Who do you think you are?

Recently I had the chance to work a large AAU basketball tournament with teams from all over the country. There was some talented young kids there and there were coaches from every Big 10 school, several SEC, Big 12, and dozen of mid-major colleges there to watch these 15 and 16 year old players. It was obvious the kids lived and breathed basketball. In watching them on the floor, in between games, and walking the halls, it was obvious their entire identity was wrapped up in that sport.

OK, that’s fine. They are 16 and, for the most part, don’t have a clue about what their life will be like in 5 years…or what living in “the real world” will require of them.

Then I saw their parents. Ah…that explains it. I was amazed at how many of those parents yelled, screamed, kept stats, and took notes while their kid played. I understand it can be a big deal if your kid is one of the few that may have the ability to play in college and earn a full scholarship, but it was apparent that their entire life was wrapped up in basketball and their kid.

What’s wrong with that? What happens when Johnny doesn’t get an offer to play college ball? Or blows out a knee and never plays again? Or is burnt out and doesn’t want to play anymore? Who are those parents then? Odds are they become angry, bitter, and who knows what else.

Here’s the bigger idea: Be very careful where you have your identity, because if something happens to that, you are left trying to figure out exactly who you are.

I was working with a small business owner who was thinking of selling his business and retiring. On his notes he wrote, “What am I without the store?” The question hung there like a huge weight around his neck. He had no identity outside his work.

We all have this void in our life where we place our self-worth and self-esteem. The problem is we all try to fill the void in our life with so many different things:

Job (most common for men), kids (most common for women), our marriage, our extended family, our hobbies, or even our church/religion.

So what happens when we lose our job, our kids go off to school, our wife leaves us, or our church upsets us?

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “…He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

See it? The problem and the answer are both right there. The void we are trying to fill is this longing in our heart for eternity. The answer isn’t my job. It isn’t pushing my son to be an all-star athlete at age 8. It isn’t completely focusing my entire life on my wife. It’s eternity. The problem is we can’t fully fathom what God has done, which means we have this burning desire for something we will never be able to fully understand. But, the answer in our heart can be satisfied by having a relationship with Jesus because only in Him can we have a secure knowledge that a longing for eternity is met.

Without that kind of foundation, as soon as that area of our life we’ve staked our identity cracks, crumbles, or disappears, we don’t know what do. We’re lost. And when that happens we try like mad to hold it all together or completely give up on life…because we have no other option.

Now, none of those things I mentioned (job, kids, etc) are bad. In fact, we need to be passionate about them and pursing them to get the most out of this life. But, those things can’t be who we are or what we are most known for. Think of it like this…what do you want to be know for when you die?

Me? I want to be known as a loving father, great husband, good friend who had a passion about people and helping men be all God made them to be.

All those things can only happen if my foundation is my personal relationship with Christ. Because, without Him, none of those things will ever be what I want them to be. Why? Because I can’t do it on my own…and neither can you.

Nine Benefits of Trials

As dads, we all experience trials of some kind, whether it’s the repetitive, tiring work of helping raise a house full of littles (like Nathan wrote about last week), the juggling act of being a responsible homeschool dad, or the challenging job of wisely loving and releasing older children as they spread their wings and step out from under your leadership.

It’s tempting to wish life would be easier, or that our responsibilities weren’t so challenging. But the fact is, God says suffering and trials are good for us in many ways.

Nine Benefits of Trials - Tree and road in the fog

Here are nine reasons from Scripture that trials and suffering are actually beneficial. Whatever difficulties you might be facing, God’s Word has encouragement for you:

1. Trials cause us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself… But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8-10) See also Phil. 4:13, 4:19, 1 Cor. 2:5, and Ps. 84:11.

2. If we endure hardships faithfully, it brings glory to God.

“Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 2:3) See also 2 Cor. 6:2-10 and 2 Thess. 1:4.

3. Trials allow us to see God’s power and love more clearly as He works in our lives.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (1 Cor. 12:9) See also Isa. 43:2 and 2 Cor. 9:8.

4. Trials can draw us closer to Christ, who suffered for us, and help us learn from His example.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.” (Heb 12:3) See also 2 Cor. 5:15 and 13:4.

5. Trials keep us humble.

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” (2 Cor. 12:7) See also Dt. 8:2 and Dan. 4:37.

6. Trials teach us endurance.

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…” (Rom. 5:3) See also Jas. 1:2-4.

