Category archives: Family

Of Guns and Prodigal Fathers

by Peter Sprigg

March 16, 2018

After a school shooter murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, the calls by liberals for new gun control laws were predictable, and received blanket coverage in the mainstream media.

Gun rights activists, in another unsurprising response, resisted efforts to blame the weapon rather than the killer, promoting instead ideas like arming teachers to defend their students.

I’ve been heartened to see that a number of pro-family conservatives have pointed out a third factor that must be addressed when examining violence in our society—the role of family structure, and specifically the negative effects of fatherlessness on boys and young men. The Parkland shooter (whose name I choose not to publicize) was fatherless, just like many other perpetrators of mass murders. Yet most of the media have not focused on this issue.

Susan L. M. Goldberg was one of the first to raise the issue, at PJ Media. Former Sen. Rick Santorum also raised it in a CNN interview. Unfortunately, one statistic that was cited multiple times turned out to be unverified (at this writing, it lives on in a headline at Patheos: “Of the 27 Deadliest Mass Shooters, 26 of Them Had One Thing in Common.”) Paul Kengor, a scrupulous scholar from Grove City College, apologized for having cited this number in a piece in Crisis Magazine. After studying the available (albeit incomplete) data more closely, Kengor said that

[W]e found maybe four or five of the 27 shooters that we could definitively conclude (without doubt) had been raised in an intact family, or a family that included the biological dad at home, or a biological father who was consistently at home… .

At this point, however, what is clear is the vast majority of shooters came from broken families without a consistent biological father throughout their rearing and development. Very few had good, stable, present dads.

(I would also note that the CNN list of the “deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history,” starting in 1949 and apparently first compiled in 2013, has now been updated to include 34 incidents, not 27. Only four of those, however, have been in schools, and another three at colleges.)

What is perhaps more compelling than the anecdotal evidence from the most extreme events is the overall data regarding the link between fatherlessness and crime and violence. Here is edited data I accessed from the National Fatherhood Initiative in 2015:

Father Factor in Emotional and Behavioral Problems

      • Children born to single mothers show higher levels of aggressive behavior than children born to married mothers. Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, 2007.

 . . .

Father Factor in Crime

      • A study of 109 juvenile offenders indicated that family structure significantly predicts delinquency.
        Source: Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2000.
      • [H]igher social encounters and frequent communication with nonresident biological fathers decreased adolescent delinquency.
        Source: Child Development, 2007.
      • [A] more positive father-child relationship predicts a reduced risk of engagement in multiple first risky behaviors. The positive influence of the father-child relationship on risk behaviors seemed to be stronger for male than for female adolescents.
        Source: Journal of Family Issues, 2006.
      • [I]f the number of fathers is low in a neighborhood, then there is an increase in acts of teen violence. Source: Journal of Marriage and Family, 2005.
      • In a study of INTERPOL crime statistics of 39 countries, it was found that single parenthood ratios were strongly correlated with violent crimes. Source: Cross-Cultural Research, 2004.

NFI also offers these graphics as free downloads:

 

 

An infographic from the National Center for Fathering reports the following:

Fatherless children are:

  • 11 times more likely to have violent behavior
  • 20 times more likely to be incarcerated

and:

  • 70% of adolescents in juvenile correctional facilities come from fatherless homes
  • 60% of rapists were raised in fatherless homes

It’s clear we have a problem of what we might call “prodigal dads” in our society. (Writer Doug Mainwaring used that term in a piece last year in Public Discourse, “May I Please Speak to My Daddy?”)

More powerful, though, than statistics may be a three-minute film produced recently by students at Gordon College, an evangelical school in Massachusetts (full disclosure: my son is one of those students). If you want to illustrate the pain of fathers and children who are separated, consider sharing “Prodigal.”

Women Speak: A Panel Discussion on Real Issues that Women Face Today

by Family Research Council

March 9, 2018

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, FRC hosted a panel discussion with women staffers to discuss a variety of issues that women face today.

In a wide-ranging and animated conversation, topics included how the modern feminist agenda intentionally excludes conservative women, the trials and joys of being a stay-at-home mom, the challenges and opportunities of being a working mom, the value of flexibility in workplace policies, the role that husbands have in empowering and enabling their wives to achieve their goals, how the #MeToo movement has exposed ugly realities about the dynamics of power and a Hollywood culture of self-indulgence, and more.

Some fascinating questions are explored here. Can women have it all—both at home and at work? Is personal identity more important than ideals? Can society expect men to treat women with respect when the reality of biological sex itself is being challenged? How can the conservative movement and Christian ministry do more to give women opportunities to succeed and to lead? Don’t miss this enlightening and candid discussion.

