WARNING: Christmas is Coming!

** This article was copied from thegospelcoalition.com.

It’s coming. The signs are already appearing, and you should consider yourself warned. Your family is about to be attacked. No, it won’t be the physical attack of terrorism, a hurricane, or a forest fire. No, this attack is much more subtle, seductive, and attractive, but infinitely more dangerous.

Your family is about to be attacked by a holiday season.

Maybe you’re thinking, What in the world is Paul Tripp talking about? Let me explain.

The Advent season is upon us. It should be a gloriously peaceful time of remembering God’s ultimate response to his lost and rebellious image-bearers. That response wasn’t to condemn, but to give the ultimate gift of grace—the gift of himself—in the person of his Son. But instead of a peaceful season of worship and celebration, Advent has devolved into a spiritual war with your family at the center.

I have no problem with beautiful decorations, family feasting, or giving gifts. The Christmas season can be a time when families gather again, renew relationships, and express love for one another. But I’m concerned because there is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.

There is a war for which story will define our children’s beliefs about who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about.

Every human being lives out of the meaning of some defining story. The Advent season has become a battle between two stories—one seductive and attractive, but fundamentally untrue; and the other deeply humbling, but what every person everywhere needs.

FALSE CHRISTMAS STORY

The “Christmas story” the surrounding culture tells our children puts them at the center, the place for God and God alone. It looks to creation for fulfillment rather than worship of the Creator. It makes physical pleasure our primary need rather than the rescuing intervention of the Redeemer. It’s dominated by the comforts of the moment rather than eternal priorities.

In every way, the story your children will hear over and over again during this season is dangerously wrong when it comes to who they are and what they need. It calls them to find comfort where comfort can’t be found, to place their hope in things that will never deliver, to think they can accomplish what only the Messiah can do.

TRUE ADVENT STORY

But unlike this false “Christmas story,” the true “Advent Story” is humbling and unattractive. It’s a sad story about a world terribly broken by sin, populated by self-centered rebels who are willing participants in their own destruction. It’s about beings created to live for God but who in every way live for themselves. This story is about the dethroning of the Creator and the enthroning of his creation. It’s about conditions so desperate that God did the unthinkable, sending his Son to be the sacrificial Lamb of redemption. And why did Jesus come? Because we were so lost, so enslaved, so self-deceived that there simply was no other way.

You see, until your children hear and understand the bad news, the good news won’t be attractive to them. The news that Jesus came on a glorious mission of grace to live, die, and rise in our place is only worth celebrating when you understand it’s your only hope.

FIGHT THE REAL WAR

The battle of Advent isn’t about whether we should sing silly seasonal tunes versus gospel carols, or have worship times versus big family feasts. No, this war is about what story of identity, need, meaning, and purpose your children will believe and give their hearts to pursue.

Life really is a battle of stories, and the battle rages most fiercely when the true story is meant to be told most loudly.

Enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story.

So enjoy the gifts, the decorations, and the delicacies, but start preparing your family early this year for the battle to come by telling them the true story. Before you begin to get distracted by all the traditions of holiday fun, take up the battle for the hearts of your children.

5 WEAPONS TO USE FOR THE WAR OF THE HEART 

Here are five ways to help your children focus on the true Advent story:

  1. Start early. You can’t start early enough or tell the true story often enough, since the false story is everywhere to be heard. Don’t wait until Christmas Day to point your family to God’s Word.
  2. Tell the bad news. Protect your family from fake news by telling them of the bad news: their sin and separation from God. Good news isn’t good unless it’s prefaced with bad news, and redemption becomes beautiful when we understand the depth of our need.
  3. Warn them about the false story. Enjoy traditions and fun, but take opportunities to point out how and why the false story your children will hear again and again isn’t true.
  4. Present Jesus as the gift of gifts. Express love by giving gifts, but remind your children that creation can’t satisfy, and that our only hope is found in one Gift—the person, presence, work, and grace of Jesus.
  5. Embed the Advent story everywhere. The Advent season gives you a wonderful opportunity to help your children understand themselves and everything in their lives from the vantage point of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Advent story tells them who they are, what they need, and what their lives are about. This story is the only reliable way they will ever make sense out of the story of their individual lives.

