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Archive for Parenting

May
16

Congratulations, Class of 2021!

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Congratulations, Class of 2021! You did it with grace and elegance during a world wide pandemic! In the midst of shutdowns, limitations, cancellations, masks and social distancing you overcame adversity to accomplish one of the greatest milestones of your life to date. Celebrations are best served mixed with moments of reflection as we realized the conferring of degrees was a milestone achieved over a life of learning. And with that the hope and confidence that the best is yet to come.

I mused at what it might have been like if Jesus graduated in 2021. Would he have been the valedictorian? Would he have won all of the academic and athletic honors? Would he have been presented with multiple full ride scholarships to all of the best institutions of higher learning due to his perfect ACT and SAT scores? It kind of makes you wonder.

One of my favorite passages about Jesus’ life is found in Luke 2:41-52. The story is familiar enough. Jesus and his family went to the Temple when he was 12 years old. This would have been an important visit for Jesus, because at age 13 he would become a full member of the Jewish synagogue and assume all of the rights and responsibilities of circumcision. In other words, he would become a man.

While the text is about Jesus, the story includes Joseph and Mary and their interplay through the narrative. The text reveals that Jesus, like any child, required some work. (Not that it was necessarily bad work). Verse 52 said that Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” In short, he grew intellectually, physically, spiritually and socially. Joseph and Mary were there to superintend that growth and were diligent to ensure that Jesus was nurtured in the most loving way. The preceding verse says that Jesus was “obedient to them,” inferring that the parents were going to continue to provide direction and guidance for his developmental years.

But Jesus also created some worry. You remember, don’t you? They went to the Temple as a family, and after spending some time on the return trip to Nazareth they discovered Jesus wasn’t among the caravan of worshipers.

“Joseph, have you seen Jesus?” “No, I thought he was with you.” “I thought he was with you.”

After a three day search they found him in the Temple, presumably right where they left him. And in typical parental fashion, Mary chides, “How could you do this to us! We’ve been worried sick!” His simple response was that he must be “in his Father’s house.”

Which brings me to the third thing. Jesus created wonder. Imagine Mary and Joseph’s reaction when Jesus said he must be in his Father’s house! Hence the wonder. There’s no recorded response to Jesus’ statement. The only insight we have is that Mary treasured all of it in her heart. That’s not the first time Mary has treasured the mysterious sense of wonder surrounding Jesus in her heart. And it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

My most sincere congratulations again to the Class of 2021. May the Lord continue to walk with you as you begin the next exciting chapter of your lives!

Categories : Graduation, Parenting
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Here’s a helpful article that is worthy of pastors’ attention about the struggles of motherhood and the challenge that churches face in meeting their needs. It’s by Dr. Heather Thompson Day, associate professor at Colorado Christian University. You can read the article at the following link: https://www.barna.com/guest-column-mothers/.

I appreciate Day’s research about the stress levels of mothers, single mothers, and working mothers. The pressures and demands of being a mother become more complex with each generation of children. While Day appeals to churches to provide support to mothers, she stops short of offering some practical suggestions. Here’s what I would offer that is practical and tangible, based on my experiences as a pastor.

