Author Archives: rdavidwest

Toward Peace in the Home

Bearing with one another, being kind to one another, forgiving one another, and doing so with humility, gentleness, and patience – these are commanded in Scripture.

Christ prayed for unity among believers, and every one of Paul’s letters speak about peace, love, and unity among those who claim the name of Christ.

Unity is easy to agree with but hard to put into practice. It’s difficult to love others when we want our own way, when we feel maligned, misunderstood, and taken advantage of. But difficult as it is, this is what God demands of us.

As a father of six, my household has it’s share of disagreements. Lack of love and peace often find their way in. Or, is it, that a lack of love and peace already exist inside the walls of my house and find expression from time to time? This is more likely.

My family (and I include myself) are sinners saved by grace. We are being transformed into the image of Christ, we are being sanctified, but we are far from perfect.

Fathers, you might find it helpful to study what the Scriptures say about unity among believers and teach and apply it in your home.

Here are a few points to ponder as you study the topic:

First – our Christian witness depends on Christian unity. Jesus said in John chapter 13, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Do you see the connection between loving others and your Christian witness? People will know you belong to Christ when you show love for others. This love is to be expressed to more than your biological family, but not less.

Even more important than people knowing you belong to Christ, is that people see a model and example of Christ sacrificial love when they observe your love for others. There is no greater love than laying down your own life for another (John 15:13). Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). 

When we give up our own demands and desires, and sacrifice the things we hold dear in order to serve others, we are modeling the work of Christ on our behalf. As dad and mom learn to love each other this way, children will see the love of Christ being modeled in the home.

We can display an image of Christ truly or falsely by how we love one another. You may claim to be a Christian, but if you hold onto bitterness and anger toward another Christian, you proclaim a false view of God and your actions preach a false gospel.

Second, we must beware of the enemy of unity. Satan prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).

Satan is on the prowl around your home. He’s watching and waiting for the best moment to pounce. The enemy of your soul desires to create strife, jealousy, and bitterness within one family member toward the others.

Slick as a Wall Street marketer, Satan works by appealing to your baser instincts. He knows your hot buttons and he knows your weak spots. He not only knows your kids; he know you and your wife. And he’s ready to take advantages wherever he can.

Fathers need to be watchful of their own hearts first, then they can help guard their children’s hearts. The way to do this is to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6).

Don’t blame all strife on Satan; our hearts are wicked enough on their own. But neither should we be caught unaware and think Satan is no longer active and striving to find a way to break apart the love and unity we should exhibit toward one another.

Striving brings me to my third point.

Third, peace, love, and unity demand diligent effort. After three chapters of doctrinal truth regarding our salvation by grace through faith, Paul delivers practical admonitions to the church at Ephesus. He speaks to them about master and slave relationships, parent and child relationships, husband and wife relationships, and many other practical matters. But he begins chapter four with a call to bear with one another in love. This is of primary importance for believers. It is important in a local church and no less important in our homes.

Read Ephesians 4:3 in several translations and you will see the thrust of the Greek word. The idea is: striving eagerly, earnestly, and diligently – like a gladiator in training.

A half-hearted effort won’t cut it; God demands more from us. He commands us to work diligently to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

As fathers seek to create homes where peace, love, and unity are prominent they must remember where the motivation to love one another comes from. Love for each other can’t be generated ex nihilo; love flows like water from a source. The source of our love for one another is found at Calvary. Jesus said to love one another “just as I have love you.” How did Jesus love you? By the sacrifice of Himself in your place. This is the Gospel, the Good News, it’s the well from which we draw our own supply of love for each other.

 

 

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If You Pray Upon A Star

My youngest daughter turned four recently. Among the many gifts she received was a battery operated lantern. This lantern has a fun feature; light can be sent upward through the lantern’s top which has many tiny holes. In a dark room this creates the impression of stars shining on the ceiling.

This lantern created a teachable opportunity as I was putting my four and six year old girls to bed. The “stars” were shining and my six year old said, “I’m going to wish upon a star.”

How cute is that. I watched as she crawled off the bed, knelt in a position of prayer, folded her hands and spoke her wish to the star. She ended with an “Amen”.

