Citizens of Two Kingdoms (Part 3)

Christian flag, by Pastor Cjay, via PhotobucketLet’s review the main points of this series thus far:

1.) We are citizens of two kingdoms — our country and the kingdom of heaven.

2.) When the two kingdoms conflict, our allegiance to Christ’s kingdom comes first.

3.) We teach our children that conflict will come, but that Jesus will help them be overcomers in the midst of it.

4.) God expects us to take our place as patriotic citizens of our nation. In doing so, we are His ambassadors, for Christ’s glory.

5.) As patriots, we do our part to uphold and preserve the freedoms which are ours under our Constitution. We do this not only for ourselves, but so that all people can live with dignity and fulfill their God-given purpose.

6.) We should be gracious in our speech toward our governmental leaders, even if they are not doing their jobs well.

Colossians 4:5, 6 says, Walk in wisdom toward those who are without [outside the family of God], redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” One of the best ways to live as good citizens of both the heavenly and earthly kingdoms is to redeem our time well through investing it in prayer for our nation, its people, and its leaders.

Our natural tendency is to spend our time griping about the state of the nation and the failings of its leaders. However, complaining accomplishes little, and it even displeases the Lord. On the other hand, prayer according to God’s will releases change into people and circumstances. If we will ask Him to, the Holy Spirit will show us how to rightly pray. Our prayers will be saturated with His grace and love, especially as we persevere in them.

A spiritual consequence of prayer is that we grow in love for the people we pray for. So, as we set ourselves to intercede for our leaders, our hearts will soften toward them, and our speech about them will take on a much more gracious tone.

Take time often to pray together as a family for our nation. Your combined prayers will produce results, and doing it together is also the most effective way to teach your children how to go about it.

Here are a few key Scriptures to use as prayer springboards:

1 Timothy 2:1-4 — I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and for all who are in authority, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, Who desires for all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Chronicles 7:14 — If My people, who 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.

Proverbs 14:34 — Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

And here are some topics to get you started:

  1. Pray for revival and a third Great Awakening to  come to our nation.
  2. Pray for people’s hearts to be softened so that they will desire Jesus as their Lord.
  3. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bring fresh love for Jesus into the Church.
  4. Ask God’s forgiveness for personal sins and for the sins of the nation.
  5. Ask for the salvation of government leaders. Pray for them to be enlightened in the ways of the Lord.
  6. Ask for wisdom for government leaders, so that they will make right decisions for the nation.
  7. Pray for the exposure of evil in government and that righteous justice would be enacted.
  8. Pray that God would raise up righteous leaders to replace corrupt ones (without naming names).
  9. Pray that God’s mercy would rest upon the nation.
  10. Pray protection from harm for the nation, and that innocent people would be kept safe. (Use Abraham’s prayer for Sodom, in Genesis 18:17-33, as a model.)

This concludes the Citizens of Two Kingdoms series.

If you need additional help in instructing your children in how to live as Christian patriots, my book, Character Building for Families, Volume 1, provides five outlined lessons on this subject in the Loyalty unit.

Previous — Part 2

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Character Building for Families

Citizens of Two Kingdoms (Part 2)

Christian Flag, by Pastor Cjay, via PhotobucketLast time, we talked about teaching our children that their citizenship in God’s kingdom takes priority over any national allegiance. While this is so, we should also make them aware that heavenly citizenship carries with it a responsibility to help our nation be a stable, God-honoring place to live, where all people are treated with dignity and are able to live out the purpose for which they were born.

Although not perfect, and certainly not on a par with the Bible, the U. S. Constitution was largely founded on biblical principles and, I believe, bears the stamp of having been inspired by the Lord for this nation. We should be diligent to use and actively preserve the freedoms laid out in the Constitution — always for Christ’s glory and for the well-being of those around us.

Some Christians take the position that Jesus and the apostles did not try to influence the government of their day, and that therefore we should not get involved either. However, conditions were quite different back then. There was not much freedom afforded to most of the people under the Roman Empire. Since we do have certain clearly stated freedoms, we should exercise them.

