Thinking Out Loud

January 20, 2018

Strengthening Our Marriage versus Strengthening Our Kids

We have a Christian parenting conference happening in our town in April.

I couldn’t help but think how rare this is when compared to marriage conferences. Of course some of this has to do with what’s happening in Christian publishing.

For example, name a marriage author. You might be able to do so readily, but for those not familiar with the world of Christian books, let’s make it easier: Name a bestselling Christian book on marriage.

You may have listed:

  • The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs
  • Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas
  • His Needs, Her Needs by Willard Harley
  • The Love Dare by Stephen Kendrick
  • As Long as We Both Shall Live by Gary Smalley
  • Intended for Pleasure by Ed Wheat
  • Before You Say I Do by Norman Wright
  • Power of a Praying Wife/Husband by Stormie Omartian
  • Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud

Now do the same for parenting.

[Crickets]

The books exist, but naming top sellers is more challenging. Furthermore in the case where the books are part of a brand or a series, you almost intuitively know that for all its success, Power of a Praying Parent probably doesn’t do as well as the wife/husband titles; or that Boundaries with Teens or Boundaries with Kids doesn’t do as well as Boundaries in Marriage or Boundaries in Dating; at least not in my experience in the field.

The conferences feed off the success of the books.

Apparently we’re at least five times — or maybe even as high as ten times — more willing to pour into our marriage than we are to invest in our kids. Perhaps we’ll purchase Christian resources for them, but we don’t necessarily want to take the time to improve our parenting skills or learn from the stories of others.

Just because you can’t name the books or authors doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The online store at Focus on the Family is a great place to find out about parenting resources — as is their daily broadcast — and you can see the various categories of parenting helps at this link. (If you Google ‘Best Christian Parenting Books’ you’ll find other lists, but I refuse to link to people who are just shilling for Amazon. Try to buy local or from ministry organizations if at all possible.)

And just to save you asking, the conference speakers coming to our local community are Jim & Lynne Jackson, authors of Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart. I hope people will want to invest in their kids to the same degree they might had the church chosen to host a marriage conference that weekend. I have faith they will.


I realize that with the word discipline in the Jackson’s book title, some of you are probably thinking of a case of parenting advice gone bad that we covered here and here a few years back. Knowing the church sponsoring this, and knowing the publisher, you needn’t worry.

 

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January 17, 2017

Christians and Reading

bookstore-signThis is part two of two articles on the general subject of reading and language, especially as it relates to the closing of bookstores in the wider market, and Christian bookstores in particular. Click here for part one.

Times are a lot tougher than in the past. Millennials struggle to find jobs and wealth creation is not as it was in the days of double-digit interest rates. The R-word — recession — is occasionally mentioned; some say we’re moving into it, some say we’re in it, some say we’re in recovery. Christian bookstores could have reason to claim immunity for the following reasons:

  1. In full out economic depression, people turn to religion.
  2. Also in depression, people turn to entertainment. While the book industry doesn’t have the same profile as movies, music and television, it is most definitely a subset of the entertainment industry.

So why have so many Christian bookstores closed? As with yesterday’s article, I haven’t taken the time to cite studies and statistics, but trust me on some things I can offer anecdotally.

First, we mentioned the various time pressures, distractions, and diminishing attention spans. I would argue that this has led to decline in the traditional devotional reading time. Bill Hybels has tried to give this new life by christening it with a new name, Chair Time. I wrote about that in February, 2016. Curling up with a good book and building a personal library are becoming rare activities. The only way to ensure people have contact with books at all is sometimes to have small groups or home groups which are essentially book study groups. That doesn’t always happen however. Many house groups use church-provided outlines or small study guides related to DVD curriculum they are watching. I do like the traditional book groups, especially in the sense in which they provide accountability (to cover the chapters for the next meeting.)

Second, I think the problem is self-perpetuating. Focus on the Family did some studies a decade ago on the spiritual influence the Dad has in the home, citing things like church attendance over time. I would contend that a generation is arising that has never seen their fathers sitting in a chair reading and when I say reading here, I would settle for the Sears catalog or Sports Illustrated. Many homes no longer receive a newspaper; and I understand that, you can read it online. But online reading is very personal. I could be doing anything online now: Checking the weather, balancing my bank account, posting a social media status update, watching YouTube videos, playing an online game, reading a serious article, or writing for my blog. But when someone sits in a chair reading, they are very obviously reading. Kids need to see this modeled for them as a life component every bit as normal as brushing your teeth.