I was momentarily stunned. My little girl, in church since the womb, didn’t know the difference between wishing upon a star and praying to a living God. The two acts were synonymous in her mind, one was just like the other.

For a fleeting moment I thought it was no big deal. It was cute, no harm done. But I couldn’t let it go, I had to say something.

“Naomi, do you know the difference between a wish and a prayer?”

“No,” she shrugged, and gave me a look which questioned whether she’d done something wrong while at the same time inquiring to know the difference between a wish and a prayer.

“Honey, God is real. When we pray God listens and can act on our behalf. He doesn’t always do what we ask, but He always listens and cares for us and helps us. We can’t see God but He is very real and prayer is the way we speak to Him. A wish is just pretend. Stars can’t hear us; they don’t have ears. It’s okay to wish upon a star just to have fun, but it’s not the same as praying.”

My lesson wasn’t much longer than that. Naomi seemed to understand, but I’m not certain. I think God was teaching me a lesson as well; to be ever watchful for opportunities to teach my children about Him.

 

 

 

7 Tips For Raising Readers (and how not to have a creepy home)

Not all my children consumed 85 books last year (only one of them). But all of them do read a lot, and they seem to enjoy it. If you are trying to raise a home full of readers, here are my seven tips.

Lydia & Mommy 6-00

First – be excited about books and reading.

My wife and I enjoy books. We talk about books. We share anecdotes and information learned while reading. We do this when we are alone (are we ever alone with six children in the home?) and we talk about books in front of the kids.

The point about creating bookishly excited kids is the infectious nature of booklove. It needs to be real in you first, and then slowly, it will spread to others. You can’t pass on a virus you don’t have. So don’t try to fake a love for books. If you don’t have a love for books, your kids might catch the bug somewhere else, but there’s no need for you to fake it.

If you want your kids to be readers and don’t read much yourself (shame on you) but go ahead and try some of these other tips.

Second, fill your home with books.

I was visiting another family and was in their home for the first time. Something wasn’t right. Something felt strange. It took a few minutes and even a second visit to their home before I realized what it was. The home was bookless.

That’s right – I’m not making this up – a bookless home. I knew such homes existed, but actually standing in a bookless home gave me a fright. I felt alone, out-of-place, and lost. It was eerie and creepy.

I didn’t search every room and maybe the home had a library second to none behind a closed door. But I don’t think so. My bookdar was in full force and it wasn’t sensing anything – not even a cookbook.

Back in the comfort of my own house, I stood looking at my books. I do that from time to time. Just stand in front of a book shelf and stare.

Oh, I remember that book. I still need to read that one. Maybe it’s time to finally read this one. I learned a lot from that one. Ah, now I feel better.

If you want to raise readers, a home full of books is a must. After all, you don’t want your home to feel creepy, do you?

Third, use the library.

As I write these words I have my suspicions. My wife is on an errand to the grocery store. But I bet she makes another stop; I bet she stops at the library.

If there were an award for the number of books checked out in a year, my wife would be a finalist. She’s on the verge of abusing the system. Sometimes she checks out books no one in the family requested, but ones she hopes they read. She places these books prominently in our home and suggest them to the kids. She’s sneaky like that – just like she’s sneaky with cauliflower. But that’s for another time.

Make the library a part of your family life. The library should become a warm and familiar building to a family raising readers.

Our library has an annual book bag sale; a paper grocery bag full of books for six dollars. Take advantage of such things. Look them up, plan for them, save up your six dollars and go have some fun. I mean, a bag full of books for six dollars. Are you hearing me?

Fourth, give books as gifts.

At every birthday and Christmas my children get books. We aren’t cruel; they get new socks and underwear (we cover the necessities). But books are standard gifts. You can’t go wrong giving books to your children. Not only does a book highlight the value of reading and learning; books don’t go beep, zip, blip. Do kids really need more toys that make noise? I’ll answer for you. No, they don’t.

In a world of electronic mayhem, kids need the placid feeling books provide. No one else will give them a break from the electronic inferno surrounding them. Parents provide the first line of defense.

