Let’s Unplug!

Along with many from our church community, my family and I are about to embark upon a 48 hour unplugged challenge. This challenge is essentially a 2 day fast from electronic entertainment and it originated out of a desire to intentionally encourage, strengthen and support families. Our pastoral team believes that many families are suffering from a lack of genuine connection with each other, and a big part of that is due to the large amount of time the average individual spends watching tv, playing video games or engaging in social media. We have committed as a family to spend the next couple of days intentionally interacting with each other with the aim of strengthening our connection with each other and growing together as a family. As I have been anticipating this challenge, I have formulated some personal goals for this 2 days that I realized might also serve as valid reasons for you to consider “unplugging” your family for a period of time. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. Spend some time in prayer together as a family. I’m talking about some extended (that’s a relative term when we’re talking about 5 kids under 12) time of family prayer where each individual can share their concerns and pray with and for their family.
  2. Read scripture together. There is something powerful about simply reading God’s word out loud together – even without teaching or explanation. I plan to ask the kids to read a favorite portion of scripture and to share some of my own. You could choose to simply read through a shorter book of the Bible together.
  3. Have some substantive conversation. Some of you with teenagers are already skeptical, but I think it is possible to have some genuinely substantive conversations. That will look different for each family, but start with some specific questions that require some thought and don’t feel like they come from a place of judgment or condemnation. Don’t ask questions that necessarily have right or wrong answers. The goal is just to engage in conversation about something more meaningful than sports or weather.
  4. Tell stories. Story telling is becoming a lost art, but it is a tremendous way to develop imagination, speaking and listening skills, memory and creativity. It is also a powerful teaching tool. While I think anything from silly fictional tales to Bible stories can be valuable, I would also encourage you to tell personal stories. My kids love to hear about when I was a kid. You can use story to communicate a lesson while also building a connection.
  5. Of course you can set aside some time to read individually, but our big emphasis this weekend is family togetherness, so I want to do some family reading. This could be reading out loud with younger kids or reading something together with older kids or as a couple.
  6. Find wholesome, interactive forms of entertainment together. Play board games, take walks, put together puzzles – the options are really endless. All it takes is a little creativity. Again, don’t squander the opportunity to do these activities together even if it’s tempting for each person in the family to go occupy themselves. Find something everyone enjoys!
  7. Talk about some practical issues related to the use of electronics in our culture. If there are kids in the home, than there are an abundance of practical issues we should be discussing with our kids in regard to electronics, social media, and the internet. You could talk about anything from good manners (i.e. get off your phone when you’re having a conversation with people) to online safety (i.e. don’t give out personal information on the internet) and a wide variety of topics in between. If you don’t have kids at home, you could still talk about ways that electronics affect you as a family – you may be surprised at how different life is without Facebook or texting!
  8. Work together. You could do chores or even tackle a special project together. Working together can provide a sense of teamwork and accomplishment that we often miss out on by always working individually.
  9. Have a family meeting. Take some time to sit down and talk about your family. This will look different at every stage of life, but can still be incredibly beneficial for everyone. You could discuss goals, evaluate family health, get feedback on parenting, discuss schedules and activities, or even plan some future trip or event. However you use it, a family meeting can go a long way to developing a sense of togetherness and unity within a family.
  10. Enjoy each other! Finally, have fun! Don’t make this a miserable experience. Remember that the point of the challenge is to remove distractions so that we can reconnect as a family. Whatever you do, enjoy it!

Of course, every one of these goals could be accomplished to some degree without “unplugging,” but most of us don’t practice many of these activities on a regular basis because we feel we don’t have enough time. Well, without tv and other electronics you will find yourself with a lot more time on your hands to devote to these (and other!) family building activities. I challenge you to “unplug” from electronics for a little while and instead invest that time in your family. I promise you won’t regret it!


Game 7 by My Numbers


Even the most disinterested of individuals is probably aware by now of some of the numbers involved in last night’s World Series Game 7. Numbers like 108 years since the Cubs last won the World Series or 174 years combined since either team had won it all. 37 years since a team had come back from a 3-1 series deficit to win. First ever leadoff homerun in a World Series game 7. 2 curses that Theo Epstein has erased. It truly was a terrific game and all the talk of numbers made me think of the numbers involved in my own personal World Series experience. So here is game 7 of the 2016 World Series by my numbers:

0 – Baseball games prior to game 7 I had watched in their entirety this season. Also, the number of times any of my children had ever shown any interest in watching a baseball game with me.

