By / Jun 15

Parenting advice is not hard to come by these days. Advice from grandparents and friends, articles, vlogs, and books detailing parenting strategies and philosophies all vie for our attention. When I became a new dad, it was the first time I ever crossed into the noble task of diaper changing. Thankfully my mother-in-law gifted me with a dad handbook complete with diagrams and dad-jokes. Parenting advice can be a blessing or an annoyance—some is good, some is bad, and some of it is just plain silly. It can be stressful for parents at all stages to sift through all the nonsense in search of those precious morsels of good counsel.

In the sea of parenting advice for new dads, how many people stop and dwell on the example of God the Father when looking for instruction on parenting? I wish I had done this sooner. The temptation may be to turn every which way to look for parenting advice when the example of our Heavenly Father is clear in the pages of Scripture. David even illustrates the Lord’s compassion as a father’s love toward his children (Ps. 103:13). God reveals himself as the Father on purpose, and his character and deeds are those of an ideal father. When I look to God’s Word, it is clear that the Father raises his children through presence, instruction, and love. And we dads should imitate his example.

Presence

I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God (Ex. 29:45-46, ESV).

Throughout the Israelite’s exodus through Egypt, God did not leave his children alone. The Father was present with his people. When the children of Israel were sojourners in the wilderness, God provided manna, quail, and water. Later, the Father’s presence through his guiding instruction sustained his people even when he was silent. His presence set them apart from the rest of the world (Ex. 33:16). 

In the same way, fathers should be present with their children. They are responsible for caring for their kids. Fathers would do well to imitate God’s commitment to his presence with his people. So many things, even good things, call for our attention, but few are more important than spending genuine time with our kids. Just as the children of Israel did best when they were aware of God’s presence, so too, our children will do best when their dads are visible and active in their lives. Research even shows that children are negatively affected when their father’s are absent. 

Of course, fathers must also provide—though that will look different for each family—which usually means spending time away from their children for work. While human fathers can never achieve the omnipresence of God, they can ensure that their children experience their presence through explaining why they are away and how this helps them care for their family. So, for example, when a child is eating lunch and dad is away at work, they can remember they have a father who loves and cares for them. And as the show “Daniel Tiger” emphasizes in one of its episodes, children with present fathers can have confidence, even while their fathers are away, because they know that “grownups come back.”

Instruction

Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O LORD, And teach out of Your law (Ps. 94:12, NKJV).

God’s instruction of his children is perhaps one of the most neglected practices imitated in Christian homes. The evidence of his instruction is all throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament, the Father made a point to instruct his children in his law. By giving the law, the Lord revealed his character to his people and also made them aware of sin (Rom. 7:7). Then, in the New Testament, he sent his Son, In the fullness of time, to save us from our sin and reconcile us to himself (Gal. 4:4). Now, those who are in Christ have the Holy Spirit to instruct them in the Word and lead them into holiness (John 16:13).

Out of this abundant example of God’s priority for instructing his children in his ways, Christian fathers must also place a high value on instructing their children (Prov. 1:8). When it comes to instructing children, opinions abound. But dads can be sure of this: God expects them to diligently raise their children, by his grace, to fear and love him (Deut. 6). Young children are sponges—they perceive new things about the world each day. Even small children will slowly begin to recognize that their parents submit to One who is their authority. However, this must eventually take the form of intentional instruction from the Bible. 

The instruction of children is anything but passive. Fathers cannot outsource this responsibility, though other trusted adults will often play a role in a child’s spiritual formation. It is a privilege a blessing for fathers to get to raise their children in the fear of the Lord. And it’s vital, for it helps paint a picture of who our Heavenly Father is, even in the mundane things of life like eating dinner, getting ready for the day, traveling, or doing chores. 

Love

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

The Father’s love is not contingent on our actions, but proceeds from his very heart. God gave what was most precious to him in order to save his children while we were still in active rebellion against him, while we were his enemies. And he is committed to his children all the way until the end (John 13:1). God’s love is unconditional and sacrificial.

In a world full of independence and self-serving motivations, Christian fathers should see to follow God’s example of sacrificial and unconditional love, however imperfectly. When we forsake other good things to spend time playing with our children, for example, we model a small piece of God’s sacrificial love for us. The love displayed in this sacrifice is not conditional on a lack of temper tantrums or clean rooms. Instead, fatherly love finds its origin in the Father’s love for us. The realization of how it pleased God to sacrifice for the sake of his children in ways that we never could should lead Christian fathers to ask him for a heart to love our kids well.  

