Articles and other thoughts

Six tips for shepherding your child in public


Sometimes our kids misbehave. And sometimes they do it in public! They kick, they scream, they act disrespectful, they cry, they throw a tantrum. With our four, this has happened quite a few times over the past 9 years. And since it happens in public, it’s embarrassing, frustrating and can ruin the moment. For a lot of parents, it can be overwhelming.  In the moment, it can also be very hard to know what to do.

We’ve made our mistakes and been overwhelmed just like anyone else. But here’s what we’ve found to be effective.

  1. Prepare in advance. That is, take time to talk with your child before you get there. Communicate what you expect in advance. Before you even get out of the car, remind them of where you are going and what you expect. Setting expectations is a vital part of navigating these situations.
  1. Engage misbehavior. One mistake that parents often make is to let bad behavior go unchecked. Granted, it’s stressful and overwhelming, but this is the wrong approach. We must remember that we are shaping their character and letting stuff like this go unchecked only sets our kids up for major difficulties later in life. If our kids are misbehaving, we must engage it!
  1. Keep your word. How often do we hear parents say, or maybe say ourselves, “If you do that one more time I will…”, and then watch the child do it again and the parent do nothing. No! If you say you are going to do something, do it. Inconsistency between word and deed breeds problems, both now and later. Your word must mean something!
  1. Pull them aside. When you do engage your child, it’s probably wise to pull them aside while doing it. You must engage the bad behavior, but you don’t want to humiliate them. Pulling them aside helps to avoid this. But, it also communicates the seriousness of the situation, gets their attention, and reminds them that you are the one in control.
  1. Don’t bribe. Rewarding a child for behaving well is one thing. Bribing them is another. When your children do well, praise them for it and let them know you are proud of them. But don’t expect bribes to work on poor behavior. (“If you stop crying, I will buy you candy.”) Bribing them communicates that they are in control.
  1. Be calm, but firm. Most of all, keep calm but firm in the midst of the situation. Losing your cool only makes the situation worse.

Hang in there, parents! Your kids are worth it!

5 important questions to ask about your child’s future

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“What kind of men will they be?” These were the words that went through my mind the first time I held both of my two sons for the first time. I would later hold my two daughters and wonder the the same thing.

I remember it so distinctly. Our second set of twins had just been born, and Grandma and Grandpa had brought the first set of twins to the hospital to meet their new sister and brother. I sat there with my newborn son in my arms when my 2-year old son ran into the room and jumped up onto my lap too. In an instant, I could envision them growing up by my side. I could see them learning to walk, to read, us playing baseball, riding bikes, them getting girlfriends and going to the prom, them going to college, and them getting married one day. Each thought filled me with joy! But I could also envision one other moment. It’s the moment they stand there together without me when I am gone. I was struck by that thought. Not necessarily because it made me sad. I was struck by how the thought of that moment crystallized the responsibility that sat in my lap that day. As I thought about that moment, a simple question flooded my mind. “What kind of men will they be on that day?”

The question consumed me then. It consumes me now. What kind of men and women will my children be when every opportunity I have to shape them has been spent? Will they love God and love people? Will they be strong? Will they be marked by wisdom? Will they be good husbands and wives? What kind of parents will they make? Will they be ready to lead when I am gone?

These are the things I wonder. I can’t know the answers to these questions. But I can let these questions remind me of the responsibility I have as a father, and begin answering other important questions that will help me be a more faithful father. Here are a few questions that we can answer.

  1. What kind of men and women do you hope your children will become? We might not know what they will do or what they will be, but you can know what you would hope for them. Once this is clear, we begin asking the next questions.
  1. What are you doing now to influence this? We need to be intentional about the things we do in our home that positively impact our children. If we hope to shape them, we must invest in them. What does that look like in your home? If something is missing, be intentional about fixing this.
  1. What are you doing now to hinder this? If we’re honest, we’d have to admit that there are some patterns, habits, or deficiencies in our homes that are hindering our kids. I know there are in my home and in my leadership. But we can’t just leave it there. Once we see the problem, we have to resolve it. Otherwise, our best efforts to shape our kids will be thwarted.
  1. Does your example point them in the right direction? I have such high hopes for my kids. I want them to be godly, wise, loving, gracious, and much more. But if that’s what I hope for them, then we have to show them what that looks like. The importance of the example we set as parents cannot be overstated.
  1. How often do you pray for them and with them? I fail in this regularly. I don’t mean to forget, but I do. Our kids need us to pray for them and with them regularly.

