Discipline, Not Punishment

(Note: get your tickets for the September 14 screening of Heart of Man here. Get the powerful 7-day devotional here.)

I want a safe environment for dialogue with my kids. I want my kids to be able to talk to me without fear.

I want them to feel safe to bring their mistakes to me, especially the serious ones. I want to help them!

Here’s the dialogue I want:

“Hey dad, I messed up.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, I was speeding. I got a ticket.”

“So let’s talk about it. What are we going to do? ”

I’m not going to snap. I’m not going to hammer on my kids. You won’t hear me say, “How could you do that?” Or, “Why are you such an idiot?”

Hammering, hammering, hammering them – that’s not going to help. There are many different ways to handle any situation. You can find one that keeps your children safe in their relationship with you. The judging, and the holier-than-thou stuff, has never worked. It will never work.

It didn’t work with Jesus. The Pharisees were always hammering, and He blew up at them. The Pharisees were the holier-than-thou people. They were the people that said, “I’m the best.” They were the people that said, “You have to follow us and do what we do, because we’re better than you. We’re going to police you. If we catch you breaking our rules, we’re going to take you to the Sanhedrin. If we catch anybody, we’re going to haul you up before the high priests.”

Jesus did not like that and criticized them constantly for it. He knew it never works. It does not work. Thinking you’re better than everybody else will not draw people to you.

What my sons need is a dad who can say, “I messed up.” When they see that, then they will feel safe to come to me and say, “I messed up too.” They will know that they can come to me for help. They will trust me because they’ll know what I will say. I’ll say, “You know what? You’re right. You messed up. I know what that’s like, because I’ve messed up too. So let’s talk about it. How can I help you? I want to love on you, man. I don’t want to judge and condemn you. I want to love on you.”

God never messes up, and this is how He parents us! We should do the best we can to be like Him. I can guarantee you that God loves my sons without judgment or condemnation. I want to do the same.

There has to be discipline, but it doesn’t have to be given in an angry way. If my son comes to me to say that he got a speeding ticket, I will say, “Listen, I got a speeding ticket too. And you know what, when I was sixteen I got in two wrecks in a row and I had my license taken away. So if you get another speeding ticket, I’m going to take away your license for a little bit. It will help you understand that it’s not good to speed.”

When your kids mess up, help them understand that you’re not bringing discipline to the situation out of anger. Don’t overreact. Don’t make them think that they’ve done something you’ve never seen before. You have to train them up, but you don’t have to punish them.

When you actively reach out to your kids with encouragement and understanding, the whole idea of not judging makes so much more sense.

See you Saturday.

The Dialogue of Intimacy

(Note: get your tickets for the September 14 screening of Heart of Man here. Get the powerful 7-day devotional here.)

Intimate relationships are different from other relationships. We want to replace judgment with grace and love in all scenarios, but when it comes to intimate relationships, there also has to be dialogue.

Our loved ones might do things that bug us, and when they do, we want them to change. The problem is, they’re never going to change!

Right now you might be saying, “There’s this thing that bugs me about my husband. And he needs to know that it bugs me.” Well, talk to him about it! Tell him, “This is what you’re doing that’s bugging me.”

Jesus built intimate relationships with His disciples. He talked to them, asked their opinions, and made them His confidants. And if one of them did something that bugged Him, He said something. The Bible tells us:

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mark 8:31-33)

That’s amazing. Jesus looked at Peter, His dear friend, and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan.” He was in essence saying, “I know who is controlling your thoughts right now, and I know which way you’re acting, so you need to get away from me. You are not who you think you are.”

He said that right to Peter’s face!

Jesus was very comfortable with His intimate friends. I guarantee you He was not going to go to some random person and say, “Get behind Me, Satan.” He could have devastated people, and He understood that.

Obviously I don’t think your dialogue needs to consist of telling the people closest to you, “Get behind me, Satan.” You can’t see into people the way that Jesus can. Still, you have to talk to your loved ones.

Just remember, they cannot change without God. Unless they choose to accept God’s help, change will never happen.

You can’t fix a relationship. You, in your own power, cannot fix another person. But you can always ask God for help. You can ask God to show you what you need to do. You can ask God to show you who you need to be.

