Read and Share

The title of this post has two meanings:
  1. A Bible storybook that I will review, called Read and Share Bible.
  2. A giveaway promotion (you read and share, and you might win).

Read and Share Bible
I was contacted earlier this month from someone representing Thomas Nelson Publishers, asking me to check and and give a review on this blog (I'll do that next week).  Also, they generously gave me a copy to give away to a reader, which is where you come it.

Your Turn
Thanks for being a part of the conversation, at least "listening" but especially all the comments and other feedback I've gotten in the past couple of months.  As a way to say thanks (and as a way to remind you, dear friend, to get the word out), I am giving away a copy of the Read and Share Bible, plus a $25 gift card.  All you need to do is leave a comment answering these questions, and I'll pick a winner randomly from all the entries:
  1. What's been your favorite post?
  2. How have you promoted this blog or specific posts (Facebook, email, Twitter, print, link on your blog, word of mouth, etc)?  (If you haven't shared this blog with others, it may make me sad, but you can still win.)
  3. You want the gift card to Chick-Fil-A,, or Target?  (And if you don't want the Bible, say "No Bible."  You may not need it, and I'll give it to someone who does.)
  4. Your email address (either leave it on this comment, or send it via email, or you can see the email address in the "About Me" section to the right).
(If you have problems leaving a comment, send me a message.  I even had some issues on my laptop with this, before figuring out a couple of things.)

Bonus:  If at least 25 people leave a comment, I'll pick an additional person to win a gift card.  Spread the word!

The deadline on this give-away is Friday January 7.

Shopping, Purchasing, and Parenting

image courtesy of Hartford Family via flickr
In yesterday’s post, I talked about the differences between shopping and purchasing, and my observations from a recent trip to mall. Being a parent, and a blogger for parents and other leaders of children, I was of course most intrigued by all the children and who was with them.

Obviously, young kids don’t go to the mall to wander and shop.  Maybe they think about getting some candy or a new toy, but that’s usually the limit. They are just there with adults. And these adults may be shopping (or purchasing), but often it seems like they are just looking for something to do with young kids, especially on a cold winter day, and the mall can be a great escape.  

And it made me think that parenting is like a trip to the mall. Sometimes we are very planned and purposeful, like in purchasing, and sometimes we are just enjoying the moment and experience, like in shopping.  Usually, it’s a mix. But I think that is fine.

I think parenting should have aspects of both ends of this spectrum. There are parts of parenting in which we need to be intentional and purposeful, and parts where we just need to “wander” and enjoy. 

And even when we wander, we must be intentional in what we do. And we plan, let there be flexibility and smiles along the way.

And remember, there are no returns in parenting. Not even with a receipt.

Related Link:

A Trip to The Mall

image courtesy of KLCC1 via
What do you think about going to the mall, or shopping in general?  Do you enjoy just wandering and looking at what is available, or would you rather get what you need and leave as quickly as possible?  

Early on in our marriage, Joanna and I defined what we meant by shopping.  We realized that we had vastly different perspectives.  So we started using two terms that we still go by:  shopping is going out and looking at what’s in stores and maybe buying something, whereas purchasing is going in a store to buy something and getting out ASAP.  I am amazed how she can spend so much time looking before buying; she’s amazed that I can go to 5 or 6 stores and get back home within two hours, even with one or more of our kids in tow.

Normally, we tend to think that men prefer to purchase, and women prefer to shop, and this stereotype is usually true.  But recently my friend Kelley Smith was proud to have gone to the mall, walk into The Gap, pick up 3 pairs of jeans at the register (she emailed the store to hold some jeans that she loves), pay, and walk out.  She was out of the mall in less than 10 minutes.  On a Saturday.  In the afternoon.  Two weeks before Christmas.

Well, recently I took a trip to the mall just to observe, like a mini sociology experiment.  Who was there?  What were they doing?  Why did they buy certain things?  Here’s some of my observations: 
  • Seemed like most people were wanderers, strolling around and enjoying the atmosphere and experience.
  • High percentage were women.  Lots of young kids with moms, or with grandparents.
  • Colors:  Lots of red (which made sense at Christmas time). Boys’ clothing was dark and deep in color; girls’ was bright and light-colored.  Adult clothing seemed to have a lot of gray; (during our worship service this other week, I remarked to Joanna how about half of the people on stage were wearing gray).
  • What drew people in to stores:  free samples (lotion, candy, etc), big sales, and cheap knick-knacks at the register to entice people (“Here’s a sample pack of things that won’t be available until next month, and you can have it now for just $5).
In the next post, I’ll talk more about some of these observations, and how it relates to parenting.  But I’m curious – are you more of a shopper (like my wife) or a purchaser (like me)?

Why First Time Moms Lose Their Minds

Any part of this conversation sound familiar and personal to you?

"It is your job to make her the happiest baby on block."  Ha ha ha.

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Jesus Is Still Immanuel

Christmas has passed, but the truths about Him are still true, of course.  He is Messiah, Savior, Mighty God, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, etc.  And He is Immanuel, or "God with us."  In Jesus, God put on meat (carne) -- hence the "Incarnation."

At His birth, do you really think it was a "silent night"?  Do you think that it was a place where "no crying He makes"?  Because babies cry when they are cold, hungry, have dirty diapers, or whatever.  Just because Jesus is deity does not mean He was immune to His environment or physical needs. 

Throughout His life, Jesus was like us.  He got tired, hungry, sad, disappointed.  He had difficult days, and people let Him down. He became like us.  Except Jesus never let His physical circumstances lead Him into sin (Hebrews 4:14-15). 

Jesus is a lot like us (His physical situation affected Him), and so much different (He trusted the Father in those difficulties). 

