A Pure Purpose

courtesy of www.mineeo.com

God's goal for all of His children is to transform them into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist said it well, "He (Christ) must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  God is truly glorified in us when we are less and Christ becomes more.  In other words, God is greatly glorified in us when we are most sanctified by Him.  As a father and a man of God, my sanctification is God's pure purpose for my life.  It is this higher purpose that needs to define who I am and how I live.

We have our perfect model, mentor, and teacher in Jesus Christ.  His love for the Father compelled Him to live in a manner of great intentionality and purpose.  He was always about the work of the Father for the glory of His Father.  My personal calling is to follow in His footsteps.  I know that my life, much more than my words, will have the greatest and most lasting impact on my children.  As God defines me as a man, He refines me for a greater purpose.  With each step closer to God, I am better positioned to serve Him.

It is within this sanctification process, that God reveals His work within our lives.  As we cling to Christ, God bears His fruit in us (John 15:8).  At its most basic level this means less of us and more of Jesus.  This is an inseparable reality within our standing as a child of God.  To be held within God's grip of grace compels a response.  Saving faith will produce works, and God's love within us will move us to share His love with others.

What does this mean for us dads?  For me personally, it means that my words are not enough.  I need to  teach my kids the love of Christ by living out the love of Christ.  To say I love God is not enough.  I must relentlessly purpose to live that love in way that impacts others, most significantly my own kids.  

As dads, our kids can be a kind of mirror that reflects our life priorities back to us. While this may not always be true, we are positioned by God as dads to have this type of impact on our kids.  If I see my son acting a certain way toward his mother, I'd need not look too far to see who he learned it from.

This is a God-driven truth I have learned over time.  God uses my personal sanctification as one of His primary influencers over the lives of my wife and children.  The closer I walk with God, the more He will use me to impact my family for Him.  Yet, God is not limited by who we are or the lives we have lived.  Rather, in Christ Jesus our lives our unlimited by who He is.  As a father, I am continually praying that God will bring godly men and women into the lives of my children to influence them for Him.

"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works."
Titus 2:11-14 ESV

The above passage has great implication and application for all of us.  

1- God's grace through Jesus Christ came to save us.
2- God's grace through Jesus Christ came to train us to live for Him.
3- God's grace through Jesus Christ gives us a new life focus and greater life purpose.
4- God's grace through Jesus Christ will purify us for His good works.

As a child of God, this is my life calling.  As a dad, I can't do any better than aiming at God's greater purpose for my life.  Less of me and more of Jesus.  This life purpose affords no middle ground.  I must firmly holdfast to the plow that God has given me and not look back (Luke 9:62).  It is a sanctified life filled with continual repentance, renewal and total reliance on the completed work of Jesus Christ.  

No More Mr. Nice Guy

A number of years ago I read an article about a growing sentiment that men care more about being “nice” than being godly.  Let’s face it, it is much easier to be a “nice” dad versus a godly one.  Just like today’s nice guy, a nice dad leans toward passivity, is often non-confrontational and is a peace-keeper versus a peace-maker. Sadly, the nice dad syndrome has infected as many Christian men as non-Christian, and the fall-out is both tragic and devastating to our kids.

I can speak from a very personal level as I’m a recovering “nice guy.” For 25 years, I allowed the culture around me to train me in the area of niceness. In many ways, I was in a different boat but riding the same current as everyone else. Every once in a while, I would see a Christian dad paddling against the main current. He was often alone in his efforts and he was never considered a nice guy. He definitely would not party, never watched movies with nudity or profanity, and spent most his free time helping others or leading Bible studies.

Back then, I looked at that guy as an over-the-top Christian. Why? Christ defined who he was and how he lived in every aspect of life. There was no compartmentalization of his faith. He infused God’s Word into every area and relationship in his life.  In every way, he was a man on a higher life mission. Yet, what really made me dislike this non-nice guy was that he made me feel uncomfortable. I enjoyed riding with the current and having everybody like me. It wasn’t like I was the worst dad out there. I coached my kids’ sports teams, read to them at night, helped them with their school work, and attended church on Sundays. I was like most Christian dads out there and felt that I was nailing this dad thing.

Then it happened. About fifteen or so years ago, I suddenly realized that something wasn’t right. My life was not much different than the non-Christian dads out there who were nice guys. Sure, I didn’t party like them and I went to church on a regular basis. Yet, I also knew that I was leading my family down a fairly broad road and not the narrow one God wanted for us. I could no longer just ride the cultural current that was taking my family closer to the world but farther away from God. I can only look back now and say it was God’s Spirit moving me toward some serious growth in my walk with Him. It was my spiritual tipping point. I could no longer be just a nice dad. I had to become a godly one. Even if it meant losing my nice guy status.

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Galatians 1:10

This verse says it all. Do I care more about what man thinks or what God thinks? If I want to be liked by everyone all the time, including my kids, I will need to wear my nice guy hat. To stand for everything is stand for nothing. This fits a nice guy well. However, if I want to please God and be a godly father, I must stand for Him. I must be anything but a passive man in my roles as a husband and a father. I need to be willing to engage my kids for Christ at every stage of their development into adulthood. I need to set an example for my sons to strive toward and be the kind of man that my daughters could one day marry. God has given me the honor to lead my family closer to Him everyday and I must relentlessly embrace this calling.

