A Groundhog is a Lousy Role Model

The following text exchange took place late on the evening of February 2.

Text Message

Punxsutawney Phil. The weather-predicting groundhog. The one thing Phil is known for is seeing his own shadow and running for cover for six weeks. Ever wonder what that groundhog thinks he sees when he sees the shadow of a groundhog? An IRS auditor? An Amway salesman? His mother-in-law? Whatever he thinks he sees, he sees bad news. The circumstances in which he encounters this bad news don’t help. IT’S COLD OUT THERE. So what does he do? He runs for cover and hopes to hide from the bad weather and the mother-in-law.

Ever approach bad news the same way? Our human nature is to run for cover when we hear something we don’t like. But that’s not the best solution. Look at Punxsutawney Phil. He comes out of his hole six weeks later and the odds are the shadow—the thing that scares him—is still there.

groundhogGroundhogs do not offer a good role model on dealing with bad news. Sheep, on the other hand . . . well, we always hear of how dumb sheep are, but at least they never run from their own shadow. The Bible doesn’t address the issues of groundhogs—not even in the new modern translations—but it does talk about sheep and shadows. And in the process, we can learn a lot about how to face bad news.

download (1)The 23rd Psalm uses the analogy of a sheep with the shepherd. Right in the middle of the psalm we read: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (v. 4). Did you see it? Right there in this short verse are three ways we can handle bad news. Let’s compare that to the advice Dr. Phil– Punxsutawney Phil—would offer us.

Face the bad news. Phil would tell us to hide in the hole, wait it out, and hope it goes away. That’s nice if we’re talking about the weather, but a lot of bad news just doesn’t go away. The sheep doesn’t avoid the valley; he still walks through it.

See the big picture. In spite of the wide open beautiful scenery surrounding Gobbler’s Knob (Punxsutawney Phil’s home), Phil only sees the shadow. When we focus solely on the bad news, it grows in size and blots everything else out. But let’s see what the sheep sees. First, he sees it as a valley. For there to be a valley, there must be hills and mountains, high place where there are no shadows. The sheep knows he is walking through a valley, but he’s going to come out to a better place.

The sheep also acknowledges what Phil fails to see: it’s only a shadow. Shadows aren’t the real thing. Sometimes a shadow may seem ominous—just like some news we hear—but shadows can’t hurt us. That’s not to dismiss the seriousness of some of the news we hear. A loss of a job. Death of a parent. Cancer. But it helps to see things in the context of the big picture. Even the eternal picture. To see things from God’s perspective. I think the key reason the sheep could walk confidently with the shepherd through the valley was because he had walked through other valleys with the shepherd. Hope—our trust in God for what lies ahead—is always grounded in our faith—our trust in how God has worked for us and been with us in the past.

Walk with the shepherd. It’s easier to see the bad news in the context of life’s bigger picture when we walk hand in hand with the one who holds the big picture. There is an intimacy in the 23rd Psalm. The shepherd is not encouraging the sheep from a distance; he is walking right alongside the sheep. We have the comforting, loving, all-knowing, all-powerful presence of God.

How does God walk with us? His assurance as we pray. The powerful comfort that comes through reading and meditating on His Word. The encouragement of other Christians. God our Father desires to walk with us and He places the rest of the family—our brothers and sisters in Christ—right there to walk with us. Too bad for Phil. He faces his shadow alone.

Bad news is just that: bad. And let’s not sugar-coat it: a lot of those valleys are hard to walk through. But you still have to ask yourself: am I going to be a groundhog or a sheep? Punxsutawney Phil has missed out on a lot with his self-help approach, but when you read the 23rd Psalm, you sense the joy the sheep experiences, even in the midst of the valley.

So what’s it going to be: joyless living in a hole . . . or a whole life of joy? I’m going with the sheep, because He’s going with the Shepherd.

The tradition of Groundhog Day, or some semblance of it, can be traced back to the fifth century. February 2 was viewed as the mid-point of winter, and farmers in Germany tried to predict how long winter would continue by observing the hibernation habits of bears. When Germans settled in Pennsylvania, they brought the tradition with them and changed to the groundhog who also hibernates.

