How to Instill Compassion and Servanthood in Your Children

Ephesians 6:7 says “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord and not men.   However, just telling our children to serve others isn’t enough. We need to model compassion for others to our children.

How can we, as parents, grandparents, teachers, and youth leaders, make the application for our children from the physical act of service to the motive we need to have?

Our motive must be for Jesus and not ourselves. Matthew 6:3 says “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing…” Explaining to our children that we help others, not so we can brag about it, but so that we can honor Jesus is a great step in explaining this passage.

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1. Remind our children to put others first in a me-first society. Teaching our children (and modeling it through our own behavior) to put others before ourselves can be a daunting task.

I’ll never forget when my girls were toddlers and I had split a cookie in half (inadvertently, one piece ended up slightly larger than the other) and told them to each choose a piece. I watched from afar to see how things would unfold. My oldest, Sunshine, told my youngest, Doodle, “It’s important that the person who picks first should pick the smallest.” I grinned. Sunshine was getting it!

A moment later, my smile faded as I listened to the rest of Sunshine’s rationale.  “And, Doodle, you can pick first.”

“I’m supposed to pick the smaller piece,” said Doodle.

“Yes you are,” agreed Sunshine, with a glint in her eye.

I watched as Doodle picked the smaller piece, leaving the larger piece for Sunshine, who  knew how to manipulate the system!

Our job is to continue to impress the importance of putting others first on our children, even when they don’t “get it” the first, second or one-hundredth time!

Fast forward to many years later. Sunshine is now one of the most generous and giving people I know. She is the first to give assistance, even without being asked, and the first to share what she has with others.

2.  Hone in on each child’s unique personality and their God-given gifts. Each child has their own unique personality and will each have different ideas of what types of service projects they would like to undertake. In addition, they each have their own spiritual gifts.

Doodle has a heart for world missions and decided at age five that she wants to be a missionary to Haiti. She has never once wavered from that goal.

haiti

Sunshine has a deep love and devotion for younger children and has already been a mentor and childcare worker at our church, a VBS teacher, and a soccer coach.

Discover your child’s gift and passion. Discuss with them and ask if they could help one person in this world, who would it be? And what type of help would they want to provide? Some children have a heart for animals; some have a heart for those who are terminally ill. Still others have a heart that breaks for those in orphanages or foster care.

3. It’s never too early to start our children on the path of serving and blessing others. We started our children serving others when they were babies and would accompany us to the nursing homes. Although they don’t recall the details of those days, my husband and I were still cementing within our children a permanent foundation of following Jesus’ command to love their neighbor.

5. Pray as a family that God would place someone in your family’s path – someone who needs help. Allow each child their turn to pray for this important topic.

6. Pray for those in your neighborhood. Each month, we choose two families in our neighborhood to pray for. We have also gone on walks and runs in our neighborhood and prayed for the people who live in each house.

neighborhood

 Serving others fosters Christian fellowship both within your own family and with your neighbors – it unites families and brings us closer to God and each other.

For more ideas, including “Up for Discussion” questions at the end of each chapter to help families look deeper into the reasons behind each activity, check out 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference.

77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others

10 ways to encourage others

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “encouragement” as “something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the Bible tells us, Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…

So, what are some simple ways we can inspire others?

In everyday life:

  • Give genuine praise and encouragement to family and friends. This can come in the form of how much you appreciate them, value them in your life, or just how much you love them. Little notes of encouragement are big hits. For some ways to encourage your kids, check out my post 9 Ways to Show Your Kids You Love Them.
  • Did you get excellent service at a restaurant ? Tell the waiter and the manager. Did someone at local business go above and beyond? Let them know! The lady who signs members in at our local YMCA always has a smile on her face. She is quick to go the extra mile. I recently told her how much we appreciate her, and I also let her boss know. (This can also be done by completing “survey” or quality-of-service questionnaires available at many businesses).

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  • Encourage a mom. Motherhood is a hard job at times, and what mom doesn’t need a bit of encouragement? A quick word or note letting a mom know she’s doing a good job means a lot. You can even encourage a stranger! What about that mom in the long line at the grocery store with a hungry infant and grouchy toddler? We can discourage by giving a “judgmental” look or we can encourage by asking if we can help unload her groceries onto the conveyer belt or even by a simple sentence, “oh I remember those days!” and a smile.

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  • Be an encourager by mail. In my book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others, I give ideas on how to Create a Card Ministry. Why not send a card to someone you know is having a difficult time and let them know you are praying for them. This can be done anoymously, or to someone you know. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Encourage other women. What about hosting a Girls Night Out? More details are found under the Sisters in Christ Group tab.