Third, I believe that leadership is not setting the pace. In the retail store where I hang out, we see Sunday School teachers, we see worship team members, we see small group leaders. What we don’t see is elders, deacons, board members. Sometimes I will visit other churches and I see the names of these people printed in the church bulletin and I don’t recognize any of those names. We even had an instance of a pastor who we were told on good authority did not use his book allowance in ten years. (The man was incredibly arrogant and probably felt he knew all there was to know.) There are a few exceptions to this, but many people are chosen to serve their church in this capacity because they are business owners or executives who are successfully managing the company they work for and are considered wise enough to run the affairs of the church. Maybe they’re too busy to work on their own spiritual formation. That wasn’t the case with Stephen however. When The Twelve needed to create another tier of leadership to do the everyday running of things, they chose, “a man of faith, full of the Holy Spirit.” (The solution to this is pastors who buy the books in bulk they want their elders to study and then give them out as required reading.) 

Fourth, the stores need traffic generators; they require a constant hit bestseller to pay the bills. The Left Behind series accomplished this. The Shack brought people to the stores to both discuss and purchase the book. The Purpose Driven Life did the same. (I know there are people here who aren’t fans of these three examples, but they make the store sustainable for people looking for a classic Spurgeon commentary, or something by Tim Keller, or an apologetics resource.) Even on the non-book side of things the Gaither Gospel Series DVDs provided that traffic. These days, whenever something takes off in the Christian marketplace, Costco and Barnes and Noble are quick to jump into the game. Conversely, it doesn’t help when major Christian authors experience moral failure. The publishers occasionally offer products exclusively to the Christian market, but they only do this for specific chains (Mardel, Parable, Family Christian, etc.) not the independent stores who so desperately need this type of support. You have to be inside the stores to see other products you might wish to read or give away.

Finally, we’re not presently seeing a spiritual hunger. People are not desperate for God in North America and Western Europe right now. We hear reports from Africa or South America, though it’s hard to really quantify what is happening when there are often fringe movements or revivals based on extreme Charismatic doctrine or a mixture of Biblical Christianity and local animistic beliefs. In my early 20s, I remember hearing a Christian speaker say (quite tongue in cheek) “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have technology.” There is a sense in which this is true. It does remind me of the adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink, but you can put salt in his oats to make him thirsty.” We have to find ways to instill that hunger for reading in our local congregations. Pastor recommendations of books from the pulpit are the most significant factor driving customers to make purchases or place orders.  Another way the technology can be made to work is by providing chapter excerpts for people to sample; but publishers are very reluctant to do this, for reasons which escape me. 

In conclusion, all the factors mentioned in the previous article are impacting bookstores in general, these factors listed here are some things that concern me about the Christian market in particular.

not_enough_shelves

March 11, 2015

Wednesday Link List

This isn't related to anything that follows, it's just here... because.

This isn’t related to anything that follows, it’s just here… because.

Featured Links

Passivity, Submission, Bullying and Christian Womanhood – “As I grew up, I watched my Christian mother take a lot of emotional and verbal abuse…from my father and my older siblings, from people at church, her own siblings (my aunts and uncles), and neighbors. My mother rarely stood up for herself when she was treated poorly… I was also being taught to bottle up all my anger and never speak up on my own behalf, if mistreated. I was taught that the bully’s feelings were more important than my own… After many decades of living like this, when I got to adulthood I had no clue how to deal with conflict…Sometimes it took weeks, months, or years before I even recognized that I was being used or being treated poorly by someone because my mother (and Christian literature, sermons, Christian books, magazine articles, etc) had taught me to never think about myself, my feelings, or my needs, but to be intently ‘outward-focused,’ always striving to meet other people’ s needs because to do anything less was supposedly ‘selfish.’…I also had no skills or practice at how to handle conflict. I was taught that conflict was to be avoided, Christian women ought not to debate or argue with anyone nor to be assertive for any reason. This left me vulnerable to being picked on in adulthood with adult predators, as well as being mistreated as a kid by other kids …Many well-meaning Christians and churches unfortunately encourage girls and women to be this way, to think it is pleasing to God, or that God commands all women to be this way…”

Crafting the Best Sermons – Two links here; first an experienced pastor explains his decision to go back to writing full manuscripts: “I’ve found that if I don’t manuscript, I’m not capable of producing the kind of sermon that will live up to the kind of church that we want to see planted.” And then, the practical: “In the old days, before church planting, I’d devote four mornings a week to sermon preparation. On Monday and Tuesday I’d work on exegesis; on Wednesday and Thursday I’d begin to craft a sermon from the exegesis. I now do the same thing, except on one day: Thursday.”

