3 Things I Taught My Son By Cutting The Grass.

Being a dad is a big deal. Last week I taught my seven-year-old to cut the grass (push mower). I was hesitant to unleash him with a spinning mechanical blade, but his mom wasn’t there to stop me so I went for it and I’m glad I did (just kidding, she trusts me). In the process we had several unplanned father-son moments as his attention was hyper-focused on learning to mow the grass. Here are a few that I caught myself teaching him.

cutting the grass

  1. Your Actions and Lack of Actions Affect Others.

Our first task was to fix the self-propelled components of the mower. Though he is a strong kid, he is just seven. Having the self-propelled component working would help him be successful. So we got out the tools, pulled the cover off and started cleaning things up and looking at why it didn’t work. As we were doing this together, he was goofing around and touching stuff on the mower. I knew there was no real danger since starting a mower is an involved process but I asked him, “What would happen to my hands right now if you accidentally started the mower?” Of course he knew by where my hands were that he would “cut them off.” I then asked, “Is that something you want to do?” Of course he didn’t. So I suggested that when someone is working on a machine the best thing to do is stand back and watch, unless you are asked to help.  We then talked about how all of our actions affect others.

2. It is Easy to Mistake The Symptoms for the Problem.

Once we were fixing the mower we talked about how what we perceived as the problem (the self-propelled component wasn’t working) was actually a symptom of the real problem. Likely a part had broken, a belt had slipped, or we simply got to much stray grass had gotten under the cover. As it turned out there was a ton of grass and the belt had slipped off. It was an easy fix. In the process though we talked about how in everything from lawn mowers to relationships that when something is broken, we often see the effects before we can analyze the cause. It takes wisdom to look for what caused the problem and fix it instead of just looking at the problem and complaining.

3. Always be on Guard Against Mission Drift.

Mission drift is common in everything from cutting grass to life in general. If we are not careful we will be more concerned with where we are than where we are going and in doing so we will end up way off course! Without a vision for what needs to be accomplished it is easy to worry more about pushing the mower than where you are pushing the mower too. He learned this all too quickly as the first few rows were crooked, leaving pockets of uncut grass in some places, and mowing over the same territory twice in other places. I shared that We must always keep an eye on what God has called us to or we will miss the mark simply because we thought more of the moment than we did the outcome. I applied this especially to living under authority. I shared that even I as a parent and pastor fall under the authority of scripture.  It’s easy to respond to the feelings of the moment, but wise men go back to what God has said and follow that path.

I’m sure that a lot of the conversation went over his head. Yet, it has also become a background song to his life. He knows more about cutting grass and more about life than he did a week ago. I’m reminded that our children often learn more from us as they join us in activity than they do when we sit them down to have a specific conversation. I’m always looking for those teachable moments.

Why Your Parents Care About What Kind of Friends You Have

Nobody wants to be rejected. When I was in middle school, it was cool to have jeans with holes in the knees. You could actually buy jeans with holes already in the knees! Some manufacturers also sold jeans with reinforced knees that were more difficult to rip. Guess which kind of jeans my mom bought?… I had to work extra hard to put holes in the knees of those jeans.

So tearing up a pair of jeans to fit in and making your mom mad is one thing, but what if something larger is at stake? What if in the process of looking for the acceptance by others, you lose a part of yourself? What if you give up more than you gain? What if next year you don’t know those people anymore but you still carry scars from the stuff you’ve done?

You see I’ve lived through that. I’ve been the new guy at school desperate to make new friends. I’ve felt isolated like everyone was staring at me and been in social situations where I was just praying for someone to rescue me from my isolation. Just someone to talk to so I didn’t feel so…. weird.

Finally someone walks over and asks you a few questions. Part of you is relieved that you are at least talking, another part of you wonders if this isn’t part of some cruel joke? Then they say something you know you should disagree with like “let’s all go murder a bunch of helpless kittens.And the one thing you swore you would always be against, you find yourself invited into. You have a choice to make: do you violate your conscience and join them in murdering kittens or do you risk another hour of social awkwardness?

