Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Is Santa Claus OK for Christian Families?

Pretty sure I'll get some pushback on this from the Pharisees but I think Santa Claus is fine for Christian families. Couple of reasons why:

1. If you remove all fantasy from your child's life, you rob them of creative imagination. All fictional children's stories, including cartoons and comic books, have made-up characters and most people are OK with them.

2. When your kids get old enough, they'll figure it out. No need to fear them becoming emotionally devastated by the inevitable reality. Nobody ever committed suicide when they realized SpongeBob wasn't real either.

3. When they get old enough, teach them about the real St. Nicholas legend, a man who embodied the spirit of giving that Jesus demonstrated.

4. The story of Santa Claus does not necessarily exclude the true Christmas story. You can include both in your celebration until they get old enough to know the difference.

Whatever you do at Christmas, make sure your kids know that it's all about giving, not getting. Jesus' birth is the greatest model of giving and even toddlers can learn the joy of giving if you lead them correctly. Help them make a gift for somebody, something that they personalize and watch them light up at the reaction of the recipient. Let them help you make cookies for the neighbors, etc.- but whatever you do, teach them to give. Playing Santa Claus can be really fun for them!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thankful Enough to Do Something

Thanksgiving and Christmas are great times for kids and Church At the Bay is helping them focus on generosity. We believe gratitude is a great attitude but it finds its best expression in unselfish action toward the needy.

All of us have felt the conflict about giving money to people at intersections so we gave our kids a viable option. Last weekend, after teaching the story of Jesus feeding 5000 with the bread and fish given by a boy, we led our 4th-5th graders to assemble zip-lock bags full of food for the homeless. Each bag contained a water bottle, granola bar, package of crackers, cup of fruit and a plastic spoon. We instructed them to lead their family to prepare similar bags and keep them in the car to give out whenever they saw a needy person.

One of our kids, 9 year old Zack, told his mother, "Mom, sometimes I just don't feel like I'm doing enough to help." He got very excited about this opportunity to make a difference!

Now we are encouraging them to donate their BayBucks to provide essential supplies to poor kids around the world through Samaritan's Purse. They can purchase baby chicks, farm animals, sports equipment, clothing, children's Bibles, and more to improve the lives of kids in desperate situations. This is a great way to connect attitudes with action. By focusing on the needs of others, they will be less focused on what they GET for Christmas and will experience at the heart level the real joy of giving. Then when we teach them that Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," they will understand what that means.

So parents, use these opportunities to shape you kid's heart. Instead of just being thankful for what they have, they will learn to be thankful for the opportunity to give.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


This seems to be a hot topic lately, even though it has been going on forever. Just this week another parent approached me asking for advice about how to help their child deal with a violent situation. So let me try to give you some guidelines we share with our 4th-5th graders.

1. Don't allow yourself to be in a situation where you are alone. Bullies tend to go after kids when they are isolated from friends who can help. Teach your kids to stay with groups of friends and they will be less likely to be a target.

2. In the case of physical abuse, defend yourself, get away from the situation, and get to an adult who can stop it. Teach your kids basic self-defense techniques they can use to escape an attack. A good martial arts class will give them confidence to defend themselves and prevent intimidation. Most bullies are insecure cowards and will back down from somebody who displays confidence and security.

3. Tell an adult if you are being harassed- a teacher, bus driver, parent, or any adult who can intervene. Teach your kids not to retaliate other than to defend themselves. If you've seen the typical scuffle in a football game, you know the offender usually gets off but the guy who retaliates usually gets the flag.

I know some parents are reluctant to teach self defense tactics to their children for fear that it will encourage fighting. The exact opposite is true. First, self defense classes always focus on defense, not offense. They always teach kids not to initiate a fight. Your child will gain confidence and self-discipline that will be useful in many areas of life. Second, if you are working on shaping your child's heart, they will understand the proper time and motive for using their defensive skills.

Bullies rely on fear and intimidation. If your child learns to counter those tactics, they will probably avoid most bullying situations.

