Do You Have a Plan?

The engines roar so loudly you can feel your whole body shake as the fighter jet accelerates down the short runway on the aircraft carrier in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You can smell the burning fuel. Standing on the deck of the carrier, you can’t even see the fighter pilot inside because his plane is racing by at such an incredible speed. You can, though, sense the power of the great plane and the intensity of the takeoff. Just seconds before, the jet was calmly stationed at the end of the carrier, along with a few other ones. But now, just seconds later, amidst burning fuel and an awesome display of speed, it’s at the end of the runway and quickly airborne, racing up into the blue sky.

But where is the plane going?

Like the fighter jet, you, too, are about to accelerate down a short runway and take off on a great adventure with many possible missions and destinations. During your childhood, your life has probably been pretty steady and stable for the last few years. Sure, there have been ups and downs and you’ve changed and grown as a boy, but boyhood is usually marked by very slow and gradual development compared to the upcoming season in your life. But soon, instead of just hanging out at the end of the runway with the other fighter jets, instead of slowly taxiing back and forth on the runway, your life is about to accelerate in a very intense and rapid period called adolescence. And at the end of adolescence, you will take off into the sky for an even greater adventure: manhood.

Any fighter pilot will probably tell you that good preparation before the flight is essential to a successful mission. He has spent thousands of hours learning to fly. He has considered problems he could encounter and maneuvers he could use in those dangerous situations. He has tested and serviced the plane. He has filled it up with fuel. He has studied the specific flight plan, considered the weather, and learned the goal and details of the mission. The takeoff is but a few seconds; the mission is but a few hours; but the preparation is years in the making.

The preparation is years in the making. Do you feel the weight of that challenge? It is up to us to make sure that we are being proactive with our sons as we cast vision for it means to be a godly man. We have to give them the Flight Plan well before their flight takes off. That requires work on our part. Are you willing to put the time and effort in now so that your future pilot can fly on the journey himself? The challenge is set before us. The question is whether or not we are up for it!

The Dance

Our family traveled from Virginia to Michigan at the beginning of the month to celebrate our niece’s wedding. It was a “white-knuckled” drive through a blizzard but the prospect of everyone being together provided plenty of motivation. For the first time in a year, Cindi and I would enjoy time and stories from our 6 children, their spouses and “plus ones” as we spent a few days together. I have to admit that it was nice having two other men in the room; most of the time I am considerably outnumbered by the women in my life.

I did manage to make my way to my “coach’s” home to join 20 other men who get together every Saturday morning for a time of reflection and encouragement around God’s Word. It was refreshing, to say the least. The discussion starting point that morning was a reminder that we are called “human beings,” not “human doings.” It seems many of us get so involved in the day-to-day “shoulds” and “to dos” that we lose sight of who God has called us to be. Let me caution you here: if you find yourself overwhelmed by the “do this and do that” or the do-do-do impulse, you may look back on your life someday and find that all it amounted to was a big pile of dodo!

As the conversation progressed, it soon veered into the area of obedience. It seems that many Christians, especially parents, spend a lot their time on this topic. This is probably due to the fact that we spend so much time trying to get our children to be obedient. The things we do in life should be done out of our obedience to God’s direction. After all, the more obedient we are, the more things we will do for Him, and the more we do, the more He will appreciate us. God’s blessings, therefore, are a result of our obedience to God and the things we do for him. It all sounds pretty logical, doesn’t it?

Yet this flies in the face of the reality that we are to be still and know that He is God, that He gives us rest, and that He is our rest. We were created to be in an intimate relationship with our Creator. We were designed to have fellowship with our God and walk with Him in the cool of the afternoon.

As parents, we desire our children to be obedient to our instruction. Even if it is something that they don’t want to do, we desire for them to choose to be obedient out of love and respect, don’t we?

Cindi and I have been taking basic ballroom dance lessons recently. In those lessons we are learning that arm position and gentle pressure from our hands communicate direction. We are learning that in order for the dance to work, I am to lead and she is to follow. The lead, though, is communicated through the intimacy we have as we dance together. When I lead well and she follows well, we dance. If I don’t lead well or she doesn’t follow well our feet get tangled.

I have learned that obedience from God’s perspective is less about doing what He says regardless of the situation and more about following His lead well as we embrace one another in intimacy. It’s a dance and not a duty.

Intimacy with God is not a morning devotional, prayer 3 times a day, church on Wednesdays and Sundays and the memorization of the entire New Testament. Intimacy with God is an embrace that goes on all day and all night. It is 24/7/365 attention to the gentle and guiding pressures of His hand. It is a closeness that can hear the whisper of His voice. It is intimate enough to feel the beat of His heart.