Gentle Strength: Why I’m Not a Feminist

by Cassidy Rich

March 6, 2018

The feminist movement is in full swing and nothing seems to be stopping it. Women are breaking away from the “chains” of oppression and showing the world what they can do. In a slew of my college classes I heard young women talk about how they do not want to be controlled by a man or submit to their husband. Being strong, independent, and successful in the corporate world seems to be what defines women today. Interning in Washington, D.C. and personally witnessing the Women’s March made me realize this in ways I didn’t want to. Thousands of women (and even some men) walked the streets of our nation’s capital holding vulgar and obscene posters that supposedly showed strength and independence, but instead made my stomach turn while also saddening my heart.

With all the gender equality lingo being thrown around these days, I was surprised to hear a girl in my Women’s History class say, “I know that some women look down upon this, but I want to be a stay-at-home mom.” Hearing those words come out of her mouth with such conviction was a breath of fresh air. So often, women want to define themselves by showing how they can do just as good of a job as men, if not better. But what if women were designed to do what men cannot do in order to complement one another and bring glory to God? What if women were created to do something different and special that men do not even have the ability to do? What if all women need to do to show their greatness is embrace the role God gave them, even if society may look down on it?

So what does God say about the role of women? Ephesians 5:22 says, “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” We must recognize that this verse is often taken out of context, and feminists use it as a way to bash the Bible. They seem to think that this verse says they shouldn’t stand up for themselves and have to do whatever their husband demands. This passage is actually much more nuanced than that, for the following verses instruct husbands to love their wives “just as Christ loved the Church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.” Accordingly, God holds men specifically to this standard, as He is instructing husbands to love their wives perfectly just as His love is flawless. Obviously, this is impossible because we are sinful human beings who will never, ever be able to do anything perfectly. God says that He wants husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church because that is what He wants husbands to strive towards. God gave husbands a target to aim at so they know what God expects of them. Women who are married to godly, righteous men willingly submit to their husbands because they know that their husbands love them well, treat them with respect, and honor them. My dad is the most wonderful example of this kind of love.

I’m not a feminist and I don’t plan on ever becoming one. I believe women should have the right to an education and the freedom to pursue their dreams, but I don’t agree with women demeaning men, not taking responsibility for their actions, and trying to show how they can do a man’s job for no other reason than to cut men down. God created men and women equally and doesn’t look at one gender more favorably than the other, but God created men to be the head of the family. My dad demonstrated this beautifully during my younger years and continues to do so to this day. He leads my family with the gentle strength that God talks about in Ephesians 5. My dad loves my mom as Christ loves the church because he listens to my mom’s opinions, suggestions, and ideas and takes them into consideration. He tirelessly serves my family to make sure we have everything we need, and then some. He is not perfect by any means, but this is one of the things I love most about my dad. He admits when he is wrong, asks for forgiveness, and strives to do better. As I heard more about feminism in my college years, I thought for a while as to why I didn’t subscribe to what I was hearing. When I came home from class one day, it suddenly dawned on me.

I am not a feminist because my dad plays his God-given role as a husband and father. My father shows me unconditional love, supports me in pursuing my dreams, and tells me when he thinks one of my ideas is simply a bad idea. When I was younger and incredibly stubborn, my dad constantly reminded me to submit to his and my mom’s authority. I didn’t want to because I thought my parents were dumb and oblivious, but now that I’m an adult I realize that my dad was trying to prepare me to make my faith my own and submit to God. Through my dad’s loving authority and gentle strength, God showed me that submitting to His authority results in a fulfilled life. It’s not an easy life and there are plenty of days when I don’t want to submit to God’s authority because it’s not what I want. I have to remind myself that it’s not about me, but instead it’s all about Him and His glory.

In this fallen world there is unfairness, and we may wonder why God has allowed things to be a certain way. But if we had all the answers, we wouldn’t need Him. He created us to reflect His glory and He has a plan that is truly greater than anything we can imagine. By following in His gentle strength I know I am loved, cared for, wanted, and accepted. That’s what women in the feminist movement desire, anyway. They are trying to find acceptance and equality but are searching down all the wrong avenues. As Katy Perry sang in her “Unconditionally” song: “Acceptance is the key to be, to be truly free….” It’s by surrendering to Christ that we find true acceptance and freedom, for He is the restorer of all things and is the standard of gentle strength.

Receiving the Love That We Need: How to Find Healing from Past Wounds

by Family Research Council

February 28, 2018

The following is based on a talk given by a priest who works with married and engaged couples in the Archdiocese of Washington.

When we find ourselves frustrated with our own shortcomings and how they are affecting our loved ones, we often think we know what we need to change about ourselves, but the Lord usually has other plans. There are deeper wounds he wants to get to first because they are much more serious.

One example of this in Scripture is the men who bring the paralytic to Jesus in Mark’s Gospel. They think they know what needs to be healed in the man—his paralysis. But the first thing Jesus says to the paralyzed man is: “Your sins are forgiven.” Jesus knows that the interior wounds the man has are the first things that need to be healed, because they are preventing him from receiving Christ’s divine life and entering into his eternal reward.

