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How to Raise Positive Kids in a Negative World

From the series Effective Parenting in a Defective World

Peers and pop culture exert a never-ending pressure on kids. Parents often feel helpless, as every godly principle they teach their children seems to be contradicted by the corrupt principles of this defective world. But the good news is, God has a plan for effectively raising your children and you can learn from it. Packed with practical advice, this series will give struggling parents a vision for their children's future and life-changing help for today, as he shares how you can raise positive kids in a negative world.

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Message Transcript

Well, without a doubt, these are very, very difficult days to raise kids. I will never forget the phone call I received a number of years ago. It was Tyler’s dad.

And on the other end of the phone, he said, “We found Tyler laying on the floor of his bedroom, and he’s dead.” And I had known a bit of the journey. Tyler was a really bright, likable kid. Got in with the wrong crowd and

These are a mom and dad with good jobs who go to a Bible-believing church that are seeking to raise their kids in a way that they think honors God. They figure their kids have a few ups and downs as all kids do, gets in with the wrong crowd, does some experimentation, they discover it, they go through rehab, they work through some things, they do family counseling.

Tyler is okay. And then a moment of weakness, he has a relapse, gets some bad heroin – he’s gone. I mean, that for me, changed as a pastor, that really changed the dynamic of parenting. The stakes are so high and when a lot of you grew up, you could make a few small mistakes and there were some consequences, but nothing like that.

And now your kid can click on a site, make a wrong decision, be at the wrong place at the wrong time, get bullied at school – there’s a world that makes it very, very difficult to be an effective parent in a very defective world.

Psalm 127 says, “Children are a gift from the Lord,” and then it goes on to say that they are your great reward. My experience is: the stewardship that you have of raising a child is the most sacred, important stewardship of your life. Your children will be your greatest challenge, they will be your greatest joy, they will be your greatest pain, and then through all the process, God’s desire is they are your great reward.

As you open your notes, I’d like you to follow along. We are starting a new series called, Effective Parenting in a Defective World. And I think one of the things I hear from parents, especially when things get a bit hard is, “Well, you know, we had these issues when I was a kid,” and we unconsciously think that the world that your kid is growing up in is a lot like your world. And let me tell you, it’s completely different.

The shift of morality in the last ten years alone, the shift of disintegration in the family, the culture, the educational system, the world that they live in, the landscape underneath your kids is moving so rapidly, you really need to be on your A game and really understand God’s plan and how to cooperate with it, because your kids are living in a world that moves fast, is bombarding them, and is more evil than in the past.

And so a parent’s challenge is not to protect your kid and create some bubble that they can never get hurt. But your challenge is to discover how to help your child navigate through this world, deeply anchored in God’s love, understanding his or her purpose, and becoming a change agent in the world and discovering that God really wants to use them to change the world, not necessarily be protected from it.

As you look at Scripture, the world may be difficult, but it has always been difficult – at times, much worse. And in one of the most difficult periods of all human history, God decided that He would use a teenager to bring into this world – Mary, fourteen, fifteen, maybe sixteen years old.

In one of the most perverted cultures, Persia, Daniel was a teenager, and was at the heart of changing the future of the world. David, as a teenage boy, when all was going against Israel, tackled a giant. And I could go on and on and on.

We have great hope, we have a great God, He is greater, He is stronger, He is powerful. But you and I have a job, as a parent, to equip our kids to be those kind of kids.

And so the big question I think parents are asking: How do you raise positive kids in the negative world?

I get four principles that help you raise positive kids in a negative world. Here’s what you need to understand. If I could have an overarching, let’s talk about parenting, these are big, timeless principles. You apply these if you have two-year-olds; you can apply these if you have twenty-two-year-olds. You apply them differently, by the way.

Principle number one: Effective parenting begins with positive, clear-cut objectives. Positive, clear-cut objectives. In your notes, I would like you to make a little squiggly line with an arrow, and then draw a little circle with some circles inside of it, and make a target.

See, parenting begins with having a crystal-clear target. If you don’t know what you’re aiming at, my father always told me, you’ll hit it every time. So what’s the target? What’s the goal? What are you trying to do as you nurture, develop, provide boundaries in the lives of your little boy, your little girl, or not so little boy or girl? What is the target? What are you trying to accomplish?

Ephesians 6:4 gives us the answer, and I love it in the Phillips translation. Notice it says, “Fathers,” negative command, “don’t overcorrect your children or make it difficult for them to obey the commandment.” Positive command, “Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.”