1094303_3_friends_5In Social Media:

  • Retweet someone’s tweet that you find interesting on Twitter. Not only does it help the tweeter, but it also provides useful information to your followers.
  • Tweet about someone’s blog post. There are so many great  blogs out there. If I stumble across one that is on the topics I regularly tweet about (#faith, #motherhood, #humor, #fitness, or #writing) I click on that little “tweet” button on the blog post and wah-lah, that post is shared with my followers.

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  • Mention fellow tweeters in a #FF (Follow Friday) or #WW (Writer Wednesday) tweet.
  • “Like” a post you find interesting on Facebook. Don’t just peruse past it, but “like” it, and even “share” it if you found it be of interest.
  • Did you just finish reading a book that you absolutely loved? Don’t be shy about it ~ spread the word! Post a positive review on Amazon, CBD, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. (By the way, this means more to authors than you will ever know – trust me on this one!)

Each and every day, we all have a chance to be either an encourager or a discourager.

Which one will you be?

I’d love to hear some of your favorite ways of encouraging others.

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Tweetables:

10 ways to encourage others (click to tweet)

How can you be an encouragement to others? (click to tweet)

Encouraging others in their walk through life (click to tweet)

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Thankful for the small things…

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

It’s hard to believe that another Thankgiving is here!  As I reflect on the past year, I think of the many things I am thankful for – Jesus Christ as my Savior, my husband, my children, extended family, friends, and health. Sometimes, though, we only think of the big things we are thankful for, like those things I mentioned above.

What about the seemingly small things we are thankful for that we sometimes overlook? Below are a few that came to my mind in no particular order:

  •  I’m thankful for water. According to an article titled World Water Day: A Billion People Worldwide Lack Safe Drinking Water “More than a billion people—almost one-fifth of the world’s population—lack access to safe drinking water.” How many times do we go to the faucet and grab a glass of water without giving it a second thought?
  • I’m thankful I can breathe.  According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, “Approximately 34.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with asthma by a health professional during their lifetime.” My husband and youngest daughter are included in those statistics. How many times do we take it for granted that we can take that a breath?
  • I’m thankful for the ability to read. While doing research for 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference, I discovered that “by age 17, only 1 in 17 seventeen-year-olds can read and gain information from specialized text” according to the National Institute for Literacy. Taking this statistic into account, there are a high number of people who cannot read. Yet, I read things everyday and don’t give it a second thought that some people don’t have that ability.
  • I’m thankful for those who risk their lives each day to bring the Good News to those around the world. We in the United States face minimal persecution when it comes to sharing our love for Jesus. Our missionaries in other nations are not so fortunate. I read The Voice of the Martyrs and my eyes were opened to the sacrifices our Christian brothers and sisters make everyday to share the hope of eternal life with the lost around the world.
  • I’m thankful for food to eat. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were both diagnosed with multiple food allergies. It has been a challenge to find things to eat.  Yet, so many people in the U.S. and in the world have no food to eat – AT ALL. They would love to only have allergies to a handful of foods  – if they still had food to eat. chili
  • I’m thankful I haven’t been involved in a devastating hurricane, earthquake, or tornado. This past year, we suffered damage to our home and vehicles during a severe hail storm. When we returned home from our vacation, our yard looked as though it had suffered a major catastrophe. Tree limbs were everywhere, our garden was ruined, the new siding on our house destroyed, and our SUV totaled.

A few days later, our church was seeking volunteers to assist with the devastation caused by the deadly Oklahoma City area tornado. As our family discussed being a part of this outreach, I was overcome with gratefulness and humbleness that it was only a relatively minor hailstorm we were dealing with and not a horrific storm where lives had been lost.

  • I’m thankful for dirty dishes. Yes, you heard me right. I know, most people wouldn’t say “thanks” for the sinkful of food-corroded crusty dishes from last night’s dinner. However, I am thankful because if I didn’t have those dirty dishes, I wouldn’t have had food to feed my family. Same goes for dirty laundry. While it may not be my favorite task, I’m thankful we have clothes to wear, and therefore, clothes that get dirty.
  • I’m thankful for my church family. Sometimes I forget how blessed I am to belong to the Body of Christ and how thankful I am that I can walk through the doors of my church and learn about the Lord and share fellowship with other believers.
  • I’m thankful I can see and hear. As I sit typing this, my kiddos are in the living room playing a game with their dad. Thank You, Father, that I can hear their giggles! I’m thankful for sight too – the snowcapped mountains in the distance and the puffy white clouds in the sky. I’m also thankful that the Lord opened my eyes to see my need for Him! snow capped mountains

That’s a shortened version of “small” things I’m thankful for. As I look back on my list, I realize they’re not “small” things at all, but big and important things.

