Some Specific Tips On Leading Your Family


I promise, I am not writing this as an expert.  I am no expert.  But a friend suggested the other day that I write a post on fathering and being a husband.  A practical post.  A post filled with some specifics.  

And I didn’t have a sermon to work on this week, so I spent my lunch break on this.  

Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ve been married about 8 years.  I have 3 children already born, 1 who’s in Heaven, and 1 due, Lord willing, in November.  I’ve also been shaped by being a pastor/elder for about 5 years.  So there we are.  

I hope these can be of help and be adapted to your situation. 

Some tips on leading your family in Christ:

  • Say Sorry When You’ve Sinned Against Them

It kind of surprised me that this was a novel concept to some of my acquaintances and co-workers.  When in passing I’ve mentioned that I’ve apologized to my children for sinful anger towards them and asked their forgiveness, it’s at times seemed to take them aback.  I would’ve thought that adult human beings would understand that if we can do wrong to our neighbors or friends then we can do wrong to our children (and wives).  Sin is sin, and Scripture is clear that it needs to be confessed to God and to the party that we’ve sinned against.  

Plus, if I want my kids to confess and repent of their sins, I need to do it, too. 

  • Worship God As A Family Daily

Have family worship.  Have family worship.  Please, please, please have family worship.  

My kids are 5, 3, and 1, so this is a season of worship being fairly short.  But the fact that it’s daily, rain or shine, busy day or not, has yielded tremendous fruit.  Seriously.  As a family, we’ve gone through Jude, Revelation, Mark, Acts, Genesis, Exodus, and now Leviticus, and my two older ones have a pretty good understanding of the story God is telling in creation, history, and Jesus.  Just because of that.  There’s no magic.  It’s just because they hear the Bible and its stories in context every day.  

The way it works for us is very simple:  

  1. 3-5 minutes of reading or summarizing a section of the book of the Bible we’re in (usually about a chapter).
  2. Singing a song together.
  3. One or more of the kids praying to God for a family request as I lead and nudge them in the right direction.  
  4. We’ll typically end with a little bit of a Christian fictional book (we finished Pilgrim’s Progress last year and are reading through The Chronicles of Narnia now) or a short animation or video of the Bible story we’re in.  The Bible Project videos have been helpful for that second option.  

That’s it.  Bible, song, prayer, story/video.  The whole thing is 10-15 minutes tops.  And we’re flexible.  I often lead it at the dinner table, but not always.  At least once a week we end up doing it on the van, on the way to the store or small group or Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house.  
Again, what I’d commend to you with all my heart, if you hear nothing else I’m saying, is that you do worship God as a family daily.  No matter how you’re feeling, no matter how bad the day is.  5 minutes every day for 2 years adds up.  We know this with exercise, and I believe it’s no less true for taming our family’s hearts.  I’ve witnessed it.  I wholeheartedly encourage you to have short (or long, if you can handle it) family worship every single day.  It’ll yield precious fruit if it’s regular, even if it’s not always breathtaking or particularly moving in the individual moment or instance.  

  • Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

This kind of goes along with family worship being daily, but for kids this is so key that it deserves its own point.  Repeat truth in your home.  Find phrasing that is Biblically faithful and then use it as often as you can.  Here are a few examples of phrases my kids can say in their sleep, now, just because of my repeating them for 2-3 years:

“Sin brings death, Jesus brings life!”

“God saves bad people.”

“God will throw Satan in the deep, deep hole” (from when we read through Revelation). 

“We honor mother and father, because it keeps us safe and makes God happy.”

“Jesus teaches people, Jesus helps people, Jesus heals people, and Jesus loves people.”

“The church has a story to tell, and that story is about Jesus!”

We make it fun.  We say them loud and smiling and sometimes in silly voices, but above all my kids know that those things they’re saying are true and good and important.  And they know that those are the 3 reasons Daddy repeats them to them and to himself.  

  • Don’t Fear Saying “I Don’t Know”

God already knows you’re a human, Dad/Husband.  He knows that you have ignorances.  Yes, you’re the head of your wife and of your family as a whole, but you’re also frail and sinful and growing in grace and truth. 

I have to fight this fear all the time.  I want people to think I’m the perfect husband or father or pastor, that I know the most or am the Godliest.  I’m often terrified of having myself doubted in any of those capacities.  So I have to remind myself (like right now) that God already knows my weaknesses, and has called me to this family anyway.  I can be transparent about the things I don’t know or can’t do, and in the process teach my kids to rely on the One who does know all things.  

