Saturday, 31 October 2015

Reformation Day

While lots of families celebrate Halloween, we now celebrate 31st October as Reformation Day. It is the anniversary of when Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, and sparked the Reformation across Europe.

We celebrate the good news of salvation through faith alone, not by works. It is a chance to teach our children a little church history, and also to rejoice in the gospel.

We had our tea by candlelight...

 and ate cake!

Michael then read the story Martin Luther, What Should I Do? by Catherine Mackenzie, and we chatted to the children about the Reformation for a little while.

It was all very little work - we even had a bought cake which I iced very hastily.

In addition, we make sure that we are prepared for any trick-or-treaters who knock with a bag of mini mars bars, and some little booklets designed to be given out at Halloween and which explain the forgiveness offered through Jesus.
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed – a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’ Romans 1:17

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Making Christmas Presents

Christmas, at its best, is a lovely time to celebrate our Saviour, and to show our love for one another as we meet together. One of the ways that we try to keep a sense of serving others, rather than grasping for ourselves, is to help our children to make presents for others each year.

The presents have cost them something - time and effort. They like to give to our extended family, and also to a few special friends, which means that they usually each make about 25 presents each. This is why we start making them at around half term!

These are the principles I follow when helping them decide what to make:

1) Each child should choose to make gifts that they can produce with little or no help (once they have been shown what to do).

2) The gifts should be ones that they can make lots of without giving up. Usually, this will mean picking one item to make a number of times for different people.

3) Each gift should be fairly inexpensive.

4) Each child should wrap their own gifts and write their own labels, if they are able to do so.

This year's presents are still a closely guarded secret, but here are some of the gifts that they have made in the past (grouped roughly by the ages at which they made them):

2-3s:   Simple cards with handprints or sponge prints
           Simple sweets (e.g. peppermint creams)

A card with sponge prints.

3-4s:   Hama bead magnets
           Children's fudge

Hama Bead Magnet

5-7s:   Decorating coasters/mini-plant pots/photo holders
           Paper woven bookmarks
           Illustrated bookmarks
           Fimo key rings


Fimo Key Ring

Mini Plant Pot (& cactus)

8-10s: Decorating photo frames
           Simple sewing projects (mainly using old socks!)

Juggling Balls - Made from Socks

Button Photo Frame


Our children began to make Christmas presents to give away a few years ago, and it is easily one of the parts of Christmas they enjoy most. They work hard at thinking about how to decorate or design gifts that they know the recipient will particularly like. By the time that Christmas comes, they are usually at least as excited about giving presents as receiving them.


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

What keeps your pastor awake at night?

Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.   2 Corinthians 11:24-28
I remember reading through the list of the sufferings that Paul went through- the floggings and imprisonments, the beatings and shipwrecks, and thinking that the list ended on a slightly lame note. How does Paul's concern for the churches compare with being constantly in danger of death, or facing cold and hunger again?

Now, however, a number of years after my husband began serving in a ministry role, I can comprehend a little of what Paul meant.

We have faced some difficulties over the last ten years; uncertainty about the future, sickness, pain and grief. However, the things that weigh on us both, but especially on my husband, are the concerns for the people in our congregation. I share some with my husband, but some, rightly, I will never know.

What keeps your Pastor awake at night? Probably not thinking of illustrations for sermons, or worrying about meetings. It will be concern for the church.

Concern for the student who seemed so keen, but has now started a relationship with a non-Christian.

Concern for the teenager whose Facebook life doesn't match how they seem on a Sunday.

Concern for the family who have stopped coming every Sunday as they don't want to miss football practice.

Concern for the young Christian who is in danger of being led astray by false teaching.

Concern for the Sunday School leader who is exhausted.

Concern for older member of the congregation who is increasingly frail.

Concern for the worldliness which ever threatens the church.

What, above all, drives my husband to tears, drives him to prayer?

Not strategy or sermons; not meetings or overwork or children's talks, but his concern for the church that he serves.

Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2 Corinthians 11:28-29

Friday, 16 October 2015

Keeping on Cooking: Weekly Hospitality

 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9
A number of years ago, in the early days of our marriage and before we had children, Michael and I had the privilege of leading a Bible study group in the church we were part of at the time. It was hosted by a family who modelled generous hospitality.

They suggested that we invite all the members of the group to come for a meal before we met each week. I took turns cooking for our group with our hosts.

It was a great experience for me as I got to see a young family modelling how to be hospitable, and also to learn how to cook for twelve or more with confidence.

