Blog: Family Times

Peanut Butter Faith

What is it about peanut butter that makes it so popular? I bet you have a jar in your kitchen right now. I think PB is so popular because it's tasty, nutritious, easy-to-use and affordable. But one characteristic stands out - peanut butter is sticky. What would happen in our families if we had peanut butter faith - tasty, nutritious, simple and sticky? As least fifty percent of the children who are active in their faith stop being involved with church as older teens or in college. What made the difference for the minority of kids who retained their faith? What made their faith sticky? People have actually researched this and one of the common denominators, in all studies, is that the young people who retained their faith talked about faith at home. The implications are clear. We can't outsource spiritual formation to the church, Christian school, or ministry. Parents need to become the primary trainers of spiritual formation for their children and teens. The church (and others) serve as a secondary and supportive role.

Peanut Butter Families

Peanut Butter Families

How can we make faith stick at home? I'd suggest seven simple ways. Six are adapted from a best-selling business book by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Made To Stick - Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (New York: Random House, Inc. 2008. 16-18)

  1. Simplicity - for ideas to stick, they need to be simple and profound.
  2. Unexpectedness - Children are born with wonder in their hearts. Introduce them to a God of wonder, miracles and surprises. Keep the mystery in your faith.
  3. Concreteness - Be clear, concise and not too abstract.
  4. Credibility - Impress God's word on your heart first. Then it will seem real to your kids.
  5. Emotions - Share your passion for God with your kids. They are likely to catch it.
  6. Stories - People are more likely to act on ideas when they hear stories, especially when they feel, that in some way, they are part of the story. All of these add up to S.U.C.C.E.S. and make for a useful acrostic for marketing business. But I'd like to offer a seventh element for sticky faith at home. Plus it's the right spelling: SUCCESS
  7. Spirit-dependent. We can have the first six elements, but without the Spirit of God working in the parents and the kids, we won't have lasting faith. God's Spirit communicates when we can't. His Spirit comforts when we can't. The Holy Spirit convicts our kids when we don't even know they have sinned. To have S.U.C.C.E.S.S. and peanut butter faith we absolutely must depend on the Spirit of God. No formulas or programs work quite like the Spirit of God!
Transient
What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much like the same way fruit appears in an orchard - things like affection for others, exuberance for life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the hear, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people.
— Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

Faith Talk (with your kids) ASK, "Do you like peanut butter? Why?"  "How can our faith be like peanut butter?" "What's the biggest mystery to you about God or the Bible?" "What Bible story gives you courage or peace?"

Be An Impressive Dad

For over ten years I have been meeting with my small group of guys for breakfast. We call our posse ‘Family Man’, because we want to grow as Godly husbands and fathers. I look forward to meeting with my guys, because on Tuesdays I get bacon and I get a glimpse into other guys’ lives. It helps me to listen and to observe what other men are going through. As I observe, I grow. I think all men need this. Our brains get occupied by work, tasks, bills, car maintenance and a thousand other things. We can go a whole day and not think about our wife, children or God.

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We need reminders. God knows this. He made us! He knows that we guys aren’t as good as multitasking as our wives are. That’s just the way our brain works (or in some cases, doesn’t work!). We need reminders not to simply focus on our wife or child, but on God and His word. That’s why you read in the Bible over and over again, “Do not forget,” and “Be careful to observe,” or it’s cousin, “Be very careful to observe my commandments.” I think God gets us.

At Family Man we open up the Bible and talk about what a verse or passage might be saying about God, or our lives. It’s really helpful for me to hear other men talk about their struggles, doubts, insights, and family and work issues. I often sit there and say to myself, I’m not alone. I find that by listening to other men share their story, I understand mine better. By observing what others are going through and applying scripture to their situation, I gain clarity for my own.

One breakfast, David shared, “I’m going to take my wife away for the weekend for Valentine’s this weekend.” We all stared at him in shock. “When is Valentine’s?” Rick inquired with panic. “It’s next Tuesday. What are you guys doing?” He caught us flat-footed. None of us had observed the calendar and made plans for Valentines – yet. David saved us from blowing it with our wives. See what I mean? We really do need each other. We really need to observe other men, observe God’s word and let God’s word impact our lives.

 I like the way Mark Holmen captures this in Faith Begins@Home Dad  - “These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess”  Deuteronomy 6:1

“You already have the information you need to be a good dad.  You cannot say it wasn’t given to you.  God has consistently and repeatedly told you, in His Word, what you need to know and do to be a good dad: Do not covet, do not commit adultery, do not steal, lie, cheat, defraud, etc.  Love God, love others.  Forgive as you have been forgiven.  Do not worship other gods. Don’t swear, murder or discredit others.  Do I need to go any further?

