Daily Jesus Devotional




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Daily Jesus - A Family Devotional


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There is no better way to begin the day that reflecting on the life and love of Jesus. Because I'm planning on spending a few quiet minutes each day with my family looking at the life of Jesus in 2016, I decided to write and post the Daily Jesus Devotional on my blog.

It is my hope that Daily Jesus will lead you closer to Jesus because of the time spent exploring His life each morning, and closer to your family because you've been reading these devotions together.

After a brief scripture reading, Each devotion will begin and end with an open discussion question. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Allow you children to explore their own imagination, beliefs and journey by answering these questions in their own way.

Between the questions, there will be a short reading designed to bring some aspect of Jesus - His life, death, passion, mission, attitude, habits, etc - into view and then to challenge or affirm the reader/listener with how Jesus' example can give strength in the day ahead.

Following the reading and the reflection question, there is a prayer time. Use this time to find the daily needs of your family and pray through them together. Prayer at the beginning of the day is a wonderful habit worth sharing.

At the end of some entries, there is a further reading section. 


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Sabbath School reStoried

From the Sabbath School Section of this blog

Every successful community is unique and impossible to replicate. And yet something fairly simple is clear about the creation and continuation of each. Community is created by relationships which thrive on shared story and stories shared.

Community happens anywhere lives are shared:
A shady area outside a primary school where parents meet to wait for their children
A parking lot where smokers come together during a work break
A year 12 room where students prepare for exams
A church where believers gather to share stories of life and faith

The story you share combined with the stories you share create community.

Shared Story:
The parents have children
The smokers have a pressing need
The year 12 students have studies
The believers have faith

Stories Shared:
The parents tell stories of what their kids are doing
The smokers talk about work, friends and family
The year 12 students talk about love, life and learning
The believers talk about faiths centrality to life

Community.

It’s that simple.

So why do many churches seem to be falling apart? I believe it is because we aren’t building community in natural ways. We make the mistake of believing programs and doctrine will build a healthy church community. We try to program it. We try to force community to happen. Sometimes we succeed. And sometimes we fail. And afterward when we pull apart the programs, meals, events, etc; we ask questions about what we did right and wrong. And we ignore the fact that nobody leaves a church because of programs or doctrine. They leave because of failed relationships. Someone said something judgmental. Someone was a bully. Someone believed their program or doctrine was so important that it justified offending the heart and soul of a fellow sibling in Christ. And they left.

So, that’s what makes them leave. What makes them stay? What builds Christlike community that lasts through thick and thin? I’d like to suggest that Christ Centred Community is built on four levels of shared story and stories shared. These shared stories, shared often strengthen our ties and bind our community together in eternity.

Personal Story: What is the story you share with your church? It may be the founding story. It may be a younger story. It may be a story of joining or a story of remaining. It may be a new story or an ancient one. When were you a baby in your church? When did you grow up? When did you become a mentor? Your personal shared story may be so old that you’ve forgotten it, or forgotten how to tell it. Reclaim it and start retelling it.

Local Story: What is the story your church shares with its community? What need did your church first come into being to satisfy? How did your fledgling church answer the question “What would Jesus do if He walked into this place?” How is your maturing church answering this question now? If your church is not still telling this story, start.

Corporate Story: What is the story your church shares with other churches in your denomination? It’s more than just doctrine. It may be the Gospel story from the Cannon or it may be the Gospel story from a more recent enactment of God with Us. Your corporate story is one that says, “We add this to our denomination. People needing this come here.” What is that story? How does it complete and compete with the wider story of your corporate church? Tell this story with confidence and consistency.

Global Story: What is the story your church shares with the world? How is your church reaching beyond the borders of your nation? Where is your church ‘going into all the world’ with its money and mission? Living and telling this story embeds your church in the Kingdom of God by fulfilling the final reach of the Great Commission.

Creating Christian Community through Consistency
Nothing great ever happened on accident. It took planning. It took preparation. And it took persistence of purpose. This is where Sabbath School comes in. Because Sabbath School happens every week it is a sure-fire way to create great community. Sabbath School has four distinct purposes that each work together to build and reinforce long-term community. Each revolves around telling our story.

Bible Story – We study the Bible together. This story is our connection to God by looking backward into the story of His interactions with His people in days of old and forward into the promises scripture reveals about God plan for our future.

Our Story – We care for each other. We listen to the story of the week from each members perspective each Sabbath, usually through a simple question like, “How was your week?” or “What was one high and one low from your week?” This tells the story of how God is interacting with His people today.

Community Story – We care for the world outside our walls. The local projects we participate in create the story of how God is interacting with the world through his people in our community today. Not only is it important to have local projects, it is important to talk about them during Sabbath School so we know who we are and who God is through us!

Global Story – We care for the least of these. As our tithe dollars return to the General Conference, our global church is able to create substantial change for good and for God in the poorest and most remote parts of the world. Many local churches also have their own overseas mission where they pour their heart and soul and return to tell the story of lives saved and hearts changed. These stories also must be told to release their power.

Conclusion and Challenge
An untold story is a dead hero. Samson without his strength. Moses without his staff. Elijah without his cloak. Peter without his pals. Paul without his pen. Every story requires you to hold it, to savour it, to shape it and then to share it with purpose and passion.

Sabbath School should be a storytelling symphony. As all the stories; Bible, personal, local, corporate, global, human and Divine combine we will experience community beyond our wildest imaginings – community where Christ is concealed in every story and His heart is revealed in every telling because He is central to each of our storied lives, once we start looking, listening, telling and retelling the epic narrative of our past, present and future.

Storytelling is the purpose of Sabbath School because this is the purpose of community. We were created for a story greater than our moment in time and are only fully alive when we take our place in the story of the ages as both character and narrator. His story is your story is my story is our story is salvation’s story for the world.

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Learn more about running a healthy and thriving church through small groups on the Sabbath School Section of this blog or by emailing me to plan a Sabbath School workshop for your church.

