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7 Things Lifting Has Taught Me About Life

Since February 2016 I have gone from 271 lbs to plateauing at 235 right now. I lost most of the weight by running but also cutting out a lot of snacking and over eating at meals. I need to lose about 20 more lbs but that will come slowly and methodically. On February 6th of this year I started weightlifting again. I use Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 system that incorporates four primary lifts (overhead press, deadlifts, bench press and squat) along with some assistance lifts to build strength.[1] I also run/do cardio three-four times a week depending on how sore I am or how much time I have.

Right now here are my 1RM (one rep max) for each lift:

Overhead Press: 170

Deadlift: 305

Bench Press: 250

Squat: 325

These are not big numbers but they are very methodical. I wanted to share this with the purpose of sharing what I have learned about life, so far, from lifting. I am no expert at lifting and am a novice at best. Yet…

#1 – Pain is part of the process

This is one of those “make it or break it” factors when it comes to lifting/losing weight. The tendency for our bodies is to run away from pain but what I have had to learn is that pain is just part of the process. I hate it but often I have to push through the pain to accomplish my goals. Life is that way. Pain often has her way with us and our tendency is to run away when perhaps we need to lean into the pain. Check out this quote from Henry Rollins:

“It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.”

#2 – Not planning is planning to fail

I used to just go in there and throw a bunch of weights around and say I was lifting while accomplishing zero results. That’s stupid. Since taking Wendler serious and using Excel to record my numbers I have noticed incremental changes in my strength. Why? I have a plan. I think many of us go through life just like this. We have zero plans and zero goals amounting to…you guessed it…nothing. I am not saying we all have to go Type A and get rigid with everything we do but I strongly believe we must set goals and plan.

#3 – Our biggest obstacle is ourselves.

The biggest obstacle in lifting has to be my own mind. So often I try to talk myself out of a lift because of this pain, or that time conflict, or on and on go the excuses. You get what you give and many times we hear voices telling us to quit. Life is that way isn’t it? The biggest obstacle between us and what matters most is often between our ears.

#4 – There is a right way and a wrong way

Technique is the difference between results and injury. Louie Simmons said, “Don’t have $100.00 shoes and a 10 cent squat.” My body is no longer able to bounce back from injury like it used to (and its getting worse) and so technique is key in my lifts. I am always looking for ways to improve my form or have an edge on trying to get stronger while maintaining proper form. Sometimes we go through life without consulting the experts or at least having a coach. We think we have the right form but so often we injure our mind, body and soul to the dismay of our growth.

#5 – Haters will suck the life out of you.

A weird epiphany came to me a couple months ago. Many people who are over weight, out of shape or lacking results want others to be just like them…miserable.[2] They will say some comments like:

  • “You should eat what you want, live a little.”
  • “Don’t lift a lot of weights as you will be sore when you are older.”
  • “Everybody needs breaks. Take a month off or so.”

I get it. Yet, what I want to reiterate is that part of having a plan incorporates rest, food and life. What it does not include are excuses, lack of focus and laziness. I don’t think I need to make the jump to life here for you. I think you get this. Avoid the haters.

#6 – Make Time

I used to say, “I don’t have time to work out” so that I could have a valid reason not to. The truth is that I had plenty of time but I simply did not manage my time well. Here is a window into a typical day for me…

6:00am           Awake

6:50am           Drop kids off at school

7:15am           Arrive at work

3:15pm          Leave work

3:30pm          Work Out

4:30pm          Arrive at home and begin to cook dinner

5:15pm          Dinner

6:00pm          Ball games

9:00pm          Get home, put kids to bed.

10:00pm        Go to sleep

As you can tell, I have hardly any time to breathe. That’s part of it. Sometimes my workout is two hours and sometimes I go in there for 15 minutes. The important thing is to put time in. Someone wiser than me once said, “You make time for things that are important to you.” That is true in life. Some people care more about money than they do their family or even their own health. Others care more about some perceived status than they do about things that matter most. As a youth minister I have seen it time and time again how families have jacked-up priorities and then tell me, “Robbie, we just do not have time for church stuff.” You know what? They are right. Why? Whether they can admit it is irrelevant because church (for whatever reason) is just not important to them. The same goes with weightlifting.