Now, following their example, each week I cook for our home group - a group from church which meets in our home once a week to study the Bible.

We provide a meal so that we can enjoy that time together, and so that it is easier for our home group members to come along, even after a long day at work.

I enjoy cooking, and making a meal for twelve is not too daunting. However, keeping on cooking for our home group week in week out needs a bit of planning, and a commitment to serving in this way. 

Here are a few tips for practicing regular hospitality:

1) Cook to serve, not to impress.

For me, this means buying bread rather than making it when we have soup. Pudding (usually yogurts or cake) is also usually shop-bought, even though I like baking. This is realistic in terms of how much time I have available; I also don't want to set a standard that means that others would find it a hard act to follow (though my cooking isn't up to that anyway!).

2) Buy big pans!

We have a couple of large pans for soup or pasta, and a large tray for the oven (cheap ones, from Ikea). We also have a small cupboard full of extra plates, bowls and cutlery for when we have lots of people round.

3) Make food that you can freeze.

If we get fewer people than we expected, I find that this helps me not to be annoyed about the food if people don't turn up!

4) Play to your strengths.

If cooking is daunting, keep it simple. Pizzas are fine!

5) Make it sustainable.

Cook in a way you can sustain week after week. I only make food that will take at most an hour to prepare. This is realistic after a day of teaching my children, followed by cooking for them, and finally getting them all off to bed before everyone arrives.

6) Remember who you are serving.

All service in the church family is hard work, and we need to keep our eyes fixed firmly on Jesus if we are to keep going when we are tired or discouraged. Showing hospitality grows out of our love for one another, which grows from the love the Lord has shown to us.

A simple home group meal; the soup is tastier than it looks!

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Taking Children to Church

Taking your children to church can be a dispiriting experience.

Perhaps they play up during the prayers.

They tell you (loudly) that they are bored.

One child pushes their sibling off a chair.

They want to run riot during coffee time.

They seem to learn nothing and moan about everything.

You are so distracted looking after them that you are nor sure why you came anyway.

So, why bother? Wouldn't it be best to keep them at home and read them Bible stories until they are old enough to join in properly?

Today I will share a few reasons why we should take our children to church, and a few things that we have found helpful as we have brought our children along to Sunday services.

Anyone who knows our family in real life will know that we don't always (or ever!) look like a model family. We are a real family with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. Some weeks our Sundays are hard work, though more and more often we find that they go well. I hope that some of the ideas that have helped me over the last few years will benefit others too.

So, why should we take our children to church?

1) God's Command.

The Bible clearly and unequivocally commands God's people to meet together.
Hebrew 10:24-25 says:  And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

2) Children are part of God's people.

It is clear throughout scripture that children were present when God's people met together. For example, in the letter to Ephesians (among others), written to be read to God's people, children are addressed directly: Ephesians 6:1: Children, obey your parents in the Lord.

3) Love for your children.

Meeting with God's people, to hear God's Word, to pray together and to praise God together is a tremendous blessing which I want to share with my children.

Most parents have no problem in insisting their children attend school for their children's own good, but many waver about church.

They may even insist on music lessons or sports clubs, but waver about church.

Our children, while they are young and under our authority, need us to make the best choices for them. We choose church for them because it is commanded, and because it is commanded for our good.

Given these convictions, how can we make it work?

1) Encourage your children to join in.

Some children find this easier than others, and we need to be both gentle and firm. We have always expected our children to stand up for songs, and to make an attempt at joining in once they can read the words. They listen to the reading, and follow it in their own Bibles once they can read. They join in the prayers.

2) Remember why you want your children there.

We want ours to benefit spiritually as they participate (and not to distract others by their behaviour).

We don't want our children to look good, but to receive the good that we gain from gathering as the people of God under the Word of God.

There is a difference between a child excitedly interrupting a Bible reading because they have spotted something in the passage they have never seen before, and because they have just remembered something about Minecraft. We need to not worry about how it looks to others, but about what is happening in the hearts of our children.

3) Sit at the front.

This may not work for everyone, but we find that it is much easier for our children to join in if they can see.

4) Pray before you leave.

I always pray with the children before we leave for church - pray for the service, for those teaching the Bible, and for ourselves, that we would learn from God's Word.

5) After-church bags.

