The Blessing of Being a Parent

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Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Psalm 127:3-5a.

Note: Our 3rd blessing, Ezra Counts (see picture above), was born yesterday!

As congratulations have come pouring in on the birth of our son, one word I have often enjoyed hearing is “blessing.” If one word could be used to describe God’s attitude toward children, it is “blessing.” Think of the attitude of the psalmnist in Psalm 127. Heritage. Fruit. Reward. Blessing.

Contrast this with the often heard world’s view of children: Expensive. Brats. Time-consuming. Unwanted.

We need to have our minds renewed by God’s Word in every area of life. The tricky part usually comes years later. It’s pretty normal to be joyful when a new baby is born. But Moms, don’t forget God’s blessing on you when that child is having terrible two tantrums. Dads, don’t forget God’s blessing on you when you have to talk to your teen about dating or driving privileges. It’s a blessing from our good and gracious God to be given children. They are a stewardship from Him. May we take up that stewardship joyfully for the next eighteen plus years.

“The Duties of Parents” by J.C. Ryle and Free Download

All Christian parents need biblical, helpful reminders of what their responsibilities are to their children.  I have been so encouraged and challenged by The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle that I am quoting Ryle’s first 3 points below.  If I hear they are helpful, I may quote more portions in the future.  Here’s the great news: the entire 38 page booklet is available in a free PDF or Kindle dowload here (if you would rather have the published booklet for less than $5, click here).

1) First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.

Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.

The mother cannot tell what her tender infant may grow up to be–tall or short, weak or strong, wise or foolish: he may be any of these things or not–it is all uncertain.  But one thing the mother can say with certainty: he will have a corrupt and sinful heart.  It is natural to us to do wrong.  “Foolishness,” says Solomon, “is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15).  “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 24:15).  Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread; let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds…

If you cannot make up your mind to this first principle of Christian training, it is useless for you to read any further.  Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child’s mind; and it must be your first step to resist it.

2) Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.

I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.

Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct.  Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys–these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily–these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.

Few are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw than to drive.  There is that in all our minds which rises in arms against compulsion; we set up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of a forced obedience.  We are like young horses in the hand of a breaker: handle them kindly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with thread; use them roughly and violently, and it will be many a month before you get the mastery of them at all…

3)  Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends on you.

…this is one of God’s merciful arrangements.  He gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay.  He gives them a disposition at the starting-point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s.  He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good…

Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen–that parents can do nothing for their children, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still.  These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam’s fashion–they would like them to die the death of the righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life.  They desire much, and have nothing.  And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.

I know that you cannot convert your child.  I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God.  But I know also that God says expressly, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” and that he never laid a command on man which He would not give man grace to perform.  And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey.  It is just in the going forward that God will meet us.  The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing…

A Reminder as School Begins…The Husband and Father’s Responsibilities: A Quote from Jonathan Edwards

As school is now in full swing, I want to share this Jonathan Edwards quote that is a timely thought on a husband’s and father’s responsibilities (moms, don’t miss the second part of the quote regarding raising your children!).

…the person in your house that claims your first and nearest attention, is, undoubtedly, your wife; seeing you are to love her, even as Christ hath loved the Church. . . . Next to your wife are your children; immortal spirits whom God hath, for a time, entrusted to your care, that you may train them up in all holiness, and fit them for the enjoyment of God in eternity. This is a glorious and important trust; seeing one soul is of more value than all the world beside. Every child, therefore, you are to watch over with the utmost care, that, when you are called to give an account of each to the Father of spirits, you may give your accounts with joy and not with grief.
Jonathan Edwards

[HT: Family Ministry Today]

I recently met a man at a car wash who saw my young children in my car and told me, “Love your wife.  Don’t forget to love your wife.  It is best for your children, best for her, and best for you.”  This was a 2-minute interaction that we had, but with tears in his eyes he shared that he lost his influence with his children as well as most of his monthly paycheck because he did not love his wife.  Both Jonathan Edwards (knowingly) and the man at the car wash (unknowingly) are echoing the theme of Ephesians 5:25 & 6:4.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

How Crucial is Youth and Family Ministry?

