Lord of the peanut, lord of the play.

Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.
Me with Mr. Peanut, a gift from a family member with a sick sense of humor.

Last week I got a phone call that makes every parent’s heart stop for a minute.   I learned that my oldest son was being rushed to the emergency room.   Unfortunately, we both share the same life-threatening allergy to peanuts.  Unfortunately for him, he accidentally ate a cracker laced with the deadly nut and only realized it after it hit the bottom of his bottomless pit of a stomach.   Such is what happens when you eat first, read ingredient labels second.   I have been in his shoes too many times to count.

To those without the allergy, having an allergy to a peanut is amusing.   In the early days, when people learned of my allergy – they would laugh in disbelief, as if I was making this up.   “Really?  A little peanut?  Are you kidding me?”    The name itself conjures images of something  tiny.   When an embryo is growing in the womb of a mother, it is often referred to as the little “peanut.”   When a toddler is among older siblings, you may hear him being called the “peanut.”   It certainly does not seem big or strong enough to end a life.   Statistically, it kills about 10 people per year in the United States alone.   I am pretty committed to not let my son or I join that list of ten.

The peanut allergy is somewhat unpredictable.  It can certainly be unforgiving.  Some people can have an immediate reaction at the smell of it.  (Even a synthetic peanut-scented “scratch and sniff” sticker bothers me!)  Others react when they touch it.  Some react when it merely touches their lips.   Everyone with the allergy reacts when it is ingested.   As far as reactions go, a variety of symptoms can occur, varying person to person.  Hives. swollen eyes, itchy tongue.  In extreme cases, anaphylaxis sets in.  In other words, your throat swells to the point that your air passage is closed.  It is known as one of the more deadly allergies out there because of the notorious speed at which it moves.  It is not unheard of to go from contact to corpse within a matter of minutes.  (One girl died, a few years ago, after being kissed by her boyfriend after he ate a PB & J sandwich.)   Having almost died twice from my reactions, I understand how serious this allergy can be.  

As I raced to be with my other children while his mother drove him to the emergency room, I processed numerous thoughts:

  • “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
  • “I’ve been through this a dozen times myself – it’ll all work out.”
  • “I wonder what time he’ll be home from the E.R.”
  • “What were my last words to him?   Ya know, just in case.”
  • “Is he scared?”
  • “I wonder what symptoms he is feeling now.”
  • “I bet he tries to use this as an excuse to get out of school tomorrow.”

I prayed.   I drove fast.   I started to worry.   And then I remembered who is the Lord of the peanut.

Life is fragile like that.   Occasionally, it reminds us that we are not as strong or invincible as we want to believe.   We are one car accident away from life change – even if we wear a belt.  We are one trip to the doctor away from devastation – even when we feel healthy.  Those of us in South Carolina know that we are one play away on the ball field unable to see the injury to come to a beloved running back.   One accident, one diagnosis, one slalom on the slope, one slip on the job, one phone call, one incident from our lives being changed – forever.   If I have learned anything about life during my 4+ decades here, it is how short and precious life really is. 

As I sat at home praying for my son, wondering just how serious this “attack” was for him – I realized (again) Who is really in charge here.   Christian or atheist, black or white, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, American or foreigner, pilot or passenger – when our life (or those we love) is in the balance…

  • We ALL pray, even if schools say we cannot.   
  • We ALL bend a knee, even if we look foolish to others.
  • We ALL quiet our souls, in spite of the noise around us.
  • We ALL change our Facebook status, imploring an army of other prayers.

At some point, we are all reminded that there is something bigger than us out there that we must beg/plead to – when life is in the balance.  The saying is true, “There are no atheists in foxholes.”   Turbulence at 33,000 feet can make even the hardened skeptic pray. 

My son returned home from the emergency room in record time.   He was fine.   The anti-dote (epinephrine) was given and he was breathing easy, once again.   As I put my head to the pillow, I realized I had averted a life-changing incident.   I was grateful for the outcome and thankful I had another day to be his Dad.   I also renewed my hatred for peanuts, vowed to never visit Georgia and committed to a life of jihad against that form of protein.

As my body was shutting down for the night, my thoughts were lifted upward.   I thought about the deadly allergy to sin we all possess.   I remembered the anti-dote in Christ, the Epi-Pen of God.   But more than that, I was reminded that He is still in charge here, even on the days I forget that.  

The riser of the sun and the Rotator of the moon, He rules even our diets.   Lord of both Presidents and peanuts, sometimes He uses laws to get our attention while other times He uses allergies.  Should the sunset escape our view, should we ignore the praises of birds, should we be oblivious to our daily dose of oxygen He liberally provides even to those who hate Him, God is still able to get our attention.   As King David reminded us in Proverbs 21, “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.”   He got Moses attention through a burning bush (Exodus 3).  He got Pharaoh’s attention through the death of his son (Exodus 12).   God can use hurricanes, earthquakes & fires but He prefers to speak in a whisper – just ask Elijah (I Kings 19).   He has an entire world at His disposal to get your attention too.   What will it take for you to tilt your ear?

Last night I took my two boys to see their sister in her school play.  The only thing more dreadful than attending a middle school play is to watch a middle school girls basketball game.   Even hockey games have higher scores!   As you can imagine, the last thing two boys want to do is attend their sister’s school play on a Saturday night.   Complaints abounded.  “Do we have to?”   “She doesn’t care if we go!”   “Dad, it will be boring.”   “Her part isn’t that big, can’t we just watch her scene and leave?”   I have to say, their complaints were convincing, if not compelling.  I was certainly tempted to leave them home.  I realized at that moment I was raising two attorneys.   Unmoved, we all went to the play.  To their chagrin, I even sat in the very front row.   They were not going to miss their sister’s theatrical debut.   As they both sat sullen in the front row, I watched their transformation.  As the play went on, they both stared at the actors in front of them.  They laughed at all the right moments.   It was obvious, they were actually engaged and enjoying themselves.  As a parent, I sat relieved.  Relieved I didn’t cave to their complaints.  Relieved that I had committed to doing the right thing, even if it made me unpopular.  Relieved that they were enjoying themselves.   As we left, my older son looked at me sheepishly and said, “Dad, thanks for making us go.  I enjoyed it.”   All parents cherish those rare moments.   The battle was worth it. 

In those moments, clarity is gifted to me.   I see life more clearly.  I slowly begin to understand why God allows us to endure certain trials.  Now I understand why we must be forced, at times, to do things we don’t want to do.   We buck, we complain, we cry and whine and yet God, often silent, remains unmoved.   Only after the experience, do we learn the lesson.  Only after the pain, do we see the purpose.  Only after the trial, do we learn to trust.  He does know what He’s doing, even when He seems like He doesn’t.   He doesn’t hate us, as we sometimes think in our adolescent faith.  He doesn’t want us miserable, though His decisions may make us miserable.  He puts us in the front row and makes us uncomfortable knowing that transformation is around the corner, should we humble ourselves to see it.  He is far more interested in our holiness than our happiness and He loves us in spite of how we treat Him.

He is Lord of the peanut.  I was lord of the play.   Both my sons and I learned a bit about parental sovereignty this week and how we are better because of it. 

“Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”  (Psalm 115:3)  

I’m so glad God doesn’t cave to my complaints.   I’m relieved He often doesn’t give me what I want.   I’m a better person when He says no to my spiritual tantrums…

Unless I have to attend a middle school girl’s basketball game.  No good can come from that.

Oh, and for the record – my son did go to school that next morning.   Nice try, kid.

Prayers for our children and why God doesn’t answer them

man-praying-on-one-kneeAs a communicator to youth, it is not uncommon to have a parent ask me to pray for their children.   Parenting, on its best day, is a daunting task.  As a result, all parents should seek Divine guidance for their children.  They should pray for them and with them and model for them what prayer is and how it is to be done (Matthew 6:9-13).   Good parenting is a most difficult task and acquiring the prayers of many on your behalf can only benefit everyone.  And yet, in spite of all the prayers I have heard many sincere Christian parents pray, I have sometimes wondered why these prayers so often seem to go unanswered.   If God commands us to pray (I Thessalonians 5:17) and tells us to bring all our cares to Him (I Peter 5:7) – then why does it seem that with our most sincere prayers about our most precious cares (our children) our many petitions seem to be ignored?    Scripture reveals at least ten reasons why God does not answer our prayers:

1)      We do not ask.

  • How often does God not answer our prayers simply because we have not asked Him to?   If we cannot motivate or humble ourselves to approach His throne and pray the prayers, why would God be motivated to answer on our behalf?  If we do not care enough to ask, we are showing God just how un-important that request really is to us.
  • “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.  Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?   If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:7-11)
  • You do not have because you do not ask.”  (James 4:2)

2)      Our prayers lack faith.

  • When you pray, do you really believe God will answer?  We must believe that God not only can – but will – answer our prayers according to His will.
  •  “And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.”  (Matthew 21:22)
  • “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8)

3)      We pray with wrong motives.

  • Think through your prayers and their motive.  God is just as concerned about our requests as He is with the heart of our requests.
  • “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men.   Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. ” And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. (Matthew 6:5, 7)
  • “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.”  (Matthew 23:14)
  • “You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.” (James 4:3)

4)      Our requests are inappropriate.

  •  “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.”  And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.”   (Mark 10:35-37)

5)      Our requests are not within His will.

  • “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”  (Luke 22:42)
  • ”Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.”  (John 16:23)
  • “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.”       (I John 5:14-15)

6)      Our timing is different from His.

  • The story of Lazarus’ death and resurrection reveals to us that our timing is not God’s timing in regards to the answering of our prayers.  (John 11:1-45)

7)      A “NO” is in our spiritual best interest, whether we recognize that or not.

  • ”Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me–to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.   And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (II Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • Would Paul have learned to be “well content with weaknesses, insults, distresses, persecutions or difficulties” had the Lord honored his request to remove the thorn?    It was the thorn (the very thing he prayed to remove) that taught him about Christ’s strength in his weakness.

8)      He is testing our hearts.

  • I have learned that the quickest way for me to access the condition of my children’s heart is for me to say “No” to them.  How children respond to the “No’s” we give them reveals much more about their heart than one thousand “Yes’s”.    In the same way, God may often say “No” to us, simply to see if we trust Him, His way or His timing.   How do you respond to the “No’s” God gives you?  (Read Job chapter 1-2 for a biblical example on this).

9)      Our sin gets in the way.

  • Parent, what sins are keeping your prayers from being heard?   Just as you will not bless your children while they disobey you, so God will not answer your prayers if you have un-confessed sin in your life.
  • Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  (James 5:16)

10)  We sabotage our own prayers.

  • Do not pray for your child’s wayward, disobedient heart and then shield them from (or remove altogether!) the weight of the consequences of their sin.   Too many parents (in the name of mercy, child-pleasing, etc) allow their children to escape the punishment of their sins which works against your prayers.
  • “and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons,
    NOR FAINT WHEN YOU ARE REPROVED BY HIM; FOR THOSE WHOM THE LORD LOVES HE DISCIPLINES, AND HE SCOURGES EVERY SON WHOM HE RECEIVES.”  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
      (Hebrews 12:5-11)
  • Perhaps the peaceful fruit of righteousness is missing from your children because you have blocked the Lord’s discipline in their lives?

One day, I had a parent call me about her wayward, teenage son.   She spent the majority of the time telling me how her son has little interest in spiritual things, doesn’t read his Bible and he never goes to church or youth group, though she encourages him to do so.   After 30 minutes of listening to this loving mother talk about her desires and prayers for her child, she made an interesting confession.  She does not read her Bible or attend church either.   Like mother, like son.   The fruit, as they say, does not fall far from the tree.

We should pray for our kids and then make sure we are living out those prayers in our own life.   Parenting is more caught than taught and though our prayers are important, our example can work against the most sincerely worded prayer.    Prayers are with our lips.  Practice is with our life.    Both need to match as our children tend to follow our ways over our words.

Bingo the Monkey – a new children’s book


Every week I drive past my local Barnes & Nobles located located down the street from my house.  Every time I drive by, my seven-year old expresses an interest to go in.  Today, we carved out some time to see what was new.   Upon entering the store, I was immediately escorted into the children’s section by my little eager reader.  He loves going there.   As we walked through the aisles in the children’s section, his eye went to several books he was quite familiar with.  I had read them to him dozens of times during his most formative years. 

Books like:

  • “The Going To Bed Book” by Sandra Boynton. 
  • “Good Night, Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann.
  • “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
  • “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.
  • “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Joffe Numeroff.

The list goes on and on.   He grabbed every one with familiar excitement as he exclaimed things like, “I remember this one!” or “Dad, we have this one at home!”  

My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew - pictured here at age 3.
My bedtime routine with my son, Andrew – pictured here at age 3.

Instantly, we were transported back in time, on the bed of nostalgia, him snuggled in front of me, as I read that evenings bed time story. 

Bedtime stories are a favorite past-time for every parent and child.  Not only does it provide the foundation for reading and lay the cornerstone of learning, it’s a wonderfully bonding exercise between parent and child.   I miss those days.  My older children (teenagers) just don’t sit on my lap quite as much anymore.   The books they read don’t have pictures in them either.  And none of them rhyme.   Also, their books are called videos.  

How excited I was to learn of a new book about to hit the market.  The book has everything that makes a children’s book a success:  A cute character.  An interesting story line that children can relate to.  A great moral lesson.  Suspense.  Engaging illustrations.  It even rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book.

Unlike every other book  I have ever read with my children, this one is intensely personal for me.   Whereas every other book I have read I bought at the store, this one was sent to me directly by the author.  Whereas the other books were read after they were published, I read this one beforehand.   Whereas other books were read after dozens of others recommended them to me, this one I got to read before the masses.   Such is the advantage when the author of the next great children’s book happens to be your brother.

I thought I would take this opportunity to introduce my loyal readers to this great book and share how you can get a copy of it.  For those of you who would like to purchase it, my brother (Matt) has graciously offered to give my global audience a discount.   More details on that to come.

