Don’t Forget the Small Things

Two questions for you… Are you ready for them?

1.  Have you ever dreamed up some great ideas for how you could show love to your kids or your spouse in simple ways?  Maybe to take them to their favorite place to eat… write them a love note to hide somewhere for them to find… make them breakfast in bed… or surprise them with a big bear hug and a special gift?  Whatever things might come to mind, here is the second question for you?

2.  How many of those types of things have you done for them recently?  I know that for me personally, it’s not as many as I’d like to admit.  My mind is often full of great ideas and good intentions, but that’s often about as far as they get.  Can you relate?

There are a ton of small opportunities in our lives that are easily overlooked and that get quickly drowned out by the overwhelm of the daily rush.  Life gets busy, our days get full, and some of the little important things repeatedly get pushed aside, hour after hour, day after day, and sometimes, never getting done.

“Most people would succeed in small things if they were not troubled with great ambitions.”  – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

With the start of the new year, many of us have set big goals for ourselves, ‘great ambitions’ if you will.  But may our drive to accomplish big things never strip from us the ability to give attention to what’s small.

Because these little things can mean the world to our kids or our spouse.  ‘Small’ things such as a hug, a note slipped into a lunch bag or even a simple text during the middle of the day. And while all of us love the small things, most of us are usually too busy to actually do them.  And as a result, the people we love the most often miss out on the big ways that we can speak love into their lives through the smallest things.

So, what are some of these small things in life that are easily overlooked but that can make a huge impact?  Here are a few:

  • Hug your kids
  • Slip a note into a school lunch bag or in between a textbook
  • Send a ‘just because’ text to your spouse to see how their day is going
  • Say I love you
  • Pray with your spouse or kids before leaving the house to start the day
  • Take out the trash (no matter whose job it’s supposed to be)
  • Make the bed
  • Buy your wife an unexpected Starbucks
  • Get your kids their favorite Happy Meal
  • Schedule that date night you’ve been promising your spouse
  • Bring home flowers for your wife, or your husbands favorite candy bar
  • Hug your spouse
  • Ask your kids what they want to do in the evening and then do it
  • Say I love you
  • Surprise your kids by taking them to see that new movie they’ve been talking about
  • Initiate a casual conversation with your teenager
  • Make breakfast in bed for someone in your family on a normal day
  • Give your kids a bear hug
  • Tell your family to get in the car (maybe blindfolded) and take them to a surprise location
  • Do the dishes
  • Say I love you

There are things we know we should do, and we even say that we do many of them… “Of course I hug my kids daily” or, “I say I love you all the time”.  But do we really?  How many times did you do any of those things in the last two days? (honestly now)…  There’s a reason you’re struggling to remember.

We all need to be more intentional about doing more of the small things. Because there will come a day when we’ll wish we could squeeze those little people with bear hugs like we once did.  And there will come a day that we’ll wish we’d have said more “I love you’s”.  

There will come a day when the big things that we thought were big really weren’t as big as the small things that we thought were small.

Zechariah 4:10 says, “For who hath despised the day of small things?”  I believe that we serve a God Who cares about the small things, and so should we. 

Whatever small things have come to mind as you’re reading this, don’t get too busy or distracted to do them this week.  Leave that love note on the table, send that ‘just because’ text, or hug each of your kids one extra time before leaving the house.  Because these are the moments that we will one day wish we could get back.  Do the small things that matter today.

“When you are older you will understand how precious little things, seemingly of no value in themselves, can be loved and prized above all price when they convey the love and thoughtfulness of a good heart.”  – Edwin Booth 

A Contribution to the World As Unique As You Are

Psalm 119:73  Thy hands have made me and fashioned me.

Last week, our family went to see the new movie, The Greatest Showman. We had heard some positive things about it and thought that we would give it a try for ourselves.  And I’d have to say, in my opinion, it did not disappoint.  While it was not a perfect family movie, it was a great movie, with a fantastic message.  

One of the most notable things about the movie was how the great showman, P.T. Barnum, brought unique individuals together who were outcasts of society, and he brought out hidden talents in each of them that the world had refused to give a chance.  And each person’s contribution to the circus was as unique as they were.  

YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS AS UNIQUE AS YOU ARE

And in life, it is much the same way.  David said in Psalm 119:73 that not only did God “make us” (create us), He also “fashioned us” (made us uniquely individual).  When David spoke in Psalm 139:16 of being “fearfully and wonderfully made”, I don’t believe that he was referring to a Christian cookie cutter assembly line.  

We are all created by God, but each of us have been created with individual talents and traits that the world has never yet seen outside of us.  And as a result, our calling, our purpose, and our contribution to the cause of Christ are to be as unique as we are.

And this is true for our children as well and why it is important to remember that no two children are exactly the same, nor should they be expected to be.

Just as every child in your family and mine is completely unique in their own way, their very calling and contribution in life is as unique as their personality and fingerprints are.  So we need to be very careful in comparing our children to each other, or even to other people’s children.  Our job is to nurture and raise each individual child that God has placed into our care by helping them become the person that God has created them, and only them, to be.  

Proverbs 22:6  Train up a child is the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. 

BUT IT DOESN’T STOP THERE

We could certainly take this beyond the realm or our children and into many other areas of life as well.

This principle is the same reason why no two churches, pastors, families, individual Christians, or ministries are exactly the same or should be identical.  Yes, we all should hold to the same core Biblical beliefs, but no, we are not to be twins in the way that we operate our lives or ministries. 

God never intended for us as Christians or ministries or families to be in competition with one another or to simply replicate one another. While we should be all about sharing ideas and learning from others, there is no “copy and paste” button with God. We are each uniquely created for a unique calling and contribution. Yes, we need our similarities, but we actually thrive in our diversities. 

