Four Words Every Parent Needs to Hear

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I blew my lid this morning. I’m not proud of it. It was quick. It happened. And then it was over.

And I felt awful.

I’m not defending myself but it wasn’t totally unprovoked. Nevertheless, the retaliation certainly wasn’t proportional to the infraction. I’d characterize Owen’s provocation at about Level Four. Mine? My response was at Level Eight.

Parent fail.

When I walked away (a tactic, by the way, best utilized between the moment when the blood pressure strikes and when the stack blows), I immediately wondered what was going on in my heart that made me lash out so abruptly. It’s never the surface cause. It’s almost always something deeper. Pain. Frustration. Work stress. Hunger. Tiredness. Fear. It’s obvious to me, someone who is usually pretty even-keeled and level-tempered, that it was probably a number of things. Whatever it was, I was clearly in the wrong.

Immediately, I got down on Owen’s level and apologized for raising my voice. It was all I could do.

Then he said something that, in an instant, straightened out all the jumbled mess in my heart.

Four words every parent needs to hear:

“I give you grace.”

There it is! The power of grace. In an instant, the loving, patient, forgiving, gracious heart of my son both firmly put me in my place and reminded me that I’m loved and accepted.

First of all, I’m so proud of him for being so composed, so kind. Secondly, I’m extremely glad he’s getting it! Most importantly, I’m grateful God does the same thing with me when I fail:

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).

I’m supposed to be the one modeling the Father’s love to my child. This time, he modeled it for me.

Ministry Highs and Lows

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I love being in ministry.

I enjoy working at a church with people who are committed to God. It’s fantastic to know that my work has real, lasting meaning. No, it’s not a fairy tale like some might imagine it. There are real conflicts, real worries, pressures, demands and struggles. But, I’ve found that the good far outweighs the bad.

In ministry, it’s a privilege to share the highest of highs with people: weddings are conducted, babies are born, huge personal growth happens, people make decisions for Christ. And, I get to be there as a witness and partner.

In ministry, it’s also a privilege—albeit a heavy one—to share in the lowest of lows with those same people: jobs are lost, diagnoses are handed down, marriages split up, children stray, death strikes. Just as in the good times, I’m often trusted to be right there.

Ministry highs and lows overlap

Just this morning, I arrived at the office to a voicemail from an excited young man asking me if I’d be willing to lead him and his fiance through premarital counseling and preach at their summer wedding. Then, no sooner had I scribbled down his phone number, I learned that a teenage girl lost her lifelong battle with Cystic Fibrosis. The parents are going to hold a memorial service in our building in just a few days.

Exhilaration. Heartbreak. All in the span of two minutes.

Ministry will fill you with joy. It’ll also crush you.

It’s at times like these that I’m glad that Jesus was just as in his element at a wedding feast in Cana as he was at a grave site in Bethany.

I’m beyond grateful—in good times and bad—to be a part of the Body of Christ.

May God continue to purify her and prepare her for the Great Day when tears will be replaced with smiles, fear with security, sadness with laughter, loss with joy and hope with sight.

Visionary Parenting

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Recently, in the midst of a discussion with my wife, Kelly, about our son’s education, she asked me a good question. It made me reflect on things I’ve thought about before but hadn’t stopped to ponder in a while. What was the question?

What is your vision for Owen?

Great question! Actually, it’s a vital question for Kelly and me; it’s vital for any fallible man or woman who endeavors to raise a malleable young soul. Have you considered the question lately in your own parenting?

First, what is vision? Quite simply, vision is a compelling picture of a preferred future. (I’m sure I owe credit to someone much smarter to me for that definition.) Vision is more actionable than a dream. It precedes goals. It provides clarity when confusion threatens. It sustains hope when difficulties arise. It keeps the focus on the best things when good things come knocking. It motivates you when you feel lazy. It holds you accountable when you stray. Vision matters.

Four components of visionary parenting

So, what’s my vision for Owen? Let me summarize by suggesting a few things any Christian parent ought to consider the primary components of their vision:

1. I want him to love his Savior with his whole heart.

The most important vision any parent can have for a child is for that child to develop a faith that is his or her own. Everything else pales in comparison. Jesus said this was the most important commandment: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” (Matthew 22:37). And, there’s no more compelling vision for me than that love taking root in my son’s heart.

