Category Archives: Home and the Gospel
So many people think that it is the job of the church to disciple their children. I hear it often when talking to people about why they are looking for a church – “We want our kids to be raised as Christians.” Ideally the church supplements what mom and dad are doing to make disciples in the home. These are my thoughts and ideas about how to get the gospel into the lives of our children.
Every morning I have the joy of taking my children to school. Bella gets dropped off first. Elijah is second. Luke is dropped off a little later at the high school. Right before they get out of the car I say to them: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it and make the most of it. I love you. Have a great day.” I try to make it a point to say this every day. Some days I even sing it. But that usually hurts my message instead of helps it.
This morning I declared my daily dose of encouragement to Elijah. He responded: “I know dad. I’ve got it. You don’t have to keep telling me over and over.” To which I responded: “I do have to say it over and over, and I will continue to do so because it is one of the most important things I can tell you. I want you to know and get this.”
As I was driving off I realized: “I am just starting to get to him. He is hearing it. It is sinking into his mind and heart.”
I’ve heard it said that when a leader/teacher/parent gets tired of saying something, then the people listening are just starting to hear it and get it. But I say that when our children are tired of hearing it, we have truly started to influence and teach them. When it seems to get old to them, it is just starting be real and truly take hold.
What true and life-changing language do you consistently say over and over to shape the mind and heart of those you love? Don’t give up. Be consistent and you will get to them. They will let you know when you have.
I desperately want to make a difference in the life of my children. I want them to flourish and live life to the fullest. I want them to know the truth so that they can be free and full in Christ. I want the same for all the people I love, including myself.
With so many competing voices in the world, I have come to firmly believe that one of the best ways we can make a difference is by having a statement (or a few) that we really believe, and say it over and over again.
As I reflect on my childhood, the statements that were said over and over are the ones that have stuck. Not all of those statements that have persisted have also impacted my life in profound ways, but they remain nonetheless. For instance, my dad would say often to my siblings and I: “You all are a three-ring circus at the world’s fair.” Though the meaning escaped me for a long time, it became a part of me. It’s ingrained in my brain.
One statement that I say every morning to my children as I drop them off at school is this: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Rejoice and be glad in it!” (Ps. 118:24) I also try to frequently say this in times of mistakes and discipline: “There is nothing you do to turn me away.” Here is one more example: “We have to do what we need to to, to do what we want to do.”
So ponder the long-term implications of saying the same statements over and over. What if for the next ten years I declare daily to my children: “This is God’s day! He made it. Therefore, we can have joy in it because we know He is present and this day is no accident. Make the most of this day for His glory and your joy!” Then when my day of departure arrives and I go to be with the Lord, what will my family and friends say about me when they gather to celebrate the life God has granted? What will they remember?
I hope something like this: “Remember that dad always used to say to us Psalm 118:24. He did that because He wanted us to know that each day was worth living to the fullest because He believed that God had made it, and it was a gift to be used for His glory in Christ.”
If that is what they say when I go to be with Christ, then I will rejoice for all eternity that God has used me because I consistently proclaimed one glorious truth about God and how we should respond.
What is the one truth you say to yourself and to those you love everyday?
Does anyone else find it challenging to get their children to brush their teeth – along with a lot of other simple and necessary tasks?
A few mornings ago our six-year-old was in full resistance mode about brushing her teeth. She just could not understand why it was necessary to brush when it would all be undone by eating in a few hours. She plead her case to her mom. She stated it again. It just didn’t make any sense to her. “What’s the point?”, she complained.
Her patient mom had decided enough was enough, and forcefully commanded that she go brush her teeth or else. And so our reluctant six-year-old moped toward the bathroom, like a teenager with shoulders slouched forward, to do the senseless act – the act of brushing her teeth.
On her way from one end of the house to the other, I stopped her and asked her to talk to me. I asked why she did not want to obey her mom. She put forth her best argument, and I listened. Then I asked her: “Don’t you think we have good reasons for asking you to brush your teeth?” She wasn’t sure we did.
I explained to her that she had been sleeping all night and that there were things in her mouth, that if not brushed out, would create little holes in her teeth. Those little holes would need to be drilled out, and to drill them out, she would need to have a shot to numb her mouth. And all of this would cost us money that would be better used for other, more enjoyable things. I concluded our conversation by showing her the fillings in my teeth and asked: “You don’t want fillings like daddy, do you? Do you see we are trying to help you by asking you to brush your teeth?”