A Father's Heart-Imprint

I can still remember those late summer nights by the creeks in central Pennsylvania as my brothers and I fished and searched under countless rocks for crawdads.  Even now I can still see the silhouette of my father with his fly rod in hand as the sun dipped below the distant mountain range.   My father owned a business and was a very busy man.  Yet, he made the time to spend time with his kids.  I learned many foundational basics from my dad.  I knew then and know now that he struggled like any dad does.  This made him like every dad out there.  Yet, he never gave up and this made him different than many dads out there today.   Through my father's sacrifices and his commitment, he showed me what real love looks like.

As fathers, our lives will leave indelible imprints on the hearts of our children.  As one pastor I know correctly observed, God has created a default mode within the wiring of every child's heart.  Our sons will often "default" to our imprint and even more amazingly, our daughters will pursue men much like ourselves.  A father's heart-print on the hearts of his children is much like that of the iron that burns the brand into the cattle's skin.  Once it is done, the cattle are forever marked.  For me, and I hope for any dad, this should be an extremely sobering thought that should drive us daily to our knees in prayer.  

"But the LORD said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him.  For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7

This verse stands in stark contrast to the culture of our day.  Our children are being flooded with a continuous message that uplifts the external over the internal.  A quick assessment of the top selling teen magazines will immediately prove this point. While Christian dads may respond, "I would never allow that garbage in my house," the fact of the matter is that "garbage" is the prevailing cultural message, and it will influence our kids one way or another.  Here is the catch.  If we dads provide a Christ-centered heart-imprint onto the hearts of our children, the chances are likely that they will see the world's garbage for what it is.  While it's not a guarantee regarding our child's salvation, it is a God-given promise of tremendous hope that we see inherent within the book of Proverbs and other verses that touch upon the family.  

This should encourage all of us dads and moms out there as well.  If we remain faithful in our walk with God, our kids will be impacted.   I look at it like this.  God gives me the opportunity and the responsibility as a father to help build my children's life foundation, hopefully a God-built foundation that is saturated with His Word.  With each year of maturation, the responsibility of building is shifted from me to my children.

I recently had a conversation with my older kids, now 16, 19, and 21 on this subject. I reminded them that their mother and I were blessed to have been given the opportunity to help build their life foundations.  Yet, the house and the rooms that set upon their foundation will largely be their undertaking.  Each of them will need to decide whether or not God will continue to be their Architect and General Contractor.

This leads me to another practical application for us dads.  While our role as fathers changes over the construction of our children's lives, the goal always remains the same,  to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Ephesians 6:4). This verse coupled with Titus 2 tells me that my job as a parent does not stop during the teen years.  Actually, this is when the sparks start to fly.  These young adult years are the initial "iron sharpening iron" years when my sons enter manhood and my daughters grows into womanhood (Proverbs 27:17).  As a dad, this is my time to crank up the mentoring focus and help create some of those developmental sparks. This holds true for older dads and granddads as well.  I can't stress this need enough.  We need more men with gray hair and battle scars to build into the next generation of husbands and dads.  

Yes, the early formative years are essential.  Yet, these mentor-driven years during young adulthood are as vital.  Our sons and daughters desperately need mentored in a way that honors their God-given development and arrival into adulthood.  While I pray that there will be multiple mature men and women that surround my sons and daughters during these years, God has given me the primary role to be a mentor to my kids at every stage of life.  I count this as my highest life calling as a father and know that it is only by God's grace and mercy that He will use me in this role. 

As I read Titus 2 something is very clear to me as a father.  While I enjoy having fun with my boys playing games and going on hikes, that's not my primary goal as a father.  That's not what they need most from me.  This world will tell them that games and fun are life priorities.  I must with unwavering commitment teach them our God-ordained priorities as men.

"...older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance...encourage the young men to be self-controlled.  In everything set them an example by doing what is good.  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned…"  
Titus 2:2, 6-8

Don't get me wrong.  We will have times of fun engaging in activities that guys like to do.  Yet, these activities do not make us godly men.  What makes a godly man is what controls and compels his heart.  This brings us back to the heart-print concept.  As a dad, what am I doing to ensure my sons' hearts are imprinted with temperance, self-control, sound in faith, in love, fortitude, integrity, seriousness and sound in speech?

Here's a really wonderful added benefit.  As I strive to be an example for my sons, my daughters get to see the fruit of those efforts.  It also provides a great conversational bridge into the heart of our daughters.  Both my oldest children could be married within a few years.  Without question, apart from Christ, the relationship of marriage will be one of their greatest life pursuits.  Given the likeliness of this relationship, this is one area of teaching, coaching, and mentoring that we must engage as parents.  Think about all the time and resources parents and society spends on the preparation of academics and sports throughout a child's maturing years.  Shouldn't we give even greater attention to the spiritual formation of our children's hearts and their needs to learn what it takes to be a godly man and a godly woman?

One last comment on a father's heart-imprint.  Being involved with prison ministry for a number of years, I know the damage that a negative heart-imprint or the total absence of a father's heart-imprint can have on both sons and daughters.  Sadly, in many cases it has cycled into generations of destruction.  Yet, I don't have to look within prison walls to see this.  I've seen the imprint of my own shortcomings and failures on the hearts of my kids.

However, this is where God The Father steps in and does more than any earthly father can do.  Through Jesus Christ, God renews our hearts and fills them with His love. This is important for all of us as dads and moms. There is no perfect parent out there.  In some shape or form, our efforts as parents will fall short.  This is why we must soak our efforts in everything we do with the gospel, and trust God with the results.

It won't be easy.  We may never see the fruit of our efforts in this lifetime.  Yet, we do know this.  As dads, our lives will leave a heart-imprint of some sort on the lives of our children.  By God grace, it will be largely His imprint and not ours.

