Book Review: Talking With Your Kids About Jesus

Natasha Crain’s newest book, Talking With Your Kids About Jesus, is an essential resource for anyone seeking to provide spiritual guidance to children in today’s cultural climate. It could not have come at a better time as children ask parents big questions in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic. The author makes these critical conversations manageable even for busy parents or grandparents as she provides content broken down into short sections that can be easily digested in just a few minutes a day.

The book is divided into five sections which cover the identity of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the difference Jesus makes. Each chapter within the section consists of several pages of content followed by a summary of the key points. The author also includes a conversation guide for parents to use as they talk with their children and train them to boldly defend their faith.

While I believe every conversation in the book is essential, I am particularly impressed by the way the author covers several topics. The first is in the section about the identity of Jesus. Crain highlights the importance of ensuring that our kids have a thorough grasp on knowing that Jesus is God, even though He never says those exact words. She provides a solid foundation of Biblical evidences to equip kids to face challenges from others with different worldviews.

In her section on the teachings of Jesus, Crain addresses another crucial topic by examining what Jesus taught about religion. She explains that many today inaccurately portray Jesus as pitting religion against relationship. The author astutely points out that this is a false dichotomy, and describes the profound impact embracing this belief can have on kids in terms of a lowered view of the nature of truth, the authority of the Bible, and the importance of the church.

Crain addresses the relationship between Old Testament animal sacrifices and Jesus’s death in the section on the death of Jesus. She emphasizes the importance of not only teaching kids the fun and memorable stories of the Bible, but explaining the enormity of sin to them through learning about the sacrificial system, and describing how it took the death of an innocent sacrifice to make atonement for it.

The final section of the book describes the difference Jesus makes in the life of the Christian. The chapter on what it means to trust in Jesus is especially timely in the midst of uncertainty and fear related to the ongoing pandemic. She provides helpful answers to the questions of evil and suffering by describing the biblical concept of trust as well as common misunderstandings of what it means to trust in Jesus. Natasha brings clarity to this difficult topic and provides guidance for parents as they discuss current events and personal disappointments with their children.

While I was familiar with Natasha Crain’s work in equipping parents to engage in apologetics conversations with their kids, this was the first of her books that I had the pleasure to read. Natasha has the ability to write about difficult topics in an easy to understand style even for those with no prior apologetics training. She communicates in a winsome manner, and makes parents feel as if they are hearing from a trusted friend. This book is a great resource for parents, grandparents, teachers, or Bible study leaders who desire to give children a clear understanding of Jesus in a world that often paints a confusing picture of the Founder and Perfecter of the Christian faith.

Curing Heart Disease

The heart is universally recognized as a symbol of love, and the month of February is prime season for all the hearts as we fashion chocolate into hearts, scribble them on our Valentines, and emblazon hearts across our t-shirts. One of my favorite traditions when my boys were young was to prepare a giant chocolate chip cookie cake in the shape of a heart for them to eat for breakfast on Valentine’s Day. After all, what better way to express my love than to offer chocolate chip cookies for the most important meal of the day! On our very first Valentine’s Day as a dating couple, my husband demonstrated his love for me by wrestling a giant inflatable heart up the stairway to my second floor apartment. Songs tell of burning hearts, shattered hearts, and even achy breaky hearts. Our hearts are the source of life flowing through our bodies, contracting 100,000 times a day, pumping 2,000 gallons of blood, and delivering oxygen and other essential nutrients to our vital organs. So it’s no doubt that our hearts are of great importance.

God created our hearts with both physical and spiritual significance, and confirms the vital nature of the heart through the number of mentions in His Word. In the CSB translation of the Bible, the heart is mentioned 508 times. That’s almost ten times the number of mentions of the soul (55), and almost five times the number of mentions of the mind (111). Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, recognized the importance of the heart when he said, “What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.”  If this is true, and seeds planted in the heart grow into thoughts and actions, then it’s important to make sure our hearts are both physically and spiritually healthy. In fact, Proverbs 4:23 cautions us to “Guard your heart above all else for it is the source of life.”

