How to Raise Christian Children in a Sinful World

I have often failed as a parent. I need as much forgiveness from my children as they are willing to give. But, having said that, I couldn’t be more proud of the people they have become. And much of that is due to the wonderful influence of their mother.

But here are a few words of advice from a parent and grandparent who is still trying to do his best in those roles:

Children are a priority. Even and especially above work. Work will always be there. Children grow up very, very quickly and need the presence and TIME of their parents. Being a parish pastor for me was a 24-hour-a-day job. I could have worked every waking minute of every day. But I always made sure to take my day off. And I always made sure to do whatever I could to give not leftover time, but prime time to my children. That meant attending Ashlyn’s shows as often as I possibly could. It meant coaching Ben’s baseball teams all the way through high school. It meant attending their events and being present for significant moments in their lives. I wouldn’t trade those minutes, moments, and hours for anything.

Children need boundaries. As children grow up they will test boundaries to see how far those boundaries can stretch and how much they can get away with. As much as children may dislike boundaries, they are actually a source of comfort. Deep down inside children know that boundaries mean they are loved. Boundaries mean telling toddlers to keep their hands off of a hot stove and teenagers to be home by their curfew (I can’t tell you the number of times my wife, Tammy, and I heard the gate at our Milwaukee house slam at the stroke of midnight — or whatever the curfew was — as Ben made it home just in the nick of time. But Ben and Ashlyn always made it home by curfew). Boundaries indicate care and love.

Children are wet cement. Tammy and I read a book by this title years and years ago. But it still applies. Little ears hear everything their parents say, especially when they are talking to other people. Children become what parents say they are. So, when speaking to other people about your children (when they are in your presence), praise them, speak highly of them, and show with your words that you are proud of them.

Children need love and forgiveness. Being a parent means always unconditionally loving your children. It’s not always easy. In fact, it is sometimes downright difficult. Sometimes love means discipline. Sometimes love means simply holding a child who’s hurting physically or emotionally. Children will sometimes do downright mean things and act as though they hate you. But a Christian parent will model the forgiveness of Jesus. Forgiven children learn to forgive and loved children learn to love.

Have fun with your children. There is plenty of time to do homework and chores. There is plenty of time to be serious and businesslike. Take a break sometimes. Play a game. Watch a movie. Laugh. Read a funny book. Play catch. Ride bikes. Go get ice cream. Have fun!

Fuel your children’s dreams. This means having high expectations for your children. But it also means allowing them the opportunity to do the things about which they are passionate. And it also means taking the words “I can’t” out of their vocabulary. Encourage children to at least TRY before they say, “I can’t.” The world will tell them that they can’t. Your job is to tell them they CAN (or that they can at least TRY).

Give children Jesus. There is nothing — NOTHING — more important than this. Remind them of their baptism. Take them to church every Sunday. Give them a Christian education. Pray with them. Read the Bible with them every night. Listen to Christian music and podcasts. When they go to college help them find a church home. Pray that they will one day marry a Christian spouse. Give children Jesus. It matters for eternity.

Dear Crosby, On Your First Day of School

Dear Crosby:

You just left our house after a Saturday afternoon together. Earlier today your mom texted us and said that you kept saying you wanted to come over to our house. We had other tentative plans for the evening, but whenever you say you want to come over to our house we pretty much cancel everything and make plans to have you over. So we went to the grocery store to get burgers to throw on the grill, and of course some watermelon because you and your little sister, Colbie, love it.

Sometimes when you leave our house I wish you were old enough to text with me. I wish I could text you right now and say, “That was so much fun! I can’t wait until you come over again!” We did all the stuff you love to do at our house. Play with our huge bin full of cars. Color in our coloring books and play with play-doh that Grandmom makes from scratch.

You love to play in what you call “my room,” because it’s “your room” when you sleep over. You and Colbie love to jump on the bed in there, and we let you. You love to open the plastic eggs in that room where Grandmom hides little surprises. And you can’t wait to look in the desk drawer to see if you can find some Skittles. (You did tonight, of course). You ate the M&M’s and Little Bites that are always available and Grandmom and Granddad’s house.

When you come over you always play with our little Brio train set. And you love to ride the little toy motorcycle we keep in the garage. Tonight, after dinner you put on your bicycle helmet, and we all took a walk while you rode your bike. You’re so good at balancing on it that you’re almost ready to ride a “real bike.” Of course we had to walk over to the fountain where you love to throw rocks into the water. Almost every time you come to our house we walk over there, I get the rocks that are in the bottom of the fountain, and you throw them back in. You’ve been doing that almost as long as you could walk.

