Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.
Romans 12:12

A Profound Question from a Twelve-Year-Old

Jesus died for our sins. He took the punishment we deserved. God the Father poured out His wrath for sin upon God the Son. Jesus was crushed for our iniquities, bruised for our transgressions. We deserve eternal separation from the infinitely holy God of the universe, but Jesus took our place.

Considering such propositions, my twelve-year-old son asked something profound. At dinner, I queried my children. “Do you have any questions about the Bible?” My son quickly said, “Yes, I do. How did Jesus take our punishment? He was only dead three days? Where did Jesus go when He died? Did He go to heaven or hell?”

Stated differently, my son was asking the following. If the punishment for sin is eternity in hell, how did Jesus, in a grave for three days, count as our punishment? How is three days punishment enough to substitute for the eternal punishment we deserve?

Wow, what a thoughtful question. I’m surprised often by my children. Brain cells fire when I think they aren’t paying attention. Synopses spark, working through philosophical questions and pondering large ideas.

My son’s question reminded me of something: too often I lecture, talk, and teach, when I also need to listen and learn. I need to know what’s going through my children’s minds, what they are asking themselves.

The talk which followed my son’s question was lively. His older siblings jumped in, also his seven-year-old sister. My wife and I offered solutions to the problem (Biblical ones, I hope) and the conversation drifted to other topics. For a few moments, we pondered something huge and important, something with eternal ramifications. Twelve isn’t too young to be asking such big questions.

In fact, I’m reminded of another twelve-year-old boy discussing important things with those older than himself. He was in His Father’s house, a long time ago, talking to the rabbis.

I Can’t Save My Children

The job isn’t easy. It’s glorious, purposeful, and filled with good moments. But it’s not a cakewalk. You don’t win the good parenting prize by walking around and stopping on the winning number. In fact, I wonder if there is such a thing as “winning” as a parent.

It’s not a contest after all. We aren’t in competition with other families, are we? Yes, the devil prowls around. In that sense, we have an enemy and this is a battle. But victory belongs to the Lord, not us. The only thing we can point to as “winning” is our faithfulness. We are called to raise children in the nurture and discipline of the Lord. If we do, we win – whatever the result.

This is difficult to grasp. The most faithful parents might have children who leave the faith. I hate this fact. But it’s true. Unsaved parents have children found by Christ and believing parents have children renounce the faith. Life isn’t fair. And that’s the point. None of us deserve God’s mercy and grace. It’s not fair that He pours out mercy on sinners like us. It’s not fair at all. We receive what we don’t deserve.

What if a child of mine departs from the faith? I can’t stomach the thought. But there it is, a real possibility. I plead with God often, Lord, save my children, let their names be found written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Why would God allow a child to be raised in a Christian home and then depart from the truth? I don’t know. One thing I do know – it’s not God’s fault. Each person is responsible for their own rebellion against God. Each is called to account for hearing and obeying (or not obeying) God’s call. If my children (please Lord, don’t let this happen) leave the church, I will not have failed as a parent. They will have failed to obey God’s Word, resisted the convicting work of the Spirit, and scorned the truth.

I must continue to trust in God’s goodness, to throw myself, my emotions, my broken heart upon Him. Lord, save my children. Jesus, please let them turn in repentance to you and confess you as Lord. The hard truth it this – I can’t save my children. The good news is this – God can save my children. Therefore, I will do all in my power to teach my children the things of God, and I will trust God with all my heart, knowing He is good and just and merciful.

Picnic Recap

The annual SCOPE family picnic was held August 24th at Fair Oaks Park. Coming from Sacramento’s surrounding neighborhoods – South Sacramento, Arden, Grass Valley, North Highlands, and many more – families gathered to share food, fun, and fellowship. A couple of families were new to SCOPE, and to homeschooling, and joined us for the first time.

