Flashback Friday: 7 Prayer Requests for Your Children

Photo Credit: wnd.andreas via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: wnd.andreas via Compfight cc

This is a flashback to a popular post on praying of your kids from February 2012:

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9-13, ESV) 

How can we really see change in the lives of our children? The starting place is prayer. We start with prayer because it is God who works in our children not us. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you have to choose–though I doubt you do–between discipling your children and praying for them then you should prioritize prayer.

So how should we pray for our kids? Should we pray for them to be bright, athletic, good-looking, healthy, happy, and above average? Maybe. Or, we could set a higher bar and pray for them to grow in godliness. That’s how Paul prayed for his spiritual “children.”

We can have confidence when we pray Scripture because it’s God’s Word and reflects His heart for His children. Take the passage above and turn it into a prayer for your kids. I have built my prayer for my children over past 13 years on the verses above. You can try it right now, just place your child’s name in these sentences:

  1. Lord, fill my child with spiritual wisdom and understanding (for salvation or for spiritual growth if they are already believers).
  2. Lord, help my child to have this wisdom so he/she will walk (live) in a way that is worthy of you and pleasing to you.
  3. Lord, help my child to bear spiritual fruit by doing good works.
  4. Lord, help my child increase in his/her knowledge of you.
  5. Lord, strengthen my child with all power, according to your glorious might.
  6. Lord, give my child endurance, patience, and joy.
  7. Father, thank you for my child, and thank you for qualifying us through Jesus Christ to share in your inheritance of eternal life. (Or, for the hope of that inheritance for the child not yet saved).
So, don’t make prayer harder than it needs to be. Model your prayer after God’s Word and trust, not in the prayer, but in the One to Whom you are praying to answer for His glory.

20 Years of Valentines

Photo Credit: desireux via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: desireux via Compfight cc

Last summer, Brandie and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Charleston. On the drive down we reflected on our twenty years together, thanking God for His grace and guidance in our lives. We decided to take stock of the things that we have learned about marriage and would want to pass on to others. For Valentine’s Day, our twentieth in marriage, here is our list of 20 for 20:

[Read more…]

Putting Santa in His Place

throne of lies
SPOILER ALERT!! This post is for adults only! Secrets will be exposed, so hide yo’ kids.A couple of weeks ago my wife and I attended a tacky Christmas party. Ugly sweaters abounded and there were even men in tights. Yes, tights. No, I’m not kidding (hide yo’ kids and hide yo’ wife). Christmas may never be the same, but that’s another story. Seeing that I’m usually accidentally tacky and not creatively tacky I just wore a t-shirt with a picture of Santa and the words, “Don’t stop believin’.” All of you who are Journey fans just went to a special place, didn’t you?It was all fun and games until a friend of mine stated her surprise that I, a Christian, would have Santa come to my house. My friend is sincere about her unbelief and I appreciate that we have been able to have real talks about faith over the years without it being disagreeable. This time, though, I was caught off-guard. I have known some Christian families who did not have anything to do with Santa Claus. I appreciate their sincerity and I respect their freedom to parent as they see fit. This was the first time, though, that I had ever been challenged by someone who is not a Christian on why a Christian would include Santa in their Christmas traditions.Circumstances prevented us from finishing our conversation, but my friend helped me to understand that people are really curious about faith and practice. The conversation also helped me to think about where or even if Santa belongs in our Christian Christmas tradition.I think Santa has a place, but we need to put him in the right place. After all, the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the acts of a Christian–Saint Nicholas–who gave lavishly to people he found in need, especially children. So here are six key principles to remember as you consider what place Santa has in your family:

