Fear vs. God
Many kids go through stages where fear seems to be ruling their lives. They may have trouble sleeping and avoid any situation that might involve whatever fear they are preoccupied with in the moment.
It’s not just kids, of course. Parenting itself creates the opportunity to be afraid of all kinds of new things we had never worried about before. Some of us become fearful people on behalf of kids who don’t seem to have the sense, yet, to know what they should be afraid of for themselves.
But we also have a unique opportunity as Christian parents to begin equipping our kids with the primary tool for vanquishing fear now and for the rest of their lives—faith in a bigger God.
We’re pulling our talking points for the week from Psalm 46, a psalm that describes very real dangers in relationship to a very powerful God to make the point that God is bigger than whatever may frighten or worry us.
We hope a few of the following questions will provoke a good conversation with your child about fear and trusting God to take care of us.
- What are a few things that really scare you? [Parent: Open up; be honest about some of your own fears, as well.]
- Can you think of a time recently when you felt really scared about something? What did you do? [Parent: Again, encourage openness by being open.]
- When you think about some of the things that scare or worry you most, what can you imagine that would make you completely unafraid of that thing? [Parent: Encourage brainstorming even of impossible things, e.g., never having to fall a sleep, a spray that could instantly make all snakes disappear, the ability to completely forget anything bad that has happened in the past, etc.]
- Do you think God wants us to be afraid? Why or why not?
- Does talking to God about your fear help you to feel less scared? Why or why not?
- What does work best to help you to overcome fear?
- What does the word “refuge” mean to you? [Parent: A refuge, basically, is a place of safety from whatever is threatening you.]
- Psalm 46:1 says that God is our refuge. How does God protect us from the things that we’re afraid of? Why does He protect us?
- If you were as strong, say, as Supreman—or 4 times bigger than you are right now—would you be afraid of the same things? Why or why not?
- Psalm 46:1 also says that God is our strength and that He is ready to help at all times. Do you believe God is stronger than whatever you’re afraid of, that He is stronger and bigger than anything we can imagine?
- Psalm 46:2-3 describes worst cases that people might fear—earthquakes and floods, maybe a tsunami. What is the worst thing you can imagine happening with what you’re afraid of? [Parent: Talking about the worst case scenario is a way of bringing it into the light and discovering either how unlikely it is or that it is survivable. Leaving the worst unspoken often gives it more power.]
- The next verses in Psalm 46 describe that when God is in a city, He can keep it safe even if the worst thing happens because He is there and more powerful than any terrible thing that could ever happen. How confident are you that God could take care of you even if the worst thing happened?
- Psalm 46:8-9 show us that God is not afraid to use His power against evil to make it stop. He has all the power He needs to step in when the time is right. How confident are you that God can protect you by destroying evil?
- Psalm 46:10 gives one strategy for responding to fear. It says we should “be still” and “know that I am God.” How could we do better at stilling our thoughts and focusing on God’s power when we’re afraid instead of focusing on what is scaring us? [Parent: Help brainstorm strategies, including prayer, reading the Bible, listening to Christian music, or talking to someone about God’s power.]
Making Passion Week Personal
Most of our churches will spend this week emphasizing the events and messages of Passion Week, the celebration of what was accomplished through Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day. But the week also provides an opportunity for families to personalize those events and ideas by talking about them together.
We’ve taken a little different approach with our Talking Points this week. We’ve suggested Scripture readings and questions about what Jesus came to earth to do. These can be used all at once, but might best be discussed one at a time throughout the week whenever your family has a few minutes of uninterrupted time together.
We’ve formatted these along the lines of a countdown to the resurrection, but you could pick and choose which passages or questions are the best fit for your family in any given order. And these conversation starters could be used at any point in the year, of course, in addition to the Easter season.
Read Isaiah 53:5: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
- If someone would have predicted what was going to happen this week 700 years ago, what century would that be?
- Isaiah described what happened to Jesus 700 years before Christ was crucified for our sins. What does that tell you about God’s plan to send Jesus to die for us and to be resurrected?
- Did anything about Jesus’ life, death, or resurrection surprise God?
Read Luke 2:10-14: ” ‘I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ ”
- Which holiday is more fun to celebrate, Christmas or Easter? Why?
- Can the events we celebrate for those two holidays—Jesus’ birth and His resurrection—really be separated?
- How would you describe the connection between Christmas and Easter?
Read John 1:29: “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
- How would you describe Jesus’ mission during His life on earth?
- Why did John call Him the Lamb of God? [Parent: Because Jesus was the sacrifice for sin, like a lamb was sacrificed for sin under Jewish Law at that time.]
- How did Jesus take away the sin of the world?
- How does a person living right now get his or her sin taken away by what Jesus did?
Read Mark 8:31"He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”
- If Jesus knew so far ahead of time that He would be rejected, tortured and killed, why do you think He went through with it?
- What does it say about God’s power that Jesus was able to predict that He would be killed and how long it would take for Him to be resurrected?
- Do you think Jesus was surprised by any of the events that happened in His life?
Read Matthew 26:38-39: “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ “
- Is it surprising, do you think, that Jesus was so sad since He was also the Son of God and knew He would be resurrected on the third day (after two nights in the tomb)?
- Do you think Jesus understands when we feel really sad?
- Do you think Jesus wanted to suffer and die?
- What was the final basis for Jesus when it came to making decisions—how He felt or what God’s will was?
- How can we use that basis to make decisions in our lives?
Read Mark 15:37-39: “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’ “
- Why do you think we call Good Friday “good” when such terrible things happened to Jesus on that day?
- What does Jesus death in this moment mean for each of us in this family?
- What would have happened to us if Jesus had not been sacrificed for our sin?
- Why do you think we make a bigger deal out of celebrating Easter than out of remembering Good Friday? [Parent: Without the Resurrection, Jesus’ death on the cross would not have helped us. See 1 Corinthians 15.]
Read: Mark 16:6: ” ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.’ “
- Why is the Resurrection so impressive?
- Why does it matter for us personally?
- What similarities do you notice between Jesus’ birth announcement and His resurrection announcement? [Parent: Both were made by angels. Both warn not to be afraid or alarmed. Both point to the place Jesus laid (the manger and the tomb).]
- How meaningful do you think it is that Jesus first appeared alive to women instead of his disciples?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:20-22: “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
- How important is it to you to know that one day you will be raised from the dead, just like Jesus was?
- Is that something you look forward to?
- How would it change the meaning of your life if death was just the end, if nothing came next?
- Why, again, would God raise us from the dead one day?
- What motivates Him to do that?
More Walking Talk
Picking up from last week, we’re looking for opportunities to talk more with our kids about what it looks like to live as a Christian—what it means for them to walk instead of crawl as they grow to be more like Jesus.
You might be tempted to see the bullet-pointed list of commands in the middle of Romans 12 as a kind of legalistic, performance-motivated approach to being a Christian. But to actually follow the list, you’d have to give up that idea. There’s no room in those one-liners for the pride of performance.
Instead, Paul describes what is looks like in everyday life to be a living sacrifice. (See verses 1-3.)
What we should want for our children as they grow in Christ is to do what is so hard for us—to set themselves aside, to give themselves away, to commit without fear to enjoying God and trusting Him to meet every need. Maybe that starts with a conversation with us about what this walk should look like.
We hope a few of the following questions will help with that.
- Do you think it should be normal for Christians to really live like Jesus—or is that more for serious or “professional” Christians like pastors and Sunday School teachers and church leaders?
- Do you expect that the more you grow as a Christian, the more you’ll live like Jesus? Why or why not?
- Do you think God will love you any less if you never get less selfish or trust Him any more or treat other people any better? If not, why would you make the effort to use God’s power to walk like Jesus?
- We’re going to look at a few specific examples of what it means to live like Jesus—or to use our lives for God.
- Romans 12:14 tells us to bless those who persecute us—and not to curse them. What do you think it means to be persecuted? Do you know anyone—or know of anyone—who has ever been truly persecuted for believing in Jesus?
- Verse 17 tells us that people walking like Jesus don’t pay back evil when someone does evil to them. How hard would it be for you not to get even when someone is hurtful to you? Can you think of any times when Jesus did not get even when He could have?
- Verse 19 takes it even further, telling us to do good things for people who do bad things to us—to give food if they’re hungry and drink if they’re thirsty. Can you think of a time—or even a story—when you’ve heard of someone doing this for an enemy or a hurtful person?
- Why do you think God would tell us to walk this way? [Parent: The passage gives two reasons—one is to leave room for God to take His own revenge and the other is that our goodness overcomes evil.]
- Do you tend to think of being good as being strong or weak? Do you think it takes strength or weakness not to get even or to give a good thing to someone who did a bad thing to you?
- In the long run, which will win—strength or weakness? [Parent, emphasize that this passage teaches us that strength wins in the long run—and strength comes with doing what is good.]
- Romans 12 also tells us to make a goal of being at peace with people. Do you see that as a goal we try to work toward in our family? Do you think of that as a way of trusting God or being like Jesus?
- What are some ways we could do better, maybe, at working to get along with people and keep peaceful relationships?
Talking about Walking
What are your spiritual goals—or hopes—for your Christian children? What benchmarks of progress are you looking for in their relationship with God?
It’s not an easy question, and I think we can fall out of balance in one extreme or the other. On the one hand, some parents can become obsessive about their child’s spiritual development, pushing kids to feel big emotions in response to the grace of God or voluntarily perform great acts of service or simply display near-flawless attitudes of humility, obedience, or zeal much sooner than is reasonable.
In that way, we can be like the first-time parent who begins obsessing about the fact that his eight-month old can’t yet walk, driving himself to distraction looking up all the conditions that might eventually keep a baby from graduating from that “wounded soldier” crawl. We have to be patient and allow kids to develop at their own pace.
On the other hand, we wouldn’t think highly of any parents who did nothing to help their child move toward walking or feeding herself or graduating from diapers. We expect parents to participate in the development of their kids’ physical progress.
As believers, we can also set spiritual goals for our kids that are way too low, hoping for nothing more than a little respect, obedience, and avoidance of “big sins” like sex, drugs, and grand theft auto.
In the middle somewhere, is a healthy attitude that expects to see our Christian kids making progress toward walking after Jesus in some specific ways—not as a legalistic list of do’s and don’ts, but as a normal part of their spiritual maturity. (We should expect to see these same things in ourselves, as well.)
To that end, we’re hoping to talk with our kids this week (and next) about some of the walking skills listed in Romans 12:9-21. And we hope a few of the questions below will help to get that conversation going.
You might want to have a Bible handy to read a few of these verses together if that fits naturally into some of the talking time you have available.
- What are some of the things you can think of that normal Christians should do or think or feel that are different from people who are not Christians? Should anything be different about us?
- If someone grew up in a Christian home and called himself a Christian, but never really did or said or thought about any of the things that other Christians do, what would you wonder about him?
- Does any Christian have to do a bunch of things to prove she is a Christian? Do we have to do anything to prove we love God or belong to Him? [Parent: Emphasize that just as your child will always belong in your family no matter what they do, everyone who trusts in Christ for salvation belongs to God even when they don’t do everything they could for Him.]
- So if it’s not about proving something to God, then why should we ever worry about doing or thinking or feeling anything as a Christian?
- Think of it this way: Does a child ever need to learn to walk to be a child in a family? [Parent: No, obviously not.] But if a child never learns to walk, is that a healthy child? Would a person who could walk—who was physically healthy otherwise—ever just not walk because they didn’t feel like it for their whole life? [Parent: No. Every human being who has the ability to walk does so.]
- Does it make sense, then, that kids in God’s family who have the ability to walk like Jesus will eventually begin to do so—that if they aren’t starting to walk like Jesus, that might show that something unhealthy is going on?
- Romans 12 describes some of the normal things that people who walk like Jesus should expect to be able to do. Let’s talk about a few of them.
- It says that “love must be sincere.” What are some ways that love can be fake? What are some of the things that people who love with the real love of God will do for each other?
- We’re told to hate was is evil and cling to what is good. What are some evil things—or things that are against God—that are hard to hate? What are some good things that are hard to cling to if we’re not trying?
- Have you noticed as you grow as a Christian that you’re beginning to hate things that are against God and to love things that are for Him? Should you expect to see that in your life as you learn to walk more and more like Jesus?
- How about being devoted to other Christians like they’re in your own family? What are some specific ways you’ve seen our family do that? How could we maybe do better?
- How hard is it to honor other people like they are more important than we are? Have you ever noticed other Christians giving up with they wanted to do good for someone else? Have you ever caught yourself making that choice? Should you expect to?
- [Parent: You can form more of these kinds of questions from verses 11-13 as they fit your child. We’ll be back next week with more examples of discussion questions from Romans 12.]
Show Them the Fool
We’d all like our kids to grow wise. One great way to do that is to show them what foolish looks like by comparison—and hopefully not in our own daily words and actions.
Another approach is to find an opportunity to dwell on some of the descriptions of fools in the book of Proverbs. There’s a lot of them, and you might be surprised how much some kids will love to talk about them. By describing and discussing non-specific fools—and even comparing them with the foolish behavior of people in our own lives—you’ll be teaching wisdom without even trying.
We’ve included a few examples of fool verses from Proverbs in the talking points below, but you can find a whole bunch more by typing “fool” into the search box on BibleGateway.com.
Note: It would be really easy to turn a conversation like this into a scolding lecture as you and your child notice some similarities to their own youthful foolishness. Steer clear! They’ll get it. Let the Word do the work. Much more effective would be to humble yourself by finding examples of foolishness from your own life that fit with the proverbs discussed. They almost always remember—and often learn from—appropriate stories about how we blew it.
- How would you describe what it means to be a fool? What would you say is the difference between wisdom and foolishness? [Parent: No need to spell it out right way, but the big idea is that wisdom is about seeing things from God’s perspective and foolishness makes everything all about us—no matter what.]
- Proverbs 1:7 describe fools this way: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Why do you think anyone would ever despise wisdom or discipline?
- How important would you say it is to you to get wisdom in your life, to grow wiser and wiser? Why?
- How do you get wisdom?
- Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” What’s so wrong with just doing whatever feels right to you? Can you think of any examples from your friends’ lives where they chose to just do it their own way even though it was the wrong way?
- Where do you turn for advice when you need it? How do you know when you need it?
- Proverbs 12:16 says, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.” Why do you think being easily offended is said to be foolish? Why would it be wiser to let some insults slide by without reacting to them?
- Can you think of any of your friends that always react harshly when they think they’ve been insulted or offended? How does that go for them, usually?
- Proverbs 14:9 says, “Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.” Do you know anyone who would mock you for saying you were sorry for something or asking someone’s forgiveness? Why do you think fools see apologizing as worthless and weak?
- Proverbs 17:10 says, “A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.” Can you think of anyone you know who doesn’t learn not to do foolish things even after paying the consequences for those things over and over? Why would it be wiser to take rebukes seriously, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them?
- Can you think of some rebukes you or a friend have received recently? Did you or they respond with wisdom or foolishness? [Parent: Be sure to share examples from your own life, including examples of your own foolishness and the consequences that followed.]
- Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Can you think of examples of people who just seem to love to hear themselves speak? Why is it more important to understand than to explain?
- These are just a few examples of how fools think and act. Do you see any common traits from these proverbs? [Parent: The most common trait in these is that the fool always makes it about him- or herself.]
- Would you say most of your friends are growing wiser or still making mostly foolish choices?
- Who would you say are your wisest two or three friends? Would they think of you as wise or as foolish?
- What could we do in our family to help us to grow more and more wise? What are some areas of foolishness we could work on as a family?
Praise Him to Them
Has God been good to you over the course of your life? Can you point to specific moments when He answered your prayers in powerful ways, when He surprised you with His goodness, when you were overwhelmed with the evidence of His love for you?
Our goal with this week’s conversation starters is simple—to look for opportunities to commend God’s works to the next generation, to be intentional about telling of His mighty acts in our lives to our kids.
We’re pulling that big idea from Psalm 145, where David’s description of praising God includes praising Him to the generation just coming up. In short, worship includes praising God to our kids.
What do you have to praise God for personally? Maybe a few of the questions below can help you and your child to praise Him to each other.
- What does it mean to you to worship God? [Parent: You could talk about definitions for this word for a whole book, but big ideas include adoring Him, giving Him our whole lives, responding to Him with respect and gratitude, praising Him, and becoming “living sacrifices” in His service. (See Romans 12:1-2.)]
- What are some of the specific ways that we worship God as a family or separately?
- What are some of the ways that we praise God? How is that the same as and different from worshipping Him with our whole lives?
- Have you ever praised anyone beside God? Is that okay? [Parent: Of course it is. We praise the people in our family, as well as friends, actors, writers, etc. We praise all kinds of people.]
- Do we always praise people to their face or is it okay to praise people to other people? Can you think of any examples of someone you praised recently to someone else?
- I wonder if we could praise God to each other a little bit right now. We don’t have to sing or read the Bible, just talk about some of the good and powerful things we’ve seen Him do. For instance, what are three things in each of our lives we can think of that are evidence that God loves us right now? [Parent: Go first and be specific. Be creative. Remember, James 1:17 says every good gift is from God.]
- Can you think of a time when things were going really badly and it seemed like God stepped in and used His power to help in a big way? [Parent: Be ready with some examples from your own life.]
- What are some other things in each of our lives that might convince us that God is powerful? [Parent: Share more examples. They can be personal but also from Scripture or creation or the stories of other people. Remember, the bigger point here is for you to commend God’s greatness to your kids.]
- I can think of times in my life where I decided to rebel against God—thinking I was right and His word was wrong—and I found out the hard way He is right all the time. [Parent: Think about sharing an example or two that shows that God is right—and forgiving and merciful, as well.]
- What are two or three of our favorite things about God’s character? [Parent: Go first again. Psalm 145:8-9 might help: “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”]
- Can we think together of a few things we’re trusting God to do for us in the future—because He is strong, He loves us, and He keeps His word?
We spend a lot of time with our kids helping them to do their best in the day to day—helping them do well with this semester’s grades, this season’s sports, this week’s behavioral challenges. We want them to succeed now and to learn the skills for succeeding later.
When they get into high school, we start to help them begin to think about what they might do with their lives. The big decisions are the same ones we faced: college, relationships, majors, marriage, and “the future.”
This week, though, we’re encouraging conversations about an even bigger view of life, zooming the map even further out to talk about our big “P” purposes as followers of Christ. Wherever they go, whatever they do with their lives, we can help them now to begin to see how their small existence is super-powered by God’s Spirit to fit into in His big plans for the universe.
We’ll be pulling our talking points from Acts 1:1-11, where the disciples heard the resurrected Jesus’ cryptic words about power and purpose then watched Him leave the scene as they tried to figure out what He wanted from them next.
- If you think of your life like an online map zoomed all the way in, what is going on with you right this second? What’s the most immediate thing you are going to do next?
- If you zoom out a little, what would you say are the three most important things you need to do this week?
- Zoom out a little more. What are your three biggest goals for this semester or year?
- Zoom out quite a bit more. Any idea what you’ll do with the rest of your life? Who you’ll marry? Where you’ll live? [Parent: Encourage your child to be okay with NOT knowing the answers to these questions at their age. What fun would that be?]
- Okay, now, zoom the map of your life all the way out. What would you say are your most important purposes in life as a follower of Jesus? Whatever you do, wherever you go, what do you think God wants from you overall? [Parent: There might not be one, stock answer to this question; let this be a great conversation. Let the question linger as you talk about different ideas that might include loving God with all we’ve got, witnessing about Jesus to others, using our spiritual gifts to serve the church, or even just being faithful to Him in the next step we take.]
- Forty days after Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected, He disappeared into the sky and left His disciples on earth with two instructions: “Wait for power” and then “be my witnesses.”
- As a Christian, do you think of yourself as having real power through God’s Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants you to do with your life? If so, what have you used that power for so far? [Parent: This could be a hard question, but don’t let it go too quickly. We need God’s power to do anything truly worth doing with our lives. That includes obeying and honoring parents, talking to God and understanding His Word, serving other Christians, and representing Him to unbelievers.]
- Do you believe that God has asked you to be a witness for Christ in your world? If so, how have you done that or how do you see yourself doing that in the future?
- How do we as a family witness for Christ? How could we do that better?
- Do you have to become a professional Christian like a missionary or pastor to be a witness for Christ wherever you go? Who are some of the best witnesses for the power of Christ that you have seen? How do they do that?
- Is representing Christ in your life no matter what you do, where you go, or who you marry a good purpose for your life? Can you imagine yourself doing that as you get older and go through different stages of your life? Why or why not?
- Now zoom back in slowly on the map of your life. As your get closer and closer to this year, this month, this day, do you see any new ways you can be a witness for Christ in your life? How could you—how could we as a family—do a better job at making that our purpose . . . on purpose?
No Reluctant Father
Valentine’s Day is over, but we’re still talking about love here on RWP. Specifically, we’re getting more specific about God’s joyful fatherly love for His kids.
Is your child convinced—are you—that God’s love for him or her is eager, joyful, tender, and complete? God is no reluctant Father. He doesn’t take us on as a burden or an obligation or a government program.
We’ll be looking for chances this week to talk with our kids about how God wanted us—as well as what He wants for us. To begin to understand God’s enthusiastic love for us provides a child with a security and stability for all of life.
We’re more comfortable, of course, talking about what God wants from us, what He requires of His children. But before that should come a foundational understanding of what He wants for His children, what He longed to give to us.
And you alone, as your child’s parent, may be most qualified to communicate this idea of God as a loving Father excited to give the best imaginable of everything to His kids. Your explanation of your own love for your child might be the closest example—though far inferior—to describing the perfect, grace-filled and endless love of God.
We’re pulling our talking points for the week from Ephesians 1:3-14, and we hope a few of the questions below will help you to spark a good conversation about God’s love with your kids.
- Do you ever think about how God feels about you? If so, what do you think He feels?
- How do you think God’s love for you is similar to—and different from—that of your parent(s)? [Parent: Be prepared to talk about how you love your children, how you felt when they were born or adopted, how you feel about them even when they aren’t doing what you wish they would.]
- In Ephesians 1:3, Paul describes God as an adoptive Father who has given His kids every spiritual blessing in Christ. In your own words, how would you say that a person becomes an adopted child of God? What does it mean to be “in Christ”? [Parent: Emphasize and reinforce what it means to be saved by grace through faith in Christ.]
- What are some of the spiritual blessings you have been given as a believer in Jesus, as one of God’s kids? What’s the difference between a spiritual blessing and a physical one?
- Ephesians 1:4 says that God planned out way before we were born—before the world was made—to give us the gifts of being “holy and blameless in his sight.” Why is that a good gift? [Parent: That means that God made a plan to remove anything that could have come between us and Him (like our sin).]
