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When Kristen and I were young parents we’d look around at some empty nesters who raised great kids and wondered what they did right.
Now we are those empty nesters and by the grace of God we couldn’t be prouder of our kids. They certainly aren’t perfect or without challenges and struggles, but one of the questions we get on occasion these days is:
What did you do to get three kids out of their teenage years with their faith intact?
These are some of our thoughts related to that question.
- It takes God to raise Godly kids. God has always been central in our lives and we weren’t shy about being dependent on Him for strength and forgiveness and parenting strategies and graces and patience. We prayed with them every day. Every day I sent them to school and told them to have a “good and Godly day.” One million times each I told them about the wide and the narrow road.
- Being faithful to God is the best gift you can give to your spouse. Being faithful to your spouse is the best gift you can give to your kids. Faithfulness in these two areas is far more important than anything else you could give or say to your kids, including spending time with them.
- Always remember, even God has prodigal children and He is the perfect parent.
- Every kid has free will and is unique. Their bad choices were on them, not us. We tried not to compare our kids with other kids.
- Every day brought temptation and attack. The devil wants our kids and spiritual warfare is daily for parents. We still war over our kids DAILY, over their health, their minds, their emotions, their DRIVING, their finances and choices, their hearts before the Lord, their futures and callings, and their (future) spouses.
- Every season passes. We went though rebellious seasons, a seizure disorder, debt and extra jobs with different shifts, bad grades, loss of grandparents, etc. Parenting is a marathon not a sprint. I remember Caleb getting suspended in GRADE SCHOOL for taking a scissors apart and making a sword. I thought he was showing his brilliance as a young warrior. His teacher in a conference with us couldn’t think of one thing to say when Kristen asked her to tell us something positive about our child. We were glad when next year came. Next year comes.
- Every “gate” has to be monitored – let the good in, keep the bad out; eye gate, ear gate, etc. We didn’t let darkness in our home; posters, video games, music, movies.
- Every Dad has a leading role to play in raising Godly kids. Parents today abdicate the Christian instruction of their kids to an hour with a Sunday school teacher each week, or to a Christian school. Not good.
- Every Mom has an intercessory authority. This I believe was our secret weapon for raising Godly kids.
- Every chance we talked about God and the Bible. We talked about big circle and little circle issues. Little circle is something the little brother did to them. Big circle are things like kids in war zones, human trafficking, suicide on the Rez. We tried to raise them in the big circle. When they’d fight about something insignificant, all I had to do was draw big circle in the air with my finger and it worked.
- Every trip we took at least one of them with us (mission trips take kids out of their little world and introduce them to God’s world. I’ve seen kids come home and even rebuke their parent’s materialism.) We still don’t do vacations. We do mission trips with our kids (they usually pay their own way). We have a ten-acre place which would be a great place for a ATV four-wheeler. Every time I wonder why we still don’t have one I remember it’s because we put our money into our mission trips together. If you can afford both, great. If not, guess which one will make an eternal difference in your kid’s lives. We saved to serve. In that we combatted any teenage sense of entitlement and modeled denying self.
- Every time, Mom and Dad were one. They didn’t even bother getting a second opinion or trying to play one of us off the other.
- Every meal in the evening we ate together.
- Every night we were home or at church together. Very little television, if any; usually a video if the day went well.
- Every trial we “huddled” up. Some thought we were too honest with our kids with the problems we were facing. We talked with them about what was going on. We asked them to pray for us. I don’t remember too many us versus them seasons. Most of the time the “us” included all of us facing our family challenges together.
- Every Sunday we were church. If you are hit and miss, they will be too. Here’s a quotable from Kristen: “Parents, if church isn’t your priority when they are little, it won’t be their priority when they are older.” We were steady in the same church through thick and thin. We’ve had more opportunities and reasons to leave our church in twenty years than perhaps anyone else. But we tried to bloom where we were planted and learned to love and be faithful to people. Sometimes we ask ourselves what that taught our kids that will make them different than the kids of church hoppers.