     "Unless the LORD builds the house,  the builders labor in vain."  Psalm 127:1a

Fatherhood Challenge:

Read over Titus 2 this week.  While gaming and entertainment have become primary life-pursuits for many teens and men, what are the Christ-centered essentials we must actively seek to imprint upon the hearts of our children? After evaluation, planning and execution need to happen.  What are your next steps?

Keeping the focus on what matters most:

1- Acknowledge that the most important life-event for my children is entering into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  
2- It is imperative that I actively engage and cultivate my child's heart at every age.  The role may change but the goal remains the same.
3- Our lives must be saturated with God's Word.  As important, we must pursue to live God's Word.
4- (For married men) The way I honor and love my wife is one of the greatest heart-imprints I will ever give to my children.  For single dads out there, if the child's mother is still around this truth still holds true for you as well.  Your sons and daughters need to see you treat their mother in a way that shows honor and respect.
5- My children are ultimately in God's hands - not mine.  I must look daily to Christ in all my efforts, pray that the Holy Spirit is at work and trust God with the results.  

Missional Dads: What Say You?

The history of mankind is a story of good versus evil.  It is one of epic proportion that continues to this day.  Few would argue against the fact that man is hard-wired with some sense of morality.  He knows right from wrong.  As Christians, we realize that God made us to love Him and to love others.  We were made for a mission much larger than ourselves.  No where is this mission more evident than within our own homes.

Charles H. Spurgeon, a prolific pastor of old, made the statement, "Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor."  Some 2000 years before Spurgeon made this statement, Christ made a similar one when He told His disciples, "...and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:9).  As Christian fathers, our number one mission field is found within the relationships of our home.  It starts here in our own Jerusalem, and by God's Grace goes out from there.

While it is quite easy for a man to become a father to a child, it is another thing for a man to be a father to that child.   Fatherhood is not defined by a single biological act. Being a father to a child is a life-long missional pursuit.  True fatherhood carries with it the reality that a life is now physically, emotionally and spiritually linked to it.  As a man, fatherhood is one of life's toughest jobs.  At the same time, it is one of life's most rewarding.  I've never met an elderly man that would say he loved his kids too much, or that he poured too much of God's Word into their lives.

To be missional dads is to see the relationships within our homes as our greatest mission field.  While our role as a father will change over time, the goal will always remain the same: To live and share Jesus Christ to our children.

Last year I was involved in making a Father's Day video that touched upon our missional calling as dads.  Several missional statements stand out in this video:
  • Fatherhood is not about us.
  • Everything we are and need as fathers was accomplished at the cross.
  • Our past does not define us - Christ does.
  • Our greatest teaching tool to our children will be bound within the lives we live before them.
  • We live in a manner that says, "Follow me, as I follow Christ."

                             (Used by permission, mineeo.com)

"Fathers...Bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord."  Ephesians 6:4

I'm reminded of a scene from Lord of the Rings, where Aragorn is calling upon his men to engage the battle and regain their honor.  He knows their past.  He knows that these men took the easy way out and let go of their missional calling.  Yet, Aragon knew that without these men the battle would be lost.  The scene ends with Aragon asking  the men, "What say you?"

I can't help but think we are in a battle for our families.   As fathers, we need to recapture our missional calling and once again see our homes as our primary mission fields.  Our wives and our kids need us.  For me, this has meant saying "no" to many good things to ensure that I take care of the most important things.  I've also realized that being intentional within my household disciple-making pursuits greatly increases the fruit of those efforts.  If I want to make sure some weekly devotional time happens, I better schedule it and then spend some time planning it.

Yet, at the heart of my missional calling as a dad is just the simple premise of spending time with my children.  Where I can then say to them, "Follow me, as I follow Christ."  The most powerful teaching tool is to experience it first-hand.  Even the times I mess up, I can still display to them a contrite heart in need of God's forgiveness and grace.   We have a saying in our family, "Mess up, 'fess up."  As dads, we don't need to be perfect.  We just need to relentlessly pursue the only Man that was.

What say you?

Missional Fatherhood

I recently went digging for some stats and information on men that I knew was out there.  I landed on an article that was very straightforward and did not pull any punches.  I don't know if the author was a Christian or not.  Regardless, he was right on with many of his conclusions.  As he shared and delved deeper into the current state of manhood, I could sense that he had reached a boiling point.

I have seen first-hand over the past decade how we are losing many men, both Christian and non-Christian, to the allure of video games.  Yet, whether it is video games, pornography, or sport-related hobbies the end result is the same.  Men are increasingly engaged more in their fantasy worlds than the relationships within their own homes.  As insane as this seems, it points to a much larger underlying problem.  The hearts of men are entangled within a world culture that is systematically and generationally dismantling God's design of true manhood.

As this guy went off on the topic of men and video games within this article, he shared a story about one of his friends.  He explained that his friend referred to himself as a "gamer" because it sounds better than saying what he really is, "a pathetic, 36 year-old man with a stalled career, unhappy wife and neglected child, because he's addicted to stupid video games."  Earlier in his article, he had explained that this same friend no longer engages his wife or kids.  He unplugged himself from the reality of his roles as a man and instead plugged into a make-believe world of video games.

I would suggest that the problem is not necessarily the video game.  The problem lies within the man's heart, and for that matter all of our hearts.  By God's grace I've been exposed to some godly men that lived out sacrificial lives for the sake of their wives, children and the needs of others.  Were these men perfect?  No way. However, they were men of the WWII era or descendants of these men that had a deeply ingrained value system.  Yet, as our country is now discovering, it's not enough to have a good value system.  You must have the right heart to go with it.