  1. Focus more on Jesus than on Santa. Jesus really is the reason for the season. Go to great lengths to help your kids understand that Jesus is the true gift of Christmas and with his coming, he brings the gift of salvation. In our home, the Nativity Scenes have more prominence than Santa.
  2. Fantasy is different from deception. I understand the argument: If kids find out that Santa isn’t real will they think the same about Jesus? The logic of that argument is faulty, though. Most people, as they mature, have very little trouble separating fact and fiction. Actually for children, stories and fantasies can help them learn about morality and virtue. J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Myth and fairy-story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error).” I believe his point was that we can use fiction to help us understand key underlying truths using make-believe. The key is keeping the mystery alive without lying (see the next point)
  3. When your kids ask, tell the truth. The day will come when children begin to put the pieces together about the truth of Santa Claus on their own. When they ask you if Santa is real, you can answer that question with a question: What do you think? There’s that mystery idea from #2. As they develop, eventually they will understand the truth. Affirm them as they begin to realize the truth and take the opportunity to talk about Christ as the reality of Christmas.
  4. Respect those with a different viewpoint. Many Christians do not celebrate Santa. We should not discount these brothers and sisters as legalists if their decisions are made out of conviction and not obligation.
  5. Think it through. It is important for Christians to know why they do what they do so that they can explain to a watching world what makes Jesus so special. We should also know why we have Santa in our celebrations and how we help our families see the difference.
  6. But don’t over think it. There are enough big issues to stress over as parents. Let’s not let others’ opinions of us add a burden not worth bearing. Have fun! Decide what is best for your family based on biblical principles. Use traditions where possible to point people toward the gift of Jesus.

So enjoy Santa this Christmas, or don’t. Either way, put him in his place.

My New Christmas Tradition

Whether it’s ugly sweaters, epic outdoor light displays, Christmas baking (yes, please),watching “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” or (for you traditionalists) “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everybody has some holiday traditions.Jimmie-Johnson-in-Ugly-Christmas-Sweater

The consistency of doing something the same way or in the same location with the same people year after year embeds memories of what is important to a family. My family has lots of Christmas traditions, but for some reason, celebrating Advent has not been one of them. I don’t know why, but it was never a part of my church or family experience. A few of the churches we attended while I was growing up lit an “Advent Candle” every Sunday in December, but I don’t remember them ever explaining what they meant. (Read more about making sure our memorials have meaning here).

We have always done something to prepare for Christmas. When the kids were younger we had a countdown calendar that told the story of the birth of Jesus by adding one character to a nativity scene every day until Jesus was added on Christmas morning. We also used the great resource “What God Wants for Christmas” to share with the kids about the birth of Jesus during the week of Christmas.

But, I have never intentionally set aside the month of December to contemplate the coming of Jesus and prepare my heart in worship of him…until this year. Now my question is, “Why haven’t I done this before?” This year, at the encouragement of my awesome wife we are using John Piper’s free eBook, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” to lead our family through Advent devotions. I am reading the daily entry in the morning during my quiet time and then we are reading them together as a family at night.

Here’s why I think Advent will become one of my traditions:

1. Priorities – It is easy to get sucked into the materialism of Christmas. Focusing on daily worship of Jesus has kept me from putting too much emphasis on the wish list side of Christmas.
2. Connection – Reading the same devotion daily and then sharing with one another at night unites our family around our faith.
3. Perspective – Advent devotions help me to not just focus on the Bible stories centered on the event of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2, etc.) but to see how every part of the Scripture points to the coming of the Messiah or looks back to his coming.

So, if you’re feeling as uptight as Clark Griswald when cousin Eddie shows up for dinner, relax! It’s not too late for you, either. Here are a few Advent resources you can use with your family.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Expected One by Scott James (Great for young families)

Multiple Advent Reading Plans available on the YouVersion Bible App.

For My Father

Note: My dad passed away from the effects of lung cancer on June 16, 2000, the Friday before Father’s Day. The following is from a journal entry I wrote on August 18, 2000. I post it here in memory of him and to encourage every one of you who has lost a dad too soon…

I want him back. I want to talk to him about golf or NASCAR or Sunday school or anything else. I want to share a meal with him. I want to go back to being little and go to work with him on a Saturday and draw pictures of police cars at his desk. I want to just be with him. [Read more…]

The Father Factor

As you celebrate dads this Sunday, please don’t miss an opportunity to encourage the fathers around you to be faithfully present in the lives of their kids. It is the nature of a man to question his significance. We want to do things we will excel at, things we are confident in, and things that will make us feel of worth or value.

father and son [1]
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Gilles Guerraz via Compfight 

This near-obsession with significance leaves us intimidated by the specter of failing as fathers. So, some dads don’t even try because they aren’t sure what to do when they show up. Of course it’s important to learn the skills of being a good father, yet the reality is that just showing up matters. Study after study reinforces the critical place fathers play in the lives of children and their mother. In an editorial last fall, Tony Dungy observed that nearly one in three children lives apart from their biological fathers, and those kids are two to three times more likely to grow up in poverty, suffer in school, and have health and behavioral problems. They are also at a higher risk for child abuse.

