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Finding True Rest and the Joy of Discipline

Well, it’s the end of the summer and my kids are insane. Yours too or just mine? They stay up until 10:30 p.m., they are constantly “bored,” always hungry (why are they so hungry?!), often bickering, and well, just done with the down time.

And guess what?

So am I.

Do you want cupcakes for breakfast? Should we start a movie at 10:30 p.m.?

I’m in that part of summer.

It’s time for school. It’s time for schedules. It’s time for discipline.

Summer is a much-needed break from the monotony of schedules and to do lists, and we love it! It gives us space to stop and rest and spend a lot more time together. It gives us time and space to explore God’s creation and be creative with our days.

But, after a few months of this respite, we all come to the realization that the daily disciplines of life are much needed as well. 

Our spiritual lives can feel the same way.

We get tired and need breaks, and so we stop doing some of those things in our schedule. And that’s not always a bad thing. Taking a needed break can help us to remember that even when we stop working, God still sustains and provides and stays in control. Rest can also help us to step away from our busy schedules and celebrate the beauty of this world and the people in it, and then worship God who gave it to us.

And in the same way he gave us all of the things that fill up our lives and our schedules, he also gifted us with rest. We were created to need it.

But here’s the thing: rest isn’t opposed to discipline — we need both.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:28-30).

What Jesus offers here is not just a nap, a vacation, or a summer break. He’s offering an entirely new way of life. He invites us to take up his yoke — an agricultural image that is commonly used to describe following a teacher ­— and he means for us to learn from him, to travel by his side, and be under his instruction and care. Through this, he promises we will find rest.

But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill rest; this is deep, soul-level rest. This is true rest.

And true rest is more than luxury, comfort, and free time. It’s peace and security found through a relationship with the one who created, loves, and redeems us.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

— Matthew 11:28-30

But, in order to participate in this kind of rest Jesus offers, we need rhythms of discipline. These are rhythms that don’t stifle us, but that actually free us as we learn from Jesus, to know him deeply, and to become more like him.

And we are not alone in this journey; Jesus is with us. He promises to be yoked with us as we seek to learn and grow. And, when we inevitably stumble, he carries the load.

So, as we begin this new school year full of schedules, sports events, and work, I want to encourage you to take a next step toward this rest only Jesus can provide. Maybe you should take a class to learn how to read God’s word, join a small group to study and worship with community, or commit to spend time daily in prayer with God.

However, these words find you today, don’t miss this opportunity to respond to the invitation of Jesus. Because he is who he says he is the Creator, Savior, and King — the one who created all things, who died to rescue us from slavery to sin, and who will restore this world and reign eternally. He is the humble servant who offers to carry our burdens and teach us his ways. He can be trusted, and in him, we can find a way of life that leads to the true rest we all long for.


 

5 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Technology is everywhere. Even our children are enamored by digital assistants, surrounded by personalized ads, and immersed in multiple devices. It’s changed the ways families live and interact.

There are wonderful graces that accompany these advances. Information is more portable and accessible. We are able to stay connected to family and friends hundreds of miles apart.

As parents, though, we wonder how much technology consumption is just right for our children at every developmental stage. Every child and situation is unique, so it seems as if none of the answers we find online fit perfectly.

Even so, there are some guidelines which can inform family discussions and illuminate decision making for families seeking to navigate this brave new world.

Here are five principles to consider as you lead your children through their interactions with technology in today’s environment.

1. Connect with other parents.

Partner with parents who share your values and who are navigating this journey simultaneously. For us, this occurred in our small group. We had parents to bounce ideas off of, to share experiences, and help keep abreast of emerging trends.

2. Check the Content.

Scrutinize. Be a gatekeeper. Common Sense Media is a solid place to start. They have age-graded reviews and resources ranging from movies to video games to social media and other online platforms. In the beginning, movies and video games are the “content” most parents must monitor.

Over time, apps, websites, social media ought to be considered content as well. Think about what your child interacts with the most. Does every child in your family need the same restrictions? Why or why not?

3. Chaperone your Child.

The word chaperone conveys this idea of going with, or alongside, someone. It’s not an end destination, but it needs to be on the path toward autonomy and not a forgotten rest stop. Checking out the content and checking on your child are two different things. One monitors media, the other monitors behavior.

As parents, we like to threaten our kids with things like, “Well, who do you think is paying for that?” But honestly, does “Who is paying” matter? What happens if the young person gets a job and starts paying? What if they go behind your back to get a cheap throw away phone? For every guideline, for every rule you put in place, explain why. Because one day, you want them to be able to think through new problems with a solid rationale. One day, they will be paying. What do you want them to know? What skills do you want them to possess?

All of it begins with you being a role model and leader in your own home. Start by addressing your own sinful patterns with respect to technology—and walk alongside your child as you both strive to strike a healthy balance in your media consumption.

Children have a hard time processing why you can be on your phone, but they aren’t allowed to be on their device. If they see you tied to your own technology, and if that tie interferes with your interactions with them, be prepared for some dissonance. If devices must be powered down at night or charged in a central location, consider making it a house rule instead of a child-only rule.

4. Counsel with Conversations.

You must create open lines of communication and trust so your children will come to you when they have problems. Counsel doesn’t mean you just give your kids advice.

Young people want to know, “Why are you talking to me?” They have the ability to look up everything you are saying on the internet. They don’t need you to answer random trivia questions or to show them how to fix anything.

Was the internet around when you were a kid? So, why are you worthy of speaking counsel into their lives? Trust is the ultimate goal of your relationship with your child.

