One Small Thing: Exercise Every Day in May

The days of having an eight-pack of abs (What? You only had a six-pack? I'm sorry.) are over. Long-gone are passing football conditioning tests with flying colors. Now, even the thought of bench pressing 300 pounds makes my shoulders hurt.

I'm not training for football anymore, and I'm fine with that. But I do know that I need to do better being physically fit, for the sake of my family and my ministry.

For several years, I've had a monthly goal of exercising 2-3 days every week. But I seldom achieved that. And combined with my favorite hobby (= eating), I've slowly gained weight over the years.

Every Day in May

A few years ago, a friend from our freshman year at Furman University started a goal to exercise Every Day in May. I would follow her accomplishments on Facebook, with nice thoughts of "Good for you."

This year, I knew I wanted to join in. There weren't any rules such as how much exercising must be done. The goal is just to get moving each day. (And, no, I wasn't going to do another 5000+ pushups in 30 days).

I rotated through a few options of what I did each day:
  • Jogging. I hate it, but I know it's good for me. I would either go alone, or chase Sender on his bike around the block. I preferred the former; he preferred the latter.
  • Bodyweight workouts, such as this and this (or variations thereof).
  • "Just Sweat" on Just Dance 4. You might laugh at my lack of rhythm and moves, but this is a good workout. Exergaming has been shown to improve health.

While I don't plan to continue exercising every day, I hope this month of working out propels me to make physical fitness a more regular part of my life.

But no ultramarathons for me, thank you.

June Small Thing:  10 Mindful Minutes Each Day

I find it hard to rest. Not just a day of rest, but a time to pause and reflect. I'm inclined to do, instead of just being.

My goal for next month (partially from the idea of this video) is to spend 10 minutes each day thinking about nothing. Not meditating, not planning. Not mindlessly surfing the internet, and not even thinking about not-thinking. Just being.

Not sure how this will go, especially when we have something going on every week in June. But I think that's the point. I will always find something to keep me busy. Can I trust God enough to spend less than 1% of my day without doing anything?

How about you? How are you goals coming along?


Homeschool vs Public School: A Few Thoughts

Stacey Eastin has written a great article about homeschool and public school. She comes from a perspective of having children who are in both education options.

On her blog, she doesn't give commands or how-to about education. She gives cautions from her own experience and observations. No matter what you views are about schooling, I highly recommend you read her thoughts with an open mind and heart.

Her reminders for us all:
  1. Good (and bad) kids emerge from all schooling situations
  2. The public school can do some things better than you (or, you can do some things better than the public school)
  3. All mothers have regrets
  4. All mothers (and people in general) have to guard against pride

This last point is especially crucial. If you are like me, it's a short path from a preference to a myopic perspective to pride to condemning others.

Some of the best parents we have known have not only considered each education option (public, private, home), but have also switched between them as the needs of each of their children required.

Be sure to read the full article.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of DesignSnapshot via flickr

Parenting Sanctifies You

Christina Fox wrote on a very important topic, The Sanctifying Work of Parenthood. She humbly admits that she is no expert on parenting, but that parenting has been a tool which God has used to help her grow in Christ.

She writes,
"God has used parenting in my life to refine and change me in ways I had not anticipated."

Christina explains these unexpected changes:
"I've come face to face with sins I didn't know were buried deep inside, sins like impatience, selfishness, irritability, and discontent. While uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful, the sanctifying work of parenthood has been necessary and good. . . .

"Many times I sought joy and contentment in how perfectly behaved my children are or how smoothly my day went. Yet God knew that what I needed most is only found in Him. . . .

"His goal isn't to make my life comfortable, safe, and predictable, but to make me holy."

Can you relate? Be sure to read the full article.

Related Link:

6 Books That Shaped Me Into Who I Am

When my daughter was about 6 years old, I asked her this thought-provoking question: "If you were stranded on a desert island, what 3 books would you want to have with you?"

As a dad who led family devotions, and as a children's pastor, I expected her to name the Bible as one of her choices. And if I did a good enough job in my role as her spiritual leader, she would also want a Bible storybook or a family devotional.

But it wasn't to be.

