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Have You Thought About Your Children Lately?

A special word of exhortation for mothers this month; I want to remind each of you of the serious responsibility you have (alongside your husbands) to guard the doors of your homes.

I was reading an article early this morning about a young girl who completely lost her way in adolescence and strayed further and further from God’s design for her life.  She was lamenting that nobody approached her to tell her she was on the wrong path until years into her waywardness.  Finally, one day her grandfather sat her down and, with tears streaming down his face, spoke truth into her life and begged her to turn from the destructive path she was on.  That was the beginning of healing for this young woman.  Pray for this precious lady (her first name is Sydney) that she would come to know Jesus and fully embrace God’s best for her future.

This article disturbed me greatly on several fronts.  First, it troubled me that so many adults (including counselors and medical professionals) could watch a young person head down a path of destruction and not only refuse to offer a word of correction but even go so far as to encourage a young woman to continue in sinful and hurtful behaviors.  Oh, that the Lord would help us to be different!  If a young person in our lives needs to hear truth, may we be bold to speak it.

Second, it reminded me how we need to be so vigilant.  Satan wants our children.  He will use whatever means he can to get at them, be it books, magazines, television programs, movies, video games, i-phones, Internet sites, or poorly chosen friends.   Please take time this weekend to look to the state of your flocks, mothers.  Use the following questions as discussion starters or as food for thought so that you and your husband can make sure the hedge fences around your children are all in good repair.   

  • Do we hold the Word in high esteem in our home—reading it, memorizing it, discussing God’s precepts, lifting up the Bible as our final authority and our standard for all decisions?
  • Do our children spend the bulk of their time with us?  Do we know what they are doing?
  • Do we know what our children are reading?  Are there books that have crept in that are worldly or would be otherwise displeasing to the Lord?
  • Do we know what our children are watching and how often?  Are there better things they could be doing with their time?
  • Do we know our children’s friends?  Do we spend time together as families or are the children often alone unsupervised with other young people?  What kinds of games are we playing / allowing?
  • Do we have concerns about certain friends that we’ve been shrugging off rather than addressing?
  • Do our children have access to i-phones, texting, e-mail, Internet?  Why? 
  • Are we mindful of the content of our children’s conversations and correspondences with those outside the home?
  • Are there any magazines, newspapers, or other reading material coming into our home that we might need to cancel?
  • Are there things about our children’s appearance and moral / spiritual development that we should be keeping a better handle on?  (dress, manners, tone, responsibilities, etc.)
  • Are there things in our lives that make us inconsistent models of godliness?  How can we change that?
  • Have we made sure lately that our children know they can come to us anytime with questions and concerns?
  • Have we been taking seriously the duty we have to protect our children?  We make sure they have food to keep them from hunger, clothes to keep them from cold, medicines to keep them from illness . . . what have we been doing to keep them from loving the world?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start a conversation.  I’m not going to tell you which books, magazines, programs, activities, and technologies you should or shouldn’t allow; those are choices each couple must make for their own home, but I am going to encourage you to hold everything up to the Word and evaluate it again.  And I am going to urge you to guard the innocence of your children as long as you can.  Allow them to be children—to know stability, to know familial love, to know all that is good and lovely and pure, to know that Dad and Mom make decisions they believe to be best for the family—not just for today but to ensure (inasmuch as anyone is able to) a godly progeny as well.  Pray for your children, mothers.  Build hedge fences around them with Scripture’s precepts.  And tell them over and over again that God loves them, that He has a plan and a purpose for their lives, and that if they will only humble themselves and follow Him, they will be blessed.

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold,
Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.”
Luke 22:31-32a

Copyright © 2020

* Note of explanation for those who might misunderstand my meaning in saying we should keep our children from “loving the world.”  I am not referring to the people in the world.  God gave His only begotten Son to save people; and He wants us to love them every one.  But the world itself and the things that are in it are not to become stumbling blocks to Christians.  Rather we are called to pursue righteousness.  God says in I Peter 1:16, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”  The fact that we can’t do that perfectly is no excuse for not trying!

Pass the Salt, Please

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told the disciples, Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.  (Matthew 5:13)

As Christians we often hear it said that we should be “salt and light,” and indeed, the statement “Ye are the light of the world” occurs directly after the Lord’s example describing believers as salt.  Let’s consider for a moment just what it means to be the “salt of the earth.”

First, and probably most commonly known, salt enhances flavor, making foods more pleasant and more palatable.  What are potato chips or French fries without salt?  Just pieces of potato.  What’s the secret ingredient in much Chinese food?  MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate; it is one of many types of salt.  Just as salt enhances the flavor of foods, a Christian’s walk with the Lord should enhance the beauty and the atmosphere of the culture around him or her.

Imagine that the clerks at a local store are not known for their sanctified speech.  Yet over the course of years of shopping there, acting kindly, and occasionally dropping off homemade treats with tracts, it becomes common for them to stop in midsentence when seeing members of your family, to warn one another to keep the language clean when you come into the store, or to offer an apology if one of them was cursing before seeing you standing there.  That would be encouraging because it would be an acknowledgement that something is different about your family.  Of course, that “something” is not you but rather the Holy Spirit working through you and your family to reach out and touch other lives for the glory of God.

Second, salt is a preservative, keeping deterioration at bay.  In years past, families would store heavily salted meat in the fall for use throughout the winter.  In my mother’s family when she was growing up, they would save eggs in a brine mixture to use during the months when the hens stopped laying.  Throughout my childhood, I can still remember my grandmother splitting fish, salting them, and hanging them out on the clothesline to dry.  In the days before refrigeration was common, salt helped preserve families’ foods for the long term, keeping it from spoiling.  Likewise, through the witness and walk of faithful Christians, the cultural rot of modern America can be halted. 

For example, we can avoid the ever-prevalent movies, television shows, and secular music that celebrate immorality and train us to think in ways opposed to the Lord and His Word.  Instead, we can produce and/or patronize that which is true, lovely, and virtuous; and by our daily walk and conversation, we can call others to remember how our towns, our churches, and our homes looked just a few decades ago – when walking with the Lord was not only respected but was encouraged and was far more common.

Third, salt can be healing.  I grew up working on a lobster boat in the summers.  With the work came all sorts of cuts and scrapes.  By working with my hands in the salty ocean water so much, though, the injuries healed well and remarkably fast.  That gives hope that America’s downhill slide can not only be halted but can, Lord willing, be reversed.  Though the task seems mountainous, take heart; a hundred years of decline cannot be cured in an instant.  Just as a mountain is not climbed in a few steps or even with a quick sprint, America’s cultural cesspool will require a multi-generational solution.  Not only must we be faithful in our day, but we must strive to ensure that future generations carry on the battle for liberty and righteousness as well.