- I prayed our kids wouldn’t be popular at school. I learned this as a youth pastor. It’s not that I didn’t want them to have friends. It’s just that the influence of peers is uber-strong and popularity is a trap no matter what age you are.
- Mom and Dad were on the same page with God, equally yoked spiritually.
- Looking back we wonder if we hadn’t shifted away from traditional or denominational Christianity if our kids would have “dried up.” This isn’t to say we didn’t pass on a rooted faith. In fact, some of our favorite excursions were to the graves of saints and sites of Church history. We exposed them to God’s superheroes. We showed them the book of Revelation was way better than Harry Potter.
- The move of the Holy Spirit in our church came at the right time for our family. Conferences in Colorado Springs and Kansas City put our kids in the middle of a move of God in this young generation. Countless times they’ve been in stadiums full of believers and in strategic prayer meetings and sacred assemblies in various places. God touched them in these places and marked them.
- We made college decisions based on ministry callings not career callings.
- Extracurricular activities – sports, dance, hunting – all took a distance second place to church. One sport, no Sundays/Wednesdays. We didn’t let them drive or have cell phones until they were sixteen. It didn’t kill them. The sky didn’t fall.
- “Family” included church and church people. We notice people today put family and family time first and wonder later why their kids wander spiritually. Christ is encountered in the communion of saints. Pastor Dennis was there the night my dad was killed. My kids see Pastor Dennis today as a surrogate grandpa.
- Every “screw up” is forgivable. Nothing they do or don’t do is a deal breaker with regard to your relationship with them. Our kids knew they couldn’t do anything to get us to love them less. Be steady to them even when they aren’t to you or to God.
By the way, some of the things listed here came from our kids as we asked them this week why they are hungry for the Lord when many pastor kids fall away. It is never too early or too late to start some of the things listed here. God can redeem the years the locusts have eaten. There is a grace.
My friend Bob Smietana wrote this article in USA Today called Pastors Seek To End War On Drugs By Decriminalizing Use. Basically, Rev. Edwin Sanders pastor of Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville and other clergy are wanting to decriminalize drug use. The article ends with this comment from Pastor Sanders:
“God does not care if you smoke weed…. God is not that petty.”
The comment raises an interesting question: Is God petty?
Well,,, if he’s not, then he’s not HOLY. I know what God says about obeying laws. I know he knows better than we do that there are more negatives for society than positives with pot. For sure what’s best for society comes before what’s best for any individual. We know what God would say about coming under the influence of anything but the Holy Spirit. I can’t imagine God saying it’s ok to get high. If that makes him petty, sorry.
My sense is that a glimpse at the holiness of God would reveal many things we presently think are no big deal. It’s a false grace message to say God only cares about the big sins and that you are ok with him as you are. The Cross was too severe and unnecessary if God isn’t petty. Is your wife being petty because she won’t let you whistle at other women?
Here is another chart from me relating to the theme of persecution and martyrdom. These realities have been my focus this season of Lent in my Martyrs Guide to Life message series. Earlier charts included The Skyrocketing Cost of Discipleship and the Degrees of Persecution.
To be in the clutches of something is to be in the grip or hold of something; a strong clasp, tight and sudden. This word describes the last week in the earthly life of Jesus… “the Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men” (Matthew 17:22).
Reading the last week of the earthly life of Jesus, an analogy occurred to me to help illustrate Jesus in the clutches of persecution. For three years he had slipped through various clutches but the last week he succumbed to them. Think of the chuck of a typical household power drill. The chuck is basically a clutching mechanism comprised of three hardened steel jaws held by a tightening sleeve or collar. When you turn and tighten the collar/sleeve, teeth turn a spiral scrolling gear which self center each jaw together equally and mercilessly around a drill bit.
The three jaws which gripped Jesus were; 1) the whims of people, 2) the religists or religious rulers of the day, and 3) the secular authorities. Knowing that ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood, the surrounding sleeve or tightening collar relates to evil principalities in heavenly places which were orchestrating all these hostilities toward Jesus.
Here’s a key point: as intense as the clutches of persecution are, notice the entire tool is in the hands of the Lord and he is using it for his purposes. He is building something even when it seems the adversary is tearing it all down.