What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?

What if for one day, we loved as Jesus did?

Penny Zeller, Christian Author
What if for one day, we loved as Jesus did? I mean, truly loved as Jesus did. Not say we will, not pretend to, but really, truly focus on putting another person’s needs ahead of our own?

Can you imagine how we could change the world one person at a time?

And what if it became a habit?

Allow me to share a story with you about my friend Donna. Donna has rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, back problems, and a host of other health ailments. However, this doesn’t stop her from tirelessly serving others and showing each person she encounters the love of Christ in action.

thread-spool-1378256-mCase in point: Donna is often babysitting her grandchildren while her daughter and son-in-law struggle to make ends meet. Donna also teaches sewing classes to homeschool students, volunteers at church, cares for her mother who has dementia, and assists her niece, who has been hospitalized on numerous occasions with a severe neurological disorder.

I’ve never once heard Donna complain.

Add to that, the fact that a mutual friend was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and Donna came quickly to her aid.

One of the requests of our friend with cancer was that the precious words she’d written would be put into book form before our friend passed away. Donna quickly took care of our friend’s request, even though she was busy with other items, including upcoming medical tests for which she had to prepare.

This didn’t stop Donna.

reading-book-1368361-mDonna went to the local office supply store with our friend’s words. She knew time was of the essence. Our friend wasn’t expected to live much longer and her dream of seeing her words in book print became Donna’s goal.

Donna achieved her goal and was able to present the book to our friend.

Jesus tells His disciples in Matthew 20:28, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…” saint-matthew-1336079-m

When I watch Donna, I get a glimpse into what it means to be Christlike and to really truly serve as Jesus did. And not only that, but as an avid prayer warrior, there’s not a day that passes that Donna doesn’t intercede on behalf of others.

I know, because I’ve been blessed to be the recipient of her prayers on a couple of occasions.

So, what if for one day, we loved as Jesus did? What if we set out to bless someone else without the expectation of ever receiving anything in return?

1113096_give_meWhat if everyday, we strove to put others first and didn’t expect to be served, but to instead serve, just as Jesus did?

What a difference we could make!

If you’re looking for ways to enlist your family in making a difference in the lives of others, please check out my book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others.

5 Ways to Bless Others and a Giveaway!

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

This week, I’m giving away a signed copy of my book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a DifferenceIdeas and Activities for Serving Others

Resolve every day to make a difference in the life of someone else…

Simply telling our kids to love their neighbor isn’t enough. They need to see and experience love in action. This was the springboard for my book 77 Ways, which includes practical service ideas for a variety of budgets, Bible verses to help children connect God’s truth to their lives, and interactive discussion questions to help families understand the importance of each activity and correlate it to God’s Word.

In addition to families, these ideas and activities can be easily adapted to use with youth groups, Sunday School classes, home school curriculums, small-groups, and church-wide community projects.

Entering to win is super easy, and I’ll explain that in a few moments at the end of this post. In the meantime, here are some easy ways you and your family can bless others:

1. Clothing – experts say if you haven’t worn something in the past two years, pass it on.

  • Check your community for places that take used clothing. Homeless shelters and the Salvation Army or Goodwill are just a few suggestions.
  • Dress for Success accepts nice women’s clothing that can be given to disadvantaged women, those exiting the prison system in search of employment, or those in need of clothing for a job interview. God has used this organization to bless those seeking a second chance. For more information, see the website for Dress for Success.

2. Toys – why not bless a needy child with a gently loved toy?

  • Know a foster parent? Might their foster child(ren) need toys or clothes?
  • You can also check with your community Department of Social Services to see if there is someone in need.
  • The Salvation Army/Goodwill are good choices as well.

3. Books  -If you have extra Bibles or other books in your home, there are plenty of places to donate them:

  • Love Packages accepts Bibles, Christian books and magazines, tracts, and hymnals. They distribute these items to numerous countries and into the hands of those who are hungry for the Word of God.  Be sure to check their website for a detailed list on what Love Packages does and does not accept.
  • Send your books to Hands for Christ. They found Lending Libraries in other countries and lend out Christian items to new believers. More information can be found here.
  • Why not donate some of your items to your church library? Be sure to check (and double-check!) your items for content. The Bible warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:32 of causing others to stumble. Make sure your donated books, DVDs, and videos are clean and wholesome family-oriented material.