#7 – Growth is slow and incremental

Every month, as per my plan (see above), I add 5% to my workout in terms of lifts. I had a guy come over to me while I was benching and said, “Why don’t you add more weight sissy?” I laughed it off but I knew I deep inside I could tell him that I have added 15 lbs to my workout over the past two months but he probably couldn’t tell me his growth. Getting strong takes time. There are injuries, setbacks, obstacles and a host of other things hampering growth. That’s why it is slow, methodical and purposed. Many of us want veteran body with rookie effort. Again, life is that way. Growth takes months and years. I am glad I am at a different place now than where I was ten years ago but that took some time.

That’s it. What would you add?

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[1] Specifically I use the “Boring But Big” program in 5-3-1.

[2] I understand some people who are over weight or out of shape cannot help it. I get that and obviously I am not speaking about those folks nor am I claiming some sort of superiority over other folks who do not work out. I am just making some observations.

Six Things You Need to Know About Large Families

I have a large family. I have a wife and four kids. I look at other families and realize that we are not in the norm. One website put it this way:

As of 2014, the U.S. Bureau of the Census counted about 81 million families in the United States. The average family consists of 3.13 persons in 2014, down from 3.7 in the sixties. This is reflected in the decrease of children in family households overall.[1]

I understand that there are other families with more kids but I just do not see a bunch of those. I would say that once you get to about four kids you probably have a large family. Two kids is about the norm and three seems to be the cutting off point (pun intended if one undergoes surgery J). Not only did Heather and I have four kids but we did so in a short span of time. We had four kids in four years and two months. Time and time again I hear people make comments about our family when they see us walking about. Most of the time we get white-eyed looks from people who snicker to their spouses grateful they do not have to endure what we are “going through.”

I thought it might be good to share some things I wish people knew about those who have large families. I do not speak for every family but I think many large families will resonate with what I have to say.

  1. Everything, and I mean everything, is multiplied.

Think about how much laundry you need for the week and multiply that by six. For the sake of mercy I find myself wearing clothes twice just to save my wife from doing any more laundry. We are never caught up with laundry because we always are on the go. But everything in our family has to go through the “Times-Six or Times-four” test in order for us to agree to it. Christmas presents (x6), fast food (x6), sports (x4), school fee (x4), sports fee (x4) and movies (x6). Then you can imagine the amount of trash and the sheer mess six people make in any given week. It is astounding how much our grocery bill is for each month. I know…some of you masochists are thinking to yourself, “Wait until they become teenagers Robbie.” I think I will wait but for now my kids still seem to eat like malnourished horses finding their first meal. It is really quite breathtaking.

  1. Time is an absolute luxury.

I love seeing the cute Instagram photos of people going on a walk in the woods with their families on a lazy school afternoon. The truth is that during the school year and in most situations we do not have time to do things. We make time for things that are important and so after church, family sit down supper, homework and sports then there really is not much ancillary time.

  1. Date Nights are almost impossible.

See numbers 1-2 above. People mean well when they say they will babysit for you but for a while we did not do this because a) we are control freaks and b) it is just too much on one person. Then you have to pay double the babysitting and it is just not possible. We are just now getting to the point where we can start to think about the possibility of taking a date night somewhere in our schedule.

  1. We do know how this happened.

This has to be one of the most awkward statements people make when they find out you had kids quickly in succession. What possess people to break the barriers of normal decency and ask (while nudging you in the side), “You know what causes that don’t you?” Then they smile. I used to smile and give the buddy wink but now my goal is to make people feel really awkward. One person asked me that question and I answered it this way: “I know how it happened. Passionate sex.”

I said it folks. Sex. Making love. That is how it happened. That is how it happens every single time. And if I didn’t have the little surgery we probably would have about nine kids by now. Why? Because believe it or not we still practice! How’s that for awkward? Bet you won’t ask another person this again!

  1. We do not want your pity.

On a serious note, I do not like it when people dish out their pity on us. “Wow. That is really tough on you guys. I can’t even imagine.” Seriously? We knew what we were getting ourselves into (see #4 above) and we have so many friends who simply cannot have babies and so this is truly a luxury. We are blessed beyond what we could imagine and the more kids we have the better. Think of all the fun we get to have while these little crazies run around all over the place. We laugh a lot, cry a lot, get upset and rejoice a lot and everything in between the full gamut of our emotions.

  1. It is not as difficult as you think.

“How in the world do you do that?” I get that question when people find out I have four kids. The answer is easy: we just do. Life is not about freaking out at what is presented in front of you but making the right adjustments to work with what you got. There are some weeks we wonder what we got ourselves into but we always get through it. It does take a dedicated marriage to make it happen though. Single moms or dads raising four kids is really tough. Again though, you just do it. Heather and I are not whiners nor complainers by our nature. We get stuff done and begin the next task at hand. That is just the way our DNA works.

