Fighting Temptation or Fighting God?

When you’re spacing out in class… what do you think about? When you’re laying awake at night and can’t sleep, what are consumes your dreams: video games, music, your friends, a “friend,” good grades, sports, achievements, or some other fantasy?

Those dreams and desires say a lot about who we are and what we desire.

Mark Twain said, “A human being has a natural desire for more than what he needs.” Whether it’s money, food, pleasure, whatever… we want as much of something as we can get.

But when good things becomes obsessions, they begin to control us. They become obsessions. We can even become prisoners to our own desires. We need to learn to say “No!” to ourselves, keeping good desires within healthy boundaries while refusing to entertain our bad desires which can cause us harm.

The Fireplace
If sex is like fire, then marriage is the fireplace. When fire leaves the boundaries of the fireplace, don’t be surprised if you get burned. See other posts from this conversation: Sex, Intimacy, & Healthy Boundaries, and  Secret Struggles & Building an Army (because no one needs to struggle alone). 

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Honoring God by Honoring Your Parents

The word “Honor” literally means “to make heavy.” When my kids are stressing me out and I drown my stress in ice cream, I somehow don’t think this is what the Bible had in mind by being honored by my kids. What does it mean to honor your parents? This post serves as a general summary of the fifth commandment.

Cardboard figures of the family on opened book

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Special Offer for Two EBC Families: Circle

I want to present a special offer to the first two EBC families who contact me for the following free offer. This isn’t a gimmick, and I haven’t been given any incentives for this… I simply want to serve your families and discover if the following device is truly as helpful as it seems to be.

The Challenge: Setting & Maintaining Tech Limits
Technology is everywhere. And with it comes many challenges. Tech Addiction (phones and video games are the biggest culprits) is significantly on the rise and porn is just as accessible through your phone and video gaming system as it is on your computer.

Last month I shared an infographic about teenager’s tech use, revealing that the average teen spends 9 hours using technology each day (this does not include time used for school and homework!). If you’re like most parents of teens, you’re struggling with the question, “How do I help set and maintain healthy limits?”

Meet Circle
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Technology Use by Tweens & Teens

The following infographic has been released by Common Sense Media after tons of research and interviews. Take a look at the info below and then check out a cool new resource for families to “pause” the internet and regain control over their technology.

Media Use by Tweens and Teens Infographic

Meet Circle
Circle is a new device that helps parents regain control over the internet. You can purchase it for $99 and set it up easily (so it seems) so that each member in your family and each of their devices is linked and monitored. Block websites you don’t want people to have access to, set time limits for each person, even set time limits for different apps or types of media (Facebook, Instagram, videos, games, etc.). Check out the video about Circle below.

The Heart, not Technology, is the Answer
Tim Challies is a Christian author who has issued an insightful warning about technology: Do not look to technology as the answer for technology problems. Don’t we do that?! Our tech causes a problem, which we rely on more tech to solve. If we stopped for a second to think about it we’d realize we’re trying to take the easy way out. If your family has a problem, you cannot buy Circle or set up some other internet filter and then wipe your hands, thinking, “Ahh, my duty is done!” Circle (or something like it) can definitely be part of the solution, but please don’t fully rely on it as the answer.

The heart is the solution, and only God can redirect the heart. Faithfully demonstrate to your family that God is your utmost priority in all things, and talk openly about what your family priorities are and why those things matter so much. If other kids’ families have other priorities, don’t be disrespectful towards them, but expect some pushback – “But Jimmy is allowed to play Minecraft whenever he wants.” (I’ve personally heard that one a million times.)

Chances are, your tweens and teens are more tech-savvy than you are. They may be able to find ways to work around whatever filters you set up. Remind them that you’re trying to make it hard for them to break the rules, and encourage them, “When you’re hacking your way through these filters, let that be a reminder to you that you’re trying to sin. Really think about whether or not you’re ok with that.”

Talking About Deflategate With Your Teen

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Well, Deflategate and Tom Brady are all over the news again. And it’s not looking good for TB12.

