Rehab for the Soul: the Mind, the Will and the Emotions

Hannah has been in rehab for the past week, and as I’ve watched the physical therapists and the processes they use to help my daughter learn how to use her body again, it has caused me to reflect on the nature of rehab and the need for some form of rehabilitation – or training – for the Christian life.

First of all, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the limited scope of Hannah’s injuries. Many others here in the hospital are hurting in many different additional dimensions, and four families today are mourning the loss of their beloved sons. As I watch Hannah in the rehab room with so many other patients who’ve been burned and scarred over most of their bodies, or who’ve had strokes and other kinds of massive illnesses and accidents that have had a massive impact on their ability to function, I’m thanking the Lord that Hannah is healing and making progress.

A rehab hospital is intended for those who have reached a certain level of wellness to learn to regain their life skills, once all danger of major illness or infection has been averted. Essentially, rehab is learning how to live and how to function.

When you look at this through a spiritual lens, you begin to see the parallel to the Christian life. It seems as though this kind of rehab – of learning how to live and function as a Christian – is what is sorely lacking in so many people’s lives once they are “out of the woods” and no longer wondering whether they’re going to be in Heaven or Hell because they’ve given their lives to Christ. They’ve never learned “how to live in this world but not be of the world.” They’ve never been discipled.

As I’ve observed the physical therapists in action with Hannah, I have noticed that they focus on several different areas of development:

  1. Teaching the patient, while they’re still in bed, how to exercise their legs and arms so that their muscles don’t atrophy. They’re essentially teaching the muscles “this is the way you’re going to be used when you get out of this bed and this is the way the limbs are going to move back and forth. For a new believer, this kind of training is absolutely imperative, particularly when they have that “new believer” hunger to learn when they’re first brought to Christ.
  2. Teaching the patient how to walk. It’s not so simple learning how to put one foot in front of the other. They have very sophisticated contraptions for those who have not walked maybe in months, or years, that carry the entire weight of the person while they learn literally how to move their legs with the help of the therapist. The goal, of course, is for them to actually move themselves and carry their own weight instead of relying on others to carry that weight. This is a necessity for life. If it’s possible to walk, then we need to learn to walk. Too many who have given their heart to Christ have never learned how to carry their own weight and be mobile in the things of God. They’re relying on others to carry them, to pull them, to beg them to keep following God, or to read their Bible, or to go to church.
  3. Teaching the patient how to balance. Who would’ve thought balance is so important?  After a few short teachings and exercises, Hannah learned once again how to balance her own weight, and it revolutionized her ability to walk again. I’m afraid this is sorely missing in our Christianity today, not just living a balanced life, but living a new rythm of life – a balanced intake of music, or media, or secular friends, or secular activities, knowing how much is okay and how much is not. If we’re not taught, then we’ll go back and do what we’ve always done, thanking God that we’re going to Heaven, but not learning that new rhythm and balance to life.
  4. Teaching the patient how to speak again. A speech therapist will be used if necessary if parts of the mind inhibit the ability to speak. They will literally read with people, help them enunciate words, ask them to read out loud. I know you can see the correlation in our Christian life. One of the fundamentals at the very beginning of our Christianity is literally to learn how to speak the language of the kingdom. I’m not suggesting we speak a Christian code language that no one else understands. We need to be taught that the tongue is the rudder that controls our whole life and can get us into all kinds of trouble. The Bible says, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21). Are we careful with our own words, or do we fall prone to swearing or making coarse jokes?  We end up blaming our problems on God, or thinking, “I guess this Christianity doesn’t work after all,” when all along it’s our tongue that is has gotten us into trouble, not our following after God.
  5. Teaching the patient to care for himself. That is, the therapists coaches the patients and trains them so that they can comb their own hair, they can brush their own teeth, they can prepare their own food, they can take a shower and a bath and clean themselves. I’m afraid that most new Christians have not learned how to care for themselves, how to feed themselves spiritually, how to go get podcasts and read blogs, how to study the Bible, how do I put on the full armor of God and to live in this world uncorrupted by sin.

I noticed that the physical therapists are extremely patient, realizing that their patients may not be fully functional after just one hour of training. They are ready and willing to sit with their patients day after day, hour after hour, working on simple hand motions or leg motions.

Please note that they have no problem challenging and pushing their patients to go to the next level of walk, as they have done with Hannah. At the same time, they are not condemning if full agility is not reached in one day.

The therapists also have specific exercises for different parts of the body, whether it’s hands, or arms, or legs, or speech. They don’t walk into the room and say, “Get up and walk and let’s see what we can do.” They go into each session with a clear sense of focus, building on what they did the day before.

They also seem to be very purposeful, very intentional about each therapy session. They’re not just there to hang out with the patient and “fellowship.” They’re there to develop the patient. Their goal is to help the patient to function well.

Finally, it seems that there’s a very clear process the therapists implement, starting at the base level and continuing forward with the goal of teaching the patient to be ready to function as a physically whole human being. In the same way, when we as Christians come alongside as physical therapists to new believers, there’s so much that needs to be taught for them to know how to function.

I think there’s a couple of closing points that we can all take to heart. Once we’ve found that we ourselves are out of the danger of Hell, when we have given our lives to Christ, the first question is, have we ever enlisted in rehab for the soul, developing our minds, our wills, our emotions to function as God originally intended them to function?

I’m afraid most Christians have never been to physical therapy for the soul, and as a result they rely on other people to carry them. They rely on the pastor, or the youth pastor, or the worship leader, or others to help them limp along rather than learning to stand on their own two feet.

Have you ever enlisted in rehab for the soul?

Secondly, we all have a role in helping others develop. Some followers of Christ would say “Well, I’m not really gifted as an evangelist, so that’s what the pastor or other Christian leaders are there to do.” We all to some degree have the opportunity to share the light of the gospel with those in the darkness, but even if you don’t have “the gift” to be an evangelist, there are so many other roles needed in the work of the ministry that our pastor is equipping us for.

Can you teach someone how to walk, or how to balance, or how to care for themselves, teach them how to speak in a way that would be honoring to God?

Please note that there are all different kinds of specialists in rehab therapy: those who work with fingers, those who work with legs, those who work with speech.

What is your role? Are there other people around you that are stumbling, without balance trying to figure out how to “live normally” in this new kingdom they just arrived in?

If all of us find the role God’s given us to help develop people we could see an army of healthy men and women of God arise so they can go in turn and help others. This is the process of discipleship: It’s rehab for the soul.

Movies, Music, Television and Your Teen

It’s easy to discuss the idea of what other people are doing. You think, “I’m not really a part of that; I’m not really shaped by the culture of the world.” Oh, yeah? All of us have the potential of being deceived and shaped by what we see and hear. It’s easy to think, “Well, Ron, you’re talking about all of those other families who don’t really care.” I’m going to give you some practical insights to help you see how much the culture might be affecting your family. This is something to keep visually in front of you to see whether or not the culture has begun to overpower your life and that of your family.

How Many TVs Do You Have?

Some parents think it is a sign of blessing their kids to give them what they never had when growing up. A personal media device that feeds a child day and night in his or her bedroom is not a blessing. Katie and I could have afforded to put a TV in each of our kids’ rooms, or given them stereos at a very young age, or filled their lives with video games. But we didn’t want to give them easy access to media and risk their addiction to it. On our family TV set, when our kids were small we got about three scratchy channels. Sure we could have afforded a dish or cable, but we didn’t want the world invading our home and taking our kids hostage. I think much of the conveniences that many people now consider a necessity are more of a curse than a blessing. Moreover, we need to be careful about justifying getting that cable for the kids when in reality, we’re talking about the sports and movies that we like, and we would have to sacrifice if we decided to shut it off.