5. Create Healthy Habits.

There will be times when your child is not physically with you. They may be playing with friends, at a sleepover, or at school. You will not be able to control what they are exposed to via other children’s devices. However, you do have the opportunity to build healthy habits and to talk through possible scenarios.

  • What will you do when you see something inappropriate on someone else’s phone?
  • How do you react when the music being played is crude or vulgar?
  • What questions should you quickly ask before someone offers to share a picture or video?

Many of these situations happen organically and your child must respond quickly. Sometimes, they must choose what to say or do after the fact. Counseling them before and after incidents occur helps to build healthy habits and gives your children tools for proactively protecting themselves from inappropriate content or behavior from others.

 

There are things we have to address as parents that generations before us never did. But the goal remains the same as it always has. We want to raise our children to be thriving, contributing members of society, to look on others with compassion and kindness, and to love Jesus with everything they have.


 

Adopting and Adapting

I love being part of a local church that places an emphasis on adoption and caring for families journeying through the adoption process. My wife, Sarah, and I always knew that we would adopt someday. Adoption and care for the young has been a legacy of the Church since the time of the apostles, and we hoped to follow that tradition. We were aware of Jesus’ command for us to care for orphans and we intended to respond to that call through adoption ourselves.

The opportunity came sooner than we expected.

Four days after Sarah and I found out we were pregnant with our first child, we took in two young sisters who needed a place to live. Eventually, we made the decision, along with the girls, to make our situation formal and legal by going through the adoption process.

My wife and I always envisioned how adopting a child would go. In our minds’ eyes we would bring in a kid who would integrate perfectly into our lives. We would never be worn out or struggle to show them the love and grace that we have experienced in Christ. Sure, we knew that there would be difficulties — we would be bringing a young person with trauma into our home after all. But, we were built for it… right?

Looking back, I might have romanticized the idea of adoption a little too much.

 

Reality Strikes Back

The process of adoption has been full of mental, legal, emotional, and spiritual battles. It’s often said that parenting is a full-time job. This is even more true for parenting an adopted child. The adopted child is not a blank slate waiting to be written upon. Instead, they already have their own pains, beliefs, and opinions, and in some instances, trauma.

I want to say that our adoption experience has been an abnormal one, but I’ve come to realize that there is no such thing as a normal adoption. While books, counseling, and community have helped us adapt to new situations, every adoption is its own unique case with its own unique challenges. Resources can be a survival guide, but the family still has to make the journey.

But, despite the difficulty of the process, adoption has been an incredible gift from the Lord as it is one of the greatest possible illustrations of his love for us.

At times our adopted children have felt unworthy, as if they were not good enough or deserving of our love. It is simply not true. We love them, and they could never do anything to undo that love.

I realized after months of these conversations with my daughters, that for much of my life I actually had the same approach to God.

 

Our Father’s Love

Adoption into God’s family always felt difficult for me. Sure, I could see God loving me enough to send Jesus to take my punishment to give me new life and right standing before God, but bringing me into his family? That was different because it was so personal. If I were to be one of God’s sons, it would mean that I would be intimately, closely known. Justification could be a one-time gift; I am given new life and righteousness and off I go! But adoption would mean a new, never-ending relationship.

This didn’t seem possible. So instead, I strove to be good enough or worthy enough or to work hard enough to show that Jesus’ sacrifice was worth it. I would constantly fight this feeling of not belonging to the family that I have been brought into. Eventually, I knew, it would be found out that I was too imperfect, too unloving, too calloused, too fake to truly be a son of God.

But, being on the other side of the earthly version of the spiritual reality has taught me so much about God and his heart to grow his family through the beauty of adoption.

One of the greatest gifts that the Lord could give us is assurance—the ability for us to know that God loves us enough to restore relationship with us. For followers of Jesus, assurance of our salvation comes with understanding our new relationship with God. He has adopted us into his family. Through the eternal Son, we are now sons and daughters of God! He is our Father and we are brothers and sisters in Christ! What a great gift of assurance!

 

Adoption has been the most difficult thing my wife and I have ever faced. Marriage, financial difficulties, chronic illness – none of them were nearly as difficult as bringing new family members into the home.

Should you consider adoption you must know this: it is difficult and at times painful, but I would make the same decision every time. There have been growing pains along the way, but also moments of incredible joy as we see two young women who used to be distant strangers to us become part of our family.

I am so incredibly thankful that God is the perfect version of what a parent should be.

We fail as parents and fail to love one another as brothers and sisters, but God will never fail. Unlike my wife and I as new parents, God will always be perfectly merciful, forgiving, present, and loving. We can rest in his unfailing love while we continue to demonstrate his love to the world.


 

We’re Missing It

One Tuesday afternoon, when I had finished a long day of teaching, my daughter asked me to play Barbies with her. I responded with “I will be there in a few minutes!” And then proceeded to continue scrolling my Facebook feed. She yelled from the front room a few minutes later “Mom! You’re missing it!”

She was right. I was missing so much.

Psychologists tell us the primary source of love is attention and compassionate listening. There is something deeply moving when someone stops and looks you in the eyes – when they actually pay attention.

The little moments that feel ridiculously mundane are the moments that are the most impactful.

Our kids learn a lot about God in the simple daily rhythms of snuggling before bed and eating dinner as a family. They are learning that God is consistent and reliable.

Be Present   

Our kids look to us as their parents to be stewards of healthy habits. If we’re overusing technology, we are setting them up for the same struggle. A survey conducted in 2019 showed that adults spend an average of 50 days a year on smartphones.

The research being done about the effects of technology on our kids is staggering. It says that children ages eight-to-10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, and kids ages 11-to-14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen.

Childhood mental illnesses are at an all-time high.