Just as a doctor needs to check a patient’s symptoms to diagnose the problem, so to do interior wounds need to be diagnosed to figure out the source of our unhappiness.

A lot of the spiritual wounds we have come from our mother and father. Whether they intended to or not, our parents most likely did things that negatively affected us and can remain with us the rest or our lives. For example, if your parents are perfectionists, this can affect your self-esteem because you may think that nothing you do will ever be good enough. If you’ve been abandoned by them or have felt like they have abandoned you, you will most likely be especially anxious when you feel like someone is abandoning you or not tending to your needs later in life. If you have been abused by a family member in any way, this could affect your ability to be intimate with a loved one later in life, both physically and emotionally. All of these things can leave lasting wounds that can bubble up in other ways later in life if they are not dealt with properly.

To Find Healing, Focus on Causes, Not Symptoms

If we still carry some lingering resentment from something that was said or done to us when we were younger, this can affect how we treat our spouse and children.

If we get angry or impatient easily or find it difficult to forgive, it’s important to ask: why? Why do we feel this way? God doesn’t make us this way. God doesn’t create us to be angry, bitter, resentful, etc. It is obvious that part of the reason is the effects of sin, but part of it is also what has been done to us. Wounds from the past still affect us today. People often say that they get impatient or angry easily—this could very well be from a sensitivity to something from the past that has not been healed. It’s akin to having a cut on your arm—if pressure is applied to it, you will probably howl with pain.

These kind of wounds are often passed down from generation to generation. What are some negative memories of your mom or dad? How did it make you feel? Have you forgiven them? Is there still resentment because of that experience or something else? How has that wound affected your marriage or your parenting? Are there other wounds from your past that affect how you treat your spouse or your children? Have you ever spoken about this with your spouse?

Two of the greatest sources of tension in marriage are bad communication and unmet expectations. Consider if there is any resentment in your marriage about anything. This is a door that the devil uses to get in to destroy marriages and bring division.

So how do we find healing? We first need to bring everything to the Lord with complete honesty, bluntness, and even tears, and this is perfectly okay. Jesus is the healer of all our wounds. He is the one who has created us, so he knows what we need at the deepest level.

Some of you may find this difficult if you believe that God the Father is a judgmental, perfectionistic, hard-driving father. If this is the case, you’ll never want to be near him. If you’ve felt like you’ve never been loved by your dad, for example, it will be much harder for you to experience the love of our Heavenly Father.

It is best not to focus on the symptoms of a wound but instead to focus on the cause of them. It does no good to try and bury them further and say, “It’s in the past; it will go away.” This doesn’t work—it will only make the wound worse because then we aren’t getting to the root of the problem. Covering a wound up with bandages may stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t mean the underlying problem is healed.

Talking About the Past Is Painful, but Necessary

Explicitly forgiving our parents (or any other family member) for hurting us and telling them how we feel is very difficult, but it is also very necessary. It’s important to remember that forgiving our loved ones does not depend on them—it is an act on our part of freedom. If we don’t forgive somebody who has hurt us, it’s like carrying a heavy object around with us wherever we go, and it will affect everything we do—resentment must simply be let go of. It’s important to formally renounce resentment and unforgiveness through prayer.

When addressing past wounds with your parents, keep in mind that it will probably not be helpful to immediately overwhelm them with all the things you felt you were wronged by in childhood. Act with prudence in bringing up this sensitive topic. If you specifically address this in prayer beforehand, the Lord will show you if there is something that really needs to be addressed personally with your parents. If you don’t feel comfortable at first, you may gradually sense the freedom that you want to have (that you don’t have at the moment) to be able to talk about a wound with them in the future.

As for your own children, don’t let yourself become overly worried about how your wounds are affecting them. Most people, especially kids, have the ability to forgive you for a wrong you may have done, especially if you ask for forgiveness soon after the incident occurred. This kind of conscientious approach will go a long way toward insuring that our shortcomings will not affect our family with any regularity.

God Sees Us As We Are: His Infinitely Lovable Children

It is vitally important to renounce the lies that we often hear in our heads—“you’re not good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, hardworking enough,” etc. They’re all lies from the devil, who is the father of lies. That’s a way the devil uses to get into our lives. When we accept and believe the lie, then the devil has a foothold.

We must renounce these lies because God did not create junk. God created us to be infinitely lovable and extraordinary. That’s how we are in his eyes. That’s how he sees us right now. It’s like how we look at our children. We know they are not perfect, but we nevertheless look at them with great love and love them as they are. God loves us into being where we need to be.

Think of the woman at the well in John’s Gospel who had five husbands who didn’t love her—that doesn’t say anything about her worth. Jesus responded to her with patience and love, showing to her her true worth in his eyes. We have to agree that we are who God says we are and not as other people try to define us as being.