Your friends probably aren’t tempting you to murder kittens. It’s more like gossip. Maybe its drug related or pressure to do sexual things to fit in. It could be looking at dirty pictures or watching movies that you know you’re not supposed to watch. Hanging out in places your parents told you not to go. Some of you “feel” this need to be accepted so deeply that something that you were normally against you would now go and watch, observe, participate in just so you would not feel awkward.

The irony is that even though you feel it so intensely, the moment of social isolation will pass and may even be forgotten, but you will carry the scars left by the destructive things you have done with your friends.

That’s how it happened for me. It wasn’t murdering kittens, it was underage drinking. I knew my grandfather was an alcoholic. But when a friend said, “let’s go get drunk.” I caved under the pressure. Then one night they put a fifth of vodka in my hand and said, “drink this.” I downed it faster than it takes most people to drink a soda at their favorite fast food restaurant. That was probably enough alcohol to kill me. If I had been a smaller person I would have died that night. As it was, I threw up and they threw me in the back of a pickup without my clothes. When I passed out and they couldn’t wake me up, they propped me up against a dirty toilet in a filthy bathroom with a space heater. It’s a miracle that I woke up at all the next day.

I don’t have those friends anymore, but I do carry the scars around from what did while I was with them. That day I realized I needed to make a change in my life, I needed better friends. I didn’t realize it then, but I realize now I was learning Proverbs 13:20 the hard way.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20 ESV)

Have you ever felt pressure to fit in? There are somethings worse than being socially awkward. Your parent’s care about what kind of friendships you have because they know that your friends have the capacity to pull you up or pull you down. They also know that you most likely won’t keep your friendships, but you will keep the scars (or trophies) from what ever you and your friends did together. If you don’t have good friends now consider praying and asking God to bring some incredible people into your life.

 

Raising Kids Who Don’t Remember Jesus

BibleRead-2They have heard about him. They know his stories. They know what he’s done for us. They sing songs about him. They have asked him to forgive their sins. They have been baptized in his name. They have memorized his words. They have done good works in his name. They have more information about him at their fingertips than any other generation, yet they don’t remember him. How does someone so saturated with Christianity loose the very essence of the one they call Savior? How do you claim a sense of what it is to be Christ-like, but have no memory Christ?

What am I talking about? It’s the Lord’s Supper. The essential part of church life that emphasizes the gospel, what it means to trust Christ, and most of all where we REMEMBER him. It’s a common meal where we all participate by receiving elements that represent the blood and body of Jesus and in doing so we ALL TOGETHER acknowledge his sacrifice and eminent return.

I see lots of believers, especially believers with children skipping out on this thing that Jesus actually said to do in rememberance of him. Is it possible to teach our children about Jesus, but to not remember him? Can we have them sit for a family devotional and prayer, sit in Children’s Church, sit close by as we go and minister, and somehow not teach them to sit for a moment to examine their life and remember Jesus?

I get it. There is a long list of excuses on why not to get the kids our of children’s church or return for a special evening service. They haven’t made a profession of faith yet – (They need to see that they are left out and apart from Christ. This physical illustration of restricting your kids from taking the Lord’s Supper will do more to teach them this reality than you words alone). Kids are really hard to keep still and quiet in church (It’s always been this way, but there are very few things in life they learn from lack of experience and this isn’t one of them).  They are in children’s church, I don’t want to interrupt the lesson.  (Can you make a children’s lesson more profound than the experiential, tangible, visible, and tastable lesson set before us in the elements of the Lord’s Supper? First as an outsider observing everyone else and then prayerfully as a believer who also professes faith in Christ.) Think about it, with the Lord’s Supper you see with your own eyes all your brothers and sisters professing that their hope is in Christ alone for salvation? We see that God provided the ultimate bread from heaven, and that we don’t live by bread alone, but by his very Word! We see that Jesus truly is the vine and we are the branches, that he is the head and we are united as the body! We see that it is only through his brokenness that we can be made whole.