  1. Lay Off the Obligation to Volunteer in Children’s Ministry. Our mother’s and grandmother’s all took their turns working in the church nursery, teaching Sunday School, and volunteering for VBS. They did their duty and did their time, and now expect the 21st century mothers to do the same. But the world has changed. Many of those same mothers and grandmothers didn’t work outside the home nor face the pressures of modern day parenting schedules. I remember one parent who told me, in so many words, if they had to watch their own kids when they came to church they “just as well stay at home.”
  2. Lay Off the Proverbs 31 Ideal. Many mothers place enough expectations upon themselves with out a pastor (usually male) pointing out Proverbs 31 as the model of perfect motherhood. Yes, the Proverbs 31 woman could do it all, and by my observation, many of today’s moms are already trying to do it all, including meeting the additional expectations they feel from other moms in the PTA or the weekly play group.
  3. Lay Off the Lip Service to Reaching Young Families. If you want to young families, make a commitment to reaching them. Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Create environments and contexts where young parents can be with each other, sans kids. Provide occasional date night opportunities for parents by offering child care so they can catch their breath. You can do the same in early December so parents can Christmas shop together for their kids.
  4. Lay Off the Sports Guilt. I’m old enough to remember “blue laws,” which virtually shut communities down on Sundays. Stores, gas stations, and even restaurants were closed on Sunday so that local churches had the market cornered one full day each week. That ship has sailed. Even Wednesday nights, a night once respected by local school districts is off the table. Whether we agree with it or not, parents are going to provide their children every opportunity to learn and grow possible, including sports and the fine arts. Whether we agree with it or not, sports and fine arts are going to schedule practices, games and performances on Wednesdays and Sundays. Whether we agree with it or not, parents are going to choose those practices, games and performances over church activities. I learned a long time ago that I’m not going to win that battle. I also learned I wasn’t going to judge or criticize parents who made the choices they made. Nothing is to be gained by invalidating a young family’s Christian commitment just because their kids play soccer on Sunday morning. So instead of judging them, celebrate them. Encourage older congregants to attend kids sporting and fine arts events. Make your presence known to them where they are, not just when they are on the church’s campus.
  5. Lay Off the Guessing Game. One of my pet peeves of church leadership is the insistence that they can sit in a room and discern how to meet the needs of mothers, fathers and young families. But if truth be told, they’re just guessing at it. Or worse, they plan as if they’ve read the latest and greatest book released on the subject by the guru of the day who lives in a different geography. There is not magic formula for reaching young families. So maybe church staffs need to quit guessing and actually talk to the mothers and fathers. No, I’m serious. Ask them. And then listen. What they have to say may not be in your church’s program or schedule, but that’s ok. You really don’t have to guess any more. And if you can discern what the needs actually are, who knows? They might be more prone to invite and bring their friends along. The gymnasium you’re thinking will help you actually may be for naught. What moms or dads may prefer is a mentoring relationship with an empty nester who has already walked where they’re walking.

American mothers are stressed and work and home, exhausted and generally overcommitted. Yet Barna Research reports that American moms are generally more satisfied than you might suspect. Check out their findings HERE.

Categories : Mother's Day, Parenting
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Jun
16

Reflections on Father’s Day

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The older I get the more I appreciate Father’s Day. I turned 50 this year, and still have my father. I sent him and card and gave him a call, realizing that even at age 90 he’s still parenting. He’s always affirmed and encouraged me and still does so today. As we got ready to hang up, he told me he was proud of me. I don’t take that for granted because I know plenty of people who have never been blessed by their fathers.

My oldest has graduated from college and is in his first job. My middle child is in college and our youngest is down to her last two years of high school. I used to think that as soon as my kids would graduate from college I’d be finished with parenting. Nothing is further from the truth.

Father’s Day is a bittersweet holiday. Like you, I love my kids and I’m extremely proud of them. I’m humbled by their talents and achievements, wishing I could somehow take credit for teaching them or coaching them toward their accomplishments but I can’t. What they have and what they’ve achieved is of grace. God has blessed them with talents and gifts that I cannot take credit for. It’s all of grace and all a gift from God.

While I marvel at all of the good, I weep for my own failures. I don’t know of any father who can honestly claim to have gotten every single element right. As fathers we’re not bad, but we’re broken. The implications of the fall run deep and are most clearly revealed in our homes. We can fool people at work or church but we can’t fool our spouses and our kids. They know us and love us, often in spite of ourselves.

There are times I’ve over reacted and times I’ve under reacted. There are times when I’ve spoken when I should have been silent and times when I’ve been silent that I should have spoken. There have been times I should have said yes when I said no, and times I said no when I should have said yes. I’ve minored on majors and majored on minors. In short, I’m not planning on writing a book on parenting any time in the near future!

I think most dad’s really love their kids and want the best for them. No, we’re not perfect, and yes, love covers a multitude of sins. For what it’s worth, here are some things I’ve learned about parenting. Like my mentor Gary Taylor used to say, these are not commandments but rather suggestions for fellow weary pilgrims.

1. The best thing I can give my kids is a great marriage.
Americans are pretty good about making kids their priority. We go to ball games, concerts, plays, dramas, performances, dances, recitals and more. We are attentive to our kids needs, sometimes to the neglect of our marital needs. If you want to be a good parent, begin by being a good spouse. When your marriage is healthy, you’re kids benefit in ways that you’ll never expect.