There are other important questions worth asking, but these get to the heart of how we shepherd our children. I invite you to wonder with me, “What kind of men and women will they be?”, and then think about what we can do to help lead them there

What my little girls need from their daddy


I love having little girls! But as any parent knows well, they are very different from little boys. And, I must admit, because I was a little boy, I get boys. I understand them. I know how they think and what they want. I once thought like they did, and frankly, I sometimes still do. Because of that, early in our kids’ lives I found it easier to engage the boys.

My little girls are beautiful, creative, sweet, caring and sometimes silly. They like to dance and sing. They want to read books and play dress up. They draw pictures, pick flowers, dream of being a princess, and think about their wedding day. I had to adjust to all this. But, they have my heart so it’s been a happy adjustment!

They need me to be as interested in what they love as I am interested in what the boys love. But this simply scratches the surface of what they need from me. They need deeper things, bigger things, and life giving things. Here are some things my little girls need from their daddy.

  1. To know that they are beautiful, valued, and loved. It’s certainly true that all kids need this, but this is something fathers should be especially mindful of with their little girls. Our culture, and many cultures throughout the world, diminish the dignity and worth of women. Woman have been marginalized, ignored, mistreated, and now in the wake of the sexual chaos of our world, they are treated like objects which gratify the cravings of perversity and shame. Fathers must be intentional to build their little girls up. Dads, your little girl needs to know that you love her, that she has value, and that she is beautiful. No one on earth can make them believe that more than you can. No one can positively shape and impact them more than you can. No one!
  1. To see how a man treats a woman. Little girls often see the improper ways men treat women, and come to think that it is OK to be mistreated or disrespected. Our little girls need to see a model for how men are supposed to treat women. They need to see us doing things like opening doors for our wives and bringing flowers home for them. They need to see men paying attention to women in the right ways so they will form the right expectations for their own lives.
  1. To learn what wholesome affection looks like. I’m no psychologist, but I have to think that snuggles, hugs, kisses on the cheek and affection from daddy are good things. Our little girls need this from us because it allows them to learn about affection in a wholesome and safe environment. If they don’t get that from us, they will look for it in the arms of a boy that’s consumed by his hormones. No thanks. I’d much prefer them to find affection in our home where they are loved and where we have their best interest at heart.
  1. Affirmation of their talents and ability to contribute. In a world that tends to marginalize them, our little girls need us to affirm their talents, gifts, abilities, and intellects. They need our support in finding their place in the world and how they will contribute to it. They need to know that God has made them so special and has great plans for them.
  1. To see their daddy’s love for Jesus. Finally, they need to see us love Jesus. Too often the dad is the least spiritual person in the home. It is too common that dad is absent spiritually and there are others who point them to Jesus and shepherd their souls. Brothers, may this not be true of us. May we model faithfulness and affection for Christ in what we do before their watching eyes.

I’m certainly not perfect at any of these things. And, as I’ve said, being a dad to little girls didn’t come as natural as being a dad to little boys. But boy is it worth it! My little girls need me, and your little girls need you. Let’s be faithful to them!

Why do we doubt? Identifying a variety of pesky causes


Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at the way that sin and our own finitude cause us to doubt our faith. But these are certainly not the only things that give rise to doubt. Let me mention a few other causes here.

  1. New Knowledge. We’ve all had this happen before. We learn something new and it seems to be at odds with everything else we believe. When it happens, we have an overwhelming sense of ignorance and uncertainty that shakes us. Unfortunately, this can happen repeatedly since our knowledge is constantly expanding. So what should we do? First, relax. Step back for a moment and recognize that you’re not the first believer to face the issue you’re dealing with. In all likelihood, believers have been working on the issue for quite some time and you’ll have plenty to draw from. Second, step up and begin to explore the issue more fully. Don’t be afraid of new knowledge.
  1. Stress, exhaustion and failure. Most people don’t think these are issues, but they are. Most of us respond very poorly to stress and frustration. For most of us, when we are exhausted we are more likely to experience doubt. This is especially true in the case of failure. When we work hard for something and ultimately fail to accomplish what we hoped, we tend to throw up our hands and question God. We need to recognize this tendency and learn to step back in these moments to avoid drawing the wrong conclusion. We might also need to get some rest!
  1. Pain and suffering. This one is a little more obvious. The experience of pain and suffering can have a significant negative impact on a person’s faith. I often tell my students, the problem of evil isn’t a problem because a bunch of philosophers sit around and debate it. It’s a problem because it jumps up off the street and punches us in the gut. And when it does, it tends to leave us struggling with our faith. In these moments we need to seek pastoral care from our friends and church family. We need to let the people of God into our lives in these moments so they can help us and comfort us. Whatever we do, we don’t need to isolate ourselves!
  1. Bullies. Last of all, we need to note the impact that social pressure can have on our faith. Let’s face it, it has probably never been more unpopular to be faithful to Christ in our time as it is right now. We’re called bigots, haters, morons, and worse on a daily basis. We are mocked and ridiculed for what we believe and people express disgust at our religious convictions. And when it happens, we feel the pressure to sink back and stay quiet. So what should we do? First, we must be kind and gracious. We cannot return evil for evil (I Peter 3:9). But second, we can’t let this pressure shake us either. We must be prepared to take our lumps for Christ. Our brothers and sisters around the world have been doing it for quite some time. Perhaps our time is now. Remember, we’re in good company (Matthew 5:10-12).

