The best parenting advice I’ve ever received

Early in our marriage there was a time when my wife, Meredith, and I seriously contemplated not having kids. I chose to verbalize this contemplation one evening while we were attending a Christian couples retreat.

We were sitting in a circle with other young couples. Everyone was sharing about marriage, family, and kids. Some couples shared their hopes for future children, other couples shared how great it was to have kids.

I sat there with my knee nervously bouncing, completely unable to relate.  For me, the thought of having children seemed overwhelming and not great.

So I raised my hand, waited for our group leader to call on me, and then I asked a question I knew was heretical in some Christian circles…

“Why should we have kids?”

Dead silence.

More silence.

Still more silence.

Finally, one husband (a future pastor) piped up, “Because, we are commanded to.”

I knew he was referring to Genesis 1:28 where God commands Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Touche,” I thought.

So I followed up with my real concern.

“Ok, but isn’t it inevitable that you’re going to cause your kids pain? Isn’t there going to come a time when they no longer like you or may even hate you? How can you willingly bring a child into the world knowing that you’re just going to screw them up?!”

Again, dead silence.

This time the silence was broken by the leader of our group, a seasoned wife and mother whose children were adults (and still walking with Jesus). She calmly replied,

“Yes, that is all very possible…”

She then shared with us some of her own parenting mistakes. She recounted the many times she and her husband “lost it” with their kids. The many times their kids “disowned” them. And the many times she and her husband did not do the right thing in the right situation.

I thought, “Yes, this is what I am talking about!”

But then she gave us the best piece of parenting advice that I have ever heard.

“Pray for your kids,” she said.

The advice was so simple, I couldn’t help but think, I could do that.

She explained, “That’s one thing we’ve done right is we pray for our kids. Every night after our kids went to bed we prayed for them. When they were still little I would go in their room and put my hand on their warm little backs and pray that God would heal them from any hurt that I have caused them. That he would remove any evil that had come into their life that day. And that he would protect them from the consequences of my sins.”

She assured us her kids weren’t perfect and their family still had hard times.

But she said, “Jesus answered those prayers. Jesus was bigger than my mistakes, and today we have good relationships with our kids.”

In that moment I had a strange sensation of  hope.

As I write this we now have three kids and another on the way. Meredith and I are far from perfect parents. And our kids are far from perfect kids. But we have made it a priority to pray for our kids, every night at bedtime, sometimes in the morning and at times through out the day. I don’t do it because I’m a super spiritual pastor. I do it because I recoginize I am a very imperfect parent with imperfect kids in need of a very perfect God.

And I pray for my kids because in the decade plus years since that couples retreat, I have talked to many other parents. And I’ve met a number of parents whose kids I wish I could duplicate. Parents who have excellent relationships with their kids (even as adults). They all have one thing in common. They all spent time–lots of time–praying for their kids.

And so I pray for my kids.

It’s the best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever received.

4 Reasons To Read The Bible As A Family

 

Forget for a second that your teenagers pretend they don’t want to be around you. Forget that the first time you try to do this it is going to feel awkward. Forget that you feel like you don’t know the right way to do it.

Just pick a time of the day and go for it. Use a Bible reading plan. Read together for 15 mins.  Talk about what you read. Then close in prayer.Wm._Riley_Blankinship,_miner,_with_his_children._Koppers_Coal_Division,_Kopperston_Mine,_Kopperston,_Wyoming_County..._-_NARA_-_540984

Don’t worry if at first it doesn’t seem fruitful. What’s important is the routine of reading the Bible together as a family.

Because reading the Bible as a family does four things for your family:

First, it shows that you as the parent value the Bible.

This might seem like a small thing. It’s not. Teen’s attitude toward the Bible will often reflect their parent’s attitude toward the Bible. If teens don’t see their parents holding the Bible in high esteem, then neither will they. One of the greatest ways parents can contribute to the faith of their students is to share with them why they (the parents) reads the Bible, and how it has changed their lives.

Second, it centers your family around God’s Word.