Nothing is more important than helping your children understand that the grace of Jesus shines brighter than any gift the world has to offer. It’s a light that will never go out and will never be put away.


Editors’ note: You can find advent devotionals from Paul Tripp that proclaim the true story in Come, Let Us Adore Him: A Daily Advent Devotional (Crossway, 2017). This article is published in partnership with Crossway.

Low Expectations: A Key to Christmas Happiness

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org.

Expectations rarely run higher than they do at Christmas. From what to give to what to serve to the pressure to host well, expectations hover just beyond reach of achievability for most of us.

A few years ago I was listening to a speaker who was talking about something I can’t remember anymore, but I do remember this.  As a complete aside, he stopped his main talk and said to the audience: “You know what the secret to happiness is, right?”  — Pause.  —  “Low expectations.”

It’s all I remember about his talk.  It’s so simple, a bit disappointing, and so true.

The only reason you and I ever get disappointed is because we expected something better.  Expect nothing . . . you’ll never be disappointed.

Lowering our expectations could make Christmas so much more enjoyable.  Expecting the perfect gift from your spouse? Drop the expectation. Then you’d be happy with anything she gets you. Worried about Christmas dinner? Prepare well, but lose the picture of the perfect family dinner from your mind . . . then you’ll be happy even when the turkey you labored over for hours is overcooked and your third cousin twice removed is more than happy to point it out.

Lowering expectations also increases gratitude. In fact, I think it’s the key to gratitude. If your expectations are chronically high, you will never be thankful for anything that doesn’t exceed them. Gratitude is easy to experience when you realize that spiritually, we are in a position to demand nothing . . . that we’ve received is a gift from a Savior who is merciful . . . that what we’ve received is far greater than what we have deserved.

Lowered expectations might be a great conversation subject with your kids this week.  If their gift list this year consists of a long list of specific items with size, brand, design, and color all pre-determined, it’s going to be hard to be grateful Christmas morning. Why? Because anything short of their exact expectation is disappointment.  You might even want to have the conversation with your spouse. We can place unrealistic expectations on each other about so many things.

Why not think about lowering your expectations this week? You’ll take yourself less seriously, enjoy others more, and be profoundly grateful for things you might have even resented otherwise.

Start the conversation about expectations for yourself and with your family today.

In the meantime, what have you learned about expectations, gratitude and happiness?

4 Things to Remember When Coaching Your Kids

** This article was copied from allprodad.com

4 Things to Remember When Coaching Your Kids

A couple of years ago I was at a Little League game. I watched the coach’s son on the mound trying his hardest but walking batter after batter. The only “help” the coach (who I believe to be a good-hearted guy) could offer his son was a stern, “Throw strikes!” After throwing a wild pitch a runner was trying to score from third. The coach’s son was covering home and got slightly bumped by the runner. After he started crying another parent asked me why he was crying so much, it didn’t seem like a rough collision. I told him, “He’s clearly exhausted, having a rough time on the mound, and has been yelled at by his father for the past twenty minutes. It makes sense to me.”

I’ve watched a lot of fathers coach lately and it seems like the default behavior is to criticize their kid whenever they make a mistake on the field or court. I recently asked a kid at a little league practice, “What makes you the angriest?” Sadly he said, “My dad.” His dad is a wonderful guy, helps out during practice, but consistently criticizes his son. There’s a way to be a great youth sports coach. We just have to keep in mind the following 4 things.

First, don’t put pressure on your child.

Believe it or not, your child may not be the star or team leader. Let him find his own place on the team. Sometimes you’ll beam with pride and want to scream, “That’s my son.” Other times you may want to hide. I know your heart will be pounding every time he runs out there. But whether he succeeds or fails, do your best to treat him just like his teammates.

