Archive | April 2012

Flowers and My Boy’s Heart

A few weeks ago I planted flowers in the flower beds of our front yard.  I choose two different types of flowers.  Honestly, I don’t know their names.  One type was white; one was red.  I chose the white flowers because I used the same kind last year, and they flourished in the Texas sun.  I chose the red flowers because they were pretty and contrasted with the white.  I wanted a little variety.

The white flowers have established themselves just as I expected.  They are hardy, healthy little plants, and I’m looking forward to them spreading out as the season progresses.  But, the red flowers look pitiful.  Several of the plants have completely shriveled up and died, some look sickly, and others have struggling, puny blooms.  All of the time and effort I put into planting those once- pretty red flowers had gone to waste–or so I thought.  God had another plan for my flower beds.

Yesterday evening, my twelve-year-old son made a bad choice in a discussion he and I were having.  The choice he made was part of a sinful pattern that my husband and I have noticed in his life.  My son’s sin grieved me, and as I woke this morning I prayed for him and for myself–that I would have wisdom to know how to confront him about it today.  The Lord answered my prayer and gave me an idea.  I ran off to my early-morning exercise class, and then I stopped by Home Depot.  I picked up some flowers–exactly like the original white ones, except in pink and purple.

When I returned home, I left the flowers in the back of the van so that my son would not know I had them.  Then, my husband and I sat down with our son at the kitchen table to speak with him regarding what had happened the night before.  We discussed the sinful pattern we have noticed, Scripture that addresses the issue, and his need for repentance.  Although we are grateful that our son received our confrontation respectfully, we know the sincerity of his repentance is ultimately a matter between him and the Lord.

I then told my son to follow me, and I led him to the flower beds in our front yard.  I asked him, “Which of these flowers look healthy and strong?”

“The white,” he replied.

“How can you tell?”

“Well, they are growing, and they have flowers and good leaves.  They just look good.”

“Which of these flowers are not doing well?” I then asked.

“The red ones.”

“How can you tell?”

“Some of them are all dried up and dead, and the others just don’t look good.  Am I in trouble for the plants?!  Mom, I’ve been watering them like I’m supposed to!” he exclaimed.

“No, don’t worry.  You’re not in trouble for the plants,” I smiled and reassured him.  “But, you have made a good point.  All of the flowers, the white and red, have been watered.  They have all received the same sunshine, and they are all in the same type of soil.  The problem is not with the water, soil, or sunshine.  It’s with the plants.  The red ones are not good plants.  I should’ve never bought them.”

I went on.  “You see, honey, the white flowers are the good choices in your life.  Good choices–choices to do what is right–are blessed and flourish.  The red flowers are the sinful choices in your life.  They are no good.  No matter what other “spirituality” you surround them with, they are just no good.  Sin is ugly, and it must be rooted out of your heart.  Now, what I want you to do is remove every single red flower plant from the garden beds in the front yard.  Take them out, and throw them away.  As you take each one out of the ground, I want you to think how you must remove the sinful choices you have been making from your life and then pray for God’s forgiveness.”

“But, Mom, then those spaces will be empty!”  he said.

“Don’t worry about that,” I said as I inwardly smiled.  “You just tell me when you have taken out the unhealthy plants.”

After awhile, my son came into the house and said politely, “I’m done, Mom.”

“Not quite.  Come with me.”

I took him back to the flower beds.  “Honey, in the Bible when God tells us to ‘put off’ sin from our lives, He then tells us to ‘put on’ what is right instead.  For example, the Bible says, ‘Let him who steals steal no longer, but rather let him work with his hands so that he can give to those in need.’  You need to put off your sinful choice, and begin putting on the opposite good choice.  You need to remove the sin, and plant the opposite godly choice.  So, in the back of the van are plenty of flowers–exactly like the healthy white ones we already have, but in different colors–and I want you to plant them where the red ones once were.  As you plant each new flower, pray that God will make you a man of integrity in all you do and say.”

My son got busy, and soon all of the new flowers were planted.  He was was happy with his work, and I thanked him.  Some of plants were in the wrong places and unevenly positioned, but I decided not to correct that.  Those things weren’t important; I didn’t want to distract from the importance of what he had done–removed “bad” flowers and planted “good” flowers in their place.  I didn’t preach at him anymore, either.  I just wanted to leave him with his own thoughts about the morning’s conversations and experience.