Fourth, salt lowers the freezing point of water.  Anyone living in the northeastern U.S. knows that water freezes at 32o Fahrenheit.  Through the winter months we check the outside temperature, knowing that as it approaches that point, it greatly changes how we drive and how long it takes to get places.  Applying salt to icy roads, however, can cause the ice to melt.  Using a solution of 10% salt and 90% water lowers the freezing point from 32o to 20o.  Increasing the salt content to 20% lowers it further, all the way to 2o.  Just as applying salt to ice causes it to melt, consider how many rock-hard, ice-cold hearts could be softened by consistent, prayerful application of the love of Christ.  And as the number of committed Christians grew, that sort of witness would become harder and harder for unbelievers to ignore as the world changed around them.

And fifth, on the other end of the temperature spectrum, salt also raises the boiling point of water.  Sprinkling some salt in your pot of water means it will require a temperature of more than the usual 212o for it to boil.  We’ve all seen boiling water bubbling furiously, letting off steam, and occasionally boiling over.  As a believer walks with the Lord, the indwelling Holy Spirit can add peace, stability, and a resistance to the heat that comes in the tough times of life.  Just as salt can help keep hotter water under control, so too can a Christian’s quiet responses in the face of adversity point others to the Master.

Was the Lord aware of all these properties of salt when He made the comparison?  Of course!  He created not only salt and us, but anything and everything around us too.  And no doubt He has hidden many more mysteries for us to discover.  As we study His Word and His world, as we faithfully walk with Him day by day, as we share His love with others, then we can begin to see change—one life, one home, one town at a time.  May the Lord grant us the courage to be the salt that will help restore our nation’s faith in Him.

“Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time.  Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”  (Colossians 4:5-6)


Copyright © 2019

So Liberty’s dying. (shrug) What do you want me to do about it?

Concept that Lisa drafted and our youngest daughter illustrated, showing how our influence for righteousness begins in the home and extends outward to our community, state, nation, and the world.   (c) 2019

Depiction of Lady Liberty

We hear a lot today about how if we’re not careful, America will someday slide into socialism.  Friends, we need to wake up.  America already slid.  We have a largely socialistic, humanistic system in place right now.  The education of the majority of our children is government-controlled.  Health care is being taken over by the federal government as well.   We have a glut of obligatory tax-funded programs that are socialistic in nature from Social Security to Medicare and Medicaid to federal housing to farm subsidies and so much more.  Any time the government takes money from the people to fund the responsibilities of the people “on behalf of” the people, that is socialism.  Someone other than you is taking your income and deciding what those monies will fund – even if you strongly disagree with what is being funded.  Take, for example, tax dollars – your tax dollars and my tax dollars – being used to fund abortion, the murder of the most defenseless and innocent among us.  Thomas Jefferson said, “To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”  He was one of our founders who was willing to risk his life, liberty, and property to set the people free from the heavy hand of British rule, so he knew tyranny.  And he defined it for us, so we could recognize it when it came around again. 

Let me give you another personal example of how tyranny hits home for us.  We choose to homeschool our children because we believe it is the parents’ responsibility to teach the next generation about God and country.  The public education system in America has turned its back on God and no longer teaches America’s true history or founding principles.  My husband works hard to provide for us, but every time we cash his paycheck, we lose dollars that could have been funding the education of our own children to an educational system that is teaching other people’s children to one day attempt to oppress and persecute ours.  If you think that’s exaggeration, you need to follow the news more carefully.  Christians are being side-lined in America, being told they are mentally ill, being told they have no right to express their beliefs anywhere where someone might hear them, being told they have no right to hold public positions because they hold to basic biblical tenets.  And those are just a few examples.* 

As a nation we have raised up (and are continuing to raise up) generations who do not appreciate Christians and Christianity because they don’t know their own history.  They don’t recognize the gift that the Anglicans, the Puritans, and the Separatists sacrificed to give them in venturing everything to settle this once-wild land.  Nobody is reading them the charter of Jamestown, which refers to the “propagating of Christian religion to such people as yet live in darkness and miserable ignorance of the true knowledge and worship of God.”  Nobody is telling them that In Plymouth we find men and women and children whose voyage – as described in the Mayflower Compact — had been “undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith and Honor of our King and Country.”  Children are not being taught to appreciate the integrity of George Washington, who in his farewell address said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.  In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.”  and ” [R]eason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”  They don’t know the words of John Adams who said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Nor is anybody teaching them the words of the patriot Patrick Henry — “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.  For this very reason, people of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship.” 

Christians, we need to start living out our faith in America.  We need to stop being afraid, and start being free.  When people see us, we should stand out.  We should be leading, not cowering.  We should be brilliant lights in a darkening world, healing salt on a festering wound.  When others observe us, they should see and hear a difference.  We need to speak differently, dress differently, act differently, consume differently, read differently, and think differently than everyone else.  The only way for that to happen is for us to be in the Word and unplugged from popular culture.  We need to make the Scriptures the absolute guide for our lives.  We need to evaluate, and as often as necessary re-evaluate, everything about our homes, our careers, our past times, our finances, our dreams, our goals, our priorities.  We need to stop bemoaning the fact that we can’t change the world and do our best to lead in the domain we have been given.  Every one of us has a home, a church, a community.  Every one of us has family, friends, and neighbors whom we not only can but should influence for righteousness.  Every one of us has the ability to pray and turn. 

There is a verse in II Chronicles (7:14) that is widely used in encouraging Christians to pray for revival in our land.  I agree wholeheartedly that we need revival in our land.  Without question we need for God to do a mighty work.  But I think too often we get looking around at others and thinking God needs to do a revival work in them and we miss what these verses actually say.  The verses do not just say for us to pray.  They say “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from Heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”   God not only expects us to pray for our nation; he expects us to examine our own lives, clean out the garbage, and become models of virtue for others to follow.  The Scripture clearly says, “humble themselves” and “turn from their wicked ways.”  And it’s talking about us.  The first and most important thing I can do to bring back liberty in America is turn myself from sin and seek God.  And it’s the first and most important thing you can do too.   But if we’re going to skip the humbling and the turning, we might as well skip the praying.  Psalm 66:18 reminds us, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.”  

Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.”  Righteousness begins at home.  There are two verses that we have shared repeatedly over the years with our children.  Actually, there are many verses we have shared repeatedly, but I want to focus on these two this evening :  Psalm 101:2b and Matthew 5:16.  They work in tandem.  The first says:  “I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.”  Before I worry about the sins of the rest of the state and the nation, I need to ensure that my walk within my own house is right before God.  That touches everything – what I read, what I watch, what I say, where I’m willing to go, what I choose to do with my time, how I spend my money.  Everything.  Only after having removed the beam from my own eye am I ready to help remove the mote in another’s.**  Then the second says “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.”  We were never meant to hide our light under a bushel.  If we know the Lord and love the Lord, we are instructed to shine.  Regardless of what we are hearing in America right now, it’s not only acceptable to talk about your faith, practice your faith, and allow it to permeate all of your dealings with others, it’s commanded!  And God is the Author of Liberty.  So, frankly, anything righteous done for Him can only benefit America.  Any good works done for Him strengthen our nation and benefit the cause of freedom. 