Unfortunately, we can’t avoid most of the problems. Life throws them at us on a regular basis. But, we don’t have to let them crush our faith. Next week, I’ll begin looking at how to handle these issues. Until then, I’m praying with you and for you. Stay tuned!


Six reasons to take your kids to the hard places


How comfortable are you taking your kids to the hard places? By hard places, I mean those places where poverty and brokenness are rampant, the places where pain and suffering abound. Perhaps it’s a particular part of town, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, the food pantry, a hospital, your local nursing home, or even a mission trip to a difficult part of the world. Truth be told, it’s probably not our first instinct to take them there or to do anything that might put them in harm’s way.

I’m not suggesting that we need to throw caution to the wind and be reckless with our kids. But I am suggesting that there is value in exposing them to the brokenness of the world and letting them get a real look at what it’s like for those who are oppressed or suffering. Their age and maturity will probably dictate a lot about the situations you expose them to. A small child and a teenager can handle different things. But I suspect that our kids can handle, and need to handle, a bit more than we might think. Of course, you want to be careful to do everything you can to protect them. But, there is much value in helping them see the more difficult and hard places of the world. Let me mention just a few reasons why this is helpful for our kids.

  1. It helps them to see the difference between good and evil. We have to remember that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and against powers” (Eph. 6:12). As Paul reminds, the battle of this world is spiritual in nature. Nothing makes this clearer than the hardest places of this world. Taking our kids there helps them to see it for themselves.
  1. It teaches them gratitude and thankfulness. It is very hard for any person, including kids, to think about their next material possession when they look poverty in the face. Letting children see the difficult and broken things of this world gives them a better sense of gratitude about their own life. It pushes them away from selfishness and often makes them grateful.
  1. It nurtures their concern for other people. Sure children can be selfish, but when exposed to brokenness and poverty, they often respond by thinking about what they can do to help. Seeing poverty and brokenness has the ability to transform the most selfish child into a selfless child. And since this is such a formative time, the long term impact of this is huge.
  1. It causes them to think about the impact of their own lives. Seeing poverty and brokenness causes children to begin thinking about how their own lives might be used to make a difference in such a world. They begin to think about what they want to do when they grow up and how that could be used to help those who suffer.
  1. It increases the likelihood of them praying. So many of the cases of poverty and brokenness are gripping. In many cases, we see the problems and are overwhelmed by them, so much so that we know of nothing else to do other than pray. This might not feel like much at the time, but we must remember that this is a vital part of God using us to make a difference. If this is true for us, wouldn’t it also be true for our children? Letting them see the broken world creates the same burdens in their hearts and gives them a true sense of dependence on God. That’s a pretty good thing!
  1. It follows the example of Christ. Most importantly, by taking them to the hard places, we follow the example of Jesus. I’m struck by something that I didn’t see in the Bible during my first years of being a Christian. As I read back through the gospels again and again, I’m struck by how clear it is that Jesus’ eye is so consistently set on the poor, the outcast, the marginalized, and the sick. He loved them. He cared for them. He helped them. He was burdened for them. I can’t honestly say I’m following Him if the same is not true of me. And, I certainly can’t think that I’m discipling my kids if I’m not doing the same.

As we pray for opportunities to show our kids the hard places, may we all be stretched to see the world the way Christ sees it. And then, let’s learn to respond to it the way He did too!

What we can learn from “Pascal’s Wager”?

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“I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than being mistaken in believing it to be true” (Pascal, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensées, 292).

For the last three weeks, we’ve considered various aspects of Pascal’s work, noting what he says about death, diversions, and indifference. We now turn to what Pascal is most famous for—the wager! He says, “Let us examine this point, and let us say: Either God is or he is not. But to which view shall we be inclined. . . . At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager?” (p. 293).