The afternoon began with casual introductions and fellowship, then the members dined on potluck deliciousness. Parents sat at tables shaded by ancient oak trees, children played on the grassy hill nearby. Conversation during dinner allowed families to get to know each other, to continue long acquaintances or to make new homeschool friends.

Next came the Summer Reading Awards. Local libraries, and the SCOPE library, were kept busy this summer by SCOPE families. Many children, and a few adults, participated in our first SCOPE Summer Reading program. We had 23 participants and a total of 79 “bingo” cards completed. Certificates were issued to all participants and prizes were awarded by drawing names from a basket.

A Chat Group Challenge followed. Teams were formed by dividing adults and children alike into four groups. The teams listed ten homeschool field trip ideas and then acted them out while the other teams guessed the field trip. This game brought lots of laughter. And a bonus was the sharing of field trip ideas amongst the members. 

After this, watermelon eating took the stage. Children plunged their faces into slices of sweetness and raced. Red juice dripped from chins and flowed across the table. First and second place eaters were awarded prizes from three different age groups.

The Great Marshmallow Battle came next. Everyone moved to an open space of level grass and formed teams on either side of a dividing line. White globules zipped across the field striking legs, arms, and torsos of opposing players. Team members were injured, or dead, until helped by the “medic”. The white orbs soared back and forth, becoming sticky and losing their shape, until one team was declared the victor. Several battles played out through the afternoon among various age groups. The teens battled the adults, beating them 2 out of 3. The adults felt the sting of losing to their children and felt the soreness in their muscles for several days afterward.

Afternoon traveled into the evening and families headed for home. A few families lingered together in the darkness, parents lost in conversation while children played. The day was a success, the SCOPE Family Picnic was a winner.

One lady, not involved in SCOPE, was heard saying, “I didn’t know homeschoolers did things like this.” Yes, as incredible as it seems, homeschoolers spend much of their time away from home. SCOPE offers many opportunities to meet up with other like-minded homeschoolers throughout the year, the annual picnic is one such opportunity. Look for it on the SCOPE calendar and join us next year.

When Homeschool Heroes Fail: What’s A Dad To Do?

When  Homeschool Heroes Fail: What’s A Father To Do?

I won’t name him. If you follow evangelical news, you know who I’m talking about. This past week, he left his wife and his faith.

If you’ve been homeschooling any length of time, you probably have his books on your shelf. He was there at the beginning of the modern homeschool movement, tagging alongside his conference speaking father. He went on to lead his own conferences, write bestsellers, and become a pastor. He was a model for others. Hero might be too strong (it worked for the title of this article), but he was certainly a leading figure in some homeschool circles.

The news shocked many. How does a person process such news? He grew up in the church. He wrote books dealing with theological issues, books well received by other leading evangelicals. He pastored a large church. Then….he changed his mind.

I went through one of his books with my older children. We studied it together and it encouraged us in our faith. His change of mind caused me to toss and turn, to lose sleep. What should I do? Pull his books from our shelves and throw them away?

As I processed the news, my concern became acute. My mind focused on one thing. How can I be sure of my children’s salvation? If this man who grew up in a prominent homeschooling family could leave the faith, how can I be sure my children will continue in the faith?

Various teachings exist concerning the doctrine of salvation. I won’t argue my position here. Whatever view one holds, the news of a leading evangelical figure leaving the faith is disturbing. It should cause fathers to think about how they are doing with regard to teaching their children the things of God.

As shocking as such news can be, we shouldn’t be completely surprised. Scripture clearly teaches that some people will be among the saints on earth who don’t actually belong to Christ.

Jesus said that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Some will do things in His name but He will tell them that He never knew them. (See Matthew 13:21-23.) Jude verse 4 says that some people have crept into the church unnoticed. These are ungodly people who pervert the grace of God. They must have looked like true believers, but they didn’t know God. Actually, He didn’t know them. The authors of Scripture warned the early church about false teachers. Not teachers from false religions, but teachers in the churches they attended. These teachers sat among the believers, sang songs with them, prayed with them, then took center stage to teach falsehood. They looked like Christians, they smelled like Christians, but they didn’t have true saving faith.