I’m not interested in accusing or defending Brady, though I definitely have my own opinions about his alleged-guilt and the suspension he received. Instead, I think it’s important to realize this provides a great way for us to talk with teens about some important issues.

Here are some thoughts that may be worth a conversation with your teenager and a few questions to consider discussing together as you chew over the ongoing Deflategate fiasco.

INTEGRITY

  • Integrity means “wholeness.” You are one person, wherever you are. You don’t change from one moment to the next, and you’re not faking it with one group of friends while being someone else around others.
  • Let your integrity defend you. It takes a longtime to build it up, but only a moment to lose it. You generally know whether or not someone has integrity or not. It’s not gained by popularity or public opinion.
  • Integrity comes through a thousand small decisions. We usually pay attention to the big decisions in life, so sometimes they are much easier to get right than the small choices we make when we can think, “No one will notice, this isn’t a big deal at all.” Well, it is a big deal. The small decisions of life will make or break you. Choose integrity in all things.  Continue reading

What Pedro Reminded Me About Parenting

Pedro Martinez was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this week. Congratulations Pedro! As someone who lives in the Boston area, it’s always exciting when one of “our guys” makes it into any HOF, but Pedro is especially loved around here.

While I was listening to his speech over sports radio (you can watch it here or read it here) Pedro said something that struck me.  Continue reading

One of the Most Important Things a Parent Can Remember

Featured imageA few years ago one of the other pastors at church gave me a short book called, “How to Really Love your Teenager” by D. Ross Campbell. Honestly, I didn’t love the book as a whole, but there is one thing from the book that has really impacted me (and that alone make the book easily worth the recommendation!). Campbell talks about the many teenagers he has seen for counseling and drives the point home that there is a difference between knowing that you are loved and feeling loved.

Parents, our kids need to know they are loved. But if they only know that as a fact it isn’t enough. Our kids need to feel loved too.

Anyone who knows me personally  knows that I’m not much of a feeler. This does not come naturally to me. But I am committed that my kids feel loved. You may be tempted to say, “Mike, your kids are young. Just wait until they’re teenagers!” It will get more difficult as they become teens, I know that… but it’s never easy. The sooner you start, the better. The later you start nurturing your kids feelings, the harder it will become.

I think this issue boils down to two things: love and trust.

When we get to the root of it all, I suspect that these two issues are simply two sides of the same question: “Are you for me?”

This might sound like a ridiculous question until we consider our sinful nature. We are all naturally prone to living for ourselves and it is a work of the Holy Spirit to truly and genuinely put others first.

As parents, we need to die to ourselves daily, thus providing a faithful example of the call of the gospel to our kids. It is by dying to ourselves that we find our life in Christ, and it is through Christ that we find the love our kids truly need. When we are living in the love of God, our kids (no matter how old or young they are) will be blessed by knowing and feeling loved.

Where Faith & Mental Illness Connect

How Should Churches Respond to Mental Illness
Because of recent events in the news, discussions of mental illness (depression, in particular) are beginning to take place.  CNN ran an article by Ed Stetzer entitled “How Churches Can Respond to Mental Illness.”  It’s a great read and very important.  His advice in the article should be obvious, but I know that I’ve overlooked his counsel more often than I should.

Stetzer says churches need to:

  1. Stop hiding mental illnesses.
  2. Be a safe place for those who struggle.
  3. Don’t be afraid of medicine.
  4. End the shame.

Don’t Ignore Teen Depression
I wrote a post a few years ago about Teen Depression: how to spot it and how it’s different from depression in adults.  It’s a post I really think would be worth rereading, I know I’ve needed to refer back to it quite a number of times since writing it!