Every time your family reads the Bible together, you are in a very simple way saying to your family that “as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” It’s a simple reminder to the family that your family is not like other families. Your family has different values, different traditions, different expectations. Your family is a family that seeks to follow Jesus. When you read the Bible together as a family you are reshaping your family’s identity. You’re grounding your family in something bigger than sports, music, video games, clothes, appearances, and other stuff. You’re giving your kids a sense of security that is hard to find anywhere else.

Third, when families read the Bible together it opens up the lines of dialogue.

Having trouble talking to your teens? Read the Bible together. Then ask them what came to their mind as they read (or heard) the words? What questions did they have? What did it make them think about God? What about their their life? About their friend’s lives?  Don’t worry about having all the right responses. Instead just focus on hearing what is on your teen’s heart. Think of it as a three-way conversation between you (the parents), your teens, and God. Trust that God’s Word is alive and active. And overtime God will use His Word to open up your teen to sharing what is on his or her heart.

Fourth, it might just save their marriage (and yours).

This might seem random, but it’s not.  There is a long held belief that the divorce rate in America is 50%. Now it turns out that it’s not quite that high at all. But do you know what the divorce rate is for couples who regularly read their Bibles together or pray together– less than 1%. That means if you help your children feel like reading the Bible as a family is normal, they might just do that with their spouse one day. And it might just be the one consistent practice that gives them the foundation to weather all the storms of life that come in a marriage. Not to mention reading the Bible as family will likely strengthen your marriage, which will in turn give you children  a healthier picture of marriage. It’s win-win.

 

Yeah, it might be awkward. Yes, it will take some practice. But know that it is worth it.

Because families that read the Bible together are simply, better families.

 

 

Two simple things parents can do to keep their kids walking with God

 

At some point every parent realizes time with their kids is running out. That their kids will soon leave the house. That their kids will soon make life choices without their consent.  As Christians we worry that one of those choices might be to walk away from their faith.

It’s a valid concern.

According to LifeWay Research, “70% of young adults who indicated they attended church regularly for at least one year in high school do, in fact, drop out”[1]. About two-thirds will eventually return at some point, but nevertheless that is a large number, even if it is just for a season.

So what can parents do to beat the statistics?

It may be of some comfort to know that this is not a new problem. In fact, it is a very old problem.

About 3,000 years ago a Levite named Asaph, who worked as a musician for King David, wrote Psalm 78. Within the song Asaph speaks of what must be done so that the next generation will not become “a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.”(Ps 78:8)

Asaph is concerned for his kids, and all the children of Israel. He is concerned that one day they might not follow in the faith of their fathers.

So what is Asaph’s solution?

He commends parents (and leaders) to do just two things. Pass down the Deeds and Decrees of the Lord.

Deeds

In verse four Asaph writes,

 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done.

And in verse seven he writes,

Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds

For Asaph, telling the next generation what God has done was of utmost importance. He understood that in order for people (of all ages) to know God, they must first hear about the works of God.

Today God calls parents to do the same thing. We are called to simply share with our kids what God has done. But not just in the Bible. We’re called to share what God has done, and is doing, in our lives.

I’ve found that most students want to hear how God is working in the lives of their parents. They don’t want a lecture. But they do want a story. They’d like to hear about a time when their parents needed God’s help and how he came through.

As a parent, your stories offer hope to your students. Hope that the same God who helped you will in turn be the same God who will help them.

Decrees

Stories are great. But stories alone are not enough to sustain the faith of a student. Asaph longed to pass down more than stories. He also longed to pass down the decrees of God.

In verses 5-7 he writes,

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

For most of us, “commands/decrees” have a negative connotation. But Asaph knew the commands of God were good. He knew the words of King David:

Blessed is the one…whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…whatever he does prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3)

He knew that people (of all ages) grow in a deeper relationship with God when they begin to delight in the decrees of God.

What might this look like for parents today?

Parents don’t have to hang the Ten Commandments on their kid’s bedroom wall (they can if they want). But they may want to talk to their kids about the choices they are making and why they are making them.

It is helpful for parents to explain to their kids why it is they follow the decrees of God. Parents can share why it is they don’t cheat on their taxes. Or why it is they don’t lie. They can share with their kids why it is they try to do what is right. And how doing what is right in God’s eyes has benefited them.

