Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Five Things To Teach Your Kids This Easter

There is a little funny that's not so funny, one that we pastors often say before holidays like Christmas and Easter. Here it is: Holidays are hard to write sermons for because the story is always the same. In other words, most of our regular attenders have heard the narrative for decades. And most visitors have at least some sense of what the celebration is about even if they don't have all the details quite right.

So our job is to try to keep presenting the holiday message in ways that continue to keep people's attention, make it practical to life and not bore then in the process. It's not always easy.

That's why I want to also challenge you parents to be a part of helping make this Easter, now just days away, come alive and not just be another special day. I'm not saying you can't enjoy dressing up a little, having some candy around or getting together with family. But God actually tells us as parents that we're to be the chief purveyors of biblical truth, example and understanding. Seems like that needs to include the preeminent day of our Christian calendar.

So let's think for a few minutes about what might be several of the most important things you could reinforce about Easter in your children, young or old, this year.

1. Teach them that Jesus is also the reason for this season.  Yes, we usually use this phrase at Christmas, but Easter is the rest of the story. Jesus came at Christmas to ultimately face Good Friday and Easter thirty-three years later. So don't let the candy and usual other festivities cause the rest of the Jesus story to take a back seat to the exciting and vital conclusion.

2. Teach them why Jesus had to die for us. This can be a hard concept but doesn't have to be. You might talk about how even in our community and national governments there are laws and when laws are broken there is punishment. Someone else can take the punishment but the laws don't change and the charges aren't dropped. Jesus died so that we could enter God's presence clean and holy, something we could never do ourselves.

3. Teach them that Jesus had to rise from the dead or He could never die in our place. He would have been just one of us then, someone who died but didn't come back to life on earth. His rising was proof that He was everything that He said He was, including being God, a perfect, unblemished Lamb, like those needed in the Old Testament.

4. Teach them how Easter has changed your life. It's just another nice holiday especially to children  if the day seems to have little significance to the ones who teach them about it. You don't have to get all theological or super spiritual either. Just show them how Christ's forgiveness, power and purpose have caused you to look at life and the people in the world through Jesus' eyes, not your own. What difference has it made in your career, how you run your home and what's important to your family? Tell them stories. They'll listen.

5. Teach them how to tell their Easter story to others - all year long. No, we don't need to be great evangelists or go door to door (which tends to be dangerous these days). Teach them to live life in a way that others ask them about why they make those choices, help them to learn to tell their salvation story in a simple form and how to lead someone else to Christ.

Of course, all five of these things are age-dependent and you'll need to introduce and adjust the details accordingly. But this Easter, let it be a weekend when Christ comes truly alive again in your home, your purposes and your talk. It could change your home forever.

Friday, March 3, 2017

5 Ways To Teach Your Kids The Bible Without Boring Them To Death

Jackie and I were on one of our annual couple getaways, a time each year when we put life on hold, found a nice hotel with a hot tub, enjoyed being face to face without much interruption and evaluated how we were doing. We would also try to come up with some next steps that we wanted to take to shore up a hole or two or simply be better as a couple or as parents.

This particular year, however, we realized that we weren't doing a very good job teaching our young children about spiritual things, biblical content and how to live in a way that honors Jesus. Like many, while we were blessed with godly parents and Christian homes, we still struggled with how to do family worship as some would call it, and yet have our kids (and us) actually enjoy it.

In addition our two kids, a boy and a girl, were nearly five years apart adding a few other challenges. So one of the ideas we came up with was to start acting out Bible stories rather than just read them from the Bible or other not so interesting book. We quickly discovered that younger children get especially engaged when they can be a part of the story.

Our son especially enjoyed being the lion to my Daniel while anything Amy could do to dress up made any story extra fun for her. All their stuffed animals lined up on our couch as we went through Noah and the ark made for an especially fun time. You can imagine how others might have turned out.

That little exercise helped us realize that there are other ways to get our kids into the Scriptures. I don't have time to cover more than a few ideas but I encourage you to think of ones that might work best in your home, with your unique kids, backgrounds and training.

However, let me mention a couple of directions you might go. One is to watch a movie and plan to talk about some of the implications afterwards. Of course, your choice of movie and even whether to use this idea will depend on the maturity of your children. If they're not old enough for a full-length movie, use a short piece that they can hang with long enough to get one important idea.

