Today at Gateway Church in Austin, we shared about Stories of a Dad: 3 Things I’ve learned about God while Raising My Kids
Work through the following Scriptures and questions on your own, and get together with your running partner, Life Group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning!
Here is the message from Gateway in South Austin:
Here are the notes from what I shared:
I’d like to share 3 stories that represent 3 things I’ve learned about God by raising my kids.
The Power of Relationships
Throughout the Scriptures, our relationship with God is compared with our relationships with others.
- Our relationship with God can be closer than a brother. “…there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
- God expresses Himself as a friend and as a loving Father.
Jesus said: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15:15
- Even marriage gives us a glimpse at how close God can be to those who want Him to be close. Paul writes: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her….” – Ephesians 5:25
- Jesus’ closest friend John writes:“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” – John 1:12-13
I realize some of us have not had healthy relationships with our brother, our friends, our spouse, or even our father. It is hard to understand what a meaningful relationship with God is like when we cannot understand what a meaningful relationship with anyone is actually like.
But just for a moment: consider the best moments you’ve had with others. Maybe it was dancing with your spouse at your wedding, maybe playing football with your brother as a kid, crying on the shoulder of your closest friend, or a moment you knew your Dad was there for you.
Can you think of at least one moment when you felt a deeper type of closeness with someone else? That best moment with a brother, friend, spouse, or father pales in comparison with the kind of relationship God offers us through Jesus.
God is not far away.
He is with us, but we will only find Him when we draw near to Him.
Here’s a promise from the Scriptures:
“Come near to God and he will come near to you.” – James 4:8
God is seeking us, but too often we are hiding.
Learning #1: Transformation occurs in the context of freedom.
Too often we limit who we think God should love. We are so judgmental! Our culture has become judgmental of people who are judgmental!
No matter where you are in your spiritual journey, you are welcome here!
“Come as you are, but don’t stay that way” at Gateway. Belong before believe at Mosaic.
But what about our kids? Aren’t you concerned they may be influenced in the wrong direction? Do you any of you have children? Then you know, when a baby is born, he or she is born a pagan….
Do you any of you have any children? Did you know that scientists have now proven that babies lie as early as 6 months of age. I think my kids are overachievers.
At 3, asked her if she wanted to be a leader when she grew up. “I’m already a leader.” True. Older brother Caleb watching Sportscenter then cartoons and then hands her the remote! Pray for my son.
At 4, asked her if she wanted to be President of the United States. “Yes, I want to be on the dollar.” Ambitious and vain.
Same summer, Caleb got baptized so asked Trevi if she wanted to follow Jesus. “I already told Jesus I would be his leader.” Not what I was hoping she would say. Pray for my daughter.
My son had trouble with Jesus when he was younger too. One night when he was three I told him it was time to go to sleep which he really did not want to do. So sternly and calmly I said: “Caleb it is time to go to bed, so let’s pray to Jesus.” “No! I pray to Larry Boy!” That concerned me.
In spite of his devotion to a cartoon cucumber superhero, one day we were playing a Larry Boy video game. Caleb was still about 3 or so and didn’t know what to do on the game, so I kept telling him: “Caleb hit the spacebar! Hit the spacebar! When you hit the spacebar Larry Boy shoots his plungers.” He still didn’t seem to get it so I tried to explain: “Caleb, you’re Larry Boy!” Instantly, he stopped playing the game and turned to me with a look of shock and excitement and said: “I’m Larry Boy?!?”
So how should we treat kids who don’t believe?
- Kick them out of the house?
- Stop feeding them?
Of course not! We loved them, served them, and influenced them. We love them enough to have hard conversations when they are needed.
The people around us expect judgment, but they don’t expect forgiveness.
Most of the time, we don’t have to convince people of their sin, but we do have to convince them that they are loved by God.
“God’s kindness leads you toward repentance….”
- Some of the confusion comes in the misunderstanding of the word “Church.”
- The Church is not a building.
- The Church is not a service on Sunday.
- The Church is not an institution.
- The Church is not a religion.
We’ve been tricked and confused. There is also a world religion known as Christianity that often does not represent Jesus well.
- Rather than loving others, religion judges others.
- Rather than inviting others in, religion excludes others who look differently or make different moral choices or believe differently.
- Rather than acknowledging our need for God’s love and forgiveness, religion reeks of hypocrisy and pride.
Instead, the true meaning of the word “Church” literally means “the called out ones.” The Church is the community of people who follow Jesus!
The Church are those who given up their entire lives to follow Jesus. We are set apart from the world by our behavior and sent out into the world to bring new life!
