Go to the Ant

Years ago, visiting a friend’s home, I stood in the bathroom doorway while she hastily cleaned the toilet for my visit. She apologetically explained that although she had three boys (all older than my kids), she struggled with the amount of time it took to teach them basic household chores, so she ended up doing them herself. That was a significant event for my parental development. I decided I didn’t want to be the one doing all of the household work—not necessarily for my own selfish gain (but, let’s face it: who wants to be the only one caring for the home?!?), but most importantly for the necessary gain of my children. I began to wonder what these boys’ wives would think one day when their husbands didn’t know how to help around the house because their mother didn’t take the time to teach them.

As time progressed, I learned from experience exactly why she didn’t take that time: it’s painstaking drudgery to teach kids to work hard. Everything within us (our fleshly selves) wants to sit this one out and let someone else take care of it. We want to get away with the least amount of work possible without missing any of the benefits.

But God doesn’t call us to a life of laziness. On the contrary, He calls us to diligent work. Judy Rogers has written a fabulous song entitled “Go to the Ant” (you can listen to it here) that’s based off of Proverbs 6:6-11. I love the entire CD, but this song in particular is one I’ll still sing to my kids as I’m encouraging them to do the work God has called them to. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 4:2, “…it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy.” God has generously given us homes to tend to; it is our responsibility to care for them and to teach our kids to do the same.

Gospel Driven Children

I have a news app on my phone that alerted me of the earthquake in Nepal the morning it occurred. Not long after this notification, I received an email in my inbox from Samaritan’s Purse saying they already had workers in Nepal assessing the damage, and they were sending out a team to help with emergency shelter, water, hygiene kits, and other relief. I was amazed at how quickly they responded to this tragedy. I then asked myself why I don’t respond as quickly. Not so much a response to act, necessarily. But, even to just pray. It often takes me awhile to process these things before my heart feels what is happening and then I respond.

If my response is so slow, how can I teach my children to respond to things around the world? Not just simply responding physically to the tragedy, but being Gospel centered and driven to bring the message of hope?

I think a place that we can all start with our kids is here…at home. I cannot help my kids be missions minded abroad if I am not helping them be mission minded where we live: in the schools they attend, the neighborhood we live in, the lives of our friends and family. But, how do we start?

Several months ago, we had someone from our family visiting us for a few days from out of town. My son, Kai, had a song playing on repeat in his mind and heart since we sang it at church on Easter: Christ is Risen. During breakfast one day while our family member was here, Kai started singing that song. “Oh, church come stand in the life (light). God, He’s not dead, He’s alive, HE’S ALLLIIIIVEEE!!” He squeals that last “He’s alive.” Then, his sister joined and sang other portions of this song. Over and over throughout this day, Kai continued to sing this song until he obviously was getting a bit under our guest’s skin. At one point, our guest just said, “Ok, we get it. He’s alive.” As I was watching this whole thing unfold, I was so encouraged. I was encouraged, because my kids are learning to be missions minded, just simply by being who they are with whoever they are with. We sing Gospel centered songs. They sometimes like to be goofy with those songs. But, even in that, they planted a truth into a soul’s heart that Jesus is alive.

We can all tend to complicate this training of our children into Gospel driven people. The task seems daunting sometimes. I’m learning that I just need to take baby steps! They may not fly out to aid in the next overseas tragedy this year, but as I invest into them through daily devotions, reading truth, proclaiming truth, singing truth, they will become missions minded. Lord-willing, this will carry on with them as they grow, and I pray God will use them to make an impact in their families, neighborhoods, friendships, schools…wherever God will lead them.

Freedom in the Family

Many have said family is the place we feel most comfortable—the place where we are free to be ourselves, where we can kick off our shoes and relax. Family is where we will always be accepted. We are free to be who we want to be and everyone else must be okay with me being me, especially in my family.

How is it that the statistics we read about the family overwhelmingly show negative trends? How is it possible, since I’ve heard many people say we live in a world where we continue to “evolve” to become better? I attended a family reunion recently and I heard many of my elders say that nowadays are a lot worse compared to their childhoods. Where does the problem lie? If we are so free to be ourselves, if I am free to be me, then why is the family not progressing?

I submit to you that the problem is with me, the problem is with ourselves. In our great conquest for freedom and personal expression, we are blind to evaluating our personal desires. None of us wants to be told that our personal desires are improper, unbecoming, evil, or sinful. But if we are honest with ourselves, the human race is not getting better even with all our technological advances. There is something that is mastering us and it is seemingly inescapable. This master has its way with us and this master tells us we are “free” to choose any vice we desire. We so love the dark, because we know deep down on the inside that the vices we run to are bad, evil, immoral, corrupt, wicked, exceedingly sinful, and depraved. The Bible calls this master sin! This master is so deceitful, so enslaving, that we need God Himself to set us free.

