Posts Tagged ‘parenting’


Don’t let your kids say this phrase

There is a phrase in our vocabulary that nobody has to teach us to say. It’s a phrase kids learn very quickly in childhood. And it’s a phrase you should ban in your household:

“That’s not fair.”

It sounds innocent enough. Everybody wants life to be fair, right? But this is an insidious phrase, revealing a sin so bankrupt it goes back to the very beginning, back to the Fall of Man. It’s essentially what Eve was told by the serpent. “You’re getting a raw deal. You’re entitled to more. God is holding out on you.”

If you read Paul’s account of the Fall in Romans, you’ll discover that it was this attitude–ingratitude and entitlement–that lit the match of sin, plunging Creation into darkness. And it’s a surefire way to test your own heart, to see where the idols are.

Maybe it seems a bit melodramatic to bring all of this up to my four children ages 2,4,5, and 9. But I fear that if I allow them to embed entitlement in their little hearts right now, if their first reaction to a someone else getting an extra dessert, a gift from a friend, a new pair of shoes is “That’s not fair.”

And so we don’t allow this in our home. And when it comes up, my kids know they are in for some form of punishment, which usually involves a long-winded soliloquy from Dad that goes something like this:

First, you are right in saying that life isn’t fair. Because it’s not fair that little children go to bed hungry this very night, having eaten nothing but a handful of rice and here you’ve just had seconds on french fries. It’s not fair that some boys and girls grow up without a mother and father, orphaned by a war they didn’t start. It’s not fair that some children won’t even see many birthdays, succumbing to diseases we treat with immunizations and routine trips to the doctor. So if there is a complaining about being fair, its you and me and all of us in prosperous, free America on the other side of “Not fair.” So in the line of people complaining about a bad lot in life, we are several zip codes away from the front. Most of the world is pointing to us and saying, “Life isn’t fair” and they have a much better case.

Second, you really don’t want life to be fair. We all have a scale of what is just–but the problem is that we are human and not God. He actually holds the scale and the Bible says to us that it’s weighed down heavily in favor of His mercy. Listen to the words of the prophet, Jeremiah, “It is of his mercies we are not consumed” (Lamentations 3:22). In other words, because of our sin against Him, it is overwhelming mercy that we are not immediate targets of His judgement. Instead, we are beneficiaries of His grace. We really don’t God to be fair, but to be just. What’s unfair is Jesus’ assuming our wrath and guilt on the cross on our behalf so we could be restored to a right relationships with God. And on a more personal, pragmatic, earthly level, we should ask ourselves: do we really want God to even out the score? For us in wealthy, rich America, that might mean taking some things away from us and giving them to the less fortunate. Or someone more appreciative.

Third, a heart of ingratitude and entitlement is evident of a deeper problem with God. This is what worries me most about entitlement. It is saying to God: I do not trust you to be my Father, to take care of my needs, to love me and care for me. Worse, it elevates self to a god-like position. Ingratitude says: I know better what is good for me. I’m a better god than God. When we say, “That’s not fair”, we are saying to God, you haven’t distributed things as evenly as I would. Even though I’m a sinful human, I know much more about what is just and right than you. That’s a dangerous position to be in, because we know from Scripture that God is the perfect Heavenly Father and to trust ourselves to our own care, our own lordship, only spells disaster (Proverbs 14:12; Matthew 7:9-11). You don’t want to go through life as your own lord, your own god, your own master. You only have to look around at the misery and despair in the world to see that’s not a path worth pursuing.

After this, I then give them three things to consider about their ingratitude:

First, the cure for ingratitude and entitlement is the gospel. We don’t simply want our kids to “buck up”, but we want them to be sanctified by the Spirit of God. You see the gospel cures our our entitlement syndrome by reminding us that Jesus is enough. It reverses the curse of the Garden. It answers Satan’s lie about God by pointing to a bloody cross and a suffering Savior. It says: God did provide all you need. God is your Father. Anything else you think you need is a cheap, worthless, soul-crushing substitute. 

Second, the gospel nurtures in us a healthy sense of justice. You see there are imbalances in the world, but rather than looking inward at what we think we lack, God’s love teaches us to look outward at the injustice in the world. As members of Christ’s kingdom, we now become part of His plan to heal and restore. We stop looking at our own lives and saying, “It’s not fair” and we start looking at others, who are suffering under the weight of the Fall and we devote our lives to getting involved in alleviating injustice around us. When give up our own entitlement for the sake of others, we become a small window into the Kingdom to come, where Christ will fully restore all things.

