The best way to train your children in 2014

I know a lot less today about successful parenting than I did 12 years ago.  If you are wondering why the number “12”, just know that my oldest is 12 years old.  I feel like I’m learning something new all the time about how to be a godly parent, so what I share is not coming from anyone who considers themselves an expert.  There are a host of mistakes that I’ve made, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could start over, but thanks be to God that the outcome of my children depends more on God’s grace than my abilities.

My perspective has changed a lot since I first became a dad.  I used to push my kids to make big behavioral changes if I saw something sinful or selfish in them.  I wanted sanctification to happen on my timetable and not the Holy Spirit’s.  Of course, God has a way of humbling us as parents, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t produce the change I Mason building brick wallwanted to see in my kids.  I also realized that pride and fear were the biggest motivators in the “discipleship” process I was implementing as a father.

One of the biggest perspective changes I made was looking at my role as a father a little bit like a brick or stone mason.  Now if you see the craft of a skilled stone mason, you’ll notice how quickly they can build a wall, foundation, building, etc.  Unfortunately, we don’t get the privilege of building quickly as parents.  It’s a slow, tedious process.  I look at my life now as an opportunity to lay one brick a day in my child’s heart.  That brick is either going to be made in oven of gospel truth or the oven of legalism, or, unfortunately, no brick at all.  Each brick will be placed on the foundation of their heart or taped on the outside of their flesh.

This picture of laying one brick a day has helped me to stay consistent and purposeful in how I engage with my children on a daily basis.

The question you may have now is, “so how do you lay that one brick everyday?”

The best way I have found to lay a brick everyday is to read to your child/children.

Reading to them is far greater than sitting down and watching a movie or show.  Veggie Tales videos are great if you are looking for something to not wreak havoc on your child’s mind, but if you want to lay a gospel brick on their heart, read to them.  I know that this may seem like an archaic idea, and you may believe that your children will never sit still long enough to listen to what’s being read.  Just remember that you don’t have to start out reading for 30 minutes.  If your children are young, start with 5-10 minutes and move up from there.  Sitting still and listening is a discipline that needs to be developed in children.

Here are the books we’ve read as a family together with the age range beside it.  I’ve even added a few that we haven’t read yet, but have come highly recommended and that we plan on reading soon.

1. The Bible – I know, like this even needs an explanation, but I think we would be shocked how many families do not sit down together and read even 1 chapter of the Bible.  Find a version that reads easier like the NIV and try to read at least 1 chapter a day to start.  It’s definitely the best brick that you can lay.

51Yl4qoqtvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2. Building on the Rock series (5 books) by Joel Beeke and Diana Kleyn – Scores of short stories from the last few hundred years of God moving in powerful ways.  They range from stories of God working to bring about salvation in individuals to God working through providence to help His children in need.  My kids used to ask me to read these books to them every night when they were younger.  Age range 5-10 

 

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3. The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones – I love this book because it doesn’t just teach the details of the stories of the Bible, but it weaves in the grand gospel narrative of Jesus as the hero throughout every Bible story.  Age range 3-6

 

51OYC0PZmVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-63,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_4. The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken – Amazing story of one man’s journey with God through persecution and ministry.  Nik goes on to interview hundreds of other Christians around the world where it isn’t easy to follow Jesus.  The stories of God’s power, love and faithfulness have made a big impression on our family.  Age range 8-high school

51TRbvo1PlL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-65,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_5. The Duck Commander Family by Willie and Korie Robertson – If your family loves Duck Dynasty like we do, then your family will love this book.  It’s a book that shares the story of Willie and Korie’s families and how God gave them the opportunity to do the TV show.  Our kids loved hearing about the humble beginnings of the Robertson family and seeing that they aren’t just about fun, but that they are really all about Jesus.     Age range 6-middle school

cover6. Not a fan by Kyle Idleman – I read this when the students at Providence were going through it.  I loved it as a simple straightforward way of challenging the consumer culture that is all around us.  Jesus is either going to be everything to us or nothing to us.  I haven’t read this yet to my family, but will in a few years.  Age range middle school-high school

 

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7. Five Who Changed the World by Danny Akin – This is a small little book that chronicles 5 different missionaries from the 18th to 20th century.  As you can probably tell, I love reading biographies to my kids and these 5 condensed biographies are the perfect length for younger kids to grasp the power of a life given in sacrifice for the mission of God.  Age range 8-high school

 