God created each of us to be uniquely individual – an expression of the amazing creativity of our awesome God.  That means that the way that we see things is different.  The way that we do things is different.  And the way that we carry out God’s calling in our lives is often unique to each of us.

THERE IS UNITY IN OUR DIVERSITY

Surprisingly, there is great unity in our diversity.  And in some ways, there is even greater unity in our diversity than there is in our similarities, because God has called each and every one of us as Christians, parents, pastors, and laymen to do something for Him that is as unique as we are.  He has called us to fill a role, raise a child, build a church, operate a ministry, or reach a specific group of people in a way that no one else could.  Because we each have a custom fit calling that no one else can perfectly squeeze into. 

And as a result:

  • No two families will be identical in the way they function, and neither should they be. 
  • No two ministries will be exactly alike, neither should they be. 
  • No two Christian will agree on every detail of how they practically carry out their walk with Christ, and that’s okay.

Yes, we all have the Bible to guide us in general things that will never change, but we also have each been given the Holy Spirit to guide us in a uniquely personal way on a level that can never be mass produced or duplicated. (I Corinthians 2:9-13, 12:4-11)

For example, 4 years ago, I started this blog to fill a need that God had impressed upon my heart to fill – to provide practical tips and tools to parents and leaders to effectively reach the next generation.  To my knowledge, there was no one in our circles doing what I felt that God was specifically calling me to do – be a voice through this avenue for the next generation. And as a result, this ministry/blog has become a unique expression of God’s design for the family.  In fact, it’s as unique I am (and that’s pretty unique, just ask my family.)

I love what my friend, Martin Van Tilborgh, shared in his book, Unboxed. He said, “God is not looking for uniformity! He’s looking for diversity. He is looking for an expression of His manifold wisdom through each and every individual in a unique way… When we all realize that what I have to bring to the table is unique to me, I keep myself from trying to become someone (or something) else… It’s all about giving birth to the very thing that God created you to give birth to. Something so unique that it doesn’t have a point of reference anywhere else. Nobody else ever gave birth to what you are supposed to give birth to through your life.” 

Wow… Those are definitely some great thoughts to chew on.  

As we enter a new year, I’m asking God to show me what unique things He wants to do in and through me concerning my family, ministry, and personal walk with Him.  Would you join me? 

Jeremiah 33:3  Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.

What kind of contribution did God create you to make in His world that is as uniquely designed as you are?  Are you making it?  In your ministry, in your home, in your children?  I dare you, ask God what it is, and watch Him reveal it to you.  It might just surprise you.

How to Be Your Child’s Hero in 2018

Every child needs a hero. 

I can remember that growing up I had two heroes – my Dad and Michael Jordan.  I wanted so bad to be the next MJ and one day play in the NBA.  I also wanted to become a pastor like my father. (One of the two came true.)

In addition to superheroes or stars on the big screen, your children have people in their lives that they idolize and look up to as well – real-life heroes in their eyes.  And you need to know who they are, or maybe even be that person yourself.  

Our children desperately need someone that they can look up to, admire, and even emulate.  This could be a parent, a mentor, a friend, or even a sibling, an aunt, an uncle, or a pastor or teacher. But regardless of who it is, every child needs a hero, because as my pastor, Josh Beutow, recently said, “The most powerful influence we have is the power of example,” and this is especially true in the life of a child.

So, if you want to be your child’s hero, here are three simple ways to make it happen in the coming year:

1.  Give them your unconditional LOVE

There are two primary things that every child needs, especially from their parents – clear boundaries and unconditional love. And if those two needs are met, many others things in their development will naturally fall into place. Your child deserves a hero who believes in them, cheers for them, and accepts them in their highest and lowest points of life.  Your child needs and desires your unconditional love.  

A child needs someone to love them when they are unloveable, care for them when they just don’t care themselves, and be their biggest fan when they fail as well as when they succeed.  They need someone who will show them how to live and set an example for them of how to love.  

You ask any child who their real-life hero is, and it won’t take them long to know who it is, even if they won’t tell you.  And mark it down, the person they choose is someone who loves them unconditionally.    

2.  Give them your irreplaceable TIME.  

Every person gets the same amount of time every day, no matter who they are.  Because time is no respecter of persons. No one gets more.  No one gets less.  So when you take your valuable time and generously invest it into a young life, that child takes notice of that.  They appreciate it, look forward to it, and even want more of it because it makes them feel special.  And it should.

My oldest sister, Amy, does an amazing job of this, as she has a tradition of taking each of her nieces and nephews out by themselves each year for their birthday just to spend time together eating, shopping, and having fun.  And each of the kids adores Aunt Amy for it.   

Kids are far smarter than we often give them credit for.  And the way we spend our irreplaceable times speaks volumes about what we value most. Children know when we prioritize them as well as when we’re pushing them to the side. Heroes don’t become heroes without sacrificing a part of themselves to make a difference in the life of another.  Giving your time and attention to a child can make you a hero in their eyes.   

3.  Give them your non-negotiable RULES.  

As already mentioned, of the two things every child needs, one of them is clear boundaries.  While children naturally resist boundaries, they still desire them.  Because boundaries bring safety to life just like a guardrail brings a sense of security when you walk close to a ledge. Clear and enforced boundaries communicate love and concern to our children.  They demonstrate that someone is looking out for them and that someone cares about what happens to them.  

I can remember a kid who came from a home with very little structure telling me, “I wish my parents loved me enough to give me rules like your kids have.”  Wow… It was obvious to him that our family’s rules were a clear sign of our love and concern for our children, and he desired to experience that kind of love firsthand himself.  Don’t ever underestimate the importance of clearly defined and consistently enforced boundaries in the life of your child. 