2. I want him live a life of service.

The second greatest commandment, equally important to the first according to Jesus, is to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:38). My vision for Owen is that he look to others’ needs and that he’d be the type of person who takes appropriate action to meet them.

3. I want him to love the Church Christ died to redeem.

The Church is not perfect. But, it’s still Christ’s Bride. He instituted the Church. The Spirit empowers the Church. And, the local Church is God’s instrument for redeeming a world full of souls who need him. I would love nothing more than for my son—no matter what he chooses as a profession—to view it as his mission to give his best to build the Church and, as a result, the Kingdom.

4. I want him to be marked by generosity.

Generosity flows from a heart marked by gratitude. And, even in a what’s-in-it-for-me culture, true gratitude and generosity do exist and are attainable. I want Owen to be a man who recognizes the grace he’s been given, the provision that is all around him, the richness of the world in which he lives, the wonder of the relationships he experiences. Then, I want that gratitude to bubble up and overflow in great generosity.

That’s it. If he gets straight As, great! If he is awarded a scholarship to a university, play ball! If he can shred on the guitar, rock on! If he can be a chef at a five-star restaurant, gravy! Those would all be fun things but neither they—nor any other lesser thing—can never be my (or his) vision for his life. They cannot be the primary path down which I point (or push) him.

I have to teach him—no I have to lead him by the power of my example—onto the path of faith. Do I love Jesus? Am I serving others? Do I invest in the church? Am I a sacrificial giver? It’s my most important job as a parent to live and teach this vision. And, Christian parent, let that vision motivate you as well. God will take care of the rest.

A Full Ride to Nowhere

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Are college athletes getting a full ride to nowhere?

I read an article the other day that saddened me. I wish I could say it surprised me. It didn’t. Take a look for yourself. If you don’t have time to read the article, here’s a tidy little summary:

College presidents have put in jeopardy the academic credibility of their universities just so we can have this entertainment industry. … The NCAA continually wants to ignore this fact, but they are admitting students who cannot read. … Based on data from those requests and dozens of interviews, a CNN investigation revealed that most schools have between 7% and 18% of revenue sport athletes who are reading at an elementary school level. Some had even higher percentages of below-threshold athletes.

Institutions of higher education all across the nation—specifically those with successful men’s football and basketball programs (“revenue sports”)—are admitting 18- and 19-year-old men who are reading at grade school levels. These men have incredible talent. But, many also have quite significant educational needs. These man pursue athletics with all they have. But, reality demonstrates that sports are only a ticket to social and financial success for a fraction of a percentage of the men who play college basketball or football.

What do these young men really need if they’re going to have a future? They need an education. If their athletic skill earns them room, board and tuition at a university, wonderful! Shouldn’t universities be more concerned about the education of their students than what those same students can do with a helmet and shoulder pads on?

But, to many of these universities—institutions that make multiple millions of dollars from their athletic programs—these young men are merely commodities in a system designed to exploit them for TV contracts, apparel deals, big-name boosters and merchandising revenue.

And, that’s not the only issue. Many of these athletes are playing their hearts out at great risk to their brains and bodies.

Certainly, there are a lot of wonderful success stories in college athletics. I’m sure there are thousands of people walking around who can point back fondly to their experience in big-time college athletics as a place of great personal growth, character development and rich experiences. But, there’s something wrong with a system that is also producing a high rate of 22-year-old men who are, in many cases, physically and intellectually hobbled.

I’ve always been a big sports fan. When I was a kid, I loved playing. As an adult, I enjoy watching games and pulling for my favorite teams. But, I have honestly begun to question my own enthusiasm in light of the cost. Am I OK watching it all and pretending that it’s acceptable? Can I jump and scream the big hit that concusses both players? Can I support schools who have been caught red handed even if they’re successful on the field?

Sure, the stadiums and arenas are full. But, so was the Roman Colosseum.

Disappointment

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I read this passage about Jesus’ ministry a few days ago. I experienced awe and disappointment at the same time:

A vast crowd brought to him people who were lame, blind, crippled, those who couldn’t speak, and many others. They laid them before Jesus, and he healed them all. The crowd was amazed! Those who hadn’t been able to speak were talking, the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again! And they praised the God of Israel, ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 15:30-31″]).

