavior to our kids believing in and understanding their desperate need for God’s goodness. What are we doing to help them realize how good He is rather than realizing a personal goodness?

Paul declared that perfect rule keeping simply isn’t enough. In fact, he declared it as contrary to the cross of Christ.

19 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. 20 Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule- keeping, peer- pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule- keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
(Galatians 2:19-21, MSG)

Wow. So, how does that change my parenting philosophy and approach? Hopefully we can continue to learn along that pathway of thinking together on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, why do we parent our kids as though they shouldn’t make mistakes? Lets look at that tomorrow…

Is it “family OR mission,” “family AND mission,” or “family ON mission?” Challenging thoughts from @Mike_Breen

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God definitely seems to be using Mike Breen‘s experiences in Europe to encourage and influence our future experiences as the church here in America. Below is an excerpt from a post Mike wrote earlier this year regarding the above title. It is worth the read, and I would dig your comments for sure.

Praying we will grow in wisdom as individuals and families living on mission together focused on what really matters to Jesus.

How our kids translate and interpret what it even means to follow Jesus depends on it.

Much love.
-jason
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Sacrificing Mission on the Altar of Family?
by Mike Breen

Here’s the problem. For far too long, many of us felt we were pushed into having to make this false dichotomy: Is it family OR mission?

Rightly recognizing we shouldn’t sacrifice our families, we started to put some healthy boundaries in place, but also some unhealthy ones. So we started to compartmentalize. But I believe it’s part of the progression. So for many of us, this is now the question of our time: Is it family AND mission?

But when we learn to integrate our life and live well as a people participating in the mission of God each and every day and as we listen to the mission God is calling our family to, this is the next progression: Is it family ON mission?

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READ THE ENTIRE POST and the litany of comments by CLICKING HERE.

“Five Ways to Eat the Bible Together” from @AnnVoskamp. Very much worth sharing with you…

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Yesterday on her blog, Ann Voskamp shared five “spiritual diets” she and her family have lived together. I thought they were worth sharing to encourage you and your family as you live sent together. They are below…

REMEMBER – if you are married, do not live on mission thinking you cannot include your spouse and kids. Including them is crucial. The near love of Jesus is best seen in the loving dynamic of a people on mission together. That includes the family unit. You don’t want your kids going to college one day having never seen a disciple made and having never loved the least of these. They need to define “following Jesus” as more than a prayer prayed and “church attendance.”

These family times immersed in the Scriptures are the nourishment they need for growing up in Christ. And you and I need it, too.

Make it a priority. I know I need to. Cause this “eating” is to important to relegate to leftovers, so may we do more than leave it to the energy left over when all else is done in the day.

Thanks, Ann, for this encouragement.

May we eat well and have some quality family meals, too :-)
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“5 Ways to Eat the Bible Together”
from Ann Voskamp

There are varied ways to eat healthy, and we often eat differently in different seasons… so it goes with Manna from heaven.

Here are some spiritual diets we’ve lived:

1. In Slow time…
Instead of swallowing large portions of scripture, certain seasons we eat very slowly, savoring only a few verses at a time by first listening to His Word, reading only a few verses…. then I linger, quietly meditating on those 2-3 verses, turning the words over and over…. then to lift voice in prayer, pray the Scriptures back to God… and then live the Words, contemplate on the verses long, and throughout the day, that hand and feet and tongue might do them.

For more: How to Savor the Bible

2. In Community…
In addition to meal-time meditations, there have been seasons where we’ve had personal quiet time together as a family, so children see parents savoring truth and parents can model how to eat.

For more: Communal Quiet Time

3. In Audio …
I’m making it a habit that when I clean, or run the morning routine, do domestic tasks, to always slip in another disk of the audio Bible: clean the heart while cleaning the house.

For More: Listen for free every day to the Daily Audio Bible and what I have in the stereo: Inspired By . . . The Bible Experience

4. In a Year …
There have been many seasons where I’ve read the Bible in a year. Perhaps my most favorite plan was with this plan on a bookmark, that has only 25 readings slotted a month, allowing for five catch-up days. And no flipping back and forth to find the plan…. Just tuck in the bookmarks. And begin whatever time of the year with whatever Bible you have.

