The Story According To Luke

Screen shot 2012-12-24 at 2.32.51 PMFrom the New King James Version of the Bible, Luke’s account of the birth:

1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.

6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

May you ponder the birth in a special way this blessed season. Merry Christmas!

(image courtesy of turnbacktogod.com)

 

World of Contradictions

Stunned. That’s how I responded to the horrific news last Friday of the shootings in Newtown. I’m pretty sure that’s how you reacted, too. There simply are no easy answers. It is evil, wrong and impossible to comprehend. Even now I am still unable to understand how those families are going to make it through these next days, especially with Christmas here. Such a joyful time for so many, now a time of exceedingly great loss and grief.

How to explain? We live in a world of contradictions. We rejoice in many wonderful things, everyday gifts of grace God gives, throughout life. Special moments with friends and family. An unexpected kindness. The simple joys of a child’s smile, or the beauty of Christmas lights.

We live in a world of evil, suffering and great pain.That unfathomable crime in Connecticut is the most recent of numerous events which make me keenly aware that life is full of sorrow.

While we can grab onto the abundant life God offers through Christ today, we also live with a daily reminder that this world is not our home. We grieve as a relative or close friend battles cancer. We hurt over strained relationships. We struggle with financial pressures. And we mourn over inexplicable events like those of last Friday.

It was THIS world, full of sin and struggle and death, into which God sent His one and only Son. He gave Jesus to such a world to save us, to offer healing. Christ came to restore that which is broken…ultimately, to restore us to Himself.

The Bible assures us that we are not to give up. We are instead to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We are to press on…even when things seem dark and we feel we can’t cope. We are to persevere even when it seems the Devil is succeeding at stealing, killing and destroying.

So as our hearts are heavy for the families who are still numb from last week’s shootings, we rightly weep with those who weep. And we find comfort in the knowledge that the Babe in the manger grew up, gave Himself sacrificially upon a cross for you and me, and then rose again to be the King of Kings. We await His return, when all is made right. We look toward heaven, where there are no more tears, and there is no more sorrow.

May He bring the peace that passes understanding to those in need. And may He use you and me to do that today.

(If you need some help in processing the Newtown shootings, let me suggest these excellent, free PDFs: Why, God, Why? and also Parenting In The Midst of Tragedy)

VIDEO: What Autism and Aspergers Is Like

My oldest son made me aware of this compelling, short video about the sensory overload many with autism or Aspergers experience. Since 1 in 110 kids is on the autistic spectrum, you’ll likely encounter someone who reacts this way to their (sight- and sound-cluttered) environment. Maybe this will help you understand and respond more appropriately to their difficulties.

Video here.

Ways You Make A Difference, Dad

In his book It’s Better to Build Boys than Mend Men, Truett Cathy cites startling statistics which show that kids from fatherless homes face a world of hurt and trouble (and maybe you know firsthand about this kind of heartache). These children are:

Aren’t those disturbing statistics?

And yet, there’s hope…when a dad shows up and gets involved in his kid’s life. Everything changes then! Dad, you have an influence to help your child avoid the difficult life choices that so many fatherless boys and girls have made.

In my book, First Time Dad,  I suggest some easy ways to spend time with your son or daughter – time that’ll make a difference in his or her life. Things like:

And the list can go on and on. These don’t have to be big getaways, or super-fancy celebrations. Just time together, so you are THERE and INVESTING.

 

 

Quick Thought: Aiming As A Parent

How much thought did you give to the day’s activities? And did your planning include ways to show your kids you care?

Far too often we don’t make the effort to really influence our children. We sort of “let life happen.” Let me suggest a better approach: being intentional. It’s something you can start doing today.

Being an intentional parent isn’t rocket science. It doesn’t require lots of money. It does require some choices and some work, though. It just means that you “AIM” for an end-goal.