We, as parents, are doing equal amounts of damage to our kids when all they see is the glow of the phone screen reflecting on the face of their mom.

We have to set healthy boundaries for ourselves and our children. Our family started using what we call the “be present box.” Our girls know they are able to respectfully ask us to put our screens into the “be present box” if they feel we are spending too much time on our phones.

Build Relationships

Our children will be under our roof for 18 years. There are 940 Saturdays in those 18 years.

If I’m not intentional with my time it just floats away. It disappears into wasted minutes on my phone, or mindlessly watching Stranger Things while working on my laptop.

What I do with my time is what I am doing with my life. I’m learning to exchange online distractions for real live interactions. My children shouldn’t have to compete with a screen for my attention.

Additionally, I see a direct correlation to my kids’ attitude with the amount of screen time they have. Our daughters will create the most amazing games, play dress up, and build friendships when the TV is off – a stark contrast to their mindless zombie stares and silence when the TV is on.

I pray daily that my kids will grow into a deep friendship with each other and with us. My job is to foster that friendship, and a simple first step is to limit the amount of time they have in front of a screen and encourage more face-to-face interactions.

Disciple Your Kids

When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus tells his listeners to “love the Lord,” referencing Deuteronomy 6. But, right next to this famous verse is another which admonishes parents to diligently teach their children the law of God.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

– Deuteronomy 6:4-7

We don’t control our sons’ and daughters’ faith journeys. But we absolutely have a role in them. We must disciple them face to face. We can’t leave it to children’s ministry volunteers once a week at church. It takes diligence and intention and it’s my God given role as their mother.

And I believe it starts with me putting down my phone and looking them in the eyes.

 

Here’s the thing, I want my kids to remember my eyes – my eyes watching them grow, my eyes reading with them, my eyes as I tell them I’m proud of them and that I love them, my eyes as I discipline them and disciple them, and my eyes looking towards Jesus.

I don’t want them to remember my eyes constantly occupied with a screen.

When I put down my phone, it’s easier to look up and live the life that’s right in front of me.

I don’t want to miss it.

 

What Kind of Adults Will Our Kids Be?

Have you ever heard the quote, “Parents aren’t raising children, they are raising future adults”?

That kind of quote is what my friend Daniel calls “thinking material.”

It makes me wonder what kind of adults my kids will turn out to be. Will they be kind and generous? How will they define success? What mistakes will they make? Most importantly, will they know how much God loves them and will they devote their lives to him?

What kind of questions does it make you ask? What do you hope your kids are like as adults?

Being a parent is one of the most demanding roles in life. How many times have you heard a person without kids talk about how busy they are and think, If you only knew! Parents stay busy playing chef, chauffer, and social coordinator for their kids. The days turn into years, and somehow, the craziest phase of life speeds by and you’re left telling young parents, “Enjoy it. It flies by!”

The idea that my kids are future adults scares me a little. Not because I don’t have confidence in who they will become, but because I know how important my role in shaping them is. I know how consuming the day-to-day can be, and I don’t want to look back and wish I had been more intentional about things that matter after adolescence.

I bet some of you feel that too.

Here are three commitments I made years ago that I hope keep my eyes looking to the future adults my kids will be.

HAVE AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS

Kids are curious. Their questions start out harmless enough. “Where does the toilet water go when you flush it?” or “Why do you have hair under your arms?” Before long it’s “Why are some people mean?” and “Where do babies come from?”

How you handle those questions will determine what your kids do with more mature ones like, “Does God hate my gay friend?” and “Does evolution disprove God’s existence?”

In our house, no topic of conversation is off limits. We keep the content of conversations age appropriate, but we are committed to talking to our kids about anything and everything. They know they can ask us any question they have. Sometimes it can be awkward, but it’s worth it every time.

The truth is, kids will seek out answers to their questions somewhere. They’ll turn to Google, friends, or a teacher. I want my voice to be part of the chorus of voices influencing what they think and believe about things.

Kids want to know about sex, money, politics, racial tension, gender issues, and why some of our beliefs push against popular world views. They have questions about what they see online and what they hear their friends talking about.

If you aren’t talking to your kids about these things, who is doing it for you?

DON’T STOP LEARNING

No parent has all the answers. There are great, godly resources available that continue to shape me as a parent, as I work to shape my kids into adults. Staying connected to great resources helps to fill the gaps in my parenting.

Also, the world our kids are growing up in is very different than the world we grew up in. And it’s changing all the time. We don’t have to know every detail about every new thing out there, but keeping our finger on the pulse of adolescent culture and trends keeps us informed enough to be engaged.

I like resources like Common Sense Media, Parenting, and Sticky Faith. Also, Clear Creek is hosting a parenting forum this week! You can register here.

PRAY FOR YOUR KIDS DAILY

Even if we managed to parent perfectly, kids will make their own choices and go down their own path. Ultimately, if our kids are going to know God’s great love for them, he has to be the one to open their hearts to it.

Clear Creek’s Lead Pastor, Bruce Wesley, has talked about how he used to pray through Ephesians 3:14-21 with his daughters in mind. This passage is a great place to begin.

Talk to God about your kids. Ask for his help as a parent. Ask for his presence in their lives. Ask him to do in their lives what only he can.

 

 

Our children will grow up and have families of their own. They will vote, they will shape the world, and hopefully, they will be our brothers and sisters in Christ.

What commitments can you make now that might influence their future adult selves?


 

 

 

Mistakes We’ve Made and Lessons We’ve Learned as Parents

My wife and I have been married for almost 15 years and have three elementary-age kids (two boys and a girl). But we aren’t experts at marriage, parenting, or life by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, we feel like we are just getting started.