Our Hearts Are Sick

Heart disease is the number one killer of people in the United States. According to the CDC, approximately 647,000 deaths occur each year as a result of heart disease. Physical heart disease can be managed through proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and appropriate medication. But what are we to do about our spiritually sick hearts? Spiritual heart-sickness has caused even more devastation over the millennia than physical heart disease. The first mention of the heart in scripture is in Genesis 8:21 when God promises after the flood to never again curse the ground because of man, “…even though the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth onward.” Later in the Old Testament, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Thus, we are born with diseased hearts, spiritually speaking. As much as we may desire the cure, we don’t have the means within ourselves to provide it. We can’t reach inside and fix this ailment. Unfortunately, many times we are encouraged to just “follow our hearts.” Perhaps it’s not wise to let emotions guide us without the direction of the one who created our hearts in the first place. Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight.” Only when God mends our hearts can we be assured that we will remain on course.

God Heals Our Hearts

So is there anything we can do to treat our spiritual heart disease? We can do nothing on our own. The cure rests in placing our faith in Jesus, who suffered, died, and was resurrected to pay the penalty for our sin. Romans 10:10 says, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Psalm 119:11 instructs us to treasure God’s Word in our hearts so that we will not continue to sin against Him. As God’s Word takes root in our hearts, sin becomes less appealing to us. But, as flawed humans, sin inevitably rears its ugly head, requiring us to cleanse our hearts through the regular practice of confession and repentance. The psalmist is an example for us in Psalm 51:10 when he pleads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” As we strive to keep our hearts pure and live holy lives during our brief time on earth, God promises that we will live eternally with Him in heaven. Jesus assures us in Matthew 5:8 that the pure in heart will see God.

We Satisfy Our Hearts In Him

The first portion of the great commandment in Mark 12:30 says to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart…” So what does it mean to love God with all our hearts? Does it mean mushy emotionalism, or could it mean something more? Psalms 24:3-4 says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.” We were made by our Creator to worship, and our hearts will never be truly satisfied or whole until we humbly submit our wills to His as an expression of loyalty and faithful worship. Augustine of Hippo said, “Thou has made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” God’s Word promises in Jeremiah 29:13 that, “You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.” As we journey on an earnest quest toward deeper fellowship with our Creator, we recognize who He is, and that He is the only one worthy of our whole-hearted devotion.

When my older son was about two years old, he made a Valentine in his Sunday School class. He brought it home, and we proudly displayed the lovingly crafted artwork on his bedroom door. As we went through our bedtime routine every night, we typically read a bedtime story, said a prayer, and went through the standard toddler stalling tactics. One night as he noticed the heart hanging on his door, he said, “There’s a heart on my door. Isn’t it pretty?” I’m not sure why, but we jokingly responded, “No. It’s disgusting, it’s horrible, it’s ugly!” Seeing the shock on his face, we then immediately replied, “No. It’s beautiful, and so are you!” He then said, “And so are you!” Hugs and kisses ensued immediately. For several months this became part of our bedtime routine, and we recited it exactly the same way every night. I admit it was kind of strange, but reflecting back on it, I think it gives a little insight into how we relate to God. We think there’s nothing wrong with our hearts and proudly put them on display. As we hold them up before a holy God, the ugliness within is revealed. Because He loves us, He provides the means to make our hearts beautiful and pure so we can enjoy His presence forever. And that will truly be a magnificent place to dwell for all who place their trust in Him.

Resolve to See Things God’s Way in 2020

Walking By Faith

In ten years of experience as an occupational therapist working with geriatric and stroke patients, I have observed that disruption of vision is one of the most devastating deficits a person can experience. That’s no wonder, since neuroscientists estimate that more than eighty percent of the information we receive about our environment is through the sense of vision. Our brains take in and interpret the information we receive through our eyes.  In the same way that we need physical vision to make sense of our world, we also need spiritual vision to effectively navigate through life. This longing for clear spiritual vision is evident as we cry out to God in worship with songs like “Be Thou My Vision” and  “Open the Eyes of My Heart.”

I have reflected extensively on the importance of vision because of my family history of eye disease. I have seen first hand how a deficiency in physical eyesight can affect a person. Both my grandmother and my mother were diagnosed with macular degeneration, and because this disease has a strong genetic component, I am a good candidate for developing this condition as well. I do all I can to reduce the odds by taking vitamins specifically designed to slow the process, protecting my eyes in bright sunlight, and paying attention to diet, but am I equally vigilant when it comes to maintaining good spiritual vision? Ensuring our ability to make sense of spiritual matters has far greater consequences than protecting our physical eyes. So how can we maintain 20/20 spiritual vision?