Engaging the Culture: An Open Letter to Hozier, composer of Take Me To Church – “I had to find out more about you to understand why someone would write such lyrics. According to interviews you seem to have animus toward the Catholic Church and definitely an issue with Russia’s laws against homosexuals. Still to indict all of Christianity seems quite harsh. It is worth noting you wrote this song when you were only 22-years-old. Your fellow Irish rocker Bono has arrived at a very different view of the Church and Christianity with a few more years of life experience. Maybe given some time and a few more interactions with Christ followers you might have a change of heart.”

The Weather Impacts Church Revenues – “‘You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs,’ Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England, told the Associated Press. She told the news service that the financial toll might force some of the 60 Presbyterian churches in the region to close. Other denominations and religions told the AP of similar predicaments.”

Dawkins: Your Devotional Time with the Kids is Child Abuse  – “Richard Dawkins has said that children need to be protected from ‘religious indoctrination’ by their parents. The prominent atheist claimed that being brought up in a religious household prevents young people from being ‘properly educated’. Professor Dawkins, a well known evolutionary biologist, has previously caused outrage by remarking that teaching a child orthodox Christian beliefs about life after death is tantamount to ‘child abuse’.”

And Now for Something Completely Different – You don’t have to know exactly what Biblical Philology is to appreciate the self-congratulatory nature of this academic’s knowledge of the original sacred texts.

Don’t Fund-Raise Your Missions Trip on Social Media Alone – “It won’t be enough to just promote your mission trip through social media platforms. Fundraising will cost you time, work, money, and personal comfort. Be careful not to go the path of least resistance. Social media is the easiest way to get the word out to lots of people at once, but easy doesn’t always mean effective. Don’t shy away from the hard work of communicating with individuals, organizing events, doing extra jobs, and all kinds of other creative ways people have come up with missionary support.”

Museum of the Bible – “When it opens in late 2017, just about every aspect of the planned Museum of the Bible – the building materials, doorways and common areas – is intended to bring to mind the Holy Land or stories from the Bible itself. Hobby Lobby president Steven Green, in search of a home for his museum, purchased the building for $50 million… in Washington, D.C., located a few blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall.”

A Crisis in Cosmology – A new film, The Principle is now showing in selected markets and available for presentation in your city. “Dark Energy as we call it is the greatest mystery in all of creation.” “Science has said you must stay over in this category here, you’re not to go over into the God category, because that’s going to destroy our science.” “You can go on websites…NASA has started to take down stuff that might hint to a geocentric universe.” “We find ourselves in a part of the universe that is perfectly tuned to life.”

Quest Church Purchases the former Mars Hill Ballard – Eugene Cho writes, “No one could have imagined the situation at Mars Hill turning out the way that it turned out. When we first heard that the building would be available on the market, we met with their team and they expressed their desire to sell to a church if possible. They received a total of 10 offers – 9 from developers with tenants in tow and one from Quest. We weren’t the highest offer but we offered flexible conditions. They were true to their word for which we are grateful.”

The Worst Book Ever Written About Jesus –  Sadly, books like this are far too common, and often appear shelved at Barnes & Noble next to works more worthy of respect. Customers lacking discernment don’t know the difference. “For example, the authors argue that a celibate man in first-century Galilee would have been shocking, so Jesus must have been married. While overstated, we can follow their intended logic. But they also maintain throughout the book that Jesus’ marriage was so scandalous that it had to be covered up. So which was it? Was Jesus’ sexuality scandalous to his first followers or not?”

Frank Viola, The Songwriter – Who knew? And the song is good, though the tune is borrowed. border

Short Takes

Chris Rice once asked, "What if cartoons got saved?" Now Dan Pagoda asks, "What if cartoons were pastors?" Click the image to see all five.

Chris Rice once asked, “What if cartoons got saved?” Now Dan Pegoda asks, “What if cartoons were pastors?” Click the image to see all five.

 

 

July 23, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Born Again T-Shirt from Gardenfire

Each week, I get paid to write teasers for some great online resources, as well as some quirky ones.

Meow and Forever - T-shirt - Master's Table Blog

 

February 5, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Things I Hate

They left the worship band’s spotlights on during the sermon this week, and my pastor saw his shadow, which meant six more points before the benediction. Here are some links as I try to forget… 

Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, which has exclusive rights to the mid-week link.

