5 Holy Patterns for Living in the New Year

nature-pattern-photography-17
I’ve never been one who does well making and keeping resolutions in the new year. I’ve only really been successful at it once, so I only do it sporadically, and usually last-minute. This is probably due to the vagueness of past resolutions, more than my unwillingness/laziness, though both of those have come into play at times.

This year I decided to do something a bit different. I am not making any new year resolutions. Instead, I am setting some specific goals for the year, something Michael Hyatt and my friend Chad Brooks have both stressed recently as important for leaders, particularly leaders in the church. What’s the difference between setting goals and new year resolutions, you wonder?

Resolutions celebrate the destination, often ignoring the process. They tend to be vague, lacking the imperative of deadlines and measurable success. You resolve to lose 15lbs this year; how and when you get there doesn’t matter as long as you arrive.

Setting Goals celebrates the journey toward a specific end. When setting goals, one typically decides on an end result, yes, but also the measurable steps that will be necessary to attain the goal. This provides opportunities to not only celebrate the attainment of the desired end, but also to recognize what is happening along the way. With this frame of mind, you might still set a goal of losing 15lbs, but you will also set parameters for measuring success, such as a completion date, and the steps necessary to attain that goal.

It may be a matter of symantics, but I think you get the point. This year, I am setting some specific goals with measurable markers for success and with plans for how to achieve those specific goals. This year it will be about the process, rather than the end goal.

The grand narrative of the Bible tells the sweeping story of God’s love for humanity. The overarching thread in this story is God’s ultimate goal for his people: holiness, which is righteous love of God and others. This righteousness is something which we are told cannot be produced by us, only received as a free gift of grace. It is a righteousness grounded upon, and set in motion by, Christ’s meritorious crucifixion, death, and resurrection. It is a righteousness that cannot be known apart from a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit, by the grace of our heavenly Father.

Like goal setting, the holiness of God’s people is not just some vague future goal reserved for life after death. It is a goal to be realized in the present life as well, and God has given us parameters within which his people can grow in holiness, and markers by which we can witness the transformation of lives.

The key to success in achieving goals lies in developing new patterns of life. We cannot hope to achieve new goals while continuing to do the same things we have always done. Likewise, we cannot hope to have our character transformed (to gain holy tempers), if we continue to follow the same patterns that we have always followed.

The Bible is full of God’s decrees, which were made to establish new patterns for Israel. I urge you to take some time to read Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I know some of the language is difficult, but you can’t help but notice in reading them that God is setting up new patterns for the benefit of his people, not for the purposes of control and repression.

Even (maybe especially) now, the patterns of life that we see in scripture point those who follow them toward God and his purposes. They help to reorient us. Holiness is the free gift of God to those who believe and follow him along the road that leads to eternal life. But there is more to this than simply looking toward the destination. Becoming a holy people is about the journey as well.

Here are just a few of the patterns that the Bible demonstrates for us. I wonder if we haven’t missed something critical to discipleship when we fail to live into these patterns of life, and instead follow our own wisdom.

1. Sabbath

In a recent Productive Pastor podcast, Seedbed Sower-in-Chief J.D. Walt, Jr. mentioned that the Sabbath is the first thing in the Bible that God calls holy. It is a day of rest established to interrupt the ordinary pattern of existence and re-orient us toward God. In Jesus’ day the Sabbath had been twisted through the addition of laws which missed God’s intended purposes, and he reminded us that Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. In our day we have done far worse than the first-century Israelites: we have jettisoned the Sabbath altogether. I know very few people within the church who take a true Sabbath (your’s truly included). It is not our right to take down that which God has instituted for his people. What would we look like as individuals and the church if we were to insist on taking Sabbath as God has commanded us?

2. Fasting

This is another area of struggle for me. As an American I live in a place of plenty. Even though my family is at the low-end of the fiscal scale, we do not often suffer or go without. Our society has become gluttonous with success. We have forgotten what it means to rely upon God to supply all of our needs and have built idols of gold for ourselves. Throughout the centuries the church has observed a regular practice of fasting, which continues the pattern set by Israel before. Fasting is observed for many reasons and in many ways, but always at the heart of a fast is the desire to develop complete dependence on God. We are called to fast in solidarity with the poor, to protest injustice, to cry out to God for mercy, and for a myriad of other good reasons. In all of these, we fast in obedience to God until the bridegroom (Jesus) returns.

3. Feasting

The pattern of fasting in scripture is balanced by a pattern of feasting, where the people of God give thanks to God alone for his provision and give praise to him for his loving-kindness. Feasting loses its true meaning without the fast. In our society, feasting has become the norm, to the extent that it is mere gluttony and self-indulgence. When we first live into a pattern of fasting first, we can then rightly feast on the knowledge of God and his good gifts.