3 – The generations watching the game together around my little laptop at the kitchen table. It was fun having my Dad here for the experience.

1 – Of my children who stayed up until 1:00am watching baseball. What an awesome experience for me and my 9 year old! (Also the number of children who whined incessantly until almost the same hour because she couldn’t stay up with her brother. Also the number of children who could care less that baseball or any sport was being played and just wanted to read his book.)

4 – Innings gone by when I chose to tell my son about the curse of the billy goat. With the Cubs up 3-1 it seemed as if they had a reasonable shot at breaking that curse and I wanted him to understand the enormity of what was about to happen.

2 – The number of times I told my son during the 5th inning that he would probably have to go to bed when it was over.

5.5 – Innings passed when my son decided he felt sorry for the Indians who were down 5-1 and wanted them to win.

2 – The number of runs the Indians scored in the bottom of the 5th that had my son mocking me with goat noises.

4ish – How many times I changed my mind about sending my son to bed before the game was over.

17 (give or take) – Warnings to my son that he had better be on his best behavior the next day or he and I would both be in big trouble for him staying up so late.

3 – The number of times that I have since explained to my wife the value of a 9 year old staying up all night to make once-in-a-lifetime memories with his dad and grandpa.

1 – Great big hug I received from my son along with expressions of gratitude for letting him stay up.

0 – Regrets for the late night of baseball watching with my family.

Though I watch far less sports than I used to and have hopefully matured a bit in the way I prioritize them, I still think that moments like last night can provide a unique opportunity to bond. As parents we have a massive responsibility in the raising of our children and if we aren’t careful we can become so focused on the seriousness of this responsibility that we miss out on moments to simply enjoy our kids and let them enjoy us. We should make sure to make time for constructive and meaningful fun together with our children. These opportunities can provide a foundation upon which future opportunities for instruction and character development can be built. If you don’t believe me, just consider the numbers!

What Are You Looking At?

5kidsComedian Jim Gaffigan says, “You know what it’s like having five kids? Imagine you’re drowning. And someone hands you a baby.” Today I brought home my own 5th child and I’m sure that those moments where I feel like I’m drowning will come. But today? Today I feel nothing but joy as I consider the many blessings that God has given to me. Five healthy kids, four of whom already show interest in following Jesus. An amazing wife that does an incredible job taking care of all of us. Wonderful friends who have sacrificed to be a blessing and help to us and a church family that truly cares about living out the love of Jesus in their lives. I have a job I love, a comfortable house to come home to and more than I need in terms of stuff. I am truly a blessed man.

Despite all the blessings in my life, I can be tempted to look past the blessings and see only the negative. Even during such a special weekend as this one has been it would be easy to focus on the sleepless nights, the hard chairs, bad hospital food and the stress of finding people to watch our kids. Isn’t it amazing how we can do that? Despite tremendous blessings, all we see are the problems. Sometimes all I see are the messes my kids make and the things they break. It’s easy to focus on the bills that have to be paid, the projects yet undone and the things I think I need to buy or do.

When this is what I see, the joy and gratitude give way to stress and frustration. This undoubtedly has an affect not only on me, but on those around me. The longer I focus on the difficulties, the more critical, negative, and stressed out I become. Before long, my personal attitude begins working against the blessings I do have as relationships deteriorate and consequences take effect. The saddest thing about this process is that it is nothing more than the consequence of a simple choice.

I’m not saying that you can choose the difficulties of life any more than you can choose the blessings. The reality is that much of life is simply beyond our control. However, what is within your control is the perspective you will have. Consider the instruction of the Apostle Paul – “Rejoice in the Lord always… (Philippians 4:4).” You can choose to focus on the negatives and difficulties of your life or you can focus on all of the blessings God has given you. Even in the most difficult of circumstances you can turn your eyes to Jesus and rejoice in Him. I urge you to take a moment to evaluate your life and consider this question: What are you looking at? May you find great joy and peace as you look at Jesus and all the blessings he has placed in your life.

