Category: Parenting

So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…

(I didn’t get the last part of that sermon posted over the weekend. I tackled my storage shed in the backyard, replacing all the wood on the corners and around the door frame, and re-painting the whole thing. The paint color I carefully selected is “Elephant Gray,” but it looks really blue. I hate painting. Here’s the last part of the “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” sermon that concludes all the posts from last week.)

Some of you have kids who are already grown with children of their own. And they did not turn out the way you hoped. They didn’t turn out the way you planned and the way you prayed. They’re not in a good place. Maybe your children are not in a good place with their spouse and their own family, they’re not in a good place with their career or their health, they’re not in a good place with our Lord. And you know you did the very best you could. You tried as hard as you could to raise him right, you did everything possible to raise her right. But the more you look back, the more you see how you could have done things differently. You see where you should have done things differently. You realize your mistakes. You see where you messed some things up. And you have regrets. You feel guilt. And shame. How did she wind up like this? How did he turn out that way? Sometimes you feel like you must have been a terrible parent.

The Lord redeems all that. Our crucified and risen Lord Jesus takes care of all that.

I’m not going to tell you, “No, come on, you were a great father!” because you would rationalize that I don’t know the full situation. And you’d be right. And I’m not going to say, “Your mistakes as a parent didn’t really matter to your kids,” because you wouldn’t believe me. And, frankly, our parenting mistakes do have an impact. No. What I’m really trying to do is point you to the cross. The Lord can redeem your parenting story by joining it to the forgiveness and restoration story of the cross. I don’t want to reassure you about your performance as a parent. I want to offer you something much better: a word of grace.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” ~Matthew 7:9-11

God redeems your failures at the cross. Whatever absence, whatever neglect, whatever harshness or abuse, whatever character traits you’ve passed on to your kids, whatever harmful habits or practices they picked up, whatever sins real or imagined — all of that is forgiven and dealt with at the cross. You don’t have to be taken down by guilt or paralyzed by regrets. In all your sins, in all your failures, in all your mistakes, you know what’s best for your kids. How much more does God know what you need and what your children need and how to give it to you in buckets?

Maybe you’ve got a prodigal son or a lost daughter. Maybe your family is intact and everybody loves each other, but you have this one child who hasn’t received the Christian faith. That’s so hard. Or maybe your grown child is outwardly and verbally resentful and hateful to you, maybe he or she is even involved in dangerous or destructive behavior. That’s agony for parents. It’s horrible. How did this happen? What did we do wrong?

Listen, you’re not just dealing with a prodigal child; God is dealing with a prodigal universe! Sin and rebellion against God is universal, it’s in the stream of the human race. Raising children is not the same as raising cattle or programming code into a computer. It’s not always cause and affect like that; it’s not always that black-and-white, input-and-output. People rebel against what they’ve been taught. Humans turn their backs on God and the people who love them. We can’t always know how or why things go foul.

Here’s what we DO know.

Our God is the perfect Father and he knows how you feel. He, too, agonizes over his rebellious children and his children who are not in a great place. He’s not distant from that. He suffers and dies on a cross for us. And with us. Our kids belong to the Lord, not to us. How much more…? There’s mercy in that.

John Stott used to talk about the great temples in Asia where he would see statues of Buddha: placid, remote-looking, arms crossed, eyes closed, softly smiling. In Stott’s mind and heart, he says he would have to turn away from that image and look instead to that “lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through his hands and feet, back lacerated and bleeding, limbs wrenched out of joint, brow pierced with thorns, mouth intolerably dry and thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness.”

That’s our God. He is not distant from your pain. He’s crucified by it. In it. He’s crucified with it. And with you.

And we know that God’s Holy Spirit can convict anyone of sin and bring anyone to a saving faith in Christ, even after years and decades of running. The Spirit blows where he wills and we can’t track him. We can only watch the leaves flutter as he goes by.

God’s got this. Trust him to forgive you by his love and to take care of your child by his grace. Keep loving your grown children as best you can, keep all those connections open, so our prodigals know how to get home and that you’ll meet them on the road and throw a massive celebration feast when they do. God wants them saved and restored more than you do. Whatever mistakes you’ve made along the way are not going to stop God. How much more…? The crucified Christ bears your sins for you, he takes on the curse that we’ve brought on ourselves.

Our children, in our families and in our church, represent newness of life. They are the on-going providence of God. That’s why the powers of hell come after our children so hard, from Pharaoh and Herod to the sex-trafficking and abortion industries. The powers are after our kids. When we embrace children, when we love our kids, we’re sharing in the joy of the future. Children point us to the truth that the world has a future and God’s Church has a future.