7. Trials can lead us to repentance and to greater sanctification.

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11) See also 2 Chron. 6:36-39.

8. Experiencing trials prepares us to comfort others who experience trials.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

9. Suffering hardship in the name of Christ brings eternal rewards.

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)

No matter what kind of hardships we face, God is with us, sovereignly using the situation to accomplish His purposes. Nothing can separate us from His love. And that should inspire us to persevere, knowing that in Christ we can overcome every hardship that comes our way.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom 8:35, 37)

 

Daniel Forster is married to Katelyn, father to two girls and two boys, and the manager of Doorposts Publishing near Portland, Oregon. Those callings occupy most of his time at the moment, but he also enjoys reading, writing, playing the fiddle, working outdoors, and traveling. Daniel graduated from homeschooling in 2002, and he’s excited about raising his own children in the ways of the Lord. He is the author of Because You Are Strong: A Study of Godly Strength for Young Men.

Let Him Help You

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I should have known my son would be different. After two girls, I expected a boy would be different, but I didn’t know just how different he would be from the get-go.

At age one, he would watch me split kindling and giggle every time the wood popped. While I was under the sink trying to fix the garbage disposal, he wormed his way in beside me and poked at it with a screwdriver.

He’s not even two yet, but he peeks under the car and hands me tools while I’m changing the oil. He’s thrilled to sit with me in the driver’s seat and pretend to drive the car in the driveway.

He loves anything motorized, and he cries whenever he has to stay in the house while I’m mowing the lawn. In fact, anything (besides “CAR!”) with a motor is exuberantly called “MOW!” right now.

I can see that a desire to DO things is deeply rooted in my son. He’s watching what I do, and he wants to help me. I want to encourage this attitude! Here are several good reasons for letting our children (no matter how small) work beside us:

  1. God made us to work (Gen. 2:15, Eccl. 9:10), and our inborn sin nature has not entirely erased that desire, even in a toddler.
  2. When they’re little, it seems like they always want to be with us. We need to take advantage of this. They’re watching everything we do, soaking up all that they see, and forming their own view of the world. If your children want to be with you, make the most of it, even if it’s inconvenient at times.
  3. They will also learn to be diligent (that is, if we set an example of diligence ourselves). I want my son to be a hard-working, creative man who knows how to take initiative. A man like this will always be in demand. If he knows how to work hard, he’ll be a valued employee or a capable entrepreneur. Proverbs says a man like this will “stand before kings.”

So let your children get in the way. Slow down, and let them “help,” even when it’s inconvenient. It won’t be inconvenient for very long!

(For some practical ways to encourage young children to help, read my blog post Raising Children Who Help over at the Doorposts Blog.)

Finding Meaning in Work


I aspire, as I’m sure you do, to instill in my sons a strong work ethic. To take seriously the call of the apostle Paul: “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

God has called us to work hard, to put our all into everything that we do, doing it “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” In the context of Colossians 3, Paul is describing the marks of the Christian life, the list of things we are to “put on” after we have “put off” sin. A strong work ethic, a life which moves away from inactivity or laziness, should be a distinctive feature in the life of every follower of Christ. This call to work hard is sandwiched between two commands for us to express thankfulness to God. Without extrapolating too far, I think it’s safe to say that God has given us the privilege of working: that even though the work we do may not be fulfilling to us, it is a gift from God to be able to work, to accomplish and succeed. Work is a gift.

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To be frank, I don’t always (or often) recognize that. Perhaps, like me, you’re in a job that’s got nothing to do with your training or abilities, that is seemingly menial or insignificant. A job that just (sort of) pays the bills. A job that you do just because, well, you need to work.

How do you give thanks for that?

At the beginning of time, when God first created the world, He instituted work for man: tend the garden, see to it, work the ground. I can only assume that this work brought satisfaction to Adam, the first man. I can only imagine the feeling of accomplishment he experienced after a day of labor, tending to the garden in which God had placed him. Of course, Adam and Eve sinned, and work became difficult, even painful, for mankind.

Maybe you feel that difficulty every day of your work life. Maybe your work seems trivial, or your circumstances stifling. Maybe your job isn’t enough to cover your bills each month. Take heart; you are not called to be successful, or to be fulfilled by your work, or even to enjoy it. Only to offer it to God. To work at it with all your heart, as working to the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes, that is a small comfort, or perhaps no comfort at all. But if Scripture tells us one thing throughout its entire narrative about work, it’s that God rewards faithfulness. To the one who is faithful in the small things, He entrusts the greater things.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned about work in the past few years is this: No work is meaningless. Even if it’s cleaning pools, finishing basements, being a security guard (all of which I’ve done), or something else that doesn’t display significant results. No work is meaningless.