Receiving the Love That We Need

Getting good spiritual direction from a trusted pastor or priest is key to finding healing. Please note that this should not be seen as a substitute for getting counseling/psychological help, if necessary. We must remember that any wound takes time to heal.

Our spouses play a key role in healing as well. Hearing a kind word from our spouses—something from the heart that isn’t flattery or said to get something—can be very healing. At the same time, it’s vital to have permission to be direct (in a loving way) with your spouse if there is an issue in the relationship that needs to be addressed.

What all of this really boils down to is receiving the love that we need. Never take that for granted—the need we all have to hear something good about ourselves. Jesus has plenty of good things to say if we go to him in prayer—give the Lord the chance to tell you what he thinks. When we have the courage to take off the bandages and ask the Lord’s help to see what’s there (with the help of a spiritual director/counselor if necessary), prudently but candidly discuss what we find with our families, and offer forgiveness where needed, the Divine Physician will reward our efforts by healing even our deepest wounds.

Billy Graham’s Stand on Religious Liberty, Life, and Marriage and Family

by Family Research Council

February 21, 2018

Over the course of his 58 years in public ministry and well into his retirement years, Dr. Billy Graham, “America’s Pastor,” did not hesitate to stand up for religious liberty, life, and marriage and family.

Religious Liberty

  • In the founding era of our country, it was not organized religion but personal faith that brought focus and unified the early leadership—maybe an unspoken faith in God, and certain values that came with that faith. So in that sense, we cannot discount, in my judgment, religious faith in politics.” (Newsweek – Aug. 13, 2006)
  • Americans have always fought for freedom. This is why America was founded — to worship the one true God openly with no fear of tyranny. Our early fathers led our nation according to Biblical principles … Our country is turning away from what has made it so great, but far greater than the government knowing our every move that could lead to losing our freedom to worship God publicly, is to know that God knows our every thought; He knows our hearts need transformation.” (Newsmax – Oct. 5, 2013)

Life

  • I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life…” (Los Angeles Times – Oct. 21, 2012)

Marriage and Family

  • I believe the home and marriage is the foundation of our society and must be protected… The Bible is clear—God’s definition of marriage is between a man and a woman.” (USA Today – May 3, 2012)
  • The greatest career is being a mother … And if you’re interviewed sometime on television or Phil Donahue, say ‘I’m a housewife and a mother’ and be proud of it.” (The Oklahoman – Oct. 27, 1983)

  • Many people enter into a marriage without realizing this is for keeps. It’s to be permanent. The tension is normal, but it can result in strength if you take those [problems] to God.” (The Oklahoman – Oct. 27, 1983)

How the New Tax Bill Helps Families

by Andrew Guernsey

January 4, 2018

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1 “TCJA”), signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2017, provides numerous provisions that benefit working families.

Child Tax Credit

The Child Tax Credit (CTC) has a positive impact on individual families and the economy as a whole and helps parents bear the costs of raising their children.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increases the CTC for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by:

  • Increasing the CTC to $2,000 for children under 17;
  • Making the CTC refundable up to $1,400 (indexed for inflation) for low-income working families based on
    • 15 percent of earned income in excess of $2,500; or
    • (if greater) the amount of payroll taxes in excess of the earned income tax credit, for a taxpayer with three or more qualifying children;
  • Removing the CTC marriage penalty for the income phase-out, and increasing the income threshold to $200,000 for single filers and $400,000 for married couples filing jointly;
  • Providing a $500 non-refundable Family Care Credit credit for dependents who don’t receive the CTC; and
  • Requiring a qualifying child to have a Social Security Number for a taxpayer to claim the CTC

Obamacare’s Individual Mandate Penalty

Starting in 2019, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act eliminates Obamacare’s individual mandate penalty. This helps many working families obtain relief from being forced into an Obamacare health insurance plan. Repealing the individual mandate penalty also allows individuals to forgo purchasing coverage if doing so violates their conscience. This is especially relevant for individuals who live in the states where there are few or no pro-life health insurance plans that exclude coverage of abortion.

Marriage Penalties

Marriage penalties exist in the tax code and also in welfare programs. The penalty generally applies in the tax code when a tax deduction or credit applies to single and married persons based on income, but a married couple is eliminated from receipt of the benefit making less than 200 percent of an eligible single person’s income.

Income Tax Brackets

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has no marriage penalties for five of seven tax income brackets for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).

  • Marriage bonus in the 22 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent lower rate than single filers for the first $25,000 they make over $140,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $500 bonus, decreasing income taxes by up to 1.41 percent.
  • Small marriage penalty in the 32 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have an 8 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $5,000 they make over $315,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $400 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 0.61 percent.
  • Large marriage penalty in the 37 percent bracket. Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher income tax rate than single filers for the first $400,000 they make over $600,000 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,000 penalty, increasing income taxes by up to 2.59 percent.