Jesus said it this way in John 8—“…everyone who commits sins is the slave of sin…if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” Those whom Jesus sets free, He says “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (vv.31-36). To live in freedom cannot be done apart from the Son and apart from God’s Word telling us the truth; the way things really are!

Real freedom is doing the righteous, pure, and necessary things God’s way, not simply doing what pleases us.

Which freedom is best for our families—the freedom to choose any sin of your liking or, by God’s grace, the freedom to live sensibly and righteous in the present age? Which freedom will you choose to live by daily?

Making Memories Deliberately

Whether we intend to or not, our family lives are creating memories that will live long in the hearts of each member. I remember the cool model car my father gave me for Christmas that we never built. I also remember the first computer he gave me (a Radio Shack TRS-80), that we spent hours on together.

My father and I had an interesting conversation a couple of years ago about raising children. I don’t recall what I said to him, but his response surprised me. He said he didn’t think much of what he did in raising my sister and me was done with intentionality.

Don’t get me wrong. My father is and was a thoughtful man. However, he just didn’t put much thinking into raising us.

I believe our heavenly Father would have us be as intentional as we can in raising our kids, which includes making memories.

Noel Piper wrote, “Traditions (memories) are a lot like heirlooms. Both probably have come to us through our families. Some you love; you can’t imagine life without them. Some you’re stuck with; you don’t know what to do with them.”

This comes from a book I highly recommend you read if you want to think more deeply (and better yet, more scripturally) about making memories with your family: Treasuring God in our Traditions.

Mrs. Piper suggests there are two kinds of memories or traditions that we give our families: The “Everyday” ones and the “Especially” ones.

The “Everyday” ones “give shape and order to our everyday lives,” she says. These range from the predictable devotions or prayer times, to the things we say in certain situations. One instance of the latter in our family is that we often say, “Love you more,” whenever we are leaving one another.

The “Especially” traditions or memory makers are just what it sounds like: special occasions that occur less regularly, like Christmas, Easter, or even birthdays (or adoption days).

Both kinds of traditions should be shaped by parents to provide meaning and stability. If we don’t intentionally infuse our daily family interactions with the Gospel, we will miss out on precious opportunities to model the Christian walk for our children. If we do Christmas without much regard to the Gospel story it represents, then our children will have a large hole in their minds about the true specialness of Christmas. Making memories with the goal of bringing glory to God and displaying His goodness to our children will provide you with joy in honoring our Lord and demonstrate the centrality of Christ in your life to your children.

Cracked Pots Make the Best Parents

As the mother of two adult children, this month’s post on truth is a timely and intriguing one. My daughter Jessica came home last week for a short visit. We always have a great time together and when my son Durrell joins us, it often makes me think of those early days of parenting.

In my unrealistic quest to be “the best parent ever,” I held my children and myself to some really unrealistic expectations. Along the way, I realized these expectations were not because they were the right or best way, but more about how I thought it made me look to others.

Truth: Perfect parenting leaves no room for the power and grace of God. Instead, everything is about performance. When we aren’t perfect as parents, we have to create the illusion that our kids are. 2 Corinthians 4:7 reminds us that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The point is that Christ’s power is demonstrated best through cracked pots. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need Him and nobody would see Him shining through our cracks. So take heart—crackpots make the best parents.

The older our kids get, the more they see our imperfections. Eventually, our defects will be on full display and failing to admit our failures (especially when they are so obvious) only serves to drive a wedge between our kids and us. So, what’s the best way? Truth—with yourself, with your kids, and especially before God. (Ps.25:5; 86:11)

Truth: Parenting is hard, humorous, complicated, messy, heartbreaking, filled with peer pressure, yet one of the greatest joys in life.

I would like to think I was a great parent when my children were young; the truth is, I’m just glad we survived it all and I still have their love, friendship, and the occasional piece of great advice they offer for my own life. Today, as I look at their lives, I see my days of parenting in the flesh (“Do what I say because I’m your mother!”) are over because they are adults. Now, it’s time to parent them in the Spirit. Earnestly and consistently praying for them and trusting God to do what I cannot do and believing He will.

Embracing the Opportunities of Re-starts

I don’t know about you, but for me, starting over on something is just about the worst thing that can happen. Fairly jarring examples of having to start over in my own life have included a college paper that I forgot to save on the floppy disk (that’s right, floppy disks rule!) and having to go back to Level 1-1 on Super Mario Bros. I have come to notice that there is a strong correlation between my negative feelings on starting over on a particular task and the amount of time and energy I have spent on that task. If that is the case, then starting over in the family arena seems especially difficult. Where do you spend more time and energy than on marriage and raising kids?