My husband and I are praying for our son, that the Lord would grow him to be a young man wholeheartedly devoted to Him.  Please pray for our son, if you think of it.  But, more importantly pray for the children and young people in your own life.  Pray that God will give you great wisdom to teach them to be holy and to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This spring, maybe buy a few flowers to plant.  Let at least one die, and then plant another.

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Resolving Conflict, Part 6: Helping our Kids and Ourselves

Sometimes there can be too much of a good thing.  And, I’ve been thinking that having more than six posts on “Resolving Conflict” might be a bit much.  There are so many aspects of biblical conflict resolution that we could discuss, but for the time being I am ready to delve into another topic.  So, if you are interested in further study on resolving conflict biblically, I highly recommend that you visit http://www.peacemaker.net to find some great resources.

In the meantime, I will wrap up this series by sharing with you a handful of helpful “tools” or “lessons” that I regularly teach my children (and remind myself of) to prevent and resolve conflict.  I have condensed them into “sayings” and Bible verses that my children hear me use when confict is brewing (or exploding!).  The following are my top eight.  If you choose to incorporate any of them into your parenting, then just focus on one new “tool” per week as you teach your children to be peacemakers.  I hope you also will find these personally helpful within your own family and other relationships.  (Several of these principles are further explained in The Young Peacemaker by Sande.)

1.  “Overlook, talk it out, get help.”

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  If one of my kids is “offended” or hurt by another, I hold up three fingers and tell my kids that they have three options:  overlook the offense (without holding a grudge), tell the other child that what happened was wrong (ungodly) and ask that they not do it again.  If those two things are done but the conflict is still not resolved, THEN the offended child can come to me for help.  This teaches my childrens: 1) to be gracious, 2) to take personal responsibility in resolving conflict, and 3) not to gossip (tattle) on others.

2.  “What’s in your heart?”

“Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).  When my children have sinful actions, attitudes, or words, I often probe them to identify what is in their heart that is prompting their behavior.  I also teach them to use biblical terminology for the heart condition.  I firmly believe that unless a “condition” is properly labelled, it will most likely not be properly treated.  For example, if one of my children hits the other, I do not accept his justification that  “Sister took my candy.”  Neither do I assign my own diagnosis, “Oh, he’s just tired.”  Maybe sister took his candy and maybe he is tired, but that does not explain the heart condition from which his hitting sprang forth!  Instead, the biblical terminology would describe his actions as rude, angry, selfish, impatient, etc.  Only once the true “cause” is identified can I guide my child on the path of true repentance.

3.  “Good choices, good consequences.  Bad choices, bad consequences.”

“A man will reap exactly what he sows” (Galatians 6:7).  My kids know what it means when they see my two thumbs up and then immediately my two thumbs down.  Without me uttering a word, they know I am saying, “If you will make a good decision right now, good consequences will follow.  But, if you continue to make the bad decision you are currently making, you will have bad consequences.”  They also know I mean it; mommy means what she says.  If you want your kids to learn that choices have consequences, don’t just do the “thumb thing.”   Make sure you follow through.

4.  “Give preference to one another with honor.”

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10).  “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind consider one another more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).  Selfishness.  It is rooted deep in every heart.  When my children are insisting on their own way at the expense of another, I will often say, “Give preference to one another with honor,” or “Consider one another more important than yourselves.”  In order for the meaning of these commands to carry their full weight with my children, I have previously spent time thoroughly discussing these Scripture passages (Romans 12 and Philippians 2) with them.  Teach your children (from Scripture and in their circumstances) to deny themselves and to do what is best for others.

5.  “Is it true, kind, or necessary?”

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment that it may give grace to those who hear”  (Ephesians 4:29).  Complaining, arguing, whining, bossing–and all before 9:15 a.m.!  Some days are worse than others, but even on the “best days” children’s mouths (and our own) can cause a heap of trouble.  We have a quick litmus test in our home for determining if something is worth saying.  I often ask, “Is it true, kind, or necessary?”  Yes, it may be true that sister’s haircut is not the most flattering, but is it really kind to tell her that?  Yes, it may be kind to mom, who is resting, to tell brother that she said the both of you could watch another DVD, but is it true?  Yes, I know you are “rather verbal,” but is it really necessary for you to talk non-stop all the way to art lesson and all the way back?  “He who guards his mouth keeps himself from calamity” (Proverbs 21:23).  Teach your children to evaluate and measure their words when they are young.