Finally, teach your child not to be overly sensitive about teasing. Let's face it, kids can be cruel and they can inflict emotional damage. But you can teach your child not to get offended every time somebody says something critical of them. Teach them how to reply with humor and defuse the verbal assault. You don't want them to become a whiner or a tattletale who runs to the teacher with every childish comment. Teach them to be secure enough not to be offended by every joke or juvenile word. There is a difference between bullying and teasing. You need to help them understand the difference so they can feel secure, safe, and confident in who they are.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Intentional or Accidental

One of the big challenges in parenting is to be more intentional and less reactionary. This principle applies to most areas of life- if you plan ahead and work your plan, you succeed much more than when you simply react to circumstances. Because very few of us have formal training in parenting, our default reaction is to do what we remember our parents did or just make a snap decision, usually based in emotion.

I thought about it this week while watching a football team practice. They were trying to anticipate situations they would face in the coming game and rehearsing how they would respond to that scenario. Then in the pressure and speed of the game, they would not have to think up a response because they had already decided what they would do. Their coaches had looked at film and reviewed scouting reports to come up with a game plan for how to handle the coming challenges.

What if we tried to do that in parenting? Imagine a mom and dad sitting down once a week and game-planning their parenting for the week. They could talk about where the kids were in their development, what issues were pressing at that moment, what events they would encounter, what was going on in school, etc., all the issues their kids were facing. Then they could talk through a strategy for how to respond when various situations developed. In some cases they could get together with the kids and teach them what to do in various situations and coach them with the game plan in mind, all the while giving life skills to their kids. That way they would be proactively training instead of reacting in the heat of the moment.

What about trying that? Think about having a weekly planning meeting and instead of reviewing game film, talk about what's going on in your kids lives and figure out some strategies to make them more successful. I'll bet you do better than just waiting for something to happen and I'll bet you grow closer together in the process. You might even want to pray for the kids as a part of this exercise. Now there's a novel idea!

I know this- the kids will see you as a unified team and won't be so inclined to
play one of you against the other. They will feel more empowered to handle things that happen. And if you monitor their behaviors and coach them along the way, not criticizing but coaching, they will feel like you are on their side instead of working against them. Remember to catch them doing right and reinforce that with plenty of praise and encouragement. What do you think?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

No Quick Change

I'm guessing that most parents fall into the trap of wanting immediate results for the things we do to shape our kids. When traffic stops in front of you, you want your brakes to work quickly and keep you from plowing into the trailer hitch on the Monster truck in front of you- and yes, I speak from experience. When something happens at work that needs to be adjusted, you make the changes with an expectation of fast improvement. But unfortunately, kids don't usually respond that quickly and we get frustrated. Most relationship/behavioral issues don't operate at the speed of your computer; ask anybody who works in HR.

So when we get accustomed to the ability to affect outcomes quickly, we set ourselves up for failure in the parenting arena. We have a choice- 1. force immediate behavioral change by stopping the wrong and forcing the right. This is the scenario where you make your son say he's sorry to his sister for decapitating her doll when in fact he is quite proud of his accomplishment. He reluctantly recites the words you prescribe and you walk away thinking it's fixed. 2. sit down with your son and have a conversation about what motivated him to disrespect his sister's property. This takes some probing questions and much more time but in the end you uncover an opportunity to teach respect and self-control and deal with the issue at the heart level.

The simple truth is that unless we make corrections at the source, the heart, we have only postponed the correction until a more severe catastrophe has happened. This may be a paradigm shift in your parenting thinking because most of us did not have that approach modeled for us when we were growing up, me included. But the sooner we can implement this strategy for change, the less mess we will have to mop up after the fact.

Of course I understand that the age of the child will dictate the precise details of how this is applied. It is the proper transition from cop to coach that should happen during the elementary years as maturity allows. But having this strategy as your ultimate goal will allow you to gauge the development of your child's heart and know when to put it in practice. Just remember that it takes years to see the results, not minutes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Now's the Time To Fix It

I hear about and see a lot of parents who are frustrated with their teens- kids who pretty much ignore any input the parents may try to have in their lives. There is an obvious disconnect and the parents seem helpless to restore any level of meaningful influence. How does that happen?

