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Warning: Parents Ahead

Joel 1 & 2

SCRIPTURE

Joel 2:12-13, “That is why the Lord says, “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Don’t tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish.” (NLT)

OBSERVATION

Joel is a minor prophet. That’s not a statement about the quality of his message, but the quantity of his content. Major prophets = long. Minor prophets = short.

Joel describes for us a familiar scene. The Children of Israel have once again rejected God in favor of doing things their own way. They have experienced the consequence of their poor choices. Now God has chosen to get directly involved. He doesn’t begin by voiding the logical consequences of Israel’s bad behavior. He brings a punishment and penalty for their choices that looks much more like financial devastation rather than miraculous provision or gracious mercy. The tool God used, a plague of locusts. We would call it a natural disaster.

People today are reluctant to call natural disasters the judgement of God. We lean toward scientific explanations based on cause and effect. The New Testament message of grace causes us to doubt whether God really continues to operate that way. I’m not suggesting an answer only an observation. Sometimes God uses nature to get our attention. We also have a fundamental misunderstanding about one purpose of God’s judgement.

I’ve been a parent for 11 years now. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make me an expert on parenting. However, with four kids I now have the experience of trying to influence the behavior of people I love far more than words can describe. Like their father, my children love gadgets. My wife and I have tried to be clever at how we manage our gifts, budget & technology so over time we’ve collected an abundance of i-devices available for everyone. It’s not uncommon to find our children running around the house with an old iPhone or iPod all connected wirelessly and playing the same game – including our 3 year old. Our kids love to play these games. And they’re good at them.

Occasionally they go to play, but can’t. Someone forgot to plug in the device so the batterie’s dead and needs to be recharged. This means someone gets left out, or worse, none of them get to play as a consequence of someone’s negligent behavior. It’s a natural consequence brought about as the result of a willful or negligent choice.

There are other times when they refuse to obey their mother or father. We ask them to do something simple. Pick up your trash. Be nice to your brother. Get ready for school. Our requests are reasonable. Our expectations well within their ability. More than that, as their father I often delight in helping them accomplish whatever it is I’ve asked them to do. Sometimes my instructions are designed for their protection – “Don’t run out into the street.” Sometimes they are for their personal development – “Don’t whine or hit to get what you want, use your words. Find a better way.” Sometimes they are for the good of the family – “It doesn’t matter who made the mess. Take responsibility for your stuff and take good care of it.”

I find that leading by principle is far more effective than leading by rule. A rule says, “Put your toys away or you’ll be punished.” A principle says, “You’ve been blessed with great stuff, take care of what has been entrusted to you.” Instead of asking my kids to live down to the letter of the law I want them to live up to the higher standard of the principle that makes law unnecessary. It leads to kids connecting the dots. We don’t need a rule for every detail of their lives. I don’t have to make a list of regulations and guidelines for what to do in every situation. Instead we talk about the principle and together learn to navigate each circumstance based on the principle instead of a rule. It’s a work progress. So far it seems to be going well.

Here’s my favorite part of this approach. When it comes time to correct I don’t point to a rule that can be questioned or rewritten. I correct back to the heart. “This isn’t who I know you to be. This isn’t the kind of person you intend to become.” It’s not about clean rooms or unquestioned obedience. It’s about taking care of your stuff and honoring a father and mother who deeply love you. The behavior changes, not because I said so, not because the punishment is harsh or the rule demands it. The behavior changes because my kids know I know they are better than this. They know I love them and stand ready to assist them. They know it’s not about me getting what I want. It’s about them becoming the remarkable young man or woman God designed them to be.

Sometimes punishment is necessary. Privileges were violated. Lessons need to be learned. Principles need to be reinforced so they will be remembered. One way we do this with our kids is to take away video games. In the moment, for my kids, that feels like devastation. It’s not simply about a dead battery anymore. It’s about something they want that could be available to them if only their father hadn’t taken it away.

Now – back to Joel and the natural disaster. God is our heavenly father. Sometimes he allows his children to experience the consequences of their willful or negligent choices. Other times he brings a punishment in order to show us the privileges that were violated, the lessons that need learned and the principles that need reinforced and remembered. He corrects us back to the heart. Like a father lovingly trying to discipline his son so he will one day become a mighty man of valor our heavenly father loving disciplines his people so we will grow into the people he knows we can be.

That’s the story of Joel.

APPLICATION

Here’s the cool part of Joel. After the devastation, when the lesson is learned and the people repent Joel says that God will restore the years the locust have eaten. When we repent the Lord will relent. More than that. When we repent God will restore. The New Testament says that God is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we ask or think. That’s how he restores. He restores exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think.