How Do Faith & Mental Illness Connect?
I don’t usually read comments on CNN’s Belief articles, it’s just too frustrating.  But I read some of the comments the other day and a few people seemed genuinely confused about how Christians understand mental illness (like depression and anxiety).  Here’s my short explanation:

Understanding mental illness comes back to understanding Creation and the Fall.  God made us, and He made us whole and perfect.  In God’s sovereignty, He allowed us to sin (this is often referred to as “the Fall“), and because sin has now entered God’s perfect Creation there is brokenness and corruption.  This is how Christian theology understands natural disasters, handicaps of all kinds, diseases, mental illness, and all other kinds of corruptions in our world and in human nature (this is also also where Christian theology could account for the “born this way” argument for homosexuality, but I’d rather not get into that today).

We still bear the Image of God, but it’s broken and corrupted.  Some people are born with a disposition to fits of anger and violence, some with a propensity to sexual sin, others are naturally proud and arrogant… others are born prone to depression and anxiety.  Because someone is “born this way” (in the broad sense, not in the way this phrase has been used as a justification for homosexuality), that doesn’t mean it’s right or good or whole.  We all want to be whole people… but we’re all broken in our own different ways.

Faith Doesn’t Remove All Struggle
God is faithful.  He is making us new.  That doesn’t mean if you pray enough you won’t struggle with depression anymore.  I hope that’s obvious.  It’s not always a matter of “having too little faith.”  Depression isn’t something I personally struggle with, so when I feel depressed it might be because I haven’t been seeking God enough.  But for someone who really struggles with depression or anxiety or any number of other mental illnesses, prayerfulness and spiritual discipline WILL help, but it will not remove the struggle completely.

Faith simply doesn’t remove all our struggles.  Through faith, God gives us strength in the midst of our struggles.  Battles are serious and dangerous, and it’s both unhelpful and unfaithful to simply say “Let go and let God.”  The effects of sin and the Fall are greater and more complicated than that.  God gives us strength, but that doesn’t mean

Helping Struggling Christians
There are no easy answers.  I hope I’ve made that clear by now.  Here are a few suggestions for Christians who struggle with mental illness (and for the people who care about them):

  1. God knows you completely, and He still chose the cross!  Your deepest and darkest secrets are not hidden from God.  He knows them completely… that is exactly why He sacrificed himself on the cross!  He gave himself to reverse the punishment, the brokenness, and the death that resulted from our sin.  He came to restore creation… and that includes you!  
  2. Because God knows you completely, you don’t need to hide in shame.  Don’t air your dirty laundry to everyone, that’s not going to be helpful.  Get connected in a local church and find a few Christian men or women (who are the same gender as you) who will pray for you and check in on you.
  3. Battle depression & anxiety by caring for others.  But don’t let your friendships be all about you, otherwise you’re still focusing on your issues in ways that only feed them.  I know that sounds easy for me to say, and these struggles you face seem completely overwhelming.  Again, I’m not saying you should hide your struggles.  But make sure you’re listening to your friends and caring for them in their struggles too.  Just because their struggles are different and maybe not as overwhelming as yours, that doesn’t mean their struggles don’t matter.  When you serve, God begins to make your heart more like his.  That’s always a good thing.
  4. Walk in hope, because you know God’s promise.  The journey will be long, and there will be dark days when you may consider ending it all.  Don’t.  Cling to God’s promise that He is with you and He hears you and He cares for you.  God does have a purpose for you, and He will work it out… even when you don’t see it at all.  Remember what faith is: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
  5. Joyfully receive professional help.  Find a good Christian counselor.  Take your medication.  Write in a journal.  If you wouldn’t reject a lifejacket when your drowning, why reject medicine when you’re battling significant and prolonged mental illness?   God has given us mental health professionals and medicine – you don’t need to be ashamed to joyfully receive their help.  Don’t run to medicine as your savior, that’s Christ’s role for you… but don’t reject what He has made available to help in your time of need.

Porn Addiction & Teenagers

ABC recently ran a great but scary piece on porn addiction among teenagers.  According to a psychologist who was interviewed, we’re just at the beginning of a pornography epidemic – it will get worse in the next few years.  You can view the ABC’s Nightline report here: “Generation XXX: Teens Addicted to Porn?

