It Takes a Circle

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I grew up in a small church where the congregation’s youth group consisted mostly of me and my sister, Cathy. Seriously.
Instead of sitting with my parents through the sanctuary service, I spent most Sunday mornings watching the pastor’s kids in the nursery. That was my church experience as a youth.

At 23, I got married in the sanctuary I’d avoided during my teenage years, and I began searching for a different church for my newly-formed family. Goal: a huge youth ministry. After all, future Daniel and Traci would have a child, and I wanted him to have the youth group I never had. That’s what parents do . . . give our kids what we wanted and never had.

However, when Thomas was nine years old, we decided to pursue a nomadic life on the road. Yes, that’s right. Before our son could enter the amazing youth group at our church—the one we’d purposely picked before his birth—we whisked him away in a 38-foot bus with us.

Instead of forming long-lasting relationships with peers and engaging with experienced student ministry staff, our boy had to trail behind a 38-year old anxious sales guy and a 35-year old insecure introvert. What could possibly go wrong?

The first year spent on the road was bumpy and bruising. As camping newbies, Daniel and I took on roles and responsibilities beyond anything we’d ever known. The learning curve for all-things-RV was steep, and there were new simultaneous stresses, too.

Daniel left corporate America to become an entrepreneur, and I exchanged the role of Room Mom for full-time teacher. And, instead of three people sharing a few thousand square feet of house, we occupied 350-square feet 24 hours a day, every day.

Learning to share space—and one family computer—while launching a business, educating ourselves on homeschooling, and remembering to enjoy the journey was challenging. Thomas’s nuclear family was sometimes indeed nuclear.

The adventurous life both rewarded and exhausted. We loved all the family time, but as the first year of travel came to an end, Daniel and I realized what we had sacrificed. No, we realized what Thomas had sacrificed.

The fun-loving little boy who’d left Indiana now reflected his parents, anxious and insecure. That hadn’t been our plan. If something didn’t change, I was convinced Thomas would end up on Jerry Springer someday.

On a break from traveling, I had coffee with the youth pastor at our Indiana church. She was a close friend, so I shared my concerns and fears including the part about Jerry Springer. Pastor Mandy assured me that Thomas would be okay, but she encouraged me to plug him in with his peers and youth leaders. The connections would be good for all of us.

Her words reminded me why we’d chosen the congregation we did: Doing life in isolation is hard.

Humans were designed to live within community, but I’d let my desire for adventure interrupt the foundational relationships my son would need, the very ones I’d wanted for myself as a teenager.

Youth group involvement became a priority for our family. We still traveled from time to time, however, Thomas never missed a work camp or youth convention. His small group leaders, youth pastors, and other adult volunteers became an ever-widening circle of influence.

The impact and evidence struck me in 2013 during the semester Thomas would graduate from high school. “If you ever needed something and your dad and I were unavailable, who would you call?” I asked. Thomas named a few people. “Yes, but if you had a crisis and couldn’t reach us, who would you go to for help?” Thomas named more people.

My boy was listing his circle from church. Small group leaders. Youth pastors. Thomas listed one by one many of the adult volunteers he’d come to know, those who had for years poured into his life.

Instead of the traditional high school graduation open house celebrating his accomplishment, Thomas invited his circle to a Gratitude Brunch to honor their contribution to his accomplishment. This is what he wanted to say:   

Thank you for caring for me.
Thank you for encouraging me.
Thank you for challenging me.

It’s said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” I would say that village is shaped like a circle.

Building Wisdom With the Weight of Your Words

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When you become a parent there’s a phrase you start throwing around: “My parents did __________, but I will never do that.” My parents said ___________, but I’ll never say that.

I’ll never yell.
I’ll never try to cut bedtime short.
I’ll never say, “Because I said so”

But then the strangest thing happens. You’re lecturing your child about needing to eat their vegetables if they want to grow big and strong, and all of the sudden, you hear your mother’s voice coming out of your mouth. Or your kid is relentless with the questions about why you have to wait thirty minutes after eating to swim, why shooting nerf guns at your brother in point blank range is a bad idea, why not drinking a full glass of water before bedtime will be a decision they (and you) will regret later and without even thinking, you say it. With no effort at all, it comes out of your mouth.

“Why? Because I said so.”