Three primary components of vision are necessary for making sense of our physical world: visual acuity, oculomotor control, and visual field. If any one of these is absent or deficient, we have a difficult time safely interacting with the environment. Acuity enables us to see clearly, oculomotor control directs the eyes toward a particular target, and visual field enables us to see the whole picture. In the same way that these components are necessary to make sense of the physical world, they are also applicable to the spiritual realm. Just as a skilled optician can create the perfect pair of glasses to bring our physical vision to 20/20, God has given us tools to utilize as we journey through life.

Seeing Clearly

We must maintain visual acuity or clarity in our worldview. We can only see clearly from a spiritual standpoint by viewing the world through the lens of God’s Word. Let us not underestimate the importance of being in the Word daily in order to keep from stumbling and falling due to blurry vision. As an occupational therapist, one compensatory strategy I have at my disposal to improve acuity is increasing light. The Bible tells us in Psalm 119:105 that, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (NKJV) Let us as followers of Christ use the application of Biblical wisdom as our strategy to prevent us from stumbling along life’s path. It is only when God’s Word illuminates our way that we can see the obstacles ahead poised to trip us up or cause us to stray off the straight and narrow road. Darkness cannot prevail against the light of God’s Word.

Fixing Our Gaze

When the muscles in our eyes demonstrate good oculomotor control, our gaze is maintained and fixed in the right direction. Weak eye muscles can be retrained and strengthened through tracking exercises in which an individual practices following a target with his eyes. Control of our spiritual muscles is necessary to keep our lives focused appropriately, and they also require training. We must make the conscious decision to only engage in those things which are conducive to our spiritual growth, and divert our gaze away from anything that is not beneficial. Hebrews 12: 2 says we are to run the race while “keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith…” (CSB). It is only with Jesus as our target that we are able to safely navigate this world. While it is easy to turn aside and follow worldly passions, we will only keep moving in the right direction as we train ourselves to daily keep our eyes fixed on Him through employing the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study.

Staying Alert

We maintain an awareness of all that is going on around us through a functional visual field. One strategy used in cases of visual field deficits is called visual scanning. Through this technique, individuals are trained to be acutely aware of areas of decreased vision, and employ a specific pattern for scanning toward those sections of the visual field. We need to be aware of our deficits spiritually as well and utilize strategies to compensate for our weaknesses. If our spiritual field of vision is deficient, we cannot perceive attacks coming from the enemy. Blind spots in our vision give the enemy an opportunity to assault and isolate us. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (ESV) We must have a strategy to stay vigilant and alert regarding anything or anyone that would enter our world seeking to take away the blessings of life in Christ. Fellowship with other believers can be very helpful in this regard. Others are often able to see things in us that we cannot see in ourselves. Our brothers and sisters in Christ help fill in our blind spots and alert us to areas in which we need to grow.

Toward the end of her ninety-four years on earth, my grandmother lost much of her eyesight as a result of macular degeneration. It was difficult seeing her struggle to do everyday tasks we all take for granted. This disease also robbed her of the ability to do things that she once enjoyed such as reading her Bible, doing crossword puzzles, or playing along with Wheel of Fortune. It was comforting though to see that a physical disease could not steal the joy of the Lord from her life. She continued to walk with Him, allowing the Lord to take her hand and guide her when she couldn’t see the way. That’s the way spiritual eyesight works. We allow God to be our eyes, guiding us to places He’s already been, along a path He created for us, in order to follow His will for our lives. One of my grandmother’s favorite verses was Proverbs 3:5-6 : “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (NKJV) And that is how Nannie was able to function when she all but lost her sight. She put her hand in God’s hand and submitted to his guidance when she couldn’t see the path ahead of her. We would do well to do the same.

Give Thanks for Goodness’ Sake

Why do I give thanks? While there are many things, people, and circumstances for which I am thankful, 1 Chronicles 16:34 provides the most essential reason of all when the author declares, “Give thanks to the LORD for He is good…” So why should we express gratitude for God’s goodness above anything else? Simply because God’s goodness is the foundational attribute underlying all other things for which we give thanks. A.W. Tozer explains in The Knowledge of the Holy, “The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.” We would enjoy no other gifts, relationships, or experiences if God were not first of all good. Because of God’s goodness, I am comforted and not fearful of the remarkable power He wields over all of creation. I am encouraged rather than uneasy at His intimate knowledge of my every thought.

