Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jesus vs. Satan

From "Big Truths for Young Hearts" (p. 134-135):

"Satan's power over sinners is tied directly to their guilt through sin. His hold on them is because of their sinful rebellion against God. But remove the guilt through Christ's payment for their sin, and you remove the basis for Satan's hold on them. . . . Forgiveness of sin's penalty and freedom from Satan's prison go together. Remove the guilt, and you remove the bondage. As Christ bought the former -- forgiveness of the guilt of our sin -- he won also the latter -- victory over the bondage of our sin. Praise be to our Savior for his gracious and complete forgiveness that accomplishes also this glorious and powerful deliverance from Satan's dominion, bondage, and death (Colossians 1:13-14)."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Favorites of 2009

It was our first year of blogging. Never would have thought that we would have over 100 posts. Here are my some of our favorites (in no particular order):

  1. A summary to the introduction of "Shepherding a Child's Heart." Was it one of our favorites because of how central the principles of this book have been to our ministry and our parenting? Was it because it was our third post coming off the Intentional Parenting Conference? No and no. It was because this post had the most number of comments. A whopping 7! (Disclaimer: 2 of those comments were from Joey Espinosa. But 5 comments is still the highest number of comments to one post.)
  2. What do you do with Santa? It was the single most widely-viewed post.
  3. Bill White's response to the common parenting question, "How do I know when a young child is ready to accept Christ?" As we parents are feeling the burden of leading our children, we must remember that only the Holy Spirit can make this issue clear.
  4. In the spring, we put together iMix's of songs we use in Preschool and Camp Grace (and updated in the fall). Finally, we had an easy (and legal) way to equip families with some regular songs that we've done in our Big Group times.
  5. Our first posted video. Alyssa Rogers (then a 4th grader) gave a anchorwoman-style announcement about our Elementary Camp.
  6. Mike & Cindy Chibbaro's thoughts on developing good communication with children. Not only was the content insightful and practical, but they gave us a bullet point list (love it!) with a one-day response time (really love it!).
  7. A comparison of parenting goals from two different books -- "Shepherding a Child's Heart" (Tripp) and "Parenting by the Book" (Rosemond). I was proud of myself for reading two books at the same time and being able to make a connection between them.
  8. Another video, this time about how NOT to raise Future Men.
  9. Is it too broad of a category to say "anything under the label of Shepherding"? But, we feel we need to include this, since the book review was the original purpose of the blog. There were 26 posts under this label.
  10. Thoughts on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Would have said "Why I Celebrate Hanukkah," but technically that article was posted on the Grace Church Pastor's Blog.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Seeking God with $10 - Final Tally

Last month, I gave my older kids each $10, with the instructions for them to ask God about what they should do with it. (Read about it here.) Here's what they each did:

  • $5 for Adopt-A-Child
  • $5 to buy a Christmas gift for her friend that lives across the street (a Littlest Pet Shop monkey, since her friend "really, really likes monkeys")

  • $1 for a general tithe to our church
  • $6 for Adopt-A-Child (He explained, "If I didn't get anything for Christmas, I would be sad.")
  • $1 to his piggy bank
  • $2 for Osborn Mission (As part of their school curriculum, the kids have been learning about how so much of the world doesn't have access to a Bible in their native language. Our friends Philly & Elizabeth Osborn feel called by God to plant a church to a people group who have never heard the Gospel. You should check out their website.)

-- Joey Espinosa

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Greatest Gift

From "Big Truths for Young Hearts" (pp. 178-179):

"How can God view sinners as righteous? Answer: because they have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, a righteousness that is not their own, a righteousness that is complete and perfect. . . . [T]he ungodly person has been declared righteous by faith. . . . Justified by faith, not by works -- this is the heart of what the story of God's salvation plan is all about."

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

More Christmas Traditions

Earlier this week, I shared some of our family's Christmas traditions. Here are some from Tyler Stanton's childhood.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas - Part 2

Compare this article to yesterday's post. It's another viewpoint on the phrase "Merry Christmas." As someone who did not believe in Christ for most of my life, I can resonate with much of what Jon Acuff says. As an agnostic, I was never offended by people who said "Merry Christmas," but I always thought it was ridiculous for people to insist that their "Christian" ideas HAD to be the norm.

-- Joey Espinosa

Saying "Thank You"

One of the best instructions that we've received is that a key to parenting is being proactive. As much as possible, parents need to anticipate situations and give guidance and direction, before the children encounter those moments, as opposed to constantly living in a state of reaction. In that line, here is some parenting advice from the National Center for Biblical parenting:

"Begin now [before gifts are exchanged] to prepare your children for receiving gifts. Talk about the importance of the giver, not just the gift. . . . Play a "what if" game with children to help them anticipate how they might say thank you. . . ."

We recently got the opportunity to do this with Elijah's 6th birthday. Knowing he would receive gifts from friends and relatives, my wife played this "what if" game with him several times -- instructing him to look the giver in the eye, say "thank you," and then say something positive about the gift. And for good measure, we practiced the night before his party. For example, we asked him what he would say if he got a green Match Box car; he replied, "I really like cars and the color green." Later, as a joke, I asked him what he would say if someone gave him a baby doll. He hesitated, so I suggested he say something like, "Thank you for the doll. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." He laughed at that idea.

The next day at the party, things seemed to be working well. He opened one gift and said, "Thank you. I saw this toy at the store and I really wanted it." After receiving a Sea Monkeys kit, he said, "Thank you. I never had a pet and I've always wanted one."

Much to my and my wife's amusement, he opened an apparently-not-as-desirable gift, and politely said, "Thank you. I'll really enjoy sharing this with my sister." And he did.

-- Joey Espinosa

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Merry Christmas

"[We must] remember that the reason for the Christmas celebration is rooted in the gospel message. Why should Christmas be merry? Why should the world be joyful? Because Christ has come to earth to save his people from their sins. Talk to your children about this, about the real reason Christmas is merry."

Read the rest of the article on Shepherd Press Blog.

We hope your family has a wonderful and very merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Camp Grace Christmas Play

This past weekend, we had our 2nd Annual Camp Grace Christmas play. We love giving kids the opportunity to participate in the telling of the Christmas story. None of the 4 "performances" were anywhere close to Broadway quality, but the kids seemed to really enjoy it. Plus, we think it's great that we don't take a month of practice and dress rehearsals to put this program on. We definitely do not want to add one more thing to busy calendars at this time of the year.

Thanks for the volunteers who wrote this program last year, and for everyone who took part this year!

Did you have a child participate? What did he or she think?

Advent Readings - Week 4

This week's suggested readings are now on our Pastor's Blog. Merry Christmas!

More about Family Tensions

Similar to the post from two days ago, Russell Moore shares some thoughts on how a Christ follower can remember and live out his faith. Namely, we need to bear the spiritual fruit of:
  • peace
  • honor
  • humility
  • maturity
  • perspective
If you have moderate or severe family tensions, most of these 5 things will seem impossible. But it's in the "impossible" that we learn to depend on Christ, where we can pray for the message of the Gospel to rule in our hearts.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Tradition

This will be our (Joanna and I) 11th Christmas together. We're really not great on making and keeping traditions, but there are a couple of Christmas traditions that we've had that have been meaningful for us. First, every Christmas morning we've woken up in our own home. We might have traveled back on Christmas Eve, or leave to see family on Christmas Day, but we have enjoyed being together as a family on Christmas morning.

Second, ever since Hannah (now age 8) was 3 months old, we read the Christmas story in bed before we get up to do anything else. It makes for a calm, reflective time for us. Usually, we read a traditional account, like Matthew 1:18-25 or Luke 2:1-20). However, based on this suggestion from Jay Younts (Shepherd Press Blog), I think I may use John 1:1-14 as our text this year.

What Christmas traditions do you have?