Parenting is like the cross; unconditional love, sacrificial service, and pain. And unsurpassed glory. We bless our children by parenting by the cross. We don’t weigh them down with expectations we could never bear ourselves. We keep our promises as best we can. We forgive them, we forgive each other, and we forgive ourselves.

We — all of us together — have a future and a hope, one that is wrapped up in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our plans may evaporate, our dreams may get crushed. You’re not as consistent with the discipline or as committed to the priorities as you’d like. Sometimes you’re too harsh and sometimes you’re too lenient. Yeah, me, too. But our God’s love and grace for his people never ever stops. God’s mercies never cease and his promises never fail. So we can have babies and parent our children and unflinchingly trust our God.



Big Picture Perspective

(This is part five of our recent sermon at Central, “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I’ve been posting this in sections all week. We’ll conclude tomorrow.)

Big Picture Perspective – Your children are not the most important thing in your life. They’re not. Your whole world cannot revolve around your kids. They can’t be the center of your universe. You can’t compromise your commitments to your spouse in time or energy or affection because of your kids. You can’t neglect the commitments you’ve made to the Lord and to his Church because of your kids’ interests or pursuits. Your kids can’t come first. Your life cannot revolve around them and their schedules and what they sign up for and what they want to do. Parents need to operate out of a big picture Kingdom of God perspective. And the children need to understand it, too.

Your children need to see you caring for other people — spiritually, physically, and emotionally. The best thing our children can learn from us is that Carrie-Anne and I are part of God’s Church. Our kids see us singing in worship and serving others with our covenant group and investing our time and money and talents into God’s people and God’s mission. Our lives revolve around our commitments to Christ and to each other.

Kids know when you put other things first. They’re not stupid. They know because we tell them with our actions. They see it.

Church is important in my family, but not as important as my traveling team. Serving others in the name and manner of Jesus is important, but not as important as our school. Or our club. Or this vacation.

The parenting passage in Deuteronomy 6 says, “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” That’s the big picture perspective or a godly parent. The Lord is first. The kids are not.



Appropriate Authority

(This is part four of last Sunday’s sermon at Central, “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I started posting these in order on Monday and I’ll finish it up in this space tomorrow. This is one sermon out of our current six-weeks “Family Matters” series.)

I’ve heard some parenting experts say if your child is throwing a tantrum, don’t punish her. Don’t discipline him. The child is misbehaving because he doesn’t feel heard or understood. If the child knows she’s heard and understood, she’ll stop screaming and throwing things. So if your child is pitching a fit in the grocery store because you won’t buy him a cupcake, you’re supposed to get down on his level, look him in the eye, hold his hand, and repeat over and over to him, “You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake.”

Now, I’m not a parenting expert. But it seems to me the kind of behavior you tolerate when they’re young continues to grow, maybe into something enormous, so twelve years later you’re holding your child’s hand, looking him in the eyes, and gently repeating, “You just robbed  a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store.”

As the parents, you have God-given authority over your children. God is very clear in the parenting passage in Deuteronomy 6: “These commands I give you? Yeah, impress them on your children. Train up your child in the way he should go.”

“Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” ~Ephesians 6:4

Appropriate authority is understanding that the child’s moral and spiritual formation is the parents’ responsibility. It’s on you. But authority is not power. Don’t confuse the two. Ephesians 6:4 also says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Authority is not power.

Let’s say there’s a guy where you work in a different department from you and at a lower rank than you, but he barges into your office and says you must begin work on a certain project. You might say to him, “You don’t have the authority to tell me what to do.” You don’t mean that words cannot come out of his mouth, that he’s incapable of talking to you and speaking instructions. You mean he doesn’t have the right or the responsibility to direct you. Now, if he points a loaded gun in your face and says, “Do this project or I’ll shoot you,” you will do what he says, but that doesn’t mean he has the authority. He just has the raw power to force your compliance. That’s not what authority is. Authority in the Bible is not about power, it’s about responsibility and right.

Jesus says his authority is proven by the fact that he lays down his life for us. Your authority as a parent is not in that you’re bigger than your child, or older, or stronger, or in your title of Mom or Dad. It’s in your sacrificial love for your children. It’s in your heart for them and your deep desire to see them grow up to bring glory to God.

You have that authority and it should be used appropriately.



Confident Trust

(This is part three of last Sunday’s sermon at Central: “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I posted part one Monday. Part five will be Friday. You get it.)

Confident Trust – We try too hard to protect and even over-protect our children. We try to shelter them. We can’t see their futures, we don’t know what kind of world or school or marriage or health they’re going to have. And we don’t want them to suffer. That’s — I really want to be diplomatic here; I want to be gentle — that’s horse pucky! It’s nonsense!

