The time was September 2002. My oldest son Andrew had just turned nine, and I was amazed at how fast the time had passed. I remembered that day in 1994 when I first held him in my hands. I was overcome with a profound sense of the responsibility of having this tiny life in my hands, both in a literal sense and in a sense of the responsibility of guiding the life of his soul. I remembered feeling totally inadequate to the task, and asking God for His grace.
Nine years later, I again felt keenly in need of God’s grace. No, there was no major crisis, but I saw how that tiny baby that it seemed like just yesterday I was cradling in my hands was now a cub scout, and I saw how this boy would soon grow into a man. I looked around and thought how little this world and this culture would be a positive influence on his journey into manhood, and how it was my responsibility, more than any other person, to be a mentor, example, and guide to him.
The boy would soon be a man, I thought. But that realization begat the question, what is a man? What defines manhood? How does God define it? What are the values that will allow a man to look back at the end of his life with a sense of deep & lasting satisfaction, and what will cause the heart of God to speak over his life, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased?”
I wanted to give my son some guideposts, some markers along the way that would be faithful & true. And so I turned to the Scriptures, and saw three vertical pillars that define the relationship between a man and his God, and fourteen horizontal planks that characterize a life well lived. These pillars and planks can describe the lives of both men & women of God, but I wrote them originally for my son, and set them in a frame that hung as a daily reminder in his bedroom.
The first of the three pillars that I chose was that a man enjoys God with all his heart. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord,” and yet so few people structure their lives around that command. It is so easy to slip into a mere religion of rules and end up delighting in religion itself like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, or adopting today’s materialistic mindset that adds God as a once a week afterthought to a life really focused on the things of this world. I wanted my son to steer a true course between both of those errors first and foremost.
The second pillar posted on his bedroom wall stated that a man depends on God for all his needs. I wanted to cultivate in him a constant gaze toward God, meditating on Philippians 4:19, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” I knew that if he always looked to God, God would never fail him.
The final pillar I gave to him was that a man glorifies God with all his life. Looking to the Westminster Confession and to Paul’s command that, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” ( 1 Corinithians 10:31 ) I did not want him to fall into the trap of dividing his life between the secular and the sacred. I didn’t want him to ever think that God would consider it acceptable to give a mere portion of his time, talent, & treasure to the Kingdom. No, I wanted him to see all of life as a marvelous quest to enjoy God, depend on God, & glorify God.
With these pillars firmly set, I next outlined the “planks”– the values that characterize the man of God. I first reminded him that a man was passionate–that he loves God and loves life with all his heart. A life not driven by passion is a life that accomplishes nothing. I wanted the first commandment to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” ( Matthew 22:37 ) to be more than just words to him, but the life blood of his own heart.
Next I wrote that a man was selfless–he shows God’s love to others. Jesus in John 13:34 gave us a “new” commandment to love one another. What was new about the love Jesus commanded? His love was a selfless, sacrificial, divine love, the love that He himself showed to us. I wanted to pass on that challenge to my son, to let his life be characterized by selfless Christlike love.
The third plank was that a man needs to be humble. I defined a humble man as one who knows he needs God, who admits when he’s wrong, and who isn’t proud when he’s right. Humility begins with the realization of who I am in relation to who God is. Humility demonstrates itself day to day by accepting responsibility in the face of failure, and avoiding pride in the face of victory. As Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:5, the man who can consistently live out humility is the one who gets much grace from God.
But in his humility a man also needs to show that he is brave. The definition I wrote was that a brave man is committed to do what’s right whatever the sacrifice, for he knows that God is faithful. I crafted each word to clearly define what a God-honoring bravery is: it takes commitment, it must be in the service of what’s right, it must be prepared to pay the price, and it must have as its foundation the faithfulness of God toward His people.
Another essential quality I saw was being thankful: to know God’s love is behind every blessing & every trial. The Bible warns of both flavors of ingratitude– that of the man in plenty who forgets God, and the man in want who blames God. Every man experiences times of both want & plenty, and I wanted my son to be prepared to obey the words of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in everything.