There are many possible explanations but one of the most common comes from a relationship that was damaged during the transition years- the years from about 9-12. During that developmental stage, kids are learning to make choices and they are thoughtful enough to want reasons for parental expectations. Their self-image is emerging and peer pressure is playing a big role in decision-making. Mom and Dad are not the only influence in their lives anymore so conflicting values begin to creep in and vie for their allegiance.

As kids begin to explore other options, parents often feel threatened by what appears to be a competing external influence and they tighten their grip to maintain control, fearing that their child is rejecting their standards. Just at a time when the grip should begin to loosen, parents do the opposite and the resulting power struggle gets ugly. Letting a child make a poor choice and feel the consequences is one of the toughest things a parent will ever have to do.

Transitioning from cop to coach is hard. And if you miss that transition, it can be very difficult to recover. Trust me- I know from experience. I didn't do a very good job of that with all of my kids and it cost me. What I missed was shaping my kid's heart more than their actions. Proverbs 4:23 reminds us to "guard your heart above all else for it determines the course of your life." I was more focused on actions and I was ignoring the heart attitude that drove the actions. I tried to control behavior instead of shaping a heart with godly principles.

So for those of you with young kids, work on their heart now and stay closely connected to them. Understand that your influence will one day be challenged and your kids will need a solid foundation to be able to make wise choices. Helping them learn how to choose what is right will be far more important than whether or not they spill their drink in a restaurant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

You Have More Influence Than You Think

Have you ever thought about the fact that choices you make can influence children several generations into the future? I know I often get caught up in the routines of life and tend to focus on immediate results in the decisions I make. I also catch myself being very self-centered in those decisions, often thinking more about the consequences to my own comfort and desires than the long-range impact of what I choose to do.

The truth is that the consequences of our choices will live longer than we do. I think of my grandfather who was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic before he was 30. But something happened and he became a Christ-follower. I don't know what was the tipping point for him but that decision changed the direction of his life and ultimately shaped the course of my father's life. Grandpa started taking the family to church, my Dad became a Christ follower and eventually became a pastor. That meant I was then raised in a Christian home and chose to follow Christ too.

Subsequently my children were then taught to follow Christ and they are now teaching my grandchildren to do the same thing. A few months ago I helped baptize one of my granddaughters. So now, about 90 years later there is a 4th generation Christ follower, all because of a choice grandpa made. That challenged me- what choices am I making that influence other people's decisions? What decisions will my grandchildren make because of my influence in their lives?

A study of your genealogy will illustrate the way a family tree is shaped. Your life is not lived in a vacuum. Your are shaping others by the person you are. Your tree is not perfect anymore than mine is but with all our imperfections and dysfunctions, God works to tell His story through us. Let me sum it up in the words of Reggie Joiner in his book Parenting Beyond Your Capacity:
"God is at work telling a story of restoration and redemption through your family. No matter what your family looks like or how limited your capacity might be, you can cooperate with whatever God desires to do in your heart so your children will have a front-row seat to the grace and goodness of God."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Perfect Family?

What's your image of a perfect family? I'll bet when you got married you had an ideal in mind and you thought for sure you were going to become that family. You thought your kids were going to be compliant and cooperative, in spite of the fact that you never were. Or at least that's what you hoped for. You had all kinds of mental pictures of how your family was going to be better than the one you grew up in and you weren't going to make all the mistakes you'd seen other parents make.

So as you think back to those idealistic images you had when you brought that baby home from the hospital, how's that working out for you? Has that "white picket fence" image come true or have you run into a little thing called everyday reality? The truth is that our image of family is changing, and I'm not talking about the legal definition that the politicians are arguing over.

Guess what? You don't have a perfect family and neither do I. You know why? Because we aren't perfect people and never will be. And that means our kids won't be either. We are all broken to one degree or another and our families reflect that. I say all that to encourage you to drop the guilt you feel for not measuring up to your ideal and get real about the imperfections in your kids that frustrate you.