There is biblical precedence for this. The apostle Paul, when he was about to be whipped without a trial, asserted his rights as a Roman citizen to avoid scourging (Acts 22:25-29). At another time, he insisted on his right to appeal to Caesar (Acts 25:9-12). So, we see that he exercised his rights as a citizen to the full extent they existed.

God desires for some of us to be activists in government. That might mean running for political office or assisting others who are running or are already elected.  Becoming informed and informing others, so that we can contact leaders on specific issues, is another avenue of participation in the governmental process.

Focusing a lot of time and effort on these activities is not for everyone. However, we can all help to make our country better through voting wisely and by praying for our leaders and even would-be leaders. We should ingrain these patriotic duties into our children.

In our day, when respect for leaders is almost nonexistent, we must also teach our children what the Bible says about honoring those in public office. I know, I know. It is difficult to keep a civil tongue about unrighteous politicians who abuse their positions or exhibit a lack of integrity.

Even the apostle Paul didn’t control his tongue completely at all times. In Acts 23:1-5, he was hauled before the Jewish council. The high priest, who at this point in Israel’s history was an elected governmental official besides being the spiritual leader, commanded that Paul be struck across the face. In outrage, Paul reacted, “God shall smite you, you whited wall! Do you sit in judgment over me according to the law, and yet command me to be smitten contrary to the law?”

Paul was angry, and rightly so! He had been treated unjustly. But, when he was reprimanded for being disrespectful toward the high priest, he acknowledged his error: “I did not realize, brethren, that he was the high priest. For it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of the ruler of your people.'” Although the high priest had done wrongly, Paul was not justified in responding poorly himself.

Respect for leaders was Paul’s consistent theme throughout his epistles. Take a look at Romans 13:1-8, for instance. We should teach our children, using the Bible as our textbook, to respect those who bear governmental authority. However, we must also teach them by example — not permitting ourselves to descend into angry name-calling when we don’t like what our leaders are doing. And, if we fail, openly repenting for our wrong speech also teaches by example.

Paul also said, Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). Bringing Christ-honoring “salt” into discussions, and at the same time staying gracious with our words, takes restraint and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. But that is what we need in this hour. And that is what we must instill in our children, too.

Next time we’ll talk about how prayer brings change to a nation, and how our children can be a part of that.

Previous: Part 1
Next: Part 3

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Character Building for Families

Citizens of Two Kingdoms (Part 1)

Christian flag, by Pastor Cjay, via PhotobucketAn election year is the perfect time to teach our children the Bible’s perspective on government, its leaders, and how we should respond to them. In this series, we will look at some topics which will help our children to balance serving God and serving their country.

Christians are citizens of two kingdoms. While we should love our earthly nation, our greater allegiance is to the kingdom of God. We need to prepare our children for how to navigate between the two, always seeing themselves as ambassadors of Christ’s kingdom to the world around them. And when the two kingdoms clash, we must teach them to choose God’s ways first, no matter how costly that decision is.

In Acts 4, the Jewish council reprimanded Peter and John for preaching Jesus. The leaders arrested them and commanded them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus (v. 18). Peter and John responded respectfully, but firmly, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, judge for yourselves. For we cannot help but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (vs. 19, 20). Jesus had commanded the apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). They understood that His commands and His Kingdom superseded the commands of the earthly leaders they were subject to.

By Acts 5, things had grown more serious. The council beat all of the apostles and commanded them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus (v. 40). But the apostles “departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they continued to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (vs. 41-42).

As our nation moves further away from a biblical mindset, we can expect the natural and spiritual kingdoms to be increasingly in open opposition to each other. Already, Christians are going to jail or being fined for nonnegotiable matters of faith. Truth is being shut down in the name of political correctness and “inclusion.” The time will no doubt come when it will be illegal to evangelize as well.

In America, when the freedoms guaranteed to us by our Constitution are trampled upon, we naturally tend to become indignant. But Jesus warned that this would happen: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. … If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you….” (John 15:18-20). He also said, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. … Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven — for so they persecuted the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

We should teach our children that persecution is to be expected, and that citizenship in God’s kingdom is a greater priority than obeying national laws which oppose Him.

Use wisdom in presenting these concepts. When talking with our children about the difficulties involved in living out their heavenly citizenship on earth, it is important to protect their young hearts from anxiety. Care should be taken in what we say and how we say it.