The Naughty List


I was chatting with a grade one boy in the last week before the Christmas holiday.

"How are you today?" I asked.

"Not good," he said.

"Why not?"

"I'm on the naughty list!" He crossed his arms and dropped his eyes to the floor.

"The naughty list? What does that mean?" I asked.

His little head jerked up and he looked at me like I was the most ill-informed person on the planet. "It means I don't get any presents!"

I threw my hands up in the air, “What? That’s not good!” Leaning forward I asked, "Can you change it?"

His eyes came to life, "YES! I'm being really good, NOW!"

I nodded, wisely. "What are you doing different?"

"Not hitting my brother and not yelling at Mum."

I nodded again. "That sounds like a good start. Are you doing good stuff, too?"

Now he nodded. "Yup. I help Mum with stuff and clean up my mess."

I put my hand over my heart and leaned back in my chair. "I can tell you something really exciting!"

"What?" he asked, his eyes fixed on mine.

"You're getting off the naughty list!" I smiled.

"I know." He said, resolved. “But it’s hard.”

“Doing the right thing often is,” I said, “but it’s worth it, right?”

“Yeah,” he smiled. “I can’t wait to get my presents!”


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

An Imagination Rich Holiday


A healthy mind is an actively creative one. The ability to create something new takes a wide collection of experiences. Whether we are creating a new dish in the kitchen, writing a new story, building a tree fort, creating a presentation, or telling a joke – we are only as creative as the combined total of our previous experiences and learning.

Our brain takes everything we have done, heard, read, learned and experienced and creates new things from the montage of our past. So, the best thing to do with your holiday time, for the mental, social and spiritual development of your children, is to engage in a wide spectrum of activities. Go to new places, old favourites, visit friends, meet new people, participate in traditions, gather with family, spend time learning about new things – reading, watching, listening – and then talk about it!

Talking about our experiences locks them into our memory. Ask your kids to ‘tell the story of your day’ each night as you tuck them into bed. Ask questions to help them go into detail. As they tell the story, they reframe it in a way that gives it meaning to them. At the end of the week, ask them to tell the story of their week. You’ll be surprised at the editing that has taken place, making it more meaningful. Don’t correct their story. Just listen and ask more questions. At the end of the school holidays, ask to hear ‘the story of your holiday’. It will help them make meaning of it all by choosing favourites, exploring difficulties and making sense of the various events.

A creative person is a successful person. Creativity comes from an active imagination. Each time we tell our story, we create something new by connecting new material with old memories. The human brain remembers by reconstructing, which means that each time we ‘remember’ something we are rebuilding it from what we knew and what we know now. The creative retellings of the past that come from our children (and ourselves!) prove that the imaginative parts of our brain are working.

While it is important to tell the truth, it is also very important, for our emotional wellbeing, to be able to reframe things that happen to us. This skill, learned by ‘telling your story’ in childhood will benefit your children for a lifetime.

Have a wonderful holiday, rich in experience, imagination and storytelling.


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

“Dear Exiles…”

Startwarmer Questions:
1. Please share a story of something (a song, smell, etc) that reminded you of your past. (go around circle)
2. Have you received a letter while you were away (from family, friends) that reminded you of more than what was written? (the place, the people, the stories, the weather, etc)

Introduction
Read Jeremiah 29:5-14
Jeremiah 29:5-14 is a beautiful letter from home. There is much in the words of this short letter, but much more in the layers beneath the letter. Like a radio-antenna on top of a sky scraper, this little letter sends a powerful message to a people in exile not only because it is worded perfectly but because it is built on decades of history, culture, prophecies and writings and reaches down beyond the ground floor and into the deep history of the people of Israel – even to the moment of creation.

Have you ever been an exile? What does that feel like?
What would it be like to receive a letter from home while feeling displaced?
How likely is it for such a letter to have assumed back story/history?
Imagine you received a letter, while in exile, that had subtle reminders of the blessings and joy in your past. How would that make you feel?
Imagine there were some not-so-subtle allusions to the mistakes and poor judgement in your past. How would that make you feel?

In this letter from Jerusalem, Jeremiah gives them both good and bad news.
Bad news: The Exile in Babylon will be a full 70 years. It will not be shortened.
Good news: God has a plan. Restoration will come!

How did God’s message to his people differ before and during exile?
Looking at the promises in this letter, would you say they are more spiritual or physical?
Why was God so mean before the exile and so merciful during the exile?
How were the people different before than during?

Consider:
Before exile, the message from God (negative) was acted out by the prophets.
During exile, the message from God (positive) was to be acted out by the people.
What does this tell us about God? His prophets? His people? Which would you rather be?



Small Group Discussions (15 mins) Split the class into three small groups
Ask them to explore the passages and questions given to them and to prepare a short review



Group 1: Living in Exile

Read Deuteronomy 20:5-9
What reasons were there for not personally going to war?
Whose job was it to give this message to the army?

Read Jeremiah 29:4-7
What tasks of living peacefully were they given?
Who did this message come from? What impact would that have had?
How was this “Dear Exiles” letter relying on the knowledge of the priests, prophets and people of Israel who were in captivity?
Do you think they understood the “Don’t Go to War” message?
How do you think they applied it?
What kinds of thoughts/prayers were they to have for their captors? Why?
What reaction do you think they had to this call to pray for their enemies?

Read Jeremiah 10:1-16
What is the main message in this passage?
How does this passage set-up a clear challenge for the people living in exile?



Group 2: Doorway to the Detestable

Read Jeremiah 29:8-9
In captivity there were prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel who were honestly speaking the words of God and there were deceivers, diviners and dream-interpreters who lied for a living but called themselves God’s prophets. What do you think these liars were declaring?
How was the worship of God by His people in exile being impacted by these false prophets?
Does it matter? Why?

Read Ezekiel 8:5-18
What does the ‘hole in the wall’ suggest to you?
Why ‘dig’ at the hole in the wall? (reveals more truth)
What does the act of digging do for the prophet? (turns him into a participant)
Where does the hole take Ezekiel? What is wrong with the worship inside the hole?