That is, if it is rendered to God. If it is done for His glory, seeking His ends and how He would use us in whatever situation we find ourselves. God is not concerned with the title of our position; He is concerned with the position of our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).

One final note, something that hit me only yesterday. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, He looked at His work and declared it good. The results of His work were good: they were worthwhile and significant. Do you know, fellow father, that no matter our jobs, we can say the same thing for our work? When we strive to bring God the glory through our work, when we work without complaining (Philippians 2:14), when we offer our work as a sacrifice to God…

We can look at the most difficult, or insignificant, or overwhelming task, and say that it is good.

 

Twelve Ways to be a Strong Man

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When I was a teenager, wiser men would tell me “Life just keeps going faster. You’ll never be less busy than you are now. Make the most of it.”

I believed them, even though I thought I was working pretty hard at the time, and I wondered what those future, “faster” years would feel like when I got there.

Now I’m almost thirty (how did that happen?), and I suspect that life still hasn’t reached full speed, but it’s definitely getting faster. Now there are more responsibilities, more relationships, more decisions to make, and more work to be done.

You’re probably in the same boat.

As a husband, you have a wife depending on you for love and leadership.

As a father, you have children depending on you for guidance and protection.

As an employee or entrepreneur, you have co-workers and/or customers who depend on you to do your best work.

As a Christian, you’re part of the body of Christ, with others depending on you to love and serve them in varying ways.

Add to these roles any other responsibilities that weigh on you every day, and this all adds up to a heavy load to carry. It’s hard to keep up with everything. It’s easy to get tired.

That’s why we need the strength that only God can give.

As Christians, we have a relationship with the God of the universe, who is the source and model of all strength. Also, in God’s Word, we have a clear definition of true strength and many godly examples of strong men we can emulate.

As my wife and I have studied strength in the Bible, we have been amazed at how much encouragement the Bible gives us to be strong (and boy do we need it right now!).

Here are some qualities of true strength, as defined in the Bible, that you and your sons can cultivate:

  • A strong man looks to God, not within himself, for strength. (1 Sam. 17:37, Prov. 14:26, Prov. 18:10, Gen. 18:14, Matt. 9:26, Heb. 13:6, 1 John 4:4)
  • A strong man seeks God’s glory, not his own. (1 Sam. 17:45-47, Prov. 10:29, Hebrews 11)
  • A strong man is faithful, even in the smallest things. (1 Sam. 17:20-22)
  • A strong man is identified by the attitude of his heart, not the strength of his muscles (1 Sam. 17:32, Judges 16:16-17)
  • A strong man pursues wisdom by seeking counsel from wiser men and women. (Prov. 20:29, 24:5)
  • A strong man is grounded in God’s Word. (Ps. 1:2-3, Matt. 4:1-11, 1 John 1:14)
  • A strong man is self-controlled (Prov. 16:32)
  • A strong man uses his strength to serve others. (1 Chr. 19:12-14, 2 Chr 16:9, Rom. 15:1-3, 1 John 3:16)
  • A strong man is a channel for God’s strength because the Holy Spirit is at work in him. (1 Cor. 2:5 Eph. 3:14-17, Zech. 4:6, Judg. 15:14)
  • A strong man doesn’t fear trials, because God uses hardships to make him stronger. (2 Cor. 12:9-10, Heb. 12:11)
  • A strong man fights indwelling sin and will not allow Satan a foothold in his life. (Gen. 39:10, Heb. 12:1, Neh. 13:23-26)
  • A strong man perseveres and does not give up. (Prov. 24:10, Gal. 6:9, Heb. 12:1-4)

These biblical qualities of true strength came out of the Bible studies in Because You Are Strong. If you want to study godly strength with your sons, reading the above Bible verses together would make a great Bible study in itself.

Also, I want to recommend Mark Atteberry’s book, The Samson Syndrome. I just finished reading this thoroughly biblical, highly practical study of Samson’s life, written by a pastor with many years of counseling experience. Atteberry exposes common pitfalls that cause strong men to stumble and shows how we can avoid these mistakes and reach the full potential God has for our lives.

May God make each of us stronger as we seek the true strength that is found in Him!