Have a great week preparing for Christmas!

-- Joey Espinosa

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sharing Christ Over Christmas

Spending time with family over the next couple of weeks? Does that have the potential to be tense or unpleasant? Wondering what it looks like to be a light for the Gospel in those situations? Here's an article from I especially love the idea of planting seeds to help people move one step closer to Christ. Discipleship is not about sporadic and large leaps of growth, but it's a process that requires time and energy.

Sharing Christ over Christmas

Many of us approach Christmas dinner brimming with fear. Such anxiety doesn’t come from Aunt Mary’s liver sausage pate or her sour-apple fruitcake so much as our sense of the challenge of trying to direct conversation toward the gospel. After all, last year’s attempt was a proverbial train wreck. How can this year be any different?

If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to understand what evangelism is, and what it is not. The following definition and subsequent explication are intended to provide this sort of perspective, to help us approach Christmas dinner with a greater measure of optimism and hope.

“Evangelism is the activity in which the entire Church prayerfully and intentionally relies on God in sharing gospel love and truth, in order to bring people one step closer to Jesus Christ.”

The entire Church. The Church is the Body of Christ. As such, we extend hope to the world by communicating the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Gospel outreach is not simply one ministry option among many—something that only a gifted evangelist does. Rather, sharing Christ strikes at the heart of who we are. Just as Jesus was the Light of the world, who in his very being shined the hope of salvation, so we, in Christ, are the same. In this way, gospel activity is central to our identity, much as heat is a natural extension of the sun’s rays. This evangelistic call applies to every Christian, from the youngest to the oldest.

Prayerfully. Talking to God in prayer relates to every facet of the evangelistic enterprise. Prayer provides wisdom to the evangelist; it appropriates power for its proclamation; and, in some mysterious way, it is used by God to accomplish His redemptive purposes. Prayer is also a common denominator to every renewal movement in the history of Christ’s Church.

Intentionally. Evangelism happens with intentionality. Having been inspired, equipped, and mobilized by Church leaders, the congregation is positioned to actively seize gospel opportunities. For example, at a nearby mall, I recently observed a young girl walking up a downward moving escalator. As soon as the child stopped walking, she immediately began heading downward. With additional steps, however, she continued moving up. This illustration helps me think about the challenge to maintain proactive gospel outreach. The busyness of life and the gravity of selfishness draw us downward. To the extent that we are intentional, evangelism has potential to make progress.

Relying on God. Psalm 18:2 says, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” The Psalmist is intent on exalting God as the foundation of his salvation and does so by choosing eight different ways to say it. In the Hebrew language, indeed in any language, this manner of repetition emphatically underscores the point: salvation is of God! Because of this great truth, we can joyfully and confidentially rely on Him.

In revealing gospel love and truth. Being a Christian is more than being a friendly person. I have the privilege of knowing some nice people. My colleague Jay Thomas for instance, always appears happy. What’s more, his joy is contagious. If you asked him, he would tell you that his positive attitude is an outgrowth of his faith. However, I suspect that no one has ever looked at Jay and concluded “Wow, he is a nice guy! I’ll bet Jesus died for my sins and rose from the dead to provide me with forgiveness and eternal life.” This kind of inference doesn’t come from abstract deduction; it requires specific explanation. In other words, in order for outreach to be more than “friendly service,” we must communicate gospel content.

To bring people. Notice, it doesn’t say “to bring unbelievers,” but “people.” As I explained earlier, evangelism—the activity of sharing the gospel—is bigger than just conversion. After initially coming to Christ we still need the gospel to liberate us from sin and establish us in righteousness. Thus, to say that we “evangelize” someone doesn’t mean that the recipient is necessarily without faith.

At the same time, those outside of Christ are in dire need of the gospel. This need provides much of the motivation for doing evangelistic outreach. Consequently, we who have been in the Church for a while must break out from our holy huddles. Like Jesus—the friend of tax collectors and sinners—we must forge meaningful relationships with nonbelievers. In Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).

One step closer to Christ. Of all the points I’ve made so far, this is the one about which I am most passionate. Sometimes when we think about evangelism, we define it by a particular method. For many of us, it’s the crusade approach made popular by D.L. Moody or, more recently, Billy Graham. Accordingly, we think of evangelism as a full-blown gospel presentation that begins by explaining the human problem of sin and culminates in an invitation for one to receive Christ.

I don’t know about you, but most of my gospel encounters don’t allow for a full-orbed sermon. In a crusade, the goal of the evangelist is to clearly present the entire message and urge someone to make a decision. (It’s probably not an accident that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s magazine is named Decision.) However, if you define all of evangelism in that way, what happens when you only have two minutes to talk to a colleague beside the water cooler during break? How do you witness to the checkout person in the supermarket, or to a family member who knows what you believe and is utterly disinterested in hearing any more sermons? The answer is—you don’t. You don’t say a thing. We can’t share in that kind of way without completely alienating ourselves; therefore, we don’t share at all. The outcome is the same as hiding our lamp beneath the proverbial table. What we need to learn is how to gradually plant seeds of gospel truth that help people incrementally move one step closer to Christ. Therefore, instead of defining evangelism strictly as a comprehensive presentation of the “full delmonte” (i.e., everything there is to say about salvation) culminating into a Billy-Graham-like invitation, we need to view the incremental efforts of seed planting, which we perform in the course of natural relationships, as not only a legitimate form of evangelism but also a critical method among our loved ones.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Free Christmas Songs

With Christmas Eve just 1 week away, here are some early gifts for you:

1. On The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor provides 2 songs from Sojourn Music.

2. Two other songs on this same blog are also available for download, courtesy of Sovereign Grace Musis.

3. You can download a full album of Christmas songs from iTunes.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Adopt-A-Child Summary

The final numbers are in. God raised up over $1000 through Children's Ministry for the Adopt-A-Child initiative. Praise Him! It amazes us to think that this much money came through the hands of kids. We hope that hundreds of children were able to feel love towards other children, even those they have never met. We see that if everyone does a little, we can have a big impact for the sake of Christ. If you missed it, watch this video.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Advent Readings - Week 3

This week's readings and discussion questions are now posted here. The focus this week is on the announcement of Christ's birth.

Have a great week!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Nativity Story

Here is an opinion on the movie "The Nativity Story," along the trailer, and some links to purchase it at discounted prices. We enjoyed it ourselves, and would recommend you watching it, though it may not be appropriate for most young children.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas: A Time for Make-Believe?

Here's a recent parenting tip from the National Center for Biblical Parenting. You can see their website and sign up for emails at

Christmas: A Time for Make-Believe?

What will your family do with Santa Claus, reindeer, elves, and a sleigh? Will you make them part of your Christmas tradition or not?

Some families choose to make this one of those examples of ways that we, as Christians, are different from the world and we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas instead of the secular version.

Other families weave the fun of these traditions into their family life, but emphasize to children the true meaning of Christmas.

If you choose to make Santa a part of your Christmas tradition, be sure to teach children the difference between make-believe and reality. You might say, "Santa isn't real but we like to play the Santa game at Christmas."

Some children who come to the shocking discovery that Santa isn't real, question whether their parents are telling them the truth in other areas of life. Some even think, "Is Jesus real? Or is he another thing my parents made up for me?"

Christmas traditions can be a lot of fun. Just be careful what you're teaching and how children are putting it all together in their heads. And be sure to remind your children often about the true meaning of Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I Celebrate Hanukkah

Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight. You can see my thoughts about this holiday on our Pastor's Blog.

-- Joey Espinosa

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Explaining the Incarnation

I'm always hesitant to use physical illustrations to explain hard things about the Bible. You know, like how the Trinity is like water (ice, liquid, vapor) or an egg (shell, yolk, white part) or Neapolitan ice cream (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry). I'm torn because I want some way to try to help my kids understand, but then they take things so literally. And no physical example can ever fully explain a spiritual truth about the Lord. Everything falls short.