Right now you’re at the stage where you love to wipe my kisses off whenever I kiss you, because you know I don’t like it when you do that. I act like I’m sad when you wipe my kisses off, so you come to me and tell me to kiss you so you can wipe another one off. But I noticed that when you left tonight, you didn’t wipe off the last kiss I gave you.

As soon as you left I missed you. I wanted to text you and tell you to have a good night’s sleep. I wanted that one last little connection with you. But I knew you were taking a bath and getting ready for bed. I hope you had sweet dreams of all the fun stuff we got to do at our house today.

After you left I couldn’t help thinking about next Monday when you will be going to school for the very first time. You’re going to preschool. It’s just two mornings a week. And it will be good for you. You’ll learn to be away from Mommy and Daddy for a little while. You’ll make new friends. You’ll play with the trucks they have at school. The playground will be fun and exciting. And you’ll learn so many new things.

But Granddad is having a hard time with it. At this moment in time you live in a little bubble that’s safe, and comfortable, and fun. Mommy, Daddy, Grandmom, and Granddad pray with you, tell you that Jesus loves you, and teach you things that we know and believe to be true. Pretty soon you’ll be (only slightly) released into the world where you might learn things that aren’t always in your best interests. You might see things that I wish you’d never have to see. You’ll experience kids taking away your toys and refusing to share, they’ll say things that wouldn’t meet the approval of Mommy and Daddy, and you might be a little scared or sad at some of the things you experience.

But, in the end, I know that you have to grow up. I know that you have to go to school. Everybody does. But always know that your Granddad loves you so much he would give his very life for you. Always know that, more than that, Jesus loves you with a love that will never, ever end, die, or fade. Always know that your family is filled with your biggest fans who will love and support you through it all.

Take your backpack that’s covered with trucks, your little lunch box, and wear your brand new Vans. Go out into the big, wide world equipped with all that great stuff. But even more than that, go out there wrapped in the love, protection, and peace of God. Because, after all, He loves you far more than I ever could. And I want to tell you, Crosby, that’s a whole, whole lot. More than you will ever know.

I can’t wait until you come over to our house again.
I love you, Buster. Thanks for being my little buddy.

Love, Granddad.

When the Impact of Tender Love Completely Sneaks Up On You

It completely snuck up on me. Sometimes tender love has a way of doing that. It comes creeping up and catches you completely by surprise. When it does, the results might just be what you least expect. For me, it was emotion that welled up in my heart and spilled over out of my eyes.

That’s right. I cried. Tears weren’t exactly streaming down my face. But they were there. And I most definitely had to wipe my eyes.

We had just spent the afternoon with our little grandson, Crosby, and his mom and dad. He’s sixteen months old and the cutest nonstop bundle of energy you ever did see. We played with toys. Of course grandmom had them all set out and ready to go. But mostly we played with things like remotes, car keys, and stuff in the pantry. The door was open on a warm Florida day so we went in and out, in and out, and in and out again. We climbed up and down the stairs. There was even a little jumping on the bed. He brought his little bike over so we pushed him around the neighborhood. It was the most calm he was all afternoon. He absorbed all the sights: the birds, the fountain in the pond, and of course the trucks. He loves trucks. Then we ate a little dinner together.

Before long it was time for them all to go home. As is my custom I carried him out the car and let his mommy put him in his car seat. He waved to me no less than three times through the darkly tinted window of the car.

Then I watched the car drive away.

Tammy and I went back inside. She went upstairs to do something. I just sat down and thought about all the fun we had.

After a little while I texted Crosby’s mommy and said: “I miss him already.” She texted back: “He misses you, too. Back to a world of rules lol.”

It’s a tender love I have for that little guy. He’s my little buddy. The world is a much better place just because he’s in it.

As I sat there and thought about him those sneaky tears came to my eyes. They were tears of joy. They were tears of appreciation. Those tears were tears of thankfulness. The tears were tears filled with the kind of love I have never felt before.

I would much rather have the reason to shed a tear than not. Even if it’s unsuspected. Even if it’s just a little embarrassing.

Tender love is a gift from God. I’m so glad I get to experience it. I hope you do, too.

Watch for it.

It just might sneak up on you.