Do you have rules about what your kids can watch? When our kids did watch TV, they were very compliant about what kind of shows they could watch. We tried to teach them why, even when they were small, they should not watch certain things. For example, we did not allow cartoons with witchcraft in them, or programs that disrespected parents. We explained how this was just the trick of the Enemy to make all things that go counter to the Bible appear really attractive. We trusted our kids to be discerning, and there were many times when they would initiate turning the channel when something harmful hit the screen— with no need for us to say anything. Still, it is impossible to predict when a lewd  commercial is going to come on, or when a crass sexual joke will slip across on a TV program.

Do you have rules about how much TV your kids watch each day? At the height of our kids’ TV viewing, they were watching an hour a day max, and maybe two hours of Saturday morning cartoons. Yes, they did watch various other children’s videos and movies, but that is more of a controlled substance.

Music, TV, Movies

Everything I’ve already mentioned is under the umbrella of entertainment. But in particular, entertainment in the form of movies, television and music is what is shaping our young generation. Although we consider them entertainment, they are actually infotainment. They impart values and information about the world, maybe information about life, that your kids are not ready to process and absorb.

The problem is that too many parents use these avenues to keep their kids occupied and to witness just a part of the “unavoidable” culture in which we live. Television, for example, broadcasts some 20,000 sex scenes that the average young person will view by the time he or she graduates from high school!

Take a look at some of these stats:

  • Movies have an 87 percent likelihood of presenting sexual material.
  • More than 3 out of 4 Americans say that the way television programs show sex encourages irresponsible sexual behavior.
  • 64 percent of all shows include sexual content, and only 15 percent mention abstinence, protection and consequences.
  • 59 percent of parents say their 4- to 6 year-old boys imitate aggressive behavior from television.
  • 60 percent of parents say they are “very” concerned about the amount of sex their children are exposed to on television.
  • Among shows with sexual content, 5 scenes are shown per hour overall, 5.9 scenes are shown in prime time per hour, 6.7 scenes are shown in teen shows per hour.
  • 83 percent of kids, 8 to 18, have at least 1 video game player in their home; 31 percent have 3 or more video game players; and 49 percent have video game players in their bedrooms.
  • More than 80 percent of children live in homes that have cable or satellite TV service.
  • American children, ages 2 to 17, watch television on average almost 25 hours per week, or 3 hours per day. Almost 1 in 5 watch more than 44 hours of TV each week.
  • On average, young people spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV and videos.

The point is, every time your children watch any one of these things, not only are they absorbing the values of the creators—the dreamers—of these products, but the content of these products is also numbing their own ability to dream.

If any of these touched a somewhat sensitive spot or hot button regarding your family, then perhaps it may be true that you’ve had more invasion of popular culture than you were aware of. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay like this. You can turn your family around and proactively shape the hearts and minds of your children. Not only can you do that, but you must. It is the only hope your children have in the midst of a culture that is bombarding them with missiles of deadly assault at a velocity once unthinkable but now a bitter reality.

Cell Phones and Teens

Getting your teens a cell phone is not just a communication device from you to them. It opens up a whole world of communication with peers in ways that you may never know about, and a whole world of media they are exposed to and can access at any time.

Have you enabled text on their phone? You can get them a phone without texting abilities (or you can disable it). If you do that, they will think they are in the Stone Age, because all their friends have it, but it could protect them from aimless conversations, especially with “friends” you do not know. Plus, it will protect them from running up exorbitant text bills into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars. Recently, the Washington Post reported a story of Sofia Rubenstein, 17, who recently sent 6,807 text messages in one month alone.

If and when you decide to turn on the texting abilities of your teen’s cell phone, let him or her know that there are limits to how much texting they can do, when they can do it, to whom they can do it (only people you know), and that you would be looking at their texting habits and conversations on a regular basis. No freedoms are ever given without responsibility and accountability. Make sure to limit or prohibit photo texting. You can prohibit sending photos with your carrier to keep your kids from being a part of possible photo-passing frenzies. Consider some of these excerpts from recent articles on this very topic:

Cell Phone Porn Scandal Hits U.S. School

ALLENTOWN, Pa.—Police faced a difficult if not impossible task Thursday as they tried to stop the spread of pornographic video and photos of two high school girls, images that were transmitted by cell phone to dozens of the girls’ classmates and then to the wider world . . .

At least 40 Parkland High School students believed to have received the images would not face prosecution as long as they show their phones to police by Tuesday to ensure the images have been erased. But students at the school said the distribution was far more widespread . . .

Cops: High School Students Traded Nude Pics of Themselves over Cell Phones

FARMINGTON, Utah—Police are questioning a group of teenagers accused of trading nude pictures over cell phones. Farmington Police . . . say six or so Farmington Junior High School students took pictures of themselves and then shared the naked images.

A parent of one of the kids found the pictures on their child’s cell phone and called police. Detectives say the 13- and 14-yearold boys and girls questioned said they took the pictures as a joke, but it’s potentially a crime . . .

Trading Nude Photos Via Mobile Phone Now Part of Teen Dating, Experts Say

COLUMBUS, Ohio—Forget about passing notes in study hall; some teens are now using their cell phones to flirt and send nude pictures of themselves.

The instant text, picture and video messages have become part of some teens’ courtship behavior, police and school officials said.

The messages often spread quickly and sometimes find their way to public websites. “I’ve seen everything from your basic striptease to sexual acts being performed,” said Reynoldsburg police Detective Brian Marvin, a member of the FBI Cyber Crime Task Force of Central Ohio. “You name it; they will do it at their home under this perceived anonymity.”


Is the Internet disabled on your child’s phone? This can prevent your child from getting unwanted messages and videos from the Web. In England, much of the revenue acquired from cell phones is generated from porn downloaded onto them, and it is rapidly coming our way. This will prevent them from surfing when you are not around and keep them from “buying things” on the Web, like songs and ring tones that you don’t know about (and then are billed for later in the monthly statement).

Information on Limiting Cell Phone Options

AT&T Phones

Smart Limits can be installed for a monthly fee that limits the following:

  • Number of text and instant messages
  • Dollar amount for downloadable purchases (ring tones, games and more)
  • Times of day the phone can be used for messaging, browsing and outbound calling
  • Who the phone can call or text (incoming and outgoing) by blocking and allowing certain numbers
  • Access to content inappropriate for children

MEdia™ Net Parental Controls

MEdia™ Net parental controls are included at no additional charge with most wireless services. With a compatible handset, these controls will:

  • Easily restrict wireless access to mobile websites, as well as restrict purchase of premium content or subscriptions
  • Restrict access to sites with mature content inappropriate for children (content filters)
  • Prevent children from buying premium content (such as ring tones, games and graphics) that is direct-billed to the account holder (purchase blocker)
  • Turn off a specific service for the month once a limit is reached
  • Enable you to program allowed numbers (such as your own and 911) that the phone will always be able to call even if the limit has been used for the month (there will be a notification the action is restricted and the service will be stopped until the next billing cycle begins)

Verizon Wireless

Verizon Wireless allows parents to check how many minutes their kids have used any time during a billing cycle. Parents can choose to block all text messages.

If any of these touched a somewhat sensitive spot or hot button regarding your family, then perhaps it may be true that you’ve had more invasion of popular culture than you were aware of. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay like this. You can turn your family around and  proactively shape the hearts and minds of your children. Not only can you do that, but you must. It is the only hope your children have in the midst of a culture that is bombarding them with missiles of deadly assault at a velocity once unthinkable but now a bitter reality.