4. Other items –

  • Have some clean plastic cottage cheese or butter containers? Check to see if your church needs these containers for leftover meals at funerals, etc. Also, if you have other clean “Glad” or “Tupperware” containers you aren’t using, these can be donated as well.
  • What to do with all those Christmas cards (as well as other occasion cards) you receive this year? Donate cards to St. Jude’s Ranch for Children at their Card Recycling Program.
  • Could your local Habit for Humanity use your gently used household items, such as ceiling fans or doors?

Feeling inspired to help others? Before you get started please check out these rules of thumb:

  • Always ask someone in your family, immediate and extended, if they need the item first. First Timothy 5:8 tells us to first provide for our relatives.
  • Do you know any widows or single moms who could use the items? James 1:27 instructs us to take care of the widows and orphans.
  • Do NOT pass on anything you wouldn’t use or wear yourself (i.e., junk). Clothes with stains and holes, books with pages ripped out of them, scratched DVDs, or expired food that doesn’t have a place in your home certainly won’t be welcome (or appreciated) in someone else’s.
  • Always call first to see if donations are being accepted. Some places are inundated with items and are therefore not accepting donations at this time. Please be respectful of their donation criteria.
  • Most importantly, pray for God’s guidance as you seek to find who could use your gently used items.

And now, to win a copy of  77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference all you have to do is leave a comment about your favorite way to bless someone else. For example, how do you and your family encourage others? 

A winner will be chosen at random. Sorry, this giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. For an extra entry, please “like” my Facebook author page. Giveaway ends on November 8, 2012.

Stay tuned for the details on who won Deb Raney’s three-book Hanover Falls Series coming soon!

 

5 resolutions to make even though it’s not New Year’s

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

All right, so it’s not New Year’s, not even close and we certainly don’t want to rush time away. However, here are a few suggestions for resolutions to make any day of the year…

1. Laugh more. In our world of stress, it’s nice to be able to find humor in the small things. “Laughter, along with an active sense of humor, may help protect you against a heart attack, according to a new study by cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.”

The Bible talks about laughter – and let’s not forget who created laughter. He also created our mouths to turn upward, our tummies to shake, and our eyes to tear when provoked with humor. Kids provide the best humor and pets can bring about some laughter as well!

2. Stay in touch.  In our day of modern technology, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with those we love. One night Lon called me from his cell phone while he was in the driveway arriving home from work. I answered the house phone and we had a great conversation, continuing as he entered the door of our house and as we stood face to face with phones pressed up against our ears.

Hey, it’s good for a marriage to communicate, right?

Communication is important...even if you're as different as an ostrich and a kangaroo.

Communication is important…even if you’re as different as an ostrich and a kangaroo.

 

3. Make healthy lifestyle changes. It’s probably safe to say that most of us at one time or another have made a resolution to lose weight and/or get more exercise.

One evening Lon said as he rested on the living room floor, “I’m getting ready to do a situp.”

I wondered why anyone would want to do a situp at 8:00 p.m., so I asked him why not wait until he works out in the morning. “Because I’d like to have another cookie,” he told me. He was of the one situp equals one cookie philosophy.

Another time, he decided to do an experiment. Before Christmas dinner, Lon weighed himself. After the meal, he weighed himself again. The prognosis? He’d gained five pounds in that short time after eating my mom’s famous Christmas dinner. However, men have it good. For us women, we need only to look at a delicious Christmas dinner with all the trimmings to gain five pounds!

Not only can we make healthy lifestyle changes and care for the body God gave us, we can also make spiritual changes and vow to dig into God’s Word more frequently. Make a vow to turn everything over to Him as well and make the resolution to rid yourself of worry. Now that’s a good lifestyle change I need to adopt!

4. Vow to serve others.  Make a vow to serve others and truly love your neighbor as yourself as stated in Matthew 19:19.  Making homemade cookies for Lon is one way to make him feel special.  Speaking of cookies, check out this hilarious post about the time Lon overdosed on no-bake cookies! For more ideas on ways to serve others see my post Blessing Others.

 5. Use your gifts.

Use the gifts and talents God gave you...

God gave us all gifts to use to further His Kingdom.

Just be sure not to do things that aren’t your gifts. Case in point:  a few years ago, I received a new MP3 player. Wow, what a pleasure to listen to my contemporary Christian rock music while working out at the gym! I learned the hard way, however, about adjusting to modern technology.