Third, resisting ingratitude early on help us avoid unnecessary disappointment and sorrow later in life. This is not to dismiss genuine, real suffering and pain endured by so many people. However, there is much in the way of trial and hardship that is brought on simply by unrealistic expectations of what God is supposed to give us in this life. The entitlement mentality is never happy, always looking for what is mine. This is a fruitless, miserable pursuit. But a gospel-centered gratitude that recognizes God as Father and giver of good gifts helps us enjoy the blessings we already have, to revel in the grace we possess rather than wishing for things we think we are owed.  In a sense, it’s the reverse prosperity gospel.

In Summary: Don’t let your kids say the phrase, “It’s not fair” about their own situation. It’s the phrase that pays in misery and alienation from God.


Five Ways We Do Family Worship

I’m a big believer in family worship. I believe God has clearly called parents to intentionally teach their children the ways of God. But for some, the idea of family worship is a bit scary. Either they don’t know how to do it or they think it means three hours every night of exegetical study through Leviticus.

But family worship doesn’t have to be scary or boring or a drudgery. It can be simple. Here are five ways we do it:

1) Around the Table. Sometimes we do it at dinner, other times we do it at breakfast (especially if I’m home for those meals). We usually use some kind of tool. In the past we’ve used the Jesus StoryBook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones, a book every Christian parent should own (in my opinion). Right now we are using an excellent book, Proverbs for Kids. This is a terrific book takes a proverb and offers some practical spiritual truth applicable to kids. It doesn’t take very long and it always includes a relatable story. We decided to do Proverbs because we just felt our kids needed some relational wisdom during this season of their lives. I also highly recommend New City Catechism by The Gospel Coalition. There are other really good resources out there for children as well.

When we do this around the table, it’s very informal. I usually read some Scripture and do some explanation, then I ask the kids questions about it. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we joke. After we are done, we usually offer a prayer. But we’re very intentional about teaching our kids about the Scriptures. The table is a great place to do it. We are all gathered, we’re enjoying God’s good provision of food and the grace of conversation. I think it’s important for families to share as many meals together as they can.

2) With a Hymnal or Singing. We don’t do this as often as we do the above, but every so often I will reach over and grab a hymnal and we’ll sing some songs together as a family. It can be really fun. What I love about the hymns is that they ground spiritual truth into the hearts of our children. We also like to listen to good Christian music in the car or at home. Sometimes words will come up, especially with hymns, that need explanation. This is a great way to share with our kids some good ideas and truth.

3) In everyday life situations. I love Moses instructions to the parents of Israel to teach God’s truth whenever their kids “sit down” and “rise” (Deut 6:7; 11:19). I don’t think this is a legalistic exercise. I think it is simply telling parents to use every opportunity that comes up, in daily life, to point to Jesus. We really try to do this and you’ll be surprised by the really cool conversations that come up. As a parent, you don’t have to do this in a scolding, lecture-type way. You can be fun, witty, and conversational.

But daily life presents golden opportunities for conversations about the gospel, about the character of God. And we’ve observed that sometimes these are more formative than the structured, sit-down, type of things we do. Our kids need to know that all of life is God’s, not just the space we reserve for him on Sunday. This is God’s world and we live in it, to worship and glorify him.

4) Before Bed. We have some of our great conversations before bed. Well, at least on the nights we are not getting to bed late and just trying to get to bed ourselves! But many nights, we’re able to do a lot of praying. We try to have each kid pray to God, to get used to that idea. It can be a bit chaotic to keep the kids from messing around during prayer. But there are some moments where you hear your kid pray an incredibly honest, beautiful, heart-warming prayer to the Lord. And you, also, can model prayer when you pray in front of your children. We also try to pray for at least one missionary every night. We’ve had stretches where we’ve slacked on this a bit, but we try to get back to doing it. We also ask our kids, “So, who do you think we need to pray for tonight.”

5) With reading literature. This may be a bit of a stretch, since reading books other than the Bible may not technically be “family worship”, but it is part of teaching. We try to expose our kids to some good reading, both classics and biographies. And as we’re reading, we try to share and explain Christian themes and concepts. We’re also fortunate that our homeschooling curriculum is heavy on literature. So my oldest daughter Grace has already read several missionary biographies. Parents can do this in a variety of ways, but it’s really helpful, I think, for kids to hear good stories and expand their wisdom and knowledge of God’s world.

Bottom Line: Our family doesn’t do worship perfectly and I’m sure there are better ways, resources, etc. Every family has to figure out what works best for them. However, we should all strive to be intentional with our kids’ spiritual education.


Five Common Mistakes Christian Parents Make

My wife and I are in the throes of parenting and are surrounded, in our church and among friends, with other parents in the throes of parenting. So my parenting radar is hot. I’m learning, growing, repenting everyday as I ask the Lord to make me a faithful dad.