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8. Hero Tales vol. I-IV by Dave and Neta Jackson – My kids and I breezed through one of these books quickly.  Every story is unique in that it shows the various ways followers of Jesus can live out their faith in all kinds of occupations and ways.  Age range 6-middle school

 

 

9. Lamplighter Books (www.lamplighter.net) – There are really too many books to post, but my mother used to work for this publishing company, so we would get a few books every year from her.  We’ve read a lot from their collection and have never been disappointed.  Lamplighter has resurrected some great books and has written some new ones as well.  If you are looking for a library of books that helps teach children the values of the Kingdom of God through great stories, then look no further.  Age range toddler to high school  

It’s my hope that we as a church will rediscover the joy of reading together as a family.  It’s not the flashiest means of teaching, but it will definitely help you lay that one brick every day.

Happy New Year and keep reading!

My family is going to see the Hobbit in 3 hours

I’ve turned my family into Tolkien nerds.  I started working on my boys a few years ago when I first read the Hobbit to them.  We then moved on to watching all the LOTR movies, gollumface-450-x-450and finally we read the LOTR books.  This year took an unexpected turn though when my wife and daughter started getting into the movies.  That was a complete shocker.  It’s been a fun year, but needless to say, all five of us are going to see the next Hobbit movie in about 3 hours.  It’s release date has been circled on the family calendar for about 2 months.  Today is an official Rudolph family holiday.  Now we aren’t the weird Lord of the Rings fans.  They do exist.  We are definitely not dressing up like hobbits when we go to the movies, and we haven’t named our dog, Frodo.  I don’t have all those complex LOTR board games (cough, cough Billy Gibson), and I haven’t read the Silmarillion 6x (clearing my throat Tim Keith) .  I would consider our family normal fans of JRR Tolkien’s work.

It all comes down to the quality of the story.  The story is fun, captivating, and littered with a host of spiritual analogies that I can use to get my children’s minds to churn more; at least more than watching the latest episode of Duck Dynasty.

Stories do that don’t they?  They grab ahold of our soul.  They captivate our imagination and say to us, “This is the kind of story I want to be a part of.”  If you read GK images-25Chesterton’s book, “Orthodoxy”,  in his chapter entitled, “The Ethics of Elfland”, Chesterton explains the value of fairy tales, and that fiction, especially quality fiction, can actually help us see our real world in greater dimensions.

I’m reminded this morning, as my kids anticipate seeing the next chapter in the Hobbit story, that we all want to see the real story come to life.  When we immerse ourselves in the grand story of God in Scripture, we see the real story.  When we are fascinated by the struggle of not just good over evil, but God over evil, and of God’s grand story of redemption and restoration, then we want to see it.  God leads us to a place and shows us how we can be a part of the real story in history.  That we can be a part of the redemption story with Jesus as the hero is extremely exciting.

This is why I want to be a part of a church.  I want following Jesus to be about seeing the story of God played out in and around me.  God’s story is far greater than a 2 1/2 hour epic on the big screen.  We are talking about eternity here.

I hope we can teach our children to love the story of Jesus far more than any other story.  I hope we are excited to see the story of God come to life in our community as we seek to spread the fame and glory of Jesus to our friends and neighbors.  I hope this morning that the anticipation of seeing words come to life in front of me are a mere shadow of the inspired Word coming to life in me.

So what story grips your heart?

Understanding the difference between “nothing” and “nothing”

“I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  – Jesus

“….For nothing will be impossible with God.”  – Gabriel

There’s a huge difference between the “nothing” that Jesus was talking about and the “nothing” that the angel Gabriel was speaking of.  I believe understanding the difference between these two “nothings” makes all difference in the world in our Christian walk.  

I don’t know about you but I have a bent toward doing things first and then asking God for help.  The whole abiding thing wears against my pride and self-sufficient spirit.  Unfortunately, this has led to the exact outcome that Jesus said it would.  There are many days that I feel like I’ve been in neutral.  Of course, it’s not God’s fault.  He is faithful and He continues to shepherd my soul in spite of my obstinance.  

It really all comes down to faith.  Do we walk in an expectancy that God will move or do we walk in our own wisdom and strength hoping to accomplish our will?  Our lack of faith in God inhibits us from stepping out when we should, and likewise, our faith in ourselves overflows so that we step into stuff that distracts and destroys.  

Do you believe that Jesus loves you, in spite of you?

Do you believe that God can change you?

Do you believe that God can change that one person who seems so far from Jesus?

Do you believe that a movement of God is possible today?

Do you walk in faith expecting God to transform you into Jesus?