The sixth plank in my list was for him to be committed to being honest– always telling the truth no matter what. Telling less than the truth is always the easy way out of a difficult situation, but it is never the right way. As a memory verse I wrote down Proverbs 12:22– Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.
I next wrote that the man of God is a holy man, in that he lives as a temple of the Holy Spirit, as 1 Corinthians 6:19 teaches. The concept of personal holiness is so often misunderstood & even mocked, both within & without the church. I wanted Andrew to see the Biblical view of holiness, as being honored, chosen, and set apart for God’s use.
I also wanted him to learn the true way to be strong– that supernatural strength is found in following God. The prophet Isaiah gave us this secret of the true source of strength thousands of years ago when he wrote,
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. ( Isaiah 40:29-31 )
A godly man also reflects God’s own character in being faithful– he knows that God expects him to keep his promises. I want my son to one day hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord” ( Matthew 25:21 )
In order to be faithful, a man must be hard-working– knowing the opportunity to use all his might for God’s glory is an honor and a pleasure. I most certainly did not want him sprawled across my couch at age 29 playing video games. I wanted his life to demonstrate 1 Corinthians 15:58 with him “always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that (his) labor is not in vain in the Lord.”
I longed to see him grow up to be wise– seeing things as things as God does, as well as patient, seeing God’s timing as perfect. I knew that without patience & wisdom no man will go far.
But with the strength & wisdom & patience, I did not want him to be directionless in life. I wanted him to be a man of purpose– always searching for what God wants him to do. I knew that God never tells us the whole story of our life, but I wanted him to always be assured that there was a story that the Father had specifically written for him. I wanted him to know that he could live with the same confidence that Jesus displayed in John 12:49 and know that God had sent him into this world for a specific purpose as well.
Finally, I wanted to sum up all I wanted him to be for God, for his family, and for himself. I chose the word deep. The man who is deep gets that way by committing to grow by knowing himself, the world, and God better each day. By living his life daily by these pillars and planks, he develops into a man of depth who is of inestimable value to God’s Kingdom.
So, eight years later— how is my child who is now a man? Well, at 17 he still has a way to go, but he is on the path. As he continues to learn from God and walk with God, I trust that he will continue to be a son that makes his father proud. For that matter, I hope that we all want to live by the same pillars & planks to make our Father proud as well.
Ten years ago, my six year old loved Bibleman, and so did I. Willie Aames and company did a great job in whipping up a series of funny DVDs that taught some practical Biblical wisdom with enough chuckles to “make the medicine go down” easily. We bought the DVDs, watched them over and over, bought the costume, even went to a live stage show.
So even though my kids are older now, I still have a soft spot in my heart for the Bibleman character. Consequently, I got a review copy of one of the newer episodes, Combating the Commandment of Confusion, and watched it with my eleven year old son.
I could not have been more disappointed.
First, it was a poorly-done recording of a live stage show in a church. Lighting, audio, costumes, & cinematography were all sub-standard, bordering on amateur. Second, the story itself was banal: no plot, no intelligence, and none of the old wit & charm of the old series. Within a few minutes my son was pleading to watch something else, and I had to force myself to finish out the DVD. My recommendation: find one of the old series instead.
Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2009 will mark the eleventh Christmas our family has been living in Kingsport. Composing this letter makes me realize that Gail & I have now spent half of our married lives here and seen our children grow up in this house. Speaking of children…
Andrew celebrated sixteen in a big way, getting his driver’s license and his Dad’s Honda Accord. (It was so weird seeing him drive the kids to school for the first time.) He completed a leadership training experience at Doe River Gorge this summer and really loved it. He played varsity soccer for the first time this year as well. We are starting to look to see where God will guide him for the right college and the right major for his gifts.
Lily at thirteen continues to blossom like a flower, more beautiful with each passing year. She continues to do good work at school, and is becoming a gifted volleyball player. She continues to enjoy photography and hanging with her friends. She has had a lot of fun with her friends doing Cotillion this Fall.