We may never know the effect that our homes and our humility and our obedience will have on our community, our state, and our nation.  God asks that we walk in faith.  That’s not easy.  There are so many other things we could do with our time, so many things that sound more important than being humble and making sure our own houses are in order.  So many projects that seem larger than loving our spouse and discipling our own children and reaching out to our neighbors.   But future generations will rise up and call us blessed if we will focus on doing what God has given us to do.  Strong homes, strong families, strong churches mean a strong America.  Washington D.C. may be our capital, but individual families and homes and churches have always been our heart. 

Sadly, America’s heart is diseased because her families are broken and her houses and churches are shells of what they once were.  Liberty is lying there on life support, unable to communicate but crying out inside for someone to care, to remember, to do something to save her.  Don’t be part of the crowd clamoring to pull the plug.  Be one of the faithful who will kneel at her side and repent for having a part in in her malady.  Be one who will pray for God to intervene and revive her.  Be one who not only believes that He can but that if we are obedient and do our part, He will.  Then, get up and go get Liberty a cup of life-giving Water, because when He answers – she’s going to need it.

Copyright © 2019

* For documentation of these particular examples, see Culture Jihad:  How to Stop the Left from Killing a Nation  (2019) by Todd Starnes (especially pages 93, 197, and 256).   One caution:  while I appreciate the work Mr. Starnes has done compiling ways that our freedoms are being eroded, I cannot wholeheartedly recommend the book because the Lord’s name is taken in vain repeatedly.   An older book with a similar focus is David Limbaugh’s Persecution:  How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity (2003).  It has been longer since I have read the second title, but I do not remember the Lord’s name having been misused by the author.  A spot-check of various pages of that text this afternoon seems to indicate that that is correct.

** To clarify, a Christian should be always reforming, growing more like Christ.  While we will never reach perfection on this earth, we need to be continually holding ourselves to the mirror of the Word and fixing what sins we find there so that we are not hypocritical in our dealings with others.

Mixed-Media Painting: Simple Beach Scene

About a year ago I was visiting a French market in New Brunswick, Canada, with a sweet friend and several of my (also sweet) daughters.  We came across a stand where a local artist had created paintings using acrylics and a variety of found objects from nature, such as shells, bits of driftwood, tiny pebbles, and so on.  As soon as I saw those paintings, I thought of the children in the homeschool group and tucked the idea away in the back of my mind, planning to simplify and adapt the idea for a group craft.  Strangely enough, we arrived home from vacation to find that my grandmother was displaying all the shells she’s collected over the years before getting rid of them.  I asked her if the homeschool group might have the little ones when she was ready to pass them along, and – voilà – we were halfway to having a craft night.  

The scene depicted above was not copied from the artist at the market.  It is a scene I created, keeping in mind that I wanted it to work with a wide variety of ages (so it needed to be simple enough for the younger children but interesting enough for the older ones) and somehow incorporate shells and other media.  The supply list and directions given below name certain colors of Apple Barrel brand acrylic craft paint—which were on a very good sale the night we picked up supplies (Thank you, Lord!)—but you could substitute other colors or another brand or even different mixed media and still complete the project successfully.  Be creative and have fun!

Click here for PDF document containing supply list and directions.

A few samples of finished paintings by children in the homeschool group:

Copyright © 2019

The Church and the World

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:1-2

In the book Frost in Summer by Mrs. Samuel Huber, the character of Grandfather Miller is thinking about the state of Christ’s church at large:

“Grant will have little appreciation for the idea that perhaps the church is losing her vision of the Way.  That she has become too earthbound.  Too nearsighted.  Too wedded to the material things of life.  In the midst of today’s society, many members are coming too close to losing a grasp of the meaning of sacrifice.”

Is it really true that we as Christians might be becoming wedded to the world and the things of this world?  Unfortunately, it is only too true.  Many who profess to know Christ are discontent to live quiet lives simply following God.  Perhaps we feel that we must have everything that everyone else has and are unsatisfied until we have all the world has to offer.  We don’t want people to look down on us or think we might actually be different, so we talk, act, dress, and live just the same as unbelievers.  We are afraid of the world’s looks, comments, and attitudes, and rather than take a stand, we give in to what they want to see.  Instead of caring about what God says, we worry about what the rest of the world expects.

We began to let down our guard on the really important issues and have gone along with the world’s philosophy in life and death areas.  Just in the past few decades, parts of the church have accepted several of the sins of the day, being tolerant of any choice that others make, rather than offering godly counsel in love.  We have become ashamed that the Word of God does not allow for the immorality, sinful lifestyles, and destructive habits that are all around us today. 

We begin to ignore what the Bible has to say about these truly important topics.  We care less and less, until we have a heathy disrespect for the truth and often begin to fall into these sins ourselves.  We no longer know how to make these important decisions and understand Scriptural precepts ourselves.  Is divorce wrong?  Or marriage outside of God’s design of one man and one woman for life?  How about abortion?  Is it wrong, and should we protect the unborn?  We don’t know anymore, because we have shut our eyes to the truth.  The decisions and beliefs that we hold on these matters will not only affect us but our children and future generations.  In general, people have forgotten to seek the old paths. 

Jeremiah 6:16 and 19 say, “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.”

When a nation forgets God, He will bring judgement.  When the Christian forgets his duty as a Christian, God will bring punishment.  “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten:  be zealous therefore, and repent.”  (Revelation 3:19) Get on your knees, Christian, and call out to God for His forgiveness.  He is faithful and just to forgive our iniquities.  If we as Christians will not stand up and show our light, how will others know? 

What is it that the Lord has for us, His Church, to be doing?  What did He leave his disciples to do here on earth once He had ascended up into Heaven? 

He left his disciples to spread the good news of the gospel all over the world, teaching men God’s laws and leading them in the path of righteousness.  God’s will for the Christian has not changed.  We are commanded to shine for Him.  And there is work for each one of us to do right where we live.  God does not expect or call us all to move elsewhere or go overseas to shine for Him in a foreign country.  He wants us to start right where He has placed us.  We are to be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity, as stated in 1 Timothy 4:12.  The world will know that we are Christians by our actions.  They will wonder why we reject worldly standards, opinions, and philosophies.  They will see in us a willingness to stand up and be different.  And with the Lord’s help, they will see the higher, holier standard that we are called to and the Holy Spirit living within us.  The world needs this example.  In a world filled with darkness, our little light may shine forth more than we will ever know.  We simply need to obey and let the Lord use us.

As we are willing to share our faith, to speak boldly and accept the criticism we will receive for it, we will be seen as a shining beacon of light for our Heavenly Father.  People will have to know us as God’s children, for by our lives, it will be more than evident.  May we be a living, walking testimony of His amazing grace and love!

Rise up, O Church of God!
by William P. Merrill

Rise up, O Church of God!
Have done with lesser things;
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O Church of God!
His kingdom tarries long;
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O sons of God!
The Church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task,
Rise up, and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod;
As followers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O Church of God!

“Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord.”
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
(2 Timothy 1:8a and 4:2)

Copyright © 2019

It’s Never Too Late to Learn

My great-grandfather was a character.  He never owned a car, instead riding a bicycle everywhere he went – even into his eighties, and even with a roller full of clams hung from each handlebar.  By the time I came along, he was widowed, had outlived two of their children, and was living in a tiny one-room house decades before tiny houses became popular.  He did all sorts of hard physical labor through his life – grave digging, blasting, quarrying, running a lobster pound, and more – to the point that the first knuckle of every finger had been broken at one time or another and never properly set, so each fingertip leaned over at an angle.  He had survived multiple bouts of cancer on his lips; yet in all the times we visited him, I never heard him complain.  What we did hear were his stories – so many stories of the past – and sometimes for a special treat, we’d hear his music.  He played the fiddle, each one of those crooked fingers deftly holding the bow or pressing the strings.  And he played the harmonica beautifully in spite of the lasting damage from his cancer treatments.  He was a joy, and it came out as he played.

In contrast, I played clarinet in elementary school for two years, practicing little and wondering why I kept getting the third clarinet part.  I briefly tried to learn piano when we were first married, but it didn’t come easily and I didn’t stick with it.  After that whenever I was asked what I played, I jokingly shared of my expertise with the CD player’s “Play” button.

I never forgot Grampie Henry’s harmonica though.  It always had a soft spot in my heart.  And so this past summer, after having watched many members of the family branching out into numerous instruments over the years, I asked Lisa, “Do you think a harmonica would fit in?”  She said she thought it might if I wanted to try it.  So I took the plunge, buying an instructional book and DVD set plus a harmonica in the key of C major.* 

I worked through the first five or six lessons from the book and DVD, enough to get the basics, but then wanted to move from its folk music focus over to hymns and Gospel songs.  I’ve learned a lot and had a lot of fun with it over the past several months.  And it’s been good to be learning something new and way outside my comfort zone, giving the children one more example that learning lasts a lifetime.

What have I learned so far?  The harmonica is a great starter instrument.  I’ve learned to sight-read notes in the treble staff from the B below middle C to the A above the staff.  Since a standard harmonica is in the key of C major, I’ve learned to transpose songs to the key of C.  (And I’ve compiled what I’ve learned about transposing into a printable Transposer tool, available here as a free PDF file.  I use it myself whenever I want to learn a new song.)  I’ve gone through our hymnbook, jotting down the hymns in each key that I’d like to learn how to play, so I’ve been able to identify the most common keys for the music I like.  That’s important because the number of hymns in each key helps me decide what key of harmonica to buy next. 

And the nice thing is that any song you can learn to play on a C harmonica, you can play in any other major key simply by using a harmonica in that key.  For example, a couple of our daughters were working on “I’d Rather Have Jesus” on guitar and mandolin.  I found some sheet music, transposed it down to C, then asked what key they were playing in.  Since they were playing in G, I could join them (after considerable practice) using my G harmonica, reading the C sheet music and playing just as if I was using a C harmonica.  The reed patterns in the different harmonica keys are designed so the player just uses the same pattern of notes for music in C, and the instrument plays the right notes for the desired key.  More advanced players can use a single harmonica for multiple keys using a technique called “bending,” but I’m not there yet.  I’m just enjoying playing music.

It’s good to keep learning.  I often say that I’ve learned more of history and geography since we started homeschooling than I ever learned through my years of public school and university.  Since getting married, I’ve had to learn about simple home maintenance, desktop publishing, graphic design, a touch of woodworking, a bit of appliance repair, and a lot more.  And with the harmonica, I’ve been taking baby steps toward playing an instrument.  I’d encourage you to continue learning and thereby cultivate a love of learning in your children.  If you or your children have ever considered exploring music but haven’t acted on it, picking up a low-cost introductory harmonica kit – many come with a C major harmonica, book, and DVD – can be fairly inexpensive (under $20) and could be a lot more fun than you’d ever expected.**

Finally, just to whet your appetite a bit for how a harmonica – often thought of as a blues, folk, or jazz instrument – can fit into Gospel music, here’s Buddy Greene playing a soulful rendition of “He Leadeth Me.” (warning: This links to YouTube.) And just to show that it is possible to pick up an instrument in adulthood, here is an audio recording of me playing “Just As I Am”:

* Some prefer Hohner brand harmonicas, but after a fair amount of research, Lee Oskar looked like the best choice for me.  His harmonicas have easily replaceable parts and plastic combs (rather than wood), so swelling from moisture shouldn’t be an issue.  Plus, there are many keys available.

** My wife mentioned that another good, inexpensive introductory instrument is the recorder.  It also gets players reading the treble staff and is simple to pick up and start learning.  We have enjoyed using the Yamaha Soprano Recorder (key of C) and The New Nine-Note Recorder Method by Penny Gardner, which is easy for children to follow.


Copyright © 2019

Give Your Children the World!

At the end of the gospel of Matthew, we have the words of the Lord, “Go ye therefore and teach all nations . . . to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  How do we teach our children to be world changers while spending the bulk of our time at home?  And how do we encourage them to be interested in the peoples and cultures of the world God has made without fostering worldliness?  Here are a few ways that we have found to constructively bring the world home:

1. Invest in maps, a globe, and an atlas. – Since our children were very young, we have always had a country map and a world map prominently displayed in the kitchen, a globe within reach in the living room, and a couple of atlases on the reference shelf (one a modern atlas of countries of the world, the other a historical atlas showing Bible lands).  When your children are young and you are talking about a people group, an event, a war, or a landmark, make it a habit to get up and point out the region you are talking about.  When they are old enough to read and have a little familiarity with the maps and globe, ask them to get up and locate a particular country or body of water and point it out to the rest of the family.  God has given children the gift of curiosity.  If you establish the habit of “looking it up” as a family, most children will assume this habit on their own in time.     

2.  Keep a current missions board. – This will cost you nothing but space and time (unless you choose to purchase a bulletin board or whiteboard for it, which would cost up front but would also last for years. We’ve had the same bulletin board and whiteboard in constant use for over twenty years actually!).  But it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Any space you can set aside for the purpose will work.  As you read news stories about missions work or world events or as you’re going through fundraising letters from various organizations or as you come across prayer needs overseas, keep an eye out for things that are particularly appropriate for and of interest to the age group of children that you have.  Print or clip these articles (with pictures when possible) and display them.  The key to keeping them interested in the missions board is to keep it fresh—as new things come in, post them.  From time to time, look over the board and take down things that have been hanging too long.  I like to put anything that I’m taking down with my Bible so that we can make sure to pray for those people or needs again before throwing the articles away or passing them on.        