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Daniel Forster is married to Katelyn, father to three little ones, and the manager of Doorposts Publishing near Portland, Oregon. He graduated from homeschooling in 2002, and is now getting excited about homeschooling his own kids. He enjoys reading, writing, playing fiddle, working outdoors, and spending time with his family. Daniel contributes to the blog Doorposts of Your House and is the author of Prepare Thy Work and Because You Are Strong.

Take Aim and Release

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I recently had the amazing opportunity to listen to a challenge from Dr. Duane Litfin. If you are not familiar with the name, he is the President Emeritus of Wheaton College, and brought some great reminders to me in his presentation.

We read from Psalm 127. I have to admit, I had never taken the whole chapter as a single topic, but after hearing this, I felt compelled to share.

You see, I find myself challenged with the notion that my day-job needs to matter. From what I have read in management literature, I am not alone in this. We all need to have a sense that we are not just wasting our days and that we will come to the end of our lives wondering if we really made a difference.  Here is what the Psalmist had to say…

1 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. 2 In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—for he grants sleep to those he loves. 3 Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their opponents in court. (NIV)

I have never really connected verses 1-2 with 3-5 before. Solomon was passing along some wisdom that really struck home with me. It is not an accident that he starts by saying that the Lord needs to be in the center of the work, but then he wraps it all up talking about our kids and the blessing they are.

Solomon was really onto something here. I have always said that my definition of success in this life is that my grandchildren are serving God. Regardless of where I work, and what I do, my first, and most powerful, field of influence is my children.

C.S. Lewis once said “All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”

How much of the daily work I do is outdated the moment I finish it? Is my career really all about things that no one will know about, or care about, decades from now? I contrast that against the generations before me, and the generations that come after me. My dad does not have much in the way of material possessions, but he did leave me and my siblings a legacy to follow: A passionate legacy of living a life with God unashamedly.

Am I looking at my kids as a blessing? Many days – yes. Some days I forget and need this reminder.

Am I intentional in how I aim their lives towards the Lord? I need to be more so. When I am not placing a priority on my children, and their need for seeing who God is, it is because I am guilty of placing too much emphasis on other endeavors. Endeavors that, regardless of how noble, pale in comparison to my role as the father, mentor, leader in my home. My boys need to see the God I serve. They need to know that I am here for them. They need to know that true manhood is experiencing a personal relationship with the God of creation.

Disclaimer: I often refer to myself as a Jack of all Trades, Master of None. May I learn to be a Master of One Trade – Dad.

Empowering Creativity in Our Sons

I love watching my son create- seeing him scribble all over a piece of paper and promptly declare that the Jackson Pollock-worthy piece is “Daddy.” Or watching him form pieces of play dough into balls, or seeing him build towers out of Duplo pieces. Most of all, I love when he finds my percussion lying randomly around the house, and starts to sing to his own accompaniment.

And I am reminded that this boy is, every day, a creator. Whether he knows it at this stage or not, the little man is demonstrating the very nature of God.

You see, we are created. Made, formed, shaped- however you like to say it, God created us. And when He did, He left the imprint of Himself on our nature. In short, God made us to relate to, and to mirror, Himself. Part of Himself that He implanted in us is the ability to create- just like He did.

empowering creativity in our sons

Children have an innate grasp of creativity, perhaps partly because they are learning so much every day. They live in an undisguised sense of wonder, in an uninhibited (if unaware) appreciation of the beauty of Christ. Everywhere they look is a new mystery, a thing to be uncovered and understood. This is a representation of God’s nature in His creation: Always a new mystery; always a new understanding.

But it goes further still. The beauty of God is in Christ. I rarely think in these terms, to be honest. When I think of who Christ is, I’m not sure my first thought has ever been, “Beautiful.” Think with me, though: God created the world, and declared it good. He filled everything He made with beauty. He created us; thus, in us, there is beauty. But we are broken, sinful, and dead because of our sins. Yet 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” Our beauty is restored because Christ has recreated us. Creation brings beauty. The Creator gives His beauty to us. And we, in turn, can give that beauty to our creations.

We learn so much of the nature of God in creativity. We see His wisdom; we see His imagination. We come to understand that God pours Himself into us- His love, His heart, His passion- just as we pour into our creations. And it gives to us such a sense of security, of resting in the Hands that formed you, formed you not impassively or coldly, but with the greatest care and the most sincere desire for your good. When I create, I discover what it means to be loved by the Creator.