Notice it says, in parenting, dads, you need to have a strong, influential role. The number one correlation between about the eight or ten worst things that are happening in our culture are all related to either passive or father-absent homes. I don’t understand it all, but it’s the way God designed it.

So we, as men, have to understand, you don’t do it all, but we have got to be actively involved. And then it warns us that when we get actively involved, we tend to overcorrect, we tend to come on a little too strong.

Positively, it says, “Bring them up with Christian teaching and Christian discipline.” Underline, bring them up, and then put a box around, Christian teaching, and a box around, Christian discipline.

The word, “bring them up,” in the ancient Greek was the physical development of a child, classical Greek literature, you would read this word, it would be the strength and the physical development of a child.

In later Greek literature, it meant the total education of a child: the moral, physical, relational, spiritual development. What do you need to do to nurture or bring them up or develop them? By the time the apostle Paul uses this word, he is basically saying, “As a Christian parent, your goal is to not overcorrect, but by contrast, spiritually, morally, relationally, and physically help them become who God wants them to become.”

And then he says, “You have two tools in your toolbox.” You have Christian teaching and Christian discipline. We will develop these further. Christian teaching is what you say. It’s what you teach. It’s what you instruct, informally and formally.

Christian discipline is what you do. Other than modeling the life, you only do two things with your kids: you say certain things and you do certain things. And so he says, “That’s the target.”

I call this, “The Principle of Focus.” My biggest concern with parents and, believe me, I have four grown kids, we had many ups and downs. I came from an alcoholic home; my wife came from an alcoholic home. So all I am going to tell you is I had no clue about how to do what I am going to tell you.

But I passionately dug in and asked God to show me. And the biggest danger I always had was parenting out of fear. I have lived in places that were really dangerous. I lived in places that I just described – my kids lived there. But God says parenting out of fear doesn’t work. You need to parent out of focus, a clear target.

So what is the target? I would like to challenge you to think about God’s dream versus what I call, “the human dream,” or, “the American dream,” or our personal dream for our kids.

God’s dream, you can write down, “Romans 8:29.” We often quote verse 28, especially when you’re going through hard times, “For we know that God works all things together for the good, for them who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

The very next verse talks about the process that He uses, and His goal is to conform your sons and your daughters to the image of Christ. In other words, God’s dream, are you ready? This is how simple, He wants your kids to be like Jesus. He wants them to be Christ-like.

The Bible word that we don’t use a lot, He wants them to be holy. Not holy as in weird, okay? Not holy as in they just don’t know how to relate to people. Holy as in set apart for Him, morally pure, understanding His love, counter to the culture. That is the target for your child.

Now, human, and especially American culture, the target is for your child to be successful and happy. And this isn’t just out there. This is us. The culture just, we are bombarded with, If you really are a good parent, you want your kids to be happy. So that’s why you give them “Happy Meals,” right?

And they deserve a break today. And if all their friends are getting to do something you don’t want them to be left out, because they wouldn’t be happy! You want them to be happy, happy, happy, happy, happy. And so you don’t want to hurt their feelings and you have been bought and you have been sold a bill of goods that says: Good parents make your kids happy.

And the way you understand happiness is not just emotional happiness, but they will be happy if they will be successful. And so if you have a three-year-old who is not in a soccer league, you need to get with the program. And they need to learn piano and guitar and you better check out and see if ballet might be part of what they should do.

And then they are on this team and hopefully they will make the traveling team. And by sixth grade, you need to get an SAT tutor. And they will really be happy if they get in a really good, I mean, not just a good university, but a great university. And so, if you would take all the time and energy and money that you spend helping your child be successful in athletics and in sports and in school, and all the money and time and energy you spend on their moral and spiritual development, you tell me, you tell me in your own parenting journey, where does the energy go?

And here’s what I can tell you, if your child has a passionate love for God and they become holy and they become others-centered and kind and disciplined and non-narcissistic and care for people who other people don’t care for and be others-centered and have a passion to love and walk with God, I will guarantee, beyond happiness, they will have joy. And they will have impact and they will have purpose.

But many of you could tell me the story, and I have pastored for a little over thirty years, I could read a list of who’s who of kids who are extraordinarily successful from really good, Christian homes, that they went away to college and you know what? They don’t care about God and they don’t care about you and they care about themselves. And you know what? In your greatest and most sincere intentions to make them happy, happy, happy – they got the weird idea that the whole world was about them.

