Simplified Communication

Simplified Communication

simple communicationLife.  Overcomplicated!  Hard.  To.  Simplify.  Argh!

Whether it is making a simple weekend plan or figuring out exactly how to help someone struggling with fear, worry or anxiety; we can quickly get frustrated.  Our identity as ambassadors for Jesus Christ who speak grace according to the need of the moment, can instantly degrade into something like Genghis Kahn demanding food after a long day of marauding the countryside.  Bringing clarity and resolution to the issues in our hearts is not turn-key.  Wisdom, discernment, and understanding are needed but those usually require more time.  Where do you start?  How do you minister in the moment especially if you’re short on time?  Here is a helpful little diagnostic tool that quickly brings initial clarity and a way forward.

It is what I call the “1 to 10 scale”.  Sophisticated isn’t it?  To bring definition to an otherwise complicated, and sometimes emotional situation, especially when time is short I will sometimes ask, “On a 1-10 scale, 1 being good, 10 being bad… how do you feel about the situation?”  Or, I might say, “Rate each of the three issues you are struggling with.” Or, “Over the past two weeks, how intense has your struggle been with this?”

If someone is struggling with fear, worry, and anxiety.  I will ask, “On the WAF scale (worry, anxiety, and fear) where are you?  A “1, 2, or 3” answer means the issue is not exigent.  I can give a word of encouragement, pray about it with them and move on–but come back to it.  On the other hand, an “8, 9, or 10” means that I need to take time for a fuller conversation now or soon.

When trying to communicate, I find the scale extremely helpful.  When I can’t figure out exactly how one feels about something such as a career path or how one feels about a particular friend for example, a number is quite helpful in cutting through the conflicting emotions and forces a clearer idea of the intensity of the struggle.

Certainly, it would be counterproductive to reduce all such conversations to the 1-10 scale.  This is only a diagnostic tool.  But it is helpful tool at certain times.  While it is not sufficient to deal with most situations, it is a decent barometer for discernment, understanding, and formulating a word of grace in the moment.

 

The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

The Second-Most Important Thing a Father can Pray

May I suggest that after our children’s salvation in Jesus Christ, the second-most important prayer we can pray for our children is actually… a prayer for ourselves: “God, please turn my heart toward my children.”

We need to pray this prayer for at least four reasons.

#1. Our identity is one of being ambassadors of Jesus Christ to our children(Deut. 6, Eph. 6:1-4, 2 Cor. 5:20). God’s clearly revealed will is to use us as the primary evangelizers and disciplers of “our” children. To do this well, our hearts need to embrace what is already true about us: that we have been given this calling. God’s callings are His enablings.

#2. We are easily distracted by everything going on around us.Technology has made our attention spans like that of gnats on espresso. Instant gratification is just milliseconds away. Consequently, we’d rather lick the icing than make the cake. Priorities? What are those? Everything seems equal in importance. We complain about the tyranny of the urgent but in our worst moments we use it is a convenient excuse for why we rarely engage our children on a deeper, spiritual level. What do we really value most? Our hearts must change.
#3. We would rather pursue things that bring us glory.Let’s be honest. Discipling children, even with its joys, is still what sometimes feels like an odyssey into the paranormal that does more to humble us than shower us with accolades of success. We find it easier to give our time to pursuits that we find much more affirming, immediately rewarding and fun. Our hearts must change.

#4. God is conforming our children into his image, not our image.Our children were created in God’s image, not our own. Jesus’ death and resurrection ensures the transformation of his children into his image. Yet, how often do we find ourselves trying to conform them to an identity that wehave planned out for them? God has a plan for “our” children that usually looks different than our own. We have to stop the tug-of-war with God. God’s dream needs to become our dream. Our hearts need to change.

Time is short. It seems to go by ever so slowly until you wake up and realize that you’ve been at it ten years and the things you wanted to do “tomorrow” you didn’t do. Regret is hard to live with. I already regret things I should have done but didn’t because in key moments, my heart was somewhere else.

Good fathers are not perfect (as if that were even possible). Instead, good fathers are weak fathers who have hearts that are increasingly mastered not by guilt, fear, or self-righteousness but by the overwhelming, compelling love of Jesus Christ for us—in our weakness.

His love for us becomes compelling when each day we realize ALL that he has done for us in making us new creations and giving us every spiritual blessing. We have been given a new identity that is rocket fuel for us fathers.

What are you praying for as a father? Is it for God to change your heart toward your children? If so, seeing all that God has already given you in Jesus is a powerful tool he will use to answer your prayer.