There you go. I hope you understand big families now. Keep in mind that we do not think we are better than folks with only a couple kids or those who do not have kids. Yet, like Paul, we just try to learn whatever situation we find ourselves in to be content.

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[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/183657/average-size-of-a-family-in-the-us/

4 Redemptive Lessons You Can Learn from Kaleb on His Birthday

I am always somewhat reticent when it comes to celebrating family events on social media. When my wife has a birthday you won’t find me posting a sappy message on her Facebook wall because I like to look her in the eye, kiss her and say it face to face. I don’t need affirmation (via likes or favorites) on social media for my affection toward my family. Yet, there is another sense in which celebrating those types of things publically can actually be good news to others who also participate in your story. When they see a happy birthday message about a family member they can, with swelling pride, say “me too” as you share your love for all to see.

It is in that regard I wish to reflect for just a moment today on the birth of my oldest son Kaleb exactly eleven years ago today. Kaleb came into this world with much expectation and joy. He was our first child[1] and with that comes the nervous tensions, excitement, anticipation and uncertainties that linger for first-time parents. Our world completely changed that day when this pudgy, hog-headed beast of an infant took his first breath. Nothing prepares you for parenthood, which is why Heather and I spent $0 on how to books, classes or therapy. Plus we were broke. Most people in our generation developed their career, then got married, saved their money and then had kids.

Not us. We plunged right in to all of it rather quickly. A friend of mine just had a kid this past month. By the time his child graduates high school Kaleb will be close to thirty years old.

Perspective.

I wanted to share four redemptive things I (Heather can “second” these as well) have learned being Kaleb’s father these past eleven years.

#1 – I have learned that it is still manly to be very affectionate to your son.

I actually first learned this from my dad years ago but even more so now that Kaleb is in the world. I hug and kiss him—yes, kiss him—every single day. Kaleb also randomly, but quite frequently says to me, “Love you daddy.” God looked at his son Jesus and said, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Affection and tenderness are emotions embedded to us through the trinity. The economic affection the Father has with the Son and the Spirit we also share with our own flesh and blood. There may come a time when he will shy away from hugs and kisses but he will always know it will not reduce his manliness in any capacity.

#2 – Grace and mercy triumph over works and merit.

I do not intend to get into a theologically debate as to why you’re wrong about this but as a parent I see my love for God deepen as I rest in his grace much like Kaleb rests in mine. Kaleb has done a lot of stupid things to disappoint me and will keep doing so for years to come. I am thankful I never did that to my parents but I digress. No indiscretion has the ability to sever the love I have for him. At no point can Kaleb make me love him any more or any less by his own efforts. I could read James 2 a thousand times and each time I will read it the same way: A relationship grounded in love and grace will only lead to good works.

#3 – Emotions on our sleeve are not necessarily a bad thing.

Kaleb comes by this honestly. I am not one to hide many emotions and what you see with me is most often what you get. The older I get the better I am at guarding myself from revealing some potentially damaging emotions but most of the time if I am angry, sad, joyful or apathetic one can see it in my expressions. Kaleb is the same way. I can read him like a book. When he disappoints his mother or myself and he knows that he has done it he will immediately start to cry. I like that about him. I hope he learns the “seasons” (Ecc. 3) of our range of emotions and uses that to gain a better perspective on life. Many of us are so guarded with our emotions we have forgotten how to weep, how to dance, how to belly laugh and how to rest. Not Kaleb.

#4 – Charisma is a gift that God can use to build his kingdom.

People flock to Kaleb. I don’t know why but there is something about him that people love and admire. The French would say Kaleb posses a je ne sais quoi which is a quality that is beyond description. I see it when he walks into a room of his peers. All eyes go to him and there is an aura of warmth that hovers when he walks. I know you think I am bragging about my kid like the dad who thinks his son is the best at baseball but I am really objective about this I think. I am good at ready a crowd and within 10 seconds based on nonverbal cues I can tell you the pulse of most any given situation. Kaleb has it. Our job as parents is to continually humble him but in the same regard feed that gift so that he uses it to give God glory. Too often those with charisma praise self instead of Savior. We have our work cut out for us but I already see fruit from Kaleb’s gift.