- Why do you think God would make a plan to sacrifice His Son so our sins could be forgiven and we could be with Him? [Parent: Main point: Because He loves us.]
- Ephesians 1 also says that God made a plan to adopt us because He loved us, because He wanted to do it, and because it made Him happy. Do you usually think of God wanting you as His child in that way? Why or why not?
- What are some relationships you have tried to make work just because you liked or loved that person so much and being with them made you happy?
- Does it make you think better or worse of God to know that He was so eager and enthusiastic to have you in His family?
- Do you think God ever regrets bringing anyone into His family? [Parent: Emphasize that God is continuing to complete His plan to bring us home to be with Him forever, because He doesn’t change His mind—especially about being delighted in His kids.]
- How do you imagine it feels to become a parent?
- What are some of the gifts that people give to those they love?
- What is a gift that God gives to His kids here on earth while we’re looking forward to being with Him in eternity? [Parent: Emphasize that one gift He gives us is His Holy Spirit as a “seal,” a promise that the Father will keep all of His promises to us forever.]
- Why do you think God loves you with so much energy and emotion?
- How does knowing this about God change how you feel about Him?
Do you make a deal out of Valentine’s week at your house? Families vary in their celebrations and/or avoidance of the day, but the cultural focus does give us a chance to talk about a big idea with our kids: love.
Is there a more important truth to communicate to anyone than the fact that they are loved by the God of the universe? It’s an easy thing to say, “God loves you, and so do I,” but parents play a key role in convincing children that is is possible for them to be loved both because of and in spite of themselves.
This week, we’re encouraging a conversation about exactly that. Talking won’t prove to your kids they are loved by you and/or by God, but some good listening will give you insight into how they are perceiving what it means to be loved or to pass love on.
- What do you think is the point of Valentine’s Day? Is it a big deal to you? Do you enjoy it?
- What are some of your favorite memories of Valentine’s Day? Least favorite?
- Does all the attention around Valentine’s Day make you feel like you should have (or glad that you do have) a boy/girlfriend?
- Have you ever known Valentine’s Day—or the way it is celebrated—to make people feel badly about not being loved in one way or another?
- Do you think of Valentine’s Day as only being about romantic love—or can it also be about friends and families finding ways to say, “I love you”?
- How would you describe the different kids of love there are—family love, friend love, romantic love, etc.? What are the differences between them?
- As your parent(s), we tell you we love you sometimes. Do you see any evidence—outside of our words—that we love you? How do our actions help to back up what we say?
- How can we know that God loves us, too? [Parent: Emphasize that God proved His love to us when He gave Jesus to die for us. See Romans 58.]
- What do we have to do to be lovable to God? [Parent: This is a trick question, of course. God demonstrated His love for us “while we were still sinners.” See Romans 5:6-8. His love is not earned and doesn’t go away when we are unlovely.]
- We’re told that God loves us “unconditionally,” meaning that it’s not because we earn His love or do things He likes. Can you think of some specific ways God has shown His unconditional love to you? [Parent: Think about reading through and talking about 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 together.]
- What are some of the wrong ideas we have about how God loves us?
- What are some of the ways that we have trouble loving other people with God’s kind of love?
- Parents sometimes discipline their kids. Do you think parents love their children less while they are disciplining them? Why or why not?
- Do you think God disciplines us as His kids? [Parent: Think about reading Hebrews 12:1-14 together. It says that God does exactly that because He loves us.]
- How does the idea of love get confused when it comes to friendships or boyfriend/girlfriend relationships? [Parent: Sometimes, friends or boy/girlfriends wrongly believe that feelings of attraction are the same as the commitment of love—or that being loved means someone should always do exactly what you want them to. In short, the world misunderstands love as either an emotion that comes or goes—or a reason for taking instead of giving.]
- How many people can you name that you believe truly love you?
- How many people can you name that you are committed to loving?
- How can we as a family do a better job of imitating the kind of love God has for us?
What does it mean, really, to trust God, to “have faith”? One opportunity we have as Real World Parents is to show our kids exactly what trusting God looks like, both in our daily lives and in the ways we talk with them about walking in God’s wisdom.
We’re pulling this week’s talking points from Proverbs 3:1-12, which mostly gets specific about what it means to trust God in some very practical ways. These classic wisdom verses reveal wise actions we can take and the payoff that follows those actions.
Of course, the most powerful wisdom classroom our children have is to see how wisdom and foolishness pays off in our lives, how our choices to trust God in specific ways lead to success, failure, joy, or fear in our families.
We can solidify that teaching by opening up with them about the wisdom choices we’re facing, how we’re processing those choices as believers in Jesus, and how we’re processing what comes next. Hopefully a few of these questions from Proverbs 3 will help keep that conversation going. Consider reading those 12 verses together sometime as part of the conversation.
- When you think of trusting God, what do you picture doing? Is that just about not worrying, or are there some real, practical things we do when we are trying to trust God more? [Parent: Suggest that prayer, obedience, and giving thanks are all trust actions—and there are many others.]
- According to Proverbs 3:1, one practical way we can trust God is to remember His teaching and His commands. What are some good ways we can remember God’s teaching and instruction to us?
- Is it hard for you to remember or memorize God’s teaching? Why or why not? How does it help?
- Proverbs 3:2 tells us that God’s Word has the power to prolong our lives and lead us into prosperity. What are some practical, real-world ways that remembering and obeying God’s Word could do those things?
- What do you think it might mean to hold on to love and faithfulness—to the point that you tattoo them on your heart? How could we do that in a real way?
- How could loving God and others with His kind of love—the unselfish kind—and being faithful to Him and His Word and other people lead to our having a good reputation? What does it matter if we have a good reputation?
- Do you ever hear the message in your world that you should trust yourself first or trust your feelings most? What’s wrong with that message?
- Proverbs 3:5 tells us not to trust our own understanding of life, but to trust God instead. Can you think of a time when you had to make a choice between what made the most sense to you—and obeying what God said? [Parent: Be willing to open up about such a time in your life.]
- Is there such a thing as “personal wisdom” that doesn’t come from God? If so, where would it come from?
- Proverbs 3:7 says we should not be wise in our own eyes. Why would God’s wisdom be so much better than our own “personal” wisdom?
- Why would living in God’s wisdom lead to better health than living in our own apart from His?
- What are some practical ways that we should trust in God with our money? [Parent: To give our money away to church or those in need is an act of faith, believing that God will still meet our own needs.]
- What is the difference between responding to discipline as a person who trusts God and responding as someone who doesn’t trust Him? How does it feel different? How does it look different on the outside?
- Do you really believe God’s discipline in your life—even through your parents—is a sign that He cares about you? Why or why not? What is a practical way you can show that? [Parent: It may be helpful for you to be honest about a time when God disciplined you through your circumstances or an authority in your life—and how your attitude reflected trusting God or not.]
How we pray in front of our kids over time might teach them more about how we think of God—and what we think is most important for people—than any number of family devotions or Sunday School lessons. So this week we’re suggesting making time to pray together with your child in a specific way for some specific people.
Think about picking someone—a believer or group of believers—to pray for as a family project this week. It could be another family in your church, a relative, someone sick, a pastor or missionary. The only qualification should be that your child knows the person or group of people personally.
The conversation you’ll be having with your child will be about the conversation you’ll be having together with God. And what you’ll be praying for is very specific; we’re going to pull the prayer items from Ephesians 3:14-19.
You can make a point to pray several times this week—or just once. You can break the points up into sections or just tackle it together in one sitting. If it is not too much of a stretch for your family, consider asking your child to pray for some of these things either out loud with you or on their own during the week.
Our hope is that praying these requests together for someone else will make an impression on your family about what matters to God and what we as believers need most from Him.
NOTE: If you would like to make a daily habit of praying Scripture for your child, check out our Daily Prayer feature. Each day, you will receive (via e-mail or Twitter) a prayer based on a verse correlated to these Conversation Starters and the daily devotional for students over on PlanetWisdom.com.
- We’re going to spend some time praying together for someone. Why do you think it matters that we pray for people?
- We’re going to use one specific passage of the Bible to pray for this person (or these people). We’re going to imitate some things Paul prayed in Ephesians 3:14-19. Why do you think it’s a good idea to learn about prayer from prayers in Scripture?
- [Parent: Read the passage together.]
- The first thing Paul says is that he kneels to pray for his readers. In what position do we usually pray? Do you think it really matters to God what position we use to pray? If not, what’s the point of kneeling or bowing our heads or closing our eyes sometimes?
- Paul prays to God the Father. Some Bible passages include prayers to Jesus, but mostly we’re taught to pray to the Father, just like Jesus did Himself. Why do you think some people might feel uncomfortable praying to God the Father instead of Jesus?
- Let’s pray what’s in verse 16: “Father, we ask that out of your huge wealth you would strengthen (person/people) with your power inside them through the Holy Spirit.”
- How do you think it would help you to be made stronger with God’s power inside you?
- Let’s pray the first part of verse 17: “Father, we ask that they would have that power so they would have the faith to keep Jesus first in their hearts.”
- Why do you think we need power to trust God and keep Jesus first in our hearts? Do you ever feel like you don’t have enough power for that? Have you ever asked God to give you the power to keep Christ first?
- Let’s pray the second part of verse 17: “Father, we ask that you would help them to grow deeper and more solid in living in your love.”
- Why does our ability to live in God’s love need to get more solid, to grow deeper?
- Let’s pray verse 18: “Father we ask that you would help them to have the power to get how wide, long, high, and deep Christ’s love really is.”
- Why does it take so much power to understand Jesus’ love? What happens when we don’t really understand Christ’s love for us?
- Finally, let’s pray verse 19: “Father, please help (this friend/these friends) to know your love so they can be filled up all the way to the top with you.”
- How do you think knowing and living in God’s love helps us to be filled up with Him?
Responding to Sadness
We know days or even seasons of sadness can be par for all of us, but that doesn’t make it easier to watch our kids struggle with loneliness or depression or “the blues.” And those kinds of feelings are a lot more common this time of year—maybe especially this year.
It’s already been a long winter in many parts of the country—and it’s not over, yet. But Christmas is, and any new excitement from getting back into the school routine has likely worn off. Add to that the continuing financial concerns for many families and the empathy generated by the coverage of the Haiti earthquake—and there are good reasons to be sad.
And that list doesn’t include whatever unique situations your family or child is facing this week. We thought it might be a good time to find an opportunity to talk with our kids about how we can respond to feeling sad. To that end, we’re pulling our talking points from Psalm 42, the famous poem about the psalmist’s downcast soul and his stubborn refusal to quit praising God.
We suggest reading it with your child, if you get the chance, and building from some of the questions below to get into a talk about coping with—and even thriving in—sadness.
- Do you feel lonely or sad very often? If so, do you know what usually makes you feel that way? [Parent: Think about opening up with your child about reasons you might feel sad sometimes—or even feeling sad sometimes without understanding why.]
- Do you think feeling lonely or sad means there’s something wrong with you? [Parent: Emphasize that this is not the case.]
- How do you tend to respond to feeling sad? What kinds of things do you try to do when you feel that way to help you feel better? What works best for you?
- When you feel sad or depressed or lonely, are you ever afraid to talk about how you’re feeling? Why do you think we don’t always want to talk about it when we feel that way?
- Who are some people in your life that you like to talk to when you’re feeling down or sad? How does talking about it help, if it does?
- Do you have any favorite sad songs? Does listening to music help you to express or deal with feeling down? How so?
- Psalm 42 is a song written about a time when the psalmist was feeling really down. Some hard things were going on in his life; he couldn’t get to the temple, apparently. He describes himself as being lonely for or missing God. Do you ever feel lonely for God?
- What kinds of things would make us feel far away from God, even though we know He is still with us and loves us? [Parent: Some people feel far from God when they can’t understand why He would let bad things happen or when they were indulging in sinful choices they know don’t please him. Just two examples.]
- What are ways we can move closer to God or ask Him to move closer to us? [Parent: Think about reading or talking about James 4:7-10.]
- God does move closer to us. And His spirit it with us. But have we truly ever been with God, yet? When will that happen? [Parent: Emphasize that we as humans have not been able to be with God in person since Adam and Eve left the garden. That causes a kind of emptiness or sense that something is missing. Being with Him in person is what we’re waiting for in eternity. See Romans 8:18-25 and Revelation 21:1-4.]
- The psalmist describes his sadness, including crying night and day, having trouble sleeping, and feeling downcast. Does it surprise you that someone writing in the Bible felt that much sadness? Do you think this person was depressed?
- Why do you think some people think that being sad means they are doing something wrong—or that God doesn’t like them as much? What’s wrong with that idea?
- Although it’s normal for anyone to go through sad seasons, it is not as normal to respond to sadness the way the writer describes in his song. First, he tells the truth about how really sad he is. Why do you think it’s hard for us to be honest with ourselves about feeling down?
- Why is it important for us to be able to admit to ourselves that we feel sad?
- Second, the writer told his “soul” how to respond to the sadness. He got stubborn. He said to himself: “Put your hope in God for I will yet praise him.” Do you think people feel more or less like praising God when they are sad?
- How hard is it to get stubborn in our sadness and keep praising God? How important do you think it is?
- Do you think praising God when we’re sad will instantly take our sadness away? [Parent: Probably not, but it is a way of moving closer to God—and God does comfort us through His Spirit. Praising God can help—and it is the right thing to do—but it doesn’t necessarily “fix” our sadness.]
- How can our family better help each other when one of us is feeling sad? How can we talk better about sadness?
More about Grace
Can we talk too much about grace? Probably not, unless we’re getting the concept wrong. And we sometimes do that because it is way too simple to make natural sense to us.
If your child has grown up in a Christian home and church, he or she has probably heard all about the grace of God repeatedly. Hopefully, our kids have also seen us reflecting God’s grace in how we talk about—and relate to—ourselves, our spouses, and them.
But it’s worth talking about again. For one thing, we live in a performance and reward culture. Be the best and get the best. Do bad things and get bad results. In our attempts as the church and as parents to teach the reality of wisdom and folly, we can unintentionally tuck the grace of God off to the side as an asterisk:
“Yes, we are saved by grace, but . . .” Or, “Yes, God’s love and acceptance of us after we are saved continues to be a free gift of grace, but . . .”
We’re pulling our talking points for this week from 1 Timothy 1:12-17 as a refresher for ourselves and our kids on the dead simple truth that God’s grace means He pours out on us good we do not earn. Look for opportunities to apply the big idea of grace to specific things going on in your family this week.
- How would you define the word “grace”? How does God demonstrate His grace to us? [Parent: Think about reading Ephesians 2:8-9 together and emphasize that we can do absolutely nothing to earn our salvation; God gives it to us for free when we trust in Jesus’ payment for our sin.]
- What do we have to do to earn God’s grace? [Parent: This is trick question. Nobody can earn grace; grace is “unearned good.”]
- Could a violent person who blasphemes God and helps to kill Christians ever possibly receive God’s grace gift of eternal life? [Parent: Yes! Think about reading Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 1:13 with your child; he was that man.]
- What did Paul do to deserve having God pour out grace on him? [Parent: Another trick question. Paul did not deserve God’s grace, but God gave it to him, anyway. See verse 14.]
- Do you believe that anyone deserves to go to heaven? Why or why not?
- Paul was involved in killing Christians and called himself the worst of sinners. What are some things we have done in our lives that would keep us from ever being able to earn eternal life? [Parent: Think about opening up about some of your own sinful choices and encouraging your child to do so, as well. God’s grace cannot be grasped without understanding our own sinfulness.]
- Grace can’t be earned, but what did Jesus do to make it possible for us to accept the gift of eternal life from God? [Parent: He came to earth, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and then rose in victory from the grave.]
- Can you think of anyone our family knows who has done some truly terrible things and then trusted in Christ for eternal life. How did accepting that free gift of grace that they did not earn change them? Do you think that’s fair? Would you want God to be “fair” about salvation?
- Would you say that God is patient with us? How often will He forgive us if we continue to struggle with sin? [Parent: Paul writes in verse 16 that Christ’s patience is unlimited.]
- Do you sometimes feel like the message of Christianity is that we need God’s grace to become a Christian—but then we’d better start earning our salvation by doing good works and not sinning? What’s wrong with that idea? [Parent: This is a big deal for some kids. Help yours catch that God’s grace is permanent, not dependent on us doing better “from now on.” Think about reading Romans 8:31-39 together.]
- How do we as a family do at reflecting God’s grace to each other—and people outside of our family? [Parent: Try to have an honest conversation about this. Reflecting God’s grace does not mean parents don’t ever discipline children—but it should mean that our love for each other is not conditional. Forgiven people forgive. People who have received mercy should show mercy.]
- What’s the most logical response to God when we remember again how big his grace really is? [Parent: It only makes sense to worship and serve Him in gratitude. Think about reading verses 12 and 17 together.]
Jesus Above All
During Christmastime, our kids hear a lot about Jesus being the reason for the season. Now that Christmas is winding down, we want to say again that Jesus is the reason for every season, not just the holidays. All of life is His story.
Stories are powerful teachers, and we all resonate with the story of Jesus’ birth. We know the characters. We know the setting. We know the plot. It’s a rescue story, a redemption story, and love story.
But it’s not the whole story. If it were, who would be the most obvious hero? Mary, maybe? And who would be the most powerful beings? The supernatural angel army, right? Without an understanding of how the chapter of Christmas fits into the saga of Jesus, Christmas can become a distortion.
So this week, we’re pulling our talking points from Hebrews 1, where the writer reminds us that Jesus did not stay a baby—or even a sacrificial lamb—He is Lord of all time and space, superior to the angels, sitting at the Father’s right hand right now, and destined to wipe out God’s enemies and rule forever.
We hope of few of these questions will help you to talk about some of that with your child. It might be beneficial to read Hebrews 1:1-14 together.
- If you think of the Christmas story in the Bible as just a story, who would you say is the hero? Who are the most powerful characters? Which character do you most relate to?
- If all you knew about Christianity and the Bible was the story of Christmas, how would you think about Jesus? What would you think about the angels?
- Why do you think some people would want to worship the angels instead of—or alongside of —Jesus Himself?
- What’s wrong with worshipping angels? [Parent: According to Hebrews 1, they are impressive creatures, but they are not gods. Jesus created them. They worship Him. Their job when sent to earth is to minister and serve Christians, not the other way around. See Hebrews 1:14.]
- If you think of the Christmas story as a chapter in a book about Jesus, where do you think His story begins? Where does He come into the story? [Parent: He existed before the creation of the universe, and God made the universe “through him.” See Hebrews 1:2.]
- What do you think Jesus looks like, mostly, in His story? [Parent: Emphasize that He is God and is the “exact representation” of God. See Hebrews 1:3.]
- What are the basic plot points in the story of Jesus? [Parent: The big ones are that Jesus was involved in the creation of all things, that His coming to earth was predicted throughout the Old Testament, that He came to earth as a baby, that He lived a sinless life, that He told us God’s Words, that He died for our sin, that He was resurrected, that He went back to heaven, and that He will one day return to conquer and judge and set up His kingdom forever.]
- Where would you say Jesus is today, during the part of His story that is happening right now? [Parent: According to Hebrews 1:4, Jesus is sitting at the Father’s right hand in heaven.]
- How does the story of our family—and of your life—fit into the story of Jesus and the universe?
My five year old said on Christmas Eve, “I wish all of the seasons were the Christmas season!” We probably all remember feeling that way at some point. We recognized we were in a good season, and we didn’t want it to stop. Why wouldn’t a five year old want it to be Christmas all year long?
The Bible teaches two big ideas about seasons that we want to try to talk to our kids about this week. One is that our times are in God’s hands. He is the maker of time, and He controls what happens and when. It’s a hard lesson to learn that we live in His seasons; we can’t speed up the clock or slow it down or skip a season.
Second, seasons always change. Our talking point this week come from the famous poem in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 that asserts there is a time for everything. Biblical wisdom includes learning to recognize what time our families are in and to learn to live as best we can in that time—until a new time comes.
Yes, these are big ideas, but many kids find them fascinating to think and talk about. A few of the questions below might help. A good starting place for this New Year’s conversation would be to read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 together.
- Ecclesiastes 3:1 says there is a time and season for every activity in life. How much control do you think we have over the seasons? [Parent: Reinforce the idea that the seasons come and go without our help on God’s timetable.]
- So if you’re tired of winter and you cannot make it be summer, what can you do about it? [Parent: Emphasize the idea that our options are limited. We can leave the area or stay inside, but we can’t make the season change.]
- In Psalm 31:15, David says that his times are in God’s hands. If that’s true (and it is), why do you think God doesn’t just make our times exactly the way we want them to be all of the time?
- Do you think God is trustworthy to bring us in and out of different seasons of life on His timetable? Why or why not?
- Does it make any sense to have a goal of trying to control everything in our lives to make it one season—the best we can imagine our lives being—all of the time? Why or why not?
- The poem in Ecclesiastes compares opposite kinds of “times.” It starts by saying there’s a time to be born and a time to die. Can anyone control when he or she is born? Should we control when our life ends?
- Which season do you think is better for farmers: planting or harvest? [Parent: Harvest is when they make all of their profit. It’s a great season for farmers if it’s been a good year.]
- Can you have a harvest season without a planting season and then a growing season? Why is each season so important?
- What are the consequences for farmers who don’t recognize when it is planting season? What if they decide to just skip that season since it is less satisfying than harvest season?
- Would you say that your life is in a planting, growing, or harvesting time right now? Why? How about the rest of our family?
- Verse 4 of the poem says there is a time to cry and a time to laugh, a time to mourn or grieve and a time to dance. Would you say that our family is in a crying and mourning season or a laughing and dancing season? Why?
- What happens when someone tries to force themselves to laugh and dance in the grieving season—or can’t enjoy life during a celebration season? How are both seasons valuable?
- Verse 5 says there’s a time to embrace and a time not to embrace. The writer was probably talking about sex. When would you say is the season to have sex and the season not to have sex? [Parent: Reinforce the idea that God’s Word teaches that sex is for the time of marriage and not any other season.]
- Do you think the idea that some activities are meant for specific seasons helps people to be more patient? What do you think are the consequences of trying to create a “false season” by participating in activities—like sex—out of their time?
- Verse 6 tells us there is a time to keep and a time to throw away. One way to think about that is with relationships. How do you know if the time is right to work hard to fix a broken relationship or to let it go? [Parent: Our kids really need to hear wisdom on this one.]
- One big idea from this poem is that seasons are always changing. We can’t make the ones we want come faster—and we can’t keep the one we’re in from changing. How do you feel about that idea?