Without missing a beat, Hannah  replied, "I'd want a book about boats, a book about islands, and a book about how to get off islands and get back home."

Fortunately, we have never been stranded a la Gilligan's Island. (Though if we were, I'd want my creative and quick-thinking daughter with me.)

Nonetheless, there have been some books that have shaped my life. And in a sense, these books have rescued me from my own ignorance and some bad choices.

So, if I had to restart my adult life with a repertoire of a half-dozen books, these are the ones I would choose:
  1. Bible.  I know; it's cliche. And I don't mean that I've used God's word as a mere roadmap for life, How-to guide, or instruction manual. The Bible has helped me see who I am -- a great sinner who is infinitely treasured by a greater God.
  2. Mere Christianity.  I don't agree with all of CS Lewis's theology. But this book (which I've read at least 4 times) has challenged me to think and grow. Plus, I'll never foget the moment when God used this book to show me how I was full of pride.
  3. What Did You Expect?  Hands down, this gospel-centered book by Paul Tripp is the best book on marriage that I've ever read. Every single chapter challenged me, and encouraged me. (You can read my recommendation of this book.)
  4. Shepherding a Child's Heart.  Another book that I've read multiple times, Ted Tripp (Paul's brother) has helped me to have a loftier vision for parenting, beyond raising good kids. In parenting (as in all of life), we must focus on the heart more than external behaviors. (You can also read my recommendation of this book.)
  5. Good to Great (by Jim Collins).  I've carried the language of a "Level 5 Leader" with me in every role I've had since I read this book in 2006.
  6. Now, Discover Your Strengths.  The first of several books I've read by Marcus Buckingham, this helped me to seek out and recognize my own strengths, and the strengths of those around me. I also highly recommend his latest book StandOut.
Looking for summer reading? Click on one (or more) of these links to buy one of these great books!

Do you have any books that shaped who you are? Let everyone know in the comments.

Related Links:

Not Bored. Self-Engaged.

An article from BBC reports that Children Should Be Allowed to Get Bored. The common "cultural expectations that children should be constantly active" may be doing more harm than good, when it comes to development of children.

I am in agreement with this principle, I don't like the term "bored" (though, as a fellow writer, I recognize that that word may be used in the headline as an eye-catching hook). Boredom has a negative connotation. A better term may be self-engaged.

Why? Because the goal isn't for children to have nothing to do. The idea is help children learn to engage their own imaginations when they play and create. So instead of another hour in front of a TV or computer screen, time may be allotted for drawing, writing, playing with Lego bricks, and other creativity-inducing activities.

For our own children, this tactic started when they were less than a year old, with "pack-n-play time" (or "crib time"). We would give them a few toys and books, and set a time where we left them to play. Of course, the younger the child, the shorter the time we would expect them to play by themselves. Our toddlers could often entertain themselves for up to 45 minutes.

As they got older, this transitioned into "room time," when we knew that they could understand and comply with our instructions to stay in their rooms until time was up. The important thing in this case is to assign them a fixed set of toys. Giving them free reign of every toy in their room does not help them learn to be self-engaged.

Looking back, we see some characteristics that we attribute in part to using this technique:
  1. Their imaginations in creating "worlds" and "scenes" with Lego, action figures, stuffed animals, etc.
  2. They still have afternoon rest/play time where they can play by themselves for an hour or more (just the break we need!).
  3. Their love of reading.
  4. Their love of drawing and other art projects.

For more on this topic, check out this review of 10 Ways to Destroy The Imagination of Your Child, by Trevor Cairney.

Related Links:
**image courtesy of christiem via

Engaging and Disciplining Middle School Boys

A while back, a friend asked me a question about leading adolescent boys. He has younger children, but he helps to lead a para-church ministry for children and youth. They were having a struggle with a certain middle school boy, who was not being outright defiant and deviant, but was definitely exhibiting undesirable characteristics (laziness, passivity, resistance to instruction, etc).

His question was along the lines of, "How do we help this boy learn to become a man? How do we guide him, without crushing him?"