6.  “Seek and grant forgiveness willingly.”

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).  When my children have done something sinful toward another and they have shown they understand and are sorrowful for their fault, I have them humbly seek forgiveness from the person(s) they have offended and confess their sin to the Lord.  Their apologies are to be specific, admitting the specific sinful behavior and heart attitude: “I am sorry for ________.  Will you please forgive me?”  (I don’t allow a scowling, under-the-breath, arms-crossed, “Sorry.”)  When confessing their sin to the Lord, I also teach them to ask for His grace and strength to do what is right in the situation.  Learning to graciously grant forgiveness to the offender is also important.  I remind my children of the forgiveness we have received from God through Christ.  The parable of the “Unjust Servant” in Matthew 18:21-35 is a great word picture for this!  There is so much to be said about forgiveness–this short paragraph here cannot do the subject justice.  (Maybe “forgiveness” will be a future blog series?)

7.  “Make a Wise Appeal.”

“Honor your father and mother so (which is the first commandment with a promise), so that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:3).  This tool works well with children who have already consistently shown they are submissive to parental authority.  The wise appeal is a privilege that can be used by children (usually older) who have proven themselves to be generally faithful in obeying their parents right away, all the way, and with a right attitude.  If you give such children a command or instruction that they do not want to follow, instead of complaining, whining, or stomping out of the room, they may say, “Mom, may I make a wise appeal?”  Sometimes, because of the circumstances, you will say “no.”  But, there may be times who you allow a wise appeal.  The wise appeal sounds like this:  “Mom, I know you want me to _________ because __________.  Instead, I would prefer to _________ because _________.  Would it be alright if _______________? (This last blank must include a solution to the parent’s original concern.)  So, for example, “Mom, I know you want me to empty the trash right now because it stinks and you want it out of the house before company arrives.  Instead, I would prefer to finish my Wii baseball game because there is only one half inning left.  Would it be alright if I empty the trash as soon as the game is over since company won’t arrive for another half hour?”  Giving older kids this self-controlled and honorable way to discuss your instructions and their obedience helps to prevent conflict and gives them an excellent opportunity to develop communication skills when appealing to an authority.

8.  “Are you loving God and loving your neighbor?”

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. . .  You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself. . . ” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Quite frankly, as a mother, sometimes there is just too much to think about.  All that we juggle in a day can be absolutely overwhelming.  We can’t remember where we put the keys, checkbook, or the brand new toothbrushes, let alone all of the Bible verses that address the issues that each of our children face.  When all is said and done, the instruction we give our children should boil down to what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments–to love God and to love one’s neighbor.  So, it is not uncommon for me to ask a child causing or responding to conflict, “Is what you are doing or saying loving God?  Is what you are doing or saying loving your neighbor?”  These questions quickly cut through the blameshifting, denial, and justifications that children (and we) use to deflect fault and responsibility in a conflict.  Loving God and loving those made in His image is God’s desire and design for us.  We were all made for the purpose to glorify–and love–God in all that we do and say.  Teach your children this overarching truth for life, and you will have taught them well.

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A Good Quote, #3: On What We Revere and Resemble

At church this past Sunday, Paul Cockrell preached from Nehemiah 9.  He spoke of God’s restoration of His people after their return from exile and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.  For three hours, the people listened to the reading of the Law of the Lord, and then for another three hours they confessed their sin and worshiped.  The people were re-oriented to who God is:  the only glorious and exalted God who is worthy of all praise; the faithful Covenant Keeper who is relentlessly merciful and compassionate.  God’s people were restored to a right relationship with Him as they revered Him.

In II Corinthians 3:18, the Apostle Paul writes, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”  Like the Israelites, we modern day saints will be renewed and transformed into the likeness of our Lord as we reverently gaze on Him in His Word.

I am reminded of a quote that my cousin, Lisa, includes at the end of each of her emails:

“What we revere we resemble, for ruin or restoration.”  (Dr. Gregory K. Beale)

Who or what do you revere?  Are you seeing the resemblance?  Is your reverence leading to your ruin . . . or your restoration?

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to his ways” (Proverbs 14:8).  So, today think about this quote.  Live it out.  Pass it along.