Financial planners often remind us to set some goals for our retirement “nest egg.” That’s often easier said than done. But it is great advice for both your finances…and your family. So today, think about 10 or 15 years from now, and the child who will then be grown and leaving home. Will he or she do so with assurance of your love, with rich memories of your time? With that end-goal in mind, you can better aim your energies and activities.

What target have you aimed at, as a parent, if any?

(By the way, for some easy tips you can start putting into practice today, stop by Focus on the Family’s “Make Every Day Count” Facebook page. It has some great ways to show you care!)

 

Your Most Important Job

When my son Dakota was 8, he began exhibiting some troubling behavior. He seemed anxious and easily upset. We had a difficult time controlling him, and couldn’t figure out why. Did he have anger issues? Why was he so agitated and ornery? What could we do?

In fact, it got so bad my wife and I sought professional help. The child psychologist listened, asked questions and then offered some insight.

“It is pretty obvious that Dakota misses his daddy,” she said. “You are extremely busy, John,  and now you’re seeing the external signs of the internal stress your son is experiencing.”

I was stunned by the revelation. After all, I worked for Focus on the Family and knew how to be a good parent! But, sadly…I wasn’t around enough to be the dad my boy needed.

At the time I was pursuing a master’s degree on top of logging 50 hours a week at my job. I hadn’t realized, however, what a large price my kids were paying for my absence.

That visit with the counselor prompted me to make an extra effort to tell my children how much I loved and missed them when I was gone. I was also determined to be more available – especially for Dakota – until their bedtime, leaving my graduate classwork for later in the evening.

The emotional healing took years, but I’m grateful that it DID happen. I had the opportunity to correct my mistake while my kids were still young. Today we have a great relationship.

For most of us, the task of balancing work and home life poses the greatest of all challenges. Men typically begin building their careers just as they’re becoming fathers. They feel an immense pressure to perform on the job even while they should be turning their attention to home.

All too often, work wins out.

What is it that makes the pull of work so irresistible? Famed Christian scholar C.S. Lewis suggested that

It is tiring and unhealthy to lose your Saturday afternoons (when you go into work, even though it is a day off), but to have them free because you don’t matter (in your work-world), that is much worse.

There are many reasons why a father will trade work for time with his kids, but a fear of being deemed insignificant is, sadly, very high on the list.

It’s easy to be drawn to work and the sense of accomplishment and completion that it provides. At the office, there’s your checklist, meetings and more. On the job site, you make things happen and manage the crew. These settings give you opportunities to measure your effort and output — and to feel competent and significant.

Fatherhood, on the other hand, rarely offers measurable results or clear indicators of success, and the real payoff for all the work of parenting may not come for many years. Being a dad is full of unquantifiable challenges, and its often easy to feel like you’re just not measuring up.

If you hope to fight the irresistible pull of work, you’ve got to recognize these dynamics and take the long view of your parenting task. See that your role as a dad is irreplaceable, and that it’s the most significant work you can do, even if it doesn’t always feel like it.

So, here’s your challenge: What’s one way you can be more involved in your kids’ lives? It can be a simple calendar-adjustment, or a commitment to spend more time just hanging out them. Or maybe it’ll require something more dramatic. The question for you is this: How will you show your kids that being their Daddy is your favorite job? Even more important to you than your “day job?”

Believe me: The results of your on-going, active engagement at home may not be immediate, but your work THERE as a Dad is probably far more profound and longer-lasting than anything you can accomplish at the office.

 

Recovering Your Sleep

We had been married almost four years when three simple words, “It’s a boy!” changed our lives. While I embraced my new role as a first-time dad, there were some cgallenges that came along with the new responsibilities.And those were mainly in the realm of our marriage.

Overnight, it seemed our date nights, romance and talk-time were history—at least that’s how I felt at the time.

As new parents, we were overwhelmed, exhausted, and insecure. We kept waiting for life to return to “normal,” but it just never did.

After two more kids, life began to really spin out of control. In the midst of the chaos, our ultimate romantic fantasy was eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I’m not kidding.

