The Greatest Thing About Having Four Kids

I should probably put something sentimental here, something like ‘there’s always peace and joy in the house,’ but that would be a misrepresentation of reality. I’ve got four kids ages 7 and under. Sometimes there’s more crying than joy (especially when more than one of them gets going at once!). 7.21.14To be completely honest, parenting four young kids is exhausting. I love it and wouldn’t have it any other way, but my kids wear me out. Robin and I try and trade off nights to actually sleep (one of us gets to sleep, the other gets up with the kids if needed). In reality, Robin gets up a lot more than I do. Last night was my night to stay up. It was a typical night, getting up four times (three times with our infant Elle and once to stop a four-year-old trying to sneak into ‘mommy’s bed’). It can be exhausting at times, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. I love how my life has unfolded.

Here’s the greatest thing about having four kids: you get over ‘you’ real quick.When you’ve got four young kids, the amount of ‘you’ time is laughable. I used to play golf a lot, then I had kids. I used to be able to watch whatever I wanted on tv. Now it’s a steady diet of Barney and The Wiggles. Robin and I used to be able to go out and eat whenever we wanted. We laugh at the thought now.

Our schedules revolve around nap time and bedtime. Even something simple like getting the family dressed and ready for church is a herculean effort. There is always another kid who needs something from the refrigerator, another diaper to change, another baby to be held. By the time we’ve successfully run the gauntlet and gotten the kids tucked in for the night, Robin and I usually fall down exhausted, coveting a full night’s sleep, knowing that one of us won’t get it.

Parenting four young children (simultaneously) is stretching, demanding, all-consuming, exhausting. And yet in the midst of this I find joy. I realize I don’t have to focus on myself to find happiness. As I empty myself out for the good of others, I discover a God who is ready to fill me up with a joy that never runs out. Once I get over me, I’m in a position to receive the blessings and joy and fullness that God promises me in Scripture. The trick is to remember that joy at 3 am when I’m changing a diaper while half-asleep.

QUESTION: How has parenting your children been a blessing to you?

Repost: 601 Marbles

11.15.13

originally posted November 15, 2013

I have 601 weeks left until my oldest son Zeke graduates high school. I know that may seem like a lot, but when he was born I had 936 weeks. I’ve already lost a third of my time with him.

In his book Playing for Keeps, author Reggie Joiner makes a great suggestion to help parents visualize the amount of time they have left with their kids. He suggests that you get a glass jar and fill it with marbles, one marble for every week you have left with your child. Each week, take a marble out and throw it away. It will serve as a tangible reminder that the few moments you have with your children are precious.

So, I have three glass jars on my nightstand. One for each of my boys. Each Sunday, I take out another marble and throw it away. I don’t like it. It makes me a bit sad. But it’s incredible motivation for me. Every time I’m tempted to waste a day, watch a useless television show, or squander a weekend, I see the jars of marbles. Every time my boys want to play ‘rough’ and I’m not feeling up to it, every time they want to throw the football outside even though it’s freezing, every time they want me to take an interest in what they’re doing even though I’d rather be watching SportsCenter, I see the jars of marbles.

When I see the jars of marbles, it serves as a reminder that every week is precious. I’ve already lost a third of my time with Zeke. How I choose to spend the remaining time with him is up to me. I want to make every marble count.

To help calculate how many weeks you have left with your kids, download the free Legacy Countdown app from the App Store.

What the Church Can Learn from Chuck E. Cheese

chuck_e_cheeseLast week my family took our semi-annual pilgrimage to the mecca of children’s experiences: Chuck E. Cheese. We didn’t just go there. We shut the place down. Three hours (and a fistful of tickets) later, we walked out of there full, victorious, and with a few cheap plastic toys that broke within an hour. But that’s beside the point.

On the drive home, I began to dwell on what elements in this restaurant would captivate the attention of my two-year-old for three hours. That’s quite a feat! (It’s also the only public restaurant we willingly take him to). The more I thought about it, I pulled out a few overarching principles that I think apply to the church:

1. It was fun. I say the words “Chuck E. Cheese” to my kids, and their eyes light up. Why? Because it’s fun. They get to run around, they get to play games, they have freedom to explore. Our kids would drag us to Chuck E. Cheese if they could. Fun isn’t a sin. Fun is fun. Is there an element of fun, of joy in our Children’s Ministries, in our churches?