Whenever I do try to explain things like this to my kids, I always preface it by saying something like, "You know, kids, what I'm going to say really isn't going to make complete sense, and I can't explain it fully, and it's not a perfect example. But it's a good thing that I can't understand and explain God completely. Because if I could understand everything about Him, then He wouldn't be so special, would He?" I think it's OK to not give a perfect answer or explanation, to let my children wrestle with who He is. THAT is where faith comes in.

Well, during the last few weeks, we've been talking about the Incarnation a lot, as a way to know and worship Christ during this season. We can never fully understand how Jesus is fully God and fully man, and that's OK. But I used an illustration that I read in "Big Truths for Young Hearts." I suggested that what if we think about Jesus divinity as a glass of water, and His humanity as a glass of juice. Somehow, in Jesus, you could mix those and they would be in one Person but both would be completely separate (which of course is not true for mixing juice and water).

Elijah, my 6 year old, came up with an illustration right there. He ran to get an oil-and-water mixture that he made a few months ago. If you shake it vigorously, you can get both the oil and water to mix, but they would still be separate. Again, it's not a perfect illustration, but I loved how his brain was trying to grasp the idea.

Any illustrations that you use to demonstrate spiritual truths?

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Adopt-A-Child Video

Check out this video that shows the importance of engaging our culture. While we do need to preach the Gospel with words, Jesus also commands us to show love for His sake as well, through our actions. In fact, although salvation is based on faith alone and not works, there is a level of judgment that we will receive based on what we do or don't do to love others (Matthew 25:33-40). What we do with our God-given resources is actually a reflection of how we feel about and worship the Lord.

Our Children's Ministry is "adopting" 11 children this Christmas. (For more details, read this.) If you worship at Grace Church, and your preschool- or elementary-age child has not brought money in yet, or if he or she wants to bring in additional money, please do so by this Sunday, December 13th. Thanks for your support!

Long-Term Effect of Being a Part of The Church

The Barna group released a report of their recent study that shows a connection between childhood and adult religious participation. They concluded that "those who attended Sunday school or other religious programs as children or as teens were much more likely . . . to have an active faith as adults."

David Kinnaman, the president of Barna Group, cautions that "the research does not prove that spiritual activity as a young person causes spiritual engagement as an adult." In fact, as a whole, students disengage from faith as they get older, but "the odds of sticking with faith over a lifetime are enhanced in a positive direction by spiritual activity under the age of 18."

Does this mean that bringing your kids to church is the main element in them knowing Christ and following Him their entire lives? I do not think that's true at all. What I, as a pastor, tell parents is that while we want to make the most of the few hours we have with their children each week, nothing can take the place of how THEY are modeling a life of discipleship in their family.

But I think this research does show the importance of a being a part of a local church body. And being a part of His body is more than being in attendance. It involves regular worship, sacrificial service and giving, personal growth, and being in community and fellowship with each other. Not just a couple of these areas, but ALL of them, and more. The discipleship that Jesus calls His followers to requires our entire lives to be turned over to Him.

Yes, that seems like a lot, but the fruit born in our children's lives is well worth it, right?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What do YOU do with Santa?

A couple of weeks ago, I gave my thoughts in about Christmas in this post. Included in that was a link to an article from The Village Church; one of the authors comments was an encouragement to not lie to your children about the myth of Santa Claus.

Jonathan Acuff shares his thoughts about Santa on his blog "Stuff Christians Like." He outlines 3 basic choices of what Christians (especially parents) can do about Santa:
  1. Go all-in with the Santa Claus myth (I think he leans in this direction);
  2. Kill Santa (I'm not quite to this extreme, but I lean in this direction); or
  3. Combine Jesus and Santa (pretty dangerous ground here).
For me, it is mainly about speaking to my children with integrity. It's hard enough for me to believe some difficult things that God's word clearly speaks of (Jesus being both man & God, the Trinity, God's omnipresence, how Jesus' sacrifice actually atones for my sins, etc), and having faith in a real but invisible God. And if I struggle to understand these things, then it's that much harder for me to teach them to my children. Why would I risk muddling that with a myth?

As Jon Acuff warns, I do have to be cautious to not be judgmental towards others. After all, this is not an overtly moral issue, and I know that Christ gives us much freedom in this an other areas.

All that being said, we DO talk about Santa Claus, but from the perspective of make-believe. They really do enjoy seeing him at the mall, reading books about Santa, and watching "Rudolph" on TV. I've been pleased and amazed at how much excitement there can be over these stories even without them believing in this fairy tale.

And we have strongly stressed the importance of them not telling other boys and girls the truth about this topic, along with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. (I remember Elijah coming to me in tears last year, confessing that he accidentally told a neighborhood friend that Santa Claus wasn't real; fortunately, the friend either didn't pay attention or she didn't believe in Santa herself.)

I'd love to hear other thoughts about this topic.

-- Joey Espinosa

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Story of the Bible in Four Minutes

You won't regret checking out this video. Entertaining, and great theology.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Advent Readings - Week 2

Don't miss the suggested readings for this week of the Advent season, found on our Pastor's Blog.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Recommended Books for Kids

Do you have a voracious reader in your family? Here are a few recommended titles. Has anyone read these, or even heard of them?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jesus Storybook Bible

Scott Mozingo recommends the "Jesus Storybook Bible," and let's us know about a great bargain for anyone in the Greenville area. I think this is a good resource for parents of children who are preschool or young elementary.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adopt-A-Child for Christmas

This Christmas season, Grace Children's Ministry is "adopting" 11 children from nearby schools, in conjunction with our church as a whole who are looking to "adopt" over 200 children. Most of the children are from families from Monaview Elementary School, a local Title I school that Grace Church has partnered with. We are also working with elementary schools in the Powdersville community, and in Allendale county.

The goal is to show the love of Christ to our neighbors, and to help the children in our own body understand that our neighbors are not just the people who live near us. Since God has given us so much, and since He owns it all, it should be natural for us to share with others. If everyone contributes a little, we can have a huge impact, so we are asking each Camp Grace child (1st - 4th grade) to bring $2, and each preschool child (2 years old - 5k) to bring $1. The money will be collected during their Big Group times, and then volunteers will shop for each child.

We are off to a great start. We have collected around $600 so far, with a goal of $900. The last day that we will be collecting money is December 13th. Any additional money over the goal will be added to the amount that Grace Church sends to Allendale.

We are excited about this opportunity to have an engage our culture. Thanks for everyone who is partnering with us. If you have any questions about this, please contact us at

Monday, November 30, 2009

Seeking God with $10

I've been trying to figure out how to redeem our family's time and money during this Christmas season. Plus, God has recently shown me that I have not led and shepherded our children well in a few areas, particularly in the areas of prayer and money. So, last week I came up with a way to combine all this into one "project."

I explained to our older 2 kids (Hannah, 8, and Elijah, almost 6) that I was going to give each of them $10, and they could use it on whatever they wanted. If they wanted to save it, or spend it on themselves, or give, or buy something for someone else, that is fine. I did not want them to do anything based on what they thought I wanted them to do. The only thing they had to do was consider what God wanted them to do. Normally, they feel so much pressure from me to "do the right thing" and "be good kids," but they need to learn that they should seek to please our Lord. Before anything else, we need to seek Him and His will.

Hannah immediately said that she was going to buy a gift for her best friend. Elijah said that he was going to give it away. I asked them if that's what God wanted them to do. They were confused, since those were "good deeds." I explained that those were good choices, but they may not be want God wants at this time.

Soon, Elijah asked, "But can I ask you for advice?" What a great question! Of course he can, but only after he learns to ask God. Within 10 years, I will no longer be a primarily authority figure in his life; I will be in a role of delegating responsibility, and later we will be in partnership. This project is a great opportunity to sow nuggets of truth as I seek to disciple my kids according to Deuteronomy 6:7 - "Repeat [these commands] again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up."