“Go in and See: Wicked and Detestable things”
Find the four questions of “Have you seen?” or “Do you see?” in this passage.
What is happening in these scenes? Who is involved? (1. Temple, 2. Elders, 3. Women, 4. Men)
What impact is this activity having on the people?
What impact is it having on God?
How would Jeremiah’s “Dear Exiles” letter impact people living ‘in the hole’?



Group 3: A Long Story

Read Jeremiah 29:10-14
Verse 10 literally reads, “Only when 70 years…” – defying the false prophets who said it would end sooner.
Why 70 years? (have a look at Psalm 90:10) What would be different 70 years after Jerusalem fell?
Verse 12 and Verse 7 are the only two places in the book of Jeremiah where the people are the subject of ‘pray’. What two ‘fortunes’ are they to ‘pray’ for?
As exiles, what impact would it have had to see these two positive invitations to pray (and be answered positively!) within this short “Dear Exiles” letter? (Compare 7:16, 11:14, 14:11)

Read Deuteronomy 4:25-31
How was this “Dear Exiles” letter relying on the knowledge of the priests, prophets and people of Israel who were in captivity?
What was Jeremiah 29:13 meant to remind the exiles?
How far back does this promise go? Who are these people, really? 
How far back does their story go?



Conclusion: God’s Plan

What is the Big Idea of this “Dear Exiles” letter? What is the main point? (God has a plan)
“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” For the exiles in Babylon who knew their scriptures and the story of their people, the promise of this passage was even greater than a connection to Canaan.

Read Deuteronomy 4:15-20
Here we have reminder of their beginnings and of their importance to God.
15 – God, without form, spoke the law from the fires of Horeb (Creating their law)
16-19 – In reverse Creation order, objects often made into idols are shown to be created by God, not gods themselves or even representations of gods.
20 – You: selected in the furnace and taken out to be His.

Then, a few verses later, the promise “You will search for the LORD your God, and you will find Him when you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deuteronomy 4:29). In this amazing passage of scripture, clearly alluded to by Jeremiah 29:13, the exiles are reminded that they were spoken to, selected by and indeed created by God, in His image, as the only creature, object or created thing that is intended to represent God.

The Big Idea of this “Dear Exiles” letter?

Created in Gods image, You are
His living breath
His revealed glory
His chosen creation
He has not forgotten you
Indeed He cannot
For you are His


The Christmas Story

Christmas has been around for a long time. There are a thousand ways of telling the Christmas story, each slightly different because it came from a slightly different time, place and culture.

The oldest stories we can find go back thousands of years, to celebrations of early Europeans who celebrated light and birth during the darkest and coldest times of the year—winter solstice, hoping to bring about the next season when light, growth and warmth would return.

This celebration changed into a time of feasting in Scandinavia when the Norse celebrated Yule starting on December 21. They would light huge logs and feast until the logs burnt out. The best logs could last up to 12 days! 

Sometime later, as Christianity was spreading through the world, it brought with it new reasons to celebrate. The celebration of the birth of Jesus didn’t have a fixed day until Christian leaders decided to match dates with the ancient holiday happening during winter and call it Christmas. As this new holiday, a time of gift giving and family togetherness, spread around the world, Santa Clause was born. This jolly man, with his bag of toys, quickly became the story many people told their children about Christmas.

Today, the story and meaning of Christmas is a little different in each part of the world. Here in Australia, our story is quite unique. Christmas is during the middle of summer. We can hardly build snowmen and we try to avoid lighting fires. Families meet together for outdoor cricket, BBQ’s, beach trips, Carols by Candlelight and late night drives to look at houses covered in lights. 

No matter where you are in the world, one thing remains the same on Christmas. It is a time of giving. Gifts are given by parents to children. Families pass plates of delicious food. People participate in donating gifts to their community. Churches provide free meals for struggling families and individuals. At Christmas, everyone should feel joy and love.

May you have a wonderful Christmas
   as you share your gifts with others.
May your family be blessed and joyful
   as you share conversation and food.
May you experience peace and love
   as you consider the Christmas story.
And may the Christmas story you tell  
   bring new life, meaning and purpose to all.


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Creativity: Imagination and Invention

Eight-year-old me had a BMX bike named Herby. We were best friends and I talked to Herby non-stop. My family thought I was a bit strange.

Now-a-days, I love to ask P-2 kids if they have a friend only they can see. The younger the group, the more hands that go up. Kids have excellent imaginations!

I remember feeling silly for using my imagination too much. “Davy, you need to stop day dreaming and pay attention!” I never really grew out of it. On the drive home after work, in the shower, or while I’m sitting at my desk – I often ‘wake-up’ and realise I was just in some far off place or lost in conversation with someone who wasn’t there.

Brain scientists are telling us how important it is to keep our imagination alive. They say our brains grow stronger when we use them in new ways – and there is no way to use your brain in a new way without creativity.

Imagination is, simply, the repetition of known thoughts or actions. And invention – the product of imagination – happens when old knowledge and relationships interact in new ways. Imagine me riding my bike Herby over the same muddy path each day. The first day the track is fresh, the second day I try to ride along yesterday’s track, the third day there is a deepening grove for me to follow. Until, after a few repetitions, I am almost forced to ride in the rut because riding outside of it takes effort. Then comes invention – creativity in the rut – I lift up the front wheel while my back wheel is guided by the rut, holding the wheelie, showing off for friends – real or imaginary – my creativity and riding skills on show.

Repetition provides us with skills and experience – even if that repetition was ‘just in our head.’ That’s how the brain works. Every trip down a familiar path – playing a guitar chord, swimming a lap, writing our name, opening a lock, smiling at a friend – causes us to become better at doing that thing – even when we are just imagining it! That’s what the brain doctors say.

