What do you tell your children?

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Ever ask the question: how much of my past failures do I share with my children? I ask that question all the time and despite not have a clear answer to that question, I’ve done it. Sometimes it worked well. I was able to confront my child’s sin, by telling a story of my own failure. It helped take the edge off that confrontation and opened the door to some real dialog. Then there have been times where it has come back to bite. “Why can’t I _________, you used to do it!”  You’ve been there I’m sure.

So I have tried to be as honest as my courage would allow me.  I followed my gut, and to some degree we need to rely on the Holy Spirit’s direction in all aspects of parenting. You can’t raise children with a manual. You need wisdom. There are times when you need to take a risk. There are other times that you need to hold your tongue. I don’t want to overlook that. But I still wondered if there was any wisdom out there that would help me understand why, as a parent, I should reveal details of my life to my children.

I was reading Psalm 78 the other day and to my surprise I discovered that the Scriptures do speak to this question. The psalm opens with a challenge directed towards adults, parents, and the older generation.

What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord …  so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (Psalm 78:3-6)

It’s quite a vision. We will share God’s story with the next generation so that they in turn will tell their children. I find that a compelling vision as we see the majority of children who grow up in the church, leave the church when they become adults.

But what sort of story do we tell them? This is where Psalm 78 gets interesting. It tells the story of God’s faithfulness peppered with scenes of Israel’s colossal failures. There is the time when God rescues Israel from slavery in Egypt. The rescue is dramatic as God destroys the pursuing Egyptian army in the Red Sea, but days later when the food runs low ungrateful Israel snarls, “that’s great … but can God spread a table in the desert?” God strikes the rock and water flows out and Israel retorts, “can he also give us food?” God gives them manna from heaven, but Israel wants meat. Time after time a faithful God comes through for his people and each time Israel spurns his grace.

So God changes tactics. He sends judgment was a warning for his people to return to him. Those warnings go unheeded and so more judgment comes. Finally the people in desperation cry out to God and God forgives and saves his people each and every time. The story has a distinctive rhythm. A faithful God blesses his people. His unfaithful people spurn his grace. God sends judgment. The sinful people ignore God’s warnings until the suffering becomes unbearable and they are forced to cry out to God. The faithful God hears them and saves them. The story Israel told cast God as the hero and ourselves as the villain. Why? Because the Israelites wanted their children to learn from their failures and fall in love with the hero.

What if the gospel stories we told our children took the same shape? What if we shared family stories of God’s faithfulness and spoke of our failures?

I have a real problem with anger and low and behold some of my kids do too. I’m shocked. My wife isn’t. It is one of my most destructive sins and yet God has used it in some of the most powerful moments with my children. “I saw you lose it the other day, let me tell I have hurt other people with my anger.”  My child looks at me not as someone who is critical, but as a loving father who longs for them to be rid of this burden. The defenses come down and we’ve had a real opportunity to talk about the grace and mercy of God. Sometimes you can’t appreciate God’s love until you’ve really failed.

There was one moment when one of my children exclaimed through gritted teeth, “I can’t not be angry.” And I by the grace of God was able to say, “that is why we need Jesus.”


Baby Bottle Campaign

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Your loose change can save a life and give hope to a woman facing a crisis pregnancy.

The teachings of Jesus often seem unrealistic when you are raising a family. For example, what do you with the command, “sell your possessions, give the money to the poor and come follow me”? How does that work when you have a house, children to feed, schedules to keep, soccer games to get to, parent-teacher conferences, credit card bills, fevers, trips to the emergency room (if you’re my family) and three events scheduled at a time with two cars and one parent to drive said cars. You get the idea. I don’t even have time to think about the poor, let alone set up a fire sale for everything I own and then find the courage to give the proceeds away.

And yet the command still stands, “sell your possession, give the money to the poor and come follow me.” Now imagine this scenario. Your kid happens to be reading the Bible and he asks you, “dad, what did Jesus mean by sell your possessions?” How do you answer? “That command is optional”?  “Jesus didn’t really mean it”? You see the problem. You’ve left yourself wide open for this comeback question, “Is obeying your parents optional too?” At that point they’d have you.