We are wounded healers!
There is a universal church – everyone on the planet who follows Jesus and there are local expressions of the church like Gateway.
If you follow Jesus, you are part of the Church!
“The Church is not here to meet our needs.
We are the Church, and we are here to meet the needs of the world!”
– Erwin McManus
How differently would the world view the Church if we chose to live as we were created to live – loving and serving and meeting the needs of the world around us.
The Church’s mission is to advance Jesus’ invisible kingdom. His invisible Kingdom is advanced through the faith, love, and hope expressed by those who follow Jesus!
We do not advance the Kingdom of Jesus through violence or arguments or protests or posts on Facebook or tweets on twitter.
We advance His Kingdom through a willingness to lay down our lives to love, a willingness to represent Jesus by living godly, holy, and selfless lives.
We do this not so that God will love us. He already does! We do this in response to His love – out of gratitude for His love!
Learning #2: Trust is more important than understanding.
God wants us to look to Him, as our perfect Father, and say… “I don’t understand, but I trust you…”
You see, sometimes our perspective is faulty. We think we know what is best. We think we have all the answers. Our pride keeps us from humbling ourselves and trusting others. Our pride keeps us from fully connecting with others in the way we were designed to connect.
My wife Deborah and I have two amazing kids that are both in high school. When they were both in middle school, everything changed. They began to sleep in. They got ready for bed on their own. They were more and more independent than they were as children. We could even go out on dates and leave them at home on their own. We just asked Caleb to babysit Trevi and then we’d go ask Trevi to babysit Caleb. It worked out great pretty much every time – except for one time in particular.
Deborah and I went to a coffee shop close to downtown and near our house when we got a disturbing phone call. Trevi was quite upset! She was so upset I couldn’t understand what she was saying or what had happened, so I told her to calm down and say it all again. I still couldn’t figure out the problem, so I promised her we were on our way. We drove down South Lamar fearing the worst!
Once we got home, we discovered the problem. Her cell phone screen had shattered. It wasn’t cracked. It was in pieces. Apparently, the kids got into an argument, Caleb pushed Trevi harder than he intended and the cell phone in her back pocket flew out onto the floor and shattered. Literally shattered. I have never seen a screen in so many pieces!
They were both incredibly sorry for what had happened. They were apologizing to each other and to us. Even still, Trevi was really upset. I kept trying to calm her down and explain that her phone was already due for an upgrade. I had been aware of that little fact just in case this very thing happened. I hadn’t told her because she was fine with her current cell phone. She was so upset, she could not be comforted. In fact, she was getting more and more upset with me because I wasn’t getting upset. I could not explain how all was ok. I could not explain how everything was going to be fine!
After several minutes of hugs and attempts to bring comfort and encouragement, I was finally able to explain: I am not upset because you have a free upgrade for your phone.
We loaded up the car to get her a new phone she could use the next day.
All was right in the world!
That night, as I was thinking about the day, a thought from God popped into my mind:
“This is how you are with me.”
I have to admit. That thought was not an encouragement nor was it what I wanted to hear. As I debated with God in my mind on how I am nothing like an 11 year old girl, another thought came to my mind:
“Then why do you struggle to trust me?”
What I discovered in this process was that sometimes I told God what to do rather than asking Him for what He wanted to do in my life and through my life. Our conversations were one way! He couldn’t speak to me because I wouldn’t stop talking (when I finally came around to praying at all).
Just as Trevi was stuck on thinking her cell phone situation was bleak and there was no way out, I treated God the same way. All the things I try to fix and all the ways I want God to work, all along He had something better. I was settling for anxiety and anger of a cracked phone, and He had a free upgrade for me all along. All I had to do was stop and listen.
Because if the chasm of understanding is that great between a 11-year old human and a 40-year old human… how much greater is that chasm between any, finite, human, and an infinite God?
I can still trust God even if I don’t understand what He is doing or what He is allowing to happen.
When I have been stuck spiritually, part of what has helped me grow in my faith at Gateway and in years past has been acknowledging I need to grow.
The closer we grow to God the more we realize how far we have to go to become like Him.
- Are you too proud to ask for help?
- Are you too proud to see areas in which you are stuck?
- Are you too proud to trust God and others so you try to control your circumstances and the people around you?
You see we grow in different areas faster than others. Have you hung out with middle schoolers much?
- Some have size 12 shoes even when they are 5 feet tall.
- Some have their adult teeth even though they still have a baby face.