This beautiful passage comes in the context of the busiest season of Jesus’ ministry and maybe the pinnacle of his success in terms of follwership and acclaim. Again and again, he heals people’s physical symptoms—all the while mindful of the permanent solution he’d provide for their spiritual needs—mainly in response to their faith. Those with great faith who were beginning to understand that Jesus was God’s Messiah and those with just enough faith to know that the man from Nazareth had the power to heal, all of them received healing for their ailments.

It’s a beautiful picture of Jesus’ concern for the physical hardships of our lives. Even though he is God, he’s God in the flesh. There, on that hillside, sat a man who was uniquely qualified to understand the physical (and emotional, mental and spiritual) hardships of the people gathered to meet him. I would have loved to be there that day to see him heal and to watch the responses. It would have been awesome.

This is all great.

Handling disappointment when Jesus doesn’t answer

What do you do when he doesn’t provide healing? Next to those verses in my Bible was a note I wrote to Jesus several years ago after reading this same text:

“Why, Father, won’t you heal Owen? Why does he have to struggle so? I know you’ve blessed and rescued him from so much. I just wish he could get a break.”

Ouch.

What happens when you’re disappointed with God for not pulling through? If I had been on that mountainside with Jesus, presenting my sick son to him, would he have healed him? Would I have walked away disappointed? What would have happened to my faith as a result?

Well, I have stood on a figurative mountainside, my son in my arms, pleading with God to heal him. I’ve begged. I’ve cried. I’ve pleaded. But, no healing; at least not in the way I would have liked or in the timing I preferred. I’ve watched as others have faced that same reality. It hurts. It’s disappointing.

Here’s the key: Only Jesus is good enough and wise enough to know when to heal and when to withhold healing. Only he is just and loving enough to know when to allow one of his children to walk through something difficult. Only he knows when the man whose son isn’t healed will respond in faith in spite of the disappointment, and continue to respond in faith as he walks down the road.

That’s the path God has allowed us to walk—with his Son’s love and his Spirit’s guidance—for several years. And, even though I’ve been disappointed many times, I don’t resent him. I trust him even more. You see, all the people Jesus healed on the hillside that day eventually passed away. They discovered that physical healing is only temporary. I hope, in addition to freedom from physical pain, that each of these people experienced the type of faith in Christ that brings inner change, saving faith and eternal life—real healing.

If you’re disappointed with God, it’s OK to ask him a series of gut-level-honest questions. I have. I still do. And, the act of asking them and then being willing to wait has produced faith like I never could have imagined.

I pray he’ll do the same for you.

Every Christian Should Have a Blog

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“Every Christian should have a blog.”

Just one of those quotations I remember reading out there—somewhere in the vast expanse of the internet—that got me thinking:

I’m a Christian. Check!

I don’t have a blog. Hmmm.

So, here I am, reluctantly jumping on the bandwagon. I’m going to toss my own two cents into the massive mall fountain called the blogosphere with the hope of impacting the Kingdom. Who knows what might happen? I suppose one of two things: I become an insanely popular blogger, making a huge contribution to the world (and a nice income for my family) or I carve out a nice, quiet niche in which I can record my thoughts for my own consumption (and probably by my family and a few close friends). Either way, I’m in.

There are three questions that are probably appropriate at this point.

What will I post?

That’s to be determined. Mostly, I’ll post things that either have an impact upon me and those I love. Biblical insights. Resources. Commentary about current events. Quips and quotes I stumble upon. Maybe stuff I happen to be interested in: sports, design, communications, history—whatever. Being a pretty organized person, I assume that I’ll settle in to a somewhat predictable schedule. Until then, it’s a grab bag. We’ll see what happens.

When will I post?

My goal may be ambitious but my plan is to post three times a week. Because I like symmetry, I’ll probably post on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. But, just like the content, that’ll probably vary.

What’s up with the title?

I’ve always really liked the word wonder. As a Christian, I believe my sense of wonder is (or ought to be) squarely in the center of my relationship with God. So, I hope this blog reflects even just a little bit of my sense of awe and wonder. Also, I think one of the major failings to which we are prone (as a human race but, specifically, as Christians) is that we don’t ask enough questions. I wonder about a lot of stuff. I hope to ask a lot of questions. I may ask more than I answer; I’m OK with that. Actually, the stuff I’m left wondering about during my three dozen years of life has increased the wonder I experience in my relationship with God. I hope to make a contribution to that experience for others.

So, blogosphere, nice to meet you. I’m excited to make a contribution!