I’ve come to the realization that I need to meditate on these two “nothings” every morning.  It will determine the direction of every decision I make.  I have to remind myself daily that apart from Jesus I can do nothing and that nothing is impossible for him.  I need to live in that mysterious juxtaposition and enjoy God fully.  

What “nothing” are you living in today?

 

 

God’s light switch

Yesterday, as a church, one of the questions we wrestled with was, “Why doesn’t God answer prayer?” As complicated as that answer may be, it’s always helpful to see how others have wrestled with other issues and came out of it stronger in their faith. I mentioned this passage yesterday, and I wanted to share it with you. God’s Word is so powerful. I hope you’ll read this and be encouraged. Pay special attention to verse 21 in this passage. It’s God’s light switch that we all need at various points in our day. See how that switch changes the perspective of the author.

Lamentations 3
1 I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath;
2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;
3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long.
4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones;
5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;
6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago.
7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy;
8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer;
9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked.
10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding;
11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate;
12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow.
13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver;
14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long.
15 He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood.
16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the LORD.”
19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
24 “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
27 It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.
28 Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust- there may yet be hope;
30 let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.
31 For the Lord will not cast off forever,
32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

In what area do you need to use God’s light switch today?

How God used a cup of tea today

At 5:29 I made a cup of tea.  It’s not just any tea.  It’s Harney & Sons hot cinnamon spice tea, the best tea you can drink this side of the pond.  I’m thankful that God made tea.  He 44233could have just created water for us to drink for our entire lives, and that would be absolutely fine, but He made tea leaves, which makes my mornings a little more enjoyable.

At 5:35 I check to see if the Redskins won.  They didn’t.  This is to be expected.  If you are a Redskins fan, I don’t need to explain.  But I’m thankful that I’m not only a Redskins fan.  I’m thankful that God reminds me when I check the scores that my joy rests in Jesus, not in wins and loses.  By the way, I’m thankful that I’m also a Red Sox fan and I’m thankful for Big Papi’s grand slam last night as well.

At 5:44 I read Ezekiel chapter 36.  I’m loving this book right now.  I’ve had to muscle through reading Ezekiel in the past, but for some reason, God is teaching me so much right now through this book.  I’m thankful that God has given me His Word and His Spirit to transform my broken soul.

As I started to reflect more on what God has done in me and for me, the tiny snowball of thankfulness that started with a cup of tea led to an avalanche of thankfulness inside me.

I’m thankful for my family and for what I’m seeing God do in my children’s lives.

I’m thankful for my church and for the friendships God has granted me through this fellowship of believers.

I’m thankful for a new refrigerator and stove that God provided last week for us.

I’m thankful that we sold our old refrigerator and stove on Saturday so that our front porch doesn’t look so redneck any more.

I’m thankful for prayer and for the peace and rest that it brings in my life.

I’m thankful for Jesus and my salvation.

I’m thankful for all the little things in my life that make my life so interesting and fun.

But then God reminds me of something about thankfulness that I cannot forget.  I’m also thankful for the hard things in life.  I’m thankful for the trials.  I’m thankful for suffering.  I’m thankful for the hardships that I’m going through, because it’s in the moments that are the most difficult that God shapes me the most to be like Jesus.

Life is better when you are thankful.  Thankfulness isn’t dependent on circumstances, but on who God is and the goodness of life that His common grace blesses us with everyday.

It’s simply a matter of what you are going to start looking at today.  You can begin today looking at the fingerprints of God all around you or you can focus on all the “wrongs” of your life.   Don’t let the enemy rob you of joy today.

I know Thanksgiving is a little more than a month away today, but let’s start the celebration now.

Would you survive a church shutdown?

You can’t turn on the news or go online without hearing or seeing news about the government shutdown.  You can read a plethora of opinions and stories how the shutdown is hurting people and the economy.  You can also read about how this latest government shutdown exposes how dependent people are on “Big Government”.  I’m not 1_photo-1here though to share my opinion of the latest bickering going on within Washington D.C.

I’ve got a better question:  How would you survive a church shutdown?

I guess I need to be more specific.  What if your Sunday morning church service ceased to exist, how much would your Christian life suffer?  If someone barred entry to the building you gathered in yesterday morning, like park rangers have done to certain monuments in and around D.C., how detrimental would it be to your walk with Jesus?

For all the talk that many conservative Evangelicals have about the millions that are too dependent on big government, have we become too dependent on big church?

