When love is difficult

February: the month of love. Well, that and Black History Month…and the celebration of a couple of presidents’ birthdays… and of course Groundhog Day…. Ok, so it’s not really the month of love… but that’s the theme of all the greeting cards at Target so we’re sticking with it.

But what if thoughts of Valentine’s Day cards, celebrations, and even hard, chalk-like candy inscribed with likely semi-toxic red ink doesn’t inspire you to love?

For all the display of romantic red hearts, February is often a month where we’re reminded that the ability to love is sometimes difficult. Worse than that, in February we’re often smacked in the face with the reality that we’re not as loving as we should be. And we know we should be more loving.

Husbands know they should be more loving of their wives, and vice versa. Parents know they should be more loving of their kids. Kids (I think) know they should be more loving of each another. But what if you can’t? What if you and they just don’t have it? And what if you can’t even fake it? Because, let’s be honest, sometimes you just don’t want to fake it.

What if you’re there? In the month of February. Is it even possible to become more loving?

The short answer— no, no it’s not. At least not on your own in an authentic and long-term way.

Because, as Warren Wiersbe points out, “love is not something we work up; it is something that God does in us and through us.” Love for one another only grows “when we permit God to perform His ‘good work’ in us.”

Romans 5:5 tells us that, “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” In 1 John 4:19 we read, “We love because [God] first loved us.” And in Galatians 5:22 we see that, “the fruit of the Spirit is love…”

What does all this tell us? Real love, the kind of love we desire, dream about, and even long to give away, is only from God. When you and I feel unable to love it’s because at that moment we are not filled with the love of God. We’re empty.

Speaking of marriage, Timothy Keller puts it this way, “You can only afford to be generous if you actually have some money in the bank to give. In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however, you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love ‘in the bank’ to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.”

Love between human beings is great. But Keller’s point is that our greater need is the love of God. God’s love sustains us when human love fails us. God’s love enables us to carry out acts of love to others even when others are not carrying out acts of love toward us.

So this February, before you try to be romantic with your spouse, before you try harder to love your kids, go to God and let him fill your love bank. Receive the love of your Heavenly Father. Take some time to reflect on all the ways God has shown his love to you. Let God pour out his love into your heart.

If we are willing to come to God and receive his love first, then maybe, just maybe, this February really will turn out to be a month of love.

 

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How to make 2017 a better year

“2016 has been the worst year ever,” a friend posted on Facebook.

I personally think that’s a little extreme,…2016 may have had its ups and downs, but worst year ever?

Have they seen all the other years?

I kid. I kid.

As parents, we know what it is like to see the year turn from good to bad, even to “the worst year ever.” School doesn’t go how you or your child thought it would go. Your child’s team doesn’t do as well as she wanted. There’s unexpected injuries, sicknesses, relationship problems, drama of all kinds, and a never-ending list of things that can frustrate your family’s year.

As we step into 2017 you may wonder, is it even possible to have a good year?

I think it is.

If we fill our year with good things.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)

Did Jesus just call us evil?

Yes. Yes, he did.

But that’s not his main point. His main point is, even if evil parents (like you and me) know how to give our children good gifts, how much more able is our perfect heavenly Father to give good gifts to his children. Which means, if you and I want good things for our families from God our Father, all we have to do is ask.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “I have asked. And nothing happened.”

Yeah, I’ve been there. It stinks.

But in that stinky disposition I’ve found it helpful to ask God another question, “What do you (God) consider a good gift?” Because, let’s face it, God may be giving us good gifts, but we just don’t recognize them.

So what does God consider a good gift?

Not surprisingly, Himself.

We see this in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says the same thing (likely to a different audience) as he did in the Gospel of Matthew, but this time there is a slight difference.

Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Did you catch it?

In Luke, Jesus said, the good gift the Father will give to his children who ask, is the Holy Spirit. Why is that a good thing?

The Apostle Paul tells us, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 3:22-23)

Imagine 2017 being a year where your family is filled with more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self- control.

I don’t know about you, but that seems like a pretty good year to me. And all we have to do is ask.

2017 will be filled with up and downs for our families but it doesn’t have to be the worst year ever.

Parents, ask your heavenly Father to give you and your family good gifts. No matter the time or the situation. No matter the drama at home, at work, or at school. Just ask.

He promises to give you a very good gift, his Holy Spirit. And a year filled with the Holy Spirit is a year filled with many good things.

Blessings,

Christmas Doubt

My older sister wanted to go to college out of state. We grew up in a small town in California. So she decided to go to college in New York City. It was as far out of state as she could get—both physically and metaphorically.

She wanted to see the world from a different perspective. And she did. As I remember it, this became clear one Christmas break when she announced that she was no longer a Christian.

It’s not an unfamiliar story to many parents.

Your son or daughter may or may not be in college. But at some point, your child (young or old) will question and maybe even walk away from the Christian faith.

A recent study by the Fuller Youth Institute found that “seventy percent of students…reported having doubts in high school about what they believed about God and the Christian faith.”  Often these times of doubt come during the Christmas season. Because it’s a natural time of year to reflect on whether or not the Christmas story and all it implies is really true.