3.  Travel or seek out local but “exotic” experiences. – Not everybody will be able to travel far.  We happen to live in a state that borders another country, so we’ve been blessed to be able to travel internationally just by spending a few hours in the car.  But even in a rural area, opportunities abound for coming into contact with other people groups and cultures if you are willing to look for them.  For example, within the last two years, we were able to visit another church to hear a missionary speak on Chinese culture and return another evening to hear a different missionary speak about life in the Netherlands; we hosted a language night for our homeschool group, where everyone was invited to come share something in a foreign language that they know or are learning; we invited missionaries from Ireland over for a meal, and they brought pictures and stories of their work in the UK; we tried a traditional Jewish dish (shakshuka) made by our eldest daughter from a recipe shared by her Hebrew tutor; we met retired missionaries at a church dinner and were able to hear a little about their previous work in South America and enjoy some handbell music they shared with the children; and we attended a community “Christmas Around the World” event. 

4.  Build a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. – This has been and continues to be one of my favorite ways to teach our children to be world disciple makers.  Your family can pack a shoebox that has the potential to impact a child and family on the other side of the world.  Every child that receives a shoebox receives an introduction to the gospel of Jesus Christ (and where possible, the invitation is also given to enroll in The Greatest Journey discipleship program).   If you choose to get a tracking number for your box, Samaritan’s Purse will let you know what country your box was sent to, and your family can find out more about that country as you pray for that child and the needs of his or her community.

5.  Support a missionary. – If you are able, support a missionary or a mission work overseas.  Don’t just give money once a month, but undergird the family or work with your prayers.  Keep abreast of their needs and see how the Lord might be willing to use you to help them.  Some missionaries love to have short-term help from time to time (this can even be in the form of something done from home, such as stuffing envelopes with updates, helping them make other contacts locally for fundraising, etc.); others might be able to use specific supplies; all can use consistent support, prayer, and encouragement.  There is a Christian wife and mother we know whose children are grown and who has begun going to Kenya on short-term medical mission trips a couple times a year.  In her last newsletter she mentioned how they love to take pencils and stickers to give out to the children there.  This caught my attention, and I was able to write and ask if we could send her a few pencils and stickers for her next trip.   Will it be a large savings to her financially?  No—but it says, “Hey, somebody read my update and cares for these people like I do!  Somebody’s interested in the work the Lord has called me to do and will be praying for me!”  Another way to encourage your missionary is to have the children make cards.  Overseas postage can be significant for a package, but if what you are shipping is flat and fits in a standard envelope or a card-sized envelope, it is generally more reasonable.

6.  Keep a running prayer map. – Every month or two we print out a simple one-page outline of the world and use it to keep track of prayer needs.  When someone calls us for prayer or we learn about a request at church or from friends, we place it on the map.  Then every morning when we pray, we either assign requests from the map or let the children each choose a couple needs to pray for.  It’s a simple way to keep track of prayer requests, but it’s also a continual visual reminder that their prayers have the potential to literally change the world!

7.  Look for puzzles, games, coloring books, and projects with a world focus. – We’ve never used a formal geography curriculum but rather have explored geography through map puzzles, card and trivia games, coloring pages, and occasional mapwork printouts.  If you are willing to preview media, you can also find slideshows or documentaries that will add to your study of geography.  We recently enjoyed a slideshow together that featured beautiful landmarks of Africa, giving a short description of each and detailing in which country it is located.  A special geography project the children undertook this past year was to cover the walls of our fellowship room with maps and pictures representing each continent.   While their hands were busy coloring in borders and landmarks, I was reading aloud good literature so their minds would be occupied as well.  Some of the stories we read were from specific regions to go along with the continent we were currently studying, but much of the time, we just continued with the literature I had already planned to read this year.  The mind will make its own connections—we don’t have to stress as mothers about always having one subject “line up” with another.

8.  Read excellent biographies. – Biographies are exceptional tools for introducing your children to various lands and peoples in the world!  Not only does a child have opportunity to learn about another time, place, and culture, but (if you choose your person wisely) there will also be a compelling figure for them to associate this newfound knowledge with and be able to remember it better.  Investing in a series of individual country books designed for children (or borrowing a few at a time from the local library) can also be a way to discover some of the most important historical events, landmarks, customs, and holidays of another country.  These often include full-color photographs, which help to hold interest and bring the text to life.

9.  Learn a new language. – Learning a new language can give you the opportunity to meet new people, to speak into their lives and allow them to speak into yours, and to discover a culture different from your own.  I’ve been studying French for years myself, and we’ve also had times of studying it as a family.  God has allowed some amazing connections to stem from that.  My older girls have a sweet friend in Québec, our whole family has become friends with several families in an Acadian region of New Brunswick and has been allowed the opportunity to pray for and encourage the work God is doing to build an evangelical French-speaking church there, and I’ve had the opportunity in language-learning sessions to speak about faithful marriage, child training, and homeschooling with dozens of European tutors over time.   Even if your children don’t choose to pursue the same language that interests you (when they’re older), you will have given them the foundational skills for acquiring another language on their own.

10.  Sponsor a child in another country. – Over time we have had the privilege of sponsoring different children from places as diverse as Guatemala, India, and South Sudan.  While this is an obvious help to the child being sponsored, it is also an opportunity for spiritual growth in our children.  The fact that it is another child that is being sponsored can open your children’s eyes to the reality that not everybody has the benefits and blessings they take for granted.  One of our older sons has been particularly drawn to the child we are currently sponsoring and remembers consistently to pray for him and for his country.  It is a good thing when a child learns to look outside of himself and his own needs and wants and participates in bearing another’s burden.  For us, the most important things to know before beginning a sponsorship are these:  Is the agency that is running a program both Christ-centered and reputable?  How often will I receive updates on the child?  What contact will I be allowed with the child, if any?  and How long a commitment am I making? 

I hope you come away from this article with the spark of a new idea about how to raise your children to reach the world for Christ.  At its heart, homeschooling is not about academics—it’s about discipleship.  And well-trained disciples have the potential to become disciple makers in their own community and around the world.

© 2019

  recent missions board and map display

The Ten Commandments: Applications for Authors, Part 2

If you missed Part 1, see it here.

  1. “Thou shalt not kill.”

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue:  and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.”  [Proverbs 18:21]

Godly words can help to bring life—encouraging or edifying brothers and sisters in the Lord, telling a story to illustrate a Scriptural truth (think of the many parables Jesus shared), defending the sanctity of life, or leading a lost soul to find eternal hope in Christ.  On the other hand, wicked words can bring death—disheartening others, leading them astray, spreading malice that will cause the death of the innocent, or drawing someone else into “the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:24).

Let me consider the differences between Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, between Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf.  Where are the respective authors of these books today?  On what paths do these written legacies help set their audiences?  Have these works wrought blessing or wreaked devastation?

What about my writing?  Does it draw readers closer to God, with whom “is the fountain of life” (Psalm 36:9), or does it entice them to stray from God’s path and wander in the ways of death?  Wisdom informs us in Proverbs 8:35-36, “For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the LORD.  But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul:  all they that hate me love death.”  Jesus promised in John 7:38 concerning the Holy Spirit, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”  Do living waters flow out from my mouth, my pen, and my computer keyboard?  Is my writing something the Holy Spirit can use to bless others’ lives and mine, or would He convict Christ’s disciples to avoid reading my work?

