Helping your teen read the Bible (revised from last year)

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I remember the first time I attempted to read the Bible all the way through. Genesis was captivating because it was filled with stories of men and women who struggled with God. The opening of Exodus was gut-wrenching as I imagined Pharaoh ordering the murder of children. I tried to envision the plagues. The Bible was great. It had my attention… until I reached Leviticus. I tried, but I just couldn’t find it interesting. In fact I found it boring and quite frankly just a little disturbing.  A 12-year-old boy doesn’t want to read about menstrual cycle rituals and infectious skin conditions. In fact it left me with questions I’m not sure my mom was quite ready to answer. I didn’t finish that project.

I made other attempts to read the Bible through my teen years, but I struggled to complete the task. I could hardly understand the novels, plays and short stories I was reading in high school much less these ancient texts.

And I’ve learned over 13 years in student ministry most teens struggle to read their Bibles. I’ve also found for most it’s not because they don’t want to. Many try, but become discouraged as they wonder what a list of festivals or pronouncement of curses has to do with them. Let’s be honest, the Bible isn’t as easy to read as we would like it to be. 

If the Scriptures are vital to our spiritual growth, then it seems we parents would make it a priority to help our children learn to read and love the Scriptures. So, how do we do that? There are all kinds of opinions and ideas, but here are five I’ve found helpful. 

But, before getting to these 5 ideas one thing must be certain. We parents must be people who dive into the Word allowing Scripture to reveal to us more about our creator, his Son Jesus and how we are created to live. If dwelling on Scripture isn’t part of our lives how can we expect/hope for it to be part of our teens’ lives?

So, here are my five ideas in no particular order

Select a translation that gives your teens the best chance to understand what they are reading

How will they ever learn to enjoy the Bible if the translation is too difficult? When choosing a translation for your child or teen I suggest not choosing one because it’s what you prefer. Instead, consider your child’s reading ability. I recommend the NIV or New Living Translation.

Read the Bible with your teen

Your children are never too old to read the Bible with. Reading together gives you opportunities for great discussions as well as the chance to help your child learn to read their Bibles. Pick a book of the Bible to read together. The Gospels are great places to begin. Not sure where to begin? Well, my friend, David Smith, preaching minister at Missouri Street Church of Christ, has put together a 10-month reading plan of Proverbs. It only takes a minute or two to read each day. You can then share thoughts and insights with your teen. You text your teen the day’s Proverb, leave notes, etc. Personally, I’m participating in this adventure during 2014. (Check back here for occasional reflections on what God is teaching me through Proverbs.)

Use a reading plan

Teens often wonder where to begin when reading the Bible. Reading plans provide the starting point many teens are looking for. YouVersion is a great place to begin. They have all kinds of reading plans – from yearlong plans to 10-day reading plans. Last year I read through a chronological plan and journaled my reflections, thoughts and prayers based on many of those readings. 

Use a devotional or Bible study

Bible studies and devotional books help teens learn how to study the Bible by presenting them with comments and questions they might not think of asking.  My favorite is the One Minute Bible for Students. It breaks the Bible down for teens into short, daily readings with brief reflections.  If read daily, teens read the entire Bible in one year. I’ve begun giving these to entering 7th graders in my student ministry. Get a copy of the Bible study or devotional and follow along with your teen. This creates opportunities for discussions.

Celebrate milestones

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with offering rewards and celebrations for their accomplishments. We do this other activities. Set goals with your teen and celebrate these milestones. My oldest daughter received a bass guitar for completing a devotional with me during the season of Lent.

These are just five suggestions for helping your teen to learn to love reading the Bible.

What are some ideas that you’ve found helpful?

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Today I can’t help but think…

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All you can take with you is that which is given away.” - Sign in George  Bailey’s office, It’s a Wonderful Life

The anticipation, excitement and energy of yesterday have given way to joy, cheer, and love expressed today.  As I sit on the couch with the fireplace going and the sun setting I can’t help but think of all the ways the Lord has been good to me.

Today I can’t help but think of Deana. It’s our 23rd Christmas together (20 as a married couple) I’m more like Christ because of this woman. Nothing I give could come close to telling her how much I love her, but I try.

Today I can’t help but think of Julia and Jenna.  I loved seeing their faces light up as they opened gifts. As I watched them I couldn’t help but think that this is how the Lord must feel about us when we choose to receive what he has to give to us.