When I heard that as a kid, I thought it was a cop out. A way to shut down a conversation I knew my parents didn’t want to have. Now that I’m a parent myself, I sure that’s exactly what it is. It absolutely is a chance to hear no more talking. To stop the questions. To get a breather.

The problem is, it’s lazy parenting and though it buys me a few minutes of peace and quiet, I’m also pretty sure I’m not doing my kids any favors.

In his letter to the church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul writes saying, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one need and bringing grace to those who listen.”

I’ve always heard this verse and focused on the first part of it: Don’t say anything unwholesome. Or to say it another way, nothing distasteful, nasty or unpleasant. It’s good advice, but if that’s the only standard for what I should say, that sets the bar pretty low.

But the second part of that verse raises the bar. Paul writes that we should only say what is helpful for building up. That paints a different kind of picture, doesn’t it? Now my words are tools, possibilities for creating something, or tearing something down. Basically, no word is neutral. So the question becomes what are our words accomplishing?

Interestingly, in ancient Hebrew the word “wisdom” came from the root word “to build”. Paul didn’t write his letters in Hebrew, but he would have known it, and I wonder, as he wrote to the church in Ephesus about building one another up, if he didn’t have in mind this idea of building as it relates to wisdom. Of how we ought to use our words to build wisdom into one another—for us as parents, to coach our kids in discovering wisdom. Suddenly, that makes my words weightier. And conversations with them even more important. And that fallback, “because I told you so”? Way less helpful.

I want to be careful with my words, not just to build my kids up, but to coach them in how to discover the right thing to do and the wise thing to do—on their own—without my voice ringing in the background to do just do what I said, because I am their mom and that makes me the boss, so stop asking questions.

If we are builders with our words, and we are architects of our children, we need to be teaching them not only with the words we are speaking aloud, but also with the words we are choosing not to say. Sometimes the building is teaching them to draw their own conclusions. Sometimes it’s engaging in longer conversation than we would like, sometimes it means we stop saying, “because I said so”, and buckle down for more words than we expected, because when it comes to learning how to be wise, this is what it takes.

I’ve found so much of parenting, more than I anticipated anyway, to be making a decision between taking the easy way, the short sighted way, and the way that envisions a future version of my kids that I want to be around. Kids who have grown up and grown into the type of people I am proud to be responsible for. When it comes to the words we speak, I have to parent with the long game in mind. I have to build and construct and instruct my kids towards becoming wise.

Our words are powerful. They are powerful in what they can do for others, but also in what they require of us: intention, time and care. And though they sometimes ask more of us than we like, I think we’ll find they do more for us long term when we put in the necessary time to use them as tools in shaping our kids and shaping their future into the best possible one.


What Parenting Taught Me About Life

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As parents, we are tasked to train our children and prepare them for the world . . . but sometimes those roles are reversed. Our children become the teachers, exposing us to our own weaknesses, allowing us to grow alongside them as we navigate the unknown together.

Before I had children, I lived a very sheltered life. Under the comfort of my parents and great grandmother’s wings, I was surrounded by strong individuals who set the pace and direction of my life. While this was good on one hand, it handicapped me on the other. You see the world around me that I was being “protected” from was the same world that I would need to face one day alone. In this environment, my battles were fought for me and I didn’t have many opportunities to stand up for myself. I was lost in my own world, trapped in the bubble of a loving environment that was doing more harm than good.

I matriculated through life as a peacemaker. The girl that could get along with everyone but at the same time no one. The student who was academically successful, but socially awkward. The woman who could multitask at work, get the job done, but be used and walked over by her boss. The wife who was afraid to lead for a fear of failure, so neglected her position of helper and left her husband to fend for himself.

Next, I became a mother and the responsibility of caring for a life that was not my own became motivation for me to grow up, be bold, and lead.

I became an advocate . . .

Advocate: “to plead, support, or speak on behalf of another person … the pursuit of peace.” (

Then something clicked here recently. One of our children dealt with bullying. Although, it was painful for me to not be there for her physically, I had the privilege of walking alongside her (step- by-step) teaching her how to advocate for herself. It wasn’t easy by any means, but through teaching her, I was learning myself.

Now I am becoming . . .

A mother that willingly ventures into the hard places . . . understanding that it is in those places, we are formed.
A mother that cares for my children and empowers them to care for themselves.
A mother that strives for excellence and supports the journey of struggle and mistakes along the way.