Try it and watch what happens.

Don’t Let “Oops” Define Your Parenting

There are several people in life that you don’t want to hear say “Oops!” Your barber, your mechanic, and your surgeon come to mind. Another is your parents. None of us want “Oops” to sum up the influence we’ve had on the lives of our children. Sadly, I am hearing more and more of that from dads. It is crucial for us to become intentional about what we are giving the next generation in the short time they are in our care.

If you don’t know this, time sneaks up on you. At first it was sleepless nights and leaky diapers. Exhausting and disgusting, but a fair trade off for getting close with such a little bundle of joy. Then they raise the bar with bumps and bruises, dinnertime spills, crayons on the walls, and the word “No” in response to, well, everything. The trade off seems a little less fair. Before you know it, you pole vault over issues you never thought were part of the parenting package- that first cuss word, awkwardly trying to explain sex, or working through that first time they are picked on or excluded.

It is our job as dads to give them a biblical framework for living. We are called to equip them with a strong sense of identity that comes from knowing who made them, who they are, and how they fit into the larger story of life. We must help them understand their story from the Author’s perspective, to enjoy the wonder that comes from knowing that with God everything is sacred and nothing is meaningless.

Dads must lead the charge in this battle for truth and teach our kids about:

A personal, loving God who created them for relationship.
A sense of purpose and meaning that transcends the often confusing and painful experiences they will endure.
Timeless truth that frames the choices they will face and explains the seemingly hapless circumstances of life.
A profound hope only found in Jesus Christ that can overshadow the deepest despair.

Don’t let this opportunity slip by. The curtain is up and you are on stage. It is time to act!

Step Up: Serve

Step-up-serveLet’s face it: we men have difficulty serving.

I work hard to provide for my family. I pay the bills, and I keep the cars maintained. I change light bulbs and fix leaky toilets. I make sure the trash is taken out. I wash dishes fairly regularly. I even get the kids ready for bed most nights.

But do my boys see me serve in church? Do I tell them I serve my Lord and Savior, but only in words and not in deeds?

I came across a website that included some interesting facts about men and their service in church. There are quite a few statistics, and feel free to go to the website (click here) to get all of them, and see their footnotes. I will include just a couple:

  • This Sunday almost 25 percent of married, churchgoing women will worship without their husbands.

  • Midweek activities often draw 70 to 80 percent female participants.

  • Over 70 percent of the boys who are being raised in church will abandon it during their teens and twenties. Many of these boys will never return.

  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men’s ministry.

  • A study from Hartford Seminary found that the presence of involved men was statistically correlated with church growth, health, and harmony. Meanwhile, a lack of male participation is strongly associated with congregational decline.

Even more than attending church, we need to serve. I find it a little funny how we refer to our Sunday morning gathering as a “Church Service,” yet so few of us serve there. I am challenged to look at the “Service” as a verb and not a noun. How I serve others in the church body is a response to how I understand the heart of Jesus Christ. On his final day, before He was crucified, Jesus served.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13.3-5 (NIV)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. John 13.14-17 (NIV)

What a great picture of the master serving others! Our sons need to see us serving. Maybe it is serving as an usher. Maybe it is serving as an elder. Maybe it is serving as a janitor. Maybe even serving in the nursery (doesn’t sound very manly, does it?), but we need to serve. We are called to serve. We need to validate our words.

If possible, find opportunities for you to serve with your children. Let them see you actively serve, and give them a chance to pattern their lives after yours, and find the joy in serving your church as a family.

Is God worth serving? Or do I have other things in my life that I would rather serve, that take priority over God’s command to me to serve? Our sons will see right through our words, and either they will believe us when we say we serve the one true God, or they will see us serving something else.
It is not easy. It may even seem awkward. But it is time to step up, and serve.

A letter to New Dads, Old Dads, and New Dads That Feel Old

A-letter-to-new-dads(Note: This is really a letter to new fathers, but if you’ve been a dad for awhile, I hope this will have some meaning for you as well.)

Dear New Dad,

I know, I know. The baby is finally quiet and the last thing you want to do is read this letter. You want to sleep. Actually, you might be too tired to sleep, so collapsing on the couch in exhaustion may be more like it. Relax, it could be worse: You could be the new mom!

But, while you have a minute I wanted to write you this note. I remember so well the day my first son was born. I had no idea the impact him coming into the world would have on me. Looking back, I want to give you 4 things to tuck away and remember. Even with 4 boys (ages 10, 8, 6, 4) these are things I still need to hear too. I hope you find them helpful.