When I read the last week of the life of Jesus I don’t read any panic at what the devil is doing. I get a strong sense of resolve in what God is doing. The persecuted derive stamina from the perspective of sovereignty. It may feel like and appear that we have been snatched into the merciless hands of others. However, even in persecution, God does not let hold of us.
Bonhoeffer reminded us of the Cost of Discipleship. For a few weeks now in a series I’ve titled Martyrs Guide to Life, I’ve been talking about the Skyrocketing Cost of Discipleship. Basically I’m referring to the forecast Jesus gave us in Matthew 24:9-14.
In light of the fact that more have died for their faith in Christ in the last century than in the first twenty centuries combined, and in light of the fact that the Bible forecasts a greater age of martyrdom at the end of the age, it seems helpful to talk about the skyrocketing cost of discipleship in a latter age of (unprecedented) persecution. By unprecedented I mean to underscore how the latter age will be far more intense and global than the first two centuries which we typically consider the “Age of Persecution.”
Yesterday I posted a new chart I’ve titled Degrees of Religious Persecution to illustrate how there is a discernible continuum with persecution from mild to moderate to severe. (Actually mild is normal as persecution is an indicator all systems are normal.) Here I offer a chart to illustrate the skyrocketing cost of discipleship.
Obviously, I don’t subscribe to the Left Behind bestselling notion that we will be rescued via a Pre-Trib Rapture. Extensively in other places I’ve shown that to be a recent, extra-Biblical and dangerous error as it leaves us ill-prepared for what is coming. My chart is based on a Classical or Historic Pre-millennialism understanding that the Rapture and the Second Coming are different stages of the same event.
I like charts and when I can’t find one that fits what I’m talking about then I typically make one myself. This is for my teaching series: Martyrs Guide to Life.
Note there isn’t a “mild persecution” category but rather a “normal persecution” category as those who live the first seven Beatitudes find themselves at odds with the world around them and the eighth Beatitude naturally becomes them.
John Stott’s repeated exhortation when preaching was “Don’t look at me, look at Christ.” Every preacher, song leader and musician needs to write that phrase in the margin of their message notes and chord sheets every weekend. People ought to walk away with His name on their lips, not yours.
In his new little book “It’s not business, it’s personal” Bob Sorge writes about how ministers and musicians get in between Jesus and his Bride the Church. In a chapter called “Scoring with the Bride” he addresses ministers and musicians who feed off her praise and seek out her affections. Imagine if you were asked to serve my bride and you were teasing her affections off of ME and on to YOU. No doubt, Jesus our Bridegroom God has an issue with those who steal away the affections of his Bride.
Bob Sorge says many times he walks away from speaking and prays: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, and deliver me from this tendency to present myself in such a way that the Bride takes notice of me and my service to her. After I’ve spent an evening with your Bride, I don’t want my name to be on her lips. I want her talking about You.”
Can we get away from these platform-driven performances and smoke shows where the clamor in the hallways is “wow, that guy always hits a homerun.” Same with music ministry as people leave going… “wow, what a voice, I hope she puts that on CD.”
Those living here in the upper midwest can identify with extended seasons— today is April 20 and it snowed a couple days ago. Many here want it to warm up because it has been cold long enough. I’m a four season guy with fall being my favorite season. Living where it’s hot year round sounds horrible to me. People visit us here in South Dakota and comment on the nasty weather and I tell them it’ll change tomorrow because it always does. I like short seasons and get discouraged in extended seasons.
An extended season is a period of time that extends beyond the point in which you thought it should end. Surely you can relate to things taking longer than anticipated. Surely you can relate to thinking you’d be further along than you are right now.
Psalm 40:17 says “O my God, do not delay.” This is one of the great cries of the Bible… How long O Lord? How long? On occasion I joke how God is never late but that he sure misses a million opportunities to be early. Frankly I wonder sometimes if God isn’t waiting on us more often than we are waiting on him. When we look back, as the saying goes, time seems to fly. However when we are in the moment, the dog days seem to drag on. This post is about doing the dog days well.