Balance the message of standing for what is right with the assurance that Jesus will always be with them (Matthew 28:20) and that His angels will protect them. Read to them the amazing stories of how God sent angels to free Peter, and Paul and Silas, from prison (Acts 12:1-17 and Acts 16:16-40).  Read the stories of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 3 and 6). Always emphasize that God is our Protector and that He works miracles to take care of His own. We never want to create fear in our children. Instead, we instill in them the concept of being stalwart overcomers who are confident in their God.

Next time, we will talk about how being a citizen of God’s kingdom should lead us into being patriot-citizens of our nation.

Next: Part 2 

Character Building for Families

 

Character Building for Families

The Land of Fair Play (Book Review)

The Land of Fair PlayIt’s an election year, and what better time to teach civics from a Christian worldview? Written by Geoffrey Parsons for Christian Liberty Press, The Land of Fair Play: American Civics from a Christian Perspective,  is a simple, but thorough, textbook on how government works.

Written at about a sixth grade readability level, it is comprehensive enough for a semester-long high school civics course. It is easily adaptable for multi-level teaching (approximately 5th – 12th grades) for families who like to use that method.

There are 186 pages, with 26 chapters, including the appendix. The book begins by likening government to how a baseball game is played. A general history behind how our American government was formed is presented, along with the duties of citizens, a detailed breakdown of the various branches and their responsibilities, as well as states’ responsibilities and how their governments function. The Constitution is included in the appendix, along with other you-don’t-want-to-miss information, such as how to contact public officials, and the process for passing a legislative bill. Lots of pictures and easy-to-understand graphs are included to enhance the learning experience and make it more enjoyable.

At the end of each chapter, questions are provided to test how well the student has comprehended the information, as well as thought-provoking oral discussion questions. An optional answer key and text packet are available for purchase.

Our family found this book to be engaging reading. I really  liked the Christian emphasis throughout. I highly recommend this book!

Available directly from Christian Liberty Press or from Christian Book Distributors.

 

 

 

 

 

The Virtue of Contentment

Godliness with Contentment

One of the rarest character qualities to be seen in our day is contentment. Contentment comes from knowing God’s nature, being convinced of His delight in caring for His children, and having a desire to live life yielded to Him. I don’t believe it is possible to live a satisfied life without such understanding.

Because our society has increasingly fallen further away from the Lord,  an entitlement attitude has perverted the concept of what real contentment is. This deception has  made great inroads into the Church as well. Our children are encouraged to think of themselves as very special individuals, but have not always been taught to esteem and defer to others as equally special. Exalted, unrealistic expectations have been planted in them that they can do and be whatever their minds can imagine, and that they deserve the top of the line, rather than patiently working to reach attainable goals. As a result, many are grossly dissatisfied with life.

How can we who are Christian parents help our children to overcome the prevailing entitlement mentality — to live unselfishly, and to be content with the blessings God gives them? It is not an easy task. It requires diligence in laying foundational truths from the Bible in their thinking and then reinforcing corresponding right attitudes through repeated reminders and applications.

There is a strong correlation between gratitude and contentment. If we can teach our children to cultivate a habit of thanking God for every blessing which comes their way, and to appreciate even the smallest kindnesses people show them, contentment will naturally follow on the heels of the grateful heart they develop.

We must teach them to be thankful, not only when they receive exactly what they desired, but whenever the Lord or another person gives or does something for them — even if the gift doesn’t perfectly fit  what they had hoped for. We teach them to appreciate the heart of love in which the gift was given, not focusing on whether it met their expectations to the last iota. Some of the biggest blessings we will ever receive don’t initially look like what we had envisioned, but over time, we come to understand that there was a hidden treasure inside of them.

Some blessings are beginning steps to larger ones. The Lord releases goodness into our lives in increments. He watches to see how we handle what we are given — the attitude we have toward the gift, how responsible we are in caring for it, and whether we are mature enough to handle a greater blessing in the future.