2. It was interactive. Chuck E. Cheese is sensory overload for a kid. They literally impact all five senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, smell). The kids don’t just sit and watch. They get up and do. They get to take part. A church will always better capture the hearts of children and families when those families get to do more than just “sit and watch.” Churches should work hard to engage all five senses.

3. It was simple. One token, one game. All games are one token. Simple enough for a toddler to understand. Some games were worth more, but for the sake of simplicity all games are one token. Simple sells. The lack of theological understanding and biblical foundation is only increasing with this generation. To reach them, we must start simply.

4. It was rewarding. My boys were laser-focused on winning those tickets. They didn’t just want to be entertained through the games, they wanted to win something. At church, how are we rewarding people? How are we enabling our people to participate in and celebrate the rewards of the Christian life? We should want them to know that all their sacrifice and hard work they’ve given to the church is worth it.

5. It was safe. My wife’s favorite aspect of Chuck E. Cheese was the check-in system. Our whole family got a unique stamp, and it was checked again before we went out. Our kids were safe to roam. That safety enabled my wife and I to enjoy the experience without worrying about our children’s safety. In today’s society, safety is king. A church must have a secure check-in system for preschoolers and children if they want to have any type of effective ministry.

QUESTION: What else can we learn from Chuck E. Cheese’s?

The Difference Between Homosexual Orientation and Homosexual Behavior

6.24.14Today’s guest post comes from a friend of mine, Todd Rayburn. Todd is a 2000 graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Counseling. He’s worked in psych hospitals, clinics, school systems and in private practice. He currently has a private practice in Picayune, MS.

My journey on the issue of homosexuality dates back to my high school and early college years (late ‘80’s). I found myself around an unusually high number of gays and lesbians as many family and friends began to confide in me about their problems. I noticed that as I entered into my early adulthood that gays and lesbians would seek me out and I could not understand why because I am without a doubt heterosexual.  I noticed that my “gaydar” (as the homosexual community calls it) was at least as good as any gay person I knew and I could spot a gay person a mile away. All this left me quite confused because I was, am and will always be heterosexual. So I began to pray and ask God why all this was happening. Why were all these people coming to me? Why did I have the ability to just pass some normal looking guy on the street and instantly know he was gay? God began to reveal to me that he was preparing me for the ministry of counseling and that this would be a major issue affecting families. This began my search and my eventual theological understanding of homosexuality.

I often noticed in debates about the subject that the term “homosexuality” was thrown around very loosely and inevitably one side would argue that it was sin and the other would argue the opposite. I finally realized that the term was being use synonymously for both homosexual behavior/lifestyle and homosexual orientation. I noticed that this left audiences confused – thinking the two parties were talking about the same thing when they were in fact talking about two entirely different concepts. Once I realized this, I began to talk to gays and listen to how they described themselves. I also listened to their stories of how they evolved and realized they were different. I listened to how they felt about themselves. It was eye opening to say the least. I began looking at studies on the subject and I combed through all the relevant scriptures. By the time I entered the counseling program at New Orleans Seminary in 1998, I had a pretty good handle on the theology of homosexuality. I discovered that many of my professors had a similar understanding of scripture but no one was talking about it openly. Here we are some 16 years later and now the world is dragging us kicking and screaming into the argument and we are still not educating our people on this subject. We are still more focused on the political than the spiritual. We are still allowing theological ignorance to rule over truth. So what is the truth and what do we know?

Studies tell us that many self identified heterosexuals in the prison system have engaged in homosexual behavior just for human contact and due to a lack of opposite sex partners (Eigenberg, 1992; Sagarin, 1976). These studies also showed that once these people were released, they returned to heterosexual behaviors exclusively. They had been involved in the homosexual lifestyle without having a homosexual orientation. Likewise, many closeted gays and lesbians get married to opposite sex partners and have families before coming out. They have a homosexual orientation but they spend years without engaging in the lifestyle. What is the difference?

Gays and lesbians will tell you that having a homosexual orientation means that when they think about sex or have sexual urges, these urges are directed toward the same sex. They always say that they didn’t ask for these urges. They don’t want them. They want to ignore them and make them go away but just can’t ‘will’ it to happen. The urges are invasive and overwhelming. Does that sound familiar? It should because we all have that same experience. Only for us heterosexuals, it’s for someone of the opposite sex. Their orientation is not now, nor will it ever be a matter of choice. Of all the gays and lesbians I know (and I know a lot), I have never met anyone who chose to have a homosexual orientation.