What does it mean to say that God is good? The Psalmist proclaims in Psalm 16:2, “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Goodness itself cannot be defined without first looking to God. All that He says, does, and is reflects His goodness. Tracing the movement of His hand throughout history reveals a picture of His good plan and redemptive story that began unfolding at the first sinful act of man. I heard it said recently that the Christian faith is unique because we worship a God who, because of His goodness, became the solution to mankind’s biggest problem. No other religion offers a deity who embodies that kind of self-sacrificial goodness. He was under no obligation to offer Himself up for us, except that He was compelled by His kindness and benevolent nature to do so.

Even creation itself reveals His goodness as He generously surrounds us with amazing treasures that delight our senses and leave us in awe of our Creator. He thrills us with the brilliance of the starry heavens that span across the horizon as far as our eyes can see. He lavishes us with the refreshing fragrance of the rain following an unexpected summer storm. He provides the sweetness of a freshly picked piece of fruit to satisfy our hunger. He entertains us with the melodious songs of birds to awaken us in the morning. He shines the luminescent glow of the sun on our faces to remind us of the warmth of His love. Only a good God would do such things.

Psalm 34:8 instructs us to “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” Goodness is not just a descriptor of how He is; it’s who He is. As humans who reflect the image of God, we can be good for a time, but our imperfect nature eventually claws its way to the surface. In contrast, God is only ever good. God is good because that’s who He is. I am sometimes good because of His Holy Spirit living in me. I can be a good parent for a while, but eventually I’ll lose my temper over some act of childish misbehavior. I can be a good friend temporarily, but at some point I’ll respond selfishly and let my closest companions down. I can be a good citizen for a time, until I’m cut off in traffic or beaten in line for some awesomely amazing Black Friday deal! I can be a good wife for the short term, but I’ll inevitably say something unkind at the end of a stressful day. A.W. Tozer continues in The Knowledge of the Holy, “Divine goodness, as one of God’s attributes, is self-caused, infinite, perfect, and eternal. Since God is immutable He never varies in the intensity of His loving-kindness. He has never been kinder than He now is, nor will He ever be less kind.” What a comforting thought to know that He is so unlike me, and is always only good!

Psalms 23:6 says, “Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD as long as I live.” God’s goodness compels Him to pursue me, allowing me to reap the benefits of a life lived in relationship with Him. His pursuit of me has been relentless no matter where my spiritual journey has taken me. Sometimes He quietly tiptoes up behind me, astonishing me with some extravagant, over-the-top act of goodness. Other times He’s the Good Shepherd who sees me wandering aimlessly into danger and brings me back into the fold for my own protection. At all times He’s my patient Heavenly Father who cradles my hand in His and guides me along the good path. Where else can we find that kind of goodness except in our God?

Because I am confident that God is always only good, I can be thankful no matter the circumstance. On both dreadfully dark nights and breathtakingly bright days I know that I have a Heavenly Father working His good purposes in my life (Romans 8:28). I’m thankful for each breath I breathe, but I know that even if I never drew another breath, God would still be good. I’m thankful for the roof over my head, but I know that if it were to disastrously disappear, God would still be good. I’m thankful for my daily provision of food, but I know that I don’t live by bread alone, and if I were to go hungry, God would still be good. I’m also thankful for my family, my church, my job, my friends, and all things big and small that God provides on a moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day basis. Apart from all that, however, is God’s goodness. We cannot truly appreciate the good gifts we receive from God’s hand without first understanding how He Himself is good, and giving thanks for that above all.

Book Review: Why I Still Believe by Mary Jo Sharp

In a culture where deconversion stories have become all too commonplace, and often leave faith in tatters, Mary Jo Sharp shines a ray of hope. She brings the reader along on her own journey from atheism, to belief, through doubt, and onward to her destination as a bold apologist for the Christian faith. She draws the reader into her story as she faces head-on the threads of ugliness woven into the fabric of the human experience, and demonstrates in a compelling fashion that even when our stories threaten to become unraveled, we have hope in Christ. Mary Jo then systematically proves how the evidences for the truth of the Christian worldview can be used to weave one’s faith back together again into a beautiful tapestry even in the midst of pain and hypocrisy. She reveals the amazing complexity of the Christian faith, stating that “To reduce Christianity to a neat-and-tidy recipe for happiness is to miss it almost entirely.”