Perhaps a more sober thought is, “What do I implicitly teach my kids by not participating in the Lord’s Supper myself and not bringing them in to join me?” I think the answer is clear. You teach with your actions (which speaks louder than words) that you don’t have to obey every request command of Christ and you teach that they don’t have to shouldn’t remember Jesus in this way because it’s not important.

We do a lot for our kids, everything from organic food to baseball practice. We sit through dance recitals and agonize with them over homework. We do our best to teach them about our faith and to honor God, Why wouldn’t we prioritize the Lord’s Supper?

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  – (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)

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Why I Stopped Ignoring the Lord’s Prayer and Started Using it to Disciple My Kids

I need to confess something. I used to have an antagonistic spirit toward the Model Prayer (or the Lord’s Prayer) as many call it. I knew it was in the scripture, but I felt like it was something that was foreign to me. I went to a Christian school from fourth through seventh grade and I’m sure that maybe I learned it there. It wasn’t something we recited in the home, it wasn’t something we recited at church, and I’m pretty sure the only reason I memorized it was because it was part of my school work.

So it sat dormant in the back of my mind. I think I also had a prejudice against it because I felt like the words became hollow when everyone said them in unison. I wondered if God would even hear the prayers of those who repeated these words. I mistakenly thought prayer was a one sided communication. I was supposed to just tell God what I needed and he was supposed to provide. I didn’t realize that prayer was one of the key ways that God changes our hearts.

Everything changed for me when I had kids. I wanted my kids to know God the way that I know God. My life was radically changed when I was about twenty-five years old and I haven’t quite gotten over it. I knew that the model prayer must be important. Who better to teach my kids how to pray than Jesus, right? At this point I thought I had it all figured out. I was praying my way for a while. I never thought to go back and look at what the Scripture says about prayer. I never thought to go back to this prayer that I had memorized. I never thought that this was anything more than a tool to use with my kids.

So I started teaching Miss R, my oldest, when she was about three. And Mr.N, my youngest, learned to say it as soon as he could talk. In fact we have a video of Mr.N saying the Model Prayer when he is about two years old. He’s recited it nearly 1000 times in his little lifetime now.

Not long into the journey something happened. I forget the spark that caused it all, but one day one of my kids was struggling with bitterness and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to forgive in the model prayer,” and I shared the story of the unmerciful servant. Then one of my kids were concerned for someone and I said, “Remember how Jesus teaches us to ask God for our daily bread.” Then one day one of my kids was struggling with an injustice in their world, and we saw that the Lord’s prayer teaches us to ask for Jesus’ kingdom to come.” Then one day my daughter is consumed with her sin and as I pass by her door at night I hear her praying, “Dear Jesus will you forgive me for my sin just like I ask in the Lord’s prayer?”

I began to meditate deeply on the Lord’s Prayer, going over it again and again in my mind. Thinking through the implications and tangents to other scripture passages and I was amazed to realize that there was a lot more to the Lord’s Prayer than I had thought. I was the one guilty of repeating things without thinking, but with sincere meditation this has become I guide for me in how I pray.

One of the ways that the Lord’s Prayer effects us is it acts like a tuner. I have a guitar. I don’t play much but someone gave me a guitar… and a tuner. The tuner is helpful because the guitar is very prone to getting out of tune. You put the tuner on the end, play a note and then adjust accordingly. It works great when I use it. This prayer is like that. Our lives get out of tune. We begin to lose focus. We think life is really all about this thing or that thing and somehow we miss God in the mix. This prayer teaches us how to adjust our attention, our focus. Is your life filled with anxiety? Go to God in prayer like Jesus teaches us to and you will find peace in the midst of a troubled night. It tunes our hearts. It checks our actions. It exposes our secret motives. Most of all it focuses us on the supreme value of Knowing God.