The following link will provide more information about the book, my brother and what it is about.  Also an artist, the book is fully illustrated by Matt and includes a video trailer (created by my sister) for you to see.   He has decided to utilize the help of a creative website to help him launch it.  Just 24 hours in, it has already proven to be a good decision.

Matt also created a Facebook page for this book and welcomes more people to “like” it.   The link to that page is here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/BingoTheMonkey

If you still read to your children, consider this book for your personal library.  If you have small children in your life (Nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, grandchildren) consider this for their next birthday.   If you are affiliated with an elementary school, perhaps your school library would like to put this on their shelf?  The story of Bingo the Monkey has a timeless message that both kids and parents will love!

Regardless, keep reading to your children.   The lessons they learn from the pages of these books stay with them for life and the memories stay with you forever, long after they’ve left your lap.

Rites of Passage – From Boys to Men

knighthoodI was looking at my 14-year-old son this weekend.  It was the kind of look a parent occasionally gives when they are “soaking in” the gift before them.  I was having a flashback to when he was a baby.  Then I recalled a funny memory when he was a toddler.  Today, he is a freshman in high school, by all definitions, a teenager.  And then my brain started to go to the future.  In four years, he’ll be in college or in the work force.  And then it hit me.  The boy before me will one day (soon) become a man.  But when?   How?  What do I need to do to help him transform?  Or am I already doing it?   Is there a class he should sign up for?   Is there a test to take?  Is there a certificate I can print out?   If you make a boy with “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”, how do you make a man?

In some cultures, there is a specific rite of passage that signifies when this change occurs.

  • For a Jew, a Bah Mitzvah ceremony at age 13 would be the clear rite of passage into adulthood.  
  • Among the cattle herding Barabaig culture of East Africa, their rite of passage is a bit more difficult.  The boys’ heads are shaved and their foreheads are cut with three deep horizontal incisions that go down to the bone and extend from ear to ear.  This mark leaves permanent scars that identify a male as having received “gar.”  Sometimes, the incisions are deep enough to show up on the skulls.
  • Among the Luiseño Indians, boys have to lay on red ant mounds and not cry out from pain as they are repeatedly bitten over long periods of time. They were also given toloache, a powerful hallucinogenic drug that made them ill and apparently sometimes caused their death.
  • Among some Australian Aborigine societies, a boy would have several of his incisor teeth knocked out with a sharp rock by the adult men who were instructing him in the duties and obligations of manhood and the secrets of their religion.

Most of these rite of passage rituals were intended to be painful in order to increase the importance of the transition to adulthood.  If that is the ticket to manhood today, my son might prefer to remain a boy.  After all the money spent on braces, I’m grateful I am not an Australian Aborigine.    

In America, our rite of passage is not so clear.  When does a boy become a man in the land of the free?   When he first shaves the whiskers off his chin?   When he can drive?  When he can vote?  His first real job?  When he has his own checking account?  College graduation?  Marriage?  Sadly, even after some of these landmarks have been passed, many males are still only bigger boys.   In spite of turning 16 or 18 or 21, many males are no closer to manhood simply because they are older.  Regardless of achieving certain cultural milestones (even marriage!), many still act like selfish boys nowhere close to the standard of manhood required for such an endeavor.

What is God’s rite of passage into manhood?  How does God grow a boy into a man?  Apparently, through trials of faith.  Knowing God, this should make sense.  Humans are always focused on the physical, while God is infatuated with the spiritual.  We are focused on the flesh, while God is all about the spirit.  As God reminded the prophet Samuel, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) 

In the book of Daniel (chapter one), you find the story of 3 Jewish boys better known by their pagan names; Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego.  As Jewish exiles in captivity in Babylon, they are ordered by the King to study in the palace.  They were specifically chosen because of their age and special characteristics.  Before chapter one is over, God refers to them as “youths” on four separate occasions.  The implication is clear, God considered them boys. 

While they were at the palace, the “king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table.”  Though the food was fit for a king, it was not fit for a practicing Jew and the dietary restrictions placed on them by the Law of Moses.  Because of this, “Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.  Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you looking worse than the other youth your age?  The king would then have my head because of you.”

Daniel then said to the guard, “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the youths who eat the royal food, and treat your servants in accordance with what you see.”  So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days.

At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the youths who ate the royal food.  So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.

To these four youths God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.

God, the king, even Daniel agreed with the assessment – they are mere boys.

In chapter 3, King Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden statue (90 feet tall x 9 feet wide) for the entire nation to worship.  At the appointed time, on a musical cue, everyone was to bow down and worship the idol. Those who refused to bow were to be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.  The musical cue was given and out of an entire nation, apparently only 3 were left standing; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  In spite of their tender age and lacking adult role models, these devout Jewish boys refused to bow to any god but their own.

The boys who chose to honor God with their diet were equally committed to honoring God with their feet.  Their decision to stand was clearly life threatening. 

  • Within minutes, these defiant boys would be identified.  Within minutes so would their faith. 
  • Moments earlier, they blended in with the crowd.   Moments later, they stood out from it. 
  • Their bodies looked like that of a boy.  Their spirit was that of a man. 
  • Their age was that of a child.  Their faith was that of an adult. 

Their rite of passage into manhood had begun.  Notice the change of description God gives boys who exercise such faith.  

  • Nebuchadnezzar was told of their civil disobedience, “These men , O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.
  • Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego; then these men were brought before the king.”

Boys would “cower” before a king.  Men will not.  As the King interrogated them about their decision to stand, he gave them one more opportunity to recant their defiant decision.   His satanic threat could not be missed.  His tone could not be more serious.  His intimidation could not be more real, Now when you hear the sound of the music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

Their response is as impressive as it is unflinching, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.   If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Threats can intimidate a fearful boy.  It does not move a man a faith.  In spite of a private audience with an enraged dictator, they trusted God with the results. 

Their manhood is further etched in Scripture, “Then these men were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire.  But these three men , Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, “Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?” They replied to the king, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!  The satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them.”

Before the testing of their faith, they were boys.  Afterward, they were regarded as men. 

Boys, have you passed through God’s rite of passage yet?   Apparently it is not an age requirement or the ability to jump over some cultural milestone.  It seems to have less to do with your body and more to do with your spirit.  In God’s economy, it seems to be less physical and more spiritual.  If that is true, how old are you really?   By human standards, you may be 14 – but would God consider you a man of faith?   By a human calendar the culture may say you are a man – but are you so in God’s eyes?

Remember, we are to have a child-like faith, not a childish one. (Matthew 18:3-5)   Just like in our physical world, God’s goal is maturity… in faith.  This was Paul’s frustration with the church in Corinth when he wrote, “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly — mere infants in Christ.  I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”  (I Corinthians 3:1-3)

God is looking to change boys into men.  Unfortunately, too many boys have too few men to look to as guides.  Too many boys remain boys far too long in our current culture.  Too many men look to an incorrect standard to measure their masculinity.  Sadly, we have somehow equated manhood with success or sexual prowess when God appears to measure it via spiritual maturity.

Adult, how old are you really – in God’s eyes?   You might be an adult in your body but are you really one in your spirit?