1. Pursue God more now than ever – Don’t lose sight of the fact your most important relationship still needs be with God and His son, Jesus. In fact, now that you have a child of your own, I bet John 3:16 (…his only begotten son…) looks a bit more real to you. You understand how much God must love you to put His son on the cross to die for you. Remember, He doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t want you just going to church. He wants a relationship with you. As a new father, you are going to need His strength now more than ever.

2. Love your wife – It’s so easy to get in the habit of raising kids that, if I am not careful, I can begin to interact and treat my wife as a business partner. No doubt sometimes it feels like Kaehr, Inc. instead of The Kaehr Family, but I want to be married to my best friend, not a business partner. Create space for just you and your wife. Create moments where you can be close to her, talk with her, and spend time with just her – remember, loving her means leading her. Now more than ever, she needs you to step up as the Godly leader in the home!

3. Check your blind spots – There are going to be areas of your life that were never an issue before and now that you have kids, those areas may become blind spots (things that are affecting you that you just don’t see). You need to be meeting with other men in discipleship/accountability to keep your life in check. You also need to have a mentor you can lean on for wisdom. If you don’t have these men in your life, now would be the time to get them. You are going to need other men to share with and help you down this path.

4. Enjoy it – Children are gift from the Lord. Enjoy the new blessing in your life. Remember, don’t just enjoy them now (when they are sleeping). Enjoy them in the middle of the night when they are screaming. Enjoy them when they throw up all over you. Enjoy them when they begin to walk or say “da da”. Enjoy them when they poop out of their diaper all over your jeans at the restaurant. Don’t ever stop looking at them like the miracle you keep saying they are right now. Believe me, that is SO much easier to write than say, but it’s true!

I could probably go on and on, but I won’t. Enjoy the quiet. Give your wife a back rub. Rest. You are going to need it.

But, let me tell you: If you will be an engaging husband and father, if you will pursue God, love your wife, share the experience with others, and enjoy the moments…there is no greater job or reward this side of Heaven. Absolutely nothing!

To quote a PBS legend, “Red Green”…Remember, I’m pulling for ya’. We’re all in this together.

Congratulations!
Dustin

Boys and Integrity

Boys-and-integrity

The evening was coming to an end and so were my wits. My oldest was crying in her room. As I went to see what was wrong, my son scurries out of the room avoiding eye contact with me, leaping into bed with guilt dragging behind him. I ask her what he did and in between gasps of air she belts out, “He’s exasperating me!” I ask her how he’s exasperating her and she proceeds to explain he sold her a pen for a dollar and now wants another dollar after she had already given him the money.

I call him into the room.

He peers ever so slowly from around the corner. His head is down. Our eyes barely meet.

He tells me this is true of what happened.

He’s hardly remorseful and more concerned that he didn’t get more than what he sold it to his sister for.

The words, “You need to give your sister back the money she paid for the pen…and she’s keeping the pen too,” rolled off of my tongue.

You would have thought I took all of his toys and burned them with the look I received from him.

I explained the meaning of integrity and what it means to keep your word. I explained there are few men who have it and having integrity is a noble characteristic.

I want him to know what integrity is. I want integrity to be his best friend. I want it to be my best friend too. I turn to him and give him permission as man to man that he can call me out on anything that I’m not doing with integrity.

It’s a two-way street.

I have seen men fall from high places from a lack of integrity. And no man is above falling.

I want my son to know I have his back. And I want him to have mine.

If he loses everything and has God and integrity, then he really hasn’t lost anything at all.

Holidays + Families = Fun?

Finding-joy-in-holidaysI know that having a family with young kids can be both wonderful and stressful at the same time. Add the joys of all the holiday reunions and “wonderful“ goes way down…and “stressful“ goes way up!

As dad and husband, we have a major responsibility to lead our families well through this season, no matter what it brings! With the Holiday season ready to hit full stride, and stores already full of Christmas music, here are 3 suggestions to think about as you plan your “over the river and through the woods” trips this season:

Family First

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. Genesis 2:24

Your first priority needs to be your wife and children. You need to work to create and preserve your own family time during the holidays. It’s OK to tell that family member (your mom, her mom, your grandpa, etc.) that the way you have always celebrated the holidays may not be how you celebrate them now that you have kids. I promise there will be some initial push back, angry looks, and even guilt cast upon you. That’s OK. Your wife and kids need to be the most important focus.

