4 Things I’ve Learned By Having Four Kids

Changing a diaper faster than a NASCAR pit crew. Good life skill to learn. Distinguishing between a real cry and fake cry within the first two seconds. Another good life skill I’ve learned compliments of my four kids. On a more serious note, here are four impactful lessons I’ve learned by having four kids:


1. Life isn’t about you. That’s perhaps the first and biggest lesson any parent has to learn. To be a great parent, you can’t be the center of your universe. This lesson extrapolates as you pile on the kids. I literally have hobbies that I can associate dropping when I had more kids: Golf (Zeke), Tennis (Shep), Xbox/Wii (Linc). To gain something, I had to give up something. But that’s okay, because life isn’t about me.

2. Sleep is overrated. I got an early start on this blog today because my 2-year-old decided to walk into our bedroom at 5 am, turn on the lights, and ask for chocolate milk. Most of the time I don’t even have to set an alarm any more. The kids get me up. Kids one and two were the dark days when my body hadn’t quite adjusted to the lack of sleep that comes with parenting young kids. Now I’m a little more used to it. I used to be unable to function with less than 8 hours. Now if I get 5 or 6, I’m good.

3. Money does not equal happiness. Right alongside the hobbies I’ve given up I could stack up toys and other nice things that I would have liked to get for myself over the years but couldn’t because my income goes to taking care of the kids. There’s a lot of things Robin and I used to splurge on that we don’t get to anymore. Four kids makes our budget especially tight. But we’re happy. We don’t have all we’d like, but we have more than we need. Our happiness shifted from what money could buy to our kids a long time ago. Money does not equal happiness.

4. It’s more blessed to give than to receive. These words of Jesus always hang out in the background of my mind. I’ve found it to be an incredibly powerful and life-giving truth. As a parent, especially a parent of four young kids, my life is about giving. My time is not my own. My evenings belong to my kids. Sometimes my sleep belongs to my kids. I give and give and give. And yet I can honestly say that I’m more blessed now than I’ve ever been. My family gives me a blessing that far surpasses anything I could have ever selfishly obtained for myself.

QUESTION: What lessons have you learned by having and raising kids?

Dodgeballs and Slinkies

Growing up church sanctuaries were hallowed, untouchable places. From the stained glass to the pews to the chandeliers, the furniture makeup was unchangeable. I could never quite find the Bible verse that said that the church sanctuary had to look like that, but I always assumed it was somewhere in the book of 2 Opinions. In contrast the meeting rooms for kids and youth were always spartan in comparison. Cinderblock walls, a few posters or bean bags if we were lucky. It was apparent quickly where ministries lined up on the organizational hierarchy. Those were the churches I grew up in. But that’s not the church I’m a part of now.


Over the past two weekends we’ve had two major outreach events, one for youth and one for children. The youth had a blacklight dodgeball tournament and the children had KidZone Live. In both instances an untold number of volunteers came together and contributed hundreds of hours to pull off an amazing event. In both instances we had more teenagers and more children than we’ve ever had before at our church.

The reason we were able to have these amazing events? Because we broke through the taboo of a sanctuary as an untouchable space and made it a functional environment. Every Sunday morning our Fellowship Center is a worship venue for The Gathering. But two Friday nights ago that large space was turned into blacklight dodgeball heaven, with 300 teenagers crammed in there to spend their Friday night. Every Sunday morning our Worship Center hosts two worship services, but last night it was transformed into a kids paradise as 300 kids and parents filled the room for KidZone Live.

In both instances the worship venues were filled with something you normally wouldn’t see in a church sanctuary: dodgeballs and slinkies. Growing up this never would have happened. Children’s and Youth ministries were important, but we couldn’t touch the sanctuary. So why do it now? Because Christianity is always one generation away from extinction. Because there’s nothing more important than reaching the next generation for Christ. Because a church that fails to reach kids and teenagers is a church that actively digs its own grave. That trumps traditional taboos about what’s respectable in a church sanctuary. That’s why we let our teenagers tear the place up with a bunch of dodgeballs. That’s why I preached yesterday with hundreds of slinkies hanging down over my head from the ceiling. I did it for the kids. Reaching the next generation trumps my personal preferences. From my perspective, our ‘sanctuaries’ were more hallowed when filled with hundreds and hundreds of young people than when ordained with the finest stained glass and chandeliers. People are God’s treasure. The rest is just furniture.