I'm reminded of good friends that have sacrificed so much in order to show two little girls from China what it means to be loved.   Their lives are consumed with a God-given mission to pour the love of Christ into the hearts of their kids.  Yet, their mission does not stop there.  If there is a need in their community, they would be the first to sacrifice more of their time to help out.  I know this dad well enough to know that if he ever played a video game it would be a game he was playing with one his kids.

"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"  Micah 6:8

My friend is man after God's own heart.  He is a "Micah 6:8 guy."  This Scripture defines his, and his wife's life purpose, passion, and commitment.  They live for God and for others.  He realizes that his life is not his own, it's God's.  Unfortunately, the world today knows too few couples like this.

As Christian men, God defines our heart and our mission.  While this will look different for many of us,  the heart and mission will look the same.  My friend is a man on a mission, and his heart for Christ fuels that mission.  He wants to be the best Christ-follower, husband, father and friend he can be.  This mission defines and compels his life toward living for God and for others.   As a married man, I share this mission to be a disciple-maker in my home and my community.

I shared with a man today a question I continually ask myself:  If I'm not taking care of the most important thing, why am I so busy with everything else?

I know a handful of men that use video games and sports as a way to truly engage the relationships around them for Christ.  Whether it is spending some downtime with their unsaved friends or their children, they are using the games as a way to strengthen their relationships before God.  I applaud these men.  They are ambassadors for Christ in their respective mission fields, and we need more of them. These same missional-minded men are also capitalizing on every minute they can to build into the relationships around them.

Several nights ago I played a racing game with my children.  They blew me away. Just last night I played table-tennis with my wife and children, and we had a great time.  Games have their place.  Yet, I would propose, in the face of troubling times and with so many relational needs around us, that we need to be much more intentional about building into the lives around us.  This holds especially true for dads out there.  Our kids need us to engage them more about the things that matter most in life.

As I look at my friend's life, I'm reminded that as Christian men, our lives are not about us.  Our life mission is not finding self-fulfilment within the stuff we do and experience, i.e. games, work, etc...  Rather, our life purpose is to offer our lives as a "living sacrifice" and to find our greatest meaning in glorifying God (Romans 12:1 and 1 Cor. 10:31).   If my heart is undeniably tied to this mission, you won't find me wasting my time on things that matter little before eternity.

The issue really is not rooted in the games men play or don't play.  It circles back to heart motive and priorities.  If God has our heart, He has our life purpose and passion.  And like Christ, we will become preoccupied with our Father's business.

Fatherhood Challenge:

Spend some time this week considering where your hours go.  To impact our God-given relationships, we must be spending intentional time with them.   Would our friends call us "Micah 6:8 men," men after God's own heart?  What would our wives and kids say?

Regardless and Always

Several years ago, I came across an article about an 80 year old diver from Miami. He was an experienced spear fisherman that spent most of his life in and around the open sea.  He was spear fishing in the open waters off the Miami coast when he realized that his boat was no longer anchored.  After swimming toward the drifting boat for about three hours to no avail, he found a buoy and held fast.

God's love is commitment personified, and nothing can stand in the way of its effectual power.  God's love for His children is an immovable anchor to Himself (Romans 8:31-39).  His covenant of love exemplifies the essence of true relational intimacy, a love that is defined by faithfulness and permanency.  In the most real sense, God's love is devotion, loyalty, and resolve.

The Hebrew word dabaq (transliterated), that we translate as cleaving in the King James Bible, is a word with great depth and meaning.  Captured within this term is the idea of clinging to the point as to form a lasting bond.  The word dabaq is used numerous times within Scripture to portray the need to cleave or to hold fast to someone or something.  It has great application in our love for God and the love we share with our wives.

"You shall fear the Lord your God.  You shall serve him and hold fast (cleave) to him..."  Deuteronomy 10:20

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave/cling) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."  Genesis 2:24

Interestingly, it is the same word dabaq that is used in 2 Samuel 23:10 to describe the manner in which a warrior clings to his sword while engaged in battle. Regardless of the soldier's weariness and the many battle wounds he is wearing, the warrior holds fast to his sword, knowing that his life depends upon it.  Letting go is not an option.

As a husband and a father, this speaks volumes to me.  By God's grace and the work of His Holy Spirit, He enables me to pursue this kind of love within my relationships with Him and others.  While not every relationship is by definition covenantal, our love should always carry with it this dabaq principle.

What does this means to me personally as a husband and father?  There is never a circumstance in life that causes me to give up on my role as a loving husband or father.  This doesn't equate to a superman-like life on my part.  Rather, it is just the opposite.  The only real superman that ever walked this earth was Jesus Christ.  There will be days that cause me to feel like quitting or giving up.  However, my feelings don't dictate who I am and how I live; Jesus Christ does.  Any "super" that I display in my life is the super that Christ pours into me by the work of the Holy Spirit (Romans 5).

Like the warrior holding his sword in the midst of battle, I must hold fast to my commitment as a father and a husband.  To let go, i.e. to not love in a manner that upholds their best interests,  is not an option. Practically, this means I must hold fast to God if I have any chance to hold fast to my commitments as a husband and a father.  Without God I am incapable of having this type of love that is defined by an unceasing devotion, endless loyalty, and unwavering resolve.

By nature, I will drift.  Yet, with God's love and the Holy Spirit working within me, I can be faithful within my roles as husband and father.

"You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast (cleave) to him."  Deuteronomy 13:4

We live in a day when love and commitment are taking two different pathways.  This is not God's design for love, especially the love a father has for his children.  Within God's nature of love is an unrelenting element of faithfulness.  It is a love that shouts,  "Regardless and always!"  As Christian men, we must recapture the pursuit of our calling to love as Christ loves us (John 13:34-35).  This means we must equate love with commitment.  We must see the two as one path.  To give up as dads is never an option.