Save Lexi


“Save Lexi” has been the mantra since sometime Monday afternoon when my internet and social media feeds became inundated with reports of little Lexi being removed from the home of foster parents Rusty and Summer Page. This type of incident is obviously controversial and emotions on both sides of the issue are running high. I, along with many others, was initially filled with disbelief and anger as I heard reports of a distraught little girl being ripped from her family. However, as I have spent time reading and investigating the facts over the past few days I have come to some conclusions that I think we should all consider as we react to this story. In no particular order, allow me to offer the following items as food for thought:

  • We don’t know all the facts. The ease of access to abundant information through social media, blogs and online news sites provides an illusion of closeness to the incident. We come to feel as if we know the parties involved and that we truly know all the facts necessary to form an opinion. The truth, however, is that most of us in the general public do not really know enough to form the kind of adamant and emotional opinions that I see all over social media. In this case, the “facts” presented by the foster family and by the representatives of her native American tribe seem to be irreconcilable. They each make an excellent case based on stated facts that seem contradictory. Most of us will never know exactly what the facts are and we should therefore be cautious about formulating a specific opinion, especially one we are willing to fight over.
  • The situation is sad. Regardless of who is right and who is wrong, it is right to be sad for this little girl and for all of those who are and have been a part of her life. Whether or not she should be kept in the foster home, we should be sad for those who have grown close to her and cared for her and have now lost her. Regardless of whether or not she is returned to blood relatives, we should feel sad for a little girl who has spent much of her childhood separated from those that should have been there to care for her. Everything about this unfortunate situation is sad and we don’t have to turn anyone into a monster to feel sympathy for those who are involved.
  • Children don’t always know what is best for themselves. One argument being presented as evidence that this little girl should be left in foster care is that she wants to be there and screamed and cried when she was taken away. While that certainly tugs on the heartstrings, it is far from proof that she should be left in that home. Consequently, I have seen the same response from my own children upon being removed from Chuck E. Cheese or being told to go to bed. Children don’t always know what is best and it is unhelpful to manipulate their emotions for our own purposes.
  • Native Americans have a right to be suspicious of government. Unfortunately, history tells a story of American government repeatedly lying to and taking advantage of Native Americans to the benefit of government and the detriment of native individuals. I have absolutely no idea whether this plays into the facts of this case or not, but it is certainly worth mentioning that historically our American government has not done so well in looking after native American children. As we support Lexi and feel sadness for her foster family, we must be careful not to diminish the efforts of Native American tribes and organizations to preserve a heritage and culture that has historically been neglected and even attacked. Even if you believe they may have gotten it wrong in this particular case, do not ignore the fact that this and many other minority groups in our nation are at great risk.
  • Government intervention in the family is a necessary evil. I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with either of those words (necessary or evil), but I think they best represent what I want to communicate. On the surface, I balk at the idea that the government has any say in what is best for a child. When I see “the state” place or remove a child, it generally frustrates me. I believe that God has ordained the family to care for children and for the church to assist the family in that endeavor. In ideal circumstances, that system works just fine. However, there are unfortunate situations where there seems to be no viable, healthy alternative to the government being involved in determining the child’s welfare. After all, God also ordained government to administer justice and in an ideal world, we would all trust the government to do what is right and only intervene when necessary. But that is where the evil comes in, I think. We are afraid (justifiably so in some cases) that the government will intervene in situations where it is unnecessary and therefore usurp parental authority. We must defend the rights of families, fight for the welfare of children and encourage and support family friendly policies and officials in our government.
  • This is indicative of a larger problem. As I have said repeatedly in this article, I do not pretend to have enough information to know what is best for Lexi. However, I feel sad for her and pray for her and trust that God will somehow use this difficult situation to expose and begin to solve a larger problem. What exactly is that larger problem? It is this: the American family as a social entity is broken. I know that there are good and healthy families out there, but overall it is apparent that the family unit is under attack and is largely broken. According to one report, it seems that something less than half of all children in our country live in a traditional family (two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage.) Over 40% of children are born outside of marriage and almost 35% of children live with a single parent. I know that there are many good people that find themselves in these situations, but it is certainly not the ideal for a child. In any case, these numbers should help us see that situations like Lexi’s are going to become the norm if we do not begin to support and defend the family.

