Family

Think Win/Win

WinIn his best selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey noted that when it comes to healthy relationships, mature people think “win/win”.

Win/Win is a frame of mind and heart that constantly seeks mutual benefit in all situations, agreements and solutions. With a Win/Win solution, all parties feel good about the decision and are committed to the action plan - there is something in it for everybody and everybody wins. Win/Win sees life as a co-operative, not a competition. One person’s success is not achieved at the expense or exclusion of the success of others - it’s not your way or my way; it’s a better way, a higher way.

It helps to avoid alternative approaches such as:

1. Win/Lose - “If I win, you lose.”  Most people see life in terms of dichotomies: strong/weak, big/small, master/servant, win/lose etc.  Our society is structured around this type of thinking.  In families where there is conditional love children are taught that life is about comparison with someone else or against some standard.  In peer groups children are taught that acceptance is based on conformity to a standard or norm.  At school there is a grading system which compares each child to the other and determines which is the better.  In business, we operate in a “dog eat dog” environment where there is only room for the survivor at the expense of all others.  In our pastimes such as sport there is only a prize for the winner. Unfortunately, most of the quality we want in our lives depends on our co-operation with others not on whether we or they are better.

2. Lose/Win - “I lose, you win.”  People who think lose/Win are usually quick to please. They seek strength from popularity or acceptance.  They have little courage to express their own feelings and convictions and are easily intimidated by others.  In negotiations, Lose/Win is seen as giving in or giving up.  In leadership style, Lose/Win is permissiveness or indulgence, being “Mr Nice Guy” even if nice guys are walked on.

3. Lose/Lose - Some people are so centred on an enemy, so totally obsessed with the other person’s behaviour that they become blind to everything except their desire for that person to lose, even if it means losing themselves. Lose/Lose is the philosophy of war. “If I can’t have it, then neither will they.”

4. Win - People with the Win mentality don’t necessarily want someone else to lose - what matters is that they win.  This is probably the most common approach to everyday negotiation.  Win thinking is in terms of securing your own ends and leaving others to secure theirs.  “Look out for No. 1”

5. Win/Win or No Deal - This is a higher expression of Win/Win which says that if we can’t find a solution that would benefit us both then we agree to disagree agreeably - No Deal.  With No Deal as an option, you are liberated because you are able to say that it would be better not to deal than to live with a decision that isn’t right for us both.  If you can’t reach a true Win/Win, then No Deal is better.

Which option is best?

The most effective option depends on the situation:-

  • Win/Lose - This might be used to stimulate business
  • Lose/Win - If you value a relationship and the issue isn’t important.
  • Win - If someone’s life is in danger etc.

However, in most situations the best result will be achieved with a Win/Win approach - particularly when there are people and relationships involved (interdependence). 

Jesus himself taught that we should think about how other people like be treated then grab the initiative and treat them that way (Matthew 7:12). That's win win!


Happy Mother's Day (2016)

Happy-Mothers-Day-Flowers

[Watch this message]

It’s Mother’s Day: a century-old tradition of taking time to thank and honour our amazing mums. Mums are special people we owe so much to - in addition to our very existence! Most mums are faithful, loyal, hard-working, loving and caring people. We honour and applaud them today. Of course, Mother’s Day brings a variety of emotion with it – gratitude, if you had a great mum, some sadness and pain if you had a difficult or absent mum, and grief if you have lost your mum or wanted to be a mum but haven’t yet been able to have children.

Our Mothers

What was your mother like? Mothers are highly influential people but no mother is perfect. Ideally, they provide care, love, nurture and protection for their children, but that isn’t always the case. In their recent book, Our Mothers, Ourselves: How Understanding Your Mother’s Influence Can Set You on a Path of a Better Life, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend (best-selling authors of Boundaries) unpack how our mothers shape us – for better or worse, including describing different types of mothers and styles of mothering. These include the Phantom Mum, the China Doll Mum, the Controlling Mother, the Trophy Mum, the Still-the-Boss Mum, and the American Express Mum. It is easy to dismiss the past, but even as adults we need to understand our mother’s pervasive influence on our life.

No matter what our mother was like, we need to give them love and respect, gratitude, and forgiveness. In addition, we need to “leave” appropriately and be who God has called us to be, severing that umbilical cord of dependence, as it were. Then we return, hopefully as friends.

The Art of Mothering

All mothers should seek to be the best mothers that they can be. This includes making a choice to:

  1. Love unconditionally. True love is not just an emotion but is an act of will to do what is best for another person, regardless of what they are like. Kids aren’t perfect yet they need to know they are loved … no matter what.
  2. Affirm frequently. Words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21). Use them for good – to build up your children (Ephesians 4:29). Children thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise.
  3. Instruct clearly. Establish clear expectations and consequences, then follow through consistently. Teach desired behaviour (what) and the values behind it (why). Example is essential (kids do what they see), as is a loving relationship.
  4. Discipline lovingly. Loving discipline is about giving appropriate consequences for disobedience, not abuse or harsh, angry punishment.
  5. Empower fully. As children grow and mature, empower them more to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own lives. Our kids are really not ours. We don't own or possess them. They are gifts …. loaned for a time. Help them become who God has designed them to be. Don’t project your own wishes on them. Then trust God and let go of any unnecessary guilt or condemnation for the choices they may choose to make.

[More BLOG posts on parenting: Wisdom for ParentsParenting TeenagersDamaging Parenting Styles and Some Thoughts on Parenting. There are many good books on parenting but I especially encourage you to check out The Parenting Book by Nicky and Sila Lee]

God as Mother?

Sometimes mums can find it difficult to see themselves as a reflection of the image of God. This may be because of the number of male references to God in the Bible, such as king or Father. But God is not male! [God created woman so if he was a man this would be impossible because we all know that men know nothing about women!] God is Spirit. He transcends gender yet includes what we know as male and female. Men and women were both created in God’s image. God has both masculine and feminine qualities (see Isaiah 42:14; 49:14-16; 66:13. Hosea 13:8. Matthew 23:37). He has motherly traits of caretaker, comforter and nurturer. That's why it takes both men and women to reflect God accurately. Mums - you are made in the image of God. You reflect his nature and his characteristics … even in your mothering of your children. Walk with a sense of dignity and honour. You matter … just because of who you are!

Reflection Questions

  1. Reflect on the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus. What can we learn from her?
  2. What does Mother’s Day mean to you?
  3. Think about your own mother. What are you thankful for? What was difficult?
  4. Review the five suggested tasks in the “art of mothering”. Reflect on how God is the model of the perfect parent.
  5. Consider some of the feminine aspects of God’s nature – such as love, care, nurture, and protection. Why do we sometimes struggle with seeing God this way? What do we miss out by thinking of God only in male images?
  6. Finish by praying for all of our family relationships.

See also: Jesus and His Mother.


Jesus as a Child

Jesus

Luke gives us some interesting insight into Jesus' self-perception ... as a 12 year old.

Luke 2:41-52. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. NIV

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood or his life before the age of 30 when he began his ministry. We do know that he grew up in a family with other brothers and sisters and he became a carpenter, a trade he learned from Joseph. It appears that sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph died, as he is never again mentioned with the other members of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ childhood appears to have been very normal like any other Jewish boy of the time.

Jesus at twelve years of age is one year away from accountability as a Jewish boy. At the age of twelve, the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation for the recognition of adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, post-dates the time of Jesus by 500 years.

What can we learn from this narrative about Jesus?

1. Children can know God personally.

Jesus at the age of twelve already had a relationship with God to the depth of knowing that God was his Father. This reference to his Father infers an close, personal relationship to God that is foundational to his life (c.f. Luke 10:21-22). This also implies a sense of personal intimacy, identify and significance for Jesus, even as a child.

2. Children can understand spiritual things.

Jesus is among the teachers of the temple – listening, asking questions and giving replies. Even at a young age, he has an amazing knowledge of and ability to engage in spiritual things. Already, he values the pursuit of knowing God and his ways in the world. Children love to laugh, play and have fun but don’t under-estimate their capacity to know and experience God also.

3. Children can know their life purpose.

At the age of twelve, Jesus knew that his life was to be about “his Father’s business”, that he would one day give his whole time and energy to the Father’s work on earth. Yes, he would have to wait for God’s timing and prepare for 18 more years, but this sense of destiny was already there. 

Early on, Jesus understands that he is called to do his Father’s work. Jesus explains his call in his own words and it reflects his self-understanding. He is always about the things of the Father, then and now. In his humanity, he resisted the urge to selfishness and focused on carrying out God’s will for his life.

However, Jesus' ministry has its proper timing and Jesus will wait to launch what he is destined to do. He is not impatient about starting his ministry and will wait until the time is right. He must, of course, wait until the forerunner comes, John the Baptist, before beginning his own task. 

The above description of Jesus didn’t just happen but was a result of his childhood years, which would have included input from family and friends, along with his own personal development.

May we as a community (comprised of parents, churches, community organisations and schools) seek to help kids come to know God personally, to understand spiritual things (God’s perspective on life), and to know their life purpose.


Responding to Domestic Violence

DV

Right now, our vision as a church is to see over 10,000 stories of transformation. Recently, we have had a number of moving stories about individuals coming out of domesitc violence situations. These are people who once felt isolated, hopeless, and helpless. Now they feel cared for and looked after. These stories provide hope for anyone affected by domestic violence.

Domestic violence (sometimes referred to as ‘family violence’ or ‘interpersonal violence’) is defined as “a pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviours that frighten, intimidate, terrorise, exploit, manipulate, blame, injure, or wound a person.”

It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 women is a victim of domestic abuse in her lifetime. There were 65,000 police reports of domestic violence in Victoria last year (almost double those reported in 2010). In Australia, the police deal with a domestic violence matter every 2 minutes. It can happen to anyone, regardless of your background.

“Violent abuse” refers to “using physical violence in a way that injures or endangers someone.” Physical assault or battery is a crime, as well as serveal other forms of domestic violence, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the authority and power to protect victims from physical attack. The victims of violent abuse have the right to protect themselves and their children.

Domestic abuse is dangerous in ALL its forms (not just physical violence) - including willful intimidation, sexual assault, stalking, verbal or emotional abuse, economic control, psychological abuse and isolation. Physical violence is sometimes easier to recover from than psychological or emotional injuries that cause a person to feel worthless. Threats of abuse can be as frightening as the abuse itself.

The Church

As a pastor, I need to confess that the Church, in general, hasn't always handled this issue well. We have often failed to believe that it can happen in Christian homes. There has been erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home, as well as misunderstandings about forgiveness and repentance. This has often created a culture of silence and acceptance. Here at CityLife, we are committed to doing a better job at helping to prevent domestic violence, confronting it when it does occur, and offering help to those involved – both the victim and the perpetrator.

Biblical Reflection

Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived amongst us, so that we can have life, and life to the full! Any sort of abuse or violence hurts the heart of God. It is the very opposite of his sacrificial love. Abuse twists God’s good intention for marriage, the family and human relationships. God’s Word contains clear declarations against any form of physical or verbal abuse, including that of spouses or children. Psalm 11:5. “Those who love violence, God hates with a passion.” Instead, we are called to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another.

For Victims

If you are being abused, you need to know that abuse is not God’s will or part of God’s plan for your life. Enabling one person’s cruelty to another is not the will of a just and loving God. You don’t have to remain silent anymore. Please tell a friend, a family member, a pastor or ministry leader, or the authorities. You do not deserve this. It is not your fault. You are the victim of abuse and violence and it is wrong. You were created in the image of God and should be treated with dignity, love and respect You do not need to put up with it. It is not acceptable. If you don’t feel safe, please seek professional help in making a safety plan for yourself and the children. This may include leaving the situation or obtaining an intervention order. No person is expected to continue in an abusive environment.