Alternative Minimum Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduces marriage penalties for the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it) by removing the marriage penalty for the AMT income phase-out ($500,000 for single filers and $1 million for married couples filing jointly). TCJA retains the marriage penalty for the AMT exemption ($70,300 for single filers and $109,400 for married couples filing jointly).

  • Due to the marriage penalty in the AMT exemption,
    • Married couples filing jointly are taxed at 26 percent higher rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $109,400 in taxable income. This is a maximum $8,112 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 22.19 percent.
    • Married couples filing jointly have a 2 percent higher AMT tax rate than single filers for the first $31,200 they make over $295,700 in taxable income. This is a maximium $624 penalty, increasing the AMT by up to 0.71 percent.

Other Marriage Penalty Provisions

  • Retains a marriage penalty for the $10,000 State and local income tax (SALT), property tax, and/or sales tax deduction, which is equal in amount for single filers and married couples filing jointly. This is a maximum $3,700 penalty.
  • Removes the marriage penalty in the Child Tax Credit phase-out ($200,000 for single filers, $400,000 for married couples filing jointly).
  • Fails to address the marriage penalty for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Alimony Deduction

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently repeals the alimony deduction, which subsidizes divorce. A divorced couple can often achieve a better tax result by receiving a tax break for payments between them than a married couple can. Removing the alimony deduction restores equitable treatment for divorced and married couples’ expenses for child support.

529 Education Savings Accounts

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act permanently allows 529 education savings accounts to be used for up to $10,000 per year per child for K-12 tuition expenses at an elementary or secondary public, private, or religious school.

529 plan contributions have tax-free earnings and are exempt from the annual federal gift tax if under $14,000 for that year ($28,000 for married couples filing jointly). Contributions to 529 plans receive significant tax breaks in many states. Previously, the 529 plans were only allowed to be used for higher education related expenses.

Death Tax

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act doubles the tax exclusion from the estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” thereby shielding from taxation the first $11.2 million (indexed for inflation) of bequeathed assets. This provision applies for 2018 through the end of 2025 (unless Congress renews it).

The death tax is double taxation that handicaps families, and particularly family-owned businesses, by imposing heavy and burdensome taxes on bequeathed assets. Families often work as a unit to build their small businesses, but when a parent dies with the intention of leaving his or her small business to the children who helped build it, that transfer of assets is often taxed at such high rates that the business cannot continue operating and pay the government, causing the grieving family to close the business’s doors.

Adoption Tax Credit

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act retains the adoption tax credit in current law, which is currently a $13,570 non-refundable credit per eligible child (with a phase out for wealthier individuals). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, in 2015 over 111,000 children were waiting to be adopted. Maintaining the adoption tax credit in current law helps adoptive children find loving families.

Standard Deduction and Charitable Giving

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act repeals the deduction for personal exemptions, including the taxpayer, the taxpayer’s spouse, and any dependents. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for the taxpayer and taxpayer’s spouse into a larger standard deduction. The standard deduction is substantially increased from $6,300 to $12,000 for individuals and from $12,700 to $24,000 for married couples (and surviving spouses), giving working parents more take-home pay to provide for their families. The legislation consolidates the personal exemption for children and dependents into the expanded child tax credit and a new family tax credit to care for non-child dependents. However, increasing the standard deduction could harm charitable giving, including to nonprofits and churches, since fewer people will likely itemize.

5 Great Resources That Help Kids Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 11, 2017

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung covers the entire Bible in ten amazingly succinct and beautifully illustrated chapters. DeYoung created the book to be the one resource you use to tell your family about how Christ came to us as a baby to bring us back to Eden by dying on the cross. I encourage you to read this book with your young children during the days leading up to Christmas. You could also cuddle up by the fire and read the entire volume in one sitting with kids of all ages. All members of your family will enjoy reading The Biggest Story. And if you want to watch the story, you can buy the animated video of the book.

A Family Christmas Treasury by Adrian Rogers

Adrian Rogers desires for everyone to experience the joy of Christmas found through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He begins each devotion with reflections on a Bible verse and ends each devotion with a family activity such as writing a Christmas card to someone you love or creating a jar to collect money for church. Each devotion is designed to engage both you and your children. If you are looking for a Christmas devotion for you family, I encourage you to try A Family Christmas Treasury.

The Expected One by Scott James

Scott James wrote this great little book specifically with your kids in mind. Each devotion contains a Scripture passage, a small explanation of the verse(s) and 2-3 questions (with answers) to prompt some family discussion. The chapter also features a small question to help you apply the passage to your life. This book begins on December 1st and ends on December 25th so it does not follow the traditional Advent calendar and does not come with song suggestions. But if you are a touch creative and have young children with short attention spans, I think you will really like The Expected One.