Why “Wait and See” Is Usually the Best Action to Take

This is not a post about football. But I need to start with an observation about my favorite football team. The Green Bay Packers just released Jordy Nelson, one of their most popular players in recent memory. Since I’m a fan of the Packers I follow news and comments on most of the social media channels. To see the apoplectic responses of some Packers fans you would think the world is about to end. “The new general manager is an idiot!” they say. “This team is going to (stink)!” they say. “Why would you cut Jordy Nelson and keep Randall Cobb?!” they say. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Packers maybe even more than most. But my attitude about offseason cuts and acquisitions has always been “wait and see.”

I love Jordy Nelson and am sad to see him go. But I’m going to wait and see. The head coach and new General Manager of the Packers knows far more about athletes, football, and the game than I ever will. I will put my trust in them and see how it all turns out when the season starts in the fall.

Wait and see.

That seems to me a good philosophy for much of life. My experience bears that out. There are people in my life who at one time have hated my guts and now seem to be on the best of terms with me. There are other people in my life who currently have turned their back on me. Now I’m waiting to see if they will one day turn toward me again. There are times when I worried that I had some deadly disease, but I went to the doctor and everything was OK. There were other times when I wondered how we would would pay our taxes or a certain bill, and somehow the money became available with the proper planning.

Since I have a Christian world view, it has become more and more apparent to me that “wait and see” blends well with my faith. I have heard it said that as a Christian, “everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not yet the end.” I like that. It’s another way of saying wait and see. The Lord promises that He always works things together for my good (see Romans 8:28). In my sinful fallenness I can get in the way of that. Sometimes hurtful people and a world bent on destroying me can get in the way of that. But the promise in Romans 8:28 is that ALL things will work together for good.

So if things aren’t going that well today, or this month, or this year, wait and see. There just might be something around the corner that will repair your relationship, pay your bill, or cure your illness. Remember, everything will be OK in the end. And if it’s not OK, it’s not yet the end.


Just wait and see.

When have you taken a wait and see attitude only to see things work out well?

A Modern Day Psalm of Praise

I’ve recently been part of a 10-week Bible study called The Rooted Experience. It has caused me to really study, pray, journal, and connect with a great group of believers. One of our recent assignments was to write a psalm of thanks and praise. “Aha!” I thought. “That’s right up my alley.”

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

For He has given me:

Parents who raised me well, a wife who loves me well, children who are a wellspring of blessings

Pizza, pasta, and wine

Oh, yeah. And Mexican food

Crosby, my grandson, who simply makes the world a better place

A home I love, a car that works, and a bike to ride

A church to serve, a salary to suffice, and a beautiful worship space to praise the Lord

Warm(er) weather!

Friday nights, sunny mornings, and sometimes showery evenings

Florida birds, beautiful flowers, and far away stars

The ability to write, to speak, to lead

Good books to peruse, devour, and read

Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!

For a Father who made me who I am

For a faith that points to the Son of Man

For a Spirit who keeps me in spite of me

Hallelujah to the Lord who loves me! 


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If you were to write your own psalm of thanks and praise, what would it look like?

My Top Ten Most Read Posts from 2017

It’s time for all those end of year retrospectives, so I guess I’ll add my own. The year 2017 was filled with an array of events both globally and personally. But it seemed as though you, my readers, were interested in things having to do with church, hurricanes, and family. Please allow me to thank you for returning to my blog again and again. Without anyone to read these posts this blog wouldn’t exist. My deepest thanks to you if you’ve read just one post, or if you read every one that comes out. I appreciate you.

So without any further adieu, here are your favorite posts from 2017. Have another look:

  1. What It Means When Your Church’s Worship Isn’t Cool
  2. 5 Reasons We Miss You When You’re Not in Church
  3. Welcome to the World Crosby
  4. Why the Solar Eclipse Should Make Us Look Down (And It’s Not What You Think)
  5. Why Waiting with Patience Is an Important Lesson
  6. One Very Good Reason God Created Marriage
  7. What It Takes to Be a Good Church Member
  8. What It’s Like to Live Through a Hurricane
  9. When Memorial Day Becomes Real
  10. What to Do When You Doubt That You’re Good

Have a Happy New Year!

What was your favorite thing about 2017?