For Perpetrators

If you are the one causing the abuse, you need to know that it is never okay to hurt or threaten to hurt anyone. Please get some professional help. Talk to someone you trust. Get some accountability.

CityLife Church

Domestic/family violence causes great damage in people’s lives. It has to stop. For anyone affected by domestic violence, we have counselors and pastors trained to be able to help you and offer support and strategies for you to move forward. Please call and ask for help.

Prayer

Father, you love us as your children and your desire is that our homes, our families, be places of love, care and encouragement – not places where we experience fear or abuse. I pray for wisdom and courage for those affected by domestic violence. Help them to take a step towards freedom today. For those caught in a cycle of abusing others, I pray that you would convict them and bring about change in their life. For us as a church, may we be a community of faith characterized by loving relationships. In Jesus name. Amen.

Continue reading "Responding to Domestic Violence" »


"Porn Kills Love" by Josiah Conner

We fight the drug of porn with the power of love

Ephesians 5:1-14

[Josiah Conner kicked off our Modern Family series last weekend with a message entitled "Porn Kills Love" (watch or listen). Here is a summary, along with some reflection questions]

Steak: We have taken the good gift of sex and turned it into something it is not.

Steak: food is for eating (we have twisted sex into something it isn’t).

1. Think about the ways that sex has been twisted away from God’s intention.

2. The dictionary defines pornography as: Sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal. Think about what kinds of pornography there are in our world.

3. Have a read of the statistics about pornography below. Consider whether these statistics are greater or lower than what you expected.

Scripture: The Bible tells us sex is sacred and is not to be cheapened.

The Bible is a book about God’s love for the world. Sex is a gift of God given with a purpose (Gen 1:26,31) but humanity through sin took it outside of its purpose. People tried to come back to God by their actions but it was the hearts that God was after (Prov 4:23, Matt 15:16-20, Matt 5). Sex is not just physical, it is spiritual (1 Cor 6:15-20, Eph 5:1-14).

1. Read through the Scriptures above. Reflect on why sex is more than just a physical act.

2. Do you think God or the Bible is against sex? 

Stats: Porn kills love

Here are some of the main ways that pornography kills love.

1. Brain: When we look at pornography it releases dopamine in our brain that rewires them to crave the feeling more and more. This is like taking drugs. We are the product of our habits (good and bad). Pornography becomes addicted to the good feelings of sex outside of the purpose in a loving committed relationship.

2. Relationships: Looking at pornography creates false perception of reality where we learn to expect what we see/read in pornography over real life. It creates distorted views of men and women. It decreases intimacy in marriage.

3. Injustice: participating in porn consumption creates the need for a system of injustice. While we may not be looking at the terrible aspects of pornography, they are all part of a system that makes abuse against women, child slavery and sexual abuse possible.

4. Spirit: porn pushes us away from the only one who can truly transform us. When you engage in pornography it pushes you away from God and community.

Are these statistics and consequences of pornography something you were aware of?

Shift: Fight porn with love

For those who are struggling here are some great next steps:

1. Choose: change starts with a choice. It may sound simple but what we tolerate we will never change. We need to make a conscious decision to change.

2. Talk: one of the great lies of the enemy is to make those struggling think they are the only ones struggling. We cannot do life on our own. We need community. As a church we need to create space for people to be real about their struggles and help lift one another up. (James 5:16)

3. Walk: Change your habits. There are some real practical ways you can change your habits. You can replace the bad habits with positive ones. Below are some great resources to assist your change

4. Journey: remember that change and growth is a journey. We are being transformed each day. Whatever our struggle, we must follow the example of Paul in Philippians (Phi 3:12-14) by forgetting what is behind and pressing on.

Response to Sin

How we respond to sin (of any kind) says a lot about our understanding of God and His grace. There are two extremes we want to avoid:

1. Rubbish: (kick someone while they are down). When someones is struggling we do not want to condemn them. If our first response to sin is retribution and not redemption than we are living under law and not grace.

2. Reinforce: (pretend it doesn’t matter). The other extreme is to overlook the sin. When we pretend sin doessn’t matter we cheapen the grace of Jesus.

The way that Jesus modelled is the best way to respond to sin (John 8)

3. Redeem (speak to the person they are yet to be). Jesus met people where they were but called them to something more. We want to speak to the potential in people. God met us at our worst and called children of God. We want to be a community that meets people wherever they are and calls them to their God given identity.

Recommended Resources


Looking for a Baby Name?

Baby-name-surprised

Looking for a baby name?

In 2014, around 1 in 10 Australian babies were given one of the Top 10 most popular baby names; a total of 30,581 babies. There were more than 2,189 boys named Oliver and 1,796 girls names Olivia last year. 

Keeping the top spot from 2013 is Oliver, the top boy baby name in Australia for 2014 having overtaken Jack and William which were 1st in 2011 and 2012 respectively. 

Oliver was the top boys’ name in all 6 states (NSW, VIC, QLD, SA, WA, TAS) while William was the top boy baby name in the 2 territories (NT, ACT).

There were 230 more instances of Oliver than William, an increase on the margin of 37 from 2013. In 2014, there were 2,189 boys named Oliver, 1,959 named William and 1,841 named Jack which is a decrease for both William and Jack on 2013. 

Olivia, with 1,796 occurrences is the top girl baby name in Australia for 2014, taking the top spot from Charlotte which is now in 2nd place. Charlotte was the most popular girls’ name from 2011-2013 but has now fallen behind by 123 occurrences.

Olivia was the most popular baby girls’ name in the three most populous states (NSW, VIC, QLD) while Charlotte was top in SA, TAS and NT with the names Emily and Amelia being the most popular in WA and the ACT respectively. 

Top 10 Boys' Name Trends and Insights

Although Jack is no longer the top choice for the top boy baby name, it is currently in 3rd place and sitting in 5th place is Jackson/Jaxon/Jaxson. This underlines the fact that the strength and popularity of the name still exists since combining the totals of those names would put it in 1st place, almost 1,200 occurrences more than Oliver. 

9 out of the top 10 boys’ names held onto their top 10 ranking with Cooper dropping 7 spots from 10th in 2013 down to 17th in 2014 and Alex/Alexander rising from 15th to 9th during the same time period. None of top 5 names changed positions but James and Ethan both dropped 2 places with Thomas and Lucas both rising up the chart. 

Top 10 Girls' Name Trends and Insights

All of the top 10 girls’ names from 2013 have held on to a top 10 ranking in 2014. Olivia, Mia, Amelia, Sofia/Sophia and Sophie all improved on their 2013 ranking with Charlotte, Ava, Emily and Ruby being the ones which have dropped. Chloe was the only name to retain the same ranking. 

8 New Boys' and 9 New Girls' Names Enter the Top 100

In 2014, 8 new boys’ names and 9 new girls’ names have entered the top 100 list. 

The names Harvey, Gabriel, Muhammad, Phoenix, Theodore, Maxwell, Carter and Fletcher have entered the list for the boys’ at the expense of Jesse, Seth, Parker, Darcy, Jett, Lewis and Jonathan. 

As for the girls; Frankie, Eleanor, Emilia, Hazel, Lexi, Elise, Sadie, Natalie and Lacey have entered the top 100 with; Samantha, Eve, Daisy, Nevaeh, Skye, Indigo, Caitlin, Leah and Mikayla dropping out of the list. 

Significant Leaps and Declines

Within the boys’ top 100 list, there are 18 names which have bettered their 2013 rank by 10 or more spots, 11 which have dropped 10 or more spots and 8 which have been unchanged. 

Maxwell was the most improved boys’ name, climbing 41 spots to 97th bellowed by Fletcher, up 26 spots to 99th and Harvey, up 20 spots to 84th. On the other end of the spectrum, Braxton has fallen 31 spots down to 77th followed by Mitchell, down 22 spots to 83rd and Nathaniel, down 21 spots to squeeze into the list in 100th position

In the Top 100 girls’ names, there were only 8 names which lost 10 or more spots and 13 which gained 10 or more with 10 keeping their position from 2013. 

Hazel gained a huge 63 spots to be 88th followed by Eleanor which increased a more modest 31 places to be 84th and Ariana, up 27 spots to 73rd. Chelsea and Amelie both dropped 15 places to be 64th and 95th respectively and Mackenzie and Eliza both dropped 14 places to be 56th and 81st respectively.

Choose wisely :)

Source: McCrindle Research


Say 'No' to Domestic Violence

Stop-domestic-violence
 
As a pastor and church leader, I have a confession to make:
 
The church has not handled the matter of domestic violence well.
 
Let me be more specific:
 
1. We have not done a good job of helping to prevent domestic violence, of confronting it when it does occur nor of helping those involved - both the perpetrator and victim.
 
2. There has been too much ignorance about the prevalence of domestic violence. Many church leaders have failed to believe that it can happen, even in Christian homes.
 
3. There has been much erroneous teaching about ‘submission’, ‘authority’, and ’obedience’ in the home. This has led to a culture of silence and acceptance..
 
4. Preachers have not taught on this subject nor referred to it enough in their messages.
 
5. Pastors and church leaders have not been equipped to address this matter (I can’t remember learning much about it in Bible College nor in seminary) nor have they equipped their congregation members with proper responses should domestic violence occur.
 
6. Pastors have often emphasised forgiveness and repentance at the expense of a person’s welfare and safety. For instance, a mid-1980s survey of 5,700 pastors in the USA revealed that 26% of pastors would advise an abused wife to continue to submit to their husband and trust God to honour her action (by either the abuse naturally stopping or giving her strength to endure). More shockingly, 71% of pastors said they would never advise a battered wife to leave or separate from their husband because of abuse. Clearly, greater priority has been given to keeping families together rather than ending the violence. 
 
Central to the Christian message is that we believe in the good news of Jesus Christ. The Son of God took on human form, lived among us, so that we can have LIFE (John 10:10)! Domestic violence not only causes great damage to the victim(s), it also hurts the heart of God because it is the very opposite of his sacrificial love and the abundant life he desires for us.
 
The Bible contains clear, unmistakable declarations against any form of physical, emotional or verbal abuse. It repeatedly calls on people to show kindness, generosity, and love to one another, and specifically condemns the abuse of wives and children. Domestic violence cannot be justified through the Bible and/or the Gospel of life and peace. The apostle Paul said: “As much as is possible, live at peace with everyone.” Sometimes, peace is no longer possible and immediate separation may be the safest and wisest option.
 
Every church needs to adopt a NO tolerance stance towards any and all acts of domestic violence. We need to recognise the serious implications and consequences of domestic violence. This issue needs to be addressed and spoken about more frequently in order to raise awareness and help people break through the fear barrier. Training needs to be provided for all church staff and leaders, as well as the preparation of helpful resources for assistance. Every church needs to be a ‘safe place’ for people to find support and care.
 
Personally, I don't have all the answers. There is a lot to learn. Our church pastors and counselors are dialoguing about this matter so we can become a greater help to families facing domestic violence as well as be able to continue to help build healthy, strong families where domestic violence is prevented. 
 
Please, join the conversation. Listen attentively. There is a lot of shame and fear involved with all of this. Speak up and speak out. Domestic violence has to STOP.
 
See also: Responding to Domestic Violence (June 2015)
 
 
Other Articles and Resources 

If you are in an abusive situation:

  • Contact the free DV hotline on 1800 656 463 (TTY 1800 671 442).
  • Walk into your local police station.
  • If you have been assaulted, call 000 immediately.

Two Simple Questions to Improve Your Marriage

1-couple-tense-lgnIn most marriages, one person is wired a little more relationally than the other. Often it is the wife ... but not always.

If so, husbands, find a quiet time and place and ask your wife these two simple questions: 

1. "How would you rate the current state/health of our marriage on a scale of 1-10?" 10 being you should start your own marriage seminar, 1 being you desperately need to attend a marriage seminar. No negative numbers, please. Note, that it will probably be lower than your score. Don't start an argument about that!