That’s all I got this year. Maybe I can share more next year Lord willing. Saya prayer for Kaleb would you? Thank God for him. Thank God for his mother. Pray that he listens to the Spirit and moves where ever the wind blows.

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[1] Heather and I had a miscarriage two years previous to Kaleb’s birth in December of 2006. Needless to say we were ecstatic when he came.

Georgia Pine Straw, 12 Stones and Telling Our Story

What do these stones mean?” (Joshua 4:21)

In my office I have a plastic bag filled with dead Georgia pine straw (needles). The bag has been in my office ever since I started working in ministry in 2004. Most people walk in and look at the bag with curiosity, baffled at the sight of a plastic bag filed with pine straw.

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Most of the time people do not know what it is but one time I had a person come in and say, “What are you doing with marijuana hanging on your wall?” That made for a good laugh. The question I most often get though is, “What in the world is that about?” I love that question because I get to tell a story. A story about God and his providence. The pine straw that is in the bag hanging awkwardly out of place on the wall was from my driveway in Marietta, Georgia. After living in the same house for twelve years my dad got a new job in Chattanooga, Tennessee and we were forced to move from our friends, loved ones and everything I knew. The day we moved (August 14th or 15th, 1995) I grabbed some pine straw from our driveway and put it in a zip-lock bag for safe keeping. Twenty-one years later I still have that bag on my wall.

In Joshua 4 the author tells us of the people of Israel finally crossing the Jordan after hundreds of years of Egyptian bondage and forty years of wandering in an austere desert. The fulfillment of Genesis 12:1-3 is becoming a reality and so God, like he did with the Red Sea, parts the Jordan River (because it was the harvest season and the river was high) and allows Israel and the Ark of the Covenant to pass through. Then he asks them to make twelve stones to serve as a memorial for the people. The explanation for this seemingly bizarre moment is powerful:

19 On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. 20 And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. 21 He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ 22 tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ 23 For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. 24 He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.” (Josh. 4:19-24).

The stones served as a way to tell the story of God and his provision for his people. Perhaps you have “stones” in your house that remind you of good times that have gone by that serve as a memory of God’s work. Perhaps it is a pair of your child’s baby shoes sitting on the mantle reminding you of those precious years. Or maybe you have a love letter your spouse sent you that reminds you of the romance that began your relationship.

Mementos like these help us imagine what is good, wonderful and redemptive in this life and, in my opinion, point to something better in the life to come. Looking through one of my Facebook friend’s pictures I noticed one of his profile pictures was of he and his son hugging when his son was young. His son is now deceased. The moment captured reminds my friend of better times but also of the perfect which God has not revealed.

I advocate we do these in our families and in our ministries. At my former church I started something in the youth room where graduating seniors outlined their hand in permanent marker and shared their favorite verse. When I left the church it was my turn to do the same.

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Since then the wall was painted over but between layers of paint a story still remains. I am thankful for all the times when we can have these “stones” in our lives that point us to something greater and more meaningful.

What are your stones?

What is your story?

Share some of your thoughts below…

Kaleb and Christ: A Story of Redemption

Nothing prepares you for the moment a child decides he or she believes in Jesus. All the emotions leading up to that moment puts a smile on my face even now as I type the words. My oldest child and son, Kaleb Christopher, was baptized yesterday as the culmination of the Spirit working on his heart, his mind and his soul. The process started many years before he was even created. The story of redemption began as a promise from God that he would bless his people and would be present among them. What started as presence in fire and flame now sees its culmination dwelling in the hearts of his children. “God with us” is not merely words etched in parchment like those in the Iliad or the Odyssey. Those words become life manifested in things like confession, repentance, worship and other disciplines that are countercultural to a society positioned to focus on this world.

Baptism is a special moment for many parents and one I honestly didn’t think would happen this early. It caught me off guard a year ago when he started asking about it. My first reaction was, “Son, you’re too young to do this” but who am I to question how God works and when God works? “Does he really understand the ramifications of his decision?” At 35 there is not a day that goes by where I do not fully understand the ramifications of that decision and furthermore I am in a constant process of growing toward Christ-likeness (progressive sanctification). So we had the conversations in the car about what baptism meant but more so what walking in the kingdom of God meant.