I was eager to read Why I Still Believe because Mary Jo Sharp provided my first serious introduction to apologetics three years ago. I have followed her ministry since then and observed her passion for equipping believers to defend the Christian faith with truth and compassion. I’m impressed by her honest reflections about coming into the Christian faith from an atheistic background, and how despite painful experiences within the church, she still has reasons to believe in a good and gracious God. Through anecdotal snapshots and glimpses into personal conversations, she walks the reader through her experiences as a new Christian and candidly describes the challenges to her faith she faced even as a minister’s wife. Those who have experienced hurt from within the walls of the church will see themselves in her story, and appreciate her encouragement to find hope on the other side of disappointment.

Mary Jo walks the reader through some of the core apologetics arguments she considered while investigating the viability of the Christian worldview. She invites the reader to listen in on her conversations with both scholars and skeptics regarding the existence of God, the resurrection of Christ, the problem of evil, the divinity of Jesus, the moral argument, and the argument from beauty. She ultimately concludes that the Christian worldview is the best explanation for the reality we experience all around us, while honestly acknowledging that a tension exists in the Christian life between how things are and how we know they ought to be.

Reading Why I Still Believe has prompted within me a desire to display a greater boldness in my witness, and to better equip myself to defend the faith. I finished Sharp’s latest book realizing that while each person’s story is unique, we all explore similar questions about the meaning and purpose of life. It has affirmed to me that questioning our beliefs as followers of Christ doesn’t indicate a lack of faith. Rather, it demonstrates complete trust in Him to provide answers to our deepest questions in His perfect timing. The author concludes that “To question my beliefs takes trust…it takes the control away from me and hands it over to God.” This book is an excellent resource for those struggling with doubt and working to reconcile painful experiences, often even at the hands of other believers, with the goodness of God. I recommend it to anyone interested in a refreshingly honest look at how to wrestle well with the ultimate questions of life.

Does My Doubt Disappoint God?

Uncertainty is much more easily addressed in childhood. Remember the magic eight ball toy? You could ask it anything, give the ball a couple of shakes, and an answer would mysteriously float to the top. Another option for finding answers to life’s deepest questions was the folded paper fortune teller game. It was as easy as picking a number, watching a friend move the contraption back and forth a few times with their fingers, and lifting up a folded flap to reveal the answer. And what about twenty questions? We could easily pass hours on a road trip when my boys were young discovering answers through the process of elimination.

When it came to learning about God, I was fully immersed in church as far back as I can remember. My Sunday school teachers and youth leaders prepared lessons and engaging activities that taught me stories from the Bible with application on how to live from a Christian worldview. I don’t know if it was explicitly or implicitly implied, but in my mind, faith was defined as “just believing hard enough.” My typically compliant and trusting nature compelled me to unquestioningly take for granted the stories, verses, and Biblical principles authority figures diligently and lovingly taught me. I did believe then and I do believe now, but I now know that faith is more accurately defined as trust in what I have good reasons to believe.

The problem for me, and I’m guessing for others, too, is that life happens, and difficult circumstances require us to dig deeper for answers beyond “just believing hard enough.” As we grow up and experience broken relationships, disappointing losses, and confusing circumstances, we find that answers are harder to come by. Simple bumper-stickered or Instagrammed Bible verses are no longer enough. We seek to reconcile what we feel within us with the reality around us. This often leads to tilling up the soil of our minds, planting seeds of truth from God’s Word, and waiting for those seeds to grow roots deep down into our hearts. This process can be painstakingly slow and while the roots grow, weeds of doubt may unexpectedly spring up.

Defining Doubt

Doubt means to “feel uncertain about.” Is God disappointed in us for seeking more certainty by asking questions? I don’t think so. Dominic Done says in his book, When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt, “Doubt presses you to reevaluate the story of your life…Doubt is essentially neutral; it’s what you do with it that counts.” Doubt is neither the villain nor the hero of our story. Rather, doubt can be used as a tool to propel us into a deeper faith in Jesus, who is our hero, as He rescues us from the perils of unbelief. As the father of the child with the mute spirit says to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

So how can we view doubt in a spiritually healthy way? I don’t believe it is healthy to take the approach that “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” That implies that we should be ashamed of our questions. There are lots of things that I believe with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean they are completely settled in my mind. I believe down to my core that God loves me, but I still haven’t completely resolved why He doesn’t always answer my prayers the way I want Him to. I absolutely trust God’s sovereignty, but I am still uneasy with the senseless pain and suffering I see all around me. Does that mean I don’t believe? Certainly not. My human nature compels me to ask questions, and God is using my wrestling with these issues to sanctify and conform me to the image of Christ.