The school system won’t keep children safe from electronic terrorism. They want a computer in every classroom. As if a computer magically makes children smart. They don’t, trust me. A good book, a shady lawn, a teacher and a student. That’s a classroom worthy of the name.

Grandparents won’t help either. Just before saying goodbye, a sinister smile flits across their faces as they say, “Oh, we almost forgot. We bought a little something for the kids.” Then they proceed to pass out kazoos and battery operated whirligigs. One more smile and they beeline to their car. Trust me, I’m onto their game.

Don’t think we parents aren’t wise to your mischief, grandparents. It may be payback for our noisy childhoods, but it’s still wrong. Just wrong.

Fifth, use technology.

Point four warned of electronic gadgets. But electronics are redeemable. Here’s three technologies which have helped my children learn to love books and reading.

  1. E-readers. Both Nook and Kindle, but mainly Kindle. The prices are right, the convenience can’t be beat. I used to say, “Always bring a book” to my children. Now that my two oldest have smart phones, I don’t need to say that; books are in their pocket always. One of them reads so much she is almost anti-social. Almost. Actually is it anti-social to read when people are around? Never mind; I’m pondering as I type. Just ignore that.
  2. Use the Overdrive website and app. Haven’t heard about this one? That’s because you don’t visit the library often. If you had, you would have seen ads for Overdrive as you stood in line at the library help desk. Overdrive allows you to use your library card number to download ebooks and audiobooks. Again, the price is right and they actually have a fair selection (at least from my library). Here’s a tip: use your bluetooth phone thingy to listen to audiobooks. Unless you don’t answer when they speak to you, people won’t even know your listening to something. Here’s a tip: keep the volume low and pay attention when your wife is talking. Oh yeah, I forgot; this was supposed to be about getting your children to read. Let’s get back to them.
  3. Use Goodreads.com. The internet is tricky for parents with kids. Goodreads allows children to like, comment, and share things related to books. It does this without the problems associated with other social media. It allows you to teach them how to like, share, and comment wisely. “Son, you don’t need to recommend your favorite detective novel to everyone in your network. It might be wise to recommend that book only to people who might enjoy that type of book.” And so forth. Goodreads has been a game changer in our home. Set yourself up with an account and try it first. Then get your child (at the age you deem appropriate) an account. Recommend books to them, ‘like’ their book comments, and help them navigate booklife and weblife at the same time.

Sixth, join summer reading programs.

Summer doesn’t mean reading must stop. Education must go on. Libraries, bookstores, and online organizations host summer reading programs. Some of them give away stupid prizes (can I use that S word?) and some give good prizes. But all of them will get your children reading. If

If you are enthusiastic about the programs yourself. If you drive them to the library to get more books. If you read with them to them (my next point) and if you make reading a delight and not a duty.

Really, summer reading programs are just selfish of me. I want to work through my own summer reading list, but when I make the emphasis on summer reading about the kids I feel better. So will you. Try it and see.

Girls & Daddy 6-02

Seventh, read with and to your children.

It’s not only important to read to your children, but it’s important to read with your children. Last year my oldest daughters and I read through several books together. We read a separate times and then met to discuss the reading. Try this with your older kids.

My six-year-old girl likes it when I tell her stories before bed. I made up one story about a dragon named ladybug (it seemed less ominous for a little girl) and another about a boy whose face was upside down. In the middle of telling that story I realized the wisdom of reading to my children. Authors of published works have already worked through a story line, with an editor and everything. They don’t need to worry about how a boy with an upside down face blows his nose.

How did his face get that way? What is an accident, or was he born that way? Did he need to plug his nose when he was outside in the rain? You get the idea. Books have many strange characters and story lines, but they’ve been re-written many times until they work somehow. My stories, not so much.

There you have it then, seven tips for raising readers. It’s time for me to go; my wife just got back home from the er…. grocery store.

Alone In The Rain

My children and their cousins longed to go outside but a heavy rainstorm sentenced them to indoor play. Some of them chopped firewood on the porch, others sat and read books, while still others played cards at the table.