Jesus "put on meat" to be like us, so that He could minister to us intimately.  Likewise, we are called to be incarnational to others -- friends, community, church, and definitely our children.  Live and suffer with others.  Enter into their world, meet them on their ground.  Don't put on a fake smile; share your hardships with them, as appropriate.  Admit your mistakes, and forgive theirs.  Ask for help, and give it. 

As we go into 2011, remember that Jesus is still "Immanuel" and He understands what you are going through. And remember that we must be Immanuel for those in our lives.

Related Link:

Why Parents Need to Get Away

Joanna and I had been married a couple of months when we house-sat and babysat for some friends.  We went over the first evening, just before they hit the road for a two-night getaway.  As they were hugging their three children good-bye, one of them asked his Mom, "But why do you have to leave?"

image courtesy of Mulsanne via flickr
Her answer marked me, our marriage, and our parenting.

"We need to go away so we can be a better Mommy and Daddy."

I'm sure this 3-year-old boy did not fully understand what she meant.  But he was submissive, and I'm sure he liked the idea of having "a better Mommy and Daddy."

That's the first memory I have of learning that taking a spouse-only vacation is not just good for a marriage, but also for parenting.  So, every year we have gotten away just by ourselves (no kids, no friends), usually for two nights.  Even when Hannah was 7 months, we went to a Bed & Breakfast about 45 minutes away, and were gone for less than a day.  The manager, upon learning why we were there, remarked that she's known people who have gone for years without a night together away from kids.

(And this is not just about having a night in your house without kids.  There is something about getting out of your house, with a different feel and less of a chance to be distracted.)

Has it always been easy for us to get away?  Not at all.  It takes time to plan, emotional energy to engage each other, the willingness to trust your kids with someone else, and money to make it happen.  But it is fruitful and totally worth it.  How?
  1. Example for your children.  Your kids need to see that, besides your relationship with God, your relationship with each other is the top priority in your life.  What kids want from Mom and Dad is to hear and see that their family is full of love and security.
  2. Example for others.  Similarly, putting marriage as a priority is a testimony to those around us. Yes, God is our loving Father, but think which relationship God uses to describe believers' relationship with Jesus.  Marriage.  Jesus is the groom, and the church is the bride (2 Corinthians 11:2).
  3. For the next season in our marriage.  The danger is that if you focus all your time and energy on the kids, then when they leave your home, you are left with a spouse that you really don't know any more.  Unfortunately, we've seen this with parents of friends.  You probably have too.
  4. Grow our kids.  For most kids, having to say good-bye to their parents is difficult, especially at a young age.  But they need to learn to trust Mom and Dad's decisions, and being left with a care-giver for an extended period of time gives them another opportunity to come under their parents' authority.
  5. Grow ourselves as parents.  At a marriage conference years ago, the speaker said, "Kids don't have separation issues; parents have separation issues."  He was speaking from the experience of having "clingy" children himself.  While this may not be completely true at face value, there is a lot of truth that parents (especially mothers) tend to have a hard time letting go.  In my experience with kids, I've seen numerous occasions where it's the parents' nervousness that rubs off on the kids.  Kids tend to absorb our anxiety.  It's easy to get consumed with thoughts of control and worry.  We need to trust God with our kids.
  6. Chance to plan, dream, discuss, and share.  It's really hard to have deep talks and vision-casting at home, even after the kids are in bed.  Face it -- we're exhausted by that point.  Even with a dinner date, our time is limited.  There is something special about getting away alone together, with no other agenda except to share your heart and focus on your spouse.

When was the last time you had a night away with only your spouse?  Where did you go?  (Share your ideas so others can "borrow" them.)  Even more important, when is the next time that you are planning a night away without kids?

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It's Christmas!!

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope that you get to enjoy the day with family and friends.  We read from Luke 2 to our kids, and then we'll sing "The First Noel" and "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" together.  It's the first time that we sang after reading the Christmas story, but at least it's good that nobody minds my lack of vocal talent.

I have really enjoyed the conversations we've had about Christmas.  In case you missed any, here's a list of the different holiday posts over the past few weeks:
  1. What Do You Do with Santa?
  2. Why I Celebrate Hanukkah (and the Greatest Hanukkah Song)
  3. Twelve Christmas Traditions
  4. Don't Kill Santa Claus
  5. Santa is Not Satan
  6. Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1 (and Part 2)
  7. Angels Are NOT Wimpy
  8. What Christmas Means to Me
  9. Life of Jesus (video)
  10. Merry Christmas
  11. Shepherds, Meet the Angels
  12. Hopeful Post-Christmas Melancholy

Hopeful Post-Christmas Melancholy

Is there a possibility for some let-down after Christmas day?  "It's possible that this moment of melancholy may be the best teaching moment of the whole season."  Curious on how this could be?  This article from 2007 gives some pointers on what you can talk to your children about over the next few days:
  • Gifts and events can't fill the soul.
  • Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty.
  • It is more blessed to give than receive.
Read the full article here.

Shepherds, Meet the Angels

I was sitting in our Fusion programming this past Sunday, hanging out and worshiping with a bunch of 5th and 6th graders.  There was singing, Scripture reading by some of the students, and teaching from God's word.  In between a couple of songs, the worship leader called our attention to part of Luke 2, about angels (which was on my mind anyway, because of this post).  He focused on verses 9, 13, and 14:

Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, . . .  Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven,
      and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Imagine, he told us, what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds.  What must it have been like for them to have an angel of the Lord suddenly appearing and giving them this mind-blowing news?  And even more, imagine the heavens being opened up and now seeing an entire army of angels, filling the sky, giving praise and worship to God.

Wow.  As I imagined myself being one of the shepherds, nearly blinded by this magnificence, being terrified of the holiness of the moment, I was better able to worship my Lord and Savior.  That he would choose lowly shepherds to be the first to hear this Good News, and to be the first people to visit Jesus in the stable, and to be the first to tell others about Him -- well, that's humbling.