What I hope my children will learn through this endeavor:
  • Whatever we do with what God has given us can be an act of worship. That could mean sharing, saving, or even enjoying His blessings.
  • Just because something is good does not necessarily mean that God wants you to do it.
  • I will always love them, no matter what choices they make.
-- Joey Espinosa

edit: See the final results here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Readings

The pastors at Grace Church are putting together some readings for the Advent season. Here are links to the main concept and the Week 1 readings. The idea is not necessarily to have specific readings for every day over the next four weeks, but we want to give you some a general outline of some ideas, in a way that makes it easy for you to adapt to your family time. Be sure to check back weekly, and Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2009

New Big Group Songs

Does your child enjoy the songs we sing in our Big Group time? We've recently updated our iMix's for both our Preschool and Camp Grace programming. You can buy one or more songs through our website.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Importance of Gender

Don't forget to check out our Pastor's Blog. The most recent post is a summary from last weekend's High School retreat at Grace Church. The topic of gender is relevant, especially on the heels of our recent Future Men event.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Christmas: Worship Fully

The sermon from this past weekend hit me pretty good. The teaching presented a call to consider how we will spend the next 40 days, until Christmas. It seems like it just comes and goes so fast every year. For me, I realized that I've been so PROUD in how we don't go overboard with gift-buying every year. (I have been like the Pharisee in Luke 18, thanking God "that I am not a sinner like everyone else." Ouch.) But God showed me that along with saying "no" to overabundance, I need to say "yes" to being diligent and intentional with my time with Him and with family. This is how I'm going to be different this year at this season.

Here is an article from a staff member at The Village Church. It is great reading for parents, not giving commands or mandates, but only things to consider. For example:
  • "Have we become caught up in a cultural swarm that has separated us from our convictions and our better judgment?"
  • "[As a child who received lots of gifts,] what did I learn about Christ on Christmas? Is it possible that my struggle with materialism as an adult was fed there when I was a child?"
  • "As the parent, you may need to have difficult conversations with [family members who buy excessively for your children]. . . Make it clear to your family that you are trying to teach your child, not punish them."
  • "There are ways to allow your children to experience the excitement of the Santa tradition without lying to them. It is important for your children to know that they can trust you -- that you are honest with them."
  • "Are you going into debt to celebrate the birth of Christ?"
What are you going to do different about Christmas this year?

-- Joey Espinosa

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Gospel: The Key to Parenting

In this article, Tim Challies interviews Bill Farley, the author of "Gospel-Powered Parenting." Farley helps to define the Gospel, and explain why it is relevant to everyday life, especially for parents. Enjoy!

-- Joey Espinosa

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Men & Women

Here's a excerpt from Bruce Ware's book "Big Truths for Young Hearts" (p. 91):

"To be faithful to the Bible's teaching, then, means accepting two very important ideas: 1) men and women are completely equal in their common human natures, both being made in the image of God, but 2) God gives men and women different roles in the home and in the church. The woman should accept the God-given authority in God-honoring ways. We are equal and yet different at the same time, and in this we reflect something of how the Persons of the Trinity relate. The Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God, yet they have different roles to play marked by lines of authority and submission in their relationships. So God created men and women in his image fully equal in their human nature, but different in certain roles in which they also have differences in authority and submission. This is part of the beauty of male-female relationships as God has designed them. What a privilege to reflect God's own ways of relating in our human relationships."

This book is helpful for any parent who needs a little insight and encouragement on how to teach their children about basic theology and a Biblical worldview. It was the most popular sell at our recent Future Men event, with 28 people buying this book. You can get a copy for yourself on our website, along with a number of other helpful books.

Also, you can watch an excerpt from a recent sermon on gender and the image of God on the Grace Church YouTube channel.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Future Men Audio Available!

The audio for our Future Men event is now available online for free. You can get it off our teaching resources page on our main website (look under "Equipping Events"), or on the parents page of our Children's Ministry website (along with information about other useful resources).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pastors Blog

Did you catch that Grace Church has a new Pastors Blog? A few times a week, different pastors from Grace will share their thoughts on ministry, theology, handy resources, and more. Check it out and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 19: Teenagers - Training Procedures

Every Christian parent wants their children to have their own dynamic faith in Christ. This requires, most of all, the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of their children. But it also requires parents to labor intensely, and to have a hope in the power of the Gospel. Parenting is not easy, but I think that God desires it to be that way, so that we will be driven to depend on Him.

Having a shepherding relationship with teenagers necessitates that you have successfully navigated the first two stages of the child's life (authority is established, character is developed). A key thing to recognize is that over time parental authority decreases and parental influence increases. What does that look like? Here are some key areas and thoughts:
  • Shepherd your children through their doubts. Help them get resources, share your own experiences of doubting your faith, and expose them to other Christians who are living out their faith.
  • Give them positive interaction. We must allow them to fail and deal with consequences, but we must never belittle them with destructive speech. "Pleasant words promote instruction" (Proverbs 16:21; see also verse 24).
  • Be sensitive to timing. When they are ready to talk, we must be prepared to engage them.
  • Allow room for disagreement. We need to differentiate between Scriptural instruction and personal taste.
Ultimately, we must entrust our children to God. "God intends for parenting to be a temporary task." Our Lord loves our children more than we can ever love them, and He proved that by sending His Son to die for and redeem us from our sin. While we must labor with a hope in the Gospel, we also need to cry out for God's mercy.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Family Identity

One of my favorite sermons during the recent "One" series at Grace Church was on the topic of Adventure (you can find the podcasts on our website). Bill White emphasized the need for young families to create a culture of service. As a follow up, Matt Williams and Bill White answered the question about what it looks like to have a family identity or vision. You can see a 6 minute video response on our Grace Church YouTube channel.

-- Joey Espinosa

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Future Men

We had a great turnout for our Future Men event on Friday, October 30th. There were 392 parents, grandparents, and leaders who came to hear a language, theology, and practical applications of what it looks like to raise up the next generation of men.

We will post more information about this and other upcoming events, but in case you missed it, here's a video showing how NOT to raise future men.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Giving Instructions

The following parenting tip is from The National Center for Biblical Parenting ( You can sign up for email parenting tips.

When Giving Instructions, Consider the Timing

An important step in a good instruction routine is to consider timing. Parents who realize that a child needs an instruction must stop and think of the best way to present it. Ask yourself, "How can I communicate this problem to my child in the most effective way?" Pausing for just a moment, or in some cases, waiting a few hours, may prove to be the most productive way to deal with a situation.

For instance, it's tempting to greet Jenny when she arrives home from school, "Jenny, you didn't take out the trash this morning and your bedroom's a mess." This kind of ambush focuses more on the issue than on the relationship.

Instead, a dad might say to his daughter, "Hi Jenny, I'm glad you're home" and then engage Jenny in dialogue about her day for a few minutes. After relationship has been reestablished, he could then say, "After you put your books away and get a snack, would you please come and see me? I have a couple of things to talk to you about." In this way Dad is trying to be sensitive to the timing of his instructions.

Considering the timing is a small way of saying, "I love you" to a child even in the midst of the work of family life. You'll want to make different adjustments in this area depending on the age of your child. Young children need to learn obedience, so we may give less warning and expect a prompt response. Older children, and certainly teenagers, need more time to prepare themselves. Teens will need to adjust their own expectations or agendas. This takes some work for the teen and patience for the parent.