The phrase “dog days” actually goes back to the Graeco-Roman period. Plato used the Latin term diēs caniculārēs or dog days. The ancients noticed the hot weather and associated it with the star Sirius (prominent in July and August). The Sirius star, dog star, is the basis for the Canis Major Constellation (Large Dog). The Romans sacrificed a dog to appease the rage of Sirius. Wikipedia tells us the dog daies were “believed to be a time when the seas boiled, wine turned sour, dogs grew mad and all creatures became languid, causing man burning fevers, hysterics and phrensies.”
Today we know that when winter drags on, or summer seems forever, there aren’t gods to appease. However there is much that God is developing in us during these extended seasons which are common both to the spiritual life of an individual and church community.
Extended seasons can be brutal on us as we wrestle through 1) discontentment, 2) unmet expectations, 3) impatience, 4) a sick heart from deferred hope, 5) doubts about ourselves, doubts about God and his Promises, 6) apathy and 7) faith that wanes. Extended seasons are times when 8 ) negativity and criticism creep in and we more easily turn on one another.
James 1:3-4 says “Perseverance must finish it’s work so that you may be mature and complete not lacking anything.” As much as we might wish an extended season would end, it is important that what God is doing in us is completed. Galatians 6:9 says “Don’t weary in well doing for we will reap a harvest in due season if we do not give up.” We can forfeit all God has for us when we don’t stay the course. In Matthew 25:5, the Bridegroom was a long time coming and those waiting became drowsy and fell asleep. Extended seasons are times when all can be lost.
The Bible really offers no insight into how to fast forward through a season that drags on and on. However, there is much in the Word of God on how to persevere through extended seasons. Here are a few thoughts…
Seasons are pregnant, don’t abort them. When we study times and seasons in the Word of God we find ourselves sorting through chronos and kairos time. Chronos is time measured by a clock or calendar. Kairos times are those seasons when God breaks in. When I say “seasons are pregnant” I’m referring to how the Bible speaks of “the fullness of time.” An extended season is a gestation period for what God is producing in us. An extended season is actually a mercy as God gives us additional moments to come into maturity.
Romans 5:3-5 says “Perseverance produces character, character produces hope.” The point is that these times produce something– something is coming forth from these times making it worthwhile to persevere. There is character development needed before we move into the next season. It’s too late to lay a foundation after the building is built. There is no turning the clock back later making now the time to develop godly character.
Boycotting winter is an exercise in futility as it changes nothing. In an extended season, stay out of futility. Futility is something that is incapable of producing a result. The Bible talks about the “futility of their years” and “futile thinking” (Ephesians 4:17). Extended seasons can be productive seasons if our focus is right.
Here is the first article for a monthly Spiritual Dimensions of Wellness column I’ve been asked to start writing for a Natural Health monthly magazine called “Home Cures That Work.”
I’m very excited about this as the audience is not church folk. Pray for this opportunity. I’ve been given full liberty to talk about Jesus, quote the Bible, give people true hope and a link will be included back to the prayer request area of our church website.
This month the focus is discouragement and depression. Next month the focus is stress and anxiety.
Beyond just having a bad day, many of us experience seasons of discouragement and depression. There are known forms and causes recognized when depression reaches a clinical intensity. However, whatever the degree of melancholy, there are spiritual factors to consider. We are not just physical beings, we are spiritual beings. This article touches on known spiritual factors contributing to mental health and wellness.
Discouragement and depression are directly related to hope, or the lack thereof. Hope is a belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. Those who hope in nothing outside themselves have little to grab onto to pull them out of discouragement. Even putting our hope in other people is an inconsistent source of strength because people are just people. Those who put their faith in God find they aren’t tossed about when life turns sour. Jesus spoke of trusting in him to be like building a house on a rock and those who do, find themselves standing after the storm passes.
Isolation is an enemy. People are all the time wondering what their purpose in life is or what the will of God is for their life. One thing is for certain, God made us social beings and therefore it is not God’s will that we wander through life alone. Even introverts are wired for meaningful human interaction. Studies show that babies who are touched and loved have fewer health problems than babies who lie alone in orphanage cradles. The need for others is not something we out grow. It may seem like this point fits better in an article on the social dimensions of wellness, but this is ultimately a spiritual dimension because we are created to relate to God and others.
