The Phone Call I Hope I Never Have to Make About Your Marriage

Recently I had to make a phone call that broke my heart. It’s a phone call that I hope I never have to make again. A few years ago a couple came to me for marriage counseling. They had been struggling with issues for years but hadn’t talked to anyone about them. We met several times and made a little bit of progress but no breakthroughs. They couldn’t meet in the middle. Counseling kind of petered out and they eventually moved to a different state.

telephoneAs life goes we lost track of each other until I received a letter from a lady I’ve never met. She told me she was the guardian ad litem for this couple. They’re getting a divorce. It’s getting messy. Accusations are flying back and forth. And worst of all, there are kids involved. The relationship had deteriorated to such a point that the government had to step in to help decide where the kids went.

That’s where my phone call came in. The guardian ad litem received permission from both parties to talk to me and get my take on the situation. It was a depressing phone call to say the least. I believed and still believe that it was a marriage that could have been saved. The greatest casualties are the children, pawns with no say in the matter.

I hope I never have to make a phone call like that again. If your marriage needs help, get help. Don’t stick your kids in the middle. Don’t make the government decide where they go. Talk to someone this week.

12 Things I Learned On Vacation

After spending a wonderful week with my family, here are twelve takeaways that every person might need to know. You’re welcome.

8.4.141. You can never eat enough grilled shrimp at the beach.

2. A vacation with a 2-year-old is a faux-cation.

3. Vacationing with three young kids is truly a vacation when you’re used to four.

4. You feel bad about ditching your 3-month old with her grandmother until you see another family trying to ‘relax’ on the beach with a 4-month old (ain’t happening).

5. Songs from The Wiggles will haunt you in your sleep after listening to them in the van for five hours.

6. I love building sandcastles way too much.

7. When the string on the kite gets tangled, just give up. It’s not worth it.

8. The biggest fights your kids will have will be over who gets to push the elevator buttons.

9. Trying to eat (and enjoy) a nice sit down dinner at an expensive restaurant = fail. Making do with PB&J on the beach = win.

10. When your 7-year-old son gets super amped up about looking for seashells, just roll with it.

11. When you forget to lock the front door to your condo, plan on spending at least fifteen minutes frantically looking for your 2-year-old who likes to “be adventurous.”

12. There are moments when everyone is calm, no one needs anything, everything is peaceful, and you can truly relax. Enjoy those three minutes each day!

Looking forward to going back again next year!


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?

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?

A Good Kind of Tired

4.7.14As you drag into Monday, I know you’re tired, but is it a good kind of tired? Was your weekend energy spent on partying, video games, too much tv and too much alcohol? That’s not a good kind of tired. That’s a weekend of wasted opportunities mixed in with a dash of regret. Here’s a good kind of tired: spending your weekend doing something beneficial for someone else.

This past weekend we wore our church out, but it was a good kind of tired. We hosted our third annual Joy Prom, where our high school students throw a prom for the special needs community in our area. People drove in from three states to be here this year. It was an all week event getting ready, and many were up late Saturday night putting everything back together after the last dance ended.

There were countless hours and dollars devoted to this one event, to give a night of joy to an often overlooked group in our community. But here’s what’s amazing: our people loved it. They served with a smile on their face. They sacrificed their time and energy willingly. Sure, we were dragging a little Sunday morning. But we were a good kind of tired.

Growing up, a good weekend consisted of hanging out with my friends and finding ways to entertain myself. Looking back on this last weekend, I didn’t get to do much for me. We brought our baby girl home from the hospital on Saturday morning, I took my older two to an airshow in town, came back and got dressed for Joy Prom, and stayed up late Saturday helping clean the church.

Today I’ll be honest. I’m tired. But it’s a good kind of tired. It’s a weekend I’d do again in a heartbeat. Are you a good kind of tired today?

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!

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?

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The (Real*) Reason You Don’t Bring Friends to Church

1.15.14Here’s a reason that we don’t bring friends to church, one that we don’t talk about and will never admit to our pastors: our church is weird. It’s okay, I can say that. I’m a church person. I’ve grown up in church. I’ve been a part of some weird churches. They’re fine for you because you’re used to it, but you love your friends too much to expose them to it.

It’s like taking your friends to a family reunion. You’ll never do it. Why? Because you have friends that you genuinely like. And you have a family that you don’t like all the time but you’re stuck with. And you’ll never bring your friends to a family reunion because you love your friends too much to expose them to that level of crazy.

Sometimes church can feel like a crazy family reunion. It’s a little weird, it’s not super fun, and it smells. But it’s family and you’re stuck with them.

When church feels like a crazy family reunion, newcomers won’t stick around. They’re not family. Here’s what I know: people today are genuinely searching for hope. They’re searching for Christ. They need a church to go to that will welcome them and not freak them out.

Want to get people to bring their friends to your church? Make sure it’s welcoming, from the second they step out of their car in the parking lot. Make sure it’s fun. Church doesn’t have to be as somber as a funeral service. It’s very possible to have fun without compromising the sanctity of the gospel. Make sure church is helpful. When the preacher talks about something that doesn’t apply, people check out. Save the sermons on the tabernacle for Sunday nights or Wednesday nights. On Sunday mornings, make sure that church is helpful.

Want new folks to come to your church and stick around? Make sure your church doesn’t feel like a crazy family reunion.

QUESTION: What do you think? Am I off base here?

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.

Three Words in Dealing with Negative Media Influences

PPF_FBNegative media influences ranks as one of the top ten issues that Christian families deal with according to LifeWay research. Why is this issue so important? “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Matthew 5:13

Satan’s strategy with negative media influences is to get the salt to lose its saltiness. If he can’t keep us out of heaven, he’ll try and destroy our effectiveness. If he can change the way we think, he can change the way we live. We must always be on our guard when it comes to negative media influences. How do we respond as families?

1. Protect. We’re called to protect our children. That’s why we don’t let them run around with scissors. That’s why we don’t let them play with open prescription bottles. That’s why we don’t give them a chainsaw and tell them to ‘have at it.’ And yet many of us give our kids unfiltered internet access on their cell phones, cable television in their rooms, and buy them Grand Theft Auto V, all the while hoping they turn out okay. Protect your kids from stuff they don’t need to be exposed to.

2. Engage. As kids get older, you can’t protect them from everything. Sooner or later they’re going to interact with the world. Better to start that process while they’re still under your supervision. Engaging is about knowing what songs, shows and movies your kids are interacting with. It’s about knowing what social media platforms they’re on, and having constant dialogue with them about it. It takes time and energy, but sets them up for success later on in life.

3. Redeem. All culture is not bad. Just because some music is bad, it doesn’t mean all music is bad. God is calling some of our children to be artists and musicians, to redeem the good that’s still left in the world. If Hollywood can produce The Bible series from Mark Burnett and it be a success, then there’s hope for anything. Don’t shy away from culture. Redeem it.