Which brings us to Punxsutawney Phil. Since 1887, the good people of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania have trekked out to Gobbler’s Knob to see if Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. Phil has been well-known for years—he’s been on TV with Oprah and has visited President Reagan in the White House—but his popularity dramatically increased with the release of the movie Groundhog Day (1993). Now as many as 38,000 people flood the town of Punxsutawney each year to see Phil do his thing.

How often is Phil right? Since 1887, Phil has predicted an early spring 12 percent of the time. Of course, the fine residents of Punxsutawney say Phil has never been wrong.

This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine.005075226 (1)

The Art of Giving Everyone Else Your Spiritual Gift

An eight-year-old boy spills grape Kool-Aid on the floor. What’s the first thing you do?Grape spill

Nothing delights a pastor more than having six frustrated children’s workers come into his office 15 minutes before the worship service starts. At least that’s what Pastor Keller kept telling himself.

Hal: Pastor, you got a minute? Good.

Gladys: We want to talk to you about your recent sermon series.

Pastor: The one on spiritual gifts?

Bob: That’s good. You must have the gift of discernment. Just like me. Soul brothers.

Ruthie: Whatever, Bob. Pastor, the kids were quite a handful today.

Pastor: And this has to do with a sermon on spiritual gifts?

Gladys: Of course. You know, Pastor, nothing is more important than imparting the Word of God to young minds. The children were doing quite well during my teaching time.

Ruthie: Good gracious, Gladys, you had them drawing pictures of Ezekiel’s prophetic visions.

Gladys: I was just having them illustrate what they learned. Application, you know. The problem came afterwards.

Pastor: Which was . . .?

Ruthie: As I said, Pastor, the kids were a handful.

Hal: Especially Clyde Dexwater.

Bob: As one with the gift of discernment, I knew Clyde would be a handful today.

Ruthie: That and the fact that his mother likes to give him Sundays off from taking his Ritalin.

PurpleKoolAidHal: Anyways, we gave them a break and served Kool-aid . . .

Ruthie: Grape Kool-aid.

Hal: Grape Kool-aid and crackers. It makes them feel good and encourages them to come back.

Pastor: Let me guess . . .

Hal: That’s right. I’ve got the gift. The gift of encouragement.

Ruthie: All you did was encourage Clyde to make a mess.

Hal: OK, so Clyde spilled a little Kool-aid.

Ruthie: It was grape! And on the new carpet Mrs. Harris donated from her lottery winnings.

Pastor: So you took care of it, right?

Hal: Well, Pastor, we tried. But no one was doing it right.

Gladys: Except me.

Ruthie: Gladys, you bored him with a lecture!

Gladys: If you had the gift of teaching, you would know that the only way we could help Clyde was to instruct him in the proper way to hold a glass.

Ruthie: Well, if you had the gift of exhortation, you would know that what the boy needed was a warning. He’s eight years old! He needs to know the consequences for such actions.

Mildred: He knew what he did. Goodness, he was crying.

Ruthie: But all you did was hug him.

Mildred: Teachings and exhortations didn’t help anyone. He needed someone with the gift of mercy.

Hal: He didn’t need to be coddled. When a kid falls off a horse, you encourage him to get back on again.Picture1

Bob: So you gave him another cup.

Ruthie: Of grape Kool-aid.

Hal: It’s obvious you’ve never been blessed by someone with the gift of encouragement.

There was an awkward pause as the tension built.

Pastor: Did anyone clean up the mess?

Gladys: What?

Pastor: The grape Kool-aid on the carpet. Did anyone clean it up?

Bob: That would be Sid. He’s got the gift of service.

Hal: Yeah. Too bad he was out of town today.

Later that morning, Pastor Keller did something unprecedented. He preached the same sermon on spiritual gifts he had preached the previous week. Apparently, not everyone had been listening.


This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine.005075226 (1)




HO-HO-HOrrible Christmas Movies

gty_stock_watching_tv_kb_121226_wmainSometime during the Christmas season, you’re going to park in front of the TV and watch something Christmassy. It may be forced on you. “But we always watch It’s a Wonderful Life as a family.” You may get yourself in the Christmas spirit by watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or A Charlie Brown Christmas. You may find yourself watching the 24-hour A Christmas Story marathon because . . . . well, there’s nothing else to do.