- How can we get better at recognizing and making the most of the season that we’re in—instead of just feeling bad that we can’t control when those seasons come and go?
- How would you describe the times you are in or that we are in as a family or a church or a nation? How does understanding the times help us to live for God more effectively?
Why talk to your kids about shepherds and angels this week? Hasn’t it been discussed enough this month? Part of our goal is not just to talk to our kids, but to hear from them how they are processing the message of Jesus’ birth this time around. What do they imagine when they think of the shepherds and the heavenly host and the baby in the manger? Do they think it matters to them personally?
It’s an easy conversation to have on Christmas week and the meaning of Jesus’ birth and God’s favor is always worth talking about. A few of the following questions might even fit around a reading of the Christmas story in Luke 2:1-20 if that’s something your family does together this time of year.
By the way, we hope you have a great Christmas and enjoy spending time together with your family.
- How dark do you think night would be if there was no electricity—especially if you were outside of a town? What do you think it would be like to have a night job like a shepherd out in the dark with only a fire to provide any light at all?
- Can you imagine how bright another light source would be if it suddenly started shining around you? Do you think you would have been as scared as the shepherds were?
- When the angels brought this message to the shepherds, probably nobody else in the world knew that Jesus had been born except for Mary and Joseph. Why do you think God chose to make the birth announcement to the shepherds?
- Shepherds were not very important people in Jewish society, but God seems to have placed a high value on shepherds all the way through the Bible. How many shepherds can you think of from the Bible? [Parents: There are many examples, including Jacob’s wife Rebekah and King David. David famously described God as a shepherd in Psalm 23, and Jesus is known as the Great Shepherd. Those who provide pastoring leadership in churches are also called shepherds.]
- Why did the angels tell the shepherds that the birth of Jesus was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people”?
- How is the news good for you? Do you think of it as a reason to be joyful? Why or why not?
- The shepherds were terrified at the sight of one angel. How do you think they felt when they saw many, many angels speaking or singing together? How loud do you think that must have been out there in the night?
- How much scarier would it be, do you think, if you had never seen a Jumbotron screen or a special effect in a movie or fireworks?
- What would the shepherds have thought of when the angels said the Messiah was born? [Parent: The Jewish people were waiting for the Messiah. Many thought the promised ruler of Israel would come and free them from captivity to the Romans and restore Israel to political prominence.]
- What exactly did the angels all say or sing together?
- The shepherds were never supposed to leave the sheep untended, but they apparently did that night. What kind of good news would cause our family to miss work, school, and risk losing our belongings and jobs to go check out?
- In what two ways did the shepherds respond after seeing Jesus in the manger exactly as the angels had described? [Parent: 1) They “spread the word” about Jesus. 2) They went back to their everyday lives glorifying and praising God.]
- How often do we respond to the good news about Jesus that way?
Faith Like Mary
Many scholars assume Mary to have been a teenager—maybe even a younger teen—when she became pregnant with Jesus. That fact amazed me when I was in junior high. It amazes me even more now when I look around at the middle school students I know. Do they get younger looking every year for everyone, or is it just me?
I know her culture and ours are apples and oranges. Mary was engaged to be married, after all. Society expected more maturity of her than it does of the braces-wearing, iPod-equipped 14-year-olds in this time and place. Still, the amount of faith she exhibits in the face of visits from angels and an unplanned pregnancy is inspiring.
And that’s our hope this week, to prod our kids to be inspired by—and to aspire after—Mary’s faith. And we hold her up as a role model not because she was extraordinary (which she was) but because she was a normal human teenager just like they are. If Mary can trust God in the middle of a difficult opportunity, they can, too. We want our kids to catch that they, too, can trust God when it’s hard and be used by Him right now, often in unexpected ways.
It might be helpful to talk about Mary’s faith in God and willingness to obey after catching a church Christmas program or Christmas movie on TV. If you get a chance to read through Luke 1:26-45 together, even better.
- Does it surprise you when you hear people say Mary was probably a teenager when the angel came and told her she would become pregnant and give birth to Jesus? Why do you think we expect God to choose older people for really important things like this?
- Can you think of any other kids or teens God used in the Bible to do something big?
- Can you think of any modern kids or teens God has used to accomplish big things?
- Can you think of any current or historical kids or teens who did other kinds of important things?
- Do you think of yourself—at your age—as someone who is available to be used by God to do whatever He wants to through you? Why or why not?
- Do you think you’d ever want to have a conversation with an angel? Why or why not?
- Why do you think angels always had to tell people not to be afraid of them?
- How would it feel, do you think, to hear a messenger from God tell you that you are highly favored and the Lord is with you?
- Do you believe that because you are a Christian you really are highly favored? Do you believe God is with you? [Parent: Be sure to reinforce that God favored us so much He sent Jesus as a baby to grow into a man to die for our sins so we could be saved. That’s favor! Also talk about how God is always with every Christian now through His Holy Spirit.]
- Do you think you would have believed the angel’s message that you were about to get pregnant even though you’d never had sex? Why or why not?
- If you had believed the angel, what kinds of things would you have been tempted to worry about? [Parent: Many of us would wonder what our parents would think. Would people believe us that we had not had sex, that this was “God’s baby”? What would Joseph think? Does it hurt to be pregnant?]
- How much would it help to hear that one of your relatives was also pregnant with a “miracle baby”?
- Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” How close is that to our attitude toward God—that He can do whatever He wants to with us? How hard is it to keep that attitude?
- What are some of the ways you expect God to use your life—at your age—for His glory? Are you ready if the opportunity comes from Him to use your life in an unexpected way?
- Do you think of Mary as a valuable role model for how she trusted God and obeyed Him? Why or why not?
One of the challenges of parenting for Christians is that we want our kids to be as excited about God’s unbelievable grace and forgiveness as we are—but we still want them to perform. We pray they’ll be absolutely convinced that their place in God’s family (and ours) is not conditional on how well they follow Christ or obey us, but we still stress repeatedly and doggedly that their best option is to follow and obey.
Paul could relate. We’re pulling our talking point for this week from the very beginning of his letter to the Christians and the church in Corinth. It’s a letter that spells out in explicit detail everything they’re doing wrong as individuals and as a group in how they are “doing church.” He uses some harsh-sounding words to reveal their selfish, selfish hearts. He derides them for misunderstanding God’s grace to mean they should have the right do whatever feels good all the time.
But Paul begins his letter to these sinners by expressing his deep assurance that the Corinthians Christians were sanctified receivers of God’s grace enriched with the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. He states unequivocally—before dismantling their wrongdoings—that God will keep them strong to the end so that they will be blameless on the day of the Lord. He wanted them to choose to do right not to earn God’s love but because they already had it and were empowered to imitate it in serving Him and each other.
We encourage you to read these first nine verses, maybe with your child, and to use the opportunity this week to emphasize God’s endless, perfect grace for His flawed, selfish children. And since we’re just weeks away from Christmas, it will be easy to point to that event as evidence of God’s grace and love in spite of all of our selfish sinfulness.
- Why do you think God loves anyone?
- Is there anyone that God does not love?
- What can we do to make God love us—or love us more? [Parent: Emphasize that we cannot do anything to earn God’s love or increase it.]
- What can we do to make God love us less? [Parent: Again, emphasize that God loves us because that’s who He is, not because we deserve it. Just as we can’t earn His love, those of us who are in Christ—saved by trusting in Jesus alone—cannot do anything to lose God’s love.]
- If Christians are fully loved and accepted by God no matter what, why should we care whether we obey and follow Him or not? [Parent: Good luck! No, actually, it is helpful to emphasize that with His love, God also gives His children the power to live like Jesus. Why would we reject that opportunity to love God and others as Jesus did?]
- In 1 Corinthians, Paul explains to a group of Christians many of the ways they are being selfish toward God and each other, even though they are unconditionally loved and accepted by God. But before He starts, He explains to them that they are already “sanctified in Christ Jesus.” How would you explain the word “sanctified”? [Parent: It means that Christian have been set apart as people who are for God alone.]
- Paul also writes that they were given grace as a gift from God. How would you describe God’s grace? [Parent: Grace is God giving us all the treasures of His love and heaven even though we do NOT deserve it. Emphasize that nobody can earn grace.]
- Why do you think so many people get confused about the idea that going to heaven and being loved by God depends on what we do, not on what God did for us?
- How is Christmas evidence of Gods’ grace to us?
- Paul wrote to these Christians—people who were not doing very well at following Jesus—that God would keep them strong to the end so they would be blameless then. Do you believe that as a Christian you will be blameless when you stand before God? Why or why not?
- What makes us blameless? [Parent: Emphasize that we are only made blameless because Jesus took all of our blame when He was punished and died on the cross; we can’t work our way to being blameless.]
- Have you noticed any ways that God has started to give you His power or make you stronger in Christ? [Parent: Emphasize that growing strong in God can take time but includes things like using our spiritual gifts, resisting temptation, and loving and serving others without being selfish.]
- Do you believe that God will finish making you strong like Jesus, that He will finish what He has started in you? [Parent: Emphasize that God’s grace for everyone who has genuinely trusted in Jesus for salvation means that He absolutely will finish what He has started in us.]
- Will God finish what He started in us because we’ll finally get our act together and start working at being like Jesus—or because He is faithful? [Parent: Think about reading 1 Corinthians 1:9 to help provide a final answer to this question.]
Talk About Humility
How many naturally humble people do you know? The answer is “none.” Human beings don’t come in that flavor; we are instinctive self-promoters. Some of us may be more obvious in our arrogance, but no child is left behind when it comes to inborn sinful pride.
And, yet, finding and choosing humility is absolutely essential. Without it, we cannot come to simple faith in Christ for our salvation. Without it, we cannot live as Jesus did. And without, it we are doomed to remain fools all of our days.
As Solomon put it: “With humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)
One important element in raising wise children is to lead them to a right understanding of their own stubborn pride and deep need for humility. So we’ve put together some talking points for this week to help jump start conversations about pride and humility. We hope they’re helpful.
- How would you define pride? Do you think pride is a good or bad thing? Why? [Parent: Emphasize that the kind of pride we’re talking about is bad; it’s the kind of pride that is all about myself.]
- Can you think of some examples of well-known people who seem to be especially prideful? What exactly about them makes them seem prideful or arrogant to you?
- Do you think the world sometimes treats pride and ego and arrogance like it’s a good thing? Can you think of any examples of that kind of attitude?
- Do you think everyone who is rich or successful or famous is automatically prideful or arrogant? Can you think of some examples of leaders or famous people who really seem humble?
- How would you describe what it means to be humble? [Parent: Think about helping your child to define humility as having a right understanding of who we are in comparison to God.]
- Why does it make more sense to compare ourselves to God than to compare ourselves to each other to get a right idea of what kind of people we are? [Parent: We get the best idea of ourselves in comparison to God because He is the absolute perfect standard in every area of life. When we compare ourselves to each other, we are not judging against a worthwhile standard since all humans are sinners and flawed.]
- Rick Warren is quoted as describing humility this way: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Do you think some people confuse humility with thinking of badly about themselves? Aren’t they still just making everything about themselves?
- Many of the Proverbs in the Bible are written by Solomon, a man who had world-famous wealth and wisdom. Still he said, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”(Proverbs 11:2) Why do you think that’s true?
- How can pride lead to disgrace? What kinds of mistakes do people make when they’re proud? Why do we make those mistakes less frequently when we’re humble?
- One definition of wisdom is, “Understanding life from God’s perspective.” Why would we need to be humble to become wise people?
- Jesus was flat-out perfect in every way, but the Bible tells us that He became a servant to regular people, that He “humbled himself” and even obeyed death. (Philippians 2) Can you think of any people who serve others even though they wouldn’t have to?
- What kind of things help us to see that someone is really humble—and not just “acting” humble? [Parent: Emphasize that humility includes things like asking God for help, expressing gratitude to Him, reading the Bible to see how He wants me to change, taking a real interest in others, and being willing to treat other people as more honorable than myself.]
- What are some real, practical things each of us could do this week to choose humility?
Talk about Saying Thanks
Thanksgiving week is both the best and worst of times to try to teach kids about gratitude. It’s easy for all of us to tune out the message to “be thankful” when we hear it from every corner, even the secular ones urging us to buy more stuff and root for our favorite teams.
But the conversation is still worth having, especially if you can break through the “Thanksgiving noise” in a creative way. We’re pulling our talking points this week from the story of Jesus healing the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. Yes, it’s a familiar account—but it’s also a shocking one.
Would we say thanks for being spontaneously healed of a terminal disease? We’d like to think so. But do we express a lack of gratitude about other good gifts that might be just as shocking to God—or to people in cultures where those good gifts are hard to come by?
Something else to think about if you can provoke your child into a good discussion about thanks: Have we confused politeness with a true sense of gratitude to God? Do our kids equate giving thanks with saying “excuse me” after they burp? Is it just an act of civility or a real reflection of the heart?
We hope a few of the following questions will help you to dig into these ideas with your kids.
When God Changes the Plan
Does your family live and die by a schedule or is constant, spontaneous change of direction the norm in your household? Both approaches to life offer advantages and disadvantages and reflect our own personalities as parents.
And depending on the personality of our kids, they may feel frustrated and insecure by even slight changes in the expected routine—or bored nearly to death by a rigid commitment not to violate the communicated schedule.
Whatever we personally feel more comfortable with, part of maturing as a Christian involves growing in our ability to trust God when He steps in and changes our plans. We hope to equip our kids with the tools to begin to do so, as well.
We’re pulling our talking points this week from Mark 6:30-44. Jesus and the disciples had a very reasonable plan to go off by themselves and get some rest. Instead, they ended up in another marathon ministry session that led to a food crisis and what felt like unreasonable expectations from Jesus to fix it.
You know the story of the feeding of the 5,000. We hope a few of these questions will help you to talk with your kids about that story—and how to expect God to always give us the resources we need to do what He asks even when it is unexpected.
- Which do you feel most comfortable with—having a set schedule where you know what to expect or being spontaneous and changing plans as you go along? Why do you prefer one or the other?
- How do you think our family tends to operate—mostly according to plan or mostly changing the plan as we go along? Do you like the way we tend to operate or does it sometimes frustrate you?
- Do you think one approach is necessarily better than the other or is it mostly about personality and what each of us prefers?
- Sometimes we have plans to do things—good things—and then they get changed by circumstances beyond our control. How frustrating is that for you? Can you think of a time recently when that happened?
- Do you ever wonder if God is involved in changing those plans for us? Can you think of reasons He would step in and redirect us from what we set out to do?
- Mark 6 tells a story about Jesus and the disciples when they had a plan to go off to a quiet place by themselves and get some rest. Instead, the crowds of people found them and Jesus decided to change the plan and keep teaching. How would you have felt about this, do you think, if you were one of the tired disciples?
- Can you think of times when we changed our plans as a family to help someone in need? How did you feel about that at the time?
- The spontaneous change of plans created a problem. People were hungry and there wasn’t much food nearby. Can you think of a time when an unexpected change of plan caused a problem for our family that needed fixing?
- How do we usually think about those kinds of problems—as a hassle or as an opportunity to see how God will help us fix it?
- The disciples came up with a good plan to fix the problem: Send the people away to go get themselves some food. Instead, Jesus asked the disciples to feed the people with almost no food. Does that command sound unreasonable to you?
- It would have been understandable for the disciples to have a bad attitude about Jesus asking them to do an impossible thing—especially at the end of day when all of their plans had been changed. Do you think that would have made it okay to have a bad attitude about it?
- What would the disciples have missed out on if they had refused to participate because of their disappointment, tiredness, and sense of unfair treatment? [Parent: Emphasize that the disciples would have missed out on seeing God do something truly miraculous right in front of their eyes.]
- God is always working, even in our ordinary everyday lives. Will we miss noticing what He’s up to if we can’t “handle” an unexpected change of plans and the new problems it might create?
- What can we do as a family to avoid getting negative and to help each other look for what God is up to when our plans get changed?
Talk About Praise
You likely experience praising God together with your family regularly at church. But how often do you talk about that experience? Why do we do it? Why does God care? What does it do for us and for Him?
I was reminded at church this week that so much of our education about who God is and what matters to Him comes during times of singing praise and worship songs in church. The mom sitting in the row behind me was telling her curious pre-schooler the name of each song and a line about what it meant: “God’s love is big!”
I grew up singing hymns and praise songs in church from before I could talk. I eventually realized as a young teen that some of the songs I’d been singing my whole life didn’t make sense to me. But the more I learned about the Bible, the more I understood how those words I’d been singing fit into everything I believed. The songs started to matter more.
We’re pulling our talking points about praising God from Psalm 66 this week. We hope a few of questions below might help you to have a productive conversation with your child about how we praise God and why it matters.
- Do you enjoy our time of singing praise and worship songs together as a church? Why or why not?
- What do you like most about it?
- What do you like least about it, if anything?
- What are a few of your favorite songs that we sing?
- What do you think singing those praise and worship songs does for us as Christians? How does it help us in our relationship with God? How does it help us to live better for Him or closer to Him? [Parent: Emphasize that we are commanded to praise God and that doing so helps us to draw closer to Him. It also reminds us of what is “real,” that He is God and every good thing comes from Him.]
- Do you think our singing of worship and praise songs does anything for God? Does He benefit from our sincere worship and praise? [Parent: Emphasize that yes, God cares about and responds to our worship. Some Bible verses you could look at together include James 4:8; Psalm 22:3; Psalm 103:2; Hebrews 11:6.]
- When David praises God in the Psalms, he often talks about shouting and being loud. Do you think we’re loud enough when we praise God together at church? Why or why not? What’s the point of being loud? [Parent: See Psalm 66:1-2.]
- In the Psalms, David often praises God for specific things about God that are great, like His power or mercy. What are some other great things about God we can praise Him for?
- Another thing David does in the Psalms is that he notices and describes great things God has done for him or Israel—and then David brings those things up again and again to talk about how good God is. What are some great things God has done for our family that we can remember and talk about when we praise Him?
- In the middle of praising God for the good things He has done for Israel in Psalm 66, David mentions that God tested them, “brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs” and then “brought us into a place of abundance.” Why do you think David would praise God for taking his people into and out of a terrible time? [Parent: God’s grace to us includes using the hard times in our lives to bring us closer to Him—and He deserves our praise for that, too.]
- Of course we can praise God silently in our hearts and minds as an act of personal worship. But Psalms 66 encourages us to praise God out loud to each other. Why do you think that matters? [Parent: Emphasize that praising God to each other encourages us all to praise Him more.]
What are you some of your deepest hopes for your children? I’m not sure I think about that question enough. My gut reaction is that I’d like to see my son succeed in the world as a man of character who excels in his chosen field. I’d like him to be wise and loving and strong enough to accomplish meaningful things. I’d like him to be influential and use that influence for God’s glory.
That all sounds good, but there’s a seed of my own selfishness in the middle of it. The harder question is rather I want him to walk the path of Jesus or not, to live according to the uncompromising will of God on a cruel planet.
We’re pulling our talking points this week from 1 Peter 4:1-11, where Peter tells us—and our Christian kids—to live as if we have suffered as Jesus did and, thus, be done with sin. He tells us to opt out of all of the “party sins” and to expect to be mocked and lonely because of it.
He tells us to live to pray, to live to love, to live to serve. Not once does he tell us to live to succeed, to excel, or to be influential in the sense of those words that I imagine from my world-tainted perspective.
Are we rooting for our kids to mocked by the party people—even the successful and influential ones—and to grow up to be loving, praying servants? Let’s talk with them about those ideas this week.
- When you think of a successful life, what kind of things do you picture?
- How important is money to living a successful life? What are some of the best ways to end up having plenty of money?
- How importing is having fun and really enjoying yourself to having a successful life? What are some of the best ways to make sure you always have a good time?
- How important is doing significant, meaningful things to having a successful life? What’s the best path to trying to do significant things with your life?
- As your parent, I would love for you to have a life that includes financial security, doing lots of things you enjoy, having lots of fulfilling relationships, and really making a remarkable difference in the world. Do you think what I naturally want for you and what God wants for you are always the same thing? [Parent: As surprising as it might be, emphasize that what you would most naturally choose for your child and what God chooses for them might not always be the same thing—and that what He wants for them is always better.]
- How do you think God defines a successful life? [Parent: After discussing this for a while, think about reading 1 Peter 4:1-11 together.]
- One of the ways God defines success for us is that we be done with sin and not waste the rest of our lives just trying to satisfy our body’s appetites. Have you noticed that some people seem to live only for physical pleasure? What’s wrong with that as a motive for living?
- Another way God defines success is that we care most about doing what God wants—living for His will. Do you think His will for us always includes financial security, having people like us, and being respected in this life for our achievements? Why or why not?
- Peter promises that the party people—who are sometimes very successful, popular, and fun people—will “abuse” us if we don’t play along with them. Have you ever seen that happen to someone? Can a person be successful and still be unpopular? How so?
- Peter also writes that though we might get judged by people for not playing along with the “party sins,” they will be judged by God for their choices. Which judgement matters more, do you think? How hard is it to care more about God’s judgement than the judgement of people in this life?
- People work really hard to be successful in every area of life, no matter how they define success. Peter writes that we should work really hard—discipline ourselves—so that we can . . . pray. How often do you think anyone defines being able to pray as having a successful life? What makes prayer hard to do?
- In verse 8, Peter defines the highest success as loving others deeply. Everyone—even unbelievers—seems to think that love is important. What do you think God means when he tells us to be successful in loving others? As a hint, how did Jesus show His love for us?
- Finally, Peter defines success as powerfully, masterfully serving others with His gifts, His words, and His strength. How often are servants thought of as the most successful people in life? Would it be weird for your parents to want you to grow up to be a great servant of other people? Why or why not?
- Verse 11 describes the ultimate goal of our lives—to bring God praise and glory, not to bring praise and glory to ourselves. What do you think is the best way to accomplish that with our lives?
What Are You Going to Be?
However your family responds to the cultural event that is Halloween, younger kids will be hearing the question all week long this week: “What are you going to be?”
Kids old enough to choose seem to pick costumes based on one of three factors. Either they want something scary. Or they want something funny. Or—more often for younger kids—they want to dress up like one of their role models or dream roles.
Athletes. Fire fighters. Princesses. Fictional heroes or villains. They want to inhabit the person or persona they dream of becoming—even if that role model changes several times each day.
In a way, the Bible encourages this kind of lifestyle role playing. The essence of Christianity is that we are growing to become like Jesus, we are to put on His qualities because we are becoming Him.