The cabin, visible only from the caretaker’s place was our home for the holiday. My wife’s uncle was the caretaker and we were his guests. The cabin was set on a hillside and overlooked a small lake – the lake where my children learned to fish. Whether they were fishing from the boat dock, the “slippery dock”, or out on the water in the small aluminum boat, the bass were easy to catch. They seemed to jump onto the fishing hooks. The children had a lot of fun, even catching fish with homemade lures.

Usually rain wouldn’t deter the children from outside play but this storm dumped the water. The fishing, four-wheelers, and wood gathering would need to wait.

I was inside and enjoying the warmth of the crackling fire. But the solitude of the outdoors called to me. At times, life needs to be refreshed. This was one of those times for me. Not only did I need to get away from the city but I needed to get alone. I needed some time to think, to pray, to quiet myself before the Lord and to listen.

So, while the others milled about indoors, I took the opportunity to go out into the rain. I put on my jacket and hat, walked outside and down to the dock, and launched the canoe.

I knew some of the family were watching from the cabin window and thought I was crazy, but I didn’t care. I relished the time by myself. Just me, the Lord, and the wonders of nature.

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I paddled away from the dock and toward the middle of the lake. In the center of the lake I paused. I looked around the lake and then back toward the cabin. Smoke rose from the cabin as family members talked and moved about behind the living room windows. I watched the rain hit the water; it pressed into the surface, bounced back, and left tiny craters. The rings formed by each raindrop merged into rings formed by thousands of other raindrops. The rain fell without wind, it was a rain which came not to disturb the landscape but to caress it softly. And as it caressed the earth it also worked on my soul. It was a rain which came not only to water the earth, but also to water my heart. As the raindrops pressed into the surface of the lake, they also pressed upon me. The storm was doing it’s work, a work unnoticed by others.

As I watched the raindrops I also looked for salamanders which are a familiar sight in the lake. They rise to the surface, take a breath, and quickly descend back to the muddy lake bottom. I didn’t see any “water dogs” that day in the rain. They must have been hiding in underwater bunkers. Or, maybe, they were going about the day like normal and the rain had obscured them from my vision. Maybe they rose to the surface, looked at me and questioned my sanity.

All was peace and quiet, except for the raindrops. I soaked up the moment, a moment longer than other moments, a moment filled with satisfaction, a moment which stands out from others for no other reason than it was mine alone to enjoy. On the water I was alone with my thoughts and resting in God’s goodness.

I prayed as I paddled across the lake. The God who is sovereign over nature was surely sovereign over my life. All my work troubles were gone in that moment, they were given to Him who makes the rain, the God who created the mountains, the Lord who created the earth. Surely the God who caused the rain could oversee the storms of my life. Surely He gave me this moment as an opportunity to worship Him, praise Him, trust Him.

God never promised ease or simplicity of life. He promised to never leave me, and He promised to be faithful. I know these truths, but like all of us, I need to be reminded of them from time to time. The best reminders come from reading Scripture and listening to faithful preaching and teaching. But God was kind enough that day to give me a different sort of reminder. He gave me a few moments of joy and rest, moments which linger in my soul. Alone in the rain, I was not alone – I was watched over by the Creator. As I sat in that canoe, God’s care for the earth joined with His concern for my soul.

Back at the cabin I took off wet clothes and warmed myself by the fire. The family was there playing games, telling stories, reading books. They asked if I had enjoyed the lake while out in the rain. What could I say in response? I said, yes. But the answer was insufficient. The enjoyment was more than met the eye of others. It was more than I could tell. It was a moment to be thankful for, a day to remember. I had been touched by the rain and the solitude, I had been alone, but not alone – for God was with me.

 

Parenting Like My Hair’s On Fire

A few years ago I read a book by Rafe Esquith titled Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire.  Rafe is a teacher in the Los Angeles area and the story of what he has done with his class over the years is amazing.  Mr. Esquith shines when it comes to teaching with passion and inspiring his students learn.

Mr. Esquith tells of being so engrossed in a science lesson he didn’t realize his hair was on fire.  That’s passion!  His book’s title comes from that story.  Reading his book (and his other books) causes me to think about my own efforts as a father.  Do I parent with enough passion?  Am I so engrossed in teaching my children I would not realize if my hair was on fire?

