I'm blessed to be a part of a great group of men at the church I serve. Each and every week we meet together for the purpose of fellowship, studying God’s Word, and prayer. God has been good to us ever since we first started meeting back in 2001.
My hope and prayer when I first started the men’s ministry was the men of our church would come to know Christ better and to have their minds renewed, their hearts renovated, and their lives transformed… in every sphere of their lives. That means personally, at home with their families, at work, at church, in the community, everywhere. Again, God has been good and I have seen firsthand how this has happened and continues to do so.
I believe one of the best ways we, as Christian men, can extend God’s Kingdom and impact our culture for Christ is by influencing men before they’re men. I think the time to begin discipling, encouraging, and developing Christian men is when they’re still boys. Wouldn’t it be great if generation after generation of boys grew up in our churches where being discipled by their fathers and other godly men was commonplace? What might God do in and through the lives of such boys when they become men?
One of the topics I’m committed to writing about on this blog is shepherding (i.e., loving, caring for, encouraging, leading, discipling, developing, etc.) our sons to become men of God. As a father of three sons I must confess I’m still learning. I still fall flat on my face as a dad. However, it’s my deepest desire for my own sons to become godly boys, then godly young men, and then, one day, godly men who are raising their own sons or daughters to know the Lord Jesus Christ and to live for him in every sphere of life. What could be better?
Grace and Truth,
"Leave me not, O gracious Presence, in such hours as I may today devote to the reading of books. Guide my mind to choose the right books and, having chosen them, to read them in the right way. When I read for profit, grant that all I read may lead me nearer to Thyself. When I read for recreation, grant that what I read may not lead me away from Thee. Let all my reading so refresh my mind that I may the more eagerly seek after whatsoever things are pure and fair and true.” John Baillie
Over the years Suzanne and I have been asked what we are reading to our children. In truth, that happened more when the kids were younger. Now our children read books I can't pronounce. At any rate, I thought I would take this time to share a little with you about what our reading time with the kids used to look like when they were younger.
I started reading to Natalie (who will be 19 in two months) when she was around two. (All the years are beginning to run together. After the requisite children’s books we all read to our children (Little Engine That Could sort of stuff), we embarked on chapter books when she was around three or four. We started reading the Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner. The first book of the series, which is entitled, The Boxcar Children, was first published in 1942. I much prefer reading older books to the children because they are not so saturated in contemporary popular slang. And really, our kids are going to be knee-deep in that stuff sooner than we want, so what’s the rush?
After reading a good number from that series, we started reading The Chronicles of Narnia. Dylan, who was then around three or four, began to join us for these great stories. Now, to be sure, he did not pick up on every little nuance (nor do most adults for that matter), and sometimes he tuned out or even fell asleep, but quite often he tracked along with the story just fine (doing better as he got older). Of course, a quick review at the conclusion of each chapter was essential. It was a way for Dylan, Natalie, and Daddy to discuss what happened in that chapter as well as to talk about the important themes we found there.
For Christmas 2004, Suzanne and the kids gave me a gift of about 11 or 12 Lamplighter children’s books (which I loved as much as the children, by the way). These books were written in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. They are gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, character-building, interesting, exciting, and uplifting stories that have been a hit around our home for both the kids and the parents. There are many, many more to purchase (they are continually finding old books to republish).
At some point during the middle of reading through the Lamplighter series, we took time out to read John Bunyan’s classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress (in modern English). I must say even with the updated English, it was tough terrain. It was hard work to keep the kids tracking with the story. The review after, (and sometimes during), each chapter was absolutely vital for this book. However, it was a huge hit and Natalie recently said it was her favorite book we read. It took us quite a while to complete, but we persevered and it was worth it.
After The Pilgrim’s Progress, we returned to our Lamplighter series. Let me add that these books appeal to both boys and girls alike (If you visit their website you will notice their catalog lists books for younger boys, older boys, younger girls, older girls, etc.). We’ve taken the time to go back and forth between them, and regardless of whether the main character is a boy or girl – the kids still love the stories. Another reason I love this series – (for that matter, all the books we have read which were written decades, even centuries ago) – is not just because they aren’t inundated with contemporary slang. It has more to do with the fact the vocabulary is so rich. These books were written in a more literate culture and there’s not so much lowering of standards as there is trying to lift the standards of the reader. Definitely a plus.