At age twelve we are told that “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:52)

The Apostle Paul declared, “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.” (I Corinthians 13:11)

As I groom my son to become a man one day, I’m tempted to take him fishing.  Or hunting.  Or show him how to shoot a gun.  Or use a hammer.   Or change the oil.  Or rotate the car tires.   All good things for men to know.   But without passing the baton of my faith, what have I really given him?  

Banning guns, rocks and apps

snapchatIf you have your finger on the pulse of new technology, you are already familiar with the wildly popular app called Snapchat.  About two months ago a trusted, technologically savvy friend introduced this app to me.  She explained that it was a fun, new way to send pictures to others with the same app.  I did not quite understand how it was different from simply texting a picture to others with my phone.  The way it was explained it to me was that this app has two unique features:


  1. The picture you send is only viewable for 10 seconds (maximum).
  2. Immediately after the image is viewed, it is deleted from the app, never to be seen again.

Over the last month, I have dabbled in the world of Snapchat – even enjoying some goofy images with my teenage children, both recent Snapchat members.  

For the last two months, I have been under the assumption that this was just another innocent app created for the promotion of fun and creative communication.  I hadn’t even thought about the dangers of it, until yesterday, when I was in line at a store and noticed the teenager in front of me on the app.   Glancing at his screen, I realized that he was sending something inappropriate to a “friend.”   And then it hit me.  This app is perfect for sexting or being generally inappropriate with other members.  It provides the perfect cover since it can only be viewed for a brief period of time (literally seconds) with the picture being deleted immediately after sending.  Ah, sneaky creators of apps!!   

And then another thought hit me… my kids use this app!  Oh no!!  Even if they are not sending inappropriate images, they can certainly receive one without warning!  

And then another thought hit me… I have to warn others, particularly parents, who may be in the dark about this app’s subtle dangers.  Consider this the Paul Revere of parenting post.  “The Sexters are coming!  The Sexters are coming!”   At first glance, this app seems harmless.  How can a cute little ghost steer you wrong?  This app is not as innocent as we might think.

Even if Snapchat only allows an image to be viewed for 10 seconds and deletes it after viewing, that does not mean that the picture cannot live or travel beyond its intended purpose.  If someone were to take a picture of the Snapchat picture within that 10 second time frame, you can see how the “soon to be deleted” image could live in infamy, against the sender’s knowledge or wish.  Snapchat’s own privacy policy recognizes its limited ability to protect the content sent through its app when it writes:

“Although we attempt to delete image data as soon as possible after the message is transmitted, we cannot guarantee that the message contents will be deleted in every case. For example, users may take a picture of the message contents with another imaging device or capture a screenshot of the message contents on the device screen. Consequently, we are not able to guarantee that your messaging data will be deleted in all instances. Messages, therefore, are sent at the risk of the user.”

Even if the makers of this app had entirely pure motives in creating it, it should not surprise us that others are quick to corrupt the medium.  Most things created with a good purpose can be twisted towards evil.  Once again, it serves as a reminder to us all that as technology advances, so does our capacity for abusing and misusing it.

As soon as I realized the potential danger this app posed to my children, I thought about immediately removing it from their phones.  But then I realized they could just text inappropriate messages instead.  So then I thought about removing texting as an option for their phones.  But then I realized that they could just have inappropriate phone conversations instead.  So then I thought about taking their phones away.  But then I realized that they could just send inappropriate letters to others via the postal service. So then I thought about removing all paper, pens, envelopes and stamps from their room.  While I am at it, I might as well remove happiness, trust and my relationship with them in the process. 

The reality is, the app is not the problem – our misuse of it is. Similarly, guns are not the primary problem in our current culture (as some claim), people abusing them are.  Could we create some additional laws that would help protect more of our citizens?  Sure, but that won’t stop those committed to breaking them.  Before there were demands for gun control, there were demands for sword control.  Before there were demands for sword control, Cavemen politicians demanded club control.  And before club reform initiatives were in place, there was a need for rock control as that appears to be the first weapon ever used. 

Our first family (Adam & Eve) were misusing the intended purpose of rocks before the third generation.  Just outside the Garden of Eden, Adam’s son, Cain used a rock to kill his brother Abel (Genesis 4).  The patriarch Jacob used a rock for practical purposes – he needed a pillow (Genesis 28).  We are told that the prophet Elijah used the cleft of a rock to hide from an enemy (I Kings 19).  We know that Nehemiah used rocks to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.  The church’s first Deacon, Stephen, was stoned to death with rocks (Acts 7).   Rocks are not the problem.  They were created by God and serve a multi-purpose. However, a rock in the wrong hands can obviously be deadly, just ask Cain.  And last time I checked, no one needs a special license to use one or look very hard to find one.

While there are some out there who would just prefer to ban certain weapons or technology or “throw out the baby with the bath water”, that isn’t really the heart of the issue.  Snapchat is not a bad app, even though it does allow an opportunity for bad decisions.  Every generation has to address each technological advance and determine how to protect our youngest ones from its eventual misuse or abuse.  The back seat of a car is a tremendous feature even if teenagers have been using it inappropriately for decades.  Television can be a wonderful tool of education for some, while others choose to use it for more sinister viewing.  A baseball bat, the internet, money, cough medicine and guns can be used for both good and bad, depending upon the user.  Banning any of these from public use not only limits how each can be used for good, but it also misses point.

We can ban guns and rocks and those who desire to kill will still do so with a knife or club.

You can remove Snapchat from a teenagers phone and those who desire to sext will simply find another app or way to do it. 

Perhaps we should invest more effort addressing the heart of the problem, which is the heart of people.  As President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations, alike.” 

I think it is safe to say, America, though still considered a super power in the world, has lost its way.  Our character, as a nation, is not where it used to be.  French historian (Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville) visited America in the mid 1800’s looking for the secret to America’s success.  Where He found it may shock you.  His observation is profound,

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there.  I sought it in her fertile fields and boundless forests – and it was not there.  I looked in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there.  I looked in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there.  Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

To truly change a nation, you must change the character of its citizens.  To truly change the character of its citizens, you must change their behavior.  To truly change their behavior, you must change their mindset.  To truly change their mindset, you must change their heart.  And to truly change a human heart, God must be involved as the heart is His domain. 

A changed heart produces a changed mind.  A changed mind produces changed behaviors.  Changed behaviors produce changed characters.  And people of character, change nations.  Abraham Lincoln, William Wallace, Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela are some examples, just to name a few.

We don’t need gun control or a different app, we need heart surgery, one citizen at a time.

After confessing his affair with Bathsheeba and the murder of her husband, King David penned these words in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit in me.”   He recognized his need for a new heart.  

Do you?


“If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

My $86,400 gift

Last night, I was awoken by the doorbell.  I looked at my clock – it was exactly 11:58pm – two minutes shy of midnight.  “Who could that be?”, I thought.  I went to the door and as I slowly opened it – a man was outside. I noticed three things right away: He was really old, had a really big watch and held a large duffel bag in his hand.

Was he in trouble and needing help?  Was he a polite, old-school thief – knocking before entering?  Was he a trick or treater running late?   This had to be important because of the lateness of the hour.