Having appeared to be persuaded by my reasons, she went to the bathroom with shoulders up and brushed her teeth.
So what’s the point of sharing this little experience?
Well, I am not saying we have to formulate careful and coherent arguments for every act of obedience we command, but one of the things I am learning about parenting is that most of the time children respond well when we give them reasons for our expectations. When we take the time to do this, it also teaches them how to think and communicate. We are helping them develop and grow as a person, and we are helping them see that we know and want what is best for them. We are earning their trust.
Sometimes its necessary to demand obedience because “I told you so and I am the parent.” But perhaps taking an extra five minutes to explain the “why” would be beneficial to child and parent.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert on this topic. I have one teenager and he is in his first year of teen-aging. Check back with me in fourteen years when my youngest exits the up-and-down teen years, and I might have some different ideas. I might retract much of what I have written. Having said that, I am am trying to be intentional and experimenting with ways to help my son think biblically and trust Jesus. With the help of my wife and church, I am taking seriously the biblical responsibility to teach my children to trust and obey Christ in all of life.
Here’s what I have been trying and thinking:
- The gospel must be ultimate in everything. For example, whether I fail or my children fail, I want to maximize the use of that failure and point them to why the gospel is so precious and why we need Jesus so much. I am a 43-year-old man who still has moments of failure and sin and Jesus is my only hope in life and death. Further, the gospel empowers me to seek forgiveness from those I fail and sin against. I don’t need to act like I am perfect because Jesus has dealt with my sins once for all. I can ask for forgiveness because I have forgiveness. As parents, we must relate to our children like the gospel is real and all-important.
- Guard against being overbearing about everything. Honestly, I don’t like the music my son listens to. Some of my reasons are preference and some are substantive. Music was an idol that redirected my affections away from God when I was a teenager. But telling him to “turn that junk off” is probably not the best tactic. Instead, I have found that thoughtful conversations about what he is listening to is a better approach. We have talked about the truth that God makes all music possible in the way he has designed the creation. We have talked about the yearning of people that is communicated in their lyrical proclamation. We have talked about the obvious deviation from God’s design when it is apparent. There are some things a parent has to be firm about with an unequivocal stance, but coming down with an iron fist on everything is not winsome. As parents, we must choose carefully which hills we are willing to die on. And perhaps just as important, we must be wise about how we fight for those hills.
- Regularly expose them to intelligent and thoughtful Christians like Albert Mohler so that they can develop a robust Christian Worldview. Recently, when in the car, I have been listening to a lot of sports-talk, a little NPR and a bit of Petra. My teenager, however, likes to try to take over the radio when he is with me and listen to the classic rock station. I am willing to accommodate him most times-if he politely asks. But for the last several weeks, we have intentionally been listening to The Briefing Podcast with Albert Mohler while we make our ten minute commute from home to the school. Mohler summarizes recent national stories and then carefully articulates a Christian worldview in response. It’s been very encouraging to observe my son listening intently and commenting thoughtfully to important issues being discussed in a biblically coherent way. Some of our best conversations have been happening as we listen together and pause to discuss or understand what is being said. As parents we must intentionally expose our children to winsome and wise people who are interacting with the most important issues of our day.
- Make every effort to be consistent. Developing sustainable patterns in life and and in the home is critically important. For instance, my wife and I strive to have a regular family worship time. It’s not easy, but it gets easier with consistency. Training takes disciplined repetition. WE try to have a regular time of abiding in Christ for our own joy, but also to model what we hope our children will eventually do. I try to consistently praise my wife in front of my children. We effort to talk to them the way we want them to talk to others. A general rule of life is: what we believe to be important is what gets done consistently. As parents, we must create convictional consistency.
I have witnessed fruit from these four strategic ideas. I am not perfect at them, but by the grace of God, I am trying to get better. As parents, our job is to be faithful, but faithfulness means we have some idea about what we are doing to be faithful. What strategies are you intentionally employing to help your children follow Jesus? As parents, we must have strategies that we are convinced will help our children follow Jesus. It’s our divinely mandated responsibility (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Psalm 78:1-8; Ephesians 6:1-2).
Family devotions can be difficult and discouraging. Below are some challenges you may have run into:
- It’s hard to make consistent time.
- The children won’t sit still or be quite for any amount of time.
- We (parents) haven’t taken the time to formulate a reasonable plan and expectation.
The struggle is real.
As a matter of fact, you may be able to think of many other reasons why a family devotion just won’t work. Yet God’s word clearly places on parents the primary responsibility to make disciples of their children by teaching them the life-giving truths of the Spirit-inspired scripture (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-3).
