Many years ago, I worked for a large health care company and became friends with a doctor who was on staff as a consultant. He helped us organize our first aid response team, taught our CPR training, and participated in many employee health activities. He was well respected, extremely helpful, and genuinely friendly. We were all shocked when he was suddenly fired. Turns out he was not a doctor and, for many years, conned his way into prominent healthcare positions and even practiced medicine. This man was living out a false identity.
Before condemning this man, I think we should learn from his mistake. Our kids are growing up in a culture that wants to define them. Their identities are being shaped by what they see, hear, and do (or fail to do). Although these voices are strong, they are not always true. The things our kids see on TV, hear on the radio, and do on the sports field do not define who they are. These voices do not have the authority to define our kids’ identities.
In 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) God proclaims, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Only God’s voice matters when it comes to who we really are.
This month, my church's children’s ministry will be focusing on the environment of Identity. This environment, from Michelle Anthony’s Spiritual Parenting book, highlights that we belong to God and He loves us. Our children need to hear this true message over and over again to overcome the many false messages they hear from others. I believe there is no better time to speak truth and grace over your child than when they mess up. As much as we may want to lash out with words of condemnation, we must stop and reflect on how God sees them. Paul tells us in Romans 5:8 (NLT) that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” While we were acting like enemies, God was demonstrating his love.
Our children are going to fail. We’ll fail them as parents. The good news is God’s grace declares that neither our value nor our identity is defined by those failures. The truth is, we are all children of God. His love is our one defining reality. What would our homes, workplaces, and neighborhoods be like if we lived out that true identity?
One of my favorite rides at Six Flags is Superman: Ultimate Flight. You get strapped in, and then they tip you over onto your belly before take-off so that it feels like you’re flying through the air.
Parenting can often feel like a rollercoaster ride, with its ups and downs and unexpected turns. As is true with rollercoasters, parenting is NOT for the faint of heart. And there’s always a sense that life is whizzing by, and it can often feel out of control. Then, before you know it, the “ride” is over. After all, Dan and I have already sent one kid off to college.
God didn’t write about rollercoasters in the Bible, but he did know a thing or two about the joy of flying. Though we were not designed with wings, God designed us to soar! Sixteen years ago, as I was preparing to give birth to our daughter, I took these verses from Isaiah 40 into the labor and delivery room with me “… those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40: 31 NIV). As I parent, I am still clinging to those verses and the ones that precede them.
When I read Isaiah 40:11, I am reminded that God is gently leading and guiding me as I raise my children. He is for me and with me at all times. When I read verse 12, I am reminded how big God is – the waters of this earth fit into the palm of his hand. He is the creator of this world and everything in it, and caring for it is no effort at all for him. Verse 22 reminds me that God is King of all, including me and my children. He is the ultimate ruler and authority, and it is to him that I am accountable. Verse 28 reminds me that God always is and always has been. He is constant and never grows weary. He is always strong, always present and perfectly understands the hearts and minds of each of my children. And best of all, in verse 29 it says that God gives me strength when I am weak and weary. When my human reasoning and efforts fail, which they often do in parenting, he offers me himself and his God-ness to not just persevere, but to soar!
He didn’t create me to just get by. He created me to thrive and live life abundantly. He put the kids that I have in my household for a reason and he will give me everything I need to raise them. And you know what? He has created you for the same purpose—to live life abundantly. Life is the ride, but God is on it with us. So buckle up and soar!
Francis Bacon famously said, “Knowledge is power.” If that is truly the case, then why does getting our kids to do their homework seem so difficult? I am working through my second year of graduate school and I can relate to feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork. I am working towards a theological degree so all my work is focused on God and his Word. You would think all of this work has brought me closer to God, but sadly it hasn’t. I am discovering that there is a big difference between knowing things about God and knowing God personally. In the busyness of reading books and writing papers, I have found less time to just read the Bible and spend quiet time with God.
While I’m being completely transparent with you, let me share my biggest fear about our kids. What if all we are doing for our children is giving them knowledge about God, but they never really get to know God personally? Please don’t misunderstand me; I believe bringing your child to church is crucial, but sometimes we might assume that is all that’s needed for their spiritual development. My biggest fear is that we give our kids just enough information about God, but they never experience Him personally. Like a vaccine, this little knowledge inoculates our kids, preventing them from understanding the real transformational power of God. So many kids who attended children’s ministries are leaving their faith behind in high school and college. I wonder how many of those kids were missing a personal knowledge of God. I wonder how many of them are from our children’s ministries.