Why not ask God to show you how to change? Maybe your husband or wife bugs you because of something you’re doing. If you’re being a jerk, they’re going to respond to that. So quit being a jerk! Then maybe they’ll start loving you as if you’re the person God means for you to be.

Try saying this: “God, you know what? I need to quit telling my husband about all the things he does wrong. Instead, help me focus on doing my things right.”

Or try saying this: “Hey God, I need your help. I need to stop criticizing my wife. I need to encourage her instead.”

Do this, and then watch. You watch how that relationship changes, as God transforms you together in love.

See you Wednesday.

Urged to Change

All God’s children are more or less the same. In our flesh, we all sin. We might deal with different sins, and we might deal with our sins in different ways, but we are all sinning. No one is better than anybody else.

We will never change, either. Not on our own. But Jesus can change us. By running through us like hot water, He heats us up with the wisdom of the Spirit. We can’t change ourselves, but in Him, we can be changed.

And do you know what? Much as we might want to, we can’t change anybody else!

The urge to change other people can be very strong. It’s part of being human. Sometimes we get into the habit of thinking, “You need to change. I will change you.”

Let me tell you, you have no shot at changing somebody else.

That’s why you have to communicate. Suppose I notice that someone always reacts the same way to me, and it’s not a good reaction. In that scenario, two things have to happen. First, I need to get to the heart of why he reacts that way to me. There needs to be dialogue. If I have an issue with somebody, then I go to him about it. That’s Biblical. I tell him, “I’ve got this issue. I want to know why every time I do this, you react like that. Why?”

Maybe he’ll tell me! Perfect!

Second, I need to look at what he tells me. Is it necessarily the case that he needs to change? Or is it me? Am I the one that needs to make the change?

Think about that scenario! What if you were wishing that a person would change, when all along you were the cause of their frustration or anger?

If that’s true, then God will help you use wisdom to stop provoking him. Then maybe when you change, he’ll change too. He will quit getting angry with you!

Don’t be afraid to speak openly and have that dialogue with the people closest to you. In your most intimate or important relationships, you’ve got to be able to say, “Look, I understand you’re upset, but you have to help me understand why. Why are you upset with me?”

In your closest relationships, you can’t get along without that kind of communication. You’ve got a lot of people in your life. Obviously you’re more engaged with some than others. But with some, you are intimately engaged. You have to communicate.

Of course, you don’t always get to ask them why they are upset. Sometimes your loved ones hide it when they are upset with you, even when you’re depending on them to open up to you.

If my wife was frustrated with me and never told me, then how would I know to be changed by God’s wisdom? If she didn’t point out the places where she was feeling bothered, concerned, hurt, or angry, I might not realize that I need to turn to God for help. I depend on her to tell me when I’m upsetting her.

Of course some things are obvious! I’m sure your husband or wife is not thrilled about it when you yell at them. You don’t get to yell and someone and then say, “I didn’t know I was doing something wrong.” You know you did something wrong!

It’s the same with criticizing someone in a negative or non-constructive way. You know that’s hurtful. You have to take ownership of that.

But if you’re not aware of how you’re troubling someone, you depend on them to tell you.

Jesus sets the best example for how to be in a relationship. More on that next time. See you Saturday.

Even Saints are Sinners

The more I focus on Jesus, the more peace I find. I’m focused on what’s in the present. I’m aware of what’s going on at any given moment. I’m mindful of my own feelings and reactions.

I might be driving down the road and a guy cuts me off and gives me the finger. It makes me so mad! I just want to snap on that guy. But I don’t. Instead I just notice how irritable I am, and breathe in the sweet love of Jesus.

In the past, I have snapped on that guy. I’ve been angry. I’ve been frustrated. I’ve cussed people out. And yes, I have flipped people off. I’ve done all those things. As a believer!

I still feel anger and frustration. The difference is that I’m getting a lot better at not acting on it. I have the ability to calm down. I can head off the anger and frustration. I do it by living in the peace of God.

You can always run into a believer who says, “Well, before I met Jesus I did all those things too. Yeah, before I met Jesus, man, I swore all the time. Before I met Jesus I was drinking and smoking. Before I met Jesus I was lusting. That’s all over with now.”