Technology, Pop Culture and Your Teen

How Many iPods or Other MP3 Players Does Your Family Own?

Do you know what songs are on your kids’ iPods? Is there an approval process in your home for acquiring music? Have you taught your children proper music listening etiquette? From the beginning, our kids knew when they first got CD players that they could never have headphones on while in the car or when other people were around. We wanted them to realize that this “personal music device” was not going to dominate their lives or ours. We wouldn’t let listening to music substitute for family conversations.

Just because your children may want a music device such as an iPod or an MP3 player doesn’t mean that they should have it. As the parent, you need to choose when these things are appropriate and realize the implications they bring. These are not just cool devices that enable them to listen to music but also an invitation for music to be a full-time part of their lives. In giving such devices to your teens, you could be allowing it to become something that can dominate their lives.

Think about this in regard to any type of media. It might be that computer or video game devices are taking up all of their time. Don’t get sucked into the idea that because you’re giving them cool gifts you’re a great parent. Instead, realize that these “cool” things are actually forms of media that can begin to form a wall between you and them, influencing them more than you do.

Whenever you do feel the time is right to give these types of devices to your children (as I mentioned, my kids didn’t get an MP3 player until they were 16), the gift should always come with conditions. These can be:

  • You can only listen to it for [x] hours a day.
  • You can only listen to music I approve of.
  • You are not allowed to have your ear buds in while in the car, because in the car we are talking to each other.

Also, talk with your kids about listening etiquette so that they do not get the attitude that because they now have these devices, they can pour music into their brains 24/7. As a parent, you can create conditions with some built-in freedoms, but you’re still shaping their lives and the culture of your home.

How Many Computers Are in Your Home?

I hope you have guidelines regarding how much time per day your child is permitted to be online or playing computer games. Our kids have always had the “one hour per day” rule. For some of you, your kids would go through massive media withdrawal to do this because media has been way too involved in occupying their time.

Is there a computer in your kids’ bedrooms? I hope you have surmised by now that you would NEVER want to allow this to happen. This is dangerous territory. Our one family computer has always remained in the front room area, where we can easily monitor who is online for how long (some screening software like Net-Nanny can do that for you). As soon as my oldest daughter graduated from high school, we bought her a Macbook (which is really not a computer at all, but a traveling mediago-anywhere machine). We told her she could do homework and other projects OFFLINE in her room, but anytime she was online, she needed to be in a public area of the house.

Do you know what sites your children have visited? Is this invasion of privacy? Yes, and it is your right as a parent. You set the guidelines upfront on how the computer is to be used, and you also will want to know all the places/people/friends they are involved with. That is your job as a parent. This way, there are no surprises when you look at histories of where they have been on the Web.

Do you have Internet protection software on every computer? It’s not that you don’t trust your kid; it’s that you don’t trust the world. Studies show that 9 out of 10 kids who regularly do homework on the Internet get an unwanted sexual message online. Parents, we must be smart. One time, I was sitting in shock before a room full of ministry and family advocate leaders as a Department of Justice official asked us how many of us had protection software on our computers. Only 3 people and myself in a group of about 60 raised our hands! How can we complain about the world when we don’t do what we can to protect our kids?

Video Games

The same rules as I’ve already indicated apply. When playing video games, are your kids in the front room (not the bedroom)? Do you have a restricted amount of time per day policy? Are you aware of the content of every game so that there is no “teaching to kill” or shooting of human beings practiced?

If any of these touched a somewhat sensitive spot or hot button regarding your family, then perhaps it may be true that you’ve had more invasion of popular culture than you were aware of. The good news is that it doesn’t have to stay like this. You can turn your family around and proactively shape the hearts and minds of your children. Not only can you do that, but you must. It is the only hope your children have in the midst of a culture that is bombarding them with missiles of deadly assault at a velocity once unthinkable, but now a bitter reality.

What to Do if Your Teen Lies

It begins with a question. Does your teen really mean what they say? Every time you ask them something you suspect is different from what they are telling you, they always have ample explanation. You have either caught them red-handed or in a bald faced lie, or there are so many inconsistencies, you have no logical conclusion other than to think they are definitely lying to you.

As some teens put it:

“I find myself lying to my parents. I wish that lying wasn’t the only way we could keep things cool between us.”

“I lie because they don’t trust me and I need to be with my friends – so I need to lie.”

“I wish they wouldn’t have overreacted to things I have told them in the past so that I’d have the freedom now to tell them the whole truth.”

Recent studies have found that 91% of the parents lie routinely and 59% lie regularly to their kids. If this is the example we are setting for our young people, it shouldn’t surprise us that our young people are lying to us. Some people resolve that teens are just going to lie – it’s part of life and you can’t do anything about it. About 45% of born-again teens believe lying is sometimes necessary, compared to 71% of teens who are not born again.

If lying is an issue or is becoming an issue in your home, you have a bigger problem than you think. Parents tend to think that at least lying is not as bad as getting pregnant or getting drunk. But in reality, you know a good liar can cover all that up. Perpetual lies are like cancer in a relationship. The very essence of a lie is “I can’t trust you with the truth, so I will tell you what I think you want to hear.” If that is the case, the very core of your relationship is fallacy.

Teach your children at a early age the importance of truth, the nature of a lie, and what integrity is all about. Don’t assume that your young person knows it is wrong to lie, but help them to understand why. I taught my daughters about integrity as they were playing the game Twister. We dicussed that if one of their elbows touches the ground and they lifted it back up before anyone saw, they are not really being honest. They were still young, but teaching them to be truthful in their heart at a very young age will permeate every area of their lives.

One day, one of our interns was sitting next to one of my little girls while eating lunch at the Teen Mania cafeteria. My daughter said, “Here, do you want these cookies? I’m not supposed to have them.” No one was there to stop her. She could have eaten them secretly, but she chose to do what was right.

Here are a few tips for imparting principles regarding truth to your young person:

First, ask yourself “How much do I lie?” Our society is bombarded with lies that you may not even realize it. You maybe be telling an untruth and not even realize it. Have you ever had your spouse answer the phone for you and you say, “if it is so and so, tell them I’m not here”? Boom! You’ve just lied! You are telling your kids, “Do what I say, don’t do what I do.” You have just sent a message to them loud and clear that it is okay to lie when it is convenient or when there is something we don’t want someone else to know. Assess you own truthfulness to see what kind of example you are setting.

Jesus said Satan is the “father or lies.” (See John 8:44.) Teach your young person lying is a character flaw. It is the very essence of the devil. He lies to us to trick us to pull us away from God. He manipulates, he deceives, and he tricks – not always a blatant lie but with shadows and shades of the truth. The best lie in the world is the one that stays as close to the truth as possible with only a little bit of error.

When we participate in lies it does something to our character. We become more and more like the devil. That is the harsh reality, but it is the truth.

James 5:12 says, Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no.

Teach them about integrity. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them.” That means, if you are full integrity and truthfulness, you are not always trying to keep up with the lie you told last, and whom you told it to wondering if you are going to be caught. If you walk with integrity, you walk securely.

Your young person needs to feel freedom to come to you in every situation. It doesn’t mean they are granted immunity over any bad thing they do if they just tell you the truth about it. It means that the consequences of lying about it are so much more severe that it makes them not want to lie. They also need to learn the value of coming clean. This will help them in their relationship with God. So many times people do things they know God doesn’t want them to do, and just like Adam they try to hide, sneak around, and pretend they didn’t do anything. The first step towards becoming whole is for your young person to admit that they really blew it –they made a mistake.

Building this kind of open, truthful environment into your home and your relationship puts you on the road towards a great, wholesome relationship with your young person. There will always be bumps along the way, but at least you know there is a legitimate relationship, because there is honesty between you.

