5 Reasons This Pastor Attends Church While on Vacation

destin beach

Pastor and ministry leader, as you consider your vacation this year, I want to encourage you to find a church wherever you are and visit.

I understand why you may not. Church is your “job”. You’re on vacation. It’s a break from “work” by definition.

One of the first things Cheryl and I do when we go out of town is look for a place to attend church on Sunday. We’ve had some incredible experiences attending other churches and its one of our favorite parts about vacation.

I know many pastors who look forward to some weeks they don’t have to attend church. I have often been asked if we are legalistic because we don’t take a vacation from church while on vacation. Do we feel we “must” attend church in vacation? Is it because I’m a pastor?

Absolutely not. We feel no obligation. It’s what we want to do.

Here are 5 reasons this pastor attends church on vacation:

We love church.

Church is the best part of our week. We don’t view church as an obligation. It is a privilege. We believe the church is God’s plan to make disciples. It’s our community. It’s where we find our best friends in life. It is a large part of what fuels us for the week ahead. Why would we take a vacation from this important part of our life?

We get to worship without distraction.

Honestly, Sunday can be a very distracting day for Cheryl and me. We are both busy with ministry obligations. On vacation we are freed to worship.

We get to sit together.

Cheryl is beside me during the worship portion of the service, but she has never stood beside me while I preach – even as many times as I’ve asked her to. 🙂 Actually, we did dance together on stage in one service. (Another story) On vacation we enjoy being together for an entire service.

We learn from others.

I love sitting under the teaching of other pastors. Cheryl never admits to anyone preaching better than me, but she seems to take plenty of notes when we are out of town. 🙂 We also always go home with new ideas and renewed energy from attending other churches.

We get to encourage another pastor.

We know how much we love visitors. On vacation, we get to attend another church, pray for the pastor, and many times meet and pray for the pastor and pastor’s spouse. Those have been awesome experiences over the years.

Please understand. I’m not saying you have to attend church when you’re on vacation. I am far from being legalistic. I’ve often been referred to as more of a rebel, but don’t dismiss this advice too quickly. It could be one of the greater parts of your vacation. (And if you’re ever in Lexington for vacation, come see us. Did you read my post about vacationing here?)

These 5 Simple Words Can Shape Your Parenting

Group of different families together of all races

I learned much of what I know about parenting after I was a parent.

Thankfully, my two boys are model young adults. I would say we have two of the greatest young men as sons any parent has ever seen. (Biased – aren’t I?) But, seriously, we have seen good fruit from our labor as parents. I believe this is in part because we followed certain principles.

Again, we learned as we went and it was purely the grace of God, but we were intentional.

These principles can greatly increase your success as a parent, in my opinion. (And, it’s important to note this is an opinion blog and an opinion post.) This opinion comes, however, not only from my personal experience, but also my training as a counselor, and my observation and counseling with hundreds of parents through years of ministry. Keep in mind – principles are not promises or guarantees. Children are individuals and you can do everything you know to do right and things not turn out as hoped.

But, I believe, as with most things in life, you have a better chance of success in parenting if you follow good principles than if you do not.

Here are 5 simple words which can shape your parenting:

Plan

Most of us have a plan for other areas of our life, but not for our family. Plan a strategy for raising children the way you want them to go. We had a personal parenting plan. You can read the basics of it HERE. We reevaluated every year and made individual plans for each child based on their needs at the time. Do you have a plan for parenting? Granted, your plan will look different from ours. Your children are different.

Protect

This word has several applications. It is critically important to protect your relationship with the child, for example, so you can maintain influence over them for the rest of their life. You don’t want to lose their heart. This is not accomplished by giving them what they want, but by gentling balancing discipline with love. You may have to be willing to say no, or to make them wait for something, even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular with your children (and their friends). There are things parents need to protect their children from in this world – before they are ready. Just because an 8 year old wants to see the movie – and everyone else is seeing it – doesn’t mean they should. You’re the parent.

But, you also have to work to build their trust in you as much as their obedience to you. One reason our plan included the word grace is we knew we would have to extend lots of it to protect their heart and our connection to them. It’s a continual and delicate balance.