So what do you do, when the lifestyle that Jesus calls you and your family to love is radically different to the one you live today? Let me tell what I’ve learned not to do. (I’m better as a role model in reverse, just ask my kids.) Don’t throw up your hands, say it is impossible and do nothing . Because we can’t do it all right now, does not mean that we can’t do something. Sometimes following Jesus is about taking small, consistent steps in His direction.  In other words, start by doing something small and see where life takes you.

In the last posts we’ve talked about giving away our trash. Today, I’d like to talk about the possibility of donating our loose change. Easy. Painless. A small but significant step towards the radical life that Jesus laid out for us in the Gospels.

My friend Daryl Breda works for an organization called A Woman’s Concern.  Daryl’s group works on a shoestring budget to provide alternatives to abortion for women and their families who are facing a crisis pregnancy. You’ve probably seen images of abortion protests on television with people screaming and lobbing word grenades such as “baby-killer” and “fascist anti-choice woman hater” at each other. What is obscured by our sensationally driven media is the fact that there is a young woman, usually scared and alone, who believes that her only chance for a future is to abort her unborn baby. What if there was someone there to offer her not condemnation but a real choice? You don’t have to kill your baby. You have friends. You have a community. We will do whatever it takes to provide you and your baby with a future.

That is the question that drives the volunteers at A Woman’s Concern and they have saved countless babies and their mothers from the horror of abortion. They do this is through volunteers and a very small budget. One of the ways they raise the money they need is through your loose change.

Each year we set out baby bottles for families to take home. We ask that you fill then with quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies and bring them back. Real simple, but $10 – $20 can be the difference between life and the destructive force of abortion. Set it up in your home and encourage your children to get involved. They will ask you what it is for and you can tell them about what it is like to be young, pregnant, scared and all alone. Depending on how old they are, you may have to decide how much you are going to tell them them about teen pregancy and abortion, but if they are in elementary school and higher they may have already heard about it.

You can share how Jesus felt about people who were despised because their sin was so obvious. (Jesus and the Samartian woman at the well in John chapter 4 is a great example.) Instead of condemning the sinful woman, Jesus gave her acceptance, hope and the power to live a new life. Giving our loose change to support a scared young woman facing a pregnancy is a way that we as a family can imitate Jesus. It’s not the whole vision of Jesus, but it is a great step forward.

For more information

A Woman’s Concern’s Fall River clinic is in the process of renovating a new facility in the heart of downtown Fall River. Their new location will be more accessible to the clientele they serve who are dependent on public transportation. They are currently seeking plumbing and electrical expertise and volunteers to help with the construction of the new clinic. They have raised close to $8,000 of the $30,000 that they need to complete the build out. If you would like to volunteer or find out more, we encourage you to get in contact with A Woman’s Concern.  Their contact info is provided below.

A Woman’s Concern

484 Highland Avenue
Fall River, MA 02720

Phone: (866) 435-7292

Email: info@awomansconcern.org

Being Present

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More than our money, more than gifts, our children crave our undivided attention.

You know you’re old when you start complaining about “kids these days.”  Kids these days never pay attention.  You try and carry on a conversation with them and they are texting their friend, updating their Facebook relationship status to “complicated”, all while doing a poor job of pretending that they are listening to you.

This constant state of distraction struck me the other day as I was reading a book on evangelism the other day (AKA Lost  by Jim Henderson for those who are interested.)  The book argues that more than money, or success, what people crave the most is someone’s undivided and complete attention. I think that is true, but as technology creeps out of our computer desks and entertainment centers and into our pockets in the form of smartphones, this is something that gets harder and harder to do.  Not just for the kids, but especially for me.

CS Lewis points out in his book, the Four Loves, that adults are far ruder with their own children than any other people they interact with.  I can’t begin to tell you how many times my own daughters have had to yell “… Dad …. DAD! … DAD!!!!!”, before I’ve responded. Lately, they begun to use this annoying flaw to their advantage.