Again kids don’t want a lecture. But they are interested in real life case studies–especially from people they know. Giving them real life examples of the benefits of God’s decrees will show them that God can be trusted. It will show them God is good. And ultimately it will inspire them to delight in God.

We can’t force our kids to continue in a relationship with God. But we can model for them what an authentic relationship with God looks like. This happens when we spend time (lots of time) sharing with them the deeds of God and the benefits of the decrees of God. And when we do these two things we might just see our independent kids desiring to grow with God rather than choosing to walk away from God.

 

 

[1] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/may/dropouts-and-disciples-how-many-students-are-really-leaving.html?paging=off

 

Give Up Your Story

There is something in all of us that desires to live a great story. We want to have a part in a story that matters. We want to do something that will count.  We want a legacy that will live beyond our death.

But how do we ensure that happens?

Some of us fixate on our own stories.

We try to get the most out of life. We seek to accomplish the most we can. We seek to achieve what others could not. We seek to do more, shine brighter, so that when we die our last thought will be “I lived a fulfilled life”.

But of course the problem with this kind of life is that we may never have enough. We may never accomplish enough. There is always more that could be done.

Some of us fixate on the story of our families

“Family is everything”, we say. We love our family’s history. And we care about our family’s future. We want to do everything we can to help our family be successful. Our legacy is directly tied to the future flourishing of the next generation.

But families can be fickle. The hard work and success of one generation is easily wasted by the next. And what one generation wants for a family is not necessarily what the next generation will want. There is no guarantee that the story of our families will turn out how we would like it.  There is no guarantee that our legacy will be past down.

Some of us fixate on the story of our nation

Individual stories and family stories are fine. But some of us are attracted to a much greater story. The story of our nation. That is the story the engulfs our lives. In our minds we feel like we know how the story should go.We feel good when the story is going the way we think it should. And we feel scared and anxious when the story seems to go off course.

Of course, here too there is problem. We have little control over what happens in our nation. We can do our best to get the people we want in office, but that does nothing to ensure the nation will go in the direction we believe it should go.

A better option- the story of Jesus

Jesus understands that we long to be part of a greater story– a story that matters. He made us that way. He also knows that the stories of individuals, families, or nations (or anything else), can’t give us what we desire.

Sin runs through everything and corrupts every story.

Thus we need a better story. A story that can’t be corrupted. A story that has the power to sustain hope. A story that will last. A story we can depend on. A story that can not fail.

This is the story of Jesus.

Jesus is the hero of history. At the end of time Jesus alone will receive all glory, honor, and praise. His will be the story that will be retold and never forgotten.

This is why Jesus invites us to give up our story, and enter into his story.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from trying to get the most out of our own life. Because we no longer have to strive for our own success, but can now live out of his success.

When we follow Jesus we are freed  from trying to ensure our legacy will be carried out by future generations. Because Jesus brings us into his family, a family whose legacy is guaranteed to never be forgotten.

When we follow Jesus we are freed from putting our hope in the story of our nation. Because Jesus invites us into his nation, “The Kingdom of God”.  The only perfect nation that will last forever.

Through our relationship to Jesus we become part of the greatest story.  The story that is able to ensure for us the significance we long for.

That is why the story of Jesus is the only story worth giving up all other stories to be a part of.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hope of Father’s Day

Father’s Day, for me, is a reminder. A reminder that relationships can change and even be restored.

Growing up, I did not have the best relationship with my dad. We seemed to have lived in parallel universes. I liked sports. He couldn’t care less about sports. He liked working on cars and trucks. To this day I hate working on even a toy car or truck. He liked analyzing everything and teaching  people whenever he had the chance. I liked….well, ok, we have that in common.

Early on my dad was involved in my life. He was a coach on my t-ball team. He was my Tiger Cub leader, my Cub Scout Den leader, and then one of my Assistant Scout Masters. He was the one who pushed me to finish well and become an Eagle Scout (I am very thankful for that).

But as I grew older we grew further apart, partly because my dad was hard to be around. He had mood swings, and bursts of anger. He worked late and was less and less involved with the family. He was unstable, unpredictable, and oftentimes irrational.

In my teens years I really, really, did not like him. And once I left for college, I expected to see him even less. And the truth was, at that time, I was fine with that.

But a funny thing happened.