I suggest that, “Knowledge is personal.” A vibrant faith is one built on a personal knowledge of God. We must help our kids to experience God in tangible ways. I believe this is the only way we can help them develop a faith that will stand the test of time. We have made important changes to the children’s services at my church. We still teach kids important truths about God, but we also take time to quiet ourselves and respond to God. We also provide a monthly HomeFront magazine that is full of practical ways your family can experience God at home. This resources is free and available from David C Cook.
This month, the children’s ministry at my church will be focusing on cultivating an environment of Knowing. Based on Michelle Anthony’s book “Spiritual Parenting,” we will be reinforcing the truth that, “God knows me and I can know Him.” My prayer is that all of us we will help our children really know God in personal ways. Jesus prayed these words recorded in John 17:1 (NLT), “And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.”
I know a boy who experienced pain and suffering most of his young life. His mother died of cancer and his father was later killed in a tribal dispute. This made him one of millions of orphans living in the country of Kenya. He tried to stay with his uncle, but that brought so many beating, that he needed to run away. Living on the streets, he struggled to survive by eating garbage. He would also sneak into nearby schools for a chance to learn like other children. This boy was being treated like an animal instead of someone created in God’s image. My family learned about him when he was rescued off the streets by Oasis for Orphans, an organization that was already caring for his two sisters.
The boy’s name is Edward and we have been sponsoring him since he was 12 years old. One of my greatest joys has been meeting Edward face-to-face and telling him how much he is loved by us and by God. Even though it was not possible to adopt him, we immediately considered him part of our family. Edward is now 18 years old. He is tall, kind, and has an infectious smile. He is a hard worker that has excelled in school despite having to catch-up on all subjects. Edward is a caring leader among the other children in the orphanage and wants to honor Jesus with his life. I thank God for being able to witness his transformation; physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I just returned from a missions trip where we sat down and talk through some exciting college plans.
Last month my church's children’s ministry was focusing on the environment of Love and Respect. This environment, from Michelle Anthony’s Spiritual Parenting book, recognizes that children need both love and respect in order to be free to both receive and give God’s grace. Without love, our faith becomes futile. Without respect, our self-esteem falters. Children, like Edward, who are deprived of both, are at a serious disadvantage. No family is going to get this perfect, but we should all be striving to let love and respect reign in our homes. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 12:10 (NLT) to, “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.” As parents, we will be more effective if we model this for our children instead of demanding it from them.
Now that summer has ended, we are managing all the responsibilities of school. This can bring a new level of busyness and stress for us and our children. I pray that our focus on love and respect will keep us grounded in what matters most.
I watched my son become more comfortable as he walked through the water towards the small waterfall. Finally, I told him to stop. Recently I took my youngest son to Starved Rock State Park for a day of hiking. The waterfalls are beautiful and the only danger my son was in was getting soaked. Since we didn’t have a change of clothes with us, I told him to stop. Based on how he reacted when he first took off his shoes to dip his toe in the ice cold water, I’d never have guessed that 15 minutes later he would be up to his thighs. I on the other hand, sat comfortably on a log basking in the sunshine thinking through how I could bring up the topic of sex. After all, this was the entire reason for this trip to the woods. On the drive there, I brought up the subject a number of times and my son nearly jumped out of the moving car. My wife had already sent me a couple text messages asking how the talks were going and this only added to my anxiety. I knew I needed to step out of my comfort zone and so I offered up a quiet prayer.
As school lets out I am sure there will be times when you feel completely out of your comfort zone, but that is not necessarily bad. When we find ourselves in difficult situations, we are often forced to rely on God in deeper and more meaningful ways. God gives us a promise in Psalm 50:15 when he says, “call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” The beauty of being pulled out of our comfort zone, is we will be blessed with another story of God’s faithfulness that can then be shared with others. As parents, we want to protect our children from difficulties. However, it is these hard-times that will shape our children’s faith more profoundly than anything else. Like many, I did not have a great childhood. At a young age, there were many difficulties and pain. But it is those scars that God has used to make me the husband and father I am today.
So, I turned to my son and started telling him stories of when I was a kid. I told him that I never had a dad who took me for a day of hiking in the woods. I then told him how my dad struggled to tell me and my brothers about sex after we bombarded our mom with questions during lunch. We laughed together and that opened the door to a great conversation. I shared honestly that we all make mistakes and that God loves us so much that he not only forgives us, but uses those mistakes to help others in the future. I was so glad that I finally stepped out of my comfort zone. When my wife met us at the door and asked how it went, I simply replied, “mission accomplished”.
During the month of June, my church's children’s ministry we will be focusing on the environment of “Out of The Comfort Zone”. This environment means that as children are challenged to step out of their comfort zone from an early age, they experience a dependence on the Holy Spirit, who will equip and strengthen them beyond their natural abilities and desires. So, instead of complaining or running from tough situations, let’s all cry out to God and then be quick to share how he answers our prayers.