Remember our 80 year old diver from Miami?  He definitely understands what it means to "hold fast" as if one's life depends upon it.  After swimming for hours after his drifting boat to no avail, the seasoned fisherman found a buoy and held fast.  He proceeded to cling to the buoy for 18 hours in the Atlantic Ocean before being found.  I can only imagine that his rescuers needed to pry his body from the buoy.

God wants us to hold fast to Him as if our life depends upon it, and it does.  Apart from holding onto Him, our lives will drift toward self-preservation and self-indulgence.  As fathers, our children's lives will be shaped by the love we give them.  For married dads out there, our wives are in desperate need to know a lasting love that is defined by devotion and permanency.  

Regardless of what happens in life, we can respond in a way that speaks to a real love, a dabaq kind of love.   Just think of the impact within our homes if we truly held fast to God's model of love.  Our children will grow up knowing a loving father that will always be there.  My kids know that, unless God calls me home, I will be there.  By God's grace, I will holdfast to my responsibilities at home.  As a child, to know the security of a loving God and an earthly father is an amazing thing.  I was blessed with such a childhood, and I've made it my life goal to give my kids this same blessing.

Fatherhood Challenge:

  • See commitment as an essential component of true love.
  • Resolve to love within our homes in a manner that shouts, "Regardless and always!"
  • Hold fast to God that He may compel you to hold fast to your wife and children.

Sleepless Nights

What keeps you up at night?  As a father of five, I often spend countless hours at night thinking and praying about the spiritual welfare of my kids.  Yet, if I'm totally honest with myself, it is not the prayers that are causing me to lose some of that sleep.  It is my perpetual concern that I'm not doing enough for my children.

As a young man, I always aspired to become a father.  Even as a teenager and young adult, I had a love for kids that my peers seldom shared.  I also had a very strong paternal sense for those children that were left unprotected by their parents or society's welfare systems.  Yet, too often during those years I spent countless hours on myself versus investing in the needs of the children that God positioned around me.

"It's a boy!"  I can still remember hearing those words for the first time.  Can you?  My wife and I had recently celebrated two years of marriage.  We were young, in love, and now parents.  Seeing my son within my wife's womb is still a memory I pray that I will never forget.  He was only a few inches in size.  Yet, he captured a part of my heart I never knew I had until that day.

Twenty-two years and seven children later, that portion of my heart still aches for my kids in a big way.  Two of those children never saw this side of eternity and went straight to be with their Heavenly Father.  The tears that swell within my eyes as I write this are the tears of a father's love.  It is a God-given love, a love that I know God hard-wired into my being as a father.

You would think that a love so strong would be a defining force over one's life. Unfortunately, I've allowed other loves to become equal driving forces in my life that have often pulled me away from my greatest loves.  For some men, it is their love of sports.  For others, it is their work.  Regardless of the type of love that pulls dads away from their homes, the results are always the same.  The children suffer.

"Lord, I don't have enough time in the day to get done what I know needs to get done for my children."

Have you ever said this to God?  I'm guessing as many moms say this as dads do. I think of all the single moms out there that often do the work of two parents.  My heart goes out to them.  I know that God gives us enough time to do what He wants us to do.  It really comes down to priorities and trust.  Are we doing what God wants us to do and are we trusting Him with the results?

I was reminded recently of the similarities that are shared between a father and a farmer.  Can you picture it?  It is a few weeks before harvest time.  The late summer nights that were once filled with sun are giving way to shorter and cooler days.  The farmer leans against the old wooden post.  It has been another long day.  The beads of sweat slide down his sun-wrinkled face.  He sighs and looks with longing eyes at what is before him.  He has poured his life into these fields and now he must trust God with the results.

Isn't this the case for us dads as well?  God has given us, in some sense, a farmer's role over the hearts of our children.  This is a sobering thought.  As father's, we are given the precious gift and responsibility to cultivate our kids' hearts for God.  Yet, like the farmer, we can only do what we can do and then we must put our trust in a sovereign God.

The pinnacle question is this: Are we doing all we can do with what God has given us?
The follow-up question:  Are we then trusting God with the results?

As a father, I must resolve with great intentionality to do all I can do to cultivate the hearts of my kids for Christ.  This no doubt involves living and pouring God's Word into them as much as I can.  I have often said that our children catch our actions much better than they hear our words.  It also entails praying daily for their hearts to be anchored to God through Jesus Christ.  I do this remembering that "my" kids have a Heavenly Father that loves them even more than I do.  This is what allows me to eventually fall asleep.

These are some of the things I wrestle with in the wee hours of night and for good reason.    What about you?  What keeps you up at night?

"And He will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers..."

Malachi 4:6

Fatherhood Challenge  

Consider the following questions:
  • Are you intentionally cultivating the hearts of your children for Christ?
  • Are there any weeds or pollutants in their soil? (media, poor friendships, etc...)
  • Are you loving the helper God has given you?

Cleaning House

Keeping our house clean is important.  Yet, how much more important is it to keep clean the spiritual welfare of our households?

Have you ever received that call from a family member or close friend telling you they were "in the area" and would be stopping by any minute?  It is amazing. Dishes, laundry, books, toys, etc... that have been out of place for days are put back in their proper place within minutes, or at least strategically positioned in a well-hidden location.