It’s often easier to learn how to get better at parenting by observing and owning our mistakes. So here is a list of five tendencies Christian parents have. I hope it helps you think through this journey:

1) We overexpose our kids to the culture. The Bible doesn’t use the term, “culture”, but there is a very similar word, “world.” This is a loose definition of the prevailing thinking in a given society. Typically the values of the culture run counter to the way of Christ. Not always. Sometimes a culture is shaped by Christian influence. Today, we parents should be cautious in what we allow our kids to imbibe. We can be passive in allowing them to form ungodly convictions based on what everyone else is thinking and saying. What’s more, there are corrosive images that can hurt their souls. This is why we have to be wise to monitor the media they consume, how much time they spend online, and the amount of time they spend with friends.

2) We underexpose our kids to the culture. This is an equal and and opposite danger to overexposure. It is easy to adopt a fortress mentality as parents, sheltering our kids so much from the world that they have no ability to discern truth from error, ugliness from beauty. There is a tendency to overprotect our kids so much so that we fail to prepare them for their mission in this world. Our kids will one day live as adults and will require the requisite skills, both spiritual and social, to make wise choices. If our only parenting mode is protection, we fail to teach them how to apply the Scriptures to the reality of life in a sinful world. What’s more we rob them of the God-glorifying act of enjoying, consuming, and creating the best of culture: art, beauty, and grace as expressed by artists whose talent points to a masterful Creator.

3) We mediate all of their petty disputes. I wonder if there is a more difficult thing to resist than the impulse to dive in and solve all of my kids interpersonal problems with their friends. But I’ve found that when I become my child’s defense attorney, all the time, it not only harms my child’s ability to make good choices, it destroys the fragile unity among Christian parents. At times there are issues that are serious that must be addressed and there are times when a parent has to step in if a child is being bullied or abused. I’m not talking about these moments. I’m talking about the every day, garden-variety squabbles that kids have. Let’s face it, our kids are sinners in a fallen world. They will, at times, say things and do things that surprise and shock and hurt. They will at times be the recipient of hurtful words and actions. If we step in and take it personally every single time a kid calls our kid a name, we’ll not train them for life in the real world. We’ll damage their ability to work out forgiveness and repentance. And when they grow to be adults and face life in the world, wow, they will be in for a big, huge, rude awakening. It is said often in Scripture that we demonstrate our love for God by the way we treat people. So we need to let our kids learn these lessons as they interact with their friends.

4) We focus only on short-term behaviors. I’m learning this lesson as my daughter Grace gets older. She’s eight now and we’ve given her some liberty to go a few houses down and visit with her friends. These are good families with whom we have relationships. At times, we’ve gotten upset with Grace because she made poor choices, such as going past the boundaries we’ve set because her friends encouraged her. Or maybe going into someone else’s house or backyard without our approval. Sometimes it’s a simple act of disobedience. But there are other times when, frankly, she was presented with quick choices and wasn’t sure how to respond. We’ve often just reprimanded her for not getting our permission, but we have realized that we didn’t always give her the tools to choose wisely. So we’re sitting her down and running through scenarios, trying to train her how to make wise choices in the moment. We parents have a tendency to allow the frustration of the moment or just pure laziness to set a pattern of simply punishing behaviors rather than trying to set our kids up with the right information and tools to make good choices. We have to remember that there will be a time in the future when they won’t have us around anymore. And so if we make every decision for them. If we give them no space to fail and come back and figure out what they did wrong, if we don’t equip them to discern, they will be helpless when the time comes for them to be on their own. In the back our minds we have remember that we’re not simply training our children to be good, we’re equipping them for God’s unique mission in their generation. Are we doing this?

5) We overcompensate for our perceived childhood gaps. Every generation tends to react to the mistakes (perceived or real) of the previous generation. You hear it in our talk. “My parents never gave me X, so I want to make sure my kids have Y.” What we don’t understand is that our parents were doing the same thing. So the imbalance we experience was likely a reaction to their parents. We want to avoid the reactive, seesaw parenting if we can. It’s good to hilight areas where we think our parents might have missed the mark, but let’s be careful of the pendulum. So if you grew up in a legalistic environment and didn’t like that, your tendency will be toward permissiveness. If you grew up in a loose household, you’ll tend toward legalism, especially if you became a Christian late in life. We are wise to recognize the extremes and avoid them. Furthermore, let’s let the Scriptures and the influence of the Spirit of God guide us. And let’s resist the temptation to reactionary parenting based on what we experienced in our own childhoods. Because, like our parents, we’re fallen sinners in need of God’s grace. Our parenting will have huge gaps. And in twenty years it may be our children sitting on someone’s couch, lamenting the failures of their mother and father. So let’s have some humility.


Raising Little Pharisees

Prior to moving to our existing neighborhood, we lived in a small townhouse about 20 miles west. We lived there for 8 years and had great relationships with our neighbors. There was something about the physical closeness of our homes that fostered a closeness among the neighbors. I had thought that neighborliness was a dead art until I moved here. We enjoyed some rich, deep, wonderful relationships with a very diverse group of neighbors. We raised our kids together, borrowed each other’s baking goods, and experienced tragedy together. So when we moved it was bittersweet. We had to leave people we had genuinely come to love.