God wired kids to need lots of these three things – love, time, and rules. 

And while they may idolize that singer or that athlete from a distance, the person that gives them a proper balance of these three things on a personal level is truly who becomes ‘hero material’ in their eyes – their superman or superwoman, and potentially one of the most influential people in their life.  

Every child needs a hero.  Every child is looking for one.  Whose hero will you be?

How to Help Your Kids Fall in Love with the Bible

5 tips for cultivating a love for God's Word in your children

Three things that God has given to every Christian are His Son (to die for us), His Spirit (to live within us), and His Word (to teach and direct us).

All three are vitally important to our walk with God, and every believer, including children, should have a love and appreciation for each of these things.  In today’s post, I’d like to focus on the importance of our love for God’s Word, and ways that we can encourage our kids to fall in love with it as well.  

As parents, we never want the Bible to just become another book on the shelf, or simply a family tradition to our kids. We want them to fall in love with it.  But in order for that to happen, we must keep the Bible at the forefront of our family and our everyday lives, so our love for it grows deeper as time passes.  

If you agree, here are 5 practical ways to help you cultivate a love for God’s Word in your children.  Which of these 5 are you already doing and which ones can you implement into your home starting today?

1.  Start teaching them love and respect for the Bible at as young an age as possible

From the time a child is born, they are old enough for mom and dad to read the Bible to them.  At the ages of 2+, they can even understand that we love the Bible by holding it and hugging it. Teach your children from the youngest ages songs about the Word of God. Tell them Bible stories with an open Bible in hand, and even allow them to hold it themselves.  Even if your children are already past these early years, the best time to start or continue developing a love for God’s Word is now.

2.  Make the Bible a central part of your family’s daily life and routine

Here are some ideas you might consider trying:

  • Daily family verse – Read it together in the morning, memorize it for the day or the week, use it as a theme for family devotions.
  • Nightly devotions – We’ve found personally that one of the greatest ways to instill the Word of God within the hearts of our children is to sit together in the living room with an open Bible and an open conversation about a story, a principle, or a verse. (Here’s A Busy Parent’s Guide to Doing Family Devotions that will help.)
  • Posted Scriptures – Deuteronomy 6:9 reminds us as parents of the importance of having Scripture “written on the posts of our house”.  Make the words of Scripture a visible centerpiece throughout your home.  Whether this is by way of take-home papers from church, handwritten verses from your kids, or framed scriptures on your walls, make the word of God a central part of your home by making it visible!  

3.  Memorize the Bible together as a family

Most parents want their children to memorize the Scriptures, but are we willing to memorize the scriptures ourselves?  Nothing will motivate your children to hide God’s Word in their heart more than when you are willing not just to help them, but to memorize with them.  When they have to memorize scripture for school or church, don’t just expect it of them, exemplify it for them!  I was recently encouraged by a friends’ family who memorized an entire chapter of the Bible together.  (And it wasn’t even Psalm 117. Lol.)

4.  Make the Bible come alive to your kids!

I love what Keith Ferrin has to say about this… “Read the Bible like you’re reading Curious George to a five-year-old. Change the volume. Change the pace. Give the characters voices. After all, they didn’t sound like the monotone voice you are reading with.” 

Teach your kids that the Bible is much more than just something to study and read, but something to enjoy.  Get into it when you read it, act it out with character roles, have fun!

5.  Treat the Bible like the living book that it is that has the power to help us daily

Talk to your kids regularly about what God is teaching you through the Bible.  Let them know how it is shaping your daily decisions and guiding your every step.  When you children have decisions to make for themselves, rather than giving them answers, give them scriptures to look up and read, and guide them into practicing practical Christian living by making choices based upon what they read.

Too often, many times we inadvertently teaching our kids to come to us, or run to the pastor every time they need answers or wisdom for life decisions.  May we first point them to the wisdom of the Word of God, realizing that God has given our children the same Holy Spirit that He has given to us to guide them into all truth. 

6.  Set the example

If our kids don’t see us pick up the Bible between Sundays, they’re probably not going to do it themselves, or be convinced that it’s really the life-changing book worth that we claim it is. Actions speak louder than words.  When our kids see us reading the Bible, talking to them about the Bible during the week, and showing them Scriptures that apply to their daily lives, they can’t help but learn to love the Bible even more. 

For me personally, I often enjoy reading my Bible in the mornings on my phone or iPad. However, when I know that my morning devotion time will intersect with the time my children wake up and start their day, I choose to read from my hard copy of the scriptures.  It’s a simple, yet intentional choice, because the first time my kids see me is often when I’m sitting at the kitchen table spending time with God, and I want that that potential life-long impression upon their heart to far outweigh my convenience and preference to use a device.  It may seem trivial, but it’s still one more way to show them my love for the Word of God.

What can you do starting today to set the example for your kids in this area of loving God’s Word?

If you are serious about passing down a love for God’s Word to your children and would like to dive deeper into how to do it, I’d strongly encourage you to get a copy of Keith Ferrin’s book, Like Ice Cream. (You can even get the first 1/3 of the book free at this link.)  It’s an easy read with a great family message.  I loved reading it, and know you will too!

“Passing down a love for Scripture ought to be as easy as passing down a love for ice cream.” – Keith Ferrin

I love that!  In the book, he shares practical ways for how to do just that.  It’s not as hard as we often think.  It simply requires that we be intentional.  

May these few ideas help us and our kids to fall in love even more with God’s Word, the Bible.

  • Pssst… We purchased new Bibles for our kids for Christmas (Shhh… don’t tell) What better way to help them fall in love with the Bible than to give them a nice new copy to call their own, right?  If you’d like to give your kids a really nice, yet inexpensive kid-friendly Bible for Christmas, check out these Kids Study Bibles all between $12-$17.  