For more on how to build a good
Instruction Routine with your children, consider the book, Good and Angry, Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids, by Dr. Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, RN, BSN.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I am aware that not all families with young children choose to participate Halloween by “trick-or-treating.” In fact, I know that we have families at Grace Church from all over the spectrum of whether Christians should participate in this event. I’m not here to make a case either way. I know and respect families who do not trick-or-treat, but my family (3 children, ages 2 to 8) does choose to dress up and collect pounds of candy. From us, we aim to downplay the “spooky” aspects, such as no yard decorations outside of a Jack-o-Lantern, and we have not allowed our kids to dress up as occult-like characters (monsters, witches, etc). But we enjoy watching them have fun, and we feel it’s a great opportunity to be with our neighbors.

Does your family participate in Halloween activities? If so, in what ways?

-- Joey Espinosa

Saturday, October 17, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 18: Teenagers - Training Objectives

The teenage years are marked by insecurity and vulnerability. It's a time for children to establish themselves as individuals, but there is an intense need to feel accepted and loved. Many families equate "teenager" with "rebellion," but it is important to note that rebellion doesn't just appear when a child turns 13. Instead, this rebellion has been there (possibly dormant) all along, but now there are more opportunities to express it.

In general, parenting is about preparing for the next stage. If you have preschoolers, the goal is to prepare them for childhood by teaching them that they are under authority (chapter 14). Elementary-aged children need to be lead towards the teen years by training their character at the heart level (chapter 16). And teenagers need to be prepared for adulthood.

Tripp gives three foundations for life that teenagers need before they reach full adulthood, based on the teaching in Proverbs 1:7-19, as follows:
  1. Fear of the Lord (verse 7). We need to realize that we are accountable to a holy and powerful God. It's not just about cognitive truth, but how it plays out in daily life. We need to live out of fear of God instead of fear of man, and our children need to see how we parents are living this out.
  2. Adherence to Parental Instruction (verses 8-9). Instruction should come in specific family worship times that address their specific needs and interests, and also amidst the flow of everyday living (see Deuteronomy 6:6-7). Furthermore, we must remember to parent out of their best interests, not what is convenient for us or what makes us look good to them or others.
  3. Disassociation with the Wicked (verses 10-19). Children do not become rebellious because they hang out with the wrong crowd. They (and we) are innately rebellious sinners. What they want is to have a sense of belonging. Since no one runs from a place where they are loved and accepted, parents should make their homes an attractive place for children and teens.
Do you have any suggestions with how you have made your home a welcoming and fun place for your child's friends?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Future Men Event

Friday, October 30th, from 7 - 9:30 PM, we are having an equipping event. See our website for more details and to register (it's free).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Raising Dorks

Most parents I know continually struggle with and try find a balance between protecting their children from the world's influence, while also trying to help them engage the culture. I probably tend more towards the risky end of the spectrum, but I need to be constantly reminded that I also need to help them guard their hearts. That's one reason I enjoyed this article titled "Raising Dorks" on the site "Stuff Christians Like." Enjoy!

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Salt & Light

This morning, I read Matthew 5:13-16 to my kids, talking about how Jesus calls His disciples to be salt and light. We talked about how we are called to do good deeds, which will lead to people knowing and praising the Father. I asked them if they had any questions, and my 8-year-old daughter pondered, "I don't understand how when I do good deeds, that it will lead to others praising God"

What is our usual tendency when people notice us doing good deeds, or ask us why we do them? I think most people (me included) respond by saying things like, "I want to help others," or "We need to love our neighbor," or such. Notice how the focus is on the one doing the good deeds.

Instead, a more Christ-honoring response would be, "I do that because God wants me to be involved like that," or "I show love to others because Jesus has loved me." Then the focus goes to Him.

I explained this to my daughter, and gave an example that she could relate to. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to go to Kenya on a mission trip. Several weeks before I left, she was upset at me, saying that she wanted me to stay. I told her it was OK that she was upset, but that I was going mostly because I felt that God wanted me to go. She got to see that I had God first in my life and that I was trying to follow Him, and it forced her to wrestle with the question of whether she would trust God with her daddy. And after it was all done, she was able to praise our heavenly Father that He used me for His purposes and that He brought me back safely.

As we teach our children to show love to others, let us remember to make sure that the glory and praise is returned to him, instead of on the one doing good deeds.

Do you have a story of how someone praised and knew God more because of how you or your child showed love to him?

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 17: Childhood - Training Procedures

As we saw in the last chapter, the key objective for childhood is to address and train character, which can be defined as "living consistently with who God is and who I am." In order to address character we must focus on the heart, since the child's behavior and words reflect what is in his heart (Luke 6:45). We must go beyond dealing with mere obedience and rebellion. It is not just about "good" versus "bad," but "good" versus "God's best."

How do we address the heart? Begin by looking at the "what" of the child's behavior from the "why" perspective. For example, when my children argue over a toy or game, the issue isn't the argument itself. The core issue is that they are each being selfish, preferring themselves over others. In gardening, we need to get to the root of the weeds, not just cut the weeds back. Likewise, we need to get to the root sin issues, not just deal with the outward behavior.

In order to get a lasting behavior change, we must have heart change. But in order to have heart change, we must have a conviction of sin. As a parent, I need to help my child see his sin nature and his need for God's grace. I need to lead my child to the grace and mercy that Jesus offered at the cross. One great way to do this is by using stories and questions which force him to judge himself (see some examples of Jesus appealing to the conscience in Matthew 18 and Luke 10).

Therefore, training character involves teaching children who they are (image of God, fallen sinner) and who God is (Holy, Creator, etc). We must shepherd them towards a life of trust and dependence on Christ in every area of their lives. (Tripp gives some examples of how this could be done with the character traits of dependability and moral purity.) We must help our children know that sinful actions and words are a result of idolatry, worshiping self or something instead of worshiping the one true God.

Remember, the goal is not merely to address character for the current stage of childhood, but to prepare for the next step -- the teenage years. We must continually parent for the future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur

I loved the sermon from a couple of weeks ago, where Bill White taught about the idea of Adventure. (If you missed it, you can download it on our website.) For parents with young children (like me), he encouraged us to consider what is the giftedness that we can pass on to the next generation. There are things that each of us can pass on, that are unique for each family. For example, I'm probably never going to teach my kids how to change the oil in a car, besides giving them directions to the local repair shop. I can't teach my sons how to throw a curveball, or especially how to hit one. I'm not a theological expert or an natural teacher. But that's OK, because there are other skills and ideas that God has given me to equip them with.

I am Jewish (circumcised by a Rabbi in my grandparents' apartment when I was 8 days old, Hebrew private school for 4 years, Bar Mitzvah at age 13, etc) and a Christ-follower (since I was 19 years old). I believe that God wants me to teach my children about how God has worked through His chosen people, to proclaim His Gospel message. I have loved learning about how the Old Testament laws, feasts, etc, point so clearly to Christ, and I love teaching my kids about that. It's one thing God has given me to give to them.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As the kids were eating breakfast, I used two stuffed animals to talk about what God commanded for this holy day. There were two goats (but I had to use horses because we don't have any stuffed animal goats). For one goat, the high priest in Israel laid his hands on its head to impune on it all the sins of Israel, and that goat was carried outside of the Israeli camp and set free. This goat, called the "scapegoat," points to Christ, I believe, as it is written in John 1 -- "Behold the Lamb of God, who carries away the sin of the world." Jesus didn't just banish sin from a distance; He carried that sin on Himself. The second goat was slaughtered as an offering to God. This also points to Christ, as He was slain for our sins.

Why did I love talking about this to my kids? Because of the nuggets of Biblical truth that they took away; they don't get the whole theological picture, but that's OK (I don't always "get it" all either). Elijah (5 years old) was completely shocked that they killed the goat. It was a reminder to me that I need to talk more about this with him, that the punishment for our sin requires blood. Animal sacrifices are nasty and repulsive, but so is my sin to a Holy God.

I asked Hannah (turned 8 last week): "Why don't we have to sacrifice animals for our sins anymore?" She replied, "Because Jesus already died for our sins."