3 Things I Tell All Young Parents

Last night at our Parent/Child Dedication Service I had the opportunity to share three words of wisdom to young parents as they start out this incredible journey of parenthood. I thought I’d share those same three thoughts with you:


1. The best gift you can give your children is a healthy marriage. More than a good education, more than strong athletic opportunities, more than exposure to the arts, the best gift you can give your children is a healthy and vibrant marriage. Study after study has shown that kids raised in healthy homes have a much better chance to be successful at almost everything in life. Put God first, then your spouse, then your kids. Those priorities are the best gift you could ever give your children.

2. The best way to ensure your children have a vibrant relationship with Jesus when they move out of the house is to have one of your own. As a youth pastor for ten years, I was constantly asked how to ensure that kids still followed Jesus when they went off to college. More than having them in church, more than simply teaching them Bible knowledge, the key is to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus yourself. You can’t fake it. An authentic relationship with Jesus is more caught then taught.

3. The most potent weapon you have in your arsenal is time. Time makes everything that matters matter more. Parents have years and years to give small doses of the most important things to their children over time. Love over time gives a child a sense of worth. Words over time gives a child a sense of direction. Stories over time gives a child a sense of perspective. Fun over time gives a child a sense of deep connection. Community over time gives a child a sense of belonging.

If you have young children in the house, you have time, years and years that parents of older children wish they could get back. Make the most of it!

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?

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?

The Difference 7 Years Can Make

IMG_0324Seven years ago, the narrative of Robin and I’s marriage was that we were the young couple that couldn’t have kids. Then our oldest son Zeke was born (seven years ago today). Two and a half months later we would meet him for the first time and take him home to adopt him. And then we met Shepherd two years later. Another two years went by and then God blew our minds and we had our first natural born son, Lincoln.

Today we’re meeting our little girl Elle who will complete our family. Her full name is Emmanuelle, and she is a living testimony that God continues to be with us. With kid number four, I think we’ll have to give up that narrative as the couple who couldn’t have kids. I think God’s proved his point. He can make the miraculous happen. He has blessed time and time again, and we look forward with breathless anticipation to see what He does over the next seven years.

May you be able to see and appreciate the miracles God has worked in your lives!

How to Keep Your Kids From Becoming ‘Punk’ Kids

PPF_FBWe all know those kids: the ‘punk’ kids. The ones who throw a tantrum in the grocery store. The ones who have an unnecessary meltdown on the ball field. The ones who act at least five years younger than their age. The ones to completely disrespect their parents in public. The ‘punk’ kids. Lack of discipline in families is all around us.

What contributes to it? You can’t discount the sin nature inside of them, creating a gravitational pull towards selfishness. Busyness plays a role, as we’re simply too busy to discipline. Sometimes we lack a strong enough bond with our own kids to see discipline have a lasting effect. Some parents are too weak-willed, unable to endure inconveniencing their kid in any way. Divorce can disunite parents and break trust with the kids, and differing parenting styles from neighboring parents can erode a strong sense of discipline. In the end though, many parents look at discipline and simply say it’s too hard.

What’s at stake? Much more than we think. We think the worst that could happen is that kids grow up disrespectful and bring dishonor to the family, but even that is thinking selfishly, how our kids affect us. What does a lack of discipline do to a child? Discipline your children, for in that there is hope;
 do not be a willing party to their death” (Proverbs 19:18). From the Bible’s perspective, discipline is a matter of life and death. To use a stark example, if you walked past a swimming pool and noticed a toddler struggling to stay afloat in the water, when you fail to discipline, it’s as if you walk right on past the swimming pool, leaving the toddler to fend for herself.

How can you begin to make headway with discipline in your house?

  1. Be disciplined yourself. Here’s the uncomfortable reality: disciplined people discipline people. If your life is disciplined, discipline will be easier for you. But if your life is chaos, don’t be surprised if your children follow suit.
  2. Be united and consistent. You and your spouse have to be of one mind. Kids learn too quickly how to divide and conquer their parents. If you’re divorced, do whatever you need to do to reconcile with the other, at least in terms of parenting. And be consistent. Don’t threaten without following through. If you start counting, “1, 2, . . .” make sure you’re willing to say “3” and follow through with your consequences. If they don’t believe you’ll follow through, your threats are useless.
  3. Embrace short-term pain for long-term gain. Disciplining is thinking not just about the specific situation, but how this will affect your child ten years from now. Yes, discipline is hard, inconvenient, and not much fun. But if done right, will shape your child in a way that he’ll be thankful for ten years from now.