And it's amazing that God would have ordained it so that I would hear the Gospel, and be moved by it to faith.  And it is humbling to think that He would use me for His purpose and glory.

As one of our Christmas traditions (see #10), we always read the Christmas story to the kids, all snuggled up in our bed on Christmas morning.  While I've used a variety of texts in the past (from the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, or even John 1:1-18), this year I will be reading to them from Luke 2:8-20.  And I will especially try to get my kids to close their eyes and try to imagine themselves as one of the shepherds, to be in awe of the majesty of the moment.

(Hat tip to you, Buck.)

Related Links:

No Hug for You

image courtesy of haileybugg vis flickr
She was sitting on the floor, crying her eyes out.  Her mom was nearby, so I asked her what was the matter.  Turns out she was rejected by a boy, and she was crushed, inconsolable.  While part of us was sad, it was actually a little funny, in a pathetic type of way.

Was this another example of teenage hormones hormones and cruelty?  No.  The girl was 4 years old, and the boy is our very own Sender.  It was after a women's Bible study, and she wanted to give Sender a hug good-bye, and he just didn't want to.  The meltdown commenced.  I wanted to see Joanna when that week's study was done, and I walked right into the middle of this event. 

Joanna told me that I needed to make him give her a hug.  I explained that I didn't think that he needed to.  It's his body.  But I really didn't know why he wouldn't -- these two kids have been friends for about two-and-a-half years now, and have given each other plenty of hugs.  In fact, he's usually a very affectionate child, but this day he was just being obstinate and selfish.

Stuff Christians LikeBut that brought up an interesting discussion between me and some of the other moms that were present.  Why do we expect little kids to give hugs to other adults and children, thinking it's so cute, even if we all don't model the same affectionate behavior towards others ourselves?  Do side hugs count (like the cover of this book)?  And at what point do we cease to expect our kids to give hugs on command?  I'm pretty sure that I don't want to force Elijah (age 7) to give hugs in most situations.

The most ironic part is that these women just finished hearing teaching on Biblical femininity, including the idea of having the capacity to be inviting.  So of course, I joked with Joanna and other moms about how this little girl was being a little too "overly inviting," and that she needed to love Jesus more than she craved physical affection from a cute little boy.  (But I can't blame her; he is really cute.)

Well, that is true for this girl, but I don't think a 4-year-old mind can grasp those ideas quite yet.  And from Sender's end, the issue was that he was being selfish and uncaring.  It's not he has never hugged her before, and often he initiated it.  He was just thinking of himself more than his friend.  I talked to him about this sinful heart attitude, and, yes, I did make him give her a hug.

Super Sender
Sender was born 4 years ago today.  The only one of our three kids who was born early (by 5 days), he's been constantly full-speed ever since.  And that's fit right into our life.  Within 6 weeks of his birth, we sold our old house, bought a new one, did lots of work fixing up the new one, moved, and I changed jobs.  He was walking by his first Halloween (10 months old) and talks constantly (and loudly) in an attempt to keep up with his older siblings.  He is the toughest, goofiest, and most athletic kid in our family.  I always joke that he's going to be the high school athlete who never has money for lunch, but will charm some sweet, innocent girl to share her french fries with him. (You can read more about him, and how we've been trying to shepherd him, in this blog.)

Oh, and he's the only one of our three kids that looks completely like me.  Which is why I tell people we're done having babies, since I finally got one to look like me.  He deserves a big hug for that.

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Merry Christmas

image courtesy of Lauren Manning via flickr

Here are two articles from last year, and one from this year, on the phrase "Merry Christmas":
  • From the Shepherd Press Blog: Christmas is merry and we can be joyful because "Christ has come to earth to save his people from their sins. Talk to your children about this, about the real reason Christmas is merry. . . .  Yes, giving and receiving presents is special; decorations are festive and fun.  But if we focus only on the temporal gifts that will fade and decay, we do not speak of the ultimate reason for joy at Christmas."
  • From Stuff Christians Like:   this and this.  I do like and welcome people saying "Merry Christmas;" I say it myself.  I don't like when Christians are offended when other people don't say "Merry Christmas."  Like Jon Acuff, I'm pretty sure that God isn't offended when people say "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings."  And, "correcting someone's holiday phrase is a fairly ironic way to show your Christmas spirit."  

Life Of Jesus

I'm so looking forward to our church's Christmas Eve services on Friday, at our Downtown Campus.  We'll worship as a family during one of the services, and then serve in the nursery together afterward.  It's another great opportunity for us to be together as a family, through worship in community and through service.

Here's a great video that we showed last year, I think.

God Isn't Safe. But He's Good.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ("The Chronicles of Narnia")You may recognize the words in the title of this post from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when the Beavers are teaching Lucy, Susan, and Peter about Aslan the lion (chapter 8).   The children are perplexed about how the Narnians can love and think good of the Lion, while knowing that he is incredibly dangerous.  He is good, but not safe.  Loving, but not tame.  Powerful, but not controllable.

Obviously, he's a lot like God.

Jon Acuff recently wrote an article called Our $29,000 God.  He explained how shocked he was when it took less than a day for his readers to donate $30,000, whereas he expected it would take 6 weeks.  He realized that in the face of a huge challenge, that he "worshiped a really small God." 

God is bigger than our "insurmountable" challenges, including divorce, unemployment, rebellious children, money problems, etc.  Like Acuff, "I think sometimes we want [God] to be pocket-sized and manageable."  I love the idea of a powerful, loving, and good God, but only when that power, love, and goodness fits into a nice, neat box.  My box.

But deep down,
"I don't want a God who ever has to fit within my understanding.  I don't want a God who is limited by my mind and my experiences.  I want a big God.  A God that spans generations and space and time.  I don't want a God who needs my approval or comprehension to do something big."