You can also serve together at a local shelter, retirement home, children's home or low-income neighborhood. Somewhere in the process read some of the key Bible passages (and there are many) about helping the poor, widows and others in need. Talk about their experience and let them verbalize other life lessons.

Do an interactive study where everyone gets to participate, answer a question or give a comment. Try using a simple method such as W-O-R-D, with W standing for worship and looking for a characteristic of God, Jesus or the Spirit. O stands for observe. R stands for reflect on what it might mean to you and D is do, what actions could come as a result of reading this passage?  Again, this must be age appropriate but it works.

You see, there are lots of ways to teach the Bible, to place God's truth in the hearts of our kids and yet do it in such a way that it is welcomed, enjoyed and embraced. Are you willing to try some things at your house this year? Training our kids in the way they should go is not optional, parents, and it's not up to the church or Christian school to do it all though they can help.

I wonder how many more of us just might look forward to embracing the challenges from our pastors and other leaders if we only had a little creative success along the way. Try it. You can't afford not to. Go for it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Teach R-E-S-P-E-C-T Because It's Almost G-O-N-E

Today our next U.S. President will be sworn in. But apparently scores of our own elected Representatives are going to boycott because they disagree with him. Hollywood elites have publicly stated their own uninformed disdain for him and other with whom they disagree. For months now police have been excoriated for just doing their job, mistreated at many junctures because one law officer did something unwise or even made a horrible mistake.

An NFL player the other day was found live on Facebook blatantly doing exactly what his coach was saying in another part of the locker room NOT to do. Soldiers these days are continually mocked, scorned and ignored for serving their country admirably. Respect?

College professors feel they can promote their religious faith, leaders or atheistic perspectives while making fun or even providing lower grades to those who don't hold similar views. Respect?

There are few who are exempt from the disrespect, now almost a badge of courage to many of those in the media, halls of politics or entertainment business. What has happened to respect? In my thinking it's slowly being gobbled up by crass humor, entitlement, elitism and selfishness.

It's one thing to disagree with someone. It's another to call them names, speak about them in a setting designed for another purpose or to simply treat them as dirt because they don't happen to see or live life the way you do.

And it happens in many smaller arenas including churches, schools, local governments, neighborhood associations and restaurants. And what is even worse is that those doing the disrespecting demand exactly that of themselves or of those who they would support. It's what I call one-way tolerance.

What is respect? Treating another person with dignity and openness whether we agree with them or not. And if our culture is going to remove it then we parents must be that much more determined to require it of our children, model it and go the extra mile to see that it remains a value in our homes, churches and places of work.

How do we teach it? One, model it in your own conversations or commentary on public life. Use phrases like, we may not agree but that person still deserves our respect.

Two, ask those who disagree with you to 'tell me more.' Be willing to learn more about what someone else thinks before you respond to their perspective. Still be their friend and agree to disagree.

Three, I think we need to keep speaking out against the one-way tolerance and commentary. We can graciously write to our political leaders and editorial pages while speaking about it with those we know. Maybe at some point a few people will finally realize that if we lose R-E-S-P-E-C-T we're going to also lose part of O-U-R-S-E-L-V-E-S, something that we may never be able to bring back.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Many Kids Today Are Killing Their Parents . . . Well, sort of.

Sadly, we read almost every week that some family dispute has again occurred and one of the members of what was a generally loving family, mom, dad or a child was killed by one of them. These scenarios are always tragic and horribly sad, but seem to be increasing in many part of the country, most notably larger cities.

However, there is also slow death and dying going on in many more families though thankfully, no one is losing their life per se. If not who, what's dying?

It's meaningful relationship.  It's family time, sometimes church attendance and involvement and memory making together. But perhaps worst of all, many husbands and wives are basically ending their marriage relationship the day their first child comes into the world. While the dwindling of togetherness may move slowly for a while, their relationship can almost disappear once their first child becomes involved in any activities and/or another child comes along.

And obviously more children (and of course more activities) simply add to the messy matrix that absorbs everyone's focus, time, attention and any hope for much in th eway of family interactions.