We must teach our children not only to be content with material goods, but also with the people God places in their lives. Teach them to accept and love people, flaws and all, and to look for the precious nuggets in each person. If they can’t find anything to love in someone, suggest that they ask the Lord to reveal to them what that person’s good points are. I have found that some of the most irritating people in my life became treasured friends, as I asked the Lord to show me what He saw in them.

We must also help our children realize that the good things which come our way are not all rights we naturally should expect. Some are undeserved blessings, given simply because God or people love us. Some require patience and hard work to acquire.

Contentment comes from trusting that God intends great good for us. He will not let us down, or give us something nasty in answer to our prayers for good things. Contentment also comes from learning to give unselfishly to others. The more we give of ourselves, the happier we become, because we are acting as our Father in heaven acts. Most importantly of all, true contentment comes in knowing God intimately.

If you would like a step-by-step starting plan for cultivating contentment and a thankful heart in your children, my book, Character Building for Families, Volume 1 contains a 17-day unit on contentment and a 12-day unit on gratitude which will get your family headed in the right direction.

Character Building for Families

 

Character Building for Families

 

 

 

Finding Strengths in Your Child’s Weaknesses (Part 2)

Norman-Rockwell bully

Last time, I said that many of our children’s negative character qualities can become positive ones, through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in them. Let’s talk about how we can help them in the transformation process.

1.) Explain the negative/positive character qualities concept, as presented in Part 1.

2.) Assure your children that Jesus wants to help them with their weaknesses and sin areas. He will work needed change in them gradually, and He will be patient with their failings in the process.

3.) Tell them  that you are on their side too, and that you are there for them as their coach and cheerleader in the transformation process.

4.) Mention that God is still working on your character, just like He is on theirs. No one in the family is perfect, and everyone should strive to be patient with one another as you grow together.

5.) Encourage the children to bring their frustrations with themselves and others to Jesus. Tell them they can ask the Lord for His strength to change, and He will help them.

6.) When you see a negative character quality showing up in your children, gently point out to them what they are doing which isn’t good. Give them opportunity to ask the Lord’s and the family’s forgiveness. Then, remind them of what they are becoming in that area.

Example: “How do you think your sister feels, when you order her around? Would you like to be treated like that? God has designed you to be a leader, and leaders do well at giving direction to others. But leaders have to learn to serve and be kind in how they talk, too. They also have to learn not to overdo telling others what to do. Let’s keep that in mind in the future, OK?”

7.) Watch for the positive side of their character traits, and point those out, as you see them happening. For that bossiness/leadership trait, for instance, you might say, “I’m so pleased with the patience you used in showing your sister how to tie her shoes!” Or, about the stubbornness/persistence trait, “I noticed that you kept at that problem you were tackling in your science project. I love how you don’t quit until you get the job done!” 

8.) Pray together for the Lord’s help in overcoming, as character issues arise. (But don’t bring up their faults out of the blue. You don’t want them unduly focusing on the problem, as that can cause failure consciousness, which leads to shame and frustration.) Encourage them to depend on the Lord, and that He will help them to change over time.

9.)  Apply Bible verses to the character issue you are dealing with. For instance, for the child who is too blunt, you could remind him, “Honey, Jesus says in the Bible to be kind to one another, and to speak the truth in love. Sometimes it’s best not to talk about imperfections we notice in others, even if it is true. And we always need to be careful to say things in a way that doesn’t hurt people’s feelings.”

10.) Talk to them about how God uses a refining process to help us become all that we should be. Encourage them to humble themselves under His correction and yours, rather than resisting and defending themselves.

11.) Teach them to inwardly ask themselves, “What would Jesus do in this situation, if He were me?” This is a discipline which must be practiced by frequently bringing it to their attention, until it becomes a habit. Go on a daily God hunt, where you take time as a family to discuss successes (and sometimes failures ) each of you had during the day in recognizing and following through on what Jesus would have done in your shoes.

12.) Assure them that although you want them to overcome their character weaknesses, you love them wholeheartedly in the midst of them. Help them to understand that you don’t love them more or less based on how they behave. Help them to understand that their Father in heaven also loves them for who they are, not how well they do.

There is a good future ahead for your children — and you. Don’t let their weaknesses (or yours) get you down. Instead, give the Holy Spirit free rein to work on them, and watch Him change the weak areas into strengths worthy of honor.