  • Keep Your Wife First

I am one flesh with her, not my children. 

I made vows to her that I made to no one else, including my children.  

Men, our kids will leave us someday and, Lord willing, cling to their own spouses.  That’s His design.  And it’s therefore it’s also His design that in marriage, and not in parenthood, we have promised to care for another human being into old age and until we die.  

I pledged before God to cherish this woman in a very special way, a way unique to her and a way that is made, by its very nature, to be exclusive.  

My marriage is glorious and deserves to be prized above all other human relationships He forms for me.  That’s the design.  

  • Have Fun

This is the one I struggle with the most, but it’s so key.  These are blessings, these wives and children we’ve been given. We should enjoy them to His glory! 

So specifics.  Right.  

Take them to Chuck E. Cheese’s.  Even on a school night, once in a while.  Don’t be afraid to break an unspoken rule from some hidden curriculum in your mind.  Go get ice cream at 9 o’clock on a school night once in a blue moon.  These are children given to you to raise in fear and love of God, to cherish and enjoy and give memories to.  They weren’t given to the local school board or to your neighbor or to that judgmental relative you want to impress.  

And if it’s not rules that keep you from having fun but your own silly hobbies or pleasures, then throw them out.  Seriously.  If Call of Duty or BW3’s or golf is standing between you and ever playing Uno with your daughter or ever wrestling with your little boy or ever having playful and flirtatious conversations with your wife, toss the hobby aside.  Pare it back or quit it altogether.  These are souls given as blessings to you, little eternal people He has populated your life with, or in the case of your wife, a friend and lover He has united you to for life.  They are more important than video games or fantasy football leagues, and having fun with them is more valuable than having fun with a work buddy you won’t know in 12 years.  

  • Love Jesus

I’m ending here.  Christian husbands and dads, stay personally connected to your God.  The more you love Christ, the more you’ll love what He loves.  Those who truly love Him walk in obedience to Him, and the more you love the more you obey.  Being a good husband and a good father best flow from a love we’ve already tasted.  

Specifics.  

Read at least a chapter of the Bible daily by yourself.  Pray by yourself every single day. Ask God to help you love His Son.  Pray daily for your children’s salvations, or if they’re already born again, then pray daily for their spiritual growth.  

But however you apply this, walk daily in worship of King Jesus.  The days I am a deficient father and husband are the days I am a legalist or an unrepentant, hardhearted man or a doubter in my Savior.  Worship is the wellspring that good fatherhood and good love for my wife come from, and idolatry and sin are the poison that make the bad days insufferable.  For them and for me.  

All right, that’s it for today.  

I hope this helps your family, or, if you are single, helps to frame some of your thinking about family.  The friend who texted me to write this is himself single, so I suppose all different stripes of Christian (and non-Christian) are curious about this sort of thing.  And that’s healthy, I think.  

We worship a good God.  And He is a Father.  And a Husband.  

And He is the best of both.  

So I want to live in that light.  

Way Down Deep

  
One of the things my wife has illustrated for me is that mere talk about love isn’t love. If I FaceBook about how people need to be more loving but spend all my time and money and energy on myself, I’m not really a loving man.  I’m a talking man.  

Better to be both. 

And so one of the greatest blessings of my life is that the woman God gave me is a living example of fuller, more layered love.  The sort of love our Savior modeled.  Love that costs you things.  Sleep, free time, hobbies:  When you love well, it all gets put on the table for the good of another.  Prayers and thoughts and affections are spent on the souls of the ones you’re loving. 

Love is measured in personal sacrifice.  

But motherhood isn’t mere martyrdom.  Something I’ve never though to articulate until now is that Christlike motherhood both costs a woman herself and restores to her herself.  My wife has given of her hours, her energy, her heart, and her mind for several years to our three children, but rather than the well of her self being drained, it has actually been dug deeper.  It’s tapped larger springs.  My wife is more herself after 5 years of Christlike motherly sacrifice, not less.  

Our Savior doesn’t just kill our flesh, He brings it back to life. He doesn’t just rescue us, He re-makes us.  

God-ordained callings make a Christian more Christian, but they also make her more human.  More the human she was made to be, anyway.  

Parenthood, like work and church and all of the Creator’s mandates, makes us bear out more fully the Imago Dei.  In Eden, God designed marriage and parenthood and work and the people of God, and while creation is groaning under the weight of sin and death these things are still powerfully beautiful, Godly, and human.  