Take a look at what Jesus has done for you!

Please consider the following two resources. First, my 38 minute webinar, Three Wounds Fathers Face and How Our Identity in Christ Helps us Overcome Them, and then second, our 25 page booklet, Who ARE You? For Men!
Books For Men With NO Time to Read!

Books For Men With NO Time to Read!

Months ago, I published an article recommending 10 books every father should have on his bookshelf. Today, I am adding to that list!

The Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in cooperation with New Growth Press has published a list of 116 mini-books covering about every type of issue you can face in your home. A partial list is provided below.

  • Each booklet is small, only about 4″ x 7″.
  • Each booklet is very brief, only about 25 pages and immediately practical, powerful, and encouraging.
  • I have referred to many of these mini-books, many times over the past several years. What a blessing to be able to get quick answers without having to read a typical 200 page book!
  • I purchased about 50 of these min-books and placed them in a special box that my wife and children can pick up and read as needed. They have proven to be a tremendous help to all of us.
  • The best deal on these mini-books is found at wtsbooks.com.
Partial List
Depression
Anger
Marriage
Stress
Priorities
Pornography
Depression
Suicide
Worry
Thankfulness
Pleasure
OCD
Domestic Abuse
Child Abuse
Bad Memories
ADD
Forgiveness
Pre-Engagement
Procrastination
Self-Injury
Grief
Just One More
Who Should I Date?
Teens and Sex
Suffering
Homoexuality
Sexual Sin
Sexual Addiction
Sex before Marriage
Restoring Your Broken Marriage
How to Talk to Your Kid About Sex
How to Love Difficult People
Family Feuds
Eating Disorders
A Father’s Guide to Raising Boys/Girls
Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Freedom for Frustrated Fathers

Maybe it’s a Saturday. You are busy doing any number of things all at once: entering receipts into Quicken, squeezing in a three and a half minute conversation with your wife, or trying to fix the leaky faucet in the kitchen… and then it happens. Like a bolt of lightning screeching from a cumulonimbus cloud, one of your kids rushes in, “Dad! Will you please do something about (insert sibling’s name)?! I am SO SICK AND TIRED of how he doesn’t listen to me!”

It is in those encounters that as fathers we might close our eyes and ask, “WHY is this happening to me—again?!” At worst, we might think, “Why did I ever think it was a good idea to have children?!”

Those are revealing moments. Thankfully, our righteousness is not in our performance as fathers, but irrevocably in Jesus Christ. We can confess such thoughts and our angry, frustrated, or disinterested responses as sin and be forgiven. But wouldn’t it be better to simply have a good response in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better to quit viewing such events as pesky distractions and instead embrace them with a completely different perspective?

Consider the following quote: These guys who fear becoming fathers don’t understand that fathering is not something perfect men do, but something that perfects the man. The end product of childrearing is not the child but the parent.

I do not endorse that statement as a philosophy for parenting. But there is a powerful string of truth in it that is insightful and even biblical. Romans 8:28-29 talks about how God uses “all things” in our lives to conform us to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. For fathers, this includes those situations where we struggle with our kids’ behavior. We should ask God to show us how he is using these situations to reveal how—we—need to change!

I confess that I am often wrapped up in my own issues to the extent that I sometimes don’t see that there are other people—even my own kids who are standing right in front of me—who need/want my help. In fact, I often see those moments as the burdensome requirements of parenting rather than providentially orchestrated opportunities for greater redemption in my own life.

If God is trying to show us something about ourselves, and we refuse to listen, we are kicking against the goads. Often, he uses our spouses and children as his sanctifying tool. We can conquer these tests by asking God, “Ok. What are you teaching ME here?” When we know we’re struggling with our own attitude, asking this question helps position us not only to minister to our children, but to do so in a way that allows us to see God’s redemptive intention for us as well.

When the lightning strikes and we remember that God intends to refine us, too, it humbles and comforts us and then compels us to minister in a truly redemptive way. This provides an entirely different perspective on the otherwise frustrating situations we often encounter with our kids.

 

Be Ordinary

Be Ordinary

 

ORDINARY - metal finish text on black studio - 3D rendered stock photoThe hotel ballroom was packed. I was one of three plenary speakers at a conference for youth and children’s ministry leaders. In commenting on the alarming trend of churches hemorrhaging youth, one of the speakers said, “Kids who grew up in Christian homes feet like second class citizens in the church.”