Good evening“, he said. “I would like to give you a gift.”

What kind of gift?”, I asked, still half-asleep – thinking this was a joke.

$86,400 dollars“, said the man.

This had to be a joke.  Who gives strangers money of any amount – particularly at midnight, especially that size?  I laughed.

He handed me the bag – and as he did – allowed me to see the contents.  bag of moneySure enough, there was a lot of money in there.  He spoke again, “Exactly, $86,400 dollars.  It’s yours.  You have till this time tomorrow to invest it.”   And with that, my new best friend left.

I stood dumfounded at my door.  Not being able to sleep, I spent the next few minutes looking at it – planning how I would spend it.  10% would go to the church.  Another portion would go into savings.  Some would go towards Christmas gifts.  Some would go towards helping the less fortunate.  Some would go towards my children’s college fund.  Some would be invested.  Some would buy some stuff I’ve always wanted.  Within moments, every dollar was accounted for.   I had spent all of it in my mind.  But then I remembered the old man’s words.  I had to “invest it” and I only had 24 hours to do it.   It wasn’t enough time.

At that moment, my alarm clock went off.  I awoke, discovering (to my disappointment) that it was merely a dream.  Drats.  I really wanted it to be true.  I really wanted to receive a gift that size!  Then the thought hit me, I have.  In fact, that gift has been given to me thousands of times over the course of my life – not in dollars, but in seconds.

We all know that there are 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour.  But did you realize there are 86,400 seconds in a day?  Consider the last 24 hours of your life… how many hours did you waste?  If you are like most people, you have squandered a lot of time this week. But it can actually get more depressing. Determine how many minutes you have wasted – not this week – but over the course of your life?   If every second was a dollar and you invested instead of spent, think of how rich your life would be – even today.

Ever notice that to a child – waiting 5 minutes feels like “forever” to them?  Listen to a parent of a college freshman describe the previous 18 years – “it flew by”.   There is an amazing perspective on time – the older you get.  I don’t know about you – but I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life.  I’ve spent years chasing worthless things.  Instead of investing wisely, I’ve foolishly spent.  That “money” is gone – never to return.  But today, we have all been given a new gift in the currency of time.  If God is gracious, you will be given 86,400 seconds today.  Considering that you spend about 28,800 seconds every day sleeping – that leaves you with only 57,600 seconds left for today.  How are you going to invest them?

As I write this, I am sitting next to one of my sleeping children.   I love to watch them sleep.  As I do, I am often  flooded with memories of our past.  Fun times at the park, milestones we have achieved, vacations we have enjoyed.  Even yesterday, as I was driving, this child says to me, “Dad, can you explain something to me?  The idiommaking a mountain out of a mole hill,” what does that mean?”   The child just turned seven.  I didn’t know what an idiom was until college.   The definition is still fuzzy to me.  Conversational memories like these are precious to me, if not humbling.  I’m left with two primary thoughts.  1) My kids are smarter than I am.   2) I want more time with them.

As I look at my children, I am acutely aware that my own Dad is no longer with me.  He died unexpectedly when I was five years old from viral pneumonia.  One of my earliest childhood memories is watching the paramedics take my Dad away.  It was the last time I ever saw him.   I wish I had more time.  We all wish for more time, particularly with those we love.

The reality is, we have 86,400 seconds every day with which to make things happen.  It’s the same amount given generously to everyone, whether you are the President of the United States or a drug addict on the street.  

How will you invest your gift today?


The following poem does a beautiful job explaining the importance of this investment of time.  

The Dash – by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone,
from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of her birth
and spoke of the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time
that she spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved her
know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars…the house…the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
and show appreciation more
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before. 

If we treat each other with respect
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.

So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash…
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?

  • So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Moses in Psalm 90:12)
  • Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”  (Paul in Ephesians 5:15-16)
  • Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you.  Each man’s life is but a breath.” (David in Psalm 39:4-5)

Crossing your children

In the beginning of parenthood, children are viewed as innocents and all they do is sleep, eat, coo, poo and melt your heart.  Once they become mobile, they still participate in all those same activities except now they get into things they shouldn’t.  In the early years, it’s easier to say no to them because of the physical dangers involved if we don’t.  But as those toddlers become tweens, then teens, then pre-adults, their capacity for trouble increases while our resolve in confronting them often decreases.

While we are juggling work, car pooling, sports, doctor’s visits, family schedules, supervising homework, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, paying bills, etc – they are masterfully running circles around our aging bodies.  It’s not that we don’t care about their well-being or we don’t want to parent as they get older.  We have just grown weary and have bought into the self-preserving notion of “picking our battles.”  In the meantime, the eternally energized creatures have become little lawyers with an over developed skill of “reasoning” and we are tired of arguing with them.  Parenting, on our best day, can be exhausting.  It’s also the most rewarding job we will ever have.  The results can be amazing or the results can be disastrous.   We play a critical role in the final score of their game. 

In First Kings chapter 1 we find King David at the end of his forty-year reign as ruler over Israel.   He lies on his death-bed, at age 70, struggling to keep warm and barely able to lead God’s people as he once did.   As he lay dying, his son (Adonijah) takes advantage of his father’s condition and attempts to steal his throne.   What would cause his son to so easily break the 5th commandment of “Honor your father” (Exodus 20:12)?    Verse 6 gives us the answer,

“His father had never crossed him at any time by asking, “Why have you done so?”  (I Kings 1:5-6)

A brief review of David’s parenting reveals a dangerous pattern:

  • His eldest son (Amnon) raped his daughter Tamar.   To make matters worse, David’s “shrewd” nephew used David unwittingly to place Tamar in the room to be raped.  David’s response to all of this?  He was “very angry”    (II Samuel 13:21).
  • Two years later, his second born son (Absalom) invited his father and all his brothers to the town of Baal-hazor.  Though the king initially refused, Absalom’s “urging” was too much for David and he allowed Amnon and his brothers to join Absalom with a blessing.  The invitation turned out to be a trap and Absalom’s servants killed Amnon at Absalom’s command to serve as “justice” for the rape.  When the word got back to David that Amnon was killed by Absalom he “arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground… and wept very bitterly” (II Samuel 13:31, 36).   Though “David mourned for his son (Amnon) every day… his heart was inclined toward Absalom” (II Samuel 13:37, 39, 14:1). 
  • Three years later, we find Absalom in the town of Geshur living as a fugitive because of the murder of his brother.  At the encouragement of his military commander, David allows Absalom back into Jerusalem even though his sin has not been forgiven nor his heart repentant.  Instead of addressing the issue with his son, he ignores it and does not allow Absalom to see him for two full years (II Samuel 13:37-38, 14:21-33).  Absalom’s hatred for his father grew and he soon began to conspire against David in an attempt to gain the throne.  After successfully stealing his father’s influence, men and chief counselor, Absalom began his coup d’etat on David.  David’s response?  “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom” (II Samuel 15).   A man who bravely killed a lion, bear and giant cannot stand up to his own son (I Samuel 17:37).
  • Though Absalom employed every resource to pursue David in order to kill him, he was unsuccessful.  By contrast, David gave strict orders for his soldiers to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (II Samuel 18:5).   When word finally came back from the battlefield and David had opportunity to learn of the status of the battle, his first question revealed where his heart was, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” (18:29)   At the news of his son’s death, “the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept.  And thus he said as he walked, “O my son, Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33).