Because most students learn about the wager in an apologetics or philosophy of religion class, it is often mistaken as an argument for God’s existence. But, while Pascal is interested in us wagering in favor of God’s existence, most philosophers note that the wager should not be thought of as an argument per se. As Pascal makes clear, “reason cannot prove either wrong” (p. 293). That is, Pascal thought that reason is incapable of showing either atheism or theism to be true.

If so, then what is the point of the wager? As noted in previous weeks, Pascal’s aim throughout the Pensées is to show us what we have at stake is the question of God’s existence. In the wager, he aims to show us that, as a matter of wisdom, one should wager that God does exist. He says, “Let us weigh up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists. Let us assess the two cases: if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist” (p. 294). In other words, consider the one who wagers for God’s existence. If he is right, he gains much—an infinite amount in fact. If he is wrong, he loses nothing. But now consider the outcome for the one who wagers against God’s existence. If he is right, he gains nothing. If he is wrong, he loses infinitely. So then, Pascal shows us that as a matter of wisdom, we should wager that God does exist.

Once again, Pascal is not making an argument for God existence. He is simply showing us that we all have something massive at stake on the question of God’s existence. Whether we want to or not, this is a question that we have to take seriously. We cannot divert our attention from it. We cannot be apathetic.

So then, how should we read and use Pascal’s wager? The wager is useful as we talk with people who appear to be uninterested in questions about God or in the Christian faith. Pascal reminds us how high the stakes really are and why ignoring God is so incredibly dangerous!

Why Do I Doubt? Exploring The Effects of Sin on the mind


Over the past few weeks we’ve been exploring doubt and considering what causes it to arise within the life of the believer. As someone who’s spent 20 years studying philosophy and apologetics, you might expect me to say that doubt is purely an intellectual matter. I do believe that much of our doubt comes from a lack of intellectual flourishing or from tough intellectual questions that we face. But, intellectual factors are not the only factors that cause doubt. So what else is going on?

At the risk of sounding like I am over spiritualizing it, I must note that sin is often a major factor. When we allow sin to remain in our lives, doubt often springs up to squelch our faith. And once we being to struggle with our faith, a greater tendency towards sin arises. It’s a vicious cycle that spins out of control until, for some, faith is lost completely. But how, exactly, is it that sin breeds doubt? Let me mention just two ways.

First, sin quenches the Holy Spirit. When we allow sin to take root in our lives, we isolate ourselves from the Holy Spirit. As Christ taught in John’s gospel, the Holy Spirit graciously brings conviction of sin, strength to fight spiritual battles, and comfort in moments turmoil. The Holy Spirit nurtures us and guides our minds towards Christ. Without Him, our minds are prone to wonder and doubts are far more likely to emerge.

Second, lingering sin makes us far more likely to be blinded by pride and arrogance. When pride takes root, we elevate our own minds and our own thinking. We forget the frail condition of our fallen minds and stop seeking and listening to sound reason. And it doesn’t take long until something comes along that fractures the foundations of our weak thinking, leaving us to doubt and question what we once found to be so strong.

Yes, sin causes doubt. I’ve seen this in my own life, and I’ve seen it in the life of my friends and my students. We might like to pretend it’s not so, but sin cuts us off from the Holy Spirit’s protective grace and leaves us to flounder in doubt.

So what do we do? In short, don’t forget the lessons we first learned as followers of Christ. Check yourself…regularly! Remember I John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Fight for purity in all aspects of life. Repent when you sin and be diligent to root out sin where it springs up in your life.

Otherwise, sin runs its course and leaves doubt in its path. It’s happened to me. It’s happened to many of my friends. Don’t let it happen to you. But if it does, or if it has, remember that grace can renew you again!

Teaching your children about poverty and brokenness


What do you do when you pull up at a stoplight where a homeless person sits with a sign saying “Homeless. Will work for food”? Too often I have simply looked the other way, pretending that the person outside isn’t there. Because we are afraid of being taken advantage of, or because of the assumptions we have about the person in this situation, we do nothing. We wait for the light to turn green and then we drive off. I’m not suggesting that we should be naïve about the situation, but I am suggesting that my typical response is insufficient. Especially when my children are in the car and watching what I do!

So, what should you say to your kids when you see this kind of thing? More importantly, what do we model for them when we are faced with poverty? This issue is obviously too big to tackle in a short blog post, but let me challenge our thinking in a few ways.