Prepare Him Room by Marty Machowski

Marty Machowski shows your kids the beauty of the Christmas story by having you light candles, look at nativity scenes, and reflect on Scripture. He built each week’s devotion around key passages from the Christmas story. He placed a chapter from his original Christmas story about the orphan Bartimaeus at the end of each Advent week. In addition to being biblical and easy to understand, the devotions are also infused with object lessons, Christmas carols, and crafts. Marty Machowski has helpfully planned out your entire family’s Christmas devotional calendar. Moreover, you can download the music mentioned in the book here. And you can buy a teacher’s guide here if you want to bring this study into your Sunday school class room. If your family likes Christmas traditions, grab a copy of Prepare Him Room.

All Is Bright by Nancy Guthrie

Nancy Guthrie created a devotional that your kids can do. Each day features a one page devotion and a coloring page that accents the lesson. If you have a child who loves to color and who wants to explore the Christmas season on their own, you will want to grab a copy of All Is Bright.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

5 Great Resources that Help Keep Christ in Christmas

by Peter Witkowski

December 8, 2017

The Christmas season can be a stressful time filled with a barrage of parties, shopping trips, and community events. Christmas is often crazy busy for families, but it can and should also be a time of great refreshment.

Is there better news than Christ has come to save us from our sins?

If we hope to focus on spending quality time with our families and reflecting on the gospel this Christmas, we must first focus our hearts on the beauty of Christ. We must first bolster our walk with the Lord and then bolster our family worship times. In Deuteronomy 6:1, parents are told to keep God’s word in their hearts. To teach our kids about God, we must be learning about God and growing in our faith.

Finding good devotional resources for Christmas can be taxing. Below are five great options. While not an exhaustive list, I hope my reviews will get you started in the right direction.

If you have a favorite Christmas devotion, I encourage you to mention it in the comment section below.

Come Let Us Adore Him by Paul David Tripp

Paul David Tripp masterfully interacts with the Christmas story, providing his readers with a wealth of practical applications. His book seeks to help keep us from losing sight of Jesus during the holiday season. Derived from a series of Christmas tweets, each devotional includes a scripture reference and ends with a parent’s section that will help mom and dad bring the devotional into family worship times. If you are seeking to warm your heart and your family’s heart towards the gospel, I encourage you to grab a copy of Come Let Us Adore Him.

From Heaven by A.W. Tozer

A.W. Tozer’s book reflects on his love for the Lord and for poetic expression. The author masterfully paints pictures and shares illustrations that help readers understand that the Scriptures associated with Christmas are plum with meaning. The devotions which have been compiled from Tozer’s sermons and editorials cover all 28 days of the Advent season. I encourage you to read From Heaven this Christmas.

Hidden Christmas by Timothy Keller

Timothy Keller beautifully reveals how the Christmas story pierces our dark and broken world with the light of the gospel. Though not designed as a devotional, the 145-page book will help you grasp the major themes of the Christmas story and will fit nicely into your devotional life with heartwarming reflections on the gospel. If you want to refocus your heart this Christmas or desire to be a better witness during the Christmas season, I encourage you to read Hidden Christmas.

The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

John Piper helps his readers grasp the important themes of the Christmas story by focusing on the secondary or theological texts of Christmas found in Acts, Hebrews, and the Pauline Epistles. It is a great resource, highlighting the beauty of our savior in short, two to three-page devotions. My wife and I have found Piper’s works encouraging and thought provoking. You will greatly benefit from reading The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.

God is in the Manger by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoffer’s words point the readers’ hearts to the true meaning of Christmas. Featuring the martyr’s sermons, poems, and personal letters, the book challenges readers to grapple with the Christmas story for the purpose of knowing God more. Arranged according to the traditional church calendar, the first four weeks are devoted to the themes of waiting, mystery, redemption, and incarnation. The final section features devotions for the twelve days of Christmas. If you are looking for a new and thought-provoking devotion, I encourage you to grab a copy of God is in the Manger.

Peter Witkowski is the Associate Pastor of Preschool and Children at First Baptist Church in Eastman, Ga.

Love to Give: An Adoption Story

by Alison Contreras

November 30, 2017

We weren’t a couple that “always knew they wanted to adopt.” It’s not something that we discussed before we were married.

What we definitely did discuss was our desire to be parents. I married my husband because he helped me be the better person I’d always wanted to be. In fact, that was the thought that made me giddy on the night we were engaged. This was the man who would father my children! Yes, children, plural. We both hoped to have a large family.

I do remember, however, the first time we discussed adoption. We were living in Mexico City, sitting in the pink living room of our tiny apartment that would shake every time a truck drove by, momentarily causing us each to wonder if it was actually an earthquake. The sunlight was streaming through the windows and I brought it up. “What do you think about adopting?” Like many couples who first have this conversation, we were waiting for children. At that point it had been over a year of trying to grow our family, which for NFP (natural family planning) teachers, we knew signaled something might be wrong.