Join me as I dig into the Model Prayer over the next few weeks. I’ll be sharing brief exposition with practical application. I won’t be blogging every day on this topic, but will be blogging frequently. Check back often to get the latest.

Let your kids choose not to go to church today and they’ll choose not to go when they are adults

My dad was a pastor, so I got an inside perspective on church growing up. I did everything from help fold the bulletins to taking up the offering. Occasionally through my preteen and teen years there were those moments where for whatever reason… I did not want to go to church.

Now here is where it gets a little touchy because I had friends whose parents gave them the choice about attending church. (ironically they still HAD to do a lot of things like wear a shirt to the dinner table, do their homework, their chores, and visit with great-grandma).  I thought for sure that the only reason I HAD to attend church was because my dad “worked” there. I mean there must be a reason that my friends parents were lax on the whole church deal but strict on stuff like Algebra.

Then my dad got fired… ahem, I mean resigned from the church he was serving. I thought for sure we’d take a Sunday off or something, but the very next week we were in church (a different church, but a church none-the-less). I tried to get out of going (in hind sight I can’t imagine how difficult this must have been for my dad) but he insisted and we went. I learned in a very real way that church attendance was important, not because my dad was a pastor, but because that is where we gathered with the people of God for the worship of God.

Then there came that first Sunday I was away at college. I had the opportunity for the first time in my life to ditch church, but at 18 years old I got out of bed early, got ready and walked into a church in time for Sunday School and I’ve only missed a handful of Sundays since. You see when my dad made me go to church when I didn’t want to, I learned something… Church is important. It was more important than hunting, fishing, sports, and especially more important than sleeping in.

My friends also learned something from their parents about church… Church wasn’t important. Much to the agony of their parents many of my friends, whose parents let them stay home, have continued to stay home from church. They went to college and didn’t attend church. Now they’re having kids and some are coming back but others aren’t.

I’m sure my friends’ parents meant well. They were probably afraid that they would burn their kids out on church. Maybe the pastor made that awful “I had a drug problem… my parents drug me to church” joke one too many times. Or maybe it’s because deciding to follow Jesus is a ‘personal decision’ we don’t want to “pressure” our kids, that we as parents can make the mistake of backing away from training our kids in spiritually right and helpful behaviors. We wouldn’t think twice about making our kids do their homework or clean their room. But somehow we let church attendance be the one place where we let them decide for themselves? Does this not actually send the unintended message… church is not important and you can blow it off for sleep?

I get it…. We faced a similar issue when we started family prayer time and my kids didn’t want to pray. Should I tell my kid they “have to” pray? I don’t want them to hate prayer… But then I realized that I’m responsible for training my kids and they will follow my example no matter what I do. So it’s probably better to err on the side of “repeat the Lords Prayer with me then” than it is to say, “you don’t have to pray.” At the very least they will know that prayer is important to their father. God has blessed our family prayer time. He’s used the Lord’s Prayer in numerous ways to instruct my children and bring both of them to conviction and repentance. I look back and wonder the shape their hearts would be in if we had not hunkered down and said, “This is too important to skip.”

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Hurt Feelings, Bad Days, and Little Boys: A Letter to My Daughter About Manhood

You came in the other day and said, “Ask me about my day?” I knew something was up because when I normally ask you say, “fine.” Knowing you had something to share I put my stuff down and quickly got out of my grumpy dad coming home from work routine and sat across from you in the kitchen. You shared about how an older boy kicked a ball at you and called you a bad name. There were tears in your eyes as you relived the moment and felt a shame that wasn’t yours to own.

Fear gripped my heart and I pressed in to give you a hug. I wondered how deep the would was? I wondered if I could mend it with my words, my hugs, or even my tears? Part of me was desperate to mend your brokenness, part of me was wondering how I might break the boy who made you feel this way, and part of me was glad that you had shared it with me.