Control

This one gets me in trouble with some parents, but often because they don’t always understand the magnitude of their parenting role at an early age – or they aren’t seeing the long-term goal of parenting. There is a time to gain control over a child’s actions. It’s when they are very young. When they are learning all the basic things of life we take for granted. We encouraged independent personalities in our boys, but a parent doesn’t have to let a 3 year old throw a temper tantrum, for example. When is this ever an acceptable – or effective – response as an adult? And, you can make a four year old attend Sunday school even when the would rather not – for another example. Are there times you don’t want to go to work? What do you do in those times?

There should be an element of control for a child not old enough to choose wisely and then a gradual release of authority given to them as they get older. Too many parents allow too much freedom early and then try to get control back when the child tries to be an independent teenager. It should be the opposite. You are training a child in the way he should go. Take advantage of the years where they desperately need and will comply with your wisdom.

Invest

Children require an intentional investment of time and energy over time. Having children who grow up well does not usually just happen. It is as a result of the right investment of parenting. We have children for such a short window of opportunity. We can’t waste time with opportunities which only produce temporary rewards or pleasures. Which has more importance – your work, your hobby – or your children? Do your actions portray your answer?

The one thing Cheryl and I consistently observe are families who appear to let the coaches or the instructors or other people raise their children. In a desire to give them activities they sacrifice needed time for their children with the people of whom they need the most time. Every family is busy on certain weeks, but if a family goes for months with little quality – and quantity – time together priorities may need to be evaluated.

(Side note – I realize this is especially challenging for single-parent or blended families. Some parents may need outside help – and it requires even more intentionality and planning. Get help and advice from others who have been there or are living your experience. This is also a huge advantage of being involved in a local church.)

Model

You cannot expect children to learn – and certainly not live – principles you are not willing to model for them. Children should not be held to higher standards than you hold yourself. Are you living a life they can and should follow? If they simply do what you do – or are doing – will they turn out the way you would hope they would?

Parenting is hard – but, the rewards are worth it!

Also, if you know anything about my teaching, grace is of paramount theme. If you don’t feel you’ve done everything right – or you know you haven’t – first, know there are no perfect parents. Second, know God’s grace is sufficient. And, finally, know even if your children are adults there is time to restore relationships. My father was absent most of my life, but the last 10 years of his life were well-lived. He died a good father. I miss him today.

Praying for you as I post this.

10 Prayers for Great Parenting

african sick little boy lying in bed with his mother praying on background

Dear Lord, 

Help me not to overwhelm my children with unrealistic expectations. 

Remind me discipline is for their good – and to always administer it in love – not in anger or purely emotion.

Keep me from dumping my adult problems on them, while helping me be transparent enough for them to learn from my mistakes. 

Help me to remember my children’s current age – and respond to them accordingly.

Grant me teachable moments and prompt me to use them to impart uncompromising truth into their life. 

Allow me to see my children as the individuals you created them to be and help me encourage them to thrive in your purpose for their life.

Let them see our home as a safe, fun, welcoming environment. 

Continually remind me time paces quickly and to embrace and enjoy each season. 

Keep building my character so my children have a model to follow. 

Above all – let my children know and experience unconditional love.

In Jesus name,

Amen

20 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife this Weekend

Rear View Senior Man and Woman Couple Walking Holding Hands

Men, want to show you’re wife she’s loved this weekend?

Let me offer a few suggestions:

Give her the best time of your weekend.

Do something with her you know she enjoys – even if it’s not your favorite thing to do.

Share a dessert with her. (Ouch! This one hurts me personally. I don’t usually share desserts.)

Take a long walk together and hold her hand.

Fix the bed, take out the trash, or pick up your clothes – without being asked. (Or whatever it is you know she would love if you did.)

Genuinely listen to her without trying to fix anything.

Give her a few hours with no responsibility – none. (Even the kids.)

Brag on her to your friends. Make sure it’s genuine and make sure she hears.

Go to a coffee shop and play 15 questions. I have a list of them HERE.

Tell her your deepest fears and greatest dreams.

Leave her notes around the house.

Write down 10 reasons she’s the woman of your dreams.

Leave a sweet voicemail on her phone telling how much you love her. (You can leave one at work, too, for her to get when she returns.)

Cook dinner. And, then do the dishes.

Book a date night for later this week. Take care of ALL the arrangements.

Pray for her out loud.

Ask her advice.

Say, “I love you”. Unsolicited.

Make her belly laugh.

Dream with her about your future together.

Any ideas you would share?

A Happy Mother’s Day Tribute to the Mother Who Has No Children

Happy childhood

I want to give a tribute to the mother who has no children.

