My Prayer for My Children

I am finishing off this week of talking about children by sharing something very personal to me. I want to tell you about my prayer(s) for my children. I usually do not say much about how I pray, when I pray or what I pray about, but today I am breaking my own rules. I hope this does not seem prideful and I hope it does not embarrass my children.

Every morning at my office the first thing I do is pray. The prayer follows a standard format in my mind. The middle of the prayer focuses on my family. One part of my prayer is specifically for my children. Here is the heart of that section of prayer.

1. I pray for their safety. It is simple and straightforward. They are driving, in sports, walking the streets, and I fear for their safety in all areas.

2. I pray for God’s guidance and direction in their life. As my boys reach high school they are making more and more decisions that will affect their future. I pray that God will open doors and close doors to help direct them into the future. I want them to be all that they can be for God.

3. I pray they will grow in Christ and live out their faith everyday. It is one thing to know the right thing to do and it is another to thing to do it. I know this because I struggle with it everyday myself. I simply ask God to help them make good decisions that are Christ honoring. I ask God to help them understand the weight of making a poor decisions. I know that they will sometimes make mistakes, we all do, but I hope they will be honest about it and handle themselves and others with grace and love.

4. I pray that God will lead them to a Christian spouse. There is probably no greater influence in our lives of faith than our spouse. They could also be our biggest struggle. I hope and pray that my boys find a woman who has the same beliefs as they do. I had a preacher friend who has four girls. He told me he started praying for their spouse the day they found out his wife was pregnant and committed to doing it every single day of their lives. He inspired me to do the same for my boys.

5. I pray for any specific needs. There will always be very specific struggles for each one. Those struggles may be the move we made as a family, it may be a friend or girlfriend, it may be a physical pain or maybe it is just an emotional situation. Whatever the case I do not want my children to have to face it alone. I want to connect with them personally but I also want to support them spiritually.

I hope that you pray for your children. I believe there is nothing greater we can do to help their lives. I have been praying for years and I know I will not stop this side of heaven. I hope you do the say for your children, grandchildren and any child with whom you come in contact.

What I Have Learned in 16 years as a Parent

I am the proud parent of 4 strong young boys. I have been thinking a great deal about parenting this week because one of them is having a birthday. Today I want to share a few simple lessons I have learned on this journey.

1. All children desire attention, give it to them.
Talk to your kids. Listen to them. Ask them questions. Take an interest in their activities and achievements. If you do not give them attention someone else will. Boys and girls both turn to dating and sex because they desire someone to love them. Children turn to negative behavior if that gets the most attention. I encourage everyone to be their child’s biggest fan and supporter.

2. Be a parent, not a best friend.
I love my kids and I think my kids love me. I honestly believe we have a great relationship. But early on I realized I needed to be a parent more than their friend. This enables me to still hand out discipline and direction. I am not afraid to hurt their feelings and tell them no.
I see a lot of parents, especially divorced parents, who want to be their children’s friend so much that they will never say no or offer direction for fear they will be rejected. Then a strange dynamic happens as the child becomes the dominant player in the relationship and manipulates their own way. I have come to believe that I am the only one who can be their father and they can find friends anywhere.

3. Who you teach them to become is more important than what you teach them to do.
Character building is more important than skill building. I have been thinking about how my boys are very good at sports and I am so poor at them. I know that they have inherited their mother’s athletic ability and not mine but I think there is something deeper. Michelle and I have tried to teach our boys to give 100% to anything you do. Work hard at everything. We do not make excuse and blame others, we just do the work. This character lesson has translated into all kinds of skills. My boys are good at school, at sports and pretty much anything they do, because they give it their all.

4. You will always feel insecure about your parenting
While I write this article with some amount of confidence, I am still very unsure in my mind. Did I do the right things? Have I taught them enough? Did I instruct their character without them resenting? I could go on and on and on. None of us are sure as a parent, no matter how much we proclaim to be.

