_The two best pictures of God's love for us we can see everyday are marriage and parenting. Marriage describes His relationship with the Church, loving her, caring for her, providing for her, protecting her, serving her, interceding for her, and ultimately dying for her. Parenting, on the other hand, shows the unconditional love for us as individuals. A parent gives their time and energy, their blood, sweat, and tears, and their heart to someone who cannot help themselves. Our kids are born in sin (don't believe me? Volunteer for nursery duty!), are bent towards themselves, and constantly need something...like, always.
The call to parenthood really is a call to death to self, much like it does when we are called by Christ to follow Him and deny ourselves. When you become a parent, there really is nothing called "me time" anymore. Someone else is completely dependent on you, just like we are completely dependent on Christ. Stories like this one of part-time parents who still want to play show that the world's picture of parenthood is an accessory. But loving and serving and providing for a child like Jesus loves and serves and provides for us isn't as easy as adding a hobby. It requires a daily commitment to love unconditionally, to serve without anything in return, and to find yourself in the middle of a mess.
Sometimes that mess is what we had recently with a violent 12 hour stomach bug. Other times it is a wayward teenager who disappoints and finds themselves in trouble at school. Or it's a young adult child who found themselves on the wrong side of a payday loan or credit card scam or a positive pregnancy test. Whatever the mess is, God calls us to love, protect, and care for our children because He does the same thing when we find ourselves in a mess. And that's the heart of the Gospel, that the King dies not for His friends but for His enemies. Romans 5 reminds us that we have been justified by faith and are at peace with God through Christ, because at the right time He died for us in our sin. Jesus died for us in our mess, meeting us where we were and rescuing us from the pit. Cleaning off the vomit and scars and stains and death all around us, He makes us new and brings us to life. As a parent, you get to show your child the love of Christ when you clean up the mess, when you walk with them through the struggle, and when on the other side you embrace them and call them your own.
So parents, next time you're cleaning up vomit or crying with your spouse over a mistake your teenager makes, know that you're close to the heart of God, who is our Father. J.I. Packer goes as far to say that the Christian name for God is "Father," meaning we relate to God personally, lovingly, relationally, knowing we are His joy just like your children are your joy. What a lovely picture.
But when you're in the middle of the mess, remember that redemption is better than judgment, and that no mess is beyond repair. Parenting is a messy work, and it's not for the weak of heart. But for those God has blessed with children, He provides the strength and encouragement to press on. The Gospel is enough to carry us through those times, and to give our children a greater hope than anything they could find here.
Yesterday began the highest of holiday weeks for the Christian calendar with Palm Sunday. During this week, called Passion Week, Holy Week, or if you're Baptist "Easter Week," our attention turns to the culmination of Jesus' life and ministry, His victorious death and resurrection. The special nature of this week causes us to reflect on Jesus' work in our own lives, and we remember the sacrifice on Calvary that was necessary to pay our sin debt. And the great news is that because Jesus' death was enough to cover our sin means we don't have to live with guilt and shame.
Families have the great opportunity to use this week to make a lasting impact on not only their own families but their communities and the world. Here are seven ways how:
1) Make the commitment to have family devotions this week - Use your dinnertime as a time to spend time in the Word, praying, and having a spiritual conversation. It doesn't have to be anything formal or scripted, but it does have to be intentional. Spiritual conversations can be about what they're doing at church, how God is working in their lives, and a chance for parents to encourage their kids. Maybe read through John 13-20, which gives a full account of the Last Supper, the arrest/trial of Jesus, and the crucifixion & resurrection. If your kids are younger, you can use the Jesus Storybook Bible and its stories on pages 286-317.
2) Go through your stuff and give it away - If your church or community has a clothing ministry to needy families, this week can give you a great time to clean out your closet. If you can't remember the last time you wore it, give it away. Those jeans you used to fit in before you discovered the candy stash? Give those away too. Bless your neighbors with the things that you don't need anymore.