2. Then ask her, "What do you think would improve our marriage?" Then consider doing just that. Women often have great relational insight. 

[If the husband happens to be the more relational person in the marriage, then reverse this exercise]


When Families Break Down

Modern Family Graphic

Divorce and Remarriage

In Matthew 19:1-9, we have a record of the Pharisees trying to trick Jesus with a question about divorce, a hotly debated topic of his day. Everyone today has or knows a friend or family member who has been divorced and possibly remarried, or maybe we have even gone through that experience ourselves. Stories of family breakdown are usually filled with pain and heartache – for spouses and for children, if they are involved. Here in Australia 43% of first marriages end in divorce and the rates go up with second and subsequent marriages. One in three marriages today are a re-marriage, resulting in an increasing number of step-families and blended families. All sorts of questions emerge for the follower of Christ: What are the options when a marriage isn’t working? Is divorce ever okay? If divorced, what next? Is re-marriage okay or it is “committing adultery”?

People of the Book

The Bible is our final authority for belief and practice. We know what the Bible says, but what does it mean (exegesis) and how do we apply it (hermeneutics) to our lives today? Most churches today no longer follow the first century practices of foot washing, veil wearing and holy kissing.  Why do we ignore these instructions yet not others? How do we know what is culturally bound and what is timeless? Is the Bible like a legal constitution providing case law for every conceivable life situation or more like a library of God-inspired stories with insights and instructions for us to glean from? No doubt, two important principles of interpretation include considering the “context” and also the “complete mention” of a topic or subject.

Moses and Israel

To understand the context of what is occurring in this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees we need to go back to some Mosaic Law about divorce and remarriage, primarily recorded in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The purpose of this legislation was to regulate the practice of divorce during the time of Moses and Israel. Though never sanctioned by God, divorce and remarriage did occur during this time. The debate was never about whether divorce could occur or whether remarriage was okay after that but about the acceptable grounds for divorce. The legislation had practical and moral aims (to protect the woman, the most vulnerable person in the marriage, from ‘no fault’ divorce, to give her a written document permitting her to remarry without accusation of adultery, and to protect any subsequent marriage). Moses aim was to control and reduce divorce, not condone or legalise it.

Back to Jesus

The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus by drawing him into an argument about acceptable grounds for divorce. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matt.19:3) There were two main Rabbinic views at the time: (1) the House of Shammai said a man must not divorce his wife unless he found her unfaithful (“indecent”), (2) the House of Hillel said a man could divorce his wife even for trivial grounds such as spoiling a meal. Rabbi Akiba went even further saying a man could divorce his wife for no fault at all, but merely because of finding someone more beautiful than her (“she becomes displeasing to him”)!

Jesus, knowing their trap, bypassed their pedantic debate about Deuteronomy 24 and went right back to God’s original plan for marriage in Genesis (1:27; 2:24). What God joined together in marriage was not to be broken by anyone for any reason (Matt.19:4-6). The Pharisees had their answer but wouldn't give up. Next they misquote Moses by saying, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” (Matt.19:7) The form of their question showed that they had taken the lax Akiba position – all that is required for divorce is to observe the legal formalities by putting in in writing. Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matt.19:8-9) In reply, Jesus says: Moses did allow divorce; it was a concession to the hardness of people’s hearts; divorce was not part of God’s original purposes; and when a man divorces his wife (other than for “sexual immorality”) and marries another, he commits adultery. Jesus is not attacking or altering the law of Moses, which he did not come to abolish (Matt.5:17-20), but their twisting of Moses’ intent.

So what is Jesus really saying about divorce? Some people interpret his words as forbidding all divorce and remarriage, saying that any re-marriage is a continual act of adultery, because the first marriage is a permanent bond before God. However, this would be a complete contradiction of Mosaic teaching and practice (which acknowledged that divorce could occur and that any re-marriage is a real marriage) as well as Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman (John 4) who had been married five times but now had “no husband” (Jesus did not say that she was still married to her first or any of her previous husbands). Jesus is clearly confronting the Pharisees lax approach to divorce and taking them back to God’s ideal, which is for marriage to be seen as a lifelong relationship characterized by friendship, loving care, sexual intimacy and commitment. To seek a divorce with the specific intent of marrying another person is nothing short of an adulterous act. That’s what Jesus was making a firm stand against. His comments do not deal with all problems or questions related to divorce, nor do they address what people who are already divorced should do or even those who go ahead and get divorced. None of these issues are in view. Jesus wanted them to stop tearing apart (through easy divorce) what God had put together (through marriage). All divorce is to be seen as a tragedy and contrary to God’s will.

Marriage Breakdown

Tom Wright, in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, notes that car manuals today usually include instructions of what to do if the car breaks down or an accident occurs. That’s not because the manufacturer is hoping this will occur! They want you to drive safely, free of trouble, worry and fear. But sometimes people get into difficult situations and its important to know what to do. Moses, Jesus and Paul did the same when it came to marriage. They didn’t command or encourage marriage breakdown, but did talk about what to do if it occurs.

Whenever there is marriage conflict or breakdown, followers of Christ should make every effort to work towards forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration of the relationship (see for instance Matthew 18:15-35, which immediately precedes Jesus comments on marriage and divorce). The church should always work towards that aim. There may be situations when a marriage has broken down so far as to be beyond repair. God himself eventually divorced Old Testament Israel due to her repeated unfaithfulness. Acceptable grounds for divorce include sexual unfaithfulness (Matt.19:9) and desertion (1Cor.7:12-16), but by principle may also include incidences where a person’s life and well-being are in continual danger. It is interesting that ‘divorce’ is never listed in Paul’s lists of sins. Divorce sometimes simply makes public and permanent the actual breakdown of the marriage. The real sin is in the failure to keep the marriage vows that resulted in the eventual divorce.

When considering the issue of marriage breakdown, while continuing to uphold and work towards God’s ideal of lifelong marriage as stated by Jesus, we also need to embrace the compassion that Jesus had towards hurting and broken people, showing them kindness and forgiveness (see John 8:1-11). God is the God of the second chance. We all gather at the foot of the cross and around the communion table as saved sinners, in desperate need of God’s forgiveness and grace. In Christ, grace and truth meet together in perfect unity. The church is to be a place of healing and restoration – for individuals and families.

Reflection Questions

1. Consider how divorce may have touched or impacted your life, friends or family.

2. Reflect on the importance of using the Bible as it was intended by applying proper principles of interpretation, such as consideration of context, background and the overall flow of the Scriptural redemption story.

3. Re-read Deuteronomy 24 and Matthew 19. Did you see these passages in any new ways?

4. How can we continue to uphold the ‘ideal’ of lifelong marriage (truth) while also acknowledging that God forgives us when we fail and gives us a second chance (grace)?

5. What are some options for a spouse if their marriage is not going well and their partner is not interested in improving the relationship?

6. What is some advice for someone entering a second marriage, given the high percentage of divorces for second and subsequent marriages?

7. What are some of the unique challenges of step and/or blended families and how can these be navigated?

8. Think of a couple you know who you believe have a great marriage. What are the characteristics or ingredients that make it that way? 

9. In what ways can we strengthen and improve the quality of Christian marriages today?

10. A tip for husbands: ask your wife to evaluate the health of your marriage from 1-10 (it will probably be lower than your score!). Then ask her what she thinks would improve it. Then consider doing just that. Women often have great relational insight! [If the husband happens to be the more relational person in the marriage, then reverse this exercise]

11. How can we help remove the embarrassment that sometimes accompanies a couple asking for help from a counsellor or pastor with their marriage?

12. Pray for families, especially for marriages to be strong and healthy. 

For Further Reading

Divorce and the Christ-Community: A New Portrait by Dr Gary Collier (online eBook).

Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage by Kevin J. Conner (Melbourne, Australia: KJC Publications, 2004).

Divorce and Remarriage in the Church: Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities by David Instone-Brewer (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2006).

Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context by David Instone-Brewer (Grand Rapids, MI: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002).

Marriage and Divorce: The New Testament Teaching by B. Ward Powers (Petersham, NSW: Jordan Books Ltd, 1987).

“Sexuality and Sexual Ethics” by J.M. Sprinkle in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch edited by T.M. Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003).

“Divorce” by H.R. Stein in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels edited by Joel B. Green and Scot McKnight (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1992).

Divorce and Remarriage: Four Christian Views edited by H. Wayne House (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993).

A Moral Vision of the New Testament by Richard Hayes (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004).


Re-Thinking Family

Modern Family Graphic

Let’s talk about the family. There have been many popular TV families over the years – Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, Friends, The Simpsons and now Modern Family. Some people say that television shapes the culture while others say it simply reflects the culture. A few would even say it is 5 years behind the culture. What we do know is that today’s families are changing and facing tremendous pressure both from within and without. Complex questions are emerging about such matters as blended families, same-sex attraction, as well as divorce and remarriage. 

Families in Bible Times

What did families look like in biblical times? In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, the sphere of action is the family not the nation. Crucial events occur in the home, not the court or the battlefield. Genesis is a succession of family narratives, ‘family’ often meaning a whole clan or household (not the typical ‘nuclear family’ of the modern world). In primitive times, people lived primarily in patriarchal groups that grew as sons brought wives and children into the clan (e.g. Noah’s ‘family’ included his wife, his sons and their wives). The eldest son (the 'firstborn') was given preferential treatment and this was also a time of arranged marriges for children once they reached 15-18 years of age.

As well as experiencing many good times together, these first families faced a wide range of problems. Cain murdered his brother Abel in a fit of jealous rage. Noah got drunk. Lot offered his virgin daughters to the aggressive men of Sodom; later, his daughters got their father drunk and were then impregnated by him. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all played favourites with their kids, causing all sorts of family problems. Their story includes squabbling spouses, sibling rivalry and children being deceitful. Later on, Reuben slept with his father’s concubine and Judah slept with his daughter-in-law who was disguised as a prostitute. And this is the ‘godly line’! It reads like a script from a modern-day soap opera.

The Old Testament presents the family as a deeply flawed institution in a fallen world, highlighting the ups and downs of human relationships. It’s a place of hope and blessing, yet at times disappointment and struggle. It sure shatters the myth of the perfect family! These families were pretty dysfunctional, yet God worked through them. The Old Testament ends with a promise of reconciliation and harmony (Mal.4:6), the opposite of the images of family discord and fragmentation that seem to have been the norm in these ancient stories.

By the time of Jesus, the typical family living in the Roman Empire was a ‘household’ family (Greek oikos), usually consisting of a husband, a wife, children and slaves (all of the latter being the ‘property’ of the man). Household codes served as models for order. The apostle Paul did not seek to overthrow existing social structures (including slavery and patriarchal households) but rather infused them with new kingdom ethics. In his own household codes (Eph.5:21 – 6:9. Col.3:18 – 4:1), after presenting mutual submission as the ideal (Eph.5:21), he commands those in society’s positions of authority (husbands, parents and slave owners) to provide loving leadership and he addresses those in society’s subordinate roles (wives, children and slaves) as persons in their own right and to be treated with dignity, something quite radical for this era in human history. Paul emphasised the interdependent and complementary nature of these roles and requirements, showing that care and compassion for one’s natural family is vital (1 Tim.5:4,8).  

Today's Families

Like in biblical times, today’s families come in a diversity of shapes and sizes: the ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family (dad, mum and kids), single parent families, married couples without children, blended families, and extended families to name a few. There are also vast differences between ancient and modern times when it comes to social structures, as well as the opportunity for both men and women when it comes to education and choices that can be made outside of inherited ‘class’ or social status. 

Common challenges facing families today include: conflict, communication breakdown, time pressures, mental health issues (including depression and anxiety), addictions (including substance abuse, gambling and pornography), the impact of social media and finances.