The part that wanted to heal your brokenness jumped in first. We talked about how this boy was wrong and how you had done nothing wrong. We talked about forgiveness and cleaning the bitterness out of our hearts. We talked about the gospel and how Jesus had loved us and died for us while we were still sinners. We talked about how hard it was to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, but we knew that if Jesus commanded us to do that, we could do it in his strength and power. So we prayed for him.

Then I came back and let you know that I was jealous for you. As you father when that boy called you a name, he called me a name. That you are my princess (not the word he called you) and that should it ever happen again he would answer to me when I go to have a conversation with his parents. I let you know that you had a bigger advocate who was willing to take on this older boy who seemed so big and brave on the playground but was tiny compared to your father.

Then I was glad that you had shared this moment so we could walk through it together. You gave me the gift of allowing me to be your dad, to hug you, to guide you, to model maleness different than what you experienced on the playground. My prayer is that you forget this incident ever happened and when you come back to read this you have a hard time recalling the event… but that your character has been impacted by it so you are quick to forgive, know deeply you are loved, and walk confidently into womanhood.

There is a kind of boy who pushes shame on others through his words, his actions and even his stares… There is also a kind of man who removes shame that is not yours to carry, who loves you and will give his all for you. I’ll never stop being your dad, but when another man like that enters your life it will be my joy to walk you down an isle to him and give you away. You are my princess.

50 Shades Away. A Letter to My Son About Love

So maybe we won’t have all of this conversation today (He’s just 5). But we do talk like this about Love.

Just so you know, I love your mom. I mean I LOVE her. That word is so hard to grasp sometimes. We use it for everything from the newest video game to the pizza we ate last night. So when I say love, I mean I treasure your mom. She is precious to me. And when I say that I’m not saying that I “posses” her or have a right to her in any other way than she posses me or has a right to me. The ring on my finger says that I’ve committed to her, I belong to her. It affects my decisions, my leadership, my actions, my everything because we are in this together.

Love is more than something that is just emotional. Because I love your mom I’ve experienced a wide range of emotions. Some of them we’ve shared like the joy of exploring new places or the deep happiness when you and your sister were first brought into this world. Some of them were reactionary like the deep empathy for pain I experienced when your mother was in the middle of giving birth to your sister (no pain meds). I scared myself with how angry I got one time when someone insulted your mother’s character and another time when someone stole her purse. To be fair we’ve been mad at each other too but have almost always found a way to reconcile before we went to sleep.

To be sure, love is physical, but not always in the way you might expect. It’s holding hair back while your loved one vomits. It’s coming home from work early to clean up vomit. It’s a trip to the drug store to pick up medicine. It’s rocking a sick child in the middle of the night so she can get some sleep. It’s fixing a car. It’s doing the dishes. It’s working hard at a job so you can spend your paycheck helping to put a roof over your heads and food on the table. It’s a deep hug that says “I will never let go of you” at the moment when it feels like the world just changed. It’s a holding a hand at the right moment to say, “I’m with you no matter what” (not just at the movies). It’s a sweet little kiss on the cheek every day. Then inside of marriage there is the gift of sex. It’s a physical expression that no one else shares. And just like everything else with love, it is an act of giving. 

You see love is sacrifice. It is commitment. It is work, but above all it is giving. If you want to really experience love one day. Work hard, stay out of debt, and practice extreme generosity. We never love perfect people (though your mother gets closer to perfection every day) and we never love perfectly (hopefully I’m getting better at this too).  So keep short accounts, be quick to forgive, and never hold grudges. Be the first to believe the best about others and the last one to believe the worst.

Above all, honor the women in your life, especially your mother and sister. They are not objects, they are holy creatures made in the image of God and deeply worthy of honor.

1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5, Song of Solomon

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