  1. Don’t be judgmental. Too often we tell our kids that the person is in that situation because they are lazy, sinful, or irresponsible. Like all of us, I’m sure the person on the side of the road has made mistakes, but I’m also fairly confident that its not that simple. Don’t assume that the poor have had the same opportunities that you and I have had. Don’t assume that they are where they are because of sin. Don’t assume that it is as simple as just getting a job. These judgmental attitudes are unbiblical, ungodly, and unhelpful for us all.
  1. Recognize that we have a responsibility. Since we tend to think that the person is where they are because of laziness or sin, we also tend to think that we have no responsibilities. That attitude is hard to reconcile with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He constantly looked to the poor, the marginalized, the afflicted, and the oppressed. And when He saw them, He was moved to help them. If we follow Christ, then we must as well.
  1. Don’t stifle their concerns. Our children’s first inclination when they see someone in need is to help them. It is often we parents that talk them out of it. We systematically teach them not to care, not to help, and not to listen. Sure, we’re afraid of the risk, but that doesn’t justify our response. We should be very cautious about stifling our children’s concerns for the poor.
  1. Model helpfulness. If you are afraid of wasting money, or being taken advantage of, then think outside the box. Doing nothing shouldn’t be an option. Think of ways that you can do at least a little something. Try keeping something like this in your car: granola bars, small bottles of water, $5 gift cards to a fast food chain, or any other small non-perishable food items. I’m not suggesting that these items will end poverty. But I am suggesting that they help our children see that we can and should do something.
  1. Pray for wisdom. There are no simple and easy answers for most of the situations we face. Instead of paralyzing us, use these as an opportunity to pray with your kids and seek wisdom from God.

Poverty and brokenness are not easy issues. But they are a fact of life that we must face and that we must teach our children about. I pray that our desire to follow Christ would outweigh our fears that keep us from helping those in need. I’m praying for you this weekend as you spend time with your kids!

P.S. Make sure to tune in the podcast on Monday as we talk with Dr. David Jones about how we should view poverty!

Why do we doubt?


Sometimes we have doubts. That’s just part of being human. Or, at least that is what I argued last week. I argued that the presence of doubt does not indicate a problem with Christianity, the Bible, or with Jesus. Rather, the presence of doubt indicates a problem within the human mind. I also mentioned that there are very normal reasons and causes for these moments of doubt like our finitude, sin, and our context. As promised, let give our attention this week to one of those causes: finitude.

Finitude. We are finite creatures with cognitive and intellectual limitations. No matter how much we learn or how much we accomplish, we are nevertheless the kinds of beings that are limited. We must remember that we are the creatures, not the creator. Surely God has no such intellectual limitations. He is the kind of being that can know perfectly and completely. We are different. We are the kind of beings that always “see through a glass darkly” (I Cor. 13:12). We are the kinds of beings that never see with perfect accuracy or think with perfect clarity. As such, uncertainties, doubts, and questions are our companions.

These doubts arise for a wide variety of issues. There are times we struggle with moral decisions. In our own day, for example, we struggle knowing what is right regarding foreign refugees and the possibility of them coming to our country. We also struggle to know what is best regarding foreign diplomacy when conflicts arise from international conflict. But these are just two quick examples. Doubts arise about all kinds of other things as well, including our theological commitments. Our finitude gets in the way of knowledge, confidence, and certainty.

This is a normal result of our finite nature as creatures, and not an indicator of deficiency with Christianity. That should bring us some comfort, but it doesn’t fix the problem. So, what should we do about it? While we can never escape our finitude, we can get to a point where doubts no longer plague us. Let me suggest a few things.

  1. Be humble. Arrogance and exaggeration are toxic companions to uncertainty. It’s far better to admit our intellectual limitations and press through doubt than pretend all is well and ignore our questions. Having a humble disposition of a learner helps us grow, learn, and increase in confidence.
  1. Study. Again, as I said last week, this does not mean that you must become an expert. But it does mean that your should read and study. I’ve found that this not only removes uncertainty, but also increases my pleasure in and devotion to God.
  1. Dialogue. Having friends that you can talk to about these questions is worth everything. Perhaps nothing has helped me more than my friends.

We are finite creatures that have limitations. Doubting is a natural result of that fact. While we can never overcome this completely, we can work against it. There are other causes of our doubting. Next week we’ll take a look at sin and how it effects our ability to know.

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Let This Mind Be in You

This guide looks at what it means to be a good servant of Christ, as well as the qualities we must have for making disciples.