Sure we cover the problem by attending all their games and activities but most of our interactions are comments like, Call me when you need a ride or Good game! or Be sure you have your homework done.

We call it relationship when we're in their presence, say sitting in the auditorium or the stands watching them participate or driving them to a practice, but it's faux relationship.

And at some point wise parents make some key decisions, not ones that are always popular with family, school parents and the kids. Let me suggest a few of those important choices:

Limit the number of sports, activities, rehearsals and practices you children are involved in. Kids don't have to be in every sport, music group or advance class of something.

Make a family time vacation at least a once or twice event each year.  Plan it together, anticipate the possibilities and be sure there are group activities that are fun for everyone and don't require technology.

Be a mean parent and limit the amount of screen time your kids have on their pads, computers and other technological devices.

Parents need to plan regular husband and wife getaways that the kids actually observe them taking. This is modeling, folks, and your kids may not learn the importance of time together as spouses from anyone else. And single parents can work at saving up for their own getaways as well. That's what grandparents are for.

You can choose your own other ideas to give your family margin and more time for each other. In fact when all is said and done and the question needs to be answered, "What's BEST for our children and what's just GOOD or BETTER?

So often we focus on what looks best competitively for our family when we need to think about what would best help each child grow as a person, future leader, spouse and Christ follower while helping the parents to grow in their love and commitment to each other. And instead of killing their relationship a family like yours could actually be bringing life into your home. What could be better than that?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why We Made Our Kids "Moons" Not the Sun

The solar system is amazing isn't it? Planets (okay, no more Pluto) revolve in continuous orbit around our majestic sun. Each follows a distinct path at varying distances away from the golden globe at our system's center causing a uniqueness in each locale of temperature, general climate and substance.

And even scientists with all their knowledge and brilliance realize there is still so much to learn.

But as incredible as this miracle of physics in God's creation is, it's not a great model for a family if the sun happens to be now occupied by the kids. And in many families that's exactly the situation.

The kids have become the sun and the parents, grandparents and who knows who else are now forced to revolve around them. Activities, vacations, days off and a lot of money are invested every day and every week to keep it all working. In fact, to run the analogy just a bit further, the kids actually can begin to think they're the center of the universe or in other words everything.

They become entitled . . . deserving in their minds of more time, investment and commitment by mom and dad and other siblings not yet acting as their own sun. And this misunderstanding of the familial solar system is hurting, even destroying many a home. Homes that revolve around the kids, as the planets do the sun, are typically not healthy and in many cases self-destructing.

One symptom of over-focusing the life of our family on the children has been parent-hovering, driven by moms and dads who won't let one detail of their child's life be threatening or hurtful. But interestingly, several articles have been published recently in well-respected magazines such as Psychology Today, suggesting that helicopter parenting as it is referred to is even more harmful than once thought.

Of course are kids should be important, loved and very special to us. But they cannot become the center of our home's solar system. That's why we tried to live as though our kids were moons, orbiting and reflecting light from us, light that we tried to reflect from our sun, the wisdom, direction, example and knowledge of God.

In practical terms, that also means that our schedule should, excuse the pun, reflect this same structure. If the kids are not the center of our system, then our calendar will not be all about them. Our lives won't orbit around our kids even though they deserve our attention and appropriate focus. But they will be moons, pulled naturally by other nearby planets, but not the sun.

And frankly, we'll all be better off as a result. We'll slow down. Kids will learn to respect and give to others rather than just get the attention and resources for themselves all the time. We'll all be less stressed and anxious about life, not trying to get it all done and being tired much of the time.

You see, just as God placed our solar system in a structure where each part works well with the others, families need to work the same way. And when kids become the sun then that order and structure gets disrupted and the parts can't work properly.

And while your family will still have its uniquenesses, you'll find yourselves when in the proper orbit enjoying each other far more, connecting on a deeper level and even growing more in faith and other things that really matter. And who knows, maybe even Pluto can be reinstated one of these days!

Monday, September 5, 2016

Why We Need To Quit Trying To Give Our Kids Everything

Another Labor Day weekend has arrived and millions travel, head to beaches, enjoy cookouts or embrace resting for an extra day much deserved. There will myriad parades, special events and end-of-summer celebrations as most of us in the north hope to stretch the warmer temperatures for just a few more weeks if we can.