Michael at eleven is as infectiously joyful as this photo shows! He continues to develop his academic, social, musical, and sports gifts. He loves learning, loves soccer, and loves being with people. He is fascinated with everything and is always asking questions and trying to figure things out.
Gail continues to relish her role as Mom, and I have been very grateful for the multiple opportunities that God has given me this year to minister as a husband, father, friend, physician & writer.
God has indeed blessed all of our family this year, and I am truly thankful. But I am also keenly aware that the foundation of my joy & my hope should not be in the blessings of family, friends, health, or even ministry. My one and only hope should be firmly fixed on nothing less than what happened in a stable two thousand years ago. Romans 15:12 reminds us that “The root of Jesse (Jesus) will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in Him will the Gentiles hope.” May the reality of Christ fill your hearts with hope & joy this Christmas season.
If you haven’t heard the news, the youth of the church are not becoming the men & women of the church. Multiple studies show that most teens who are active in church lose their faith within a few years of leaving home. It’s not the “bad” kids, but the “good” ones, the ones leading worship and going on mission trips, yours & mine, that graduate from church as they graduate from high school & college.
What’s the problem, and how do we fix it, for our own children & all those in the church?
That’s the question that many leaders & parents are wrestling with in the church today. A few years ago youth pastors and parents Steve Wright & Chris Graves wrote ReThink, a book that sent shock waves through the evangelical community. In ReThink they persuasively argued that business-as-usual youth ministry was not the answer to the failure of the church to see the youth of the church through to maturity. Now, their in new book ApParent Privilege they say that business-as-usual parenting is not the answer either.
The book starts out with the testimony of a father:
We truly believed that if we could find a good youth program and keep our children active, then they would continue to serve Christ… our two adult children now in their thirties are no longer walking with Christ… I wish that someone would have told us that the responsibility of discipling our children was ours, not a pastor’s. I wish we would have known.
That, in a nutshell, is this book: your church, your youth program, your children’s Sunday School teachers or youth ministers have neither the ability nor the responsibility to grow & mature your children’s faith. Only you do.
But how? That is what the book deals with, giving both a theological foundation and lots of practical advice. He starts by laying out that, despite appearances, most teens really do listen to their parents and desire a mentoring relationship with them. He then moves on to a Biblical theology & foundation of parenting, and what should make Christian parenting unique and distinctive from what is commonly practiced in our culture. There are also practical chapters on how the church can help parents, specific tasks and tools for parenting, the role of fathers, and encouragement for parents dealing with a prodigal.
ApParent Privilege is well-written, thought-provoking, and practical. Every parent and church leader will gain both healthy perspective & sound advice by reading it.
Jenifer Fox is on a mission: to radically transform how we as parents, teachers, & a society view our children & their education.
She is on the cutting edge of applying a new philosophy called “the strengths movement” to children. Basically, the strengths paradigm recognizes that real personal success in life hinges on discovering, developing, & using the unique combination of strengths in every individual. Understand, develop, & use your strengths, & you will have the maximum impact in your work & relationships while growing to your fullest & enjoying life. Putting it another way, one size doesn’t fit all in education or life, and if you try to fit square pegs into round holes you are guaranteed a life of frustration.
Jenifer’s mission is a very personal one: she relates how she was very much one of those square pegs in a traditional classroom setting, and barely graduated from high school. But she was fortunate to find a mentor in college who saw her strengths, encouraged her to develop them, & now she is the headmaster of a private school dedicated to helping children grow & flourish.
Your Child’s Strengths is divided into three parts: part one describes the problems associated with conventional education and how it is increasingly failing the needs of our children in this rapidly changing world. Part two discusses the nature of strengths & how & why to discover & develop them. Part three is a book within a book: a workbook detailing an entire multi-year curriculum that can be used by parents and teachers to help teens discover their strengths.