How can parents respond?

Here are three simple responses that will help you help your children as they work through doubts and unbelief:

  1. Give your child time and space to share their doubts

Don’t respond first with arguments. Instead, listen to your child’s doubts. Ask them what led them to their doubt? Praise them for thinking seriously about matters of faith. Allow them to critique, challenge, and even deny their faith. Don’t critique their critiquing. Instead, ask questions that seek to understand where they are coming from. And keep the dialogue going.

  1. Expose them to other Christian viewpoints

Often when your child questions Christianity, he or she is really just questioning their understanding of Christianity. New York City pastor, Timothy Keller, is famous for saying to young skeptics, “Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” He then encourages skeptics to expand their understanding of Christianity by learning about how other Christians around the world understand and worship God, deal with suffering, and live the Christian life. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your child is expose them to the breadth of Christian thought and practice throughout history and around the world.

  1. Remember this may be just a season

Don’t blow them off assuming this “phase” will pass. But don’t freak out assuming this “phase” is permanent. Remember God is bigger than our doubts. He’s not scared or offended by them. God is still at work in your child’s life, even if you or your child can’t see it. If you prayerfully pursue the above two actions it will only be a matter of time before you see what God is up to in the life of your child.

My older sister is actually proof that God is faithful even in the midst of doubt. Today, she loves Jesus, is committed to the church, and is married to an Anglican priest!

Hopefully, your Christmas season won’t involve any denials of faith. But if it does, see the moment as a door for opportunities. An opportunity to listen to your child’s story. An opportunity to expose your child to other Christian stories. And an opportunity to trust God that your child is still a part of His story.

Parenting With Less Frustration

I’m sure it is just the age and stage our family is in…hopefully…but often parenting feels a little frustrating.

The other night we were trying to have family devotions. But then someone was mad that they did not have an opportunity to read the Bible passage. (Yeah you read that right. Our kids get upset when they aren’t allowed to read the Bible…good grief.) Then someone else realized that they weren’t sitting where they wanted to sit. They now wanted to sit in a spot on the couch that was already occupied. And they were going to do whatever it took to take that spot. Needless to say between one’s feelings of injustice about not having the opportunity to read and the other one’s lust for a particular seat on the couch, chaos ensued.

I recently came across a new book by Paul David Tripp entitled Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family. To be honest, at first I was skeptical of this book. It sounded a little too much like a here-are-more-things-you’re-not-doing-right-as-a-parent, so-do-these things-and-your-life-will-be-better kind of book. But I received a free copy of the book so I could provide a review and I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I am really enjoying this book.

Tripp points out that one of the reasons I—and every other parent on the planet—experience frustrations is because our kids are sinners. It’s true. And what is worse, you and I are sinners too. What?! I know it’s hard to hear. But this little bit of information, which we conveniently tend to forget, has huge implications. Specifically, Tripp argues that due to our own sin we, on our own, are incapable of changing our sinful kids, or creating a perfect (sin-free) living environment. So what’s the solution?

Tripp’s encouragement to parents is as follows:

Here is the single redemptive reality, right here, right now, that makes parenting possible: God in you! You read that right. The apostle Paul says that you don’t really understand who you are and what you’ve been given until you understand this amazing thing: that God knew that our calling would be so huge and our weakness so deep that the only thing that would help us was himself. So in an act of incredible grace, he has unbuttoned us and gotten inside of us. Now think about this as a parent. This God who has the ability to do things that are way beyond your ability to conceive, who has perfect wisdom and unlimited strength, right now lives inside of you.

In other words, God is not calling us to do more to change our kids. Rather God, by his grace, has given himself to us so that we, as parents, can rely on him and allow him to work through us to reveal himself to our children. The rest of the book explains what this looks like. I highly recommend reading it.

The chaos is still there. But the frustrations are a little less…at least a little less in those times I remember Tripp’s parental wisdom. In those times I’m reminded to focus less on what I can do to make my kids or my situation better. But instead to ask God, what do you want to do with my kids and how do you want to make this situation better?

 

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Your Children

Fathers, what’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your children?

It’s not money, toys, or even a college education. It’s not clothes, athletic ability, or a car when they turn sixteen.

But you already knew all that. So what is it?

An Identity.

All children, especially as they enter their teen years are asking one question, “Who am I?” And they are constantly looking outside themselves to find the answer. It’s why the likes and dislikes of your tweens and teens seem to change by the minute. They’re not trying to be difficult, they’re just trying to figure out who they are…likes and dislikes included.

As a man, even Jesus needed an answer to the question, “Who am I?” Author Dan Spader points out,

“It was critical to Jesus that He understand who He belonged to. At His baptism, for the very first time, Jesus heard His Father’s voice say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In the Old Testament, learned rabbis would string together key verses from three major parts of the Old Testament to convey a truth. This was called stringing pearls. At Jesus’s baptism, God the Father did the same thing. He took references from three major portions of the Old Testament and strung them together to make a profound statement: “You are my son” (Psalm 2:7) “whom I love” (Genesis 22:2) “with you I am well pleased” (Isaiah 42:1). With these three brief citations, God spoke of Jesus as a king, as servant, and His son.”[1]

Did you catch that? God the Father blessed God the Son (Jesus) with an identity. With three short statements, the Father told the Son, “this is who you are—a king, a servant, and my Son.” The result, Jesus lived out his identity.