Conclusion

Even in a world in sexual crisis, society is coming around to the fact that fathers are instrumental. That’s because God’s design for the family—which includes a married father and mother with children—leads to individual and societal flourishing. Because of the fall, families will not be perfect, but fathers should try their best to lavish their children with their presence, faithful instruction in the Lord, and love that points to the One who loves their kids best. As we strive to bring up our children in the ways of God, let us cast aside worldly advice and follow the example of our Heavenly Father. We will not always get it right, but we can trust God to sustain us and ask him to give us the joy of seeing our children walk in the truth (3 John 4).   

By / Jun 15

“Watch me, dad. Watch me.”

There are few imperatives a father hears more often from his children than “watch me.” It’s a plea for us to recognize that whatever our son or daughter is doing—catching a ball, jumping off a diving board—is worthy of our full attention. They know we are often busy, often distracted, and they want, at least for a moment, for us to truly see them. By seeing them in action, they believe, we’ll appreciate them even more.

We can learn a valuable lesson from their example: If we want our children to develop godly habits we need to imitate them by saying, “Watch me.”

“Watch me” was the command the apostle Paul gave to his own spiritual children. As he told the church at Corinth, “for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:15-16). He also told them, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul repeated this admonition several times to the various people and churches to which he served as a spiritual father (Phil. 3:17, Phil 4:9, 2 Thess. 3:7-9, 2 Tim. 3:10-11).

We have a duty to follow Paul’s example with our own children. As theologian Don Carson says, “Do you ever say to a young Christian, ‘Do you want to know what Christianity is like? Watch me!’ If you never do, you are unbiblical.”

Here are three ways your own spiritual habits can be used as a model for your children:

1. Be ‘watch-worthy’

Every day we are becoming either more like Jesus or less like him. Which direction are you headed in today? Because your children are watching you, that is also the direction you are leading them.

Paul was able to say “follow my example” because he was worthy of imitation. And he was worthy of imitating because he was himself committed to imitating Christ.

If we want to be similarly “watch-worthy” we must dedicate ourselves to developing a broad range of godly habits. We must practice the core spiritual disciplines of prayer and intake of Scripture. But we should also be engaged in service and hospitality, evangelism and self-reflection, character formation and developing wisdom, and so on. Above all, we must daily learn to trust and obey God in all things.

These are not practices that come naturally to us. Developing godly habits that lead us to become like Christ requires vigilance and effort. It requires setting aside the necessary time and energy and finding trustworthy resources. The task also obligates us to seek out mature Christians who we ourselves can imitate. If we are to be “watch-worthy” dads for our children we need to model our own behavior on imitation worthy spiritual fathers.

2. Let them see you in action

When do your children see you pray or read Scripture? Do they only see your bow your head to say grace at the dinner table? Do they only see you open your Bible in the Sunday morning church service? Are all your other times of prayer and devotion done behind the closed door of your office or bedroom? If so, then your children may assume such spiritual disciplines are to be practiced alone and in private.

Find ways to let them see you in talking to the Father and engaging with his Word. And welcome their interruptions. Don’t be dismissive when they ask what you are reading. Explain to them—in language they can understand—what you are learning about God and why it’s important to you.

3. Love their mothers

We live in a broken world, and many of us live in broken families. But if you are blessed to be married to the mother of your children, show them what it means to be a godly husband.

The most important way a husband can love his wife like Christ loved the church is to sacrifice himself for her sake. We are also called to model and channel the love of Christ by leading our wives into holiness. A husband should therefore forgive, pray for, and gently encourage his wife to engage in disciplines that lead to her sanctification.

There is no relationship that our children will observe more closely than our marriage. Having them see how we have a Christ-like love for their mother is a powerful example of how they too should love others.


Note: This article is adapted from material in the NIV Lifehacks Bible.

By / Jun 19

Holidays are intended to be special times. They unite family and rekindle shared memories. They delight and bring joy. They give us reason to push pause on the everyday and celebrate a common joy. But for some, holidays are hard. Instead of joy, holidays only bring up painful memories. They are a glaring reminder of loneliness and heartache. They are a day to get through and endure rather than celebrate.