4. Mourning

Just as there is a time to fast in solidarity, there is also a time to mourn. Some cultures have created an art form out of mourning, and even employ professional mourners for necessary occasions. This was the case with Israel in the first-century. I wonder if we don’t also have our professional mourners. They don’t follow a funeral procession, wailing and crying for the deceased. Instead, they constantly wail and cry about the church, declaring her damaged or dead, not recognizing that the lifebeat of the Holy Spirit still courses through her veins. They forget that the Bride is beautiful and instead declare her a corpse. But what if we returned to a Biblical pattern of mourning, where we cry out at injustice and persecution, and where we openly lament that so many are wandering lost, apart from the saving love of Jesus Christ?

5. Thanksgiving

As feasting provides the balance to fasting, so also thanksgiving brings balance to mourning. I am saddened when I reflect on the times when I have been thankless, even bitter, in the midst of God’s great blessings. When I read stories of the persecuted church around the world, I am often amazed by the declarations of hope and thanksgiving uttered by those who have lost everything, but gained Christ. What would it take for us to become a people of thanksgiving, who related to others first and foremost through a posture of complete gratitude to God for his love and mercy?

What other patterns of life do you see in scripture that help to orient you toward God? What challenges do you face in living into these patterns? And what do you think about the five patterns listed above? Leave your comments below and let’s reflect together on what it means to be called by Christ to be in the world, but not of the world.

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On Being Present

smart-phones

The last few days have been both wonderful and challenging for me. My wife has been visiting friends in California for a much needed and well-deserved break, and I have been home with our two children. Now, I love being a dad. In fact, I consider it to be the most important job I will ever have in this life, and I am grateful for the time I get to spend with the kids.

Having said that, I am also honest enough to say that being alone with the kids isn’t always sunshine and roses. Parenting is hard, and being a single parent (even for a short while) is harder still. Couple that with the fact that there are some things that moms simply do better than we dads do, and I find that I am always learning new lessons about being a dad, and these often the hard way.

One of the more important lessons I have learned in the last couple of years is that it is incredibly important to be present with your kids, in mind as well as body. Our society tells us that we must be available at all times. We are slaves to work, to busy-ness, to entertainment. Even as I write this, I am fighting the urge to check my email or Facebook. At any one time, we might be consumers of a dozen different voices all vying for our attention. But all of these voices become distractions from that which is most important when we don’t learn to turn them off.

This weekend, I took the kids to the mall. They wanted to play in the children’s area there and then walk around to look a things. As they ran around like crazy playing with the other children there, I began to glance around at the other parents, and was honestly a little startled by what I saw. A full 60% of the parents there (I counted) were staring intently, not at their children, but at their smart phones. Another 20% were standing outside the play area completely, and were engaged in conversation with other adults. This left only 20% (2 out of 10) actually paying attention to, and interacting with, their kids as they played.

Kids continually seek the affirmation of their parents. They want to be seen, and they want us to engage with them in the things they are enjoying. Kids don’t want parents who are spectators only; they want parents who are living life with them. What I saw in that play area was a group of parents who were mostly checked out of what was going on around them. They were completely disengaged from their children, oblivious to the kids’ attempts to show them the ‘cool’ things they were doing.

Now, don’t hear me wrong. I understand that people have other things they need to think about. I know how nice it is to have an adult conversation while the kids are otherwise occupied. And I am not simply pointing out a splinter in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the log in my own. I’ll admit that even as I observed these things, I had to resist the urge to whip out my cell phone and take a picture to share here. The hypocrisy and irony of this didn’t escape me, but it still took an effort of will to just let it go and remain present with my children.

I believe that it matters to my kids and to their well-being when I make that effort of will to remain engaged with them, even when I don’t feel like it. And to do that, I must first silence the other voices calling out for my attention, and listen for the voices of my children. When we fail to close off the myriad voices of this world we run the risk of missing out on the joys of shared lives. We run the risk of missing that which is most precious.

Parents, I urge you to make time to being present with your children. Shut of your phone, take time away from your labors and distractions, learn to just ‘be’ with your kids, and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.

Unless the  Lord  builds the house,  the builders labor in vain.  Unless the  Lord  watches over the city,  the guards stand watch in vain.  In vain you rise early  and stay up late,  toiling for food to eat—  for he grants sleep to  those he loves.  Children are a heritage from the  Lord ,  offspring a reward from him.  Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth.  Blessed is the man  whose quiver is full of them.  They will not be put to shame  when they contend with their opponents in court. (Psalm 127)

Conquering Minor Depression Like a Boss

Image from npr.org

Image from npr.org

Please note: I understand that severe forms of depression, such as clinical depression, often require significant treatment after diagnosis. I do not intend this post to make light of such very real psychological disorders, but to highlight that many of us deal with periodic bouts of minor depression which, if left unchecked, can easily spiral into something much more debilitating. If you are struggling with depression, and don’t see a way forward, please seek help from a qualified medical professional.