If you suspect your young person is lying, don’t constantly accuse them of lying. If you have caught them in an occasional lie don’t assume everything is a lie. You might question it in your mind, but you don’t always need to vocalize it. If they have committed to tell you the truth, then grant them that trust. Make them prove to you that they really are telling the truth.

You then have a choice. You can say, “Okay, I trust you and believe you,” if you don’t have any evidence to the opposite. If you do, you might show them a little bit of that evidence, but not all of it and say, “So-and-so told me that you were here at this time. And you said you were at this other place. Are you sure you’re being completely truthful? Is there anything else you can remember?”

Keep giving them the chance to come clean. If they still refuse all the way through the process, show them all your evidence. Hopefully, at that point they will break and say, “I’m sorry I lied to you.” Once they have confessed, don’t get mad and say, “Well you stupid kid! What did you lie to me for?!” Talk about it.

Teens do not learn about truthfulness and integrity by talking about it one time. Start when they are young – or now, wherever they are at- and begin to share from scriptures the importance and value of living a life of total integrity without any lies. As you begin to plant seeds and principles into their hearts, they are going to begin to value telling the truth on their own. They will do it not because Mom and Dad told them to or because they might get into trouble if they don’t, but because they know it is right and they will be blessed for it.

Dealing with a Rebellious Teen

At about 12 or 13 years of age, it’s as though a timer has gone off that has gone off that tells teens they need to make their own decisions. With their shoulders back and their head held high, they inhale and say, “After all, I have lived 13 years on this earth. I ought to make my own decisions.”

Most parents respond with something like, “As long as you’re in my house, you are going to do it my way!” It becomes a perpetual argument in the home as to who gets their way. Parents feel they are doomed to fight the battle of teenage rebellion for the next five years. “Why are they so rebellious? Why do they fight me on every little thing?” What is a parent to do?

This is what some teenagers have to say about their rebellion:

“I have a rebellious attitude and every time my parents tell me I do, it makes me even more rebellious.”

“About three years ago I got in some trouble with the police. I knew my parents were gonna trip out about it, but they got a little violent. It did make me want to never do it again, but it made me fear my parents instead of feeling like I could talk to them about stuff.”

“Understand why I’m rebellious or selfish and help me to change in a way that won’t make me want to rebel.”

In dealing with rebellion, we first need to ask ourselves a couple of questions. First, how frequent and intense is the rebellion? According to Kathleen McCoy, Ph.D., “Normal rebellion is sporadic. There are moments of sweetness; calm, and cooperation between outbursts. If on the other hand, rebellion is constant and intense, this can be a sign of underlying emotional problems.”

Second, has this behavior developed over time, or is it a drastic thing where their behavior is completely reverse of what it was? If you answered the second choice, it may be a sign of a deeper problem.

Why do teenagers have such a propensity for rebellion? Dr. James Dobson attributes it two main reasons. One is hormonal in origin. Because of all the hormonal changes, both males and females may get easily set off. The other is social in nature. Their peer group has become far more important to them than anything else, and the pressures bombarding them to be their own person and identify with a generation have been much more intense than ever before in their lives.

In Josh McDowell’s book, Handbook on Counseling Youth, the author gives several causes for rebellion:

  • Poor relationship with parents
  • No effort to communicate
  • A need for control
  • Lack of boundaries and expectations
  • An expression of anger and aggression
  • The absence of an honest, vulnerable role model

Obviously there are different stages of rebellion. Some are just minor things like, “I want my own way!” Some teens have an emotionless attitude of resistance and a hardened heart that says, “I don’t care what you say or do, I’m going to do my own thing!”

Let’s look at few principles that will help you understand where your young person is coming from. One of the most important is that rules without relationship equal rebellion. As one young lady said, “One of the worst things my parents have done is given me a ‘no’ answer, without explaining why.”

Most people think the rightful responsibility of a parent is to provide food and a roof over their teens head without developing much of a relationship with them. As a result, your young person might as well be living in a boarding school – just a place to live with a bunch of rules. When asked about a rule, most parents never explain the reason for it. “Because I said so, that is why!” Many times parents don’t even know why they have that rule. Their parents had that rule, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for their kids.

I can remember when my mom told me people shouldn’t have sex before marriage. I was probably 13 or 14 years old and I asked, “Why is it wrong?” She replied, “Just because it is.” In an innocent, not condemning way, I said, “Well you did it.” She said, “Well that was different.”

Kids want to know the why of the rules and understand the reason behind them. That is why it is important to understand the principles in this book.

When your teen is forced to obey a rule but feels that you do not know the or care about them, it produces a rebellious attitude that says, “You don’t care about me, so I don’t care about your stupid rules. I’m going to do what I want!”

One of the biggest goals as a parent is to have a final product of young adults who are responsible, productive members of society, church and the Kingdom of God. It’s never been our dream for our kids to be sitting on our couch, eating potato chips and watching television until they are 35 years old. We want them to be responsible and they begin to itch for responsibility when they are teenagers. They want to have some of their own “say-so” regarding their lives.

Some parents are like an iron fist: “As long as you’re in my house, I am going to make the decisions. Just do it my way.” This approach doesn’t give teens a chance to make any decisions or learn responsibility. They don’t want to be dictated to anymore. Even though you may still see them as young and not knowing what to do or where to go, they see themselves as quite skilled in life and wanting to have some control of their destiny.

A teen’s desires to be given some responsibility may be perceived as rebellion. But just because your young person wants to make their own decisions in life doesn’t mean they are rebellious – it means they are starting to grow up! Give them some opportunities to make decisions about what they do with their free time. It doesn’t mean you let them make decisions about everything. Start out with small decisions, such as spending the night at friends even though they need to study for a test. You know they have a test, they say they’ve already studied, but your inclination would be to make them stay home and study more. Give them the opportunity to decide what would be best.

Once they show themselves faithful in the small opportunities by making good decisions, you can allow them to make bigger decisions. The goal is getting them to make all their own decisions before they leave the house. I know parents who have said they don’t have any rues for their 14-year-old because he makes all the right decisions on his own. “I tell them they can stay out as late as they want and they always come back before 10:00 because they have learned responsibility at a young age.”

Children need rules. Adults need responsibility. Adolescents need advice.

We know we have to set very strong and clear rules for children or they will not have any structure in their lives. We just discussed the adults’ need for responsibility that they start thirsting for when they are young. Think about the first job you had. You were so excited to be making your oen money. You were thrilled over the responsibility that was yours. That yearning for taking responsibility for your own life started when you were a teenager. What do teenagers need? They don’t just need a bunch of rules, nor do they need all the responsibility to decide everything about their lives. Meet somewhere in the middle by giving wise advice.

Your teen will make some bad decisions. They’re a young person. One of our biggest tasks is to teach our teens how to make wise decisions. We do that by giving them advice. Say you gave your teen advice but they didn’t take it. They went and spent the night at a friend’s house the night before a big test, and then they got an ‘F’ on the test. Talk through that decision with them. Say, “Let’s talk about it. What made you want to go even though I advised you not to?” Listen to what they tell you. Then ask, “If you were in the same situation again, would you do the same thing? Why or why not? Look at the people who got F’s all the way through high school. Where are they today? Is that the kind of person you want to be?” The next time they get a chance to make a decision, give them advice and let them choose for themselves again.

There are going to be decisions that you might let them make too early. The big question is, what decisions do you make for your young person and what decisions do you let them make on their own? That is between you and God. Pray and find out from the Lord. Sometimes you’ll say, “I’ll let them make this decision,” and you realize that maybe you shouldn’t have. They are too young or not mature enough. Some young people are ready for certain decisions earlier than others. There is not a magical date and time to use a deciding factor.