That’s why I focused on the verses in Chapter 2 today. Does your heart break over the things that break the heart of God? Are you so distracted by your stuff, your situation or the devastation in your life that you’ve missed the point that God’s not interested in your stuff – he’s interested in YOU! He is eager to relent and not to punish. It’s not about rules to obey, but character to develop. It’s not about jumping through hoops. It’s about becoming the person God believes you can be.

Did you hear that? God believes in you. He believes you can be more.

At the end of Chapter 2 Joel says that old men will dream dreams and young men will have visions. What vision, what dream has God given you? Can you see it? Can you see what God has designed for you? If you can’t. If you’re in the middle of the devastation. If you’re experiencing the consequences of your actions you can repent. He will relent and restore what the locusts have eaten.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thanks for being my heavenly father. Thank you for loving me with the deep love of a father to a son. Thank you for believing about me things I could never imagine in myself. Help me today to see. Let me dream dreams. Give me a vision for my life, my family and my world. When I am wrong grant me the gift of repentance. Restore my relationship with you and others who I have wronged or who have wronged me. Thank you for leading through principle and precept rather than rules and regulations. Help me do the same.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

Love Wins

what-i-knowHere’s how this works.

Each day I’ll read and S.O.A.P. one chapter of Romans. S.O.A.P. is a simple way to focus on what God is speaking to you through what you read. It stands for ScriptureObservationApplication, & Prayer.

Every time I read a chapter God always focuses my heart and mind around a specific part of that chapter. Sometimes it’s just a verse. Sometimes it’s more than that. That verse or group of verses becomes the focus of my devo.

There’s one other practice that helps me know, understand and follow scripture – memorization. Consider memorizing the verse or verses you S.O.A.P.


Romans 8

SCRIPTURE

Romans 8:38-39, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NLT)

OBSERVATION

What do you know? No really. Stop and think about it. What do you really know…for sure…without question, beyond all reasonable doubt, with no variation or shadow of turning, with unswerving confidence, unshakable faith, undeniable certainty?

There’s so much more to this chapter than one simple reading will uncover. What captured my attention today were three little words.

“…I am persuaded…”

Paul was persuaded and so am I. Nothing can separate us from the love God.

When I was kid I played this game with my friends. Who am I kidding? I still play this game with my own kids. Want to play? In a fight, who would win? Batman or Superman? The Incredible Hulk or Thor? Iron Man or Spiderman? Star Wars or Star Trek? This game doesn’t hold a candle to the truth declared in these few simple verses. In the fight you face today who will win death or the love of God; angels or the love of God; principalities and powers or the love of God; things present, things to come or the love of God; height, width, depth, any other created thing or the love of God?

Paul was persuaded and so am I. Love wins.

APPLICATION

Today my application is less about what I do and more about what I know. I am persuaded…for sure. I’ll express what I know using the lyrics to a favorite song.

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that left Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

Whatever you face today – love wins.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father,

Thank you.

I love you, in Jesus name –
Chad

Messing with Your Kids

I’m a little concerned for my children.

I’m one of those dads who likes to mess with his kids. Honestly, it’s not an uncommon attribute in fathers. It seems we dads are genetically predisposed to wrestle, tickle, tease, poke, prod, pry, shock, scare, and embarrass our children as often as possible. Mother’s may not understand. Children may roll their eyes. But we do this out of a moral imperative. It’s one of the driving principles of Dad-Law. Why do we mess with our  kids?

It builds character.

Let’s face it, parenting is messy. As a kid you thought your parents knew everything. As a teenager you were convinced parents don’t know anything. Now, as a parent yourself, you realize the truth. Most parents are reacting to or rebelling against the parenting style that raised them. Many parents are simply making things up as they go. It’s messy. So we have a choice.

As a Father, I can mess with or mess up my kids.

I used to joke that, as a dad, I want to be responsible for the corruption of my children. That sounds rather unwholesome, but the longer I’m a parent the more I understand the truth behind the statement. At some point my children will face the corruption of this world. They will have a choice to make. Will they will give up or give in to the corruption they experience? Will they stand up, overcome the mess of this world and make a difference in the lives of others? Will they become happy, healthy, holy citizens passionate about serving Jesus and adding value to others? Will this world be better because of them and if so, will they be better because I was their Dad?

Why would I risk letting someone someone else expose my children to the corruption of this world? I’m their Dad. That’s my job.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to teach my sons to cuss like a sailor. I’m not training my daughter how to manipulate her friends. But our family is a safe place to talk about the ugly things of our world. Our relationship can be a practice field for what to do when something scary, mean, ugly or embarrassing happens. All that wrestling, teasing, poking, prodding, and prying Father’s do can be more than just benign interaction. It can be the teachable moment that allows your children the experience they need to successfully face something truly corrupt.

So Dad’s, my encouragement for you today, mess with your kids.