God's Family

God reveals himself as a Father (God also has motherly qualities – Isaiah 49:14-17; 66:13. Matt.23:37) who desires each one of us to be part of his family (Deut.1:31. Eph.3:14-15). His desire is to place the lonely in families (Ps.68:6) where they can experience love and a sense of belonging. Jesus is the way to the Father (John 8:42) and provides the means for us to be ‘born again’ (John 3) or adopted into God’s family. Jesus placed this spiritual family as taking precedence even over one’s natural family (Matt.12:46-50; 10:34-37. Mark 3:21, 31-35. Luke 12:51-53). Family ties were to be respected and strengthened where possible, yet always as secondary to the family of believers (1Tim.5:1-2). Christians are ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ - the most common designation of followers of Jesus in the New Testament – and part of the family of God, God’s household. This family is not meant to be cliquey but one that is always open and ready to welcome new sons and daughters of God.  It is a family characterised by equality (even slaves and masters are of equal status and value in Christ), unity and love.

THE Key to a Healthy Family

The core foundation of any healthy relationship or family is LOVE. It’s a love of a different kind – God’s kind of love. Not merely friendship love, affectionate love or romantic love but a love that is a decision to do what is best for another person, even at personal sacrifice. Jesus calls us as his followers to love other, including our family, as he has loved us (John 13:34-35), a love that will prove to the world that we are his disciples, when they see how we treat each other. The apostle Paul puts it like this: “Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.” [Ephesians 5:1-2. Message Bible] 

How easy it is for us to get caught up in the details of daily family life – the tasks, jobs and transactions – and forget its primary purpose: loving God and people. May random acts of kindness become a regular occurrence in all of our homes and families!

Reflection Questions

1. What was your favourite TV show as a kid growing up and why?

2. What surprises or interests you the most about families in biblical times?

3. What do you think are the 3 most common pressures families face today?

4. In what ways can the church become more of a genuine spiritual ‘family’ for people, including singles, young adults, married couples, single parents and grandparents?

5. Read Jesus’ comments in Matthew 12:46-50 and 10:34-37. Is ‘family first’ a biblical value?

6. Read the description of ‘love’ in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. How does this apply to families?

7. Spend some time praying for your family. 

See Also

When Families Break Down

 


Mother's Day

Mothers-day

This coming Sunday is Mother's Day.

I realise that this can be a difficult day for some people. Maybe your mother passed away recently, or you don’t have a good relationship with your mum, or maybe you always wanted to become a mum and it hasn’t happened. Our thoughts and prayers go out to you.

It is, however, a good time to honour all of the mums. They are amazing people. 

Both Nicole and I lost our mothers a few years back now (Joyce Conner and Renata or 'Oma' Meyer). That's a good reminder to all of us to love them while we can.

Have you ever thought about a mother's job? Check out this humorous video clip showing 24 people being interviewed for an impossible job paying nothing. Then find out who does this everyday.

Happy mother's day :)


For Parents with Young Children in Church

KidsA friend pointed me to a very good article recently in the Huffington Post religion section by Jamie Bruesehoof to parents with young children in church (especially relevant when kid's church is having a break during the school holidays!). Here is it:  

You are doing something really, really important. I know it's not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant car seat and the diaper bag ('nappy bag' for the Aussies) as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper. I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone's eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you're wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.

When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn't about Bible study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together. When you are here, I have hope that these pews won't be empty in 10 years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it's too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs, I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she's never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup, determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary. I hear the echos of "Amens" just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can't see my own children learning because, well, it's one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you're doing, but I want you to know it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people... and even on those weeks when you can't see the little moments, it matters to your children.

It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don't need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly-timed, depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it's hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family -- with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy -- are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.

[Source]

Reaching Millennials

Gen yResearch in America shows that 59% of millennials (also known as Gen Y) drop out of church after attending regularly as a teenager. For the past decade, Barna Group has been working to understand this important age group. After interviewing more than 27,000 millennials and conducting 206 studies of this group, they have amassed a significant body of knowledge on millennials. Now they are sharing that knowledge via a special section of their web site that contains research, articles and carefully curated information on this elusive and often confusing age groups. Check it out at barna.org/millennials.

In many ways, Australia is a unique environment that has major differences to the American context, but there is much we can learn from this research as the church continues to seek to pass on faith to the next generation and reach out to young people with no Christian background. Of course, we are very thankful for the many churches and youth groups that are doing well in reaching young people today. May their tribe increase!


Happy Father's Day!

IMG_0466_1024Today is Father's Day, a time to honour all of our dads. I am thankful for my own father and the positive role model he has been for me, despite that fact that he was an orphan and never had either a father or a mother his entire life (see his biography This is my Story for more). He has done his best to be the kind of father to my sister and me that he never had. 

I would also like to thank our three amazing kids - Josiah (and daughter-in-law, Shelley), Ashley (and daughter-in-law Malisa, if there is such a thing!) and Natasha - for making being a dad such an enjoyable experience. I am so proud of each one of them and who they are becoming.

Let's take time to honour our dad's, as imperfect as they have been. If you never had a dad or had one who was absent or abusive, I pray for a fresh understanding and experience of our heavenly Father's love for you today. 

Read and reflect on the following truths ...

John 1:10-13. [Jesus] came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.

Galatians 4:6-7. Because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Ephesians 3:14-19. When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

1 John 3:1-3. See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him. Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure.

For some more thoughts about fatherhood, check out:


You and Your Father

Tomorrow is Father's Day in Australia. Unfortunately, when it comes to dads, the news is not all good. Steve Biddulph, in his best-selling book Manhood, estimates that:

    * 30% of men don’t speak to their father.

    * 30% have a prickly or hostile and difficult relationship.  

    * 30% go through the motions of being a good son and discuss nothing deeper than lawnmowers.

    * Only 10% of men are friends with their father and see them as a source of emotional support.

Those are sad statistics!

In an ideal world, we need to feel love and respect for our fathers and also receive love and respect back from them. However, maybe your relationship with your dad is not a good one. Either way, we have to come to grips with who our father is (or was), especially as men. A man’s masculinity, unconsciously and whether he likes it or not, is often based on his father’s masculinity. Your father’s mannerisms, tendencies, and even words are a part of you and are likely to emerge at any time (“like father, like son”). Who your father was matters. You must come to terms with him, his life, and why he was the way he was.

Biddulph suggests that every man has a serious conversation with his father. Find out about his childhood, his life story, his work, his decisions, and what was going on when he raised you. Find out the truth and don’t be judgmental. Break down the defenses. Get the story straight. It’s important to say, “Thanks”. Your dad may feel like he never “got it right”.

A parent has the power to crush a child’s self esteem. Few realise that, in time, a child holds the same power in reverse. Many fathers go to their grave convinced that they have been an inadequate human being. The pain of this cannot be overstated. Our need for love and approval cannot be overestimated. Maybe forgiving your father will be one of the most freeing things you ever do.

"See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse." [Malachi 4:5-6. NIV]

Yes, your natural father is the foundation of who you are. However, you are responsible to take what you’ve inherited and build upon it. Don’t be a victim by blaming others for where you are. You can’t control what has happened to you but you can control what happens in you. My dad never knew his father and grew up his entire life without a dad. Yet, by God’s grace, he worked through the pain of this and then did his best to become to Sharon and I the father he never had.

Thankfully we have a God who reveals himself as a father. Unfortunately, with the breakdown of marriages and family relationships today, we often develop a marred concept of fatherhood. Our natural fathers often fail in accurately presenting the character and nature of God. But no matter what our natural family situation may have been, God wants to be a perfect spiritual Father to each of us as His children. We can have a close relationship with him and know him as our 'dad' (see Matthew 11:27. John 14:6. 1 John 3:1-2).

Psalm 68:5. He is a father to the fatherless. When your father and mother forsake you, the Lord will take you up.

John 14:18. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.

In our Father God we have identity, acceptance, approval, relationship, a new family, and life purpose. Nothing can separate us from His love - it will never fail. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will provide for us. He watches over us - he knows the hairs on our head. His grace will be sufficient for every need. He will discipline us when we are going the wrong way. He does this because he loves us.

Think about your real dad today ..

Think about your heavenly father today too ...


Lessons from the World’s Greatest Dad (Pt.2)

Dads

3. Instruct Clearly

Father God does not leave us to figure out life by ourselves. He gives us clear instructions about every area of life and explains why his way is full of wisdom (Gen.2:15-17. Deut 30:11-20). God's words are contained in the Scriptures and they present his will and best wishes for our life. They are for our good – our ultimate benefit – not because he wants to take the fun or enjoyment out of life (2 Tim.3:16-17).

As parents, we are to instruct our children in God's way of living (Eph.6:4). We are to make our expectations clear as well as the consequences. Then we need to be consistent in following through. Instruction may be a regular structured family devotion time or it may simply be impromptu conversations as a family does life together. Often that's more powerful, as teaching takes place in the context of life's experiences (Deut.6:1-9).

Children do not respond to rules alone. They respond to relationships. You can get your children to behave by enforcing the rules but that doesn't mean you're getting their loving and obedient response. They may obey on the surface but beneath their may be anger, fear or frustration. Josh McDowell says, "Rules without relationships lead to rebellion."

One of the most powerful forms of instruction is our example – our modelling of the things we expect from our children. Kids tend to do what they see, not just what we tell them they should do. Are our lives worth imitating?

4. Discipline Lovingly

Father God is not just a loving forgiving God who is so soft that never deals with our disobedience. Because he loves us he also disciplines us when we need it (Heb.12:4-12). The Bible is filled with stories of God's children and how they were blessed when they obeyed their Father and the consequences they faced when they disobeyed God's commands.

Great dads take responsibility to lovingly discipline their children. Types of discipline change as children grow and vary for each situation. Discipline should be for defiance (intentional direct disobedience) but not for childishness. Always follow through promptly. Empty threats teach children that they can ignore warnings. Communicate the reason for the discipline. Discipline in love, not in anger. Control your emotions. There is a distinction between crushing the spirit (abuse) and shaping the will (discipline). Don't favour one child over another. Most importantly, apologise when you get it wrong.

5. Empower Fully

God the Father is not a controlling father. He is a releasing Father who wants his children to grow up and take responsibility for their lives. He desires to empower us to full maturity and to join him in his work on planet earth. We see this with Adam and Eve. He gave them a mandate to take dominion over the earth and to be responsible to populate it with their offspring.

As children grow and become teenagers and then young adults we as parents must empower them more and more - to make their own decisions and to be responsible for their lives. The degree of empowerment is determined by the maturity of the son or daughter. You're not going to let a two year old mow the lawns alone and of course, you hopefully aren't going to be still brushing the teeth of your thirteen year old daughter.

As parents, we are responsible to raise our children and teach them God's ways but as they grow and come of age they are responsible for their own choices and we have to release them to that responsibility. This doesn't mean that we don't care, or pray or seek to influence, but we have to gradually let them go (not too soon or not too late). This also means that we should not take inappropriate guilt upon ourselves as parents if our children make unwise choices. There are a lot of parents who feel that they are failures because their children are not serving God or have made unwise choices in their lives. If that's true then God the Father is a failure because his first kids blew it badly. As parents we must empower our children fully – then pray, trust God and believe that the seeds we have planted will bear good fruit in due time.

A final thought ... "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove ... but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child."

Dads, you're important!


Lessons from the World’s Greatest Dad (Pt.1)

DadsIt's that time of year when we honour all the dads – Father's Day. Let's talk about fathering and who better to learn from that the greatest father of all time. No, not me – Father God.