  1. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

“The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD:  but the words of the pure are pleasant words.”  [Proverbs 15:26]

Philippians 4:8 lists the types of things God wants me to think on (which, obviously, are also parameters for my speech and writing).  Included in this list are “whatsoever things are pure.”  God does not want my writing to defile the reader.  Are His moral standards lifted up in my work?

If and when unfaithfulness must be dealt with (for example, writing an accurate biography may include referencing a situation in which one or both spouses broke the marriage vows), is it addressed delicately and discreetly to avoid sullying my own mind or the reader’s?  As a related consideration, is the content of a book or article appropriate to the age of its intended audience?  Do I protect the innocence of children?  Even books for adults, however, must be pure, not defiling.

As mentioned in the section on the third commandment, God’s Word is pure, and that must be my standard and example.  The Bible deals with some weighty sins (for example, the failings of Judah and Tamar, of David and Bathsheba).  But passages such as these are not always read verbatim to young children.  And immorality, though addressed, is never condoned in Scripture.  Such sins are brought up either to explicitly forbid them or to show the awful consequences of falling into them.  Ungodliness must not be condoned in my work either.

  1. “Thou shalt not steal.”

“But we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.”  [I Thessalonians 4:10b-12]

Plagiarism is not acceptable to God.  Do I guard against it?  It is wrong to use another’s words without giving him credit.  It is also wrong to rewrite all someone else’s material and lead the reader to believe it is my own.

Some false prophets of Jeremiah’s day simply parroted what they heard from others or even fabricated messages, claiming a revelation, and God’s response in Jeremiah 23:30 is unequivocal:  “Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour.”  Do I wait on the Lord and share the message He gives me rather than just recycling a message that He gave someone else and pretending it’s new?  I’m in no way saying that my writing is inspired by God in the same way as the Scriptures are; only the Bible is infallible and completely God-breathed.  But the Lord definitely teaches those who will listen to Him, and He will guide new pilgrims in the old paths (see Psalm 25:8-9; Jeremiah 6:16).

Avoiding plagiarism doesn’t mean that I can’t stand on the shoulders of godly predecessors or even that I can’t quote them directly.  (I’m quoting or referencing the works of others multiple times in this very article!)  But there are upright ways of doing this.  Depending on the circumstances, quotation marks, footnotes, credit lines, acknowledgments, and bibliographies are all ways of honestly honoring those from whom I have learned.  Sometimes I may need to write for permission and pay to use an extended quotation if a given work is not in the public domain.

Do I follow copyright laws?  They are put in place for authors’ and artists’ benefit, and respect of others’ work is in accordance with the Golden Rule, which states in Matthew 7:12, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them:  for this is the law and the prophets.”  Would I want another person to take my poem or article or book and market it as his own?  Obviously not, so I should treat him and his writing with equal courtesy.

  1. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

“Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.  For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips.  All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them.”  [Proverbs 8:6-8]

A Christian’s writing must not be an outlet for slander, false propaganda, evolution, or rewritten history.  Jesus prayed for His disciples in John 17:17, “Sanctify them through thy truth:  thy word is truth.”  God’s Word, my standard, is infallible and therefore fully reliable.  Do my words reflect the truth to the best of my current understanding?  The psalmist prayed in Psalm 119, “I have chosen the way of truth:  thy judgments have I laid before me. . . .  And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments.”

Do I pay attention to detail?  Do I fact-check, and do I ensure that any quotations are accurate?  For example, I am checking the Scripture verses in this article to make sure that both the references and the words themselves are the way they should be.  Human error is still possible; there could be an occasional typo, but I am attempting to be accurate.

Do I boldly stand up for the truth of God’s Word, yet “speaking the truth in love” (see Ephesians 4:15)?  Or do I “soften” the message to make it seem more comfortable and less convicting?

In John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and Faithful meet a traveler named Talkative.  He is eager to talk about Christianity—or anything else, for that matter—but his life is ungodly.  With Christian’s encouragement Faithful asks Talkative pointed questions that force him to consider whether his religion is sincere.  Offended, Talkative leaves them, and Christian tells Faithful, “You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did.  There is but little of this faithful dealing with men nowadays, and that makes religion to be odious to many. . . .  I wish that all men would deal with such as you have done.  Then either the talkers should be made more conformable to religion or the company of saints would be too hot for them.”  Do I deal faithfully with my readers, striving—as Jesus said in Matthew 10:16—to be both “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”?  [p. 97-98, John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Roots by the River, 2016, 2018]

  1. “Thou shalt not covet . . . any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

“For the love of money is the root of all evil:  which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.  But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.”  [I Timothy 6:10-11]

Greed is an unacceptable purpose for writing.  Writing for money and fame is completely unlike writing for God.  It is a different process with different motives and will yield drastically different results.  If I write what I expect will sell well, what people in the world will want to buy and read, I probably am not writing God’s message.  Even if my ambition is to produce a bestseller in the Christian market, I still must beware of writing for men, watering down the truth, and falling prey to pride and self-confidence.

Do I write what will challenge, edify, or bless people’s souls and not what will simply tickle their fancies?  The readers’ eternal destinies and Christian walks are far more important than the money in my pocket.  Am I willing for my work to be a labor of love—primarily for my Lord and then for other people?  As God provides and enables, am I willing to give copies away?

I don’t believe it’s wrong to sell my work; Jesus affirmed in Luke 10:7b that “the labourer is worthy of his hire.”  But material wealth cannot be my main goal, for Christ also cautioned in Luke 12:15b, “Take heed, and beware of covetousness:  for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”  As a disclaimer, at this point in my life, I don’t depend on writing for a livelihood.  I realize that someone who has been called to write as the chief means of providing for his family would need to consider financial profits more while still keeping God’s principles at the forefront of his view.

If I do sell my books, how do I use the money I receive?  Do tithing, generosity, self-control, contentment, honesty in paying taxes, and careful recordkeeping characterize my stewardship?

Do I lay up any treasures in Heaven by my writing?  Does my work matter eternally, or is it twaddle?  Paul warned believers in I Corinthians 3:13-15, “Every man’s work shall be made manifest:  for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.  If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.  If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:  but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.”

How tragic it would be to see at the last day that what I had spent my life doing didn’t really matter at all!  God has given me a gift, an opportunity to build in His kingdom.  Am I squandering it and hiding it in the earth, or am I occupying till He comes, seeking to be “about my Father’s business” just as my Savior was (see Luke 19:13; 2:49)?

Let me conclude with Psalm 19:14, a prayer of the man after God’s own heart, who left a beautiful written legacy in many of the psalms:  “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

Copyright © 2018

The Ten Commandments:  Applications for Authors, Part 1

I have enjoyed writing stories and poems over the years and am thankful for Christian parents who have trained and directed me in using this ability for God’s glory.  Following are some thoughts on how the Ten Commandments apply in the area of writing.  While I am still learning myself, I hope these considerations will prove a blessing to other writers aspiring to use their gifts in a way that honors the Giver.  The quotes from the Ten Commandments are taken from Exodus 20, and I chose another key Scripture for each command as well.