- You see 4’8” boys dancing with 5’8” girls at the dance.
We may be mature in one area, but we are quite immature in other areas. We may be great at hearing God’s voice, but we still have a lot of work in forgiving others. We may be great at serving people in need, but we still have a lot of work in generosity.
Some of us in this room are not as mature as we think we are. As a result, we are stuck. When we get stuck, we blame others. We blame our life group leader, our ministry leader, our parents, our pastors, or even God.
Humble yourself and ask God to speak to you. Ask Him to give you an open heart to hear His voice and even hear from others who you may have stopped listening to.
Our path towards growth remains humility. Our path towards progress includes choosing to trust God even in the smallest of ways.
Here’s what has helped me get out areas of spiritual adolescents and my real life adolescents:
My parents and my spiritual mentors gave me as much freedom and responsibility as I could handle but they also did not give me all that I wanted. At the same time, they never gave up on me. They willingly had hard conversations with me. They believed in me and because of that, they were willing to love me through discipline.
There are people God has brought into your life that need you to love them enough to have a hard conversation with them.
There are people in your life that are pushing you away to prove you don’t love them. Don’t give up. Listen more closely to them. What is really happening?
We don’t like hard conversations. We don’t like discipline, but God loves us so much that He corrects when we need correcting.
11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in. – Proverbs 3:11-12
When you find yourself stuck or in the midst of a difficult time, ask yourself:
“God, what can I learn from this? How should I respond to this?”
No matter how you got into these difficult circumstances, trust God and stop trying to control others or even control God. Be honest with Him but shift from telling Him what to do to asking Him what you should do.
When you are not sure what to do: just start doing the right thing no matter how small it is.
When we stop doing the right things, our default is to drift away and back into unhealthy patterns.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil. – Proverbs 3:5-7
Because if the chasm of understanding is that great between a 11-year old human and a 40-year old human… how much greater is that chasm between any, finite, human, and an infinite God?
The question is, do I love and trust God? And do I believe that His character is good and he is always for me?
And when it comes to this matter Jesus said these words to those of us who have trusted him:
“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:28-30
Learning #3: God speaks more often than I listen.
As I said earlier, my kids are teenagers so they have their own friends, their own favorite shows, their own schedule, and they don’t come to us as they did as children.
We’ve figured out a bit of a secret. We can get their full attention on holidays. It just so happens to work out that birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, all come in different months for us so last month we figured out how to have a meal all together and even see a movie all together – we went to Alamo Drafthouse to see a movie.
As parents of teenagers, we have learned to be ready for those moments they want to talk or they want to hang out because that isn’t as common as in the past.
Our heavenly Father is just waiting for us to turn to Him – perhaps the way we used to turn to Him or He’s been waiting for us our whole lives.
So often, the idea of hearing from God is associated with people who are mentally ill or people claiming to know the date for the end of the world.
Some of us only turn to Him in crisis.
He is there in those moments.
He is there even in the good moments.
Let’s be honest though, for some of us we live our lives as if there is no God. We may attend a church service once a week, listen to worship music in the car, pray and even read the Scriptures once a day, but we are still just scratching the surface.
God has so much more for us.
I had this realization this week. God is speaking all the time. The problem is I am often not listening. I am like a teenager with headphones on.
We are so much more a product of our environment than we realize. We are so easily influenced by our friends, the films and shows we watch, the news, our teachers, and so on.
God is speaking. Are we listening?
When I talk about hearing God’s voice, I mean the ability to discern the “still small voice,” the “whisper” from the God who created us.
Before you check out or discredit this idea: let me just say God speaks. I have heard His voice – never audibly, but I have had thoughts that aren’t my own. I can tell the difference between my thoughts and God’s thoughts because God’s thoughts challenge me to do something good for others and usually require faith and courage. When you have a thought ask yourself:
- Is this selfless?
- Does this take courage?
- Does it match the character of God as shown in the Scriptures?
If the answer is “yes” to all three then it may very well be God is speaking to you because that is not normally not how we think.
God’s voice is that prompting to say an encouraging word to a co-worker, that prompting to hug someone who seems discouraged, that prompting to give to someone in need, that prompting to call or text someone who comes to mind only to discover your efforts are exactly what they needed at that moment.
During that last meal together, Jesus goes onto explain the very essence of eternal life – the life we all long for and desperately need.
And this is eternal life: that people know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus Christ, the One you sent. – John 17:3
This is so hard to understand if you’ve never experienced this.
I want you to know the God that I know!
- He loves you!
- He is pursuing you!
- Slow down and listen.