The key word in 6:1 is ‘observe.’ Observe is more than just watching. It means accepting and actively engaging and participating in.  It’s like when you get pulled over for speeding and you say to the police officer, “I didn’t know what the speed limit was,” which never works for guys by the way.  You knew the speed limit. You simply chose not to observe it.  That is what most dads today do. It is not a lack of knowledge or understanding of what to do. It is knowingly choosing not to observe what you need to do that is the problem. Unfortunately, as you know, if you continue to not observe the speed limit, it’s just a matter of time until you pay the consequences. It’s the same with being a dad who does not follow God’s way, except that the consequences are multigenerational and eternal.  As a dad you have only two options: living your life God’s way or your way.  It’s a choice every dad faces. What is your choice?

Deuteronomy 6 tells us to "Impress God's commands on our children." The best way to impress our kids is to be impressive. Here are some ways to be an impressive dad:

Three Ways to Be An Impressive Dad:

1. Remind yourself of God’s Big Ten (Commandments) in Exodus 20:1-17 Write a one word code word for each of the ten and keep the reminder where you will see it. Put it on your screen saver or phone. Write it on a sticky note and post where you will read it. Read it every day for twenty-one days and ask God, “Help me to observe these ten today.”

2. Let your child observe that you you are thinking about God and His word by bringing up spiritual issues as you drive in the car. “Look at that beautiful cloud. God reminds us of his beauty everyday in creation. Where do you see God’s beauty?” At bedtime you can say, “God really helped me today at work. I started to get frustrated and I asked Him to calm me. How did God help you today?” At meals, after you thank God for the food, you can ask, “What are you thankful for besides this food?”

3. Set up human reminders of what God is doing by getting together with guys at least monthly to talk, pray and dig into the Bible for a few minutes. Ask, “How can I pray for you this week?” Not only will this help you, but it also provides a positive model of friendship for your kids.

Symbols of Health

I had the privilege of speaking to young executives and their families in Ecuador. Before we went to the rainforest for the retreat, my host arranged a tour of Quito with "Quito's best tour guide and historian." He was right. My guide was entertaining and informative. He also had lots of clout. We went right to the head of the line of a hundred tourists at Saint Augustine Chapel. They stared at me like I was some kind of VIP. My guide took me to the roof of the chapel where I saw a panoramic view of Quito.  He pointed out key landmarks and explained the historical significance of each. Then we went to a 'Restricted Area' where a team was restoring the five-hundred year-old chapel. I noticed thousands of gold leaf pineapples on the ceiling, and huge clusters of grapes on the walls and pews. I asked, "Why all the pineapples?" He explained, "Pineapples are very significant to Ecuadorans. Years ago, when the European explorers came, many of them became sick with scurvy and died. But those who survived noticed that the people of Quito were healthy and didn't get scurvy. It was because we eat a lot of pineapples. So pineapples are a symbol of physical health for us, and the grapes represent spiritual health and the blood of Christ."

I thought this was powerful imagery. Later, that night when I presented my first session with the families, I said, "Today I learned the significance of pineapples and grapes in Ecuadoran culture and history - they represent physical and spiritual health. This weekend we will develop these themes by focusing on growing healthy homes - ones where we can grow physically, relationally and spiritually." My audience smiled and responded very positively because I had captured something relevant to them - something that echoed their culture and history, and now they were willing and ready to leave their mark on their families as we explored the qualities and habits of a healthy home.  

St. Augustine's Church, Quito  

St. Augustine's Church, Quito  

What are symbols of health with your family? Smiles, laughter, playfulness, harmony? What are your symbols for spiritual health? Prayers, joy, faith, confidence God will provide, compassion? How will you know if your family is spiritually sick? What scriptures will you use as a baseline to evaluate your family's health? What are your pineapples and grapes

Quito, Ecuador  

Quito, Ecuador  

No Christmas Lights For You

In the sour spirit of Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, I caught myself muttering, "No Christmas lights for you!" I was reluctant to crawl into the dusty attic and pull out our thirty boxes of Christmas décor. Our daughters are married and have their own houses to decorate. I wonder if I could get them and their husbands to come decorate our house? I mused. I just wasn’t into it. What difference do the lights make? Do we really need a Christmas tree? I settled by putting up two wreaths in the windows and hung the stockings on the mantle (but not with care), and nestled down for a long winter’s football game. I’m just not feeling it.     