Maybe instead of trying to create this unrealistic image of our family to impress other people, maybe we should accept the reality of our imperfections and dysfunctionality and allow God to use us as a model for redemption and restoration. I can promise you that if they haven't done it already, one day your kids will break that picture for you and everybody will know the truth. Maybe we should focus more on getting better, not being perfect in public. Maybe we should be real and authentic.

I think that would take the pressure off of us as parents, off our kids, and allow us to be believable in the eyes of those we really want to influence. And in the process, your relationship with your kids will be much more effective because they will see a model of transparency in you that is attainable.

Friday, September 24, 2010

New Tool for Parents

I'm taking a break from our current theme to share an interesting new site that may have value for your family. It's called D6 and its a concept designed to link church and family together by providing resources for parents. They recognize that the church is incapable of being the most important, no less only, spiritual influence in the lives of your children. By empowering parents to shape the spiritual development of their kids, the Biblical blueprint for parenting found in Deuteronomy 6 becomes a reality.

One of the tools is called SPLINK. "It’s a FREE weekly email packed with ideas to help connect your family. Splinks are creative ways of interacting with your children with family devotional starters and ideas for family time. Splinks can also help you use teachable moments to pass along spiritual truths and life lessons while making memories or just having fun together."

So check it out and see if it is helpful for you. Click the link above to subscribe for free!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cop or Parent?

I'm on my way home from work, relaxed after a busy day, come around a lazy corner, and my heart skips a beat because of the instantaneous surge of adrenaline. There is a cop car sitting in the grass facing me. I instinctively look at the speedometer and heave a sigh of relief because for some strange reason, I'm actually doing the speed limit!

Then I get to thinking- why have I developed such a visceral relationship with this cop, that a momentary glance can put my body into panic mode? I don't know him personally, probably have never met him, and yet he scares me to death. Why is that? Well, it doesn't take much analysis to figure out that my attitude about him is shaped by my assumption that his sole purpose for sitting there today is to catch me doing something wrong. That instinctively makes us adversaries. Now I know cops have a much bigger role than that and much of what they do is positive and helpful but when he takes that position to trap me, I resist that.

Then is hits me- as a parent, I have many responsibilities in shaping my kids, most of which should be positive and helpful. But when I focus on catching them doing wrong, I set up an adversarial relationship that is counter-productive to my mission. I create an atmosphere of fear, avoidance, and dislike. Nobody likes being corrected and when I see that as your primary role, I'm not focused on changing my behavior; I'm focused on how to do a better job of not getting caught- and continuing my wrong behavior. My heart is not interested in change; it is merely trying to avoid penalties.

Why do we parent like a cop? Several reasons-
1.My guess is that its easier to say "No, don't do that" than it is to demonstrate proper behavior and explain why it is the best way. That takes time and we're usually too busy being focused on something else to be interrupted by a long explanation and modeling session.
2.I haven't thought through the reason for doing something well enough to explain it, so I resort to the "Because I said so" routine.
3.We live in a culture where bad news gets the attention and good stuff goes unnoticed so we transfer that mindset into our parenting style.

So the "cop" model of parenting is not a good one. It weakens the relationship and diminishes your influence. The alternative is far more effective and productive. Rewarding good behavior, positive reinforcement, and encouraging praise are far more likely to produce the behavioral change you want because you will be operating at the heart level and strengthening the relationship influence. When correction and/or discipline are necessary, remind them that this is unfortunate and unnecessary and then show them how it can be avoided by dealing with the motive that produced the wrong action and reviewing the proper response.

Yea, I know, it takes a lot of time to do that and you have to be fully engaged in their lives but its a "Pay me now or pay me later" kind of thing. And the truth is, if we do a good job at being parents, the cop won't have to step in later and fix what got messed up. And the best part is, you will enjoy a lifetime relationship of love and respect with your kids that will carry into adulthood. And that's pretty rewarding!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Importance of Your Relationships

So I'm sitting in the Home Depot parking lot, waiting to turn in to a parking space, while this lady in a car is screaming at the top of her lungs at her kids in the back seat. She stops in the middle of the road, blocking traffic, yells again, and as she drives off, reaches into the back seat and gives her kid the middle finger!