Relating to God in Our Doubt

God relates to us as our Heavenly Father, mirroring the way in which we relate to our own children. As parents, we realize that they are born with an innate desire to ask questions. “Why is the sky blue? Who made God? Where do babies come from?” And a personal favorite asked by my older son, “Does God have legs?” Just as we patiently answer the daily barrage of questions from our children, God in even greater measure awaits and anticipates our questions. They don’t take Him by surprise. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 18:14 that we are to come to him with the humility of a child. It is a humbling process to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and to instead lay our questions down at the feet of the one who does. Just as we don’t think less of our kids for asking questions, our Heavenly Father, who loves us even more than we love our own children, doesn’t either. I think it would be more concerning as a parent if my children were not asking questions. Apathy is a dangerous place to settle in and become comfortable.

God designed us as rational beings who learn by asking questions. We often learn best by struggling with hard issues. God, being the omnipotent creator that He is, could have created us as robots pre-programmed with all knowledge necessary to thrive in the world. If He had created us this way, we would willingly obey Him at all times and would have no need to question anything. He chose instead to create us with free will, giving us the freedom to make choices for good or evil. And if our will is free, then we are also free to question. But God doesn’t fear our questions because the Christian worldview is capable of withstanding any scrutiny. Even the design of creation invites questions. Who hasn’t looked at the stars and wondered at their brilliance, or listened to the roar of the ocean and been in awe of its power? From the tiniest cell in the human body, to the vast expanse of the universe itself, our Creator calls us to explore, discover, inquire, and seek out meaning.

Mary Jo Sharp says in her new book, Why I Still Believe, “To question my beliefs takes trust…it takes the control away from me and hands it over to God.” When my younger son was around three years old, he followed a very predictable pattern every night which could be timed almost to the minute. Our bedroom was directly down a long hallway from his, and at the same time every night he would grab his blankie, his pillow, and his dog (yes, a real live dog), jump out of bed, and hit the floor at a full sprint. We would hear his feet pounding all the way down the hardwood hallway, and he wouldn’t stop until he reached the end of our bed. At that point he would propel himself, his blankie, his pillow, and his dog up onto the bed where he would join us for the rest of the night. We were his safe place in the darkest hours of the night when anxious thoughts enveloped him. God wants to be our safe place, too, when uncertainty creeps into our lives. He welcomes us with open arms when we run toward Him, trusting that He will answer our questions in His time and in His way.

Dealing with Doubt

The Bible is full of accounts of honest truth-seeking doubters who questioned and wrestled with God amidst troubling and confusing circumstances. Sarah laughed in disbelief when God told her she would give birth in her old age (Genesis 18). Moses doubted whether or not God had chosen the right man when He called him to lead the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3). Job questioned God in the midst of his time of trial (Job 3). The Psalms are full of questions as David cries out to God (Psalm 22 and others). John the Baptist even wondered whether or not Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:20). Finally, there’s Thomas, the disciple most defined by his doubt (John 20:24-25).

Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” Having experienced periods of doubt in my own life, even since I’ve been a pastor’s wife, I can attest to the fact that it can be a lonely place. But I can also say that my faith was ultimately strengthened as I honestly sought out answers through prayer and the study of God’s Word. As we experience doubt both in our own lives, and walk with others through times of doubt, the Bible is clear that we shouldn’t condemn, but rather lovingly guide toward truth. As we question, wrestle, struggle, and contend for the faith, we can be assured that God will be faithful to complete His work in us and even create something beautiful out of our confusion.