4 Killers You MUST Teach Your Kids to Avoid

Psalm 107:17  Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.

You don’t have to look far to see people all around who are afflicted by their own self-inflicted choices.  Choices that have defeated them, enslaved them, and oftentimes even end up killing them.

God has given us restrictions and restraints upon what we do with our behavior and with our bodies, and He has done it for our good.  A wise parent will help their children see the dangers of these 4 potential killers long before they ever become a threat:

  1.  DRUGS & ALCOHOL

While it’s important to teach our kids to “Just Say NO to drugs!” (brings back memories, doesn’t it?), we also need to help them understand the good common sense reasons behind why we should say no to these things. Drugs and alcohol claim the lives of thousands of young people every year and ruin the lives of multiplied thousands of others.  

Our kids must also understand that just as drugs are a poison to the human body, an abuse of alcohol is as well.  That’s why it’s called in-toxic-ation.  This is also why our bodies object to these substances with loss of motor skills, slurred speech, impaired vision, and poor judgment.  Not to mention, they will destroy one’s liver, heart, kidneys, and ultimately put them into an early grave.  

Proverbs 20:1  Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. 

 2.  TOBACCO

“If you smoke, it’s estimated, you have ten times the risk of getting head and neck cancer (tongue and mouth, nasal cavities, voice box, throat, and esophagus) than if you didn’t smoke.  That’s true for lung cancer, too,” says Erick Sturgis, M.D.

Smoking is so deceptive because the negative effects can go unseen within our bodies, usually “hidden” for many years before the irreparable damage is done.  If you haven’t recently, show your kids a picture of a healthy lung compared to a smoker’s lung. Help them understand that an abuse of the lungs through smoking can cause many future health problems, including a terrible disease called emphysema that steals your breath away as you get older, making it difficult, even painful just to breathe.  

Despite being in decline in recent years, according to the AAFP (American Acadamy of Family Physicians), tobacco use is still “the leading preventable cause of death and illness” in our nation.  The number of deaths (more than 400,000 annually) caused by tobacco use is greater than the combined number of deaths due to AIDS, alcohol, automobile accidents, murders, suicides, drugs, and fires. (source)  Smoking is nothing short of an expensive way to die early and something we should help our children to avoid.

I Corinthians 3:17  For the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are. 

  3.  PORNOGRAPHY

Very few things are ravaging our nation and our homes like the killer of pornography.  No, it is not a killer of the physical body, but it is a killer of the mind.  It is a killer of purity.  It is a killer of many good marriages. And it is a killer of the spiritual lives of many men (and women). 

Proverbs 7:22  He goeth after her straightway as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life… Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death. 

The strange woman of Proverbs takes on many forms today, and one of the most prominent is porn.  And yet the world flaunts it even to the point where “family” shows push the lines of soft porn by promoting it to our kids as both normal and acceptable. (If you watched the latest season of AGT, you know exactly what I’m talking about.)  Not to mention the intentional advertising of it to our children through seemingly innocent apps like Snapchat and Instagram. 

Psalm 101:3  I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes.

It is our responsibility to warn our children of the strange woman who is a killer of men’s lives and souls.  And with the average age of a child’s first exposure to porn being between 8-11 years old, we cannot stay silent.  We need to warn our children, and especially our boys, of her dangers. (For some practical tips on how to do this, check out this great article from Dave Willis at StrongerMarriages.com, 3 Keys to Raising Boys in a Sex-Crazed Culture)   

  4.  SEXUAL IMMORALITY 

God has made Himself very clear in the Scriptures that any form of sex outside of marriage is sinful and unacceptable, no matter what kind of spin the world puts on it. 

I Corinthians 6:18 warns us to “Flee fornication.  Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” 

When we help our children understand that God’s precious gift of sex is to be reserved for marriage only, we protect them against future marital struggles, future regret, as well as a host of other horrors, including STDs.  We must teach them that there is no such thing as “safe sex” outside of the marriage bed.  Saving and sharing sex with a lifetime partner in a marital relationship is still the best way to experience the safest and best sex of a person’s life, just as God ordained (Hebrews 13:4).  

Parents, we must take seriously our responsibility to prepare our children for a lifetime of purity.

While every parent needs to discern the appropriate age to address these killers with their children, the time to address them is usually sooner than we realize, but definitely long before they become a threat. No parent ever desires for their child to become enslaved by any of these four things, yet the time to do the preventative maintenance is now. 

By helping our children understand the great dangers that they will face, we ultimately prepare them to avoid playing the part of the fool…

Proverbs 5:22  His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins.  He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.  

Which of these four killers do you currently need to address with your child? Are there others that need to be added?  I’d love to hear your feedback. Also, please share this to help other parents as well. 

  • Christmas is less than a month away!  If you’re looking for a great way to highlight the importance of Christmas with your kids, check out my friend, Ryan Rench’s newest book, Once Upon a NON-Time: 25 Christmas Stories for Kids. I ordered ours last week, and can’t wait to read it together as a family. 

How to Tell If You’re In Control of Your Kids (or the other way around)

Here are 5 simple ways to tell if you are in control of your kids or the other way around.  Are any of these things happening in your home?

