Maybe regular church (or synagogue) membership just isn't working out for you. Maybe the kids’ sports schedules eat up every moment of your weekend time, especially Sunday mornings. And maybe you as a parent feel just a little bit guilty that you’re not giving your kids a better spiritual foundation. Well, there’s good news, and you don’t need to be in church to hear it! Here are five easy ways to reconnect your family to your spiritual roots, whether Jewish or Christian.
1. What Child Doesn’t Like Mail? For children under age 8, check out the PJ Library. This Jewish organization will send free, fun Jewish children’s books to anyone who signs up. Your child will receive a special package in the mail each month containing a new story based on Judaic values. The stories are colorful, interesting for all ages, and contain helpful background (like why latkes are made at Chanukkah) and conversation-starters for parents to discuss with their children. It’s a perfect “quiet time” in a box!
2. Does your child always ask to play with your phone? Well, for the younger set, an organization called OneHope has partnered with YouVersion (www.YouVersion.com) to launch the first Bible App for kids. It contains animated, storybook versions of the most well-known Bible stories (think Creation, the Fall of Man, Christ’s birth, etc). To help motivate children to continue reading, stars are awarded and points earned. With video-game appeal, this app entertains and educates children at the same time. Find it on Google Play under “Bible for Kids.”
3. YouVersion also has a larger app which will appeal to tweens and teens who are techno-savvy, as well as to parents seeking to deepen their own walk with God. Founded by LifeChurchTV, the YouVersion app has daily devotionals geared towards all ages, and covering a multitude of topics. Writings from popular authors and speakers are included, as are topical word studies. The app contains the entire Bible in at least 27 versions, including the Orthodox Jewish Bible, and can send you daily reminders to read as well as record your thoughts on any passage that sparks your interest. There are an unlimited number of ways to use this app, and the best one just might be that you don’t have to lug that big Bible with you to church anymore!
4. Need to know what time to light the Shabbat candles? Google MyJewishLearning.com and enter your zip code. This educational website will give you the weekly Torah reading portions as well as all kinds of historical and cultural tidbits about Judaism. Learn Hebrew, make traditional Yiddish recipes, and find out what is trending in Jewish news and culture here. Your Bubbe will thank you!
5. Staying on top of the thousands of new songs, movies, and TV shows your family wants to see is a monumental task. But thanks to an ingenious website by Focus on the Family, you can find out ahead of time what your child will be listening to. Search PluggedIn.com for movie titles, songs, video games, and TV shows. A detailed review (from a Christian writer) will give you a heads up on content, sexually explicit scenes, drug and alcohol usage, and various other issues, so that you can make an informed decision about whether your tween should be watching Justin Bieber’s new racecar movie. (Just kidding.) Isn’t it nice to feel in control again?
It’s a brave new world, especially for “traditional” religion, and religion is finally catching up with the times. Most churches or synagogues now post at least an audio version of their services on their websites so you can even listen from your comfy couch! There are proven reasons to keep your family’s spiritual foundation strong. Kids who grow up with a sense of where they come from and what they believe are a lot less likely to be swayed by negative societal pressures. Their identity is stronger and they weather the storms of life better than their peers. These tips can give them an “edge” spiritually that will benefit them not just on the field, but in every area of life.
c.Deborah Perkins, 2014
In our house, we have a lot of lost things. Lost things require either omniscience or prayer to be found, sometimes both. To put this story into context, please let me give you a little background.
We are currently a family of 5 crammed into what's usually called a "starter home" built for two. Measuring in at a whopping 1100 square feet, our house just about qualifies for the new eco-trend called "tinyhomes." With just one bathroom, two bedrooms, and an open floor plan downstairs, we are not really too far from "green" camping. Please hear me correctly: I'm not complaining. I HAVE been to Africa, and I am extremely grateful for my little "hut," which many people are not fortunate enough to own. But when you add 5 people and all their related "stuff" to this #tinyhome, things get complicated! Glasses, wallets, and socks often go missing, as do retainers, teddy bears, and mobile phones. But our most-lost items are always the library books.
Not so long ago, there was an administrative and political “giant” tormenting our family and waging a long, seemingly hopeless battle over one of our children. “Giant” was the ideal word for this behemoth, who afflicted us with such demonic force that it brought us to tears at times. As Christians, we knew the victory was ours but the battle seemed hopeless, as nothing we were doing seemed to work. We were being consistent in our fellowship with God and in the Word, and there was nothing “out of order” in our personal lives that would warrant such an attack. The only guidance we had heard from the Lord was a reference to this story of David and Goliath, which we (of course!) agreed was true, but the ending seemed to be considerably less hopeful for us than for David!