Beautiful. I could not have been more excited that God used me to teach them the Gospel this morning. Our nasty sin needs a sacrifice, and Jesus already was our sacrifice.

If you want to dig deeper, here's an article that came out today about Yom Kippur.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preschool Curriculum

About two years ago, we began using our own volunteer-written curriculum in our preschool programming. We saw the need to be able to communicate Biblical truths using the "language" that we use as a church as a whole. Instead of focusing on behavior, we want to center our curriculum on the attributes of God. From there, we are teaching preschoolers how we should respond to Him.

For example, our current series is centered on the Divine attribute of Jealousy. Of course, we avoid using the phrase, "God is jealous" because of how it could be misconstrued by young children. Instead, we explain that God wants what is rightfully His, and we should respond by giving Him all our worship. We are using the 10 Commandments and the account of the golden calf to highlight these principles.

In our next series, we will teach that God is Judge, using the life of Jonah as a backdrop. We should respond in obedience, knowing that God will judge us for our rebellion.

We believe that it is crucial that young children get an understand of who God is. In our Camp Grace curriculum, we go to a deeper heart-level, as we go through a variety of characters in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, over 2 years. Our goal there is to help expose the hearts of children as sinners, so that they would see their need for a Savior.

To see our upcoming preschool curriculum outline, see our website. And many thanks to the volunteers who have worked on this for almost 3 years now!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 16: Childhood - Training Objectives

It is crucial that a child under the age of 6 learns that he is under authority, and that he must obey without challenge, excuse, or delay. However, between the ages of 5 and 12, there must be a transition to a deeper level. With the increasing level of independence and capability, we must not be content to remain focused on mere obedience. In this stage, the big issue is character development.

The discipline process for young children addresses defiant behavior, but more and more you must address "behavior that is wrong, but not defiant." The overall goal is for him to develop a concern for God and for others, as opposed to a selfish lack of concern. These are character issues. For example, to not help Mom with responsibilities around the house may not be defiant, but it shows a lack of concern and value for her.

There are some common pitfalls for your family when you have a child in this phase. First, there is a tendency to keep making more rules to cover the myriad of decisions and experiences that a child will face. Of course, this task is impossible. Another potential danger is the tendency to focus on good behavior, instead of addressing the heart issues. And there can even be peril in keeping all those rules. We must be careful that we (as parents as well as our children) don't think that the goal is to produce good little rule-keepers. Why? Because these children can easily become smug and self-righteous, looking down on siblings and friends who do not keep all their rules.

Tripp gives a good method ("Three-Pronged Tool of Diagnosis") to help us hone in on our children's real needs. There are three sets of relationships to evaluate:
  1. The child's relationship to God. Not "Is there a relationship?" but "What is the nature of that relationship?" The goal is to see if the child is depending on God's grace and power.
  2. The child's relationship to himself. God has created each of us unique, with a certain bent. You can only help your child reach his full potential if you help him know how God created him.
  3. The child's relationship to others. What does she want out of her relationships? What does she look for? Does she aim to serve or lead others?
Personally, I (Joey) have gone through this about once per year with each of my children, even from the time they turned around 2 or 3 years old. If you've never done son, I encourage you to try it for yourself, as a tool to help you lead and shepherd your child.

Thoughts? Questions?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Marriage Intimacy

Since we at Grace Church are in the middle of a series called "One," with key implications for marriage and relationships, I found this video to be very timely. David Powlison has some great thoughts and principles about marital intimacy and redemption.

Also, if you have not followed the teaching series, you can listen to and/or download the teachings from our website.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 15: Infancy to Childhood - Training Procedures

I must admit that I usually don't treat sin as seriously as I should. This is true for the sins of my children, and my own sins as well. I don't see that rebellion against a holy God puts us at a serious risk. Of course, I need to continually repent of this mindset; after all, sin is so serious that our God sent His only Son to die, to redeem me from my sin nature. We all need to be redeemed from foolishness and rebellion in our hearts.

For young children, spanking is a crucial component of child training. In general, preschool-age children cannot give proper weight to words alone, and a spanking gets their attention like nothing else, allowing you the opportunity to speak life-giving words into them.

When should I spank? When I give a clear command that can be understood, and that command is refused, challenged, or delayed. I confess that I am nowhere near as consistent as I need to be. Tripp is correct when he observes, "Inconsistency means that correction revolves around your convenience rather than around objective biblical principle." Get that? When I fail to discipline, it shows that I love myself more than I love my child. This is what the Bible teaches in Proverbs 13:24 -- "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."

Tripp gives some good guidelines in how we should spank. For example, it must be private; the goal is to correct him without stripping his dignity. Discipline is about shepherding him, not about evangelizing or showing others that I follow God's way. Be deliberate and specific in explaining why he is receiving a spanking. And before praying with my child following a spanking, I must ensure that there is complete restoration. "If discipline has not yielded a harvest of peace and righteousness, it is not finished." I may need to check my own spirit, before checking his.

Why should we spank? Because God commands it! "It is God's method of driving foolishness from your child's heart." (See Proverbs 22:15) My child's self-centeredness and pride must be challenged from a young age, to prepare her to live as a responsible adult, and to help her see her need for Christ's grace and forgiveness.

Tripp concludes this chapter by answering some frequently asked questions, and I encourage you to peruse that list for yourself. If you've been using spankings, use this time to prayerfully consider if you've done it by God's methods. If this is new to you, I encourage you to find a godly friend or pastor to help you talk through how you can begin to implement God's chief tool to help train young children.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Safety Plans

With 800+ children in our weekend programming, we have a number of key guidelines and policies to help us maintain a safe and secure environment. For example, Parent Pager (our electronic check-in / check-out system) is a great tool to help us know where to find children in case of emergency, as well as ensure that only authorized people can pick up children. And although we hope to never use them, we have procedures for inclement weather and for evacuating the building.

If you want to read about some of our safety procedures in more detail, click here. We have copies of these plans in every classroom, welcome desk, and work room in our Children's Ministry facilities. Questions? Contact Joey Espinosa at

Monday, August 24, 2009

Quality Time vs Quantity Time

Ever wonder what the balance is between spending quality time versus quantity time with your children? Of course, there is no easy answer; rather, this is an issue in which we should be constantly seeking Christ about and wrestling with. Here is a link to some good thoughts about this issue.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 14: Infancy to Childhood - Training Objectives

Nothing characterizes the time of infancy through age 5 like the word "change." Children grow taller and learn to feed themselves. They learn to play with others and to recite their ABC's. They begin to get basic understanding of who God is. But for us parents, if there is one concept that we must teach them in this stage of life, it is that they are individuals who are under authority. We must model this in our own lives, and explain that obedience is a response to the Lord. You must have this mindset from day 1 of your child's life, and if you have not started yet, now is the time to begin. The fruit will not come overnight, but will be yielded throughout the childhood and teen years. "Respectful teenagers are developed when they are 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, not at 13, 14, 15, or 16."

Your child's God-given responsibility is to submit to, honor, and obey you (Ephesians 6:1-3). We are all contaminated with a sin nature, so training a child to do this will not be easy. But we must believe and communicate that the child will be blessed if she remains within God's "circle of blessing."