Through a series of fortunate events, I came to find out that my dad was not so much a bad man as he was a weak man. What I didn’t know growing up (and neither did my dad) was that he was suffering. My dad had severe sleep apnea which was causing him to lose more than 80% of his oxygen when he slept, and he was bi-polar.

I remember coming home from college one weekend and, unbeknownst to me, my dad had made some changes. He had begun using an air machine to help him breathe at night, and he had started taking medication to help control his mood. He was a totally different person.

He was kind. He was loving. When he saw me, he gave me a hug (a really big bear hug). And as I stood, trapped in the arms of my father, I thought, who is this?

Things were going to be different.

In my own heart there was still much anger and much pain from the wounds of the past. There was still confusion, and an extreme reluctance to take a step forward toward this new, unknown relationship. But the seed of healing had been dropped into the ground of our relationship. Over time it would blossom.

Over the next decade there would be many conversations, and many confessions (from both of us). There would be tears, understanding, and eventually forgiveness. And, to my surprise, there has been, is now, and always will be friendship.

This gives me hope.

I often wonder how my own three kids, as they grow up, will perceive me. I wonder how a decade (or two) from now they will describe me to their friends. Will they remember the laughs we had? Or will they remember the times I yelled at them? (Hopefully they’ll remember the times I apologized).

I don’t know which of my faults and weaknesses will drive stakes into their memories. But I do know this: That even if, for a time, they remember me as a terrible dad (I hope not); even if there is a time they want nothing to do with me (I really hope not); even if (hypothetically) I make every mistake imaginable… there is still hope of redemption and reconciliation.

My dad’s relationship to me is a testimony that Jesus Christ is bigger than our brokenness. That no matter how bad certain seasons of life are, there is always the possibility of things getting better.

I love my dad. I consider him a true friend, and a person I desperately want in my life and the life of my kids.

When I was a teenager I could not have imagined wanting such things. But that is the power of Christ.  Through Christ we have found the power to be honest about our shortcomings, the power to forgive, and the power to move toward reconciliation and healing.  Through Christ we have found the power to love again.

In Christ there is hope— there is always hope.

Father’s Day is a reminder of that hope. A hope my dad and I both share.

 

 

 

 

3 Good Reads For Parents

If being a parent has taught me anything, it is that I am not a parenting expert. I have become far more hesitate to give parenting advice after having kids than before I had kids. But thankfully there are people who research parenting stuff for a living.  And I am happy to share with you some of their best articles. Here are three helpful articles I came across this week.

 What Should I Do When My Kid Says, “I’m Not Going to Church”?

A statement like, “I’m not going to church” no longer has to result in conflict between parents and kids. Instead it can be an opportunity.  This great article will show how that is possible.

Moving from YOU SHOULD to SHOULD YOU?

I like any article that encourages parents to pull an intellectual Judo move on their kids. In this article, Jonathan McKee does just that.  With this little move you’ll no longer resort to lecturing your kids on what not to listen to, watch, or even wear. But instead you’ll empower them to use their own reasoning skills to make wiser decisions. 

When Children View Pornography and How To Respond

By the time your kids are in middle school there is a very good chance they have been exposed to pornography. This is a sad but well documented fact. Parents must know how to respond.  These articles provide parents with helpful information on what to do when their kids are exposed to pornography and to how protect them in the future. A must read for every parent.

 

I hope you found these articles helpful. Share your thoughts in the comments section. And let others readers know what parenting articles you have found helpful?

What Puritans Can Teach Us About Family Worship

What can I do to help my kids grow spiritually?

For most of us, the first thing that comes to our mind is to teach our kids the Bible. This is great, but depending on the age and stage of our kids this can be rough. So what can we as parents do?

This week I came across a conversation between  Tim Challies and Dr. Joel Beeke on the family worship habits of Puritans.  In it, Dr. Joel Beeke points out that for Puritans reading the Bible was just one part of family worship. But it certainly wasn’t the only part.

Below is a part of the conversation between Tim Challies (TC) and Dr. Joel Beeke (JB). You can read the entire conversation here.

TC: To hear people talk about the Puritans, you would imagine they were harsh toward their children, making them endure endless hours of family worship. Is this accurate?