And whenever they are not happy, that life is not fair. And in their little, superficial faith that they had, of, if God didn’t make them happy and He didn’t come through, well, they get mad at Him.

And we’ve got a generation of about seventy percent of those coming out of our Bible-teaching churches who, four or five years after college, don’t really have anything to do with God and we wonder why.

Effective parenting begins with a crystal-clear target. Your job as a parent, more than their success, more than their happiness, is to help them be holy. And that requires a lot of courage, it requires intentionality, it requires a plan. And, by the way, it’s not easy.

And you’ll not only be unpopular with unbelievers, you’ll be unpopular with a lot of Christians. But there is a great reward, an amazing reward. Principle number one, boy oh boy, you know what, you guys? Could we just stop for a minute?

What I just shared, you’re thinking, Man, if this is the beginning of this series, I’m in really big trouble. Let me tell you, there is great hope and that’s part of why we are doing it, and part of why you have to get with some other parents, and part of why we have to support one another.

At some point, shouldn’t we look at the quality of what is happening in the lives and the homes and the children that we are producing who love God, and say probably what we are doing is not working?

The second principle, second principle: Effective parenting demands that we practice what we preach, that we practice what we preach. The apostle Paul is writing to a church that is near and dear to him, the Corinthians, but they are group that is kind of hard. They have a lot of struggles, they have a lot of dysfunctions, they have a lot of baggage, and they have a lot of super apostles that are coming in and coming out and telling them, “You ought to live this way and you ought to live that way.”

And so he writes a very personal letter to them talking about, “Look, I am your spiritual father, okay? There are a lot of people who will tell you stuff. I am your spiritual father and in the midst of all this confusion, I want you to listen to me very, very carefully.”

And so he writes as a father to spiritual children, and I think there is a great application for us, as parents. It’s 1 Corinthians 4:14 to 16. He says, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children.” In other words, this is from a warm heart. He’s not down on them.

“Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For in Christ Jesus I came became your father through the gospel.” In other words, “I care for you more than anyone else. I was the conduit of God’s grace that brought spiritual birth.

Now, here is the application. “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” And if you would just put a little word, write the word, mimic, M-I-M-I-C, above it. And you now know one Greek word. That’s the word. Mimic. Imitate.

He’s saying, “I want you to pray the way you saw me pray, I want you to work the way you saw me work, I want you to forgive people the way you saw me forgive people, I want you to passionately follow Christ the way you saw me do it, I want you to use your money and your time and your energy the way…just mimic me. Follow me as I follow Christ.”

See, you can’t impart what you don’t possess. The most important principle of all parenting, you can almost mess up in every area, but if you are what you want your kids to become, here’s the deal, they are going to be, for better or worse, a lot like you.

Jesus stated it in Luke 6:40, “A student, when he is fully trained, will be just like his teacher.”

Here’s what you need to get, and for some of you, this will be really, really helpful. Our junior high, our children’s ministry, a Christian school that you may send your kid to, a mentoring group, a small group, a Christian coach – what I want you to know is all those people are wonderful, tiny, little helpers. But the teacher of your child is you.

The person that God will hold responsible for, “what did your child learn?” and, “what did they receive?” is not the church, not a Bible study leader, not a school. It’s you!

And here’s the research. My background was in all the social sciences and one of the great heroes of research was a guy named Albert Bandura. And all of his work was in the area of what he called “modeling.” The number one, and most powerful socialization of a child is modeling.

And that is psychology-speak for, “You talk like your mom and dad, you eat like your mom and dad, your values are like your mom and dad, you’ll be prejudiced like your mom and dad, you’ll be passionate about things like your mom and dad.”

Your kids, in your home, the environment of your home and your life is the most powerful thing your kids, even in their teen years, even in their young adulthood – you are the most powerful influencer. You have to be what you want them to become.

If you don’t get anything out of this whole series, see, when I do that, I start thinking to myself, Oh my. That’s scary. Isn’t it? If you play it out?

Would I want my kids to forgive people the way I don’t forgive people? Would I want my kids to drive a car the way I drive my car? Would I want my kids to have those white lies on the phone like, “Tell them I’m not here,” the way I have white lies on the phone? Would I want my kids to handle their priorities and money the way I handle my priorities and money? Here’s the deal. They will.

I came across an ancient quote, it’s Anonymous, it says, “Let every father remember that one day, his son will follow his example instead of his advice.” Right? It’s the principle of modeling. More really is caught then taught.