King Josiah was a man who knew how to clean house.  Amazingly, he was only eight years old when he became the King of Judah.  His father, King Amon, was killed after only two years into his reign.  However, during his short tenure as king, Amon "did evil in the sight of the LORD, as his father Manessah had done..." (2 Chronicles 33:22).  Not only did Josiah's father leave an evil wake of unfaithfulness to God, Josiah's grandfather Manasseh did not do much better.  Manasseh did repent after being taken captured.  However, he was the one who originally built many of the carved images that his son Amon would later worship.  This is the kingdom and legacy that Josiah inherited.

As men, we have all been given a legacy of some sort.  Given the reality of sin within the lives of mankind, all of our legacies will always come with some baggage.  While it may not be to the extent of Josiah's corruption and idolatry, it will inevitably involve a plethora of sin issues that have tainted the heritage in one way or another.

Yet, while a legacy or heritage can be a profoundly powerful influence over one's life- it does not necessarily define the future of the next generation.   God's grace has the stain-removing potency that can clean up any sin-filled past we can muster up. Within His divine providence, God calls men and women out of darkness and into light.  He gives us an opportunity to turn from our sinful past and embrace a grace-filled future.  This is exactly what Josiah did.

"And he (Josiah) did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and walked in the ways of his father David; he did not turn aside to the right or the left."  2 Chronicles 34:2

Josiah, like many of us, had every excuse in the book to take the so-called low road. He had been given a past of extreme idolatry, and very possibly could have witnessed the murder of his father (2 Kings 21:23; 2 Chronicles 33:24).  If there was ever an opportunity for a boy to be angry and bitter over the circumstances of his life, Josiah had that chance.  And who would blame him?

Yet, despite his father's sins, despite his grandfather's shortcomings, and despite the corrupted past handed him, Josiah chose to follow God in a big way.  He chose the road less traveled and undertook some serious cleaning house within his kingdom.

"...and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the wooden images, the carved images, and the molded images..."  2 Chronicles 34:3

Regardless of his past or the circumstances of his life, Josiah was determined to follow God.  In doing so, Josiah relentlessly pursued a life and kingdom that would obey God's Word.  This is another essential tenant of our faith that we can glean from Josiah's life:  To follow God, we must build our lives upon His Living Word.

"Thus it happened, when the king heard the words of the Law, that he tore his clothes...And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant which had been found in the house of the LORD.  Then the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to follow the LORD, and to keep His commandments and His testimonies and His statutes with all of his heart and all his soul..."  2 Chronicles 34:19; 30-31

If we desire to clean house and redeem a legacy or simply make a great legacy a better one, like Josiah, we too must make obedience to God's Word a life quest. Jesus told us multiple times that if we love Him, we need to obey Him (John 14). Obedience is not optional when it comes to our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.  Our obedience represents the reality of our love of God.  One compels the other.

As fathers, our legacy, i.e. the generational heritage we pass onto our children, can and should be one of our highest life priorities.  God has placed us in an impact role - one that could echo for generations.  Regardless of what legacy we received, we have a chance to give our children a heritage that is defined by Jesus Christ.  For most of us, this means we must do some serious house cleaning on a regular basis. Not just a twenty minute clean up we do on the fly when we find out people are visiting.  No.  We need to follow Josiah's example and make sure all the idols are torn down from their high places.  As fathers, we need to set the pace for our household.  Our children are watching.  They will likely follow us where we've been and continue in the same direction where we're going.  It's time to clean house.

Prelude:  During one of our last quick clean-ups, my daughter astutely inquired, "Dad, why don't we do this on a regular basis and just keep the house clean?"  Good point, eh?

Fatherhood Challenge:  This week prayerfully consider if there are any idols and/or high places within your household.  Today's idols may not be the carved image type; yet, they are idols just the same.   They often involve things or lifestyle choices that take us closer to this world and push us further away from the God we love.   

Here is one truth that helps me clean house:  Happiness and holiness should go hand in hand.   If something or someone makes me feel good, and yet pulls me away from Christ-likeness (less holy), it likely is a high place that needs to be removed from my life. 

Unless you have cleaned house recently, there is a good chance that you likely have some high places or idols to be removed.  After your assessment, meet with your family to discuss and come up with a plan to keep your house clean before God.  

A Father's Confession

It never fails that when I seek to minister to others, God uses the experience to minister to me as well. A number of years ago, I was involved in our local county prison ministry. During that time, I met with hundreds of men and women that came from very broken homes. While in some cases the brokenness revolved around the life of the mother, the absentee or abusive father was by far the prominent variable that most of these men and women shared in common.

During those years of prison ministry, I could count on one hand the number of men and women that shared that their fathers had been a positive impact on their lives. Most often their stories were just the opposite. Sadly, this was true for those that said they were raised in Christian homes as well. This is not to say that the destiny of every child out there is forever tied to his or her relationship with their father. Yet, we cannot deny the tremendous influence that a father has on the lives of his children both for good and for bad.

In a very telling survey summary on Christian parenting, the Barna Group shared the following: “...we found that the qualities born again parents say an effective parent must possess, the outcomes they hope to facilitate in the lives of their children, and the media monitoring process in the household was indistinguishable from the approach taken by parents who are not born again.” They found that only 3 out of 10 Christian parents included the salvation of their children as a top priority within the parenting process (The Barna Group, Ltd. Parents Describe How They Raise Children, Feb. 2005).

Being involved in family ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the topic of absentee and/or passive fathers with pastors across denominational lines. Regardless of the pastor or the church, the overriding message is identical to Barna’s findings. Fathers, for the most part, have walked away from their primary responsibility as disciple-makers within their homes.