But Paul also told his readers to imitate his own life in their beliefs and choices. And at the end of Colossians 4, he presented his entourage, naming eight or so of the guys who were with him in ministry to hold them up as role models of faithful service to Christ.
Our prayer as parents isn’t just that our kids won’t take off after unworthy role models, but that they will get attached to the good ones—and that’s what we’re looking for a chance to talk to them about this week.
- When you were younger, who were some of your biggest heroes? Was there anyone you really liked to dress up as and pretend to be for a while?
- Who would you say are your role models or heroes right now? Who are some of the people you know—or people you don’t know—that seem to have the life you’d really like to have someday? [Parent: This would be a great time to talk about some of the heroes and role models you had when you were younger.]
- How do you think most people choose their role models? What really attracts us to want to be like someone?
- Take your top two or three favorite role models or people or personalities: What do you like best about them? What qualities do they have that you would like to get better at in your own life?
- Have you noticed with your friends that role models can sometimes have a bad influence on people? How could a role model become a negative in a person’s life?
- Philippians 2 tells us to take on the heart and mind of Jesus. Paul wrote that his readers should try to imitate the way he followed Jesus. And Peter told younger Christians to learn from older mentors. Who in your life that you know personally might count as a mentor or a role model?
- What about that person do you find interesting or challenging or attractive? What qualities do they have that you hope to have one day?
- Who are some people you know—even if you’ve just met them once or twice—who seem to have a really genuine faith in Jesus that shows up in their lives in a real, meaningful, and attractive way?
- Can you separate what you take away from role models into different categories? Can you study the life of a good athlete to learn how to get better at that sport and also study the life of a good Christian mentor to learn how to get better at following Christ?
- What are the down sides of getting too attached to one person or another as a role model? [Parent: Emphasize that all people make mistakes, that if we’re most concerned with following people we can end up following them off the path of Jesus.]
- What is the advantage to finding successful people in our lives to use as a pattern for making good choices? [Parent: Emphasize that if our main goal is to follow Jesus, good role models can help us learn the everyday skills involved in following Him.]
None of us like to say “no” to ourselves, and that might go double for teenagers. Facing the strongest appetites of their lives, a natural urge toward independence, and pressure from peers to go along with the crowd, the ability to exercise self-control may be one of the most difficult of the wisdom tasks to master.
Our challenge as parents is to help our kids see the great advantages available to those who learn this essential life skill. The power to stop effectively gives the race car driver and the downhill skier the freedom to go faster. The ability to tell her limbs precisely when—and when not to—move gives the dancer and the rock climber the precision to be the best.
Self-control in the more personal areas of our lives—and in our kids’ lives—also makes us stronger, faster, more precise, and more successful in our relationships, in our work, and even in our play.
Our talking points this week come from a collection of proverbs that deal with the wisdom of learning to exercise self-control. Consider reading them as they come up in the questions below. We hope a few of these questions will be helpful in provoking a good conversation about self-control with your child.
- How would you define “self-control”? [Parent: Definitions might include the ability to tell ourselves “no” or to control our emotions and desires when we want to do something we shouldn’t.]
- What are some examples of areas where it’s hard for us to exercise self-control? [Parent: Emphasize things like talking too much, controlling our anger, eating, sexual areas, playing video games, waking up in the morning, etc.]
- Can you think of any famous people who seem to have trouble with self-control? Why do you think even people with so much to lose have trouble saying “no” to themselves?
- What’s your favorite kind of car? How fast do you think you could drive a car like that? How fast would you want to drive that car if you knew it didn’t have brakes?
- So who can go faster—the driver of a car with brakes or without them? Why?
- Self-control in our lives are kind of like brakes. It gives us the power to stop when we need to—and knowing we can stop gives us the ability to do everything faster and with more confidence. Can you think of any other examples where the ability to stop or slow down allows for better performance?
- Everyone can learn self-control, but it’s so important to God that He gives Christians some supernatural help to control ourselves. Let’s read Galatians 5:22-23 together. Why do you think our ability to exercise self-control is so important to God?
- Proverbs 29:11 says, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” How often do you see people just “let go” of their anger and unleash it in a way that is out of control? Why do you think wisdom says this is unwise?
- What are some ways that we can work on keeping our anger under control?
- Proverbs 21:17 says, “He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich.” Do you think this means its wrong to enjoy pleasure—things that feel good?
- What’s the difference between enjoying pleasurable things like good food and music and laughing and sex (for married people)—and living for those things because you “love” them? Do you think we can exercise self-control in what we choose to love or live for?
- Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who answers before listening—that is his folly and his shame.” How hard is it for us to control the words we choose to let come out of our mouths? Can you think of any examples where you wished you had said “no” to your words before you let them go?
- What’s one area of self-control you could work on this week?
What did Jesus’ disciples really see and what did it mean? So much of what we believe hangs on the answer to that question. Without the eyewitness testimony of those who were there—who saw Jesus in the flesh, heard His claims, saw Him die and live again—we would not know the way to eternal life.
We’re pulling our talking points for this week from 1 John 1, in which one of those disciples explains why what he saw matters—for all of us. We’re hoping to talk to our kids not just about the facts of Jesus’ physical life and death and resurrection, but also to help notch up their understanding of the implications of the message delivered by those first witnesses.
We’d also like to help them begin to see themselves as the next in a chain of witnesses that began with John and the other apostles. Once we believe, we can say, “Here’s what I have seen. Here’s what the Savior has done for me.”
- If something amazing happened right in front of everybody at your school—and you were gone that day—which of your friends would you want to tell you the story? Which of them would be the best witnesses when describing something they saw with their own eyes?
- Which do you trust more, information delivered straight from the person involved or information delivered from someone who heard about it from someone else?
- In the Bible, in 1 John, the apostle John described himself as a first-person witness to the most amazing events in human history. [Parent: Think about reading these short 9 verses together.] If you could sit down with John somehow and ask him anything, what would you want to ask? Why?
- Do you think John’s message about how to find eternal life is more believable because he was there when Jesus lived and died and came back to life? Why or why not?
- Do you ever think of yourself as being in “fellowship” with God? What does it mean to you to be in fellowship with Him and with other Christians? Why does it matter that we have fellowship with Him and them?
- How is light different from darkness? [Parent: Ideas could include that without light, you can’t see what is real, you can’t find your way. Darkness is the absence of light. Light helps you see what is true. Darkness helps to hide what is true.]
- John says that to have fellowship with God—who is light—means that we are no longer in darkness. How is being saved like being in the light? What truth can we see that we could not see without Jesus?
- What do you “see” or understand clearly because you are in Christ that your friends or peers who don’t know Christ cannot see?
- Why would someone who was still in darkness—away from God—pretend to have the light of understanding the truth about God?
- Do you believe that everyone, including you and me, has sinned? Why do you think we still struggle with wanting to sin even after we come into the light of being in fellowship with God?
- When you trusted in Christ for your salvation, did you confess to God that you are a sinner? Do you still confess your sin to Him when you make the wrong choice? Why does that matter?
- Do you believe God has forgiven you for all of your sins? If so, why? If not, why not? Is it sometimes hard to “feel” forgiven even though you “know” you are forgiven? Can you trust that God’s ability to forgive is bigger than your ability to feel forgiven?
- What is your personal experience of Jesus and becoming a Christian and having your sins forgiven? What kind of first-person testimony do you have to tell to others who would like to have their sins forgiven?
Faith and Feelings
All of us struggle some to line up our emotional responses to life with our stated beliefs about God’s greatness, power, goodness, forgiveness, and His absolute love for us. Teens, though—fueled by a cocktail of hormonal change and hyper-cultural connectivity—may find it even more baffling to allow their trust in God to lead them to peace of mind, freedom from anger and fear, and a general sense of joyfulness.
Worse, as this recent U.K. survey points out, many teens have a hard time talking about their stressed out or anxious feelings. What can parents do to help?
For one, we can open up about our own emotions and how our faith in God helps us to control and/or experience them. We’re pulling our talking points this week from Philippians 4:4-9. That passage tells us to “rejoice,” to reject anxiety, to practice gratitude, to expect God’s peace, and to manage our emotions by managing our thoughts.
You’ll find it helpful to read through the passage and maybe to read it together with your son or daughter. We hope a few of the questions below will lead to a worthwhile conversation with your child about faith and feelings.
- How would you say you’re feeling, lately, emotionally speaking? How would you guess I’m feeling emotionally, based on the way I’ve acted, lately? Do you like to talk about emotions? Why or why not?
- Which emotions do you tend to experience most often, would you say? [Parent: Be willing to talk about your own emotions. Reinforce the idea that emotions include things like anger, fear, happiness, sadness, depression, bitterness, rage, and worry, for starters.]
- Do you think God cares about how we’re feeling emotionally? Do you think He expects us to feel certain emotions more than others? Does He expect or want us to feel happy all of the time?
- Do you think God cares as much about what we’re feeling inside as what we’re doing outside? Does He care as much about our emotions as our actions? Why or why not?
- As Christians, should we be the happiest people on earth? Our sins are forgiven. We will be with God forever in heaven. We have power to do good. Why do you think we still feel sad?
- Do the Christians you know tend to be happier than other people or not so much? Why do you think that is?
- Philippians 4 talks a lot about our emotions. Rejoicing is not exactly the same as being happy. Paul writes that we should rejoice in the Lord always. What does it mean to you to rejoice or be joyful?
- Jesus and Paul, among others, expressed feeling sad. To feel sad is not a sin. Have you ever had the sense of feeling sad and joyful at the same time? How is that possible, do you think?
- Philippians also tells us to build a reputation for gentleness. Someone who is gentle is not extreme in their responses, including their emotional responses. What would be some examples of extreme emotional responses? What are some of the unhealthy or sinful choices we might make if our emotions are extreme or out of control? How do we tend to think about people who are extreme in their emotional responses?
- Do you or any of your friends have a reputation for gentleness or having good control over their responses to life? Can you feel big emotions and still be known as a gentle person?
- Philippians contains a hard command: “Do not be anxious about anything.” Worry is something everyone feels sometimes. How big of a deal do you think worry is in our family? Among your group of friends?
- What kinds of things do we tend to get worried about the most?
- Why can worry be so hard to control? [Parent: Emphasize this idea: Giving up worry requires letting go of something emotionally before that thing is fixed or resolved. That’s hard for everyone to do sometimes.]
- The Bible doesn’t just tell us to stop worrying. It gives an alternative: “Ask God for help. Repeat. Tell Him thank you for everything He has done for you already. Repeat.” How could we do a better job as a family of trading in our worry for feelings of trusting God and feelings of gratitude? Is there anything we could ask for God’s help with together right now?
- The next verse in Philippians promises that when we give our requests to God, with thanksgiving, He will give us a peace that “transcends all understanding.” Have you ever felt a peace like that? If so, can you describe it, at all?
- Why do you think God gives us peace instead of just fixing all of the things that we’re worried about right away?
- Philippians 4:8 seems to say that the key to controlling our emotions is to control our thoughts, what we let our minds dwell on. Have you noticed that thinking about certain things tends to make you feel particular emotions?
- Have you noticed any music, games, books, or TV shows leading you to any particular, lingering emotions? Do you think we give our media enough credit for the way it leaves us feeling inside?
- What are some things we could choose to think about that fit the list in Phiilippians 4:8 of being “true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy”? How do you think you would feel if you thought about those kinds of things most of the time?
- Does this mean we should never think about any negative things? If not, how can we think about negative, harsh things through a filter that might fit this list of positive attributes?
One Way or the Other
Like all of us when faced with options, kids will often try to find a way to have the best of all possible worlds. “Yes, I want A and then I want B. What do you mean I have to choose? Let’s just do it all.”
Sounds familiar? It’s a human trait and one teens, especially, are encouraged to indulge when it comes to making commitments. The only way to make everyone happy, to not miss out anything good, is to say yes to everything.
In addition to creating stress for kids and parents alike, this approach to life becomes impossible on a spiritual level when the choices we face are to maintain our commitment to Christ or to live in rebellion to the Word of God. We all attempt it, sometimes, but busy students can become expert at compartmentalizing rebellion and worship, disobedience and devotion.
In one sphere, they can seem to truly understand and enjoy serving God and talking about their faith in Him and then flip the switch when it’s time to “stand in the seat of scorners” with friends on a different path, friends not interested in the way of Christ.
We’re drawing our conversation points this week from Psalm 1, where David makes clear that we can’t walk both paths at the same time. Not only can we not fool God about our false sincerity, we will miss the physical and emotional blessings that come with faithful commitment to Him.
The big idea is this: Our happiness—or blessedness—is found in choosing God’s way. We hope a few of these questions might help you talk about that idea with your kids.
- When is it hardest for you to choose between two different options? Would you say you make decisions pretty quickly or do you feel like you really have to weigh all of the options to figure out the best thing?
- Is it easier sometimes not to choose—just to do everything or do nothing to skip having to make a decision? How does that usually work out?
- What kinds of things would you say make you feel the happiest in your life? What kinds of choices cause you to feel the least happy?
- One definition of the word “blessed” in Psalm 1:1 is “happy.” It says blessing comes to the person who makes a choice NOT to walk, stand, or sit with people who are disobeying or rejecting God. Can you think of any people or groups of people in your life really known for disobeying or rejecting God?
- What do imagine would be the consequences of hanging out with that group of people, of doing what they do and thinking the way they think? What impact do you think that would have on your sense of being blessed or happy?
- Have you noticed any of your friends that seem to try to avoid deciding between following Jesus and being accepted by a group of friends who don’t honor God? What are the consequences of trying to belong in both of those worlds at the same time?
- Is it easier to just kind of go along with whatever group you’re with? Why or why not?
- David describes in Psalm 1 some of the ways that God provides for those who choose to walk in His way. One benefit is that God provides for His children in all kinds of different ways. What are some of the ways that God provides for you?
- Do you ever think of yourself as being delighted or excited about God’s Word? Once sign of being excited about the Bible is to spend time thinking about it. Is there anything we can do to get more excited about what God tells us in the Bible? What would be the benefits of enjoying God’s Word instead of just having to study it like a textbook?
- According to Psalm 1, one consequence for people who reject God completely is that they get “blown away” like bits of plants that have no roots. What are your roots connected to, spiritually speaking? What keeps you connected to God?
- What do you have to offer friends and family members who seem to be rejecting God? What do they have to offer you?
When God Waits, Part 2
Is God good? Does He truly love us? Is He really powerful? Your kids will eventually face these questions in their own lives or in the lives of others, often when confronted with great pain.
The story of Jesus and His resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 can be a powerful launching point for talking with your child about the God powerful enough to raise the dead who proved His love and goodness to us by sending His own Son to suffer and die so we can live forever.
We continue the conversation begun last week with talking points pulled from the second half of that story. Again, it would be worth reading John 11 together as the basis for discussing these ideas with your son or daughter.
[NOTE: A few of the questions repeat themes from last week’s talking points. If you’ve already covered those, feel free to move on to the questions in the bottom half of the list.]
- What did Mary say to Jesus when she saw Him after her brother had died?
- Have you ever wondered why God didn’t use His power to step in and stop a terrible thing from happening? Have you ever known someone who concluded that God was not good, loving, or powerful because He didn’t do something like that?
- Is that a fair way to judge God? Why or why not?
- How has God proved His love for us? [Parent: Think about reading Romans 5:8 together.]
- Mary was upset about her brother and knew that Jesus could have kept Lazarus from dying. Which way did she run when she heard Jesus was near? [Parent: Mary ran toward Jesus even though she seemed upset that He did not act to save her brother.]
- Do you think it’s okay to ask hard questions about God when He doesn’t choose to use His power to do what we’d like Him to do? [Parent: It is actually an act of great faith to ask why the God who loves us didn’t use His great power to do something we see as good. But that faith moves toward God with those questions, trusting His character in our sadness, much as Mary did.]
- What’s the shortest verse in the Bible? [Parent: That’s an easy way to remember “Jesus wept.” (v. 35)]
- Why do you think Jesus cried when He obviously knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead? What made Him so sad?
- Do you believe God feels sadness when we feel sad about death and loss, when we mourn and grieve? Why or why not?
- Does it help you to know that God feels compassion for us as a loving Father when bad things cause us to suffer? Why?
- Revelation 21:1-4 lists a few things that God points out will never be the same again once this life is over and we’re all in eternity with Him. What things will there be no more of? [Parent: There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain once we’re in eternity with God forever.]
- Do you think God understands that death and mourning and crying and pain cause us deep suffering? What has He done for us personally to bring those things to an end?
- In a prayer, Jesus says that one reason for His raising Lazarus from the dead was to help everyone to believe that God is the one who sent Him, that He was really the Son of God. Why do you think people needed to see something like that to believe?
- Would seeing Jesus raise the dead have helped you to believe He was God? Why or why not?
- Would seeing Jesus raise the dead have scared you some? Why or why not?
- Do you believe that your body will one day be resurrected from the dead, along with all who have believed in Jesus? [Parent: Encourage your child to embrace the idea that resurrection is for all Christians. See Romans 8:22-25 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-28.]
- Why do you think the Jewish religious leaders who heard about Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead did not believe He was the Son of God when so many others did?
- Why do you think so many people today refuse to believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
- Everyone suffers. God is working a plan that includes us and is motivated by His great love for us and His great goodness. Are you convinced this is true? Why or why not? [Parent: Think about reading Romans 8:18 together.]
When God Waits
One of the most difficult questions for Christian parents to answer is, “Why did God let this happen?” At issue may be the death of a loved one or a pet or any devastating loss deeply felt. If God is good and powerful and loving, why didn’t He step in? Why didn’t He stop it?
It can be a faith-challenging question for all of us. Even the good answers—the right answers—don’t always provide all of the comfort we’re looking for. Still, we know our God is trustworthy and that He truly loves us, and we’d like to communicate that assurance to our kids.
We’re going to approach the question this week from the perspective of John 11 and Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. In that story, Jesus is aware that His good friend is dying and He purposefully takes no action until it is “too late.” Jesus is saddened by the loss—and the pain felt by Mary and Martha—but He is also aware that He is serving a great purpose and the good of all involved by not stopping Lazarus from dying.
We hope a few of the questions below are helpful to you in beginning a conversation with your child about God’s goodness even when He doesn’t act as we expect or in accordance with our wishes. You might find it helpful to read through the story together in John 11:1-44.
[NOTE: This is the first of two parts. We will conclude the talking points about this chapter in next week’s Conversation Starters.]
- Have you ever wondered why God seemed not to answer one of your prayers—or why He said no?
- Why do you think God sometimes says no to requests for things that seem like they would be good for everyone?
- Does the existence of evil or the reality of great suffering ever make you question whether God is reliable? Or good? Or powerful? Or loving?
- Do you think God cares how we feel about His responses to our prayers or our pain?
- How much do you remember about the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead? [Parent: Consider suggesting that the two of you read John 11 together.]
- John 11 tells us that Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. Are you convinced that God loves you? [Parent: Try to reinforce the idea that God proved His love for your child by sending Jesus to die for them, in addition to the many other good gifts He has provided.]
- Jesus got the message from Mary and Martha. He knew Lazarus was sick. How can you be sure that God hears your prayers and knows what’s going on with you? [Parent: You might use Romans 8:26-27 to help answer this question. God’s Spirit communicates to Him perfectly our requests. We can be confident He hears us.]
- Jesus made the choice to wait to go to Lazarus and his sisters until after Lazarus was dead. In your own words, why do you think He did that? [Parent: In John 11, Jesus gives several reasons, including a plan to bring glory to God and to help others believe in God’s power in Him.]
- Do you think Jesus was making a choice between helping the people He cared about and fulfilling His own plans? Why or why not? [Parent: Try to emphasize the idea that God does not have to choose between helping those He loves and accomplishing His plan. You can use Romans 8:28 to show that He does both at the same time, even if His plan for us isn’t the one we would always choose ourselves.]
- Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand why, if Lazarus was already dead, Jesus would risk His life to go to a place where He would likely be killed —but they agreed to go with Him, anyway. How hard is it to trust that God knows what He’s doing when life feels dangerous? What makes it easier to trust Him? [Parent: Think about using John 11:9-10 to show that we are never safer than when walking in the daylight of God’s will—even if it feels really dark from our point of view.]
- Jesus tells the disciples He’s glad He wasn’t there to save Lazarus so they could believe. Is it a weird idea that God might sometimes not answer our prayers in the way we hope in order to help our faith grow? Can you think of an example of that happening in your life? [Parent: It might help for you to think of a time when getting what you wanted would have turned out to be much worse than what God ended up providing.]
- Martha tells Jesus that if He had been there, Lazarus would have lived—but that she also knows God will give Jesus whatever He asks. How can our disappointment with God’s answers to our prayers also be a way of showing that we believe in Him? [Parent: Help explain that our disappointment with God’s choices shows that we believe He is powerful enough to have stepped in and changed our circumstances. Disappointment doesn’t have to be evidence that we don’t trust God.]
- In your own words, how would you describe Jesus’ message of salvation? Now, let’s read how He puts it—and Martha’s statement of Christian belief—John 11:25-27.
- In your own words, how would you say we can know that God loves us and that He is powerful, good, and trustworthy—even when He doesn’t answer our prayers in the way we hope He would?
Jesus in Their Shoes
We’re continuing the conversation we started last week about what it means for our kids to take on the identity of Jesus Christ in their corner of the world. It’s a big, biblical idea that feels really weird for a few reasons.
For one thing, some of the world’s loudest messages are that we should all become better versions of ourselves. Instead, we’re hoping to help our kids trade themselves in to become more and more like Jesus—to take on His I.D. as their own.
In a sense, we want to help them to imagine how He would live their lives if He was in their shoes. How would He act in their group of friends? How would He handle their part-time job? How would He respond to our own less-than-perfect parenting?
The answers to some of those questions—and how to move ourselves closer to living that way in our own lives—is found in Colossians 3:12-17. That’s where we’re pulling our talking point from this week. Hopefully, a few of these questions will help you and your child to talk through some of these big ideas together.
- How do you think God sees you right now? What do you think He thinks of you?
- Why do you think He feels that way?
- How do you think He sees or thinks about Jesus? Would it surprise you to know that the Father thinks about you in the same way He does Jesus?
- In Colossians 3:12, Paul writes that God sees us as “chosen,” “holy” (set apart for something special), and “dearly loved.” Do you understand why God cares so deeply about you and me?
- What do you think God cares more about—that we stop sinning or that we start doing the good things Jesus would do in our shoes? [Parent: Emphasize that God cares most that we live like Jesus; He’s working right now to make us like Chris in every way.]
- In Colossians 3:13, Paul lists five characteristics Christians should “put on” as we put on clothes. How would you define these five things in your own words: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience? [Parent: Emphasize that each of these five things involves taking our minds off of ourselves and putting them on others.]
