Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Redefining "Dad"

In my last post, I talked about the tremendous need we have in our society for dads. I believe this is an immensely important subject that needs much more attention, so I am going to continue with the same theme in this post. I do not at all feel like I am an expert, but I am a dad, and I recognize the void created in our society when dads are not truly dads. The media has grossly distorted the image of men in general, and it is hard to find a movie or a television show in which the father character behaves like a real man. Now, I realize these shows and movies are intended for entertainment, but the standards and ideas they are producing in real life is dangerous, and we cannot afford to allow Hollywood to define who a dad really is.

Many sitcoms today, including the ones being aimed at our children, make a mockery of parents, and especially of the dad. My daughter, Ava, and I were recently battling a stomach flu at the same time, so Nicole quarantined us in the same room. While we were trying to get better, I had the opportunity to watch several shows on the Disney Channel. I was appalled by much of what I saw. I honestly could not believe my eyes! Many of the shows feature a main star who is an adolescent or teenager, and their parents are being portrayed as out of touch idiots. They were merely on the show to get laughs. Later, Nicole and I watched some of the shows together, and we decided that our girls will not be watching much of what is popular - even if it is the Disney Channel. It will not do us any good to teach our children to be respectful of adults if we are going to allow them to watch television shows that undermine those same values. As I said in my last post, Andy Taylor and Cliff Huxtable are getting harder and harder to find on our television sets. With just a few exceptions, television is often anti-family.

Let me stop here and ask us parents a few questions. This is not to point the finger, but I want to be sure we are aware of what is going on in our kids' lives. Do you know who your kids' friends are? Do you know their friends' parents? What do your kids watch on TV? What sites do they visit online? Whom are they texting on their cell phones? Parents, if we don't know the answers to these questions, we are in danger of our kids slipping away from our guidance and protection. I know those are direct words, but the time has come for us all to face reality and become proactive in the leadership of our families. Dads, it starts with us. We have to be real men. We cannot allow the void that presently exists on so many levels to continue.

In many families, the dad is not present. It could be that he has left the home or never even lived in the home. It could also be that he is in the home but is never really there. Wherever either of these is the case, there is most likely a major void in the lives of our children. Dads, you have an extremely important role to play, and if you don't lead your home, someone else will. If you do not teach, instruct and guide your children, someone else will fill that void.

Some men are not comfortable hearing this, but, as your daughter grows, her self esteem and self image will be determined largely by the relationship she has with you. You might say "No, not me - that's her mother's job." Listen: it really doesn't work that way. Mothers obviously have a major role to play, as well, but your kids need both of you. Dads, your son's self confidence and outlook on his future will be shaped by his relationship with you. The kind of man your daughter will be attracted to and will likely marry when she is older will be the kind of man she sees in you. The way your son treats others, including his wife, when he is older will be because of the example you set. A young girl who grows up without an involved father will have the tendency to look for the acceptance that she needed from her dad in someone else. Many such girls grow up to pay a horrible price for that acceptance. A young man who lives in a home where the dad is not present will likely struggle to find his identity and truly be secure as a man.

Dads, that is the powerful, extremely important role we play. Now, I realize that there many children who grow up without fathers and they become secure, confident adults who marry great people and become awesome parents. The Lord is very gracious and merciful, and He can fill any void created by family issues or anything else in a child's life. However, when He created the family, He never intended for the father to be absent. If we were to poll a group of doctors, ministers, child psychologists, youth pastors, parents and children, they would confirm that what I have described is true in the majority of cases. That's why dads are so important. Our kids really do need us.

Who do you want your daughter to marry? Be that man. How do you want your son to treat his wife? Treat his mother that way. How do you want your daughter to see herself when she is 12 years old? Help her begin to see herself that way when she is 9 months old. How do you want your son to respond to pressure from his peers when he is 14? Begin telling him how you feel about those decisions long before he is 14. What do you want your kids' standards to be regarding sex before they are married? They need to hear it from you first.