- Turn off electronics and listen.
- Look for him in the films you watch, the music you listen to, the conversations you have.
Too often we live as if we are orphans. We have a loving Father who we ignore.
- He’s there to give us advice.
- He’s there to comfort us.
- He’s there to guide us.
- He’s there to gently rebuke us.
- He’s there to celebrate with us!
Statistically, we know that fatherless kids and kids with fathers who do not bless their children have a higher chance of trouble. At the same time, there are great fathers whose children still grow up and make bad decisions. We also know people who grow up without a father or a father’s blessing and end up leading a godly and productive life.
So whether you have received your father’s blessing or you have not received your father’s blessing, I have some great news for you.
You can receive the blessing of your Heavenly Father.
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” – Psalm 68:5
Of all the ways the Lord God Almighty could have chosen to relate to humanity, He chose the language of family. He could have described Himself as a benevolent dictator, a kind boss, or patient landlord. But instead, He chose the word father.
He presents Himself as a Father because we all know what a father is and does. Even if we did not have earthly fathers who treated us well, we have an intrinsic understanding of what a good father should be. God planted that understanding in our hearts. We all have a need to be loved, cherished, protected, and valued. Ideally, an earthly father will meet those needs. But even if he doesn’t, God will. Jesus taught His followers to address God as Father. Throughout Scripture, God describes His love for us as that of a caring parent. Although He possesses characteristics of both father and mother, He chooses the masculine word because it also denotes strength, protection, and provision.
God has a special place in His heart for the orphans and fatherless.
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” – Psalm 27:10
God knows that many times earthly fathers have been absent or have not done their job. He offers to fill the role of a Father. He invites us to call out to Him when we are in trouble, to cast all our worries on Him, and to enjoy His company. He models for us the characteristics He had in mind when He designed fatherhood. Although many times earthly fathers do not live up to the ideal, God promises that, in Him, no one has to be without a perfect Father.
So how can we experience God as our Father?
The idea of God as Father was really introduced by Jesus. The idea of God as our Father is used in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) only 15 times while it is used of God 245 times in the New Testament. As a name of God, “Heavenly Father” stresses God’s loving care, provision, discipline, and the way we are to address God in prayer.
In spite of the fact that God is perfect, and we are far from perfect, He made a way for us to enter into His family. He sent His Son Jesus to rescue humanity. By dying on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself all of the mistakes and wicked choices we have made that keep us at a distance from God. He came across that distance and offers us forgiveness, life, and a new home.
We are spiritual orphans being offered a new family.
And much like an older foster child, we get to choose if we want to be adopted into this new family or stay orphaned.
Maybe deep down, you’ve known you have wounds caused by your father or wounds caused by your mother. It could have been malicious and intentional or purely accidental. It could be that this longing for unconditional love and a promise for the future has been nagging at you for years.
Here’s the bad news: according to R. Matthieson, “9 out of 10 people have a father wound.”
Here’s the good news: today you can discover the fullness of your Heavenly Father’s unconditional love. You can discover the promise He has for your future.
By receiving Jesus’ death on the cross as a gift for you, God becomes our Father.
Galatians 4 says it like this:
“When the right time came, God sent his Son who was born of a woman and lived under the law. God did this so he could buy freedom for those who were under the law and so we could become his children.
Since you are God’s children, God sent the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, and the Spirit cries out, ‘Father.’ So now you are not a slave; you are God’s child, and God will give you the blessing He promised, because you are his child.” – Galatians 4:4-7
If you are here today, and you want God to become your perfect Father: just say “yes” to Him today. Just confess you need Him and you want Him in your life.
Some of us here today have stepped into God’s family, but we still live as if we were orphans. We’ve been blessed by God yet we have rebelled against the promise He has for our future. Today, you can come back to your Father. You don’t have to live estranged any longer. He has never abandoned you and will never abandon you.
Some of us know the remarkable closeness God offers us. He provides. He protects. He comforts. He guides.
I have experienced times in my life without God as my Father. I have experienced the darkness of a life lived while rebelling against my Heavenly Father. I have also experienced the beauty of an intimate relationship with God.
And so it was actually my kids that helped me learn this about God. Not just in the cognitive sense, but with a new understanding within every fiber of my being, that the mystery behind unanswered prayer is, and always has been about… LOVE and TRUST. That I have a powerful Father, greater than all… Who is for me…. Who is holding me in His clutches… Even when I don’t understand or am too foolish to realize it.
You should know that these are just 3 things that I’ve learned about God by raising my kids… there are so many, many more.