CHRISTIAN OR CHRIST-CENTERED?

family 2It is not enough to be a Christian home, especially in our culture. The only thing that is enough is to be a Christ-centered family.

THE DIFFERENCE

Now, you may be saying, “What’s the difference? I don’t see any difference.” Well, there really shouldn’t be a difference but unfortunately, in our culture today, the word Christian doesn’t mean what it used to mean. Some 80 percent or more of our culture says, “Oh, I’m a Christian, I mean, I’m not something else so I must be a Christian.” But you’d have to agree that 80-some-odd percent of our homes would not be called “Christ-centered” in the way we do life.

What is a Christ centered home? Jesus isn’t just a part of our life, HE IS OUR LIFE. We are fully devoted, following and serving and knowing, and bringing glory to him. In a cultural Christian home, in a home that’s Christian in name only, when there is a hard time, we just write somebody off. “Well, just screw them.” “Forgot them.” “We are not going to mess with them.” “Forgive them? I mean, after what they did, I would never forgive them. They’d have to come back to me, crawling on their hands and knees and then I’ll just make them pay for a little while.” And that’s normal. In a Christ-centered home though, we say, “What does Jesus teach us about how to do relationships?” And he said, “Blessed are the peace makers.”

IT DEPENDS ON YOU

Paul said something very complimentary in Romans 12:17-18 and verse 21. He said, “Do not repay evil for evil,” which is what everybody had been taught to do. Heth said “Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.” Now, here’s the power statement. He said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you,” what are you to do? He taught, you live a life at peace with everyone.

If you are thinking at this point that you know a lot of people who sure need to hear this, you have missed the point altogether. He says, you let God speak to YOU. As far as it depends on you, you do everything possible to live at peace. Then in verse 21, he said, “Do not be overcome by evil but instead,” we’re going to overcome evil with good. Blessed are the peace makers for they will be called children of God.

THE DECISION

So, do you want to be a Christian home or a Christ-centered family? Make the distinction one choice at a time.

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Childhood Conditions That Made Me What I Am Today

 

thornton family chester 001Childhood is such a crucial part of life. Experts say that most of what you become in life is shaped during your first five years. That, of course, is debatable; however, what happens in your early years definitely determines much of what you are throughout life. Once the mold is set it becomes increasingly difficult to change it. Therefore, it is vitally important to do it right in the early years.

My concern is that many parents today are not getting it right. Many parents are following a parenting model, philosophy or book that, I fear, will lead to highly unpleasant results in future years.

So allow me to share with you some of the conditions and factors that were part of my childhood years that have shaped who I am throughout life. I know, those childhood years were so long ago that some of you can’t even think back that far. However, I believe these are conditions that children need in every generation in order to have healthy as well as balanced development.

I will be the first to admit that my parents were not perfect in permitting or executing these elements of my upbringing. They were, however, more than adequate when it came to making them a permanent part of my character and lifestyle. 

1.     Freedom to explore: I was given the freedom to have adventure in my life. This adventure was not always in the form of planned, structured, activities. Many times it was just the ability to creatively enjoy my environment. We lived in a different world, but spending time outside playing, building things, including tree huts, and developing my creativity were every day practices. I fear the electronic world is stealing this practice and value from our kids to their detriment.

2.     Responsibility: I learned early in life that responsibility was an expected part of life. Those responsibilities included doing my part around the house and outside of the house. Even though there were five kids in my family we all had expected responsibilities. And when I was old enough, I got a job. I know that is a difficult concept for some parents to even consider expecting, however, if you really love your child, you will teach them responsibility early in life. As a result, I have never, never, never had a problem being a responsible, productive adult.

3.     Accountability: With responsibility came accountability. So if there were expectations, there were also consequences when expectations were unmet. And if responsibilities were carried out as expected sometimes, but not all that often, there was praise and reward. But whether or not the recognition came we still met our responsibilities. My fear and concern for the current generation is that accountability has been replaced with an elaborate system of bribery. Instead of kids being taught responsibility and held accountable for their actions they are bribed and rewarded into action. Oh what a dangerous road we travel when it comes to what the future holds. Oh how difficult it is going to be when they get out into the real world and find out that everybody else doesn’t treat them the same way.

4.     Parental model: My parents didn’t get it all right. My parents had issues in their relationship and in their parenting. They did, however, give us kids, all five of us, a model to follow. They provided a unity of purpose and direction for our family. And when they did not agree on that direction, they dealt with it behind closed doors. They brought to our family not only the provision of physical needs but also a healthy balance of emotional and spiritual direction.