How can we define honoring and obeying parents? Here are some thoughts:
  1. Children must not speak to parents in imperatives, or as they would speak to a peer.
  2. Obedience can be defined as the "willing submission of one person to the authority of another."
  3. Because it is a willing submission, attitude matters! Remember to focus on the heart, not just behavior. Some use phrase that they must obey "all the way, right away, and with a happy heart."
  4. If I accept any response besides complete and willful obedience, then I am training them to rebel against my, and God's, authority.
  5. Be consistent. It is exhausting for us, but to enforce obedience in our children is our command from God!
  6. You can train your child to appeal only after they have learned that they are individuals under authority. Tripp gives some great guidelines, and I encourage you to review this section on your own.
Training a child to willingly submit to authority is understandably difficult. After all, it is an issue of spirit versus flesh. But accomplishing this objective during the first 5 years of the child's life is much easier than dealing with the back-end consequences. Remember that this objective is a blessing, not a restriction, for your child. Submitting to parents is a call to trust God, rather than self. If your child struggles with submitting, you can use this as a tool to help him realize the depravity of his heart, and his need to depend on Christ.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Camp 2009 Photos

Click here to see some pictures from our Elementary Camp back in June. See anyone you know?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 13: Summary

In chapters 1-12, Tripp gave us general principles on child training. I will summarize these in a series of questions for parents.
  1. What affects my child's behavior and choices? It is both external shaping influences and the child's internal Godward orientation that affects his behavior. Your role as a parent is to provide the best influences possible, while also shepherding his heart responses to all external influences.
  2. How much should I focus on my child's behavior? Look at the behavior only as a tool to understand your child's heart. The heart is the source of behavior.
  3. Who is God's primary agent in training my child? God has made you the parent His agent. My goals and methods should be God-ordained, not determined by man.
  4. What is the ultimate goal of parenting? To help your children know that only in glorifying and enjoying God will they find fulfillment.
  5. Does the method matter? Yes, the means is as important as the end. Our children must see that we are trying to live by the Gospel and God's word.
  6. What are the main child training methods presented in the Bible? Communication and the rod. To neglect either one will be a severe handicap in training your child's heart.
In chapters 14-19, we will discuss more specific applications to these questions, as we walk through the various stages of childhood.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Recruiting Update

I'm excited to say that we currently have over 500 regular volunteers for the fall! This includes more than 80 people who are getting more connected through an increased role in serving. The various Small Group, Big Group, and Welcome Teams are shaping up well.

However, we still have a need for over 150 additional volunteers, mostly in Small Groups (classrooms). If you or someone you know can join the team, we'd love a chance to talk more with you. You can email either Joey Espinosa at (Pelham Road campus) or Kathryn Sanders at (Powdersville campus).

Another alternative? See our video.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 12: Appeal to the Conscience

In the last few chapters, we've learned how communication and the rod (discipline) are the core tools to help reach a child's heart. However, what should "give biblical shape and structure to our parenting" are appealing to the conscience and correcting with a focus on redemption.

Children (with very few exceptions) have a conscience, a capacity to distinguish right from wrong. The rod can get their attention when they sin, but my children need me to instill the truth of God's way in them. Questions and stories, not mere preaching to them, are great tools to reach their hearts (see 2 Samuel 12 and Matthew 21 for biblical examples). What is needed is not mere correction and instruction; I need to get past surface issues (or, "Thorns," to use the language from "How People Change"), and to get to the core issues -- sinful hearts.

How do we keep a central focus on redemption? Children need to know that they are sinners and that God is merciful. It is only be these two truths being coupled and prominent that we are driven towards Christ. Discipline does not lead to the cross; it is a tool that can help us expose our child's incapability to live a life that is pleasing to God all on their own power. "Discipline leads to the cross of Christ where sinful people are forgiven. Sinners who come to Jesus in repentance and faith are empowered to live new lives."

Therefore, we must not focus on teaching children to merely obey the rules. I believe the chief purpose of the Old Testament law was to show people that they could not keep God's standard. Furthermore, the danger with children believing that they are doing good and keeping the rules well is that they tend towards self-righteousness and hypcrocisy. They have a hard time seeing that they need to trust in Christ.

Should we aim to raise "good kids," or young men and women who depend on Christ in every area of their lives? How are you working towards this goal? Do you ever find yourself basing your expectations of your child simply on your desires or what is easier for you now?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Heart vs. Behavior

This is great article by Carl Brower at The Village Church. Enjoy!

As I type this my children are indefinitely grounded from video games. Indefinitely, you ask? Yes, indefinitely. The allure and excitement found in video games had transfixed and consumed my children’s thoughts and affections. They constantly thought about it, talked about it, sung the music from it and were otherwise immersed in the fantasy world these games create. This was an obvious example of idolatry. We are created in the image of God, to be heralds of His goodness displayed through the gospel. We will worship, we will proclaim. The worship and proclamation of anything but the gospel and the redemption offered therein is idolatry. My children were worshipping and proclaiming these games. It was a sweet opportunity for me to teach this concept to them and to demonstrate the love of Christ, Who asks that we lay our idols down and follow Him.

All sin is idolatry

As we shepherd and disciple our children, we must be constantly aware that all sin is idolatry. In disobedience, the proclamation is that someone or something else is more important than God. This holds true for our children as well. “Mine! Mine!” Ever heard this screamed from down the hall in your home? This is your child demonstrating idolatry of self. Making oneself ultimate above God and His commands is so common that we often don’t recognize it in ourselves and see it simply as a behavior issue in our children.

Behavior vs. heart

As we go through our daily lives – filled with work, activities, events, car rides, housework, homework and sleep – we can easily find ourselves falling victim to one of the biggest lies the enemy whispers to us as parents: If you control your children’s behavior, their hearts will follow. Just get them to act nicely. Be polite. “Please, thank you, yes sir, no sir, yes ma’am, no ma’am” are the words of the day. If we can get our kids to behave well, then we have accomplished our goals. We have fulfilled our parental duties if people see our kids as “good,” or mention that they are “so well mannered!” Be cautious that your own pride in being a “good parent” does not blind you to the truth. Your charge is not to make well-mannered children, but to make disciples. Disciples are those who love, trust and follow Jesus Christ. The difference between these is the state of the heart. Just as the Pharisees had learned proper behaviors without a true heart of repentance and acceptance of the gospel, so can our children. And they will, if that’s what we teach them. We must be willing to address these demonstrations of idolatry with the time it takes to truly explain to our children the truth that their behavior comes out of their hearts. They must be made aware they have a wicked and dirty heart that can only be made clean by the cross of Jesus Christ. We must tell them that, just like God, it is their hearts that we are after – not their behavior. It is the state of that heart we must address as parents, trusting the Holy Spirit to move and convict them.

Does this mean we ignore behavior?

As Paul would say, by no means! Behavior must absolutely be discussed, demonstrated and developed. It cannot be the end, but shown to be the symptom of what is happening in their hearts. Discipline is necessary and must be administered with love, mercy and grace. But if we focus on the behavior in our discipline, then we will get the results we seek: changed behavior. If, however, we resolve to invest in discipline where the focus is addressing the heart, then again we will see, by the Grace of God, the results we seek: changed hearts.

We must not only tell our children these things, but we must live them. A child knows a hypocrite when they see one. If we profess these truths, but do not demonstrate them, then it is our own heart we must be addressing. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do my children see me confessing and repenting of my idolatry?
  • Am I trying to be “superman/superwoman”? Do I let my kids think I’m faultless?
  • Am I identifying myself as a sinner in need of grace right alongside my kids?
  • Do I walk in community and accountability?

There is no doubt that parenting with the heart in mind rather than behavior is more difficult. “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:14) But we can trust in the Lord to be gracious and merciful as we endeavor to fight against the lie we mentioned earlier, and rest in the knowledge that the opposite is true. If you minister to your child’s heart, by the grace of God their behavior will follow.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Elementary Camp 2009

This coming up weekend, we are going to show a video of our camp for 3rd & 4th graders, from June 12-14, 2009. We'll post that video online soon, as well as pictures. If you've never been on the big swing at Look Up Lodge, here's a first-person perspective of what it looks like to be dropped from 70 feet. Joey Espinosa is riding with 2 of our campers, and I promise that he is just fake screaming. I promise.

Monday, July 13, 2009

If They Can Do It, . . .