  1. Your kids are telling you “no”, and it goes unchallenged or undisciplined.  They may even hit you, scream at you, or defiantly run away from you and it goes unpunished.
  2. Your kids take advantage of you in public places and you allow it.  They may be small, but they are terribly smart.  And they figure out the rules to the control game very quickly.  They know who’s in the driver’s seat.
  3. Your kids know how many times they can repeatedly disobey you before you will actually do anything. Whether that be a consequence, a raised voice, or you simply “losing it”.  They know the rules to this “game” that you’ve chosen to create (yes, you created it), and so they know your tolerance threshold, as well as your breaking point, and as a result, they take advantage of it.
  4. Your kids ignore what you tell them by simply not responding, or by doing it anyway.  Does this sound familiar… “Stay inside or outside… Quit coming in and out of the house… Keep the door closed!…  If you’re going to play outside, stay outside!”  And it’s almost as if they never even heard you.
  5. Your kids make more of the family decisions than you do. It’s good for parents to give their kids input and allow for preferences to be taken into consideration.  However, never forget that you are the parent. You are responsible for the decisions of your family. This includes what and when they eat, who their friends are, what they watch and listen to, and whether or not they go to church when the doors are open. These and many more are things that you as the parent should decide.  Because your child’s physical, relational and spiritual health is your responsibility and should be in your control.

While these 5 things are meant to help you identify who’s in control in your home, if you find that you’re on the wrong side in one or more of these areas, I’d encourage you to read 4 Ways to Get Your Kids to Take You Seriously.  It contains some helpful solutions to get back on track.  If you’re interested in getting a free weekly article from GodlyParent.com, click here.

Provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4

Little Foxes that Spoil the Vines

Song of Solomon 2:15  Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

We all have them. Every. Single. One of us. “Little foxes”, that threaten to spoil the vines. Small things, maybe pet sins, in our lives that we think are innocent and no real threat… to our marriage, our children, or our spiritual life.  Yet they actually hold the potential to ruin them.

I can remember as a teenage boy being given these words of wisdom from a spiritual leader in my life who said, “Take care of sin while it’s still small.”  And those words have stuck with me to this day, echoeing in the back of my mind as a constant reminder of the danger of those times I find it easiest to justify ‘small’ sins.

What is it for you?

In a marriage, it could be… a bad habit, a consuming hobby, a hidden addiction, a lack of effort or communication, an “innocent” relationship with someone of the opposite sex.  No man ever plans to leave his family, abandon his home, and be an adulterer, but it all has to start somewhere as small as a look, a compromise, a letting of the guard down, and before you know it, a snowball is being formed. One that seemed so innocent at first, but now threatens everything he holds dear.

In parenting, it could be… an inconsistency, a seemingly insignificant compromise, a discrepancy between a parents words and their actions.  Or it could be a “little fox” in the lives of our children that we fail to deal with while it’s still small.  Think about it:  Negative actions and character traits that kids end up having in adulthood are usually because they were allowed to develop in their childhood.  Whether it be dishonesty, theft, addiction, or lack of self-control, etc.  

They more than likely didn’t develop those traits as an adult.  They cultivated them when they were young, and they became little foxes in their lives.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important to help our children learn to control their thoughts, tempers, words, and actions from a young age, because life-habits of permanent consequence are being formed.

I can clearly remember the words of my dad when I was a boy, saying, “Son, you can smoke as many cigarettes as you want, as long as you never smoke the first one.”  And he never had to explain himself because his point was clear – take care of sin before it takes care of you.  Because sin dealt with when it’s small is so much easier to overcome than sin dealt with when it’s tall.

In one’s spiritual life, it could be… a spiritual complacency, letting the basics slip, comparing ourselves among ourselves.  Oh, how easy it is to let the little disciplines of the spiritual life slip… because we’re busy serving or doing ministry.  We’re too busy being a Martha and helping others, that we don’t make any time to simply be a Mary and sit at the feet of Jesus.  And before you know it we’re burning our spiritual candle from both ends, because we have allowed little foxes to begin spoiling our spiritual vines.

All of these things are easy to justify and dismiss in our lives yet still have the potential to be the little foxes. And before you know it, you’re looking back at a broken marriage, a wayward child, or a spiritually apathetic and backslid Christian.

It’s a threat for all of us.

Sometimes the foxes in our lives look so cute, fuzzy, and innocent that we think they are harmless, but in reality, they are a threat to the fruit that God desires for us to have in the different areas of our lives?  It could be a thought, a look, or a seemingly insignificant compromise.  But remember the end of the verse and the reason why the the foxes were being taken away… “for our vines have tender grapes.”

There is much fruit in your life, your marriage, your children, and your relationship with God that is at stake.  And these little foxes threaten to devour it.

These foxes are not only petty sins in our lives, but can also be a picture of our own self-deception. We can easily be fooled into thinking that which is not completely good is also not completely bad, when in reality, that is where the deception takes place.  And we never see it until it has already taken hold of us.  Yet it all began in our wrong thinking, as we started to justify and rationalize ‘small’ sins.  

We think we can handle it.  It’s not as big of a deal for us. Because even though it’s happened to others, it will never happen to us.  Our marriage will never be ruined.  Our kids will never be wayward.  Our spiritual life, or lack thereof, will never be exposed.

What we often deem “acceptable” can lead to potentially irreparable damage.  Small foxes that spoil the vines.

The question we need to ask ourself is this… Are we chasing out the little foxes in our lives, or are we feeding them?

Be honest with yourself… When is the last time you had to ‘amputate’ something out of your life because it was a small fox, a pet sin, that posed to threaten and even destroy the most important fruit that God has given you?  Maybe it was a person, a habit, a hobby, or even an app on your phone. But you knew that it was a small fox that had the potential to spoil your vines.

Most failures in life are not a blowout, but a slow leak, a slow fade.  And it’s not usually the big obvious sins, but the small ones, the “little” foxes, that will spoil our vines.

What small foxes do you need to deal with today in your own life or the lives of those you love?