One of my, “I wonder if that was a good idea” books, was Robin Hood. I thought it would be a good swashbuckling, adventurous story. And, in many ways it was. But it doesn’t flow terribly well and we ended up reading chapters from it sporadically.
I miss reading to my children as I used to do when I first wrote this post. They have gotten older. My third grader still loves it, so I'm happy about that. I hope one day I'll be a grandfather so I can start this whole process over again.
Why read to your children? NBC use to show a public service announcement on reading to your children at least 10 times a week. And, what they say is true… it is a great bonding time. Reading together has meant all the world to our family. But Suzanne and I also have these reasons as well…
1.) First and foremost we want to impart a biblical worldview to the hearts, minds, and souls of our children. As parents we have a commandment from God to disciple our children for Christ and this is a fun and effective way to do it. We want to help prepare them to face the world once they leave our care.
2.) We want to pass on a love of reading to our children. I didn’t get excited about reading until much later in my life, and I want to do everything I can (that’s humanly possible) to ignite a fire in my children to love reading as early as possible.
3.) We want to help give our children an eye toward discerning the differences in literature – between the bad, the good, and the best.
4.) We want to magnify their imaginations, creativity, and ability to think. TV is such a passive activity. Reading requires more work…and produces more fruit.
5.) It's just plain FUN!!!
Basically, we are charged with providing a covenant home and raising covenant children. Deuteronomy 6 exhorts covenant parents to raise their children in the faith all throughout the day – when the children rise, as they move throughout the day, as they prepare for bed in the evening. Nurturing your children in the faith doesn’t have to be drudgery. Reading is a wonderful way to show your children how our Christian faith plays out (or should play out) in the real world…even in the context of imagination.
Grace and Truth,
I've written a great deal over the years on the subject of fatherhood. It is certainly near and dear to my heart. I guess I care so much about it because, not only am I a father, but I also recognize the significance fathers play in the larger picture of our culture... and indeed, civilization itself.
There are a good number of articles on the topic of fatherhood I think are worth passing along. I found the ones compiled in the list below several years ago. While you may not agree with every jot and tittle they are all worthy of reading and thinking more deeply about.
How a Dad's Involvement Can Change His Children's Future by Rachel Sheffield
Father's Day: Taking Dad Seriously b Rachel Sheffield
Finding Dad at tothesource
Fatherhood's Call to Duty by Ravi Zacharias
Confessions of a Bad Dad by Peter Chin
Seven Lessons I Learned from My Dad by Pat Morley
The Good Old Way by Andrew Sandlin
25 Facts on the Importance of Fathers by Joe Carter
Seven Contrasts Between Fathers and Teachers by Joseph Mattera
Fathers: The Key to Their Children's Faith by Michael Craven
Fatherhood: Man's Highest Calling by Kenny Luck
No Matter How Difficult, Resolve to Honor Your Father by Neil Kennedy
A few years ago, our church’s men’s discipleship groups studied a video curriculum by Gary Thomas called, Sacred Marriage. It is a series for both husbands and wives but I thought it would be useful to study with just the men. It was fantastic. The study is based on the book by the same name. I have recently begun reading the book and, like the video series, it’s great.
One of the things that struck me as I watched the video, discussed it with our men, and have now been reminded of as I read through the book, is how Thomas focuses on the foundation of (you could say, the theology of) marriage and what God’s ultimate purpose is in marriage. The book is not, as he puts it, a three, seven, or ten-step program for a better, happier marriage. Instead, he does some of the hard work of looking at God’s real purpose of marriage… which is to make us holy… not necessarily happy. That’s a hard message to sell… especially in the era of romantic comedies and the Hallmark and Lifetime television channels.
In the first chapter of the book Thomas puts it this way…
…there’s a deeper question that needs to be addressed beyond how we can “improve” our marriage: What if God didn’t design marriage to be “easier”? What if God had an end in mind that went beyond our happiness, our comfort, and our desire to be infatuated and happy as if the world were a perfect place?