Purposeful Parenting

With the launching of my firstborn son into independent adulthood, I’ve been wrestling with how parenting is a bittersweet intermingling of celebration and sadness. From the moment a baby is placed in his parent’s arms, they wrap their arms tightly around him, knowing that the ultimate goal is to let him go one day.  As parents, we pray for our child’s good, but know that it will eventually lead him out into the world to pursue God’s purpose for his life.  When he leaves home, we simultaneously throw one hand up in triumph while discretely wiping away our tears with the other. We gently push him out of the nest, struggling against the instinctive desire to pull him back in for shelter under our wings. We cautiously observe those first tentative toddler steps, and then applaud a confident sprint to adulthood. As I pondered the paradox of this parenting moment, some questions came to mind that might be helpful to consider as we raise our children: Whose voice are we tuning their ears to listen to? What foundation are we planting their feet on? Where are we teaching them to look for guidance? Which appetites and values are we feeding and cultivating?

Discernible Voice

The parent’s voice is the first one heard by a child. He becomes familiar with it as he grows in his mother’s tummy for nine months, and this familiarity instills comfort as he hears it sing the first lullaby. He hears this same voice whisper, “I believe in you,” when he lacks confidence in himself. He recognizes this familiar voice as it prays over him during the darkest hours of the night. As familiar as our voices are to our children, God’s voice should be even more discernible. It is critical that we train them to listen for the voice of truth among all the lies of the enemy ringing so loudly in the world today. As in the process of tuning an instrument, they will only be able to recognize the dissonance of the wrong pitch when they have first been taught how to listen for harmony of the right one. When we spend time with them in God’s Word, the very definition of truth, they will recognize this truth when they hear it. As they see us valuing and prioritizing the Word in our own lives, they will be encouraged to do the same. They will then hear God clearly whispering into their souls in the dark when we are no longer physically present to do so.

Firm Foundation

Learning to stand and walk is a progressive endeavor. It begins with pulling up on a steady object, taking the first uncertain steps while holding onto a parent’s hands, and then bravely letting go to walk independently. When a toddler first attempts to let go and walk on his own, he wobbles along with a tentative trust in the ground beneath his feet. As he discovers the perfect combination of coordination, balance, and strength, he is eventually able to take a few steps away from us and gains confidence that the foundation he’s standing on is not going to give way. Similarly, we must build our child’s trust in his spiritual foundations through the practice of disciplines that encourage him to love God with his heart, soul, mind, and strength. As he discovers that the Christian worldview provides a firm foundation that is both reliable and unshakable, he is then able to step out into the world with calm assurance, knowing that this worldview is undergirded with solid evidence to back up its truth claims. He is able to walk confidently, having placed his faith in the One who set the foundations of the world in place.

Steadfast Guidance

Our children begin life looking to us to meet their every need. We feed them, clothe them, shelter them, and comfort them when they are afraid. But there comes a time when we will no longer be around. If we have modeled the Christian life faithfully, they will look to God, as revealed in His Word, for guidance. Otherwise, they may be tempted to look to worldly ideologies to guide them through life. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, or online personalities are more than willing to exercise influence if we let them. Or they may even look within at their own emotions to tell them which way to go, and that is a dangerous path to follow. Emotions shift from moment to moment and provide no absolute certainty. Just as a compass is magnetized to point to true north, we must magnetize their internal compasses to point to the truth. As we teach them that the Bible is sufficient to guide them in every area of life, it will become their go to navigational tool when they inevitably become lost at some point along the way.

Healthy Appetites

Our children are born with innate cravings and preferences. My son once told me I was ruining his whole life when I made him eat green beans. He obviously was born with a distaste for green beans. He did eventually eat his beans at my insistence because I knew they were good for him. I’m also happy to say he survived the ordeal, and his whole life was not ruined. Sometimes we have to cultivate a taste for certain things in our kids’ lives in the way of habits or entertainment choices. They may not initially like something that we know is healthy for them, but we encourage them to consume it anyway, and to stay away from unhealthy choices. It works the same way with values. If they see us acting kindly and charitably toward others, odds are they will imitate this kind and charitable behavior. If they see us acting with indifference to those in need, they will likely follow our lead. Just like when we eat our veggies, if we model the behavior we want to see in them, they are more likely to do the same.

Sending Them Off

As difficult as it is to see our children walking out into the great unknown, we can be assured that they and their future are fully known by God. Eyes that once looked to us for guidance now peer off into the distance to discern God’s direction for their lives. Ears that once listened to our words of wisdom now listen for God’s voice to follow where He leads. Feet that once tottered along with uncertain steps now walk away confidently to a world that desperately needs to know the only firm foundation. And that makes a parent’s heart happy.