What about international adoption? Do you think we could parent a child that didn’t look like us?” Those were some of the first overwhelming questions that we pondered. We didn’t exactly come to any conclusions, but I do remember my husband’s response. If we have love to give, why wouldn’t we adopt?

Fast forward a year. It was the summer of 2011 and we were back to living in the states. I was able to receive medical care to remove endometriosis. Three months after that surgery, during a dark and hopeless time if I’m honest, we conceived. Our son, Samuel, is now five. He was a blessing from God, a healing balm for my soul. It was when I was holding him in our rocker when he was just days old that I had one of the most profound spiritual moments of my life. “Enjoy this child I sent you and this moment, right here. You do not love him because you bore him, but because he was meant to be your son. You will love your other children in the same way.” In that moment the message I heard was blindingly clear. I’ve gone back to savor the peace that moment brought me many times during our adoption journey. God is faithful. He could be trusted, completely. We were called to adopt.

Now, if only God would have told my husband that so clearly!

What was so evidently a call from God needed more time to grow in my husband. And its not as if anyone “just adopts,” as our story is evidence of. He was right to see the many logistical hurdles to reconcile. So we began pursuing adoption as we do most things: researching as much as possible. Over the next few years we attended several in-person sessions and orientations of local agencies, trying to figure out what would be the best avenue for our family. Foster to adopt? Domestic adoption? International? If international, what country? Through a long process of elimination, including a desire to honor birth order, we eventually decided to adopt a toddler from China. I had lived in China during a summer in college and was always drawn to the country. Plus, I already spoke some Chinese.

Then, in August 2015, just a week after we made the decision to adopt from China, my husband was unexpectedly let go from his job. Fortunately, he found another one rather quickly and just three months later, within a week of starting his new job, we began our homestudy. It was November 2015, and we were beyond excited to finally be starting the adoption process.

Then came a massive swerve in our plan. In January 2016 we got the sudden call about a potential domestic adoption situation from a friend. Here was a woman making an adoption plan. Would we be willing to adopt a baby to be born in two months? This was much faster than we’d planned, but God wouldn’t ask it of us if it wasn’t possible.

We said yes.

I met the mom and we hit it off. Meeting her and learning how facing an unintended pregnancy took such courage in every aspect of her life was humbling. This adoption was not about our desire for a child, but about her plan for hers. We just happened to be two people who fit together in this puzzle of loss, creating something so much more than our individual parts. Planning an open adoption, we were in contact over the next few months and I was actually able to be there for the birth of her daughter, our daughter, and spend three amazing days in the hospital with her. With input from her first mom we named her “Evangeline,” or “Good news.” There we were cocooned up in our little world of mutual love for this little baby, protected from the outside world. We loved this baby girl incredibly during those first few days of her life, and our original questions about adoption became suddenly irrelevant as they were undoubtedly answered. With a resounding yes, we learned first hand just how quickly we could love a baby that we didn’t birth, who didn’t look exactly like us.

However, we were not meant to parent Evangeline for long. Her mom changed her mind and we relinquished Evangeline back into her care not a week after leaving the hospital.

This was another incredibly dark time. Just writing that sentence hardly captures our emotions at the time. Had we done something wrong? Had we misinterpreted the call to adopt? What was so wrong with us that we couldn’t conceive and now we couldn’t even adopt to grow our family? My life felt so bleak and my faith was full of doubts. I was crumpling inwards, but God was constantly pulling me outside of myself. This wasn’t about me. Adoption wasn’t just about us. Yes, we had love to give, but our first promise was about treating everyone involved with dignity and respect, and trusting in God’s plan enough to know that we were where we should be. We wanted to adopt because we had love to give to a child, and this situation hadn’t depleted that love. We had more to give. So after taking a few months to get our bearings and heal, we continued on with our Chinese adoption.

We were able to update our homestudy for an international adoption and get our complete dossier submitted by October of 2016. We settled in for a long wait. I was thankful for our domestic adoption situation because with international adoption we wouldn’t have the same opportunity to meet our child’s mom and experience first hand what exactly it took to make a decision to place your child for adoption. We were adopting a “waiting child,” a child whose parents couldn’t be found and who needed parents. The laws in China are different than the U.S. in that parents can’t legally place a baby up for adoption, forcing mothers and fathers who can’t parent to abandon their children in public places so they will be found and hopefully cared for. We would likely never meet our child’s first parents.

We got a call about our son on December 7th, 2016, just a few weeks after being eligible. Here was the face and file of a child who needed parents. He was so obviously our son. But would this really happen? Would we get to parent him forever? Looking at his file I saw his birthdate. Somewhere on the other side of the world, he was making his entrance at almost the exact moment we finally jointly decided to pursue adoption back in 2015. It had been him all along.