However you feel about Lexi’s situation, you likely feel the way you do because you feel strongly that family is important. In fact the family is not only important, it is a vital part of any society. The family unit is God’s primary plan for providing children with the moral, ethical, and theological training necessary to become productive members of society. As we observe these difficult and controversial situations around us, I pray that we avoid the urge to jump in emotionally and uninformed to take sides.

Rather than allowing these tragedies to cause division, hate, and bitterness we should unify to make sure that children in our churches and our communities are safe, loved, and cared for. Promote and support the family every chance you get. Get involved in organizations that support and strengthen the family. Support community programs that provide solid education and counseling for families.

And most importantly, pray! Pray for the family unit to be strengthened in our society. Pray for specific families you know. Pray for the ones that are struggling and pray for the ones that you think are doing okay. Pray for our leaders who are making decisions that affect the family. And in the midst of all the commotion this week, please pray for Lexi. Pray for her foster family and the family she is being placed with now. Pray that she is loved and cared for by someone and pray for all the other little boys and girls who are in similar situations every day. Children are a gift to us from God himself and we need to do all that we can to love and protect them.

Though the theme of the week has been “Save Lexi”, it is my hope that Lexi’s story will bring awareness to the plight of hundreds of thousands of other children that also need to be saved and will awake within us a desire to do something about it.



photo by Eric Ward [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Little Lost Zeke

20150407_142447_edited-1 While visiting family in Delaware recently, we had an opportunity to visit the Delaware Children’s Museum. It was a great place to visit and we had a wonderful afternoon running from one interactive exhibit to another. In the midst of the fun, we had a few moments of excitement involving Zeke and one of my nieces. The culprit himself really wanted to tell this story, so here it is in his own six year old words.

First, we were at the maze. Then we came to the exercise room. Then after a while, I got bored. And I got tired with [my cousin] so we went to the restaurant room. I was watching a TV that was telling you how to be nice and give things to people. Dad found me in the restaurant room and said, “Oh Zeke we were looking for you.” So we went back to everyone else. And then we went to the construction room with mom.

 It all sounds so simple and calm to hear him tell it doesn’t it? It almost sounds logical, as if they 20150407_135849-copy_edited-1should have wandered off. But you can imagine that we were not nearly that calm. There were only 8 kids to four adults, which in our world is a pretty good ratio but still a lot of kids to keep track of. Then there’s the confusion of which adults had which kids. I remember scanning the room for the kids and missing one. I’m not an overly fearful or protective parent, but that little nagging thought of the worst case scenario pops into your head none-the-less. However, he wasn’t supposed to be with me, so I wasn’t that worried. Until, that is, I saw my wife a few minutes later and she said, “Isn’t Zeke with you?” Now I was worried.

 You’ve already heard the outcome, but those few brief moments of gathering the other kids to keep them safe and swiftly scouring the entire museum were pretty intense. Who knew that so many terrible thoughts and fears could go through one’s mind in such a few short minutes? Fortunately, God protected them and all is well. However, even when there’s a positive outcome, those situations stay with you for a while.

As I thought more about the experience, I was reminded of the parable of the one lost sheep in Matthew 18:12-13. It’s really more of a hypothetical question than a full parable, though that label certainly fits. Jesus simply asks, “If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.”

My experience with Zeke combined with this parable from Jesus served as a powerful reminder of the great love of God for me. Despite having many better sheep, He persisted in chasing me until He found me so that I could experience His love the way His children do. He still pursues me when I wander off. I’m so thankful that He loves me enough to come after me.

It also challenged me to join the Father in pursuing the lost. Imagine if upon discovering Zeke was lost I had simply left him. After all, I have 3 other kids. Seventy-five percent is still pretty good. We can’t even fathom a parent that might think that way, yet that is exactly the attitude we have toward our lost friends and neighbors and our wandering brothers. How dare we decide that they aren’t important enough to pursue? We must be the hands and feet of Jesus and go after that lost sheep with the same intensity and desperation with which I sought my little lost Zeke. After all, “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish (Matthew 18:14).”