As I was reading through a few of the early Psalms this morning, I was struck by something that I hadn’t considered before (though I’m sure others have). It is entirely possible that David, to whom the Psalms are (largely) attributed, struggled with periodic depression.

The Psalms are full of both communal and individual laments in which the psalmist cries out to God in despair, asking when the Lord’s justice will come to earth, begging for God’s direction and presence, and weeping in misery at the feeling that God is distant. While we often read these Psalms (rightly) as an response of God’s people to injustice in the world, we would be missing something if we don’t also note that there is very personal distress inherent in many of these Psalms.

It is no wonder that we see such things from the pen of someone like David. After all, his road to the throne of Israel is a crazy one full of ups and downs. You can read the full story in 1 Samuel, and I recommend that you do. With all that he endured, I am not at all surprised to see him wrestling with being down in the dumps on occasion. If anything, it gives me hope.

My path has been nowhere as tough as David’s, but I sometimes find myself in the dumps as well. Life is  tough. Just because we are Christians, it doesn’t mean we won’t struggle in life. In fact, Jesus and Paul both sort of guarantee that we will. In my own experience, as I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the life of a PhD student is often a very lonely one, full of doubt and hidden dangers. Coupled with the daily struggle to take care of my family, give of our time and talents to the Church, and navigate this too busy life, the burden can sometimes be overwhelming. Tack on a predisposition to introspection and self-criticism, and BOOM! I find myself, on occasion, slipping into a minor depression, a funk where everything seems a bit dimmer than it should be, and where I struggle to find meaning and fulfillment in life’s treasures.

So when I read about David’s struggles in the Bible I am encouraged. You see, God once called David a man after his own heart (Acts 13:22). If David was ‘like God’ and yet still struggled with depression, then there is hope for someone like me as well. Maybe there is something we can learn from his example. Like David, we can follow three steps that have the power to draw us up out of the dumps, and give us encouragement and hope.

3 Steps to Dealing with Minor Depression Like a Boss

1. Admit there is a problem

Just like dealing with doubt, one can never make steps toward recovery until there is an admission of a problem. Too often, when I get down I try to pretend that everything is fine. My wife will ask me if something is wrong (it is obvious that there is), but I will respond that I am fine. If I was fine, it wouldn’t be written on my face.

When David starts to get down, his response is to immediately call on the Lord for help.

I call out to the  Lord ,  and he answers me from his holy mountain. (Psalm 3:4)

He doesn’t ignore the problem and hope it will go away. He doesn’t attempt to overcome it on his own. He asks for help, and he seeks that help from the only one he knows can truly help him. We would do well to follow David’s example. I find that when I am starting to get down about something and turn to God, he is quick to respond.

2. Rest in God’s grace and mercy

After crying out for help from God, David then allows himself to rest in the Lord.

I lie down and sleep;  I wake again, because the  Lord  sustains me. (Psalm 3:5)

I don’t know about you, but I can only rest when I feel totally safe, at ease with my surroundings. I can only sleep in a car if I completely trust the driver. I can only sleep in my house when I know that it is secure and all of my loved ones are soundly asleep. Likewise, we can only truly rest in God when we trust him. The wise man/woman recognizes that we live and breathe only because of God’s grace and mercy. Like the child who trusts in the power of a parent to protect and nurture them, we do well when we trust in God’s demonstrated love for us, and allow him to protect and nurture us as well.

3. Give thanks to God for hearing your needs

David wraps up Psalm 3 with the following:

From the  Lord  comes deliverance.  May your blessing be on your people. (Psalm 3:8)

Though it doesn’t take the normal form of “Thank you” David is clearly giving thanks to God for hearing his cry for help. He does this with a declaration that God (the one to whom he took his burden) is the only one who can deliver him from his troubles. He follows this by declaring a blessing from God on his people, saying essentially “may it be so”. But why in the world was David giving thanks when nothing was going his way?

Thanksgiving in the midst of suffering is a sign of spiritual maturity and the quickest route from depression to joy. Thanksgiving doesn’t ignore the reality that there is trouble, it recognizes that there is a greater reality in which God is sovereign, that he loves us, and that our hope lies not in temporal comfort, but in the blood of Jesus Christ, by which the entire world is being reconciled to God.

Thanksgiving sees the big picture of things. It shows total abandon to self, and complete dependence on God for all good things. And thanksgiving demonstrates a “sure trust and confidence” in the promises of God, and in his ability to deliver on those promises.