Sure, you could watch A Miracle on 34th Street again, but how many times have you already seen Santa on trial for insanity. How about a Christmas movie that makes you think the writers or producers were insane? Let me offer you a new list of movies to watch this Christmas. Bad ones. Really bad ones.

These movies are like train wrecks: so bad you can’t look away. These movies may not put you in the Christmas mood, but they will at least make you laugh—or groan. So grab the family and some popcorn, then hit play on one of these stinkers.

santa_claus_conquers_martians_poster_011-e1354920441205Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964). I am not making this one up. Martians (you can tell their Martians because they’re wearing green leotards) kidnap Santa along with two overly annoying children. Apparently there’s no one on Mars to deliver presents. One evil Martian tries to kill Santa, but the jolly old elf prevails and even helps them get their own Santa Claus. And it was all shot in “space-blazing color!”

Star_Wars_2The Stars Wars Holiday Special (1978). Star Wars was such a huge phenomenon in the late 70s that you could slap a hairy Wookie on anything and it would sell. Except Christmas specials. This was so bad that in later documentaries on Star Wars, George Lucas and friends would never mention this. So what’s so bad about it? How about Wookies celebrating Life Day and Carrie Fisher singing a Life Day carol?

Santa_With_MusclesSanta With Muscles (1996). Nothing makes me think of Christmas more than a bad wrestler turned bad actor. Hulk Hogan (wearing a toupee so bad even William Shatner would turn it down) gets knocked on the head while wearing a Santa suit (it’s best not to ask), and he wakes up thinking he’s the guy in red. In typical holiday fashion, Santa beats the living fruitcake out of the bad guy who’s taking over an orphanage. Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . .


MV5BMjE5MjAxMTI5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTYxNjUxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR6,0,214,317_AL_ Ebenezer (1997). We all love Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Except when it’s been set in the wild west. Where’s Clint Eastwood when you need him?

1pac_xmasChristmas Comes to Pac-Land (1982). Pac-Man was the video craze of the early 80s. The American way, of course, is to cash in on any fad, so why not a Christmas special? So Christmas visits Pac-Man and his family in a poorly animated and weak story. Hey, how hard is it to animate a circle with a pie piece cut out?


BabesinToylandBabes in Toyland (1986). All right! This one’s got Drew Barrymore and Keanu Reeves, so it’s got to be a blockbuster. Maybe not. Drew was only 11 but already living pretty wild. It shows in this stinker. But where else can you see Keanu Reeves drive a pink go-cart and sing about the joys of Ohio?

MV5BMTc1ODA3Njc2Ml5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM1NDAzMQ@@._V1__SX1389_SY598_Santa Claus (1959). Americans aren’t only the only ones who can ruin Christmas at the movies. Set aside the popcorn and watch this one with chips and salsa. This Mexican import is a badly dubbed telling of that time-honored story of Santa battling Satan, or at least one of his demons with no sense of fashion (red tights, red boxer shorts, red makeup and a handlebar mustache). Did I mention the wooden reindeer? This one may be hard to find, but it’s worth it.

MV5BMTI5MTY3NDE0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTc4NjEyMQ@@._V1_SX640_SY720_Jack Frost (1998). Nothing says Christmas cheer like a movie about a negligent dad who dies horribly in a car accident, is reincarnated as a creepy CGI snowman, and slowly melts at the end of the movie. OK, you probably loved this one as a kid, but watch it now as a savvy teenager, and you’ll be reaching for the hairdryer to help melt this slushball of a movie.

MV5BMTY0OTMwMTAxM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMjQwNTMyMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR5,0,214,317_AL_Ernest Saves Christmas (1988). It’s an Ernest movie! Does anything else need to be said? Know what I mean, Vern?

The_Santa_ClauseThe Santa Clause (1994). I’m going to get slammed for panning this one, but the movie begins with Tim Allen’s character killing Santa. “Killing” and Santa” are two words that probably should not be combined. But it gets worse. They made sequels! I’m waiting for The Santa Clause VI: Revenge of the Reindeer. Congress is considering banning Tim Allen from making any more movies with even a remote Christmas connection.

That’s my list, and I’m sticking to it. Now get out there and see how much you can endure of these cinematic fruitcakes.