Despite this sense of community, few of our neighbors were what you’d consider committed evangelical Christians. And so as our children grew, we had to navigate the tension of being “in this world” but not “of this world.” There were contexts we avoided–particularly some parties that we felt would not be good for us or for our children. And yet we always struggled with articulating this, because we didn’t want to come off as judgmental. I think we did okay, but we always wondered.

I’m telling this story because it was this context (and our current context as a family in a new neighborhood) that constantly provokes Angela and me to wrestle with raising our children with values (on the one hand) and teaching them to love people and make a difference in the world (on the other hand). I think there is a real danger, especially among conservative evangelicals, to fall off the horse on one side or the other. Most of us are aware of the danger of too much immersion in the culture that can negatively influence our kids away from God. That’s a substantial fear (real and imagined) that has motivated much of what we do in the church. It’s a concern worth having. As parents, we’re the curators of what influences the young minds God has entrusted us.

But it’s the other danger, a more subtle danger, that worries me most as a parent. I’m afraid that if I’m not careful, I may raise up little Pharisees, who so imbibe the values I teach that they use them as a cudgel with which to judge others. We have to be careful about doing this.

I think there are three areas where this is a real danger. I want to discuss them and how keeping the gospel narrative front and center can help keep us balanced:

1) In the area of entertainment choices and parenting styles. Every family has their own set of entertainment guidelines. It could be as loose as “whatever you want to watch/download/listen to” (I hope not!) to as strict as total separation from anything cultural (I also hope not!). Most families fall somewhere in the vast gray in between. This can be a challenge for us. There are certain television shows we don’t allow our kids to watch for a variety of reasons. It could be sexual content, it could be language, it could be the level of violence (meaning we don’t want to deal with 3 am nightmares), it could be disrespect, etc. But what happens when the family down the street allows their children to watch this? And what happens if that family is Christian, too? Or vice versa. Maybe we’re the more permissive family.

Growing up in church, I know this can be a cause of contention between families. Kids don’t always understand nuance and shades of gray. So, for instance, if we’ve told my daughter Grace that a certain show is not good and then she finds out her friends watch it, she’s liable to look at them differently and even point out their “sin.” If we’re not careful, we’ll raise her to be a little Pharisee and the self-appointed guardians of other families’ choices. So here is what we have done in our family. We not only enforce our values, but we also make sure we teach our kids the importance of demonstrating forbearance and mercy. So, for instance, when Grace comes home with an attitude of “So and so watches that show. They are bad. Are they even Christians?” (this conversation has really happened quite a few times), we jump in and say, “No, Grace, this family feels it’s okay to watch it. We respect their choices. They are good people, etc. It’s sinful to judge people this way.” We also try to have conversations about first being concerned about sin in our own hearts before we look for it in others. We also talk about certain choices that are not as clear in Scripture about which every family has to make choices. It’s a difficult tension, because we want her to have the courage to resist peer pressure and make wise choices and yet we don’t want to raise her as a do-gooder Pharisee willing to rat out those who don’t follow her legalistic list. We also have to be careful to distinguish between the gospel that saves and the wisdom of wise choices. We never want our kids to think that not watching Spongebob, for instance, equals the gospel. (If you think Spongebob is wholesome, I won’t judge you, I promise!)

2) In the area of engaging with unbelievers

One of the most difficult tensions is raising our children to love sinners on the one hand and yet live their lives in Spirit-directed holiness on the other hand. There have been times when my kids have heard of or even seen conversations about unbelievers and some of their lifestyle choices and have made some pretty harsh statements. Probably because they heard them from us. Probably because that’s how Christians often talk and think about those who have not yet find the grace, mercy, and love of Christ. It’s amazing how having children really filters your conversations and makes you think about the culture you are creating in your home and church and other environments.

To remedy this, we constantly have conversations about what our mission is on this earth. Why are we here? To look good or to love others into the Kingdom? We constantly have to remind our children of their own desperate need for the gospel, that we need it as much as “that person” who seems so far from God.

I’m really deeply burdened by this responsibility. I think Satan can make great use of children raised in good Christian homes who avoid all the vices and yet who have no ability to mingle with sinners and have no love in their heart for the people God has called them to reach. We can easily raise little, green-housed, bubble-wrapped Jonahs who actually don’t want God to save those terrible “Ninevites.” It’s important for us to raise our children with gospel-informed values that will keep them from the heartache of sinful choices and yet if I’m not careful, I’ll raise my children in such a way that they have no impact in the world. Jesus loved sinners. He ate with them. Spent time with them. Engaged in long conversations with them. He did say to sinners (like you and me, by the way), “Go and sin no more.” But Jesus’ heart was brimming with love for the world. I want that to exist in my heart so much that it spills into my home and is caught like a virus by my children (John 8:11). Let’s raise children broken by their own need for the gospel and humble enough to know that, by the grace of God, there they would go.