And so, one of the things that has motivated me as a parent, and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I got motivated and I have these mental pictures and this is a different picture where I lined all my kids up on the couch when they were small and I basically heard myself say, “Okay, I want you to drive exactly the way you see me drive. I want you to spend time with God and pray the way you see me spend God. I want you to deal, when people say bad things about you, I want you to, are you ready? I want you to respond the way you see me respond.”
And all of a sudden I just went through those areas. And it was the greatest motivation to walk with God and be a man of God. And, by the way, just before you get into, Oh, I’ve got to be perfect and if I’m not perfect, my kids are going to turn out…

Believe me, you are not perfect. They already know that. You know what they need to learn? They need to learn how to be authentic and loving and you know how they learn that is when you’re driving in a way that you realize, Oh my. When stuff comes out of your mouth that you go, Oh, that is not what I want to come out of their mouths.

You know what you do? You own it. And I cannot tell you how many times, even when they were small, I would have to get down on one knee and look one of my kids in the eye and say, “What you did was wrong. And I love you, but I can’t accept that behavior. We don’t do that here. But I love you. But how Daddy corrected you, the way his voice got loud and the anger that you could feel, I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

See, you know how your kids learn to walk with God? It’s not that you have it all together. They see where you make great progress and they see how you deal with it when you fail, so they understand how to receive forgiveness and to own their stuff when they fail, because they will.

There is a target that has to be crystal clear: I want my kids to be holy like Christ. My energy, my plan, my intentionality. Some of you have plans for their academics, don’t you? If their sophomore, we haven’t visited any colleges yet? Or you want them to be a good athlete, my lands, we don’t have a personal coach yet? And a strength trainer? And nutrition drinks? And lifting weights? Right?

And because they have to make the traveling team and they have to have a scholarship and they…

You have a plan and many of you, your whole life revolves around either academics or sports or music. Well, if all you want to do is produce athletes or musicians, great! Or people that get in good schools.  But what does it profit a child if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his or her soul?

They become successful, spiritual washouts, with parents whose hearts are broken, who don’t have relationship, who question and wonder, What in the world went wrong?

Principle number three. The target is clear, the teacher is you, but all learning happens in an environment. Principle number three is: Effective parents build relationships that bond.

You want to have superglue between your heart and the heart of your child. You are going to go through difficult times. The world is going to bombard them. They are going to have peer influence, there’s going to be all kinds of technology, they are going to be bullied, they are going to be afraid, they are going to have different personalities. You’re going to have one that is compliant and you can look at them like that and they say, “Oh, yes, whatever you say, Mom or Dad,” and you’re going to have one that it doesn’t matter what you say, you ground them for thirty-five years, whatever, and they just look at you and say, “Is that all you got?”

And you’re going to have difficulty. So what you want to do is you want to build. And, by the way, it is never, ever, ever, ever too late. But it’s most, most, most effective when you start as early as possible.

You want to build relationships with your kids that bond your heart to their heart, because what you want them to do is not want to disappoint you, because they know you love them and they love you, instead of some set of rigid rules and performance orientation that they need to measure up.

The apostle Paul gives us a picture of these kinds of relationships as he talks to a church and, literally, from Scripture tells us, “This is how mothers love and this is how fathers love.”

1 Thessalonians chapter 2, he says, “But we were gentle among you” – how? “like a mother,” circle the word, mother, “caring for her little children.” He says, “This is how we treated you.”

“We loved you so much, that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God,” not just the content, not the truth, “but our own lives as well” – why? “because you had become so dear to us.”

Would you underline the words: gentle, caring, loved, share, dear to us? He is saying, “We loved you,” and this is how a child needs a mother’s love. There is a tenderness, there is a nurturing, there’s a commitment, there’s a pouring out your life that builds relationships that bond.
1 Thessalonians chapter 2, he says, “But we were gentle among you” – how? “like a mother,” circle the word, mother, “caring for her little children.” He says, “This is how we treated you.”

“We loved you so much, that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God,” not just the content, not the truth, “but our own lives as well” – why? “because you had become so dear to us.”

Would you underline the words: gentle, caring, loved, share, dear to us? He is saying, “We loved you,” and this is how a child needs a mother’s love. There is a tenderness, there is a nurturing, there’s a commitment, there’s a pouring out your life that builds relationships that bond.