 My neighbors ruined it. After the football game I went to the store, and when I came back, it was dark and most of them had hung vast displays of spectacular LED lights that glowed brightly, sending out rays of light visible to airline passengers approaching LAX.  My neighbors had thrown down the gauntlet! I didn’t want to be that guy that wasn’t into Christmas, or too lazy to put up his lights. Of course, it could be worse: I could be the neighbor who leaves his lights up all year. I decided to be neither guy – the scrooge or the slacker.

I pulled out the bin labeled outdoor lights and opened it. To my surprise, there were several boxes of new LED lights that I had purchased in January! Merry Christmas! Now I can keep up with my neighbors. I hung my new lights, finishing at dusk. The sensor kicked on the lights. I stood and marveled at my work. The intense reds pierced the darkness. The dazzling greens lit up the trees. The vivid yellows illuminated the trim. And the blues radiated the bricks with a splash of vibrant color. And then I remembered why we have lights at Christmas: to remind us of the star of Bethlehem that spotlighted the King of Kings who came as a baby and the Light of the world.

‘For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’                   – 2 Corinthians 4:6

This Christmas, take time to notice the lights, the candles and the luminous flames in the fireplace, and remember that light is a gift from God. Without light there would be no life. And without the Light of the World there would be no eternal life, joy or peace. Reflect on the glory – the brilliance of God, shown to us in the face of a baby – the Christ.  

FAMILY TIME EXPERIENCE: Make some cocoa (or stop at Starbucks) then go for a drive as a family to look at the homes with spectacular lights.

Ask, “How many references to light can you think of when you think of Christmas traditions?”

“What is it about light that is so comforting?”

“What would it be like to be in utter darkness?”

Then take a minute to pause and thank God for sending the Light of the World.

            May God’s Light shine in our hearts this Christmas.

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Navigating the HoliDaze

I was all wrapped up in the holiday spirit. The stockings were hung and stuffed with exciting treasures. The gifts were nestled under the decorated tree and wrapped with Martha Stewart - precision and pomp. Bing Crosby was crooning old-school carols and I was camped out on the couch, sipping cocoa in front of a crackling fire in the fireplace.

WAKE UP! It was just a dream. Reality is - a stocking is lost, the tree isn't up, and the gifts are still in Wal-Mart bags under our bed. The only sound I hear are kids fighting and grumpy from too much sugar. So much for my perfect Christmas!

The reality is, there are no perfect families; so typically, there are no perfect holidays. For most of us, holidays are a mixed bag - some good, some bad and some in the middle. Throw in the stress of preparation, travel, expectations and extended family and you can have a lot of tension. But I believe you can influence your experience by asking: "Do I want to focus on holy days or be wholly-dazed?"

 

 

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Moving from Wholly-Dazed to Holy Days

1. Ask, "What is most important?" (Focus on your child's heart and the true meaning of Christmas - that God became a human baby and lived with us; don't focus on your child's Christmas list, or your expectations or plans).

2. Focus beyond the holiday to the 364 other days (especially if your child is with your ex on THE big day, not with you) and ask, "What can I do on those 364 days to impact my child's heart and connect with him/her?"

3. If you are alone on the holiday (Ex. your children are with your ex). Plan something. Look for ways to serve others. Invite. Engage. Reach out and model caring and compassion for your children (and yourself).

4. Create new traditions. Especially if your family has gone through a difficult year, a loss, divorce or you are now a step-family. Traditions shape identity, create a sense of belonging and reinforce positive memories. Step-families and families from a recent divorce need new neutral party family holiday traditions that are age-appropriate, fun and current.

5. If you are in a step-family, or divorced: plan a fun evening prior to Departure Day (the day they go to be with your ex during the holidays). Invite some of their friends, play a table game, watch a Christmas comedy movie and serve some tasty food.

6. If you are in a step-family, or divorced: Send your kids off with JOY and a smile. Some of you will be happy to see them go and give you a break, so the smile will be genuine; but others may whine, look dejected and act like a victim. This creates a burden for you child. Focus on the joy of that first Christmas and that will help you get perspective.

When it comes to families and holidays, we don't get a do-over, but we can start now and make a brand new beginning.

 

Fun Ways To Bring Faith Home

"Kids don't know the value of money," a dad complained to me, "They ask for stuff and don't have any idea on how much it costs. What can I do to help them learn?"

"A child's economy is not based on money. A child's economy is based on fun. It has value when it is fun. That is why we need to make faith fun. If our kids grew up thinking that faith is boring, doesn't relate to their lives or introduce them to a God of wonder; they are more likely to walk away from the practice of their faith."