This article originally appeared in Living With Teenagers, now called Parenting Teens005075228

“Romantic Man” is Not an Oxymoron

I am a hopeless romantic.

There is no cure for me, and if they found one, I wouldn’t take it.

Win Her OverBeing called a hopeless romantic may not have a macho sound to it around the locker room, but women like that brand of machismo. It’s worth it when you’re standing with your friend and he gets the nudge and The Look from his wife, the look that says, “Why can’t you be like him?”

So, men, my task is to teach you how to be a hopeless romantic. And retain your manhood in the process.

Little things count.

I don’t think it’s romantic simply to take the trash out without being asked, but if you’re not taking the trash out without being asked, this would be a good place to start! When was the last time you made the bed? Two minutes out of your life and you made your wife smile. The routine of marriage has a way of turning the early days of moonlight and roses to daylight and dishes. You can brighten her routine in little ways that may not seem romantic, but nothing says “I love you” like finding the bathroom cleaned.

Start dating again.

Remember the early days of your relationship: dating, courting, and wooing her? There was the element of the chase  … trying to impress her … getting her to like you … or maybe just notice you! We men tend to settle in after we’re married because we’ve “won her over.”

Win her over again. Take her on a date. Someplace without clowns and someplace where you don’t thrown away the plates when you leave.

Surprise her.

I took my wife on a date one night. Seemingly just a simple dinner out. But we were met at the restaurant by a good friend and her husband. Surprise #1. Surprise #2—for both women—was when we walked down the street to see a play. Your wife still wants to feel like she’s worth courting. And the effort you put in to surprise her tells her you’ve been thinking about her. (Extra points, men, if you’re keeping score.)

I took my wife to a casual lunch one week before our anniversary and handed her a gift. It was an outfit with the instructions to wear it on the plane trip the next day. Without her knowledge, I worked with her employer to keep her calendar free, and I booked travel to New England to spend our anniversary in a Maine bed and breakfast.


Speaking of trips, take one. You don’t have to fly across the country, but plan something to break up her routine with kids, work, and picking up after you. My wife finds simple pleasure in a half-day Saturday road trip. It more than breaks the routine of the week; it gives us time to talk.

Speak Her Language

You don’t have to be a romantic just like me, but you do need to be one based on how your wife is wired. Check out Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages. (You’ll score points with the missus just by having the book on your nightstand.) Dr. Chapman says we all have ways that communicate love to us. It might be words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, or physical touch. Acts of service speak volumes to my wife. She says her favorite birthday present was the year I took over the washing and ironing duties for a month. That may not sound romantic, but it did to my wife. (By the way, if you iron in front of the TV, you can still watch football.)

Spontaneous or well planned?

Be both in romancing and dating your wife. The spontaneity comes in buying flowers while you’re running an errand to buy milk. Or cruise the card aisle and buy her one of those “just because” cards.

Romance should not be limited to the spur-of-the-moment gift or gesture. Some things take planning. For each of the 30 days leading up to Valentine’s Day, I gave my wife a Valentine’s Day card. I would put it someplace unique every day with a simple message like: “Love, Lynn. 20 days to go.” I’d put one by her morning coffee, on the steering wheel, inside her Bible, and even rolled up inside the toilet paper roll. I wanted to build the anticipation that something was coming. I don’t even remember what we did for Valentine’s Day, but she certainly remembers the cards of anticipation. The point? It takes planning. (And it doesn’t have to be expensive. No $5.00 cards from me. I used those cheesy valentines 3rd graders give each other!)

It’s worth the planning. It’s worth giving up your macho image to be romantic. The return on your investment is incredible.

Now go love on your wife and thank her handing you this article and telling you to read it.

What the Women Folk Are Saying . . .

  • “It’s romantic when I get an unsolicited hug from my husband. He’s not a very demonstrative fellow.  I am truly moved by a warm hug that just comes out of nowhere.”
  • “I love candles at dinner, soft music, and yes, adult conversation. It’s romantic just to plan a weekend getaway.”
  • “I love the morning note attached to a piece of chocolate.”
  • “I love the simple gesture of brining me a glass of iced tea when I’m working in the flower bed.”005075226 (1)

This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine,  September 2009.

Mulligans: Can I Do That Part Over Again?