He went on to explain the basis of his claim. The church, he said, finds the testimony of people who were radically saved out of a life of deep sin (drug addiction for example) much more exciting than the testimonies of Christian children who grew up in faithful Christians homes and avoided those sins. What does this say about how we define what is really important? Michael Horton, in his book, Ordinary, has an answer.

The tendency of the evangelical movement has always been to prioritize extraordinary methods and demands over the ordinary means that Christ instituted for sustainable mission… I am convinced that we have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday… We have grown accustomed to running sprints instead of training for the long-distance marathon.

You may have heard and prayed the Scriptures with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture with your family each day, perhaps even learning the great truths of Scripture through a catechism at home and at church. Yet in the evangelical culture of the new and novel, none of this really counts. What really matters is the extraordinary spiritual event, that life-changing experience. In fact, your testimony is likely to be regarded as greater—more genuine—to the extent that the experience happened apart from any connection with the ordinary life of the church, like baptism, profession, the Supper, and the communal prayers, praise, laments, and fellowship of Christ’s body.

Real Growth Occurs in the Ordinary

Scripture contains many incidents of people being extraordinarily converted or benefitting from a life transforming moment. Enoch, Elijah, Naaman, the woman with a hemorrhage, Lazarus, and Paul the Apostle immediately come to mind. But the normative plan that God has given for transformation is, well, quite ordinary.

The Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20) is itself a call to the ordinary. When it says, “Go and make disciples” we can read “Go” and wrongly think only of extraordinary events such as short term mission trips or a missions emphasis week. But what is meant is more like, “As you go”. Making disciples is an ordinary process that occurs in the ordinariness of everyday life.

As parents, does it get any more ordinary than Deuteronomy 6:4-9? “Teach your children as you rise up, as you lie down, and as you walk by the way.” Jesus’ approach to discipleship was equally ordinary. His disciples just walked with him. The events in the gospels are mainly ordinary. Even the miracles grew more out of the mundane, ordinary path of life. Extraordinary blessings can be—and usually are—reaped from within the ordinary.

Examples of “ordinary” include:

  • Reading Scripture together, daily, as a family.
  • Calling the kids together for a family meeting and starting off with prayer.
  • Working through a conflict about which lights (white or multi-colored) we are going to put on the Christmas tree this year.
  • Conversations where hopes and dreams, fears and failures are shared with one another.
  • Discussing the devastating impact that a neighbor’s job loss has had on his outlook in life.
  • Taking time to stop what you’re doing to discipline a child.
  • Listening to the word being taught in a small group, Sunday school or sermon.
  • Giving attention to The Lord’s Supper.
  • Being intentional about having a child baptized and/or examined for church membership.
  • Visiting a sick or discouraged neighbor or church member.
  • Writing your spouse an encouraging note.
  • Helping a teenager through friendship struggles and decision
  • Inviting a neighbor over for a meal.
  • Praying with and for one another.

The significance of each of these opportunities is not always found in the moment itself, but in each one’s place as a link to others. There is a dynamic interrelationship that is usually indiscernible but absolutely essential. Collectively they weave together to form a tapestry that is actually rich and full. While we can miss opportunities, the problem comes when missing them becomes a pattern.

We really do need more strength to attend to these ordinary things than we need to do something much more “extraordinary”… and fun. Tish Harrison Warren captures this sentiment well, “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.”

Why God Chooses Ordinary

God is glorified when we pursue the ordinary because it requires that we first be satisfied in God. Until we find our rest in God, our hearts will always be restless. Our attentions will be blinded by our own fleshly ambitions. We demonstrate ultimate satisfaction in God when we set aside our agenda in order to take these ordinary opportunities. God is also glorified when we wait in dependence upon him to do the transforming that he has already said HE will do (Phil. 1:6). This is an active–and expectant–waiting on our part. While we wait, we joyfully pursue the mundane knowing that God is using our efforts.

Two Promises For Ordinary People

Two passages immediately come to mind that provide hope for those who cultivate an extraordinary thirst for the ordinary.

Matthew 28:20. “I am with you always”. God’s Holy Spirit is with us always. He is our Helper in faithfulness. What a wonderful promise that we don’t have to muster the strength on our own because very often, we don’t have the strength for ordinary duties.

Galatians 6:9. “And let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.” That is a powerful promise that God will work. We will reap. God will accomplish his redemptive plan although that plan is almost never achieved quickly or easily in our lives. This is hard to remember in those situations where we’re in deep with other people.