Through parenting, I have become more intentional about how I live my life and the example I set for my children. This has changed the direction, pace, and purpose for me. Not because I wanted to be someone else to them, but because I wanted to be the best me for them.

What lessons have you learn through parenting?


The Parent Your 18+ Kid Needs Now

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This fall, we sent our youngest daughter of three to college. You’d think I’d have this transition down by now.

I didn’t.
I cried like a baby.
At the most unexpected times.
Over obscure memories.

Parenting is not for the weak.
It’s courageous.
Gut wrenching.

As my wife and I drove away from our daughter’s new dorm-home, we hugged.
And gave each other a fist pump.

We made it.
We did it.
Empty nest.
Add “empty nesters” to our parenting resumé.

But our new status doesn’t really mean that our parenting is over.
It’s actually a new beginning.

[Some parent-readers are gasping right now. Hang in there with me.]

It occurred to me that my tears were not just about my daughter’s transition
But about my transition as well.

I need to change.
And my daughter needs me to change.
What she needs from me is to be her dad today, not yesterday.

In my experience and our research at the Fuller Youth Institute, we’ve recognized that eighteen-plus kids launching into to work, school, military, or gap years need their parents to pivot, too.

In order to be what your eighteen-plus kid needs you to be today and going forward, consider these three crucial parenting pivots:

PIVOT 1: Come to terms with your past parenting and work on future parenting.

When our kids graduate or move out of the house, it can start to feel like we’ve run out of parenting time and chances. We wonder . . .
Did I set them up for success?
Was I too tough on them?
Too easy?
Too naïve?

In these moments, many of us try to cram too many pieces of advice into the final days and hours of their departure.

But here’s the truth:
You are an imperfect parent.
You did what you could.
You rocked it in some areas
Blew it in others.

You didn’t have enough time to do it all.
That’s not because you’re a bad parent.
It’s because you’re human.

Accept the good and bad elements of your parenting.
Ask for forgiveness where you need to.
Celebrate and forgive your past, parenting self.

You can’t go back.
But you can go forward
Have courage to try again.
Take small steps.

Here’s the great news. Research on parents’ relationships with their post high school kids suggests that it gets better! Don’t let your past parenting hold your future parenting.

Pivot from trying to make up for the past and instead start living into the kind of parent you can be for them today.

PIVOT 2: Change your language to shift your parenting role.

Out of habit, it’s interesting how parents and kids default back to old roles and patterns. Especially with our communication. Changing my parenting starts by changing how I talk with them. If I speak with them differently, the relationship will follow.

In high school, I’d ask them:
Did you get your homework done?
What are your plans for the weekend?
Who is Danny?
Are you going to church?

My questions and language demanded that they keep me updated on their responsibilities, plans, and relationships. For an eighteen-plus person trying to strike out on their own, these conversations sound odd to them. Worse, it communicates to my daughters that I’m treating them as teenagers not as emerging adults.

I’ve made that mistake.
I didn’t mean it that way.
Old habits die hard.

But after experiencing their resistance and frustration, I realized that the parent they needed, needed to talk with them differently.

So my questions pivoted to:
What are you learning these days?
How is your weekend shaping up?
Tell me what you appreciate about some of your new friends.
What’s it like to find a Christian community?

Pivot the way you talk with your eighteen-plus kids by speaking to them as the emerging adults they are becoming, not the teenagers they were.

PIVOT 3: Be interested and interesting.

What our eighteen-plus kids need from us more than anything else is to see our own progress.

Many of our parent peers express the void they feel when their eighteen-plus child moves on. We’ve spent two decades loving, worrying, and dedicating our lives to launching them and often don’t prepare for the period beyond this point.

It feels strange.
A second post-partum.

It’s time to invest in your second half of life.
What will you learn, try, read?
What bad habits might you break and what healthy ones will you replace them with?
How can you reinvest in your marriage or friendships?
How might you deepen your connection with God?

This is more than a pitch for self-improvement. I’m convinced that what eighteen-plus kids need is for their parents to not only be interested in them but also interesting.

When you ask them what they’re learning, you can share your discoveries.
When you ask them what they’re doing, you can share your activities.

Some of my best conversations with my daughters stem from us exchanging books we’re reading, current issues we’re wrestling with, ideas we’re trying on, or experiences we’re trying to make sense of.

When we work to be interesting ourselves, we have a chance to engage our eighteen-plus kids as peers who are growing together. We also show them that life never stops being interesting!