3) Collect money and give to the Annie Armstrong Offering - Every year at Easter, SBC churches around the country collect money for church planters and missionaries in North America (US & Canada). There are hundreds of Kingdom workers around the country who are serving in major cities making Gospel impact, and the Annie Armstrong offering is a chance to bless them and their work. You can give through your church or directly through the Annie Armstrong website.
4) Share the Gospel with your kids - One of the most profound things about being a parent is that when we look at our kids, we not only see our pride and joy, but we also see a prospective brother or sister in Christ. If your kids haven't made a profession of faith yet and are old enough to understand (check out this article from John MacArthur on the "age of accountability"), be intentional this week about sharing the Gospel with them, and point out their need for a Savior. You can get more help from Focus on the Family, David Platt, Centri-Kid, Source for Youth Ministry, and LifeWay Students.
5) Serve a widow(er) or senior adult in your church - There are lots of senior saints in our churches who are experiencing a special season without their spouse, or who are dealing with the loneliness of old age. Your family can bless them by visiting them, spending time with them, sharing a gift, and reminding them of their great hope in the Living Christ. If you need help finding a senior adult to spend time with, talk to your church leadership or deacons.
6) Do a mission project as a family - This doesn't have to be a big production, it can be an evening volunteering at a soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Your family can be a part of blessing and serving alongside a Gospel-focused ministry this week. Doing this as a family and letting your kids see you serving can show them the joy of missions and help them to learn to love serving Christ.
7) Intentionally invite someone to church on Sunday - Easter Sunday is one of the biggest days for guests in churches. We see lots of people who come to church because it's Easter. Why not intentionally invite your neighbor, your coworker, your kid's soccer coach, or your babysitter to church on Sunday? Intentionally inviting them is more than asking them to come, it's engaging them throughout the service (especially if they don't understand Christian-ese), it's asking them their thoughts, and asking if the Gospel presentation made sense to them.
Families, what suggestions would you have for this list?
Last night while taking our students through Ruth, we came across the passage in 4:1-12 where Boaz meets with the Redeemer to find out if he will marry Ruth or if the other man will. As I was prepping for the lesson, I was struck by the example of manhood that Boaz displayed in this. And as the preparation matured, it became obvious that last night was a call for manhood to our guys. The starting place for spiritual leadership in the church and home isn't age, experience, degrees, or whether or not you can shave. It's being a man. Being a godly man means being responsible and being committed.
Responsibility is when you as a man own up to your faith, yourself, and you're willing to be accountable for what you do. Responsibility is lacking when too many "adults" want to pass the blame higher up the chain, rather than own it. It happens when someone becomes a father but fails to be a dad. I see this so often in student ministry where the dad is too consumed with himself, video games, a bigger truck, or chasing after his hobbies that he fails to do the task God gave him: cultivate the ground (work hard) and be fruitful (be a husband and dad). Boaz took on responsibility he didn't have to, but he willingly took on. That's what Christ has done for us. Romans 5 reminds us that Christ died for us while we were still His enemies. Being a man is being radical. And being radical today means spending time in your Bible, working hard, building a family, investing in your wife and kids, mowing your yard, and serving your church.
A godly man is committed because his effort isn't based on convenience or what he can get out of it. Rather, it's a matter of integrity for him to finish what he started. Sadly that doesn't happen everyday when men walk away from their wife and kids because they're not "happy" anymore. Or when a man walks away from his role as provider and protector to "chase his dreams." Too many men today are like kids signing up for baseball or getting a puppy, it sounds great at first and there's initial excitement, but once the reality sets in they try to find a way out. To be the spiritual leader in a church, or more importantly in your home, requires that you make the firm commitment that you will see your task through. Fellas, that means you don't get to claim "Me time" because when your job obligations are done, your wife and kids need you to be Husband and Dad with them. Being a man means sacrifice, service, and generosity. That's what separates a godly man from a guy.