The process was very informal and more like a journey than it was deductive logic. I didn’t set any standards upon which I assumed he was ready for baptism because really no such standards exist. I doubt the Ethiopian Eunuch knew much about kingdom life other than he wanted Jesus to be his lord. We talked about some of the things that will frustrate him in his decision but also how rewarding it is to walk with God. Of course, the kid has heard and absorbed close to 500 sermons in his life coupled with bible classes and a host of other things a youth minister’s kid is dragged to. Needless to say this past week when he said, “Daddy I am ready,” I believed him.

So Kaleb is now, as Heather so succinctly put, “my son and my brother.” The moment was so special as we had friends from both churches I have served there to support him. Before he confessed that Jesus was his Lord (more like professed) I shared with him the lyrics of the old hymn “Jesus Paid it All” and prayed with him. His baptism was routine for many in the auditorium but for some it was otherworldly. Coming out of the water was a new person who is now a “new creation.” Somewhere in the metaphysical expanse where angelic bodies dwell there are some entities that are rejoicing because Kaleb is now a disciple.

Speaking of disciple. As the weight on Kaleb’s shoulders was lifted I felt it transfer to me. I have always felt a responsibility to lead my kids to Christ but now that he is “in Christ” I feel the weight of leadership even more. But I look forward to it. I no longer lead to but I lead with. With the help of Heather, the Spirit and a village of believers holding him accountability we have now embarked on a journey that sees no end where one day we will all sit in eternity basking at life free of sin. Sitting there with saints from the past but maybe more special he will be there with family members he never knew and some who left this world too quickly and he only knew for a little while. But until then, Kaleb and I both cry out, “Come, Lord!”

10 Ways to Help Your Child Stay Faithful

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). You ever read that verse and think to yourself, “But what about all of those kids who were ‘trained’ and left the faith?” When a youth group kid graduates high-school and unplugs from a church I feel like such a failure. Where did I go wrong? Did I say something wrong? Those, and many more questions haunt me for years. At the end of the day the Proverb writer is not making a sweeping law that will surely come to place rather he is making a general statement that will most likely be true. Otherwise many of the proverbs would contradict each other (e.g., Prov. 26:4-5).

All of that to say that this blog post seems a bit presumptuous in its attempt. What I list below is not a guarantee that your child will not waiver from his or her faith. I wish there were such a formula. At the end of the day we are responsible for our own decisions and that includes our faith. What I offer is based on over a decade of observing parents in a ministry setting. Feel free to add to these.

#1 Encourage Questioning (Matt. 7:7)

This should be a given but the families where I saw some of the most push-back when it came to the faith were those that fostered a legalistic approach to Scripture. “Don’t ask,” they would say. “It says what it means and means what it says. Plain and simple.” If it is so plain and simple then why am I questioning it? I saw on one site where a guy did a list of the questions Jesus did and came up with 135 in Scripture. 135!!! Ask…seek…knock.

#2 Become Involved (2 Tim. 2:4)

If you are not bought into the kingdom of God then how do you expect your kid to? Jesus said that nobody can serve two masters and here you are trying to do just that. By “involved” I do not necessarily mean simply attending all of the services (even the Pharisees do that…see point #4 below). I mean plugging into a ministry that involves your blood, sweat and tears.

#3 Pray and Read Scripture With Them

Of course your not having a “read the bible in 90 days” fest but you are trying to instill in them spiritual disciplines. And it takes discipline to do this. Pray before a big game, a test, a meeting with the principal, a long trip, a difficult decision. When they get older ask them to pray for you and specific things you can pray for them about.

#4 Practice What You Preach (Rom. 2:20-24)

Kids catch on real fast to hypocrisy. Let’s just say it is wired in our DNA. Here is something to think about when it comes to training your children in righteousness:

You cannot lead your children to a place spiritually where you have never been. Click To Tweet

Let that sink in a bit.

#5 Make Forgiveness a Priority (Eph. 4:31-32)

They are going to screw up royally. They are going to do things that will make you upset and even some of them might end up in jail. Forgive them. Think the father of the prodigal son type of forgiveness. Think seventy times seven forgiveness.

#6 Allow them to struggle (1 Pet. 5:10)

Nobody likes to watch their kids struggle. If you do then you are a sadist and get some help. Yet, I have seen many parents pacify their kids years after they needed a pacifier. We learn from our mistakes and if you keep your child from making mistakes (even spiritual ones) then you are setting them up for spiritual failure. I think this leads me to the next point…

#7 Quit Controlling Their Lives (Gal. 6:5)

I was talking with a parent one time and they said, “My daughter wants to go to the baptist church and I am not sure what I need to do. What do you think?” I said, “Let her go.” Many of you reading with this will disagree with me about that but if you teach them well then this will be another opportunity for them to grow. Parents these days manipulate their child’s lives to get what they think is best for their kids. I was grateful for my parents who let me struggle (point #6) and encouraged me to own up to the decision I made.