The God of the Bible has revealed himself as one God existing in three persons - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We have the opportunity to be "born again" spiritually into God's family. God wants to be our Father and we can be his children (John 1:12-13. Rom.8:13-17. Gal.4:4-7. 1 John 3:1-2). With the breakdown of marriages and family relationships today, we often develop a marred concept of fatherhood. All natural fathers often fail in accurately presenting the character and nature of God. But no matter what our natural family situation may have been God wants to be a perfect spiritual Father to each of us as his children.

What do great fathers do? There are many things but here are 5 important habits of every father.

1. Love Unconditionally

Our Father God is a God of love. Genuine love is not merely an emotion but a choice to act in the best interests of another person. God's love toward us is his desire for our ultimate good. What's amazing about God's love for us is that it is not based on our performance or any specific conditions we have to meet. In fact, he chooses to love us despite of our sin and our weakness (Rom.5:8-11). He is quick to forgive us when we humbly confess our sins. He is patient, long-suffering and slow to anger.

As dads we need to take a loving stance towards our children no matter what they do. Our love for them is based on the fact that they are ours. We must beware of creating a "performance based" environment that causes our children to be uncertain of our love and as a result always seeking our approval.

2. Affirm Frequently

God the Father expresses his love in a variety of ways, once of which is affirmation or encouragement (Matt.3:16-17; 17:5). On a daily basis, Jesus knew and experienced his Father's love and affirmation. He was always speaking about his Father and was able to stand against strong opposition and criticism because he knew he was doing his Father's will.

Great dads affirm and encourage your children as people – not just for what they can or can't do. Our words are very powerful (Prov.18:21. Eph.4:29-32). Don't approach parenting with the goal of correcting, disciplining and keeping your children in line. Look for where you can sincerely praise, compliment and encourage your kids. Notice and approve of what they do right. Then you can correct mistakes in a positive climate rather than continually pointing out what they're doing wrong. We all thrive under encouragement. Praise is a motivator for proper behaviour.

[Part 2]


The Anatomy of a Father (by J John)

DadWith the celebration of Father's Day this coming Sunday, I thought this post by J John on "The Anatomy of Fathering" was appropriate ... 

In the New Testament God is described as a father, and human fathers are to be imitators of God the Father. Fathering requires many skills and one way to think of them is in terms of parts of the body. Fathers need:

1. A Heart
Children need to be loved, with a deep caring love that is more than an emotion. Children also need to know they are loved. The Bible talks about God as a loving father, whose heart goes out to men and women.

In Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), having let the rebellious son go, the father waits for his return anxiously and then runs to greet him, embracing him, restoring him back to sonship and ordering a celebration. 

2. A Brain
Fathering requires wisdom and common sense. We need to think before:

* we make decisions. Careers, jobs, voluntary commitments – all can have a positive or negative impact on children.

* we speak. With children it is all too easy to win the verbal battle but end with emotional and relational scars which take time to heal.

Heart and head need to work together.

3. Eyes
As fathers, we need to look ahead, to develop skills, disciplines and positive attitudes in our children that will still be of value in the future. We need vision to think through:

* If the Christian faith is the most important thing, are we laying down biblical foundations in our children’s lives?

* What are we doing together as a family? Are we seeking to inspire our children and instil skills and values that will endure?

We also need to look closely at our children to see with cool and compassionate eyes their gifts and deficiencies. If they show particular skills or interests – even if these surprise us – we should encourage them to develop the gifts God has given.

4. Ears
Listening to our children is important: it tells them that they are of value and it encourages them to communicate. If we listen when they are saying little of importance they are more likely to communicate with us when they have something of vital importance to say.

Listen to everything they say and pay attention to deeper meanings. Sometimes, amid shouts for ‘more pizza’, there is a cry for help or advice. The discerning listener will hear something important in the noise.

5. A Nose
Have ‘a nose for trouble’. Fathers need to discern unease even when nothing is said. The discerning father knows his child and knows, however well hidden, however deep down, whether there is happiness or gloom.

This skill of parental intuition will help you avoid either wading in and intervening when there is nothing wrong or not intervening when there is something that needs attention. Acquire that ability to sense the hidden alarm bell .

6. A Mouth
With our mouths, we both speak and kiss. We need to use words wisely – they can be tools that bless or weapons that wound. It is easy to fire off hurtful criticism; it takes care to craft words that affirm a child’s value as well as helpfully adjust their attitudes and behaviour.

7. Hands
Hands are for holding on and letting go. There are times to hold on to your child: when they are scared, want guidance or need support. To fail to supply those hands at this time is to fail big time. Yet there are also times to let go. Some parenting fails because children are let free of the parental grip when they shouldn’t be; some fail because they are never let free.

8. Feet
Parenting cannot be done from the end of a smartphone. We must be with our children when they need us and we may need to go the extra mile.

If you get a phone call from far away the best response may be to get up, go and be there with them. In a world increasingly dominated by ‘virtual’ presence, there is something tangible and effective about having a physical presence. It’s a great thing for kids to be able to say to their fathers, ‘You were there when I needed you.’

9. Guts
Successful parenting is a no-nonsense, tough business. Christian parenting makes special demands and at times fathers will have to draw lines, stand up and be counted, or be unpopular and frowned upon by friends. Any man can father a child, but it takes guts to truly be a father to a child.

10. Knees
Finally, parenting will drive you to prayer. You will need to pray for protection for you and your child, for guidance, for forgiveness and healing.

There are many things that men could boast of – a sporting record, an outstanding business career, a stunning house and gardens. Yet one of the greatest achievements is to raise children whom we can honour and who can honour us. That is a work of grace and we need to pray for that.

In conclusion, being a father to three sons and being honest, by the time we get the hang of parenting our children have left home!

Revd. Canon J.John (www.philotrust.com)


Modern Family (Pt.3) - Singleness

Today, let’s talk about being single. Singles are people who have never married (because they chose not to marry or have not found a partner) or those who have been married but are single again because of the death of a spouse or through divorce. This includes single parents. American theologian Stanley Hauerwas argues that Christianity was the very first religion to hold up single adulthood as a viable way of life. Nearly all ancient religions and cultures made an absolute value of the family and of bearing children, which was seen as the only way to significance and leaving a legacy. In ancient cultures, long-term single adults were considered to be living a human life that was less than fully realised. But Christianity’s founder, Jesus Christ, and leading theologian, St Paul, were both single. Early Christianity affirmed the goodness of single life as no other faith or worldview ever had, never pressuring people to marry. As part of a church family, singles should never lack brothers and sisters, father and mothers, in Christ.  The future is guaranteed by God, not by having a family. Singleness is not “Plan B for the Christian life.” Marriage is not a superior status to singleness or visa versa. Yes, God created marriage but it is not a requirement for everyone. Both marriage and singleness are appropriate options for life.

Jesus, the Single

Through his death and resurrection, Jesus brought about the long-awaited redemption of humanity. His teaching instructs us how to live our life but his entire life itself is an example for us. Jesus was a fulfilled and joyful person, although single and unmarried. Single people can learn a lot from how Jesus lived.

1. Develop a Close Relationship with your Heavenly Father (Identity)

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was central to who he was as a person. They had a close and intimate relationship, Jesus using the term “Abba, Father”, or Daddy (Mark 14:36. John 11:41; 12:27, 28; 15:16; 17:1, 5, 11, 21, 24, 25). Jesus took regular time to talk to his Father and this relationship was clearly the source of his identity, his security, his approval, his fulfilment and his contentment. This enabled Jesus to face opposition, criticism, fame and popularity, slander, lies, rejection (forsaken by even his close friends), verbal attack, injustice and physical abuse.

Each one of us has a strong need for a sense of identity, acceptance, love, security, approval, and significance. We can easily look for this in relationships, including marriage, or in achievement. But these are unstable sources for these primary needs. Anything, even a good thing, that we make the primary thing in our life becomes an “idol” that replaces what God alone can be for us. Jesus came to reveal the Father to each one of us (John 14:6) and to provide a way for us to have an intimate relationship with him, so that we too could find this strong sense of identity in our relationship with Him. Through Christ we can have spiritual birth into God's family (John 1:12-13. 1 John 3:1-2. Gal.4:4-7. Rom.8:15. 2 Cor.6:17-18. Matt.5:16; 6:1, 6, 8; 7:11). We need a revelation of Father God and an ongoing dynamic relationship with Him, walking in his amazing love for us (Eph.1:17; 3:14-21).

Unfortunately, because of the breakdown of marriage and family relationships, we often end up with distorted concept of God as a Father. However, no matter what our earthly father was like, God is a perfect Father - kind and just in all His ways. Father God loves us unconditionally, not based on our performance (Rom.5:8. 1 Jn.4:7-10, 16-18); he gives us a sense of worth and value; in him we have a sense of identity, security and significance as sons and daughters of the living God; he provides us with appropriate discipline, when necessary, because he loves us (Heb.12:4-11); and he cares for us, giving us his protection and provision. Do you know God as your Father? How is your relationship with Him?

2. Build Healthy Friendships (Belonging)

As strong as Jesus’ relationship was with His Father, he wasn't a loner. He developed many friendships and relationships with other people including his natural family, his twelve disciples (of which Peter, James and John were his closest friends), and a number of women who he had healthy non-romantic relationships with (Matt.27:55-56; Luke 8:1-3). Jesus did life in community with others and thereby experienced a strong sense of belonging in his life.

God created us to communicate and relate to others. No one is born to live alone or in isolation (Gen.2:18). We all need to be accepted, loved and have a sense of belonging. Two are better than one (Ecc.4:9-12) and good times are spent with friends. Our friends influence us probably more than anyone else (Prov.12:26. 1 Cor.15:33-34). Therefore, it is important to choose the right friends. Good friendships don't just happen. They are built over time. They require genuine love, which is putting the interests of the other person before our own (1 Cor.13:4-8a. John 15:12-13. 1 Pet.4:7-8), and loyalty, which includes being faithful and trustworthy (Prov.17:17; 18:24).

Romantic relationships need to be handled with care, understanding the difference between friendship (platonic relationships), romance (dating or going out with a potential marriage partner) and marriage (preceded by engagement). When we move too far, too soon there is the possibility of hurt, pain, broken relationships, and emotional scars. God’s will is sexual purity before and within marriage. When choosing a potential marriage partner, consider compatibility (spiritual life, character, personality, background, physical attraction and life purpose), affirmation from family and trusted friends, and the test of time.

3. Serve a Cause Beyond Yourself (Purpose)

Jesus gave his life for a cause beyond himself. He lived for others, in genuine love, compassion and concern. He focused his energy and zeal into extending God’s work on the earth (John 10:15). He came to serve and to give (Phil.2:5-11. Jn.13:1-17. Mt.20:27-28). Jesus lived and died for others.

Selfishness is a major problem in our society today. Whether single or married, it is easy to spend our time, money and energy on selfish pursuits, to be pre-occupied with our own needs, desires, and interests. Jesus died for our sin and our selfishness, and he desires us to die to self and live for God and others (Mark 8:34-37). Each one of us has unique talents, abilities and spiritual gifts. God wants us to use them to serve others and to advance His cause in the world. This requires us to renew our mind and change our thinking (Rom.12:1-2). It’s a call to be other’s centred living (Phil.2:5). It’s about waking up each day with a mindset that says, "I am a servant". Take initiative. Commit yourself to the service of God and others – at home, work, church, school, and in our world. Serving a cause beyond yourself leads to greater joy, meaning and fulfilment in life.

Sample Reflection Questions

1. Ask the singles how they felt about this message in the Modern Family series. What was most helpful? What else could have been said?

2. How can married couples and families in the church make single people more welcome?

3. In what ways is singleness sometimes considered “Plan B” in our Western culture?

4. Reflect on the potential impact of knowing God as our Father and drawing our identity and significance from who we are, not what we do.