It is the duty of every parent to “cross” their children.  What does it mean to “cross your child”?   The Hebrew word for crossing (atsab) means “to grieve” or “to stretch into shape”.  In other words, David had never displeased his son nor did what it took to stretch him into a godly shape.   Never.

“Crossing” is simply another name for “active parenting”.   Crossing is being involved in your child’s life and knowing their daily activities.  It is being on top of their schedule and knowing who their friends are.  It is placing yourself and God’s standard before them on a regular basis.   It is governing what they read in books and see on the screen, both computer and theatre.   It is having full access to computer passwords, ipods, cell phones and bedrooms.   It is enforcing curfews and keeping them accountable.  It gives you the freedom to not simply manage actions but attitude, facial expressions and tone of voice.  It requires, at times, for you to grieve them and look for the opportunities to “stretch” them into the shape God desires.   Ultimately, crossing says, “I love you” in a gritty, consistent, uncomfortable, unpopular way.    And therein lies the problem.   For many parents it is too much work and requires too much time.   Because stretching is hard and grieving children is difficult, we neglect our biblical responsibility to our children’s peril.  

As verse 6 indicates, crossing cannot happen without cross-examination – asking the tough questions.  It is the responsibility of every parent to ask the confrontational question, “Why have you done so”?    Regardless of your age or theirs, you are your child’s keeper, particularly if they sleep under your roof and are kept afloat by your financial boat.   God leads by example when He cross-examined the first family:  

  • To Adam, “Where are you?   Who told you that you were naked?   Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:9, 11)
  • To Eve, “What is this you have done?” (Genesis 3:13)
  • To Cain, “Why are you angry?  Why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up?  Where is Abel your brother?   What have you done?”  (Genesis 4:6-7, 9-10)

David’s high office, busy schedule, or current condition did not remove his responsibility to parent.  His wealth, age or the fact that his son is an adult did not pardon his duty to cross Adonijah.  David’s unwillingness to “cross” his children caused the rape of a daughter, murder of two sons, and a lifetime of heartache.

How about you, parent?   Do you make it a practice to “cross” your children?   Do you place yourself consistently in their path and remind them with your lifestyle, presence and questions that they answer to God through you?   

No parent will be perfect in their parenting.  I have made many parental mistakes and have, at times, given my children a poor example to follow.  But, like them, I am a work in progress.  So are you.  And just because we didn’t do it right yesterday, doesn’t mean we don’t have the authority to try to do it right today.   Don’t let your past failures as a parent, keep you from being successful in your attempts today.  It’s never too late to practice active parenting.  It may feel uncomfortable at first – but crossing them is a loving necessity.

Cross your children and ask the tough questions.  It’s the clearest way to show them your love.

“For whom the Lord loves He reproves, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:12).   

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?  If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:7-11)

How to raise a rebellious child

Most people are thrilled to learn they are going to be parents.   When we finally meet our precious gifts (Psalm 127:3), we are often overwhelmed by the experience.  Many men cry.   As our children grow we teach them to walk and talk and do “big kid” things.  We have dreams and aspirations for them, for their life.  We want them to be smart and kind.  We want them to be likeable, respectful of others, successful.  For those of us who are “religious”, we desire for them to share our faith and walk with our God, to grow in spiritual stature.

But in many families, the parents’ goals are never realized.  The “plan” does not unfold as planned.  The cute little guy in the baby blue onesy is still a baby – except now he’s 15.   Our precious “princess” is now a “royal” pain.   Our incredible infants are now teenage terrors and not at all following the “game plan” we had in our mind.  What happened?   Can we blame public schools?  Hollywood?   Our culture?  Allow me to share just a sample of reasons as to how you may have unintentionally raised a rebellious child:

  • You are their friend, not their parent.   Many parents make the mistake (early on) of trading down the authority they have been given.   Although none of us want to have our children mad at us, God requires us to parent them towards His standard – regardless of their response.   Since foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Proverbs 22:15), we (as wiser ones) must remove the folly from their heart.  Friendship will come but only after proper parenting.
  • You threaten but do not discipline.   Parents prefer threats because threatening is easier.  Discipline is just plain hard.   Threats, though they may work occasionally or for a season, do not produce the “harvest of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11) that discipline does.  Every time swift discipline does not follow your threat, the reliability of your word is questioned.
  • You are inconsistent.  Consistency is critical to be an effective parent.  When you parent inconsistently, you reveal to your child that you operate on a sliding scale.   You might discipline them for one offense on one day but let them slide on the next offense the following day because you are distracted or tired.   Nothing will frustrate a child faster than being inconsistent with him.
  • You let them make too many decisions too early.   What would you like to eat?”  “What would you like to wear?”   “What would you like to do?”    Our intention in these questions is harmless.   What parent does not want to make their child happy?   The problem lies in that younger children are not emotionally mature enough to handle making their own decisions in such matters.  As my friend and author Gary Ezzo points out, they become “addicted to choice”.   They do not just become addicted to their choice, they become allergic to yours.
  • You over-indulge them.   This should not need elaboration since we all know what this looks like.   It is totally appropriate to bless your children.  It becomes inappropriate when your children can no longer handle the blessing.   How can you tell if they have become over-indulged?
    • They are no longer grateful for what they receive.
    • They have developed an “entitled” attitude.
    • When you say “NO” (to test their heart) their reaction is a tantrum, manifested in a number of different ways; crying, whining, begging, complaining, anger or violence
  • You parent behaviors, not their heart.   Parenting behaviors is easy.  Reaching the heart is not.   Simply changing behaviors, though good for the moment, only teaches your child to obey when they are governed.  It does not teach them to govern themselves.   Instead of addressing the heart, they simply learn to be more discreet with their sin.   It is true that only God can change hearts, however, He loves to use parents as His primary tool.
  • You give suggestions instead of commands.  Most people do not obey suggestions.  Suggestions allow your children an option out of your desires.  Commands do not.   Suggestions place the “ball” in their court.  Commands keep the ball in yours.  Commands do not need to be harsh – just direct.  There is a world of difference in:

Please move your bike, ok?” (suggestion to be obeyed eventually)

Please move your bike now.” (command to be obeyed immediately)

Do you ask your children for favors or speak in an authoritative, firm but loving, “I mean business” tone.

  • You encourage friendships with the world.   Have you kept constant watch on the influences in your child’s life?   From neighbors to classmates to television and the internet – there is a world seeking to bring down God’s standards.  Calculate how many hours a day your child is around worldly influences.  Is it affecting him/her negatively?   The Bible is clear, “Friendship with the world is hostility toward God.” (James 4:4)
  • You shield them from God’s Word.  It is amazing to me how many parents (even in the church!) do not place their wayward child under the consistent teaching of God’s Word.   God’s Word is the ONLY remedy known to man who can change a human heart.   If the doctor told you that chemotherapy would cure your child’s cancer, you would make sure your child was given chemotherapy on time regardless of their complaints.   Of course a wayward child does not want to go to church or youth group, be with other Christians or endure a Bible study.   They know it is the very thing that can combat their rebellious heart and they are enjoying their black heart right now.