What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?
As Thomas will go on to say in the chapter, holiness and happiness aren’t necessarily contradictory, but a person’s happiness becomes illusory if they think, a.) that it’s the sole purpose of the marriage, and b.) their spouse is the one in whom they will find such ultimate purpose.
The real intention of the book, for Thomas, is to show his readers that marriage, in the same way as abstinence for celibates and isolation for hermits, is a context for spiritual growth. He says marriage can become the means by which we can “grow in our service, obedience, character, pursuit, and love of God.”
If I might put it in Wesleyan terminology, marriage is a means of grace by which we draw closer to God and conform more to the likeness of Christ. That’s not a bad deal.
Grace and Truth,
Below is a brief video interview with Gary Thomas on what the purpose ought to be.
I wrote the following post several years ago. While there are some dated comments (my sons' ages, etc.,) I still deeply embrace what I've written here and believe there's much here to pass along to encourage other parents of sons. It's especially appropriate as my second son will be turning 13 in just a couple of months.
Interestingly, in rereading this post, I have seen where I have faithfully followed through with some of my hopes, dreams and ideas... as well as where I have dropped the ball. Reminding myself once again of this vital privilege and task has rekindled my commitment. My desire has been renewed as I once again, pick myself up by God's grace, and continue this journey of training my sons for godliness.
I hope you will be blessed by some of these ideas and links to resources.
As one who spends a lot of time working with men, the question of what it means to be a man comes to my mind often.
What is a man?
When does a boy become a man?
Questions like these are important to ask and even more important to answer well. And, of course, as a Christian I want to answer those questions biblically.
In about five days my oldest son will turn 13 years old. (I will have two teenagers in the house. I give thanks to God that I have such a wise, godly, mature, and hilarious daughter who has helped my wife and me ease into parenting teenagers.) I know there’s nothing inherently magical about the age of 13, but it does seem like a fitting time for a boy to start thinking about manhood… what it means to be a man. It is also crucial, I think, that he begins to be treated in such a way… greater responsibilities, decision-making opportunities, etc. (all under the careful direction of his parents). Those in the Jewish tradition certainly have found a wonderful way to highlight this time in a boy’s life.
Of course, parents shouldn’t wait until their son turns 13 to begin this process. Hopefully, “manhood training” begins at birth. My wife and I have done our best to talk to our boys, in age-appropriate ways, about what it means to be a godly man. Yet, beginning on our sons’ thirteenth birthdays, there will be greater focus and intentionality on helping our sons navigate this time in their lives. I get to put my money where my mouth is in less than a week.
This is all still a work in progress, however, I have been thinking a great deal about how my oldest son and I might spend our time together. (There are some helpful books on raising sons and guiding them as they move their way toward becoming godly young men. I’ll mention them at the end of this post.) Robert Lewis of Men’s Fraternity wrote an outstanding book entitled, Raising A Modern-Day Knight. In that book he makes much of the idea of marking vital times in your sons’ lives with various kinds of ceremony. For the age of 13 he suggests taking your son out to dinner (spend some money on it… not fast food). The purpose of this meal is to mark in your son’s heart and mind the reality that he’s moving toward manhood and will be treated accordingly. This time together can be an opportunity to share stories of your own childhood and journey toward manhood. It can also include hopes and dreams and actual plans for how the two of you will spend the next five years together before he turns 18.
My goal is to spend one morning a week intentionally discipling my son, (away from our home), working through the Bible as well as other helpful books on the subject of godly manhood. It will be a time of checking in with him, praying with and for him, seeing how’s he’s doing, focusing on particular issues in his life, etc. But most of all it will be a time for continuing to build and maintain a close relationship with him. Following our time of focused discipling, we’ll go and grab a bite to eat together and just chat about whatever may come to mind.
Beyond this set-apart intentional time of discipleship, my wife and I want to emphasize to our son that he will have greater responsibility in his life, which we hope to follow through with and give him. Yet there will also be greater privileges as well, which we’re still working out. More to come on all of this later. I’m also checking into how he and I might spend more time together away from home… whether it’s traveling together, attending conferences, outdoor activities, or other types of adventures.