Pivot from not only being interested in them to being interesting yourself.

Beginning again.

We have a lot of history with our eighteen-plus kids. We also have a lot of history yet to make. Let’s become the parents our emerging adult kids need today (and each day) by pivoting our role, our language, and our interests. This is our new beginning.

Become a Role Model Worth Following

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As we strive to be role models for our kids, there will be plenty of times we fail. Our children have a funny way of calling us out when we do something that is inconsistent with what we are teaching them. For example, it’s a bit of a wake up call to have your children stop you mid-sentence because you’re talking with your mouth full at the dinner table after you’ve told them they shouldn’t.

If you desire to be a role model, who is worthy of following, here are 6 areas in your life that need to be evaluated and changed accordingly.

Your Language

Watch what you say. Whether you think your kids are listening or not, they hear you. Be careful not to call other people names, gossip, or curse if you don’t want your kids doing the same things.

Your Tone

How you talk to someone is just as important as the words that are used. Be careful to speak to your spouse and others with respect.

Your Attitude

Negativity breeds more negativity. Have a can-do attitude for your child to be prepared to take on the world. Sometimes even the smallest attitude adjustment can go a long way.
Are your elbows on the table? Do you hold doors for women when out in public? Your children will be little gentlemen and little ladies only if you model it yourself.

Your Confidence

Exhibit confidence to your kids in doing what is good. Always do the right things for the right reasons.

Your Forgiveness

We all make mistakes. Are you modeling the father’s forgiveness for your children? And do you apologize when you are in the wrong?

Your Love

The greatest gift that you can give your children is love. Be a model of love to your kids. Show and tell your children that they mean the world to you. They will learn to love the way you do.

Speed Kills

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What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. –Job 3:25-26

The pace of life is killing the soul of families. It makes good people act crazy and makes otherwise healthy individuals become vulnerable—vulnerable to sickness, vulnerable to broken relationships and vulnerable to sin. The old adage “speed kills” no longer refers only to drivers on the highway.

Today’s family is dangerously tired. We are too busy and too distracted to find much hope unless we undergo drastic “family surgery.” The soul of a family is at risk when the family is overstretched and overcommitted. In my book, Creating an Intimate Marriage, one theme I focused on is the idea that when couples are overcommitted, they become unconnected. Doesn’t this hold true for families as well? What happens when our families run too fast for too long? The hurry and busyness of life can be the great destroyers of an otherwise healthy family. A philosopher in the previous century put it this way: “Hurry is not of the Devil; hurry is the Devil.” Decades later Richard Foster wrote, “Our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry, and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in ‘muchness’ and ‘manyness,’ he will rest satisfied.”¹

Let’s face it: everything is more dangerous at high speed. When we are overly tired, we tend to become numb to what matters most in our life. We settle for mediocrity in our primary relationships with God, our spouse, our kids, our extended family and our friendships. The saddest part is that many of us are just too busy to care. When we are overcommitted, we postpone or cut short what matters most. Our to-do list seems necessary and unavoidable. We feel like we can never escape the persistent presence of bills, schedules, and other responsibilities. This ever-increasing pace of life turns even the best people into machines and greatly reduces our general level of happiness and fulfillment.

Choosing to cut back from the busy pace we live our lives can be difficult and involves tough choices. It requires the courage of your conviction that cutting back is in the best interest of your life and those of your family, even when doing so is contrary to what we so often see as the norm in today’s culture. Today, go against the flow. Slow down!

1. What do you find most difficult about the concept of cutting back?

2. How might reducing the pace of life bring healing and wholeness to your family?

Psalm 23:2; Mark 6:31

5 Ways to Help Your Kids Make Wise Choices

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Any of these sound familiar?

Dad, can I ride my skateboard down the driveway and into the street?
Mom, can we jump off the roof into the pool?
Mom, can I slide down the banister?
Dad, can I jump on that beehive right there?

When you hear questions like that you want to scream, “NO!”
That, or run crying into your bedroom and hide under the sheets until your kids grow into adults.

Let’s face it, some decisions are easy to make. Clearly, the beehive should be left alone.

Others? Not so much. Sliding down the right banister can actually be pretty fun.

As parents, we’ve (hopefully) figured out how to make a wise choice over time. Our kids on the other hand are just starting their journey to discovering wisdom, and unfortunately, choices aren’t always cut and dry. As our kids grow up they’ll soon learn that the decisions they’ll have to make are not as black and white as we might wish.