2. Let your kids be who God created them to be.
Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Unfortunately, a lot of parents assume that verse means that if we take our kids to church they will always love the Lord and follow him. That’s not what it means. The verse means that if we teach our kids to follow their natural bent, they will thrive in that bent in adulthood. One thing my wife and I tried to do was to provide our children with as many experiences as possible while they were young so they could figure out what their interests were. That meant we took our kids to piano, karate, soccer, football, gymnastics, upward basketball, art classes and more so they could identify their gifts and talents. We didn’t make them what we wanted them to be. Rather, we let them identify their interests and develop them. Our oldest is an athlete. Our middle is a musician and an artist. Our youngest is an artist, athlete, and musician. If you met our kids you might wonder how they could come from the same parents, but they did. You can’t play favorites or compare them to each other. You have to let them be who God created them to be.

3. Admit your failures.
My wife and I grew up in homes where our parents never admitted their mistakes. Neither one of us heard a parent say, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry.” We determined that we were going to be transparent enough to admit when we blew it. Is it hard? Sure. But I think our kids have appreciated the fact that we have always been willing to admit it when we’ve blown it.

4. Love them unconditionally.
The final word I would offer is to love your kids unconditionally. They may not be champions. They may not be a starter on the team. They may not earn the big scholarship. That’s ok, love them anyway. Performance based love is a terrible scourge on the American family. Sometimes we love conditionally because we’re trying to vicariously live our lives through our kids. Sometimes we enforce demands on our kids that are unfair or unreasonable. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re doing our kids a favor. But performance based love places a severe amount of pressure on our kids that most cannot bear. Love your kids because they’re yours. Not because of what they do, but because of who they are.

Categories : Family, Parenting
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May
10

Love Stories: Isaac and Rebekah

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Abraham was now a very old man, and the LORD had blessed him in every way. One day Abraham said to his oldest servant, the man in charge of his household, “Take an oath by putting your hand under my thigh. Swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and earth, that you will not allow my son to marry one of these local Canaanite women. Go instead to my homeland, to my relatives, and find a wife there for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:1-4, NLT)

One of the first love stories we find in the Bible is the story of Isaac and Rebekah. It all began after Isaac’s mother died. Abraham was advanced in years and recognized that he needed to arrange a marriage for his son. He deeply cared about who his son would marry and sent his servant on a journey to find just the right person. I think most parents care about who their children marry. One of the points Lisa shared with our congregation was the importance of praying for the future spouses of our children. Using Luke 2:52 as a framework, she shared these four points that frame her daily prayers for our children:

1. Pray for their mental and emotional growth. (“Jesus grew in wisdom”)
2. Pray for their physical growth and health. (“and in stature”)
3. Pray for their spiritual formation. (“and in favor with God”)
4. Pray for their character development. (“and in favor with all the people”)

What you pray for yourself, pray for your children. And what you pray for your children, pray for their spouses or their future spouses. If you read the entirety of Genesis 24, you’ll find prayer plays an important role in the process Abraham and his servant undertook to find just the right wife for Isaac. Christian parents care about marriage and who their children marry, because God cares about marriage and who our children marry.

Categories : Marriage, Parenting
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My wife shared this article with me and I thought I’d pass it along. It’s titled, “How Free Play Can Define Kids Success.” Enjoy!

Categories : Education, Parenting
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Oct
16

Helicopter Parents

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Here’s and interesting take on the so-called “helicopter parents” by Brink Lindsey published in The Atlantic.

Categories : Parenting
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This is an excellent interview with Dr. Kara Powell, co-author of Sticky Faith, on how to help kids maintain their faith during college.

Dec
14

Race to Nowhere

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The New York Times has recently published a movie review for Race to Nowhere: The Overscheduled Child. It discusses the pressures that today’s children face to build resumes in a competitive educational environment. Click for the article.

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One thing I appreciate about churches is their commitment to children. Churches in general offer nurseries for babies and childcare for preschoolers during the worship hour. Churches with high commitment to children’s ministry will even provide a full hour worship experience designed specifically for elementary age children while the parents worship in “big church.” As a pastor, I’ve always appreciated every expression of a church to meet the spiritual needs of kids.

Some churches do not have a full program for children during worship, leaving mom and dad wondering how to best prepare their kids to sit through an hour of worship that is designed for and aimed toward adults. How can parents best prepare their child for worship? I don’t confess to having all of the answers, but here are 11 things that you may want to consider.

1. Before you do anything, determine the expectations you will have for your child. Are your expectations age appropriate for your child? Are they reasonable? Are you and your spouse in agreement on the expectations? Do you have goals? Will there be rewards or consequences? Thinking through your expectations in advance will prevent you from flying by the seat of your pants when it’s time to walk into the worship center.