A strong desire for sleep, not romance, is what David and Claudia Arp recalled about the time surrounding their first baby. The Arps are counselors who have written about having a good marriage—which, they contend, is possible — in spite of having a new baby. Truth is, our experiences were universal. Most new parents feel like they’ve been blindsided by their baby. Maybe that’s you?

David and Claudia Arp have boiled down their advice for new parents into several healthy habits. Here are a few of their suggestions for the sleep-deprived couple who love being new parents but are in need of some helpful perspectives:

1. Be deliberate in sharing responsibilities: Every family is different, but it’s important to make sure one parent, usually the mother, is not the new baby’s sole caretaker. If she is bearing the brunt of it, a wise man offers to shop, cook, and clean around the house. Teamwork!

2. Develop healthy sleep habits: Without proper rest, all parents, including the new mom and dad, grow edgy and irritable. They don’t think clearly. Try to establish a routine that will allow each parent to get some uninterrupted rest. Granted the first few weeks will be tough, but things should eventually  even out. (A practical tip here: trade turns using Mack’s “Pillow Soft” silicone earplugs. They take a bit of getting used to, but when you wake up in the morning refreshed because the baby didn’t wake you, you’ll soon enough become a believer. After weeks of recovering her precious sleep, Dena convinced me to “take a turn” and I’ve never looked back. At least one of us got some sleep!).

3. Find time for each other: One of my biggest mistakes was assuming I was done with dating my wife. Ironically, there is probably no better time to be deliberate about dating your spouse than after a new baby arrives. Plan ahead. Get a babysitter, even if it’s for an hour’s walk around the neighborhood.

I’m grateful to the Arps for their wisdom, and hope you’ve gotten a tip or two to help in the early days of being a new dad or mom.

 

How Do You Remember?

How will you remember the horrific events of eleven years ago?

As I drove the carpool kids to school, we had a short conversation about what today, September 11, means. They were only five years old on that tragic day of loss. While they have vague memories, they have no clear understanding of what really happened, and what we all felt during that long day and the days that followed. They don’t know the punch-in-the-gut, awful realization in our souls that something terrible was unfolding before our eyes.

So my question is: How do you remember 9/11? And, how do you help your kids gain a sense of what happened and why it matters? What are you doing to make sure that they know – and that we never forget?

I’ll suggest that it begins with an age-appropriate conversation. Unpack some of the emotions. Talk clearly about evil. Share your confidence in God’s sovereignty. Express your gratefulness to the first responders, many of whom gave their lives to rescue and help those trapped and wounded.

If you think your kids are up for it, there’s a movie that I think captures the emotional turmoil of 9/11 very vividly. It is graphic, of course, but it deals well with the terror and the heroism in some very powerful ways. It stars Nicolas Cage and is called World Trade Center.

And, by the way, if you haven’t heard Randy Alcorn’s insights about how to explain evil, and how to understand God’s goodness even in the midst of suffering, listen to this radio interview on Focus on the Family.

So back to my question: How will YOU remember?

 

Time + Internet = …?

One of our favorite camping spots…away from it all, surrounded by Colorado beauty. Ah…

Too much time + internet + too much media + bad choices.

I’ll explain that non-scientific formula in a moment, but first, a reflection on the long lost days of summer.

It…is over. Hard to believe, and maybe it hasn’t yet hit you, but by all indications summer is over and it is the start of another school year.

What characterized YOUR summer? For our family, it was a wonderful season of camping, travel, visitors, ballgames, yard projects, lazy days, and many moments of fun. Much for which to be thankful, and many moments from which to learn.

There were also some sobering moments like the Waldo Canyon fire, which affected so much of Colorado Springs directly or indirectly (fortunately, we were not evacuated nor did we have an fire/smoke damage). One of the season’s hail storms flooded our basement. Then the awful Aurora shootings which left many wounded or dead, including a family friend who suffered several gunshots. During these crises we prayed and tried to listen to God’s voice in the midst of chaos and loss.

