A Promise Sized Box

“My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.  But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

“You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. – Judges 11:36-40

God makes promises.  God keeps His promises.  We benefit from His promises if we live in His will.  We are not God.  Jephthah took a bad detour on a successful campaign when he bartered with God.  His promise was contingent on God granting him victory.  He was putting God in a human sized box.

This is why we must be careful about the promises we make to our children.  We are not God.  There are things that are bigger than us, that can prevent us from following through on our word.  It is this limitation that should give us pause when tendering a promise.  We should be honest with our children, even about our limitations. 

Jephthah paid a dear price for making a promise that didn’t need to be made.  God had given the Israelites victory battle after battle, but at some point Jephtah lost sight of God’s promise and latched onto his own.  We need to point our children toward the promises of God, not the promises of men.  Every time we make a promise and break it we break hearts and they can be long in mending. 

Lord, help me to be man of my word and let me be wise in giving my word.  Help me turn my children’s eyes and ears to Your promises.  Let me live each day in the light of your promises. Amen.

Preparing for Battle

These are the nations the LORD left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced
any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience):  the five rulers of the Philistines, all the Canaanites, the Sidonians, and the Hivites living in the Lebanon mountains from
Mount Baal Hermon to Lebo Hamath.  They were left to test the Israelites to see whether they would obey the LORD’s commands, which he had given their ancestors through Moses. – Judges 3:1-4

Israel had lost their fight.  The tenacious commitment to claim what God had promised had faded and years of living in safety had softened them.  They needed to
go back to basic training.  In order to get them back into shape, God kept a thorn in their side by allowing surrounding nations to stick around – some on the job training, if you will.

This brought to mind a question for parenting: Can my girls protect themselves?   Are they equipped to turn away the attack?  Have they picked up the skills and qualities that they need to venture safely through this world?  We are working on it and that means facing the enemy.

The only way for the Israelites to be prepared for battle was to go into battle. Anyone in the military can tell you there is a difference between obeying orders in the safety and security of peace, and obeying them when the bullets are flying. It is the difference between a trained soldier and a seasoned soldier.  One has equipment and information, the other has experience and wisdom.  I want my girls to be seasoned soldiers for Christ.

This may require our children being in “risky” situations where feelings get hurt and character is tested.  They may go into harm’s way for a good cause.  Words like sacrifice, discipline and perseverance need to be understood at a deeper level. Failure is an opportunity to discover weaknesses to overcome.  All of these must be rooted in a growing love for Christ.

We parents have our work cut out for us, but God is on our side.

Lord, help me lead my children into a disciplined life.  Give me the strength and patience to put them through difficult circumstances.  Help me to shape them into the person you have designed them to be.  Let us all be overcomers for your glory and honor. Amen.

Unfinished Conquering

When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old, and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over. – Joshua 13:1 (NIV)

During Joshua’s leadership over the Israelites, the northern and southern kings were routed and the land of promise was being claimed.  Armies and lands were overcome with the power of God through His people.  Miraculous interventions, like the Sun standing still in the sky, were signs of God’s hand aiding the twelve
tribes.  And yet God tells Joshua, “there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.”  Unfinished conquering lay ahead.

Raising our children in the wilderness that is the fallen world will require an understanding of unfinished
conquering.  If we want our children to be land wholly devoted to God’s purposes, they will need to be prepared to
conquer the land.  As they grow and mature, our children will face new enemies; enemies that will disguise
themselves as friends or as harmless.  These enemies will try to conquer spiritual territory in the hearts and
minds of our children.  They need to be conquerors.

God’s promise to Joshua before entering into a life of conquest was, “Be strong and courageous.”  That promise holds for us and our children.  If we are intent on conquering the land God has given us – our time, talents and treasures – He will be with us.  But we will need to stay faithful to God’s commands.  Each of our children are
children of promise.  Through Christ they have the potential to conquer the world for God, but first they must be conquered by God.

Lord, give me a conquering spirit.  Help me to raise my children to be more than conquerors for Your kingdom.  May they grow in strength, courage and faith each day. Amen

Checking With God

The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD.  Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. – Joshua 9:14-15 (NIV)

This one is simple…a habit of checking with God first saves a lot of trouble.  Creating that habit is not as simple.  Joshua, a good man and leader, makes the mistake.  The other leaders in the Israelite camp made the mistake. I have made the mistake.  It is a common mistake.

My daughters come to me from time to time to see if what they want to do is okay.  There are, however, other times where they did not come to me first.  Results from these instances of self-governance varied in severity and scope, but there were always consequences.  Sometimes cause and effect levied a stiff punishment. Punishments were doled out depending on the seriousness of the infraction, but there was always a consequence.

Getting our children to understand the importance of submitting to a higher authority will take years and will test our patience. (I am sure most children see it as testing their patience)  They will go through their stages of pridefulness and self-reliance.  They will be exasperated with our lack of understanding and apparent ignorance of how special their circumstances are, but we must remain vigilant.  Over the years we can gently shift them from coming to us to approaching God.

Lord, nudge my children toward me today for guidance and direction.  Help me be a source of wisdom and good counsel when they seek it and help them seek it often.  Grant me excellence in preparing my children for a relationship with you. Amen.