And yet most of us forget that the holiday is called Labor Day. We ironically take a break from work to celebrate it and those whose work ethic has formed the foundation of this amazing country we live in.

But sadly, many modern parents seem to be skipping the part about teaching their kids what it means to work hard, sacrifice now to save for something later and to perform whatever labors they commit to in the future with honesty, commitment and respect for their leaders. Instead, there seems to be this tendency and temptation to just give kids more and more freebies, while doling out the dollars, gasoline and time so their wishes, longings and dreams will come true.

And yet, these same children will one day soon have to apply for jobs, start at the bottom of the ladder in many cases and stick with something they don't like at first to get to a job they one day will love. Who's teaching kids today what it means to work hard for something, be proud of what they do, endure challenges, relate to different kinds of bosses and stick with a task until it's finished?

I'm not suggesting that we go back to the good old days when our parents or grandparents worked in terrible conditions for pennies a day and eventually opened their own cleaners, bakery or machine shop where they remained for the rest of their lives.

But I am suggesting that it's unwise to simply let our kids do everything they want on our dime so that they don't miss out on any special experience or opportunity. You see when we take that approach they are missing out on something important - learning to work hard on their own, without the special privileges and minus the perks and resources that we provide now which won't likely be there later.

Let me suggest a couple of ideas for helping kids understand the meaning of hard work.

1. Make sure they have a job or two before they go off to college. It might be very part-time and low paying but they will get a taste of the real world.

2. As much as the take your kid to work idea seems contrived and manipulative at times, there's probably a reason to do it on your own time and in your own way. They will learn a lot about what an average day is like the real world and perhaps realize it's not all fun and games.

3. Volunteer as a family. While there's no pay involved there is usually some hard, rewarding work required.

4. Talk about your work, what it took to get there and what you expect from your employees. Let them ask questions, show them examples of your successes and even give them some lessons on how you spend the money you make.

I'm sure you can come up with other ideas. Whatever you do, don't let one more Labor Day go by without a plan to teach your family some more about work. It's what has made America great and what will sustain your kids for the rest of their lives . . .  if you work at it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Five Things To Teach Your Teens Before They Leave The Nest

Let's face it. Teens are often vilified, considered rebels and emotional wrecks much of the time. Many parents hope and pray that everyone can just get along until they are out of the house.

However, the teenage years are an important time for parents to stay very intentional and involved in the ongoing training, development and maturity of their kids who will soon leave their home for good.

While there were challenges of course, we found our kids' teen experiences to be fertile ground for them to still learn important lessons about life that they would use for decades to come. Let me suggest five key goals for parents to have in their plan for adolescent training.

1. Teach them to communicate with adults. Teenagers of course interact with adults in a variety of ways in everyday life but there will be more important opportunities to come. They will need to sit in interviews with colleges and employers, communicate with bosses, neighbors and local merchants. I've met too many teens whose vocabulary with me consisted largely of, "Yeah," "sure," and "okay." That won't cut it in life.

2.  Teach them to make their faith their own. Many teenagers still believe in God, the Bible, salvation in Jesus and the like but have never determined for themselves "why?" Therefore, they lack the ability to also think according to Scripture and logically. Parents can help by initiating discussions and interactions about spiritual issues, tough questions and the validity/reliability of the Bible. Let them question without being criticized.

3. Teach them practical living skills. Both boys and girls need to learn to wash clothes, basic foods and pay bills. Other chores can be added depending upon your household. Of course, aptitude will impact just which skills go to a higher level. I have never been good at fix-it kinds of things so more training would have only moved me up a slight amount in my ability. Nonetheless, there were other things I was required to do that I still do today.

4.  Teach them to show respect, kindness and humility. We live more and more in a me, myself and mine culture so our kids are being programmed to have much of life about them. Give them opportunities to serve others, speak graciously and be polite.

5.  Teach them to work hard. The best way is to model it but make sure they get regular opportunities to work both at home and in the workplace. Expect them to do their best and not settle for average. Encourage them to serve others through mission work and or acts of kindness.

Seeing our adolescents succeed in these areas may seem small but the dividends will be huge and you'll have teens who stand out from the crowd!