When the Holiday Season Brings a Happy Sadness

As I write this the sun is setting and the sky is orange, pink, and purple. I wish there were a word to describe the feeling that washes over me at this time of the day. A friend of mine calls it “a happy sadness.” I suppose that’s as close as I can get to really describing it. It’s really the same feeling I get at this time of the year. The holiday season brings a happy sadness. Maybe you feel that way, too.

I have a long and sordid love affair with the holiday season. Some of my earliest memories are of the lights on the Christmas tree in our house on Milwaukee’s Tacoma Street. They were the big glass bulbs that you don’t anymore see on trees. There were no mini twinkling lights or LED “cool” lights. Our family always got a real tree and it sat right in front of our big picture window. The big lights on that tree fascinated me and helped me anticipate Christmas morning when the tree would be overflowing with gifts.

But my early memories also include those long holi-“days” home from school. There were times I suffered from a stomach ache so bad that I couldn’t eat for days at a time. I remember feeling an awful feeling both physically and emotionally that I just wanted to go away. I don’t know where the stomach ache came from, but it was relenting. Eventually I would feel better and Christmas morning was as wonderful as could be. The holidays were for me a happy sadness.

Thanksgiving is now over and we are head first into the 2017 holiday season. I go into the grocery store with all of the decorations and specialty foods and think, “This is my favorite time of the year.” I hear (most of) the Christmas songs on the radio or in the store and have a happy feeling.

But the holidays are also a reminder of times past. I think about all of the great times with my girl friend, who then became my fiancé, who then became my wife. I remember those days when our children were very little and seeing that happy anticipation on their faces. There was so much joy over the years finding just the right gifts for each of our kids. And it was always fun to see what they, in their creativity would get me.

Christmas will be different this year. Our son and his wife live out of state and won’t be able to make it to our house this year. Our daughter and her family rightly need time to celebrate Christmas on their own with their little boy, our grandson. This will really be the first time we haven’t had our whole family together at some point at Christmas. That’s the sad part.

But there’s a wonderfully happy part, too. It’s that little boy. Our less-than-one-year-old grandson has brought a special kind of joy to life that simply cannot be matched. His smile lights me up and his presence is the truest gift there is. If I received no other gift this year he would be more than enough.

It’s only a small reminder of the eternally joyful part of Christmas. It’s the part that also has to do with a Baby Boy. The One who was born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger brings the present of His presence. Every day. Every year. Holiday season or not. No matter how I feel. His joy takes any sadness I may have and washes it eternally away. His perfect life takes any sin I have ever committed and nails it to His looming cross. It’s a happy sadness. But it’s always — yes always — undergirded by joy (which is a much different thing than mere “happiness” and ultimately drives away even the deepest sadness.)

This holiday season I wish for you more happiness than sadness.

More than that, I wish you the true joy that comes only from the Newborn King.

The Amazing Power of a Team to Accomplish One Big Thing

Last week I spent three full days starting something new. Actually, that’s not completely accurate. It wasn’t just me. There was a team of five of us attempting to lay the groundwork for something really big. We were working with an organization called Five Two (i.e., Five Loaves and Two Fish) creating a new ministry which we pray, in the end, will culminate in more baptized believers in Jesus. When Five Two begins work with anyone they insist you bring a team along with you. There’s good reason for that.

If you want to accomplish one big thing it’s best to have a team together with you for the ride. You’ll be amazed at the power behind you to make it all happen. A good team helps you by doing these things:

  1. Expanding the vision. The dream the five of us have is a pretty big dream. Far bigger than any of us individually, and even bigger than the five of us collectively. Even though we went in with a big vision, over the course of three days the five of us made it even bigger. We were bold enough to see possibility. It’s so much fun to dream with a team.
  2. Bringing the best gifts. In addition to myself, our team consists of a corporate coach, a retail manager, a tech guru, and an incredibly talented creative. As we worked our way through issues and challenges over the course of the three days it always seemed as though the right person was in the right place to resolve the thing at hand. Wide ranging gifts and talents make a team great.
  3. Reining in one another. A team will help you bring a realistic bent to the proceedings. I tend to be an optimistic dreamer. I need people around me who will show me the realistic side of it all. My fantastic team is helping me do just that. Their realism helps protect my sometimes blind optimism.
  4. Honing the vision. One of the purposes of our three day workshop was to drill down and focus the vision before us. One of the things we had to do was come up with our perfect “customer.” Her name is Hipster Hannah. We could tell you almost everything about where she lives, what she drives, where she shops, what her family’s like, and where she works. it took the entire team to come up with such focused detail. It was one of the most fun parts of our three days together.
  5. Bearing up one another. Three days of hard work can be tiring. It’s a good thing our team is filled with people who have a great sense of humor. There was a great deal of laughter. When things got tiring, we encouraged each other and shared the burden. There tends to be more energy flowing in and through a team than in an individual. Need some energy? Go be with other people.

