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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Fathers! Don’t Give Up On Family Devotions

Fathers! Don’t Give Up On Family Devotions

Apple tree with fruitsFruit requires care and time to grow. For example, the honeycrisp apples that my family enjoys picking each fall requires diligent watering, feeding, pest and disease treatments over the preceding spring and summer months. Spiritual fruit also requires diligent care and time to grow. In this regard, it would seem that our children are not all that different from honeycrisp apples, peaches, or rambutan. What is your plan for providing diligent watering, feeding, and weeding? While church attendance and godly relationships are certainly part, don’t minimize the impact that family devotions can have.

Holding to a regular, if not daily, commitment to spend time in the Word together as a family is harder and harder to do. If it’s not a scheduling conflict, it’s a cell phone chirping, or a blank stare. We may just decide to give up, thinking it isn’t worth the time and effort. Se la vie.

Can’t we all identify with these feelings? I was recently reminded of how important it is to continue with family devotions when I heard about two young men from different homes who gave testimony about how in the midst of serious self-inflicted troubles God had brought to their minds truths they had learned many years earlier in family devotions. The reminder of these truths was instrumental in their restoration to the Lord and to their families.

Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s word will accomplish the purpose for which he sent it—even if the purpose God has in mind may not be carried out until many years later. That realization should serve as a great encouragement especially on the days when all you see are blank stares and you want to quit.

Lest I be misunderstood: family devotions never transformed anybody. Just like merely going to church doesn’t make someone a Christian. It is always God through his Holy Spirit who creates change in our hearts. Family devotions, though, is a good tool for hearing and applying the Word that the Holy Spirit uses to do his transforming work.

A healthy perspective on family devotions is a long term one. There will be good days, bad days, and skipped days. We cannot waiver after a few bad or missed days. Faithfulness is both an end and a means to that end. God wants his children to live faithful lives which includes countless mountain tops and valleys over a lifetime. God is pleased as we continue seeking him in the valleys and glorifying him on the mountain tops. He reveals himself as faithful through that enduring pattern.

A life-long result will usually only be achieved within a life-long process. When our approach to family devotions is faithful, we can expect that God will do abundantly beyond anything that would ever hope or think (Eph. 3:20). The effect we’re after is long term faithfulness in our children which means keeping at it. When we read the word, discuss it, and apply it we are setting ourselves up for success. Don’t give up!

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Ten Books for Every Father’s Bookshelf

Ten Books for Every Father’s Bookshelf

This list is not in any particular order.
  1. ESV Study Bible (or ESV Transformation Bible)
2. Instruments in the Hands of the Redeemer
3. Idols of the Heart
4 The Glory of Christ
5. Age of Opportunity
6. Give Them Grace
7. When Sinners Say I Do
8. Redemption, Accomplished and Applied
9. Transforming Grace
10. The Naked Gospel
A Simple Way to Present the Gospel to Young Children

A Simple Way to Present the Gospel to Young Children

gospel to childrenIt was very late one night. I was working in my office when one of the “sibling informers” stormed into my office with tidings of great destruction that one of my young sons had foisted on his older brother’s fish tank. Apparently, this young child had gone into the room and dumped a whole can of fish food and a whole bottle of chemicals into this delicately balanced salt water tank. Nemo and the corals were dying fast. Dropping things into the water had been a problem in the past. So, my young son knew what he was doing was wrong. But this incident was far worse.

Jesus Had to Die For That

I took the young offender aside and had a little conversation about the matter. He came around to admitting that what he had done was wrong and asked forgiveness of his older brother. A turning point in our conversation was when I told him, “Do you realize that Jesus had to die for you to be forgiven for what you just did?”

Although young children are not able to think too abstractly, that seemed to make an impact on him. A young child can understand that they do bad things. A young child can have a sense that sin is bad by being told the story of Jesus’ suffering on the cross. Being able to connect the awful nature of the cross with what he did helped him better understand how wrong what he did really was.

