The Most Effective, Least Used Trick in Parenting!

IMG_9111Here it is: Encouragement! Yes, it’s that simple.

Encouraging the behavior you’d like to see repeated is the most certain way to see it happen again. Encouragement confirms love and drives security straight to the heart of your child.

I know in this two ways, how it affected me and how it affected my daughter.

I Quit!

I quit wrestling when I was a senior in high school. I had wrestled overseas the summer before. I’d already beaten four guys who placed int the top four at the state tournament in their weight classes. And, I quit.

My dad was my coach. To say he was “old school” wouldn’t give the old school enough justice. They watched dad and then defined what “old school” meant. I was enjoying success in matches and in practices. So, he assumed I didn’t need encouragement and spoke not a word of it to me. He gave my teammates plenty of positive reinforcement, but not me.

By thanksgiving, I’d had enough. I took my shoes into the coaches’ room and handed them to him. I told him I quit. It wasn’t worth it to me to work so hard with so little encouragement. To my dad’s credit, he heard me and changed. I didn’t ultimately quit and went on to have a very good year. I gave up my dream for lack of encouragement.

I Am So Proud of You!

Last week I had one of those obligations that makes a pastor crazy. I had to go to a quilting bee and welcome them to our church. It turned out to be a much more interesting event than I expected. Ladies from our church made a centennial quilt with scenes from the town’s first 100 years.

I arrived at 7:00 p.m. after picking up my nine-year-old daughter from her basketball practice. She had not eaten dinner and was tired from practice. I promised her I’d make it as short as possible. But, it dragged on. We left a little after 8:00.  She got a quick bite of dinner and then hopped into bed.

As I was tucking her into bed, I apologetically thanked her for her patience, “You were such a good girl tonight. You took an interest in their quilt and spoke up loudly when they asked you questions. You treated those older ladies so well. I am so proud to take you out with me!”

As I spoke those words, she closed her eyes, as if to concentrate all her powers on listening. Her lips curled at the edges and her cheeks relaxed into the most pleasant, self-satisfied smile I had ever seen on the face of a human being. She soaked it in. I wanted to keep talking just so the sublime smile would never fade!

It occurred to me then. I will never have to worry about taking her on a pastoral call again. Hell will freeze over before that little girl would give herself the freedom to disappoint dad. I’ve never felt so weak and so powerful at the same time before in my life.

“Lord, make me quicker with words of encouragement to everyone I meet.”

Bless Your Neighbors

Dave Ferguson shared some good ideas on the Verge Blog this week. It struck me as an easy way to think about the relationship building process. He gave 5 key activities:

B- Begin with prayer. We want you to ask, ‘God how do you want me to bless the people in the places you’ve sent me to?’
L- Listen. Don’t talk, but listen to people, their struggles, their pains, in the places God sent you.
E- Eat. You can’t just check this off. It’s not quick. You have to have a meal with people or a cup of coffee. It builds relationships.
S- Serve. If you listen with people and you eat with people they will tell you how to love them and you’ll know how to serve them.
S- Story. When the time is right, now we talk and we share the story of how Jesus changed our life.

Who will you bless this week?

Making Goals Stick

It’s January second, that’s about when some of my New Year’s Resolutions begin to get a bad case of the wobbles. By late in the week, I’m already chocolate, I don’t have time to read that chapter I promised myself I would and the credit card bill for the money I’ve already spent uses up all my “good-intention” money that was supposed to go to savings.

It makes me ask, “How can I keep this from happening? Is there anything I can to do make goals stick?

2013Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

The truth is, I do what I do because I do it. I act the way I do for reasons. I’m not aware of the reasons and don’t always understand them. But, last year’s behaviors I want to change now, come from somewhere!

Simply stated, if I can change the reasons I behave like I do, I can permanently change my behavior.

  • At one level, that means assessing my motivations, my reasons, for doing things. Do I have a sufficient motivation for the change. Is there enough pain in the past or promise in the future to support my change?
  • More than that, though, how is my life arranged to support my new goal? The reason I crave chocolate may be that I’ve always had it in my desk drawer. It might be that I don’t eat a good breakfast. I may have to change something upstream of the actual resolution before I’ll be able to keep it.
  • Still farther upstream, is there something in the stream that is poisoning it before it has the opportunity to water my resolution? Do I have an emotional commitment to the status quo that I’m unaware of? Maybe I eat chocolate as comfort food when I argue with my wife. Maybe the reason I have kept chocolate in my desk drawer is so that I can have control of one pleasure in my life, something I was deprived of as a child. So, I’ve held on to that one thing and now it is hurting me.