In short, thanksgiving is a faithful response to God in times of plenty and in times of trial. It is the essence of faith. When we are thankful, even in the midst of suffering, we turn this fallen world on its head and allow the kingdom of God to take a firmer foothold through us.

So, the next time you feel yourself getting down in the dumps, the next time you begin to have trouble seeing light in the darkness, remember David’s example. Admit there is a problem for which you need help. Ask for help from the only one who can deliver you from it. And then trust him to do so, with thanksgiving in your heart and the knowledge that God is one who delivers on his promises, and as such, is worthy of our love, devotion, and praise.

Blessings to you on the journey.

What They Don’t Tell You About Getting a PhD: Wrestling with Doubt

image from stevewright.info

image from stevewright.info

This post is for the current or aspiring doctoral student, specifically the one pursuing an academic discipline in the Church. I am writing to you from beautiful Northern England today. I have spent the last two weeks at Nazarene Theological College (one of the schools of the University of Manchester) working on my doctoral research, presenting papers, attending seminars, and re-connecting with my colleagues and professors alike. Times like this are a very important part of getting a research degree. So much of the process is done in isolation, and it is hugely beneficial to have opportunities to step out of the study space and into a collaborative academic setting. I am thankful to my family and my school for opportunities like this one.

I am now half-way through the fifth year of a six-year program, and I can honestly say how truly fortunate I have been to be able to work with such great people as I pursue the dream of a PhD. I have had ups and downs along the way, have had to change course in my research more than once, and I constantly feel behind in my work. But I have had helpers along the way who have guided me through the process, and have had friends go before me who shared similar experiences and demonstrated that it is possible to prevail.

Despite all of the support and help I have had over the years, though, there are things that I wish I had known going into the program. Things that many people experience, but which no one seems to talk about until they have come center stage.

One of the things that I wish they had told me coming into this program is how much some (many) students wrestle with doubt.

Sure, there are those students who have an unshakeable confidence, either in their own ability or in their calling. But most of the students I know have, at one time or another, experienced doubt in their ability, their purpose, their perseverance, you name it. I have wrestled all of those just mentioned at one time or another and have found that, while there is no one-size-fits-all solution to dealing with doubts, there are some helpful steps to consider while working through it and pressing on with the work at hand.

 

5 Steps to Facing Doubt

1. Own it

It does no good to bottle up all of these feelings until they cripple you. If you are feeling doubtful about your ability, your research topic, your life situation, whatever it may be, you will never be able to deal with the problem until you own that it is yours and that it is very real. I have had many doubts along my road to a PhD, and there have ben times where I allowed those doubts to take root and fester, because I was ashamed at my lack of confidence and was afraid someone would figure out that I am a phony. Permitting these voices to speak will only hamper your ability to move forward. Remember that the first step to getting well is admitting that there is a problem.

 

2. Tell someone you trust

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to talk to someone you trust about your struggles with doubt. Getting a PhD is already a very solitary endeavor. The last thing you need is to try dealing with additional burdens in isolation. So, tell your spouse, your best friend, your pastor, or someone else who will speak truth into your life. Pick someone who will help you wrestle with the dilemma over someone with quick answers. No two situations are the same, neither is there one solution that will work for everyone.

 

3. Seek help

If your doubt is affecting your work, then ask for help. I was really struggling with my progress last year. I had gone through some employment changes that left me exhausted, frustrated, and a little scared about my family’s well-being. As doubt about my ability to finish the program began to creep in, I sought wise counsel from my wife and extended family, and then ultimately I sought help from my school. I asked questions about suspending my program for a short time (something that is allowed and even encouraged in some situations), and I talked to my supervisor about my struggles with finding time and energy to work on my research. These were uncomfortable conversations, but they helped me to see a way forward, even in the worst case scenario, and ensured that everyone involved was aware of my situation. I urge you to seek help early when you are wrestling with doubt. It may make the difference between our long-term success or failure.

 

4. Make a decision

Doubt arises for all sorts of reasons. Some of those come from outside influences over which you may not have much control. For example, the loss of a loved one, the birth of a child, the sudden loss of income or a home. All of these things can inspire doubt in a student’s mind about pursuing a PhD. Will I have enough time to work on research? Does muy family situation mean that I need to work more to support them? Do I need to grieve or help others with their grieving? All of these are valid questions to ask when life throws us curve balls, and all of them can lead us to doubt our ability to finish the PhD.

Situations like these also come with the necessity to make a decision. Will you continue in your research as you have been? Will you take a break for a time? Or do your circumstances suggest tat you need to drop out of your program entirely? Whatever decision you arrive at with your family, the most important thing is to make one. Waffling with indecision only encourages you to doubt more and negatively impacts your progress in the meantime.