An activity in your brain is like a crease in a piece of paper. Every time you fold it on that crease the paper folds easier and easier until just a gentle breath can cause the page to fold along the crease. Practice becomes skill. People begin to call you ‘a natural’ because your talent looks effortless.

Learning is the process of coupling imaginary play with reality – that’s what kids do all day long. A stick becomes a horse, a doll becomes a baby, a playground at recess becomes a world of adventure – pirates, jungle-explorers and superheroes abound. By trying reality on for size, we make sense of the world. And this requires imagination!

At home, children try out the things they see and hear. Their play workshop, kitchen, house or car is them becoming something new. It’s been said that imitation is the greatest form of flattery but with children it’s more. Imitation is life in the making.

Encourage your children when they engage in imaginary play. Let them know you love it when they imagine, invent and create things. Set aside space and time for them to be creative. ‘Free time’ for the brain is like meal time for the body – it’s that important. Take joy (pride even!) in the things they make believe into reality. And protect their ‘free time’ like a lioness protects her cubs.


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Snapping multiple windows in Windows 10

Have you ever had a problem, that no matter how you worded it in the search bar, Google just kept bringing back the same – almost useful - answers? At first you think it’s because you are not wording the question right. Then you decide you need googling skills. Surely, it can’t be that more than a million other earthlings using a Surface Pro have never had this issue. There MUST be someone else out there having the same issue! Maybe, but as far as I could find, they haven’t discovered blogging…

“Snapping in Windows 10”

“Snapping more than two windows in Windows 10”

“Snapping more than two windows in Windows 10 on my Surface Pro 4”

Those are just a few of the many queries I entered into Google that kept coming up with the same sites, all of which provided great answers that made it so obvious that everyone else was happily carving their Window 10 screen real-estate in as many useful partitions as they wished. And yet, I was stuck with two.

Two measly windows. And I wanted more. But everything I tried failed.

And, according to Google, Bing and Yahoo! none of the other gazillion Windows 10 users were having my problem. I finally decided that maybe this was just a problem with the Surface Pro and so I started putting that in my searches. To.. no… avail!

Then, I had an idea.

AND IT WORKED!!!!!

Turn off Tablet Mode.

Yup, that’s it.

I loved tablet mode so much that I told my Surface Pro to leave it on all the time. It looks nicer. Less like a computer and more like a tablet – which I prefer. Turning tablet mode off allowed me to snap to all four corners, drag the windows into whatever shape I wished and use apps together in ways that boost my productivity (or at least allow me to believe that my productivity is boosted enough to deserve another coffee, lol).

So, I thought I’d put that little measly-easy-squeezy-solution to an irksome-plague-of-a-problem that besought me (alone?) for more than a year – through my Surface Pro 3 days and into my Surface Pro 4 days, just because I like my tablet soooo much that I wanted it to be a tablet in all circumstances.

Turn off Tablet Mode.

and


Have a nice day.

Icy Pole Parenting

Kids love icy poles. It doesn’t matter if it’s a hot or cold day, if the canteen has icy poles, kids buy them. Have you ever wondered why? I have a theory.

Yes, they are cold and get sweeter as they melt. But they are also messy.

My theory is this: Kids love icy poles because they last so long. A tiny icy pole can last most of recess, if managed correctly. Other snacks are gone in a couple of seconds.

We all get angry. When we are ignored or disobeyed by our kids, we feel under-appreciated and over-worked and it begins to wear on us. And then we get angry. We become ‘mad as a hornet’, ‘barking mad’, ‘hopping mad’, ‘boiling mad’… Nobody ever says, “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” Why? Because icy poles are cool, long-lasting and sweet.

Before it entered a child’s grasp, every icy pole spent a long time in the freezer. Likewise, if we want to be icy pole parents, we need to spend some time – before the fact – getting ready for the angry times that will inevitably come our way.

Here are some tips for being an icy pole parent.

Get off the Maddercycle – I get mad at my child. That makes me mad at myself. Now I’m madder at my child for making me mad at myself. I hate being mad. So, now I’m madder because I got mad. I don’t want to ride this beast anymore! Break the cycle by recognising it and getting off.

Embrace your Emotions – When you feel something, you can change it. Emotion creates desire. That’s its purpose. Listen to your emotions and ask yourself, “What do I want to change?” Then create a strategy to make the change.

Give ME a Break – Two meanings here: First, stop picking on yourself. We all make mistakes. Leave them in the past and move forward away from them. Second, go do something you love. Go for a walk, meet a friend for coffee, create something. Take a break just for ME.

Heal your Hurts – We all have unresolved anger from our present and past. Parenting will bring these things up and out. When they emerge, don’t push them back under. Face and fix them.

Prepare and Prevent – There are some situations that always make you boil. If you cannot send someone else, plan some strategies. Change the situation by mixing things up: What will you add or subtract? Create an exit strategy: How can you cut it short? Have a support person: Who can you ask for support? If you must go in, go in prepared.

Communicate – We are not meant to do life alone. We are born into community and we get stronger as our communities grow. Without communication there is no community. Using our words to share our emotions builds relationships and resilience. The best way to teach this to our children is to model it. Talk about everything. Talk about feelings. Talk about joys and hardships. Talking makes us human.

So, before you get angry, choose a new metaphor – “I’m as mad as an icy pole.” You might always be a bit messy, but with preparation, you’ll stay cool no matter how hot the day gets and grow sweeter with time.



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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Tough Choices

“It’s your choice,” I said to my 17 year old son as we finished driving the long way home so we could conclude our conversation, “suck it up or sell the puppy.”

One week before, we had achieved the impossible. Since early childhood, he had been listening to stories of dogs I had as a boy and how much I loved them. “A boy and his dog,” I would say, “there is no greater love.” For a decade and a half we had presented this maxim to the boss and she always said, “Cats are fine. Dogs are not.” So we had cats. Still do. Then came the week of the father-son suck-it-up-or-sell drive-time chat.