Second, make sure you have some practice time alone with your child.

Many of the other kids will go home and play catch with their dads. You may think that, as a coach, you’ve already done that. But your son or daughter also needs your time one-on-one.

Third, we’ve all heard Vince Lombardi’s words: “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”

I’ll agree with that only if we can redefine what winning is. Are you out to have a perfect win-loss record? Remember, Coach, little league wasn’t formed so middle-aged men could show off their coaching skills. The goals are fun, exercise, sportsmanship, and self-improvement for the kids. Make sure everyone participates to the best of their ability and contributes to the team. Give that struggling kid a few extra innings at second base; he may cost you a game, but he’ll also eventually throw somebody out. That’s really winning.

Finally, coaching can be a chance to reach out, not just to your kids, but to some of the other kids on the team.

These days, if you put fifteen kids on a ball field, at least two or three will come from broken homes and another few will have dads who just don’t have a clue. What a great chance this is for them to be encouraged by an adult male who cares for their well-being. As a coach, you can make a life-changing impression on your child and every other kid on that team.

©2001 National Center for Fathering

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

** The following article was copied from www.fulleryouthinstitute.org

Eight Ideas to Help You Reclaim Gratitude This Season

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love the weather. I love the food. I love spending four mellow days with my family.

Most of all, I love what Thanksgiving stands for.

In a culture that elevates entitlement and what’s-best-for-me, Thanksgiving invites us to be grateful, and to share that gratitude with both friends and strangers.

As followers of Jesus, gratitude takes on a special meaning. As Dave and I love sharing with our own three kids, we live gratefully because of Gods gracebecause of all God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Grace is what separates Christianity from every other religion. And grace is the ultimate fuel for our gratitude.

If you asked me to share one insight at your church or your Thanksgiving family table with the young people you care about most, it would likely be this: Because of Gods grace, we live our lives as thank you notesback to God.

But maybe you’re a leader or parent wondering how to help teenagers and young adults marinate in this truth this month—especially because for some of us, this year has been punctuated with more heartbreak than joy.

Parents: How can we help our families reclaim a sense of gratitude that flows from God’s grace?

  1. Talk with your kids about what has happened in the last year that makes it hard to be grateful. Give your young people space to talk about events in our nation and in your family that may be disappointing or distressing. If it feels appropriate, talk about any glimpses of divine light you’ve seen in the midst of those dark moments.
  2. Every night at dinner or bedtime, ask your kids to share one thing they are grateful for that day. Our family has a bulletin board we pull out for the month of November. Almost every night, each of us writes one thing we’re grateful for on a construction paper leaf (that I cut out ahead of time; I’m not crafty at all so truth be told, the leaves look pretty terrible, but we love the conversations they provoke).
  3. Surprise our kids by not giving them a consequence theydeservefor a mistake or poor behavioral choice. While Dave and I believe in being consistent with our kids in our discipline, every once in a while, we don’t give them a consequence. Instead, we make it clear that just like our heavenly father shows us grace and mercy, we are trying to do the same.
  4. Involve your kids in figuring out one special way for your family to serve together. Don’t choose for your kids. Let your kids choose for your family. Before you serve, explain that we don’t serve because we hope God will love us more or like us more. And we don’t serve because it will look good on our college application. We serve out of gratitude for God’s grace.

Should You Make Your Kids Go To Church?

** The following article was copied from theparentcue.org

I recently read an article about a family who loved to hike. Actually, not all of them loved it. One son shared how every weekend, rain or shine, he was forced to put on his hiking shoes (yes, forced) and he was loaded into the family car for what he described as a boring, wasted day of tramping in the woods. He said the numerous pre-hike conversations with his mom went like this.

“I don’t feel good.”
“The sunshine will make you feel better.”

“I’m tired. Can’t I stay home?”
“Put your shoes on. Let’s go.”