Have a rebellious child?   What should you do?

  • Pray!  God knows all about rebellious children, after all, He has you, doesn’t He?   From the first child (Adam), God has been dealing with wayward hearts.   Ask God to help you first become a better child so that your child can see what an obedient child looks like.
  • Repent.   Most of the time, our children learn rebellion from us.  We may not be as overt about it as they are, however, many children’s sins can be traced to a parent – even if it is manifested in a completely different fashion.
  • Reverse direction.  If you are guilty in one, some or all of the areas listed above – change course.  Do the opposite.  If you have been giving suggestions, give commands.  If you are not consistent, be consistent.  If doing it “Frank Sinatra’s way” has not worked, try God’s way.   It will not be easy and the results may not be immediate but you will go to sleep at night with the satisfaction that are you now doing the right thing.

The Dangers of Dating

The inevitable happened this week.  I knew this day was coming but I honestly hoped I had more time.  I was asked the dreaded question by my son, “Dad, when can I start dating?”   My “handsome 14-year-old freshman boy turning into a man” son wants to date.  It seems like only yesterday I was teaching him how to tie his shoes.  Needless to say, this crazy dating idea of his can never happen.  He will never date.  In other news, my daughter will never marry and my six-year-old is not allowed to turn seven.  These things I have decided.

Though I have previously served as a professional youth worker (for about 15 years) and have addressed this issue with countless other parents, I honestly wasn’t prepared to talk about this with my own son.   Not this week.   He has other milestones to achieve first like graduating from high school, then college, then the Marines, then law school, then medical school, and then seminary.  After those hurdles are complete, I’ll consider the dating request. (That is if I can’t think of more hurdles for him to jump over.)  To say I was thrown off guard by his request would be an understatement.   But there we were.  Me in the driver’s seat.  He in the passenger seat – eagerly waiting my response.  I’m not even sure he has someone special in mind.  I think he is just exploring the idea of it. 

There is at least one positive about his desire to date.  Mainly his personal hygiene habits have improved dramatically.  There was a season where I had to drag him into the bathtub much like you drag a cat to the Vet.  There was a time when I had to beat   force “motivate” him to brush his teeth.   Now, he cares about his appearance, hygiene and breath and for that, everyone wins.  🙂

But dating has changed dramatically over the last 25 years when I was first doing it.  And quite frankly, after watching thousands of other teenagers date (at too young an age), I have seen it ruin many a person in the moment and many a relationship thereafter.  Dating is a dangerous exercise, even for the adults.  Below are some of my observations as to why it is not recommended for most people under the age of 45.   I’m only half-kidding.  🙂 

  1. Dating raises the emotional stakes.  The average teenage boy is barely equipped to handle the emotions of losing an X-box game.  The average teenage girl can scarcely break a nail without tears, let alone endure the higher stakes emotional “game” of dating.  There is a lot more maturing that needs to occur, particularly when the emotions of another person are involved in the matter.   To be honest, most men do not even think about the emotional sensitivity that is required with their female counterpart, let alone a 14-year-old boy.  At that tender age, they do not even know what they don’t know.   A few years of maturity will do wonders for them in this area.
  2. Dating encourages unnecessary emotional deposits. With every relationship we are in, we have an accompanying emotional checking account with that person. When we spend time with them, we make a deposit. When we think about them, we make a deposit.  Emotional deposits can occur in their presence or in their absence. Typically, women invest more emotional dollars into the accounts of men than vice versa.  When you are alone, you make larger emotional deposits into only one account. When you are in a group setting, you make smaller emotional deposits into many accounts. The reason that a teenage breakup is so painful is because one feels an emotional bankruptcy after losing all their investment in that one particular account.
  3. Dating raises the physical stakes.   Dating implies being alone.  This alone time puts immediate pressure on the relationship.  The boy wants to be funny.  The girl wants to look pretty.  Both are putting their best foot forward and trying hard to impress the other one.  In other words, they are making massive emotional investments into unstable emotional accounts.  Whereas a group setting eliminates many pressures and temptations, being alone escalates them.  Combine these temptations with raging hormones (on both sides) minus the emotional maturity and wisdom to understand the dangers – you are asking for trouble.   Pregnancy and STD’s are just two of the devastating consequences waiting to pounce on our young children who cave in to the physical temptations they face.
  4. Dating creates isolation & thus does not encourage community.  Group settings are the safest setting throughout every aspect of life.  Fish travel in schools.  Wolves travel in packs.  Gazelles travel in groups.  Interestingly, women go to the bathroom in groups of two or more.  Apparently the woman’s restroom is wrought with danger.  We even have a well-known adage in our culture, “There is safety in ___________.” (In your head you thought “numbers.”)   This is especially true in regards to dating.   Teenagers, like young gazelles, need to be protected (even from themselves) during this time of growth.  Oftentimes their bodies are maturing faster than their emotions.  Very very few can handle such intimate isolation.  The risk outweighs the reward.  Time alone is important for all romantic relationships, but only when that relationship is mature enough to handle it.  
  5. Dating shuns true commitment & cultivates the heart for divorce.  This will no doubt be a controversial point but one that I think is worth making.  Dating’s commitment is generally skin deep.  In other words, it pales in comparison to the commitment of marriage which is “till death do us part.”  When we get accustomed to “leaving” our dating partners (for a variety of reasons), it grooms our heart for the ultimate exit of an unhappy marriage.  Whereas the marriage relationship should have an undying commitment and the “D” word (divorce, shhhhhh!) never mentioned, dating (by default) has a marginal commitment.   After all, you’re “only” dating.  It’s not like you are engaged or married.   The more you date, the more your heart is encouraged to avoid commitment, particularly a lifelong, faithful commitment to one person.  If you don’t like the one you are with now, you can always just date someone else.  It can do a disservice to your heart, ability to commit and future relationships.
  6. Dating does not assist one in guarding their heart.   A human heart can be broken.  It should be the goal of every parent to guard their child’s heart.  It should be the goal of every girl/woman to guard her own heart.  It should be the goal of every boy/man to not only guard his own heart, but also learn how to guard the heart of the girl/woman in his care.   It’s not an easy task – but a necessary one when it comes to relationships.  Too many hearts are broken simply because there was no appropriate guard in place.  Because dating is so personal and intimate, it is nearly impossible to guard one’s heart while doing it.  When the heart is not properly guarded it faces consistent heartbreak which, in turn, causes it to either suffer constantly or become so calloused that it becomes cold and jaded.  Neither consequence is healthy for anyone’s heart – let alone a younger heart, still learning what love is supposed to be.   This is why Solomon (considered to be the wisest man ever to live) wrote these words, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) 
  7. Dating discourages parental involvement (in most cases).  
  8. Dating by-passes parental approval (in most cases).
  9. Dating prohibits parental protection (in most cases).