Now, remember, you are called to honor your father and mother, so you need to work with them so you can enjoy the holidays with them, but only children are called to obey their parents. You are not a child. You are grown man with a family. Stand up for them (and for yourself) to make sure you put them first!

Traditions

Christmas traditions are great! Singing your favorite Christmas song. Watching Christmas Vacation. Hot Chocolate on the first day it snows. Those amazing peanut butter balls!

Be sure to pass down some of your (and your wife’s) favorite traditions. It’s a great chance to share with your kids about what you enjoyed growing up and the blending of your traditions with your wife’s will build some great, lasting memories for your kids.

But…don’t forget to create some new traditions unique to your family as well, so your children can pass them down when they are older!

Focus

More than ever, it is so easy to get wrapped up in materialism this time of year. It seems our mailbox is filled everyday with a new toy catalog. It’s easy for kids to think Christmas is only about getting presents and running from family member to family member to see what they get.

It is important to lead your family closer to Christ. Tell them the real “reason for the season” and then make sure you live it out in your own life! So here’s a question: What do you do with Santa? That’s a tough one.

There was a real Saint Nicholas from which the legend of Santa Clause grew. Don’t be afraid to talk about St. Nick, who he was, what he did, and how the story of Santa Claus came from this real person.

This year, we are planning to have gifts “in memory of St. Nick” instead of “from Santa”.

Now, all that being said…I don’t get too worried about it right now. Why not? Well, let me ask you something: How much can you remember from when you were 5 years old?

Exactly.

So, for my 6 and 4 year old, I’m not going to freak out if they get excited when they see deer tracks in our yard and think that Dasher, Donner, and Blitzen have been spying on them.

But, as they get older, we talk about it more and make sure they understand Christmas is God’s plan of Salvation put into motion, and ends with an empty tomb come Spring.

Ultimately, celebrating Christmas with your kids should be an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. That should be the focus!

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The holidays can be a great time of family bonding you wish would last a bit longer. They can also be pure misery that can’t be over with soon enough. The great thing about them though? You are absolutely in control of how wonderful (or not) they are.

Let me be the first to wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Show Some Heart

Show-some-heart

Boys need to see the heart of their father.

It may be something you do very naturally with your daughter, but struggle with your boys. Remember, we need to be tough for our family, not tough on them…especially our sons.

See, before the Industrial Revolution, boys spent the days with their dads in the fields. A son saw the best hours of his dad’s day. They saw his strength and work ethic. They spent time with dad pouring his life and energy into his work. All that changed once men went to work in factories, and the only part of dad a boy would see is what was left when they got home from work (which was usually just enough strength to sit in a chair, read the paper, and have a drink). It began a trickle-down effect that put women (wives, school and Sunday school teachers) spending more and more time with boys. As men began to throw their lives into work, they quit calling their boys to manhood, and boys had to grow into men without anyone modeling it for them.

OK, all of that’s a bit of a rabbit trail (maybe for another time) from where I really want to go with this, so let me re-focus.

It is important your boys see you work. They need to see you get passionate about things (not just cussing and angry, but passionate). They need to see you problem solve. They need to see you love their mother.  They need to see you come alive. They need to know it is OK to get “fired up” about Stuff. Fun Stuff and Important Stuff.

They need to see your heart.

Not only do they need to see your heart, but, as importantly, they need to feel your heart.

You need to tell your boys you love them. They need to hear you say it. They need to know it is alright for them to show love towards each other. They need to feel your strong hands hug them and show them love. Rub their backs while you hug them. Cuddle with them. Run your fingers through their hair. Touch them gently.

If your boys are like mine, they love to wrestle and test their strength against mine. That is great and can be a lot of fun! Until they get too old and then I am going to worry they may hurt me!

I came across a song by a folk artist named John Smith.  He has a song called Father’s Day.  The song is about the first time he heard his dad say, “I love you.”  (You can listen to the song and read all the words HERE).  But the last chorus does a beautiful job of capturing why it is so important to tell your sons you love them.

The Strange thing, about it is

I never knew I had a hole inside that big
But I guess I did, because there it was
Cryin’ right out loud, saying fill me up
Yea so now I try, to do my best
To tell my kids I love ‘em every chance I get
Funny how a few small words, can run so deep
Make a baby smile, make a grown man weep.

I love the line, “funny how a few small words, can run so deep.

How true.

Those words (and the heart behind them) will give your boys the strength they need to be boys.

Boys that, with their father as their guide, will grow into authentic men.

The Beatitudes and Boys

The word Beatitudes is translated, “blessed are.” The word means “happy.” The idea is not that we are simply happy in the sense that we are happy after a good meal or after we have laughed at a funny joke. It refers to a deeper happiness, a happiness that comes from peace with God. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges his listeners and us as well. As you read the Beatitudes, you might be thinking that it is an odd list of traits.