5. What are some important principles for followers of Christ to consider when dating someone?

6. Some singles fear marriage, preferring their independence. How can we help people avoid the “You aren’t a whole person until you’re married” mentality and the “You shouldn't marry until you have professionally made it big and you find the perfect partner who won’t try to change you in any way” message that often comes from our contemporary culture?

7. Consider some ways single people can develop a sense of living for a cause beyond themselves. 


The Life of a Preacher's Kid

PkI am a PK - a "preacher's kid" or a TO - a "theological offspring", as my father used to call me. Growing up in a pastor's or minister's home is not easy. Many people think you should be perfect or at least have an extra holiness gene. It's just not true. Your surname brings all sorts of pressures and expectations, many of them unrealistic. No wonder far too many PKs drop out of the church and some from faith altogether. 

I am a survivor. People often ask me why. It's hard to explain ... but a few things I do mention are:

1. My parents were the real deal. They were the same on the platform as they were off. No masks. No pretending. Life integrity influences more than any words that could be said.

2. My parents never expected me to be perfect. Sure, they disciplined me when I messed up, but they let people know that I was a normal kid, like everyone else, and not to put undue pressure on me.

3. They never pressured me or my sister to be in church ministry. In fact, they encouraged us to do other things, knowing that if God called us, it would all sort out. Funny enough, both my sister and I have been involved in church work for most of our adult lives. 

4. They made ministry life fun. We got to go places, do things and meet people that many people never have the opportunity for. I was enriched by all of these experiences. 

Other than that and even with all of this, I still know it is the grace of God at work in my life that has me where I am today - nothing more, nothing less. It's all God - for each one of us. You can't get much beyond this simply yet profound truth:

Eph.2:8-10. Saving is all God's idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. Message Bible

Do you know a preacher's kid? Why not reach out to them today and let them know you love and appreciate them, just for who they are - not because of the family they belong to.

Here is a recent article about preacher's kids that's worth the read:

Beneath the Stereotypes - a Stressful Life for Preacher's Kids

The day Franklin Graham was born, he received a telegram. “Welcome to this sin-sick world,” the Western Union message said, “and to the challenge you have to walk in your daddy’s footsteps." It didn’t take long for Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, to realize that being a preacher’s kid would be both a blessing and a burden. “I love my parents,” Graham said in a recent interview, “but there came a time where I couldn’t let my parents live my life.” After a rebellious youth, Graham found a straight and narrow path that took him to the pulpit and the helm of his father’s Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

But for every Franklin Graham, there’s a Friedrich Nietzsche, the atheist philosopher whose father was a Lutheran minister. For every Condoleezza Rice, there’s an Alice Cooper, the heavy-metal singing, fake-blood spouting son of a preacher man.  

Beneath the stereotypes of preacher’s kids as either goody two-shoes or devilish hellions lies a tense and sometimes taxing reality, the children of clergy say. Studies show that many PK’s, as the lingo goes, struggle with issues of identity, privacy and morality. There’s even a support group, Preacher’s Kids International, dedicated to the “celebration and recovery of those who grew up in the parsonage.”

It’s unclear how the pressures of life as a prominent pastor’s child affected Matthew Warren, who took his own life on April 5. Warren was the son of megachurch pastor Rick Warren. Warren and leaders of his Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., declined to comment on Matthew, who was 27 when he died. After his son’s death, Warren said in a statement that Matthew had “struggled from birth from mental illness, dark holes of depression.” If Matthew Warren also battled with his role as the son of a world famous pastor and bestselling author, Rick Warren did not mention it in his brief statement. Still, after Matthew Warren’s death, several pastors and children of clergy stepped forward to offer empathy.

Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, said he identifies with Matthew Warren as a fellow PK and as someone who has also suffered from depression. Jay Bakker, the son of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, said he identifies with Matthew Warren as a fellow PK and as someone who has also suffered from depression. “It’s especially hard because his dad wrote the book `The Purpose Driven Life,’ which has this incredibly optimistic tone,” Bakker said. “My parents wrote the same kind of books, and it was like, 'Things are good for everyone else. What’s wrong with me?' I can’t imagine the pressure he must have felt.”

Preacher’s kids are often considered an extension of their parents’ ministry, Bakker said, and are expected to put on a happy face, even during tough times. At the height of the Bakker’s success during the 1980s, before their fall from grace, they sent thousands of copies of Jay’s school photos to loyal viewers of their show “PTL.” “You start to feel like you’re a prop,” Bakker said, “because you know that, behind the scenes, mom and dad fought on the way to church.”

Baptist pastor Corey Hodges said Matthew Warren’s death prompted him to reflect on the lives of his own three boys. “A pastor’s family has to share him or her with church-members,” Hodges wrote in his hometown paper, The Salt Lake Tribune. When tragedy strikes, pastors are expected to counsel their congregation, even if it means missing their children’s basketball games and school plays. “My boys masked their disappointment, but being a child of a pastor myself, I understood how much it hurt them,” Hodges wrote.

The children of non-Christian clergy struggle with similar issues, writes Israel N. Levitz in “A Practical Guide to Rabbinic Counseling." “It is well known,” Levitz writes, “that the higher expectations placed upon children of clergy create for them inordinate difficulties in growing up.” As Levitz notes, many rebel against those expectations, acting out to gain attention from their parents and to assert their own identity.

For Franklin Graham, his crusading father was often away from home, schoolmates tested his toughness and his behavior was scrutinized for chinks in the Graham family honor. He struggled to forge his own identity while remaining true to his father’s evangelical ideals. He didn’t always succeed: he fought, drank, smoked and got kicked out of college.

“It wasn’t that I wanted to rebel against God or my parents,” Graham said, “I just wanted to live my own life. But the more I thought I was going to have fun and show my independence, the more miserable I became.”

After a series of its own dramatic twists, Jay Bakker’s life has arrived fairly close to where it began. Like his infamous father, he’s a pastor. The first service at his new Revolution Church in Minneapolis will be on May 12. Bakker is married but doesn’t have children of his own yet. When he does start a family, he’s sure of at least one thing. “I wouldn’t use my kids in my ministry,” he said. “I’ll probably be a stay-at-home dad.”

[Full Article]


Modern Family (Pt.2) - Parenting

ParYou can become a parent in an instant but learning the art of parenting can take a lifetime. Children don’t come with instructions but thankfully we can glean God’s wisdom through the Scriptures, from other effective parents, and from the common sense that comes from life experience. God describes himself in parental terms (as a “Father”) and calls us his “children.” Each one of us has the opportunity to be “born again” spiritually into God's family (John 1:11-13. Rom.8:14-16. Gal.4:4-7. 1John 3:1-2). No matter what our natural family situation may have been God wants to be a perfect spiritual parent to his children. As we reflect on the character and behaviour of God, we can learn much about parenting.

The Art of Parenting

1. Love Unconditionally

Our Father God is a God of love (1 John 4:7-10, 16-18). Genuine love is not merely an emotion but a choice to act in the best interests of another person. God’s love toward us is his desire for our ultimate good. “Unconditional love” is not a term used specifically in the Bible, but it is a biblical concept. What’s amazing about God’s love for us is that it is not based on our performance or any specific conditions we have to meet. In fact, he chooses to love us despite our sin and our weakness. When God’s first children, Adam and Eve, disobeyed his clear command, God the Father was obviously very disappointed with them and he had to discipline them. But he did not destroy them or disown them. He still acted in a loving manner towards them. He moved towards them to restore the relationship. God the Father does the same to us (see Rom.5:8-11). He is quick to forgive us when we humbly confess our sins. He is patient, long-suffering and slow to anger. Amazingly, his forgiveness is unlimited, based on our confession and repentance (Ps.103:1-5, 9-14. 1 Jn.1:9). We can be secure in his love because nothing can separate us from his it (Rom.8:35). His love will never fail (1 Cor.13:8). He has promised to never leave us or forsake us.

As parents we need to take a loving stance towards our children no matter what they do. Our love for them is based on the fact that they are ours. We must beware of creating a performance-based environment that causes our children to be uncertain of our love and as a result always seeking our approval. Let’s ask God to fill us with his kind of love – a love that reaches out towards people, no matter what. Love means giving people our acceptance, as well as our time and our attention.

2. Affirm Frequently

God the Father expresses his love in a variety of ways, one of which is affirmation or encouragement. Notice his encouragement of Jesus during his time on earth (Matt.3:16-17; 17:5). On a daily basis, Jesus knew and experienced his Father’s love and affirmation. He was always speaking about his Father and was able to stand against strong opposition and criticism because he knew he was doing his Father’s will.

Affirm and encourage your children as people – not just for what they can or can’t do. Our words are very powerful (Prov.18:21. Eph.4:29-32). Authority figures carry great power and influence. God calls us as parents to use that for good – for building up rather than tearing down. To put in qualities such as hope, courage, confidence and faith – not fear, timidity and doubt. Affirmation takes time, good listening and attention. We all thrive under encouragement, affirmation and praise. Praise becomes a motivator for proper behaviour.

3. Instruct Clearly

Father God does not leave us to figure out life by ourselves. He gives us clear instructions about every area of life and explains why his way is full of wisdom. Notice his approach to Adam and Eve (Gen.2:15-17) as well as to his people, Israel (Deut.30:11-19).  Jesus did the same for his followers and we have the written word of God for our instruction (2 Tim.3:16-17).

As parents, we are to instruct our children in God’s way of living. We are to make our expectations clear as well as consequences. Then we need to be consistent in following through (see Eph.6:4). Frustration for children often comes from unclear expectations and/or inconsistent follow through. We are to show our children how to live successfully and why. We don’t just want rote obedience when we’re around but we want to build values and morals into our children that will guide them to make right choices even when we’re not around. A good parent teaches about what is important in life. Train your child in the way they should go (Prov.22:6). This involves modelling values and character to your children (see Deut.6:1-9). Children do not respond to rules alone. They respond to relationships. Josh McDowell says, “Rules without relationships lead to rebellion.”

4. Discipline Lovingly 

Father God is not just a loving forgiving God who is so soft that never deals with our disobedience. Because he loves us he also disciplines us when we need it (Heb.12:4-12). Disobedience displeases the Father. It is a direct assault on his authority and leadership. Also, the consequences of disobedience destroy us. As parents, we have a responsibility to lovingly discipline our children (Prov.29:17). Unless there are painful consequences for disobedience, obedience will never be learned. How we do that is very important. God does not want us to abuse or harshly punish our children in a way that damages them. We must be especially careful not to discipline in anger.

5. Empower Fully

God is not a controlling Father. He is a releasing Father who wants his children to grow up and take responsibility for their lives. He desires to empower us to full maturity and to join him in his work on planet earth. We see this with Adam and Eve. He gave them a free will – the ability to choose. 

As children grow and become teenagers and then young adults we as parents must empower them more and more - to make their own decisions and to be responsible for their lives. The degree of empowerment is determined by the maturity. We are responsible “to” raise our children and teach them God’s ways but as they grow and come of age they are responsible “for” their own choices and we have to release them to that responsibility (Rom.14:12). This doesn’t mean we don’t care, or pray or seek to influence, but we have to gradually let them go. This also means that we should not take inappropriate guilt upon ourselves as parents if our children make unwise choices. There are a lot of parents who feel that they are failures because their children are not serving God or have made unwise choices in their lives. If that’s true then God the Father is a failure because his first kids blew it badly! As parents we must empower our children fully – then pray, trust God and believe that the seeds you have planted will bear good fruit in due time.

Sample Reflection Questions

1. What were your natural parents like and how has that influenced your view of God?

2. Reflect on the concept of “unconditional love”.

3. Think about some of the unique joys and challenges of the different stages of a child’s life (baby, toddler, primary school age, teenager, young adult, etc) and how it relates to parenting.

4. What are some of the changes that need to take place in a parent’s approach as a child moves into the teenage then young adult years?