I’ve always been sensitive this time of year to the mothers without children.

You know the ones.

They never had children.

For whatever reason.

Some never tried.
Some never could.
Some tried, could, and lost their child.

And, for many it’s a hidden pain they carry deeply. Deeper than any wound. Deeper than most people ever understand. (Certainly deeper than I can understand.)

I’m reminded of Hannah’s pain in 1 Samuel 1.

They never had children, but they:

  • Care for others sacrificially, simply for the joy of giving.
  • Are willing to fight lions, tigers and bears (Oh my!) for the ones they love.
  • Have more strength than the average man when caring for someone.
  • Are taken advantage of because of their generosity.
  • Love deeply and unconditionally.
  • Make life special for others – just because.
  • Find satisfaction in the simplest gestures of love.
  • Strive to make the world a better place for those around them.
  • Hide their pain – most of the time – when others take advantage of them.
  • Are always thinking of others and willing to put others ahead of themselves.

Sounds like a mother to me.

Many of them wanted children — but they never were given the blessing. And, motherhood is a blessing. Just as all parenting is.

They have no children.

But, they have a mother’s heart.

They may not have children – not in the natural sense – but in heart -they are every bit a mother.

They love like a mother. They sacrifice like a mother. They serve like a mother. They give – just like a mother gives.

And, if God were to celebrate Mother’s Day, I think He would include them in the celebration.

Because in God’s way of doing things, it’s always about the heart.

“Man does not see what the LORD sees, for man sees what is visible, but the LORD sees the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

This year, as you celebrate Mother’s Day, don’t forget the mother who has no children.

While you’re at it, don’t forget the one whose mother isn’t here any longer. And, the one who has a hard story with their mother. And, all the others who – as one celebrates – another weeps.

Let’s be sensitive to the needs of others.

That sounds like something worthy to celebrate on such a wonderful day!

The Greatest Prayer a Parent Could Ever Pray

A casual young woman says a prayer with her hands held together. Shallow DOF, focus on the hands.

I love the story of Manoah and his wife. They had been unable to give birth to a child. It was apparently their greatest desire in life. One day an angel of God brought them good news a child was to be born.

I think one reason I identify with the story is the huge number of people in our ministry who have struggled with infertility. It’s a huge hidden pain in the church. It’s one reason we have always highlighted adoption and foster-parenting.

But, when Manoah’s wife came to him with the news they were having a child, Manoah immediately did what happens to many men and women when they discover they are about to be parents. He grew up – literally – and he indicated this by what he did first. He prayed!

He asked for God’s provision!

It’s funny how “life” has to happen sometimes before we fall on our knees.

In the moment – realizing they were about to be blessed with one of life’s greatest blessings – Manoah prayed the most important prayer a parent can ever pray:

Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” (Judges 13:8)

The greatest prayer a parent can ever pray is to ask for God’s hand upon your parenting! Ask God to teach you to parent well.

Parenting is hard work. There will always be issues which come up in parenting you don’t know how to address at the time. We cannot – and should not – do it alone. (This is one value of the church and community – we are in this together as parents.) All of us have seasons we could use more prayer for our children and for are parenting, but we should certainly pray.

I’m working on a longer list of prayers for parenting, but we should start here.

Dear Lord, teach us to parent!

What are the current prayers you have for your children? What specifically do they need the most?

7 Ways to Earn and Keep Respect as a Husband

close up potrait of Asian senior couple on bright green background

I’ve written before about a man’s greatest need.

It’s respect.

We may not even admit it out loud, but I’d say it’s true most every time. You may even use another word – perhaps even the word love, but I suspect if we could trace how you’d prefer it be demonstrated to you we could easily translate it to respect.

The song says “All you need is love”, but it’s not exactly true, is it? We need respect. It’s a man’s greatest need. I’m convinced.

If I’m right – (And, I always wonder why else God would command it in Ephesians 5?) – then it makes sense you’d want to earn it and if you ever received it you’d want to do your best to keep it.

How can you? Let me share a few suggestions.

Here are 7 ways for a husband to earn and keep respect:

Defend the family.

Most every wife I know wants a husband who will defend the family. This not just against the bumps in the night, but against the blatant and subtle attacks against the family. Turn the television channel. Close the laptop. Say no to friends who distract the family from being healthy. Don’t let family time be disrupted by everything the world has to offer. Demonstrate by your actions – how you calendar your time and what you value personally – you believe in and want to protect your home.