In retrospect, we realized what God was teaching us, and it wasn’t to rely on our own strength or to “cast our cares upon Him” and believe for the best. (We tried both and neither worked). But after Goliath had very nearly beaten us up, we saw the wisdom of this story.
David drew five smooth stones from the river to use in his slingshot. He did not rely on the king’s armor or on any technique for battle other than that for which the Lord had already trained him. He knew how to slay the lion and the bear with his own weapon – what some would call just a child’s toy. The message of David’s victory is deeper than simply, “be true to yourself.” Why? Because you can fight with all the weapons you have and still lose. The deeper truth is that each believer is given a set of weapons, or ministry gifts, from the river of God’s Spirit. Like the smooth stones David held in his pouch, we hold these gifts at the ready. But only one is needed to kill Goliath, and we must ask the Lord which one will be effective for the particular battle we face. In our family’s case, the key was patience and perseverance, not anger or debate, and once we knew from the Lord to stand our ground and weather the threats our giant was breathing out at us, we won. God gave us the grace to outlast our enemy. In another situation, the key might be praise, fasting, or corporate prayer. The Spirit distributes gifts to the Body as He wills – not just to keep us humble, but because different gifts are required for victory in each season. Seek the Lord, find out which stone is the strategic one, and then go to battle. And you will have the victory every time.
c. Deborah Perkins, 2014
Inscriptions are everywhere. We long to make our mark in this world, and from the beginning of time we have been finding ways to inscribe and record our thoughts. We have used tree bark, parchment, marble, clay, leather, stone, gold, and paper. We have written letters, pledged our love, carved our initials, branded our cattle, and embroidered our names. When God tells us in Isaiah 49:16 that He has inscribed us on the palms of His hands, He is likely referring to the ancient practice of the Jews engraving a symbol of Jerusalem or the temple on their skin, to remember their walls.
At the same time, God has been longing to make His mark in us. He began by inscribing the law on stone tablets for Israel, but then spoke of a time when our stony hearts would become flesh, and His laws - and even His Presence - would be within us. His Spirit is said to be like a "seal" upon us, in both the Jewish writings and in the Christian New Testament. The Bible is God's love letter to us; to Israel first, then also to the Gentiles. And even creation itself reveals God's attributes to us. (See Psalm 19 and Romans 1:20). God has sent patriarchs, prophets, and pastors to speak to His people and reassure us of His loving plan. And He has called us to do the same.
Paul, in Corinthians, speaks of believers as "living epistles;" we are to be sent like living letters from God to the world around us, reflecting His image and thoughts to others. (2 Corinthians 3:3). The Bible began as collections of letters and manuscripts, and many more letters about God exist than those that are in the Word! Indeed, you could say that nearly everything we know about God, we know through inscriptions.
But there's a problem. We are often confused about what we are hearing from God. Seeing God's inscriptions is one thing; understanding them is another. Look at the image of the tree-carving, above. We can see that "C" loves "N", but does " K" love "O"? or is it a "D"? And who are "C" and "N," anyway? Carol and Nate? Charlie and Nancy?
King Belshazzar had the same problem in Daniel 5, a story which birthed the cliche about the "writing on the wall." The writing was easily seen, but its interpretation could not be discerned except by Daniel, who had developed enough intimacy with God to understand the message and proclaim it.
When God called Jeremiah as a prophet, He trained him by first saying "What do you see?" Jeremiah correctly saw the rod of an almond tree. Once he identified what he saw, God gave him the ability to perceive: "I am watching over My word to perform it." Next, Jeremiah saw a boiling pot, facing away from the north. God subsequently caused him to hear His prophecy, that evil would come out of the north.
In the Gospels, Jesus taught that people were often seeing things but rarely understanding what they meant. (Mark 4:12). We need to both see and perceive, hear and understand. So the goal of this website is really to ask the question, how can we increase our ability to perceive what God is doing and saying in our lives today? How can we cultivate an "excellent spirit" like the one that was in Daniel, so that we are attuned to His ways and can spot His fingerprints, follow His leading, hear His directions? How do you see God making His mark on your life? What do you do to develop seeing eyes and hearing ears? Write your thoughts here or join the discussion on Facebook so that we can all benefit from seeing God's handiwork in your life!
c.Deborah Perkins, 2014
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.