#8 Allow Them to See You Wrestle with God (Gen. 32:22-32)

Every follower of God needs a “penuel” moment like Jacob, where we wrestle with God. Maybe it’s when you lost a job and then a family member got sick all at the same time. Your son or daughter looked at you in this pivotal, defining moment in your life and instead of quiet reflection they heard angry and questioning prayers. This is good for them to see. If they read Scripture enough they will see it there.

#9 Help Them Develop a Christian Worldview (Rom. 12:1-2)

This world freaks me out everyday and the climate our kids live should terrify us. I see many parents pushing an American worldview instead of a Christian worldview. Click To Tweet We are told not to conform to this world and part of that means deconstructing the way we see this world (or even Christianity) and allowing Jesus (the real Jesus) to be our lens. More and more our kids need to hear us say, “Son/Girl, that’s just not right. (Why?) That does not have God’s intent behind it.”

#10 Make the Love of God Visible to Them (1 John 4:19)

That assumes we understands what they love of God looks like. The seen love of God is a posture that should be as natural your children as the light of day. Click To Tweet I mean that. They should see the love of God through you as you encounter difficult situations, finances, difficult people, television, friendships, etc. It must be a default response.

Those are my 12…what would you add?

 

To Grow your Faith You Must Leave Your Church Home

I remember the last time I looked at my parents before leaving to go on my honeymoon in 2003. It was a bitter-sweet moment and both of us knew that things were never going to be the same again. I was passionately vaulting myself into adulthood establishing roots with someone else while they were forced to face a reality that their rearing was over.

Mom and dad had to let go for me to really grow as a man. For me, I had to let go of mom and dad so that I could also grow as a man and an individual.

After close to eleven years of ministry I firmly believe that in order for a person to really grow in their faith they have to leave the familiar to embrace the unfamiliar. In other words, they must leave their church home.

Richard Rohr in his book Falling Upward describes exactly what I am trying to say:

Many people are kept from mature religion because of the pious, immature, or rigid expectations of their first-half-of-life family…One of the major blocks against the second journey is what we would now call the “collective,” the crowd, our society, or our extended family. Some call it the crab bucket syndrome—you try to get out, but the other crabs just keep pulling you back in. What passes for morality or spirituality in the vast majority of people’s lives is the way everybody they grew up with thinks. Some would call it conditioning or even imprinting. Without very real inner work, most folks never move beyond it. You might get beyond it in a negative sense, by reacting or rebelling against it, but it is much less common to get out of the crab bucket in a positive way (pp. 82-83).

I like that word picture of a “crab bucket” when it comes to the faith formation of students. Sometimes the crabs are implicit but other times they are explicit. Some people want to indoctrinate you to make you think this way or that way to in turn produce more people who think that very same way. Unfortunately many people have the audacity to call that “discipleship.” I cannot fathom my parents saying that in order for our marriage to be complete we would have to do it exactly like theirs and to make sure we did it like theirs they would locate themselves in proximity to where we lived to keep an eye on us.

Not the case. Mom and dad wanted us to have our own marriage filled with lessons they could teach us but also things we had to learn on our own.

I think this is where faith formation needs to go when it comes to our teenagers. I wonder if the push back from Millennials in our churches comes from a history of rigidity and a lack of letting them go.

Rohr again is poignant:

The nuclear family has far too often been the enemy of the global family and mature spiritual seeking. Perhaps it has never struck you how consistently the great religious teachers and founders leave home, go on pilgrimage to far-off places, do a major turnabout, choose downward mobility; and how often it is their parents, the established religion at that time, spiritual authorities, and often even civil authorities who fight against them. (p. 84)

Let that sink in a bit. This is a stern warning to all youth ministers and parents alike who wish to, in the name of “pure doctrine,” smash out the dreams and wanderings of our kids. When former youth group kids would come back to our church I often wished they hadn’t. Don’t get me wrong I love their presence but a part of me wanted them to push the envelope and own their own faith. Perhaps that is why God told Abraham that to receive the promise he had to leave his family (Gen. 12:1). Maybe that is why Joseph was sold into slavery and spent most of his life away from his family. Maybe that is why James, John, Andrew and Peter left their parents to follow after the divine tugging at their robes.