He did put his shoes on, but not without griping about it. As he hiked, he dreamed of the day when he could make his own decisions and told himself he’d never hike again.

He went on to tell how he’s out on his own now, and guess what? He loves to hike. He says hiking is one of his favorite things he gets to do on the weekend and he goes as often as he can.

This story makes me wonder if the words I told you so ever pop into his mom’s mind. It also makes me stop and consider the somewhat nebulous power of my influence as a parent. As my kids got older (and more opinionated), I often wondered what we should insist on versus what they got to decide. Things like brushing their teeth and going to school were easy (okay, easier) to insist on out of a healthy respect for cavities and detention. But what about things like going to church or participating in youth group? What about even deeper subjects like what they believed about God and faith?

It gets messy.

When our kids were young, it was easy to herd them in the car for church. “Time for kids’ church! Let’s go!”

But then our daughter turned thirteen.

“I don’t want to go to youth group. None of my friends are there.”

Geoff and I had some serious discussions. If we make her go, will she end up hating church? We’d both been brought up in church and could relate to not always wanting to go. We also knew families where they had forced their kids and now as young adults, they didn’t want anything to do with it.

It was hard to know the right path to take. Looking back, we can’t say we handled it perfectly (I bet our kids would chime in on that), but we do feel like we made a few good choices:

1. WE TRIED TO INSPIRE INSTEAD OF NAG.

Geoff and I love great worship music and great preaching, and thankfully we were at a church with both. We often talked with our kids about the teaching we heard at church and how it stirred our hearts. We talked about how worship connected us to God. We told stories about the fun and friendships in our small group, and we often hosted group at our house. We wanted our kids to see what church meant to us and how it formed our relationship with God.

2. WE REQUIRED, BUT WE ALSO LET THEM CHOOSE.

What mattered most to us about church was that our kids were exposed to adults who loved and worshipped God. This wasn’t something we were willing to let go of for our daughter, but we let her choose where these relationships would be. Would she rather go to the large mid-week group or be part of a girls’ small group? We let her decide.

3. WE LEANED INTO OTHERS.

Brittainy’s decision to go to small group turned out to be a game changer. She had a leader who remembered what it felt like to be in middle school and didn’t shy away from talking honestly about it. She shared how she remembered sometimes feeling lonely in middle school, but how she woke up every day and reminded herself of God’s love for her. She talked about how reading her Bible and what it meant to pray and know that God heard her. I wish I could say that my kids’ faith and character were because they had great parents. But I think it was because they had great small group leaders.

If you’re reading this and your kids are rolling their eyes or balking at church or faith, you’re not alone. We can’t force our kids to love God, but maybe we can inspire them. Whatever it feels like today, don’t give up.

Whatever it feels like today, don’t give up. Lean into other leaders and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Show your kids that while their opinions may change, your love and support for them won’t.

10 Ways to Productively Argue With Your Children

** The following article was copied from www.allprodad.com.

Most definitions of “argue” suggest the presentation of reasons or evidence, compelling data that have the effect of persuasion. But we’re talking about children here, so the discussion necessarily needs to be broader. Arguing with children is a lot like using gasoline to put out a fire, or drinking hot sauce to deal with a bad case of heartburn. Not only is the way we tend to argue a bad idea, the process is likely to exacerbate the situation and accelerate the destructive cycle. How much of our family time is defined by this kind of conflict?

There are ways to productively argue with your children, but it’s going to need a different strategy than usual. Here’s how to argue effectively with your kids.

1. Listen

When you listen you learn about them. Then, more often than not, we discover we’re not so far apart after all. We also teach our children to listen and not always assume they are right.

2. Avoid patronizing

You may be right, but rubbing it in is never a good idea.

3. Develop a playbook for disagreements

Call a family meeting when there’s no argument pending. Hash out argument guidelines. Respect everyone’s ideas. Offer several alternative procedural guidelines (all acceptable to the parents) and let the kids make the call. Then (this is very important when a real argument comes along) make sure to always follow the rules yourself.

