Engaging Your Neighborhood This Halloween

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Parenting Points

Halloween is October’s national holiday, yet for some Christians, Halloween is taboo. Due to the evil nature of the day with ghosts, goblins, and devils, many Christians have sought to avoid the day by either turning off all the lights to hide from kids in costumes or running down to the local church for the latest “fall festival” activity. But what if Halloween became a strategic day for your family to build connections with your neighbors?

When it comes to cultural engagement, theologians have debated over the course of many pages what the appropriate Christian response is to engaging culture. Should Christians seek just to become another part of the broader culture? Should we create our own Christianized copy of the culture (i.e., fall festivals)? Or should we seek to look thoughtfully for opportunities to step into a cultural moment to shine as the light in the darkness? In the middle of the darkness of Halloween, followers of Jesus have an excellent opportunity to be the light. In choosing to be the light in the darkness, we can be like John the Baptist, standing in the darkness and pointing to Jesus as the light: He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:7).

Your family has an opportunity to bear witness to Jesus’ light this Halloween. When we think of this statement, our minds may rush to ideas of passing out tracts at the door or making people listen to gospel presentations for a free mini-Snickers bar. Just as Jesus came into the darkness relationally, our approach to being the light of Jesus to our neighbors must first and foremost be relational. We want to love our neighbors well, befriend them, and point them to the hope we have found in Jesus through our words, actions, and deeds. Engaging your neighbors for Halloween begins by being intentional about being home on Halloween night. Halloween is a great night to meet neighbors and begin to build relationships. Through these connections, God may open doors to go deeper into relationships.

This Halloween may be a great opportunity for your family to stop hiding from your neighbors in the back of the house or run to attend the fall festival at the local church. Trading these activities may open the door for your home to be a place of light, hope, and healing for those around you.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com

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Parenting Points

It is easy for us to get caught in an every day Groundhog Day. Like the Bill Murray movie, we can find ourselves and our families constantly living the same routine, going to the same places, and interacting with the same people. 

If we take the time to stop and think about this, we end up filling our world and the worlds of our children with people who are just like us. We are likely of the same race, go to the same churches and schools, are in the same economic class, and have the same political views. We have not just created the repeating world of Groundhog Day; we have also created a world by us, for us, and many times surrounded by people just like us. When we live in a homogeneous world, we miss what God is doing in the world around us. As we seek to expand our view of the world, we will experience:

The Creativity of God. As we get to know people from different cultures and who live in different places, we see the creativity of God. He made all peoples and every culture in its own unique way expresses the beauty of its Creator.

The Depth of Need. When we go to another culture, we may see needs and opportunities where we can serve. We may have some resources, knowledge, and relationships that can be leveraged on behalf of others. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus to a needy world.

The Truth that Our Ways Are Not Always Best. In approaching another culture, we must come with a spirit of humility. We don’t know everything, and there is much that could grow in our own lives if we were willing to take the place of a student to learn from others. Experiencing other cultures helps us from falling deeply into the trap of believing that our ways are always the best and our world is the standard.

Let us look for everyday ways to break out of our little box of normal we have created to join God in what He is doing in the world around us. We will see God’s beauty, opportunities to join Him in mission, and can grow as we take the posture of a humble student.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com 

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Parenting Points

We live in a world where people feel alone. From the social separation of the pandemic to the distance of social media, many people feel like outsiders. As followers of Jesus, we are called to care for outsiders. 

In writing to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote of Jesus coming from heaven as an outsider into our broken world. He left heaven’s perfection to go into our world’s brokenness. The true outsider became an insider to rescue people like us living as outsiders on the margins, lost in our brokenness. In describing this picture of Jesus to the church, Paul writes that Christians should “let each of you not only look to your own interests, but also the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 ESV). We have been invited to join Jesus in engaging the outsiders in the world around us. 

Who are today’s outsiders? The outsider could be the single mom at church who doesn’t have a place in the church’s small group structure. The outsider could be the Afghan or Ukrainian refugee who has moved to your community. The outsider could be the new student at your child’s school. The outsider could be a widowed neighbor down the street. Here are three ways our families can seek to care for outsiders. 