She had finally said yes! We found the perfect puppy. We brought it home. We arranged my son’s room so he could train and entertain a puppy. And then the week from hell began.

The puppy whined. It bit. It peed. It barked. It pooed. It chewed on things. It attacked pant legs. All the things that had been endearing to me when I was a boy were driving my son insane. His gentle nature would not allow him to be firm with the puppy. He even grimaced when I played with her because of how rough I was. But then he would say, “You’re so good with dogs.” I could see something was up. He needed to toughen up and roughen up or she was going to eat him for breakfast – for the rest of his life.

Five days after getting the puppy, as we drove, he said, “Dad I can’t do it. I need to be more firm with her but I feel mean when I try. You can do it because you are more relaxed. I am stressed around her and I can’t relax and be in charge of her.”

“You mean, in control,” I said. “You can’t control her.”

“Exactly!” he said. “She doesn’t do what I say. I know she can’t understand yet and I need to train her but I don’t think I can get that far. I worry about her all the time. When I’m at school, when I’m trying to sleep. Every noise she makes and everything she does – I feel like I need to be there watching and making things safe for her.”

“She’s a dog,” I said. “Not a baby. She can spend hours on her own and be just fine when you get home from school or wake up in the morning.”

“I know,” he said, wiping his eyes. “I just have a lot of work to do on myself before I can work on her.” He often says insightful things like this. 17 years of living with him and I’m still not completely used to it.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You know I like learning things about my character,” he said. “And I like working on it.”
I nodded my head. Everyone in our family knows this well. Never have I heard of another teenager calling a family meeting and saying, “I need your help. I know there are things about my character than I need to work on but I can’t see them because I’m not watching from the outside. What can I work on? What needs to change? Be honest, I can take it.” And so we were.

He’s been that way since he first learned to say, “No.”

And now, he had realised something that only a dog could teach him. He has an overwhelming need to be in control of anyone or anything for which he is responsible.

“Well son, you’ve got a choice to make,” I said. “And I’m not making it for you. Raising this puppy would be one way to work on your control issues. Or recognise, this is not a required relationship. We can find a home for the puppy where she is a better fit.”

He nodded, quietly.

“So, it’s your choice,” I said as we drove up the driveway, “Suck it up or sell the puppy. What’s it gonna be?”

And to his credit, he chose to sell the puppy. Not an easy choice, believe me!

As we watched the puppy and her new family drive down the driveway, my son said, “Dad, I have learned so much about myself. I would never have known how much I struggle with control if I hadn’t had the puppy. Now that I know this about myself, I can think about it, work on it, plan for it and conquer it when it resurfaces.”

And I know he will.

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For more parently pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Concrete Thoughts

We humans are like concrete.

As adults, set in our ways, change is difficult. A reformation of character takes a near death experience, relationship breakdown or some other personal crisis. Changing solid concrete is possible but it takes a jackhammer.

Children, on the other hand, are like wet concrete. They are being poured and shaped with every conversation, relationship and example. They are open to ideas, practices and new realities – trusting that the adults in their world have it all together and know where they are heading.

In childhood, the spout is spewing wet ready-mix in any direction the adults around us care to direct it. Because children spend the majority of their time with Mum and Dad, character and values formation primarily happens in the home. Until approximately age 10, children receive and replicate what they see and hear.

They, literally, become what surrounds them. Dad laughs at a joke, I laugh. Mum bakes a cake, I bake. They care, I do. The maxim, “Do what I say, not what I do” never really works. I watch, I try, I become.

The four steps of practical teaching – I do, you watch; we do, I teach; you do, I watch; you do, I go – is active in every home on the planet, intentional or not. The great news is that children are very malleable. If we change, they will too. If we become something new, so will they.

But, we don’t like change, do we? Jackhammers are scary.

Between the ages of 10 and 12 the concrete is setting. The core moral and spiritual identity of a child has been established but they are still open to detailing and shaping. The questions asked in this stage combine physical reality with heart stuff. What does honesty have to do with homework? What does respect have to do with playing sport? Why do I have to wear a helmet?

As a child moves through upper primary school, they are ready for more responsibility and authority because they are starting to understand the why at the centre of most of life’s whats. Reasons are important. Friends are becoming barometers of other-worldly realities. My friends’ families are not like mine. He can do whatever he wants – nobody cares. She tells rude jokes – everybody laughs. His Dad is never home. Her Mum yells at her across the carpark. When I visit, they don’t eat together. My friend is scared of his Dad and says mine is weird. I think I know why. I’m different. I’m special. I’m valuable. I am loved.

While emotional fine-tuning and experiential learning is lifelong, most of the values integrated deep in my character and yours were formed in childhood. Wet concrete is easier to pour and shape. Make your parenting intentional and instructional. It’ll save a lot of jackhammering in a few years!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.

Safe Environments for Success

A father was out bike riding with his son when they came to a branch blocking the path. The father said to the boy, “This looks like a job for you! Move the branch.”

The boy tried but was unable to budge the branch. He returned to his father and said, “It’s too heavy. I can’t do it.”

His father encouraged him, “Try again and this time, use all of your strength!”

The boy went back to the branch and after pushing and pulling for all he was worth, he said, “Dad, I can’t do it. I need your help.”

“Ah,” said the father, “Now you are using all of your strength!”

Every step along the parenting journey, we want to develop resilient kids who are able to see and succeed at the challenges in front of them. Sometimes the struggle is what teaches the greatest lesson. Other times, a helping hand from a nearby parent makes all the difference. So, how do we know the right time to help and the right time to stand back and give encouragement?

When our children are learning to walk and they fall, we don’t yell, “Stop falling, you quitter!” Instead, we cheer and say, “WOW! Great job! You took THREE STEPS!” At the same time, we move stuff out of their way – to open a clear path for greater achievement. Living in a safe place makes conquering life’s challenges possible. Creating safe places isn’t just about keeping plastic stoppers in power-points and gates at the top of stairs. Safe places are environments where learning is the default because challenges are available and reasonable to the level of the learner.