3) In the area of politics. I’m probably launching a hand grenade into the conversation here, but I’m going to do it anyways. I wonder if we are training our young kids, raised in Christian homes, to have proper respect for authority. I’m not simply talking about pastoral authority or the police and fireman. But people we may disagree with, such as our the President or members of Congress. If we’re constantly calling them crude names and joking and slandering public officials, if our Facebook timelines are full of that kind of thing, what are we modeling for our children? It’s humbling to think that what I do in moderation my kids may do in excess. Are we telling our kids it’s okay to disobey Scripture and sin by disrespecting those in authority (1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13: 1 Timothy 2:2).

My daughter Grace is 8, so she is not that fluent in some of the ongoing political discussions. But we have had discussions about certain policies and about the President and other public officials. In some of her homeschooling discussions, we’ve read about his path to the White House and the history of being the first African American President. I know some conservative Christians who would think this is a “sellout” or “compromise.” But I disagree. I think it’s important to first teach my kids to respect the office and the person holding the office. Now, there have been moments where we’ve had some discussions on the issues, particularly during the last campaign. I outlined a bit what both candidates believed and why I was voting for whom. But I worked hard to try to do it in a respectful way. Saying something like, “Daddy disagrees on some issues with this man, but I respect him and pray for his family.”

I think it’s important to teach our kids civility and grace at a young age. I’m not sure that we do this well all the time. We are still learning and growing as parents.


5 Hard Truths for Parents

I hesitate to write a parenting post, only because I’m not an expert, just a father trying his best to parent the way God wants me to. Our kids are still young, so there is no “finished product” to evaluate to see if what I’m saying even makes sense. So when you read the following, take those above caveats in mind.

Parenting involves hard truths. It is a way that God searches your heart, humbles you, and softens you for His service. I’ve learned five hard truths about being parent, that I’d like to share with you:

1) There is no guarantee that your kid will be great. When I say greatness, I mainly mean biblical greatness, which involves knowing, loving, and serving God. It means living above the world, living an extraordinary life on mission. I’m referring to kids who become adults who have an impact for Christ on their generation. It’s hard to accept the fact that God doesn’t really give us a guarantee that our kids will achieve this. We need to disabuse ourselves of the bad theology that says Proverbs 22:6 is an ironclad guarantee that if we “follow the formula”, inserting our kids in one end of the evangelical assembly line, that they will come out at the other end as perfectly formed Christians. This is not a note of despair, but a breath of fresh air. It means that our job is to simply be faithful with our children, to provide the kind of loving, nurturing, providing, spiritual environment where faith can best grow. We’re to sacrifice for them, discipline them, teach them, and motivate them to fulfill God’s call on their lives. But we cannot change our children. We cannot alter their hearts. Only God through the regenerating work of His Holy Spirit can produce the kind of righteousness we would like to see. This is very important, both for lazy parents who are tempted to be less than faithful and overly analytical parents who bludgeon themselves daily with the false notion that they are constantly failing.This reality is why we must pray fervently for our kids.

2) Your child, upon entering life, is a sinner in need of regeneration. Nobody likes to think of their child as the bad kid, right? I’m amazed at how blind we parents can be to the faults of our own kids and supersonically sensitive to the faults of the kids of other parents. It seems our generation is likely to be more defensive on this than our parent’s generation, but maybe that’s just my experience. It seems that we parents are more likely to defend our child at all costs against any accusation of misbehavior and constantly point it back at the other kids, whose parents are obviously less intentional than we. But if we believe what the Scripture says about humanity, about the Fall, about every person’s desperate need for redemptive grace, then we’ll stop hurting our children by defending their sin. The truth is that one day it may be the other kid that commits the outrageous acts in the church nursery and then the next week it may be my child. I must constantly remind myself that my child needs a work of the Spirit as much as the other kids. Parents, we need to be less sensitive when it comes to criticism and/or correction of our kids by other parents and we need to acknowledge that our kids are not the perfect angels we like to think they are.

3) There is no method, no strategy, no system that can do the work of the Holy Spirit. We evangelicals love our parenting formulas and every year the strategies seem to change. Now, I’m grateful for the many tools provided by ministries like Family Life Today and Focus on the Family and other organizations. They have helped Angela and I immensely. I’m grateful for books, for seminars, for conferences. But I have come to realize that I must first pray for my child’s salvation. That is to say that it is my hope and prayer that each of one of our children come to faith in Christ as their Lord and Savior. Why? Not only do I care deeply about their eternal destiny and their intimacy with God now, but the Holy Spirit is the only agent who can actively change my child’s heart. Parenting is much more of a joy when the Holy Spirit is doing His work in the lives of my children. The Spirit can take my faithfulness, my teaching, the environment I create and can use that to work in the heart and lives of my children. There is a great temptation to sort of “forget” or “eliminate” the role of the Spirit in parenting. We can too easily become enamored with our system of character-formation (which is important) and almost convince ourselves that parenting is all up to us. Yep, our kids will be good because we did it right! That’s humanism. You don’t have to be a Christian to parent this way. It leaves no room for the miracle of the gospel.