For now, I’ll leave #7-9 as bullet points.   The main point is that no one knows you better and loves you more than a parent and dating (in the traditional sense) keeps most parents in the dark.  There is more that can be said here for another time or another blog.  

As for my son’s request, he knows it’s not an option right now.  The group setting is where he’ll be or home alone with one of his parents.  He’s a great kid and very mature for his age but for now, we don’t think he’s ready.  Besides, he can’t drive and the last thing anyone wants is a parent on a “date.”  If his Mom and I are wrong, time will reveal that and all we will have lost is time.  If we’re right, we have saved him (and some little girl out there) a world of hurt.   The risk outweighs the reward and since it is my son’s heart in the balance, I’m not willing to risk it.   No 14-year-old girl is worth the cost of his broken heart, entrusted to my care.  

I would love to hear from some of the more seasoned parents on how you handled your children in this regard.  Did you let them date?  Did they date in spite of your wishes?  Positive outcomes?  Negative aspects?  Any broken hearts? 

Parenting, on our best day, is an impossible task.   Recognizing this, Mark Twain gave this helpful parenting tip.  I always laugh when I think of it.

“When you have a child, you should put him in a barrel and feed him through the hole.  When he turns twelve, plug the hole.”

No broken hearts in the barrel, that’s for sure.

Lions and Tigers and Boy Scouts, oh my!

I picked my six-year-old son up from school Monday and as he got in the car he proudly exclaimed, “Dad, I’m going to be a Tiger Cub!”   Since he spends most of his waking moments in the world of make-believe, I assumed he meant the animal.    Doing my best to keep the spirit alive, I said, “That’s great Buddy.  Can I be a lion?”   Apparently I was in the wrong world.   “No, Dad.  I mean a Tiger Cub – like in the Boy Scouts!”

Ah, the Boy Scouts.  Suddenly I had flashbacks to my childhood when I was (briefly) a badge-chasing, knot-tying, wood-carving lad.  I remember collecting a few badges for some of the activities.  I remember learning to tie intricate knots and wondering how in the world that would come in handy as an adult.   The last thing I remember was having a professional boxer come to our monthly meeting (held at the local church) to teach us boys how to box.  Boxing at church seemed odd.  Overall, the boxing lessons were fun until I realized that getting punched in the face was the primary goal of that sport.  I was also scheduled to fight my friend, Craig Eastwood.  Naturally, I began to explain to Craig how he needed to “turn the other cheek” for me.  For some reason he disagreed with my interpretation of that Scripture.  When boxing ended, I retired my gloves and joined a soccer team and never looked back to the Scouts… until tonight.

Tonight was the informational meeting at my son’s school and since he was so enthusiastic about being a part of it, naturally I went.   We were greeted by a socially awkward ten-year old scout at the door.  His presence physically stopped us from walking past him into the meeting room.  He then nervously recited an obviously memorized script telling him what to say to any prospective Scouters.   The mono-toned script was painful to listen to.  Though I appreciate the leadership that he was forced to exercise, it wasn’t the best first impression.  I almost felt as if I should clap when he finished.  I could see my son’s enthusiasm wane a bit.

Once we entered, there were about twenty children, as many adults and approximately four scout leaders, all wearing the traditional Boy Scout shirt adorned with badges.   The leaders were very friendly and encouraged us to sit at a table with Boy Scout literature.

Having led hundreds of meetings in my day, I have come to appreciate beginning a meeting on time.   Since it was a Boy Scout meeting, I assumed that their meetings would always begin on time.  After all, aren’t they like the military for boys?  I was wrong.  The time was now 6:39 and we were still sitting there waiting for something to happen, 9 minutes behind schedule.   Everyone was getting restless, especially my little guy.  Finally, a leader stood up to address the room.   Not surprisingly, he looked nervous.   When he opened his mouth, it was confirmed.  Perhaps the Boy Scouts need to add “public speaking” to their list of activities.   I bet if they made a badge for it, some would learn how to do it.

The Scout leader stated his credentials in the Boy Scouts.  I don’t remember the details but it is safe to say he has been in the Scouts since the Early Ming Dynasty.   He went on to talk about the different aspects of the Scouts, what the kids will be learning, the advantages to getting involved & the cost.   The whole presentation was aided by a PowerPoint slide show that was handled by an apparent Den Mother.  Though she could no doubt find her way out of the wilderness, she had no idea how to navigate the laptop.   If the Bad News Bears were to run a meeting, this is what it would have looked like.  When she realized that she was losing the attention of those in the room, she promptly taught us the Boy Scouts international symbol for “stop talking.”   It looks exactly like the international “peace” sign, except the two finger tips are the wolf’s ears and the rest of the fingers are closed, symbolizing the wolf’s mouth.   When her hands go up, our mouths go closed, like the wolf.  As she is teaching us this important silencer with all seriousness, I had an involuntary flashback to the hilarious rooftop scene in the movie, Hangover, where the bachelor party speech mentions the wolf pack.

As the meeting was finally coming to a close my son leans over and whispers, “Dad, can we go?  I don’t want to do Scouts anymore.”   What???   I was shocked.  For the last two days all the boy has talked about was being a part of the Scouts.  Now, he wants out.  When I pressed him as to why he had changed his mind, he simply said the three words that can kill interest for any person, particularly a six-year-old boy:  “It looks boring.”   You know what?  He was right.   From the moment we walked into the building to the time we learned how to close our mouths like a wolf, it was boring.   Though I know that the Boy Scouts is a good organization and that they will teach helpful skill sets over the years, I felt the same way that night.  The meeting was boring.  The leaders were boring.  They made their information boring.  Certainly, the presentation was boring.   There was little enthusiasm in the room.  It was business as usual and they just lost their first customer.

As we were walking to the car, I wanted to make sure this was his decision, not mine.  I told him that the Scouts would be fun and that he would come to love it.   Maybe this wasn’t the right Troop for us.   His mind was made up.  He was already on to the next thing, “Daddy, can I play soccer instead and you be my Coach?”  Aaaah, music to my ears!

Soccer is more my element.  Coaching is more my speed.  I’m much better at chasing a moving ball then tying an Angler’s loop.   I am certainly better at teaching the fundamentals of a corner kick than I am at starting a campfire.  And at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter if my son becomes an Eagle Scout or if he plays badminton.   What is important is that we were together, bonding as Father and Son.

That’s the beauty of organizations like the Boy Scouts.  They create opportunities to bond with your child.  Quite frankly, there isn’t enough of it today.   With school and work schedules to balance, it’s hard enough grabbing a meal with a child let alone go fishing or hiking or camping.   And yet, this is the time to do it – while they are still at home and dependent upon parents for just about everything.

There is no substitute for time with your children.   Though quality time is important, quantity time is still essential.  And quantity time takes…. time.  Has it been awhile since you spent quantity time with your son?  When is the last time you bonded with your daughter?   Get in their world somehow.   Whether it is Scouts or sports or crafts or serving the homeless – grab your child and do something with them.  You won’t regret it.  And in the process, you just might master a new skill or teach them one.  If nothing else, you communicate love to your child.   And EVERY child needs quantity time with their parents and to hear verbal affirmations from them.  Even God Himself understands how important this is,

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)