Helping kids understand that is often easier said than done. How do we help our kids learn the importance of wisdom and making the wise choice?


Kids are concrete thinkers, and often that means they need some connections made that are intuitive to you. As you walk through a decision such as what to eat for a healthy snack or how to respond to a neighbor’s barky dog, verbalize what’s normally just inside your head. Invite kids into the process and ask them their opinion. If it’s a big choice that you’re praying about (like buying a car or new home), pray with them about that decision as you ask God for wisdom. When your kids see you make wise choices, they’ll be more likely to make the wise choice themselves.


The Bible is full of people who both succeeded and failed at wisdom. Read those stories together and talk about the consequences they experienced. And not only the Bible, as you’re reading (or watching) anything with your children, pause and talk through the decisions you’re seeing played out in the storyline. Use these as teachable moments to help kids discover more about wisdom.


We often think it’s easier to make decisions for our kids. And let’s be honest—it usually is. But when we consider the end in mind for our kids, this isn’t the best thing for them. Rather than give them the answer to decision, we can guide them through the process making the wise choice. Ask questions that walk them through the sorts of ideas they should consider when making a decision. Eventually, they’ll start asking themselves those same types of questions. They may still not make the choice you wish they’d make, but at least they’re thinking through it. And who knows, they may surprise you and consider something that you hadn’t.


Like or not, we often don’t learn without messing up once or ten times along the way. As much as you’ll want to step in and fix it, resist the urge to rescue your kids from the consequences of their choices. It’s hard to watch of course, but sometimes we need to let our kids touch the proverbial stove in the short-term choices to help them gain wisdom that will help them win at the rest of their life. And if they do mess up (and they will), don’t take away their responsibility. Let them learn from their mistake and get back at it. Show them that you can still trust them even when they mess up. This will help give them confidence to get back at it and grow in wisdom.


When your kids make the wise choice, let them know you noticed. Celebrate them with a high-five, a hug, or slip a note into their lunch box. You don’t need to throw a party to celebrate they chose to finish their homework before playing video games all week, but showing appreciation will affirm those choices and reinforce to your kids that it was worth the effort to make the wise choice.

When it comes to wisdom—finding out what you should do and doing it—it’s important to remember that parenting is a marathon sport. Over time, the conversations that you have about making decisions will influence your children to consider the value of wisdom. Giving kids a strong foundation of wisdom is important. Let’s equip them to face down whatever choice they may face in the future.

10 Dangerous Video Games Your Teen Might Be Playing

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“Just one more level!” they plead. Late night, playing video games with friends, it seems they’ve been on for hours. You know where your kids are. But do you know what they’re playing?

Many of us grew up playing video games. But we’ve come a long way since Pac man, Atari, Donkey Kong, and the early days of Super Mario Bros. The truth is, gaming has changed, along with technology and all of the other influences in the world. Never has there been a generation so attached and wired to a constant influx of media messages every single day. The gaming industry is big. And immensely profitable. Though studies have been debated over the years about the potential negative effects of violent video games for teens, indicators seem to suggest, it’s not all “just a game” anymore. Gaming has progressed down a more dangerous pathway, and parents would be wise to learn more.

While most would probably never allow their kids to eat a constant diet of junk food, or see a steady stream of R rated movies, many teens are playing hours upon hours of video games every week, with mature, suggestive, adult content, profanity, and graphic violence. So what’s the difference? The lines seem blurred; kids receive mixed messages of what’s OK, and what is not. We are affected, by what we choose to watch, focus on, listen to, and even by what games we play.

Recent statistics show:

“The global market for video games is expected to grow from $ 66 billion in 2013 to $ 79 billion in 2017. This forecast includes revenue from dedicated console hardware and software (both physical and online), dedicated portable game hardware and software, PC games and games for mobile devices such as mobile phones, tablets, music players and other devices that can play games as a secondary feature.”

In our nation alone, “8.5% of youth gamers (ages 8-18) can be classified as being clinically ‘addicted’ to playing video games.” 

A nationally representative study found that the average 8-12 year old plays 13 hours of video games per week, while the average 13-18 year old plays 14 hours per week. Total that up and within the ages of your child’s growing up years, they could be logging upwards of close to 10,000 video hours.