Starting over in the family can take many different forms: dealing with tragedies such as death or divorce, moving the family to a new city, or adjusting to life after the kids move out, to name a few examples. In each case, starting over often brings with it the temptation to fear. It could be the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure, or even the fear of hard work. Often, instead of turning outward to God in these situations, we end up turning inward to ourselves. The result of such inward focus is inevitably more fear, greater anxiety, useless self-pity, and plain selfishness.

In the book of Ruth, Naomi had to start over after the tragic loss of her husband and two sons. She evidenced some of this inward self-pity:

She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

All that Naomi could see in that moment was the pain of loss and the difficulty of the future. She would have to start over, but what purpose could she have now?

Naomi did not abandon her faith in God, but her view of His character was incomplete. She forgot that God specializes in using the weak and unexpected people of this world to bring about world-changing purposes. She did not realize that starting over meant new opportunity for her and for her daughter-in-law, whom God had placed in her life. God would go on to use both of these women in their “starting over years” to play a vital role in establishing the line of King David, from which came the Messiah, the King of kings.

Maybe you are frustrated by having to start over in your family. Maybe you are feeling anxious about it. Maybe you even feel like you have already served your purpose in this life, and God has little use left for you and your family. I think God would have us to feel excited about starting over, because in a new situation God gives new opportunities to glorify Him in your family. Are you willing to take those opportunities?

Ever Changing

If you’re like me, maybe you find it amusing that the only thing that remains constant, the only thing that never seems to change is change. Think about it. No matter how hard we try, we cannot stop change. It is a mighty, ambiguous force, which may work either for or against us. It cannot be controlled, tamed, or thwarted. It is part of the very fabric of mankind; to be human is to be subject to change.

As it relates to our families, some changes we anticipate with great eagerness, like the first steps or first words of a child. As parents, we long for the day when our children are out of diapers, when they finally begin to sleep through the night, or when they hit their first home run. However, some changes are unexpected and come upon us when we’re least prepared for them. These may come in the form of a sudden change in a child’s demeanor, often referred to as “phases,” or maybe a job loss, or even a serious injury in the family. Finally, some changes are so slow and gradual that they are really imperceptible. Good examples are those that come with growing older—the loss of eyesight, stamina, and hair!

So if our families are a hotbed for change, how are we to deal with them? Especially those changes that seem to work against us or take us by surprise? Is there some anchor for our soul in the midst of this chaotic, swirling sea of change? Most certainly! His name is the LORD, Jehovah, and He says of Himself that He does not change (Mal.3:6). Referring to God in human flesh, the writer of Hebrews said, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb.13:8). So when dealing with difficult providences, when faced with sudden changes, we must remember to lean on the One who never changes. That is why God is likened to a rock in the scriptures (Deut.32:4; 1 Sam.2:2; Ps.18:31). He is the unchanging, solid foundation beneath our feet when everything else around us is chaos.

As I said before, the only thing that never seems to change is change. However, change is not greater than God. In fact, He is the only One who never changes and He uses change, among other things, like a tool in His hand to shape and fashion our lives so that we may be conformed to the image of His beloved Son (Rom.8:29). May we learn to trust our Great Potter as He forms the clay of our lives. He promises to work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom.8:28). His unchanging nature guarantees it.

Indy Race-Style Gratitude

Here is a typical dinnertime scene at the Lack household:

We all sit down to our kitchen table. It’s time to pray. Lack boys, start your engines! 3-2-1… “DearGod Thankyouforourfood Jesus’nameamen.” Elapsed time: 1 second.

Sometimes this frustrates me, and I find myself thinking “How thankful can you be if you can’t give God more than a second of your time before you start eating the food He has provided for us?” It does not take long, though, before the Holy Spirit convicts me of displaying the very same attitude, moreover, of modeling an Indy race-style gratitude towards God for my children. I can see a lack of gratitude in at least a few areas in my life:

In our family prayer time: Am I expressing gratitude for who God is and what Christ has accomplished on my behalf on the cross, or does my “thanksgiving” sound more like a redundant list that I repeat without much thought day after day because I am tired and in a hurry? Christ warned us about praying with vain repetition, and He urges us to cast our cares before Him “with thanksgiving.” How can I be frustrated when my unregenerate young boys seem not to express genuine gratitude towards God when I, who am a new creature in Christ, often express lukewarm thanksgiving at best?

In my speech: I have, on many occasions, chastised my sons for not being thankful for what God has provided us. Yet, what do they hear more from me—complaining about the disorderly appearance of our house, or thanksgiving for the comfortable roof over our head? Frustration with work deadlines, or gratitude for God’s faithfulness in providing me with a job? Complaining how tired I am, or gratitude for a comfortable bed and a body that has very little trouble falling and staying asleep?