There is amazing power in a group of people. Don’t have one for yourself? Recruit one. I bet there are people ready and willing to help you right now with the big project thetas’ right in front of you.

What benefits have you seen when working with a team?

The Incredible Power of a Simple Affirmation

The person shall remain nameless. Suffice it to say that there is a fair amount of contact between the two of us. We see each other rather frequently. The person has the opportunity to observe on at least a weekly basis what I do publicly as a pastor. I certainly don’t need affirmation from this person. But it would most definitely be a nice courtesy. Though there have been a myriad of opportunities to do so, not once has there ever been a word of affirmation directed toward me from my friend. In comparison to other people in my life it is a noticeable deficiency.

Do you know how that is? One small word of affirmation can make or break a day. For that matter, it can make or break a relationship. It really doesn’t take much at all. Even if it’s difficult to say something nice about a person to their face there is always something nice you can say. It is a common courtesy and something that seems to be lacking in much of our world today.

What this personal experience has taught me is that I want to be more affirming to the people around me. I know how it feels to be frequently around someone who seems to refuse to provide any kind of affirmation. I don’t want others to feel that way when they’re around me. There is incredible power in a simple affirmation. So I try my best to do the following things:

  1. Affirm the people in my profession. An affirmation from a peer is not just a common courtesy. It seems to be the kind of affirmation that holds a bit more weight. I always feel very good when I am affirmed by another pastor. So whenever I hear another pastor preach I try to find something specific about which I can affirm them. Then I say it.
  2. Affirm my family. It’s so important to affirm those in one’s own family. In the case of children it boosts self-esteem. In the case of a spouse it creates greater trust and intimacy.
  3. Affirm my friends. Why would anyone want to be friends with someone who never recognizes accomplishments or positive qualities? You can certainly do so publicly. But another way is to send a real piece of first class mail to show how much you appreciate your friendship.
  4. Affirm those who work with me. Do you want your co-workers to work well with you and for you? Again, a little bit of affirmation goes a long way. I try to find opportunities to compliment my coworkers in front of other people. I want to recognize their fine work in as many ways as possible, as many times as possible.
  5. Affirm even those who don’t affirm me. There’s no excuse for failing to affirm someone even if they don’t affirm you. The Bible says something about “heaping burning coals” upon someone’s head. But it’s really about raising the level of common courtesy in general. I’ve done it with the person I mentioned at the top of this post, and it feels good to do so.

How do you affirm the people in your life?

The Key to Making Almost Anything Better

I’m in the middle of writing my second book. I guess I should really say I’ve just started writing it. It’s going at a snail’s pace. I hope to move faster pretty soon but I’m in the middle of busy season right now. Writing the book gets pushed a little further down the list of priorities. But it’s still a priority. Another reason the process is a bit slower is because of another tool I’m using this time around. I’m finding that it’s a key to making almost anything better.

Before I started writing my book I hired a writing coach. With trepidation I sent my first chapter off to her. When I got it back she had some incredibly insightful notes for me. She suggested things to work on. She prodded better writing out of me.

So I revised that first chapter. It was hard work. But it was fun work. I had to dig down and do what I wasn’t sure I could do. I had to tell myself that I’m a writer and I can write better when I set my mind to it. Man, was it fun.

When I went back and read the revised chapter I was astounded. It was so much better than I ever thought it could be. I sent it back to my coach and she affirmed that I did what she asked me to do.

The key to making almost anything better is having someone else look at it. Want to be a better writer? Have someone else look over your first draft. Want to be a better teacher? Let someone else observe you. Want to be better at any sport? Be coachable.

We live in a world that encourages us to be Lone Rangers. But the better way is to let people in on your dreams, your projects, your goals. Let another set of eyes look at your work. Listen to what they have to say. Improve on it. Revise and edit. There is no such things as perfection, but there’s always room for improvement. Let a trusted friend, coach, or helper help you.

You’ll be glad you did. 

Then after you improve it (whatever it is), ship it (as Seth Godin says). The key to making almost anything better is to get some help — even just a little.

What will you do improve something in your life today?