My advice included five complementary guidelines:
  1. Engage the parents
  2. Communicate high standards
  3. Be gracious
  4. Give constructive work
  5. Exhibit and expect mutual respect


Engage the Parents

Since the parents are the primary, God-ordained authorities over their children, you must make every effort to engage them. Parents want the best for their children, even when they do not know what to do in a particular situation.

Talk to the parents, come to an agreement on what the core issues are, and get clarity on a plan going forward. If the boy hears one set of things from parents, and a completely different set from other leaders, he will become confused, frustrated, and defensive, and passive.

Be sure that the child knows that you are in regular communication with his parents about this matter. If at all possible, do not make the child fight a two-front war, with you on one side and the parents on the other.

For more on this, read Empowering Parents Instead of Isolating Them.

High Standards

Does the child know what the expectations are? Are they tangible?

Most adolescents struggle to properly process unclear commands such "behave better" and "be respectful." Address specific behaviors such as an unwillingness to work, tone of voice with adults, etc.

Cast a clear vision on what you hope to see in the child. Outline a plan of what you expect to see in the short- (4-8 weeks), medium- (6-12 months), and long-term (3-5 years). Young men want to be a part of something great, especially when that something great is the potential of what they can be.
"Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law."  Proverbs 29:18

Be Gracious
While you should keep high expectations for young men, you must also understand that they will fail. Children are sinners, just like the parents and adults that lead them.

If all the child hears from you is how bad he is doing, he will become exasperated and lose hope. Remind him that he is a work in progress, just as you are.

I'm not saying that we should expect our children to be rebellious and failures. We can and should have hope in our gracious God and His gospel. But we need to understand that they will struggle with sinful behaviors.
"Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged."  Colossians 3:21

Constructive Work

When not given enough work to do, children easily become lazy, selfish, and disgruntled. Hard work gets the focus off ourselves, and helps us better appreciate the blessings that we do have. 

As much as possible, give constructive work to a young man. He should understand that the work is intended to make him better, or to bless others around him. Physical work is ideal, since it provides a good channel for masculine adolescent energy. However, there is also value in occasional low-energy and monotonous work.

Mutual Respect

By the time a boy reaches the preteen years, you should be transitioning out of the phase where your primary relationship is that of authority over him. This is not a simple transition, and there are no clear formulas to go through it smoothly.

However, one big requirement is that you give him respect. You must shift from authority to influence, and not treat him as you would a preschooler.

Respect him enough to engage him in dialogue, not monologue tirades. Respect him enough to not embarrass or belittle him in public. Respect him enough to let him know (in private) that you expect better out of him.

Ideally, the boy has (by this point) spent the majority of his life learning to respect you and other leaders. Now be sure to teach him how to receive and deserve respect.

When it comes to boys, they primarily need a father (and other men) to lead them through this transition. An adolescent boy needs a man to speak into his life (as Mark Driscoll points out in this leadership coaching video, Fatherly Leadership). Moms and other women have a role, but we men must step up and lead.

Related Links:

**image courtesy of cliff1066tm via flickr (Norman Rockwell's "Graduation")

"Prayer Back in Schools" Is NOT the Answer

Whenever there is a major crisis or hot-button social issue (shootings, teen pregnancy, bullying, decline of education, etc), we commonly hear a call from "conservative" folks that goes something like this:

"_________ is happening because they took prayer [or God] out of schools."

For example, evangelical politician Mike Huckabee linked the Sandy Hook shooting to the removal of God from the schools.

I call "Baloney!" on a number of levels.

First, who is this they that did this horrendous and authoritative thing? In the democratic republic that we live in, should that not be a we?

Second, how would you (or, they) remove a spiritual thing like prayer (or a Supreme Being) out of a physical location? That would be an interesting metaphysical debate.

Third, was prayer (as God intended) ever really in schools in the first place? Is forcing children to recite The Lord's Prayer or God is great, God is good truly honoring to God?

Fourth, if a culture of prayer was really there, could it have been gone long before any court case?

Fifth, I'd love for someone to explain how social ills are directly caused by the failure to have children pray in schools.