But kids need a father’s love. Now, both do both, but he says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father,” circle father. Well, how should a father deal with his child? “One who encourages, comforting and urging you” – what? Notice the target, the man in the house, “…living a life worthy of God.” The world is not about you. It’s not how many points you score, it’s not your SAT scores, it’s not that you got in an Ivy League school or Stanford.

If those things happen – great. If you happen to be a good musician, athlete – great. I want you to live a life worthy of God. That’s the target. “…who calls you into His kingdom and glory.”

I did a word study on each of these words: encouraging, comforting, and urging. And the role of the father, the mother is nurturing and caring and we get to do that as dads. But the role of a father, the first word is you’re the biggest cheerleader. There’s something about a dad on the sidelines going, “You can do it, honey! Great job here. You’ll do okay on that test. I’m for you. I’m one hundred percent.” You are their biggest cheerleader. You inspire. You praise. You encourage.

The next word is translated: comforting. But it’s also translated, this word is also translated: exhorting, admonishing. It’s the idea of you want to help your child but as you’re helping your child, sometimes the goal is, How do you help them break through a barrier?

And sometimes what they need is they fell off the balance beam or they really did bad on a test or they were in the recital and they completely froze. And they need comforted. They need you to say, “Hey, it’s okay. Life is more than a recital, this or that.” And that dad comes in, “I’m for you,” a comfort.

But sometimes the barrier is they get full of themselves. And you’ve told them, “Look, I don’t want you hanging out with those two people, we know what happens in their home, their parents aren’t home, there’s a lot of free alcohol and drugs going on, I forbid you to hang out with them and ever go in their home when their parents aren’t there.”

And then of course, somehow, I think God orchestrates this, at least He did in my life, and even with my kids, you find out stuff that you would never know how you found it out, right? And here’s what a dad does, “Son, sit down. Now, we need to have a very serious talk,” and your deep, dad voice kicks in.

“I’m not sure if there was something that wasn’t clear about what we talked about, about not hanging around with those two people or going into that house, but I’m aware you did. There may be some extenuating circumstances that I don’t know about, but let’s get this straight right now. Consequences will be severe and swift, but you’re such a great kid and I believe in you so much and I trust you so much, this is a warning.”

The next word is: urge. This is the “severe consequences” kick in. And so the dad is going, “You can do it! I’m going to help you break through a barrier!” And then finally is draw a line in the sand, “You know something? You went to that house again, we agreed, we have a written contract, you are now grounded for a week, I’m really sorry that you’ll miss the prom, your first basketball game or whatever, and your mother is crying and she will get over it. But this is the way it is.” Those were true stories.

Here’s the principle. I put a little picture on here that I think will be helpful.

In your heart of hearts, you’re making progress and you have certain values and beliefs, right? You love God, you want to be a person of integrity, you want your kid to be others-centered, you want them to be kind, you want them to learn how to be a team player, you want them to make a significant contribution to other people.

And you say to yourself, These are my values, and I want to transmit those values across this bridge of life from zero to about early twenties…and sometimes a little bit later.

And here’s what it is, is your values, not what you say, by the way, but how you actually live, your values will be transmitted across this bridge of relationship. And there are going to be a lot of ups and downs so it’s the strength of the glue of your relationship that that bridge can hold a lot of truth and a lot of disappointment and a lot of pain.

And so, it very simply goes like this. Axiom number one would be: The stronger the relationship you have with your child, the more likely they will embrace the values that you have.

Flip it over. The weaker relationship that you have with your child, the less likely they will embrace the values that you have. And finally, tension and conflict are inevitable. So they are going to cross that bridge.

There are going to be times where you’re on this page and they are on that page. And what will sustain you, over time, is all that time invested in building a glue from the heart that, when you have to say hard things and they slam the door, “I don’t love you anymore! You’re the worst mom in the whole world! I just can’t stand it. I wish you were a dad, but I wish you weren’t a Christian dad!”

I have heard all of that. And you know what? They get over it. They get over it if they know you live it, you love them, and as much as they scream and cry out because of the pressure externally, they can embrace and they see your life and every year that they get older they see the wisdom of God’s way in your life.

So let me give you eight very specific ways to build that kind of relationship. I’ll go a bit fast because these are things you can really develop. And then I want you, as I go through these, I’d like you to be asking yourself, What one of these, you can do two if you want, but, What one of these, this week, am I going to start doing, even if my kids are grown? Even if I have to figure out a way to do it long distance.