Provide for them a safe place where you can define and defend how your kids interact with the corruption of this world. Do more than make the most of teachable moments. Make the moment yourself. It builds character.

Malachi 4:6, “And God will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

I have four kids. Our schedule is, at times, what you might call ‘insane’. I’m sure it’s not much different from yours. Work, church, sports, music, school, birthday parties – none of it’s complicated just extremely full. All in all I believe we manage well. We’ve gotten used to our schedule. We tend to travel in a pack. It’s fun and sometimes a bit noisy or chaotic, but we get to be together and we like that.

This year Londa and I decided we would do something a bit different. We intend to be deliberate about spending unhurried time, just the two of us, with one of our children at at time while the others run amuck with their grandparents or a sitter. So, last night we got together and took Jaiden on a date. We went to dinner and a movie. We saw ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close Up’. It’s about a family that loses their father in the Twin Towers on September 11.

I won’t offer up any spoilers. Instead I’ll simply say, you should see this movie. You should see it with your family. I expect it to win an Academy Award, possibly several. As you watch, consider this: right now, in the community where you live, maybe even in your own household, there are people who experience the same kind of desperation, grief and loss portrayed by the family in this film. They may not have been through a dramatic, nation-wide tragedy like 9/11 but they’ve been through something that has reshaped their view of the world and they struggle to make sense of it all. They’re searching for answers, crying out for relief and looking for the key to what will bring hope back into their lives.

I believe part of why God gave us a family is for moments just like these.

Malachi 4:6 says, “And [God] will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

Take a close look at your family today. Ask God to give you uncommon insight into the hearts of your children and your spouse. Ask for the courage and boldness to make the sometimes difficult decisions necessary to reshape your schedule, say the right thing, offer or ask forgiveness, point the way and start an adventure.

The Parent Trap

Recently I’ve been plagued by a question. It has to do with my kids. I have four children. My daughter is my oldest. She’s nine. The rest are boys; six, four and nearly two. They are great kids. I love being a dad. With each passing moment I’m reminded of the fact that we are drawing closer and closer to the teenage years, that lovely time of life when boundaries are tested, strings are slowly cut and children cross the threshold from being kids to being adults. I’ve seen first hand how difficult raising teenagers can be and not too long from now I will experience this beautiful mess for myself.

Some people approach this time of life like Mark Twain. He said, “When a child turns twelve you should stuff them in a barrel, seal the lid and feed them through a knot hole. When they turn 16 you should plug the hole.”

See here’s the challenge – and it leads in to my question – I’ve seen horrible parents raise incredible children and I’ve seen incredible parents raise children who relentlessly reject everything about their own heritage. So I have to ask…

Is the quality of my parenting measured by the character of my kids?

It seems like the obvious answer would be ‘yes, of course’. You always judge a business by the product they produce, so if family is your business then your children are the best barometer or your skill as a parent. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t demonstrate this to be true. Kids who grow up with great privilege make wrong choices. Others who grow up with every odd stacked against them become exceptionally successful. Our children are not a product. They are people. Therefore, our success or failure as a parent can’t be solely determined by the content of their character. Their must be something more.

So I look to Scripture. Like many things, it seems we’ve gotten our measurement of success backwards. Today we judge parents by their kids. In Scriptural times kids were judged by their parents. Consider Solomon. The Bible identifies Solomon as the wisest king Israel would ever know. During his reign the nation was unified and experienced almost universal peace. Silver was so abundant during the reign of Solomon that they stopped counting how much of it they had! Can you imagine being such a successful leader? The Bible tells us that political leaders all over the world sought out Solomon’s wisdom on everything from economics to agriculture, from political prowess to social justice. To suggest that Solomon was successful is a massive understatement. Yet when Solomon sits down to write his book of Proverbs (wise sayings), how does he start? Does he give his resume? Does he tell of all his great works? Does he mention the fact that his kingdom is greater and more successful than his father’s before him? No. As he begins his magnum opus on all things wise Solomon states simply, “The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David…” Solomon was king, the most successful king Israel would ever know, yet in his time of greatest triumph he wasn’t identified by his works. He was identified by his father.

Scripture does this a lot. The history of the Israelites after Solomon is not nearly so joyous. The kingdom splits and one king after another rises to take the throne and attempt to lead both Israel & Judah. Do you know how each king is evaluated? Either they walked in the ways of their father David or they didn’t. From one generation to the next everything was measured by the example of their father David. But there’s more here than that – it’s difficult to illustrate the number of times God looked to the leaders of Israel and said, “I will bless you…because of my servant David.” By this time, David was long gone, yet his influence remained. WHY? Because he was a great parent? NO. Because he was a godly man. The Bible calls him a man after God’s own heart.

And that’s the answer to the question.