Sixth, anyone who has studied the history of Christianity should recognize that Christianity has always been "strongest as a counter-cultural movement, rather than as a form of civil religion" (as Micah Fries writes in The Shadow of Secularization and the New Dawn of the Church). Maybe evangelicals should be working to get prayer out of the schools!

How We Got Here

Up until the 1970s (at the latest), our country had a high level of support for prayer in the schools, compared to the next few decades. However, as the Baby Boomers (typically skeptical of organized religion) grew in status and influence, this support decreased.

This leads to my perspective . . .

The lack of prayer in schools isn't the problem. It's a symptom. The problem is the lack of spiritual growth in us as individuals, and in churches as a whole.

I don't think we have problems in schools because "prayer was taken out of schools," as many wish to claim. I don't think we have problems in our culture because we are no longer a Christian America.

I think we have problems in schools because parents and other adults failed to have a living and dynamic faith in Jesus Christ.

A Southern Baptist Perspective?

A few months ago, a college classmate (who is now Senior Pastor at East Pickens Baptist Church) made a great statement on Facebook:

"Okay, so they can't pray at school board meetings anymore . . . or formally at school . . . but they can't stop you from praying at home with your family and spiritually leading them.

We live under a higher authority. You cannot rely on institutions to spiritually raise your children: not schools, not the church, not the media. . . . 

Go home and lead your children. Pray with them. Read Scripture with them. Show them they don't need the government to tell them how to live.

The answer to the spiritual problems of this community are not found in the public square. The answer is found in the private living rooms of this community."

So, the solution for self-proclaiming evangelicals is not to whine, or to push for legislation about whether you can pray at school events. The solution is for evangelicals to do what their name implies -- to build relationships with the goal of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ in a personal and meaningful way.

Evangelism and discipleship starts (but doesn't end) at home. Teach your kids, and live out what you believe about Jesus by how you love others. That is how you Pass on Your Faith.

What do you think? Am I a complete liberal by not fighting for more "prayer in schools"?

Related Links:

**image courtesy of lusi via

Perfectionism vs Expression

Elijah had already worked on the project. He spent a day coming up with the next theme / logo for Google. The task was to show “your favorite day.” Elijah chose to do an amusement park theme (based on his experiences at Disney World, Six Flags, and LegoLand).

Just a few days later (but before he entered the contest), Google had changed the theme on its homepage. Want to guess what the theme was? Yep, it was an amusement park.

When he saw that, he was crushed. From our follow-up conversation, there were two main issues that bothered him:
  • He wanted to win, but “knew” that his hand-drawn theme was not better than this one.
  • He was concerned that others would think that he copied this idea, when he actually came up with his design on his own.

The Truth of the Gospel 

We had a good gospel-centered conversation about these issues. We talked about how his hope was in winning, instead of in the love of Jesus. We talked about his desire for others to think highly of him, instead of resting in his identity in Christ. He’s heard the truths before, but he needed a reminder, just like his dad does as well.

The Uniqueness of Expression 

But we had another great conversation about what it means to create. I explained that creativity (writing, music, drawing, etc) is not about being the first or being perfect or having the “right” way. Art is about how that truth is expressed through the uniqueness of the individual.

First, innovation or creative expression is never something completely new. It is always based on someone else’s work – whether it is God or another person (who was made in the image of God).
“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Second, God gave me a humbling realization, which I was able to explain to him. Elijah knows that I have a blog (two, actually), and that I write a lot. So I asked him,
"Of the hundreds of posts that I've written, do you think any of them have a completely new truth or solution? Do you think that I’m constantly thinking of things that no one has ever thought of? No way! Every time I write, it's about a truth or idea that someone else has had and written about. But the uniqueness is in how that idea is expressed through my life and my mind." 

I don’t need to stop writing just because I have no innovative ideas. I need to let God filter those concepts through the experiences He has given me.

Third, the more you create, the more you’ll want to create. For every blog post I get to write, I have two additional ideas. Yes, I have an ever increasing list of things I want to think and write about. But this continuous flow of ideas only comes from continuously writing and expressing. Elijah needs to keep creating, just to keep the flow going.

As Jon Acuff writes in Love the Act, Not the Outcome, the process is greater than the results.