It is much better for teens to make bad decisions under your protective umbrella, where you can go back and talk about the failure and how to do it right the next time, than for them to leave your house and make all wrong decisions. Once out from under your protective covering, they don’t always seek your advice or care what you have to say about it. Instead of propping them up all the time to keep them from falling, allow them to make a few bad decisions. Then go back and talk through those issues so they can make better decisions for the rest of their life.

Teens and Divorce

It must be one of the hardest scenarios a parent faces today- wanting to be the right influence over your teen, yet not having total control over the forces that influence them. You have been through the battle of divorce, the hurt and pain of separation from your spouse, and the hurt and pain of separation from your teen. They are in the heat of their teenage years when they need you the most. Some of the toughest situations they will ever face are on the horizon and they need your guidance and counsel. You are not afforded much of an opportunity to speak into those situations, which is complicated by the fact that most ex-spouses do not get along.

Teens all over the nation are feeling the effects of divorce:

“I wish that when my mom talked about my dad she would say ‘dad’ like she used to instead of calling him ‘your dad’ like she never had anything to do with him.”

“When my parents got a divorce they never explained anything to me why. I’m in the custody of my mom and now my dad is giving me guilt trips about not staying at his house more often. I wish he would understand that I just like staying with my mom better.”

“My mom talked bad about my dad through the divorce. They treated each other with no respect around their children.”

The Bible says: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ – which is the first commandment with a promise – ‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.’ Ephesians 6:1-3

Now obviously this a commandant young people from the Lord to honor their mother and their father, to esteem them highly, to look up to them, to listen to them, and to treat them with respect. Sometimes, as a result of the divorce, we make it difficult for our teens to honor the other parent through the things we say, comments we make, or stories we tell.

Your teen needs to honor their parents. You can help by not telling them every story of hurt that happened or everything your spouse did or said. You need to protect them your ex-spouse and make them look good even when they may not deserve it. Why? Because you are protecting your teen.

Like it or not, your ex-spouse is still the mother or father of your child. When divorced persons play the childish game of being jealous for the attention of their young person, it ends up doing the young person a lot more harm. It rips their heart apart. It rips their allegiance apart. Sometimes they believe you, sometimes they believe the other one.

This takes humility. It takes a man or woman who is big on the inside to humble themselves and choose not to be threatened if the other parent looks good. In the long run, you are the one who will look good, because your young person will look back on the fact that you did not try to tear their heart away from the other parent. That says you are mature and secure and not intimidated by someone else’s success or respect.

Talk to your ex-spouse about agreeing on issues for the sake of your children. For example, agree on how to refer to each other and how to talk about each other (what we just discussed). Don’t ask them to constantly give you honor, but say, “Listen, I’ve decided that whenever I refer to you to our son or daughter, I am only going to say good things. We may not like each other, but you are still my son’s mother or father and I am going to afford you the respect you deserve because you hold that position.”

Agree on the rules you establish for your young person. So much dissension happens between a teen and their parents because, “Mom always lets me do this,” and “Dad always lets me do that.” The parents compete with each other to see how much fun they can let the kid have when they are at their house, hoping they will like them more and want them more than the other parent. The competition between parents is detrimental for the teen. It becomes a political situation, and the best interest of the teen is not considered at all.

In addition, if there is a step-parent involved, the rules should always be enforced by the biological parent, not the step-parent. You never want the young person to respond to correction with “Well, you’re not my real parent anyway.”

Sometimes a stepfather is called upon to enforce the rules for a son or daughter who is not their own because they are the man of the house. Although that is true, there is still a role that a biological parent has that a stepparent doesn’t get naturally. The stepparent needs to earn that role, respect, and right. They don’t simply get it because of who they married.

Another challenge you might face is the child playing one parent against the other, “Mom lets me do it.” Comments like that will make you want to be competitive with each other. But if you are on the same wave-length and in agreement on the issues, it will be almost impossible for your teen to manipulate you into that kind of situation.

If your young person knows they can’t play you against one another, the competition will be defused rather than fueled. If your teen senses they can fuel it, you know they will. As a result, your young person will have much better relationship with you and your ex-spouse, you will have at least a marginally pleasant and agreeable relationship with your former spouse, and your teen will be all the better for it.

Wooing Your Teen’s Heart


When your kids are very young, it’s easy to see that you still own their hearts. They look up to you with an adoring gaze, wanting to please you—partly because they don’t want to be punished, and partly because they literally idolize you and believe that you can do no wrong. At that point in your child’s life, he or she has not seen many of your flaws yet. As your child starts to get a little older, however, her gaze of adoration begins to wane. Many times, between the ages of 6 and 8, you’ll hear your child say things like, “I want that toy I saw on TV,” or “Mommy, why can’t I play with . . . ?” or “Johnny gets to do it, so why don’t I get to do it?” All are telltale signs that friends have begun to own your child’s heart a little more than you do.

The change in ownership is not something that happens dramatically. However, there are subtle signs that friends are beginning to hold more authority than you do. Your children begin to respond to the cues they get from their friends about what to wear or what to do, to a greater degree than the cues you give them on the same subjects. They develop a frame of mind that cares more about pleasing their friends than pleasing you. This thought pattern begins in very small ways, but each small thing you see is a sign that your child’s heart is being lured away from you.

Some people would say, “These little things are all just part of growing up.” And it’s true that most parents don’t worry about it. Yet the questions their children ask, based on feelings of peer pressure about why their friends get to do so and so and they don’t get to do so and so, are met with responses like, “Because I’m not Johnny’s parent, am I?” “Just do what I say” or “We don’t do that in our home.”

While these responses are partially true, there is a deeper issue here: Is it really a “natural part of growing up” for our children’s hearts to be given over more to their friends than to their parents? I’m not so sure. It may be a familiar part of growing up, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t stem the tide of the transference of their affections. It doesn’t mean that we’re doomed to lose our children, or that there’s sure to be incessant fighting with the “because I say so!” kind of mentality from now until the time they leave home.

The small changes that signal a pulling away continue as we start to see the “boy crazy” or “girl crazy” years between the ages of 12 and 17. That’s when we tend to hear things like, “I’ve got to have that CD that’s just coming out”; “I’ve got to wear these clothes because they’re the coolest thing ever”; “I’ve got to watch this TV program”; “I want my MTV!” That last telltale statement of defiance shows the formation of the attitude, “I want the culture that’s shaping me to continue to shape me, and I want to embrace it.” Many times, too many parents have acquiesced just to get their kids off their back and silence the relentless complaints. They justify this acquiescence by saying, “It’s really not that bad. It’s just music
television, for crying out loud, right?” “It’s just some new clothes” or “Yeah, it shows a little bit more skin than the clothes that we wore when we were young, but it’s just part of the culture.”

All of these signs—that the culture owns more of our children’s hearts than we do—start when they’re young. What that ultimately means is that the culture has more impact on our children than we do. The culture defines them, owns them and possesses them. After all, when MTV says, “We don’t advertise to this generation, we own this generation,” in many ways, it’s really true. What they say goes. What they put on their network sells. We can say, “As long as you’re a part of my house you’re not going to watch that” or “You’re not going to wear that,” but such parental responses don’t really get to the issue of who owns a child’s heart.