It’s the same today. Our children will always live out their identity. The only question is where will their identity come from?

Fathers, God has given you and me the great opportunity to give our children an identity…a good identity. How can we do this?

First we start with ourselves. How have we been defined? How do we see ourselves? If we struggle with our own identity we must repeatedly come to our Heavenly Father and receive his words, “You are my son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” Because of what Jesus did for us, we can own those words.

Then let us speak these words in different ways, at different times, again and again, over our children. Let us remind our children whenever possible that they are loved, they are objects of pride, and that they are sons and daughters of God.

How we define or don’t define our children will dramatically impact how they live. So let us not waste the opportunity God has given us. Let us give our children one of the greatest gifts of their life…the gift of an identity.

Blessings,

 


 

[1] Dann Spader. 4 Chair Discipling. 71-72

Family Idols

Last month  I was invited to speak at a friend’s church. I spoke to a Men’s group and the topic was “Using Worship to Overcome Addiction.”

The gist of the talk was, all of us are tempted to worship things other than God that can’t fully satisfy us. When we pursue those things we find ourselves frustrated, stressed, anxious, depressed and hopeless…which leads to us engaging in sinful behaviors as a way to cope. But when we pursue and worship God we find the satisfaction we long for and the sinful behaviors begin to go away…because we don’t need to the sinful behaviors to cope anymore.

Now all this got me thinking about my own parenting. How so often I only focus on my kid’s sinful behavior. And how I rarely think about what is behind that behavior. I don’t think I have ever asked myself what are the idols of my kid’s heart? What are they pursing that is leaving them frustrated, stressed, anxious, depressed or hopeless? And how are their sins connected to these pursuits?

Now my kids are young and there is no way they could articulate any of this. But they still have sinful desires. They still have idols. I know this because if I asked them the question, “what could I give you that would make you happy?”…I am sure they wouldn’t respond, “more Jesus!”

And that’s is the problem. Not just for my kids and yours, but for all of us. If there is something we want more than Jesus, we are worshiping an idol– something that is leading us (and our families) to destruction. Idols lead to sin, sin leads to destruction. It’s just that simple.  If we believe there something that can satisfy us in a way Jesus cannot…then we are setting ourselves up for frustration, sin, and destruction.

Our kids are no different.

As we come into summer, a time when most of us will see more of our kids it’s a good time to ask ourselves do I know what idols my kids worship? Do I know what idols I worship? Do I know what idols our family worships? And how are these idols effecting our family?

As I outlined in my Men Ministry talk, freedom from sin comes when we take the following three steps:  We confess our idols, acknowledge how they harm us, and then ask God to help pursue and worship him. Because only faithful worship of God through Jesus Christ can free us from sin and bring us the satisfaction we long for—parents and kids alike.

May your family and mine continue to lay our idols at the cross of Jesus that we might grow in faithful worship of God. And may God alone satisfy our hearts and keep our homes evermore free from sin.

The Secret of Strong Families

I have to hand it to Facebook. They finally figured me out.

For the longest time the ads in my feed were useless and annoying. But last month there was an ad from Crossway Publishing promoting a free five day email course on Family Worship.

I clicked on it, signed up, read the emails and watch the videos for each of the five days. And to my surprise the videos were all very helpful. So I bought the book the videos were promoting.

The book is called Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home by Donald S. Whitney. And it really is a great book…so great, I wrote the following review on Amazon:

Every Christian family should read this book. Clear, simple, short but very informative, and very practical. This book will be helpful for any family interested in family worship…especially for those that have never done it before. As a pastor I will be recommending this book to every family in our church.

The book is really that great. So here I am recommending it to every family in our church.

One thing that has become clear to me over the years is, families who worship together flourish together.

Worshiping families are closer. Their kids do better in school, and they make better choices with their friends. Their kids don’t leave their faith in college and they tend do better after college.

Worshiping families flourish because they make Jesus the foundation of the family…and that’s a foundation that doesn’t break.

But here’s the thing,  if you’re like me, maybe you’re not sure how to do family worship. Growing up my family was a Christian family. But we never spent time as a family reading the Bible, praying, or singing. Those were things we did “at church”…not at home.

So when I wanted to start family worship in my own home I didn’t have a clue what to do. It was awkward. It was frustrating. It often felt forced.

I needed help.

Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home has been that help.

My hope is that every Christian family will buy this book. Not because I want to add one more thing to your to-do list. But because it is my prayer that every Christian family will commit to worshiping as a family throughout the week. Because I want every Christian family to be a strong family…built on the strong foundation of Jesus Christ.

If your family does not worship together, consider getting a copy of Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home. If you want to preview things before you buy here’s the link to the five day video course. And if you just need someone to talk to (or vent to) about family worship leave a comment, I’d be happy to help in any way I can.

May God bless your family!