 

Character Building for Families

Finding Strengths in Your Child’s Weaknesses (Part 1)

Norman Rockwell Girl with Black EyeWhen we see faults in our children’s character, our feelings can range from annoyance to serious concern. Perhaps you have been trying to fix particular attitude problems your kids have, but although you’ve lectured to exhaustion, the issues persist.

It can be discouraging — especially if you recognize that the faults you see in them are your own areas of weakness. Our children are often miniature mirrors of ourselves, and that’s not always pleasant to acknowledge. We don’t want them to make the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences we have, and sometimes we blame ourselves, thinking we’ve inadvertently trained our bad habits right into them!

There’s hope, and it starts with realizing that many negative character traits can be turned into utterly positive ones, as we call upon the Lord for His assistance. He’s the One Who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

While it isn’t the case across the board, some character flaws are actually good qualities in disguise. Originally, mankind had been created in the image of God, bearing an accurate reflection of His nature, but the resemblance was marred when Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden. All of us have inherited the sin nature and the damaged character traits which go with it. Now, the God-image in us is grossly distorted, like how those mirrors in carnival fun houses look — only worse. What was once beautiful became ugly.

Here’s the good news, though: ever since Jesus redeemed mankind through His atonement at the cross, He has been restoring all things. He wants to restore you and your children, too — including those besetting character flaws. The negative traits can be transformed back into what God originally intended them to be.

Let’s take a look at some common negative character qualities, and see what God wants to restore us to:

1.) Stubbornness becomes persistence and perseverance when we allow God to reshape us. The persistence/persevering side of this character trait is crucial for intercessors, leaders, and problem solvers.

2.) Criticalness is the flip side of discernment. Discernment is a vital tool in getting God’s kingdom work done. When we understand the difference between these two, we no longer have to feel paralyzed by negative impressions received in our spirit-man. (See my article, Criticalness or Discernment? at my Out of the Fire blog for how to know the difference.)

3.) Bossiness is the immature mark of born leadership. Born leaders see the goal and just want to get it done! Developing a heart of servanthood helps us overcome bossiness.

4.) Arrogance is transformed into confidence. Arrogance is all about me and what I can do in my strength; confidence is about knowing who I am in Christ and letting His Spirit work through me.

5.) The tendency to be controlling becomes decisiveness and the ability to take the lead when a need presents itself. Control has a root of not trusting God. As we yield to Him and let go, He teaches us when to take the reins and when to restrain ourselves. We learn to delegate, rather than manipulate, and to leave our hands off of whatever is not our realm of responsibility.

6.) Paralyzing timidity and fearful caution change into prudence which weighs situations and moves forward in wisdom.

7.) Blunt lack of tact, when redeemed, becomes a steady directness, a stay-the-course truthfulness, seasoned with grace.

8.) Those who are oversensitive to the actions and words of others usually have an acute ability to hear the Lord hidden inside of them. They can also be keenly empathetic toward the pain of others.

(9.) Self-pity, redirected, becomes compassion.

The Holy Spirit desires to remold each of us so that these negative traits become the positives they were meant to be. He renews our minds and imparts His heart to us, as we spend time in prayer, Bible meditation, and listening to Him.

The Lord has other means to restore the God-image within us as well:

  1. Suffering brings forth humility and compassion for others.
  2. Yielding ourselves to His discipline, rather than making excuses for why we are justified in keeping our weaknesses,  helps us achieve transformation into positive character faster.
  3. Allowing Him to bring us through testings creates dependency on Him for His strength.
  4. Submitting ourselves to others on a regular basis builds humility within.

All of these are necessary components for growing in Christ-likeness. The refiner’s fire cannot be avoided if we wish to move forward in the Lord’s plans for us. We and our kids need to know that. We can ask Him to redeem our areas of weakness, and He will be faithful to answer us.

When we understand that many of our particular faults are actually God-designed traits which are part of our purpose in Him (once they are restored), it is far easier to love ourselves as we are and to cooperate with God to set things right.

Next time, we’ll talk about how we can help our children come into the positive side of their character challenges.

Part 2

 

Character Building for Families