4) You will make a lot of really big mistakes You are not going to get it all right in your parenting. You will have glaring blindspots that your kids will one day lament as they consider their own parenting. But guess what? This is where God’s grace bleeds through. Be faithful, be humble, be apologetic, be present–and God will use you to mold the lives of your kids. It’s better to realize this up front than to fool yourself into thinking that you’ll be perfect, that whatever mistakes your parents made you will now iron out. It’s better not to convince yourself that you’ve finally mastered the balance between grace and law in your home. It’s better to go through your parenting years with the humility to realize you don’t have all the answers, the grace to apologize when you mess up, and the confidence that God can somehow take your flawed efforts and shape the hearts of your children. What encourages me about my children is to know that God loves them infinitely more than I love them, that God wants their spiritual success, their wholeness, their character more than I do. It encourages me to think that the huge, glaring gaps in my parenting will be filled by the Heavenly Father.

5) You need to unselfishly prepare them for their mission. The biggest temptation we parents face, I think, is to consider our kids as our kids rather than God’s children. Don’t misunderstand me, when I look at my children, I think all the time, Wow, these are my kids, this is awesome. And yet I have to remind myself that they are God’s children more than they are my children. This matters because it affects the way we parent. If we have children for our own pleasure and enjoyment, they will ultimately disappoint us. And we will ruin them by trying to mold and shape them, either into our own image or into the person who completes what we feel we lack. Instead, like Abraham, like Hannah we must relinquish control of our children to the Lord for his mission. This means rather than overprotecting them in a germ-less Christian bubble, we teach them and train them and equip them for life. We don’t assume the gospel and the great doctrines of the Christian faith, we drill these truths deep into their hearts and souls, so that they can carry this deposit of faith in their generation. It means we start teaching them essential life skills so they can go into the world and make a difference. It means we work hard at identifying their gifts and talents and how so they can discover their God-given vocation. Preparing our children for life means we slowly prepare our own hearts for the moment they will leave the nest, so we don’t hang on and destroy their adulthood, so we don’t hover over their relationships, their marriages and hurt their mission.

*This is by no means an exhaustive list of principles and truths, just some that I’ve been reflecting on lately. 


5 Things Every Son Needs to Hear From His Dad

By God’s good grace, I’m the father of four beautiful children: three girls and one boy. Last week I wrote about the 5 things a daughter must hear from her dad. Today I want to talk about fathers and sons.

Just as there is something wonderful about being the father of daughters, there is something wonderful about being the father of a son. In my house, Daniel Jr (4) and I are outmatched four-to-one by girls, so we sort of stick together to make sure everything is not painted pink, some football gets watched on a regular basis, and that we watch as many superhero movies as Barbie movies.

Seriously though, the job of raising a son is a noble and important task. It is a job many men abdicate, leading to what is now a full-blown crisis in our country: a crisis of fatherhood. Look up the statistics when you have time and you will see that a very high percentage of young men in prison experienced little or no involvement from Dad. In my pastoral role, I’ve seen the devastating effects of a father’s absence or lack of leadership in the life of his son.

Fathering your sons is a serious job, men. And so in that spirit, I’d like to offer five things every son needs to hear from his father:

1) You are loved. Every boy needs to hear and know that his father loves him. Without this affirmation, a man carries deep wounds that affect his most important relationships. I’ve talked to men at all stages of life who yearn to hear those magic words that mean the most when they come from Dad: I love you. Today, my son is only four years old, so it’s easy for me to do this. I suspect as he gets older, it will become a bit more awkward. But I plan on doing it still. Behind the sometimes rough exterior of every young boy is a heart that longs to experience the love of his father. What you don’t realize is that the first image your boy will have of his Heavenly Father will be the image of the human father looking down on him. So tell your boy you love him.

2) I’m proud of you. I can’t tell you how many men I know who, to this day, are still living their lives in search of their fathers’ approval. Down deep in their hearts they wonder, Am I good enough? Did I make it? Is Dad proud? I’m learning that it’s important for us dads to be hard on our sons in many ways (see below), but we should never withhold our approval. They need to know, at periodic junctures in their lives, that they measure up, that there is nothing they have to do to earn our favor. Sure, at times they will disappoint and they should know and feel this. And yet we should not be taskmasters who, in trying to motivate our sons to greatness, withhold the very ingredient that will fuel their success: confidence. I’m reminded of God’s approval of Jesus as His Son was baptized by John the Baptist. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matthew 3:17; Mark 19:35). Yes, there are important theological ramifications to that phrase beyond mere approval, but still I can’t help see God’s approval for Jesus as a model for our relationship with our sons. If your son doesn’t make Division 1, if he gets accepted into a school other than Harvard, if he becomes a truck driver instead of a pastor, don’t ever give him the impression you like him less. Don’t damage his soul this way.