1. Notice the Outsider. It is easy for us to get busy with our lives and miss the people God is putting on our path. Noticing takes both time and intention. Pray that God would open you and your family’s eyes to the outsiders around you. 

2. Engage the Outsider. Start a conversation, take them a meal, invite them to come to sit at the lunch table beside you, and tangibly show them love and grace. Be willing to get to know the outsiders around you.

3. Befriend the Outsider. Let the engagement be the launching point for the relationship. Bring them into the life of your family. Let them join the lunch group in the elementary school cafeteria. Go together to the ball game.

As we engage outsiders by inviting them to be a part of our family, we will be able to point people by our love and friendship to Jesus, who took outsiders like us and made us part of His family.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com 

 

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Special Feature

The words “until death part us” never rang truer in my thoughts that day. My grandfather was 101 years old when he said his final goodbyes to the love of his life. My grandmother passed one month before their 77th wedding anniversary. Their commitment to lifelong marriage continues to be a source of inspiration to multiple generations. What a blessing!

Changing Times. Married couples like my grandparents create a place of safety for their children by simply staying together whether rich or poor… in sickness and in health… for better or for worse. This kind of marital commitment has become as rare as VHS video tapes. 

Today, more than forty percent of children are born to unwed mothers. In 1970, that figure was ten percent. Robert Rector, a Senior Research Fellow for The Heritage Foundation, offered this surprising fact in an article on poverty and unwed births: “Most out-of-wedlock births occur to men and women in their early twenties. Half of the women who have children are cohabiting with the father at the time of the birth; 75 percent are in a romantic relationship with the father.”

The Safest Place for Children. Millions of children in America not only witness the destruction of their families, but they also live with the aftermath. They are the unintended sufferers. Children do not have the luxury of choosing their parents. Growing into healthy adulthood can be a high-stakes proposition for many of them. Children need physical, spiritual, and emotional protection. The safest place on earth for a child is a home in which mom and dad are married, love each other, and model commitment. 

Live Christianly in your Marriage. Research shows children who grow up in intact families are healthier, less likely to commit crimes, and more likely to get married. In other words, one day they may also create safe places for their families.

Is your marriage safe for your children? Do your children see you interact with kindness or harshness? Let them see you apologize when you are impatient or make a mistake. Do they see you praying or reading the Bible together? These are a few ways to establish a safe haven for them. “The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him” (Proverbs 20:7).

-Alonza Jones

 President & Co-founder of Biblical Marriage Institute in Birmingham

www.BiblicalMarriageInstitute.org

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Parenting Points

Our current world is on edge. Division, finger pointing, and demonizing fill our news feeds. The only thing that we can agree on is our propensity to see our view as 100% correct and our opponent’s view as utterly flawed. We choose teams, draw lines, and feel justified in defending our opinion because we are clearly right. As Christians, many of us have jumped headfirst into the pool of division without even considering what being a witness of God’s kingdom could look like.

In the middle of conflict, the Apostle Paul’s frequent words to his readers, “grace and peace,” ring out as a Gospel witness in the middle of a broken world. In this simple greeting used throughout Paul’s New Testament letters, he gives the churches he shepherds a picture of kingdom realities we as Christians should be seeking to embody. We may have become so lost in the moment’s drama that we forgot the kingdom we are called to represent as Jesus’ followers. Here are two things to remember.

1. As people of grace, we begin by remembering where we would be without grace. We are not better than others because we have received grace, but we have been invited to be givers of grace to others. As we extend grace, we realize that seats of judgment are not ours to take. We seek to lead with love. We assume people’s best intentions and seek to meet them where they are. As we model grace, we point to Jesus, who embodied grace to the point of giving His life.

2. As people of peace, we seek to bring people together at a common table. If you peer beyond the headlines, we are all humans seeking to make it through life the best we can. Peacemakers seek to be leaders in conversations that bring about a better world through collaboration. As we seek peace, we can truly see the beauty in diversity that God has made in people made in His image.