Please know that I advocate them leaving the church home…not the Church. I also propose that the leaving does not imply a never-returning. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo leaves the familiar to embark on a journey of unfamiliar. That unfamiliar contained all kinds of unspeakable turmoil and evil while simultaneously containing pieces of good and purpose. He returns home different but full of purpose. Tolkien famously said, “It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.” I like that.

So whoever you are reading this I bid you farewell on your journey to leave your church home. I am uncomfortable typing those words knowing not where your journey might take you. But you have to leave friend. I promise you though, God will be there to reveal wonder and beauty on this journey and I assure you that if asked you would say that the journey was worth it.

Leave.

Book Review: Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality by Jim Burns

Say your kid walks in from school one day and the conversation goes something like this:

  • James: “Hey mommy I got to ask you something?”
  • Mom: “Ok James. What’s on your mind?”
  • James: “What does the word ‘sex’ mean?”
  • Mom: “Oh dear…”

I bet many of you parents have had that same conversation in your house or something similar. Depending on your story the word “sex” can either be a word that has negative or positive connotations to it. I am not sure how you guys had “the talk” growing up but my tutelage on sex usually came in “locker-room” conversations and not from my parents. Unfortunately, our children are more likely to hear sex from media or other sources and by the time talk about it they may know more than we do.

Jim Burns, President of HomeWord and Executive Director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University, is the author of this wonderful book called Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality. I purchased this book probably five years ago and on a whim decided I should read it and took it off my shelf. I should have read it years ago.

The book is a practical approach at how to come alongside of your children to teach, coach and train them in ways to think healthy when it comes to sex. By “healthy” he means approaching the subject with a God-centric mentality. He spends the greater part of a chapter coming up with a theology on sex. The good part is that God loves sex and we should to but within the confines of its ordained place: marriage. Dr. Burns tackles the tough issues and does not shy away from handling these conversations but does so with grace.

For me as a dad, the best section he discusses is the chapter on creating a plan and a purpose for discussing age-appropriate developmental issues. There is no such thing as “the talk” and Dr. Burns is quick to note that it is a bunch of talks handling a bunch of issues over time.

I recommend this book as a primer for parents to initiate these conversations with their children. Many of them, I think, are like me where you are just wondering: “Where in the world do I start?” Start with this book. I am serious. It is that important. I also think this is a must read for youth and children’s ministry staff which should serve as an introduction for all sex discussions within the youth group.[1]

Quotes…

  • Sex is better when couples have a spiritual connection, and sex is not better if you live together before marriage. (p. 16)
  • Another troubling aspect of the crisis is that sex fools kids into “instant intimacy.” When young people become physically intimate with each other and then break up, it leaves scars…The more I saw a negative change in the emotional health of students who had just broken up, the more I heard they had been sexually involved. (p. 23)
  • No matter how hard you try, you will not be able to keep your kids in a bubble long enough to not be influenced or impacted by the culture’s view on sex. (p. 33)
  • SEX IS ENJOYABLE. ([Emphasis mine 😉 p. 36)
  • Modesty is actually more than wearing non-revealing clothes. Modesty applies to the way we act, dress and live. (p. 54)
  • The most effective way to teach healthy sexuality is to take advantage of spontaneous teachable moments whenever possible instead of more formal talks. (p. 72)
  • Frankly, you aren’t running a popularity contest as a parent. You are, in fact, in the protection business. (p. 86)
  • Oral sex is sex…Our sexuality is based on so much more than just intercourse, and this needs to be communicated to kids. (p. 91)
  • I have several friends who are women. I love them and respect them, but I also know that in order to keep the relationship healthy, I need to set good boundaries. (p. 126)

 

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[1] Especially helpful was Chapter 6 that deals with sex abuse issues. Ministry folks recognizing the signs and signals of sex abuse could be the difference in a young person’s life.

Friendship, Waffle House, Phi Kappa Alpha and C. S. Lewis

Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”” – C.S Lewis

I want this picture to sink in a little (forgive the Confederate flag please…things change). This was taken ca. 2002 and from right to left you have me, Watson McCord, Jonathan Pettus and Nathan Lewis. I remember taking that picture and how good I felt about being close to these guys. Missing from the picture are close friends Johnny Crisp, David Miller, Hayes Holland, Kevin Turbeville and a few others. Nathan decided to come up to my house this past weekend with his daughter to spend the weekend with me and so I sent some of the other guys a text message and we met up this past Saturday at Waffle House.