When God designed the family He factored in fathers. He gave lots of instructions to fathers about passing the torch of knowledge and relationship with God. The bottom line, dads are important. At times it seems to call out the importance of dads is taken as an insult to all the moms in the world. It should not be seen this way. Of course we celebrate moms, particularly the single mother who is carrying the weight and responsibility of two parents. But just as the mother is unique in the family, a father is equally irreplaceable. Consider the words of Christian artist Lecrae in a recent Christianity Today article in reference to growing up without a father in the home. “I grew up and still didn’t know what it meant to be a man.” Lecrae’s story and the statistical evidence only bear out the reality of God’s model and the importance of fathers in the context of discipleship (See Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21, for example).

Leave no doubt in the minds of the men in your life about the significance they have for their families. Encourage them, honor them, praise God for designing them.

 

You Can Help Your Kids Dream Big Dreams

As we grow up society can suck the dreams right out of us. We are told to be realistic, not to get our hopes up. By the time they reach college or work age, most kids’ dreams have been managed down to a very narrow window of opportunity based on perceived skills or academic achievement. We send conflicting signals. On the one hand children are told to follow their dreams and that they can be whatever they want to be. On the other hand, when they share those dreams adults can start to tame them under the good motive of not wanting children to be disappointed.

Zoned Out
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Lily Zhu via Compfight

Last week our family spent time sharing our hopes and dreams for the future with one another. I must confess that I have not done a lot to cultivate this area of my kids lives. Children have wonderful imaginations, hopes, and dreams. But I’m afraid I have been more concerned with what they need to know for growth in godliness than I have been with hearing what God is doing in their hearts already. Simply put, I’ve done more talking than listening.

The idea came from a podcast by Michael Hyatt encouraging people to dream big. Hyatt’s insight was very helpful, but I wanted to try to help my kids not just dream in the abstract. I wanted them to begin to dream and pray towards God’s best for their lives, not just their own whims and desires. It’s good to set goals and have dreams, but these can easily become self-centered unless we see them through the lens of Scripture.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV)

This year, our family adopted Ephesians 3:20-21 (above) as our theme verse. We have seen God do amazing things around us in answer to prayer over the last few years, but I was convicted by this Ephesian doxology that we had not prayed big enough prayers. We worship a God who can do more than we can ask or even imagine according to His power and for His glory! I want my kids to have faith in a big God who can empower them to do magnificent things as they seek to obey and glorify Him.

So, here’s what we did for our family devotional time last week:

1. Dream – I sent everyone (including me and Brandie) off with a sheet of paper and told them to write down 5 things they wanted to do in their lifetime. I told them that nothing was off limits.

2. We gathered back together and took turns sharing one dream each at a time around the circle until we heard all 5 from everyone. Not all the dreams were super-spiritual. They included things like playing in a rock band and traveling the world. But also included were things like going on mission trips, serving special needs kids, helping in a nursing home, and seeing God’s will accomplished in our neighborhood.

3. Once we had heard all the dreams I read Ephesians 3:20-21. Then, I asked us to consider which of those dreams were God-sized. Each person shared a little more and we talked about how God can do more than we can ask or think.

4. Then we prayed and asked God to be glorified and help us to dream the dreams He had for us as individuals and a family for His glory.

I learned things about my kids and my wife that I had not known before. They also learned some things about their dad they didn’t know. Now I have a better insight into who they are and how I can serve my family as a father and husband. I can help channel those dreams toward godliness. I can pray more specifically for my family. I can ask better questions to help them focus on Christ and His glory based on their God-given passions.

What’s next? Our goal for the summer is 100 dreams each. Perhaps some of these dreams will become goals. Maybe others will be the seeds to greater focus later on down the line. Some don’t seem realistic, but that’s the point of dreams anyway right?