Be gentle.

Men, you can’t talk to your wife with the same tone as you might your guy friends. Being gentle means being understanding in how she is wired and how to communicate with her. Remember your words can be heavy. Think before you speak. Protect her heart. Learn to be a good listener.

Be occasionally romantic.

This one is hard. Let’s face it – most of us are not wired this way naturally. Our wives know it. It’s no longer a surprise. The good news is we get credit for trying, but every woman needs to know you think about her unlike you think of anyone else. Be intentional to be occasionally a romantic. Surprise her. Spoil her as often as you can. Make her feel special. She is.

Don’t fix her or all her problems.

This is one of my hardest I see what appears to be a problem and I naturally rush to fix it. But, our wives are not broke. God made them different on purpose. Don’t always have the answer to every problem. She isn’t always looking for one. She mostly just wants someone to listen, care, and value her right to feel as she does in the moment.

Let her know you’re in this relationship – for keeps.

You’ll do this one by being faithful. Do the right things, even when you aren’t with each other. Don’t let her see your eyes wandering. When she does (because we are visual and she notices when you look) quickly let her see you fighting temptation and focusing on her alone. Guard your heart. Build appropriate accountability in your life. (For me personally, this includes allowing Cheryl access to my calendars. She appreciates knowing where I am during the day. It makes her feel a part of it.)

Learn to listen.

I’ve alluded to it already, but one way she measures love is with attention. She knows when you’re listening and when you’re not. Show her that you care by listening carefully. Ask her questions, such as, “So are you saying…?” just to show her you’re paying attention and comprehending. She probably speaks in more subtleties and less black and whites than you do – most women do – ask questions when you aren’t sure what she means rather than ignoring her. And, listen for the meaning behind what she says as much as what she says.

Tell her and show her you love her.

Value her for more who she is than for what she does. Ask yourself, if she didn’t do anything for me, what would I love about her? Tell her. Do things you know she appreciates without being asked. Continually demonstrate love to her and she will continually respect you.

It should be noted this is not a guarantee to anything. Every spouse is unique and responses differently. This is simply intended as a possible help. But, when in doubt, ask for help. There is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom from a counselor or friend with more experience. A good marriage is worth it.

The WHAT Test – A Simple Strategy to Think Through Level of Commitment

Asian business people team drawing on white wall whiteboard with sticky notes creative real office

The WHAT Test.

Over the years, I have found numerous uses for this simple strategy of thought. The WHAT Test is an acronym of steps to force you to think through how committed everyone involved actually is to a project, relationship or goal. It doesn’t ensure success, but it can help you avoid the disappointment of not having thoroughly thought about the agreed upon direction and level of commitment before you begin.

Here’s The WHAT Test:Where

Where do you want to go? It sounds simple, but it’ serially not. Many times when one person is ready to celebrate success another thinks you’re just getting started. Talk through the end goal. What do you want to accomplish? Collectively define a win. Make sure it is very clear up front where you want to go and how you will know when you’ve “arrived” at your intended destination.

How?

How will you get there? What’s the plan? What are the steps to get us to our goal? Who is going to do what? Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge of what? What are the necessary steps involved? This is where you ensure there is a strategy in place.

Agreement

Are all parties in complete agreement with the previous two? This is critical. Don’t neglect this important step. Don’t move forward without knowing everyone is on board. Many times we agree to a vision on the front end and have reservations once the actual strategy is in place. It’s good to renew agreement before proceeding.

Tenacity

This may be the most important one. I always ask: Are you willing to pay the price to see it through? This is almost a covenant agreement type step – and may even involve an actual covenant. Most great ideas fail – not because they weren’t great ideas – but because no one had the commitment to see them through. This can be especially true when relationships are involved. Decide on the front end all parties have a “whatever it takes” attitude. This will save you many headaches and heartaches down the road.

Obviously, each of these have multiple layers to them, but this exercise always seems to shake out some of the initial reservations which may not have been spoken and avoids some of the personal obstacles which may otherwise occur.

Let me give you a few examples of when I’ve used this:

  • Working with a couple trying to rebuild their relationship – could be after an affair or serious breach in trust has occurred.
  • Prior to attempting a difficult project or assignment.
  • Before a business partnership is formed.

At the beginning of any important venture – Take the WHAT Test

WHAT you are trying to accomplish will seem more attainable when you can easily pass the The WHAT Test.