2. Talk with your child in advance. Kids function best when parents take the time to explain what worship is and what they can expect when they arrive. Talking kids through the routine of worship will help them to understand the rhythm of the service. (Even the most contemporary churches have a worship template they follow!) It is especially important to help the child understand unique situations in worship such as baptism or communion. Certainly we would want the child to know that the offering plate is for putting money in, not helping one’s self!

3. Teach your child correctly from the beginning. Sometimes parents will take short cuts in explaining spiritual things to their children because frankly, it’s easier. For example, every now and then I hear a parent refer to the church facility as “God’s House.” While this is not intended to be a negative thing, it communicates some really poor theology. It communicates that God is restricted to a given location; that we can go see God like we go see Grandma; that when we leave the building, God stays put, and so forth. Some of you are thinking that I’m a little harsh on this, but from my perspective there are more adults than not who practically live out those same concepts that I’ve listed above on a daily basis. When you teach your kids about God, be simple without being simplistic. You don’t help your child grow up to think right by teaching them wrong in their most formative years.

4. Arrange for your child to meet the pastor. My wife is a school teacher. Occasionally we’ll be shopping or eating out and we’ll have a chance encounter with one of her school kids who is out with his or her family. I’m always amazed at the kid’s reaction to seeing their teacher out in public, as if it hadn’t occurred to them that their teacher actually bought groceries or had a life outside of the classroom. Children are helped when they can meet the pastor and see that the pastor is a real person apart from the pulpit.

5. Take your child on a tour of the platform. Before or after the service, escort your child to the front of the room and let them see what it’s like to stand on the platform and look out. Let them see the platform furniture and tell them about what each represents and how it functions. This will help them to become more familiar with the environment of worship and create a sense of comfort.

6. Decide beforehand what you’re plan of action will be for using the restroom. Many parents opt to explain to their children before the service that they will not be allowed to leave during the service to use the restroom. Parents who choose to take this position need to make sure that the child uses the restroom prior to the beginning of the service. If you decide you’ll allow your child to go to the restroom, it’s recommended that you escort the child to and from the restroom for their safety and security.

7. Encourage the child to participate as much as possible. While the sermon may be a little out of reach for the school age child, many elements of the service provide reasonable opportunities for the child to participate, such as praying, singing, and giving.

8. Consider taking a “church bag.” When our kids were small, my wife prepared a church bag for our kids to take to worship. She encouraged our kids to sing, pray, and give, and then when I got up to speak she would pull out the “church bag.” The church bag contained a small etch-a-sketch, a magna-doodle, crayons, paper, scissors, and a simple snack such as teddy grahams. (As a pastor I’ve never objected to kids eating during church. Frankly, I’d like to eat during church but my mother taught me that it’s impolite to speak with your mouth full!) This allowed our kids to do something constructive during the sermon. The church bag was only used for church, so the special items in it stayed special week in and week out. If you utilize an idea such as this, make sure to clean up after yourself at the conclusion of the service. In addition to this, I’d also recommend that you include an age appropriate Bible or Bible story books. I’d further recommend that you leave the Disney and Loony-Tunes books at home. Christian childhood education specialists recommend that parents and Sunday School teachers not use secular children’s literature at church because children will make the association that Jesus is a story like Cinderella is a story. (see #3!)

9. Talk with your child on the drive home about the service. This gives you an opportunity to reinforce the good things about your family’s worship experience and answer any questions the child may have.

10. Model worship to your child during the service. Your child will not progress beyond where you are as a worshipper. If you don’t pray, sing, give, or open a Bible, chances are your child will not see the value of the experience. As a parent you set the benchmark for your child’s spiritual development. When you engage in worship you teach your child the difference between worshipping God and merely going to church.

11. Above all, don’t stress! Many times parents feel embarrassed about their child’s behavior during the worship service. My standard and unoriginal response to that apology is “I’d rather hear a baby cry than an old man snore.” What parents need to realize, perhaps more than anything else, is that the goal is to teach the child how to worship God. When we teach our children how to worship God we make the experience about worship and God. On the other hand, if the goal is to teach the child how to behave in church we make the experience about ourselves as parents and how we wish to be perceived by those around us. In church, teaching “behavior” is about ourselves and how we can impress others around us.

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