So, how about you? What are your dreams for your family? What are their dreams? You won’t know until you ask!

 

Have Our Memorials Lost Their Meaning?

Memorials are built to remember something. Today we remember the men and women in our armed forces who have give the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our freedom. We thank God for them. Last week I had the privilege of giving a talk about biblical memorials and generational discipleship. My thoughts on the subject follow…

And he said to the people of Israel, “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.” Joshua 4:21-24

Petoskey Stones
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Beth via Compfight

The idea of remembering and memorials is important in the Bible. In Joshua 4 we find Joshua and the people of Israel crossing the Jordan and setting up a memorial for a very specific purpose. The text helps us understand the biblical mandate for generational discipleship with great implications for those of us who are parents. Joshua 4:21 gives the purpose for this memorial – When your children ask their fathers in times to come, “What do these stones mean?” The memorial was for instruction. This is not new to God’s method of transmission of the faith from generation to generation.

This is a theme repeated throughout the Bible. Consider these memorials and God’s instruction to parents:

• Of the Passover: “You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exodus 12:24-27 ESV)

• Of the Feast of Unleavened Bread: “And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall say to him, ‘By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:14-16 ESV)

• Of the giving of the Law: “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’”(Deuteronomy 6:20-25 ESV)

There is a consistent idea in these memorials that parents should pass faith along to their children. The question that the children were to ask in Joshua 4 in the text is, “What do these stones mean?”

Memorials without Meaning

Today, I believe many children in our churches have the memorials without the meaning! In other words, the church and Christianity surround them while they have no personal ownership of their faith. You see, Joshua 4:6 adds an important qualifier to the question children will ask, “What do these stones mean to you?” The idea is a personalized faith on the part of the parent. But the state of discipleship today is such that Southern Baptist pastor Brian Haynes in his book The Legacy Path, comments, “The greatest obstacle that parents have to overcome in leading their children spiritually is their own mediocre or morbidly religious relationship with God accompanied by a juvenile understanding of his word.” This underscores the point that parents must be disciples first.

I am convinced this dearth of parental discipleship exists in large part as an unintended consequence of our stellar church programming for youth and children which is relegating parents to the backseat when it comes to delivering faith to our children. Notice I said unintended consequence. We are, as it were, victims of our own success when it comes to ministry to children and youth. We have given parents a “drop-off” mentality in which they perceive their role in spiritual formation ends when the child is transported to the church. Haynes continues, “for a very long time parents have depended on children’s pastors or youth pastors to disciple their kids. This is a great partnership but it does not take the place of parent-to-child faith training.”

It is no exaggeration to say that there is a crisis in discipleship of the next generation. We have all heard the alarming dropout statistics from the church after a child leaves for college. The National Survey of Youth and Religion showed that between graduation from high school and what is the equivalent of the end of the young people’s sophomore year in college, from 60-70 percent of those in-church youth left the church and became inactive. The study showed that those dropouts were not actively a part of any church of any denomination by that end date.

The solution to this is not better programming at the church. The solution lies in discipling parents to disciple their kids. Strong homes will make strong churches.

Memorials with the Wrong Meaning

But, as tragic as it is that our children may see memorials with no meaning, I believe there may be an even more dangerous implication we can draw from Joshua 4. Many children have the memorials with the wrong meaning! In other words, they have been told what the faith means to their parents, but it is a kind of Christianity that falls short of the commands of Christ.

Notice the true meaning behind the memorial for the Israelites in vv. 22-24. Parents were to recount the mighty acts of God so that ALL THE PEOPLES OF THE EARTH MAY KNOW THE HAND OF THE LORD IS MIGHTY AND THAT YOU MAY FEAR THE LORD YOUR GOD FOR EVER – the meaning behind the memorial was mission and worship! tThat is why we disciple our children. We disciple them to fear the LORD and proclaim His glory to the nations.

But the Western church in the 21st century has lowered the bar. As a result of the study noted above, a term has been coined that has gained popularity among many in the blogosphere and in the seminary classroom – moralistic, therapeutic deism.