I always want to say, “But I have Jesus! And I was angry just this morning! I sin all the time, and I have to keep a penitential heart! So how come it’s so easy for you? That doesn’t seem fair. In fact, it kind of stinks!”

Okay, obviously I don’t believe it when people tell me that they don’t sin because they have Jesus. That’s a fairy tale. We all sin. But when you get the wrong idea, and believe that accepting Jesus means that you don’t sin, then you have to try to look the part. You think, “I’m a Christian, so I’m not supposed to cuss. I’m a Christian, so I’m not supposed to lust, or get angry or jealous. I’m a Christian, so I’m supposed to have a perfect marriage. And my children should be perfect too.”

We try so hard to play the part of “sinners that are saved,” that we forget who we truly are, “saints that sin.”

Nobody is perfect, no matter how much they try to look the part. Seriously! Nobody! If you never sin and your marriage and children are perfect, then what do you need Jesus for?

See you Saturday.

Love Without Fear

The ancient Israelites loved God. All you have to do is read the scriptures. Check out the psalms! The love is obvious. God loved them and they loved God.

We still treasure the Old Testament. It’s the holy word of God! That’s why it’s in the Holy Bible.

We also read in the Old Testament about all the rules the ancient Israelites had to keep. We can see that they had to make sacrifices to atone for the times they fell short or messed up. When there are a lot of rules, and a lot of people judging you, it can make you fearful. It can even make you start to fear God, no matter how much you love Him.

That’s why I think God said, “This has to change. I’m going to change my relationship with my beloved children. I’m going to make a new covenant with them. I will send my Son to pay for every transgression of every rule, ever. Then my children will be free to love me out of respect and gratitude. There will be no more  fear.”

That’s why my love for God is respectful and reverential. I love Him because of what He did for me, but I am not afraid of Him. I know I am forgiven.

That’s the change. That’s the New Covenant. Our love has changed, so for the New Covenant Christian, the way we do things has also changed.

We see an example of this in the Book of Acts. There was a dispute about circumcision. Peter was preaching in favor of requiring new male converts to be circumcised, and Paul emphatically disagreed, so they went to the council for a decision. The council consulted and then said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that it does not matter what you do to your flesh. It’s about the heart.”

This is the New Covenant Christian. We don’t consult a list of rules. We go to the Holy Spirit and then trust the wisdom we receive.

This is what I’m trying to accomplish with my own children. I don’t want fear of me to get mixed in with their love. I don’t want them to fear my anger, or fear reprisals when they mess up. When they make a mistake, I don’t want their first thought to be, “My dad’s going to be so mad at me.”

That’s not at all how I want my children to look at me. That’s why I tell them, “When you mess up, I’m going to be embarrassed on your behalf. I’m going to take that on me so you won’t have to. You should never have to fear me, because I love you. And I’m hoping you’re going to learn from your mistake. Maybe you’ll do things a little bit differently next time. Maybe you’ll see what I do, and you’ll be inspired to do better.”

When they see me take their shame and embarrassment for them, hopefully they’ll respect me for it. I think they will. I think they’ll say, “That’s my dad. He protects me because he loves me.” They’ll respond to me with love because of what I do for them, just as I love God because of what He did for me. This kind of love changes everybody, because this is the love that changes hearts.

See you Saturday.

The Love We Give Our Children

Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.”  (John 5:19)

It is the duty of every Christian man to replicate, to the very best of his abilities, everything that he sees Jesus do. John’s Gospel expresses it perfectly here. Just as Jesus does what He sees His Father do, so our children will do what they see us do. In other words, what we do is really important. We are called to be just like Jesus.

What does that mean? What does it mean to be just like Jesus? To begin with, Jesus did not judge us. Instead, He loved us. He stood up for people, no matter how different they were and no matter what social status they had.

If He got angry with anybody, it was the Pharisees, because they were the religious leaders of the time. They were like the presidents of our seminaries, or the pastors of our large churches. People looked to the Pharisees for moral wisdom and spiritual guidance. And what did they do with that leadership? They went around condemning people for their sins. “This is not how it’s supposed to be done,” they said. “You’ll have to pay!”

Jesus thought this was a terrible way to set an example. “You’re embarrassing our Father!” He told them. “You’re embarrassing everything that we stand for! You are whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but filled with rot and decay!”