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Resolving Conflict, Part 5: An Opportunity to Serve

It is simple, and yet incredibly profound:  The God of Glory, Creator and Sustainer of all, humbled Himself to serve . . . His enemies.

Who were His enemies?  A Sunday School answer would be “the Romans” or “the religious leaders of His day.”  But, the Bible brings the answer much closer to home.  “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For [if] while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son . . .” (Romans 5: 8, 10).  That’s right.  We are the sinners.  We were His enemies.

God reconciled us to Himself through Christ.  (See: Resolving Conflict, Part 1: The Best Place to Start)  There was an epic conflict between God and His undeserving people, but He accomplished a peace with us that is lasting and complete.  Christ served on this earth by giving food to the hungry, sight to the blind, healing to the sick, breath to the dead, hope to the hopeless, and truth to the deceived.  But, His greatest act of humility and service was toward His enemies by granting them life through the sacrifice of His own.  “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus served us.  He taught us by example how to serve others with complete humility.  He also gave clear commands regarding how we are to serve our enemies.  In conflict, there is great temptation to be angry, resentful, self-absorbed, bitter, and unkind.  Yet, in the midst of this ugliness, Jesus calls us to something radical.  It is not something that is promoted or understood by this world.  It is “other-worldly:”

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. . . But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and evil.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6: 27, 35-36)

Before we go any further, think of the person with whom you have a conflict.  You may consider the person a nuisance, an enemy, or something in between.  But, who is it?  A neighbor? friend? employer? employee? co-worker? student? teacher? in-law? child? spouse?  Will you commit to obediently serve him or her as Christ has commanded?  Will you be an imitator of your Heavenly Father?

TURNING CONFLICT INTO AN OPPORTUNITY TO SERVE

LOVE and DO GOOD

To love and to do good to your enemy means to show kindness, favor, and goodwill in order to benefit that person.  This requires a choice on your part; it is not necessarily motivated by good “feelings” toward the other person.  Thoughtfully consider how you can speak and act toward the other person in such a way that displays kindness, goodness, and care.  Then, put your choices into action–even if it is extremely difficult.  As you trust and depend on Him, God will give you the grace and power to follow Christ’s example.  “This will be a witness to others of the power and presence of God in your life” (Sande, The Young Peacemaker, 93).

BLESS and PRAY

In this context, to bless and pray for your enemy probably involves invoking “God’s blessing upon them by praying that they may be turned from their ways through God’s intervention in their lives” (Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary : New Testament (electronic ed.).  Pray for your enemy’s spiritual and physical needs.  Ask the Father to help you to serve that person with grace and godliness.  Praying like this is a “very powerful response to conflict.  It’s good for those who cause you pain, and it’s good for you. . . You can pray that God will bless them, work in their hearts, and help them do what is right.  You can also ask him to help you love them, do good to them, and bless them” (Sande, 93).

And so we return to the first statement of this post. “It is simple, and yet incredibly profound:  The God of Glory, Creator and Sustainer of all, humbled Himself to serve . . . His enemies.”  As His people, we are to do the same:  love and do good; bless and pray.  “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24).  Your Master served His enemies.  Will you?

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A Good Quote, #2: On Living in the Mundane

I read the following last night in Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens by Paul David Tripp.  It was an encouragement and challenge to me, and knowing that living in the mundane is not unique unto me, I thought you might be encouraged and challenged also.  In the fourth chapter, Tripp discusses “getting very practical about what it means to follow God in the mundane, every day situations of life” (60).

“We don’t do very many grand and significant things in our life.  Most of us will not be written up in history books.  Most of us will only be remembered by family and perhaps a few friends.  Most of us will be forgotten in two or three generations after our deaths.  There simply are not many grand moments of life, and we surely don’t live life in those mements.  No, we live life in the utterly mundane.  We exist in the bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, and hallways of life.  This is where the character of our life is set.  This is where we live the life of faith” (60).

Tripp offers these two questions about our obedience and trust, that if asked regularly, will give each of us a “Godward focus in the most mundane moments of life:”

1.  OBEY:  “What, in this situation, are the things that God calls me to do that I cannot pass on to anyone else?”

2.  TRUST:  “What, in this situation, are the things I need to entrust into God’s capable  and loving hands?” (61).

“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to his ways” (Proverbs 14:8).  So, today think about what Tripp wrote.  Live it out.  Pass it along.

To learn more about Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens, click HERE.

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