Typically, Christians want things like the fruit of the Spirit or other traits such as honesty, humility, and reliability. Those are definitely traits that we should strive for. However, the list that Jesus gives in the Beatitudes is quite different. This should lead us to ask, what is Jesus really saying here in this list? Is Jesus saying, the blessed person has these eight traits: they’re poor, they mourn, they’re meek, they don’t assert themselves, they hunger and thirst for righteousness, they’re a peacemaker, they’re pure in heart, they’re merciful, and they’re persecuted?

This is not a list that you hear fathers talking about with their sons.
“Great job being poor in spirit today, son!”
“Excellent work being merciful today, son!”
“I am so proud of your peacemaking skills!”

You don’t hear this because we are wired as a society to raise boys who are tough, hard-nosed men. While those are not necessarily bad things, they do tend to take our attention away from other critical areas. As fathers, we need to be raising sons who are aware of their sin. Jesus says in the beatitudes that the starting point in the kingdom is to know that you cannot rely on yourself, to know that your spirit is poor. You cannot be good enough, strong enough, righteous enough to make it on your own before God or in His kingdom. If you recognize your own spiritual poverty, you will mourn over it, and that will lead you to be meek. Our sons need to be taught this and they must see it in our own lives.

Are we more concerned about raising athletes and students than we are about raising future men that hunger and thirst for righteousness? Are we modeling a life of mercy because we have been shown mercy by our Savior? Are we waging war with the culture to make sure our boys are striving to be pure in heart? I pray that we do not get so wrapped in the world’s picture of manhood that we forget what Jesus values as important.

What are some creative ways that dads can teach the Beatitudes to their boys?

A Steward of God’s Blessings

In the church I’ve grown up in, we have a tradition. Before a wedding, the men will gather for a “men’s advice night” and share lessons, stories, and marriage wisdom with the new husband-to-be. I just participated in one such advice night for my new brother-in-law and another friend who was also about to be married.

Godly men who’ve been married ranging from 1 month to 30 years shared stories of their mistakes and discoveries. They gave advice like “Read the Bible together daily,” “Start your own family traditions right away,” “Take adventures together,” and “Let her know you are thinking of her throughout the day.” We all wanted these young men to learn from our experiences and start marriage out on the right foot.

A-steward-of-God's-blessings

Photo credit

That night, also I heard several men say “I wish I’d had this kind of advice when I got married.” Not all of the men gathered had a Christian upbringing, godly parents, or even godly friends when they got married. And yet, God graciously worked in their lives, even through the rough times, and today God’s grace is clearly demonstrated in their lives and marriages.

This made me stop and think about all the blessings God has given me. I’ve experienced God’s grace, mercy, and blessings in more ways than I can count.

We need to be wise stewards of the blessings God gives us. We aren’t blessed just so we can be comfortable and happy; we’re blessed so we can praise and thank God for His grace. We’re blessed so we can share that grace with others around us.

How has God blessed you?

Were you blessed with faithful, godly parents?

Were you taught the Word of God and raised in the Christian faith?

Do you have a heritage of godly grandparents and ancestors you can look up to?

Are you a survivor of a rougher, less godly upbringing? God’s grace is still at work. No matter how you were raised, I’m going to assume, if you’re reading this, that God has brought you into a saving relationship with Him. You have a unique story to be thankful for and to share with others.

Are you blessed with a godly wife? Are you growing and learning in your marriage?

Are you part of the body of Christ, the Church? How has this been a blessing to you?

Do you have godly friends who care about you?

Have others invested in your life? Parents, teachers, friends, pastors, mentors… we’ve all learned from other people God has put in our life.

What about God’s provision? Have you seen God’s hand at work times of financial difficulty?

Has God given you success in your calling?

When has God answered your prayers, or given you wisdom and guidance?

You may not have experienced all of these blessings, but look around you. God is at work in your life. What blessings can you see?

What you do with these blessings matters.

Thank God for them. Tell the stories to your children. Mentor someone else who needs help. Share these blessings and be a conduit for God’s grace, reaching others around you who desperately need it.

If we gratefully steward God’s blessings in this way, we’ll be a strong influence for good in the lives of those around us, especially our sons.

 

Daniel Forster is married to Katelyn, father to three little ones, and the manager of Doorposts Publishing. He also writes for the blog Doorposts of Your House. You may enjoy his blog post How Grandpa Influenced Me.