20130916-093345My golf game changed the day I learned about mulligans.

And my golf game needed to change.

For the uninitiated, a mulligan is a “gimme” in golf. If a player makes a bad shot, a mulligan is the chance to re-do that one shot. This little perk is great for social golfers (and really bad golfers like me), even though they are usually limited to one mulligan per game. And even though Tiger Woods occasionally could use a mulligan, mulligans are not allowed in professional golf.

Wouldn’t it be nice to occasionally be given a mulligan—a re-do—as a parent? Ever said something you regretted? Ever done something—or forgotten to do something—that you wish could be corrected? Life is not a game, but it would be nice to avoid the penalty and consequences of a mistake and simply move forward. Maybe we can. Consider with me three ways mulligans can be a part of family life.

Asking for a Mulligan

In the Christian life, we know that the time we are to ask for forgiveness is the moment we realize we have sinned (Ps. 32:5; 139:23-24). That’s true for our relationship with God; shouldn’t be equally true of our relationship with others? There are many times I have apologized to my sons for a word spoken in anger . . . for impatience because they didn’t learn something as fast as I thought they should . . . for perfectionism because they didn’t do something exactly the way I wanted it done.

We can gloss over our shortcomings with excuses (“Sorry. I was tired.”), but it is far better for us to admit we blew it . . . without any rationalization. Our kids know we’re not perfect parents, and we serve our children well when we admit those shortcomings. When we seek forgiveness from God, it includes both confession (admitting our wrong) and repentance (turning from it and going in the opposite direction). Asking for forgiveness in the family works the same way. When you come to child and ask for forgiveness, what will you do to show you have turned and gone in the opposite direction?

You’re doing another great service to your children. Not only does seeking forgiveness open the door for restoring a wounded relationship, but you are also modeling for them how to ask for forgiveness. They’re going to need to ask for mulligans too!

Picture1Giving Mulligans to Others

I can ask for a mulligan—a chance to correct a mistake I made—but it is up to the other person to give it to me.  What is in my power is the mulligan I can offer to someone else. What would your family life be like if you were overly generous in the mulligans you passed out?

Golf is not found in the Bible, but mulligans are. It’s called grace. God has lots of grace, and we certainly need it. “Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you” (1 Pet. 5:10a). And just as God has extended us grace, we should do the same for others. “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Eph 4:32).

Some people find it hard to forgive because it feels like they are saying it was OK what the person did. Forgiveness expresses that, although the words or actions are not approved of, we will not hold those words or actions against the person. They are still loved and accepted. We give them a chance to have a do-over by not holding the past over their heads. And remember, golf may only allow one mulligan per game, but Jesus says we are to allow lots of mulligans. How many? Seventy times seven (Matt. 18:22)!

Extending Mulligans to Ourselves

My wife and I have survived parenting to this point, and both our sons are now in college. During our walks, while our beagles sniff whatever beagles sniff, we often find ourselves rehearsing the past. This is not often healthy for us, because it turns into a discussion of what-ifs. “What if we had done this instead of that?” We can depress ourselves pretty quickly if we think of all the ways our sons would have been better off if we had not been so strict about such-and-such . . . or if we had been more strict about such-and-such . . . or if we had . . .and on it goes.

We need to give ourselves mulligans. Apologize where needed. Correct the mistakes we can. And extend a little grace to ourselves. When we’re open and transparent before our families—not hiding or justifying our mistakes, but asking for forgiveness and working in God’s power and grace to continually be more Christlike—God’s love, grace, and power can shine through. In spite of our mistakes, God is still at work.

This is not going in the opposite direction and trivializing our mistakes. It’s not saying, “It doesn’t matter how bad I mess up, because God’s grace and power will fix it all.” But neither should we keep beating ourselves up. Christ forgives. If you’ve accepted that forgiveness, then forgive yourself.