As technology advances, access to porn will become easier and easier while avoiding porn will become increasingly difficult.  Technology isn’t the enemy, per se, but its the conduit through which the porn is so easily delivered to stoke our sinful desires.  If your son/daughter doesn’t have any restrictions on their use of technology (TV viewing, Internet usage, Internet filters, Cell Phone & Smartphones, etc.), I want to encourage you to check out a post I wrote last year: Setting Media Guidelines for your Teenager.

Walt Mueller at the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding has done significant work and has created the “Digital Kids Initiate.”  This is an effort to help parents and youth workers understand the digital world teens live so that we could discerningly affirm what we can while correcting what is dangerous.  As part of the Digital Kids Initiative, Walt has provided two noteworthy resources:

  1.  Info Sheet on Children & Pornography
  2. Parents’ Primer on Internet Pornography.

Here are some nuggets taken from the above resources:

  • 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to Internet pornography before the age of 18.
  • The average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is 11.
  • 30,000 Internet users were accessing pornography every second.sdf
  • There were 4.2 million pornographic websites. That equals 12% of all Internet sites.
  • 70% of boys have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 35% of boys have done this on more than ten occasions.
  • 23% of girls have spent more than 30 consecutive minutes looking at online pornography on at least one occasion. 14% have done this on more than one occasion.
  • The 12-17 year-old age group is the largest consumer of Internet pornography.
  • Only 3% of boys and 17% of girls have never seen Internet pornography.
  • One poll indicates that 50% of evangelical Christian men and 20% of evangelical Christian women are addicted to pornography.

If you haven’t talked to your teenager about pornography, chances are… you’re already behind!  Talk to your kids about porn – yes, it’s uncomfortable and awkward for everyone, but you’re not doing anyone any favors by only talking about things that are easy to discuss!  Take the initiative, and don’t just have “the talk” once and then never again, make it a conversation instead.

What should you do if your son/daughter has been looking at porn?  Here are Walt’s suggestions (as found on the info sheet linked to above):

  1. Control your anger.
  2. Go after their heart, not their behavior.
  3. Keep a discussion going about biblical sexuality.
  4. Examine your own heart. Are you living God’s design for your own sexuality?
  5. Block the doors. Take steps to restrict access and choices, while engaging them in ongoing accountability.
  6. Don’t let up or give up. Shepherd them forward in their spiritual lives with the goal of heart change.
  7. Evaluate whether or not outside counseling is necessary or beneficial.

The Gospel is the Heart of Discipline

I’ve read a lot of parenting this books this year… my estimate is at least 12 in the last 12 months.  (I’m not that insecure in my parenting, they’re “research” for my D.Min. thesis – but they’ve been VERY helpful personally as I have a 4 year old and a 1 year old at home.)  Gospel-Powered Parenting by William Farley is easily the best parenting book I’ve come across so far (with the possible tie of “Age of Opportunity” by Paul David Tripp, but Tripp’s book is focused on parenting teenagers so while it’s more directly applicable to my studies it’s not as personally applicable… yet!).

Here’s the latest nugget I’ve been chewing on today:

The gospel should be at the heart of all attempts to discipline children.  The gospel affects discipline in two ways.  First, it motivates our discipline.  Second, communicating the gospel become the end of effective Christian discipline.

Effective discipline requires great resolve and perseverance.  No parent is equal to the task.  Some children require five spankings in a lifetime, others five every morning.

… Understanding the gospel and its implications for disciplining our children fortified Judy and me through these trials.  It helped in several ways:

  • The gospel convinced us that indwelling sin was our children’s problem.
  • The gospel convinced us that authority is a crucial parental issue.
  • The gospel instructed us to pursue our children’s hearts rather than their behavior.
  • The gospel motivated us to use discipline to preach the gospel to our children.
  • The gospel motivated us to fear God.
  • The gospel helped Judy and me to grow in humility and sincerity.