3) You are not a slacker, you’re a soldier. Today the culture presents such a confusing picture of manhood. What is a man supposed to be, anyways? Pop culture tells him he’s sort of unnecessary and the best he can do is idle away his adolescence by satisfying his sexual urges, simulating warfare with a joystick, and lacking any kind of noble ambition. But God did not make your son or my son to be a slacker, but a soldier. Now don’t get uptight about the word soldier. It’s okay to encourage our sons to be masculine. This doesn’t have to mean a deer hunting, truck driving survivalist. Plenty of real men sip lattes, drive minivans, and hate camouflage (guys like me). There is a vision of manhood in the Bible, one of nobility and strength, of sacrifice and courage. A real man fights for what he loves. A real man cherishes the woman God gives him. He doesn’t exploit her. A real man pursues that calling God has stamped upon his soul, one that is discovered through intimacy with God, identification with gifts and talents, and meeting the world’s deep needs (to paraphrase Buechner). Nobody can help guide our sons along their mission more than us fathers. Let’s not leave our sons’ futures to chance. Let’s stand beside them, modeling for them what it looks like to live on purpose.

4) Hard Work is a Gift, Not a Curse. Idleness, laziness, and indecision are the devil’s best tools for ruining the lives of young men. Guys, our sons needs to see us work hard and to be encouraged, made to work hard. They need to see that work is harder because of the Fall, but was actually given by God to experience His pleasure. Getting our hands dirty, straining, struggling, sweating–these are all good things, not bad. Sadly many young men have not seen what it actually looks like for a man to work. Let’s show them that work brings joy. Work honors God. Work done well brings glory to the creator. It may be done with fingers on a keyboard or by swinging an ax-head or by maneuvering a fork lift. It can be done in air-conditioned offices, muddy swamps, and underneath a car. But make no mistake: work matters and what we do with our hands, done well, is a testament to the Creator.

5) You are gifted, but you are not God. Let’s imbue our sons with a sense of confidence, of approval, of dignity. But let’s remind them that while they are gifted by the Creator, they are actually not God. Let’s teach them that genuine masculinity doesn’t strut. It bows. It picks up a towel and washes feet. A real man is as comfortable praying as he is preaching. He knows that his strength isn’t found in his exploits or what he thinks people think of him. His strength comes from God. This humility will fuel his compassion and will allow him to forgive those who deeply wound him. Let’s let our sons know that their lives really begin, not when they walk down the aisle at 18 or when they get their first employment contract or when they fall in love with a woman. Their lives began on a dusty hill 2,000 years ago, at the foot of a Roman cross, where justice and forgiveness met in the bloody sacrifice of their Savior. Let’s teach them that to live their whole lives without Jesus is like playing a concerto on the deck of the Titanic. It’s beautiful while it lasts, but it ultimately ends with sorrow. If we do anything at all with our sons, men, let’s point them to the Jesus we know.


5 Things Every Daughter Needs to Hear From Her Dad

I’m a father of four beautiful children, three of whom are girls. My oldest daughter is eight years old and with each passing year since her birth, I’ve become more conservative when it comes to all things that pertain to my girls. I’m not a gun enthusiast, but I could be if it meant standing at the porch waiting for the first guy who dares to ask one of my daughters on a date.

Seriously though, I love having daughters. There is something about having a daughter that softens a man, adds a certain tenderness to his soul. In that spirit, I’d like to share five things every daughter needs to hear from her father:

1) You are beautiful and you are loved. This is something you should tell your daughter at least once a day and probably more than that. Telling her once every so often doesn’t cut it. I’m no psychologist, but daughters who know their father loves them grow up with more confidence and tend to avoid looking for love in all the wrong places. Hearing she is beautiful is oxygen for your daughter’s soul. So do it often, in different and creative ways.

2) Your mother is beautiful and she is loved. The best gift you can give your daughter is to show her how a man treats a woman. Let her see modeled in you, however imperfectly, the God-given love between a man and a woman. Tell your wife daily that she is beautiful, that you love her, and that you are glad you married her. Tell her you are committed to her for life. And say these things, periodically, in front of your children.