For myself, I know all to well how easy it is to stray from my God-given priorities as a father. Whether it is my work or just being more focused on taking care of the day to day non-family needs around me, too often my weeks can be filled with busyness that contributes little to nothing regarding the spiritual welfare of my children’s souls. The greatest tragedy in all of this is that I’m leading my children, and my wife for that matter, down a lifestyle path that is for the most part void of God.

I know the priorities I live out daily are the greatest influencers on my children. If I’m not intentionally building Christ and God’s Word into our daily household routine, I’m teaching them that our ongoing relationship with God is not that important. From his book, Bringing Up Boys, Dr. James Dobson notes: “Parents...need to ‘play offense’--to capitalize on the impressionable years of childhood...” As a father, it is not enough for me to tell my children not what to do, i.e. a good defense. I must have a game winning offense that translates into a daily pursuit of placing God first in my life.

Okay, here is my confession. Perhaps the following has happened to you as well. I had numerous projects and deadlines happening all at the same time. To compound this, we had scheduled a trip right smack in the middle of all the craziness. After weeks of going full throttle, it suddenly hit me that I had not spent any recent time in God’s Word with my children. My kids had watched their “ministry-driven” dad pour himself out for everyone else but his own children.

After a string of these lapses in my primary responsibilities as a father, I began to ask, “If we are not taking care of the most important things in life, why are we so busy with everything else?”

If my day-to-day life is not supporting this end, I am experiencing a serious missional drift. In some sense, I have chosen the world’s road and not the narrow one that God has established for my home. From a practical standpoint, I am creating a generational path for my children that will not lead them closer to God.

This has translated into the ongoing need to truly live out my convictions in a way that defines my life priorities. This does not mean that I will ever get it all right in this lifetime. Actually, I know very well how imperfect my life has been to date and will continue to be in some shape or form. However, it does mean that what matters most to me, my relationship with God, will define who I am and how I live.

God has, indeed, placed us dads in a powerful position of influence.  Without question, living out my life priorities for Him will impact my children and God will be glorified.  My children will see more of Him and less of me.  As a father, this is what it's all about.

Fatherhood Challenge:  Make sure your convictions are truly defining who you are and how you live.   They will shape the lives of your children...one way or another.

Tornado of the Spirit

Do you ever feel like your home is being ripped through by an emotional tornado?  Where previously blue skies become black and gale force winds blast apart your peaceful and well-constructed family?  Perhaps yours is in a season where it seems like your abode has been picked up and dropped down in the middle of tornado alley – and it’s storm season.

An incident in my life this week had me thinking about natural disasters in the home.  You know, when things go from cool to blazing hot in an instant and you say to yourself, “Whoa!  What happened?”  Generally, when that much emotion is generated I find I’m doing something really wrong - or really right.  Either way, these shake-ups deserve our attention.  It is easy to understand strife when we’ve slipped off track.  But what’s the deal with the grief when we’re doing the right thing?

Take Dr. James Dobson, for example.  Imagine being the source of an uninterrupted flow of criticism for nearly 40 years… the negative articles, the slams on television, nasty grams and hateful blogs, the gunshots and death threats – all reactions to his unwavering commitment to stand for the family and promote the biblical principles upon which solid families are built.  Bearing these attacks, both physical and spiritual, is the cost of his dedication and the burden of his God-given mission.  As mothers and fathers we also open ourselves up to spiritual attacks both from outside and even within the home.  Our assignment and responsibility is great.  Especially if we are on the right track as we shepherd our kids, live daily in faith, and are brave enough to be counter-cultural, we should expect the inevitable thunder and lightning.

I mentioned the attacks that Dr. Dobson has weathered.  The flip side to that cost is the incredible gain.  Over the years, millions of people have been reached and supported through his books, radio broadcasts, and ministry initiatives.  Generations of families have been impacted and inspired through his practical advice and living example.  Yes, the price has been high, but reward far greater.  In our homes too, our family’s spiritual foundation is what will anchor us through storms.  The payoff can be a spiritual legacy that will literally change the world.

If charged emotions are tearing at your family and you feel under siege, it may not be that you are doing something wrong.  In fact, it may be quite the opposite – that you’re standing firm in your values and prayerful convictions.  Never underestimate the enemy.  Satan is clever, deceptive, and powerful.  When given even the slightest crack into the Christian home he’ll use good for evil and work to exploit our human flaws.  Fortunately, our God is almighty.  Through Him our victory in this battle is imminent IF we do not allow our spirits to be broken by the fight.  Until then, know that the Lord can and will heal the damage created by the tornados of the spirit in your family, as He will in mine, if we let Him.

Fatherhood Challenge: Expect the rain.  Brace yourself.  Shelter your family.  Persevere!


Business is naturally competitive.  Organizations make their case for commanding larger share of limited constituent time, mind space, and of course, financial support.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the media – usually.

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.  There, I witnessed hundreds of men and women, representing some of the country’s largest radio, television, and online media professionals set aside their own agendas to stand together in a united mission: reaching the world with the Good News of Jesus Christ.  As different media personalities, network executives, and strategic experts of all types lifted the hood of their engines and discussed what made their own vehicles go fast, the decided absence of ego and personal advancement was inspiring – uplifting even.  With the open exchange of experience and support all boats will rise with the tide. 

What then does this have to do with the Fatherhood Challenge, you might ask?

I would submit that the keys to developing loyal, passionate, and engaged audiences are not dissimilar to what is required to create and maintain lasting relationships in the home, with our children.

• We must know our audience.
• We must work hard to capture attention.
• We must be interactive.
• We must be credible, provide actionable advice, and entertain.
• We must track performance and adjust our strategies to fuel growth.
• And, we must demonstrate that we care even more than we know.