The last couple nights for us have been all about taking care of a sick 1-year old. And last night after the 3rd or 4th time being vomited on, I couldn't help but realize: Parenting is messy. And it doesn't stop when your kids get older, the messes just transfer. What once meant dirty diapers and colic turns into patterns of rebellion and sin, which then turn into first accidents, speeding tickets, and overdrawn bank accounts. Even when children become adults, it can still be messy as they make decisions that don't reflect what you taught them growing up.
Let's face it, as parents we spend much of our energy pouring into our children with a faith that we know has the power to transform their hearts. And when we're confronted with the reality of a world that is set against a biblical worldview, the end result is a mess. Sin destroys the perfect picture God designed for us, where parents pour into their children and a legacy of faithfulness is built. And we're left with how John Piper described their journey through a wayward child: tears. In the messiness of raising children, I want to give three words of encouragement:
1. Cling to your surest hope, Jesus. We can't escape the reality of difficulty, but we can always run to the One who has overcome. Jesus promises to be enough for us. Paul reminds us that His grace is sufficient. When it feels like everything we do is failing, run back to the one who promises that in Him we can find our everything. And from that surest hope comes the answer. Our kids, more than anything else, need to find their ultimate joy and delight in Jesus.
2. Channel your frustration to prayer. One of the hardest things to swallow as a parent is that our own sinfulness shows up in our kids. In them we see all of our best and our worst qualities. And because of that, we get frustrated and we wonder why they don't "get it." We forget that they are fallen, as are we, and because of that they'll do things that hurt, frustrate, or even disappoint us. And when those moments happen where it feels like the walls are caving in, channel all of that energy to prayer. Prayer not only for them but also for yourself. God has often used our kids to expose my own sin, and in those moments of frustration I've seen a bigger call: repent.
3. Center your home on the Gospel. Perhaps the best word to describe the message of the Gospel is "Freedom." And the result of being transformed by the freeing message of the Gospel is we turn to others and plead with them to let Jesus break their chains. Our homes are no different. If Jesus has set us free, our homes should reflect that freedom. Because God has forgiven us by grace in Christ, are we as parents and spouses going to forgive each other and our kids because of grace? Are we going to serve each other in a way that only Jesus can empower us to? Are we going to sacrifice our finances for the freedom of others through giving? And are we going to model before a confused world what the greatest picture of the Gospel is, a marriage that reflects the beauty of His relationship with the Church?
If you're in Murray, our church is hosting a "Workinar" for parents called It's Just a Phase. It's on February 27th from 5:30-8pm. The cost is $30 and it's worth your time and money to be there.
Closing the Back Door
If I can be honest, one of the hardest things about student ministry is the "Dropout Effect." The dropout effect is what happens when students who had been a part of our ministry walks away from it, the church, or at worst their faith. The statistics are vague on how prevalent this is, depending on who you talk to it can be as low as 50% or as high as 90% (Kinnaman tags the number in You Lost Me at 59%). Because this is such a fluid topic, we'll suffice it to say that the number is "a lot." And for decades this has been an issue for churches to try to figure out how to retain young people. I believe this "Back Door" in the church is a gaping concern, and I also believe that it's impossible to point the blame at any one group in particular. Too often student ministers catch the brunt of this, where they are blamed for failing to stop a young adult from walking away from the church, but had watched their parents for years model a superficial commitment to the church. Or parents catch the blame for failing to raise their kids right, but watched a church burn out student ministers in succession or where the student minister was dismissed for moral failure.