 

5. Let go

Once you have made your decision let it, and your doubt, go. Not everyone is called to pursue a PhD. Sometimes people don’t realize that until they are in the midst of it. There is no shame in recognizing that God has something better for you. If that should happen, turn toward him and follow wherever he leads you.

There is also no shame in taking a break. Life is complicated, and if we are to live our lives fully we must embrace the idea that complex solutions are sometimes necessary to life’s dilemmas. Taking a break might be the best way to ensure that you finish your work well. Getting a PhD isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. It has a rewarding finish line, but one that you will not enjoy if you have injured yourself (or others) along the way.

Finally, getting a PhD is a LOT of work. There will always be things that cause students to doubt. I was once told that 10% of earning a PhD is getting accepted to a program. The other 90% is gutting it out. At the end of the day, only you can decide to push through voices of doubt and complete the work that is before you. If your situation doesn’t require you to quit or take a break, take confidence in your calling and get to the business of getting the work done. It will be a difficult journey, but it will be one that transforms you more than you can possibly imagine.

 

Five Birthday Wishes (Hopes) for My Son

My little boy turned four years old today. I am so proud of him and am overjoyed that God has entrusted him and his big sister into my care as a father. Simon and I sometimes have a rocky relationship. He loves his mommy fiercely (so do I), and sometimes doesn’t want me to help him with things. I’ve learned not to take offense when he doesn’t want my hugs or kisses, and have learned to love the times when he dresses up like Spider-man, because I know it means he is ready to wrestle and I am always the villain.

When I look at my son I see a little boy with a wonderful personality, who is learning who he will be. But when I look at him, I also see me. I know some of the struggles he will face and some of the joys he will experience. We are so alike in some ways that I can even guess how he will feel about and react to certain life events. And so, on this special day, I want to make a few birthday wishes (hopes) on my son’s behalf.

1. No fear

My first wish for my son is that he would live a life devoid of fear; fear of death, fear of failure, fear of loss, or any other fear. We are constantly reminded by Scripture that we should not be afraid. We live with a hope and a peace that transcends fear and that expresses itself in fear’s antithesis: joy.

2. Joy

And so my second wish for my son is that he will experience a life of joy. I’m not merely talking about a life of temporary, passing joy that we sometimes experience at life’s special moments. I want his to experience that joy too, but also something much deeper. My wish for Simon is that he will experience an abiding joy that can only be found when one comes to know that he/she is a beloved child of God, in whom the Almighty delights.

3. Patience

I have been very impatient at various times in my life. In fact, it is something I would say I have struggled with on a deep level. Sometimes this patience has manifest as anger or sarcasm or grief. But most often when impatience takes hold it quickly turns into deep-seeded bitterness. My son is like me, and I know he will wrestle with impatience as he is figuring out who God has made him to be and what he will do with his life. It is my wish for him that he will learn patience early, that he will trust fully in God to act when the time is right, and that he will never allow bitterness to enter his heart, where it can so easily take root and grow.

4. Faith

My fourth wish for Simon on his fourth birthday is that he will become a man of faith. As he grows, he will meet with so many challenges. For much of my life I had what I would call a very rudimentary faith. I believed that Jesus is the Son of God and that he dies for my sins. But beyond that, I had very little faith that I could be a better me, or that God would ever see much value in me. It is something I struggled with into adulthood, and I would wish with all my heart that my son never experiences that struggle.

My wish for Simon is that he will never doubt his value to his Heavenly Father. I want so very much for him to know and love Jesus with his whole heart. I want him to be unashamed of this love and faith. I want him to experience the joy and peace that come from knowing that our Father in heaven loves us and is pleased with us. I want him to experience newness of life through Jesus Christ. I want him to devote himself and all that he chooses to do to God and his glory.

In other words, I want him to remember always that he is a beloved child of the living God, and a co-heir of glory with Jesus Christ.My wish for him is that he will live the words of Paul to the Philippians, when he said:

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

5. Love

My final wish for my son on his birthday is this: that he would learn to love extravagantly. Simon has a sensitive heart. I can tell you from experience that it will bring him heartache in a number of ways, but it will also give him great capacity for loving others. My wish for him is that he will not lose this, for it is worth all the suffering of this life to be able to show true and extravagant love to others in the name of Jesus. And only Jesus can take the heart that God has given Simon and cause it to overflow with love. A sensitive heart left to its own devices slowly turns in on itself. It seeks ways to hide from hurt. It becomes jaded, scarred, withered, and finally corrupt.