5.     Church involvement: We lived 12 miles away from our church in a day of no super-highways. There were five of us kids and no van or SUV to transport us in. But we never missed church. It was never an item of discussion. We did not discuss, on Saturday night, whether or not we were going to church on Sunday morning. It was an understood part of our existence. As a result, all five children, as well as their families are involved in church, spiritual direction and seeking the Lord, to this day. And I would add, not only did we attend church, we were involved in church worshiping AND serving.

6.     Germs: That’s right, I said germs. Germs were part of our existence. I grew up on a chicken farm. We had 36,000 chickens to deal with all the time. There are always germs when it comes to chickens. Though we were clean we were not fanatical in our cleanliness. In fact, I can even remember one occasion when I ate a dirt burger served to me by one of my older brothers. Can I tell you that today I never get sick? I never go to the doctor for sickness. Sure, God has blessed me with good genes. God has blessed me with good health; however, I believe that much of the strength of my immunity system is due to the fact that I was allowed to build an immunity system in my childhood. I am all for cleanliness, but I think parents today are so obsessed with raising their kids in a completely sterile environment and as a result are inviting, rather than preventing, untold sickness in the future. Call it my weird germ philosophy, but I think the future will tell.

So, please feel free to take issue with some or much of what I have just written. That is your prerogative. I do, however, encourage you to look and think long and hard about what you are building into the childhood of your children. It is far more than their current existence that you must be concerned about. It is what these practices will lead to in years to come. What do you want your child to be like in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond? Well, you, to a large extent, are determining that right now.

My goal for my sons

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goalsAs a parent, I have often thought, what is my goal in life for my kids? Of course, my kids are no longer at home and have grown to the point where they are parents themselves. The question still remains, what is my goal in life for my kids?

Let me state it in a single phrase: my goal for my sons is to pass me as a man. That’s right, pass me as a man.

I have hindered and contributed to the downgrading of society if my sons are less than I. I have left society as it was, with no improvement at all, if my sons are only as good as I. So, my desire, my goal, my passion for my sons is to pass me as a man.

Pass me when it comes to INTEGRITY. That involves being authentic and real to the core. It calls for honesty and trustworthiness at all times, whether or not anybodybody is looking. That means doing the right thing even if nobody knows that you’re doing the right thing.

Pass me when it comes to LOVING GOD. Live every day with a close, personal, growing relationship with the God of heaven. Live every day with the unending desire to please him in all things. Live every day with that relationship and desire even when those around you choose to do otherwise.

Pass me when it comes to VALUE TO THE KINGDOM. That means have a kingdom minded outlook on life. See everything from the perspective of God and his kingdom since everything begins and ends with God. Be committed to being a lifelong participant in advancing the kingdom of God both near and far.

Pass me in SERVICE TO OTHERS. Live daily with an other focused perspective. See others and their needs from a heart of compassion and care. Follow that focus with a life of unselfishness. Ask not or think not of what others can do for you but what you can do for others. Serve others as agoals 2 follower and servant of Jesus because Jesus was all about serving others.

Pass me as a HUSBAND. Love your wife with all your heart and let her know that every day in countless ways. Give her the security of a relationship that is built on unselfish love. With that love, lead her. Led her with service. Lead her with focus and direction for your marriage. Lead her to love God and others with all her heart.

And pass me as a FATHER. Be the father that models what you want in your children. Be the father that is the kind of person you want your child to be. Be the father that your children will be proud to follow. And give them direction. Direct them through your model and teaching to a life of love, meaning, purpose, significance, and eternal reward.

goals 4My desire for my sons is to pass me as a man. It would be good if they did that by the time they are 40. However, take a few additional years if necessary. I will not be threatened by my sons passing me as a man. I will be overwhelmingly proud of the achievement.

Where are the real men?

real men 4We live in a culture and in a society where real men are difficult to find. Where are the men who believe in truth? Where are the men who lead their families? Where are the men who have convictions and principles and stand upon them no matter what? Where are the men who love their woman with all their being and will defend her against any opposition? Where are the men who model for their children what it means to love and to serve and to be courageous? Where are men of common sense, understanding and wisdom? Where are the men who are spiritual leaders of their home? Where are the real men?

Rather than spending our time pointing fingers or attempting to find reasons for the condition of men in our culture, let’s rather talk about some solutions and new direction. Let’s talk about what a real man looks like. And then, let’s just spend a moment talking about some key pursuits that will develop real man in today’s culture.

First of all real men lead their families. They are out in front. They know what is right and what is true and what is good and they pursue it with all of their hearts. They have convictions and principles and stand upon those convictions and principles even when others in their neighborhood or workplace refused to do so. It is still true that children will not do what you say; they will do what you are. In other words, instead of following your words they will follow your model. And that is not true just of children; it is true of the entire family. We need families that are led by man who are models. They are models of values and principles and spiritual convictions and purpose that others are proud to follow.