During my workout, I was rocking out to Brandon Heath’s Give Me Your Eyes and forgetting that I alone had the earphones to listen to this song. What I didn’t realize was that I was singing out loud. (Wasn’t everyone in the gym listening to Brandon Heath?!)

As I belted out the words to the song and did my leg curls, I soon heard a familiar voice. One that was off-pitch and kind of nasal-y. Yep. It was my voice (talk about embarrassment).

But it is important to use the gifts we have been given. Are you gifted with kids? Why not volunteer to teach Sunday School? Are you gifted with a beautiful voice (I’ll try not to covet!) then use it to lead the worship team at church. Can you sew? Why not offer to mend some clothes for those who cannot afford new ones?

What resolutions would you make even though it’s not New Year’s?

7 Ways to Encourage Your Children

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

The word encourage in Webster’s Dictionary is defined as to inspire with courage or confidence; to promote, foster.

So, how can we, as parents, encourage our children? Below are seven suggestions…

Encourage their character.  “A person’s character is the sum of his or her disposition, thoughts, intentions, desires, and actions.” (quote taken from http://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-character.html).

As parents, are we helping our children to develop good character? Are we encouraging them to make good choices? Our kids will be, and are faced, with multiple decisions each day. Helping them to understand why good choices are important and equipping them with the knowledge and practice to make good choices is paramount.

One of the things we do in our home is to discuss with our children what they would do if faced with  a particularly difficult situation.  What would they do if they were asked to do something they knew was wrong? I heard someone say long ago that what we do when no one is watching is a sign of our integrity. My prayer is that my children will have that kind of integrity.

Picture 095Encourage their dreams. I love the dreams of little children! My youngest asked for a pet mongoose not long ago. I could have easily told her that there was no way we could have a mongoose and for her to be more practical. However, I chose not to. Instead, I encouraged her dream and we chatted about how fun it would be to actually have a pet mongoose (especially since they eat snakes!), and the tricks we would teach him.

Encourage your children to dream at every age and every stage of their lives.

Encourage their future. I pray regularly for our children’s futures, both during family prayer time and during my own quiet times with the Lord.  I have told my children that it’s exciting to see what God has planned for their lives. We often discuss Jeremiah 29:11 which says: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

Encourage their compassion. Compassion is one of the most important things we can teach our children. One thing we have done is to instill in our children the importance of serving others. For some ideas on how to instill compassion and servanthood in your children, please see my post here or my book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others.

Not only should we encourage compassion for others outside the home, but we should especially encourage compassion within our own families. One of the ways that we do this is to regularly pray for each other and to express our prayer needs daily to one another.

Encourage their imagination. As a writer, I am grateful that the Lord blessed me with a creative imagination.  There are several ways I have encouraged my children’s imaginations. For one, I have always read to them. Reading is so important and can take us on adventures we would never otherwise take. When my children were old enough to begin reading themselves, I encouraged them to check out as many books as they wanted at the local library and to even have a “reading marathon” over the summer months. Reading is excellent for the imagination!

Several times, we have spread a blanket in the backyard and gazed up at the clouds. We take turns imagining what animals the clouds look like and which could we would choose if we could lounge on any cloud. The white puffy clouds always win!

My oldest daughter has a knack for art. As such, I asked if she would illustrate a story I wrote. She was delighted and it was wonderful to see her own imagination shining through in her art. I combined the story and her illustrations and asked the local office supply store to bound the pages together. We now have our own special book – not only a keepsake, but also a delightful practice in encouraging the imagination of a budding artist!

325381_piggy-back-rideEncourage their friendships. We talk often about friendships in our home and about the kind of friendships that are important. The Bible has much to say about friendships and what type of friends to choose. For example, Proverbs 16:28 talks of why being dishonest and being one who gossips separates close friends.  Proverbs 18:24 states the importance of a friend who sticks closer than a brother (ESV).  John 15:13 is a profound statement of friendship: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

In our home, we have talked frequently about three different types of friends: gold friends who are there for you through the good times and bad; silver friends who are fun to be with, but you can’t always count on them; and bronze friends who are more like an acquaintance because they aren’t “true” friends.

Encourage your children to be the kind of  friend that would honor God.

Most importantly, encourage their walk with God.
Are you children growing in their walk with the Lord? Have they accepted Christ as their personal Lord and Savior? The most important thing we can do is encourage our children to have a close relationship with Jesus. After all, that’s the only thing that will last for eternity. 443072_jesus_on_the_cross