I believe the answer to closing the back door is to first look at the front door, and make some major commitments on the home and church side. Closing the back door is only going to happen when the front door and the time between is such that the back door can stay open and students don't want to leave. It requires both sides to recognize their important role in shaping young adults, and to make one fundamental shift in the common objective:
Our goal is not raising children to adults, but to shepherd them to maturity in their faith
See the shift? We're wanting to do more than simply graduate students to adulthood, but to develop a maturity in their faith. In this paradigm, the church and home work for a common purpose: the discipleship of a student towards maturity in Christ. Along with that come all the normal responsibilities and expectations of adulthood, but with a primary emphasis on their faith becoming the central aspect of their life. Here are the way how I believe the home and the church can close the back door by focusing on the front.
Home - Shepherding Children & Students' Hearts
1. Parents should display a vibrant faith that has genuinely changed them - It's hard to ask from your child & student what you don't have yourself. So the starting place for this is for parents to look in the mirror and ask "Am I a Christian?" "Do I live out my faith in such a way that I show Christ?" "Does our home reflect what the Bible says about the family?" It starts by moms and dads recognizing their need for a Savior and leaning on Jesus for their salvation. More than a decision or prayer, it's reflected in everyday life.
2. Don't just parent, disciple - Discipling in the home is Good Parenting + Gospel. It doesn't mean that everything is over-spiritualized, but it does mean that discipline and punishment is an opportunity to talk about sin and consequences, restoration and forgiveness, and to ultimately point to Jesus who takes all our sin on Himself. It means the Bible is read, studied, cherished, and lived. It means parents are encouraging the spiritual growth of their family (and growing themselves!).
3. Keep the end-game in mind - I tell parents always to ask themselves 3 questions: "What do I want my child/student to Know?" "What do I want my child/student to Love?" "What do I want my child/student to Do?" The end game is the mature disciple produced after a faithful 18 years of loving care, shepherding, providing, and grace. Knowledge involves the shaping of a worldview (see #1 below), Love involves treasuring Christ and loving the Church, and Do involves living life on mission.
Church - Partner with Parents to Provide an Environment for Faith to Thrive
1. Don't just teach Bible stories, develop a biblical worldview - We do a disservice to our children and students when we just give them Bible stories, even if they're really good stories. We have to make a commitment as teachers to develop a biblical worldview. That starts by seeing the Bible as One Story, one that is about a God who Creates, Man who Falls, Jesus who Saves, and Creation that's restored. Everything is about Jesus, and God is at work in every page of the Bible to show His Son. Next, a biblical worldview involves seeing life through that four-fold lens. A biblical worldview informs how we watch the news, read a book, drive our cars, and choose a career/spouse/house/car/etc.
2. Connect the generations, don't separate - If you're a youth leader, ask yourself one powerful question: If an 80 year old widow in your church died today, would any of your students miss her? Even notice? What happens so often in churches is the generations are pulled apart--either philosophically by separate programming emphasis, or physically by the design of the church facility. When we do that, we fail to put the full Body of Christ on display for our children and students. When we connect the generations, we allow for Titus 2 mentoring opportunities to happen (80% of young adults noted never having a spiritual mentor in their lives), we allow older generations to share their stories of walking with Jesus faithfully for decades, and we give children and students an opportunity to allow others into their world.
3. Provide opportunities for students & young adults to live out their faith on mission - When we build facilities that are designed to keep our students inside them and shelter them from the outside world, we do less to impact the world than we do to just build an ivory tower. It also reduces the "win" to just getting them in the door. Instead, embrace the mindset that sees how important it is to be on mission, where students are engaged with their communities and the world in sharing and serving Christ. One of my greatest convictions in student ministry is that every student should spend time serving outside of their context (different country or different region) once before they graduate high school. This gives them a love for their neighbor, a love for the nations, and a heart for serving that carries over long after the fog machines from camp are gone.
What strategies have you seen work in your church and home for producing disciples?