There are just so many things wrong with this picture that I could write for weeks on multiple topics but let me stick to the theme we began last week- getting to the heart of the problem. This lady was obviously struggling with her own inability to control her children and given her actions, I think we can safely conclude that the relationship side of this equation is so damaged that this scenario is not going to end well.

I know from personal experience that there comes a time when no amount of control will work. Eventually the only influence you will have will be from the strength of the relationship. So if that is the inevitable endpoint, we have to keep that in mind as the goal as we transition out of control mode. Even as you operate out of control during the toddler years, you have to focus on building a relationship of trust so that you will have a foundation in place as the relationship begins to take over.

Nurturing that relationship means connecting to your kids at the heart level. That begins with unconditional love. Perhaps the most important foundational concept you can teach your kids is that your love for them is not affected by their behavior. Now that may be a disconnect for you if you grew up in a home where love was dispensed or withheld based on your ability to be good. But think about it- God's love for you isn't based on your performance. In fact Romans 5:8 says "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners."

Since all of us were created with a basic social need for love and acceptance, demonstrating unconditional love meets that need and provides a relational safe place that kids will always run to. I've told my kids, "You can't do anything bad enough to stop me from loving you." In that kind of environment a kid knows he or she is loved and protected and the magnetic force of that relationship will allow you to have influence in ways you never thought possible. And as they get older, that influence will be more effective than any other control mechanism you could ever devise.

So remember, you are never more like God than when you love unconditionally. That's the foundation on which a strong parenting relationship is built.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9

ANSWER- any parent! Sure your baby looked so innocent when first born but it wasn't long before you realized that he or she had a will of their own and it didn't gravitate toward doing good.

So we typically go into the "battle of the wills" mode and make sure they understand who is in charge. And that carries through the toddler years and into the elementary stages and by the time they reach their teen years, we're still controlling them by invoking Bill Cosby's parenting rule- "I brought you into this world and I can take you out!"

One of the most common parenting mistakes is never shifting out of the control mode that worked during the toddler years. Out of frustration we default to forcing kids to behave instead of training them to make good choices on their own. So we employ things like "time out" and "restriction" because they produce the short term control we want but unfortunately they don't produce long-term change.

In his talk about dialing into your child's heart, Reggie Joiner asks his audience to think about their own experience with restrictions- did you ever come out of a restriction thinking something like- "You know, I've had a real awakening here. I need to change my behavior and do things differently!" Nope, me either.

Why is that? I think it is because we have handled the symptom and not the problem. We have controlled behavior but not changed it. And that gets to the heart of the problem- many of our defective parenting tactics are designed to control behavior, not change the heart where the behavior originates.

In the weeks ahead we'll look at some things that contribute to heart change since that is the real source of the behavioral challenges we face. Change the heart and you change the actions.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Parenting- Establishing Routines

With school starting this week it is the perfect time to set some routines in place if you do not already have them. Kids need structure- they get it in school and they need it at home. All our lives work better when things are organized and well-planned.

So here are some tips:
1. Establish a consistent routine for the kids from the time they get home till they go to bed. The key to success here is consistent enforcement early. Make it flexible enough to handle unexpected events but firm enough to be reliable. The sooner you lock it in place, the sooner you can enjoy the stability it produces. As with most parenting issues, the success will be determined by your enforcement.

2. Use visual charts and rewards to reinforce good behavior. Let them check off each completed task or routine and reward them weekly for the behavior you want. You can schedule homework, chores, bedtime prep and play/free time with this system. And I would involve them in the scheduling process so they have some ownership in the system. Positive reinforcement is a wonderful learning mechanism and it teaches them to control their own outcome.

3. Be extremely clear about expectations. Make sure they understand what they can and cannot do; emphasize the rewards they can earn by following the chart. Then make a big deal about their successes.

Remember, enforcement is toughest in the beginning but once the habits start to take hold, it gets easier. Be the parent and maintain control. The more effective you are at an early age, the less trouble you will have later.