Now that our kids are in school, we still need to be creating safe environments for success. Some obstacles are part of the challenge, others need to be moved. Nobody knows your child and their capabilities like you do. You spend more hours with them than anyone. To build resilience, kids need to know they can face challenges and conquer the next level of difficulty. Like learning to walk; learning maths, reading, writing and any other subject requires failure and success. Resilient kids have the try-try-again mentality developed through repeated learning experiences of various kinds with one constant – your presence.

Sometimes you cheer. Sometimes you reach out your hand. Other times you do both. These interactions build resilience, stick-to-it-iveness, bravery and confidence in your child. They know you are there for them – and together, anything is possible!


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.


Rebuke and Retribution

Sabbath School Lesson Discussion Guide
(You're welcome!)

StartWarmer Question: What was the most difficult thing you had to do this week?
(For me, it was preparing this lesson! This is a tough topic that requires willing students more than a willing teacher.)

Reverse engineering this week’s lesson:
Read and discuss the thought question on Friday’s lesson.
(This seems to me to be the best starting point for an honest discussion.)

"Discussion Question: Dwell more on this idea that evil and suffering don’t make sense, that they don’t have a rational or good explanation. Why is it better that way? Think about it. A horrible tragedy strikes: perhaps a young child dies of a terrible disease after years of suffering. Do we really want to believe that a good and rational reason exists for this? Isn’t it better to chalk it up to the terrible and evil results of living in a fallen world?"

Small Groups – 3 groups
Give each group one day’s lesson: Sunday’s, Monday’s and Wednesday’s Lesson.
Say: Please study the lesson for the day given to your group particularly focusing on the passage from Jeremiah in the middle of the page. Then prepare to teach it to the big group in just three sentences. Finally, finish with an open-ended discussion question for the group to answer.
You have Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. I will do Tuesday.
Allow 10 minutes small group time, then share sentences and discuss all questions.

My three sentence summary of Tuesday’s lesson: 
The people of his home town didn’t like Jeremiah or his message so they planned his death. Jeremiah complained to God and asked for vengeance. God promised to kill their young men and their children.
Q. What effect would this answer have on YOU if you prayed a prayer for vengeance against your own people?

Thursday – big group – “Drought: Literal and Spiritual”
Read all of Jeremiah 14:1-22 – one person per verse – around the circle
Q. Can you smell the rain? … Can you feel the drought lifting? Why? What made the difference?

Teaching Self-Control

If you are anything like me, you’ve had moments with your kids when frustration turns anger and words fly out of your mouth that you never meant to say. I’ve spent a bit of time (they are teenagers now) observing myself and researching what causes such outbursts.

So, here’s what I’ve learned about being a good parent. Let me warn you, it isn’t comfortable to hear. But, knowing these things and taking them seriously has helped me heaps!

In order to raise great kids, they need a solid foundation of self-control. Here are four facts to help build a self-control centre in ourselves and our children:

1. Parents, we are in charge.
2. When we ‘loose it,’ the thing we have lost is self-control.
3. Like us, our kids shine when they take charge of themselves.
4. Ultimately, the mature person has consistent self-control.

When we get angry with the kids, it is because we feel we have lost control of them. Little Lady throws a tantrum in the shops. Sir Serious asks “Why?” for the 150th time in three minutes. Mr Muscles tries to rip his sister’s hair out, again. The three angels leave a trail of madness and mayhem through the house. Before flipping your lid, pause and review the ‘self-control’ centre. When the kids are out of control, they are not out of OUR control, they are out of THEIR OWN control. Getting that clear in your mind releases you from taking offence.

They are acting ‘against’ who they are; not who you are!

As a parent, whether you realise it or not, you are on a different level to the kids. Not only are you bigger and older, you are the boss. The kids are the followers. They know you are in charge of what happens at home. Until they understand the boundaries, they will test them. We teach our kids (and learn along the way, ourselves) that “The only person who can control you is YOU!”

The best way to teach this is to model it. By taking ownership of our emotions we can realise, “Wow, I’m really upset about this!” Then we can choose to direct the fight/flight reaction caused by the stress into positive action – doing dishes, mowing the lawn, going for a walk. As we get better at moving from reaction into action, our kids will too. They learn from watching us.

Then we can talk about it; teaching our kids to ask, “What name does this feeling have?” “Why am I feeling it?” “What can I do instead?” “What can I do to make things right?” and finally, “What can I do next time this feeling comes?”

We learn the most difficult skills in life by watching others and then practicing it on our own. Self-control is one of these skills. To master it, it helps to see it mastered by someone around us. As adults, we need to model it. Stop blaming others for our loss of self-control and start taking charge of ourselves. The better we get at self-control, the better start in life we give our kids!

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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.


Wisdom Rules

PowerPoints – JETS Sabbath School – Discussion Guide

STARTWARMER Questions: (what’s a StartWarmer?)
What’s the hardest decision you’ve ever made?
Who is the wisest person you know? Have you ever seen them struggle with a decision?
What is strategy have you learned for making good decisions?

POWER TEXT: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

BIBLE STORY - Solomon: 1 Kings 3:16-28
Where was the moment of Wisdom in this story? (Not when the women replied – that was obvious.)
Compare: other kings kept records of their good decisions. Solomon’s scribes are doing the same. But, when other kings threatened to divide a person in half, it was from frustration/anger with the people involved. How did Solomon show wisdom (he knew the nature of the women; that they would both back down – one gave the baby away to keep it alive, the other gave it away to keep it out of her enemy’s hands). His moment of wisdom was when Solomon decided to use a ruthless threat to reveal a mother’s love.

ACTIVITY: Wisdom like Solomon (discuss in groups, report back)
1. Two students are claiming that the watch you have found is theirs. To whom should you give it?
2. Your school lunch is being stolen from your locker each day. You have told the teachers, but they say there is nothing they can do until they find that person. How can you help discover who this is?
3. You see the boy who sits next to you at school using a small paper with the test answers written on it during a test. How can you be fair to him and to the other students taking the test?