Growth is really a process. When you think about it, the fact that growth is a process actually a good thing. We can fail. We can get up again, confess our sin, ask forgiveness, and work again toward Christ-likeness. Imagine how hard it would be if our growth and the growth of others was dependent upon us getting it right at pre-selected extraordinary moments? As it is, the ordinariness of life is a great blessing. Let us seek to be more faithful in the ordinary pursuits of the Christian life in the church and in the home.

If you’re up to it, consider taking this simple self-assessment to see how “ordinary” you really are!

Four Keys for Every Father

Four Keys for Every Father

keytosuccessOur busy lives necessitate a review of what is important lest we get swallowed up in the tyranny of the urgent. Following is a simple guide to help fathers keep the edge in the discipleship of their children.

Key #1. Ensure That Your Children Know the Gospel

Fathers do well who intentionally present the gospel and pray regularly for their children who have not made a profession of faith. Without intentionality, days can turn into weeks. Weeks can turn into months. Months can turn into years. Many valuable opportunities are lost. Family worship is a great tool. Family worship that keeps Christ as the message provides many natural opportunities to present man’s sin and its consequences, the beauty of Christ, probe a child’s understanding of these truths, and lead them in a faith commitment to Christ.

Just as important is to be intentional about teaching how growth in Christ is also a work of faith in Christ. By faith, we believe that our new identity in Christ is in fact a present reality and also provides us blessings that through the Holy Spirit, give us the power we need to confess sin, repent and live for God’s glory. Christian growth is not a performance art. As Jesus told his disciples, “the work of God is to believe on him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Effort is required but the focus of the effort is our faith–applied.

UCH has a simple tool that helps fathers lead the family in a study of identity. Our Who Are You? booklet takes a look at 12 identity statements that can be studied individually, as a family, or as a Small Group to motivate growth in Christ. To learn more about Who Are You? click here.

Key #2. Equip Your Children to Minister in Your Home 

Puritan Thomas Manton wrote, “The home is the seminary of the church and state”. Manton’s words capture so well the core truth that the home is where God designed us to learn how to live the gospel. This is not just a call for parents, but siblings, too. All who are in Christ are simultaneously members of two families: our nuclear family and the church family. Siblings are spiritual brothers and sisters who not only share the chores. They can learn how to speak the truth [the gospel] to one another in love (Eph. 4:15, Rom. 14:15, Gal. 6:1-2). Is gospel encouragement in the daily vocabulary of our children? That sets the bar high! But are we teaching them how to do this? Do they see that this is important for each other’s growth? The more effective we are as fathers at teaching this, the more we will see it also in our churches.

Key #3. Encourage Your Children to Pursue a Healthy Connection with the Local Church

Do your children attend a small group with you? Do they participate on some level in the meeting or are they dismissed at the good part? The small group that I lead is about as diverse a group in age and interest as there could ever be—somewhat to the chagrin of my children at times. There are no teens for my teenage children to relate to. This has been a real test of commitment on the part of my children and also a real opportunity to learn about authentic covenant community. But they are not alone in needing to take an interest in the younger and older members. Older adults need (and in fact do) to take an interest in them.

We all need to intentionally engage one another in God’s very diverse covenant family. This is not always easy. But that is what God has called us to do—for his glory and our own joy! In our small group and on Sunday mornings we see kids assist in leading worship even sharing God’s work in their lives with the entire church. Most get up at a predetermined part of our Sunday service to go over to a person needing prayer to pray for him or her. There is real fruit there that gives great hope that these children will be strong leaders in the homes and churches of the future.

Key #4. Engage Unbelieving Neighbors

Finally, we need to encourage our children to minister evangelistically to other people. Participation in the annual summer youth group community project is good of course, but there’s more. Paul taught that we are missionaries to our neighbors (Acts 1:8). We are extensions of our local church in this regard. It is a joy to hear neighbors discoursing about faith when they are engaged by children. Our children can make a huge impact for Christ. I confess that I am challenged by this but I’ve also seen gratifying fruit.

IMMEDIATE IDEA! Consider inviting an unbelieving neighbor over for Thanksgiving/Easter. Yes, it changes the dynamic a little but we have found it to be quite powerful and fun. The gospel can be naturally included when we talk about the real Thanksgiving or Easter story.

Reaching out to the lost with the hope we have in Christ is integral to our calling… and is a great joy! To read more about reaching out to our neighbors, please check out my recent series on the topic, here.

At this moment in the history of our country when there is rabid anxiety and fear, consider that God is certain. As fathers, we are in a unique position to give the ones we love the most—our children—what they need the most. Let us strive to be faithful to disciple our children in these simple four areas.

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