I nearly lost the battle for my own heart to corruption, until Christ stepped in and rescued me. It is my wish for Simon that he early on (even now) gives over the fight for his heart to Christ. That he will allow the Spirit of God to live in him and take this sensitive heart of his and use it to lavish others with the extravagant love of a father for his children. This is the legacy I would have him leave.

I have become a lot more introspective these last few years, as I have watched my kids grow. I have wrestled with the knowledge that they will experience both pain and joy, that they will make good decisions and poor ones. It has been my prayer that they will not wrestle with the sins I have wrestled with and that they will always put their trust in God through Jesus Christ.

It is my greatest wish that they know Jesus intimately and walk with him always. And it gives me great comfort to know that God never stopped pursuing me, and he will never stop pursuing them.

Happy Birthday, Simon! I love you, and I am proud of you. May all your wishes and the ones I have made for you come true.

Reflections on Being a Daddy, or Why I Don’t Need to be Right All the Time

Pumpkin Carving with the Kids

Pumpkin Carving with the Kids

It seems like there are a lot of babies being born lately, and it has got me thinking about what it means to be a Daddy to my two bright and wonderful children. Our daughter turned 6 this past April and our son turns 4 in August, and in the last six years I have learned a thing or two that challenged what I might have thought before having kids. I have compiled a very short list of these life lessons for your encouragement/amusement/reflection.

 

 

 

20 Things I have learned / am learning about being a Daddy, presented in no particular order:

1. After feeding, clothing, and sheltering my children, there is no more important task that I have in life than to introduce them to Jesus. Why don’t I follow the Sunday School answer to everything and put Jesus first here? Because God has given my children to my care, and caring for their needs in a loving, self-sacrificial way is one of the most prominent ways that I can show my children who God is and how much he loves them. This, in turn, helps me to communicate with them how Jesus is the ultimate image of God’s love.

2. Play is the great bridge that crosses all other barriers between a father and a child.There have been times, especially with my son, where the kids don’t want much to do with Daddy. This most often happens when I am researching/working long hours or after I have taken a long trip. There are some hurt feelings upon my return, that I wasn’t there when they wanted me to be. There are also those times following discipline, or hurt feelings, or booboos when a child is especially hard to talk with. It is at these times in particular that the act of playing can bring a child out of gloominess into the joy of life. More than that, play is one of the greatest ways to bond with your children. It shows them that they are important, that their Daddy (or Mommy) wants to spend time with them, that their imaginations are good and wonderful, and that family time is some of the most enjoyable time of our lives.There have been many times when I did not play with my children, because I was distracted or feeling unwell. I regret every missed opportunity to play with them, and pray that God will give me the energy and “funlovingness” to play with them at every future opportunity.

3. Being right is less important than being real. I am an ‘answer man’. I like to figure out why things work, how they came to be, and why it matters. Its what makes me enjoy my research. However, I have found that when it comes to my children there are times when an answer man is needed (like when my son asks me what various animals eat), and there are times when I should keep my mouth shut, even when my urge is to correct something that is wrong. For a child who is growing and learning it is more important that they know their Daddy is listening to them and learning with them that they have all the right answers.

4. Discipline should always be conducted out of love, and never in anger. Discipline given in anger damages relationships. It is often too harsh (uncontrolled), too swift, and too dismissive of your child. Loving discipline has at its heart the well-being of your child. Discipline doled out in anger is more often seeking retribution.

5. Saying sorry isn’t just for kids. I tell me kids when I am wrong, and I ask their forgiveness when I have wronged them. I had a talk with my daughter last night about the wrong way and right way to deal with disappointment; one way can lead us to sin in anger, while the other leads us to patience and contentment. I openly used an example of my own sin of losing my temper as a way to talk about what God would have us do, and what we can and should do when we have taken the wrong direction. You are your child’s most important role model. How can they model you well if you don’t ever talk about your failures?

6. Say “I love you” often, and mean it every time. You simply cannot say ‘I love you’ too much to your children. They will have many voices vying for their attention as they grow. Let the dominant voice be your’s, echoing our Heavenly Father: ‘You are my beloved child, in you I am well pleased.’

7. It is OK to let your daughter paint your nails and brush your hair. Dads, get over yourselves. If letting your little girl paint your nails makes you question your masculinity, you have much bigger problems to deal with. Let your daughter lavish you with her love the best way she knows how.

8. Answer every question your children ask with utmost seriousness. One sure way to tear down a child is to treat them as though they are not important. If your child asks you a question, do everything in your power to not only answer it, but to answer it well. This shows your kids that they are important to you, that the things they have to say are worthy of your attention, and you might just learn something along the way.