Moralistic, therapeutic deism, according to the researchers has replaced biblical Christianity in many homes and churches. It is the belief that Christianity is to make us be good (moralistic), feel good (therapeutic), and to keep God at arms length until one of those first two goes wrong (deism). In her book, Almost Christian, flowing from the research already noted, Kenda Creasy Dean, notes “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has little to do with God or a sense of a divine mission in the world. It offers comfort, bolsters self-esteem, helps solve problems, and lubricates interpersonal relationships by encouraging people to do good, feel good, and keep God at arm’s length… Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is a low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at “meeting my needs” and “making me happy” rather than bending my life into a pattern of love and obedience to God…We have received from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction; compliance, not faith. Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth—and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.”

In short, the lie that parents and teens have bought is making the Gospel too small. The solution is to teach the true biblical meaning of the “memorials” to parents who in turn teach their children.

The issue lies in the church, yes, and there are challenging questions we must ask about our effectiveness. But more so, the issue must be addressed in the home. We must champion a return of parents to their God-given privilege of discipling their own children. We must resource them, train them, and involve them in the spiritual nurture of their children.

We must challenge them with their own understanding of the memorial. We must call parents back to proclaim the Gospel so all the peoples of the earth will know the might hand of the Lord and that they may fear the LORD forever.

There is indeed more to do, and it begins with raising the bar for generational discipleship!

So, what about your homes? Have you built a memorial? Not with stones, but with sound spiritual practices that teach your children the glories of God and His mission to the world?

Would you do one thing this week and challenge the families of your church to do one thing to explain to children what these stones mean to you?

 

How family discipleship can make your job easier

The not-so-subtle assault on families in our time is real. This should drive us to be intentional in making disciples of our children so they can know biblical answers to the moral questions they will face. For decades Christians have looked to the church as the primary institution for instilling faith and values into our kids. Here’s a simple question: How’s that working for us? A solid family ministry strategy that is intentional can help parents and church leaders be effective at making disciples of the next generation.

Timothy Paul Jones is a major voice in creating a new culture where churches are more intentional in partnering with parents. The second part of my recent conversation with Timothy is now up at www.churchandfamilync.org. I hope you’ll take time to listen. There are take-aways for parents and church leaders that are super-practical and encouraging. Here are my top 10 (5 for parents, 5 for church leaders):

As Parents:

  1. Take your own discipleship seriously.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect. Be genuine and sincere.
  3. Start a Family Faith talk at least once a week. Keep it simple and gear it to the age of your kids.
  4. Don’t see the church staff as the main disciple-maker, but see them as partners to help you take that role.
  5. My favorite: Consistency matters more than content! Your kids will remember the time you spend with them more than the teaching itself.

As Church Leaders:

  1. Ask your leaders, are you doing this in your home?
  2. Start a family ministry team.
  3. Don’t blow up the bride of Christ. Love people to change, don’t try to force change.
  4. Re-culture the church. Create a new culture, not just a new strategy.
  5. Provide the tools. Give parents simple resources they can use to do family faith talks at home. This can simply be a take home question or two from the sermon.
Recently, I encouraged some friends to start spending time in prayer together as couple. The husband said, “When should we start? The wife said, “How about tonight?”
The same question is a good one for family discipleship. When should you start?
How about tonight?

 

How to Help Families Focus

Family values always get lots of attention, especially in the church. The only thing that is clear about family ministry is that there isn’t a lot of clarity! I have spent over 20 years in ministry to families in one way or another. I wish I’d had access to a book like Family Ministry Field Guide when I started. The author, Timothy Paul Jones, recently joined me for the Church and Family Connect Podcast with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

Here are five big take-aways for me:

  1. We shouldn’t focus on the family, we should help families focus on God and the gospel.
  2. Most parents know they are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most parents aren’t doing anything to fulfill that responsibility.
  3. Churches know that parents are responsible for discipling their kids, BUT most churches aren’t sure how to help parents.
  4. Busyness does not mean effectiveness. Churches need a strategy for family ministry.
  5. Youth and children’s ministries CAN be structured to help train, involve, and equip parents.

Listen and share your big take-aways:

Timothy Paul Jones, Part 1