Along the way, there was also a matter we had to address, as parents, that is related to the little formula above. In the waning weeks of the summer we learned of unauthorized media activity, in our home, by some of our kids. It was a case of too much time, an extra computer, not quite enough oversight and some online wanderings.

As a parent, it is a sad thing to see your children stumble – and to realize you might have been a little lax. We do have protections in place, and it seems that the kids – this involved more than one of them – didn’t view anything particularly vulgar. Still, the behavior was disturbing both because of the actions themselves and also because of the heart behind them. While we have addressed these things initially, I suspect there is more to plumb in the coming weeks.

Getting my children to understand the “why” that drives their choices is our end-goal. As parents, we want to help them learn the inner voices that should be listened to, and those which they need to ignore or even run away from. As we’ve talked this through, there was a sense of justifiable indulgence for some of the choices. Also, a curiosity about media offerings that “everybody else” is talking about. And finally, a lack of discernment about the effects, both short- and long-term, of media habits.

So summer is over, but a couple of my children are entering the school year with a “media probation” in place. They’ll be paying for their poor summer-time choices with a severe lack of online access. I told them that we’re giving up some bad habits, and that it’ll take a while for those to be replaced with positive patterns. They’ll have to rebuild a certain level of trust before being able to freely use the web again. It’ll mean less “screen time” and more family game time, more reading and more walks around the block. That’s a good thing, I think.

A word of warning, too, for those who think their kids are safe: Not really. Even filtering, regular usage monitoring and keeping the computer in a public place in the home can’t keep a child totally safe. That said, there are some smart things for every parent to consider, posted here. You’ll find articles, links and more there. Focus on the Family is committed to helping you do all you possibly can to keep the home environment pure.

Finally, my friend Andy Braner has a new book coming out about the false sense of connection that many teens encounter when they are heavily involved in social media. It won’t be out for a couple of months, but you can read more and download the first chapter here.  Andy wrote this book for young people to better understand that the only real connection they’ll find is with the God of the universe. It will be worth getting, reading and then sharing with your teen.

 

 

Heroes

In the midst of last week’s tragic violence in Aurora, Colorado which left 12 dead and 58 wounded were some stories of heroism. Those include the work of  “first responders” who descended on the theater where the crime was committed, as well as the professionals who managed the alleged shooter’s booby-trapped apartment.

There are also accounts of three men who, as bullets were flying through the smoke-filled air, each acted as a human shield to protect their girlfriends. Jonathan Blunk, Matt McQuinn, Alex Teves gave gave their lives, with only a moment to react. They put themselves in harm’s way, in case a bullet came their direction. And they paid for that split-second decision with their own lives. Their sacrifice made it possible for others to live.

I don’t know enough about the personal stories of those three men, but their actions last Friday night showed a selfless devotion to and the deepest love for their girlfriends. This is a key essence of true manhood, a readiness for a man to lay down his life for those around him.

My friend Robert Lewis has spoken and written about how to shape a boy into a man by equipping him with three essential elements: a vision, a code of conduct, and a transcendent cause in which to invest his life. It seems to me that somewhere along the way, the parents of Jonathan, Matt and Alex did some investing that paid off in extraordinary ways last week. Life-lessons of character, honor, and right were ingrained, and in a moment of chaos and mayhem, spontaneous decisions were made that reflected an internal compass, an honorable code of conduct.

In laying down their lives, these men showed a commitment to something bigger than themselves. That’s a lesson I want my sons to know, and in the event of a life-or-death scenario, to emulate. It’d be the right thing to do.

By the way, if you’d like to hear some inspiring stories of other real-life men who have demonstrated courage and who lived out a life of conviction, give a listen to this radio program with Congressman Jim Ryun and his sons, Ned and Drew. They’ve captured some great accounts of some famous – and some not-so-famous – individuals who have made a difference through their actions.

 

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