Dads, we owe it to our kids to be real men. We cannot allow the media or any other aspect of society to define our role in the family, and we cannot trust them to raise our children. We have to be real dads who are there for our kids, dads who set boundaries for our kids and dads who teach our kids to love and forgive and dads who teach them Who God is. Dads, this is our responsibility, and we have to take it seriously and be proactive as we fulfill this role.

Let me close by talking to moms who are raising their children without the help of a dad, and to dads who have decided to be proactive and your kids are already middle school aged or older. First, to the moms: the Bible tells us in Psalm 68:5 that God is a Father to the fatherless. He is able to send the proper strong male influence into your kids' lives. Your children are not destined to a life of hardship because their dad isn't present. God's grace is sufficient for you, for your kids and for every situation they will face. Now, for the dads who are hearing the call to become more involved, there is no better time to start than now. Whether or not you feel like you have been there up to this point the way you would have liked to have been, start today being involved. You may have to apologize and allow some time for everyone to adjust, but the Lord can also make up the years that have been stolen. You still have a tremendous role to play, and your kids need you.

Dads, it's time to lead the way!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What We Really Need are Dads

Nicole and I have been married for about 4 1/2 years. Many of our close friends have also gotten married or have met the person they are likely to marry. Some have had kids or are pregnant, and we have two beautiful little girls. These have been special times as we've been able to see so many fall in love, and we've been blessed to be able to hold so many babies.

Since I first become a dad, I have become increasingly aware of the challenges we parents face in our modern society. Every generation has had its challenges, but we are living in a time that is very unique. I love technology, and I am thankful for the conveniences it has made available. We now have information on any subject at our finger tips, we can book a flight to the other side of the world in minutes, track the stock market minute to minute and most of us can do this from our cell phones! This is great, but there is a downside to all this, as well. Thanks to modern technology, we are bombarded with images and information constantly, and in many cases it can be harmful.

I love my girls more than anything, and I would do anything in the world to protect them. Nicole and I have spent many hours talking about schools, friends, peer pressure, the internet and all the things the girls will encounter. To be honest, the challenge to raise these little people in the midst of all of these can be overwhelming. I would love to just move my family to an island where they would never have to be subjected to the pressures and dangers they will inevitably face in life, but that's obviously not going to happen. This desire to protect our children is natural, but our protection can only go so far. While they are young, I will protect them to my own hurt, and I will do the same inasmuch as it is appropriate for the rest of their lives. However, as they grow, they are going to become increasingly independent and begin to make more of their own decisions. During those stages, my role will have to change. Robin McMillan made a comment recently that I found very helpful: "As parents, our job is not to protect our children from what they are going to encounter in life - our job is to prepare them for it."

Even while I am protecting my girls from the dangers of this life, I need to be preparing them to one day face them head on as godly, confident women. The only way I can do that is to be a dad - I mean really be a dad. Our kids need us to be real men. When our kids look at us, they need to see compassion, integrity, love, honesty, discipline, courage and most importantly, they need to see Jesus. Nothing short of this is going to truly prepare our children to be the people that they have the potential to be as they grow older. We need to be there, and we need to be available. Our families are the first line of defense, and they need to be the first school, the first church and the first safe place for our children to grow into who they are called to be.

They are not going to get what they need from society, and society has tried hard to make us look like idiots. It is hard to find a sitcom on television these days where the dad is a real dad. There are very few real men on TV. We used to see Andy Taylor help Opie deal with a bully and Cliff Huxtable talk to Rudy about her self image. That has all been replaced by Homer Simpson's disrespect, Ray Barone's incompetence and whatever happens on that poorly named show called "Family Guy." Dads of integrity and stature have been replaced by selfish, disrespectful morons, and that is being portrayed as normal. We really need to turn the tide. Dads need to be redefined in society, and we have to start in our own homes.

Unfortunately, it's not just TV that has changed. The curriculum in many of our schools is very undermining of the family, and, at times, our kids are encouraged to keep secrets from their parents. Many magazines and books are the same, and time would fail me to talk about the internet. If you don't know what sites your kids are visiting online, or if you don't know who their Facebook friends are, you need to find out immediately and stay on top of it. Do you know how your children get home from school? Have you met their friends' parents?