I am not saying that the corporate gathering of Christians isn’t important.  I believe that it is necessary.  But I believe that if our expression of church is only confined to 90 minutes on a Sunday morning, we are missing the whole point of what it means to be the church of God.

Our expression of church should influence every day of the week for us, not just Sunday mornings.  We see this modeled for us in the infancy of the church in Acts 2 when they met daily, going from house to house.  Our current expectation of church makes the “daily” part of church expression very difficult.

Sadly, there is a tendency to treat church like a gas station.  We fill up spiritually once a week with whatever octane the preacher has for us, and leave to go on our way for the gas_station_love_by_rockchilirest of the week, only needing to be “filled up” again a week later.  I believe that the natural flow of gathering with the Body of Christ throughout the week is as essential as our Sunday morning services.

 

 

What if our gathering on Sunday was more of celebration than a filling station?

What if our contact with other believers had more to do with breaking bread throughout the week discussing the wonderful gospel truths in God’s Word, than shaking hands for 45 seconds at the beginning of a church service?

What if discipleship was more dependent on 2 or 3 gathering to sharpen one another than the oratory skills of one?

Would you still live on mission?

Would you have enough normal opportunities to serve others if the programs of your big church ceased to exist?

Don’t get me wrong.  I love gathering on Sunday mornings with my church family.  It’s one of my favorite times of the week, and we have every intention to keep meeting every Sunday morning.  But what I am discovering is the wonderful ways in which church means so much more than just Sunday; that being the church has as much to do with my Monday through Saturday as well.

How about you?  How would you handle a church shutdown?

The biggest myth that makes us grumpy

There are a lot of unhappy people in this world, aren’t there?  My wife and I were walking in our neighborhood the other day and we started talking about how many times we wave at people and all we get is a grumpy face.  And we even live in the South!

There seems to be a palatable absence of joy all around us.  We hide it well enough when we are up close and personal.  We duck tape our families up on Sunday mornings at church and put on the best smile we can.

It’s only when you get a person to open up about their true feelings that you start to see what is really going on in their heart.  What I have found is that most people are frustrated with life.  There are a million small ways in which life can become frustrating.

I don’t though think that it’s the small little things that go wrong that makes us so unhappy.  It’s the way in which we look at the million small problems that is the root of our discontent and disharmony.  We end up believing a lie and the more we believe this lie, the more we will be frustrated with life.

Here it is:  We expect life to be perfect.

Now, most of us wouldn’t say so, but when you think about it, why are you so upset with your spouse and children?  Why do you dislike your neighbors so much?  Why are you angry at your child’s coach?  Why are you going to leave your church?  Because they are destroying your dreams of perfection.  Everything is supposed to go smoothly.  Everything is supposed to work out according to your plan.  If it wasn’t for the teacher, spouse, child, pastor, coach, neighbor, boss, co-worker, waitress, retail worker, crazy driver in front of me and/or in back of me, or my dog, life would be great.  It even gets more complicated when you have 2 people living under the same roof with 2 different ideas of the perfect life.  No wonder divorce is skyrocketing.

Why do we believe this myth of perfection?  We know it’s not right.  We live in a fallen world filled with 7 billion sinners (of which you are one).  When God cursed Adam and Eve after the Fall of man, He basically told them, life is going to be hard now.  Yet we expect heaven on earth.  Sound like we are trying to recapture Eden without God all over again.

When we look at all the tiny little things that don’t seem to go right, we have a choice to look at them as enemies to our dreams of perfection, or opportunities for redemption.  Yes, we are the ones who opened up Pandora’s box of sin on the world, yet Jesus came into the world to redeem what was lost and reconcile what was broken.

Jesus walked into this world with all its sin, suffering, disease, pain, and disharmony, and over came it.  He never promised to give you your best life now, but He did promise life eternal and abundant.  All you have to do is read the end of Hebrews 11 to see that our expectations for perfection are never totally realized this side of eternity.  We should expect hardship.  I love what Peter says in his first epistle in 4:12.  He basically says that we shouldn’t be surprised at trials and hardships as if some strange thing is happening to us.

We need to expect all the tiny little things in life to go wrong.  God uses those moments to shape us and mold us into Christ.  Your light will always shine greater, not when you are living your life of perfection, but when you are exuding joy in the midst of your life when everything seems to be going wrong.

Something will go wrong today.  Expect it.  Embrace it.  Let God give you the eyes to see your life through His lens of grace and redemption.  When we start loving others in spite of their actions, we will begin to walk like Jesus becoming agents of change, instead of lords of perfection.