Free Bookmarks for easy Bible-in-a-year Reading Plan — from John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist

5. In Book Repeat …
This way of eating Scripture has yielded very toned, healthy souls and I highly recommend it to hungry hearts. I have found “the book repeat” way of Scripture reading truly lets a soul ruminate on Truth powerfully and effectively. Simply:

a. select a shorter book of the Bible (I’ve chosen Philippians once, Colossians another)
b. read it through
c. Then repeat, twenty times, reading at a your usual pace, considering the book as a whole meal.

Cultivating Daily into Family: “how a 6th birth is a new experience” or “are we grateful each time?” Exciting news!!!

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Because we both have six kids, we get asked this one question a lot. It is always meant as a joke, and honestly I never get tired of being asked. Maybe it’s because I never get tired of the subject of the question, but that’s more of a Valentine’s post. Today’s post is for some breaking news celebrated from a grateful heart.

Oh yeah, the question we get asked because we both have six kids? Here you go – “You know how that happens right?”

And the antecedent of “both?” My brother Erik and I both have six kids, although my sixth isn’t due for face to face arrival until early August sometime.

And the exciting news?!? Erik and Erin’s sixth little gift arrived this morning!!!!!!!!!!

Emery Elaine Dukes comes into a family of five brothers. She will likely alternate thinking about them as a bunch of Knights in Shining Armor and a bunch over-protective, insensitive, annoyances. I am biased since they are my nephews, but I bet they will be the former much, much more than the latter. What is for sure is that the atmosphere of their home just got pinker and purpler and prettier. :)

And the picture that my wife sent me of Erik holding his brand new daughter was so breath-taking.

It was Erin’s sixth child born, and Jen got to be there this time for the first time. It was Erik’s sixth child born, but it was his first girl. And as a little brother, I don’t get to experience many things first before my wonderful big brother, but I have already held three daughters and look forward with excitement, Lord willing, to holding a fourth this summer. Erik got a whole new experience this morning holding a child that belonged to him that was not of the male persuasion. And it was breath-taking to behold knowing what was racing through his mind and heart.

It was exciting news! And we all are so grateful, celebrating each birth as though it actually is a gift from God that we in no way deserve.

Thank you Lord.

So cool that my dad has eleven grandchildren and one more on the way.

-jason

Don’t you see that children are God’s best gift, the fruit of the womb his generous legacy?
(Psalm 127:3 MSG)

Cultivating Daily into Family: awesome suggestions from author & my friend @TashaLevert on “cultivating daily with elbows on the table”…

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Great suggestions and insight from author and friend Tasha Levert. So grateful she was willing to share this with us. I will have another post from Tasha in a couple of weeks. If you want to read her awesome book that encourages moms with an engaging mix of wisdom and humor, you can get is on Amazon by CLICKING HERE.

Thanks Tasha for sharing this with us. Give your sweetheart Tim a big hug from me, too :)

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Cultivating Daily with Elbows on the Table

Suppertime has not always been the highlight of our day. Tim and I have three daughters, and when the girls were younger, the hours between 5pm and bedtime were crazy around our house.

Each night, reality would waltz into our dining room and crush my Focus on the Family inspired visions of quality time at the dinner table as peas were chucked, milk was spilled, and tantrums were thrown. I remember feeling so discouraged one evening that I wondered if chucking my own peas would make me feel better. It didn’t.

Today, our girls are 11, 9, and 7, and while their table manners are still up for debate, I can say proudly that we have made it through the pea chuckin’ phase (all of us ;)! In fact, suppertime has actually become one of the best parts of our day.

Our tradition is to eat supper at the table with the television off (gasp!), and when we gather, we ask one of two questions:

:: What was the best part of your day?
:: What has God said to you lately?

We ask the first question every night (even if we’re hosting guests). I love this question: “What was the best part of you day?” The question gives all of us a chance to see a glimpse of each others’ life. Tim and I get a snapshot of what’s going on in their world, and the girls get a picture of ours. Some of our moments are blatantly Kingdom focused. Some aren’t. Regardless, the time spent sharing connects our hearts and our lives in a way that I think makes Jesus smile.

The second question, “What has God said to you lately?” is one that we only ask every few months. Our goal is to help the girls learn to hear God’s voice and to know that a HUGE God has something beautiful to say to everyone, no matter how small. Sometimes they can answer the question. Sometimes they can’t. If they have nothing to report, we don’t freak out, nor do we jump into a 10 week family devotion on discerning the voice of God. We simply encourage them to remember to listen for His gentle whisper as we dive into our dessert.

There is something right about breaking bread together. Take time to share a distraction-free meal with your family. Whether you’re chucking peas or sharing your God moments, the Father is pleased.