Over the past three years, we have had the privilege of sitting down with numerous couples in Clear Creek’s Expectant Parents class. Our conversations have been centered on how we, as followers of Christ, can strengthen our marriages once we bring home that precious new life. These conversations have been refreshing, reminding us of the joy and anticipation we felt entering into the new stage of parenthood. But, they’ve also been humbling, reminding us of our constant shortcomings as spouses and parents.

Here are just two examples of our many mistakes and what we’ve learned through them that we hope will be a blessing to you and your family:

 

1. Thinking we will outgrow selfishness

When we were first married, we quickly became aware of how selfish we were as individuals. This is no surprise to anyone who is married. No longer could we do things exactly how we liked. We had to make concessions to our preferences, like how to load the dishwasher or how to spend our evenings. But after a few arguments which usually ended in laughter, we quickly adjusted and moved on happily enough. However, when we became parents, we were blindsided by the awareness that we were still so selfish.

Before our first baby was born, we could eat out as often as our budget allowed and watch movies without interruption. Bringing a baby home disrupted the idea that we had outgrown our petty and selfish ways.

As God so often does, he kindly spoke truth to us through his word and through his people in the form of wise counsel. We began to hear him say, as he had when we first followed him, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We were again reminded that our Father had called us to love and serve his family and our little family as well.

As our babies turned into toddlers, who turned into preschoolers, we would hear ourselves say quite often to them, “You don’t always get what you want,” or “You can’t have it all. You have to share.” Those words, spoken daily to a four-year-old regarding a Goldfish snack or an eight-year-old regarding device time, are the same words that we hear our Father speak to us as parents.

Each day we get to choose whether we will scream like the four-year-old who does not get her Goldfish or whether we will let go of our expectations and follow him.

 

2. Thinking we will lead our kids spiritually without being intentional

At the time our first baby was born, we were both connected at church, attending small group, and serving to lead unchurched people to be fully devoted followers of Christ. If we had been asked about our priorities in raising our newborn, sharing God’s grace and love with him would have been at the top of the list.

By the time our third child was born, we were in the same position, actively engaging with our Top Five and leading a small group. However, something was different in our home. All of a sudden, and before we realized it, our children could walk, talk, understand, and engage.

We realized that we had spent years talking around our kids about God and his work in our lives, but we hadn’t been intentional about talking to our kids about God and his work in our lives.

For years we had hosted small groups every week in our home both for high school students and for adults. But, for our children, the extent of their small group experience was the frantic cleaning of our home the minutes before guests arrived, the shoving of them into their rooms, and the fleeting aroma of snacks which they rarely tasted.

Once again, God, in his kindness, showed us that we needed to be intentional in discipling our kids if we were going to raise them in a way that demonstrated he was important to us. Discipleship would not happen on its own.

We realized that each day, we can let the moments slide past all too quickly, or we can choose to set aside time to intentionally lead and disciple our children.

 

We continue to be witnesses to these daily mistakes as well as many others in our own parenting. We humbly recognize that without consistent and daily prayer as a couple, we will fall into the traps of selfishness and of unintentionality.

In our class, we have shared our stories of arguments, fears, mishaps, and frustrations with expectant couples, in hopes that our stories would bring encouragement to people approaching their own parenting adventures.

One of the things we have learned, and continue to learn, is that parenting is refining. We, as parents, have made, and continue to make, mistakes. We are continually reminded of the call to repent and believe the good news of Jesus Christ. Even through the difficulties of parenting, God is drawing us to himself and giving us rest in the work he has already performed.


 

6 Questions About Halloween for Christian Families

Amidst COVID-19 and the craziness that has been the year 2020, it’s hard to know what trick-or-treating will look like this weekend. But even before the global pandemic changed the way we thought about going out in public, many people had questions about Halloween, and whether or not Christians should take part in the festivities.

Last year, three of Clear Creek Community Church’s campus pastors, who are also fathers to young children, sat down to record an episode of the Clear Creek Resources Podcast discussing Halloween and what it means for followers of Jesus today.

Here are a few of the questions they tackled and their responses:

Is it okay for Christians to celebrate Halloween?

Aaron Lutz: “The benefit of asking the question is that people are trying to think theologically – think biblically – about whether they should or they shouldn’t. And so they’re essentially asking the question ‘How can I honor Jesus and celebrate Halloween?’”

AL: “In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul says ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.’ So, Can I celebrate Halloween to the glory of God? Or, Should I abstain from celebrating that to the glory of God?

 

Where does Halloween come from and should its origins impact the way Christians view it?

AL: “Halloween actually has roots both with pagan and Christian influences. Most historians agree that Halloween has its origins in a Celtic festival known as Sauin [also called Samhain]. And so it kind of marked the transition from this time of harvest with light and warmth and summer, to now, this fall/winter season of cold and darkness, which they associated with death. So the Celtic view was that the spiritual and physical realms kind of overlapped in that night… And so because of that, these people would put on masks and light bonfires to kind of scare the evil spirits away. That was over 2,000 years ago.”

AL: “In the fourth century, the Church started honoring martyrs on what is October 31. And so, by the seventh century, the Pope actually named November 1, ‘All Saints’ Day’ or ‘All Hallows’ Day.’ And so therefore, October 31 became ‘All Hallows’ Eve,’ or now what we call Halloween.”

AL: “Fast-forward to where we are today. Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in America, right behind Christmas. So, a long time ago, it had some roots in paganism, then had some Christian tradition thrown in there. And now it seems to just be a commercial holiday.”