9. Don’t shy away from talking about “big things” with your kids. Some of the most challenging conversations I have ever had with any person (adult or child) I have had with my daughter and son. We have talked about death, heaven & the resurrection of the dead, the Trinity, the Crucifixion, you name it. Don’t underestimate your child’s capacity for understanding. Talking to your children about important things will challenge you to communicate well, using language that is accessible without diluting the content. And who would you rather they hear this stuff from? Society is telling already what they should think about big questions. Are you?

10. Be your child’s biggest fan. I am unashamed in my overwhelming support of everything my kids do. We try to praise all of our kids’ accomplishments, big or small. I’ve heard the argument that this makes praise cheap. I disagree. I think it makes praise a precious commodity. When we praise our children often, we not only instill in them a sense of confidence, but we show them the proper source of affirmation is the family. They will be less likely to seek that affirmation elsewhere in destructive relationships or behaviors if the receive it adequately at home. There is a caution that comes with this, though. Praising your kids for their accomplishments does not mean giving empty praise. That leads to the phenomenon of the American Idol generation where people with no talent whatsoever can’t understand their failure, when their mom has always told them they were the best at whatever they pursued.

11. Embarrass yourself often. My kids will come to loathe this, I am sure, but I have no qualms whatsoever about embarrassing myself for their sake. If I can do something ludicrous (but safe and legal) that will get a smile out of them and endeer me to them in any way, you  better believe I will do it.

12. Fight for your kids (and their mother). Never allow anyone or anything to come between you and your family. If there are other things vying for their attention that cause stress in your relationships to one another, fight with all your might against those things. Part of fighting for your family is loving them extravagantly. Part of this fight is also waging war against those things that can tear a family apart. Dads in particular, this means workaholism, sexual misconduct (including pornography), friendships with the opposite sex, sports fanaticism, etc. If what you do threatens your family in any way, flee from it!

13. Be present for what matters to your kids. (i.e. Birthday parties, concerts at school, etc.). I have had to learn this lesson the hard way. At the end of my life, my children will not remember or care all that much about the things I have accomplished. They will not care how much money I made, how many letters I have after my name, what my research focus was, or how good my golf game was. They will care about and remember the time I spent with them. Be present for every important event in your child’s life, if at all possible. And when you miss such an event, make it up to them by spending extra time with them, doing something you both love. There were times growing up when I told my parents I didn’t care if they came to this or that event. No matter what your kids tell you, they notice and care if you aren’t there.

14. Learn to dance, especially if you have a daughter. For many Dads (myself included), this goes hand-in-hand with #11 above. I don’t know why this is so, but believe me when I tell you that your daughter (and probably your son) loves to dance with you. Dancing always leads to joy and laughter.

15. It is OK to cry in front of your kids. If you never cry in front of your kids, they won’t think you are strong and powerful, they will think you are careless and cold. Teach your children that there are things so important to you that they bring you to tears. But make sure those things are really worth it.

16. Don’t hold on too tight, but don’t let go too quickly. The catch-22 of parenthood. Work hard to raise your kids in such a way that they can make good choices on their own and live healthy lives dependent on God. But never, under any circumstances, let them think that they are no longer your baby girl or boy. I want my children to always feel safe when they return home.

17. Learn about your children’s favorite things. Want to really strengthen your relationships with your kids? Get to know what they love and learn to love it too. This is not in any way disingenuous, rather it shows how important they are to you. I don’t feign interest in the things my kids like. Instead, I cultivate genuine interest in those things by spending time doing them. For example, my daughter loves to play board games. At her age, most of these games don’t pose a huge challenge to parents. But, because I love her, I spend time playing those games with her, and have done so enough that I now love to play them with her.

18. Splurge on your kids to teach them responsibility. (i.e. family is worth splurging on, good behavior gets rewarded, our treasures are in heaven). Don’t be a tight wad! Not all fun things cost money, thank goodness. But sometimes they do, and you should occasionally splurge on your kids, even if it means putting off the purchase of something else you think you need. Doing this teaches them that they are important to you, that good behavior should be rewarded, and that God has called us to lives of generosity. Along with the occasional splurge, if you are going to eat out at restaurants, make sure you tip well. Few things damage our witness for Christ (for our families and others) more consistently than stinginess, and believe me, when you go out to eat after church and leave a 10 cent tip on a $50 bill, the servers are equating your tight-wadiness with your Christianity.

19. Being a Daddy is more important than anything else you will ever do in life. If you think your main legacy should be anything other than raising your kids to love Jesus and experience confidence in who he created them to be, then you are wrong.

20. Pray with and over your children. If you have any hope of all these other things, then your first step should be to pray regularly with and for your children. Commit their care to God, ask him to guide you as a parent to be Christ to them, and teach them to speak with their Heavenly Father often and intimately. God will answer these prayers and will bless your family abundantly for the asking.