4. Teach effective argument techniques

This is not a case of shooting yourself in the foot, but of equipping your child with a useful tool.

5. Let your child know they are heard and understood.

This goes beyond simple reception of information. Paraphrase what your child has said. Ask them if you have it right. Try the information on for size.

Let your child know they are heard and understood. CLICK TO TWEET

6. Be receptive to new ideas

Let your child know you value their input.

7. Avoid the pride trap

Sometimes, a few seconds into an argument, the unthinkable occurs. You realize you’re wrong and that your child is right. Some parents will continue to argue on principle. Don’t be that guy.

8. Role play

No, seriously, this can be fun. Role play can disarm the tension. Say, “Let’s switch roles. I’ll be the kid and you be the parent.” Then, lay out all the facts and advocate for your child’s point of view. Often, kids will be harsher on themselves than we would imagine.

9. Never put your child down

Name-calling is always wrong. If you say a child’s argument is “stupid,” or “emotional,” or “childish,” then the discussion shifts and kids begin to defend themselves rather than a point of view or an idea.

10. Remember not to confuse a healthy discussion with parental authority

Some things should not be argued about, simply because they’re non-negotiable. However, once your child understands that you argue reasonably, fairly and productively, he/she will accept the non-negotiable points with less opposition.

Building a Healthy Family System – Seminar Recap

Seminar Recap
Building a Healthy Family System
LISTENING & COMMUNICATION
By Pat Nolan

 

Listening

As parents, some times we make things too complicated. In fact, listening seems so simple that it’s easy to gloss over it as a parental skill and favor more exciting things like teaching moments, fixing problems, or making sure our kids listen to us. Parents regularly talk about wanting “good communication” with their kids and kids actually do want to talk to their parents. So if listening is the foundation of good communication, then let’s keep it simple and start there.

Benefits of Listening

Listening will go far, not just in hearing the conversation, but can help fortify other areas of parenting too.

  • We can gather information about a child’s life and what’s in their head
  • Listening builds strong relationships
  • Listening thoughtfully shows respect
  • Shows them you care and that they matter
  • It is always the first step in solving problems
  • Kids are smarter than most adults think – they pay attention and are aware. They will teach you how to raise them if you listen.
  • A child who is listened to… Learns how to listen

What is Listening?

Listening is thoughtful attention. It is intentional, and most parents have listening skills. Sometimes it is a matter of putting them into practice intentionally so that you can be a role model for these skills.

We can be better listeners with:

  • Direct eye contact
  • Positive body language
  • Paraphrasing/summarizing what is being said (“So you want to have more time on your ipad”)
  • Reflecting the emotion of what they are saying (“Sounds like it hurts your feeling when your sister calls you names”)
  • Show empathy (“I remember when my parents made me go to church”)

Listening Quicksand

Just as there are good listening practices, there are also poor listening practices. I call these Listening Quicksand. Be careful not to sink into these practices!

  • Cell Phones – when you look at your cell phone, you automatically make the person you’re talking with a second priority
  • Interrupting – you are focused on just getting a moment to break in and say what you want, not listening to what is being said
  • Wanting the last word – The focus is on you plus, the conversation will never end!
  • Minimizing the conversation to avoid uncomfortable topics
  • Teaching moment – Parents try to use every moment as a teaching moment.
  • Problem solving- It’s hard to listen and “fix the problem” at the same time
  • Showing lack of interest in the conversation
  • Time constraints- shutting a conversation down because of time constraints, then never picking it back up.

Listening Bait

Know what topics become “Quicksand” for you as a parent. These topics become great
“teaching moments” and even better conversation killers. What can you do to be a better listener with these topics?