We want to help you trust and obey God’s word, and so we have provided the following resource for 2019. If you are utilizing the 2019 Eagle Heights Bible reading plan, you will notice that at the end of each week there is a question in bold (see the example below). This question is also in the Big Picture Questions and Answers Booklet pictured above. There is also a handy poster inside each booklet. These are available at the Eagle Heights Connection Center.
TRY THIS PLAN FOR FAMILY DEVOTIONS
- Plan a consistent time and place you can have a family devotion. You may have to adjust on occasions, but carve out a time that works most of the time and stick with it.
- Make known reasonable expectations. For example, let them know that your time will only last for 10 minutes. Ask them not to get up while it’s devotion time. Ask them to raise their hand if they want to speak. Don’t try to do too much.
- Begin with prayer
- Ask the question from the catechism booklet or poster: “Who is God?” Let them try to answer. Give them the answer and show them what God’s word teaches by reading the verse from the Bible. (Note: We have provided Bible references to the catechism questions because there are not any in the booklet or on the poster.)
- Try to think of a brief story or object lesson to illustrate this. This will help you learn God’s word and will help them grasp abstract concepts.
- Say to them, “Throughout the week we will ask you this question(s) to help you memorize the biblical truth.” Do this every day. It will only take a minute or two.
- End with a song that everyone can sing together.
This is simple enough and looks pretty easy – right? It won’t be. But if you stick with it, you will create a new habit and God will not only use in the life of your children, He will use it to change you. Pray for conversations and fruit, and whatever you do, don’t give up. Jesus Christ was and is faithful. Follow His example.
Our children will come under attack. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
How do we prepare our children for the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph. 6:16)? Satan, from the beginning (Genesis 3:1-6), has sought to create doubt about the Creator God’s goodness, which ultimately results in unbelief.
How many children have been brought up in a loving and caring family that is faithful to Jesus and his people, and are then exposed via the Internet, a difficult life moment or in a university class, to a question or worldly doctrine that completely destroys their faith? How do we prepare our children for that?
What we can’t do is wall them off or hide them from the world in a tower. We can’t perpetually protect our children from the trust-eroding questions that are going to come with regard to God and His word. We can’t shelter them from the hard questions that a broken and evil world often produces.
So what is to be done? I want to propose one strategy in which we carefully vaccinate them so as to build up their immunity to the destructive schemes of the enemy.
You likely know how vaccinations work in theory. Those we wish to protect are exposed to a controlled and modified dose of the disease we wish to avoid, and the recipient builds up an immunity or a protective defense against that which can harm and destroy.
Similarly, I propose we ought to prayerfully and carefully expose our children to the kinds of questions and problems that they will eventually have to face. In this way, we control the dose and the environment so that we build up confidence in God’s word. Think about it, would Christian parents rather their teenager consider the problem of evil with their help, or with the help of the atheist prof in an introduction to philosophy course? Would we rather them hear it from us first, or be completely blind-sided by a stranger or someone who does not have their best at heart?
Consider the message we are sending when we take this proactive approach. In essence, we are saying we believe in the strength of the message we espouse. If we try to hide or avoid the challenges to our faith from our children, then they may become suspicious that we don’t believe the Christian worldview and that it can’t stand up to the arguments of the world. I propose we be honest that this world is complicated and hard to understand because of the brokenness and chaos that sin has wrought. To be clear, I don’t want us to overdose our children with the poison of unbelief, but we must show that our faith is a confident and thinking faith. We must also declare the message that the Christian worldview can withstand the attacks and scrutiny because we trust the creator God who gave it to us and the Jesus Christ is the final answer about God’s love and justice.
As an example, this morning someone posted on the Facebook the video below of Ravi Zacharias. I found it to be a cogent response to an age-old question regarding the problem of evil and suffering. The person asks a question that goes something like: “Why doesn’t God stop evil by stopping the person who is pulling the trigger to murder? If God is just and good, why does he allow evil?”
Having watched the video, and found it to put forth a sold response to a potentially faith-crippling question, I asked my teenage son to watch it on our way to school. Then after it was over, we talked about the problem and the answer. And then I prayed for God to protect my own heart and the heart of my son from the one who is a liar from the beginning (John 8:44) and seeks to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). Truly, my best ideas are useless without God’s merciful work upon the heart and mind (John 15:5).