This article originally appeared in HomeLife magazine.005075226 (1)


A Remedy for Ugly Christians

I’m on aisle 7 at my neighborhood mega-supermarket, trying to remember if my wife asked me to pick up a can of diced tomatoes or stewed tomatoes, when I notice the boy. He’s probably eight. He is at the end of the aisle reeking havoc of a large display of fat-free, salt-free, taste-free chips. Apparently, he has learned how to get more chips in one bag. (You crush the bag and make the chips smaller.) Mom is standing a few feet away, simultaneously talking on her cell phone, looking through an assortment of tequila mixes, and smiling at her son. As a bag of chips comes sliding past me (Damien has switched to the sport of curling), all I can wonder is, “What kind of family is he raised in?”

angry-christiansTwo hours and two store trips later (I should have gotten the diced tomatoes), I’m watching the evening news. The network is running a story about a gay rally somewhere in the Midwest. The focus of the story is not the rally itself, but the group of protestors on the fringes. My screen is filled with images of signs: “God hates fags” and “Jesus loves you, but He will kill you.” As the leader of the protestors is interviewed, I find myself asking the same question I asked earlier, “What kind of family is he raised in?”

Oh, wait. He’s in my family. At least he says he is. The family of God. The church. The body of Christ, which at the moment has a very ugly face.

Do you ever find yourself embarrassed to be identified with Christians? I do. I love Jesus, and I am in no way ashamed of walking with Him or being identified with Him. But I do get embarrassed when a friend sees Christians acting the opposite of Jesus and he says, “You’re one of them, right?”

Our children see the same thing. Our current crop of children are moving into young adulthood and abandoning the church. They like Jesus, but they don’t like the church. I’m not sure I blame them. We can be an ugly family sometimes.

All families disagree. Even healthy ones. There are definitely points of disagreement between the church and the world, and there are times when there is disagreement with the family of God. The issue, though, is how we handle the disagreement.

Let’s start with disagreements within the church family. Why? Because when we get a handle on internal conflict, we’ve better equipped to present a Christlike image when confronting those outside the family. The things Christians disagree over can vary. Let’s face it. Some are petty. The color of the carpet for the new sanctuary. What brand of toilet paper to buy for the church’s facilities. (Don’t laugh. It happened in my former church.) Other disagreements are more significant, but there may not necessarily be one right answer. Disagreements over the style of music appropriate for a worship service are fragmenting many churches. Christians also disagree over issues like war and capital punishment, and both sides will use the Bible to support their views.

When opinions collide in the church family, we should confront the issue. When you find yourself in that position, remember what the goal of confrontation is. It is not necessarily to correct the other person . . . unless it is an issue of morality and sin. In that case, Galatians 6:1 tells us “Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit.” Granted, we do want the other person to see our side of the issue, but the goal is really to build up the other person. That’s right. Our goal is not to prove we are right; our goal is to encourage and help the other person. We are to speak “the truth in love” and promote “the growth of the body for building up itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16). And from my own experience, when I am consistently gracious and loving, the other person more readily hears my side of things.

We can still disagree on some matters, yet walk in unity. We want unity, not uniformity. What unites us is a relationship with Christ, a love for His body (the family), and a desire to help that body grow in love.

The world is not drawn to our theological positions. It’s drawn by love. Throw blue-collar and white collar people in the same room, mix in a variety of Republicans and Democrats, a few skin color variations, and those who prefer Pepsi over Coke, and you can expect a whole lot of differences. Throw the love for Christ in the mix and let that migrate into love for His family, and suddenly the world takes notice. The non-Christian will want to know what makes them different. (It’s Jesus. But you knew that.) What has the potential of being down-right ugly becomes very attractive to an outsider. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Picture2Let’s step outside the church family and consider our confrontations with non-Christians. We are not striving for unity with a non-believer; we have a different set of values and convictions. We don’t share the same goal. But love is still critical. Love is not reserved just for the family. When I look at some of the ugly ways Christians act toward non-Christians, I find I usually share the same views as the Christian. What I see missing is the love. Do you want to see someone come to Christ? It doesn’t happen by browbeating someone with your views on morality. It comes with showing him Jesus in loving words and loving actions.

This generation of teenagers and young adults—the group your children are either a part of or soon will be a part of—are not drawn to propositional truths. A recitation of the four spiritual laws and a well-reasoned argument has no appeal to them. They are all about relationships. Relate to your kids as Jesus would relate to them: in love. Walk with other Christians—and confront them—as Jesus would: in love. And show your children how to confront the world in the same way: with the love of Christ.