Somewhere in the process of this heart defection—moving from the influence of parents to the influence of peers and the culture—kids are turned into machines that don’t want to hear anything their parents have to say. They don’t want to talk over things with their parents. They don’t want to accept their parents’ instruction. If they do, they do it begrudgingly and with the wrong heart attitude. They’re not willing to embrace the values we’re trying to get them to embrace. Heart defection may be a “natural” part of growing up, but it’s not inevitable if we as parents jump between our young ones and the culture that’s out to claim them. Whoever owns their heart will have the most influence on them.

The Heart Meter

Parents, you are the ones to intervene in your children’s lives to keep them from being pulled away by the culture. To do this, you need to develop a “heart meter” for your kids by watching for the signs—even when they are very young. Watch who owns your kids’ heart and mind, in each stage of growth, and who they get validation from. When you start to see signs that your kids care about their friends or what the culture thinks more than what you think, it should be an indicator for you to “lean into them more.” When I say this, I don’t mean that you should point your finger at them and say, “This is the way it’s going to be.” You have to lean into them relationally. You need to woo their hearts back from
the culture or their friends so that you are their touchstone. You are the one they go to for advice and direction. But it takes constant monitoring of who owns your child’s heart. You can tell this early on by little statements they make.

As our girls were growing up, my wife and I could see these signs show up even sometimes in relation to the kids in children’s church or the kids down the street who played with them. Whenever our girls made a comment like, “Well, she gets to do . . .” we would try to jump in the middle of that. When I say “jump in the middle,” I mean that we became aware of a red flag that somebody or some force had invaded the hearts of our children, and we needed to intervene quickly. The way we did that was by investing time. We jumped in and began to spend time with them, talking about the issues they might be bringing up and why our values were different from what they would like to do. I’m not talking about
giving one lecture after another and hoping that something would stick, but talking and spending time so that an affinity was established through a heart-to-heart connection, resulting in their caring more about what we thought, allowing for more opportunity to impart the values that were most important to us.

It’s sort of like the jockey riding a horse. As he rounds the corner, he leans a certain way. He watches cautiously. That’s what parenting is— watching our kids for the signs of who owns their heart and making the necessary course corrections. Watch for little indicators—phrases or slogans they use, quotes or songs from movies or from advertisements. Then start looking at where the signs are coming from and see if they’re spending too much time with the wrong friend or with the wrong media. You’re already curbing their media intake, as a good parent will, but even so, never go on autopilot.

When kids say things like, “I don’t care what you say,” and we say back, “You’d better care, because this is the way it’s going to be in my house,” we might succeed in controlling their behavior while they’re in the house, in that moment, but we’re not going to succeed in wooing their heart when they’re not around us 24/7. What are they listening to when they’re at school? How are they dressing when they’re at school? The world is rife with kids who dress a certain way at home, but as soon as they get to school, they peel off a layer of clothing to dress as suggestively as they’d like to. Are they being obedient according to the letter of the law or according to the spirit of the law when you’re laying down guidelines for behavior?

When it comes to matters of the heart, you can’t command the heart; you’ve got to woo it. It’s our job as parents to woo the hearts of our kids so that they want to listen to us. If we allow the culture or their friends to overpower them, it becomes incredibly difficult to regain their respect, but it can be done.

Wooing Your Child’s Heart

When my girls were growing up, even when they were only one year old, I would spend time with them by taking one or the other of them with me when I traveled on weekends to events for teenagers in arenas around the country. We did fun things. For example, when I had a break, we would sneak out in the middle of a busy preaching itinerary to go to an amusement park or to a children’s museum. When they got a bit older, we would go to a concert in the town where I was speaking, or go out to a nice dinner.

Through their teen years, I would regularly “date” my girls. When I saw signs of their pulling away or that their hearts were not fully engaged, I would “lean back in” and say, “Hey, let’s go grab some coffee” or “I’m going to get up early and take you to school so that we can grab breakfast or coffee on the way and talk.” What that meant, literally, was that I got up earlier, by a couple of hours, in order to make room for that time together. It took sacrifice, but it’s called being a parent. I’ve also done the same thing with my son. We look for new adventures where we can bond and build memories that begin to draw his heart toward me.

Whether the adventure is a late-night coffee, even when I don’t feel like it because I’m tired and I know I’ve got to get up early; or whether it’s a late-night 2- or 3-mile run with my daughter Charity at the end of a busy day (when I’ve preached my guts out at a Monday night service and just got home at 11:30 P.M.), part of wooing my kids’ hearts means spending that time together. I call this time “leaning in.”

Leaning in means finding creative, relational ways to spend time together so that you’re not just sitting in a room, with nothing else to say but “Hi, how are you?” Leaning in hard requires that you spend lots of time together doing fun things. Your initial conversations with your child might be a little bit awkward. You want them to share their heart; you want to get close to them, but their attitude and non-response may be shouting, “I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to be with you. What are you doing this for?” Just remember that this is part of your job as a parent.

If you’ve found that your kids don’t really talk and share their heart with you, well, all the more need to lean in. Don’t try to probe and
provoke them to talk to you right away; just be there doing fun things with them. Eventually, they will talk. And they really do want to talk; they just want to make sure that you’re the one they want to talk to.

Men, start doing things with your sons. Make a “date” (or a “budgrub,” as some call it) each week or every other week to go out to breakfast or just do something that they like to do, even if you don’t like it. You could do paintball or some other kind of adventure sport, or go see some monster trucks or something else where they’re not expected to talk all the time. Why not do something way out like make dinner for the women of the family? You’ll have a great time of laughter and bonding, and you’ll thrill Mom!

When you lean in hard, your kids will soon get the message that “Wow, Dad cares about me; he wants to listen to me.” It may not happen during the first week or the first month. It may not even happen after the first three or four months. But if you keep doing it, what’s going to happen naturally is that they’re going to open up; they’re going to start sharing their heart.

If you’re tired of asking, “How are you doing?” and hearing, “I don’t know”; or asking, “What do you want to do?” and hearing “I don’t know,” just keep leaning in. I know it can be discouraging. But don’t give up. Even though those answers are a kid’s standard response, to indicate that he or she is not interested in sharing much with you, do not give up. You can’t force intimacy, but you can woo it successfully. Depending on how hardened your kids are, or how controlled and manipulated by the culture and by their friends, it might take you some significant investment of time to win their hearts back; but it’s not impossible.

Remember, it’s our job as parents to woo our children’s hearts, to keep their hearts and then to influence their hearts. When that happens, they will become the God-honoring people we’ve always dreamed they would be.

Teaching your Teens to Be Dreamers

Did you know that 98 percent of people are followers? Only 2 percent are the shapers of culture. The 2 percent are the dreamers.

One of our biggest responsibilities as parents is not only to protect our kids from culture but to help them be the shapers of culture. A lot of this book so far has shown you how to insulate your kids and proactively instill your values in them. The point of doing that is not just so you can have a “good family” with great values, but to teach your family to take those values and begin to impact and shape the rest of the world.

How do we get our kids into the 2 percent who are the shapers of culture? How do we get them to be the dreamers for their generation, inventing the gadgets, writing the songs, driving the businesses, running for political office and sitting on school boards? It starts while they are young. As moms and dads, we need to be about the business of sparking the desire and planting the seeds in their hearts to creatively dream when they are very, very young.

We have told our kids from the beginning that they were born to change the world. They were born to make a difference. We put them to sleep at night praying over them, “God, use Hannah (Charity, Cameron) to change the world. Use her to make a difference . . . to touch people’s lives.” From the youngest age, that seed was planted in their minds and hearts; they grew up believing they really can change the world and make a difference.

Our goal as parents is not just for our kids to become “good” members of society. We need to raise them to be change agents. We need to raise them to take the values we have instilled in them, harnessed with a passion for God, and inspire them to reach out to people. We multiply the impact we have had on their lives to countless others, as they reach out. Let me give you some practical ways that you can do this for your kids.