Number one is: unconditional love. This may come naturally for a lot of you. Verbalize your unconditional love. Let them know, “I love you.” Communicate verbally, “I love you.” Embrace them in ways that communicate unconditional love. Try and find opportunities when you know they have failed and they know they have failed, where you separate their bad behavior or their failure from them.

“What you did is unacceptable; who you are is always acceptable.” So multiple, multiple ways you want to communicate unconditional love. “I am for you no matter what.” Sometimes you do that verbally, sometimes you do it by your behavior.

Out of our four kids, we had one son that we went through about a four-year season of rebellion. And he did not want to be around me, he did not want to be around our family, he did not want to do anything, he said, “You know, Dad? I kind of like you as a person. I wish you weren’t a Christian dad. I don’t know if I believe in Jesus or anything, I want to stay out as late, I want to do what all my friends do.”

And sometimes unconditional love is, “You can’t have your own way, but son, every other week you and I are going to go out to breakfast and you can keep rolling your eyes and I’m still going to come to your games and I’m still going to pray for your out loud and we are still going to hang out. Because there is nothing you can do ever to make me stop loving you.” How do you do that?

See, our kids can wound us like no one else. They can hurt you like no one else. And what, if you’re not careful is, when they wound you, you start putting up walls, because when you get wounded, even with your own kids, you want to pay them back. And what we know how to do in very sophisticated ways is now to love them conditionally, and manipulate their lives.

The second is: scheduled time. Lots of ways you can do this, but can I just give you three quick ones? Have dates with your kids. And I know some of you have a lot of kids, some not too many, and maybe it’s every other week. Second, only have one calendar, especially those who work outside the home. One calendar.

For years I had my work calendar and then on the refrigerator we had the family calendar. And here’s what can happen if you’re not careful. Boy, there’s a real big meeting and this is a big thing and a big project at work and, Oh, here’s this really, really big thing. We’ve got to do that. And, Oh, yeah, well, honey. Well, we were supposed to go out to breakfast. We’ll do that next week. Or, You know, we try to eat as a family, but you have these seasons or you have these times. It has only lasted nine years, but it’s a very long season. And I’m up before the sun comes up and I get home basically after dark. But it’s quality time, right? I take you to Disneyland; I buy you lots of stuff because I feel guilty inside.

Put them all on the same calendar. And then when someone says, “Can you do this or that?” “I would love to; I have a very important commitment.” You don’t have to tell them it’s eating with your family. You don’t have to tell them it’s having breakfast or lunch with one of your kids.

I’ve got news for you. After all the deals you get done doing and all the super important stuff, you have them for a window of time, I mean, inside your house for a very limited time. And what happens in that very limited time, it will shape, I mean, you hit fifty through about eighty if you live that long, it will shape all those years. And you won’t even remember the deals.

Is there balance, are there seasons, common sense? Yeah. Schedule time with your kids. Eat together as a family. No technology on. No people taking in the plates, they heat their stuff up, you heat your stuff up. If you’re eating in minivans because you have practice on Monday, practice on Wednesday, something on Thursday, something on Friday – ask yourself, if you were from a different planet and someone stepped in and said, “Excuse me, I’m from a different planet, I’m doing analysis on what really matters to people. I noticed that you are doing this, this, this, this, and this. So the goal of all parenting is that you watch your kids play sports and you sit in stands with people you don’t know. Is this correct? Is that your long-term goal?”

And you would say, “No!” Then why are you doing it? “Because Johnny would be so disappointed if he doesn’t get to be on that team with all his friends and he might cry!” Let him cry. Let him know he is a loved son or a loved daughter. Schedule time.

The third scheduled time is dinner dates and bedtimes. Man, you’ve got to, men especially, put your kids to bed. Tell them stories, read them Bible stories, make up stories about yourself.

Third is: focused attention. Listening in an understanding way. Cornell University did a study of two-year-olds. They put a microphone on them for a couple of weeks until everyone realized that they didn’t notice them anymore. And then they had fathers come in and they discovered that the average father, except for “hi” and “bye,” – are you ready for this? was spending a whopping thirty-seven seconds per week in meaningful conversation with their kids. I mean, where you really listen.

How many of us get in the car, the kids in the car, “Yeah, honey, I’ll be right with you, be right with you. Yeah, how did your day go?” “Oh, dad, you can’t believe what happened! We were coloring monsters…” And, Yeah, I’ve got a business meeting here and, let’s see, I’ve got to order that stuff. “Yeah, yeah, honey! Good monsters? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Excuse me, I’ve got to take this. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Bobby. Yeah, yeah right, yeah, make the, yeah, tell them we can’t do that. No, hey, are you kidding me? The stock just went down. Oh yeah, honey, tell me about, what, the Munsters?” “No, no, Daddy. It was monsters.