What would happen if we handled disagreements and confrontations with love? Our children would see Jesus in how we relate to them and in how we confront the world around us. And the world might stop looking at the church the way a preschooler looks at asparagus. Who knows? They may even ask the question, “What kind of family is he raised in? I want a family like that.”

This article originally appeared in HomeLife,  August 2008. 005075226 (1)



When I Was Your Age . . .


“I don’t understand my kids.”

That is an easy sentiment since the youth culture reinvents itself every few months. Extremely high heels for girls have recently replaced casual sneakers as the cool footwear. “For shizzle” is now “Oh, snap,” and calling something “phat” is “so 2009.” (Just like saying something “is so 2009” is now out of date.) I can’t keep up. Do guys still wear the pants around their knees, or is it hip again to wear pants somewhere near the hips?

There’s so much to keep up with! But that doesn’t mean you don’t understand your teenager. You may not understand the teenage culture, but you do understand your teenager. The fashions, the slang, the music, the what’s hot/what’s not lists, and even morals have greatly changed, but how your teenager rides the cultural roller coaster is not different that how you rode your own version of that roller coaster. As much as things have changed, they’ve also stayed the same.

How can you understand your teenager? Live in the past . . . sort of. Pull out your yearbook, put on some Milli Vanilli, get the big hair thing going again (or the mullet) and remember what it was like  . . .

  1. Growing into your body. Remember changing shoe sizes three times in six months and learning how to walk with these new Buick-sized feet?  I remember reading out loud in seventh grade English, only to have my changing voice crack and jump up two octaves.
  2. Riding the waves of emotions. Those same hormones that were pushing your body into overdrive were also doing a number on your emotions. Remember feeling all squishy inside just because some boy looked at you? Surely you remember the monumental mood swings: giddy one minute and sullen and withdrawn the next. Somedays you didn’t know what to feel.
  3. Feeling inferior. All those physiological changes affected how you felt about yourself. If you were a late-bloomer (like me), you wondered if you were ever going to catch up to the other guys. Maybe you were the girl who was an early bloomer, looking more adult than her peers, wondering if something was wrong with you. We became very self-conscious during adolescence. We typically compared ourselves to others and usually came up short. Didn’t matter if you were a straight A+ student; you felt inferior because you were a lousy athlete who missed the floor when dribbling a baskbetball.
  4. Trying to fit in. Part of your self-consciousness was trying to figure out who you were. As children, we got our identity from mom and dad. When we became teenagers we tried to find our identity from the team, the band, the in-crowd, the chess team (well, maybe not). You wanted to find your identity with a certain group you thought was so you followed their lead (i.e., peer pressure). That explains some of the bad fashion statements you may have made. It also explains some risky behavior.

Are your memories coming back? These are the same issues your teenager is facing. 2009 is certainly a different setting than 1989, but replace The Cosby Show with American Idol and Duran Duran with Miley Cyrus, and you’ll find the same adolescent developmental issues.

So how do you communicate all this with your teenager? I would be very careful about starting the conversation with “When I was your age . . .” Even the 90s is ancient history to teenagers, so they’re going to think that you really don’t understand what they’re going through.

Too often, when we try to connect out kids with the ancient history of our high school days, we do one of two things. Sometimes we hijack their feelings. “You think that’s bad. Let me tell you about my experience in the cafeteria!” We can often go to the other extreme, though, simply because we do understand. “I remember what it was like trying to fit in. It’s not as bad as you think. It’ll be OK.” That is probably true, but the irony is that, even though we do understand, that kind of statement leads our children to think just the opposite. To them it is a big issue, but we are perceived as downplaying their feelings.

There will be times when you can reminisce in public, but I found the best thing I can do is listen. I listen. I sympathize. I don’t overreact. I found that, by remembering my own adolescent experience, I was more understanding and less judgmental. (“What were you thinking??). I did not have to regale my sons with stories of my own exploits, trials, and tribulations, but I could be a lot more understanding.

No one had to ask me what I was thinking when I was doing doughnuts on the lawn of my high school in 1975. (I wasn’t thinking.) And 28 years later, I didn’t have to ask what my sons were thinking when they were “dispensing” rolls of toilet paper out of a moving car. I already knew the answer.

005075228This article originally appeared in Living With Teenagers (September 2009), now called Parenting Teens