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees, but He never judged sinners. Ever. He didn’t judge them because He knew, 100%, that when He went up on that cross, He would be taking their shame. He knew it! He said to the prostitute who was about to be stoned, “Go on, I do not judge you. Stop doing what you’re doing, sure, but just go. You are forgiven.”

He was prophesying to her! He was saying, “Look, when I get nailed to that cross, and that blood starts dripping from my body, and I get whipped and beaten, I will be doing it for you. I know you feel shame over what you do. I know you are vulnerable and persecuted. These people want to stone you! But I’m going to take away your shame. In fact, I will die for you! That’s how much I love you.”

I don’t think the Pharisees understood love. To love like Jesus, they would have had to become servants. That would mean changing how they looked at everything. They would need to forgive sinners. They would need to be kind to them, serve them, and love on them.

But that isn’t how they looked at things. They could only imagine making sinners pay.

Jesus came among them and said, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how it goes! I’m going to pay, not them. I’m going to take all of this on. I’m going to die. My Father will turn his back on me so that I can take all the sins of the world upon my shoulders. Why would I do this? Because I love the sinners that you condemn. I love everyone! When I resurrect from the dead, everyone will be redeemed. No one will have to live in shame. No one will have to live in guilt. No one will be condemned to death. Everyone will live in freedom!”

This is the love we should give our children. When they see that they are loved this deeply and this purely, they will respond. They will love you back. They will love you and God so much! They will become filled with love, and love will raise them into beautiful adults. They will be such good people. They will know how to lead by serving, because you will have shown it to them in your relationship with them.

It’s a duty and a calling, but it’s an honor and a privilege.

More on this next time. See you Wednesday.

The Job of a Christian Dad

My job is to be the best replication of Christ that I can possibly be.

With that in mind, I ask myself what it means when the scripture says that a husband is to be to his wife as Jesus is to the church. For me, it comes down to one thing. As Jesus stands in the gap for us, I stand in the gap for my family. I take my family on my shoulders and I will never put them down. How is my family viewed in the community? That is on me. How is my marriage going? That is on me. How are we raising our children, and what decisions do they make? All that is on me.

Here’s an example. Maybe someday my son will get in a fight at school and he’ll punch somebody. I’ll get called into the office and they will say, “This is what your son did.” On that day, I’ll look first at my son and then at the school principal, and I’ll say, “No, this isn’t what my son did. This is what I did. This is on me.”

I’ll take full responsibility for it, and I’ll address it. I’ll deal with my son directly. I’ll teach him to take responsibility for his actions and to apologize for his mistakes. But first, I will go to the other child’s father and apologize. I’ll make sure that the child, the one my son hit, will know that it was my fault. As the head of my family, I’ll apologize for it.

After he sees me do it, I think my son will do the same thing. He’ll take responsibility and apologize. Our children learn from our actions, and I want to inspire my sons to replicate Jesus with me. If my son hurts someone and sees me, his father, literally turn to that person and say, “I’m so sorry, this is on me,” then he’ll want to do the same. When my son sees me accept shame and embarrassment because of his decisions, he’ll want to make better decisions.

That’s why my son won’t see me yell at him or say, “This is your fault.” My son will see me say, “This is my fault.”

Anyone who sees that would say, “I need to make better decisions.” Think about it. What would it feel like if someone is always being embarrassed because of you, but they never embarrass you back? They never blame you or call you out in front of people. Instead, they take the embarrassment for you. Always. How would that make you feel?

You’re going to want to change!

This is what Jesus did on the cross. He took our shame and embarrassment. We respect what He did, and His sacrifice inspires us to be different. Because of Him, we want to be better people. We’re not always going to make the right decisions, but we want to be better people.

I think that’s how our kids will respond to us, if we do the same. They’ll want to be better because they will see their fathers say, “It’s on me. This is my fault. And I’m sorry.”

I really believe this. If this is the choice a man makes, then his wife and kids will respect him for it. Because of it, they’ll be inspired to be better people. Any family will be better because of this.

There are too many men who aren’t willing to accept this job. I say, if they are not willing to accept it, then they are not willing to be husbands and fathers.

See you Saturday.