You know what? They get it. You’re not here. I don’t matter. I don’t matter. The paper is up; eyes are here. You have to be there.

Focused attention, and part of focused attention is eye contact. You look them in the eye. You shut off stuff. There is a powerful…the eyes are the window of the soul.

Your kids need to see you look into their eyes and almost be able to feel what is going through your mind is, I can’t believe I get to be this boy or girl’s dad or mom. They are so precious and I love them so much. That’s what they need to see when you look into their eye, because that is what you are feeling inside.

And everything else will wait and you never have to rush with your kids. So you schedule time and you make it matter.

Number five is: consistent or ongoing communication. Did we mention eating together? Oh yes.

You have to talk. And, by the way, there are some of you who are going, Oh, man. Start with two times a week. It’s a novel idea. It happened historically. Cook some food in your own house. It’s a thought. There’s a range, you’ve got some burners and stuff – rarely used – but you’ll figure it out. It’s not that hard. Get some food. Cook it! Set a table; turn the TV, computers, everything off; and sit around. It’ll be weird at first.

And then ask, “How did your day go at school?” Or, “How are you feeling today?” Or, “What made you happy?” Or, “What was your biggest challenge?” And then be prepared for, “Uh, er, nothing, okay, fine.”

And what you are is you smile and say, inside, I refuse to allow that to be our dinner table conversation! “Well, I am going to tell you what happened with me!” And, honestly, tell them some stuff. They won’t understand it all.

“I had a big meeting today and this is what happened,” and they are going, What? And you create a culture where there’s a safe place where all the world gets pushed aside.

What did Jesus do the very last night He was going to be with His disciples? They ate together. Jesus got accused of being such a terrible person because what did He do with tax collectors and sinners? He ate with them.

The very first thing that happens in heaven when it all gets wrapped up, we are going to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

There is something about eating, there’s secular research that talks about families that eat together are healthy and they have great relationships. Ongoing communication.

Meaningful touching is critical. The largest organ you have is your skin. When your kids are small, if you’re a dad especially, wrestle with them, wrestle with them, wrestle with them. They want to be touched.

We feel affirmed and loved when we are touched. Your daughters need to have non-sexual touching to feel feminine and important and valuable and to know that men can be safe.

I remember early I would come home and it always bugged Theresa, I couldn’t figure out why. And she was in the middle of cooking dinner and I would always want to come and mess around and kiss her or something and she’s going, you know, like, Is this really the right time? And I would say, “Yes, actually, it is! I’m only wanting to model this for our children,” you know? It has nothing to do with any sexual desires or anything like that. I’m just a loving father, trying to model something for our kids!

And she would, you know, okay, she said, “Give me a hug,” and Annie would run in and get between us and we would hug. And she would go, “Oh, let’s do a peanut butter sandwich!” And you know what that little girl wanted? She wanted, when two people love each other, it’s a safe place, and she wanted to be right in the middle and feel touched and consumed and loved and important.

And some of you aren’t huggers, so I have a suggestion. It doesn’t come naturally. Do it anyway. Just do it anyway.

I watched my wife get hugged by her dad, probably for the first time, in his late sixties. I never, she never heard her father say, “I love you,” to her, until he was in his seventies.

Man, you understand the weird things we do? You understand the psychology of what happens in the soul of a human being if, down deep, you don’t feel like your mother or your father loves you? And if the most powerful way that we express that is both verbally and by touching…

See, these are the kinds of things that they bypass the brain, they go down in the soul of your kids. And when you’re in an argument later or when they want to date someone that you know is bad news and when they want to go out with some friends that you know there are drugs and alcohol and when you’re talking about this school or that school and you think, Now, yeah, now that’s a party school in the whole world, and you guys can’t get on the same page and you have to make a really hard call, it will be the strength of relationship that, when they even have to accept and you’re doing this [bumps fists together], there’s stuff down in here that has been invested in.