5. What are some keys to helping children find their own relationship with God?

6. Consider the concept of “personal responsibility” as outlined in Ezekiel 18:20 and Romans 14:12. How does this relate to the role God requires of parents and leaders?

7. How can we provide more support for single parents, foster parents and blended families?

Part 3 - Singleness


Modern Family (Pt.1): Marriage

MarrGod invented marriage as a covenant relationship between a man and a woman (Gen.2:18-25). Marriage is one of the most intimate of human relationships, as a husband and wife join every aspect of their lives together for life. Getting married is easy but building a strong marriage takes time and effort. A great wedding doesn’t make a great marriage. The key to any great marriage is LOVE – a commitment to put the best interests of the other person before our own. Let’s look at four important steps we can take to build a great marriage.

1. Lay a Good Foundation

If you want to build something to last, you need to start with a strong foundation, and a marriage is no different (Prov.24:3-4). Some good questions to ask are: Why did you get married? What is the purpose of your marriage? What holds you together? Ingredients of a strong foundation include: faith in God, friendship, commitment and an understanding of partnership.   

See your marriage as a friendship, not merely a functional relationship. The reason that God created Eve was as a friend and partner for Adam (Gen.2:18). Up until that time, Adam was alone and needed relationship with someone compatible to him. Like any friendship, marriage requires ongoing time and effort in order to keep growing closer together rather than drifting apart.

Include commitment in the foundation of your marriage. True love is a commitment not just a feeling. Feelings come and go; commitment stays the same. Character is the ability to carry out a decision long after the emotion in which that decision was made is gone. Strong and long-lasting marriages are not necessarily problem free, but they're committed to make it last. Make commitment, not feelings, the foundation of your family.

See your relationship as a partnership. Adam and Eve were both made in the image of God and before sin they ruled together (Gen.1:27-28). After sin, gender wars entered as did division and dominance (Gen.3:16-19). Jesus and Paul, despite living in a highly patriarchal society, made strong efforts to move us back to the beginning where men and women are seen as equals before God (Gal.3:26-28). All followers of Christ are to submit to one another in loving service (Eph.5:21). Even when referring to the man as the “head“ of the home (one of the most abused Scriptures in the Bible), Paul used the sacrificial servant leadership of Jesus as our example (Eph.5:22-33). Healthy marriages are not hierarchical and there is no room for suppression, abuse or domination. Like the love modelled by the Trinity, the husband and wife are to model genuine love for the other, always acting in the best interests of one another and the family (including in decision-making).   

Our relationship with God is vital as it is the source of the love that we need to deal with the sinful selfishness we are all prone to and to put the other person first in sacrificial love. Lack of a vital spiritual life is at the root of most relational problems. Praying and serving God’s purposes together can add great strength to a marriage. After all, a 3-fold cord is not easily broken (Ecc.4:12).

2. Offer Love Meaningfully

Genuine love is essential to any healthy relationship. It is the glue that holds people together over time. Learning to express and communicate our love is a skill to be developed. It’s easy to say “I love you” but do our lives say the same thing and are we sharing that love in a way that is meaningful to our spouse?

There are different ways of expressing love and each of them can be seen as a language. Five common “love languages” are: (1) encouraging words (Prov.18:21. Eph.4:29), (2) serving (Mark 10:45. Gal.5:13. Phil.2:3-7), (3) giving gifts (John 3:16. Acts 20:35), (4) spending time together (Eph.5:15-17), and (5) appropriate physical touch (Mark 10:16). Discover the primary love language of your spouse and make an intentional effort to communicate love to them in a way that is meaningful to them on a regular basis.

3. Value the Art of Conversation

Someone once said, “Marriage is one long conversation, with an occasional disagreement along the way.” All relationships are built, maintained and developed through communication. When communication breaks down, so do relationships. Communication involves listening and speaking. James gives us some good advice about this: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19. NIV).” Learn the art of asking good questions and then of listening attentively. Seek first to understand then to be understood. Communication is the key to understanding and understanding is the key to intimacy. Value and appreciate the differences. Talk about everything (God, friendship, family, sex, career, church, etc). Be open and honest with each other. Share your deepest feelings – hopes and fears. Make regular time for uninterrupted conversation.

4. Endure the Rough Patches

No marriage is problem-free. It is inevitable that challenges, problems, conflicts and disagreements will occur along the journey of life for any husband and wife. How we navigate these times determines the health and strength of the marriage. Marriages with the biggest problems don't necessarily break up. It's the way we respond that is most important. Challenges can make us stronger and even bring us closer together, if they are handled well.

Learn to deal with conflict in a constructive manner. Anger gets us in trouble but it is pride that keeps us there. Be humble, apologise for wrongs you have done and choose to forgive (Eph.4:26-32). Attack the problem, not the person. Learn to reconnect emotionally after a conflict. The prime destroyer of marriage is hard heartedness. If you get stuck, then don't be embarrassed to ask for help. Attend a marriage enrichment seminar or see a pastor, a counsellor or a mature Christian.

[For more BLOG posts on this important topic, see Marriage Matters]

Sample Reflection Questions

 1. If you are married, reflect on your marriage. How did you meet? What first attracted you to your spouse? What are some of the joys of marriage? What are some of the challenges? What keeps you together?

2. What part does a relationship with God play in a Christian marriage?

3. Reflect on the the concept of “partnership” as it relates to marriage.

4. The Bible says nothing specific about the “role” of a husband or wife, especially when it relates to certain tasks. Consider some of the inherited traditions and cultural stereotypes that exist today.

5. Think about the five “love languages” – encouraging words, serving, giving gifts, spending time together, and physical tough. What is your primary love language as well as that of your partner? How can this awareness help enrich your marriage relationship?

6. What are some ways to add freshness and excitement into a marriage, when things may have become a bit stale or routine due to familiarity?

7. What are some keys to resolving a conflict effectively?

8. How can we deal with anger in a more constructive manner within marriage?

9. What are some steps we can take to “affair-proof” a marriage relationship?

10. Take some time to pray for your spouse and your marriage relationship. 

Part 2 - Parenting

More Marriage Matters


Modern Family

FamilyA Changing Culture

Just mention the word “family” in society today and you’ll get a variety of opinion and perspectives on what it is and what it should be. Changes to the family are reflected in the typical TV family. We've come a long way from Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, The Cosby Show and The Brady Bunch (anyone remember The Munsters or The Adams' Family?) through shows like Friends (a bunch of friends living together in a pseudo-family), The Simpsons and now Modern Family.

The traditional “nuclear family” (a dad and mum and a few kids) is becoming less common (some sociologists would say “extinct”). Of course, in many Asian cultures, the “extended family” (including grandparents and other relatives) is still the norm. In the West, more and more people are living alone, single parent families are becoming more common, as are de facto marriages (including children - in 2009, 35% of births were outside of marriage) and blended or step families (as of 1997, 1 in 3 marriages in Australia is now a remarriage).

[For statistical purposes, the Australian Bureau of Statistics now defines families as: Two or more persons, one of whom is at least 15 years of age, who are related by blood, marriage (registered or de facto), adoption, step or fostering; and who are usually resident in the same household. That is, members of families who live in different households are not treated as part of the same family unit]

Currently, here in Australia 43% of first marriages end in divorce; 50% of second marriages end in divorce; and 70% of subsequent marriages break up.

All of this has huge ramifications for society.

• More and more kids are growing up in fragile homes (the number of children who do not reach the age of 15 in an intact family with both of their biological parents has almost doubled within a generation).

• Family conflict and parental separation has adverse effects on children

• There is an increase in child abuse and neglect.

• More children are in out-of-home care.

• Issues for teenagers are on the rise, including binge drinking, self harming, risky sexual behaviour (at younger ages and with more people), mental disorders, and juvenile offences.

• More kids are growing up with out a dad around … an increasingly fatherless generation.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world (doing life within the culture we find ourselves in, not isolated or removed from it) but not of the world (having a different ethic and value – that of love or self-giving sacrifice). We want all of our relationships to reflect the God we worship – a God who has revealed himself as love. That doesn’t just happen and it’s not easy. It requires the help of God’s Spirit and our commitment to be the kind of people who help to create healthy families and relationships, so that they are places of love, laugher and life … not of hatred, pain and damage. 

Part 1 - Marriage

Part 2 - Parenting

Part 3 - Singleness


Is BIGGER always Better? Beware the Relentless Pursuit of MORE

FishI love the story about the Harvard MBA who was in Mexico for his company. He saw a small Mexican fishing boat pulling up the dock and one solitary fisherman got out and held four huge fish on a stringer. The Harvard guy was amazed at the quality of the fish. He asked the fisherman, “How long did it take you to catch those?” He said, “About three hours.” “What are you going to do with them?” The fisherman said, “They’re going to feed my family.” The Harvard guy was intrigued and said, “What do you do with the rest of your time?” The fisherman said, “I sleep late. I play with my children, I have a siesta with my wife. I fish for a while then I go to bed.” The business side of this Harvard grad kicked into high gear. He said, “You could work nine hours a day and catch three times the number of fish! Then you could buy a second boat. Teach someone else to catch those quality of fish. You could buy a whole fleet of fishing boats. You could ship your fish to restaurants all over the world. You could move to New York, put your fish catching business on the stock market.” Before he even realized what he was saying the Harvard guy said, “If you work hard enough, long enough you can eventually retire by the coast, sleep late every morning, play with your children.” Hmmm ...

[Source: Sermon by Brad Johnson from Saddleback on When Your Work Doesn't Work (May 2000)]


The 10 Commandments From a Dog's Point of View

IMG_0944Our daughter, Natasha, turns 20 in a few weeks. We bought her a dog, with some help from the RSPCA. He is a labrador and is a little over 2 years of age. His name is Oscar. Oscar is very cute and has a peaceful nature.

While looking through a few other dog pounds with my wife, Nicole, we saw the following 10 Commandments from a Dog's Point of View. Worth repeating ...

1. My life is likely to last 10-15 years; any separation from you will be painful for me. Remember that before you buy me.

2. Give me time to understand what you want from me; don't be impatient, short-tempered, or irritable.

3. Place your trust in me and I will always trust you back. Respect is earned not given as an inalienable right.

4. Don't be angry with me for long and don't lock me up as punishment; I am not capable of understanding why. I only know I have been rejected. You have your work, entertainment, and friends, but I only have you.

5. Talk to me sometimes. Even if I don't understand your words, I do understand your voice and your tone. You only have to look at my tail.

6. Be aware that however you treat me, I'll never forget it, and if it's cruel, it may affect me forever.

7. Please don't hit me. I can't hit back, but I can bite and scratch, and I really don't ever want to do that.

8. Before you scold me for being uncooperative, obstinate, or lazy, ask yourself if something might be bothering me. Perhaps I'm not getting the right foods or I've been out in the sun too long, or my heart is getting old and weak. It may be I am just dog-tired.

9. Take care of me when I get old. You too will grow old and may also need love, care, comfort, and attention.

10. Go with me on difficult journeys. Never say, "I can't bear to watch" or "Let it happen in my absence". Everything is easier for me if you are there. Remember, regardless of what you do, I will always love you.

[Source - Stan Rawlinson]


Stages of Life (Late Adulthood)

LateThe pool of those living beyond 100 – the centenarians of society - is increasing in leaps and bounds (70,000 in USA in 2007 increasing to 834,000 in 2050; over 4,252 in Australia as of June, 2011, up from 203 just 40 years ago). Demographers are now starting to the number of ‘super-centenarians’ – people over the age of 110 (300-450 currently)!

So life can be prolonged, but eventually we will all die … unless Jesus returns in our lifetime. Eventually the life clock must run down and the human body must die.

People at this stage of life need to feel loved and valued, especially in a society that values productivity and youth, qualities that are in short supply among the aged. What a shame it is that elderly are often denigrated by society.