To all the moms and dads out there, as producers and 24/7 performers on the set of family life - you know the stakes are at an all-time high.  We risk more than low ratings or languishing economically.  Popular or not, this program simply must not be cancelled.  The show must go on.

You can do it.  You’re a rock star.   

Fatherhood Challenge:  Rise to the challenge.

Living With Eyes On The Prize

The unexpected passing of a good friend is a reminder to me of many important things.  We know that this life is fleeting, but despite our best efforts, the frenetic pace can contribute to valuable things being left unsaid, especially with those whom we are close.  My friend didn’t fall into that trap.  Whether by a quick call or email message, I knew where he stood - where we stood.  And with that, though jumping straight to the killer guitar solo instead of playing the whole song that I expected to hear, I know in my grieving heart that it is OK, we are OK.

Unassuming and non-preachy, Ken dared to share his own unmasked character and gave friends and family the gift of his perspective while he sought to continually grow into the man of God’s vision.  A brave soul who lived the principles of iron sharpening iron, through his own life he encouraged me in three ways I’ll promise to remember:

Own it – We shape and define what is good, right, worthwhile and beautiful in our life.  Misery is easily found – but so is joy.

Claim it – We are who we are as a function of our victories, yes, but our greater learning comes from our mistakes.  Ken told me that shame and regret is a waste of time, but can serve as a motivator to choose the correct paths in our lives, each day.

Speak it – What good is insight, love or friendship if you don’t share it?  Ken wasn’t too busy to remind me that I was important to him, that we are incredibly lucky in this life no matter the challenges we face, and that there is absolute bliss in knowing our God can do what we cannot.

Finally, as Ken so often told me, the things that become or seem so important to this life are pale in comparison to the gift of our salvation.  I know, without question, that my friend Ken has been welcomed by his Heavenly Father to eternal life – to the big stage – and that he’s plugged in and ready to roll.

Fatherhood Challenge : Own it, claim it, and speak it today - for we know not the day nor the hour...

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone,

 the new is here!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Inspired! A House Reflects It’s Master

This weekend I took part in a historic event - the filming of Dr. James Dobson’s Legacy Series - in front of an audience of 5,000 people in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1978, Dr. Dobson filmed the original series in a packed auditorium not too far away from where we were on Saturday.  A lauded child psychologist and best-selling author even then, Dr. Dobson taught from both a clinical and biblically-based perspective, providing practical advice on how to raise boys and girls, how to strengthen one’s marriage, and how to apply your faith in a family setting.  Dobson’s spirit came from a place of deep concern for the state of the family and his perspective on the direction things seemed to be going culturally (even back in the 70's).

The film series was seen by tens of millions of families and helped launch Dr.’s first ministry, Focus on the Family.  With Dr. Dobson's leadership, for 30 years plus Focus built upon that foundation as Dr. went on to publish more than 80 books and reach hundreds of millions of people through his nationally syndicated radio program.   When Dr. Dobson was asked why he started and now heads a new ministry, Family Talk, his answer was simple, yet profound.  “The job is not finished, and there’s much more that I have to share.”  This was proven true once again this weekend.

• Still the voice of the Christian family in America…
• Still passionate about parenting, marriage and faith…
• Still uncompromising about biblical family principles and righteousness in the culture…
(even when it is unpopular and brings criticism – and persecution!)

And now with 35 more years of additional experience and personal perspective, Dr. Dobson hit the road in early 2012 and been working with an award-winning major film production company to put together an amazing multimedia series, called Building A Family Legacy.  He considers this new film series the “bookend” to the original teaching videos first produced in the late 1970’s.

While Dr. Dobson is all about impact – helping as many people and using his gifts to come alongside as many families as possible - he’s equally concerned (nearly obsessed) with really reaching, teaching and connecting with the individual in each and every audience - the husband, the wife, the grandparent, young adults and even children.

As much as any of the individual topics and terrific advice that was provided impacted me, (and there was a ton,) that is what I witnessed at the filming – someone who is wholly committed to the lifelong call God has put on his life. 

It was simply awesome. 

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention something else that was really significant.  Professionally, I’ve been working in media and marketing for more than 20 years.  As a radio producer and musician, I’ve visited tons of studios, been on television and movie sets, and participated in large live events of all types.  Senior Pastor John Hagee and Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, TX, hosted the filming event this weekend.  Far more than that, he and his son, Pastor Matt Hagee, opened their home – and indeed their extended family – to the Dobsons, to our Family Talk staff, and thousands who came to be challenged and inspired to strengthen their family.

I’m not exaggerating.  These folks rolled out a red carpet of welcome in ways that I’ve never seen – ever – with any group or organization.  With a spirit of friendship and collaboration they made available to Dr. Dobson and this film series effort some of the kindest, most collaborative, and professional staff that I’ve ever encountered – not to mention impressive facilities and media technology.  From the greeters and volunteers, to the production team, to the planners and managers, to the audio and television producers, to the Hagee family themselves – every single person I met was simply off-the-charts cool.  They also coordinated with 12 local Chick-fil-A restaurants to feed the 5,000 attendees - absolutely FREE.  That too was a Texas-sized blessing.

It's one thing for the big boss to extend an invitation.  It's another thing alltogether to have the whole body live out that invitation with heart and class.  When you see a team like that work with such unity, there’s no question why God has  blessed them so richly over the years.  They don’t keep it – they pass it along.

I hope someday we’ll have the opportunity to do for some other group what the folks at Cornerstone Church, John Hagee Ministries, and GETV did for Family Talk.  It was the definition of hospitality.  It WAS Church.  It WAS family.