- In your own words, how would you describe how God has forgiven you? Did you deserve to be forgiven? Why do you think He forgave you?
- Colossians 3:13 tells us to forgive each other in the same way that God has forgiven us. Do you think we think of ourselves as forgiven people? Why or why not?
- How does thinking of ourselves as forgiven help us to forgive others and be more like Jesus?
- Would you describe our home as a peaceful place? Why or why not?
- Can a person’s life be full of some chaos and confusion while they still have peace in their hearts? Why or why not?
- What do you think it means to “let the peace of Christ rule” in our hearts? (See Colossians 3:15.) How do we let Christ’s peace rule—or keep it from ruling?
- How does peace come about when two groups are at war? How do we surrender ourselves to God and to each other to create peace?
- What would be the value of having His peace in your heart at school or in sports or at home?
- Who are some of the most peaceful people you know?
- We’re told in Colossians 3:16 to let the word of Christ live inside our hearts “richly.” Do you think we do a good job of letting Christ’s words live inside of us in our family?
- What are some things we—or you—could do to be more intentional about getting Christ’s word out of the Bible and into our hearts? Will that make any difference in the way we live our lives?
- How important is music to you? How does music influence your mood and/or what you think about? Why do you think music can be so powerful?
- How important are “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” in your life? Does that Christian music help you feel closer to God?
- Do you enjoy singing songs to God? Songs about God? What’s the value of singing those kinds of songs together with other Christians?
- Which is more helpful to your spiritual relationship with God, singing spiritual songs or listening to others sing them? Why do you think that is?
- If your identity is supposed to be Jesus, how much of the time should you live as Jesus? [Parent: We’re trying to emphasize that we need to live in Christ all of the time.]
- Let’s read Colossians 3:17 together. Does that leave room to have any part of our lives set aside to NOT live “in Jesus’ name”? What does it mean to talk and act “in the name of Jesus”?
- How do you think Jesus would live your life differently if He suddenly became you and went to school for you and went to church for you and went to work for you (without anyone knowing it was not you)? What differences would people notice right away? What difference would they notice over time?
- What things would not change if Jesus started living your life for you? In other words, what are some ways you are already living as Jesus in your life?
- What can we do together to help each other do a better job of living as Christ in our home and world?
New Year, New I.D.
By now, most of our students will be back in school and underway for a new academic year. Do you ever miss that opportunity they get to start brand new every year with a new school year? That kind of fresh start doesn’t come along as frequently once you leave school behind.
This week—and next—we’ll be encouraging conversations with our children meant to help them take advantage of this fresh start by pointing them to the big biblical idea that we are all called to participate in taking on a brand new identity. Spiritually speaking, how can we help them to care more about being Jesus with their peers than any other label they might desire (or be stuck with)?
We’re pulling our talking points from Colossians 3, where Paul describes very specifically how Christians can—and must—trade in our old identity for a brand new one that is “in Christ.” We’re hoping to help our students catch that it is not about becoming better versions of ourselves, but about become like Christ.
We hope a few of the following questions will help you to have a productive talk about that with your child when the opportunity presents itself.
- What do you like about the start of a new school year? What don’t you like about it?
- In what ways does a new school year give you an opportunity to be a different person than you were last year?
- Have you noticed, yet, that any of your friends seem to have kind of changed who they want to be for this year? What kinds of things are different about them?
- Can you ever really change your identity? Why or why not?
- The Bible tells Christians to change our identity to become more and more like Jesus and less and less like our old selves. Does that idea appeal to you? Why or why not?
- What would be the advantage of being able to live like Jesus every day? What would the disadvantages be of living like Jesus at your school this year?
- In Colossians 3, Paul describes how to participate in this change of identity. He says the first step is to change what we’re aiming for with our lives, telling us to “set our hearts” on Christ, who is in heaven. Would you say that you have a real goal in life of becoming like Jesus? Do you want to have that goal? What could we do to make that the point of our lives?
- The second step Paul describes for taking on Jesus’ identity is to “set our minds” on things above and not on earthly things. How often, really, do we think about heaven and what our “real life” will be like when we’re done with this life? How could we do that more often?
- Next, Paul tells us to “put to death” the sin that was a normal part of our old selves. Do you think we put up with our sin too much instead of taking it seriously? Why do we tend to do that?
- What do you think we could do to be more violent to our sin, instead of being patient with it and letting it stick around?
- Do you think we really believe that God hates sin? Why or why not?
- Does any part of your identity, the way you or others think of yourself, have to do with sins in your past or your present? What do you think it takes to change that idea of ourselves?
- Paul says we should kill and get rid of any sexual sins and anger sins we’re still carrying around, that we shouldn’t put up with our telling of lies any more. Why do you think that’s so hard to do? Do you believe you can do it? [Parent: Emphasize to your child that being a Christian means we definitely have the power to say no to our sin.]
- What labels do you think people at your school might put on you? What labels would you give to yourself? [Parent: Labels might include things like loner, jock, academic, preppy, band geek, or more personal things having to do with race, financial status, heritage, parental status, religious denomination, etc.]
- Read Colossians 1:9-11 with your child. Emphasize two points: One, we are being made brand new to look like Jesus; that’s our new identity. Two, Paul listed a bunch of identity labels from his day and said that none of them mattered. The labels we put on ourselves and each other don’t matter, either. For Christians, there’s only one label that counts: We are Christ.
The Ten Commandments
Why talk about the Ten Commandments with your son or daughter? It’s worth asking the question. After all, we’re trying to help our students to catch the idea that, as Christians, we are saved by grace and not by following the law—that our struggle with sin, including the big Ten, does not disqualify us from being loved by God if our faith is in Christ.
Unfortunately, the message many teens hear (right along with people of every age) is that our sin doesn’t really matter that much to God, after all. If forgiveness is given away for free to all who believe, some assume that what is forgiven is therefore not all that significant. We cannot over-emphasize the grace of God to our kids, but we can under-emphasize His revulsion to our sin.
That’s why we—and especially our kids—need to understand God’s standard for right and wrong in order to get how amazing His grace really is. The Ten Commandments is a good place to start talking about why God takes sin so seriously. These rules reveal who God is—what matters to Him and what He wants for His children.
We hope a few of the following questions will help you to have a productive conversation with your child about the Ten Commandments and the grace of God. You might find it helpful to read through Exodus 20:1-17 together. If you don’t have an opportunity to talk through the whole list, it would be easy to bring up any or all of the commandments—or even just the idea of the list—in smaller conversations as teachable moments present themselves.
- How many of the Ten Commandments can you name without looking? [Parent: Have the list ready to complete it together.]
- Do you remember the story of where and how God gave these ten rules to the Israelites? [Parent: Be prepared to sketch out the backstory from Exodus 19: It had been 3 months since the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea, escaping from Egypt. One of God’s first stops for them was at Mount Sinai, where He gave these commandments.]
- Do you think it’s important for Christians to know and understand the Ten Commandments? Why or why not?
- Is it worse for us to break these rules than to break others of God’s instructions in the Bible? What “happens to you” if you break one of these commands? Will God hate you or punish you? [Parent: Be sure to emphasize that we are all sinners and can be saved only by God’s grace and forgiveness through faith in Jesus. Help your child to understand that God’s forgiveness for those in Christ covers all of our sin.]
- If our Father has already forgiven our sin through our faith in Jesus’ death in our place on the cross—why does it matter that we know about the law? Does God really care if we keep sinning? [Parent: Check out Romans 5 and 6 for good answers to these questions if you want to go deeper.]
- What do the first two commands—no other gods and no idols—tell us about God? Why do you think He is so opposed to His people worshipping other gods or looking to other supernatural sources for help?
- Most people we know don’t worship actual idols they think of as gods. But what kinds of things do people in our culture tend to put ahead of god? What kinds of things do we turn to for help instead of God?
- Paul describes greed as idol worship (in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5). How is wanting and trying to get things you don’t need like worshiping an idol?
- The third commandment warns against using God’s name in vain. His name has power. To use it in vain means to disrespect Him or to misuse His power. Do you think anyone takes this command seriously any more? How many people do you know who refuse to use God’s name in disrespectful or deceitful ways?
- What choices have you made about using God’s name or Jesus’ name for swearing or lying or condemning people? Some Christians don’t seem uncomfortable saying “oh my God” or “Jesus” when they’re excited or angry. Why do you think that is?
- “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” is the fourth command to the Israelites. It’s the only one on the list that New Testament Christians are not called to practice in exactly the same way. Why is that? [Parent: Be prepared to explain your understanding of the Sabbath and how your church addresses it.]
- Commandment 5 gets repeated almost exactly in Ephesians 6:1-3. What does it mean to you to honor your parents? Should it matter whether your parents deserve honor or not, according to God?
- Why do you think this command was important enough to make the list? Do you think it takes more faith in God for some people to obey this command than others? Why?
- Commands 6 - 8 are the simplest ones: Don’t murder. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t steal. Do you think God intended for there to be any exceptions to these commands? Why or why not?
- The ninth commandment deals with lying, specifically lying in a legal sense to hurt another person. Has anyone ever lied in a way that ended up hurting you? Can you think of any reasons that lying about someone else would ever be justified?
- Proverbs tells us that lying is one of the things God really hates. Why do you think He’s so passionate about not telling the truth?
- The tenth commandment talks about coveting. How would you define coveting?
- One definition for coveting could be to make a choice not to be content because you don’t have what someone else has. Why would God care so much whether we’re content or not, as long as we’re keeping all these other commands? [Parent: Be sure to emphasize that what this list shows, in part, is that God really cares that we are satisfied that He is the one who meets all of our needs, that we don’t need anything apart from what He gives to us. God wants our hearts to be fully satisfied with Him.]
- How are we doing as a family at following these commandments? If someone is able to keep them all, does that make them a better person? A better Christian? Good enough to get into heaven? Why or why not? [Parent: Be sure to emphasize that though God is pleased with our obedience, all of us have sinned. None of us can ever earn a place in heaven, because we can’t obey Him perfectly.]
- If someone has broken many—or all—of these commands, is that person doomed? [Parent: It would be great to end this conversation by emphasizing again that Jesus was doomed (or “crushed”) in the place of all who have broken these or other commands of God—and put their trust in Him to receive forgiveness for those sins.]
- So why does it matter so much that we try to obey God now? Why does it matter that we try to live like Jesus—with the help of the Holy Spirit?
How convinced is your Christian child that they belong to the Father, that His love for them is absolute? It’s not unusual for Christian kids to experience a crisis of faith, especially those who trusted in Jesus for salvation at a young age. It’s worth checking in occasionally to see where their confidence level is in the inexhaustible acceptance of God for those who are in Christ.
We’re pulling our talking points this week from Romans 8:26-38, where Paul spells out the reasons he is convinced that absolutely nothing can separate believers from the God’s love for us. It’s a message comforting to all of us, but it might be exactly what your student needs to hear, especially if they’re struggling with some of the temptation and self-control issues that come with adolescence.
We hope a few of the following questions will give you the opportunity to ask about and explain to your son and daughter how secure they can feel in their relationship with God.
- Do you sometimes want to pray but feel like you’re not sure exactly what to say or how to say it? [Parent: Be ready to talk about your own struggles and successes in talking to God. Think about reading Romans 8:26-27 together.]
- Romans 8:26 says that God’s Spirit intercedes to Him for us. What does it mean to intercede for someone? [Parent: It means, in part, to carry a request from one person to another, to make the case for them to someone else.]
- Does it make you feel more confident to try to pray if you know that God’s Spirit will communicate what you’re feeling to God in the best possible way?
- If bad things happen to you, does that mean that God is unhappy with you—or that you’ve let Him down in some way? [Parent: Use this chance to make sure your child understands that hard things in our lives are not evidence that God is unhappy with us. Think about reading Romans 8:28 together.]
- Romans 8:28 is a promise for people who love God and who are called for His purpose. Would you say that both of those things apply to you? [Parent: Be ready to help them see how both conditions apply to them if they are a Christian.]
- Romans 8:29-30 says that God has had a plan for His children from way before we were ever born, a plan to make us a full member of His family forever. Why is that such a big deal? Did you make that plan or did God make it?
- Romans 8:31 says that if God is for us, who can be against us? Do you believe that God is for you? [Parent: Help your child to see that God is for them not because they are “good,” but because they’ve been given credit for Jesus’ goodness. Think about reading Romans 8:1 together.]
- Do you ever wonder if God really loves you, especially after you’ve done something wrong? How can you know that He still loves you just as much as ever? [Parent: Think about reading Romans 8:31-34 together and showing that even if someone speaks against us—including ourselves speaking against us—Jesus intercedes for us and that God has already justified us.]
- Let’s make a list: What are some of the things people might think could come between them and God’s love for them?
- Now let’s read Paul’s list of the things that absolutely CANNOT separate us from God’s love. [Parent: Read Romans 8:35-39 together.] Is there anything on our first list that isn’t covered by Paul’s list?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being high, how confident are you that God loves you now as much as He always has and always will?
It’s not surprising that so many of the people involved in efforts to place children in adoptive families are Christians—or that a growing number of Christian parents are seeking to adopt children domestically and internationally. The idea of adoption is built right into our understanding of God as our Father; it’s key to our whole worldview.
Like all of us, teens sometimes have mixed feelings about the idea of adoption. Some carry a clumsy idea that adoption is always and only second best—that it’s the consolation prize for parents who can’t have kids and kids who don’t have parents. We’re pulling our talking points for the week from Romans 8:15-25, which describes our glorious “grand prize” status as God’s adopted children.
It’s worth talking about with your kids from two perspectives. On the one hand, you can help them to understand that human adoption does not make for lesser families. Adopted children are the full children of their parents, with all the rights and privileges of a biological child. And adoptive parents are fully parents in every sense of the word. It’s true that it’s a process often built on loss, but that does not diminish the significance of what is found: real, true family.
It’s an important idea not just for validating those who live in adoptive families, but also because we cannot understand our own relationship with God without fully embracing the authenticity of adoption. We would have no right to call God our Father if He had not adopted us. Because He did, we are His full children, not step-children, not grandchildren, not “second best.”
Adoption is God’s plan for every Christian, and adoptive families are a really cool picture of that. We hope a few of the questions below will generate some productive conversation with your kids.
- How would you define the word “adoption”? How many friends do you have that you know are adopted?
- Do you think adoption makes a child less important in a family than if he or she were a biological child of the parents? Why or why not?
- Do you think an adopted child should feel like he or she is less significant in a family when compared to biological kids? Why or why not?
- Why do you think adopted kids are legally considered as full children of their parents, even though they weren’t born into the family?
- How important is it to you, as a Christian, to be able to call God your Father? Do you usually think of Him as your dad? Why or why not?
- Is there any way to think of being a Christian without understanding that God is your Father?
- Romans 8:15 says that we have been given the “Spirit of adoption” or “Spirit of sonship.” Do you usually think of yourself as an adopted child of God?
- Does God have any “biological” or “begotten” children? [Parent: Just one: Jesus. See John 3:16.]
- Legally, we are God’s heirs. We will inherit His glory when we die or when Jesus returns. What is it worth to be included in God’s will, so to speak, or to be called one of His children?
- Does being God’s child mean that you should never experience any kind of suffering or hard times? Why or why not? [Parent: Jesus suffered as a human being on the earth, and we will, as well.]
- If we still suffer—and if we haven’t yet received our full inheritance from God—when will we receive it? How do you know?
- Romans 8:23 says that we still groan inwardly—just like the rest of creation on this fallen, sinful world. Do you feel like life is still hard, even for Christians, like something is not all the way complete?
- The next verse says that we’re waiting for something, for the completion of our adoptions, for our bodies to be redeemed. Have you ever imagined what it would feel like for an orphan to know that he or she had been selected and all the paperwork completed for an adoption—and that the new parents were on the way to pick him or her up? Do you think waiting to be with our “Abba” in heaven might be kind of like that?
- What does the word “hope” mean to you? When used in the Bible, it means some good thing you are confident will happen. What are Christians hoping in? What do we think will finally be the one thing to make everything else okay?
- Is it hard for you to be patient while waiting for that “one thing” to finally happen?
Have you noticed that every corner of pop culture seems to be flooded with vampire stories? Teens, especially, seem to be digging the craze. We’ve come a long way from the days of Anne Rice and “Buffy.” Endless book series, TV shows, and movies for every age group are winning new converts right now.
The list includes Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” books and the movie adaptations; HBO’s sexually explicit “True Blood” series, based on books by Charlain Harris; and the upcoming network TV series “The Vampire Diaries.” Additional book series popular with some teens: the “Blue Bloods” series, “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter,” and the “House of Night” series by P.C. Cast and her daughter Kristin. And more are on the way.
Usually this kind of cultural overkill, so to speak, signals the end of the trend. But what makes vampires so alluring for the moment? In part, it has to do with the gut-level issues of temptation and the hunger for eternal life without accountability to God. These stories are about trading innocence for power. In that sense, they are very spiritual—and sometimes spiritually deceptive.
We wish you wisdom in navigating your family’s media choices when it comes to vampires, but the genre definitely raises the opportunity for talking about some of the big ideas of vampire fiction. We’re pulling our talking points from Genesis 3 this week, with an eye for why human beings are often so easily tempted by sin. What do we hope to get out of it? What does it cost us? Why do we want what we know will harm us?
Consider reading Genesis 3 with your son or daughter in preparation for discussing a few of the following questions.
- Have your read or watched many vampire stories over the last few years? Why do you think vampires are so popular right now? Do you have any friends who are big fans of books and movies like the “Twilight” series?
- What are the temptations most often faced in vampire stories? What are the costs of giving in to those temptations?
- Do you think we sometimes like to feel tempted because it seems exciting and dangerous? Is that a healthy appetite to indulge?
- What are some of the temptations most often faced by your friends or your peers at school? Are there ever benefits for giving in to those temptations? What does it cost to cross the line and sin in those ways?
- In the Garden of Eden, Eve was tempted to sin by a serpent we understand to be Satan. He used deception to help her make the choice to sin. His first question to her was something that was obviously wrong: “Did God really say you couldn’t eat from any tree in the garden.” Why do you think he would start with that? [Parent: For one, it was a way to get Eve to participate in a conversation about God’s command and whether it was fair or right.]
- What are some ways your friends get lured into thinking about the sins that are tempting to them?
- When faced with the temptation, Eve showed she knew what God’s rule was—but she added a line to it, something God had not said. Can you think of any ways that humans now add to God’s rules to try to be “safer” with sin?
- Why is it dangerous to add man-made rules on top of God’s commands to us?
- Satan told Eve a half-truth (which is always a whole lie). He said that eating the fruit would make her wise like God, who is all-powerful. In vampire stories, the same half-truth is usually offered to someone, the chance to trade innocence for power. Why do you think giving in to sin sometimes makes people feel powerful?
- Eve makes the choice to eat the fruit, in part, because it looks so good. What are some of the ways sin can look good before we give in to it and then turn bad once we have?
- Eve also decides that she wants the power of being like God. Can anyone ever truly have God’s power? Can giving in to sin make anyone more powerful in any way? Is the effect of sin always, ultimately, destructive? If you don’t think so, what’s an example of sin making someone’s life better?
- Adam apparently ate the fruit immediately after Eve gave it to him. Have you noticed friends of yours that seem to let other people make decisions about temptation for them? How can you avoid following someone else into sinful choices?
- What was the first emotion Adam and Eve felt after giving in to temptation? [Parent: Shame.]
- What was the first thing they did after giving in to temptation? [Parent: Trying to cover themselves and hide from God.]
- Do you think most people who give in to sin feel ashamed afterwards? Why or why not? Do you think most people try to ignore or hide from God when they’re making sinful choices?
- God said Adam and Eve would die if they disobeyed Him about the fruit. But they didn’t die right away. Why do you think that is?
- What did their sinful choice to give in to temptation cost them, really?
UPDATE: Interesting take from Travis Prinzi on Vampires and the Fall over at the Rabbit Room, briefly touching on how vampire stories reflect and/or distort a Christian view of the supernatural and why they appeal to our longing for the eternal and the mystical.
You’ve likely read the alarming stats that as many as 80 percent of teens leave the evangelical church and don’t come back. Honestly, that’s a hard number to pin down with any accuracy. Still, it’s fair to say that most churched teens eventually walk away from church.
Even harder to pin down are the reasons for that. It’s easy to have a blamestorming session and take aim at churches, students, the culture at large, and—oh, yes—the parents. But answering the “why” question isn’t our task today. What we’re hoping is that some of the questions below will encourage a good conversation with your kid(s) now about the point of church.
We’re pulling our talking points from, among other sources, Acts 2:38-47. Over at the PlanetWisdom daily devo this week, we’re going back in time to the infant church and noticing how they “did church.” It’s interesting to compare and contrast, but we see great value both in helping your child see your own heart for church—and well as taking the time to understand his point of view about the purpose of church and your family’s experience of that in the real world.
- What do you like best about going to our church? What don’t you like about it?
- How would you define “the church”? Who would you say our church is for?
- What are the five most important things we “do” at church? Why?
- How do you feel about our church’s Bible teaching?
- How do you feel about our church’s musical worship?
- How do you feel about our church’s sense of community? Do you feel like part of a family there? If not, do you wish you felt more connected to the people at our church?
- How do you feel about our church’s outreach to our community, especially to people who are not Christians?
- How do you feel about the kinds of service our family helps with at church? Are there things you would like to be more involved in helping with?
- If you still live in this area after moving out of our house, do you think you would continue to go to our church? If not—or if you moved away—what kind of church would you imagine yourself going to?
- Some statistics say that most teens end up leaving evangelical churches and not coming back? Do you think that’s true? If so, why do you think that is?
- Do you think there are things churches could do better—or that students could do better—to stay connected together?
- Do you think church really matters for Christians? If so, why is it important that Christians be part of a Bible-believing local church? [Parent: Two possible reasons can be found in Hebrews 10:24-25 (to encourage each other to love and good deeds) and Romans 12:1-8 (to use our spiritual gifts in service to each other).]
- Acts 2:42-47 describes how Christians “did church” when the New Testament church first started out after Jesus went back to heaven. Our church doesn’t have to be exactly like their experience of the church. But how do you think we do at the following things they did:
- being devoted to the apostles’ teaching (understanding and living by God’s Word)
- being devoted to fellowship (connecting with other Christians)
- being devoted to eating together
- being devoted to prayer
- being impressed by the power of God and what He’s doing in our lives
- spending lots of time together
- sharing our money and our stuff
- meeting each others’ financial needs
- spending time in each others’ homes
- having glad and sincere hearts
- praising God
- making a good impression on people in our neighborhoods and community
- How could we do better at some of those things? Do you think we need to try to do better?