The final two are ones that I think they are equally important. You might think I’m crazy. But it’s: have fun together and pray together often. I see people that are like super spiritual, “Okay! Are you ready? Bobby, I want you to pray for Africa, I want you to pray for Europe. I want you to pray for…okay, you ready? Go! Heavenly Father, thou art, thine, theen, thone, [unintelligible words]. Okay! Seven point four minutes on your prayer. Here we go again. All right. Now it’s suppertime! Close your eyes! And now, holy God! God!” I change His name when I’m really…

And the kids are sitting there going, What in the world is this about? You pray when you tuck them in; you get in the car, ready to go to school, “Lord, would You help us?” You play one-on-one basketball in the driveway and you’re absolutely sweaty and wringing wet and you lay down and you’re looking up at the stars and without warning, “Oh, God, I can’t believe I get to be this kid’s dad. He just beat me for the first time and it was a blast. Thanks for just letting us be friends.”

A siren goes by and your kid is in their pre-teens and you have been spending time as a family, “Emily! Emily! Someone is really hurting right now. I’ve got to keep my eyes open. Would you pray for whoever is in that ambulance?”

And your kids just start realizing, Prayer isn’t something you do. It’s communicating with God and we do it and there’s a tragedy and everyone sits on the family room floor and you beg God for grandma or grandfather’s life.

And then you have to say “no” to some stuff because it’s a wicked world and your house is the fun place. Invest in a Ping-Pong table, invest in a foosball, invest in something that isn’t just electronic and people are staring at screens. Play board games. Make your house where it’s fun. “Well, you can’t go to that party, but here’s what we are going to do.” And be active and focused and just have a blast with your kids. Invest deeply in them.

The final one is not just a clear target, not just that you’re the teacher, not in an environment of love, but effective parenting requires constant repair and ongoing maintenance.

The Scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. Okay, here’s the deal. Your kids are going to mess up. And even if they don’t mess up, whatever you are doing right, like you have these little seasons and you’re, okay, like, they are like four or five or six. And you are trying to help teach them some responsibility – a little basic thing like make their bed or take out the trash.

And they forget and you’re frustrated and so you read in a book: put a chart up – trash, bed. And when they do it, they get a sticker. You know? And I’ll tell you, they get a sticker, they go, “Ooooh!” And then for three months they just take out the trash every day and they make their bed and it’s like, wow! And month number four, who wants stickers?

Or they are a teenager and, “We are going to make a contract and we want you to be responsible and, okay, if you do this, here are the consequences but if you do this in school and these are the consequences, if you stop treating your mother like that, here is the reward that you’re going to get.” “Wow! I’m independent! And I get the contract,” and for three, four, five months, man, it’s great! And the tension is gone. And then, all of a sudden, it’s, “You know, I don’t believe in contracts.”

Welcome to the NFL of parenting. Nothing ever stays the same. And, by the way, it’s not just that they change; you change!

When I was not consistent, I had this amazing correlation. When I wasn’t consistent with rewarding and disciplining my children, they acted up. Huh. I couldn’t figure it out.

I can’t tell you how many times I’d get the whole family together and say, “You know what? I have really not been the dad God wants me to be. Because you guys are doing this, this, and this. And we have said these would be the consequences and I just couldn’t get out of that La-Z-Boy. And I didn’t do anything about it. And so now you’re fighting with each other and you’re talking back to your mom and you’re back to not finishing your homework and you’re beating your brother up and that’s got to stop. But I could blame a lot of people, but it starts with me. I’m the dad. So I want to ask you guys to forgive me for not being the dad I am supposed to be.

“And I want you to know, we are going to end this little family meeting. Thirty seconds afterwards, Dad is back. And I am going to reward you and love you like I know God wants me to. And I will provide those consequences we agreed on.”

And then I would literally plan and look for times to try and catch them doing something right and really affirm them and then the very first time they did the thing that we had been talking about – swift and loving, of course. No, I’m serious.

And you know what? It recalibrated. Here are the five magic words, and I don’t mean that like, Magic! I mean, like, it’s amazing. “I’m sorry; please forgive me.” Okay? We are in this together. And it’s never too late. And I don’t know any families that haven’t had big struggles. And you may have a son or a daughter who is dealing with an addiction or is in a relationship that breaks your heart or a little kid who is acting out or someone who you’re thinking, Are they going to pee the bed until they are fifteen? Right?

There are all these kind of issues that we all have. And it just means you’re a regular mom or dad with a regular kid and we are on a journey. But I’ll tell you what. You set a clear target, you practice what you preach, you build relationships that bond at whatever age, and then you realize there are always going to be ongoing maintenance and constant repair. And I will tell you, and then we have to help each other, and we are going to learn how to really, then, walk through the very specific ways to help our kids.