5. Enjoy the ride.
With every passing year you enter new phases of a child’s life. They go from toddlers to teenagers very quickly. I have often found myself longing for the next phase. I have wanted them to get out of diapers or through that whiny phase. I have wanted them to be less dependent and I have wanted them to be more dependent. Then I realize that with every phase there have been moments of sheer joy. Stop and enjoy those moments if you can, they will soon be gone. Every phase brings new challenges but also new joys.

This is not an exhaustive list of all that I have learned, but these are some of the big lessons that God has underlined to me over and over again. Hopefully they help you in some tiny little way.

Good Reading in the Blogosphere

I receive about 100 blogs a day through Feedly – an online blog reader that I now have on my phone too. There is a lot of good material being written out there. Here are my suggestions for the week.

1. “How to help your daughter believe she is beautiful” by Mark Merrill is over HERE

2. Mark also has a great post about “6 sentences your child needs to hear you say” over HERE

3. Justin Davis has another good blog about marriage called “More than words” over HERE

4. Justin Taylor’s article about Ferguson is worth some thought over HERE

5. A lady in the Church sent me a link to this good blog post about “jumping out of the boat” over HERE

6. John Acuff posted a great little picture and post about a Passive Aggressive note over HERE (it reminds me of a part of my sermon a couple of weeks ago)

What Children Need

I found this little clip in my files from Northpoint Community Church. They developed a 5 part plan of what they believe every child needs.

1. A Really Big God

2. Someone Else Who Believes What They Believe

3. Another Voice That Says the Same Thing Their Parents Say

4. Nosy Parents Who Make it Their Business to Know Where Their Kids are Spiritually

5. Uncommon Sense to Help Make Wise Choices

Ministry to the Next Generation

Recently my wife and I were given a booklet from another Church by a sweet older lady in our congregation. The booklet contained a list of items the Church expected their graduating seniors to know. It outlined bible information along with stories they should know from the Bible and the basic tenants of faith. I have to admit that I love the idea and I have been thinking about it as a model for ministry.

The problem that I keep thinking about is that all of the youth in the Church have varying knowledge based on their background. Some young people come to Church in kindergarten and others do not arrive till their sophomore year in High school. Some kids are taught the Bible at home and some have no exposure to anything Biblical outside of Church. This huge difference in background makes it very hard for us to have one set standard as a goal for our youth.

I do think it is important to have a clear idea about what we want to achieve with our children. What is the purpose of the Church in ministry to the next generation? What would we really like to see happen with our children at Church?

Many Churches have set the goal of simply teaching their kids to sit still and be quiet. I had a youth minister tell me years ago what he saw in leading children. He said something like, “We teach kids to sit still and be quiet because what is happening has nothing to do with them. Then when they get older they lose interest in Church because they have been taught that it has nothing to do with them.” If that’s true then it’s no wonder that most children leave home and never attend Church again. After all, Church is a place where we learned our manners and not much about God.

So what should be our goal for ministry to the next generation? After much thought I have come to a clearer idea of what I believe are the end goals for children’s ministry:

1) See children become believers
2) Lead children into a growing relationship with Jesus
3) Develop children who follow God their whole life

I hope the Church can be a place that gives children the basic tools for a life of faith, not just a decision to make. I want to see them grow as strong men and women of faith that follow Jesus into adulthood. I think the real test of ministry is where our children are a couple of years after high school.

I firmly believe that the greatest ministry a Church can do is the ministry it does for the next generation. I would hate to see even one young person fail to become the person God want them to be. It doesn’t matter whether it is my kids or yours.

Greatest Compliment

Through the years I have received a number of compliments. I feel I have been really blessed by the number of people who have said a kind word or written a kind note. People often have very nice words as they exit the building after the program, not always, but sometimes. A number of people have told me how helpful my blog is to them. The encouragements are wonderful and they help me to keep at this job called ministry.

Here is the interesting part to me. Some people say very nice things about my preaching, teaching and writing and then they leave the Church and do the opposite of what I have just taught. I talk about change and they listen with intently and return home to keep doing the same thing. I write about getting involved in ministry and they read with delight without ever doing anything. Honestly, it makes many of the compliments and encouragements very empty.