Homosexual orientation is not sin nor are gay people in sin by having a homosexual orientation. Scripture is clear on the matter that homosexual acts are sin. It is the lifestyle that is the sin. Every scripture you can find on the subject that condemns homosexuality is condemning the acts. So what does scripture say about the orientation?

James 1:14 clearly outlines the progression of sin. Sinful or evil desires (Strongs -1939, epiqumia) “drag us out” to temptation. Temptation leads to sin and sin to death. We all understand that sinful and evil desires are not sin but distortions of the good, God given desires we have. For example, the desire to eat and maintain our body become a desire to glutten ourselves. The desire to talk to one another and build community becomes backbiting and quarrels.  I could go on but you get the point. While these desires are called sinful they are in fact not sin but precursors to temptation. They are the reasons we are all tempted in our own unique ways and struggle with the same sin our entire life. God given desires can get distorted by our own sin, sin imposed on us by others or even just the general fall of man. Often times, we don’t know why we have a distorted desire problem. We just do. While I have a number of theories about homosexual orientation, no one but God really knows why it exists and what factors cause it to develop.

Romans 1:24, 26-28 give us our only real look at homosexual orientation. To summarize, God had put his hedge of protection around a people to protect them from themselves. That’s no big surprise because that is a habit of His. He develops a relationship with them (they “knew” God) but it was not a salvation knowledge of God. God offered Himself to these people and they reject Him in favor of other “gods.” The Bible then says He “gave them over” (Strongs – 3860, paradidwmi) to the sinful desires of their heart. He did not force it upon them. He gave them over to the same sinful desires described in James 1. It did not say He put those desires in their hearts because after all, James 1:13 tells us that God does not tempt. He simply took his hedge of protection from them because they made it clear they did not want Him. He gave them over to the desires that were already in their hearts. How did they get there? Again, I don’t know and quite frankly, it doesn’t really mater. What matters is what will each of us do with the gospel and if saved, will we choose to honor God regardless of how we feel and what sinful desires well up within us? Romans 1 was about homosexual orientation but it could have just as easily been about any other sin (false witness, murder, covetousness, adultery).  The bottom line is that homosexual orientation is a desire issue that leads to temptation. It is not sin. At the point of temptation, we have a choice to reject the urge or embrace it and sin. We do not have the choice of what desire problems we face. If a heterosexual man sees an attractive woman and is unwillingly confronted with a sexual thought, is that sin or temptation? It is temptation. If he rejects the thought, he does not sin. If he embraces the thought in his heart and acts on the temptation either physically or mentally, he sins.  So it is with homosexually oriented people.

So then how should we act and what should we do? Love people and be honest. Part of winning people to Christ is to give them the whole truth. Just as Paul prayed for his “thorn in the flesh” to be taken from him and it never was, so we have our own thorns in the flesh that never leave us. Most (99.9999%) homosexuals will never see their orientation change regardless of their salvation. For them to be saved means a life of constant sexual urge management and for most, celibacy. There are those that can have heterosexual urges as they seek God and grow closer to Him. But in times of stress and times of spiritual valley, the homosexual urges come back with a vengeance. They also need to know what scripture says about their orientation and behavior. The homosexual community respects this honesty. In this way, we CAN stand for what is right and moral in scripture while still fulfilling the Great Commission in the gay community. They may or may not embrace Christ but at least it opens the door to sharing the gospel rather than our rhetoric closing their hearts before we get to the gospel presentation. If we communicate the gospel and a sound theological argument regarding homosexual orientation and lifestyle, we will still have to make that decision Dr. Mohler spoke of, but we can do it with the compassion and love Josh spoke of – no compromises.

 

Additional Scriptures: Rom. 7:18-25, 8:1-17, 9:19-21; James 1:21; 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 10:13; 2 Tim. 4:2-5; 2 Pet. 1:3-9, 2:6-22; Gen. 3:6; Matt. 12:34; Mark 7:20-22; 1 John 2:17, 5:4-5; 1 Pet. 1:14; Psalm 103:5; Eph. 2:3, Jude 18-19, Jer. 17:10.

 

Eigenberg, H. (1992). Homosexuality in male prisons: Demonstrating the need for a social constructionist

approach. Criminal Justice Review, 17(2), 219-234.

 

Sagarin, E. (1976). Prison homosexuality and its effect on post-prison sexual behavior. Psychiatry,

39, 245-257.

