Tis the season to be thankful! In the busyness of your Thanksgiving preparations, I hope you’ll take time to reflect on how good God has been to you and your family. I sometimes wonder how many of His blessings I overlook. As I was reflecting, I realized that I have not expressed how thankful I am for parents...especially the ones who bring their children to my children's ministry. BTW...after 18 years at the same church I recently moved churches...which explains why I have not blogged in a while.
Children's ministries across the country would not exist without faithful parents bringing their children. But my gratitude goes much deeper than that. Parenting is hard work and for many it is thankless work. They prepare meals, wash dishes, and provide a home and the countless necessities for raising kids today. They go above and beyond without applause or affirmation. They make many sacrifices along the way, putting their children’s needs and wants before their own. They invest in their school, sports, arts, and many other life-enriching experiences. Many parents even serve as volunteers in children's ministry...and for that I am especially grateful!
So, with all this heroic activity, you’d think parents would be treated like rock stars. Sadly, many parents feel beat-up and downright burned out. Even at church, parents could get the feeling that they are not doing enough. If you are a parent, relax for a moment and allow me to share with you two encouraging thoughts.
#1). Your tireless work is critically important! In a world that is quickly heading away from God, you are standing in the gap and directing your children towards truth, hope, and love. There is a real enemy focused on feeding our children lies and enticing them with lots of glitter and gold. You are still your child’s greatest influencer. Your children are listening and watching, so keep up the good work! Galatians 6:9 says, “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
#2). Your tireless work will be rewarded! One of the beautiful realities of God is that He is in control. God promises rewards for those who persevere. Even though parenting can seem like a losing battle, we know that goodness triumphs over evil in the end. God sees your hard work and sacrifice and he will bless you for not giving up. Psalms 112:1-2 says, “How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Their children will be successful everywhere; an entire generation of godly people will be blessed.”
As another Thanksgiving Day arrives, know that there are people ready to pray for you and partner with you in your parenting journey. As Thanksgiving Day passes and the shopping frenzy begins, look for a solid Christian Church to attend.
The Compass Church
I wonder how I became such a huge sports fan. For many kids, they become fans of a team because a parent or influential adult was a big fan. Now I understand that there are fair-weather-fans that jump on the bandwagon when a team starts winning. But what about Cubs fans? Their bandwagon seems to be pulled by a cursed Billy goat? Still, I know lots of great kids who are huge Cubs fans. That obviously did not happen because the Cubs are a good team, but because a Cubs fan has been good to them. Fandom gets passed down to each generation by those that have the most influence. But that is not my story.
Since I grew up without a father, maybe I just looked to the local sports stars as male role models. For the most part, my favorite players not only excelled on the field, but were also solid community citizens. We still have these positive role models in sports today, they are just becoming a little harder to find. As parents, we can certainly hope that our kids find great role models on the sports field, but what about the role models they find in our homes?
This month, our church's children’s ministry will be focusing on the environment of Modeling. Based on Michelle Anthony’s book “Spiritual Parenting,” we will be reinforcing the truth that, “I see Christ in others, and they can see him in me.” While we all want our kids to see Christ in everything we say and do, we all fall far short of that ideal. Our kids not only witness our best days, but unfortunately our worst days too. But our failures do not disqualify us from modeling Christianity for our family. In fact, how we handle mistakes may become our strongest witness for Christ. Children need to see faith put into action and that means praising God on the good days and repenting on the bad days. Every day, we can point our children to our perfect role model – Jesus Christ. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT) to, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ.”
As we get ready to watch and cheer for the teams in the Super Bowl, let's be aware that our kids are watching. There is nothing wrong with being a huge sports fan. I just don't want my kids to only grow up to follow my favorite sports team; I want them to grow up and follow Jesus!
I just returned from a long family road trip and was reminded of the infamous “recalculating” declaration that GPS devices make after you make a wrong turn. Now I don’t need a GPS device because I have a wife. By the way, she doesn’t say, “recalculating”. Whenever families spend lots of time together (especially jammed together in a vehicle), our imperfections are highlighted. Whether it is our poor navigation skills on the road or something more detrimental, we all need help moving forward after a mistake. As we begin a new year, we should all be thankful that God gladly offers us Course Correction. It is written in 1 John 1:9 (NLT), “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”
The Bible provides ample evidence that there are no perfect parents. Father Abraham tried to kill his son Isaac. King David’s son Absalom tried to kill him. Jacob favored his son Joseph and this caused the rest of his sons to throw him in a pit to die. You may think your kids fight too much, but Adam and Eve’s children fought to the death. To be fair, Mary and Joseph seemed to do a good job raising Jesus, but he was God in human flesh, so I don’t feel that counts. The bottom-line is all families are deeply flawed. I make this point because we tend to focus on our family’s issues while believing that every other family is picture perfect. I believe looking to God is much more profitable.
This month, my church's children’s ministry will be focusing on the environment of Course Correction. Based on Michelle Anthony’s book “Spiritual Parenting,” we will be reinforcing the truth that, “When I get off track, God offers me a path of healing.” Yes, the consequences of our mistakes can be very painful, but God uses our wrong turns to shape us and grow us. As parents, isn’t that what we do when we discipline our children? The goal as parents is not to punish our children, but to discipline them so that they learn from their mistakes and grow wiser.
Last year was full of mistakes we all regret. However, as we start the new year, be encouraged that God looks forward and wants to be your family’s guide. My prayer is that your family will follow God through every turn and roadblock so that you will experience all he has planned for you in 2015. Paul gives us excellent advice in Philippians 3:13-14 (NLT). It says, “I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
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?
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.