Today I can’t help but think of my sister, Gina. It’s been 21 Christmases since her passing.  Each year I pause to think of the 19 years I was blessed to be with her. I pause to pray for my Dad. I can’t imagine the hole that is left in his heart this time of year. So, I pray also for others who’ve experienced loss. May some sense of that loss be eased with memories of loved ones that bring joy.

Speaking of Dad, today I can’t help but think of him. We’ve been through a lot. He’s endured more than many men. Today, while he works, I think of how he worked hard to provide. He never complained. He simply did what a dad does. He loved his family and did what had to be done. I know he continues doing so today.

Today I can’t help but think of Mom. It’s the first Christmas since 1997 she hasn’t been with me. I loved how she loved her granddaughters. No one smiled bigger over the thought of their grandkids than my mom did!

Today I can’t help but think of Winston. Jenna donned a hat meant for him… Santa going down a chimney. The song that ridiculous hat played will be stuck in my head for weeks. Winston brought joy everywhere he went. He found joy by bringing joy to others.

Today I can’t help but think of Mardell. No one pays attention to the details of others’ lives like Mardell. Whether it be a simple gift, tickets to the symphony, sewing a costume, or surprising Jenna with a trip to Western Sizzling Mardell looks for opportunities to bless others in ways that are special and uniquely suited to that person.

Today I can’t help but think of my brother-in-law, Brian. That man knows how to make an entrance. He entered my home dressed like Santa (a slightly underweight Santa). He later wore a scarf meant for his girlfriend just because she put it on him. He also wore, over his own shirt, the shirt my girls gave him for Christmas. All this was to make those girls smile. He, like his dad, loves to make others smile.

Today I can’t help but think of extended family and friends. — aunts and uncles who seem to know exactly when to call, email or text; friends  who’ve generously given to my family when we were most helpless and unsure of how things might end up.  All of you have shown me what it means to love and give freely without expecting anything in return.

I can’t let the sun set on this day without saying thank you to everyone in my life — from those of you who’ve  known me from a very young age to the teens I love so much and walk with today. I wish I could name all of you individually, but you’re probably tiring of reading this already. Each one of you has pointed me to the One who loves most perfectly.

I love you all! Merry Christmas!

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Three Reasons to Observe Advent

Originally posted on That's Nall Folks:

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Growing up in a church heritage that didn’t observe Christian Advent I never fully understood or appreciated this season. It hasn’t been until the past 5 years that I’ve begun to appreciate this season and participate in it as an individual and family. Admittedly, some years we are more intentional than others, but each year we do something for this season to set it apart from the rest of the year. Below are just three reasons I’ve come to appreciate this time of year:

It’s an opportunity to break out of the mundane

So much of the year is the same. Day after day, week after week we go through our routines. Yes, there’s Sunday, a day set apart. But even that often becomes routine. The season of Advent breaks us out of that routine marking 4 weeks of reflection and more. Handel’s Messiah, special programs, focused readings, images and…

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“Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  Luke 18:17

“The soul is healed by being with a child.” – English proverb

We spent a large part of today working with preschool-age children at a day care in an impoverished neighborhood. Listening to my teens talk about their day I’m struck by a couple of things.

  • Small children exude joy that’s contagious. It’s impossible to have a bad day around a small child who’s delighted to see you.  Very few things encourage a person like the smile and hug of a small child.
  • Truly loving small children requires us to step out of our worlds and into their world. From sipping water with pepper and cucumbers in it at tea time to wearing a bowler hat, tie, and scarf getting down to their level and living in their world evokes joy, laughter and a sense of security and acceptance. As Reggie Joiner says, “Kids aren’t sure you like them if you don’t play with them.”
  • Kids don’t judge based on appearances. They may ask out of curiosity, but they don’t tend to let external appearances get in the way. They are some of the most accepting people.

The more I spend time with children the more I understand the implications of Jesus’ words about children. I have so much to learn and such a long way to go.

 

Lord, grant me a joyful spirit, a desire to step into the worlds of others, and eyes to look beyond the surface and embrace others as the children I played with today do.

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Reflections on Hospitality

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  Hebrews 13:1-2

“True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person.” Kathleen Norris

UACCFour people gathered around the communion table at the front of the sanctuary — different races, gender, and ages  – to lead us. The reverend said that there’s always room for one more at the table. The sacraments were passed, a young boy prayed, and we swallowed small pieces of bread and tiny cups of juice. I couldn’t help but imagine Jesus reclining at a table, a table with just enough room for one more. I’m betting Jesus always left room for more at any table.