So, what am I to do? My children are being raised in the church, in a homeschool which teaches all things from a Biblical worldview. They memorize Scripture and we read through Christian books together. My children can explain salvation, justification, and sanctification. They can describe the nature of the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ as fully God and fully man. Although none of us can completely grasp such things, we can apprehend them in the text and state them in confessions and creeds. My children know a lot of things about God, but do they know God? More importantly, does God know them?

In light of this recent news, I’ve determined three things.

First, I will pray more earnestly. God desires that all men (and women) be saved. I will plead with Him to save my children. Although I’ve prayed this prayer continually since the birth of my first child, I will pray more often and more earnestly. God works through prayer. No magic formula can be found. I can’t pray words that will make God do anything. But I will stand before Him and plead with Him in light of His character. I will beg Him to show mercy to my children, to display His graciousness, to move by His Spirit upon their hearts.

Second, I will proclaim Christ clearly. My children need to hear Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection proclaimed clearly and persuasively. My children know all the major Bible stories, but that’s not enough. They need to hear preaching and teaching which shows them Christ in all His glory and pleads with them to come. Come and follow! Leave behind your sins, your doubts, your fear of man. Count the cost and come to Christ. I praise God that we attend a church where Christ is faithfully preached. My children hear the Gospel in Sunday School and from the pulpit. I will make certain they continue to hear. Alongside church leaders, I will plead with my children to trust in Christ. I won’t take their faith for granted but will continue to share Christ clearly and trust Him to work by His Spirit in their hearts.

Third, I will trust God completely. Many homeschool parents have seen their children leave the faith. It grieves parents who worked diligently to teach their children about God. It tears at their soul. At the end of the day, we must all trust that God is in control. We can’t blame ourselves. Each person is responsible before God for their own sins and their own faith. Our children grow up in Christian homes and churches but that doesn’t make them Christian. Each must repent and follow Christ as the Holy Spirit convicts them. I pray that God does this work in my children, I plead with Him to do it, but whatever happens, I must trust in Him. Job said of God, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him.” (See Job 13:15.) Placing my children’s eternity into God’s hands is comforting. He created them, He placed them into my home, and He has good plans for them. 

Homeschool heroes come and go. Most are good role models. Some will fall and discourage us. But God is always faithful. He is on the throne in heaven no matter who on earth claims Him as their own. 

Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. 

-Psalm 73:25-26

Stop Touching Me

During a recent baptism service, my 5-year-old had a difficult time keeping still and staying quiet. At one point, when her 7-year-old sister poked her, she said, “Stop touching me.” I hoped nobody heard the commotion. I scolded both of them and then re-trained my focus on the pastor and the baptismal.

It isn’t easy sitting in church with little ones. Our church usually has a place for the children during service, but during baptism services all the workers from the nursery and children’t ministries are invited into the room to help celebrate. This leaves parents to watch their own children. Normally that’s not a problem for me; usually I’m happy to have my children sit next to me, or on my lap, during a church service.

But my 5-year-old girl has an extra amount of wiggliness. She doesn’t always remember to use her quiet voice, and she is generally impatient. “When is it going to be over,” if asked by this daughter more than I recall the same question being asked by my other children when they were her age.

Just when my patience was wearing thin, when my concern that she might be disturbing others in the congregation, she said something that made my heart rejoice. She looked up toward the front of the sanctuary and at the person standing in the baptismal holding a microphone and giving thier testimony. She said, “When I’m bigger I’m going to do that. Everyone in this church does that when their bigger.”

I realize that my daughter has an insufficient understanding of baptism. I know she only understands baptism as standing in front of the church body and saying some words, then going under the water and coming up to applause.