…if you’re new to this whole link list thing, I did a rare Weekend Link List about ten days ago with some reruns from 2011.

July 31, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Bible for Christmas

We scan the internet so you don’t have to!

Got a suggestion for a link here? Contact me through Thinking Out Loud before 6 PM Eastern on Mondays.

March 25, 2013

Jamie, The Very Best Parenting

“It took me a lot of years and a lot of conversations with God (and with people who know more about God than me) to understand that everything I believed about my own sexuality was built on two huge lies.” ~ Jamie Wright

What happens when you have three teenager boys in the house, and your expectations for them come crashing against the realities of what you did when you were their age?

Jamie WrightThose of you who have been here for a little while know that this is a blog that places a premium price on transparency and honesty. We all clean up pretty good for Sunday morning (or daily blogging) but life is often messy, so when pastors, church leaders, authors or just everyday run-of-the-mill bloggers are straightforward and tell it like it is, they get my vote.

Jamie Wright may call herself “the very worst missionary” but she proves herself, in an article published on Friday, to be trying to be the very best parent.

This is a very explicit article that needs to be read in full, so I’m not going to excerpt from it here beyond the quotation above.  If you have children, have grandchildren, help with a church midweek program, teach Sunday School, or simply want some insight into what perfectly ideal Christianity looks like from the other side, you should click through now and read Jamie’s article simply titled Sex. (Yes, I know some of you are programmed never to click on that word online; however…)

September 2, 2012

Happy Father’s Day

…to all our readers in Australia and New Zealand

So perhaps that should read:

No, that doesn’t work.  How about:

Either way, it’s appropriate because today I want to post a blast from the past, a song that I sung at the dedication of our oldest; which is also appropriate today because this week both boys are off to university. [Grab box of tissue here.] Where did those years go?

The artist is Mike Johnson, and the album is The Artist/The Riddle on NewPax Records from 1976. It’s an old song. But I still love what this has to say, and I’m proud to pass it on to a new generation of fathers, both “down under” and “up over.”

Here are the lyrics (the lyric sheet has been chewed by mice; seriously!)

When you grow up
What will you remember
Daddy had time to show his love
When you were needing
His love and affection
Daddy made sure you had enough

Little boy, Jesus loves you
More than I am able to
I am learning to be a father
By my love show that He loves you

Will you remember
Daddy took you fishing
Having fun, sharing candy bars
Reading you words of love from the Bible
Telling you about
The one who made the stars

Little boy, Jesus loves you
More than I am able to
I am learning to be a father
By my love show that He loves you

When your mommy
And daddy did argue
Did you see that we had learned to forgive
Or did our words simply confuse you
Did you see the truth
By the lives that we lived

Little boy, Jesus loves you
More than I am able to
I am learning to be a father
By my love show that He loves you

Little boy, speak the truth of Jesus
Speak His words until He comes
We have learned by our little family
What it is to be called God’s sons

Little boy, Jesus loves you
More than I am able to
I am learning to be a father
By my love show that He loves you

June 12, 2012

Hanging Out Time

There are a number of areas where I would like a ‘do-over’ and those that were a test of my parenting skills are no exception. But one thing I did right was establish a nightly Bible story and prayer time which I’m told has also been an inspiration to some other families.

I wrote about it here almost three years ago.

Sunday night we had our last hanging out time (aka HOT) before Kid One left for his summer camp ministry, where Kid Too will join him in a couple of weeks. The ‘final’ of this event was more significant since Kid Too is off to university in the fall, one that doesn’t afford him the luxury of coming home on weekends as does Kid One.  So I suppose there will still be a few weekend editions with just two of us;  just as there have only been two of us present for the weekday editions the past few years.  But for the most part, what started nearly two decades ago with a copy of The Beginner Bible is about to enter the realm of history.

The robins are leaving the next.

Kid One returns in the fall to his second last year of electrical engineering. An engineer in the house. Who would have guessed? His parents tend to be a little more artsy. Kid Too is off to study with the aim of becoming a youth pastor. Not too scary until you consider that most youth ministry people end up ‘graduating’ to adult ministry.

I kept thinking we should do something special for the final night, but instead I was struggling to keep it together. It seemed like somewhere, a soundtrack should have been turned up, with Michael W. Smith singing “Friends;” except that we’re relatives not friends, and maybe without all the sappiness that critics think that song radiates.

Still the verse really applies,

Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your lives is through
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’re gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong.