This is not an easy task in our culture. Men have been assaulted from endless sources. Some of the assault is nothing more than an attempt to reduce and diminish the value and place of man in our culture. Other attacks are justified. Men have just failed to step up to the plate, to be what they are called to be, and to lead as they are called to lead. As a result, men face a huge challenge today. But it is a challenge that men must meet and men must conquer and men must overcome. Men must become leaders in their families.

The second thing real man are is healthy, strong, and mission driven. They know that being a real leader requires health, physical health and spiritual health. They are not content to exist or to take up space in the family. They want to be healthy leaders that are giving attention to their physical, spiritual as well as emotional well-being.

This takes time. This takes desire. This takes determination. But a real man is so committed to being healthy and strong and mission focused that they are, and this is the third identifying characteristic of a real man, they are willing to pay the price, whatever that price might be. They will sacrifice, extend, serve, exercise self control or whatever it takes to become the healthy, strong, mission driven leader that the family needs and the family is longing for.

So my question to you is this, do you want to be a real man? Do you want to be a man who leads his family, leading out of health, strength and purpose because you’re willing to pay the price whatever it is? If this is the kind of man you want to be I have a few suggestions.

I would first of all say, make the time to get alone with God regularly. The challenge is too big, the call is too high, the task is to demanding for you to do it alone. You cannot be the man that God wants you to be and calls you to be in your own strength and in your own power. There is a short verse in the Bible that says, in the book of Philippians chapter 4 verse 13, “I can do everything,” that means you can do everything you need to do to be the leader in your home that you need to be. It is within the power and realm of possibility, but it continues, “through HIM who gives me strength.” Who is the him? Who is the one who gives me strength? Who is the one who provides the power? It is Jesus. We are talking about the super natural strength that Jesus gives to those who seek, depend on, and cry out to him for such strength.

So I would say to you, if you want to be the leader in your home that you know you need to be and God wants you to be, you need to spend regular time with the one who real men 3gives you the power, strength, wisdom, and anything else it takes to be the leader that you need to be.

The second thing I would encourage you to do is to get connected with a group of men, or a men’s ministry through which you can pursue the same goals and direction together. Connect up with other men who also want to be real man. Spend time regularly with men who want to be leaders in their family. Learn from men and learn together with man who want to get healthy and strong as they pursue God’s mission and purpose for their families. You cannot do it alone. Not only do you need the power of God you also need the presence of other men who are pursuing this purpose together.

So let me wrap it all up by first of all repeating something I have already said. This is not going to be easy. The tide of culture is against you. The forces of the evil one stand in opposition. He does not want you to win this battle. The evil one does not want you to be the leader in your home that God want you to be. Therefore, he will do everything he can to dissuade you and defeat you. Be aware of that.

To that I would say, do not let him win. Look to God, depend on his strength, pursue his purpose, and you will become the leader he wants you to be in your family. It will not be instantaneous. It will take time upon time upon time. But with each step of progress and each mark of victory you will become more and more the real man God has called you to be. I believe that is exactly want you want.

What is our hurried lifestyle doing to our kids?

It’s obvious that the pace of life is getting faster and faster.  All you have to do is get on the highway to figure out that a lot of people are willing to risk life and limb just to save a few precious seconds.

Everybody’s in a hurry, and everybody is multi-tasking today. Again, look at the highway. How many different things do we attempt to do while driving just to save time or multiuse time? Besides listening to the radio and carrying on conversations, we talk on the phone, send text messages, check our email, read and post to facebook. And I’m just talking about me. (I have made serious improvements in this area.) I even use driving to study my teaching notes. Steering wheel in one hand, notes in the other. We are so much in a hurry and always multitasking.

A USA Today article said, “Today people are souped-up, stressed-out, and overscheduled.  In this brave new world boundaries between work and family are disappearing.  Everyone is mobile and every moment of the day is scheduled with daycare, school, after school activities and ten to twelve hour work days.  This pressure cooker lifestyle is so real that anthropologists are now studying it to see how it will affect us.”

Let me tell you one huge and tragic effect of our hurried lifestyles that we live today–it is damaging our children in ways we don’t even imagine.  In Fast Company magazine there was an article about the spillover effect.  When parents feel stressed out at work it hurts their children.  Their parenting suffers and their children suffer.  Nowhere is this connection between parents and children more achingly graphic than in one simple question that was posed to kids.  The magazine asked kids, “If you were granted your one wish to change one thing about your mom or your dad and their work what would that wish be?”  Parents were then asked to predict how their children would respond to that question.  Most of the parents got it wrong.  In fact 98% of the parents got it wrong.  Nearly 56% percent of parents assumed that their child’s top choice would be to spend more time together.  But in fact only 10% of the kids surveyed said they’d like more time with their mothers and only 15½ % said the same thing about their fathers. 