QUESTION: What other action steps would you add to this list?

11 Reasons Why Marriage is Worth It

6.7.13A few days ago my local newspaper listed the names of those getting married and those getting divorced. Want to guess the score? 18 marriages, 38 divorces. Too many marriages are ending in divorce. The past two posts I talked about why marriages fail and how to improve your marriage. Today I’m giving you eleven reasons why marriage is worth fighting for.

1. A deeper love than you’ll experience anywhere else. There is an intimacy and transparency that I’ve only been able to find in a marriage. It’s one of the truly deep experiences that all humans should have.

2. You’re truly ‘known’ by someone committed to you. Marriage involves a vulnerability, as you open up your deepest self to someone else. But in this act of knowing and being known, there’s an innate longing fulfilled.

3. Lifelong companionship. If you do marriage right, your spouse will become your best friend. You can’t spend that much quality time together and not become best friends. God created us to live in community. Our spouse is ground zero for that.

4. You have a ‘help’ mate. It’s amazing how opposites seem to attract. My wife and I are perfect examples of that. She helps me where I’m weak, and I help her where she’s weak. She helps me achieve so much more than I could have on my own, and I help her do the same.

5. Spontaneous moments of pure joy. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed with love and joy. Most of the time, it’s in connection with reflecting on the blessings of God through my family. None of that would be possible without my spouse. She’s brought me more joy than anyone else on the planet.

6. Transforms your character. I tell people that my wife has been married three different times to three different people. They’ve just all happened to be me. Marriage is such a catalytic event that it will naturally change you. If done right, marriage will change you for the better.

7. Spiritual growth. Marriage has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a deeper dependence on God. It’s only with his help that I can be the husband and father that I need to be. The daily challenges of marriage have been one of the primary opportunities for me to grow spiritually.

8. Legitimate sexual fulfillment. Think of the gratification of sex without the guilt, without the shame, without the unintended consequences. When expressed in marriage, sexual fulfillment can reach its fullest potential.

9. Gives you a better picture of Christ. In Ephesians 5, Paul inextricably links the union of marriage with the union of Christ and the church. To know one is to know the other. As you progress in marriage, you get a better understanding of the sacrificial love that Christ has for the church.

10. Best evangelism tool. Connected to the previous reason, since marriage and Christ are so connected, when you have a strong marriage, it’s an incredibly vivid picture of Christ to the world. A vibrant marriage will always be one of your best evangelism tools to the world.

11. Leaving a healthy legacy for your kids. Studies have consistently shown that kids do better in life when they grow up in an environment with a strong marriage. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a healthy marriage. Give them a better chance at success in life.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you add? What’s the best part about your marriage?

image courtesy of my wife’s Facebook account

Six Traditions That Are Killing the Church (Part 2)

3.11.13Last post I started a three part series on Six (Modern-Day) Traditions That Are Killing the Church. These traditions have nothing to do with style of music, whether the pastor uses a pulpit or round table, or whether the people come dressed in suits or blue jeans. There are great churches on both sides of those divides. These traditions are a little more insidious, a little more difficult to unearth. Here are traditions three and four:

3. Expecting the church to disciple your kids. This used to frustrate me to no end as a youth pastor. A parent would come up, concerned about the lack of spirituality in their child. They didn’t feel confident talking to their kid about the Bible. So they were going to use their 167 hours per week and let their child fill their head with as much worldly influence as possible, then give that child to me for an hour a week and hope that I could completely disciple them. Not gonna happen. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says this, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” The role of discipling your children ultimately belongs to the parents, not the church. Interestingly enough, the epidemic of college students leaving the home and leaving the faith began to track at the same time that parents abdicated their role in the spiritual formation of their children. Coincidence? I think not.

4. Robbing God by not trusting God with God’s money. It took me years to get this right. I’ve been a Christian a majority of my life, yet it took years and years and years to finally trust God enough to begin to tithe faithfully. In Malachi 3:8, God tells Israel, “Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings.” Let’s be honest. Most Christians don’t tithe. That may very well include you.

Here’s what I learned after I began to tithe: I don’t tithe because God needs it. God’s not broke. It’s actually all his money anyways. I tithe because I need it. I need to break the power of money in my life. I need to experience the blessings of trusting God with that which is closest to my heart: my pocketbook. This tradition, of Christians thinking it’s okay to rob God, is killing the church today.

QUESTION: What traditions would you add to this list?

Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie Davis

12.11.12Kisses from Katie wrecked me. I knew a little bit of her story, so I thought I was prepared to hear her heart-wrenching story of life in a third-world country. I was wrong. If you have a soul inside of you, you cannot encounter stories of poor, neglected and abused children fending for themselves in Uganda and not have your heart ripped out a little bit.

Katie Davis is a 24-year-old who grew up in Brentwood, TN with a life typical of many Christian girls raised in America. Yet she willingly gave up her “good life” to sacrifice herself for the poor and the orphaned living in Jinja, Uganda. Here’s a bit of her story in her own words:

“Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshiped Jesus without doing what he said . . . So I quit my life. Originally, my quitting was to be temporary, lasting just one year before I went to college and returned to normal, American teenager life. But after that year, which I spent in Uganda, returning to ‘normal’ wasn’t possible. I had seen what life was about and I could not pretend I didn’t know. So I quit my life again, and for good this time . . . I have a joy and a peace that are unimaginable and can come only from a place better than this earth. I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully” (xviii).

This book is her story, her journey from her “normal” American upbringing to moving to Uganda, adopting thirteen precious daughters to raise as her own, and starting a non-profit that is bringing hope and healing to thousands of people. Never intended to be a professionally written narrative or deep theological treatise, Kisses from Katie captures the essence of her journey through story, vignettes of her life that show both the deepest hurts of the human experience and the deepest love of a gracious Heavenly Father.

Through her experiences with third-world disease, poverty, starvation and neglect, the veil of first-world ignorance will be forever ripped from your eyes. In a country (America) where suffering equals only having one fast-food restaurant to choose from, Katie’s real-world experience in Uganda is a sucker punch to the gut. While we’re busy keeping up with the latest elimination from American Idol, millions of precious children are simply fighting to stay alive. Here’s how Katie describes her first conversation with one of her new daughters, five-year-old Joyce, “What struck me most about that first [conversation] with Joyce was what she said to me: ‘Thank you for food, Mommy. Today I am still alive.’ My heart stopped. This little girl, at five years old, is simply thankful to have something to eat so she can stay alive” (87).

Numerous stories like that will rip your heart out with compassion and compel you to do something with the excess that you’ve been blessed with. Through all of the trials that Katie has gone through, she continues to inspire with her unadulterated faith in God: “God teaches me, and Masese (a village she works in) teaches me, this: Resurrection is real. Life is more powerful than death. Light can pierce darkness. I may never see the end of horrendous situations on this earth, so instead of trying to fix the situations here and now, I will focus on helping these people come to heaven with me” (192).

Get this book. Let it inspire you to do something meaningful with your life. To keep up with Katie’s work in real time, check out her blog here.


1. Real Christianity is more than just church attendance and another Bible study. The end result of our faith is not another church service or more Bible knowledge. It’s loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Katie Davis is a beautiful picture of what it means to live out your faith in its purest form. More than simply attend more church or read another Christian book, Katie decided to live out her faith. How uncommon, yet how life-changing.

2. If you want to touch God’s heart, work with the poor and abused. If you look throughout the Old and New Testament, God continually shows his heart for the poor and oppressed. He constantly calls us as believers to show love to those he loves. If you want to work with those closest to God’s heart, get out of the finely manicured suburbs and go work with the poor and neglected.

3. I’m thankful for those who sacrifice their resources to make a real difference in the world. Katie’s non-profit ministry, Amazima Ministries, works to provide meals, education and many other needs for those who desperately need it. I’m also extremely thankful to be a sponsor for Children of Hope, a ministry helping Haitian refugee children living in the Dominican Republic get an education and a shot at life.

4. Everyone needs to go on an overseas mission trip. If you’ve never experienced life outside of the United States, then you live in a bubble. There is a tremendous world of need out there. There are millions of American Christians who can be the arms and feet of Jesus to a suffering world. But we’ll never know what’s out there until we go. Find a quality mission-sending organization and go overseas. It changed Katie’s life. It changed my life. It will change your life.

5. I want to be a part of a church that meets the needs of the poor and hurting. Who are the lost, the oppressed, the hurting, the neglected in your town? What is your church doing to love them and share the hope of Christ with them?

6. If you never meet Katie Davis in this life, here’s how you can find her in heaven: look for the really huge mansion up on the hill with the best view. Her rewards will be massive in heaven one day. She deserves it. Look for her on Mother Theresa’s street.