But I also realized something else when she spoke about baptism. It became apparent to me that she is paying attention to more than I know, she is learning more than I give her credit for, she is being shaped and molded by what is happening in the church service. Her wiggles, noises, and impatience are being worked on, but more importantly, her understanding of what it means to be a part of the local body of Christ is being worked on – not by me as much as by the example she sees as she looks around each time we are in church together.

Winking In Church

I caught my daughter’s eye during church and winked at her. She smiled and kept singing and clapping. A moment later I caught her eye once again and smiled at her. She smiled back once again. Then, after a few moments, I looked her way and gave her the “I love you” sign with my fingers. She waved back to me. It was a simple exchange, a few moments unnoticed by others, but moments I will remember.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. I should have been paying attention to the songs, to worship, to praise. But trust me when I tell you – I praised with greater fervency and vigor after that brief exchange with my seven year old girl. Let me tell you why.

It wasn’t just her smiling back at me, it wasn’t the fact that she kept looking at me to see if I was looking at her. The moment was precious and lasting because we were both there – a dad and a daughter singing praise to our Savior and enjoying it together. She probably doesn’t realize why I was smiling at her to begin with. I smiled as I saw her reading the words on the screen and joining with the saints in singing. I smiled as she began to clap (a little offbeat) and as her eyes scanned the worship leader, the band, then over to me.  My heart soared because there she was – my little girl – singing about the glories of God. My girl was learning to praise her Maker, to sing to Him and about Him in concert with the saints. There is no greater joy for a Christian father than the joy of seeing his children serve their Savior.

Does my little girl understand everything she sings about? Certainly not. But she understands a lot and she is learning more daily. She learns as she watches worshipping adults, as she watches her mother and I, and as she imitates us. By the way, imitation is a powerful tool in the education process. If my daughter wasn’t in the proximity of adults worshipping together, listening to the preached Word together, encouraging and praying for one another, then her education would be stunted.

I smiled at her that morning in church just because she was there. She was there and she was learning, she was learning to worship, learning to praise, learning by watching, learning by doing. Watching her sing praises made my heart soar. I winked at her and she smiled back at me; this tuned my heart to the work of God in the life of my children. He is at work all the time.

I winked; He worked. He is worthy to be praised.

 

Dad, Let’s Have A Conversation

From the back seat my 7 year old said, “Dad let’s have a conversation.” I’m not often with one child alone, so this was a unique experience for Naomi – just her and her daddy out on a date. The occasion was her seventh birthday date with dad. I’ve been doing these birthday dates for many years and always try to keep them simple and inexpensive. The main purpose is time alone with one child and the opportunity to engage them in conversation.

Naomi didn’t wait for me to start the conversation, she was ready. “What do you want to talk about,” I said. We talked about the trees we were passing and then about what she was learning in her school work. Nothing profound.

At the frozen yogurt shop she chose chocolate yogurt, with chocolate chips, chocolate sprinkles, and chocolate sauce. Yep, I took a picture. I didn’t have anything planned after yogurt so we ran an errand. We were enjoying the time together – just being together. These are the best of times, the times with no agenda. The mundane moments of life are the soil which grows the best memories.

I didn’t want our time to end even after the errands, so we found a place to sit together and enjoy a soda (a rare treat for her). Finally, the conversation turned interesting. My 7 year old started asking about God, she said she believed in God even though she couldn’t see Him. She said, “I know why some people don’t believe in God. Because they can’t see Him. But I believe in Him.”

With that as a starting point I was able to share with Naomi. I told her that people have enough knowledge to believe God exists but they suppress that truth (see Romans 1). I told her how God opens the eyes of our hearts to enable us to see what we don’t want to see. I told her that my earnest desire and prayer is for her to know God, not just about God, but to know and be known by God.

Sometimes we need to slow down, to take enough time to let our children start talking, to close our mouths and listen. Once they start talking, God will open up avenues for us to share His truth to the next generation. “Dad, can we have a conversation.” What a blessing to hear those words.