JB: Endless hours in family worship would have been impossible for most people in the seventeenth-century. In Puritan New England, many people were farmers who had to labor hard to produce food. Children also had much to do in school, household chores, and working alongside their fathers and mothers to learn a vocation. The Puritans also took time for recreation. They enjoyed hunting, fishing, shooting competitions, and wrestling—two New England Puritan ministers were famous amateur wrestlers. They enjoyed music in their homes, owning guitars, harpsichords, trumpets, violas, drums, and other instruments. There was a lot to do; family devotions were one part—albeit the most important part—of a busy daily schedule.

The Puritans aimed at pithy instruction and heart-moving prayer. Samuel Lee wrote that in all our teaching of the family we should beware of boring the children by talking too much. Long devotions overburden their little minds. It is best to hold the attention of children by using spiritual analogies with flowers, rivers, a field of grain, birds singing, the sun, a rainbow, etc.

 

What is clear from this brief exchange is that Puritan families were spiritually strengthened by at least three practices:

They worked together

Whether household chores or learning their parent’s vocation, children worked along side their parents. This provided plenty of opportunities to for parents and children to talk together about life, the Bible, and the Christian faith. It was a way of living out the principles of Deuteronomy 6:4-7.

They played together

As hard as it is to imagine, puritans families had fun together. Sports, music, and just good old fashion play was a regular part of the their household interaction. They understood that all activities could be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

They enjoyed God’s creation together

Notice when teaching the Bible, parents were encouraged to use spiritual analogies to help children understand. They used pictures of flowers, rivers, fields of grain, singing birds, the sun, and rainbows, to help explain the Christian life. They used such analogies because they took pleasure in these creations. Puritans understood that one of the purposes of creation is to lead us to worship of our Creator (Romans 1:20).

 

Helping you family grow spiritually doesn’t have to be boring. And it doesn’t have to just consists of a series of Bible studies. If you really want your family to grow spiritually, then take a lesson from the Puritans. Work to together. Play together. Enjoy God’s creation together. Knowing that such practices will enhance those times when you do read the Bible together.

Family Worship

“What do you do for family worship?”

That was the question I asked my volunteer leaders about six months ago. I asked not because I wanted to check up on their family’s spiritual health. I asked because I was honestly looking for ways in which I could lead my family in worship.

Growing up, my family (although Christian) did not practice family worship. And even though I am a pastor, the idea of worshiping with my family by ourselves at home still feels a little awkward. We have, for a while, prayed together at night, and often even read the Bible together. But I still felt like I wasn’t very good at it. There were restless kids constantly getting up and down. There was yelling. There was crying. There were stuffed animal friends missing.   There was fighting over what to read and who got to hold what. There were tantrums so dramatic that I was tempted to cast out demons.

Then I came across an excellent book entitled A Neglected Grace: Family Worship in the Christian Home by Jason Helopoulos (yeah, I’m not sure how pronounce his last name either). Now the book didn’t magically fix everything. But it has given me a much better paradigm and model for family worship. And it is a book I would highly recommend to you for five reasons.

  1. It’s short. At 126 pages you could easily read it in a week.
  2. It’s biblical. Jason gives a great overview of family worship in the Bible, and demonstrates, from the Bible, why family worship is worth pursuing today.
  3. It’s relatable. Jason knows that, for most people, family worship is new and out of their comfort zone. So he provides real-life testimonies from regular families on the benefits of family worship.
  4. It’s incredibility practical. Jason offers some great practical models of what family worship can look like. He even has age-appropriate discussion questions for parents to ask their children as they read through the Bible.
  5. It’s from a perspective of grace. Jason is not challenging parents to add one more thing to their already full plate. For him, “Family worship is an instrument through which God gives us grace…It is not something that should be a burden. It is a joy.” Jason’s desire throughout the book is to help families experience more of God’s grace.

If you’re a parent or grandparent who wants to see your family grow in God’s grace, I would encourage you to get this book.

Family worship is by no means perfect at our house. But I can already see the benefits of making the effort. I love hearing my kids sing worship songs, I love hearing my kids pray, and I love hearing my oldest read the Bible. Every night these things happen we experience God’s  grace in our family.