5 Things To Pray for Your Kids BEFORE You Need To

Over the years I’ve had multiple parents who’ve sat across from me in my office and expressed dire concern for a child who is on a foolish path. And their question is always the same – “What do we need to do?”  While sometimes there are practical steps that can be taken, at other times there is little that can be done as a ‘quick fix’ to make up for years of neglect in parenting and prayer. And yet, prayer is still the best option.

Have you ever found yourself praying hot and heavy for your kids in the heat of the moment because of some trouble they were in, or some major decision they had to make? We’ve probably all been there, especially the older our children become.

While no child comes with any guarantees, here are five things to pray regularly for your children no matter their age (but especially while they are young) – things we easily forget to pray fervently about until the time comes that we need to.

Pray in advance about:

1.  Their Soul

In the end, nothing else matters in our prayers for our kids if we don’t pray first and foremost for their salvation.  God has called us as parents to be the #1 factor in their lives that lead them to Him and ultimately to Heaven.  That is a definitely a task that requires the ongoing power of prayer.

2.  Their Heart

Apart from their soul, nothing else is as valuable, or as vulnerable, as their heart.   Put a high price on protecting their heart, for out of it are the issues of life (Prov. 4:23). One of the best ways to protect your child’s heart is by protecting what influences their mind. (What they watch and read, the amount of time they spend online, who their friends are, etc.) We need to pray that God would not only help their hearts to be good, but that He would protect their hearts from evil.  Pray that God would give them a humble heart, a servant’s heart, and a heart that pursues God, and is passionate about the things that are closest to the heart of God Himself. Because a pure heart is their greatest asset to making wise choices for the rest of their life.

3.  Their Life’s Mate

Second only to salvation, who your child chooses to marry is the most important decision they will ever make in their life.  God has called you, as their parent, to be a big part of that decision.  All throughout Scripture, we see examples of parents involvement both practically and through prayer, for God’s will to be performed in the person their child marries.  This involves praying for their purity as well.  The time to pray and prepare your child for a lifetime of purity and a life’s mate is now.

4.  Their God-Given Purpose

Your child is unique.  So unique, in fact, that God has a specific purpose for their life that no one else can fill exactly like they can.  Each of your children are wired differently than the others.  They have strengths, gifts, and abilities that are uniquely theirs and that align with their God-given calling in life.  Your job as a parent is to help nurture those passions and cultivate a desire in their hearts to use them in the greatest way possible for the cause of Christ.  This cannot happen easily apart from the power of prayer.

5.  Their Children

As you pray for your kids, pray in advance for their future kids, your grandchildren, because they will be raised by the kids you are raising right now.  How well they do as parents in the future will greatly reflect how well you’ve done now.  So parent now and pray now as if your grandchildren’s lives depended on it, because well… they do.  Remembering that we are raising the future generation of parents ought to inspire us.

Sadly, many parents only begin to pray for some of these things once their children start to go astray, or start a relationship that they don’t approve of, or make life-changing decisions that scare them, and all of a sudden, they’re driven to their knees in prayer.

Here’s a better idea… Don’t wait.  Pray now.  Before you need to.  And then enjoy watching your children reap a lifetime of the benefits.

“If every parent would pray for their child as fervently over the course of 18 years as they do in the heat of the moment, it could literally change their child’s life.”

Make it a priority today to take the time you need to pray for your kids individually and specifically, by name.  Pray these 5 things over their lives, and watch God unfold the details.

“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”  Philippians 4:6

To the Parent of a Prodigal

3 principles that will shape your perspective

Most of us are familiar with the story of ‘the prodigal son’ in Luke chapter 15.  However, for many parents, it can be a story that’s all too familiar in a more painful and personal way.

They relate to his story because it is one very similar to their own. They have a son or daughter who is “far from home”.

And while being a parent of a prodigal carries with it a weight that only such a parent can know, there are some key principles in this biblical story that can be a help and encouragement to any parent.

And we see these principles exemplified through the father in the story.  Here are a few of them:

  1. The father didn’t rescue the prodigal from his foolishness

And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country.  Luke 15:12-13a

While our tendency is to want to save our children from any pain or heartache that we can see in their future, that is not always what is best.

Regardless of their age, don’t be too quick to rescue your kids. Sometimes there are lessons that can only be learned from “the school of hard knocks.”

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your kids is:

  • Allow them to make mistakes
  • Allow them to learn from those mistakes
  • Because sometimes experience is the best teacher

I can remember as a boy hearing my dad say these words, “Experience is the best teacher, you just can’t always afford the tuition.”  Some lessons in life have to be learned the hard way because unfortunately, not all of us are willing to just simply learn from the mistakes of others.

  1. The father didn’t revert to fear when the prodigal went astray

But while he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion.  Luke 15:20

When one of your children goes astray, don’t fear.  We don’t see a father in this story who is daily wringing his hands in fear of what might happen to his son.  We instead see a father who with great anticipation daily awaits and prays with hope for his son’s return.

Sometimes parents are guilty of taking their prodigals’ actions personally, even blaming themselves for them going astray.  But may I remind you that even the disciples of Jesus who would soon “turn the world upside down” actually failed and abandoned Him in His darkest hour.  Yet they returned to be even stronger than before to fulfill and carry out his mission of changing the world.

Oftentimes, the thing we see as our greatest fear (our child going astray) actually has the potential to be a part of God’s greatest purpose for their life, enabling them to be used in greater ways in the future.

  1. The father didn’t refuse the prodigal when he returned

Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him… For this my son was dead, and is alive again.  Luke 15:22, 24

If you remember, there was a moment in time when the son “came to himself” and realized the error of his ways.  He remembered how good life was before, and the graciousness of his loving father that he had forsaken.  Yet he believed in the good heart of his father to accept him back, even if only as a servant.