There was more paperwork (mostly immigration paperwork at this point) and waiting, and we were finally able to board the plane to China to meet him in March 2017. We met our 18-month old son one year to the day that Evangeline had been born, St. Joseph’s feast day. His Chinese name given to him by his caretakers was “Zi Zhong” or “faithful son” which we found especially compelling and it remains his middle name. We chose Mateo for his first name: “God’s gift.” Our older son was thrilled to have a sibling that would stay with us “forever and ever” and immediately began learning all that being a big brother entailed. The laughter we heard those first few days in the hotel in China was a long-awaited gift.

Adding a toddler to your family is not the typical route, and we definitely had challenges those first few months adjusting to our new family. While we had been waiting for Mateo for years at this point, this adjustment came with grief for him. Although he gained parents and a family, he also suffered an incredible loss of all that was familiar to him those first few months of life. However, his resilience and infectious laugh are reminders that God does make all things new. We’ve been home eight months now as a family of four and it’s still a gift each day to consider how it came to be. With all of our waiting and seemingly wrong turns and dead ends, Mateo would not have been here as our son had anything else happened.

Adoption has shaped a family, created brothers, and allowed us the privilege to parent a beautiful child carefully created by God. But the effects of adoption extend far beyond our family unit. Adoption has given grandparents another grandchild to dote on, aunts and uncles another nephew, and our neighbors another explorer to adventure with. So many people are richer because Mateo is in our family. We are the lucky ones.

Adoption has brought life to our home once again and we’re praying we get the opportunity to adopt again. We couldn’t have adopted again so quickly had it not been for the generous support of friends who helped us crowd-source our adoption funds after experiencing our failed adoption. Please consider how you can help promote adoption in your community, especially over this giving season!

Alison Contreras lives with her family in Hyattsville, Md. She teaches couples in the D.C. area about their natural signs of fertility as a Creighton Practitioner at Caritas FertilityCare.

Photograph by Melissa Green

Adoption: Multi-Racial, Multi-National, Heaven-Blessed

by Rob Schwarzwalder

November 28, 2017

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from “National Adoption Month: My Family’s Adoption Story,” published in The Stream November 26, 2017.

On Thanksgiving this year, gathered around our table were people whose ancestors came from Africa and Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia.

I’m talking about my wife’s and my children.

Our multi-racial sons and daughter were adopted. Race and ethnicity are acknowledged in our family, but as benign issues. Love and laughter, firmness and faithfulness: these have been the integrating factors of our family life, not hair texture or skin complexion.

Children create family. Whether adopted or biological, children bring disparate people together into a small human community of affection, support, enjoyment, and wisdom.

About 110,000 children are adopted every year in America. About 52,000 are adopted from the foster system, the others through private agencies. Most adopted privately are Americans, but a significant but shrinking percentage are adopted from other countries.

Of those 110,000, about 18,000 are infants.

Thousands of loving and committed American families have sought to adopt from abroad, but it’s become tougher in recent years. The State Department provides troubling numbers: In 2004, 23,000 children born abroad were adopted by Americans. In 2016, that number had fallen to just under 6,000.

Why? Because the five countries from which American families adopted the most—China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ethiopia—have revised and tightened their adoption policies. There are a variety of reasons, ranging from stupid national pride (“we can care for our own!”) to bureaucratic corruption.

There are more than 400,000 children in foster care. Of them, roughly 112,000 await adoption.

Children with developmental problems languish in foster care or orphanages. Older children, virtually all of whom have been abused in ugly home environments, await loving homes. Often, they wait in vain, as potential adoptive families are wary of bringing into their homes children who might bring serious problems.

This is where the church needs to step in. If a family adopts a particularly needy child, be he six months or 16 years, the local church must do more than just hold a dedication ceremony and bless the family with prayers and smiles. 

Those families need help. They need the services of professional counselors, therapists, remedial educators, developmental experts, and health caregivers. Churches need to be prepared to support, financially, families whose children need that kind of help, possibly for years. 

Churches are not banks—resources are limited, admittedly. But when “bigger and better” church buildings are under construction in every state in the union, surely some money can be dedicated to help with needs far more profound than another 30 spaces in a parking lot.

Thankfully, the adoption tax credit ($13,460 per child) has been restored to the new Republican tax reduction plan. In 2015, about 64,000 American families used the tax credit to help them adopt. The tax credit has been a blessing to hundreds of thousands of middle-income families throughout the country—including mine.

The credit helps, a lot. But it still leaves a lot to be done. The churches need to be front and center in helping families adopt children who need homes. 

One of the many blessings my wife Valerie and I experienced when we adopted our children was receiving financial assistance from the adoption fund my church had set up. This remarkable ministry comes alongside church members who adopt and helps them pay the substantial up-front costs.

There is so much more to say, but for now, a final note: Valerie’s and my children are not adopted. They were adopted. Now, they are just our children. And, with each of them having come to know Christ, are God’s. At this Thanksgiving and always, these are truths for which we are eternally grateful.

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer at Regent University. He previously served as Senior Vice-President at Family Research Council.

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