Leaving room for one more is what Union Avenue Christian Church is all about. From this morning’s worship to the chocolate pound cake delivered by a sweet church member we have experienced the hospitality of this eclectic, amazing faith community. We were greeted last night by two people and entered our space to find a box with a “Welcome” cake, fruit, dark chocolate and more.

We were greeted with handshakes and warm smiles by church members expressing their gratitude and delight that we are here this week. And they meant it. One kind woman has made plans to provide dinner for us this week. All have made themselves available to us. In every case, every conversation, every encounter I’ve felt genuinely valued and loved. From the 15 minutes I spent talking to the Senior Pastor to the brief moments with the gentleman who kept saying, “I snuck into here 53 years ago and have never left” I’ve been embraced for who I am, regardless of where I’m from, what I look like, or where I attend church.

In my first day in St. Louis I’ve learned there’s a difference, a great chasm if you will, between being welcoming to a stranger and offering hospitality to others. Here are just a few things I’ve been considering today:

  • Being welcoming makes others feel comfortable; being hospitable gives others a sense of value.
  • Being welcoming invites others to know you; being hospitable opens you to know others.
  • Being welcoming is often convenient; being hospitable rarely seems convenient.
  • Being welcoming says, “Thanks for being here. We’re glad you came”; being hospitable says, “Sit at my table and stay. There’s plenty of room.”

Bottom line is this: while I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on being welcoming, I’ve got a lot to learn about being hospitable.

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208 and counting

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“Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

936… number of weeks before your newborn child turns 18

676… number of weeks before your kindergartener turns 18.

312… number of weeks left before your 7th grader turns 18.

208… number of weeks before your 9th grader turns 18.

I spent 2 days at a family ministry conference a few weeks ago. Of all the things said, one thing has become entrapped in my mind. I can’t shake it. It’s worked its way into my heart and is affecting my resolve to be a better minister and parent. It’s nothing earth-shattering… just sobering. I only have approximately 208 more weeks to spend significant time with my oldest daughter. Just 208 weeks to consider what I might teach, say and imprint upon her heart. That’s not very many. It opens my mind to this one thing – what I do REALLY matters.

I have to confess that I often don’t parent with the end in mind. I got absorbed in the daily, mundane, sometimes frustrating aspects of parents. I lose sight of the finish line, and when I look up it’s frighteningly closer.

I’m beginning to question and consider the way I do ministry and my own parenting. As I consider the number of my days these are just some of the questions I’m asking:

  1. What are the really big things I want to impress upon my children and am I doing so?
  2. Does the time I spend with my children reflect my priorities?
  3. Am I leaving anything unsaid that needs to be said?
  4. What do I want my legacy to be?

I don’t have answers in this post because I’m asking the Lord to search me and show me how to parent and be a more effective, intentional youth pastor because what I do REALLY matters.

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Summer Reading

readingThe school year is coming to an end. Summer is just around the corner. There are no more book reports, science fair projects, after-school band practices or dance rehearsals. Typically, days are less structured, so why not take advantage of it by encouraging and challenging your teen to engage in practices that nurture faith?One way to do this is by reading a book.

Several terrific books have been written in recent years for teens that encourage, equip and challenge them in their spiritual growth. What if you were to encourage your teen to read at least one book as well as their Bible through the summer? Furthermore, what if you read the same book and committed yourself to the same Bible reading plan for the summer? Finally, what about offering incentives for completing specific books? Why not? Public libraries offer summer reading incentive programs. Do the same for your teen at home.

To help you get started, here are just a few books I often recommend to students.

Alex and Brett Harris. Do Hard Things. A great book for high school students written by 19-year-old bothers who call their peers to raise expectations of themselves. They offer five hard things for teens to do.

C.S. Lewis. Screwtape Letters – I often suggest this to high school juniors and seniors. It’s a great fictional writing that causes readers to consider how their belief in Christ is expressed in their lives.

Doug Fields, John Kohlenberger. One Minute Bible for Students – I recommend this to everyone, especially junior high students, who want to begin a daily habit of reading their Bibles and praying. It breaks down much of the Bible into 1-2 minutes segments… the perfect resource for those who aren’t sure where to begin when it comes to reading the Bible.

There are certainly more resources out there than these three, but I’ve discovered that students seem to enjoy these three resources.

What other books would you suggest for students and parents to read together this summer? 

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