The solutions are to find a community (a small group at a church for example) of people who share your values and beliefs and be open with them. Find a place where you don’t have to fake it. It is important to surround yourself with positive people and seek out those who emit joy. But, transparency is more important than a superficial happy-clappy environment. The Bible says “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” In other words, whatever you are feeling at the moment is valid and we need others to be with us in those moments.
A frequent phrase in the Bible to the discouraged is “take heart.” There are encouraging things to embrace even when the chips are down. First, it is encouraging to know that even those we celebrate today as spiritual giants knew well “the dark night of the soul.” Though never fun, these are refining times intended by God to make us stronger and take us into deeper places of usefulness to him. Not one ounce of pain is wasted in God’s economy. We can take heart that what we can only see as bad, God will use for good. It’s when we reach the point of weakness that his strength is able to manifest in our lives. Really, we have to get out of the way and hitting these low points are indications we are in good position for his help.
The Book of Psalms contains the whole gamut of human emotion and many who find themselves in the up and down swings connect with psalm writers like David. In Psalm 42:5 he laments “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” He speaks of being in mourning and how “deep calls to deep at the sound of thy waterfalls; all thy breakers and thy waves have rolled over me.” But each of these honest moments lead to a reality beyond what we are feeling – that God is there and God is inclined to those who are discouraged. One man in our church regularly struggles with depression and he’s tried everything and his testimony is nothing worked until he started reading and praying the Psalms each day, out loud. One a day and this thing started to lift off of him.
In the fall of 2002, my father was tragically killed in an accident on a road near my home. This sent me into a season where I couldn’t even drive at night because I’d keep imagining people in the road. I didn’t feel like smiling for the better part of a year. Every email my father sent me the last few years of his life was signed off which these two words: “Chin Up!” One day I wrote those two words on a note card with this verse written underneath: “[God is] the lifter of my head” (Psalm 3:3). Everyday it was like the voice of two fathers encouraging me. The world started to take on color again for me. For sure we all have different views of God, but this is who I have discovered him to be – the lifter of my head. A good place to start is to pray – God, reveal yourself to me as the Lifter of my Head.
My friend of more than two decades Bob Smietana, religion reporter for the Nashville Tennesean and for Christianity Today, noted a new article and book the other day on the poverty of modern Christian funerals. Bob made the comment that one of his favorite writers is also a funeral home director and wondered what that said about him. He was talking about Dr. Thomas G. Long, Candler School of Theology professor, and his new book, Accompany Them With Singing: The Christian Funeral, and this accompanying article in the Christian Century. I just ordered Long’s book but haven’t yet read it.
Aside from being one who laments the lack of theological and eschatological preciseness in the church today, my interest in this topic also comes as one who deals with death and funerals in some form every month either in the church I serve or as police chaplain in our city. And, as many of you know, I’ve recently buried my beloved grandmother and both my parents. Also, this summer I read N.T. Wright’s excellent (but not perfect) book Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. I couldn’t agree more with what is being said by both Long and Wright. Here are some important statements from the Christian Century article by Long:
These newer rituals, for all their virtues of freedom, simplicity and seeming festivity, are finally expressions of a corrupted understanding of the Christian view of death….
If Christian funerals today are impoverished, we must look primarily to the church’s own history… The fact is that many educated Christians in the late 19th century, the forebears of today’s white suburban Protestants, lost their eschatological nerve and their vibrant faith in the afterlife, and we are their theological and liturgical heirs….
In the meantime, the seeds planted in the 19th century continue to bear weeds.
Lots to factor in – the Civil War carnage resulting in a crisis of belief; Darwinism and the belief that making the best of earth IS “heaven”; cremation and ashes to the wind (a bit of a Buddhist notion that we are released to rejoin the earth); burials several states away…
So with heaven gone and with the cemetery miles away, neither the dead nor the living had anywhere to go, and the metaphor of the journey to God collapsed.