Just as we need to allow our children to make mistakes and learn from them, we also need to allow them to make things right.  It is important for our kids to know that they are loved unconditionally and can always return and receive forgiveness – no matter what.

Because the greatest earthly relationship that holds the most potential to bring a prodigal back to where they need to be is actually you, their parent.  When the prodigal was at his lowest moment, who came to his mind?…  He remembered the unconditional love of his father, and it gave him reason to return to where he knew he should be.

If you have children still in the home, this is so vitally important that you establish a culture now where your home is a place of grace – a place of unconditional love where mistakes are allowed and forgiveness is granted. By doing so you pave the way for the future. 

The Father is a beautiful picture of God’s grace towards us, and a beautiful example of the kindness and grace we are to have towards our children.  A grace that says, “You can never get too low or go too far to outrun my love.  I love you unconditionally, and nothing will ever change that.”

So, to the parent of a prodigal:

  • Never stop praying
  • Never stop trusting
  • Never let fear have the final say
  • And always love them unconditionally with open arms

Be the parent to your prodigal that God has been to you – gracious, forgiving, loving, and kind. And trust God with the rest.

Luke 15:20, 24  And he arose, and came to his father.  But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him… For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

“Mommy, Do All Dogs Go to Heaven?”

What to tell your child when their pet dies

Our family recently watched the new movie, The Stray, and it was quite a tear-jerker.  (Spoiler alert…) While it was a very clean and enjoyable movie, it could potentially raise some serious questions from your kids about what happens when a family pet dies.

Because let’s be honest, for most families, it’s likely bound to happen sooner or later. For one reason or another, a beloved family pet will die.  

And when it does, what is a family to do?  What are parents supposed to say?  How do you answer all of your kids’ questions about death, eternity, and if they will ever get to see their pet again?

Losing a family pet can be a difficult thing, especially for a child.  But it can also be a positive thing for preparing a child to know how to cope with the struggles of life and the realities of death that they are certain to face as they age.

Whether your family has experienced this, or have yet to, here are a few thoughts to help you discuss this sensitive subject with your kids (or to file away for future use):

  1.  God created pets for our enjoyment because He loves us

A family pet has the potential to be so enjoyed that they oftentimes become “one of the family.” We connect with them emotionally, and they bring us great joy and happiness. This is a beautiful reminder of the good gifts that God has given us to enjoy in His creation. 

If you remember in Genesis 1:24-25, after God created the “living creatures”, He saw that they were good.  And in the next verse, vs. 26, he tells us that God made them for man.

But not only did God give them to us to enjoy, He gave us dominion over them as well – Genesis 1:28.  As humans, we are overseers of not only our beloved pets but over all of God’s creation.

  1. God created animals differently than he did humans

Genesis 1:7  God breathed into man the breath of life, and man became a living soul.

God has placed eternity in the hearts of human beings.  He has not done so with animals.  Animals are unlike humans in that God has created us with a soul, an understanding of right and wrong, and an ability to connect personally with our Creator. In addition:

  • We are conscious of the future.  Animals live only for the moment.
  • We can understand the concept and consequences of our actions upon our future.  Animals can only live for what is most pleasant here and now. (Their #1 thought is their next meal.)
  • We were created for a higher purpose that matters for all of eternity.  Animals serve one primary purpose – for the benefit and enjoyment of mankind.

Just as God created animals different than us, God’s love for them is also different than His love for us.  Mankind is God’s prize creation. This is why God sent His only Son to the cross to save the souls of men. 

  1.  God doesn’t promise that our pets will be in Heaven, but He does promise that there will be animals there

One of the biggest questions our kids will often have is this, “Will I get to see my pet again someday?”

The good news is that there will be plenty of animals in Heaven with us for all of eternity.  They will be for our enjoyment there quite possibly even more than they were here on earth.

Isaiah 11:6  The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

However, God makes no promises as to whether or not those animals in Heaven will be ones that we knew here on earth.  

So is it possible for our pets to be in heaven?  While it may not be likely, anything is possible. God can do whatever He pleases. And if God were to choose to let someone’s pet into Heaven, who is to stop Him?

But the Bible gives us no clear answers that this will be the case.  So, it’s okay to simply be honest about this with our children by telling them that we just don’t know.  

What is important is helping our children understand that regardless of what animals will be in Heaven, they will not be there because they have a soul like we do, but simply because God has chosen for them to be a part of eternity for us to enjoy.

  1.  God understands how we feel when we lose something or someone we love

This could be the most important lesson of all that your children could learn through the loss of a pet.  God cares about us when we hurt, and He understands.  

The loss of things we love in this life is a sad reality of living in a fallen world.  Ever since Adam and Eve “lost” in the Garden of Eden, loss has been a constant part of the human existence.  Yet God understands our feelings and frustrations over losing something that is important to us, even when we are kids.

And He even wants to comfort us when we are sad.  

God ultimately understands because He has suffered the greatest loss of all through the giving of His only Son for our salvation, and He understands when you lose something you love as well.  

While we may not be able to give completely satisfactory answers to all of our kids’ questions, may we do the best we can to help them understand what God does and doesn’t tell us concerning this subject.  And may we tactfully and tastefully help them understand the truth by giving them comfort without giving them false hope.  

What Ever Happened to Childhood?

Once upon a time, kids were just kids

Once upon a time, there were children.

They were carefree little tykes who played with dolls and toy trucks, went to school to learn their lessons and did what their mothers, fathers, and teachers told them to do.  At night, their parents read them bedtime stories and they fell asleep dreaming of knights and princesses.  Children loved their parents and knew that Mom and Dad would always be there in the morning.  Of course, children got into trouble sometimes, but only because they were naturally mischievous, not because they were downright wicked.