God can use any number of His instruments to sanctify a soul.  His Son, His Spirit, and His Word are necessary, but beyond them He may use creation, vocation, marriage, singleness, Christian brothers and sisters, education.  But in our lives, I’ve seen parenthood profoundly widen our hearts.  And for me, watching a woman who loves Jesus more than her family and so who is then able to come back to them with a full and generous heart, has helped me love others better.  It’s helped me live life better.  Her Christ-generated sacrifice has spurred me on towards better, more self-forgetful love.  And together, as we slowly (too slowly) become more like our Jesus, we both become more like the selves we were created by Him to be.  

I’m grateful on Mother’s Day for a Christian wife who loves her children and adores her Savior.  

And each day the well is dug deeper, our family is blessed by what God brings out.

A Word to Married Christian Fathers:  You Have a Unique Authority

  
 I’m going to let the text speak in a moment, because God’s words are always more important than mine, and so when I’m on a touchy or emotionally flammable topic, it’s usually far better (in my opinion) to let the Bible speak in its perfect way as quickly as possible after me in my stumbling.  

But if you are a father and husband, like me, I am maintaining that the piece of God’s heart and will He shows us in Numbers 30 has something very good and very countercultural to tell you:  

You have a unique authority over your wife and over the young daughters living in your home that He wants you to use for their good.  

You have it whether you want or not.  You have it whether they want you to have it or not.  You have it whether the world wants you to have it or not.  And if you abdicate by not leading them to Him, use that authority for your good rather than theirs, or bully and demean them, you are sinning against God, sinning against them, and screwing up your life.  

I’ve had to repent of sins against my family almost weekly since my honeymoon, but by God’s grace I believe I’m becoming a better husband and dad for their good.  And chapters like Numbers 30 remind me of how weighty my calling (and yours) is.  

Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her. If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her. But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the Lord will forgive her. Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.’ These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.

Numbers 30

Christian fathers, do what you are called to do by being who you are called to be.  And do it all knowing it’s for their good and His glory.  

For Dads and Tippers

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I tip the way I do because of my father.

My dad was a restaurant manager when God saved him from heroin addiction, right before I was born. So as a young man who had managed, served in, cooked for, and delivered pizzas for a local Cincinnati pizzeria for years, he always made a point to tip generously when he took his family out to dinner. I grew up watching him pay the check at restaurants, and I took note of it. I absorbed it. It became normal to me. And now as a thirty year-old father of three, I tip what I do because of him.

I am my dad’s son.

Listen, as a father, you are putting yourself into your children. You are going to be in your kids, whether you want to be or not. If you choose, you can walk out and never even meet them, but you’ll still be in them. If you leave, they’ll still have your blood and they’ll have the hatred or hole you leave in their souls. And if you stay, they’ll have what you show them about fatherhood.

You know what your kids’ first thoughts about the fatherhood of God will be?

That it must be like yours.

What are you putting in your kids?

I sin in anger and self-pity. I have for as long as I remember. And I am resolved that I don’t want that in my children. I don’t want to rebuild my brittle self-pity or the very same fury I’m trying to crucify in me in my little children’s souls.

Today at lunch I went home and read a verse of 1 John 2 for my wife and kids, and did my best to explain it in the light of the rest of God’s Word. It was hot and I had to be brief so I could be back at work on time. The kids didn’t understand what I was saying; they’re too young. And my wife was tired though lovingly trying to listen. But when I was done with this imperfect little attempt at faithfulness before my Creator, I took my little girl and I put her on my lap and we prayed a one-sentence prayer to the Savior. And when I said “Jesus loves His…” and paused, seeing if she’d know the rest, she finished the sentence for me: “Church!”

I am an idolatrous, still often petty man, but I refuse to leave that in my children. I will fight for their hearts, and I will leave them with the only Jesus who can save them, the One who redeemed and sanctifies their Daddy.

What do I want to put in my children?

The words of Scripture.

The sure sense that those words are breathtakingly beautiful, unshakably true, and healing beyond all measure.

The confidence that Daddy would’ve been a wreck and a wretch if it weren’t for Jesus Christ, the living Holy Spirit, and God the Father.

The love of a Christ-made dad, meaning one who is sacrificial, patient, bold, honest, worshipful, and adores their mommy.

I don’t want to just put in my kids my love of baseball or the Marlins or The Twilight Zone. And I don’t want to brand them with my anger or my grudge-holding or my greed. I want to kill my sin day by day by God’s grace, and then put in my little kids the faith that’s remade me and remaking me.