Ask Me In 40 Years if This Worked

6.23.14I’m experimenting with my kids. I know we’re probably not supposed to do that, but I’m trying to be intentional about one specific phrase I say to them on a daily basis. The original idea came from another preacher who spoke about the power of a phrase his father spoke into him for years and years. The application was simple: repeat one phrase often enough to your children and it will become the defining phrase of their childhood.

Now I’m an optimist by nature. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to go big. I shoot for the moon. So about a year ago I decided on a phrase that I now speak daily to my kids. Usually it’s the last thing they hear before they go to bed. My youngest ones are too young to understand it. My 7-year-old knows it by heart. When I start to say it, he says, “Yeah, yeah dad, I know . . . .” I introduced Zeke (my 7-year-old) to one of the adoption workers that helped bring him to us, and I said, “Zeke, tell Mrs. Nancy what I always tell you.” Zeke immediately referenced my phrase and repeated it to her.

What’s the phrase I speak daily to them? “God’s going to use you to change the world.” Optimistic, I know. A little over the top, I know. But here’s the experiment: I want to pump vision and a grand vision of God (and their purpose in life) into them until it oozes out of their pores. I want them to grow up with the given that God is going to use them to do big things. Change the world, even.

Then I’m going to sit back and watch. See if that holy confidence propels them anywhere in life. If their life turns out like everyone else’s, then I guess I wasted some words. But if their life soars, if they grab hold of a greater vision for what God wants to do through them and if they leave a footprint behind when they depart this world, then it will have been worth it.

Who knows? Ask me in 40 years if it worked.

QUESTION: What word are you speaking into your children?

12 Things You’ll Learn After Twelve Years of Marriage

IMG_0494Yesterday my gorgeous wife and I celebrated twelve years of marriage. I’ve blogged about marriage many times, but my anniversary is another opportunity to share what I’m learning along the way. Here are 12 things you’ll learn after twelve years of marriage:

1. You’ll look back at your wedding photos and say, “Who are those kids?”

2. Being knee deep in parenting, you’ll think back and wonder, “What did we do with all that free time we had before we had kids?”

3. You’ll learn which fights are worth fighting, and more importantly, which one’s aren’t.

4. You’ll laugh at the false narratives of marriage being portrayed in the media (movies, sitcoms, etc).

5. You’ll find beauty in the mundane; you’ll find richness in the quiet moments with your spouse.

6. If you’ve made it twelve years, then you and your spouse will have already gone through the fire and come out stronger on the other side. You’ll have realized a new strength forged in your marriage.

7. You’ll learn that marriage doesn’t get easy after twelve years. It might get a little easier, but it never gets easy.

8. You’ll acknowledge that one of the greatest competitors to maintaining romance with your spouse is your own children.

9. To be successfully married for twelve years, you’ll have surmised that marriage is the most humbling, the most sacrificing, and most transformative thing you can ever do in life. It forever changes you.

10. You’ll have discovered a level of intimacy with another human being that you’ve never experienced before.

11. You’ll get this sense that your spouse truly does complete you. You’ll acknowledge that marriage really is God’s beautiful design.

12. You’ll learn that even though you spend every day with your spouse, you still have so much more to learn.

QUESTION: What have you learned after your years of marriage?

A Simple (Not Easy) Way to Eliminate 85% of Marriage Fights

6.3.13I’m speaking as a husband, married for eleven years. I’m speaking as a pastor who’s seen and counseled scores of marriages; some that made it, some that didn’t. The only complaint I get about the percentage is that it’s too low.

Here’s the simple (but not easy) way to eliminate 85% of marriage fights: take care of your money issues. That’s it. If you’re married, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The number one thing that couples fight about is money, plain and simple. There’s not enough money. There’s too much debt. You’re upside down on a mortgage. One of you is the spender and won’t stop spending. You’ve adopted a lifestyle that you can’t afford. That leads to fights, fights and more fights.

If you trace the arguments, the pain, the hateful words, it will overwhelmingly come back to purchases you couldn’t afford, trips you can’t take because there’s no money, or overall stress caused by bills that you can’t pay. Is it any wonder that the Bible says that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6:10)?

The solution is simple, but it’s not easy. Get out of debt. Stop spending. Stick to a budget. Adopt a lifestyle you can afford. Create financial margin. Painful, I know. But the benefit to your marriage will more than make up for it.