- If you could suggest some changes to the leaders of our church, what would they be? What could you do to help make them happen?
- Are there things our family could start doing right away or our own to make our church—or our experience of “doing church” with other Christians—better in some ways?
Trusting God When Things Go Wrong
Does God care more about our obedience—or about our trusting Him? They often go hand-in-hand, but many students carry with them a kind of black-and-white view of God that their behavior is what matters most to Him. Yes, they know He loves them in spite of their sin—but they also believe He cares most about them NOT sinning.
But even in the Old Testament—with God’s people living under His very specific instructions—what He often seems most offended by when that fail is that they don’t trust Him. He sounds most angry that they are not convinced about His love, His power, or His goodness, as evidenced by their disobedience.
When coupled with our New Testament understanding of God, we see that He is a Father who cares deeply that His children take Him at His word, believe that He cares for them, and trust His ability to meet their needs.
We’re pulling our talking points this week from Numbers 20:2-13 with the hope of encouraging students to look beyond a simple right-versus-wrong view of God and to see Him as a person who cares deeply about whether they trust Him or not. It may be helpful to read this quick story with or without your child before looking for a good time to talk about these questions.
- What are some of the different ways people can respond when something really terrible happens?
- How about in our family? Do we tend to get scared? Angry? Frustrated? Or do we ever choose a more positive response?
- A story in Numbers 20 describes the Israelites, still wandering in the wilderness, coming to a town in the desert where they probably expected to find water for them and their kids and their animals. Instead, the place was dry. If something didn’t change, lots of people could have died. How do you think they responded?
- The first thing the Israelites did was to get angry with their leaders, fighting with Moses and challenging his choices. Have you ever noticed that people often look for someone to blame when bad things happen?
- Do you think we ever tend to try to blame others for bad things, even if it really isn’t that person’s fault? What does that response say about who we are trusting to keep bad things from happening to us?
- The story describes how the complaining Israelites made a list of other things that had gone wrong for them. Have you noticed that when things go wrong, people tend to make lists of all the wrong things in their lives?
- The Israelites had been in a very similar situation before—and God had miraculously provided them with water. He’d also done miracles like keeping their shoes from wearing out, parting the Red Sea to save them from the Egyptians, and sending food to them in the middle of the desert year after year. Why do you think we don’t tend to remember all the good things God has given to us when bad things happen?
- Do you think that’s something we can control? Can we choose what list we will make—the bad things list or the good things list? How does the list we choose show what we think about the goodness and trustworthiness of God?
- Moses and Aaron responded to the disaster by going to God to ask for His help. How does our choice to pray or not to pray when something terrible happens show whether we really trust God or not?
- God gave Moses and Aaron very specific instructions for how He would provide water for the people. Moses was supposed to talk to a rock, but he got angry and hit the rock, instead. God punished him and Aaron for that. Why do you think it matters to God so much that we do exactly what He tells us to do? Do you ever wonder if He’s just on a power trip, just wanting to control everyone?
- Here’s what He told Moses was the reason He cared that Moses didn’t do exactly as God had said: “Because you did not trust in me enough . . .” How does partial obedience to God show that we don’t really trust Him? How does full obedience show that we really trust Him?
- What do you think God cares most about—that we do exactly what He tells us to down to the last detail or that we trust His heart as right and good and strong and loving? Have you ever thought about God loving you in a way that cares that you believe Him, that cares what you think about Him as your Father?
- We can obey God because we trust Him and believe He will always do what’s best for us. What are some other reasons people might obey God? Do you think some obey out of pride? Out of selfish fear? Out of defeat?
- Do you think it matters why we obey God?
- What are some areas of your life where you’d like to be able to trust better that God is right, that He loves you, or that He’s powerful enough to do what He says He will do for you?
- Do you ever think of disobeying God as not trusting Him?
Talking About Sex
Is talking to your kids about sex more awkward for you or for them. It probably depends on their age and your family dynamics. Unfortunately, nobody else seems uncomfortable talking to you or your kids about sex—and just like everyone else on the planet, your kids are usually willing to listen.
Of course, God’s Word also has a message or two on the topic. This week, we’re pulling our talking points from 1 Corinthians 6, in which Paul seems to be answering questions from a group of Christians asking, “What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just a normal, physical act? Haven’t we been freed from the Law? Why not just do what comes naturally? Why would God care what I do with my own body?”
These are the same questions a lot of Christian teens we’ve met are asking. And the best they could hope for is to get good answers from God’s Word and a parent or two. Maybe a few of the following questions will help facilitate that conversation with your student.
- Does it make you uncomfortable to talk about sex with your parent(s)? Why or why not?
- Does it make you uncomfortable to watch conversations about sex happen in TV shows or movies?
- Do you feel awkward talking about it at school or with friends?
- How would you describe the standards for sexual activity you see in most movies, TV shows, and popular music? How do most fictional characters decide if and when to have sex?
- How would you describe the standards—or rules for sex—that most of your friends or peers have? Or do you think most people just kind of decide as they go along?
- How would you describe your own standards for sex?
- How would you describe the Bible’s rules for sex between unmarried and married people? What passages do you think those rules comes from?
- Paul also writes that when we participate in sexual immorality—having sex with someone we’re not married to—we can become mastered or controlled by sexuality. Have you noticed people who seem to be controlled by sex, who can’t seem to think or talk about anything else? Why do you think that happens so much ?
- Almost every healthy person alive is interested in sex, and God made us. Clearly, there’s nothing wrong with being interested in sex or experiencing sexual desire. What are some other desires for good things that must also be controlled?
- Do you think it is ever true for us to say that we are not capable of controlling our desires or attractions?
- Do you think it really matters to God what you do with your body? Why or why not?
- In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes that for Christians, our bodies are “members of Christ himself.” Do you ever think of your body as being part of Christ’s “body”? What do you think that means?
- Paul warns that when we unite our body to someone else sexually, as Christians we are uniting a part of Christ to that person. Should that change how we think about sex?
- Paul even goes so far as to say that we do not own our own bodies. God bought them with Jesus’ blood and sent His Spirit to live in us as a kind of temple. Does the idea that our bodies belong to Him bother you? What would be the consequences for us if God had not purchased us with Jesus’ blood?
- Do you think God cares what we do with our bodies? Do you think it’s possible to have any kind of sexual experience without creating some kind of a consequence?
- How does participating in sexual immorality harm us?
- What’s the most difficult thing about maintaining sexual purity until marriage? What makes it easier?
- Paul says we should run away from sexual immorality. What are some practical ways we can do that?
- What are some ways we make temptation more difficult for ourselves by not running away?
- Are there any things we could do as parents or as a family to help you to maintain a commitment to sexual purity?
One of our great challenges as parents is to communicate to our kids both the seriousness of sin and graciousness toward sinners (like us!) that reflects God’s love and compassion. On the one hand, we’d like our children to clearly perceive obvious sin with black-and-white clarity; on the other hand, we’d like to help them to avoid becoming arrogant, judgmental legalists.
Younger kids, especially, tend to think in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” We can fall into the trap of portraying those who believe or behave differently from us—even sinfully—as “bad guys” in our children’s eyes. And kids eager to demonstrate their knowledge of the universe sometimes rush to judgement of everyone on the other side of the fence.
Jesus warned the legalists of his day not to become volunteer judges, especially when blind to their own sinfulness. He stated clearly that a consequence of taking up the judge’s gavel is to suddenly find yourself the one on trial in God’s eyes and/or the eyes of others. In the next breath, though, He taught that there is an appropriate time to try to help “remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
Jesus also warned that it is sometimes just pointless to “cast the pearls” of God’s truth about right and wrong in front of those who have no interest or ability to hear that truth from His Word. At least, that’s one take on His teaching about pearls and pigs in Matthew 7:6.
As you may have guessed, we’re pulling this week’s conversation starters from part of Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew 7:1-13. We hope a few of the following questions might stir up a good conversation between you and your child about sin, judgement, and God’s grace.
- Do you know anyone who tends to think of Christians as judgmental people? Do you think we are judgmental?
- Do you think that label—or that idea that we are “intolerant”—is always fair? Is it sometimes fair? Should we be intolerant of sin? Of people who sin? Of our own sin?
- What does it mean to you when someone is described as judging others? What does that look like? What does that feel like?
- Do you think it is judging to say that some things are right and others are wrong? Is it judging to believe that certain actions or attitudes are sinful? Why or why not?
- How is believing that something is sinful different from “judging” people who do that sin? Is it different?
- Out of everyone in the universe, who is the one Person that is absolutely qualified to judge human beings for sin?
- Why is God qualified to judge us for our sin?
- Why are we not qualified to “pronounce judgement” on others in our own authority?
- Will God ever judge a Christian for his or her sin? Why or why not? Does He forgive us because we deserve to be forgiven or because Jesus paid for our sin with His blood? If we are forgiven people who have received God’s grace, should we be more or less likely to be judgmental to others? Should we be proud or humble about being included in God’s family?
- Why do you think Jesus and others in the New Testament warn us about judging each other? Do you think Jesus meant we should never have an opinion about what is right and wrong or what is wise and foolish?
- How do you tend to think about people who are obviously judging you or others? Do we tend to want to “judge them back”?
- Jesus also warned us about trying to correct other people’s smaller wrongs when we’ve got huge ones of our own? Why do you think it’s so hard for us to see our own sin, even when that sin is obvious to other people?
- Would you say you are open to having people talk to you about sin in your life? Why or why not? Is it “judging” if someone who cares about you points out a problem with your choices or attitudes?
- Sometimes it is absolutely the right thing to talk to other people about their sin. Is it possible to do that without judging them? How do you know when you should or should not talk to people about sin?
- Jesus warned about casting pearls before pigs. He seemed to be saying that we should not waste our time talking about valuable things to people who can’t or won’t listen. How does that fit with choosing who we should or should not talk to about sin?
- Do you think its possible for us to hate sin with real emotion and love people who do sin with real compassion? At the same time? How could we do better at that as a family?
Wisdom, Fame, and Fortune
This week’s celebrity obituaries probably hold more impact for parents than kids. Hopefully, they will remind us, at least, that life is very short and can end very quickly. And hopefully, they’ll motivate us to continue to prepare our kids for the right definition of success.
We’re pulling our talking points this week from James 3:13-18, which talks about the difference between heaven’s wisdom and that of the world. One of the most striking differences is illustrated in the lives and deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett—both enormously successful on the world’s playing field and both (reportedly) tremendously troubled for long stretches after becoming successful.
We hope a few of these questions will provide some timely and productive conversation with your child about life, death, wisdom, foolishness, success, and failure. Spending a few minutes with James 3:13-18 will help prepare you to talk about the Bible’s perspective on the answers.
- Were you ever a fan of any of Michael Jackson’s music—and how do you feel about his death? [Parent: Be willing to share your memories of Jackson’s success, your own fandom (or lack of it), and your feelings about his passing.]
- Who would you say are the Michael Jacksons and Farah Fawcetts of your day? Who has that kind of fame, power, “cool factor,” and money?
- Do any of them seem to you like wise people? Why or why not?
- We can’t know for sure if this applies to Michael Jackson, but what does it mean to you that a person could gain the whole world and lose his soul? [Parent: See Mark 8:36.]
- How would you define success from a worldly point of view?
- What is your definition of success?
- What is the point of becoming rich and famous if it causes so many people to become miserable—and if it can go away so quickly?
- How would you define wisdom? How about understanding?
- James 3 says that if someone has wisdom and understanding, we should see it in his or her life. What would you say is evidence of wisdom in someone’s life?
- According to James, wisdom shows up as a “good life” and doing good things with humility. Who are a few people in your life who show a lot of wisdom and understanding?
- Do you know any smart people who aren’t as good at living wisely? Can someone be really successful—rich and famous and powerful—without being very wise or understanding?
- How would you describe the opposite of wisdom and understanding?
- James talks about “bitter envy” and “selfish ambition”—or wanting what other people have and wanting to promote yourself—as the opposite of wisdom. Why do you think that selfishness and wisdom are opposites?
- Sometimes, selfish people succeed in getting what they want—possessions, status, pleasure. Do you think it usually leads to real happiness? Why or why not?
- James says two results of living for yourself—even if you become rich and famous—are disorder (or confusion) and more and more sinfulness. Can you think of any successful people who seem to be known for leading lives of confusion and sinfulness?
- If we don’t make it the point of our lives to make money or get famous or feel good—what should be the point of our lives? What should we live to accomplish?
- How can we get wisdom and understanding from God’s point of view? [Parent: Study the Word, ask God for wisdom, focus on God and others.]
- James makes a big deal of the idea that “wisdom is as wisdom does”—and that wisdom is humble. How would you define being humble? Can you think of any famous people known for being really humble?
- Instead of “winning” or getting ahead, God’s wisdom in James 3:18 seems to be about making peace and getting along with and serving other people. Does that sound like wisdom to you? Why or why not?
- Can you live for money and fame and live for serving other people at the same time? Why or why not?
- Jesus said you can’t serve both God and money at the same time. (See Luke 16:13.) Why does it take so much humility not to live for money, but to live for God?
Even in the middle of a summer packed with activities, events, and entertainment options, much of the focus of a student’s life can come down to achievement. Summer jobs often involve earning money successfully toward a specific goal. Sports camps and workouts are about getting better for the next season. Even Bible studies and mission trips can come with an emphasis on self-improvement as a Christian.
Here’s a kind of subtle question: How are we defining success? In our effort to help our kids see life from a biblical point of view, do we sometimes end up communicating to them that Jesus—or Christianity—is meant to be a tool for making themselves more successful as athletes, students, or people in relationships? Are we unintentionally modeling the idea that Jesus is a problem-fixer or success-enhancer on the road to personal victory?
We’re pulling our talking points from Colossians 2:1-8 this week, where Paul describes himself as struggling for the purpose of helping people see that knowing Jesus is the goal of life, not a means to other ends. It’s all about Jesus, not personal success or failure or entertainment or progress.
Maybe the following questions will make the idea more clear—and help to generate some good conversation with your son or daughter about keeping their focus on Christ. Think about reading this short passage together.
- Paul describes himself as struggling to accomplish a specific purpose, to meet a need in the lives of people he has never met. What are some professions in which people struggle to meet the needs of strangers? [Parent: For starters, nurses, soldiers, air traffic controllers, safety engineers, etc.]
- Why do those people work so hard to help others? [Parent: Maybe for money or glory, but often because they see a need that someone cannot provide for themselves.]
- What kinds of needs do those people meet? [Parent: Needs may include the need for safety, medical attention, freedom, etc..]
- Would you ever risk your life to provide for the needs of strangers? What kinds of needs would be worth sacrificing yourself to meet?
- Paul struggled and sacrificed to help people understand a very critical truth. It’s a need for understanding we all have, even as Christians. What would you guess that need is?
- Do you think you need to be encouraged in your heart? Where do strong hearts come from? Do you think if we lack courageous hearts, we’re missing something in our relationship with God?
- Do you think we are united with other Christians in love? What would be some examples of that? Why does that break down? Do you think we’re living the full life God wants for us if we are divided from other Christians by anger, bitterness, jealousy, or fear?
- Would you say you are rich in your understanding of Jesus? Why or why not?
- Do you know Christians who appear to be poor in understanding Jesus? What does that look like in their lives?
- Do you think we sometimes try to use Jesus—or our relationship with God—as a tool to make our own lives better, to makes ourselves more successful in school or sports or work? Would their be anything wrong with that?
- Does being a Christian—or following Jesus closely—necessarily mean that we’ll get better grades or do better in sports or make more money? Why or why not?
- Should we expect that following Jesus will make our lives easier, keep bad things from happening to us, or make us more popular? Why or why not?
- If Christianity is not necessarily intended to make us better, more successful people, what is the point of following Jesus? Or is following Jesus its own point?
- When you need knowledge or wisdom, where is the first place you look? Why?
- Paul said that all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom are hidden in Christ. What do you think that means? How can we look for knowledge and wisdom in our relationship with God through Jesus?
- Some people tell really excellent lies about God and Jesus. Sometimes they even believe those lies themselves. What are some things people say about Jesus that can sound really good in a way even though they are false?
- If Jesus is God’s final answer to having a right relationship with Him, why would it be dangerous to believe the wrong things about Jesus?
- Do you think your faith in Jesus is firm? What would you say is the difference between a firm faith and a flimsy one?
- Is it harder for you to trust God when things are going well or when they’re going badly? Why do you think that is?
- Do you think you could call a life successful if a person grew deep and strong in a relationship with Jesus but never made much money or became popular or traveled much?
- Same question in reverse: Do you think you could call a life successful if a person had a weak relationship with Jesus but made lots of money or traveled a lot or became well-known and well-liked? Why?
Have you ever told your tween or teen kids, “You’ve got your whole life in front of you”? Usually, it’s part of conversation about something they’re not quite old enough to do just yet. They’re so eager to acquire experiences, and you’re just as eager for them to hold off, to grow up a little, to let their maturity catch up with their enthusiasm before jumping in.
This week, though, why not surprise them with a conversation that nudges them in the opposite direction? Help them to see that life is way too short and that they’d better not waste any time before getting serious about one key aspect of living.
We’re pulling our discussion questions from Psalm 90, in which Moses talks to God about how short and full of trouble human life is. It’s not a message many kids are used to hearing, especially from parents. But it’s an essential component to becoming a wise person. Wisdom hears the ticking of the mortality clock and remembers that we’d better not waste today on serving ourselves.
As Solomon put it in Ecclesiastes, we hope our kids will remember their Creator in the days of their youth. We hope that they’ll be motivated by the shortness of life to invest the energy of youth for eternal rewards. We want them to count their days carefully as good reason to “gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
We hope a few of these questions will help to start that conversation.
- How long has God existed? How long will He exist? [Parent: See Psalm 90:2.]
- How long is a single human life in comparison to the length of God’s life? [See Psalm 90:3-6.]
- Assuming a new generation is born every 40 years or so, how many generations have been born, lived, and died since 1900? [Parent: Almost 3 generations have come and gone, going back to your child’s great-grandparents.]
- How many generations have lived and died since the birth of Jesus? [Parent: More than 50(!) generations have come and gone in the last 2000 years.]
- If God has always existed—and human lives are so very short in comparison to His—how much more do you think He knows about everything than we do?
- God has watched hundreds of generations of humans come and go, all of them born into sin and rebelling against Him. Why do you think our sin makes Him angry?
- Do you think He knows every sin we do?
- How can we possibly live forever with Him after He’s seen all the sin we do? [Parent: This question is intended to create an opportunity to reinforce the salvation message and re-emphasize the grace of God. We want to help our kids be able to articulate how anyone can be saved.]
- The average human lifespan is between 70 and 80 years. Does that feel like a short time or a long time to you?
- If you live until you’re about 75, what percentage of your life have you already lived?
- Do you think life is hard for a few people? For most people? For everyone?
- Is it unfair that some people die really young?
- What if someone lives for 75 years, stays really healthy, has a lot of money, and does most of the “good things” in life? Would that be a “good enough” life on this earth? [Parent: We want to help our kids to see that this life isn’t what God made us for, that even at its best it’s full of pain and groaning and heartache, that the life God intends for us in heave in a million times better in every imaginable way.]
- When you think of how perfect heaven is and how painful this life is, should we be glad we don’t live here too much longer? Why or why not?
- Do you think it’s a good idea to remember how short our lives really are? Should we keep track of how many days we might have left here? [Parent: Think about reading Psalm 90:12 with your child.]
- When we realize how short life is, what should we do about it? Should it change the way we live? [Parent: Help your student see that it should remind us that we really need God’s wisdom to make the most of the time we have here, to really honor Him with our day.]
- How can we gain a heart of wisdom?
- What can you do while you’re young to start serving God with your short life here?
- Does it make sense to wait until you’re older to start serving God?
- Do you ever get concerned about wasting your life or not making the most you can of it?
- What are some specific ways you could get a “jump start” on your next life by investing in things that will last forever?
- Does remembering that we’re all going to die someday mean we have to be really sad all of the time?
- Does remembering how short life is make us more or less likely to be grateful to God for saving us through faith in Jesus?
- Can understanding that human life is short actually make us more joyful, more likely to want to sing praises to God?
- Does realizing that life is short help us to pay better attention to what God is doing?
- What are some of God’s works that you’ve noticed?
- At the end of Psalm 90, Moses asked God to establish his people’s work. What are some of things that you’re involved in that you would want God to establish—to make so valuable that it still matters after you’ve died?
- What are some things you—or we as a family—could get involved in that will still matter in heaven or on earth long after our generations have come and gone?
Becoming Who They Are
Trend analysts like to point to the idea that our technology and our era are pushing kids to become their own brand. Identity formation has always been a big deal for kids—figuring out on an unconscious, unspoken level the idea of themselves they will hold on to. But now kids are being asked to describe their identity very specifically every time they fill out a profile for another social network.
Depending on the personality of the child, it can create a lot of pressure. You’ve got to pick the profile picture that will become the visual representation of your brand (until you change it again tomorrow). You’ve got to define yourself by what music, movies, and books you like—and even by those you don’t. You’re urged to be open about your religious affiliation, your school, and your sports.
Ideas of themselves that kids may have once kept hidden for a while or tried on and rejected they are now being asked to commit to sooner than later by the ever-present blinking cursor. Who are you now?
Even the circles of “friends” (Facebook) and “followers” (Twitter) you most associate with is a very conscious way of creating and refining your personal brand. For some students, the exercise becomes all consuming. Even those who make a joke out of the process are defining themselves, in a way, as being above pressure to conform to the trend (which might be a really healthy way for some kids to go).
In the PW daily devo for students this week, we’re working through 1 Peter 1:13-21. A big idea from that passage is that Peter encourages Christians to be who they are in Christ, to live up to the new profile He’s written for those who follow him, to willingly change the very definition they carry of themselves to conform to His.
Our hope is that a few of the questions below will generate a good discussion with your student about identity issues and what it means to live up to our new identity in Jesus.
- How hard is it for you to fill out profiles about yourself for things like Facebook or other sites online?
- Is it hard for you to decide what picture to use or what to put down for your likes, dislikes, interests, etc.?
- Does it bother you to be asked to describe yourself so specifically or do you enjoy sharing yourself with people in this way?
- Are you ever tempted to be dishonest about what you really like—or what you’re really like—because you’re afraid of what someone might think about that?
- What is the point of being so open about who you really are with these sites—or anywhere, really?
- If you filled out a profile about yourself that only you would ever see, how much different would it be than one you would show to your friends, your parents, or God?