Next week we will begin a series on how to influence your child's heart, not just their actions.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New Blog Focus

I have made the decision to focus my blog in a new direction. For a long time I have wrestled with finding a way to communicate with parents in our church and until I find something better, this will be my vehicle of choice. Here's why-

I believe my role as Children's Pastor is incomplete and ineffective if all I do is focus on kids for 1 hour a week. Do the math- parents have influence 167 hours/week and I have 1. Now I know our staff is good but that just doesn't add up. And in case you were wondering, the Bible clearly places the responsibility for a child's spiritual development on the parent (Deut.6), not the church.

So for my ministry to be effective, I have to equip parents to do a good job of leading their children to follow Christ and live with the Bible as their life map. This blog will now focus on that task.

That being said, let me add that I do not claim to be a parenting expert. There are plenty of them out there and I will certainly draw on the expertise of many of them. AND, there are a myriad of parenting styles so I'm not going to advocate strictly for one to the exclusion of the others. I simply want to place some tools in your hands so you can be better prepared to be the parent God has called you to be.

Having raised 4 kids into adulthood myself, I know how challenging a job it can be and while I am proud of my kids, they will readily tell you how imperfect my parenting skills were. Its tough because we're dealing with people, not scientific formulas, and there are no easy 10-step programs that will guarantee success. But we do have the Bible to guide us and the benefit of many knowledgeable resources so we can have reasonable expectations that this can be done effectively.

So feel free to dialogue back with me if you want. I'm making the commitment to post a parenting blog every week. If you find it helpful, refer your friends to it and we'll try to help as many people as possible.

Monday, July 26, 2010

You can make a difference for some urban kids in Tampa by providing them with a backpack full of school supplies through one of our church plants, Common Ground Church. This event gives them an opportunity to share Christ with their neighbors in a very tangible way.

Here are ways you can help:
1. Purchase backpacks and supplies from the list below and bring them to CATB through Sunday August 1st. We will put a New Testament in each one.
2. If you have a van or truck, help us deliver the backpacks to Common Ground on Friday August 6th at 10:00AM.
3. Help us distribute the backpacks on Saturday August 7th. Two shifts: 8:30AM - 10:30AM and 10:30AM - 12:30PM.

Supply List-
1. Backpack (none with wheels)
2. 2 pkgs. of notebook paper (wide ruled)
3. 2 boxes of tissues
4. 2- 8oz. bottles of hand sanitizer
5. 2 pkgs. of standard #2 pencils
6. 1 box of colored pencils
7. 1 canister of wet wipes
8. 1 rain poncho (optional)

Let's bring a ton of backpacks to these kids and help Common Ground connect with their neighbors!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Baby Dedication 2010

May 16th will be our annual Baby Dedication Sunday! During that service, Pastor Hal will introduce all the families with their babies, talk about the importance of raising kids in an environment that honors God, and pray a special dedication prayer for them. After the service those families will have their pictures taken and those pics will be mounted on a beautiful plaque to commemorate this special day. If you'd like to participate or want more information, email Pastor Don- don@churchatthebay.com

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Big Easter Celebration

Lots of stuff for kids on Easter Sunday-
1. The traditional Easter Egg Hunt hosted by none other than the Easter Bunny, live and in person. Follows each service near the bounce houses. Find the Golden Eggs and get an extra prize! Bags will be provided for kids to collect their eggs.

2. Elementary kids will begin a month long contest to bring 1st time friends. They will score points for each friend they bring in April and then get additional points for each Sunday that friend comes back. The winner at the end of the month will get a Land Shark kneeboard!

3. Some of our BayKids will be getting baptized- what a terrific experience on Resurrection Day!

4. Preschool and Elementary classes will clearly explain the meaning of the Resurrection in age-appropriate terms. We want every kid to know that Easter is about Jesus and His amazing love for them!

So bring all the kids you can find- it will be an awesome day of fun and celebration at Church At the Bay!! Find out more at www.churchatthebay.com

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Parenting Rx

Sunday Feb.21st Pastor Hal will be speaking on the prescription for parenting. If you have kids, don't miss this valuable lesson that will improve your parenting perspective and help you shape your kids to follow God.