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I was encouraged again in how crucial Youth and Family Ministry is when I recently saw some shocking statistics.  In a 2009 poll of one thousand people in their twenties who used to attend Bible-believing churches but who no longer attend, a whopping 40% of those who don’t believe first started to have doubts in middle school, and 44% first had doubts in high school.  This is in contrast to only 4% who began to doubt in elementary school, and only 11% in college (Answers Magazine, July-Sept. 2011, 124).

In the same issue of Answers Magazine, Al Mohler gives some analysis and remedy worth considering:

…Kids are spending a very small amount of time in church activities, and many of those activities have very little theological, biblical, or spiritual content.  As a result, we have a generation of young people who believe that there is a God, but they don’t have any particular god in mind…

When asked, “What steps can the church take to do better?”  He explains:

Focus on expository preaching, and teach how to think biblically.  The pulpit has to take responsibility.  In far too many churches there is just no expository preaching [teaching that expounds on a particular text of Scripture].  There isn’t the robust biblical preaching that sets forth the Word of God and then explains how the people of God have to think differently and live differently to be faithful to that Word.

Show the seriousness of church, including personal accountability.  The local church must be a robust gospel people.  It must be a warm fellowship of believers.  It must be a fellowship of believers who are really living out holiness and faithfulness to Christ, and being mutually accountable for that.

Otherwise, our kids will get the message: “You talk a lot about sin, but it’s really not all that important to you.”  Or they will think the gospel is simply about moralism.

Give answers about current issues.  We’re not giving our kids adequate information on some very crucial issues.  [Think about] the questions the average teenager faces…

Explain how the gospel is unfolding through real history.  …The Christian faith, the Christian truth claim, the gospel, is first of all a master narrative–a true story–about life, about God’s purpose to bring glory to Himself.  It has four major movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation…If we don’t anchor our children in that story, if they think that Christianity is merely a bunch of stuff to believe, if they don’t find their identity in that–in which they say, ‘Yes, that’s my story.  This is where I am.”  Then they are going to fall away.

Mohler was asked next, “What are parents doing wrong?”  His answer is a timely reminder for those who have teens as well as those of us who have small children:

We’ve got to start treating young people as a mission field, not just assuming that mere nurture will lead them into Christian discipleship and into Christian faith.

Parents need to take a big responsibility here.  The one thing we know from the entirety of Scripture is that parents have the non-negotiable responsibility to train, educate, nurture their own children into the faith, to confront them with biblical truth, to ground them in the Scriptures.

We also have, on the part of many Christian parents, a buy-in to a new secular understanding of parenthood.  We are letting our children make big decisions far too early.  So, when you have a 14-year-old, 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, making decisions about whether he or she is going to participate in church activities, be at church…that’s a child who is making decisions that should be made for him or her.

What steps can parents take to do better?

Teach God’s Word all the time, in everyday life.  This is not something that you can do once a day, once a week, and say that’s done.  That’s why I go back to Deuteronomy 6.  It is a constant teaching opportunity.

I don’t mean a piece of chalk and a blackboard.  I mean the kind of opportunity that comes from having seen something together and saying, “All right, how do we figure that out?  What does that mean?” [i.e. watching a movie, reading the same book, talking about the news]

Help adolescents think through the big questions.  Adolescence is the crucial point.  For the first time they’re beginning to think about the big questions of life.  When the lights go out at night, they’re trying to figure out, do I really know the meaning of life?  Do I really know who I am?  At that stage, don’t be afraid if your kid is asking questions … don’t be afraid to say, “I know there is a good answer for that.  But I’m not sure right now I’m prepared to give the right answer for that.  So we’re going to go find it together.”

(Al Mohler quotes are from Answers Magazine, July-Sept. 2011, 127-129).

I am so excited about Family Ministry because during this crucial stage of life, the church and parents both have the opportunity to make life-long disciples of Jesus as they consistently teach and apply God’s Word.  This God-ordained partnership of the church and parents is for the good of teens and the glory of God!