Ryan Lehtinen: “For the average person, they see it as something fun to go do and be a part of. Which, you know, if you look at the history of other holidays like Christmas and Easter – while today they look much different in their glorification of Jesus – they have similar historical backgrounds where there’s a mixture of paganism and Christianity, as the Christian church sought to reclaim some of those dates and really glorify God in those ways.”

 

Doesn’t Halloween celebrate death, demons, and evil? What do we do about that?

Lance Lawson: “What comes to mind is a passage we talk about a lot around here: The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). ‘Go therefore and make disciples…’ Well, Jesus started that statement by saying, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Jesus has overcome all of that. He’s overcome death and sin and darkness and evil. They aren’t something we should celebrate. We shouldn’t glorify those things, because we’re followers of Jesus. And we also don’t have to worry about that.”

LL: “And as far as how we teach our kids to participate in Halloween, I think we steer them away from celebrating death. And even, maybe in the way we decorate for Halloween, and how we participate in the weeks leading up to that can teach our kids what we think about darkness and death, and what we really believe about the way Jesus has overcome those things.”

 

What about the over-sexualization of Halloween? What can we do about that?

AL: “Man, teenagers and college students, young adults and older adults have turned Halloween into parties that are just the glorification of sex, and how you can turn any costume into a sexualized costume. And I think there’s probably more danger in a culture that’s obsessed with sex, that is given to lust, than maybe a culture that would lean towards celebrating Satan or evil.”

LL: “I think with dressing up, we have to be careful. Just because we’re going to a party that has a start and an end doesn’t give us an excuse to behave differently than Jesus would want us to behave any other hour of the day or any other place we would go. So Halloween and dressing up, those things are not a break from following Jesus.”

 

How can parents navigate Halloween with their kids who want to dress up?  

AL: “My six-year-old daughter sees decorations in the neighborhood of skeletons and ghosts and all that, and is asking questions like, ‘Can I be a witch?’ Or ‘Can my brother be a skeleton?’ And so I’m asking her the question, ‘What is the purpose of Halloween for you? Like, what do you want to do?’ She just wants to trick-or-treat and go get candy. So I’m like, ‘Why dress up as something that is potentially evil, or glorifying death (I mean, I don’t use that language)?’ But, just helping her understand that this is just fun. ‘Let’s be something cute and fun.’”

LL: “Yeah, my boys are a little older, and so they like superhero stuff and Star Wars. That tends to be a pretty easy deal in my house. But a couple of years ago, my daughter, who’s six right now, wanted to be Moana. So, we ordered a costume off of Amazon I think, and when it showed up and she put it on, we realized, like, This shows way too much. It was the way the costume was cut and the way it fit her. So, we made a decision in that, not to let her wear that costume, and to find something different for her, for the same reason that we don’t let her wear bathing suits that show too much of her body at a young age. Like, we don’t want her to do that when she’s older, so why would we have her do that now? It’s just an awareness and trying to teach modesty at a young age for both our boys and our daughter.

 

Aren’t Christians supposed to be set apart? Why bother with Halloween at all if there’s any question that it might be bad?

LL: “I would say you’re missing out on an opportunity. I’ve met more neighbors on Halloween night than any other single night of the entire year… By not participating you’re missing a chance to get to know the people that we’re called to love.”

AL: “At some level, we’re in this culture, and we need to figure out how we interact with it. So, what’s the best way I can love my neighbor by being part of this culture? I think part of that can be participating in Halloween, by engaging your neighbor.”

RL: “I think there is an element of discerning and thinking about the context that you live in, and how the people around you – how your neighbors – think about whatever they’re asking you to participate in. So, when they’re asking you to go and trick-or-treat, in their mind, they’re not asking you to go be a part of a séance, or anything like that – anything demonic. They’re really asking you to go do something that’s fun and neighborly, in a way that they can engage with you.”

AL: “[In 1 Corinthians] Paul is basically saying, ‘Listen, there’s no demon meat. Meat is meat! And God created it for good. So, you can celebrate that without celebrating the pagan part of it.’ And, in the same way, with Halloween or a holiday, there is no demon holiday, if you will. God has overcome that. He’s in control. God is the author of joy, he’s the author of celebration. So, can we honor God and be joyful in celebrating a holiday? I think we can.”

 

To hear the full conversation, listen to the Clear Creek Resources Podcast episode 010: Porch Light On or Off? Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Earned Wisdom in Parenting

I have seen a lot of parenting styles in the almost 40 years I have been in children’s ministry or teaching public school. I have seen parenting victories and fails and have experienced both myself as a parent of three grown children. All of these observations have led me to think about things parents need to know, but maybe haven’t been told.

There are things you should do, things you should avoid, and most importantly, things you should become.

I Hope You:  

  • Laugh. Enjoy the little quirky moments with your children. Sometimes things your children do are just funny! Relax and laugh.
  • Pray Continuously. Praying quietly comes naturally to a parent. But remember your child needs to hear their name prayed out loud. So pray for them in front of them, also. Pray that your children love God more every day. Pray for every stage they wander through. Pray for their health. Pray that they will learn and grow even in their mistakes. And don’t forget to pray for their spouses even when they are little. Pray for protection for that spouse as they grow as well.
  • Depend on God. Remember that God is the protector of your children. He gave them to you to raise, but they are his. Depend on the loving Father that he is and relax some of your control issues.
  • Value Experience over Schedules. Give your children different experiences, memories, and time with different people. Experiences almost always should trump schedules!
  • Raise the Bar. As your child grows, raise your expectations. Challenge your child instead of enabling them.
  • Teach Obedience. Train your child to stop, listen, and obey when they hear your voice. When they are running toward the street, you do not have time to count to three or reason with them.
  • Teach Service. Teach your children to serve others at an early age and encourage them to keep doing it all their life.
  • Teach Generosity. Help your children give generously to the church and others early in his/her life. Be a generous family and let your children be part of that generosity.
  • Have Family Meetings. Family Meetings are great for making decisions on rules and consequences, discussing family finances, planning ways to be generous and serve others, celebrating victories, and supporting each other in hard times.
  • Write letters. Write to your children at milestones in their lives and save these letters to give to them as an adult. It will mean a lot for them to see how you prayed for them, or what characteristics you saw in them at an early age.