3) You belong to God and were created for his glory. Girls frequently battles insecurity over a number of issues: their weight, their looks, their friends. Maybe sometimes they feel unimportant or unwanted, even in a home with love. This is why you, as a father, should remind them often that they are special creations formed lovingly by the Creator in His image. You should read with them the words of David, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” from Psalm 139. That passage should be well-worn in your Bible and something internalized by your daughters for moments of doubt.

4) You are forgiven. Your girls will mess up. They will sin. They will disappoint you. And if you don’t have the good news of the gospel at the center of your family, she may grow up wondering how to measure up or what to do with her sins. Evangelize your daughter and then disciple her. Train in her in the vital Christian practice of repentance and forgiveness. Repentance for her sin and forgiveness of others’ sins. Let her know that Christ is always ready with fresh supplies of grace. Let her know that she must apply that grace not only to herself, but toward others who will wound her.

5) You are accepted. Whatever you do, don’t let your daughter consume the poison of the culture which measures a woman’s worth by her independence, by her ability to give away freely her purity. Don’t for a moment let her swallow the lie that sexual license is anything but a bondage of the worst kind, the enemy’s way of stealing the creativity and beauty and purpose for which she was created. Teach her what to look for in a man (hint: not the slackers you see on TV). Also: be that man so she knows what it looks like. Make her aware of the beautiful image of womanhood painted by the Creator. Her acceptance, her sense of self, her worth are bound up in her unique calling as God’s daughter.

*Next week I’ll share a similar list for fathers and their sons.


What We Really Should Be Teaching Our Kids

Last Thursday, during the Thanksgiving meal we hosted at our house, my son, Daniel Jr (age 4) had an epic meltdown over a superheros costume. My brother, Tim, was the recipient of much of this. After dealing with Daniel’s tantrum, we both went our way, sharing times with our family members, eating more pie, and watching football. About 30 minutes later, something wonderful happened. My son, Daniel voluntarily walked up to my brother, Tim and said, “Uncle Tim, I’m sorry for my attitude before. Will you forgive me?”

Nobody forced Daniel to do this. He just did it. For me, it was a proud moment as a father. Because it tells me that Daniel is learning one of most important lessons in life: How to apologize when you have wronged someone.

It seems to me that Christian parenting can often be so caught up in behavior modification that we forget to instill in our kids the real and important things they will need to live a healthy spiritual life. The tools for dealing with their own sin. Because, brace yourrself parents, our kids will sin. They will sin today and they will sin for the rest of their lives. Hopefully they will come to faith in Christ and experience His sanctifying work so that they sin less. But as fallen creatures, they will sin.

Sadly, much of our parenting techniques miss this important point. We parent as if we can actually iron out sin, as if we could just stumble onto the right system so that we’ll produce perfect little angels. In doing this, we rob our children of the most important truths they will need to succeed: the reality of the gospel.

You see, it is good that we have rules and laws in our homes. After all the law was originally given by God as an act of grace toward his children. And good parents demonstrate their love for their own children by having laws. Not running in the street is a pretty good law that protects their welfare.

However, if we are only about law and talk and model and enforce nothing of the gospel, we are crippling our children. We are giving them no mechanism for dealing with the inevitability of their own sin. I think much of this is the due to the tragic misapplication of Proverbs 22:6 (Train up a child in the way he should go . . . ) which is a proverb of wisdom, not a promise of perfection for kids.

We must, as parents, embed the gospel in our parenting. We must first evangelize them so they come to Jesus in repentance and faith. Then, we must teach them to apply the gospel in their lives: the vital cycle of repentance and forgiveness. In other words, we must teach them to live life as it really is, not as we often wish it would be.

We all know the dangers of a lawless, boundary-less household. But we seldom think about the impact on kids of a childhood that sees no grace. Parenting simply fixated on behavior modification–with  no gospel-based mechanism for dealing with sin, failure, and weakness–has two equally devastating effects. Kids either reject the legalism of the law and live a miserable life with no boundaries or they embrace a lethal mixture of Phariseeism and perfectionism, holding themselves to an impossible standard and thumbing their nose at anyone who doesn’t live up to their standard.In both cases, you have children who are shocked by their ability to sin and have no idea where to go with it.

The point is this. We are not simply training our kids to be good kids. We are modeling for them the relationship God has with us. We’re introducing them to Christ, who is their sin-bearer, the champion has defeated sin and death, and their only way of victory over sin.

A parenting model that focuses only on right behaviors, at the expense of the gospel, is a parenting model that treats every offense as Armageddon, that is horrified and surprised when their little angels commit sin. It’s a parenting model that ruins parents with dangerous introspection (what did I do wrong). It’s a parenting model based on fear, not faith.

But, a parenting model that features a mix of grace and law looks much different. It applies and enforces God’s law in the home, but introduces the concepts of grace, repentance, and sanctification. And what it celebrates is not necessarily little Johnny’s ability to not throw tantrums, but little Johnny’s voluntary expressions of remorse and repentance afterword.