If you can relate to any of what I have said, be thankful that God is infinitely forgiving, and we can come to Him at any time, in prayer, to thank Him for His forgiveness and to ask Him to help us reflect the new life that He has created in us. I also want to try this: when I find myself complaining, I will stop and think about God’s grace as it relates to the source of my complaint. Then, I will ask Him for forgiveness and thank Him. So…instead of grimacing at my floor that needs sweeping, I will seek to thank God for the floor he provided, as well as the broom and the food that produced the crumbs that need to be swept up.

My God, as I read through this confession ashamed of how poorly I can model gratitude for my children, I am thankful for Your unfailing patience with me. Though I can be woefully thankless in my speech and even in my prayers, You remain faithful. You provided Your Son to die for me, a self-centered sinner. Even my gratitude is a gift from You, and I pray that You will help me to give You the thanks You deserve.

Hide-and-Seek

During the long, hot summer months in Phoenix, if you don’t have a swimming pool in your backyard, you have to get creative when thinking of ways to occupy your kids as they’re cooped up in the house. One such pastime that I play with my young boys is hide-and-seek. Now granted, our home is about 2,000 square feet and has a pretty open floor plan, so there are only so many places to hide, but it usually keeps us busy for at least a half hour and the kids love it.

On one occasion when my wife was out of the house, the boys and I began a game of hide-and-seek. They usually count together while I go hide and when I’m found, I count while they inevitably hide together. During one of my turns to hide, I quickly and gingerly climbed up on the top bunk of their bed set and covered myself with as many stuffed animals and blankets as possible to conceal my whereabouts.

I soon heard the boys calling for me while running through the house trying to find me. Sometimes when I’ve hidden myself well, I’ll help them out by giving a short, sharp whistle and after a couple minutes of searching, Benjamin was calling for me to do so. However, this time I decided they were going to have to find me on their own.

Maybe another minute went by, which must have seemed like an eternity to my boys, because suddenly I heard them running through the house screaming and panic-stricken. I immediately called to them from their room and they came running in, tears streaming down their faces, as they slowly backed away from the precipice of uncontrolled fear.

I asked them what was wrong. They exclaimed that they thought I had left them because they couldn’t find me. My supposed absence quickly drove them to hysteria.

The funny thing is that nothing really changes as we become adults. We grow up and pretend that we’ve got it all together, that we’re self-sufficient; but after salvation in Christ, we realize how much we need our heavenly father and how dependent we really are. Many times, when He feels far off or we’re experiencing some difficult providence, we begin to anxiously cry out for Him just like children. We panic just like my kids did. However, as Christians, this should not be so. We must strive to remember His Word, His character, and His love for us.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Just as I was only hiding in the next room when my boys were driven to panic, God is never far off. In fact, He promises that He is with us (present tense) so we need not panic ourselves. If we give into our fear, we distrust our heavenly father and cast a shadow on His character. Instead, we should remember His perfect love for us, which casts out fear (1 John 4:18), and that He has promised that if we diligently seek Him, we will find Him (Prov.8:17). May God give us the grace to seek Him diligently so that we may cast out fear in our homes.

Wisdom in Parenting

Parenting is a commitment of epic proportions! As parents, we spend our days accomplishing a vast list of important (and not so important) things. Just consider the sheer volume of resources available to “help” us in our parenting duties. There are books that deal with ADD, bedtime, discipline, defiance, curfew, complaining, bed-wetting, biting, finances, friends, fighting in the car (yes, there is an entire book on automobile arguments!), manners, media, potty training…you name it!

When my children were young, I was often left wondering, “Will I make it through this day alive and sane?” Now, as an empty-nester, I can’t help but wonder how it all happened so fast!  Although the necessary duties fill our days, there is something spiritual about our parenting that often gets lost in the mundane.

How can parents capture a glimpse of eternity in the midst of the ordinary in order that they will not merely spend their hours, but invest their days?

  1. Abandon the idea of perfect parenting.
    • When you fail, ask for forgiveness.
    • Stop trying to impress everyone; including yourself!
    • Kill the “Super-Parent” lie and ask for help!
    • Live an honest and authentic life before your child.
  1.   Determine to worry less and pray more.
    • Set aside time each day for a few minutes of prayer and quiet reflection.
    • When a difficult situation arises, choose to pray for wisdom and strength before acting.
    • Write out prayers or Scriptures and place them around your home for encouragement.
    • Pray with and for your child.
  1. Talk with (not at) your child every day.
    • Look at your child in the eyes when speaking.
    • Be aware of what is not being said; ask questions that will allow your child to share his or her heart.
  1. Give your child a strong sense of identity.
    • Share your faith journey with your child.
    • Tell your child stories of your family’s history and heritage.
    • Offer words of blessing to your child at meals and before dropping them off at school or special events.
    • Speak positive words about and to your child.

 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”—Proverbs 3:5-6