For me, and almost every minister I know, the greatest compliment you can give to anything we say or write is to do it. A compliment on my sermon is appreciated, but it is nothing like seeing a life changed. Kind words are a nice pat on the back but what I need is a helping hand. I would rather see you live out one tiny piece of that I have communicated than give me 10,000 praises.

I think the same thing is true of God and his word.

Don’t Wait For a Ministry to Start at the Church

You don’t have to wait for the Church to start a ministry for you to do ministry. I just started a short list of ministry possibilities.

– You can invite people into your home and fellowship.
– You can unofficially adopt a family or a child in the Church and treat them as special.
– You can unofficially adopt a grandparent and spend time visiting with them regularly.
– You can start a community service project.
– You can ask a couple of friends to get together and discuss Christian issues.
– You can develop an online book club with believers through Facebook.
– You can start a Bible study with a group of teenagers.
– You can get a small group of senior adults together for board games and fun.
– You can plan a trip with other believers on an educational trip or just a fun adventure.
– You can open up your home to teenagers who need to know the gospel.
– You can organize a community project to help the food pantry.
– You can help someone with your giftedness – no matter what it is. (Things like fixing a car, helping with a house repair, etc.)
– You can begin a tutoring program one evening a week.
– You can use what God has given you for His glory.

The possibilities are unlimited. Just see a need and fill it. Don’t wait for an invitation. Don’t wait for the Church to formally plan a program. Just do what God is laying on your heart. The choice to act is yours, because you are the Church.

Lessons I Wish I Had Learned Years Ago

While God is always teaching me new lessons, there are some things I wish someone had taught me years ago. Honestly, someone probably did teach me these and I was just not listening.

I wish someone had made me learn …

1. I Am Responsible for the State of My Soul. I am saved by grace through Jesus Christ. God wipes me clean and makes me new. After that I have had to learn that it is not my parents, my spouse or even my Church who are responsible for my spiritual growth. I must take the initiative to read, to learn, to serve and to grow. The Lord can put situations together and the Church can make everything available but the work is up to me.

2. Take Time to Develop Healthy Relationships. Great relationships do not just happen on their own. They take time together. That time together involves speaking and listening. Our marriage is like it is because of what we have or have not done. It is important to schedule time to develop relationships with our parents, our spouse and our friends. If you do not your relationships will suffer.

3. People Will Leave the Church All the Time. Early in my ministry I thought that if I preached a good sermon and was a nice guy people would come to Church and never leave. That is simply not true. People, even people I care about deeply, will leave for dozens of reasons. Some leave because of their family, others for the programming, and others from the lack of commitment. I once heard Lyle Schaller tell a Church congregation, “You are all going to quit, leave or die. I can’t count on any of you to be here in the future.” It’s true.

4. The Best Ministry is Seldom Programmed. The Church is usually at its best when people live out their faith in simple and beautiful ways. It happens when someone invites a person over for lunch. It happens when we make a quick stop by the nursing home. It happens when we write a note to that person God has laid on our heart. Church programming often comes off as half-hearted and forced. My biggest prayer is not that the Church will develop a program for everything, but that individuals will see a need and fill it.

5. Leadership will make or break a Church. This one cannot be overstated. The Church is always in desperate need of good and Godly leaders. This can mean your traditional elders and deacons, but it also means ministry leadership. When someone has a burden to do a ministry and they step and lead out of the depths of their faith something amazing happens. There is energy and joy and people’s lives are touched. Most Churches try to lead ministry by committee. It is seldom an enjoyable experience for anyone.

Each and every one of these lesson I have found to be true over and over again. Each year of my ministry God has underlined these truths in my heart. While I often forget them, I am trying to let these basic lessons guide my life and ministry. I hope you find them helpful.

Lessons I Am Learning Right Now

I believe it is good to stop every once in a while and do an evaluation of life. How are things really going? I also know that part of that evaluation is thinking about all of the lessons I am currently learning. I believe God is teaching us all kinds of lessons. The question is, “Are we learning what God is teaching us?”