I want my daughter to be reading and loving and trusting Jesus Christ for as long as she lives. I want my little boy to grow up ready to live and die for the Gospel of His good God. I’m hoping that the daughter we haven’t met yet will pull her hover car up into its holo-port next to her floating condominium and thank Jesus Christ for the gorgeous day around her. Then I hope she’ll go inside and tell her little guys about how wonderful the risen Savior is.

We are in our children. Each day, each week we are putting more and more of our selves, more of what they’ll believe about the concept of fatherhood and about the world around them, into their minds and memories.

What do you want it to be? What do you want to leave with them and in them?

The first place I learned how to tip was sitting next to my father. It’s also the first place I learned how good Jesus is.

I am my father’s son. I hope someday my children will be able to say that with the same gratitude.

A Quick Thought After a Marriage Conversation

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A Christian friend who is going to be married soon was asking me a few questions. They were smart questions because he’s a smart man, and they were Godly questions because he’s a Godly man. And as he asked them and as I thought about them, a consideration about how we answer questions like his as married Christians presented itself.

Those of us who are married should resist the temptation to play the varsity team, “that’s cute that you’re all smiles, kid, but give it a few years” song and dance routine for our engaged Christian counterparts. If you’re like me that’s a temptation, and if you’re like me that’s pride.

The reality is that there are two (at least) things about Godly, Holy Spirit indwelt marriage that can and should be communicated to people seeking it or soon entering into it: It is incredibly wonderful and it is incredibly hard. They should be allowed, and encouraged, to be excited about romance and intimacy and learning the other person and sex and having children and worshiping God as a family. These are good things, and it would be sinful of us to be condescending or envious about someone’s pre-wedding excitement and anticipation of them. At the same time, it is difficult for two selfish people still in the midst of being conformed to the image of Christ, still putting to death the deeds of their own flesh and (presumably) never having devoted themselves to one person wholly in body and soul for life, to merge habits, communication styles, dreams, desires, and extended families. And the soon-to-be-married-in-Christ deserve to know about that, too.

The person who is highly optimistic, who is grinning or excited 90% of the time about an upcoming wedding or who is thinking nearly constantly about finding a husband or wife many need to be reminded or taught that marriage can involve bankruptcy, miscommunications, serious disease, miscarriages, sinful sexual temptations, layoffs, or fights with in-laws. We shouldn’t want our friends devastated later, or hoping for some sort of perfect domestic existence that doesn’t exist.

But there are also anxious young Christians, unsure of whether they should look for a spouse or worried about their upcoming nuptials. These sorts of people probably need to be encouraged with the beauty of marriage. They would do well to hear about the indescribable combination of freedom and safety in being known inside and out by another soul who has promised to stay with you and love you for life, someone who knows the shape of your shoulders and the way you look when brushing your teeth and what makes you laugh hardest. It’d do their hearts good to hear from us about the beauty of loving the Lord Jesus with your spouse in the midst of bad times, of discovering new ways He provides as a couple, of holding your newborn child for the first time, or of seeing your child saved and brought to faith and repentance and eternal life.

I should keep the other person’s sanctification and future marital happiness in the front of my mind when I’m with a single believer asking marriage questions. It shouldn’t be my chance to feel smug or grown up. There are fun, joy, beauty, challenge, hardship, disaster, and increased faith in Godly marriage. I need to know the person across the table from me and I need to know their personal situation before I can have an idea of what they need to hear about most. If my advice is really Christian, it should have the other person’s good and the glory of God as its goal, not my desire to pat someone on the head and feel like a hot-shot adult who’s at the big boy table of the already-married.

I’ll close with Paul’s pastoral advice to Titus, pastor of the church on Crete (from chapter 2):

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity.”

Murdering Beauty

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Last week my wife and I were able to see our third child, in my wife’s womb as she waits to be born.

She is four months old and yet we could see, so clearly it startled me, her leg bones, hands, feet, eyes, and her small, beating heart.

The creative, world-sustaining, all-wise God has made such a design that a man and woman would leave their parents, spend their earthly lives together in Godly love, that the woman would submit to the man as the church submits to Christ and the man love the woman as Christ loves the church, and that they would then have children whom they would raise up in fear and love of Him.

This beautiful, wonderful doing of the living and loving God can be destroyed through no direct fault of our own (being the victim of infidelity, desertion or through barrenness, for instance), but it can also be willfully and thus sinfully destroyed. And the most horrific way that that happens in present-day America is through abortion.