While some top selling games promote learning and encourage positive messages and themes, there are many other games to avoid. The ratings, content, and reviews alone can give you much information. This is by no means an exhaustive list; there are many games that could be discussed here. Often, you will find a combination of several key characteristics they hold in common:

1. Graphic, bloody violence, real, vivid images which research indicates that over time, can lead to overall desensitization of violence or suffering, as well as increased aggression in dealing with conflict, and lack of empathy.

2. Inappropriate sexual content, overall disrespect, and violence towards women.

3. The idea that “killing” should be rewarded. Though it’s all part of the game, the lines between reality and make-believe can sometimes become blurred, and the disregard for human life seems all too real.

4. Player adopts the role of first person shooter, actually looking down the barrel of a gun, demolishing the enemy, thus making it all more real and vivid.

5. Game success is often measured by negative behaviors which promote criminal activity, theft, disrespect for authority, drug and alcohol use, and other things that parents would not likely want their kids to emulate in real life.

Ten Dangerous Video Games for Teens:

Grand Theft Auto V
Genre- Action/Adventure, Shooter
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Mature

When a video game sells $800 million worth of software in a single day, it says a lot about our culture. This game is rated “M” for many reasons. It is not a game intended for kids or teens. Violence, deviant behaviors, foul language, and graphic, sexual content abound in this game.

Diablo III
Genre – Role-Playing, Combat, Horror/Suspense
Platform – PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
ESRB Rating – Mature

As its title may suggest, this game is full of demonic images and monstrosities. Its graphic, violent content is disturbing and raw.

Wolfenstein: The New Order
Genre – Shooter, Combat, Action/Adventure
Platform – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

This first person shooter game takes aim at Nazi Germany forces and allows players to take on the full effect through extreme battle images. Blood, gore, intense violence, strong language, use of drugs, and strong sexual content abound through it all.

South Park – The Stick of Truth
Genre – Role-playing, Combat
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB rating – Mature

This is no innocent cartoon series. It is crude, rude, and full of graphic sexual content and foul language.

Assassins Creed IV – Black Flag
Genre – Action/Adventure, Combat
Platform – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, WiiU, PC
ESRB rating – Mature

In following the pattern set by other Assassins Creed games that came before, this version is also high in violent, graphic content, sexual themes, and profanity.

Mortal Kombat
Genre – Combat, Fighting
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Mature

Fighting game of unprecedented violence. This one game led to the establishing of the entertainment software rating board, and is still, quite possibly, one of the most historically controversial games ever.

Watch Dogs
Genre- Shooter, Action/Adventure
Platform – Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

This game is all about a hacker seeking revenge, but it gained the “M” rating for extreme violence, strong language, and strong sexual content.

Dead Space II and III
Genre – Shooter, Horror/Suspense, Action/Adventure
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

Extreme violence, blood, and gore typify this game which launched its initial ad campaign this way: ”It’s revolting. It’s violent. It’s everything you love in a game, and your mom’s gonna hate it.” Many moms may have been thankful for that heads up information. And quite possibly they forgot, that Moms are often the ones who choose which games to buy, or not to buy.

Mafia II
Genre – Action/Adventure, Shooter
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
ESRB Rating – Mature

Real view of the mob world, including gangsters’ devaluation of human life, drugs and alcohol, and mistreatment of women. Foul language abounds and Playboy centerfolds are scattered around the environment for players to find and collect.

Naughty Bear
Genre – Role-playing
Platform – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
ESRB Rating – Teen

The Teen rating may fool many, but this is a violent and disturbing game about a sociopathic bear who spends his time beating his peers until they commit suicide. It is basically a game that encourages imaginative murder.

The popular mindset of our culture may have a strong opinion of what they think is right. But you have the freedom to choose what you believe is right for your own family. Here’s what you may hear:

“It’s really not that bad.” 

The truth is, it really is.

“Everyone else is playing it.” 

The truth is, everyone is not.

“The parental controls make everything safe.” 

The truth is the games still contains graphic, mature content that can’t be fully controlled, and some allow for modifications to be set, where players can add extra material, characters, or plots twists that actually change the game.

“We don’t buy “M” games, so they’ll never see them or play them anyway.” 

The truth is that even though you may not buy them, many of their friends probably do.

“It’s just a game, it’s not real and they know it’s not.” 

The truth is, real or not, young minds are still affected by what they see, play, and hear. Older minds are affected as well. Young minds are still being wired and influenced by all they’re taking in from the world. And the experiences a teen has, even virtual ones, can have a huge impact on their core beliefs, values, and attitudes.