From left to right: Me, Watson, Johnny, Hayes and Nathan.

I know what you’re thinking: “How did Robbie manage to look even better with age?” Just try to keep yourself calm as you stare in awe at my awesomeness.

Anywho, we ate in Waffle House and became evident people were staring at us because of how loud and obnoxious we were. Not much has changed in that department in twelve years. People smiled when we told them this was the first time many of us had been together in close to ten years because there is a universal ethos of friendship that ties people together.

Ask any person about their closest friends and their face will light up as they share memories and stories. We talked about some of the crazy things we did while at Freed-Hardeman and we also talked about some struggles we have had in recent years.

Things change but true friendship does not. I thought about why our friendship has stood the test of time and kept us together relationally even though we are separated physically. I think I know now and the answer is going to seem so anticlimactic.

Friendship that stands the test of time is rooted in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Click To Tweet

All of us are still involved in a relationship with God that permeates in our friendships. We all have struggles like everyone else but our desire to have Christocentric lives grounds us deeper than some of the shallow friendships one sees in culture today. Our friendships practice hospitality, forgiveness, discipline, worship, mercy, justice, compassion, joy, sorrow, prayer, discernment, evangelism and everything in between.

They go beyond the surfaced facade many friendships resemble today.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” – Henri Nouwen, Out of Solitude

So I pray you find friendships like these. The type of friendships that seem to combine heaven and earth in way that is tangible only to those who experience it. The bible says, “There are persons for companionship, but then there are friends who are more loyal than family” (Prov. 18:24).

Go and find your friends and be friendly.

Madelyn Joy: A Lesson on Empathy

1910391_527568232389_4853_nToday my Madelyn Joy turns seven and I am elated! Seven years she has blessed our lives and we are certainly better because of it. I want to share a gift God has placed in her that I see few people in this world have (myself included). I want to explain her gift with a story.

Madelyn was our first baby to come into this world without any complications after her birth. Kaleb had severe jaundice and Amelia had pneumothorax and so this was beautiful for us to experience. It wasn’t long, however, until I realized that Madelyn really liked her mother and did not want to be held by another soul. I joke and say that I didn’t hold her until she turned one but that is pretty close to the truth. I want to say that she was just being a “mommy’s girl” but I think more was at play. Going from two kids to three was tough and so I was spending more time with the older two and Maddie just sensed that Heather needed her. I firmly believe that. Madelyn never complained when she was in Heather’s arms and always wanted to be close to her. Even to this day Madelyn always checks on Heather.

This leads me to sharing the gift Madelyn has and that is one of empathy. I looked up the difference between empathy and sympathy and found this helpful definition:

Both empathy and sympathy are feelings concerning other people. Sympathy is literally ‘feeling with’ – compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally ‘feeling into’ – the ability to project one’s personality into another person and more fully understand that person. (Source)

Madelyn has a unique gift to intuitively feel into another person (especially in their hurt) and be present with that person or at least seek help. I used to think that only a person who has experienced the same type of pain could empathize but Madelyn is starting to prove me wrong. It is much like Jesus who dwelt among us to empathize with us even though he did not know us.

I saw an interesting article on Forbes called “Why Empathy Is The Force That Moves Business Forward” by Jayson Boyers. He made a statement that stuck with me:

Though the concept of empathy might contradict the modern concept of a traditional workplace—competitive, cutthroat, and with employees climbing over each other to reach the top— the reality is that for business leaders to experience success, they need to not just see or hear the activity around them, but also relate to the people they serve.

I like the language he uses. To relate one must serve the people under them and to effectively serve the people they must know them. Ministers and leaders in the church would do well to listen to the life of Madelyn by knowing the people, feeling into the people and serving them accordingly.

It's hard to shepherd a flock from a conference table but easier to do from a coffee table. Click To Tweet

So here are three quick lessons I learned from Madelyn that will help you:

  1. Empathy does not show favorites. I think this goes without saying but sometimes we only care for people we only care about.
  2. Empathy seeks no gain. “Seeking other’s interests” (see Phil. 2:1-4) is what an effective leader engages in to benefit the person without the prospect of gaining from the relationship.
  3. Empathy moves forward to help. It’s not enough to feel for/into a person as we need to move to help.

Hope you learned something from my birthday girl!