This 300+ page book is ambitious in all it tries to cover. If you’re a parent of a teen in a conventional education setting like I am, you can be easily overwhelmed at trying to integrate everything in this book into your parenting. But as the old saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and this book will set you one of the most important journeys a parent or teacher can ever take: the journey of helping your child discover, develop, & use their strengths.
The book of 1 Samuel begins with the story of a remarkable woman of God named Hannah. As I meditated on her life I marveled at her heart towards God. This woman’s simple faith allowed her to walk with God through her deepest valley. God placed her story in Scripture as an example of how a follower of God walks with Him through adversity. Here are seven lessons we can all learn from the heart of Hannah:
Lesson One: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty
“the LORD had closed her womb.” (v.5)
The very first thing we learn about Hannah is that she knew ”the Lord had closed her womb.” It’s clear that she and her husband saw her infertility as being under God’s sovereign hand. Without any help from sophisticated theology textbooks or philosophy courses, they were able to see the obvious truth that the being who created the universe must also be the being who orders its every event. Acknowledging God’s control over all our life’s circumstances is the essential first step to a life of walking with Him.
Lesson Two: Affirm God’s Righteousness
Next, we can see that Hannah saw God as righteous. Even in her deepest distress, she never accused God of being unloving or unjust. There is nothing in her prayers to suggest she cried out, “Why did you do this to me?” Her attitude parallels Job 1:22, where the Bible says that Job never “charged God with wrong.” If the first step of walking with God is to accept that He is in control, the second step must be to affirm Psalm 145:17 that, “the Lord is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.”
Lesson Three: Keep Following in God’s Ways
“So it went on year by year. As often as she went up to the house of the Lord” (v.7)
When confronted with deep soul pain, many people make the choice to walk away from God. Not Hannah. Year after year, she remained faithful to worship Him, even if it meant traveling to Shiloh with another woman who delighted in making her miserable. She could have feigned illness, or could have outright refused to go. Instead, she continued to obey God’s commands year after year after year, fully knowing how hard the road of obedience sometimes was.
Lesson Four: Go to God With Your Pain
“She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly.” (v.10)
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty and righteousness and remaining faithful to Him does not mean we have to stuff away our pain or pretend it doesn’t hurt. God is a loving Father and He both understands our pain and desires that we pour out our heart to Him. Hannah, David, even Jesus in the Garden freely poured out their pain to God. He always received them, and He will always receive us. We can freely pour out our heart to God.
Lesson Five: Ask God to Intervene
O Lord of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant…” (v. 11)
Trusting that God knows best does not mean we do not ask for our desires. God does not answer to Hannah, “Why are you asking me for a child?” For that matter, can you remember anytime God reprimanded anyone for asking Him for a good thing? No, that is not the way of a loving Father with His children. Part of walking with God is putting our requests before Him every day.
Lesson Six: Trust God With All Your Heart
I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life (v. 11)
Hannah’s vow here is not an example of mere crass bargaining with a deity. No, it is a mighty expression of her faith. Hannah declares to God that she knows that He can open her womb, and that she is more than happy to respond to His grace with her faith in dedicating this still future child to Him.
Lesson Seven: Let Your Joy in God Transcend Your Own Desires
Lastly, Hannah’s song of joy in 1 Samuel 2 shows us that her joy in God transcended her own desire to keep her son by her side. There is no hint of regret or misgiving in dedicating her beloved son for the sake of the Kingdom. She rejoices in God and sings:
My heart exults in the Lord;
my strength is exalted in the Lord.
My mouth derides my enemies,
because I rejoice in your salvation.
There is none holy like the Lord;
there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
May we all strive to have a heart like Hannah that exults in the Lord everyday as we walk with Him.
I went hiking yesterday along a section of the Appalachian Trail that led to my favorite waterfall in Tennessee, Laurel Falls.
It was a perfect day to soak up beauty and wonder, from wildflowers—
to sheer rock faces—
From a gently bubbling stream—
to water thundering over a 55 foot precipice—
I hiked along, rejoicing in it all, and thanking God for the glory He displayed in its creation.