Building Wisdom: “STORM Co” means? – Service to Others Really Matters… HOW MUCH?
When others think differently than you, how do you respond? How important it is to be right?
Which shows wisdom: knowing the answer, or protecting others?
Is it more important to be right or to be kind?

ACTIVITY – Daily Circle: Have the students draw a large circle on a sheet of paper. Under the circle they will write the sentence “Jesus wants me to be fair in serving others.” Say: This circle represents a day in your life. Divide the circle into a pie chart that represent the way you spent your time last Thursday. (worship, driving, eating, school, study, work, recreation, relaxation, etc.)
Once they have finished, ask them to choose 2 colours of marking pen. Next to the circle write “Current Care” in one colour. Have them colour over bits of each division in the pie chart when they were serving others. Then in the other colour write “Future Care” and colour in the extra amount of time you would like to spend in caring for others.

BIBLE STUDY – Romans 14:1-23   Read the entire chapter around the room.
Pause after verse 1, 4, 5, 10, 12, 18, 23 and ask the appropriate questions below:
(NOTE: Try to be honest to the text while teaching this! If it makes you uncomfortable, good. Explore that!)
ASK: What is this saying? What is it teaching? Why is this important?
After verse 23: What would your friendships be like if you treated service to others as more important than your need to be right? How does this kind of Wisdom lead new people toward the Kingdom of God?
How does this value on relationships develop friendships with those who think differently than you? Why are these friendships important to God? (HE LOVES THEM and wants them in His Kingdom.)

It is eternally important to God that our relationships are strong with family and friends. Our convictions are to be kept private because they are between us and God. All we should have between us and people is love, kindness, mercy, generosity and friendship. WHY? Because this draws people toward our wonderful God and His amazing Kingdom!

POWER TEXT: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)


Resilient Questions

Long-term learning happens in positive situations. Success is sticky and draws us back for more. Failure scares us away. We shrink from failure and we grow from success. 

Growing up is all about making mistakes and learning from them for next time. But, to help our kids learn quickly and effectively, we need to change those negatives into positives as quickly as possible. Using questions is a great way.

With toddlers and early primary school students, mistakes often come in two areas: Time and Place. Helping them realise this is the wrong time or place for a particular activity gives them the understanding to choose when and where to do it next time. Using positive questions to deal with wrong actions allows children to understand what it is they are doing wrong and why.

Positive question sets (three examples):

“Is this the right place to be drawing with crayons?”
“Where is the right place?”
“Before we go to that place, how will you clean this?”

“Is this the right time to be eating cake?”
“When is the right time?”
“If you are hungry, what is ok to eat right now?”

“Is this the right time or place to be tackling people?”
“When and where is rough play ok?”
“What could you do with your energy now?”

Each one of these examples takes the child from the negative behaviour to positive behaviour while also giving them questions to think through their actions. Next time, they will have some tools to use in considering whether they should draw on the walls, eat cake for breakfast or tackle their sibling on the way into the school grounds.

We create resilient kids by teaching them positive questions to use in reviewing mistakes and planning for success next time.


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.




"Me and My House" (Reconciliation Sermon)

I recently preached on Reconciliation at a youth church in Sunbury, Victoria.

Rather than spend a lot of time pontificating on the topic, I explained it through story.

My Dad wanted to be at the service but he was in California
So I did the next best thing, I filmed it and popped it up on youtube!

Enjoy!


The Useful Christian

The easiest way to put flesh on the bones of theology is to bring it to life in action. This is what Paul does in his letter to Philemon. He demonstrates his overall mission and message in the action of writing this short letter and in the request he makes in the letter, thus demonstrating his theology in both his personal practice and the action he expects from the recipient of the letter.

Read Philemon as a group. (ask someone with a strong compelling reading voice)
What is going on in this letter?
What is the point?
What do we know about Philemon?
What do we know about Onesimus?
What is Paul hoping for? Why?


Small Group Time

Group 1: “Letters of Recommendation”
Read 2 Corinthians 3:1-6
What is Paul saying?
How are Jesus’ people like Letters of Recommendation?
What are they recommending? To Whom?
How are they inked? (written on)
What is the difference between a cold-stone letter-of-law and this new kind of Spirit Letter?

Compare Philemon 1-7
What is it about Philemon that brings Paul such joy?
Comparing this to 2 Corinthians 3:1-6, what is Paul saying about Philemon?
Knowing what Paul is about to ask, how is this opening statement important?
Is Paul setting Philemon up? Or is he setting him free? How so?


Group 2: “Ministry of Reconciliation”
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
What is Paul saying?
What does “being in Christ” mean? What is “being a new creation”?
What steps are present in Jesus’ reconciliation of the world to God?
How do those steps become ours? What is required of us?
What does the “Ministry of Reconciliation” look like?

Compare Philemon 8-14
How is Paul modelling the Ministry of Reconciliation?
How is Paul hoping Philemon will apply the Ministry of Reconciliation?
What is it about Onesimus that brings Paul such joy?
How has Onesimus been ‘useful’ to Paul and Philemon?
How is Onesimus ‘useful’ in applying the Ministry of Reconciliation?


Group 3: “Attitude of Christ Jesus”
Read Philippians 2:1-11
What is Paul saying?
What does it look like to have the attitude of Christ Jesus?
What are we to do in “the same way” as Jesus?
What did Jesus’ humility entail? How does this compare to ours?
What role does self-importance play in Christian life?

Compare Philemon 15-21
How is Paul demonstrating the attitude of Christ Jesus?
How is Paul expecting/hoping Philemon will show the attitude of Christ Jesus?
How is Paul a “partner in the work” with Philemon?
Why is Paul so confident of Philemon’s response/reaction?
How will Onesimus belong to both Philemon and Paul “forever”?


Combined

Ask for each group to report a summary of what they discovered particularly focusing on how the mission and message of Paul was revealed.