Encourage Them to Be Others-Oriented

From a very young age, encourage your children to be “others-oriented.” For example, when your kids decide to get entrepreneurial, as most kids will, you can encourage them to mow lawns and sell lemonade so that they can donate the money to help other people, not just satisfy their own  purchasing power. In a similar vein, when they do want things, instead of buying them everything they want, teach them to find enterprising ways of earning money. They need to learn how to save for things they want to buy.

Help Them Pursue Small Dreams

We can teach our children to be opportunistic. When my oldest daughter, Hannah, was 13, she had an idea that she wanted to use the Internet to help preteen girls through a website she wanted to create. I got a mentor to help her learn how to do a little bit of programming. She wrote the code for a website called She had all kinds of ideas on how she was going to do the art. It was thrilling. She got lots of preteen girls on that site and ministered to them. The vision did not continue for very long, but it was a fantastic life lesson for her. She saw this truth: “If I have a dream, I can learn how to go about achieving it, and I can accomplish something.” Help your kids find opportunities to impact other
people and not just indulge themselves; and then show them how to take the vision from an idea stage to completion.

Defy Selfish Logic

All throughout our kids’ growing-up years, we had a special Christmas morning tradition. After eating breakfast, we got ready to leave the house for what my wife and I felt was one of our most important holiday traditions before opening gifts: We would serve the meal at the local Salvation Army. We did this to send a message to our children that Christmas is about serving, not just indulging ourselves. Inevitably, we would end up having some conversations with people who were really hurting, listening to them and praying for them. Look for various ways to plant seeds in your kids about being others-centered.


Out-of-the-Box Experiences

One of the greatest things you can do is help your kids want to serve and impact other people. You can provoke this by giving them experiences that are way out of the box. Sending them to summer camp is great, but finding a camp that doesn’t indulge them makes a bigger impact. Look for something that teaches them to be closer to God or gain a skill. Some examples would be leadership camp like Student Leadership University, basketball camp, acting camp or anything that will give them a skill they can use even in their high school years to serve others and become excellent at something.

One of the greatest things you can do is help your kids go on a missions trip in another part of the world. There they can see how other people live who are far less fortunate than we are in America. Start doing this at a young age. (We started taking kids on Global Expeditions trips with Teen Mania when they were 11 years old.)

If MTV is targeting kids at younger and younger ages, then so must we. We must plant in our kids a desire to really make a difference and change the world. Sending them on a missions trip is not just sending them on the trip. It’s showing them how they can raise money. Of course the trip is not just paid for by Mom and Dad; the kids have to write fund-raising support letters and get sponsors. They have to prepare. They have to bring their passport, pack their clothes and be responsible. It gets them out of their comfort zone.

While on a Global Expeditions trip, they are mentored and discipled (taught precepts and principles about a godly life based on the teaching of Scripture). At the same time, they are reaching out in a very practical way, whether that means digging a well in India or reaching out to orphans in Africa whose parents have died of AIDS. They realize that life is more than the stuff they accumulate. Even though they may not become a missionary later in their life, at least this experience gives them a taste of doing something that is definitely not self-centered.

Letting our children have this experience is a test for us as parents, a test of our trust that God will take care of our kids. Allowing them to go out of the country sends our children a message while they are young that they were born for greatness and destined to impact the world!

Katie and I began to take our kids on missions trips while they were very small—in fact, while they were still in the womb. But even when they were 1, 2 and 3 years old, we took them with us to different missions destinations so that they could see how the teenagers we took on the trips were doing. We always got them involved, even when they were only 4 or 5 years old. Sometimes they would take some of their toys or stuffed animals to give away to the children they met on the trips, while at other times they would say to a child through a translator, “Hey, I brought this doll for you and just wanted to let you know Jesus loves you.” Our children would share things like this as they were giving their toys to the children of the world. Each step of the way—in every trip they took to Africa with me or to India with Katie—it made an impression on them. These indelible memories marked them for life through lessons of how blessed we are in America and how God created us to change the world.

When our kids were 11, they started going on missions trips by themselves. What this really meant was that they were accompanied by trained and refined leaders and with a team of kids their own age. This was an experience that they could have without Mom or Dad hovering over them. Now, this was as big a step of faith for us as it is for the thousands of parents who let their kids go every year on these trips. In fact, it was shocking for us to think that they were going to these nations with other leaders, even though they had been on trips many times with us.

I remember when Hannah first went on a junior missions trip to Costa Rica at age 11. It was amazing to hear her stories afterward. In fact, when she got back from her two-week trip, she sat down in my office for two hours and shared story after story of the miracles that had happened and how the Lord used her to minister to other children. At the end of our conversation, her lips began to quiver and her eyes filled with tears. She exclaimed, “Papa, I just feel like God wants to use me to do something to reach my generation!” With that said, she began to sob uncontrollably.

Even though Hannah grew up surrounded by a ministry and traveled to other countries, there was absolutely nothing I could have said that would have produced that response. It was only when Katie and I let her go minister for herself that God ignited the destiny inside her heart. From that moment on, she realized she was not just here on this earth for fun, but that God had placed her here for a reason. Your kids will experience the same thing when you find opportunities to get them out of the box so that God can ignite the destiny inside them.


Make Friends with Dreamers

I have said this in so many ways, but let me say it again: You can influence who your kid’s friends are. Many parents think, I can’t influence anything my kid does at school. That is not true.

You can influence who your kids’ friends are even when they are at school. First of all, when they are young, plant in their heart the desire to have the right kinds of friends. That does not always mean they are going to choose correctly, so you are going to have to help shape who they call, who they hang out with, who they are allowed to interact with after school, which is where most of the shaping would happen. Most important, if you find kids who are really making a positive difference, find ways to get your kids connected with them. At the very least, do not allow them to have a bunch of slug friends that are so submerged with media and the culture that it rubs off on your kids.

Limit Media Input

The more they watch other people’s media, the more they are part of other people’s dreams. At the most, it can pour bad values into them. At the very least, it preoccupies their mind so that they are not dreaming and thinking, “What can I do in my school?” “What can I do this summer to change the world?” “What should I major in?” “What is my part in helping broken humanity?”

Give Rewards

Establish incentives for good grades, creativeness, demonstrating good character, and so on. Reward your kids with words, money, encouragement, opportunities, going out to do something fun together. If our value system is really about family values, and we really want them to be creative people, then let’s reward the things we know are going to send our kids down that road. Inevitably, too many families reward what is not geared toward making their kids into innovators, shapers and creative people.

Inspire with Stories

I urge you to constantly share stories of historic greats or young people today who have done amazing things to shape our nation. You can read a story quickly during dinner time. A couple of books with examples of young role models are Columbine Courage and The Power of One. These books contain many stories about young people who have stood up for their faith. The Power of One also includes some biblical examples you can use to inspire your kids to be world changers.

Ultimately, your kids are your heritage to the world. Planting seeds in them from a very early age to use their life to change the world is our primary job. As we stay focused on the belief that “My job is to help them dream God’s dream for them and do all I can to equip them to accomplish that dream,” then we will all have children who impact the world much more than we have.


We were enjoying the first day of our one-week Florida getaway as a family. The kids were buzzing with all the fun we were going to have— from going to the beach to visiting Disney World. In the middle of the hotel lobby, I got a phone call from someone inviting me to come to a special meeting with him and the president of the United States, George W. Bush. While I listened to this call, I was looking at my family in the lobby, so excited about what we were planning to do. I told the person that I was in Florida on my family vacation. He said, “But, Ron, this is a two-hour meeting with the president of the United States.” I said, “I know that, but I’m on my vacation with my family.” He repeated his last statement.
After a few minutes of discourse, this very kind gentleman realized that nothing could dissuade me from spending time with my family, even a meeting with the president.