Things Devoted to Destruction

The LORD said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?  Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.  That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.” – Joshua 7:10-12 (NIV)

Rooting out the things that cause us to sin is a process.  Israel had taken a long time to become the faithful followers God desired them to be, but when the geography changed, they lost faith.  In taking the devoted things they were essentially saying, “God is not enough for us.  God is not providing what we need.”  They decided to take their lives into their own hands.  This is the tension we all deal with as we grow in our relationship with God; what I want and what God wants.  As we are transformed more and more into the image of Christ, those two things start to look similar, but we need to remember that what God wants is the reference point.

As our children grow and mature, they will reach new ground – their geography will change – and their level of commitment to God’s wants is tested.  They will need us to be a Joshua for them in those new countries.  It is a short walk from faithful obedience to doubtful wandering.  When our children grow older and make friends and venture further into the world, they will be tempted with things devoted to destruction.  These things are destined to pass from existence.  They have no permanence or eternal value.  They have no power but what we imbue them with through our wants and desires.

It is left to us to teach our children to say “No” to devoted things; to reject the pull that things doomed to destruction have on us.  This does not mean that our children cannot have certain clothes or technology or money, but we need to do our best to make sure they do not have our children.  The people of Israel gave themselves over to devoted things – things devoted to destruction – and they lost the blessing of God.  If we are not there to call our children to truth, to holiness, to faithfulness, we leave them vulnerable to the pull of the world.

Whenever our children are treading into new territory, we need to be watchful for those things that might pull our children off track.  Not so much to protect them from those things, but to help our children see those things for what they are and help them make the right choices about those things.  God could have made a fire consume all of Jericho when the wall fell, but He didn’t.  He left it to the Israelites to destroy and put to death those things devoted to destruction.  We need to equip our children to face these temptations in order to help them overcome and be victorious.

Lord, help me remove the things devoted to destruction from having any influence on my life.  Teach me to be solely dependent on you.  Give me a heart that hungers for you and not the things of this world.  And help me speak these same truths into the ear and minds and hearts of my children when they face new territory.   Amen.

Going Through a Phase

You may notice that there is no passage for today’s entry.  That is on purpose.  Today is about a period of time in Israel’s history; a phase they went through. This period of recovery from rebellion and stubbornness lasted 40 years.  Years of wandering, waiting and wisdom building.  Years of delayed hope and distance from slavery.  They needed to grow up.  It was just a phase.

If you have children, you will be familiar with that saying, “It’s just a phase.”  There will be periods of time where we wonder what switch went off in our child and turned them into something different.  We comfort ourselves with sayings like, “They’ll grow out of it” or “I went through the same thing when I was their age.”  But a phase is only a phase if things change.  God changed His people in the wilderness.  They went from frightened complainers to ready warriors.  They left behind slavery and took hold of a servants heart toward God.

The various phases our children go through will bring varying challenges.  Each will require us to seek God’s help and rediscover the meaning of patience.  Some will be more difficult for us to understand because we have never experienced before.  Others will hit a familiar cord because they remind us of our own struggles toward maturity and wholeness in Christ.  God knows what we are going through and will help us if we cry out to Him.

Lord, grant me the wisdom and patience to walk my children through the phases of their lives.  Help me to understand their unique personalities and minister to their needs.  Give me a loving heart, an understanding mind and a firm hand to lead them. Amen.

Rules Are Not Made to Be Broken, the Broken Need to Be Ruled

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Exodus 20:1-6 (NIV)

Everyone has a ruler.  We all have something that defines our thoughts and actions.  There is a power or presence or person that holds sway over us in a way that nothing else does.  For the believer, our ruler is God.  This does not mean that we always act as if God rules us, but that we have chosen God as our ruler.  For others, it is their career.  For some, it is their relationships.  Still others are ruled by their passions.  Children have a ruler from the moment they are born: self-interest.

This may seem harsh, but it is reality.  Children are interested in their needs and their needs alone.  They have to learn to share.  They have to learn to consider others.   They need a ruler.  In the home, fathers and mothers are that ruler, setting the tone for their children to understand and accept God as their ruler later on in life.  The people of Israel needed a ruler, and rules, but they were ruled by self-interest.  God had sent them the Ten Commandments, but they wanted a God they could define and rules they could follow without any effort.

God’s rules create boundaries and give shape to things.  They help us make decisions that honor Him and bless those around us.  They bring focus and definition to the fuzziness of a confused and contradictory world.  Rules give us a language that explains the motivation and meaning of our actions.  God’s rules help shape us into the image of His Son.  God’s rules mold us into creatures fit for heaven.

Teaching our children rules helps prepare them for a ruler.  When we teach them how to share, not to lie, or clean up their own mess we are preparing them for God’s commands.  Rules are not to be broken.  Rules mend.  Rules make us whole.  Rules allow us to experience a freedom we can never experience in anarchy and rebellion.

Lord, help me teach your rules to my children in grace and love.  Give me the wisdom to define the boundaries of righteousness to my children as they grow and mature.  Let me set and example by living within your rules each day. Amen.