  1. “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength:  this is the first commandment.”  [Mark 12:30]

Does my writing draw me closer to the one true God?  Does it point others to Him?  I am commanded to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Let me especially think about the mind in regards to writing.  God designed the human brain in a fearful and wonderful way (see Psalm 139:14), and He expects it to be used for His glory.  In the words of Frances Ridley Havergal’s timeless hymn of consecration, “Take my intellect and use / Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.”  And Elvina M. Hall wrote, “Jesus paid it all; / All to Him I owe.”  Am I writing for myself, or am I truly writing for the Lord?  Work done for God’s glory will be done heartily—to the best of my ability with His help (see Colossians 3:23-24).

Charles Sheldon’s classic In His Steps challenges believers to judge every action with the question “What would Jesus do?”  One of the characters in the novel is a young woman named Rachel Winslow, who loves to sing, is gifted with an exceptional voice, and receives an offer to join a concert company and make a substantial salary.  In evaluating this decision according to Jesus’ probable action in the same circumstance, she says to her mother, “Mother, I have made up my mind to use my voice in some way so as to satisfy my own soul that I am doing something better than pleasing fashionable audiences, or making money, or even gratifying my own love of singing.  I am going to do something that will satisfy me when I ask:  ‘What would Jesus do?’ ”  [p. 55, Charles Sheldon, In His Steps, Barbour & Company, Inc., 1993]

I love to write, but my work must do more than gratify my own love of writing.  To be worthwhile, it must glorify God and direct others to Him.  When Jesus was on earth, He ever sought the Father’s will and the Father’s glory.  I must follow His example.

  1. “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. . . . Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:  for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.”

“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  Amen.”  [I John 5:20-21]

My work or any part of it must not come between my Lord and me, or it has become an idol.  Am I careful to worship only the true God and not the work of my hands or my mind?  I may come to be fond of characters in a novel, for example, but it would be foolish to idolize them.  They are not alive and cannot do anything for me.  Worshiping and serving “the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever,” is condemned in Romans 1:25.

Jesus, my Creator and Redeemer, must be my first priority, for anything I can do is only because of Him.  He said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches:  He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit:  for without me ye can do nothing.”  And in Revelation 2:2-5 He rebuked the church in Ephesus and commanded them to repent because—although they had zeal, patience, and perseverance—they had left their first love for Him.  I must not become so caught up in my projects that I neglect my relationship with my Savior.

  1. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.”

“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about him.”  [Psalm 89:7]

For a Christian author, it should be obvious that God’s name must be used reverently.  Do I also vigilantly guard against writing anything else that would dishonor Him?  Swear words are not the only form of disrespect.  Jokes about sacred topics, for instance, should not be found in a Christian’s writing.

Even in the lines of antagonists or those of erring protagonists, do I, as the author and narrator, exercise godly discretion?  A good example of this is found in Matthew 26:73-74a, the account of Peter’s third denial:  “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech bewrayeth thee.  Then began he to curse and to swear, saying, I know not the man.”  Matthew, writing under God’s inspiration, honestly tells us that Peter used ungodly language, but he does not spell out exactly what Peter said and thus defile the minds of the readers.  The psalmist praised God in Psalm 119:140, saying, “Thy word is very pure:  therefore thy servant loveth it.”  Are my words pure and reverent?

  1. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:  But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God.”

“Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest:  in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.”  [Exodus 34:21]

Even when deadlines are closing in, even when pressure is great, do I still set apart the Sabbath for rest and worship?  Putting aside for-profit projects on Sundays is an acknowledgement that I trust God to supply the time, strength, energy, and inspiration I need, realizing that they come solely from Him.

God instituted a weekly day of rest for our benefit.  Jesus said in Mark 2:27b, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”  In the context we see that He was reproving the Pharisees for their legalism and devotion to man-made regulations.  He was defending His disciples’ right to pluck and eat a few ears of corn.  In the next chapter He demonstrated His own authority to heal on this holy day, asking in Mark 3:4b, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”

Whether Christians are required to keep the Sabbath is a controversial question in some circles.  Here is my view, which I hope is supported by Scripture:  Have any of the other nine commandments been annulled?  Is it now permissible to serve idols, to swear, or to steal?  Jesus has indeed given us liberty, having kept the whole Law for us when He was on earth.  We do not need to offer animal sacrifices or follow the rituals of the Tabernacle.  But God’s moral law and standards did not change after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  In addition, the Sabbath far predates Moses; God set the pattern of six days of work, one day of rest in Creation Week.  And the early Christians set apart the first day of the week, the day of Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10).  In his entry on the Sabbath in Smith’s Bible Dictionary, William Smith, L.L.D., observed, “Christ’s words do not remit the duty of keeping the Sabbath, but only deliver it from the false methods of keeping which prevented it from bestowing upon men the spiritual blessings it was ordained to confer.”  [p. 575, William Smith, L.L.D., Smith’s Bible Dictionary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1999]

As an example of lawfully doing good on the Sabbath, let me consider an incident from the life of William Carey, a pioneer missionary to India.  He generally set apart Sundays for preaching, worship, and rest and would not have gone about his regular labors.  At one point, however, on or just before a Sunday, a long-awaited order came from the government, putting an end to the cruel practice of suttee; and Carey was supposed to translate the document into the Bengali language.  He decided that translating and distributing this order was a completely acceptable use of the Sabbath, for many innocent lives could have been lost by a delay of only twenty-four hours.  [p. 50, J.J. Ellis, William Carey:  The Cobbler Who Became the Mighty Pioneer in India, Keepers of the Faith, 2003]

  1. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

“A wise son maketh a glad father:  but a foolish man despiseth his mother.”  [Proverbs 15:20]

Does my work honor my parents and the godly training they have given me?  I can look at this from two different angles.

First, does what I write reflect God’s pattern for families and revere the authority systems He established?  According to Philippians 2:15b-16a, believers are called to be “blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life.”  Strong, functional families who strive to serve the Lord together can be a good testimony, and my writing should reflect and promote Scriptural norms and principles.

Just how important are family relationships?  They are, in fact, foundational.  Family is an important theme throughout Scripture.  The marriage of a faithful husband and wife is a picture of Christ, who loved the church enough to lay down His life, and His bride, who is loyal and obedient to Him.  The parent-child relationship is to be a picture of our relationship with God—of our honor, obedience, gratitude, and love for our Heavenly Father and of His justice, kindness, protection, provision, and love for us.  Psalm 128 presents a picture of rich familial blessing for “every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways,” and David exclaimed in Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

How do I apply these Biblical principles as an author?  If I am writing a story, do the children in it respect their parents in thought, word, and deed?  Do siblings or spouses live in unity, or are they constantly fighting?  While showing a bad example is sometimes instructive to illustrate the consequences of acting in a particular way, I should not allow my characters to get away with sin, and I should not introduce unnecessary temptation to readers.