 

I Hope You Avoid:

  • Delayed Obedience. Don’t teach your child to procrastinate by counting instead of expecting immediate acknowledgement and obedience. Delayed obedience is disobedience.
  • Reasoning with a Toddler. It just doesn’t work! Use less words and physically show them expected behavior.
  • Children as Idols. Our sinful nature makes us idol makers. Don’t allow your child to become your idol. Remember, idols are made when we turn something good into the ultimate.
  • Creating Idols. Children are also sinful and will struggle with making idols for themselves. Don’t create idols for them by taking something good (like sports, education, talents, recreation, etc.) and making it into the ultimate thing of their life, by letting it take all of your family’s time and treasures.
  • Stubborn Pride. You will make many mistakes as you parent your kids. Learn to apologize quickly.
  • Words Instead of Tools. Give your children tools to use instead of words of excuse like “bored” or “fair.” Teach your child to create, dream, or read, and help them to understand the reality of an unfair world. Give them tools to survive and thrive.
  • Staying on the Sidelines. Get in the game! Parenting is an active sport and you can’t just sit on the couch and yell.

 

I Hope You Remember to Be:

  • Surprised. Sometimes we have too high of expectations and feel discouraged as new parents. Be surprised and then thankful for gifts like a good night’s rest, or even a nap. Your life will never be the same after kids. Embrace it, and then be thankful and surprised when you get a good gift.
  • A Good Model. Model how to be a Christ follower, a good citizen, a loving friend, and a generous person.
  • A Team. Make a plan together with your spouse to disciple and discipline your children, and always stay united with your spouse in how to raise them. Never show any disunity in front of the kids.
  • A Storyteller. Tell your child your story of coming to faith and let them watch the story of your faith play out every day.
  • A Worshiper. Give your child experiences worshiping with you corporately. Embrace the moments they can worship with you; don’t be afraid of them.
  • In Community. We all need community — people to walk with us as we parent. Mark and I were blessed with friends along the way and a special couple that walked with us because their journey looked a lot like ours. We learned together and survived together. We picked each other up and encouraged each other along the way. We grew as parents and followers of Christ together.

 

So, now I’ve said it — I’ve told you things you may not have ever been told. Hopefully though, I just reinforced things you already knew, and encouraged you. Parenting is a mighty adventure. The trip can seem long at times, but when you look back it only seems to take a moment. So, seize all those moments and enjoy the gifts that your children truly are.


 

(Mom) Guilt and the Gospel

It started a few weeks after my oldest son was born.

I had dreamed of being a mom. Read all the books. Attended the classes. Developed and implemented a plan experts guaranteed would have my child sleeping on a schedule and through the night by six weeks old.

Except it didn’t work.

I was a wreck. I wasn’t even three months into this mom gig, and already I had failed my child in some significant way. I was experiencing my first bout of mom guilt.

I have a feeling most moms can share their own stories of times they felt they were not up to the task of motherhood, that somehow, they too failed their children. It’s almost universal. Studies say more than 90 percent of mothers experience this unique kind of distress, and 75 percent of parents as a whole feel pressure to be “perfect” for their children. Did you read that? Perfect. No wonder we feel guilty. Perfect is a pretty high standard.

For moms who are followers of Christ, what are we to do with mom guilt?  Actually, let’s first ask the question: what are Christians to do with guilt period?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas world grief produces death.” Said another way, our grief before salvation leads us to repent and accept Jesus’ gift of grace on our behalf. Once we’ve become followers of Jesus, Christians shouldn’t feel guilt. Conviction of the Spirit for sin? Yes! But guilt? No. The penalty for our sin has been paid by Jesus.

Bryan Chapell expands on this truth in his book, Holiness by Grace:

Remorse prior to approaching the cross is of God, but after true repentance beneath the cross such self-reproach is of Satan. Our Adversary wants us to believe that Christ’s blood is not sufficient to cleanse confessed sin. We become susceptible to his lie when we begin to doubt the power of the cross full to cancel our guilt, for then we will begin to live (and fall) in the strength of our own efforts.

If you listened to the Clear Creek Resources podcast episode Rachel Chester, Mandy Turner, and I did on mom guilt, we made the distinction between good and bad guilt. Good guilt is better called conviction. It’s one of the roles the Holy Spirit plays in the life of the Christian. It is a mark of true belief (see John 16:8). As followers of Jesus we should be broken over sin. As believing moms we should repent when we sin against our children. Certainly this happens: angry words, rash discipline, selfish motives. These are clearly times we should ask for forgiveness from the Lord and our children.

However, far too often we experience anguish and shame when no sin was involved. This is because somewhere along the way we exchanged the idea of what we might do to be a good mom with what we must do to be a good mom. I experienced mom guilt when I didn’t plan the perfect birthday party, or couldn’t have lunch at school with my boys because of work, or a thousand other things that made me feel like a bad mom. But, I had turned mommy possibilities into mommy imperatives. This is bad guilt.