Why I Am Glad I Took My Son With Me to the Mechanic

I could tell you about so many times that I have not been as patient as I should as a parent, or times that I have had to ask my son forgiveness for getting angry, but today I don’t think that would be very edifying for you.  But I would like to tell you about a recent trip to the mechanic with my son that God turned into a Gospel moment.  I hope that this may encourage you to pursue more of these types of opportunities with your children.

I almost didn’t bring my son with me to the mechanic this week because I had some studying to do, but I realized that he needed to get out of the apartment and that it would be good to have some time together, so I brought him along.  We had a great time.  He got to watch a few kids’ shows while we were waiting, I got a little studying done, we bought a bag of chips from the man that pushes the little cart down the street, and we talked about the area as we walked around a bit.

After spending 3 1/2 hours together, we were sitting outside on a bench waiting for the car to pull out of the shop when for some reason he asked me to tell him the story “about your fish that you used to carry around in a bottle.”  So I told him the story of my pet goldfish that I brought back from Israel again, but I was sure to make it dramatic since we had time.  At the end of the story Tobias asked, “And then he died?”  I told him that the goldfish did die about a year after he came with me on the airplane from Israel.  I explained to him that goldfish don’t live as long as cats, knowing that he was thinking of our pet cat that recently passed away.  “I guess everything dies,” Tobias concluded.

For the next three minutes, my four and a half year old listened intently as I explained to him as simply as I could that although everything dies, Jesus died so that everything can be made new.  And that we can live after we die–live eternally.  He even listened closely as I explained briefly about sin, repentance and asking Christ to save us.  I would have missed that Gospel moment if I had not brought Tobias with me to the mechanic.  Although he does listen and probably catches more than we think when we are purposefully teaching him about the Bible, his ears were especially open that day because it was something that he was thinking and asking about as we went through our day together.  The Bible and the Gospel were connecting with his life.

I am thankful that the Lord gave me that Gospel moment with Tobias that day.  As parents we need to be actively looking for those opportunities.  Sometimes we teach and teach our kids and make sure they are in Sunday School, but we also need to be looking more for those teachable moments that God naturally gives us which is when we often get a “window into their soul.”  Another way of saying this is shepherding their hearts, all day.  This is what God commanded the Israelite parents in Deuteronomy 6:6-9, a principle that is just as much of a command for us with our children today: “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Moms, be encouraged because statistically speaking you probably get more of these everyday Gospel opportunities.  Look for them, and use them to teach your kids about God and the Gospel.  Dads, are you spending enough time with your kids so that you have these opportunities?  Take advantage of every one of them, even if it is because you took your child to the mechanic.

10 Things My Dad Taught Me That I am Trying to Teach My Kids

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Fathers inevitably pass on a legacy to their children.  As I reflected on the goodness of God in giving me my Dad who taught me about Christ from the time I was born, I came up with 10 things (not exhaustive) that I learned from him.  These are principles that by God’s grace I am trying to teach my children.  There is a biblical principle behind each one, but it strikes me how many of these were taught by lifestyle more than words.  Of course we use words in training our children, but what are YOU teaching your children by how you live and interact with them?

Thanks Dad for all you have taught me!  I’m not sure if you knew you were teaching me some of these things, but they have all profoundly impacted me and I thank God for you.

1) Know Christ & Serve Him Above All Else
One of the things I thank God for the most in my life is that by His grace and obviously no merit of my own, He placed me in a Christian family that taught me the Gospel from before I can remember.  I remember kneeling by my parent’s bed and praying with my Dad, while my Mom was in the room, to accept Christ as my Savior.  My Dad also taught us that there is nothing more important in the world than knowing and living for Christ (Philippians 3:7-11).

2) Be Involved at Church
My Dad led music at our church (and my Mom played piano), so we were there for almost every service, including morning and evening.  In a day and age where commitment to church involvement is often lacking, I am thankful that my Dad ingrained this into me from the time I was little (Hebrews 10:23-25).  It is a joy to serve the Lord, to be with His people, and to learn from God’s Word.

3)  Be Wise with Who You Marry
My Dad not only made an excellent choice in his wife, but he would often tell us so.  I also remember many conversations about how important the choice of a wife is.  He always made it very clear that she had to be a committed Christian and that this choice would influence the rest of my life (Proverbs 31:10-12).