My point in sharing all of this is not to show you I’ve got it all figured out. I’m quite certain you’ve realized I don’t. As I said, all of this is in process and I’m sure there will be many failed efforts. My purpose is not to present to you a finished and polished product. Instead, I want to emphasize we must be intentional in pointing our sons to manhood. The world is only too happy to tell your son what it means to be a man. As many others have said well, it’s a dangerous time to be a boy. The culture is certainly not invested in helping your son move in a God-glorifying direction.
A former mentor of mine used to say often that “the world will define you by default; the Word will define you only by discipline.” The same is true with regards to your son becoming a godly man. It will not happen by accident or by wishful thinking. It will come only by grace, faith, prayer, and lots of intentionality (not to mention persevering through it all).
I’ll do my best to check in with you and share updates of how it’s going… what’s working and what’s not. I covet your prayers as I begin this journey with my son. I desire even more that you will pray for him so he will indeed become the godly young man God wants him to be.
Below are a few books I have found helpful… including some I am planning on reading through and discussing with my sons.
Grace and Truth,
There are many other good ones that I’ll include soon. Or, if you know some that have blessed you, please don't hesitate to send them my way. Thanks!
Wonderful one-man play on the life of C.S. Lewis, featuring David Payne.
I just started reading Gene Getz’s book, The Measure of a Man: 20 Attributes of A Godly Man. I immediately thought that this is something I would love to share with the men of our church family. As book after book (as well as human experience) seem to remind us, boys are rapidly growing up in this world without learning what it means to be a man… even fewer understand what it means to be a godly man. Too many are having to make it up on the fly… with disastrous results.
Therefore, I thought I would share some of the insights I’m gleaning from the book and pass them on to you, with a few extra items I hope will be a blessing to you.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3:12)
The first chapter of the book is a broad overview of everything Getz will be looking at throughout the rest of the book. The chapter is entitled, “Becoming Faithful Men.” That’s a key topic as well as an important title. You see, we aren’t born faithful. Just the opposite, in fact. We are born fallen in sin, broken, and far from God. If we’re blessed to be born and raised in a Christian family, we may come to know God earlier in our lives. However, regardless of our background, growing in our faith is a lifelong pursuit. As you can imagine, if our goal is "Christ-likeness,” then we all have a LONG way to go! So I like the word “becoming”, because it highlights the idea of process… not product. We are works in progress (superintended by God himself (Philippians 1:6), and our goal is to continue moving in a Christward direction throughout the course of our entire life.
The word becoming also emphasizes focus and intentionality. No one grows into a godly man by accident. It happens on purpose or it doesn’t happen at all. Philippians 3:12 captures this idea. The Apostle Paul is laboring and straining to reach the goal of maturity in Christ (i.e., godliness or holiness). It’s an everyday and “on purpose” process that requires nothing less than God’s Spirit working in and through us to give us the will, strength, and direction to grow in grace. We won’t grow in our faith apart from the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, and yet, the Holy Spirit won’t do the work for us. We have to participate in the process.
Finally, Getz uses the word “Faithful” to describe the kind of man he has in mind. Then, borrowing from 1 Timothy and Titus, Getz puts together a list of what we might call the marks of spiritually mature (godly) manhood. Here’s his list…
Can anyone read that list and declare they’ve already arrived? Anyone doing perfectly with this list?
Over the weeks to come I hope to look at each one of these headings and offer some thoughts and reflections from Scripture regarding what these characteristics might look like in our lives and how we might, in Paul’s words, “obtain them.”
To close this post, I want to share this prayer from Ken Boa…
Faithful Father, as I reflect on the redemptive history recorded in the narratives and oracles of Scripture, I see so many surprising setbacks and breakthroughs. The wisdom of Your Word invites me to view events and circumstances with a long-term perspective. When I only look at the short-term, I get muddled, confused and doubtful, because I allow my immediate circumstances to shape my understanding. But when I contextualize the events of my life in the long-term, I can see that You are indeed causing all things to work together for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Teach me to affirm that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to Your children in Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,