Sometimes mom guilt has nothing to do with our actions. We may feel guilty because our child made a poor choice and is experiencing a natural consequence like the loss of a friendship. That is enough to send some into the mom guilt spiral of self-doubt, heartache, and despair. And you should know, this also is bad guilt.

Mom guilt is bad guilt.

We need a gospel pathway to walk in order to deal with it.

In my opening story about how I couldn’t get my son to sleep, my friend Amanda heard about my despair. She called and gave me words of grace. Gratefully, over the years, many other women have shepherded my heart similarly in other times of mom guilt. I want to leave you with four steps that have helped me get back on track, and I hope, might help you as well:

1. Remove the standard of perfection.
Get rid of the burden you’ve placed on yourself from wherever it may have arisen (e.g., family of origin, social media, friends). Realize there is one who has been perfect for you (2 Cor. 5:21). Like Paul, we certainly all have weaknesses. And if the apostle, who wrote two-thirds of the New Testament, can claim that because of his weaknesses he can rest in Jesus, certainly we should as well (2 Cor. 12: 9-10).

2. Fix your eyes on Jesus.
I think my mom guilt has often surfaced when my focus has been too much on me. Jesus frees me from needing to constantly evaluate myself against my “perfect mom” standard. Instead of my feeling being anchored to my accomplishments which fluctuate daily (sometimes I’m happy at the day’s end, and other times I’m discouraged), my affections are bound up in Jesus who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). His love for me is steadfast (Rom. 8:38-39) because of what he accomplished for me 2,000 years ago.

3. Call out to God.
Let’s be real. Being a mom is hard. Really hard. Go to Jesus in prayer when you feel the waves of self-doubt and despair begin to wash over you (Heb. 4:16). Don’t skip this! Prayer is one of the most effective ways to combat mom guilt.

4. Be involved in community.
Every mom needs two (or, maybe ten?) Amandas in her life. You need women who can speak gospel truths to your heart. You need friends who will not tell you what you want to hear but need to hear. This is authentic community. It is where can know and be known. It is where you can be vulnerable and find encouragement that you are not alone in your dealings with mom guilt…or any other endeavor (Heb. 10:24-25).


 

The Parent as Primary Disciplemaker


At every park and backyard in America, parents mill around jungle gyms, monkey bars, and swing sets in order to keep an eye on their kids at the playground. But, invariably, accidents happen and kids get hurt. Maybe one skins his knee on the ground, bumps heads with another child, or has some other misadventure. What is the first thing he does? Instinctively he looks to a parent to see what reaction the mishap provokes. And, inevitably, there is the parent who looks horrified and shouts in a shrill voice, “Oh my goodness, sweetie, what have you done?” To which the child, now assuming he has five minutes left to live, begins screaming at the top of his lungs.

But, there are also the parents who, when given the same scenario at the playground, immediately, confidently, and calmly say to their children, “You are okay. Shake it off and keep playing.” What happens next? My sense is you already know the answer. You likely witnessed it time and again at the playground yourself. Most kids, as a result of a parent’s confident and assuring counsel, move beyond the irritation and discomfort of a minor injury and continue their fun day at the playground without shedding a tear.

THE POWER OF A PARENT
Ponder that scenario for a moment. How great an influence must a parent possess that a child will emotionally interpret what has happened to him or her merely by gazing at a parent’s response? Parents are their children’s biggest influences. Often our work ethic, emotional patterns, or even the way we talk are just a sampling of the innumerable attitudes and actions we display in adulthood that echo our parents’ example we witnessed in our childhood.

The reason this influence is so pronounced is not only because of the emotional attachment between kids and their parents, but also the sheer amount of time children spend with their families. The late seminary professor, Howard Hendricks, says that children in Christian families spend about one percent of time at church, 16 percent at school, and 83 percent at home. Even assuming these percentages shift as children move into adolescence, the message is clear: parents are the most influential human beings in the lives of their kids.

A parent’s influence not only helps kids with bumps and bruises, but, more importantly, in leading their spiritual development. Indeed, the home is the discipleship strategy God ordained, and why, from the very beginning, fathers and mothers are central to the spiritual formation of their children. Contrary to what some may assume, when it comes to role and responsibility of imparting the gospel to our children’s hearts, minds, and lives, Scripture focuses the spotlight, not on the church and its programs, but squarely upon parents and the home.

DISCIPLESHIP AND DEUTERONOMY 6
One of the foundational passages for this truth is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-7,

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Did you see the strategy? According to this passage, Hebrew fathers and mothers are indisputably their children’s primary disciple makers. They are to teach [these truths about God] diligently to [their] children, and shall talk of them when [they] sit in your house, and when [they] walk by the way, and when [they] lie down, and when [they] rise.

THE NEW TESTAMENT STRATEGY FOR DISCIPLING KIDS
This home-centered strategy for discipleship continues in the New Covenant with the church. God’s plan for children’s spiritual formation continues in (not deviates from) the original discipleship path established in the Old Covenant. For example, Ephesians 6:4 reads, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” When looking at the entire span of biblical revelation, the apostle Paul affirms the continuity of the parent as primary disciple maker in the days where the church has now become the people of God (cf., Heb. 12:9, 2 Tim. 1:5).

It is also worth noting that believers during both covenants had either priests, prophets, pastors, or someone whose primary designation within the community of faith involved spiritual guidance and teaching the Scripture. Yet, it is striking to see that even with these necessary, and God-ordained, individuals helping shape the spiritual formation of the people, the burden for a child’s discipleship remained primarily upon the parents. This only serves to highlight the truth that God’s plan has always been, and will always be, parents acting as the primary disciplers of their children.