Many of you know that our family is going through our own "impossible" challenge.  Of course, as a friend pointed out to us, we may have actually asked for this season.  We prayed for God to grow us, but just not with such growing pains.  We asked God to help us trust Him more, but we want to trust Him from our excess, not from sacrifice.  We have wanted to have a bigger impact on our culture and world, but only from the comfort of our nice suburbian home.  We asked for our faith to increase, but just not so much.

We have found comfort and security in our life.  But our jealous God wants us to find comfort and security in Him alone.

We must remember that our skills and circumstances can never achieve for us lasting peace and meaning.  Only God can.  Obeying and trusting Christ may lead us down a dark and rocky path, but it's the one that leads to life everlasting and to Him.

And that's a safe bet.

"He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- 
how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?"
Romans 8:32 (NIV)

Biblical Definition of Manhood

Just a couple of weeks ago, we finished our Men's Roundtable series, A Quest for Authentic Manhood.  The first time this series was offered, it was like 27 weeks long; mercifully, this particular curriculum has been reduced to 8 sessions.  Additionally, Grace Church leaders have developed other topics, including:

I'll always remember when we started teaching Men's Roundtable (2001), because Hannah was born that fall.  It has been great to go over most of these series multiple times, because I always hear it differently when I'm in different seasons of life. 

If you have not yet heard any of this teaching, here is our definition of masculinity.  A real man is one who:
  • Rejects Passivity
  • Accepts Responsibility
  • Leads Courageously
  • Expects God's Reward
You can read more about how we've been trying to use this definition to train Elijah and Sender.  Additionally, we believe that their are distinctively masculine capacities:  the power to pursue, the power to provide, and the power to protect.  (You can read about the feminine capacities here.)  These masculine energies are intend to be applied to others, to be a blessing and life-giver to other people.  In providing and protecting, we are to make the world a better place.  In pursuing, we are to be responsible to manage our desires. 

Without a doubt, I am a better husband, father, worker, disciple, teacher, and friend because of Men's Roundtable.  Also, it's my responsibility (and yours) to pass on truth like this to the next generation.

What Christmas Means to Me

image courtesy of davedehetre via flickr
During my last year at Furman, a few of us were asked to share at a meeting for a campus ministry about what Christmas meant to us.  Most people talked about things like Jesus, or family, or giving, or God's love.  Not me.  That would have been waaaaay too simple. 

Earlier that week, walking through the parking lot near my apartment, I saw Orion (the only constellation I can readily recognize).  When I saw the tell-tale 3 stars in a row (forming his "belt"), it hit me that God intentionally put each star exactly where He wanted.  Long before He made us, He knew that we would notice, and He knew that I would notice on that night.

To me, that is what Christmas is about.  God didn't "accidentally" send His Son, and Jesus' death did not catch Him by suprise.  God was intentional over 2000 years ago -- intentional to send His only Son as a baby, intentional that His Son would live a life of humble service, and intentional that His Son would grow up to die for our sins.

That was my Christmas message to my classmates more than 10 years ago, and it's my message to you, reader:  "Merry Christmas.  Jesus died." 

It's funny how my son Elijah can think like me in so many ways.  A couple of weeks ago, as an Advent activity, the kids made Christmas cards to give to others, and they had to include a Bible verse.  Which verse did Elijah choose all on his own (I've never told him the above story)?  Luke 23:33, which says,
"When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified--one on his right and one on his left."

Joanna didn't know how to respond.  I was elated.  You have to admit, that is the essence of the Christmas story, and of the story of the Bible.  It's not just about a sweet little baby, and it's not just about the miracle of a virgin birth.  And it's definitely not about being "inspired" to live a good life.  It's about God coming down, humbling Himself to be a part of humanity, so that He could pay the price for our sin.

It's the same reason why I think Hanukkah is so meaningful.  "God performed a miracle . . . as a means to allow us to be near Him in worship. . . .  Jesus did not come only to be marveled at as a baby, but to pour out His life and blood, to open the way for a new covenant with Him."

What does Christmas mean to you?

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Angels Are NOT Wimpy

image courtesy of Temari09 vis flickr
One of my biggest pet peeves about Christmas is the depiction of sweet, gentle, and (usually) feminine angels.  Actually this can apply year-round, especially in children's Bibles and ministries.  But it's especially this time of the year, as we teach about an angel visiting Mary, and a group of angels singing to the shepherds in the field, that I think about how angels are usually taught to kids.

Without going into deep theology of angels, here's a brief Biblical overview of angels, just from off the top of my head and from things I've read recently (it helps that I've been reading through the book of Revelation lately):

  • There are two angels mentioned by name in the Bible -- Michael and Gabriel.  Also include Satan/Lucifer if you want.  Always male.
  • The appearance of angels always seem to cause people to react in fear.
  • Probably my favorite account of an angel, one such messenger struggled with the Prince of Persia (Satan or one of his angels, I think) for three weeks (Daniel 10).
  • Even Mary reacted in a way that Gabriel told her, "Do not fear."  (Luke 1:29-30).
  • Angels will be involved in judgment (Matthew 13:39; Revelation 16:1).
  • Jesus and His army of angels will fight and defeat Satan ("the dragon") and his angels (Revelation 12:7).  How cool is that?!
  • They will speak with authority and power over the fall of Babylon (Revelation 18:1-3, 21-24).

When we have kids do Christmas plays, I want boys to be angels.  I want them to be tough looking, and with swords in their hands.  I want kids, and adults, to hear the word "angel" and have a sense of awe and fear, instead of "Awwww, how sweet."

That's my pet peeve.  Have you ever thought about how angels are depicted to kids?  Or, do you have any pet peeves about how the church teaches kids about Christmas?

Do Boys Also Need Modeling and Teaching?

My first year coaching, for Elijah's flag football team. 
He's trying to give me "bunny ears."
Yesterday, I answered as best I could a question regarding what girls need from Mom and from Dad.  Of course, this begs the question if there is a parallel answer when it comes to boys.