Because abortion is so much more common than any type of murder should be and because its wickedness is cloaked, often by using words like “choice,” most of us have become more numb to its violent, revolting, God-defying nature than we would otherwise be.

A bill reported on last week in the state of New York would allow babies at 9 months to be murdered abortively by methods including a shot of poison to the heart.

Let that sit in your mind for a moment. Someone wrote that bill.

A baby at 9 months is no more a human than a baby at 3 hours, but that bill demonstrates the spiritually blind nature of those who promote infanticide. They clearly, either practically though they might say otherwise or unashamedly and vocally, deny that God is the authority over and Creator of life in the womb, and that He rightfully and rightly designed conception, childhood, and parenthood. They deny in action, deed, or both, in other words, that God is the knowing, sovereign, just King over human life.

There will come a time, the latest possible one being the end of this earth when all knees will be bowed to King Jesus, when the wicked slaughter of infants in our day will be seen for what it is: hatred of God and hatred of man. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life in Godly sacrifice; knowing that, we can then also know that taking an infant’s life or treating it as expendable is practical, or outright malevolent, hatred.

I plead with all as a father and as a son: Love the good God and love His ways. If you have murdered an infant or have supported their killing, I plead with you to repent of your sins and believe in Jesus Christ, the merciful Savior of wretched sinners (myself being one of them). Flee from His wrath and cling to Him through faith, because He is returning, and His righteousness will crush all evil.

And if you know Him and are forgiven and called, pray with me for the end of infanticidal abortion. Pray that God’s creative purposes would be honored, and that the wonder of His wisdom and His ways would be trusted.

Let us love Him, and love what He has beautifully wrought.

8 Quick Counseling Thoughts for Christians

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These are adapted from our church’s Practical Ministering tweets. Just some quick thoughts about applying the Gospel and God’s Word to the troubled spots in a believer’s life:

1) Most people in our culture don’t have a problem with loving themselves too little. A good underpinning for most Christian counseling would be “eyes off self, eyes on the holy God.” In our counseling let us talk of, be in awe of, worship, and apply the truths of the Lord “who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him” (from Zechariah 12:1).

2) Encourage single Christian women to ask of a potential husband “Will he lead me closer to my Savior or further away?” “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (from Ephesians 5). Encourage single women to ask about men, “We will he help me be holier?”

3) “Then Abraham fell on his face” (Gen 17:3). That was in response to the Gospel promises of God (Galatians 3:8). Many in this culture need a little more that, and a little less self-focused therapy. Let us counsel Christians to spend as much or more time in worship of God than they are self-analyzing.

4) Never overestimate your own power to change yourself, and never underestimate Christ’s power to change you.

5) A stubborn refusal to submit to God-sanctioned authority is usually a sign of something deeply sinful in the heart. Within certain limits, the Old and New Testaments command Christians to submit to governing authorities, slaves to submit to masters (though I believe both Testaments sow the seeds of human slavery’s final end), wives to submit to husbands, children to submit to parents, church members to submit church leaders, Christians to submit to each other, and all of us to submit to the Lord God. Submitting to evil is not commanded, but submitting to God-ordained imperfect authority is a part of the Christian earthly life. To be generally stiff-necked with unbending knees is a sign of some sin that needs to be repented of and forgiven.

6) There is a great tonic for the soul that’s almost never offered in modern counseling: Repentance. While we do certainly need love, acceptance, affection, help, conversation, and many other good things, our primary need as individuals is forgiveness from Almighty God for our sins against Him and others. Without that, everything else is like taking Tylenol for a brain tumor: You may treat a symptom or two, but what’ll kill you is still in there.

7) Heart change cannot come through purely secular therapeutic methods. Only God can change what and whom you love. It is not simply our behaviors that need to be changed but what/whom we love and what/whom we worship. We are not merely broken; we are also idolaters.

8) Most Christians need to be reminded that we are both more valued and less worthy than we think, and that we are more furiously loved but less indispensable than we think. Almost all of us have an inflated view of ourselves, which gives us a deflated view of God’s grace. It’s impossible to feel redeemed, forgiven, rescued, and saved when you think you were a pretty good person whose skills and abilities are vital to the Divine mission. Self-esteem is a far less effective, less eternal fix than repentance and faith in Jesus Christ’s grace.

I hope this list was helpful, but in no way was it meant to be exhaustive. We will continue to blog on practical ways to minister God’s Good Word to hurting, sinful, or confused Christians (I am at times all three) in the future.