The Outcome 

I helped Elijah understand his choices: 1) to submit his creation as his (knowing that he did his best, original work), 2) to not submit it, or 3) to develop a new theme. And then I dropped the subject; I didn’t want to nag him into what I thought he should do.

He wound up submitting what he had already done. He didn’t want to make a new creation, since the assignment was to explain his favorite day. To make a new theme would not be true to what he felt.

And that’s the sum of what I’m glad he learned. That the only truth that matters is who God is (the ultimate Creator) and what He says about each of us (a unique and beloved creation). Anything that we do in life should be an expression of those truths.

Related Links:
**image courtesy of cstover via

What Does It Mean to Follow Jesus?


I'm not a fan of using the phrase "asking Jesus into your heart." We don't find that terminology used anywhere in scripture, and I think it is more confusing than helpful for most children.

That being said, we know and respect parents that have used that terminology with their children. And these families remind us that no matter what language you use with your children, you have to explain it anyway.

One phrase that I prefer over "Jesus in your heart" is "following Jesus." We see this language throughout the New Testament. However, we must explain to our children exactly what it means to follow God.

A great example of following God can be seen in the life of Levi (Matthew), from Mark 2:13-17. You can teach your children how Levi followed Jesus by his example of: 1) Knowing about Jesus, 2) Wanting Jesus more than anything else in life, and 3) Introducing Jesus to others. Additionally, this passage also shows why we should follow Jesus.

Knowing Jesus (vv. 13-14)

Levi was a tax collector. As a Jewish man working for the Roman government, he was despised by the other Jews. He was content to just go through life, and make it work for himself.

But then Jesus was came. Jesus was nearby, teaching, and He called to Levi, "Follow Me!" Levi promptly began to follow Him.

Now, obviously Levi must have heard some of Jesus' teaching, and have heard of what Jesus was doing. I don't think he would have followed someone without knowing anything about him. He had some baseline knowledge.

In order to follow Jesus, you must first know about Him, and grow in your knowledge of Him. You must put yourself in a position to learn about God: reading the Bible, talking to Him, worshiping with others in a church.
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."  Romans 10:17

Wanting Jesus (v. 14)

Levi knew about Jesus. Then, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, Levi "got up and followed Him." He left everything that made him successful in the world's perspective: money, solid job, healthy family, etc. He preferred a relationship with Jesus over worldly comforts.

There is nothing wrong with money, a good job, education, family, etc. However, if you want to follow God, you must love Jesus more than all these things. Jesus does not want to be a nice addition to your life; He wants to be the center of your life.
"And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?"  Matthew 16:26

Introducing Others to Jesus (v. 15)

Levi was learning about Jesus, and he thought so much of Jesus that he left his former life behind. And he thought so much about Jesus that he wanted all his friends to know Jesus, too. After all, if you knew the cure for cancer, if you kept it a secret, that would be morally wrong. In the same way, if you know the One who has the cure for our sin problem, and you keep Him to yourself, what kind of person would you be?

Levi doesn't run off to another country to tell people about Jesus. He starts with those people he already knows, and who are just like him. No matter what our sin issues are, we all need Jesus. I am no better than the prostitutes, tax collectors, and pagans that Levi invited to the party. But Jesus wants me, and He wants everyone to come to faith in Him.
"The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance."  2 Peter 3:9

Why Follow Jesus? (vv. 16-17)

If you want to make your own life work for yourself, if you have all the joy and hope and satisfaction you want, if you are perfect enough to get to heaven, then don't go to Jesus.

Now, whether or not you choose to follow Jesus does not change the truth about Him. He is God, and He died on the cross for our sins, and He rose again to prove His power over sin and death.

We all have a sin problem (Romans 3:23) and because of sin, we deserve death (6:23). But God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us, and to give us life (5:8-11). All He wants us to do now is respond to His offer of love, to trust in His sacrifice, and to follow Jesus.

The most important decision we ever make in life is what to do with Jesus. Will you ignore Him, or follow Him? Will you give Him a courteous acknowledgement, or will you trust Him?
"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."  Romans 10:9

Related Links:

**image courtesy of tudor-rose via flickr