As with girls, there is an element in which Dads and Moms each need to do some leveling of modeling and teaching.  And among different families, there can be a spectrum of what this looks like.  However, I would make a case that both modeling and teaching becomes increasingly important for Dads, more so than for Moms, when it comes to raising sons.

It's not that Moms don't have influence over boys, (even teenage boys); they must have influence.  Moms need to reflect the image of God in the way that they parent, because the things that Mom has to offer are unique to how she was created in His image.  But especially as they get older, boys need more and more to be led and taught by men as much as possible.  In fact, many people would say that boys need to begin to break away from Mom as much as possible, even starting in the preschool years.  Mom needs to have a huge role in helping this break occur, because he natural (and God-given) tendency is to nurture, which is a great thing.

In the past year, and more and more recently, we have tried to instruct our son Sender (age 4) to come ask me when he wants something.  If I'm not available, or if I need to delegate to Mom, that's OK.  But this definitely puts more of a burden on me, and I as a Dad need to be willing to bear that.  What's interesting is that this could actually put me in the middle of my sons and my wife, which may at times make me the bad guy, but which can also be a way that I provide protection for each of them. 

Shepherding a Child's HeartOf course, when we discuss what shapes our sons and daughters, we must remember that there are multiple factors.  Shepherding a Child's Heart talks about "shaping influences" (chapter 2), such as how the family: lives out roles, is structured, responds to failure, handles conflict, and more.  In chapter 3, Tripp discusses "Godward orientation" -- the idea that the child is always either worshiping God or worshiping idols (including themselves).  "Your children are never morally neutral."

In summary, we must remember these three things:
  1. We as parents are responsible for leading our children and "with providing the most stable shaping influences," which actually could have 100's of variations.
  2. Children have a responsibility to respond to these shaping influences.  "You may never suppose that you are merely molding passive clay." 
  3. In all that we do or fail to do, remember that the Holy Spirit, working by His power and grace, can change hearts and work in the lives of our children for His glory.

Are Girls a Product of What Their Moms Model and Dads Affirm?

Hannah and Sender, 12/23/2006
This question came from a mom of three young children.  "Are girls a product of what their moms model and dads affirm?  If so, should I focus on what I'm modeling for my girls?  Is there a parallel statement for boys?"  Actually, this question was more in the form of a statement in paragraph form, where I was then asked if it's true and all made sense.  The friend and I wound up talking on the phone for over 30 minutes, to clarify and discuss the issue.  I wish I had recorded that conversation, because I'm sure I won't remember every detail and revelation that we discussed and determined.  But I'll do my best to capture the thoughts here.

Obviously, this is a complicated, heavily-nuanced issue.  To give some background to the question, these friends (this mom and her husband) think that girls tend to be shaped their Moms' examples (for better or for worse), whether they follow their example or go completely in the opposite direction.  Likewise, from their experiences and learning, girls seem to be shaped by what their Dads affirm or fail to affirm.  They were wondering if their insight was true or off-base.

As a whole, I would agree with them.  This is not at all to discount what Moms need to teach or what Dads need to model.  Moms need to affirm and teach the attitudes, behaviors, and skills that a godly woman needs to know.  Dads need to model what a loving and godly man looks like (such as how he "dates" his daughter).  But from what I have seen and been taught, there is something unique about how men and women can each contribute to the life of little girls (and boys, for that matter).  Here are some examples:
  1. From this article, the big thing that will stick with me was when this father writes, "I do most of the teaching.  My wife does all of the modeling."  
  2. From my experience in Children's Ministry, it was so obvious that all kids (boys and girls, no matter how old) pay attention and are engaged on a whole different level when men are leading and teaching.  This was my observation, and that of 100's of volunteers and staff.  
  3. In this article about parenting, Wayne Stocks gives a list (not an exclusive one) of what kids need from their fathers.  Yes, modeling is big in both cases, but teaching/affirming is also crucial.
    • Sons need their Dads to model manhood, to love, and to teach.
    • Daughters need Dads to love, respect, lead, affirm, and be humble.  
  4. Years ago, when Hannah was a baby, I heard a teacher on a radio show (probably on Focus on the Family) say that Dads need to have the sex talk with daughters.  I don't know if he said that Dads need to do all of the talking (I hope not!), but the point is that Dad MUST be a part of the conversation.  Of course, I am much closer to this reality now that Hannah is 9 years old.  
  5. As for moms, what does it look like to be a model?  Our church has been working on curriculum and a language for Biblical womanhood.  We will be rolling out more and more, but you can read more about Feminine Reflection.

    One more thing to thing to remember, that children are not just influenced by Dads and Moms.  It is really about a culmination of all influential men and women in their lives.  Even with the best parenting, there is still plenty of room for other mentors in our kids' lives.

    Read the next post, in which I'll give some thoughts as this topic relates to boys, and I'll also give some closing thoughts.

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    Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 2

    The Burns' daughters with Santa in 2009
    This is the second post covering a list of questions I asked my friends Ryan & Molly Burns, about being a "Santa family."  (Read the first post here.)  Whatever perspective you have about Santa, I hope this series has been an opportunity for you to evaluate and question where you are.  (After all, the purpose of this blog is to be a forum for leaders of children to think, challenge, and discuss.)  Let's continue with the interview:

    If you had to do it over again, what would you do different and what would you do the same?
    We aren't sure we would be a Santa family if we had to do it over again.  Every year, especially as the kids get older, we battle with keeping the focus of Christmas morning off the presents and more on what Christ did for us.

    What we would do the same:
    • Minimize the amount of gifts Santa gives (he currently gives ONE gift, we parents take credit for the rest).
    • Santa is not a "works-based" giver in our house; he comes to help celebrate Jesus' birth.
    • Santa pictures.  We love watching our kids talk to him and visit with him (or cry because they are scared; only once for each of our girls has that happened; we're not that cruel).