There are dozens of applications for this simple formula, but the point is strategically thinking through these steps will help protect, build or rebuild relationships – plus help all parties avoid disappointment.

10 Principles to Consider for Parents on Healthy Discipline of Children

A young girl enjoys the afternoon with her family.

As a pastor, I’m consistently asked about disciplining children. I am not an expert – and every family is unique, with different parents and different children – but, I have learned some things personally and from watching others. Plus, I know some things I would do differently if I had the early years of parenting to do again.

There is always special interest in the subject of spanking – whether it was appropriate or not and whether I believe in it or not. While I believe discipline is a personal topic for parents to decide where they land, I do believe there are some helpful principles for all parents to follow. I am probably less inclined in this area to talk about what I did and more inclined to talk about the principles I believe are even more helpful.

I have written my basic overall plan for parenting in an earlier post. You can read it HERE. Since I believe the most important thing is you have a plan for your parenting and where you are trying to steer children as they mature, I decided to share some principles I believe can help the discipline part of your plan.

10 principles for parents on healthy discipline:

Goal set first. 

Proverbs 29:17 says, “Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.” You should understand the reason behind discipline. You are taking your children somewhere they need to go. There is great value then in discipline. Just as you have to discipline yourself to do anything of value – or just as they have to be disciplined to master an activity in which they are involved – your parenting needs to include healthy discipline.

Never discipline in anger.

When you act in anger you will say things you do not mean and do things you should not do. Discipline done in anger is rarely productive and usually harmful long-term.

Discipline yourself first.

At the time of need for discipline, remember this 3-step process: Stop/Think/Proceed. This takes practice on your part, but keep in mind, you’re supposed to be the maturer one. This also means you’ll do less yelling in the moment and take more decisive actions when you administer discipline. Obviously, when they are younger you have to make quick decisions. If your 2 year old is about to stick their finger in a socket – react fast. Decisions regarding discipline get more difficult as the child gets older, however, so you may need to take longer with each of these steps.

Be consistent in your discipline plan.

It will mean nothing to the child otherwise. You must help them learn how you will respond. The discipline may not be the same, but your attitude towards them and your follow through should be. As they get older, they will test this one.

Pre-think principles, rather than pre-planning specifics.

You should have some value-centered, character-based goals you want discipline to promote in your child. But, be careful declaring what you will do when your child does something specific. Avoid saying things like, for example, “My son will never wear his hair long – and if he tries I will…” You may regret those words someday. It should go without saying, but I believe Biblical principles are always best – and should come first. 

Differentiate discipline for each child.

To spank or not to spank should not be as big a deal as what works best for the child. Every child is unique and what works for one won’t necessarily work for the other. The more you individualize your approach the more successful your plan will be.

Do not make threats with which you are unwilling to follow through

Your children will catch on quickly when you do. It’s probably best not to make threats at all. Again, be goal-driven, value-centered. Threats usually cause more harm than good. Either they push you in a corner to respond – or, depending on the will of the child – encourage them to test your threat.

Use age appropriate and action appropriate discipline

As a child matures the discipline should mature with them. Be careful not to overkill a minor incident or ignore a major occurrence. Remember a 3 year old is 3. They are learning – and sometimes they can be so cute doing things the first time. But, if it’s a character issue – such as lying – treat it seriously. (Usually you don’t have to do a whole lot to convince a 3 year old it’s serious, either.) It becomes a lot more serious when a 13 year old is still lying to parents – especially if they were never disciplined about it at 3.

Always discipline the child for results, not your comfort level.

Discipline in its concept is not necessarily pleasant, but it reaps a reward if done right. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Many parents refuse to discipline in the name of love. All parents love their children. And, punishing people we love – even when needed – is difficult. Don’t discipline in a way which is comfortable for you – discipline in a way, which is productive in producing maturity in your child.

Discipline should never teach a child he or she is unloved.

Actually, if done right, discipline should reinforce the love a parent has for the child. (Hebrews 12:7-10) This is especially true as they get older. They should be able to look back and see – while you may not have done everything right – you always disciplined in love; you always cared for their best interest – even ahead of your own.

The discipline part of parenting is the hardest – and we all make mistakes. Keep this thought in mind: we parent our children to eventually be adults. Begin with the end in mind. What characteristics, values and morals do we want them to have when they are grown. This thought helped me many times when deciding which discipline to use – and certainly the severity of which I should view a matter needing discipline.