First, I like to read to the family.  I realize not everyone enjoys reading, especially aloud, but I have found it to be a great way to deliberately engage with my children.  While reading I have a chance to stop and discuss topics of ethics, character, and theology.  These conversations don’t need to be long to be useful.  Reading alone doesn’t foster a passion for my children the way reading to the family does.  I feel like a blessed man when holding a book while my family is gathered around listening to me read.Sadly, not often enough.  Parenting is hard work, and with everything else I am called to do, it can easily take a back seat.  To maintain my passion and be deliberate as a parent I need a strategy.  Mine isn’t as clearly defined as I would like, but I maintain some helpful habits in order to keep passionate about raising the next generations to hope in God.

Second, I focus on God’s love for me.  God has been merciful to me a sinner and adopted me into his family.  As I focus on this reality it causes me to burst forth with love for my own children.  The more I learn about God, His world, and His will, the more I want my children to know about Him.  Reading the Scriptures, sitting under faithful preaching week after week, and fellowship with the body of Christ (the church), create a desire to share the love of God with others.  The closest “others” in my life are my own children.

Third, I pray constantly.  No doubt, my prayer life could use improvement, I struggle to create space for deliberate prayer times.  On the other hand, as much as I struggle, I find myself praying as I go.  I pray while driving, while showering, and while walking the dog.  As I pray for parenting wisdom and for my own growth in Christ, I am putting myself in a position to be able to parent like my hair’s on fire.  These prayers flow into a sense of mission to see my children hope in Christ.  I know God desires little children to come unto Him and this gives me confidence to disciple and parent with abandon.  I am free to parent like my hair’s on fire because God is at work to use my efforts for His glory.

Mr. Esquith, as far as I know, isn’t a believer, yet his passion for teaching is an example I have learned from and been inspired by.  I hope my passion for my children contagious enough to be caught and causes them grow up and teach their own children with enthusiasm.

Giving Good Gifts

 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:11)

I want to give good gifts to my children. I want to see their faces light up when they unwrap a gift and are delighted with it. I want to hear my five-year old say,”I always wanted that. It’s my favorite.”

Whenever that happens I’m as happy as they are.

But let’s face it, most gifts which are unwrapped at Christmas time are not the kind that last. They are gifts which wear our, rust out, break, tear,or otherwise end up in the garbage. Sometimes my wife and I give our children toys – things that spin, sparkle, and make noise. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s these gifts that bring the biggest grins when the paper is torn and the box exposed. I’m happy to watch my children get excited about such gifts. But I know they are just novelties. I know today’s shiny object will be tossed away tomorrow.

In light of this we try to give our children gifts which will last much longer. We do this not by giving gifts which are manufactured better, but by giving gifts which will impact their lives longer – educational toys and books. We still give them clothes and shiny objects but we make educational gifts a priority.

As I think about gift giving this year I realize even books and educational gifts aren’t the best kind of gifts. Giving the best gifts is more abstract. The best gifts don’t come in packages to be wrapped and unwrapped.

Let me illustrate by listing some gifts which will be a blessing to my children but will never be place under the tree. These are good gifts which cost no money. Many more could be listed but these came to my mind today.

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First – the gift of loving each other well. Our children need this. They need their parents to show affection to each other. By doing this we create a feeling of stability in the home. And we create a model for them to imitate.

Second – the gift of reading. By this I mean both reading to them and helping them become readers. We read a lot in our home. My wife reads to the children at lunch time. I read to them at dinner time. We talk about books and buy books. My wife’s vehicle is at the library so often it knows how to get there on its own. If my children take up the habit of reading good books because of the culture in our home, then we will have given them a good gift.

Third – the gift of prayer. My prayer life is far from what it should be and I don’t model it as it could be modeled. But I do pray with and for my children. This is a great gift to them which they will appreciate later in life. I pray for their salvation, I pray for their health, I pray about the things going on in their lives.

I’m reminded this year that the best gifts don’t come wrapped with a bow. The best gifts come from the heart and get unwrapped in the lives of my children each day.