Father’s Day is a holiday that can be hard. For some, it brings grief because their father is no longer alive to celebrate. For another, it’s only a reminder of the neglect or abuse experienced at the hand of a father. Father’s Day can also be painful for the one who never even knew their father. The day only serves to mock the loss.

If you are one of those who cringes at the sight of the grocery store’s card aisle filled with happy Father’s Day wishes, I want to encourage you that this is a day you can celebrate. You don’t have to avoid it or begrudge it. Why? Because you have a Father in Heaven. For all who have been hurt, disappointed, neglected or ignored by an earthly father, your heavenly Father stands there as the perfect father—the one you always wanted and have always needed. Here are four truths about your Heavenly Father:

  1. He has chosen you to be his own: If you are in Christ, know that your Father has loved you before time began. “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1:4-6). He loved you and knew you before you ever took your first breath (Psalm 139). Through Christ’s work on the cross on your behalf, he redeemed you and made you his own. You are now part of his forever family. As his child, you are also his heir (Gal. 4:7). You have a glorious inheritance to enjoy—a foretaste now and its fullness in eternity (Eph. 1:14, 1 Pet. 1:4).
  2. He will never leave you: If your human father left you, you can know that your Heavenly Father never will. He will never turn his back on you. In fact, because he turned his back on his Son and poured out the wrath you deserved upon him, there is no more wrath left for you. He will never reject, forsake or deny you (Heb. 13:5). He is always with you (Isa. 41:10).
  3. His love for you is perfect: While your human father may have failed you and let you down, God never does and never will. While your father may have said and done hurtful things, God never will. While your earthly father can never love you perfectly, your Heavenly Father’s love for you is perfect and complete. That’s because it is part of his nature; he is a God of love (1 John 4:8). “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 145:8). His love for you is so great; he loves you as much as he loves the Son (John 17:23).
  4. He knows exactly what you need: Human fathers often fail to give their children what they need.  Your father may have failed to teach you what you needed to learn. His discipline may have been too harsh or non-existent, but your Father in Heaven knows just what you need, and he never fails to provide it for you (Matt. 6:25-34). Everything he does is for your ultimate good (Rom. 8:28). Any discipline he gives is out of love and for your growth in holiness (Heb. 12:10).

This Father’s Day, when everyone you know is making plans to meet with their fathers, look to your Father in Heaven, and celebrate his great love for you in Christ. Relish what it means to be his child. Dwell on all the ways he has provided for you. Give him thanks and honor him for being the perfect Father who has always loved you and will never leave you.

By / Mar 26

UPDATE (May 19, 2016): Another mysterious airline tragedy is in the news today. EgyptAir flight 804 vanished from radar with 66 people aboard while making its way from Paris to Cairo. Incidents like this can fill us with fear and cause us to question the safety we perceive around us. This article was written last year to remind us of truth and point us to the solid Rock on which we stand. 

I served four years in the Marine Corps as an air traffic control officer. I often heard from more experienced air traffic controllers that aviation incidents seem to “come in waves of three.” The month of March has been no exception. On March 10, a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter crashed near Eglin, Florida killing all 11 service members on board, including seven Marines and four members of the Army National Guard. A couple days later, on March 12, another Marine was killed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma when his vehicle was struck by a T-59 Hawk that had veered off the runway. Now, this Tuesday, March 24 a Germanwings Airbus A320 has mysteriously and horrifically crashed in the French Alps killing all 150 souls on board, including sixteen young students and two babies.

One of the reasons I wanted to become an air traffic control officer in the Marine Corps is because I had faced my own aviation tragedy. When I was two years old in 1986, my father was killed when the F-4 Phantom he was piloting collided with another F-4 off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean during a training maneuver. His body was never recovered.  That event will forever shape my life.

Coping with the loss of a loved one in an aviation tragedy

As you can probably imagine, one of the most difficult things the family members or loved ones of a victim of an airplane crash face is not having a body to mourn. Sometimes bodies are recoverable, but in many cases, as in the recent Airbus tragedy, they are not.

An airplane crash makes death even more dramatic, too, since the loved one is seen by friends and family one moment only to take off on a plane the next and never be seen again.

Then there are the questions that follow in the wake of the tragedy. Did my loved one suffer? Was it traumatic? Did they have time for any last thoughts? Did they survive the crash only to later?