Lord willing, it also helped him see the greatness of his forgiveness in Christ a little more clearly. Maybe that was a poignant moment that he will remember for a long time to come. No doubt, there will be many, many more conversations where that truth will need to be repeated. But that is the point. Discipline is a regular occurrence where the reality of Christ’s work can be more clearly understood and embraced when we explain that work in those moments.

Moments of Discipline Are Opportunities Not Just For Law, But For Grace, Too

Because we are in a rush, it is easy to simply drive things toward a confession of the wrong done, ask forgiveness and get back to our game of candy crush. But it is a great opportunity to say, “Jesus had to die to forgive you for what you just did.” It makes Jesus’ work more personal. It helps one see how bad ALL sin is no matter how insignificant we might think it is. It also helps us begin to understand the grace that is ours because of the cross! This produces repentance resulting in greater Christ-likeness in our children. As parents, we need to confront ourselves similarly. As we practice it ourselves, we will be better prepared to minister this same grace to our children.

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Encouragement for Fathers

Encouragement for Fathers

dadboysMany fathers have concluded that God cannot use them to minister to their wives and children. Ironically, I have actually heard some men use the following as justification, “I’m not like the men God used in the Bible (suggesting that these men were much closer to perfect)!”  Oh, really? Were the men God used in the Bible really better?

Truth is, none of us are good enough. Since Adam ate the apple, we’re far too selfish. The men God used in the Bible, like us, are deeply flawed. But God is gracious and looks for the humble heart that is willing to move forward in faith remembering that his strength and his ability are not in himself but in Christ alone.

Jesus’ victory on the cross is our victory over the comfort idol that is often the real reason we don’t minister. His victory over sin’s power is also our victory over the guilt that Satan loves to use to beat us down.  As men, our union with Christ has given us what we need to lead.

Take a look at the list of some of the fathers (and their sins) God used in the Bible and be encouraged! No matter how dysfunctional your situation may be; no matter how deficient you think you are, no matter what you’ve done to mess it up, nothing is beyond the grace of God working in us.

To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

To Understand the Heart: Understand the Treasure

Breaking Through the Maze to Freedom“Getting to the heart” is something we know we should do but honestly, wouldn’t you rather just clean the bathroom? I remember someone giving me a list of 14 questions to ask that “get to the heart”. Why even try? Scripture, though, tells us a simpler way.

Luke 6:45 tells us, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

If you want to get to the heart, simply define the treasure driving the person’s actions. What is it they want? The more you get to know a person, the more easily it is to discern what the various treasures are that steer their hearts toward good or evil.

One of my boys clearly treasures building and racing cars. He is actually quite skilled at it. That is his treasure with a capital “T”. This is so obvious that his siblings even sometimes joke when he is racing on Xbox… “He’s worshipping at the shrine again!” When work is not getting done, the reason usually is that his heart is being overtaken by this other, competing treasure. Getting to the heart of the matter has become a bit easier when we simply ask him, “Which treasure are you/were you seeking when you spent 2 hours playing Xbox when you should have been cleaning the kitchen?”

The interest in cars is not inherently sinful, in fact it is part of what makes him unique. God has gifted him with unusual knowledge and ability for someone his age. How God uses that will be very exciting to see. But when he seeks that treasure to such a degree that he is not doing what he is supposed to, then he knows that he has made that treasure an idol which has produced, various forms of “evil” in his actions…not doing the good he’s supposed to do.

One of the benefits of looking at the heart this way is that it helps us (especially as parents) avoid making an otherwise good thing, bad, which can be quite damaging. Sometimes, the treasure is inherently evil and it has to be declared as such. But the nature of idolatry is that it usually starts out as something good that we end up making bad when we depend on it (treasure it) to provide for us what we can only find in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thinking about the heart in terms of treasure brings clarity to what is going on in a person’s life so that corrective action can be taken.