We are less than 5 weeks away from Promotion Weekend (Aug 15-16), when we move kids up to the next grade level for our weekend programming. We expect to have 900 children registered over 5 services (3 on Pelham Rd, 2 on our Powdersville campus), and will need close to 700 regular volunteers in Small Groups, Big Group, and Welcome Team. I'm excited to say that we are over halfway there, but we have a lot more opportunities still available.

This summer in our Children's Center, we have a display of a mock "Connect 4" board, titled with "Who's getting more connected in Children's Ministry?" We are going to put up the names of people who are taking a step up in their serving role, such as just beginning to serve, serving more regularly, or becoming a Volunteer Coach. Our goal is to get 100 new volunteers for this fall. We'd love for you to get more connected by serving in Children's Ministry. You can see a previous post for some thoughts about the value and blessing of parents serving in the local church body.

Wondering if you can do it? Check out our Volunteer Central page, but first watch this video for a little encouragement:

By the way, if you haven't yet registered your child(ren) for our fall programming, please do so (the deadline is July 26th). When you register your child(ren), you will have the opportunity to sign up for a volunteer area. Click here to learn more.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 11: The Rod

Besides communication, the rod (or, physical discipline) is the second key element in training children. It is important to remember that these two methods are designed to work together (although which is used more does change depending on the age and maturity of the child).

Before we discuss what "the rod" is, we must understand the nature of the problem that we are trying to address. The Bible teaches that a person does wrong not because of a lack of information in his head, but because of wickedness (Jeremiah 17:9) and foolishness (Proverbs 22:15) in his heart. A child is wicked because he is primarily concerned for his own wants, and he is foolish because his concern is for his immediate wants rather than God's ultimate best.

Discipline is not about being angry at the child, but about teaching the child to obey and about rescuing her from the spiritual death that comes from rebellion. For a child to refuse to submit to his parents' God-given authority is foolish behavior, as she is rejecting God. A spanking, given in a Biblical manner (more on this later in the book), helps prepare a rebellious heart "to receive life-giving words."

Physical discipline is a parental exercise that shows your faith in and obedience to God, and it's "an expression of love and commitment" to your child (see Hebrews 12). Think of it as a rescue mission: my rebellious child has distanced himself from god, and I must be willing to do anything to reach his heart with the Gospel. God has given us a wonderful instrument to help do this -- the rod.

Tripp gives a good list of common distortions and objections to the rod, and I invited you to prayerfully consider that list to see where you have been misled or mistaken. For me, I must remember that the rod is not about retribution (my child paying for his sins); it is a teaching tool, not for punitive reasons.

How have you used this element of child training? What questions have you had?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I don't know about you, but I struggle to help my children understand the nature and blessings of obedience. I recently read this great article about this topic. My favorite quote: "When children disobey, the solution should not be to do better next time. The solution is to trust Christ for the strength to do what cannot be done in one's own strength. Apart from Christ we can do nothing."


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Children's Ministry Registration

Registration for our fall programming is currently underway. See the video below for one explanation of why you should register if you plan on having kids in our programming.

No, we won't leave your kids in the nursery each year, but registering your child(ren) helps things run smoothly for all of us as we approach Promotion Weekend (August 15-16). It helps us allocate our volunteers and plan for future growth, especially as Grace Church will have six services this fall (3 on Pelham Road, 2 in Powdersville, and 1 Downtown). Additionally, you have the opportunity to sign up to be a volunteer when your register your child(ren). We expect to need 650 regular volunteers in Children's Ministry, so we know that there is a place for everyone to serve!

If you haven't registered yet, please go to our registration page. Thanks!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 10: A Life of Communication

Following up with the previous chapter about different types of communication, Tripp now exhorts us to make deep communication more of a lifestyle than an event. Shepherding the hearts of our children is a process of guiding and leading our children, helping them understand . . .
  • God and His ways,
  • themselves,
  • how sin works,
  • how the Gospel meets their deepest needs, and
  • their goals and motivations.
Shepherding our children is costly for us. Discipling them requires time and flexibility, since they "do not pour their hearts out or open themselves up" according to our schedule. Therefore, we may need to drop everything in order to seize a moment. Furthermore, we must discipline ourselves to be active listeners. I know that I need to improve in this area, to stop and think about what I hear them say before I speak. And, or course, before we can instruct our children, we need the integrity to model what a disciple of Christ looks like. Do our children see repentance and life change in us?

Every parent that I have talked to that has teenagers or college-age children cannot stress enough about the small window of time that their children are in the home. But this small window will cost us. "Parenting will mean that you can't do all the things that you could otherwise do." It may mean your golf game tanks, or that you don't have a "Southern Living" home. It may mean giving up on your college football habit, or it may involve a career change. What hinders your from more fully engaging your child in a lifestyle of discipleship and communication?

The cost of parenting is high. But is anything worth our children being equipped for a Gospel-centered life? My children are looking to be in a relationship in which they are loved and accepted. I know that I have much to teach them, but they will trust my influence only if they know that I love them and that I am committed to their best interests, above my own desires.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Who are we?

With a growing church, there are many faces hurrying around during our weekend programming, and we know that it can be overwhelming trying to connect with staff and leaders. To help you learn about who is serving in Children's Ministry, please check out our Staff Contact and Meet the Volunteers pages on our website. Not only can these resources help you put a face with a name, but you can also read a little bit about their stories of how they got connected with being involved with Children's Ministry.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 9: Types of Communication

If you're like me, most communication between us parents and our children involves giving rules, correcting when rules are broken, and disciplining for breaking rules. However, Tripp exhorts us to develop deeper and richer communication with our children. He gives a suggestive (not exhaustive) list of different types of communication, and gives several examples from the book of Proverbs. We need discernment in our communication (I Thessalonians 5:14). For example, several years ago, I realized that I was parenting and communicating with Hannah (then age 5) and Elijah (almost 3) the same. God showed me that I was being lazy; it was easy to have a "one-size-fits-all" approach to leading my children, versus understanding them individually.

Here are some types of communication:
  • Encouragement. My children need to hear that Christ came because we are needy people. When they know the pain of failure, I must give them hope in God.
  • When my child breaks God's standards, he needs correction. I must help him understand what is wrong and what must be done to make amends for that situation.
  • Rebuke. Sometimes a serious and sharp censure of behavior or speech is needed. Of course, this should be followed with other forms of communication.
  • Entreaty. Especially when you can foresee a possible danger, you may need to use intense urging and even begging. You must remember that the goal is not to beg for something for yourself, but to plead for the "child to act in wisdom and faith" for her own benefit.
  • Instruction is when you provide a lesson or information to help your child understand his own world. "As a parent, you are dealing with young people who have large gaps in their understanding of life. . . . Your children need a framework in which they can understand life." The goal is for them to understand God, the world, and themselves so that they will make Christ-centered choices (Psalm 119:104).
  • Warning. I must help my children be on guard for probable danger. Think of the illustration of a sign saying "Bridge Out." In the book of Proverbs, warnings typically take the form of "if you do X, then Y will occur."
  • When you impart knowledge, you are teaching your child. Note that this form of communication may be done either before or after that knowledge is needed.
  • Praying with your child is a great way for each of you to connect with God, and to do it together. Also, you can gain a lot of insight into your child's heart condition by hearing him pray.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Q&A: "How do I deal with my child's fears?"

With regards to a child's fears, I think that most parents fall somewhere on the spectrum between desiring to protect your child's emotional well being, versus wanting to help him be more brave. This document is a chapter from the book "Hints on Child Training" by H. Clay Trumbull. This book was first published over 100 years ago, but I believe this principles are still applicable today. Throughout this book, Trumbull emphasizes that in all areas of a child's life (fears, reading, questioning, eating habits, etc), it is the parent who is responsible to train and lead. Trumbull helps the reader move from principles to specific application.

You can order your copy of this book through our website.

Joey Espinosa