It seems to me that I have to take a look at the causes of my current behavior and address those if I ever hope to see substantive change. The whole process of goal setting is important because it forces us to do just that. And, if it doesn’t, it will be just an annual exercise in futility and status quo.

What Would a “Christian” New Year’s Resolution Look Like?

Most New Year’s Resolutions may be reduced to wishes that next year will be better than last year. At least that is what my annual weight-loss, book-reading, and money-saving resolutions amount to.

The new year is the time when we assess the past and figure out what we want to change. Then, we do our best to make a statement about the change we want. And finally, we try harder, for at least a while.

2013Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

Anyone can do that. Some can even do better. They actually set goals they achieve!

In other words, for all the prayer, reflection and meditation that Christians put into their goal setting, the goals themselves look very much like goals that any one, regardless of their beliefs, could set. If a New Year’s Resolution itself is void of belief, or indistinct with regard to its relation to Christ, where is the glory for Christ in that? What would be God’s motivation for aiding us in that endeavor?

What would a distinctly Christian New Year’s Resolution look like? One way of looking at it would be this: A Christian New Year’s Resolution is one an unconverted person would never attempt!

This would include two sorts of resolutions:

  • First, the content of the resolution itself would be something that no unconverted person would be interested in attempting. Reading the Bible through in a year, for instance, or give away more than a tithe of your income. Why would an unconverted person attempt that? While I can conceive of reasons, but the reality is that the resolution itself requires motivation that comes from grace or else it will be almost impossible to stick with
  • Second, the resolution is so audacious and aims so clearly for glory to God that to attempt it under your own power, like the resolutions listed above would be ridiculous. Goals, or resolutions, like leading two friends to Christ, establishing three neighborhood Bible studies, or starting a church, cannot successfully be completed without grace from outside. If God works, those things might happen. If God doesn’t work, it won’t matter how much I work, because those require some level of supernatural power.

While I don’t want people to be fat, or waste money, or never read a book, I can’t help but wonder, what would 2013 look like if we had more distinctly Christian goals? What if we used our New Year’s Resolutions to ratchet up our God-dependence rather than our self-dependence?

My Experience of Ecclesiastes

WaitingI have spent the past several months immersed in the book of Ecclesiastes. For those who haven’t read it, this book is vastly different than anything else I have ever read.

It reads like someone who has been trapped in a video game that he can’t win. The best he can do is to lose then restart the game, knowing he’ll lose again.  Meaningless, it’s all meaningless.

Though that is his tone, it has been good for me. I thought it would be worthwhile to summarize why it has been good for me since it doesn’t appear good on the face of it. Here are a few of the ways Ecclesiastes has been good for me:

  • It has reminded me that my friends who are living a life under the sun, apart from God, are stuck in a video game they can’t win. They don’t always recognize the pathos of their situation, but the writer of Ecclesiastes is very clear about it. I need to be aware of their struggle, sensitive to it, and compassionate. I have news that can deliver them, not just from hell, but from the futility of this present existence!
  • It forced me struggle with the meaning of Scripture. How can an inspired writer of the Bible be so negative? I got that question a lot. Peter Enns, in his fabulous but depressing commentary calls it “the Counterpoint” of scripture. Here are some of his thoughts:
The counterpoint of Scripture is part of Scripture and hence should be very much part of any discussion of Scripture and its role in the church. To think otherwise betrays common sense. It is important, therefore, to remember that the counterpoint must be incorporated into a doctrine of Scripture as counterpoint, however offensive or challenging that might be. The theology of Ecclesiastes or job or the lament psalms must be allowed to provide their own diverse voices to the discussion. They cannot be tamed in the interest of familiar or comfortable formulations.
The task is to try to understand how counterpoint functions as Scripture.
By allowing the counterpoint to have its say, we are allowing Scripture to embody for the church a disposition that, apparently (if one takes inspiration seriously), God himself seems very interested to have embodied. What is embodied in Scripture by the presence of counterpoint? It is a posture of conversation and honest engagement with life and with God himself. This is no small matter for anyone who has lived long enough to see the very practical challenges to one’s faith that are so common to all Christians. Scripture is not simply a top-down document that reveals to us God’s will. It is also a God-authorized, documented, painful articulation of what is in store for those who follow God. (Kindle Edition, Location 2822-2827)
  • Ecclesiastes brought me face-to-face with my idols. Yes, that’s the problem. I didn’t think they were idols. Yet, as I interacted week after week with pleasure, work, relationships and wealth I found myself downcast. I realized I had been placing my hope for happiness in these objects and they are not built to satisfy at that level.
  • The confrontation with death at every turn in the book of Ecclesiastes has colored my experience with a major shoulder surgery. I am writing this with a sling on my shoulder. Thankfully it was not as painful as I was led to expect, but nonetheless it is a significant inconvenience and weakens this decaying body even more. I found it very hard not to descend into despair in anticipation of the pain of surgery and in the immediate recovery. Ecclesiastes reminded me I should expect life in this broken world to be full of pain and any other expectation was another form of absurd, unrealistic idolatry.