Calling Our Children Out of Egypt

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is unyielding; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he goes out to the water. Wait on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was changed into a snake.  Then say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. But until now you have not listened.  This is what the LORD says: By this you will know that I am the LORD: With the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water of the Nile, and it will be changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile will die, and the river will stink; the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water.'” – Exodus 7:14-18 (NIV)

I have been a slave.  A slave to my own desires.  A slave to ignorance.  A slave to imperfection.  A slave to the brokenness of humanity.  I was born into this slavery and there was no way out of it by my own design.  I didn’t even have the inclination to try.  But there were voices calling me out of the land of slavery, calling me out of Egypt.  A mother’s voice sang songs of Jesus and read to me the words of God.  A father’s voice full of wisdom and tempered with grace called me from a plagued land to a land of promise.  Many other voices of friends, mentors and ministers have pushed and pulled me in the right direction on a journey not yet completed.

I made my way from the land of slavery toward the land of promise and am still on the road.  I forget sometimes about the voices that called me out of slavery, and I lose my way in the wilderness.  In those moments, it seemed like the life in Egypt would have been the easier route, but the voices cut through the foolishness and pride and set me back on course again.  I am so thankful for the voices that have spoken on behalf of God into my life.

Our children need to hear us calling them out of Egypt.  They need to know that there is something better in this life than living by our base desires and fractured feelings.  They need us to speak against the enemy and stand against the deceivers who would keep them in bondage.  Our children need to know that they will not walk through the wilderness alone and that the Promised Land is worth the journey.

Lord, help me be a voice calling my children from slavery to sin into freedom in Christ.  Help me to lead my children through the wilderness of this life and instill in them the hope of the Promised Land of eternity with You.  Amen.

Nature vs. Nurture

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.  So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.” – Exodus 3:1-3 (NIV)

It has been an ongoing argument in the study of man; which is more important – nature (what is inside of us) or nurture (what is outside of us).  The nature argument leans on genetics, physiology and some psychology.  The nurture argument comes from the philosophy, religion, sociology and some psychology.  There are some valid points from both perspectives and many experts say that both have varying influences throughout our lives.  Moses benefited from both.

Moses had lived a life of privilege and advantage, and showed a natural inclination toward justice and leadership, but God changed his location in order to change his heart and mind.  Nature and nurture can be the levers to move the other.  When God needed to grow something in Moses, He used a change in nurture to change his nature.  When God met Moses in the burning bush, He appeals to Moses’ nature to change his nurture.

This is an amazing characteristic of God, but it is also incredibly important for parenting.  We need to be experts at helping our children navigate the nature and the nurture in their lives.  Sometimes we may need to alter that nurture to help them see their nature.  Sometimes we will need to change their nurture to open their minds to their nature.  Have you ever seen your child’s demeanor completely transform just be being in a different location?   Have you ever helped your child overcome a fear so they could go places they never went to before?

When we push them to go into different circumstances, it helps them understand who they are in ways they never would if they stayed in the same location.  When we help them figure out a little more about who God created them to be, the world becomes a bigger place.  Sometimes they need to go into the wilderness to see who they are.  Sometimes seeing who they are will help them go into the wilderness.  As parents we need to ask for God’s help in knowing when we need to help with one or the other.

Lord, help us to lead our children to the right places at the right time.  Help us to see who you are creating them to be so we can help them get closer to your design every day.  Give us the wisdom and insight to know our children and help them make their journey closer to you. Amen.

When Pharaoh Rules the Day

So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites  and worked them ruthlessly.  They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly. – Exodus 1:11-14 (NIV)

My oldest daughter was part of a group once, a youth organization, and she was really excited about the prospects.  She had expectations of how things could be that never materialized.  In fact, it was a horribly disappointing experience.  The real struggle for her was that we made her stay with it until the end of the year.  You see, she had made the commitment to go a whole year before she made a decision.  It was a long year.  She would sometimes be in a sour mood when meeting nights came up, she didn’t want to participate in activities and she felt disconnected from the group as a whole, but she had given her word.

Sometimes we are shaped and honed by the adversity we face.  The Israelites had been prepared over generations for the time when God would call them out of Egypt and take them to the Promised Land.  They had begun in a time of great promise with the favor of God and man on their side, but it turned quickly into a situation of oppression and humiliation.  Yet God left them in a place of adversity.  He let them stay in a situation of difficulty and struggles.  This was not to punish them, but to hone them for the time to come.  God would do this again and again with his chosen people, and He will do it with us.

Our children will enter into adversity and often our instinct is to remove them from the adversity.  We want to protect them from the pain and frustration that come with difficult circumstances.  But we need to have the wisdom to leave them in the uncomfortable spaces of life.  If we want our children to be prepared for the wilderness of this life, they will need to face adversity.  We don’t need to create it for them; life does that all by itself.  We just need to be willing to walk them through it instead of pulling them out of it.

God give us the wisdom to see adversity as an opportunity for our children.  Give us the words to speak into their lives to encourage them in the midst of trials.  Help us walk with our children through difficulty and struggle as you prepare them for Your purposes.  Amen.