    What we would do different:
    • We don't think we can downplay Santa much more than we already do unless we started out with it being a "game" and pretending.  Our efforts for getting the kids to believe are minimal; they want to believe, making it easy to follow their lead in the imagining.

    What advice would you give to other "Santa families"?
    Here are some thoughts:
    1. Santa should not be an idol in your child's life, or yours.  If you get upset about someone "ruining" the truth about Santa for your child, chances are you are holding too tightly to that tradition.
    2. Hold the idea and tradition of Santa loosely.  In that, if a classmate tells your child that Santa's not real, don't let it make or break your Christmas, and don't be afraid of their feelings getting hurt or them being sad.  Help your child work it out in a healthy way.
    3. Minimize the role Santa plays in the joy of Christmas.  He can have a role, but a small one.  Minimize by talking less about what they want from him and more about how they can help others celebrate Christ's coming.
    4. In our home, Santa leaves a smaller amount of gifts.  Whenever we talk about Santa, we remind them of Santa's role by asking, "And why does Santa come at Christmas time?"  Hopefully, their answer is, "To help us celebrate Jesus' birth!"

    What do you want to tell families who don't do Santa?
    As much as possible, try to remind "non-Santa" children that though they know the truth, that doesn't make them better than their Santa-believing friends.  Sometimes there is a stigma or tendency to think that kids from don't do Santa are more mature, and kids that do believe are "babyish."  This can do two things:
    1. Make the parents of Santa families feel like they were silly or foolish in their choice of traditions.
    2. Make the children of Santa families feel stupid or childish (especially for older kids, like 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds).
    We haven't personally experienced this, but can see it easily happening within a community of friends with a lack of communication about traditions and a lack of communication to their children about other families' traditions.

    (You can read the post Don't Kill Santa Claus to hear some reasons why kids shouldn't tell other kids that Santa isn't real.  The core reason is that this is a parental authority issue, and not a moral issue.)

    How is your family changing, and where is Santa's place in your family moving forward?
    This season we have discussed whether or not we wanted to tell our children now that Santa isn't real.  After praying about it and talking about what that conversation might look like, we decided that there is a great value in them working it out on their own, instead of forcing the conversation.
    In anticipation of our kids learning the truth about Santa in the next year or two, we are excited about the kinds of conversations we can have with them about real vs. imaginary, and how Jesus is real because we have His Word and His Spirit.  If they can feel a sense of attachment to someone who isn't real and they can't communicate with, how much more can they know, love, and trust in our Lord who has given us His Word and His Spirit, to know who He is and how much He loves us.

    Thanks, Ryan & Molly, for taking the time to share your thoughts and your heart!

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    Questions for a Santa Family -- Part 1

    The Burns family, picking out their Christmas tree a few weeks ago.

    As I promised, here is the first of two posts from Ryan and Molly Burns, close friends of ours that incorporate Santa into their Christmas traditions.  It is mostly from friends like these that I have come to see that this really is an amoral issue.  We don't do Santa, and whereas I used to see it in black and white, I now realize that there can is a lot of gray area around this topic.  I asked the Burns a series of questions, and here's what they had to say:

    What were you told about Santa when you were kids?
    Our experiences were similar -- fat jolly man, chimney, flying reindeer.  Neither set of parents went over the top (i.e., no hoof stomps on roof or reindeer dust in the yard), nor did either set use the "you better be good or Santa won't bring you presents" tactic; he came whether we were "good" or "bad."

    How did you find out Santa wasn't real?
    Ryan saw the present in the attic (age 8), and thought, "Oh, that makes sense.  Of course it's Mom and Dad.  Yay!  I get a Nintendo tomorrow!"

    Molly (age 9) finally just realized it, "You mean this whole time . . . .  huh.  I hope I still get my bike."

    All that to say, we were not sad or angry; it was a natural progression for us both to figure out what was really going on.

    Why and how did you decide to become a "Santa family"?
    When our oldest was a baby and we were trying to decide, Molly read an article sent to us by a friend from a Reformed theological background, about how a child's imagination is a powerful thing.  If they can imagine a world with Santa, elves, magic, etc., how much more can they dare to dream about a heaven where God reigns and all things are holy and right and just and pure.  The argument was for fostering a childlike faith, but also the power of a child's imagination and the doors that "Santa" and his world can open, so we can better talk about Jesus and the real world and heaven.

    What have you told your kids about Santa?
    We have told them that he comes bearing gifts to celebrate Jesus' birth.

    All other traditions and folklore they picked up culturally, whether it was from songs, videos, family members, schoolmates, etc.  All the mystery and magic that surrounds the idea of Santa they came up with and shaped their own ideas of him.  For example, our 3-year-old doesn't seem to care too much about him as a person; she's just glad he brings her presents.  Our 7-year-old seems to enjoy the actual man himself when they run into each other once a year at the mall.

    What do you enjoy about being a "Santa family"?
    We both enjoy the kids' anticipation of his arrival as the holidays approach.  We enjoy watching their grandparents talk with them and enter into their world and get excited with them.  There is something childlike and innocent about their amazement at the seeming magic of it:  "I asked for it, and he gave it to me!"

    Has anyone told them that Santa wasn't real?  If so, how did you handle it?
    Yes, many times.  We just ask them, "Well, do you think Santa is real?"  Their response is "yes," thereby putting an end to any conflict.

    Very recently, a classmate with older siblings told our 7-year-old that Santa was not real.  She said it hurt her feelings, but after asking a few questions we think she think she was just sad at the thought that it was possible he wasn't real.  If he wasn't real, she figured, traditions that our family does would go away, and that made her sad.  She was sad that she wouldn't go see him at the mall, set out his snack on Christmas Eve, and receive a personal note from him on Christmas morning.  She's still mulling this one over, and we found a book at the library about the life of St. Nicholas that may blow this whole gig up.  We'll see how it goes. 