Let’s tap into the historical mind of these people – their memories and experiences, their perspective, their stories, their vision. They have done a lot of living – successes and failures, as well as mistakes and solutions. The greatest gift we can give our elders is our attention. We must simply listen to them once again. In doing so, we can gain wisdom beyond our years.

Late in life, the elderly ask themselves, “Did my life have any meaning?”

Some Suggestions: 

1. Think about how you would you like to be remembered. 

2. Visit family and friends. Offer your presence.

3. Comfort someone who has lost a loved one.

4. Volunteer your time or contribute financially to a good cause.

As you reflect on the various stages of life that we have covered, where are you? What about those around you? What's happening in your life right now? What is God up to?


Stages of Life (Mature Adulthood)

AdultIn medieval times the Catholic worldview of the human life span was often depicted as a circle. In the centre was the image of Christ. Around this divine hub, were illustrations of the different ages of life from infancy to the grave. Each age, like a spoke, was equidistant from the hub. This suggested that every point in human life existed in the same sacred relationship to the divine.

During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, this symbolism underwent a profound and lasting change. Instead of a circle, the image of an ascending and descending staircase became prevalent. The image seemed better suited to the new importance of work, ambition and changing social roles in the emerging market economy of Protestant Europe. This is where we developed our notion of the stages of life, like steps going upward and then downward. At the highest step was a man or woman at the age of fifty – the peak of life.

The staircase model of human development, which views the fifties as the beginning of decline, has undergone a major transformation of late. Nowadays experts are more likely to conceptualise the life span tableau as five ascending stairs (a decade for each), with a wide platform at the top for those in their fifties and sixties (and even for many in their seventies and eighties), before a rather quick drop into illness and death. At age fifty, most of us can look forward to another thirty years of life. Advances in medicine and education mean that people in their 50s, 60s, and 70s are healthier, better educated, and have the prospect of far more able years ahead of them than was the case for their parents or grandparents.

For many people, mature adulthood represents the time of greatest satisfaction. You’ve passed beyond the insecurities of early adulthood (“Will anyone love me?” “Will I find a place for myself in the world of work?”). You’ve reconciled with many of the anxieties of midlife (“I’m growing older!” “Will I achieve my dreams?”). But you haven’t reached old age when chronic illness and concerns about approaching death can take centre stage. You’ve raised a family perhaps, and seen your young ones leave the nest and live independent lives, freeing you up to enjoy your own life more fully. After years of work, you’ve hopefully accumulated at least some degree of financial security. You’ve perhaps begun to take on satisfying new roles as a grandparent, mentor, and/or community leader.

Contrary to all those “over the hill” greeting cards – life in the 50s, 60s and beyond can in many cases be better than what went before. Of course, we need to adjust to an aging body. “At 40, you know you’re not as young as you used to be. At 50, you realise it almost every day.” Adopting a healthy lifestyle helps immensely.

A vital key to successful aging appears to involve the capacity to give back to the community in some meaningful way. Its time to nurture and care for future generations on a more collective basis. Generativity is about receiving something from the past, putting your unique contribution into it, and passing it on to the future. It's what you do when you stand between the generations.  This greatly affects psychological well-being at this stage of life.

Many people at this age feel squeezed between two generations. One woman said, “It is as if there are two mirrors before me, each held at a partial angle. I see part of myself in my mother who is growing old, and part of her in me. In the other mirror, I see part of myself in my daughter. I have had some dramatic insights, just looking into those mirrors … It is a set of revelations that I suppose can only come when you are in the middle of three generations.” Role reversal can occur too, where the children become the parents and the parents become the children. For instance, a woman may just finish raising their children then have to care for ailing parents. This can be draining for some.

At some stage, parents die. That’s hard for all of us. Alexander Levy says, “Parents provide a unique spot on this planet, which is called “home”, where we can return, if we need to, to be loved and feel like we belong … after parents dies, its gone.” This is an unfathomable loss, regardless of the location or quality of that place called ‘home.’ No wonder, C.S. Lewis said, “The death of a loved one is like an amputation.” Like amputees, we often reach to scratch what is missing … only to discover there is nothing there.

Some Suggestions: 

1. Become a teacher, mentor, referee, or coach. Volunteer. Share your expertise with the world. Avoid the dangers of stagnation and inward-focused selfishness. Cultivate generosity. 

2. Find a cause you are passionate about. Don’t retire and die. “There is no age limit to enthusiasm, and retirement is a period in which individuals can discover or rediscover their passionate interests.”

3. Nurture life long friendships and give the gift of love.

4. Have a healthy and active mind. Keep learning.


Stages of Life (Midlife)

MidLike the sun sweeping through the sky, midlife (ages 35-50) is like noon-time, dividing the first and second halves of life. At the stroke of noon, the descent begins. Note that what we consider midlife, was for most of history in fact the end of life for most peopleAs recently as 1900, the life span of the average adult in the Western world was only 47. We have been blessed to have extra decades added to the average life span in our time.

Midlife is a season that can be like moving through muddy waters. Some people experience what is referred to as a “midlife crisis” during this time (first written about in 1965). Midlife signals that youth and childhood are gone, that maturity is now the chief developmental task in life, and that death is something that looms up ahead as an inevitable prospect. Many undergo a crisis of meaning.

The physical changes of aging begin to occur here – the need for reading glasses, sore joints, changes to hair, changes in energy levels, injuries, weight changes, and menopause for women. 

Children start to leave home; aging  parents require closer attention as their health begins to decline. Some experience depression and trouble eating, sleeping, and functioning at work. Others have regrets over choices made 10-20 years earlier. We may feel the pain and distance of the lost years of youth. Regret can kick in, due to unmet dreams.

Some midlifers have climbed the ladder of achievement in the workplace toward higher and higher levels. Some find success isn’t all it was cut out to be (or ask, “What now?”) while others discover they have been climbing the wrong ladder.

Time feels like it is moving really fast and there is a good mathematical reason for this. One year in the life of a 2 year old is 50% of her total existence. While one year for a 50 year old, is only 2% of her life span.

Peter Drucker, the father of modern management and renowned author once said, “People now have two lives - Life 1 and Life 2 - and they are over prepared for life 1 and under prepared for life 2. And there is no university for the second half of life”. Are you ready for the second half of your life?

The apostle John tells us the the things the world values will pass away - possessions, pleasure, and prestige - while the person who does the will of God will last forever. What lasts forever? Loving God, loving people, and investing your time, talents and resources in God's work on earth. What really matters to you? How should you live your life in light of eternity?

Some Suggestions: 

1. Begin to cultivate what was neglected in the first half of life.

2. Take time to contemplate – engage in deeper reflection and evaluation (life deserves a good mulling over). Reflect on where your life is going and what ultimate meaning is for you.

3. Balance outer achievements with less material pursuits such as family and spirituality.

4. Take a break from the hustle and bustle. Find a quiet space to reflect on the deeper meaning of your life. Get off the treadmill of daily routine temporarily in order to assess the big picture of your life.

5. Modify your goals. Make a new list.

6. Start to give care and nurture to others (“generativity”). 


Stages of Life (Early Adulthood)

YAEarly Adulthood (20-35 years of age) is a time of leaving the familiar world of family, parents, community, school and entering the big unknown world. It is a break with the past and a move into future. Of course, the very term "adult" is very hard to define. When do you become an adult? When you can drive, vote, drink or when you are married? It is a fuzzy line and for many the transition is a slow process. Some young adults are staying home longer. After all, why leave when there is free rent, cooking, TV and washing? 

Young adults often have some kind of life dream - a desire to achieve great things. They have plans and possibly a sense of calling to pursue something important. It is a time of idealism that will eventually be balanced with a good dose of realism. Mark Twain noted this when he said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in 7 years.”

This may be a time of further education and then eventually entering the work force as young adults embark on their own career, a time of achievement. Relationally, there is a search for someone to love, then possibly the setting up of a new home. Some become parents of children. 

Around age 30, many experience some kind of transition. Maybe there is disillusionment (from still being single), an emotional crisis (possibly from a relational breakdown), or a career change.

Single people are not second class citizens. They are to be given full acceptance and affirmation. They are not abnormal or to be viewed with suspicion. Marriage is not a superior status to singleness, nor visa versa. Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God. Being single is not ‘second best’ or a life doomed to misery and incompleteness.

Singleness is not in any way inferior to marriage. In fact, you are better off happily single than unhappily married. The apostle Paul preferred singleness and encouraged people to consider it as a life choice (1 Cor.7:7-9, 27-28). Jesus was a single too. Singles are not half a person. We are complete in Christ, not through marriage. Marriage is ordained by God, yet it is not obligatory for everyone.

Some of the unique challenges that single people face include loneliness, low feelings of self-worth, problems with identity and life direction, pressure from married people (the 'matchmakers'!), maintaining sexual purity, and possibly or parenting alone.

Reflecting on the lives of both Jesus and Paul, we see that some keys for single people living an enjoyable and fruitful life are: (1) establishing an intimate relationship with God as Father, (2) developing healthy, non-romantic friendships, and (3) having a sense of purpose for life.

Singles, know that God loves you and has a purpose for your life. Marrieds, let's be sure to reach out to singles, giving them heaps of encouragement, care and support. After all, we are all a part of God's bigger family. 

Some Suggestions:

1. Find some mentors, teachers and role models who you can learn from.

2. Foster the sense of enterprise of this season of your life. Try new things. Follow your dreams. Learn from your mistakes.

3. Develop lots of healthy friendships.

4. Find a worthy cause to give your time and energy to.

 Next: Midlife


Stages of Life (Adolescence)

TeensAdolescence (13-19 years of age) refers to the teenage years - the hazardous passage from childhood to adulthood. One way to describe this journey is like ‘rapids’ along a river. Things may get rough for a while but if you hang on and don't panic, everything will eventually smooth out again.

Physically, this is a time of huge change. Puberty brings pimples, sweat, hair in unusual places, new odors, and crazy hormones. Emotions include quickly shifting moods, trying to find an identity, and strong passionate feelings. Mentally, it's a time of growth, taking in the abstract, logic, and an ability to mount a good argument, as well as to spot hypocrisy and inconsistencies at great distances. Spiritually, teenagers are open to experience and giving themselves to causes beyond themselves.

Many ancient cultures had “rites of passage” to aid in the art of adult-making. Unfortunately, today many teenagers lack any meanginful connection with adults. As a result, many young people make up their own rites of passage with destructive behaviors such as binge drinking, drugs, violence, and risky sexual behaviour.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says, "Remember your Creator in the days of your youth (Ecc.12:1)." The teenage years are extermely important as we make decisions that have significant consequences for the years to come. Jesus said that there is a thief who desires to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). He doesn't wait until we're old to attack. He starts from the womb and intensifies his tactics during the teenage years, targeting youth with rebellion, fantasy, idolatry, and immorality. In contrast, Jesus comes to give us life, and life to the full. This is found in a relationship with him, where we develop loving relationships, submit to godly authority, discover truth, and experience the power of the Holy Spirit at work.

Here's some great advice for young peoplefrom the apostle Paul ... 

1 Timothy 4:12. Don't let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. NLT

Some Suggestions for Teenagers:

1. Read a chapter from the book of Proverbs each day (according to the date), asking God to give you wisdom. In a year you will have read this book 12 times, gaining insight for every important area of your life. 

2. Find some adult role models who you can look up to and learn from.

3. Choose your friends wisely.

4. Invest your time and energy in positive activities such as volunteering, learning, sport, and music. 

Some Suggestions for Adults:

1. Be a friend to a teenager. Just listen and don't be too quick to offer advice. Build trust and rapport.

2. Volunteer to help with a youth-focused community organisation or church youth group, camp or activity.

3. Encourage a parent. 

Next: Middle Adulthood