What do I mean by that?  I Corinthians 15:33 warns, “Be not deceived:  evil communications corrupt good manners.”  If children spend time with peers who are mouthy and disobedient, they are liable to pick up those habits.  If adults consistently associate with friends who gossip and complain about their spouses or children, they are apt to find themselves battling similar thoughts and probably falling into those temptations.  Friends met in books can have the same type of influence, and favorite books are likely to be reread.  Over the course of my childhood and youth, I read a couple of novels I liked nine or ten times each.  And it would be difficult to calculate how much time I have spent with Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and various adaptations of it!  To summarize this point, how are readers’ family relationships apt to be affected by reading and rereading my story?

Second, do my habits as an author respect my own family members?  Or do I allow myself to be wrapped up in writing when God would have me doing other things, such as caring for my loved ones?  Am I willing to put writing “on the back burner” when He presents more pressing responsibilities at home?  As a youth, according to Luke 2:51, Jesus was subject to His earthly parents.  As an adult He honored His mother and always obeyed His Heavenly Father.  In Matthew 15:3-6, He strongly reproved those who neglected their parents under the pretense of giving all to God.  Jesus is serious about the fifth commandment.

In addition, in II Timothy 3:2, Paul warned Timothy that in the last days men would be “lovers of their own selves.”  It is human nature to think first of oneself before family, others, and the Lord, but may God help Christlike selflessness to have the victory in my life!

Continue with The Ten Commandments: Applications for Authors, Part 2

Copyright © 2018

Twelve Special Stories for the Twelve Days of Christmas

Christmas stories have been an important part of our family’s celebration of the holidays for the past two decades. Some of these are stories I read and reread as a child and have now had the privilege to read as a mother as well; others are stories we discovered when our children were younger and have continued to enjoy together over the years. Any or all of these are worth finding and sharing with your own children or grandchildren. May you take time this Christmas to have some quiet moments as family with nothing more than some good books and one another’s company, making memories that cost little but will last a lifetime. And when Christmas Day dawns, don’t forget to read the Story of Stories found in Luke 2 and Matthew 2 about the shepherds, angels, wise men, two humble servants of God, and a Baby that would change the world.

Here’s my list, in no particular order. If the same version or a similar version of the book is still available whether new or used, I have linked the cover image to be able to purchase it at CBD or Amazon (with the exception of the one we carry, in which case I link to us!). If a book is unavailable at the moment or the used price was showing up as more than $20, rolling over the cover image will pop up a tool tip that says OOP. You may still be able to find the OOP selections at your local library, through inter-library loan, on other used book sites, or in the library of a friend.

1. The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey written by Susan Wojciechowski and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, copyright 1995. Beautiful illustrations and a story both boys and girls will love about a gruff woodcarver and the widow woman and her son who finally win his heart.
2. An Orange for Frankie written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, copyright 2004. Large families will particularly enjoy this story about a boy who was one of nine siblings. A great story for reminding children that at its heart Christmas is about Christ, family, special traditions, and sharing what we have with others.
3. Christmas Carols selected and arranged by Karl Schulte, copyright 1957. While not a read-aloud, it includes the words and simple piano scores for the kind of music our children and grandchildren need to have tucked away in their hearts and minds. I like this particular collection because it offers only a couple songs that are more modern (Jingle Bells, for example), while featuring mostly traditional Christmas hymns of the faith: Away in a Manger, Silent Night, What Child is This?, Joy to the World, I Heard the Bells, and more. However, the particular collection is not so important as that you find ways to make meaningful Christmas music a part of your family’s spiritual heritage.
4. The Christmas Secret (or José’s Christmas Secret) written by Joan Lexau and illustrated by Don Bolognese, copyright 1969 (Scholastic version). A favorite from my childhood. Super for boys as it features two brothers and the surprise they work to give their mother on Christmas. [Please note: there is a line on page 42 which uses God’s name inappropriately in a Spanish expression. Eliminate that and you have an otherwise excellent story.]
5. Lassie: A Christmas Story written by Earl Hamner and Don Sipes, illustrated by Kevin Burke, copyright unlisted. I am not particularly a dog lover, but even I enjoy this simple Christmas story about a boy, his family, his dog, and their Christmas adventure!
6. Christmas Tapestry written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco, copyright 2002. I don’t think I’ve ever made it through a read-aloud of this book without crying. Based on a true story, but adapted to take place in the author’s home state of Michigan. Follow a pastor’s family as they move and must begin a work all over. In making new friends they are amazed at the weaving together of time and place and people that only God could orchestrate.
7. The Christmas Guest as retold by Helen Steiner Rice, name of illustrator not given, copyright 1972. A rhyming narrative about a man named Conrad who waits to meet the Lord on Christmas Day, but the “wrong” visitors keep coming to the door.
8. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening written by Robert Frost and illustrated by Susan Jeffers, copyright 1978. While more of a winter story than a Christmas story, I love the imaginative work the illustrator did to make this well-loved poem into a children’s book. Don’t stop with the one poem though! While you have your children gathered around, make sure to read other favorites from Frost as well as poems from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Louis Stevenson. You can find the others in a good anthology or by searching online.
9. Christmas for 10 written and illustrated by Cathryn Falwell, copyright 1998. This is a simple counting book for younger children, but the real story is told in the colorful, collage-style illustrations. A large, happy family gathers to celebrate Christmas with music, crafts, gifts for others, story time, and old-fashioned hospitality.
10. Miracle in a Shoebox: A Christmas Gift of Wonder written by Franklin Graham with Estelle Condra and illustrated by Dilleen Marsh, copyright 1995. The story of a brother and sister in Bosnia who receive shoeboxes through Operation Christmas Child and find the Peace that passes all understanding. If your family is not familiar with this outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, you can learn more about it here. Our family considers shoebox collection week the start of the Christmas season.
11. Silent Night: The Song and Its Story written by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Tim Ladwig, copyright 1997. The true history of how this well-loved Christmas carol came to be written in Austria and known around the world. Accompanied by warm illustrations.
12. The Birds’ Christmas Carol written by Kate Douglas Wiggin and edited by myself, original work now in the public domain, this edition copyright 2017. Another favorite from my childhood and one of the books outside the Bible that has had a lasting impact on my life. This edition also includes poems and other Christmas stories (such as O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi) that will touch your heart and encourage your family to look for ways to bless others and to keep Christ at the center of Christmas.

Bonus Advent ideas:

#1 Once you’ve been collecting Christmas books and stories for years and have a good assortment, place 24 of them in a large gift bag on the first day of December and cover the top with tissue paper. Invite one of your children to reach in the bag each morning (no peeking) and grab one for you to read aloud. On the final day, read the Christmas story from the Bible – perhaps while setting up a nativity as a Christmas centerpiece. (Don’t forget to involve Dad in reading aloud, too!)

#2 Purchase an advent calendar for a few dollars and pair it with some CDs (newly purchased or already owned) of peaceful Christmas music. Enjoy a new song or an old favorite together each morning of December as another advent window is uncovered. On Christmas Day encourage the whole family to sing praises to the King together.

Copyright © 2017