As I listened to what he was saying, I played in my mind the memory my kids would have and the message I would have sent them if I had given in to the desire to go meet with the president. Sure, my family would have forgiven me. Katie would have said, “Sure, honey, you can go.” There may or may not have been another opportunity to meet with the president, but there would never be another opportunity to raise my kids. There would never be another opportunity for this vacation. I had one chance to leave an indelible mark in their mind of the value that I place on them.

When my wife told the kids that I chose to spend time with them over meeting with the president, there is no amount of preaching or saying “I love you” that could possibly compare with the value they felt at that moment.

All of us are busy people. If you have a career, are involved in ministry, or have a desire to succeed in some kind of endeavor, there are always going to be other things to do to keep you away from your kids. You have to make a decision in advance that your spouse and children are more important to you than your career and/or ministry. Period! When you make that decision, many other decisions will fall into place, including where you spend your time and invest your heart. When “opportunities” come up, your priorities are already set. You may think, I’ll get promoted if I make this presentation really good and work over the weekend. But you also know that it’s your son’s first T-Ball game. There will always be another opportunity for promotion, but there will never be another first T-ball game. If you are in ministry, there will be another TV appearance or great church to preach in, but you will never get a chance to raise your kids again.

We need to be careful that our drive to succeed in business and ministry does not justify neglecting or overlooking the precious young ones God has given us to raise.

Be There!

You need to make a decision that there are some things you are just not going to miss:

  • You are not going to miss birthdays.
  • You are not going to miss drama performances.
  • You are not going to miss games. If a child has 30 games in a season, it’s okay to miss a few. But don’t be an absent father or mother.
  • You are not going to miss celebrating your wedding anniversary.

I can think of opportunities that came up at the same time as a family birthday or anniversary. It seemed like this opportunity might never come my way again, but I had already made the decision about what I would not miss for the sake of my family. I don’t even mention most of these opportunities to my family, because it would be easy for them to feel bad (because they don’t want to mess up Dad’s career). And I have tried to avoid promising, “I’ll make it up to you later.” There are some things you just can’t make up. You send a bigger statement by just making sure that you are there for your family.

You don’t have to be a perfect parent. If you are just there and have a real relationship with your kids, it makes up for a lot of things that may not be so perfect. There will always be another big break, another deal to make, another promotion to go for; but you have only one chance to raise your kids. They will remember where you spent your time. They will remember if you sacrificed for your family.

But I Meant to Be There . . .

Famous words from a parent with good intentions: “I meant to be at your ballgame . . . I meant to be at your recital . . . I meant to be at your parent-teacher conference . . .” Are these words supposed to comfort the young person who sees every other parent but theirs at an event?

We easily say the words, “I really wanted to be there.” Think about that for a second. Did you REALLY want to be there? Whatever we really want to do, we do. When we tell our kids that we wanted to be there but could not make it, we are telling them we wanted to be somewhere else more, and that is why we were somewhere else. In a kid’s mind, all he is thinking is that if you really wanted to be there, you would have been there.

There are only a few situations when absence from a child’s event is unavoidable, when not being there is because of an emergency. When we say, “I really wanted to be there, but . . .” we are sending a message that we didn’t want to be there as much as we wanted our career or our

Decide in Advance

Make the decision in advance that you are going to give top priority to your spouse and your children. Does that mean there can’t be some massaging of this rule? Of course not; but I hesitate to even say that. Many families live from one compromise to another. They make a rule or decision and then they violate it repeatedly for the rest of their life.

If you make the decision in advance, missing out on an opportunity that comes your way is not such a hard thing to stomach. I did not get a chance to meet with President Bush, but I did get a chance to meet with my family. I lived according to my values. My kids love me, and I love them. I have decided what type of marriage and family I want, and everything else will have to revolve around that. I made the decision to not cheat my family long before I got the call to meet with the president.

We have always had a weekly family day or family date. Flexibility comes into play if for some reason I have to travel during our regular time together. Then we find another family time that week. If I work an extra day during my regular day off, I find another day to “give back” to the family. Katie does not have to beg me, or even ask. I just plan it into my life. I have tried to live so that my kids would never say, “But, Dad, you are never here,” even though I travel every week all over the country.

In fact, I would say that as my kids grew up, I actually spent more time with them than many fathers who never travel out of town. At the end of the day, when your kids are teenagers, and they still give you great big hugs, you realize it was no sacrifice at all.

Coming Home from Work

It’s so important that when you come home, you come home both physically and mentally. Many people come home from work so exhausted physically that they are not any good to their family. Their mind is still at work. They are sitting there with the kids thinking about what they are going to do the next day. Maybe they turn the TV on and get engaged in their favorite program and call that spending time with family.

When you go to work, you put your game face on. You work hard. When you get home from work, it’s the second half of your workday; it’s not over. It’s over when the kids are in bed. Your wife may have been working hard all day. Now is the time for the family work of being a parent. You focus and mentally engage. Turn off work; leave it in your briefcase. Don’t check your email. Engage with your kids. Roll around the floor. Laugh with them. Play with them. Do stupid things with them.

I remember when my kids were smaller—and even now that they are older—that I would tickle them, play with them, laugh with them, wrestle with them and listen to them. Closing my eyes at the end of an intense day and listening to their giggles and laughter as I tickled them on the floor would be like a waterfall over my soul just soothing away all the intensity of the day. It created balance in my life.

Your life is not all about your job. It is not all about your ministry. But it is all about the different dimensions that God has allowed you to participate in. If you have children, that is one dimension. There is something about a child’s laughter, and comforting them when they are hurting, and listening to their little hearts that brings wholesomeness to you as an adult.

You know that if you don’t go to work with your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired. It’s the same at home. If you don’t come home and put your game face on and give your very best, you are in danger of being fired by your kids. They will fire you from being the one they share their heart with. They will fire you from being the one they cuddle up to. They will fire you from being the one they trust with all their heart. I would rather be fired from my job than fired from my family.

The Gift of Family

It’s easy to think, If I put my family first, I am getting further behind; I have a list of things to do at my job (or ministry) that takes 24/7 to do. It really is a fallacy to think that way. In order to do your very best at your job or ministry, you need to be whole. You need to be strong. You need to have a whole family, whole children and a whole relationship with your spouse. By listening to them, disciplining, instructing, talking, running, being frustrated—just being present with them, you become a better person. When you go back to your office, you are not just a driven machine executing details; you are equipped to relate better to the people you are managing and deal with the frustrations they have at home.

It’s one-dimensional living to only go after your career or ministry. We often think that if we stay focused on that one dimension, we will be successful. If you are married, having a wholesome marriage will make you more successful than just being driven by your career. If you have children, being focused on your marriage and your children brings wholesomeness to your life so that when you put your game face on for work, you really are at 100 percent capacity rather than barely surviving from day to day.

Marrying Katie has truly saved my life. In order to have a balanced, wholesome marriage, I have learned that I’ve got to listen to her. I’ve learned how to say to myself, It’s time to shut work off and focus on her. When we decided to have children, we committed to spending the right amount of time with them. Family life has actually preserved my life and increased my chances of living a longer life because of the wholesomeness found in a relationship with my wife and children.

Don’t miss out on the experience of having your kids share something that enlightens you, or even rebukes you. They may show you a part of your personality that needs work. They will definitely give you joy. God brings our children into our life to make us the whole people we need to be to be effective in the world, period.

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