4) Be Honest
I will never forget the time that my Dad accidentally put a pack of breath mints in his pocket at the grocery store counter.  We shopped in a small town, so the next time we went to that grocery store he was sure to go back to the same clerk, explain to her what had happened, and pay for it.  It had a huge impact on her because she always mentioned it every time she saw him after that.  It had a huge impact on my brothers and I because we were watching (Ephesians 4:25).

5) Work Hard
My Dad taught music in Prescott, Washington for over 30 years, but I remember many summers that he was a wheat truck driver or worked in pea fields to supplement income for the needs of our family.  His example influenced me greatly during seminary as I worked several different jobs in which  it was tempting to think, “I have too much education for this,” etc.  Working around the home was also part of being in the family.  He taught Proverbs 6:6-7 by example, “Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.

6) Spend Time With Your Family
I have great memories of family vacations, going places like the mountains for a day trip, and fishing.  Fishing was special because it was something that we just did with Dad and even though I hated having to bait my hook with a worm, I cherish those times together (Ephesians 6:4).

7) Have Fun With Your Kids
My Dad not only made time for his family, but he also had fun with us.  My Dad loves to laugh and family dinners were often hilarious (Proverbs 17:22).  When we were little I remember knowing at times that he might be stressed out about something, but that did not mean that he wouldn’t have fun with us.

8) Be There for Your Kids
I can honestly say that my Dad hardly ever missed a sporting event or piano recital.  Other than a few games that were a far away drive, I don’t think he even missed any “away” basketball games.  There were many kids on my team for which this was not the case.  It gave us something in common, and I always knew that he saw it and was proud if I made a shot (which wasn’t that often!).  This is one of the ways that I most often felt my father’s love for me (Colossians 3:21), which is why I did everything I possibly could to get off of work early when my son was a sheep at church this last Christmas.  Thanks for being so consistent on this one, Dad.

9) Treat People With Respect
My parents taught me to treat all people with respect whether they are of a different race, disabled, different socioeconomic background, homeless, etc (Matthew 7:12).  It is amazing how many students at the little school my Dad taught at for 30 years have later come back and shared that they are born again Christians now; I know that God used his consistent lifestyle testimony in their lives as he was different in this respect than other teachers.

10) Never Give Up
I once wanted to quit a sports team halfway through the season because of issues with the coach, but my Dad would not let me.  He explained that even though I would not have to play next season, that I needed to persevere this season even though it would be tough.  I’m glad that he made me stick it out and I want to teach my kids the same lesson (Romans 5:3-4).

Big News!

Psalm 127, below, has quickly become a favorite Psalm for Melanie and I (Scripture in italics, my comments are in brackets):

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the LORD guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

[This reminds me of God’s good sovereignty and provision, and how He has taken care of our family all throughout Seminary and will continue to watch over us.]

Behold, children are a gift of the LORD,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.

[The LORD gives us children as a great blessing of His undeserved grace. Notice how the Psalmist uses the phrase “fruit of the womb” instead of just “offspring”; he is pointing out how they are a good, sweet gift from God.]

Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.

[What are arrows for? To eventually launch out. In this case, the target no matter where the arrow lands is God’s glory.]

I recently took a look at every verse that I could find about children in the Bible because I want to be thinking God’s thoughts on any subject, and I knew in particular that what God’s Word says about children would be in stark contrast to our culture. The era in which we live too often says or acts like they are a burden, an inconvenience, an expense that gets in the way of what I want for myself, etc. But what surprised me as I surveyed God’s Word on children were two things:

1) There is actually more of an emphasis on how parents have the imperative from God to raise their children to live for Him than on the subject of “children.”

2) The verses that do address the subject of “children” are unequivocally positive. Picture Jesus holding the children in his lap and talking with them when the disciples thought he was too busy and told them to go away, and you get the picture of God’s special love for children.

As you can see from this adorable picture below, Melanie and I are thrilled to announce with Big Brother Tobias and Big Sister Gracie that we will be having our 3rd child Lord willing about September 25th!!!

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We are blessed, very blessed, and we give praise to God, that we once again will have the opportunity to love one of His little ones that looks a lot like us, and to point him or her to Jesus.