I share this strategy with much trepidation because I don’t know what the outcome will be with regard to my efforts. I also don’t presume this is a one-size-fits-all approach. But I refuse to sit back and wait for the enemy to dictate the conversation and frame all the questions to his advantage. I want to do all I can to prevent a blindside sneak attack that none of us are prepared for. I have faith that our biblical faith, rightly understood, can stand up and shield us from the flaming arrows. I would rather say that I tried and failed, than to have failed to try.
The enemy will attack. What is your defense? What is your strategy?
The video is worth the 6 minutes it takes to watch.
Life experience is really important, and it is one of the realities that makes the local church so important and practically helpful. We would do well to learn from the people who have gone before us and experienced the ups and downs that life will throw at us. A multi-generational church is a gift, if we recognize it and embrace it.
Tomorrow morning at 9:15 a.m. in the worship center, I have asked four empty-nester couples to share one parenting strategy that they successfully employed when they were parenting. But I have also asked them to share something they wished they would have done, or something they would do differently. We will then have 20-25 minutes of Q&A.
If you are a parent of any age, with children in the home of any age, I highly recommend you make the effort to join us and learn from the life experience of others in the body of Christ.
07.11.18 – Below is the video from our time together.
No matter how you look at it, life is a precious gift. If you are a Christian, then you recognize that life is an especially meaningful gift because it is designed by God for an eternal purpose. The Bible tells us so.
Today is my son’s eleventh birthday. I love that boy and I want to do spiritual, eternal good to Him. I want him to know that he is intricately designed for a God-glorifying purpose. For this reason, when our children have birthdays, besides giving them gifts, parties and special privileges, I try to say something meaningful to them from God’s word. So this morning I asked him to stop what he was doing on his iPad so he could look at me and I read to him Psalm 71:4-6.
Rescue me, O my God, out of the hand of the wicked, Out of the grasp of the wrongdoer and ruthless man, For You are my hope; O Lord God, You are my confidence from my youth. By You I have been sustained from my birth; You are He who took me from my mother’s womb; My praise is continually of You.
When I was done reading I said to him something like this:
Son, did you know that just like the person who wrote this passage thousands of years ago, you too have been sustained from your birth by the almighty hand of God? Son, did you know that He brought you from your mother’s womb with breath and life? Did you know that you are fearfully and wonderfully made? So son, find your hope in this God; the only God (5). Son, call out to the LORD God when you are in trouble (4). Son, may you see the goodness of God to you now that you are a youth and are growing into a man (5b), and in response, may you always praise God continually (6). Son, daddy loves you and the best thing for you is to know and follow this God, though Jesus. I thank God for you, son. Happy Birthday.
I didn’t sit down and write a mini-sermon. I just read the text to him and responded by expressing how God’s breathed-out word applied to him on this important day in which we remember that God gave us a very special gift.
Do you do this? Do you take special moments and bring God’s word to bear on the situation? I get lazy sometimes and don’t do it. But I try to always say something meaningful about God’s word, or from God’s word.
Your child will receive hundreds of gifts, many parties and privileges, and thousands of happy birthday wishes. Those are all good. But if you want to give your child something great and eternal, take hold of special moments like birthdays and speak into their lives truth from God’s special word. They may not remember exactly what you said, but I am confident they will remember that you thought they were important enough to give them the greatest gift of all – God’s life-giving word.
My ten-year-old, Luke, is reading Unbroken. I told him that he should read it because there is a lot to learn about character, redemption and forgiveness from the life of Louie Zampereni. But, as is the case with all people, there is a lot that Louie Zampereni did and experienced that I would like my son to avoid.
According to the book, and to the amusement of Luke, Louie Zampereni began smoking at the age of five. When I condemned this nasty, expensive, disease-causing habit with: “That’s not good!” He quickly reminded me of the time when I was eight and smoked a whole pack of cigarettes with my five-year-old brother – a funny story 31 years later.
Uh-Oh! What have I done?
Immediately, I started second-guessing myself and hoping my good intentions don’t eventually back-fire on me. I hope my son doesn’t conclude, “Well, Louie and dad had a few rebellious moments and they turned out fine, so what’s the harm in trying? How bad could it be if dad and Louie did it?” Unwittingly, did my attempt to help my son see Godly and manly things, also open the door for harmful things?
Parenting can paralyze, causing us to second-guess every strategy, word and action. Parenting can also turn us into tyrants, causing us to try to control every detail of a child’s environment.
Both extremes are mistakes that will likely do far more damage than good.