So here are some of the lessons God has been placing in my life. They might touch on something you have learned in the past or are presenting learning.

1. Act With Purpose. God has really been pressing on me that if I want to achieve a certain set of results then I need to do the actions that will achieve that goal. If I want to know my Bible better, then I need to have a plan to accomplish that and then act on it. If I want my children to grow up and follow the Lord then I need to talk to people who have achieved that goal, develop a plan and then take the necessary steps to make that happen. If the Church wants to reach unbelievers then we need to find out the best way to do that, develop a plan and then do what is necessary. Having a clear purpose is helpful in every area of life.

2. The Value of Writing Daily. I am amazed at the number of people who have told me that this blog is helpful. (Thanks for that by the way.) The deeper truth is that it is helpful to me. It helps me to think clearing and forces me to communicate my faith in a clear way. It has been a real double blessing.

3. The Need for Strong Men in Church. I appreciate all that women bring to ministry but the Church is always at its best when men are leading their families in a Godly manner. When men assume their God-given role as leader in their marriage, their family and their Church something happens that is powerful and inspiring. Unfortunately there is a real void of male leadership everywhere. I am learning that reaching men (especially young men) is different from reaching women. The Church needs to be ever trying to reach men – our world will be better for it.

4. The Truth of 3 John 1:4. This verse says, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” There are a lot of things that bring me joy. I love to fish, hunt and metal detect. There is nothing that I do in life that brings me as much joy as watching my children makes good and Godly decisions. I do not care if my children ever hold a trophy that says they are the best at any activity. I do care that they develop into Godly men who follow Jesus at all costs.

5. The Power of God. It ceases to amaze me the number of times that God shows up at just the right time. He provided my family with safety in travel, in the provision of a house, in the finances that continue to pay bills, in a thousand ways everyday and He still shows up every week to touch people’s lives with my words. It is said that God is never late, but He is seldom early. When that moment comes that I need God to show up or my venture will fail, He shows up and all of my worry was in vain. There is often this gap in my life between saying I trust God and actually trusting Him. Those moments when I do step out He demonstrates his power in my life.

Those are some of the big lessons that I am learning. What is God teaching you? Don’t let another lesson go by that you are not attentive to His teaching.

The Glory of God

Every week I have the exact same prayer about our Sunday morning meetings times. My prayer is simply that God’s name will be glorified. I usually end my prayers about our gathering by saying that whatever happens, “God, we will give you all the glory.”

I will be honest, sometimes I wonder if it happens. There are weeks that our program seems disjointed and I find it hard to worship. Some sermons feel like no one is listening and the stale air of boredom fills the auditorium during my teaching more than the breath of life. I go home and ask God for forgiveness for failing to bring Him the glory He deserves.

But some weeks. The Lord shows up in a way that is unmistakable to me. People’s lives are touched and moved by the Spirit of God. The songs sound glorious as they reach the deepest recesses of my soul. I am so glad I woke up and went to worship as I walk with a smile all day.

Yesterday morning as one of those times. The songs went well, even though there was a couple of new ones. They all lead up to Mike sharing a deeply personal communion thought about forgiveness, which was the closing thought of my sermon. The special song sung during the passing of the communion trays was “Here’s My Heart” and it was the perfect echo to Mike’s thought. The sermon flowed well and I had three people tell me that in my sermon I was “speaking directly to them.” Then during Sunday school we were talking about the day and I found out that the lesson in Children’s Church was not only from the same story but had the same point.

Here is what I find amazing about all of this. I planned my sermons out for the first six months here at Adrian the week I accepted the job. I have had this sermon planned for 2 months and long before I knew any of the people or their story. The music was picked out a week ago with limited knowledge of what I was preaching and no knowledge of what Mike would say at communion. The children’s material was purchased three weeks ago and the teachers had no idea what I was preaching, they were just following the material. Four random things came together in complete harmony and affected people deeply without extended planning.

I know that every week God is glorified but some weeks He weaves together a perfect tapestry of songs, thoughts and lessons beyond what any of us could have planned. To God be the glory.