What could it look like for your family to be a beacon of light shining grace and peace into our divided world? Your family could be willing to become a place where people are welcomed with love and grace, where best intentions are assumed, and where honest conversations can happen as people made in the image of God can bring about a better world that may look a little more like God’s kingdom.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com 

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Parenting Points

For many parents, trying to disciple their kids is a daunting task. As followers of Jesus, parents are always on a journey to grow in their faith, so it can be challenging to teach your kids something you have not personally “mastered.” The church then compounds family discipleship with models, materials, and expectations that result in more guilt over failing to be a “good Christian parent” than helping to encourage you to disciple your kids.

On Facebook the other day, someone shared a statement that points to the truth of the simplicity of conversations of faith in the discipleship of the next generation. “If your kids can support your chosen sports team, you can disciple your kids.” It is that simple. If we are passionate about Jesus and our faith, discipleship through faith conversations will naturally occur in our homes. Discipleship may be as simple as teaching our kids to yell “Roll Tide” or “War Eagle.”

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses describes the character of God and goes on to explain how the truths about God would be passed to the next generation: And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise,” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV).

For Moses and the Jewish people, discipleship in the character and ways of God came through everyday conversations. The Word of God was at work in the parent’s hearts, bringing spiritual transformation to them. This transformation overflowed in natural conversations during daily life with the family about God as the family sat down together, when they went from one place to the next, at bedtime, and in the morning. Faith conversations became the discipleship of everyday life. 

If discipleship comes through intentionally walking with Jesus and inviting our kids to walk alongside us, every Christian parent can be a disciple. The excuses of “mastery” and not being “good enough” fade away when we realize the same God in His grace at work in our lives is the One at work in our kids’ lives.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com 

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Parenting Points

The countdown is on, and summer is just around the corner. Students anticipate the break from school. Parents long for a change of pace. And everyone just needs some sun, warm weather, and a change of scenery.

The author of Ecclesiastes writes, “for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 ESV). The author then goes on to list seven more verses of different moments and experiences that each happen in their own time. As you prepare and plan times for the summer season, here are three things to consider making moments of time to experience.

1. People. Relationships with other people matter and your family’s life will be strengthened by connections to others. Do you know the other families on your street? Who are people with which your family has lost connection? Do you have an old neighbor that moved or a relative that lives out of town? Who are some people in need around you who your family can serve? Could you be intentional to meet and build a friendship with someone from a different culture or race? 

2. Places. Alabama is blessed with many small towns which each have their own different charm and experience. What if your family took a day trip to a small town? What if you went on a family hike to a new place? What if your family went out to eat at a local restaurant in a different part of town? Trips to places do not have to be expensive or far away.

3. Lessons and Stories. With school on break for summer, you have a great opportunity to teach your kids something new. What is a story from the Bible that you can share with your kids that they may not have heard before? Have you shared your own testimony with your kids about God’s faithfulness in your life? Have your children heard stories from their grandparent’s childhood and life experiences? What is a new hobby that your family can learn together?

As we anticipate a change in pace and seasons, let’s be intentional to maximize our summertime by looking for people, places, lessons, and stories that can help our family make the most of the time.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com 

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Parenting Points

One of the most important days on the Christian calendar is Easter. We remember the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and celebrate the truth that without it, Paul reminds us, “our preaching is in vain and our faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV). If the resurrection and remembering the resurrection are essential, how do we pause, reflect, and engage with this good news?

In some church traditions, people have used the church calendar to connect to the story of the Bible more deeply. Though this may be foreign to you and your past church experience, your family could pause to engage with the message of Easter by observing the season of Lent.

What is Lent? Lent is a 40-day time beginning with Ash Wednesday (March 2) and ending with the Thursday before Easter (April 14). It is modeled after Jesus’ time of fasting in the desert found in the Gospels, where He set aside time to seek God and grow deeper in His relationship with the Father.  Lent is intended to be a time of reflection and grief about our sin and the brokenness of our world. This season is broken by the great celebration of Easter with a resurrected Jesus who conquered sin and death and will come again to make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5 ESV).