Review Questions:
Where do you see yourself as a Letter of Recommendation for the Kingdom of God?
Where do you see the need for the Ministry of Reconciliation in your world?
Where have you seen the Attitude of Christ Jesus recently?

Conclusion: “A Changing Spirit”

Read 2 Corinthians 3:12-18

The Spirit is changing us from our selfish Glory to His perfect Glory. In the same way that Paul challenged Philemon, we are to make visible, in our every action, the Image of God as revealed by His Son through the work of the Spirit in our lives.

While Paul does not tell Philemon to become a Letter of Recommendation for the Kingdom of God, the letter he has sent, both in printed word and action, invites Philemon to live as a representative of the new Kingdom and leave the old one behind.

While Paul does not use the word reconciliation or the phrase Ministry of Reconciliation, he demonstrates it repeatedly in this letter. First in his original treatment of Philemon, second in his prison treatment of Onesimus and third in his call to Philemon to demonstrate the Ministry of Reconciliation in his treatment of his slave, Onesimus. Overall, it is as if Paul is standing in the posture of the Cross, reaching from one person to the other, from one Kingdom to the other, making things right.

While Paul does not preach a sermon calling for Philemon to have the Attitude of Christ Jesus, he models it by being both strong and gentle, humble and purposeful, merciful and just. Paul’s attitude, like Jesus’, invites imitation.

As true letters of recommendation of Jesus to the world, we are to be making things right between people and God, people and each other and even people and themselves through the Ministry of Reconciliation. And in doing this revealing and reconciling work we are to be humble in our every word and action, revealing the attitude of Christ Jesus.

This is, in both theology and practice, the mission and message of the Apostle Paul.

Melbourne Schools Ending Bullying

Working everyday as a chaplain I get to see kids at their best and worst. Bullying is a consistent problem, primarily fueled by a lack of others-awareness.

Alongside chaplaincy, I also present a cultural awareness program for Cultural Infusion called the "Intercultural Citizenship Ambassador Program." The 8-week or 16-week ICAP program allows me to see the growth kids go through as they expand the borders of their identity from multicultural to intercultural.

And I'm noticing something. In classrooms where I teach ICAP, precursors to bullying (like interrupting, talking over the top of others, and emotional outbursts) are largely absent by the end of the program. Not because I'm making them better individuals but because they are realising (and fascinated by) the uniqueness of every other person in the room.

The primary message I repeat every week during ICAP is the difference between multicultural and intercultural. Any kid who has been through ICAP with me can tell you the difference. So what is it?

Multiculturalism is when people come from other countries and build little versions of 'home' in the new place - little China, little Italy, little England - where they can live, shop, interact and speak as if they are still in the old country.

Interculturalism is when people from various places come together for a common purpose and create a new culture to accomplish that goal as an inclusive group. I say to the kids, "Your class is a perfect example of intercultural citizenship. There are 30 of you from different cultures, religions and families and you all work together with the common goal of education."

And this is where it gets interesting. Bullying comes from the lack of a meaningful relationship.

While multiculturalism can raise awareness, it often raises preconceptions and stereotyping as well. If you see me from across the street, you don't know me but you will notice I look different, sound different and even act different than you. This can make it easy for you to make fun of me - laughing at me, imitating me, making cartoons about me. I'm only a caricature of myself in your eyes.

Interculturalism is only possible where a new culture is created. A place where nobody fits better than anyone else. Everyone is treated equally. And to solidify the culture, a shared purpose is required. This is what happens in a classroom. One school I just finished with had 27 different cultures represented in the combined year 5 class I was working with. That is intercultural citizenship!

Melbourne is a multicultural hotbed. There are people from all around the world who, within the past 3 or 4 generations, have made this their home. Some refugees are brand new. And our schools are the answer to why Australia is a country with an excellent future. The schools are intentionally taking the multicultural population of Melbourne and creating new cultures of intercultural kids one classroom at a time. Some of these students are now graduating and becoming the worlds workforce.

Perhaps Australia can lead the way in recreating workplaces as they have in classrooms. Working together with a common purpose bridges divides and has to potential to expunge bullying from our global mindset.

The Mud Puddle

Life is like a “choose your own adventure” book. At the end of each event you get to choose where the story goes next.

Elly and Jane got to school early and were the only two kids on the playground. Elly slipped and fell in a mud puddle. Jane ran over, jumped in the puddle, laughed and said, “You look better now than before!” Then she ran away laughing.

Option 1: As Elly was brushing herself off, the bus arrived. Rose, May and Sarah asked Elly what had happened. Elly told them about Jane. If you want to see what happens next, turn to page 12.

Option 2: Elly stood up and brushed herself off. She saw the bus pulling in and went to meet her friends. Rose, May and Sarah said, “Elly, you’re covered in mud! What happened?” Elly said she fell in a puddle and needed to go to the bathroom to clean up. Her friends said they would come with her. If you want to see what happens next, turn to page 26.

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Page 12 – Rose, May and Sarah were angry. They told Elly some things that Jane had done to them in the past. They all decided that it was time for Jane to pay for her bullying. They came up with a plan to embarrass Jane…

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Page 26 – At recess, Elly found Jane in a corner of the playground. Elly explained how sad it made her that Jane didn’t help her up when she fell down. Elly said, “Jane, the things you said and did made me sad. I want you to be my friend.” Jane looked at the ground and said, “Yeah. I’m sorry, Elly. I did the wrong thing.” The two returned to the playground together…

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We all can write the next part of both stories because we’ve seen them. One leads to healthy friendships, the other leads to more hateful words and actions that go on and on. The best option is to talk to the person who hurt us, tell them what hurt and that we want to be their friend. It’s not always the easiest way, but it is the best way.

As kids, you also have teachers, parents and chaplains to help. You can ask a grown up what you should do and they will help you turn to page 26!


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For more parenting pondering, 
see the "Parently" section of this blog.


Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...