Think hard.  Do you remember children?

In this era of fast-lane living, it’s difficult to believe that childhood once did exist as an innocent age of Tom Sawyer exploits and happy, golden days.

What has happened?  Has childhood as a time to be remembered fondly vanished forever?

Here are some statistics about childhood in the United States:

  • Of all persons arrested for a serious crime, 1 out of 3 is a minor.  And no offense is too outrageous to imagine – children have robbed, raped, and killed.
  • Many kids have replaced candy and bubble gum with drugs.  According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, 27% of children aged 12 to 17 have smoked marijuana at least once.
  • The rate of adolescent suicide has risen dramatically over the last two decades.  According to the U.S. Public Health Service statistics, suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents.
  • By age 15, many youngsters have already engaged in sexual intercourse.  And unwanted pregnancy isn’t the only price adolescents pay for promiscuity, according to statistics from The Centers for Disease Control.

If this is what’s happened to childhood, where have we gone wrong? Are we responsible because we’re forcing children to grow up too soon? 

There’s little doubt that our changing priorities and values have had a significant negative effect on children.  If kids are engaging in adult vices, perhaps it’s because they’re being forced to accept adult responsibilities.  It’s not uncommon today for a 6 year-old child to have his own key that opens a door to an empty house in which he prepares his own dinner.  Nor is it unusual for young children to log thousands of miles each year jetting between separated or divorced parents.

“We treat kids as though they’re grown-up when they’re only ten years old.  We believe we’re preparing them for life in the real world, but we’re harming them more than we’re helping them,” says Jean Rosenbaum M.D.

The increasing divorce rate and the growing number of single-parent or two-career families are accountable for children being left at home without supervision and, more importantly, without role models.  Is it surprising then that youngsters turn to television as a babysitter and for role models?

Parents Needed!

If childhood is to make a comeback, experts agree that adults must assume their responsibilities as parents… This means being able to set house rules and to restrict the influences that their children are exposed to.  Parents should supervise TV viewing and fire the tube as a regular babysitter.

This is difficult and it requires an amount of attention most parents aren’t prepared to devote to child-rearing.  Children are not little adults.  They need to be treated differently, to learn discipline and to develop respect for themselves and others,” says Neil Postman, author of The Disappearance of Childhood.

He offers parents this simple guideline: “The longer children are allowed to mature, the more mature they will become.  There is no crash course on maturity.”

(These are excerpts from an article written by I. E. Thompson in 1984)

 

 

 

 

When God Chooses to Bless You

Last week, my wife and I attended The KidMin Nation Mega-Con (children’s ministry conference) in Nashville, led by our friends Ryan & Beth Frank. This was a conference that promised to be the most audacious, out of the box KidMin conference ever… and in my opinion, it definitely lived up to its name. The level of professionalism, organization, and practical ministry content was second to none, as was the heart of those behind it.  We left greatly encouraged and well equipped to minister in even greater ways than before.

And part of the hype surrounding the conference was the fact that they were giving away the keys to a 2017 Chevy Malibu to one of over 1600 children’s pastors in attendance. And even better yet, my lovely wife, Charity, was chosen to be the winner of that car! (You can watch her win the car here.)

And if the simple fact that they were giving away a car wasn’t impressive enough, coming to find out that the two couples who spearheaded the conference, Ryan & Beth Frank, and Martijn & Amy Van Tilborgh, actually used personal funds to purchase this car and give it as a gift was mind-blowing and very humbling.

While we are currently relishing in the way that God has chosen to bless our family, I can’t think of a better or more deserving person than my lovely wife, Charity, to be honored with such a gift.

While I don’t brag on her nearly as often as I could, today is different. For the past 16 years, she has served alongside me in the full-time children’s ministry and been the most selfless, servant-hearted person I have ever known. She serves, and serves, and serves some more. Most often behind the scenes and in the shadows, yet she is making ministry successful on so many levels. She constantly sacrifices of herself to meet the needs of others in both her family and ministry, even when it often comes at a high personal cost of her own time, convenience, and resources.

Prayer changes things… 

When it was announced many months ago that this car would be given away at this conference, my wife began to pray. You see, for some time now, she has been saving up her extra money to purchase a small, more fuel efficient car for her to get around in.  Due to unforeseen family circumstances, she’s been driving a lot of extra miles lately, and so she was hoping and praying that God would bring along something more practical and economical.

In addition, we had recently started looking for an additional vehicle for our son who is starting Driver’s Ed this month. In fact, the day before winning the Malibu, I had found a potential car online for us to purchase and showed it to Charity.

God’s plans are better than our own…

Well, God decided that He had something far different and far better in mind!

I remember telling one of my kids at the conference that, “Whoever God wants to have that car will be the person who wins it.”  And sure enough, God chose to bless my beautiful wife with that new car!

So, as we sat down as a family this past weekend to discuss our blessings, it was a special time to reflect upon God’s goodness in our lives in so many ways.  And we walked away with these few thoughts:

  • God is good, all the time.  Car, or no car, our family has been abundantly blessed far beyond what we deserve.
  • God makes no mistakes.  Mom won the car because God wanted mom to win the car.
  • Good gifts are “God” gifts.  Every blessing in our life both big and small has come from the hand of God.

God has blessed our family in so many ways so many times, and yet, He has chosen to bless us yet again. And this time, specifically, He blessed my wife, and for that, I am truly thankful.

Isn’t it about time that your family sat down together and discussed the blessings of God in your lives as well?

Because regardless of whether or not you ever win a car, God has chosen to bless each and every one of us abundantly in more ways than we could ever count.

James 1:17  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father…