How would pausing for Lent strengthen my family’s faith? Taking time to pause would allow your family to seek to connect with God in this season intentionally. As Jesus went to the desert to commune with God, we create a place of desert in our own lives and families. We give up some things to create a space for God to speak to us and for us to commune with Him. We choose to adjust our family priorities for a season to remember our need for God and to prepare to celebrate God’s great rescue of us. 

What are some practical ideas on how to celebrate Lent? As a family, decide something that you will give up to connect more deeply with God. You could give up the extra TV show, desserts at dinner, or get up a few minutes early to add a family prayer time or Bible study. There are also several family Lent devotionals online which may be helpful.

In this season of preparation, let us journey into the wilderness to be reminded of who we are, our need for God’s grace, and experience the power of the resurrection this Easter Sunday. 

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com

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Parenting Points

Kids cannot wait to grow up. From countdowns to the next birthday to dreams of getting out of the house, kids want to rush into adulthood because they believe the grass is greener on the other side. However, the failure of the alluring promises of adulthood is clearly displayed in the popular slogan: “I can’t adult today.”

Adulting is overrated because with freedom comes the pressure of responsibility. It is fun to spend money however you want but making money to spend is more of an effort than anticipated. It is great to be able to have a family but with family comes the complexities of relationships and raising kids. Adulting comes with the constant challenge to deliver and perform. As adults, we dream of a simpler day and time. We think of our childhood as the glory days, yet we often wish that we could return to that place of rest, and affirmation we experienced as a kid. What if there was a place where we could go back?

When it comes to our faith, we take the performance-driven tools of adulting and seek to apply them to our relationship with Jesus. We launch Bible reading plans to accomplish daily reading habits. We set goals to pray more. We plan on having a daily family devotion with our kids. We commit to being more intentional to serve others. When February comes and our best-made plans are lost to the struggles of real life, where do we turn? Do we double-down our efforts to salvage a mediocre performance? Or do we realize Jesus didn’t call us to perform for Him but simply to be with Him? “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1 ESV). The invitation from Jesus is to become a child again- to experience His love. We can crawl like a little child into the lap of our loving Father to draw deeper into our relationship with Him. God’s love for us is not based on our efforts, but Jesus’ effort for us at the cross.

As beloved children, we can lay down the pressure to perform. We can set aside the stress of adulting. We can rest in the arms of the One who is true love, and for some indescribable reason, He has decided to shower His love upon us.

Ben BirdsongDr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com

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Parenting Points

Serving as a family is an activity that can both show the power of the gospel through your family and remind you of the sacrifice of Jesus as the Servant who suffered. Taking time to serve is so simple, yet we often miss opportunities around us to serve because we don’t take time to understand what great things God could do in and through our families when we serve.

Serving others reflects the Gospel. Serving others stands at the heart of the message of the gospel. As people who follow Jesus, we should be people who are willing to serve others and love them as we follow a Savior who came to serve us by going to the cross for our sin. Our service reflects the heart of Jesus who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV).

Serving others reorients our priorities. Through service, your family is also invited to put their needs to the side to serve and care for others. For people who so easily get consumed by our own needs and wants, it is good for us to be reminded of how Jesus and His kingdom defines greatness: “the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 ESV). Serving realigns your family to kingdom priorities.

Serving others allows us to discover and use our gifts. By using our gifts and talents to serve others, we determine what gifts, talents, and passions God has given us and the Holy Spirit has empowered us with. As we use our gifts, we are “good stewards of God’s varied grace” as we “serve by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:10-11 ESV). God gives us strength and shows us that we can be His hands and feet to serve others in the world.

Serving others displays the glory of God. When we see God’s work in our own gifts being given to serve others, we can only point the credit to the One who truly deserves it. We serve “in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11 ESV).

As you begin the new year as a family, take time to be intentional to plan time to serve others as a family. You will be amazed at how your service displays the gospel, changes your perspective, leads you to discover your gifts, and brings glory to God.

Ben Birdsong-Dr. Ben Birdsong 

Missions Minister at Christ Church Birmingham

Writer and Speaker

www.benbirdsong.com

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