By contrast 34% of kids said what they wanted most for their parents is to be less stressed and less tired because of their work.  “I wish Mom wasn’t so tired all the time…  I wish Dad wasn’t so tired all the time…” Astonishingly just 2% of parents guessed that this would be their children’s highest priority.  I say astonishing because stress and fatigue are familiar experiences to every working parent.  What parents seem to be unaware of (or in denial about) is the effect that their pressured lives are having on their children.

If we don’t slow down our lifestyle and make some changes by choice, circumstances will force us to eventually.  Count on it.  Circumstances will eventually force us to slow down our life because of health, family crisis or some other situation. It is much wiser and easier to deal with when we choose to make changes rather than be forced to.

What are you waiting for?

Ryan’s Story

I grew up in a church family.  I attended regularly throughout my childhood and teenage years.  I was baptized as an infant, and later confirmed into the Lutheran church in my early teens.  My parents were instrumental in teaching me about God and Christ, and always instilled the practical aspects of faith for daily living.

While I was always aware of God, and knew the teachings of the Bible, I never really had the relationship with him that I knew I should be cultivating.  In retrospect, I think that perhaps life never showed me just how much I need Him.  As I came into adulthood, not having a personal relationship with Christ made it easy for me to begin to question His purpose in my life and to feel like life was my journey that I was equipped to deal with independently.  In my twenties, I became busy with life; certainly too busy for Him, as I worked, earned my degree, dated, cultivated friendships, and distracted myself with frivolous pursuits.  I thought I was building the life that I wanted.

As I became more interested in myself, and more driven by my own ego and pleasure, I began to completely disregard God’s will for my life and ignored everything that would bring me closer to him, including the wisdom of my parents and my wife.  It’s hard for me to say this now, but I began to question that the Lord had a place in my life at all.  I was certainly not willing to bend to it if it did exist.  In shunning Him, I began a slide that took me to depths that strained all of my relationships and made me question everything about myself.

In the last 8 years, I’ve filled my life with all of the trappings of modern existence.  I was constantly in pursuit of one false idol after another.  They all lead to emptiness and despair.  Being constantly unfulfilled, and with all of the stresses of life, despite what appeared to be a successful business, wonderful family life, and a world of opportunity and promise, I suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety.  I was always too proud to deal with them, and as they subsided, I never took time to examine my life and why I was never happy.  As I time went on, I became unable to cope with daily things, and began to feel like I had no anchor and no direction.  I was completely lost.

In an effort to change my circumstances, and become happy, I made a terrible decision and separated from my wife.  She was the woman I loved, the mother of my children, and the person who had been the most positive influence on my life since I had come to know her 10 years prior.  I know now that this was God’s plan for me.  I had to clear the slate to find him.

Almost immediately after my wife  and I separated, I realized that nothing was better for me.  In fact, thing became far worse.  I began to suffer physically, losing 20 lbs. and became a shell of my former self in all other aspects.  I lost the ability to function at work and withdrew from everyone as I became more hopeless.

On February 25th of this year, as I sat alone in my apartment and estranged from my family, I began to cry.  I remembered all of the people who had loved me and still did.  Most importantly, I remembered God.  I spent that night alone with Him, unloading myself and asking for forgiveness for all of my pride and mistakes….everything I had misjudged and done improperly or with the wrong intentions.  I asked him for guidance and strength to find my way back to my life and my family.  I had finally realized after all of these years, that I could no longer do life without him.  I prayed for hours and began the relationship that I am ready to affirm in public (today in baptism).

Without God’s daily presence in my life now, I don’t know where I would be.  What I do know, and what many who know me can attest, is that I am different in Him.  With his power I have transformed in my thinking, and doing.  I have defeated my issues regarding happiness and contentment.  I have learned to be the father I have always wanted to be but struggled with.  I have become a better husband and began to repair the damage to the relationship I have with my wife.  Walking with God has helped me to love and give with the right motivations, and to build and rekindle relationships with strong Christian men and women who I learn from and hopefully give back to.

Because I opened my heart to God and let him back in, I will always look at 2011 as the year in which I gained my life.  I realize now that I am never alone, and with Him, I am always taken care of and given my needs regardless of my circumstance or the mountain I have to climb.  He has a plan for me and I am happy to know that all I have to do is be patient and look to him.

There is one verse that I have looked to many times on this journey and would like to share:  ‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’-Isaiah 40:31.

(Ryan’s story was shared before his baptism on November 27, 2011 at new Venture Christian Church)