QUESTION: What do you think? Is 85% too high or too low?

image courtesy of www.freedigitalphotos.net

Making Your Kids the Third Most Important Thing in your Life

11.22.13Here’s something I hear all the time: “My kids are the most important thing in my life.” I hear people say it. I read it online. People write that statement when they’re answering 8 random things about themselves on Facebook (or whatever that is). On the surface, it seems like the right thing to say, “My kids are the most important thing in my life.”

I mean, it’s a lot better than saying “Money is the most important thing” or “My job is the most important thing” or “Football is the most important thing.” Kids seem like a much more noble endeavor.

Some people actually mean it. Some people actually live like it. That’s where they get into trouble. I’ve seen some people put their kids ahead of their marriage. They quit pursuing their spouse romantically and emotionally, pouring all their love and affirmation into their kids. They’ll sacrifice their marriage for their kids, which ends up being a detriment to their kids. The greatest gift you can give your kids is a strong and healthy marriage. Marriage needs to be a higher priority than your kids.

On top of it all needs to be your relationship with God. God is the one who will give you the strength you need to be the best spouse and parent you can be. Without his help, you’ll struggle under your own power. Do you want to be the parent you want to be? Prioritize your relationship with God over your kids, and let your kids benefit from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

So, here’s the order I would advocate: God first, your spouse second, your kids third. (Your job, hobbies, Facebook and all that nonsense comes much farther down the line).

Do you want the best for your children? Don’t make them your first priority.

601 Marbles

11.15.13I have 601 weeks left until my oldest son Zeke graduates high school. I know that may seem like a lot, but when he was born I had 936 weeks. I’ve already lost a third of my time with him.

In his book Playing for Keeps, author Reggie Joiner makes a great suggestion to help parents visualize the amount of time they have left with their kids. He suggests that you get a glass jar and fill it with marbles, one marble for every week you have left with your child. Each week, take a marble out and throw it away. It will serve as a tangible reminder that the few moments you have with your children are precious.

So, I have three glass jars on my nightstand. One for each of my boys. Each Sunday, I take out another marble and throw it away. I don’t like it. It makes me a bit sad. But it’s incredible motivation for me. Every time I’m tempted to waste a day, watch a useless television show, or squander a weekend, I see the jars of marbles. Every time my boys want to play ‘rough’ and I’m not feeling up to it, every time they want to throw the football outside even though it’s freezing, every time they want me to take an interest in what they’re doing even though I’d rather be watching SportsCenter, I see the jars of marbles.

When I see the jars of marbles, it serves as a reminder that every week is precious. I’ve already lost a third of my time with Zeke. How I choose to spend the remaining time with him is up to me. I want to make every marble count.

To help calculate how many weeks you have left with your kids, download the free Legacy Countdown app from the App Store.

Debunking the Myth of the ‘Soulmate’

11.6.13I heard about it a lot growing up. There was a ‘soulmate’ out there for me, someone uniquely created for me that was going to fulfill my every longing and desire. While in high school, that prospect excited me and comforted me.

Once I was in my 20s and started actively searching, the idea of a ‘soulmate’ terrified me. What if I couldn’t find her? What if I made a mistake? What if I chose the wrong one? Or worse, what if I let my soulmate go by because I wasn’t convinced, and I would be forced to live the rest of my life on the outside of God’s will for my life? The thought was paralyzing at times.

Our society has created the myth of the ‘soulmate’ because it sells well. It makes for a great movie, a great ideal, a great dream. In reality, this myth has devastating consequences for young adults. We’re never given any criteria for how to find our soulmate, so we just ‘feel it.’ You know when you find your soulmate when they send tingles up and down your spine, when your heart goes a flutter just by being in their presence. Obviously, they’re the one. They’re the soulmate.

But then what happens when the magic wears off and you get into the grind of making a marriage work? Some people make the tragic mistake of thinking that they made the wrong choice. In their mind, a soulmate would never grumble or be selfish or be anything less than perfect. Some believe they made the wrong choice about marriage simply because they have to work at it.

Think about it from God’s perspective. Does it sound very loving for God to give you only one compatible spouse out of the six billion people walking on the planet? Does it sound loving that God would base your entire life’s happiness on your ability in your early twenties to find the one person out of the entire planet that’s right for you? That doesn’t sound very loving to me.

If you’re looking for a spouse, take some of the pressure off of yourself. Marriage is a choice. Love is a choice. Choose well, work hard, and don’t give up. You’ll have a beautiful marriage that will stand the test of time.