Child: “Dad I can I stay up until 3:00 AM watching movies?”  Me: “Yeah sure”

Child: “Dad can I light the dog on fire?” Me: “Ok”

We would never dream of treating our boss or a good friend this way.  Yet time and time again I have missed the opportunity to communicate the love of God in a language they can understand, Dad’s undivided attention. My kids to their credit are very forgiving and usually just shake their heads and roll their eyes.  I appreciate that about them.  But this thought has occurred to me:  how can I expect them to care about what I have to say, if my distraction sends the message that I don’t care what they have say?

This has great implications when it comes to sharing the gospel.  Jesus never used the same approach as he shared the gospel with people.  Why?  Because he knew them as individuals.  I’m sure being God helped, but more importantly he listened to people.  He knew them.  He was in tune with what they needed.  To Zaccheus the tax-collecter, Jesus invited himself to dinner.  He asked the woman at the well to find her husband (she had seven and she wasn’t married to the guy she was living with).  Jesus tells her, “You’ve gone to the well seven times and you are still thirsty.  I have living water to give you and you’ll never thirst again.”  To the rich young ruler, Jesus says, “sell your possessions, give the money to the poor, and come follow me.”  Different people, and Jesus knows how to approach each one uniquely.  He’s paid attention.

I’m trying to learn how to stop, pay attention, and listen to my children.  I want them to know that they are valuable enough to deserve my undivided attention.  I want to understand how they give and receive love.  What’s important to them?  What part of the gospel will be difficult for them to believe?  How can I pray for them?  These questions can’t be answered unless we are still enough to listen.

Where does discipleship of children begin?  I believe it begins with prayer and paying attention.

Parents – The Chief Repenters

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John 3:19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

If you grew up around an evangelical church like I did, you know the importance of being a witness for Jesus Christ.  The problem was that I had a warped understanding of what that meant.  It went something like this.  A witness tells a “before and after” story. Here is what I was like before I met Jesus.  Here is what I’m like after Jesus.  With a little faith, you can become like me.

I can’t begin to tell to you the enormous pressure stories like this bring.  In order to get others to buy Jesus, I had to convince them that I was so much better now.  If I performed better, then I would be a more effective witness, and more people would come to Christ.  Here’s the problem.  What do you with the fact that as a Christian you still sin … all the time?  Let me make it worse.  You can probably hide your imperfections from your neighbors, co-workers, and the people at church, but your kids? They’ve seen it all.  They know it all.  You can’t fool them. How can we convince our kids of the transforming power of Jesus to save us and change us, when they have a front row seat to all our failures? Is there a way for us to be gospel witnesses to our kids that points them to Christ and not to our moral performance?

As I read the New Testament, I am struck by the raw honesty of the apostles, the early leaders of the church.  While you can’t deny that these people were transformed by Jesus, they are quite open about their failures.

  • Mark’s gospel which is a written collection of Peter’s teachings has preserved for us his colossal failures.  In one night Peter disowned Jesus three times and struck off the ear of the servant of the high priest.
  • Paul was a murderer who actively persecuted the church.  And yet after his conversion and a successful missionary career he confesses to Timothy, his son in the Lord: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.  Christ came into the world to save sinners – of whom I AM the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 3:15-16)

What makes Christians unique is not their sterling moral character.  The early church was filled with angry violent men like Paul and cowards like Peter.  At the same time we all know unbelievers who are gracious, considerate, and generous.  What makes a Christian, a Christian is their ability to be honest about their sin.  A Christian is someone who lives in daily dependence on God knowing that we need his forgiveness even for the great things we do for the wrong motives.

What if our testimony to our children was centered around this question: “why do I need Jesus today?”  When I remember this, I no longer give apologies like: “I’m sorry that Dad snapped at you, but when you do ________ it makes Dad angry.”  Those are apologies that desperately cling to our “before and after” stories. In effect we are telling our kids, “if it wasn’t for you, I’d be following Jesus right now.”  But imagine, if I’m able to say to my kids after striking out verbally at them in anger, “your father is an angry man and I am deeply sorry for the hurt that I caused you.  Could you tell me what it felt like to be on the receiving end of my anger so that I can better understand how desperately I need Jesus?”

“The before and after” gospel stories point to ourselves, but “here is why I need Jesus” stories cast Jesus as the hero.  What we want our kids to exclaim: “Wow, if Jesus can save people like Peter, Paul, mom and dad, he can certainly save me.”

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8)