As I was pondering the pitfalls of parenting and my own fears, I began recovering and articulating some core parenting convictions that I have used as guides. I think these are especially helpful when I encounter “Uh-oh moments”.
- I do not want to make self-righteous moralists. I do want to be used by God to make God-glorifying, Jesus-treasuring, local church-loving disciples. The first thing to say here is that a true disciple will want to glorify God, treasure Jesus and love His Church. The second thing to say is that my part is to be a willing and faithful vessel that the Holy Spirit uses to accomplish this. If I rely on myself and try to do the work of the Spirit and use Jesus so my children will be good little boys and girls that stay out of trouble and don’t use drugs, I will make behavior-driven pharisees. If I abdicate my responsibility as a willing vessel, I will produce narcissistic consumers. Churches are full of all three.
- I will embrace with urgency the privilege and responsibility to be the primary teacher of the whole will of God to my family. The relationships and programs of the local church are supplemental graces for equipping and training to do gospel ministry in the home, but I will not outsource and abdicate my God-ordained leadership as a man (Genesis 2:15-18; Deuteronomy 6:1-9; Psalms 78:1-8; Ephesians 4:11-16 and 6:1-4). I will not singularly blame the youth ministry or the youth minister that my children don’t love God and the local church. When I critique and question, I will start with me.
- I will be committed to a long-term process of disciple-making. I will patiently and consistently sow the word of God in the lives of my children as a part of a long-term strategy. From the cradle to graduation, I will be diligent to consistently live what I teach. When I fail, I will repent and seek forgiveness. I cannot afford to squeeze years of missed opportunities into one talk because of a parenting crisis. I will be proactive, not reactive.
- I will not panic. When my children disappoint or rebel against God, I will not panic. That does not mean I won’t live with urgency and do hard things and have hard talks, but I will not act as though God is not faithful. I will not manipulate and use fear to control a situation that is beyond my control. I will pray and trust God to do what only He can do, and I will be ready to speak and act when it is clear I can glorify Him as a parent.
- I will value the importance of prayer. I will see the challenge of parenting as sanctifying grace from God, and pray to Him for wisdom and strength. I will trust God’s promises and believe that He is using all things, even a parenting crisis, to refine me and grow me for His glory. I will also never give up hope that God can reach my child. I recognize that if I ever stop praying, I have stopped believing. I determine to never quit praying for my children so that I am ready to speak to them when God gives me the opportunity.
- I will share my life with others. God has saved me to be a part of His Church through the local church. I will seek the wisdom of those who are ahead of me, and I will pass on what I can to those who are behind me. While my family is my primary responsibility, I also have a responsibility to share life with people to make God-glorifying disciples. The local church is not optional. I need others and they need me.
Our family of five just spent the last nine days on vacation and during that time I fielded a litany of questions. The one I remember the most is this one: “Dad, do you drink beer?”
It stuck with me because it seemed a very strange question in light of the fact that my most extensive beer experience was a mere tasting back in high school.
Why then did Luke ask me a question that seemed out of the blue?
On the way to our vacation destination and while we were there, he observed multiple people drinking beer. Children notice and hear more than we realize and so seeing a decent amount of beer consumed he must have wondered if his dad was secretly doing what he saw others doing.
And so I answered him this way: “Son, have you ever seen me drink a beer?” To which he responded, “No.” To which I asked, “Son, do you think daddy hides things from you?” To which he responded, “No.” To which I stated, “Son, mommy and daddy don’t hide things from you because we want you to trust us. We don’t sneak around doing things that you don’t know about, and if ever you have other questions about what we do and don’t do, you can ask about that also. Okay?”
This little story is not primarily about whether I think it is wrong to drink beer or other kinds of alcohol. We already have and will continue to talk to both of our sons about the dangers of drinking and why we convictionally choose not to drink – though we are in some ways free to do so. The point is that my son wondered whether I was being completely honest with him about what I was saying and what I was doing, and so he wanted to know whether I was being consistent. I looked him in the eye and told him that he could trust me because what he heard and saw is what is real.
I don’t know if it was a memorable moment for him or not, but for me it was a powerful moment to be able to say to my son, “You can trust your dad on this.”
I want to be as consistent as I can in parenting the children God has given.
I want them to trust us and I want them to feel free to ask questions. Even hard ones.
I want to be able to look each of them in the eye and say, “We don’t attempt to hide things from you. You can trust us.”
These parenting aspirations were strengthened in me as the result of a simple and honest question. May God use them for His great glory and the good of my children.