Now in the case of the recent Airbus tragedy, where it now appears the accident was caused purposely by the co-pilot, there are even more sickening questions. I personally can not imagine what those mothers with babies were thinking as they were holding this little life in their hands, knowing it was about to end.

Unspeakable horror.

Then there are the deeper questions. Why did this happen to them? What if they'd taken an earlier or later flight? If only. The “what if” scenarios can play out in your mind forever.

This Could Have Been Any of Us

Then there's the question some may be thinking but probably not voicing: Why did these people die in a crash and not me on the myriad of plane trips I have taken? 

One idea prevalent in many world religions, including much of the modern West, is karma—good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. If we obey God and help others, in other words, God is obligated to give us longevity of life, nice possessions, healthy relationships, and good health. But if we're selfish and harm others, we're doomed to a terrible existence and possibly tragic death.

The reality according to the Bible, however, is that “good people” don't exist. We are all sinners deserving death (Rom. 3:236:23).

Paul puts it like this: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:11-12). Even Christians, he later says, are still subject to pain and even tragic death: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22-23).

So the answer to the question is that these people who perished in the recent aviation tragedies were no worse than you and me. They were all sinners in need of grace. Perhaps some were even Christians. The reality is that because of sin, and unless Christ does not come back in our lifetimes, we will all die in some way.

Tragic Death Reminds Us to Flee to Christ

When I was a boy, God used my father's tragic death (he was a Christian) to open my eyes to the sudden reality and finality of death and judgment. He used it as a beacon to lead me to Jesus.

Some people once asked Jesus about a devastating tragedy in which some Jews, who'd been worshiping in Galilee, had been slaughtered by Pontius Pilate. Jesus replied to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).

Jesus' point is that every one of us is a sinner deserving death and that death often comes unexpectedly, bringing us before the judgment of God. People who experience tragedy are no more deserving than we are. The suddenness of death reminds us to repent of sin and flee to Christ Jesus, so that we can escape eternal death in hell. That's what Jesus is talking about. He continues: “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). (For a helpful theological explanation of this passage, see R. C. Sproul's article “When Towers Fall.”)

What does Jesus mean by using the word repent? He's talking about more than a guilty conscience or convicted feeling regarding something we've done wrong. He's referring to a change of heart about who we are as people (sinners before God) and who Christ is (our righteous sin-bearer). As John MacArthur explains, “[Repentance] is a spiritual turning, a total about-face. In the context of the new birth [it] means turning from sin to the Savior.”

How should we respond in the wake of tragedy?

So how do we respond in the wake of such tragedy?

  • We must first and foremost, seek God. Nahum the prophet wrote, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nah 1:7). Ultimately only God can provide peace and stability in the “day of trouble.”
  • We should pray for those grieving that they'll find out as much as possible about the last moments of their loved ones' lives, and perhaps even find their loved one's body.
  • We should remind ourselves that we too are still subject to death, and in fact will all die, unless Christ returns. We must continually look to our Savior, then, who has conquered death for us.
  • We should look for opportunities to share the hope of Christ Jesus, since everyone we know will also face death and ultimately stand before God in judgment.
  • We should thank God that those in Christ will experience a resurrection of life. Paul declares: “For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'” (1 Cor. 15:52-55). And this resurrection unto life includes the bodies of saints that have been lost at sea.

I would love to hear your thoughts about how God has used tragedy in your life to bring you or others to deeper (or perhaps saving) faith in Christ.

By / Jun 13

My dad is a quiet man, more comfortable working with his hands than delivering a speech or writing an essay. But this doesn’t mean Dad wasn’t a teacher. Dad’s life spoke to me in ways that I still think of today. Most of these lessons were simply by following his example.

My father grew up in a broken home. He didn’t know his real father until he was fourteen years old. He dealt with the devastating effects of alcoholism and was forced to grow up fast. While still in high-school, he got up early to work at a bakery, using this income to support his mother (my grandmother) as she helped raise six children with my father’s step-dad.

While in his late teens, my father came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham. He later met my mother, a Jewish girl who converted to Christianity, and they got married. I’m the oldest of three children.