- Would a completely open profile about who you really are be different as a Christian than if you were an unbeliever?
- What would you say are the most important parts of your identity, in God’s eyes, as someone who has trusted in Jesus for your salvation?
- Would you define yourself to yourself as a child of God, as an ambassador of heaven, as someone who is holy, as a new creation, as being without blemish before God, as a prince or princess in the kingdom of God, as a priest, as a servant of Jesus, as being on a mission from God to use your influence for His glory?
- Do you know that the Bible defines every Christian as having the identity described in the last question?
- How different is that identity from the way you usually think of yourself?
- How different would our lives look if we were really trying to live like we are all of those things?
- What are things we could do as a family to choose to live up to the new version of ourselves we are in Christ? What are things we currently do that might make it harder to do that?
- What would you say are the three most important rules we have for you at home?
- What are the three biggest rules for you at school?
- How about the three biggest rules of driving a car?
- Do you think all of these rules have a point? Are they just a way of controlling people, or are most of them in place because they’re for our good?
- What would you say are three things you’ve been praised for in the last week or so? Or what have you been complimented for?
- What are some of the rewards you’re most proud of? [Parent: Feel free to respond letting them know you’re proud of them, as well.]
- What do you think are God’s three biggest rules for you right now in your life?
- What do you think He would be mostly likely to reward you for?
- Do you think that God likes you? Why or why not?
- Do you think God likes you or loves you because you keep the rules really well?
- Do you think He would like you less if you stopped keeping them? [Parent: Don’t miss an opportunity to emphasize that God proved His love for us by sending His Son to die for us when we were still breaking all of the rules—and that right now He loves Christians completely because He sees us as His children and as having Jesus’ righteousness on us. We can’ make Him stop loving or liking us.]
- Setting aside all of the rules and rewards for a minute, do you like God? Would you say you love Him, even?
- What are the three things you think of first when you think about praising or worshipping Him? What is really great about Him?
- In Mark 7, some of the Jewish religious leaders criticized Jesus for not making His disciples follow all of the extra rules they had that went along with the Law. Then Jesus criticized them for caring more about obeying man-made rules than being close to God in their hearts.
- Do you think we give people the idea that following rules is the thing God cares about most?
- How could we do better at communicating that God cares most about our being close to Him in our hearts and minds?
- Do you think that means we don’t have to obey him? Or do you think that obeying Him comes out of being close to Him?
- What are some ways we can get closer to God in our hearts and minds?
- “Terminator Salvation” just came out. How would you define the word salvation as Christians use it?
- In a few words, how does a person “get saved” or become a Christian? [Parent: Use this opportunity to make sure your child understands the basic gospel message.]
- What would you say we’re saved from?
- What do you think we’re saved for?
- In Romans 5, Paul explains several of the benefits of being saved. [Parent: Consider reading the first 11 verses with your child.]
- What do you think it’s worth to have peace with God? What would be wrong with not having peace with God?
- Do you think we have peace with Him even when we don’t feel like it? [Parent: Emphasize to your child that our status of being at peace with God does not go away—even when we don’t feel it. Because of Jesus, Christians are always at peace with God.]
- How would you define the word grace? What does it mean that people who are saved are in God’s grace?
- Is it ever a good thing for us to suffer? What are some of the ways that Christians suffer?
- How can suffering help us learn to trust God more?
- One of the things that God gives to Christians when they are saved is hope. How would you describe the hope that Christians have?
- What are you hoping for—looking forward to—after you die because you know you’re a Christian?
- What difference does it make that God gives His Spirit to Christians? How does the Spirit help us?
- Would you say that Jesus died for you because you’re a good person or because He knew you’d be able to pay Him back one day? [Parent: Emphasize that Romans 5 says we were powerless, sinners, and God’s enemies when Christi died for us.]
- Do you think someone has to make an effort to be a really good person before they can be saved by God? Why or why not?
- What do you think it means that God proved His love for us by sending Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners?
- How would you define what it means to be a sinner?
- How would you describe God’s wrath or anger? Do you think there will be a Judgment Day when God will judge all who are sinners—everyone who is not forgiven for their sins?
- What is it worth to be saved from God’s wrath on that day?
- Did you know that we were once God’s enemies?
- How would you say we went from being God’s enemies to being His children? How were we “reconciled” to Him from being against Him to being for Him (or from Him being against us to being for us)?
- Based on what we’ve talked about, could you list 5 or 10 huge good things that come with being a Christian? [Parent: Just from Romans 5:1-11 alone, this list could include being justified, being at peace with God, having access to God, standing in God’s grace, the hope of heaven, purpose in our suffering, God’s love in our hearts, God’s Spirit with us, being saved from God’s wrath, and being reconciled to Him.]
- Do you think God cares more about what we DON’T do or what we DO when following Jesus? Why do you think we sometimes get confused that being a Christian is all about NOT doing certain things?
- What are some of the things that our faith in Jesus should make us want to get up and go do? [Parent: This might be a good time to read Hebrews 13:1-8 with your child.]
- Do family members love each other differently than friends do? What do you think the Bible means when it tells us to love other Christians like brothers?
- Can you think of a few specific ways you or we have shown brotherly love to other Christians in the last few months? Can you think of any ways other Christians have loved you or us that way?
- What are a few specific things our family could do to give love to other Christians in the next few weeks or months?
- Can you think of any times when our family or our church has “entertained strangers”? What are some ways our family might be able to offer hospitality to people we don’t know?
- Do you know anyone in real life who has ever been in prison? How much do you think it would matter to people in prison to hear about Jesus? How much would it matter for them to know they are loved by God?
- Do you know anything our family could do to help people around the world who are suffering for believing in Jesus? Would you be willing to do a little research and find out how we can help?
- Do you believe in marriage? Is there any way for you to “honor” marriage at this point in your life? [Parent: Following Hebrews 13:4, suggest to your teen that he or she can honor marriage by committing to save all sexual experience for marriage. Think about discussing your teen’s plan, if any, for actively maintaining sexual purity until marriage. Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences, if appropriate.]
- What do you think it means to love money or the things money can buy? Why would loving or living for money be a problem?
- Do you think our society cares too much about money? Do you think our family sometimes cares too much about money in one way or another? What are some things we could do to change that?
- What does it look like for a person to be content with what he or she has?
- Is it possible to live like God is really “enough” for us? Can being satisfied with God’s nearness to us help us to keep from wanting more and more things?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how confident would you say you are on most days that Jesus is with you? Does that confidence in God’s presence with you help you to deal with fear?
- Outside of our family, who would you say have been some of your strongest Christian leaders or role models? What difference did trusting God seem to make in their lives?
- How could we imitate the faith of some strong Christians we know who seem to be really content or joyful or purposeful in following Jesus? What are they going and doing that we could try to do, too?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how important would you say music is to your life? Why do you think that is?
- Why do you think music is such a big part of our worship of God at church and other places?
- Do you like songs where the writer or singer talks about personal things she has experienced or felt?
- Do you think of King David from the Bible as being a musical guy? A songwriter?
- In Psalm 16, David asks God to keep him safe. What would you say are some of the scariest moments you’ve had? Did you ask God to keep you safe then? Why?
- In that same song, David tells God that there is nothing good in his life that did not come from God. Do you think any of the good things in your life did NOT come from God?
- Let’s take turns naming five or ten good things in our lives. I wonder how often either of think of those things as coming from God.
- Do you think people who trust God for good things are more or less happy that people who try to get their needs met in other ways? Why?
- Do you think anyone ever feels like he or she has enough out of life? Enough stuff or experiences or respect?
- David told God in this song that God had given him everything he needed. Would it be fair to say that God has given us enough good things for right this moment?
- If you had to break down the percentage of time you spend being aware of God or thinking about Him, how much do you think that would be? [Parent: Be ready to share your own answer to this question—even if it’s not the number you wish it was. Your teen will appreciate your honesty.]
- What are some things we could do as a family to put God in front of us more often—or more effectively?
- Does choosing to trust God in your mind make it easier for you to sleep well? Does it help you to be less worried or stressed out? [Again, parent, don’t be afraid to be open about your own struggles and/or victories with this.]
- What difference does it make today to know that one day we’ll be with God forever in heaven?
- Let’s take turns naming stressful and/or scary things going on in the world and in our lives right now until we get to a dozen or so. [Parent: The point of this question is to bring to the surface things that might be really bothering your child so you can talk about them.]
- Would you say things are more or less stressful than usual?
- Do you look forward to summer as a more peaceful—or a more stressful—season for you? Why?
- Do you think having peace of mind is something that can come only when the circumstances are right? Does our life have to be calm for us to be at peace?
- What kinds of things can we do to choose peace when life is feeling chaotic?
- What are things we can do to make peace? What does it mean to you to be a peacemaker? (See Matthew 5:9; James 3:13-18.)
- Jesus made a point to tell his disciples that He wanted them to have peace even when they were having trouble. Do you think God wants all of us to have peace? (See John 16:33.)
- Having trouble is part of living in this world. How has Jesus overcome the world? What difference does that make for us?
- Do you know for sure that you have peace with God right this minute? Can you know? Can anyone know that? (See Romans 5:1.)
- Is it always possible to live at peace with everyone? In other words, is it always your fault if conflict happens?
- How much responsibility should we take for making peace with other people? (See Romans 12:18.)
- Have you ever felt really peaceful even though your circumstances should have left you feeling overwhelmed or frightened? How does God give us peace like that? (See Philippians 4:4-9.)
- True or false: A Christian can choose to be at peace in his or her mind at any time. (See Colossians 3:15.)
- We are commanded to let Jesus’ peace rule in our hearts. How can we practically choose to surrender ourselves to His peace when we don’t feel peaceful? [Parent: Be ready to talk about your own struggles and victories in living with the peace of Christ in your heart.]
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how important would you say it is to you to be at peace in your heart and mind?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, how hard would you say that you hunt for peace and chase it down?
- What are some things we could do to make our home a more peaceful place?
- Are there times of day or days of the week when you feel more peaceful than others? Times when you feel less peaceful? Why do you think that is?
- What kinds of emotions are most likely to steal your peace of mind? Stress? Anxiety? Anger? Fear? What helps you to overcome that?
- Can a loud, active person also have peace and quiet in his or her heart? Does being peaceful mean you have to also being boring or bored?
- Where does peace of mind come from?
- Do you struggle to find peace when you go to bed at night? How can choosing to trust God with what’s on your mind help with that? (Psalm 4:8)
- Is peace something that just happens to you if you’re lucky or blessed? Or is it something you have to go after? (Psalm 34:14)
- Is it reasonable to expect to do wrong things and feel peaceful at the same time? Why or why not? (Psalm 85:10; Isaiah 32:17)
- If you’re having trouble finding peace in your mind or emotions, does it makes sense to check your life to see if you’re doing some sinful things?
- Have strong feelings or envy or jealousy ever stolen your peace? (Proverbs 14:30)
- Do you think you can lose your sense of peace when you’re chasing money or stuff or success?
- What kinds of things can make our household or our lives feel stressful? What could bring more peace into our house and our relationships? (Proverbs 17:1)
- Proverbs 29:17 tells parents that one way to have a peaceful relationship with sons is to discipline them. How do you think that works out in our lives together?
- Do you ever feel more peaceful after reading or studying God’s Word? (Psalm 119:165)
- Do you think of God as being angry, in general, or angry with you? The Bible describes Him as being slow to get angry; does that fit with your picture of Him? (See Psalm 145:8.)
- What do you think our lives would be like if God were truly angry with us all the time?
- For Christians, why do you think God is NOT angry with us about our sinful choices? (Emphasize the fact that God gives us credit for Jesus’ perfect choices. Think about reading Romans 8:1-2 together if there’s any question about this.)
- God warns us to avoid making friends with people who are quick to get angry. (See Proverbs 22:24-25.) Why do you think that is?
- Would you describe any of your good friends as angry or “hot tempered” people? Has any one else’s anger problem ever cause you pain or trouble?
- Everyone gets angry sometimes, including parents. (Think about talking about the issue of anger between you and your child and trying to clear the air about any unresolved anger questions between you. If it seems healthy, you might consider bringing up Ephesians 6:4 and talking about how dads can sometimes help their kids to feel more or less angry over time.)
- Would you say it ever feels good to get really angry? Why or why not?
- The Bible says that it is unwise to completely unleash our anger—to just let ourselves express our angry feelings without holding back. (See Proverbs 29:11.) Why do you think that is?
- Do you think people are more or less likely to sin when they’re angry? (See Proverbs 29:22.)
- God’s Word makes a big deal about how quickly we get angry. We’re told that love is not easily angered and that God is slow to get angry. On a scale from 1 to 10—with 10 being the fastest—how quickly do you tend to get angry? (See Ecclesiastes 7:9. Think about being honest about your own anger speed.)
- Do you think getting angry is a sin all by itself? (No! Emphasize this idea strongly and think about reading Ephesians 4:26 together.)
- The Bible commands us not let anger lead us into sin and not to hold onto our anger overnight. Once you get angry, how hard is it to let go of anger? (Think about sharing some ways you might have learned for letting go of anger.)
- Anger sometimes makes us feel stronger; do you think it ever helps us to make better choices? (Not usually. See James 1:20.)
- How is letting go of anger similar to making a choice to trust God? (Emphasize that when we let go of anger we’re deciding to believe that God is in control, that He is good and powerful and loving, and that He will bring about the best possible result in the situation in the long run.)
- How often do you think about Jesus? Do you ever wonder what His existence was like before He came to Earth or after He ascended into heaven?
- Have you ever wondered if someone else could have died on the cross? Did it have to be Him?
- Our culture seems to be fascinated with dual identities, like Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana, Bruce Wayne/Batman, and every rap star out there. Why do you think we’re so interested in that?
- Have you ever thought of Jesus as having a dual identity? Why do you think He kept the secret for so long while He was on earth of who He really is? What was the point of waiting?
- We believe that He was fully God and fully human at the same time. What does that idea mean to you?
- During Easter week, we heard a lot about His life as a man. Colossians 1 tells us some about His life as God, including the idea that He is the image of God. Why do you think it matters that we have a “picture” of God, who is invisible?
- Did you know that Jesus existed before anything else in all of creation—and that He created everything? Is there any way to even imagine that kind of power?
- We’re told Jesus still holds all things together, so He’s still all-powerful even after becoming human and dying and rising again. What do you think would happen if He stopped holding everything together?
- Jesus is also the head of the church—and over everything in the universe, for that matter. I know we don’t always obey God, but how often do you think about the idea that Jesus is Lord of everything, including us?
- The Bible says we were God’s enemies “in our minds” because of our “evil” actions. Do you ever think of people who are not in Christ as being God’s enemies? Would someone in a war with God have any hope at all of winning?
- We all still sin—just like God’s enemies do—but Jesus’ death and resurrection made it possible for us to be reconciled, to be made perfect in God’s eyes. What is it worth to be changed from God’s enemy to a member of God’s family?
- What are your favorite parts of what our family does for Easter every year? Anything you don’t like about how we celebrate the day?
- Do you like looking for hidden candy or eggs—or would you rather just go buy your own?
- In just a few sentences how would you explain to someone what’s involved in becoming a Christian? What are the must-believe parts of the Good News about Jesus? (See 1 Corinthians 15:3-4.)
- On Good Friday, we remember and celebrate the death of Jesus on the cross. Easter is all about His resurrection. Which one is more important? (Trick question; both are essential to our salvation.)
- Why do you think some people would want to believe that Jesus died for our sins without believing that He rose from the dead? Is it easier to believe in His death in our place on the cross than it is to believe in His coming back to life?
- What would you say could be called evidence that Jesus rose from the dead? [Parent: Might be worth reading this article on PlanetWisdom.com. Paul wrote about all the eyewitnesses who saw Jesus alive again in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8.]
- Would there be any point to being a Christian if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead? Would we really be forgiven from our sins? Would our beliefs mean anything at all? (See 1 Corinthians 5:12-19)
- Do you know anyone who is religious but doesn’t believe Jesus really came back to life physically after dying on the cross? There are people like that. Can you think of any real point to that kind of a religion? Would it really be Christian?
- Do you believe you will die and that your body will be made alive again one day, like Jesus? Why or why not? (See 1 Corinthians 15:20-22.)
- What is it worth to know that the physical death nearly every human being will experience doesn’t have to be the end—that our bodies can be resurrected just like Jesus’ was on the first Easter morning? That we can live forever? Could we put a value on that?
- Why would you say Jesus’ resurrection matters? What are we really celebrating on Easter Sunday?
- If someone unexpectedly gave you $125,000, what do you think you would do with it? What would you buy? How much would you spend and/or save?
- How much would you bury in the back yard?
- How much interest do you think $125,000 could earn if you put it in the bank for a year? [Parent: Be ready to help come up with a reasonable answer to this question.]
- What other things could you do with that kind of money to make it grow? Can you think of a business someone could start with that amount of capital that might start paying more than just interest in the bank?
- In Luke 19, Jesus tells a story about a king who gave some servants quite a lot of money and told them to put it to work for Him. A couple of them did great, one earning 100 percent and another 50 percent on the money. One buried the money and didn’t try to do anything with it. Can you think why anyone would do that with a treasure?
- Jesus wanted His disciples to be ready to invest what He had given to them in a way that would make it grow. What do you think Jesus had given to His disciples?
- What has God given to you that could be called a treasure? [Parent: You might have to help you child come up with some good answers to this question. Those might include their knowledge, their experiences, the Holy Spirit in Christians, their youth, their potential, etc.]
- Have you ever thought of the life you’ve been given as something to be invested to “pay off” for God in some way?
- What are some ways that people we know are investing their lives in growing what God has given them?
- What are some ways that people invest their lives only to get more stuff for themselves?
- What’s the difference between those two approaches to life? How do those choices look different?
- What are some ways you could invest your life right now that will build on what God’s given you so you can give more back to Him?
- What are some ways our family could do that together?
- How about your future? Are there any ways you could invest your whole life in building on God’s gifts to you for His glory?
- What does it mean to you to “love” money? Can you think of anyone we know who seems to live for money?
- What would be so wrong with living for money?
- Why do you think the economy is in such a mess right now?
- Do you think people who live for money ever feel like they have enough of it? How much money do you think you would need to be really satisfied with life?
- One of the problems with having things is that it costs so much to take care of those things. Have you ever thought about how much it costs to keep our car(s) running from month to month?
- During this economic crisis, people have been buying way fewer cars. What do you think that means for all the people who make their living on the costs that come with buying and owning cars?
- Have you noticed that we sometimes seem to get anxious or worried about money? Why do you think people get so uptight about money issues? Does it bother you that we can get worried about money?
- Do you think it’s sometimes easier to have less money if it means you have less to worry about? Why or why not?
- Do you think it can ever be unhealthy to have too much money? What would be some unhealthy attitudes that could come from having too much?
- Do you think people with lots of money should be more or less generous with money? Why do you think God cares so much that we give away some of our money?
- After everyone we know right now has died, will it matter who had the most money? Or who was the poorest? What will matter about our lives after we’ve died?
- How do you think we as a family do at really enjoying our lives? Do you think we enjoy our meals together? Our play times? The good things we have?
- Do you think it’s possible to really enjoy work? Why or why not?
- Do you think we do a good job at telling God thanks for all the good gifts we have? How could we do better at that?
- Does money provide all the good things in our lives or do they come from God? (See James 1:17)
- [Make it clear that you’re not looking to scold or correct your student before asking this question:] Who in your life has the right to tell you what to do?
- In just a few years, you’ll be out on your own. Who do you think will have the right to tell you what to do then?
- Who do you think has the right to tell me [the parent] what to do?
- Where does the authority come from to give one person the right to tell another person what to do? Does the person being told always have to agree to it?
- Do you believe God has the right to tell everyone what to do, no matter what? Why or why not?
- What are the consequences of disobeying God?
- What are the benefits of obeying God?
- What are some of the things God tells you and me we must (or must not) do? Are His commands reasonable?
- If we obey God, does He owe us anything? Should we expect our lives to be easier? Should we expect not to suffer anything awful?
- Which is more important to God, that we love Him or obey Him? Do you think the two are connected? (See John 14:15.)
- What does it mean to you to love God with all of your heart, soul, and strength? Do you think it means to obey Him the best we can possibly do?
- God tells me [the parent] to make sure you know all about His commands to you and how important it is for you to follow them. How am I doing at that?
- How could I obey that command better? How could I improve in helping you to follow and obey God more closely?
- Imagine being a parent of someone your age; how would you make sure that he or she was learning to obey God first?
- Do you think that living the Christian life is an easy or a hard thing? Why?
- What does it mean to you to walk with God every day or to live your life as a Christian? What does that look like?
- Do you ever feel that getting serious about living for God is something for when you’re older? What do you think God expects from you right now?
- What do you think He expects from me?
- Do you think you’re missing anything you need to live the life God wants you to? Are you waiting for something to come together so you can follow Him better? [See 2 Peter 1:3.]
- How many of God’s promises to you can you think of right now?
- Do you think it should be easy or hard to stop doing sinful things? How about doing good things—should that just come naturally or should Christians have to work at it, even when God gives us the power to do it?
- In 2 Peter, it says that we need to “make every effort” to turn our faith into actions. What kind of effort do you think we should be making?
- What kind of work does it take to do good or to gain knowledge about God?
- What does self-control mean to you? What are some of the areas of life in which God can help us to work at being self-controlled? Why is self-control so hard sometimes?
- Do you know any Christians who really show brotherly kindness and love in an obvious way? Do you think that just comes naturally to them or have they worked in God’s power to make those choices?
- Do you think you can waste your life as a Christian and not make the most of the life God wants you to live for Him?
- How do you think Christians might act if they forgot God had forgiven their sins through faith in Jesus?
- What the most important relationship in your life right now? How much of your life do you spend on that relationship? What is your highest priority? How much of your time do you spend working on that priority?
- Other than your parents, would you say that you have any Christian mentors?
- If so, what have you learned from them? How do you think they feel about you?
- Do you have any non-Christian mentors? How is that relationship different from being mentored by a Christian?
- When you don’t feel good physically, you have symptoms like a cough or stomach ache. What are symptoms that you’re not doing well spiritually, that your soul is hurting?
- How should we react when we see symptoms in each other that our souls are feeling down?
- If a future historian started reading your text messages or e-mail, what do you think he would think about you? What do the things you write—or that get written to you—say about your character or your commitments?
- Of course, not every text needs to be about your faith, but does it matter how other people think of us based on what we say or do? Does our reputation really matter?
- On a scale from 1 to 10, what would you say is our family commitment to truth? How about your personal commitment?