  • Video games
  • Social Media
  • School
  • Friendships
  • Future

Rule of thumb for Listening

  • If you are talking with your kids, make your contribution 20 seconds or less at a time.
  • If the conversation is 70/30 (70% you talking, 30% them) then you are not listening. Reverse it.
  • Don’t be afraid of uncomfortable conversations. These are ones that stick. Especially when you show respect by listening.
  • Serious conversations are set up by all the small, seemingly innocuous conversations.
  • Have fun with your kids in conversation. Laughter and joking make conversations and listening so much easier.

Encounter.  Formation.  Expression.

One of the things we talk about at Port City Community is the idea of Encounter, Formation, Expression.  The basic concept is that what we encounter in life will help to form what we think and believe.  What we think and believe will inevitably show up and be expressed in what we say and do.  As parents, part of our job is to help our kids maneuver in a world that is ever changing and build a solid foundation in Christ.  When it comes to listening and communication, we need to remember that what they encounter is forming who they are.  When they encounter parents who listen with thoughtful attention, they will begin to know they are heard and what they have to say matters. It builds up their confidence, helps form their identity, and strengthens their relationship with you, their parents. When a kid opens a door to a conversation, don’t hesitate or be afraid, go in!!  And remember to have fun with your kids, they’re pretty cool!

How to Parent During the Teen Years – Dad Edition

Our friend Stuart Hall joins The Parent Cue podcast to share about how dads can better parent during the teenage years.  Check it out!  https://soundcloud.com/rethinkgroup/pcl-50-dad-edition-with-stuart-hall

 

Parents – Your Role Really Matters!

This article was written by Doug & Cathy Fields -Authors of Intentional Parenting

In our parenting seminars, parents often ask us questions that reveal their fears about the negative influence of media, culture, and peers on their children. This is a normal concern in today’s crazy culture, but we answer their worry by telling them to be less concerned about “outside” influences and more concerned about their hugely significant roles as the primary influencers in their child’s lives.

More than anyone else, kids of all ages are influenced and shaped by their parents.

The only time this influence shifts away from parents and onto other influences is when parents are either physically or emotionally absent. In other words, if you as a parent decide to “opt-out” of the parenting scene, then you can expect culture and all it represents to be more than glad to step in.

Research and social science studies support the fact that the parent/child relationship significantly impacts a child throughout his or her lifetime. The parent’s role and involvement is essential to the child’s development of emotional health, academic advancement, and making significant life decisions.

A recent study found that “a lack of parental involvement can have long-lasting negative effects on a child. Children who don’t have a close relationship with a parent are at risk for teen pregnancy, more likely to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, and more likely to live a sedentary life. They are also more likely to be withdrawn or suffer from depression.”

Your influence is the reason why you are such a big deal as a parent. This should be no surprise since children are very valuable to God.

Look how Jesus describes children: He [Jesus] took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:36-37 (NIV)

When you welcome a child into your life, you welcome Jesus. That’s powerful!
And the writer of Psalms says: “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him…” Psalms 127:3 (NLT)

God has rewarded you with the gift of a child — a gift worthy of cherishing and one that requires your very best effort. You were called to be a parent — it’s a significant part of your destiny and life purpose.

Yet, sometimes as parents, we want to deny or downplay our impact on our child’s life so that we can be let off the hook.

Look, we get it! Parenting is a huge responsibility — your child’s future is on the line. That’s a lot of pressure.

But we’d like to suggest that instead of viewing your parental responsibility as something negative, you begin to see it as empowering. After all, among all the other influences in your children’s lives, you are the one who has the ability to spend the most time with them. Not their friends, not the TV, and not even their cell phone. Therefore, you also have the most opportunities to instill your values into your kids.

So, if you long to be a good parent, and for your kids to grow up as successful and mature adults, then the first thing you need to do is to develop a deep conviction that your role as a parent is crucial. Believe that you — your presence, your actions, and your words — are vital to the health and development of your child. Believe that you are the most significant influence in your child’s life.

Parent Network Podcast – Michelle Starbuck

Check out our fourth episode where we interview Michelle Starbuck, our volunteer Director of the Parent Network, on intentional parenting over the years.