A Word to Parents
Last night during the Monday Night Football pregame, the host asked the panel of former players about Johnny Manziel being the starting QB for the Browns. Trent Dilfer delivered in 90 seconds something that every parent, coach, teacher, and influencer in the life of children should hear. In 90 seconds he destroyed the entitlement mentality that many feel. The sad reality of the Manziel story is that the promising on-field talent will never be fully tapped because of off-field issues and poor decisions. For Dilfer, the blame doesn't rest solely on Manziel. Others are just as guilty. You can see the video clip here:
Parents, here's 4 things you can do, regardless of how old your child is, to show that you love them.
Love them enough to set boundaries - "Third tree!" is what I say to my son when he rides his bike on our driveway. We have four Bradford Pears (which are beautiful right now in the fall colors) that line our driveway. The reality is, the fourth tree is quite a bit away from the road, in fact it's a good 15-20 feet from our sidewalk! But the boundary is in place because we know the same thing every parent does: children find the boundary and try to push it just a little.
Love them enough to say no - Saying yes and caving in is so much easier. It stops the incessant questions, it placates the tantrum, and it brings momentary relief. But it doesn't fix the problem. I love this article from Psychology Today that pointed out for French parents, the word no "rescues their children from the tyranny of their own desires." One way we show our kids how much we love them is we tell them no to things that might hurt them, be bad for them, or simply not be the best for them.
Love them enough to discipline them - The sad part of the Manziel drama is that at any point, the responsible adult could have stopped things by holding him accountable and suspending him for games, grounding him as a teenager, or kicking him off the team. In every case though, the same thing happened: the grown-ups failed to act like grown-ups. Dilfer said it best: "Decisions have consequences." When we fail to discipline our children and hold them accountable, we actually do them a disservice.
Love them enough to forgive them - If we discipline without restoration, we imprison. If we restore without discipline, we enable. When we do both, we redeem the child and show them a picture of what God has done with us. Mistakes happen, consequences must be dealt with, and sometimes you'll lose the car keys for a week. But on the other side of anytime you discipline, there needs to be the reminder of the wonderful love and grace we show because God showed it to us first.
If your student has a digital presence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) then chances are you've worried about what they're doing, seeing, posting, or discussing on there. And you're not alone, many parents struggle with balancing letting their teenager interact through their phones or computers with their friends. The benefits of using social media are incredible: you can keep up with friends, you can engage in hot-button issues, and post food pics and selfies--really important stuff.
I want to give you as a parent ten rules that you might find helpful in navigating this time with your student. Feel free to use them, add them, subtract them, or use your own set. But I think there's a lot of value to having rules and boundaries. The worst thing you can do for your teenager is give them unfiltered, unaccountable access to the web through social media and their digital presence--it's a recipe for disaster.
1. You will post, comment, like, share, and engage online in a way that reflects your relationship with Jesus
2. You will not hide your passwords from us (your parents) because we have the right to view your accounts. If you change it without us knowing, consider your devices ours.
**Hey parents, one great way to reinforce this is to reward your teenager with an iTunes card or a Christian music CD if they prove themselves trustworthy online**
3. You will not engage with anyone you do not already know without our permission
4. You will not take pictures of yourself that are sexual or inappropriate
5. You will leave your phone in the kitchen or hallway to charge overnight--it may be your room but it is our house
**Side note: Leave all computers and tablets in a common area so there can be no "secret surfing"**
6. We will friend you, follow you, and tweet you - We want to be a part of your life too, plus we think your pictures are funny
7. You will not be naive. Your snapchats are saved on a server somewhere, screenshots can be spread like wildfire, and stupid tweets may be deleted but not forgotten
8. You will have an accountability partner, a friend who can ask you about what you're looking at online and if you're maintaining your integrity and Christian witness
9. You will post things that reflect Ephesians 4:29 - "let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, but only that which is encouraging" - Don't be a troll or a hater online. And definitely don't talk badly about your parents or your friends
10. We will not micromanage you online or look over your shoulder all the time, but we do want you to know that trust is easy to lose and very difficult to earn back. We love you and want the best for you, don't ever forget that
Parents, what rules and boundaries have you used with your teenager that have been effective?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.