Dad was a blue-collar guy, a licensed plumber, who has always been known for the quality of his work. It wasn’t the specific job he did but the way Dad carried himself that taught me the most about life, about manhood, and about living out the gospel. These five lessons are ones I’ve adopted as I seek to honor the Lord with my life:

1. A real man acknowledges his dependence on God. Even though my father is a rugged, hardworking, “man’s man”, he has always been unafraid to admit his weakness and need for Christ. I remember getting up every morning and seeing my father, up early, reading his Bible.

Now to be sure, I’m not a morning person, so my sons don’t find me up early reading the Bible. I do my Bible reading at other times, mostly at night. But I have tried to carry Dad’s dependence on the Word with me. Dad taught me the value of making Scripture the center of a family’s life. I think this is why all three of his children are actively following Christ to this day.

2. A real man takes his family to church every week. I guess I didn’t realize the importance of this until I became a father and had my own children. It was just assumed that every Sunday we went to church. There was never a question. No matter what was going on that week, no matter how tired Dad was, no matter who was playing whom that Sunday, we were in church. Dad had a pretty iron-clad policy: if you stayed home sick, then you were sick that whole day. You didn’t play hooky, pretend to be sick, and then play outside on Sunday.

For a young man, this is an important visual statement. Kids need to see their fathers faithfully leading them to church every week. This tells the family that worship of the risen Christ matters so much so that we voluntarily set aside a day each week in worship. What’s more, a real man invests and is involved in the work of a Bible-believing church. Dad gave himself, his time, his money, and his talents to the work of the Kingdom. I hope that one day my kids will say the same thing about me.

3. A real man works hard to provide for his family. Again, I didn’t realize how rare this is until I grew older and observed the sad lack of purpose and vision among contemporary men. Dad modeled what it looks like to get up every day, whether he liked it or not, and go to work for the family. Plumbing is a hard job. It’s physically demanding and requires focus and discipline. But Dad never wavered in his commitment to provide for us.

I remember asking Dad, “Dad, do you ever get tired of doing this every single day?” His reply, “Son, yes. I do. But then I remember that I don’t get tired of eating. I don’t get tired of having a house. I don’t get tired of seeing my kids’ needs taken care of. So I quickly get ‘untired’ of working.”

Great answer. Not every day at work, even in your chosen vocation where you are working in your giftedness, is a day at the beach. Many days are mundane. Some are frustrating. Some days you want to quit, even in the best of jobs. But a real man, a man of God, labors to provide for the ones God has called him to love and serve. By God’s grace, I’ve tried to carry on this work ethic, and it will benefit me my entire life.

4. A real man loves his wife unconditionally, in good times and bad. My parents have been married for thirty eight years. There have been many hardships along the way. My mother endured seven miscarriages. She’s been afflicted by illness. Dad has seen his own share of health challenges and, lately, unemployment struggles as the housing industry in the Chicago area has suffered. Dad has taught me, through it all, the value of simple, everyday faithfulness. Not all of life is easy. Many seasons are hard and difficult and make you want to get up and walk away. Dad’s faithfulness in good and bad seasons has shown me what a real man does: he endures.

I pray it’s said of me that I have the same character and faithfulness Dad exhibited. He isn’t perfect and neither am I. We are both in need of God’s amazing grace to cover our many sins. But if I could be half the man Dad has been in his life, that would be enough for me.

5. A real man is a living witness of the gospel in the daily grind of life. This is related to point #3. Dad not only worked hard, he took pride in his work. I remember asking Dad when I was working alongside him at 14 years old why he cared that the drain pipes we were installing inside the walls had to be so straight. “Nobody will see them,” I said. “But, Son, I will see them. God sees them. That matters.” Dad did his work with excellence, even staying an extra hour to get that one thing right that didn’t much matter to me. But it does matter, because the work we do with our hands reflects the Creator. He’s given us a job to do, and we should do it well–to His glory.

Dad’s work was his witness to an unsaved and watching world. The construction trades are not exactly a haven of clean-living. Dad never heard of the words missional and incarnational. He just got up every day and did the very best job he could. And this work was a witness. He was unafraid to vocally share his faith on the job, even though those opportunities were rare. I can tell you, however, that everyone who worked with my father knew he was a Christian, mostly because of the quality work he did.

Too many people in our day and age don’t know the treasure of a great father. I’m grateful, by God’s grace, that I do. In fact, my father is one of my heroes because he showed me what it looks like for a Christian man to live out his faith in the nitty-gritty, daily grind of life, among a lost and sinful people. And I’ll never, ever forget it.