But in the midst of that beauty, I was actually admiring and enjoying something even more, something that really blew me away:
My three not-so-kids anymore kids (along with two more friends). As I saw them climbing over ledges and up and down hills, laughing, talking, singing, I thought that even though God reveals Himself through the beauty and majesty of nature, He reveals Himself even more through His children. Isaiah 43:6-7 says,
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.
They possess a glory far above even the fairest flower or most majestic waterfall, for each one has been created in the very image of God. God has made each one of them, each one a unique, precious, fantastic creation, for His glory and my joy.
For all my pics from the hike, click here.
Thursday our family went on a little hike in Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Alum Cave Bluff Trail. Perfect spring day to listen & look at the cool mountain stream, the cascades and waterfalls along the way. We went up to Arch Rock and back, about three miles. All the pictures that I took are here.
There’s a quiet joy during the moments when you realize that your kids are growing up. My youngest led out during most of the hike and didn’t even get winded. I remember the hikes when he was in a backpack carrier— and now he’s leading. Although the Apostle John was using the word “children” metaphorically, my mind thought of 3 John 1:4—
I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
There is a joy to see my children walking in truth, walking with God. There’s a joy when we see all our loved ones and friends walking with God. Michael Card wrote of this in an old song that I treasure:
There is a joy in the journey
There’s a light we can love on the way
There is a wonder and wildness to life
And freedom for those who obey
May you have joy in your journey as you walk with God today.
Multiple studies have shown that over 80% of all teens that are active in evangelical American churches have completely abandoned Christianity by their 2nd year of college.
What’s the problem? How do we solve it?
Voddie Baucham has a simple and Bible-based answer:
Our children are falling away because we are asking the church to do what God designed the family to accomplish.
What does he mean by that statement? At one time Christian worship, teaching, & ministry was primarily a function of the family. It was considered normal for families to sing hymns together daily, for the father to systematically teach the Bible daily, to pray daily, for the family to look for ways to minister and reach out to others. The family as a unit was the cornerstone, the basic building block of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth.
Today, however, it is far different. The center of most children’s religious interaction, worship and learning is the church, from nursery to teen youth group. Although well intentioned, it is a poor substitute for family driven faith.
This book is a well-written introduction to the concept of family driven faith. It has chapters on the importance of the marriage bond, family worship, family teaching and education, and what a family centered, family integrated church can look like compared to the ordinary evangelical church of today. Voddie is passionate but humble, vocal but not argumentative about his vision for families and for churches. If you have children, this book is must reading if you desire to see your children (and your grandchildren) walking faithfully with God all their lives.
More information about this book from Amazon.com can be found here.
This morning I went to breakfast with my two elementary age children at school. The school has started something called All Pro Dad’s Day which is a monthly breakfast to encourage active involvement of fathers in their children’s lives. Good stuff. (and the chicken biscuit wasn’t bad either)
So, to start out the fathers had to introduce their children and say something they were proud of in their children. As the microphone was going around, my brain was buzzing about all the things I could say. Something funny, something simple, something profound, something meaningful, what, what, what? Mentally scanning through all the parenting and psychology and theology textbooks I have ever read…… hmm…. hmmm…. hmmmm….. (sorry, getting a flashback of old Disney flick The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes— Is that really you, Snake? I thought you’d be taller…)
Ok, somehow amidst all that mental chaos I settled on two thoughts: one of a scene in the book of Saint Matthew where God the Father introduces Jesus to a crowd with the words “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The other was from a recent DVD I had viewed which talked about our life purpose being to magnify God— to make Him more visible to those in our life. And so, I introduced my daughter as “Lily, who I am so proud that I can see Christ through her beauty and her kindness. And Michael got, “who I am so proud that I can see Christ through his fierceness and his wisdom.”
I am so proud of so many wonderful qualities in my children— more in both of them than I had as a child! (ok, some would say as an adult as well…) But I realized that what delights me most are the ways, both big and small, that I can see Christ through them, for I realize that is a reflection of both the work of God in their lives and that God will be glorified through their lives. And I guess that’s what delights God too.