Dads, we have to be dads and truly lead our families. Society is going to work against us at times, so we have to be proactive in being involved in our children's lives. If we don't fill that role, someone else will, and we cannot afford to abdicate this responsibility. While Jesus walked this earth, He continually showed us our Heavenly Father. We need to follow His example and show Him to our kids as well. Our kids need us, and being a dad is one of the greatest honors in this life. It won't always be an easy job, but it will always be worth it. Dads, the time has come to lead the way!

The Work of the Ministry

Like many of you, I grew up going to church. My family was there all the time. We were at every prayer meeting, every Sunday morning service and we were even among those who came early and stayed late to set up the chairs! Right out of high school I went straight into a school of ministry, so I have been around "church stuff" most of my life. Now, I don't say any of this with regret - I have enjoyed and benefited from each of these seasons and I would probably not change any of them, if I could. (I would like to go back and change the attitude that I had during some them, but that's another matter :) ).

All of this being said, I have come to recognize an understanding that many people have about being in ministry and doing the work of the ministry. For many years I have had this same understanding, and am probably still becoming free of it. Many people seem to believe that in order to truly perform the work of the ministry, you have to be a pastor or a traveling evangelist. Sure, we all know that we should be sharing our faith wherever we go, but the real stuff happens from the pulpit, right?

For many years I was in the pew, and I have spent the past several years spending a fair amount of time in the pulpit. I really enjoy teaching and encouraging others from the front, but it has given me a different perspective of where the "true" work takes place. Although I never really said it, and I may have never deliberately thought it, in the back of my mind I felt like any other occupation besides being a "minister" was a second rate place to be. I have come to believe that this is completely not true and is also contrary to what the Bible teaches. The pastors, evangelists, etc. certainly have their place, and the Bible tells us what that place is:

Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God's peopleto do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12, NLT, emphasis mine).

As those verses explain, the job of the professional ministers is to equip all of God's people to do His work in the earth. These ministers are a true gift, and the Lord gave them to us for a purpose. That purpose, however, is not to do the work, but to prepare us that are not "professionals" to do the work. The work of the ministry is our responsibility. Now, does that mean that we need to get behind the pulpit? Well, it could, but not necessarily. The Lord is active behind the pulpit, but He desires to be active in governments, on construction sites, in our public school classrooms, at the check-out line at the grocery store and in the break room at your job. He is active in these places as we become active in these places.

You and I are the ones the Lord has called to do His work, and this isn't something that He intends to start one day - we need to start now. Many of us will never be behind the pulpit, and that's the way it needs to be. We are called to do His work in our sphere of influence. Look around you. What needs to be done? Is there anyone hungry within your sphere of influence? Are there any widows whose hedges need trimmed? If so, you may be the one the Lord uses to meet these needs. It sounds simple, right? It is simple, so why are more people not working within their sphere of influence?

There are probably many reasons for this, but I think in most cases we either belittle our potential in these areas, or we feel overwhelmed by the needs we see around us. We need to remember what Jesus said:

"... I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!"

In spite of how insignificant what we are doing might seem, whenever we meet the need of someone around us, we are ministering to Jesus, Himself. In reality, there is nothing insignificant. "But what about the tremendous need?" you might ask. "Am I really making a difference by feeding the one hungry person around me when there are so many hungry people out there?" Mother Teresa once made a very insightful comment: "If you can't feed 100 people, feed just one." If you feed the person in your sphere of influence, and I feed the person in mine, pretty soon there are a lot less hungry people out there. If you help the widow on your street and I invite the widower over for Christmas dinner, who otherwise has nowhere to go, before long there is less loneliness haunting people's empty homes. If you help tutor the child next door who is struggling in his reading, and I help buy baby food for the teenage mom down the street, there are many less kids being left behind.

What it all boils down to is if I don't minister within my sphere of influence, who will? I am not called to meet the needs of the world, I am just called to help meet the needs the Lord sends my way. It is not so much what happens on Sunday morning that counts, but what happens on Monday morning. That is truly the work of the ministry.