    Be sure to read Part 2 of this interview.

    "It's Not Fair!!"

    image courtesy of SteveFE via
    This is probably the most common dialogue in arguments between parents and children.  A child either has to do something, or is not allowed to do something, or doesn't get something, and feels slighted.  His response, "It's not fair!"  This usually results in the parent stating (and let's all say it together now), "Life's not fair."  We've all said that at some point, right?

    Some time back, we were sitting around the table, dividing up something; I forget what it was -- candy, or dessert, or toys, or something important like that.  One of the kids felt like he or she was getting short-changed, and uttered the famous words, "not fair."  I was about to give the standard response, when God stopped me.  He put a thought in my head, that I needed right at that moment.  It was a moment of gospel-parenting that came right from the Holy Spirit, and not from my own wisdom.  It went like this: 

    "You really don't want fairness.  [You should have seen the confused look on their faces.]  Yep, you heard me.  You actually don't care about fairness.  I know it's true because I've never heard you complain when you got MORE than someone else.  You only complain when you get LESS.  So, you don't really want to be fair; you just want things for yourself.  You are selfish, not fair-minded."

    Then I said, "In fact, you really don't even want things to be fair, if we're going to be honest.  [More confused looks.]  You think you deserve a lot, but really you deserve nothing.  You've never earned anything that we have.  If we were going to be fair, you would have much less than you have now.  We give you things because we love you, not because you deserve it.  We've provided everything you have ever needed, and lots that you've wanted but didn't need.  We love you, and God wants you to be content with that." 

    This was the opportunity to get to the gospel.  I continued, "But you know what's great?  God really isn't fair either.  And that is such a good thing.  Because you know what we deserve because of our sin?  That's right -- death.  We deserve to die, like Romans 6:23 teaches.  We have disobeyed God and rebelled against Him, and we deserve Him to punish us for eternity.  But God took all that wrath and judgment, and poured it out on His Son Jesus.  Was that fair to Jesus?  No way!  But He did it because He loves us, and He wants us to believe in Him and spend eternity with Him.  I am so glad that God isn't fair, and that He does not treat us as our sins deserve (Psalm 103:10)."

    The next time your children say, "It's not fair," use that as an opportunity to reach their heart with the message of the Gospel.

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    Santa Is Not Satan

    image courtesy of anderspace via flickr
    Yesterday, I spoke with a fellow dad in our church, about the issue of Santa Claus.  They are trying to figure out how they need to handle their son's questions.  But in talking with him, I was reminded that we all approach topics like this from our own backgrounds and experiences.  For him, there is a lot of history.  When he was 5 years old, his family started attending an very fundamentalist church, which sternly taught that believing in Santa (and telling kids to do so) was equivalent to worshiping Satan.  In fact, this church made numerous (and dubious) connections between Santa and Satan, including:
    • Both are red.
    • The letters in SANTA can be rearranged to SATAN.
    • Both distract from the real reason for Christmas (the birth of the Savior).
    • The name "Claus" sounds like "Claws," which Satan has and uses to hurt people.

    Of course, when he and I talked, all I could think of was The Church Lady.  For this friend, to insist (especially to children) that Santa isn't real brings back to mind a ton of baggage and wounds from his childhood.  Fortunately for me, I grew up Jewish, so I mostly have had a blank slate with regards to my own perspectives about Santa.  Then again, one friend suggested (tongue-in-cheek, perhaps) that the reason I am against Santa is because I am scarred by never getting gifts from him as a child. 

    In this post, I explained what we do with Santa Claus, and why.  But we have lots of friends whose kids do believe in Santa, and in talking with some of them recently, I can totally understand where they are coming from.  And I do love to see how our kids eagerly anticipate the Christmas season -- to celebrate the birth of Jesus, to deocrate our house inside and out, to give gifts, and even to pretend about Santa, elves, Frosty, Rudolph, and more.

    So here's what we are going to do:  I have asked my good friends Ryan & Molly Burns to share how and why they have led their children to believe in Santa.  They are some of the best parents I know, being intentional in this and so many other areas of discipleship.  They've answered a series of questions that I asked them, which we will split up into two posts to be published later this week. 

    In the meantime, you may enjoy this article from Mark Driscoll, published in the Washington Post.  When it comes to Santa, he writes, we can reject, receive, or redeem him.  "We tell them the truth and encourage them to have fun watching Christmas shows on television and even sitting on Santa's lap for a holiday photo if they so desire."

    Whatever perspective you come from, you won't want to miss the posts later this week, called "Being a Santa Family."

    Here's a question for you:  when you were growing up, did you believe that Santa Claus was real?

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    Jesus Is Our Friend

    One common theme in church curricula for kids is "Jesus is our friend."  While this is true (John 15:12-15), I think that it is dangerous to overly focus on this attribute while ignoring His holiness, justice, and more.  I am concerned that we are producing a young generation that thinks they are right with God because they are Jesus' friend, while they minimize or gloss over their need for a savior.

    Much more so than "love" and "heaven," the primary topics that Jesus taught on were the subjects of judgment and Hell (followed by money, being a litmus test for the heart).  Jesus isn't just our friend, but He also rules in power and might (Isaiah 9:6), and His future wrath will induce fear (Revelation 6:16-17).  We need to preach the holiness of God, especially for elementary-age children, but also to preschoolers.  Of course, we need to me mindful to use age-appropriate language (so the children can understand), but let's teach them about God's sovereignty, holiness, jealousy, judgments, etc. 

    But just because we shouldn't focus on "Jesus is our friend" doesn't mean we can't watch this:

    All joking aside, how would you finish this sentence:  Jesus is my __________?  Give up to 3 descriptors.

    I'll go first:  source of power, contentment, atonement.