I want my sons to find these treasures, to find safety and security in knowing Who made them and the care He took in making them. And I want them to experience for themselves- to find a passion for creativity, in whatever manifestations, that will allow them to explore and make and feel the nature that comes from God Himself.

It would be so easy to impose my understanding of creativity on my sons. Music, literature, and story strike deep, resonant notes in me that lead me to pursue God’s beauty. But it may not be so for them. Their passions may lie more analytically, more physically, than mine do. “The Arts” as we know them don’t monopolize creativity. And it is my job, as their father, to steer them not toward my sense of creativity, but toward their own- wherever that may lie. To steer them toward that passion in their lives that will cause them to pursue the beauty in this world, and- more importantly- the Beauty that put it here.

May I never be guilty of imposing my understanding of God’s beauty on my sons.

May I never so force them into my own mold that they give up the pursuit of becoming beautiful as He is.

May our sons ever be in pursuit of the Divine Beauty, creatively exploring how the Beauty has imprinted Himself in this natural world, and seeking an ever-deepening knowledge of Him through His perfect creative acts.

 

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Balancing Hard Work and Talent

“You know, I really don’t like it when they use the word ‘prodigy,'” my 15-year-old said, just out of the blue, one afternoon.

He had been watching a news story about a young boy who had uncanny technical skills. “People were calling him a genius and trying to bring him to America to study,” he explained, “but I think there was as much hard work as there was ‘native genius.’ I think we make too much of ‘giftedness’ sometimes.”

I thought he had a good point. There’s no question that God gives certain gifts and talents to people, from the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12, to the ability to make wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). I have a son with a natural musical ability; another who is able to handle animals; one who has a scholarly bent. The Bible says that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father …” (James 1:17), and we can (and should) rejoice in the generosity of the Lord who gives His gifts to men.

But while we might enjoy  God’s gifts to us, the Bible warns us to keep these things in perspective. A strong man may rejoice to run his race (Psalm 19:5), and that’s okay – he’s delighting in God’s gift to him–but he’s not allowed to boast about it.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise [man] glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty [man] glory in his might, Nor let the rich [man] glory in his riches; But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, that I [am] the LORD … ” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

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That’s a problem we need to face: too often, we receive these gifts from God, then imagine that we somehow created them ourselves. Or we think we’ve identified the seeds of greatness in our children, and secretly whisper, “He got that from me.”

And that’s what my son was pointing out. On the one hand, a person with a real giftedness is simply enjoying the generosity and providence of God. “For who makes you differ [from another]?” Paul asked the Corinthians. “And what do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor 12:7). A true gift is not earned or deserved, so there’s no room to boast. All the glory is due to the person who gave the gift, not the one who received it!

On the other hand, too much focus on “genius” and “gifting” of this sort can also be an excuse for our own laziness. Maybe we look at an athlete’s form and say, “I could never be strong and graceful like him, because he has a natural athletic gift”-both of which may be true statements, by the way-and then we continue in our hearts to say, “and since I’m not a natural athlete, it’s no big deal that I’d rather sit on the couch than exercise my own non-gifted body.”

Or we look at the class leader and say, “He has an intuitive grasp of this subject; in short, he’s a genius. And since I’m no genius, I don’t need to feel uneasy that my failure to do the homework and my lack of study might have something to say about my disappointing grades.”

For that matter, the truly gifted person may be weak in crucial areas. I was proud as could be when I received an academic scholarship for the college I had chosen. Although I thought it was challenging at the time, looking back I realize I was able to breeze through many of my high school classes because I liked to read, I had a good memory, and I could write reasonably well. What I didn’t have were good study habits, or the self-discipline I would need to really excel in college. Oh, I was able to make it through the university with decent grades, but I realized before I left that some of my friends who weren’t as “brilliant” as I had once imagined I was were learning more-and scoring higher-because they took the talents they had and built on them, rather than relaxing in the head start they’d been given.

They knew how to work, and they knew it better than I did. Instead of the prodigy I had hoped I might be, I ended up feeling more like the prodigal who wasted many opportunities that had come to his hands.

So that’s the tricky balance I want to teach my sons: to rejoice in the gifts which God has given, to praise Him for His generosity rather than puffing themselves up with unrighteous pride. But while accepting the honest truth that they are good in one skill or another, I want them to see whatever gift God sent as their call to work just as hard as the next guy-or even harder–for God’s glory.