We are the people of the cross! Jesus promises us we are going to face suffering and trials of every kind. This world is not Disneyland, it’s a boot camp. It’s tough. Our Lord says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

We are not doing our kids any favors by staying in constant contact with them by texting and calling and messaging with them all day from morning til night. We’re not helping them by setting up shields and safety nets around them so they never experience pain or failure or loss. Sometimes they need to figure out on their own how to get out of a jam. How to solve a problem. Sometimes they need to suffer the consequences of their poor choices. How else will they learn? How else will they grow?

We used to tell our girls we weren’t afraid of them ever being kidnapped because whoever took them would bring them right back. Like in less than an hour. That’s a joke. I’m not talking about throwing our children to the wolves. But this continuous hovering and protecting and sheltering and the 24/7 connection with the phones is doing more harm than good. Our kids aren’t growing up. Talk to any college professor. Talk to an HR guy who interviews job applicants.

We need to display a confident trust that our God is taking care of our kids and we shouldn’t be afraid. We need to instill that confident trust in our kids. God gives us his Spirit. God gives us his promises. The parenting text in Deuteronomy 6 begins with, “You are crossing the Jordan into the new land just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.” Verse ten says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land he promised…”

No fear. No worry. No anxiety. Confident trust.



Independent Affirmation

A financial institution in Chicago has taken over Whataburger and it just feels wrong. Pure-D-Wrong. The San Antonio-based Whataburger was seeking millions of dollars in order to expand its brand all over the United States and this investment firm in Chicago made the deal. Sure, in a few years I’ll be able to get the #1 with everything and extra onions and french fries with spicy ketchup in New York and California and Illinois. But, so what?!? Is it worth it? A Massachusetts company owns Dr Pepper now, Mrs. Baird’s is controlled out of Mexico, and an Ohio company owns Schlitterbahn. What the Ted? Everything in the United States is owned by like nine companies.

Was there not any money here in Texas? Would no one in Texas back the expansion? All you people who have been tweeting and Instagramming stuff like, “Pray for those who don’t have Whataburger” and “A moment of silence for the people in the states who don’t have Whataburger,” look what you did!




Will Whataburger still have the “Family Owned and Operated since 1950” sign on their windows? Will J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans be able to save Whataburger with his tweets? Is the whole thing going to be watered down now? What’s fueling my angst over losing this valuable distinctive, my Texas or my Church of Christ?


We’re in the middle of a sermon series here at Central we’re calling “Family Matters.” We’re attempting to understand why family is so important to us and why it can never be ultimate for us. We’re trying to see the family clearly but also see past the family. We’re wanting to crucify our family values. This past Sunday we considered the topic of Christian Parenting, raising our children by the love of God and the cross of Christ. This is part two of that sermon. I posted part one here yesterday.

Independent Affirmation – A lot of us are living our lives through our kids. We push our kids into certain sports or certain academic pursuits or certain careers or hobbies or even religious activities either because we missed out and my kids can make up for it — they can do whatever I failed to do or they can make up for my own regrets or they can achieve what I never had the talent or opportunity to achieve — or so we can keep what we achieved alive. We can keep our legacy going through our kids. We can stay relevant and important through the successes of our children. And if we’re not careful, we can start to search for our identity through our kids. Their success is my success. When they do something well it makes me look good and feel good.

Hey, your children don’t need that pressure! They don’t need that stress! Don’t put that on them!

And if you’re looking for your own sense of identity or worth in what your children do and how well they do it, you’re going to be horribly disappointed. They’re not you!

Your children have their own identities. Our Father made them and formed them individually with their own unique personalities and their own gifts to bring him glory. As parents, we need to honor that. We need to take the time to explore those things with our kids and look for those gifts and affirm them independently of what they do for us.

Think about the cross of Christ. How do we as parents sacrifice and serve our children to say to them, “Who are you?” How do we really get to know them and their talents and passions? How do we sincerely ask, “How did God gift you?”

The love of a parent is really made clear when you make the effort to genuinely affirm the gifts and callings of your child, especially when their skills and interests are different from yours.

Think about how many times during Jesus’ life God said out loud from heaven, “You are my Son. I love you. I am very pleased with you.” That’s the model. And I think I’m only just now beginning to figure it out.

Here’s a trick that helps me: Instead of telling our daughters I’m proud of them, I try to say, “I admire you” or “I admire this about you.” I don’t want them to hear “I’m proud of you” as something I say when they make me look good or feel good. I don’t want it to feel like “I affirm you or I love you because you’re making me look good or you’re doing what I want you to do.” I want to affirm our daughters independent of me.

I really admire this about you. I see this in you and I think it’s great. I love you, daughter, and here’s what I know about you. I know who you are. I see you the way God made you. I love you. I admire you.