    Our Traditional Anniversary

    Isn't she gorgeous?!
    Today is our 11th wedding anniversary.  (If you put it together with Elijah's 7th birthday yesterday, you'll realize that we exchanged gifts on our 4th anniversary in St. Francis Women's and Family Hospital.)  Between Joanna's birthday, our anniversary, our two sons' birthdays, and Christmas all within thirty days, we have to be intentional, strategic, and creative with how we spend time and how we exchange gifts this time of the year.

    Even in the first year of our marriage, knowing that I would have 3 occasions (birthday, anniversary, Christmas) to buy Joanna gifts in such a short period of time, I knew that I would need help coming up with ideas.  So, from the start, we decided to go with traditional anniversary gifts.  It's worked out great, because it gives us ideas for gifts, and it forces us to be a little creative.  (And it should be noted that we are not going with "modern" gifts -- which seems to involve jewelry and such waaaay too often.)  For example, here have been some of our gifts:
    • 1st (paper):  I bought us opera tickets (first and last time we did that); Joanna bought us Monopoly (we still have it, and our kids love to play it).
    • 2nd (cotton):  I bought her and Hannah (3 months old then) matching hooded sweatshirts; she bought be a new and much-needed pair of pants from oobe.
    • 6th (iron):  I booked us for a 2-night stay in Charleston (hotels are made with iron, right?); Joanna set up a time for us at a driving range (we borrowed a friend's clubs, including the irons).
    • 8th (bronze or pottery):  I got her some jewelry from Kenya (which was neither bronze nor pottery, so I broke the rules); she hand-painted a glazed mug for me.

    This year (#11, steel), I had booked a plane ticket for her to go to New York City last week, with a couple of friends (similar to #6, I figure airplanes have some steel in them).  And as for what she got me, . . . well, I'm not sure yet.

    I will have to say, though, that I'm already looking forward to #12 (silk) and #13 (lace).

    Happy anniversary to the most beautiful and patient wife in the world!

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    Don't Kill Santa Claus

    image courtesy of jurvetson via flickr
    As I've stated before, we don't "do" Santa Claus.  But we have also been diligent to instruct our kids to not tell other children that Santa is not real.  This brings up an interesting tension -- how do you balance teaching your children to know and proclaim truth, while also telling them that they shouldn't tell other kids the truth about Santa.  Are we teaching our kids to lie or to deny the truth?

    The main principle to remember is that it is the responsibility of the child's parents (not friends) to lead him.  Of course, as a child gets older (especially into the teen years), his peer relationships grow increasingly significant.  But at a young age, the child should be entirely under the authority, protection, and direction of his parents.  Not only do I as a parent need to recognize this, but my children need to know that their role is not to correct their friends' beliefs, especially when it comes to amoral or non-safety-related issues.  Their role is to love their friends, proclaim God's greatness and love, and trust in God's authority (including that which is ordained to parents). 

    For a related example, the Bible clearly teaches that for anyone who doesn't believe and trust in Jesus as Lord and Savior, that person will be condemned an not spend eternity with Him (John 3:17).  We have taught this to our children in a number of ways.  However, it would not be right for my children to go around telling other people, "Since you don't believe in Jesus, you are going to Hell."  Truth is truth, but we must always consider the context in which it should be shared.  Sometimes it may be appropriate to share this truth, but often it is not.

    As parents dealing with this tension of truth versus context, we have to be pro-active (including using role-playing) in order to help prepare them to handle these conversations, ahead of time.  We have tried to help them figure out how to respond to their friends' potential questions without lying and without violating the authority of their friends' parents.  It is another great opportunity to remind them that it is a God-given responsibility for parents to lead their own children.  This is truth that they need to know now (as they honor and obey us), and in the future (should God bless them with children of their own).

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    So Blessed to Be His Dad

    Feeding a lorikeet at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo
    Today is Elijah's 7th birthday.  What's he like?  He is tall and lean (see the picture to the right), and physically resembles Joanna's side of the family.  He is smart -- loves math and science, and goes through books (especially adventure and mystery books) in no time.  Like me, he wants to always be right, and often takes things way too personally.  (You can learn more about him by reading this post.)

    Just to give you a small example of who he is and how our relationship has been, here's a story from this past summer.  Joanna and I decided that we wanted him to participate in a sport this fall.  For the most part, we have limited the number of activities for our children, and he had only played a team sport (soccer) once previously.  So, I went to him in the beginning of the summer, and our conversation went something like this:

    Me:  "Elijah, your Mom and I want you to play a sport this fall.  We feel you are old enough to have some of the choice.  You can choose to either play soccer at the YMCA, or flag football through Upward.  What do you think?"
    Elijah:  "I really don't want to do either one."
    Me:  "That's fine.  I understand that you don't want to.  But you are going to play.  So let's talk about it.  We'll start with soccer.  Why don't you want to play soccer?"
    Elijah:  "Well, soccer is boring.  You just run around and kick the ball."
    Me:  (trying to stifle my laughter) "You are right!  Soccer is boring.  So, what's the deal with football?  Why wouldn't you want to play football?" 
    Elijah:  "I just don't know anything about football." 
    Me:  "That makes sense.  But do know what?  I didn't start playing football until I was way older than you, and then I played for 10 years.  After this fall, you'll know way more about football than I did when I was your age." 
    Elijah:  (smiling) "Really?  OK, I pick flag football."
    I wound up being the coach of his team (we had 10 five- and six-year olds), and we had a great time.  I learned that Elijah is a lot like I was on a football field -- by far not the best athlete, but could learn to play multiple positions, and loved the strategy of the game at least as much as the competition of it.  And I saw that for how much of a mediocre (or, at best, slightly above average) athlete I was, that I am a champion in my son's eyes. 

    For all that Elijah is, I know what he has -- the luckiest Dad in the world.

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