- On that same scale, how do you think your peers would rate your commitment to truth? Would your Christian friends give you a better or worse rating than your non-Christian friends? Why?
- Do you think our family could do better in helping people who spend their lives telling others about Jesus? How so? Could we do better helping people who are helping the poor or sick or hungry? Should we care about that?
- If your best friends were telling someone about you, what do you think they would point to as your best qualities? Would they bother to mention your love for God or your generosity or your truthfulness?
- How would you describe your own reputation at school or at church or at work? Do you wish your rep was different? Is there anything that could make it stronger?
- What does it mean to you to be completely committed to something? What are some of the things in your life you’d say your 100 percent devoted to?
- Which of those things would you say is the most valuable to you?
- How big of a deal is prayer in your life? Is it just a chore you know you should do—or an essential part of your day that you can’t imagine living without?
- When does prayer feel the most valuable or “essential” to you?
- What are 10 things you’d say you’re thankful for today?
- What are 3 things we could maybe ask for God’s help with today?
- Have you ever thought about praying that more and more people will trust in Jesus and become Christians? Could we ask God for that in our town? In your school? In our church?
- If you were going to regularly pray for 3-4 people in your life to become Christians, who would go on that list? Why do you think those people come to mind?
- What would be some good things for us to pray for your youth leaders or for our pastor at church?
- Do you have any Christian friends who act like different people when they’re with unbelievers than with other Christians? Is that a problem?
- Should we talk and act “more Christian” or “less Christian” when we’re with unsaved people?
- Do you ever think about the way our family makes God look to people who know we believe in Jesus? How could we do better at that?
- Do you have any projects or jobs in your life that you think have been given to you by God? If so, what?
- How would you define the word “grace”?
- Do you ever feel like people might not like you if they knew what you believe about Jesus and the Bible?
- Do you ever feel like anyone might even be angry toward you for your beliefs?
- Sometimes what we feel isn’t really true; we can be paranoid. Why do you think it’s easy to be afraid that others would think we’re foolish for believing the Bible?
- Has anyone ever confronted you about what you believe? How did you respond? How did you feel about it?
- Which would bother you more—someone thinking you’re dumb for what you believe or someone thinking you’re dumb for the choices you make because of your beliefs (like not drinking or having sex, etc.)?
- Can you imagine a situation in which you’d have to rebel against someone in authority because they wanted you to do or say something that went against your biblical convictions?
- Similar question: Can you imagine having to rebel against your friends because they wanted you to do something that went against your Christian convictions?
- What’s the best approach when you have to tell someone “no” because what they want from you isn’t right?
- Does it ever help to get angry or to yell? Is it ever a good idea just to avoid the situation so you don’t have to confront the person?
- Practically speaking, does standing strong for God matter? Does it “work”? Will it really make you happier or healthier or smarter or more joyful to believe Him and obey His teaching about sex, alcohol, telling the truth, etc.?
- Have you seen God use your choice—or someone else’s choice—to go against the flow and do the right thing pay off? Have you see it really bring glory to God?
- What’s your strategy for standing strong when the pressure is on to go against your beliefs or to do things you know are wrong before God?
- How do you feel about Valentine’s Day this year? [If your student is in a relationship or dating now, consider asking these next 4 questions.]
- Are you planning to do anything special or romantic with someone?
- If it’s not too personal, can I ask how excited you feel about your boyfriend/girlfriend on a scale from 1 to 10?
- Do you put any limits on your emotion towards a boyfriend or girlfriend? What would be the risks of just letting your emotions go?
- What are things people can do to make sure they keep their love for God first even in a relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend?
- If you’re not doing anything Valentines-y this year, does that bother you? Do you wish that you were?
- Who would you say are the 3 friends you feel closest to right now?
- How would you say your feelings for God compare with your feelings for your boyfriend/girlfriend or your other friends?
- Do you think God cares how He ranks in the list of people or things you love? (See James 4:4-5.)
- Do you think it’s a problem to care too much about getting what you want out of life? Can you get too emotionally attached to serving yourself? What would that look like? (See James 1:1-5.)
- What would it look like if God was absolutely the most important person or thing in someone’s heart? How would that change the way someone lives every day?
- What does is mean to you to try to get close to God emotionally? (James 4:8)
- How should we feel emotionally about our sin? Should sin make us sad? Why? (James 4:9)
- What does it mean to you to be humble before God? (James 4:10) How is that different from being proud in a relationship with God?
- How do you think you would have felt as one of the passengers on the plane that crashed into the Hudson River in New York City this week? Do you think you would have asked God for help? To save you?
- Do you think the fact that everyone survived that crash is evidence that our God is good?
- What if everyone had died (as sometimes happens in plane crashes)? Would that have been evidence that God is not good?
- Do you believe that God is good? Do you also believe that He is all-powerful and that He loves you completely?
What is evidence in your life that God is good? (If they don’t bring it up, try to steer them toward the gift and sacrifice of Jesus as evidence of God’s goodness and love
New Year, New You
Take a few minutes to read through Galatians 5:16-26 in light of beginning a new year. Think about this passage from the perspective of your student’s opportunity to make a fresh start in 2009.
From a wisdom perspective, you can help your student think through issues like where the power to change for the better really comes from, how growing spiritually is similar and different from just getting better grades or getting in shape, what “obvious sins” are and are not, and what someone becoming more like Jesus should start to look like.
You can use a few of these questions to gage your student’s understanding of Spirit-led change in a believer’s life and/or to introduce a teachable moment or two into an anywhere conversation.
- Are you thinking about making any New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, what?
- Do you think it’s more important to do fewer negative things or to do more positive things in 2009?
- Does the idea of a new year help motivate you to try harder again in some areas you want to improve?
- Do you think the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life can make it easier for us to change and grow? Does that help with sports and relationships-or just with spiritual kinds of things?
- What would you say are the top five or ten most obvious sins that people struggle with?
- Do you think someone could be doing all of those sins regularly and still be a Christian?
- Besides just not sinning, how should a Christian look and act differently from unsaved people? Should there be any noticeable differences?
- Here are a list of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Which of these do you see the most of in our family? The least? Which ones would you like to see more of in me?
The Foolish Joy of Mocking
See these verses from Psalms and Proverbs to understand a little more about the Bible
Clean Hands Empty Hearts
Kids in our culture live with two everyday realities unique to growing up.
One is that their lives are dominated by rules and regulations. Whether they heed them all or not, almost every arena they participate in involves learning new rules and then learning the consequences for breaking those rules. Home, school, church, sports, clubs, even becoming a new driver—each comes with a set of rules and consequences.
The other reality of childhood and adolescence is being rewarded and praised based on right behavior. Its kind of the other side of all of the rule-making. We as a society currently are very free with our praise when kids act right, look right, talk right, and succeed in any way imaginable.
Even for kids who don’t grow up in strict church environments, it’s easy to see why some get the idea that what we do is what’s most important to the adults in our lives, to our spiritual leaders, and even to God. We send them loud messages that say, “Success means obeying the rules and achieving in comparison to your peers.”
I bring this up because our talking points for the week are from Mark 7:1-23, in which the Pharisees attempted to discredit Jesus because His disciples didn’t follow the rules about hand-washing before eating.
Jesus’ response was that God cares more about what’s in our hearts—and what comes out of our hearts—than our success at following the traditions of men and submitting to man-made rules.
It’s a message our kids have likely heard but might understandably have a hard time buying that we believe. Our hope is that a few of the questions below might spur some good conversation about rules and hearts and the grace of God.
What it Means to be Saved
Last weekend’s high-budget sci-fi blockbuster was “Terminator Salvation,” and it continued the story of humanity’s battle against the machines. Only in this episode, the dreaded Judgment Day has already happened. The machines have wiped out most of humanity, leaving a handful to carry on the fight.
Movies often borrow the language of the Bible to heighten interest in their stories. That works in this case because so many of us put real weight into the word “salvation.” We believe an actual Judgment Day is coming. For Christians, those words are essential to the real life story we’re living in every day.
Do our kids understand the big ideas behind their salvation? Do they anticipate a real Judgment Day? As Christian parents, we rejoice when our children believe the simple message of the gospel, placing their faith in Jesus for the salvation of their sins.
As they grow, we can help them gain a deeper understanding for what being “saved” really means for them. What are we saved from? What are we saved for? What really happens when a person trusts in Christ? Yes, these are questions of doctrine, but they also have very straightforward answers that will give your kids greater confidence and security in God and their salvation.
Our talking points this week are built on Romans 5:1-11. We encourage you to spend a little time with that passage and then to look for some teachable moments in which to ask and discuss a few of the questions below.
Go and Do
It’s easy for teens to get the wrong idea that what we care most about in their relationship with God is what they DON’T do: Don’t have sex. Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t hang out with the wrong friends. Don’t cut class. Don’t swear. Don’t skip church. Don’t watch that. Don’t listen to that. Don’t laugh at that.
In fact, it’s easy for any of us to fall into measuring our own relationship with God on a negative scale. We’re tempted to think—and to communicate to our kids—that Christianity is really about not blowing it. “He loves you. He’s forgiven you. The least you can do is not screw up!”
This week, we’re encouraging conversations about how our faith can—and must!—motivate us to positive actions for Him. We want to talk to kids about moving past the sit-and-don’t response to God to a joyful go-and-do response for Him.
Many teens become surprisingly active and expressive when given the opportunity to turn faith into real action. That’s what we’re hoping to generate as we talk about the “command cluster” of do’s in Hebrews 13:1-8. Find a minute to read these very short verses and then look for an opportunity to try out a few of the questions below with your son or daughter.
From God’s Playlist
Does your teen son or daughter feel connected to music on an elemental level? Does he or she perform music? Write songs? And/or cram portable devices full of music to play as a kind of ever-updating soundtrack for life?
As I write this, millions of teens around the country are looking at the same “Top Songs” list on iTunes that I am. Some percentage are wondering about which songs to add to their playlists. Right now, their choices include songs from Black Eyed Peas, Daughtry, Lady GaGa, Flo Rida, and Kid Cudi.
Media choices are always a valuable way to connect with your student about big worldview ideas, but this week we’re encouraging you to make a much older song the entry to a conversation with your teen. You might encourage them to add this one to what they let play in their heads for the next few days.
King David felt elementally connected to music from a young age, as well. He expressed deep and personal thoughts in songs, some inspired by God Himself and included in our Bibles as Psalms.
The following questions spring from Psalm 16, in which David expresses his absolute commitment to the Lord alone. Reading through it once or twice will prepare you to talk about it with your child.
Big Trouble Bigger Peace
Can you ever have enough peace? We decided not, at least for this week. So we’ve generated another round of questions designed to get you and your kids talking about living with peace—even in the middle of big trouble.
You child’s world is full of potentially stressful, scary things right now. The swine flu panic-demic might be winding down, but it’s made us all more aware of how fragile human health can be. Most kids are facing end-of-term finals, papers, and projects—and all the questions about their personal future that come with the end of each school year.
In other words, we can all use another reminder that God’s peace is always available to His children.
Last week’s questions were built on Old Testament passages about peace. This week, we’re listening with New Testament ears for ways to talk peace with our sons and daughters. And most obviously, that adds the big idea that we can have forever peace with God through faith in Jesus—even when we struggle to be faithful to Him.
We hope a few of these talking points will provoke some worthwhile conversation between you and your child.
Okay, so teens don’t always seem like the most peace-loving people on the planet. Or in the house. But everyone wants peace of mind, even if some of us seem to want to have it really loudly.
After last week’s excursion into madness, that is anger, it seems right to find a few minutes to talk this week with our kids about peace. In a time of life virtually defined by angst, we’re convinced that Christian teens can represent Christ in their circles of influence by walking in and exhibiting genuine peace of mind—not just by pretending that nothing is bothering them.
As always, these conversations are meant to offer parents an opportunity to be honest about their own history, struggles, and success stories. Don’t be afraid to open up about how you wrestle with anxiety, anger, or fear to walk with the peace of Christ.
We hope a few of the following questions will give you a few good minutes of conversation with your son or daughter.
A lot of the drama in the lives of students revolves around anger issues. That’s partly because we live in an anger-driven world and partly because adolescent hormones make angry feelings rise to the surface more easily.
In their daily lives, teens must navigate unresolved conflicts within their circle of friends, anger directed toward them (rightly or not) from those in authority, and their own feelings of resentment or outbursts of rage. Much of that anger has to do with perceptions of fairness, respect, and betrayal.
Some students also wonder if maybe God is angry with them. Sometimes they feel like He probably should be. At other times, they may resent Him for His anger based on a wrong understanding of who God is.
The teen years can be a time when a person learns to recognize, respect, and control anger. A few of the following questions (and related Bible passages) might help you to have a helpful conversation with your student about anger.
The Real Jesus
This Week: The Real Jesus
Dual identities are a huge part of our entertainment and youth culture right now. This last weekend, Hannah Montana ruled the box office with her ongoing story of being both “regular girl” Miley Stewart and pop star Hannah.
That secret alter-ego territory is normally reserved for the comic book/superhero world of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, etc. And rap stars have been beefing up their stage presence with assumed tough-guy identities for years. Our celebrity craze is driven partly by the “need” to find out who our on-screen heroes “really are.”
Having just wrapped up Easter week, Christians have been reminded that Jesus operated while here on Earth as a kind of dual identity, as well. We believe He was both fully God and fully man without the need for a costume change to become either one. We emphasized his humanity last week, that His life, death, and resurrection were all very physical.
This week, we’re looking for opportunities to talk about His non-secret identity as God, a being who has always existed, who is amazingly powerful, and who is absolutely unique in all of the universe. We want to talk about why it had to be Him on the cross and leaving the tomb—or else all of us would be lost.
If you get a chance to capitalize on last week’s Easter emphasis, look to work a few of these questions into a productive conversation about Jesus. You’ll find it helpful to read through Colossians 1:15-22.
Why the Resurrection Matters
This Week: Why the Resurrection Matters
Easter week provides an obvious opportunity to talk with teens about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our cultural response to the holiday runs the gamut from ignoring it altogether, secularizing it for the sake of marketing and festivities, scorning it, and—perhaps—over-spiritualizing the day.
It may sound odd to say that we could over-spiritualize Easter, but it happens in two ways. When we place such a large spiritual emphasis on Easter that it makes our everyday walk with Christ seem meager by comparison, we can communicate to our kids and teens that it’s safe to keep Jesus on a special shelf instead of bringing Him into every moment of our “real lives.”
The other way some in our cultural over-spiritualize the day is by glossing over the very physical, bodily, blood-soaked death of Jesus—and His very physical, bodily, feet-on-the-grass resurrection. On Good Friday and Easter, we celebrate flesh-and-blood moments when a real heart stopped beating and actual lungs started processing oxygen again.
Our talking points this week come from Paul’s teaching on why the resurrection matters in 1 Corinthians 15. If you get a chance to read it carefully, you’ll find it helpful in talking over a few of the following questions with your child.
Don’t Bury Your Treasure
This Week: Don’t Bury Your Treasure
We’re coming up on Easter. For teens, especially, it can be challenging to know what to do with this “holiday.” For most kids growing up in Christian homes, the day has had a dual purpose—it’s a big deal at church because it’s about Jesus’ resurrection AND it comes with candy, treasure hunts, and sometimes gifts. It’s fun!
For teens recently graduated or transitioning away from coloring or hunting eggs and the thrill of free candy, they’re left with a possible family gathering and the resurrection celebration. It’s a holiday you know you’re supposed to feel deeply about although it might seem less “fun” and “special” than it used to be.
We try to help teens to begin to take more personal responsibility for responding to the implications of Easter. This week in the student devo, we’re focusing on Jesus’ parable in Luke 19 about the “10 minas.” In Luke, it’s His last teaching before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The point of the story is that He wanted His followers to invest what was given to them for Him.
The point of the following questions, then, is to help spark a conversation with your child about how they can use their lives now—and in the future—to invest what they’ve been given for God’s glory.
This Week: Money Problems
The economy may be beginning to bounce back this week. At least, that’s the spin this news cycle. Whatever your family has talked together about during this economic crisis, it continues to be a great opportunity to discuss financial wisdom and foolishness with your kids.
In addition to looking for natural opportunities to share from your own experience, understanding, and insight about the financial issues in play today, we’re encouraging parents this week to consider the ancient wisdom of Solomon about money as he expressed in Ecclesiastes 5. Consider reading that chapter as preparation for talking through the questions below.
Scripture identifies Solomon as the wisest and perhaps wealthiest man who has ever lived. Surprisingly, he was highly cynical about money. He saw money as fickle, limited, and ultimately disappointing. He urged his readers to develop the ability to enjoy what they had rather than making acquisition the point of life.
We’d love to hear if any of the following questions provoke some honest and productive conversations with your kids.
Obeying God First
This Week: Obeying God First
The challenge we face in communicating our commitment and passion for obeying God to our kids is not a new one, of course. It’s the same challenge the nation of Israel faced with each new generation. And we know they were not always successful. In fact, their record was pretty dismal. Human nature has not changed.
Part of the problem is that our kids have not shared in the experiences and hard-learned discoveries that brought us to our current level of commitment to God. This week, many students are likely distracted by warmer weather outside, wrapping up winter sports, getting deeper into spring sports, and an ever-growing network of digital “friends.” Some of them might even be studying.
God has laid it at our feet to get their attention and pass the spark on in a way that has the best chance to catch flame. Specifically, the goal is to get them to internalize their responsibility to obey Him first and above all.
We’ve drawn our talking points for the week from Deuteronomy 6:1-9. As you look for opportunities to fall into conversation with your teen this week, maybe a few of these questions will spur some constructive dialogue on the issue of owning their need to obey God.
This Week: Trying Harder
Is it possible that some of us have taken some of the challenge out of following Jesus for our kids? Have we described a relationship with God that is too easy, that only requires students to talk the talk and stay out of serious trouble? Is there value in setting the bar higher for our kids (and ourselves) and then making sure they notice the sweat involved in running after Jesus?
This last week, your teen’s world may have been full of basketball or other sports; thousands(!) of texts, Facebook messages, and Twitter updates; watching (or being curious about) all that sex, hype, and violence in “The Watchmen;” 30 - 40 hours of school and studying; and maybe 3 hours at church.
Where did working at following Jesus fit into that mix? This week’s talking points come from 2 Peter 3:3-9. If you get a minute to read it, you’ll be better prepared for whatever dialogue these questions church up. If your student uses the PlanetWisdom.com daily devo, he or she will be studying the same passage this week.
[Moms/Dads: Sometimes the stickiest wisdom you can give your kids is that of your own experience in following Jesus. Be sure to share your own failures and victories if you get the opportunity.]
Known by Their Texts
This Week: Known by Their Texts
If in the distant future some diligent historian were to uncover a letter or e-mail or series of text messages to or from your child, what would they learn from that snapshot? What would they conclude about your child’s character, faith, or values?
We’re pulling our conversation starters for this week from reading 3 John, a personal letter written from one man to another about 2,000 years ago. It’s just a quick note, really, but it tells us volumes about what was essential to these two men.
Teenagers, especially, can have trouble seeing beyond the moment right in front of them. We all do. This week’s questions are designed to get them and you talking about the quality of the lives we’re building, how others think of us based on our choices, and what it means to live in the truth in a way that leaves an impact.
[Mom or Dad: 3 John 4 says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” If you’ve felt that joy, mention it to your kids as a way of encouraging them to keep going.]
One More Thing
This Week: One More Thing
You know that feeling you get when you’re saying goodbye to a son or daughter on the way out the door to a big trip or major event? Or maybe you’re the one headed somewhere for a few days.
Suddenly, you fall into a rush of last-minute instructions and helpful direction. Sometimes, your most important guidance comes out in those “signing off” moments.
This week, we’re pulling our talking points from some of Paul’s last-minute instructions to his friends in the town of Colosse. He’s writing to them from prison—where he’s locked up for preaching about Jesus—and he’s wrapping up his short-but-urgent letter.
What he says to the Colossians are instructions very similar to what we hope our kids will follow as they continue their walk with Jesus further and further from us toward adulthood and independence.
Take a minute to read Colossians 4:2-6 to prepare your heart and mind to discuss some of the following questions during any available teachable moments that spring up this week.
[As always, be ready to share answers to these questions from your own life experiences.]
This Week: Standing Stronger
It is too simplistic to say our students live in a culture hostile to their Christian faith. After all, the evangelical church is thriving. We are free to worship God according to our convictions without fear of reprisals from our government or our peers. And we openly discuss and proclaim our beliefs in every imaginable forum.
Still, your children may sometimes feel as if the secular media culture, especially, is hostile to their faith. Many intelligent and popular teachers, TV personalities, and politicians openly mock what they believe. Closer to home, the reaction of peers to bold belief in Jesus can range from simple confusion to open contempt.
More pervasive is the expectation on our kids to participate without objection in newer cultural norms like binge drinking, sexual gaming and experimentation, cheating, lying, and even giving ascent to worldview ideas that contradict your own biblical teaching.
This week, we’re focusing the talking point questions below (as well as our Daily Prayer and the PlanetWisom.com daily devotional) on the issue of standing for our biblical convictions. We’re basing these conversations on Daniel 1. You might want to read through it to prepare yourself for any teachable moments that become available this week.
[As a parent, be ready to share any of your own experiences about standing up—or not—for what you knew to be right. Be sure to include the consequences of those decisions.]
Loving God First
This Week: Loving God First
It’s Valentine’s week, so students will be getting earfuls and eyefuls of input about love, romance, sex, and even heartbreak, depending on what voices they’re tuning in.
Corporate culture will want them to buy something to express their affection to someone. Pop music will push them to feel romantically about someone or to wallow in despair about having no one to be romantic with.
Peers and other media may join forces to urge them to celebrate the day with acts of physical affection and emotional commitment. The day can even be used as an invitation to indulge an affection for porn.
Hopefully, the messages coming from you, your church, and their Christian friends will be more positive. We’re encouraging you to use Valentine’s week as an opportunity to talk with your student about his or her affections—specifically affection for God.
We’re basing the following talking points (as well as this week’s daily prayers) on James 4:4-10. You might want to read through it to prepare yourself for any teachable moments that pop up this week.
God is Good
This Week: God is Good
Many of the passengers who survived the crash landing of that US Airways plane into the Hudson River this week publicly gave credit to God for saving them. Even news anchors were calling it a miracle. We can safely call it evidence of God’s goodness.
Your student lives in a youth culture full of voices questioning God’s goodness. Even those of us deeply convinced in the goodness of God are sometimes tempted to question that. To help your student think and talk about God’s goodness, read through Psalm 40 this week and look for the right opportunity to ask your student a few of these questions.