I keep thinking how much their nightly time in the Bible and Christian books, and in prayer has benefited me. I’ll have to work twice as hard this fall to keep discipline.

A chapter in their lives is through; and sadly, in ours also.

By the way, I mentioned this last year without too much success, but for those of you who want to support a couple of summer missionaries, the camp where they work offers a summer assistance program that supplements their rather meager base salary. If you are in Canada, you get a tax receipt. Just email me using this blog’s contact page for more info.

January 2, 2012

Five Things to Give Your Kids in 2012

Trey & Lea Morgan

I have a regular reader who was part of the original newsletter which gave birth to this blog, and occasionally I will see her and she’ll tell me about something she read on one the blogs of other writers I referred to here, which she now visits regularly.  Her list includes some great bloggers, many of whom have gone on to be published authors.  Today, I want to give you a full taste of another one that I’ve mentioned before, but can’t recommend enough, and that’s Trey Morgan. 

Ideally you’ll click to view this piece directly — it had a holiday spin, but we’re taking an all-purpose application from it now — but if you choose to read it here, I’m also going to tempt you with another one of his great family checklists at the end of this one.

…Some of the best gifts my parents gave me weren’t gifts that came from a store, but gifts that came from their lives. Here are a few gifts my parents gave me growing up that I’m trying my best to pass on to my children.

1. THE GIFT OF A HEALTHY MARRIAGE: My parents were always affectionate, loving and respectful to one another. Watching how my dad treated my mother (and vice-versa) has taught me how to treat Lea. I wish as parents we’d realize that a vital marriage is the best gift you could ever give your kids. Parents who maintain a strong and vibrant marriage set a positive example for their children. A healthy marriage is better than a cell-phone or an X-Box, and it’s the gift that would really last their lifetime. When children see the way their parents love and respect one another, it teaches them to do the same.

2. THE GIFT OF INTEGRITY: I was taught from a young age that we didn’t lie, cheat or steal. When I did things like that there were consequences to pay. Wouldn’t it be nice today if as parents we’d practice what we preach. I wish we wouldn’t tell our children one thing and then do just the opposite. That has to be so confusing to our children. Don’t ever lie for your kids. When a parent writes a note to school saying their child was sick or had a doctor’s appointment, and really they just over slept …. YOU are teaching them it’s OKAY to lie. Don’t you get it? Don’t lie to help cover up mistakes for your kids. This is simple … practice what you preach!

3. THE GIFT OF DISCIPLINE: This is going to be hard for some of you to believe (smile), but I remember on more than one occasion the principle calling my mom to ask for permission to “paddle” me for something I’d done at school. Always the same response from my parents, “Get him!,” they’d say and then add, “And tell him he’ll get another one when he gets home!” Ugh! No child likes discipline, but it’s necessary for their development as adults. As a parent THE WORST thing you can do for your children is pull strings to get your children out of trouble. Instead, if your child has done something that deserves punishment, let them be responsible for their own actions. Don’t threaten to call a lawyer, talk to the principal or talk to a superior to get your child out of trouble for something they’ve done. Have you ever heard of “you reap what you sow” or you have to be responsible for your own actions?

4. THE GIFT OF LOVE. There are different ways to spell love. T-I-M-E spells love. L-I-S-T-E-N spells love. Love can be spelled T-O-U-C-H. It’s important to touch your children. Nothing is better than one of my children’s arms around my neck, whether they are 19 or 7 years old. Love is spelled R-U-L-E-S. Believe it or not, it really is. Love is spelled P-L-A-Y. Do some fun things as a family.

5. THE GIFT OF SPIRITUAL TRAINING: Growing up, we never left for school without my mom reading us a bible story. Spiritual training was a deliberate part of my parent’s plan to raise children. Personally, I wish as parents we’d see that spiritual training is not optional but essential. Families today don’t need a small dose of God, they need a large dose of God. Children need spiritual training. Talk about God in your home, read bible stories together, attend church together and let them see that God is important to you and a part of your life. Come to think of it, the gift of God is not just a gift that lasts a life time, but it’s a gift that lasts an eternity!

Here’s another great year-end piece from Trey which can greatly help your marriage.  Click to read Ten Marriage Resolutions for 2012

Trey Morgan is a Christian husband and father, who moonlights as the minister for the church of Christ in Childress, Texas. Trey, a cancer survivor and his wife Lea have been married for 23 years and are doing their best to raise four boys, who are all growing up way too fast.

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