This foundational biblical truth should also resonate with our experience, not only as parents, but as those who have been parented. Our personal patterns and habits that echo our parents’ influence on us merely confirm why there is no one better to impart to a child a love for Jesus. It is also why the parent as primary disciple maker is one conviction we must firmly hold. Unfortunately, many parents often leave the responsibility for their children’s spiritual growth with the church staff who lead children’s ministries on any given Sunday.

At first blush this church-only strategy seems natural because, like a teacher for educational development or a coach for athletic development, specialists often play a central role in the growth of our children. Therefore, it would seem the obvious strategy for our child’s spiritual growth would fall in bulk upon the pastor’s shoulders and the ministries of the local church. But we have clearly seen in Scripture that both Old and New Testaments testify this is not the case. The parent operates as their child’s first pastor, minister, and teacher. This does not mean our children should refrain from involving themselves with age-graded ministries of a local church. Far from it! However, it does mean those ministries are not a replacement for the parents’ critical position as primary disciple maker.

If this was the type of legacy you personally received as a child, make a break as a parent. If this is the legacy you are presently giving your kids, repent and give them something worth passing down. Remind yourself that, for better or worse, you are your kids’ primary children’s minister and their foremost student pastor. If that feels overwhelming, then welcome to the club. I have been in ministry for three decades, hold a couple seminary degrees, teach the Bible on a regular basis, and still feel overwhelmed as I look into the eyes of my three sons and wonder what their future holds. But being overwhelmed does not mean parents get a free pass from the Bible’s calling on us to disciple our children. Be encouraged! If God calls you to this role, it means you really can do it.

So, give it a try.

Let the church come along side you. And watch what God can do in you and your kids for his glory and your good!


Podcasts

103: Parenting Teens Today

“You aren’t raising kids, you’re raising future adults.” School is back in session, and even though the stress and strain of 2020 isn’t gone, the new school year feels at least reminiscent of the rhythm of life before COVID. But how, if at all, has that changed teenagers and how we parent them? And how can parents lead their teens to re-engage and move forward? On this episode, Jon Coffey talks with Clear Creek’s director of Family Ministries and Church on Wednesday Campus Pastor, Lance Lawson, and 528 Campus attender, former student ministry volunteer, and parent of four kids, Stacey Morgan, to talk about raising future adults in 2021.

Resources:

Sticky Faith by Dr. Kara E. Powell and Dr. Chap Clark

099: Princess Culture — Toxic or Transformative?

From Snow White in 1937 to Raya in 2021, princess movies have entertained and influenced little girls for decades. But is this influence good or bad? On this episode, host Rachel Chester is joined by Chris Alston, West campus pastor, Dalena Ryskoski, a volunteer on Clear Creek’s Children’s Ministry oversight team, and Aaron Chester, Clear Creek’s “How to Study the Bible” class instructor, to discuss how these princess movies have changed over time and how they lead us to change as well.

 

092: Watching Movies with a Christian Worldview

How do Christians engage movies, books, or songs that aren’t created by a Christian or explicitly Christian in its main message or themes? Is it okay to watch content that includes explicit language, violence, or sex? On this episode, Ryan Lehtinen is joined by Rachel Chester and Yancey Arrington to talk about these questions and more as they introduce the Clear Creek Resources summer podcast series on movies and the glimpses of gospel truths within them.

 

35: Prophets

Who were the prophets? Did they know the future? Why are they so important? Are there prophets today? We’ll answer these questions and more in this episode of Who’s in the Bible

34: Jonah

The story of Jonah is well known, but it raises some big questions. Did it really happen? Can we believe the Bible? What is the point of such a crazy story? All these questions and more are tackled in this episode.

 

088: The Porn Problem

There’s a pandemic sweeping across America, but it was around long before COVID-19. It’s the pornography pandemic. In fact, recent quarantine-influenced numbers show that porn website traffic is at an all-time high. So, how can we fight for purity in this sex-crazed world? How can we raise kids in it? And how can we honor God’s standard of marriage? On this episode, Jon Coffey sits down with Clear Creek’s Director of Marriage and Family Ministries, Lance Lawson, and Clear Lake Student Director, Kyle Mikulan, to talk about how the gospel impacts our response to, and navigation through, this issue.

 

Resources: 

Finally Free by Heath Lambert

Covenant Eyes

 

33: Rehoboam

King Solomon did a lot of good things as king, but he also led in ways that were against God’s commands. What happened after Solomon died? Check out this episode to learn about Solomon’s son, Rehoboam. You’ll be surprised what happened next.

32: Solomon’s Temple

Aric and Lance travel back in time for a tour of Solomon’s Temple. After listening, check out this YouTube video for a visual guide.

 

082: Teens and Social Media

It’s no secret that students are firmly entrenched in the world of social media. But what does that really look like for teenagers today? What are the implications? And is it all bad? On this episode, Jon Coffey talks to Egret Bay Campus Students Director Daniel Palacios, and Students Associate Kate Mendoza about the current culture of teens, their relationship with social media, and how they can leverage their skills and technology for the kingdom of God.

Resources

Gen Z: The Culture, Beliefs and Motivations Shaping the Next Generation from the Barna Group

31: Solomon

In this episode, we meet a wise guy named Solomon and Aric plays a ridiculous game show called, “Is it a Proverb or a Fortune Cookie?”

Videos

3 Tips for Having Hard Conversations with Your Kids

We’ve all been there. When our child is exposed to something scandalous for the first time, or a teachable moment presents itself, or we suddenly realize just how old our child is these days and it’s past time for them to learn about some more mature subjects.

 

Here are three tips for navigating through these moments well.

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