As parents, we can form our own conclusions about what we feel comfortable allowing for our kids. But if you’re like me, maybe you haven’t known enough about what’s out there and the full content that a game actually contains. I encourage you to do the research. Talk with your teen. Ask questions about what they’re playing or what their friends are playing. Keep communication open. Keep computers and games devices in common areas of your home. Make the choice for your family of what is allowable and what is not.

Most importantly, there’s One voice that rises above all the rest. More than what your teen wants, or what their friends are playing, more than varying opinions of what research says, or what the top selling games trends are. His voice reminds us to take care of what we allow in, to guard what we think about, watch, and do. And that’s really the most important thing to impress upon our kids as they grow. The one truth – that what we do – that what we choose – it matters.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

The Missing Ingredient in Our Parenting

** The following article is copied from

In our new parenting book, Equipping for Life, written primarily for young new or aspiring parents, we set forth three important aspects of parenting (we call them the 3 “Rs” of parenting): realism, relationship, and responsibility. While young couples often start out their parenting adventure with a healthy dose of idealism, in reality parenting is done by sinners on sinners and takes place in an imperfect world.

Additionally, the nature of parenting is often misconceived; it’s more than merely a task or assignment. Rather, it’s a complex and evolving relationship between parent and child, under God. Moreover, parenting needs to be given more of a priority than most give it; it’s a mistake to delegate parenting to teachers, coaches, or youth leaders and sideline essential parental involvement and engagement.

In this article, we’d like to share one insight that has increasingly deepened during the course of our own parenting journey that, if taken to heart and applied consistently, has the potential to revolutionize the way many of us go about parenting our children. This simple insight is that throughout our parenting efforts, character consistently must be made the key priority in everything we do and say.

Throughout our parenting efforts, character consistently must be made the key priority in everything we do and say.

In theory, this point may seem obvious, and few would likely disagree. In practice, however, many of us don’t actually parent in such a way that character is the overriding focus in the way we relate to and guide our children.

So, let’s briefly define character and then look at ways we can help our children develop character through the various life stages of parenting.

Importance of Character in Parenting

Character is who a person is at the core of their being. It affects all their relationships and accomplishments in life. And character doesn’t just appear in our children; we must be diligent to make it a focus, cultivating it in their lives, especially when they’re young. While many parents prize activities or achievements (sports, education, or good grades, to name just a few), character should be the priority and be valued as that which undergirds every aspect of life. In conjunction with establishing children in their personal faith in Jesus Christ, parents’ central concern should be on their child’s character development—as a response to what Jesus has done for them. At the core, we want to encourage our children to be more like Christ (Rom. 8:28–29).

As a child encounters various challenges and opportunities, his or her character is molded. The tendency for many young—and not so young—parents is to indulge their children, especially their first child and often also the youngest. However, if we pamper our children and permit them to get their way all—or even most of—the time, we’ll reap the consequences in the form of a spoiled, ungrateful child bent on getting his or her way. We’ll be training the heart of a manipulator who subtly but effectively subverts the role of the parent. This runs counter to the parental responsibility to foster traits of submission and cooperation within the family. The stewardship of developing character in our children is vital, not only for ourselves and our children, but also for the sake of family unity and dynamics, for the community of believers, and ultimately for the mission of God. It’s absolutely essential to stand firm as parents and make sure we’re parenting our childrenrather than the other way around.

Your primary goal in parenting is not to minimize conflict but to build genuine character.

Toward that end, it’ll be important to communicate from the beginning that you, not your child, is in charge. This isn’t a matter of trying to stifle our children’s development and self-expression or acting as overbearing despots shutting down all their initiatives. Rather, it’s a sign of true, committed love and of being responsible as a parent. As the book of Proverbs continually affirms, discipline is vital in childrearing, and the loving parent provides consistent correction and accountability (e.g., Prov. 6:23; 12:1; 14:24; 29:15).

As you move through the life cycle of parenting—from infancy to childhood to adolescence to early adulthood—the nature of your relationship with your child will inevitably change, but your commitment to building character should remain constant. This is what “responsible parenting” is all about.

In the short run, a laissez-faire, hands-off approach may seem preferable in that there may be less conflict, but it will not likely result in a young person marked by character and maturity. Remember—your primary goal in parenting is not to minimize conflict but to build genuine character.

Detriment of Misplaced Focus

So, as your child starts school, what is your main goal for them? Is it to see your son or daughter get good grades—straight A’s? Good grades certainly have some value and may be an indication of intelligence and academic ability—or at least of being able to do well within a given system of expectations—but they’re not always a reliable indicator of character (though they can be).

If not grades, is your focus as parents to promote your child’s athletic success? Being a good sports parent may be one of the signs of a “good” parent in this generation, but are you pushing your children too hard to excel in baseball or basketball or some other sport? You may be the perfect soccer parent, present at every game, capturing memorable moments on camera and posting them on social media—only if your child’s team won the game, of course—perhaps even the coach of your son’s or daughter’s team. You may sacrifice much of your time, especially on weekends, to invest in your child’s recreational pursuits. Yet your child’s heart may remain unregenerate, his mind set on winning at all cost, and his sense of identity staked on how well he did on the baseball or football field.

In the end, who is going to watch all those videos? What does it really matter if your son’s team won or lost a given game? But his character will have been affected, for better or for worse, and it’ll be too late for you to turn back the clock.

Role of the Spirit in Developing Character

Rather than focusing on good grades or athletic (or other) achievement, invest the bulk of your efforts on helping your child develop character. Since character is who a person truly is in their heart, exemplified in what they do when no one’s looking, good character means integrity—a stable core of conviction that isn’t easily shaken by peer pressure, cultural influences, or shifting circumstances.

As you seek to shape your child’s character, which values will you seek to impart? And what will be your strategy to teach and reinforce those values? Character isn’t formed by default or by chance. What’s more, children tend to imitate their parents’ behavior, so we’ll want to make sure that we ourselves are people of integrity.

So how do we accomplish this aim?

First, we can recognize that, while requiring parental focus and commitment, developing character in our children can’t be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in your child’s life. If we take on the task ourselves, the burden of forming character will be overwhelming; we just can’t build character in our children through our own efforts. The Spirit will do his work in our children as they enter their own relationship with God and as they themselves strive to be men and women of integrity and moral excellence by God’s grace.

Developing character in our children can’t be done apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in your child’s life.

A catena of Scripture passages on the Spirit shows that the Spirit produces in all of us (including our children) what is pleasing to God. As they walk with him, are led by him, livein him, keep in step with him, and are filled with him, they’ll set their mind on spiritual things, and the Spirit of the risen Christ will infuse their mortal bodies with supernatural strength to surmount their sinful nature. Paul encourages believers to “walk by the Spirit” and be “led by the Spirit,” and writes that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:16, 18, 23). He adds, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24). He also urges believers to be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and affirms that “those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:5; cf. v. 11).

In this way, our children will be able to please God and “do all things through him who strengthens” us (Phil. 4:13). Again, the apostle Paul strikes the balance beautifully when he urges believers, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13). Encourage your children to strive actively to “work out their salvation,” trusting that God is at work in them, both to have the resolute will and the actual power to live the life God wants them to live.

If you’ve introduced your child to Christ—and he or she has received him and become a child of God—you have the opportunity to nurture their spiritual lives by impressing on them Scripture about the work of the Spirit in keeping with the above-cited passages. The last thing you’ll want to do is condition your children to live the Christian life in their own strength!

Final Plea

It’s character, parents! Focus your energies on developing character in your children. Don’t worry too much about good grades or athletic achievements. Those do have their place, but character trumps scholastic or athletic accomplishments in the end because Christlike character is a permanent, lasting fixture of our children’s lives, both in this present life and also in the life to come. Winning a tournament or playing at a recital, on the other hand, are temporal achievements—here today, gone tomorrow.

It’s character, parents! Focus your energies on developing character in your children.

Therefore, parents, care more about inculcating virtues such as integrity, honesty, and selflessness in your children than being unduly preoccupied with or blinded by external badges of honor.

The virtues God celebrates are Christlikeness and the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If your child were to take his or her final exam in these characteristics, how would they do? Would they get an “A” or “F” in self-control, for example, or somewhere in between? What about the other virtues on the list? And how would you do? We know these are convicting questions.

While ultimately character is the result of the work of God’s Spirit within us, Scripture nonetheless urges us to “make every effort” to actively pursue these virtues and even to excel in them (2 Pet. 1:3–11). So, parents, let’s get to work and strive to build Christlike character in our children by the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit!

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