We can’t judge the quality of our parenting by the character of our kids – it’s not an accurate measurement. Kids are not products to be produced, they are people to be led – to be influenced. If the quality of our parenting is measured by the character of our kids then God must be the worst father ever. And we know this simply is not true.

Listen to this – God wants to free you from the pressure that as a parent you are not enough. It’s true. He wants you to understand something. As a parent, YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH. You can’t attend enough games or watch enough recitals. You can’t discipline enough. You can’t be gracious enough.  You can’t write enough checks to guarantee your child a successful, happy, holy life. As a parent, you will never be enough. So stop trying.

Stop trying to be a great parent. Stop trying to meet every need. Stop trying to give every gift. Stop trying to enforce enough rules. Stop trying to be cool enough, relevant enough or hip enough. You will never be enough. You simply CANNOT be God for your children.

When my daughter was first born she had some respiratory problems and spent 7 days in ICU. Once she got home we had to give her IV antibiotics through a pique line in her head. There was one evening I was holding her and considering the future I had planned for her when I was struck by this one thought – As her father I want to protect and provide for her, but there are so many things I simply will never be able to do for her. I will never be able to protect her from a broken heart. I will never be able to save her from the lies of cruel people. I won’t be able to keep her from making foolish choices. I can’t do these things for her, but I know the God who can. So I resigned myself to this one thought – I can’t guarantee my children a successful, happy or holy life, but I can give them an example to live up to. I can be like David and provide an example worth imitating. I can strive to live in such a way that when future generations look back they can hear God say, “I will bless you…because of my servant Chad.”

There’s a world of Scripture to back up this style of parenting.

  • I Corinthians 11:1 says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.”
  • Philippians 3:17 says, “Brethren join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 says, “These things you’ve heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful people who will be able to teach others also.”

It begs a follow up question – Do I have a life worth imitating and what does a life like that really look like? Scripture answers that question too:

  • Galatians 5:22 says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Against such there is no law.”

Did you catch the last phrase of that verse? ‘Against such there is no law…’ In other words, you can’t get enough of these things. More than that – you can’t give enough of these things! Am I, as a father, as a man, as a leader living a life worthy of imitation? Is what I’m producing in my life and the life of others characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?

This is the challenge of parenting:

  • Too much LAW and children REBEL.
  • Too much GRACE and children become entitled or spoiled.

How, as  parent, do I know when it’s time to lay down the law and when it’s time to give grace? There is a fine line between DISCIPLINING and COACHING.

  • Discipline is about right verses wrong.
  • Coaching is about choosing good, better or best.
  • Discipline calls for justice and judgement or grace and mercy.
  • Coaching calls for patience and self control.
  • Discipline calls for discernment.
  • Coaching call for wisdom.
  • In moments of right versus wrong we DISCIPLINE.  When correcting bad behavior we DISCIPLINE. These times are always crystal clear. My kid just lied about something. It’s time for discipline. My child was caught cheating on a test. Spanking, grounding – pick your punishment, corporal or capital, a wrong must be righted. My teenager ignored curfew. Car keys are lost. Discipline is always about teaching a child the difference between RIGHT & WRONG.
  • COACHING is always about teaching a child the difference between good, better and best. Should my child play sports or music? How should they spend their time, more on academics or building significant friendships? Choosing baseball over piano isn’t about right verses wrong. It’s about good, better or best. How is your child ‘bent’? What are their natural abilities, interests and experiences? Where do they excel and how? There’s no right or wrong here, simply good, better or best. As a parent how can you draw the best out of your child?

There is certainly more to parenting than this.

  • Luke 15 tells the story of the Prodigal Sons – I say ‘sons’, plural, because both sons in the story are far from the heart of their father. One son rejects the Father and rebels against the example he set. The other son ‘religiously’ tries to earn the love of the Father by always obeying every rule. Though, for all those years, he continued to live under the same roof as his father, he becomes bitter and as estranged from his father as his younger brother.

I’m struck by the fact, in the story of the Prodigal Sons, that never once is the parenting skill of the father questioned. Instead the father is shown as an example of patience and love; grace and mercy; justice and judgement. He is a picture of God our father. I wonder if you’re the rebellious son or the religious son? Either way you’ve become estranged from your father, not because you have a bad dad, but because of your bad belief and bad choices. Like the father of the Prodigal Sons, God stands ready to receive you by His grace into his family and will celebrate when you come.

God is a perfect father. He has shown us what to do, told us what to do and now he is saying to every parent – now go do it yourself. Stop trying to be a great parent. Start becoming a godly example for your children to follow. You can’t be God for your kids, but you can be exactly the father or mother God designed you to be.

God Bless,
Chad

BTW…Ezekiel 18 talks about this is as well. Give it a read and let me know what you think.