"How do you do that? I grew up in a home that only went to church on Christmas, Easter and funerals. Faith was something we attended, not what we lived. And it certainly wasn't fun. How do you make it fun?

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"Our kids learn in different ways. Some learn visually, others with their hearing, and others by what they do with their hands or bodies. And you can engage the senses of smell and taste to make it fun and lasting. In fact Jesus used the senses when He commanded us to remember His death and sacrifice with Communion (Eucharist). Breaking of the bread is tactile and engages taste. Drinking the cup engages our senses of smell and taste. If we want to engage our kids with faith formation, we need to engage all the senses and be creative and make it fun. You don't have to be a comedian to make it fun. You just need to have a sense of humor, don't take yourself too seriously, and be willing to take the risk to do some of the things that I suggest in my book 52 Creative Family Time Experiences - Fun Ways To Brings Faith Home.  You don't have to be a hilarious educator or pastor, you just need to be a parent who is willing to try something new. Even if it 'fails' it will likely generate a funny story, and that's the point!"

Recently, I was on Dr. Bill Maier Live radio show when we talked about how fun at home can open the door for vital faith formation, in all kinds of families. You don't have to have the perfect home to have fun and pass faith along. Listen to the ideas that Dr. Maier and I discuss: http://myfaithradio.com/2013/52-creative-family-time-experiences-2/

Beautiful Little Kids in Crisis

"These beautiful children who had their lives taken away from them. It's a tragedy of unspeakable terms ... Evil visited our community today."  - CT. Gov. Dannel Malloy
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Twenty, innocent beautiful little kids and six adults died in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newton, CT. "It's a parent's worst nightmare." As seasoned reporters and first-responders talk about the massacre we can see and hear the grief, confusion and anger in their voices. "Senseless." "Incomprehensible." "Shocking." "Darkness," and "Horrendous." Words seem feeble to describe the emotions.

What can we do to help our kids with this tragedy?

Our kids need our help in responding to this senseless violence. Parents are asking me, "What does my child need?" "How should I respond?" "How do I talk with my child?"  Here are five qualities (assets) you should try to build in your family to help your child cope with tragedy and become a capable child.

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Five Assets of a Safe & Healthy Home

  Adapted from  www.search-institute.org

  1. Nurturing Relationships - Take time to have positive talks with your kids. Show them extra affection. Increase the hugs! Be open and available to talk and be there to support them. The Sandy Hook tragedy will make your children and teens feel vulnerable. They need to be nurtured by dad and mom.
  2. Establishing Routines - Christmas is a wonderful time to use traditions to reassure your kids. Traditions help us feel connected and give us a sense of family identity. Check out 52 Creative Family Time Experiences for more ideas on family traditions. Family meals help kids feel connected. Have children help prepare or clean up afterwards helps them contribute. After a crisis, kids are thinking - Who can I depend on? Seek to be as dependable as you can. Don't over-promise, but deliver on what you do promise. Trust, love and security are a combo pak in the minds of our kids. If they feel secure, they feel loved. If they feel secure, they can trust you.
  3. Maintaining Expectations - Be open to talk about the tough topics, like the Sandy Hook killings, if you child ask questions. Give them direct, age-appropriate responses. Set boundaries with media. Don't keep the TV on with coverage about the tragedy. Hold your child to reasonable expectations and ask them to contribute to household chores, wrapping Christmas presents, taking down the decor, etc.
  4. Adapting to Challenges - Have a family discussion on "What can we do to help the families in need?" Pray for those families that lost a child or a parent. Seek to return to normal as soon as you can; which includes daily tasks. Seek to problem solve as a team. Give your kids a voice on how they want to help those in need or spend time on the Christmas vacation. Giving your child a voice empowers him.
  5. Connected to Community - We've seen the powerful footage from Newton, CT of how the community in and around Newton is rallying to stand with a shock and horrified town. Support and gifts are coming in from all over the globe. In times of crisis, we desperately need to be connected. We need community. Spend extra time in the next few weeks getting to know your neighbors and friends in your community. Look for healthy, positive adults to be role models for your children. Seek out community activities that build cohesion and support. Look for the resources ahead of time. Know where to get help before you need it. Knowing you have support helps you use it when you need it. 
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For God did not give us the spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-control
— 2 Timothy 1:7

We live in a scary, evil world. The very planet that Jesus came to save. He is the Light of the world and offers guidance through the darkness, like the star of Bethlehem. He offers peace to the soul in anguish. He is the Prince of Peace. This Babe - the very Son of God offers Himself so that we, tainted, broken, sinful people can experience His forgiveness, grace and joy. Joy to the World! Peace on earth.