Consistent Discipline

We’re in the middle of a sermon series at Central that we’re calling “Family Matters.” Yesterday we focused our attention on Christian parenting: raising our children by the love of God and the cross of Christ. The sermon I wrote wound up being two or three pages longer than the sermon I delivered. So, I’m using this space this week to lay out the entire sermon. There’s more here than what you heard Sunday or what you’ll find listening online. The title of the sermon is “So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” This is the Director’s Cut. Bonus Material. The unedited version.

Parenting is hard. It’s very difficult. Stressful. Parenting is the only job in the world that requires no previous experience, provides no training, you can’t quit, and people’s literal lives are at stake. That’s heavy. And nobody really knows how to do this. I used to have three theories about parenting before we had any children; now I’ve got three children and no theories!

The birth of a child causes parents to experience both great joy and abject terror. Nothing seems as innocent, as non-threatening, or was warm-hearted as the idea of children. At the same time, nothing can be scarier than the responsibilities we have as parents. And all parents feel overwhelmed. We’re not as equipped or as confident as we’d like to be. We all believe, in ways big and small, that we’ve ruined our kids. These gifts from God. These precious blessings. That’s what children are: gifts from God.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the one whose quiver is full of them!” ~Psalm 127:3-5

OK, but what do we do with them? Because it’s not science. Parenting is much more art than science. A lot of the advice we get, though, whether it’s from the church or from the world amounts to mainly technique. Strategies. Here’s how you install a car seat, here’s how you potty train, here’s how you set boundaries with phones and with dating. All that’s important and needed, but kids are not an operating system where we just need to have the right codes and punch them in. When do you put your foot down and when do you let up? I don’t know! I mess that up almost every time!

One of the best Bible passages for parenting is in 2 Chronicles 20. The people of Judah are facing a massive army from a foreign power, storming in wipe them out. Judah’s in trouble. And Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, stands up in the middle of all the people — including the wives, children, and little ones, it says — and he does not say, “Hey, we can do this!” He prays to God: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven?” Then he goes on in the prayer to say, “Here’s what’s going on, Lord; here’s what looks like is going to happen next…” And then he closes his prayer with this line:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” ~2 Chronicles 20:12

Now, our children are not a marauding army threatening to wipe us out. They could, maybe; they outnumber us and they are fierce. But this passage still says something about parenting. No matter how many books or blogs we read, no matter how many classes we attend or godly examples we follow, no matter how well things seem to be going, every parent reaches a point of powerlessness and despair. Things are awful. I’m messing this up. I don’t know what to do. I’m ruining my kids. Knowing that and turning to the love of God and the cross of Christ — I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you — that’s where we lose our guilt and our anxiety. That’s where we receive his grace and mercy and hope, for us and our children.

I’m going to give you five things that I think are really important. I am not perfect at these five things; in fact, a couple of these things are front and center for me right now because I’m realizing how terrible I am at them. These five things are all biblical and theological, they’re Christ-centered and Kingdom of God-focused. They matter. This won’t be an exhaustive list, this isn’t all of it. But these five things feel really important to me.

Consistent Discipline – I’m not just talking about the punitive stuff or the corrective stuff. You know, you talk about parenting and you say the word “discipline,” and people react. Why did you say “discipline?” Why do you focus on “discipline?” Why is “discipline” the first thing you said? What about love and affection and nurture?

Hey, love and affection and nurture are discipline!

Think about like an athlete training for a competition. She practices every morning evening, she eats all the right foods, she takes instruction well from her coaches — that’s all discipline. She lifts weights, no sodas or Mickey D’s, she runs every day — that’s all discipline. She sleeps when her friends are out partying and her parents cheer her on from the stands — that’s discipline. And those practices shape her and guide her for her athletic future.

Hugging your child is a discipline. Saying “I love you” is a discipline. Reading a bedtime story is a discipline. You might say, “No, those things come naturally to me because I love my child.” That may be true, but you probably don’t feel like doing those things all day long every single day. Sometimes you’re exhausted in the afternoon and you just want to go to bed. But you still sing “Jesus Loves Me” to your child and pray with him in his room. That’s discipline. You’re not just showing affection to your child in that moment, you’re building practices and rhythms that, over a long period of time, come to show your child that she is loved and how to love others.

Maybe it’s really easy for you to say “I love you” to a spouse or a parent at the end of every single conversation. But that’s because you’ve practiced it so many times.

Consistent discipline. When you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you go to bed, when you wake up — consistent training (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teaching your child the Bible is discipline. Modeling how to pray is discipline. Singing songs together, daily and weekly chores, drivers ed, worshiping and serving together with your church, showing your teenager how to apply for a job — all of that is discipline. Of course, correcting behaviors that don’t fit with our family or with being followers of Jesus is part of discipline, too. And it needs to be consistent.