When Burnout Becomes a Broken Promise

My daughter (5) has been learning a tremendous amount in kindergarten this year. It has been amazing to watch her grow, and I am so proud of my little girl. What has surprised me most about her year so far is the amount of time that her teachers spend teaching the kids about proper behavior. Along with reading, math, and all the normal subjects, the kids are also learning how to interact with one another in a civilized manner and to ‘stop and think’ before they act.

One of my favorite things that her teacher has mentioned to us in parent meetings is the way she deals with discipline in the classroom. The children are taught from day one that there are two types of problems: small problems and big problems.  A small problem might be that one child is using a toy that another child wants to use, or a child ‘cutting’ in line. A big problem would be when a child gets sick, has an accident, or hurts another child.  But the teacher also talks about allowing a small problem to become a big problem, such as when a child who has been cut in line retaliates by pushing, hitting, or throwing a fit.

Our daughter’s teacher allows the children to solve small problems for themselves, teaching them to be self-reliant and learn to reason through problems together. When a problem becomes a big problem, though, the teacher immediately steps in.

I have come to discover that kindergarten teachers can teach us a lot about the way that God relates to his children as a loving Father.

This summer has, quite frankly, been a very tough one for me. I traveled to Manchester, England in June for my annual research trip. During my stay I worked an average of 12-14 hours in the library, researching and writing a paper on Christology in the Hymns of John Wesley, and preparing for my academic review.  For the six months leading up to this trip, my days were consumed with work on one of my thesis chapters and transitions happening at my ‘day job’. By the time I came home from England I had developed both a sense of accomplishment for all that I achieved during the spring term and my summer trip, and also a profound sense of burnout.  I was simply exhausted, mentally.

I thought that I would take a couple of weeks off of my research to overcome my mental fatigue, and then jump right back in where I left off.  I have rarely been so profoundly wrong.

Shortly after returning home I had to begin looking for new work, as my current contract is coming to a close soon.  I began taking on some additional side projects to ‘make up’ for any time that I might not be employed as I am looking for new work. I began spending research time applying for jobs and brushing up on my skill set.  In essence, I began finding things to do that would fill my time. That way, I had a legitimate excuse for not getting research done. In all honesty, it has taken me until just a couple of weeks ago to recover to the point that I am able to think about doing research without getting a headache. Even then, I was still making excuses rather than putting in solid study time.

It is not uncommon to experience momentary periods of burnout while doing research.  Think about it. A PhD student spends YEARS of his/her life writing what amounts to a very long paper about a very detailed subject, which very few people will care to read (at least until it is rewritten for publication).

However, there comes a tipping point when temporary burnout goes from being a small problem to a big one. When burnout becomes a broken promise.

I never considered my bout of burnout to be anything but a minor issue that I would overcome in time. I never expected it to spiral out of control in any way. I had it under control, you see. And then my pastor made a comment in his Sunday sermon on Jeremiah 2:2-9 that caused my world of self-reliance to come crashing down around my ears.

He said that if we are not careful, if we do not rely upon God as our source of strength, “time and cost will whittle down your promise to God.”

When the pastor spoke those words, they hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had allowed the time and cost of a research degree to get in the way of keeping my promise to Him, that I would go where he leads our family, no matter the sacrifice. In other words, what started out as a small problem had very quickly morphed into a big problem.  My burnout was threatening to become a broken promise.

And then God spoke to my heart. He reminded me that, when I begin to believe that I can deal with the small problems of life on my own, they very quickly grow into big problems. Fortunately, like a good kindergarten teacher, my Father in heaven takes control when the problem starts to grow. While I could choose to refuse his help and allow a big problem to get even bigger, I have come to trust Him over the years. You see, He has never failed me. He has never left me alone to my self-destructive ends. He is a God who loves me, who has rescued me, and I have come to love and trust Him deeply in return.

And so I have turned to God in my time of need. By his power my burnout has not become a broken promise. For the first time in more than two months, I am energized and excited about my research, I am looking forward to the plans that he has for our family, and I am profoundly grateful for God’s abundant blessings and grace.

Do you have a small problem that you are trying to conquer on your own? Is your small problem threatening to become a big problem? Has it already become a big problem?

Our society would tell us that self-reliance is a virtue. I say that our society is aligned with the father of lies.  God calls us out of sinful self-reliance into the freedom that can only be lived with the help of the Holy Spirit. He calls us to cross over from death to life in the name of his only begotten Son, Jesus, who died that we might become children of the Almighty God.

So I urge you not to go back to your self-reliant ways once you have tasted freedom. Give all of your small problems over to God the Father, who loves you, before they become big problems from which you need to be rescued once again.