Our children all bring something to do after the service (not before or during). Usually they are books or a small toy or two which they will generally share with other children there. Sometimes they will disappear off and read for a while after the service before we head home. It means that we can stay longer, and they enjoy bringing things in to show to their friends. One of our children regularly brings along his rock collection to share with one of his friends. Our younger two sit with some of the older members of our congregation at the coffee tables and enjoy books together.

6) Persevere.

Keep going! If we remember the reasons why we keep on taking our children to church, that will help us to keep on turning up, even after a tough week.

7) Ask for help...

...or at least accept it when it is offered. An extra adult coming to sit with me has really helped me, especially when I had toddlers.

8) Encourage your children to get involved.

Our children help make sure that the chairs and pens and Bibles are ready for Sunday School. Often they will help me get things ready if I am teaching Sunday School that week. These are just small, and largely unseen ways, in which they can serve others.

Even now, heading off the church on a Sunday morning with my four children can make me a little nervous. Holding on to our convictions, and seeing our children (generally) glad to go along to church on a Sunday, helps us to keep going.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Inspiration and Encouragement

One of the more difficult things about home education is that it can be quite a lonely experience at times. Even if we are busy with groups or outings or meeting other families in the park, there is a lot of planning and teaching that I have to do on my own.

It can be easy to become discouraged, and to lose sight of the reasons you have chosen to home educate. Sometimes I assume that the difficulties I face are unique to me and my weaknesses, which can make it harder to keep going.

I also worry that things can get a bit stale after a while if I don't have fresh ideas to add to keep things interesting.

With these things in mind, last Saturday I invited a few fellow home educators round for the evening. We drank tea and ate cake together - always a good start!

Each of us also brought along a curriculum or book that we are using to show others so that we could share ideas. It was great to hear what others are using, and to be inspired to try new activities. One friend has been doing poetry teas with her children. I had read about them on her blog, but our social evening was the push I needed to give it a go today. We had popcorn and poems for half an hour, and my children proclaimed it a success!

Another friend reminded us that focussing on character and attitude is vital. Again, this has helped me this week to focus on encouraging my children to do their work or their jobs with a cheerful attitude. Her godly perspective has been a real help to me.

Home educating is a great privilege, and is often a lot of fun. It is also an enormous responsibility, and a requires hard work. Meeting with others for encouragement and inspiration has refreshed and strengthened me as I press on this week.

Friday, 2 October 2015

10 Years a Parent - A Humbling Experience

Today my eldest has turned 10.

He's turned from a little squidge into a mini-person who is looking forward to looking down on me.

10 years ago...

...earlier this year. He's grown, I've greyed!

He's grown in height, in knowledge, in love and maturity. I thank God for the person he's becoming.

I've grown too.

Having children is a humbling experience.

Right from the word go, you realise that you cannot make a baby sleep, or learn to sit up or crawl on schedule. They may be tiny, but they take over your life. They are dependent on you - a total amateur.

Then they learn to speak - and to argue. To walk - and to run off. Every milestone is both a joy, and a bringer of new challenges. The Bible tells of the tension of beautiful humans, made in God's image and yet marred by sin; we see this played out in our own children daily.

I had sort of envisaged my children being a bit like me, but without the rubbish bits. The reality is I see my weaknesses reflected back at me as much as I share interests with my children. They also have strengths I lack, and I have had to learn to help with struggles that I never imagined.

My own sinfulness has been made manifest too. I thought I was patient (Ha!). It turns out that my patience had never really been tested before. Having children has been an experience of learning to be patient.

I thought I had a reasonable idea of what I was getting into when we had our first baby. It turns out that teaching in Sunday School really does not prepare you for being a mother.

I like to think of myself as strong. I am daily reminded of my weaknesses, my need for God.

More than anything else, I find that what I desire for my children reveals the idols of my own heart.

I want them to be have comfort.

I want them to be spared pain.

I hope they will be clever and successful.

I don't want them to miss out on fun or experiences or on possessions.

I want everyone to like them. All the time.

If I'm not careful, these are the things that I long for, pray for, plan for. I guess they are the things I'd really like for myself.

So, what should I long for? What do I pray for in my better moments?

I long that each of them will keep on trusting Jesus.

I pray that their actions and their words would reflect their love for Jesus.

I ask that God would make them more Christ-like- even if that means facing suffering.

I pray that they will be prepared to lose all things for the sake of Christ - and know that they have riches that last forever.

Our children have brought us enormous joy, and we thank God for them. The Lord has also graciously used these last ten years to help us to grow in our dependence on Him.