It’s Harder

My beautiful daughter I have two daughters who work at Starbucks. My daughter Leslie, pictured here, has worn the green apron for over a year and loves her job. She loves the ‘regulars’. She likes the pace. She likes the routine. She likes, well, everything but the coffee (But, that’s beside the point).

She recently switched stores. She was instantly off-balance at the new store. The 2% is on the right side of the refrigerator instead of the left side. Their lids were in a place that slowed down each drink by a few seconds and that bothered her. But, what really bother her was that she didn’t know the people.

This became even more clear to her this past week when she turned took a substitute shift at her old store. The regulars came in, some made special trips just to see her. One stayed after her shift just to catch up. She loves them and they love her back.

She was relaying all this to me, telling me what it was like to go back and she said something we all need to hear. She said, “It was so comfortable to go back to the people I worked with that I knew and love. It was so great to see the ‘regulars’ that were glad to see me. And I guess that’s it,” she continued, “It’s just harder at the new store. I don’t really know my coworkers, though I’m slowly getting comfortable with them. And, I just have to work at reaching out to the ‘regulars’ at the new store. I haven’t been there long enough.”

I hadn’t seen anyone make that kind of effort in a long time. So, her words rang true — it IS hard work to get to know new people. And, that’s why we don’t.

That’s why a small group wants to stay together for seven years and no one can make their way in. The work is harder than either the group or the new person wants to admit. That’s why neighbors don’t know who lives down the street. That’s why people are scared to death when they head to church for the first time. That’s why people will come to a class on evangelism, but don’t really want to use what they learn.

It is HARD work to love people. Just ask Jesus.

I Will Magnify My Physician

Bernard, being a little before his death (as he thought) brought before God’s tribunal, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him for his sins, he runs to Christ, and he says,

“Satan I am sinful and unworthy as you say—but though you do magnify my disease, I will magnify my physician. I know the Lord Jesus has a double right to the kingdom of glory, not only by heritage—but conquest; and he has conquered for me. So that I am not confounded while I look on Christ as my Savior, and heaven as my inheritance!”

— Thomas Watson, Kindle location 34053


Change without Gospel

The Bible presents a moral obligation to live according to God’s design, law, or character. However you want to describe it. Husbands should love their wives. It says that. You should not be angry or gossip or steal. Those are not options. The Bible is clear.

Yet, if I create a plan to accomplish those changes without the gospel I am tying a complex knot of problems. On the one hand, things get better. Marriages become better. People become more honest. Life is better and people are happier.

On the other hand, the absence of the gospel presents several problems:

    The only true transformation takes place when the Holy Spirit changes a person through their faith in the gospel. So, I have created the appearance of a change without true heart change. This will be a temporary reformation at best.
    The person working at changing will be frustrated. They are attempting to produce fruit which can only come from abiding in Christ.
    Self effort is always a substitute for the gospel. It always has been the gospel’s chief rival.
    Worst of all, if a person’s life gets better apart from the gospel by working at things the gospel is supposed to change were it to come, their felt need for the gospel will diminish. In other words, by helping them reform, I may be making it harder for them to respond. While looking like it is better, it is actually getting worse for them.

What to do?

As we apply the scriptures, as we structure church programs, as we build models by which people improve their lives, we must be clear about the gospel. We must go through the gospel instead of going around the gospel.

The Dance

We’ve been married 27 years. We have a tune that we dance to. It’s not real music. We don’t even really like the dance step, but it is a routine we have created that is the same every time the same music plays.

What if I change the music? What if I refuse to move the way she has grown accustomed to me moving? What will happen then?

I will step on her toes. She will walk on mine. We will bump into one another with the awkward motion of beginners. It will be painful, awkward and embarrassing.

On the other hand, the most fun we had dancing was when we were just beginning. Maybe changing the steps would bring back the fun of the first few times dancing.

I’ll go surprise her now.

Why I Married You!

My Beautiful WifeI didn’t marry you because you were perfect. I didn’t even marry you because I loved you. I married you because you gave me a promise. That promise made up for your faults. And the promise I gave you made up for mine. Two imperfect people got married and it was the promise that made the marriage. And when our children were growing up, it wasn’t a house that protected them; and it wasn’t our love that protected them – it was that promise. – Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth