Principle number one is the target. You’ve gotta have clear-cut objectives and the objective is: I want my kids - God can determine and I’ll thank Him for it, I’m glad if they can be good, and my kids play different sports, and music, and all the rest but - my mission was, I want them to be Christ-like.
Second, I need to practice what I preach. Third, now that we have the target and we know who the most important teacher is, it happens in an environment. Godly parents build relationships that bond. They build relationships that bond.
It’s not enough. This isn’t mechanical. Like, there’s the target. I want you like Christ. And, by the way, follow me as I follow Christ. You gotta create this environment. This environment of love. This environment where they feel cared for.
And so they build relationships that bond. And what amazes me is how God gives us pictures. The apostle Paul now in I Thessalonians? He’s going to be teaching this church and he’s really close to this church. He has a real love relationship with them.
And what he’s going to do is he’s going to say, “I treated you as a mother,” and then he’ll, moms, this is awesome. If you ever wonder what does God want or think a mother should be? We’re going to read it.
And then he says, “Not only did I treat you as a mother but as a father I did this.” And as a dad I remember reading this for the first time. I did a word study on each of those thinking, “That’s the kind of dad I want to be.”
So how do you build relationships that bond? I Thessalonians chapter 2, look at verse 7. “But we were gentle among you like a mother,” circle “mother,” “caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you, not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us.”
Now what’s a mother do? They’re gentle. “Gentle,” “caring for,” (verse 8) “loved you,” to “share with,” you became “dear” to us. Do you hear the nurture? Do you hear the concern? We were like a mother.
We created that safe place where you mattered. We didn’t do the right things. We shared our very lives, we loved, we cared, we delighted in you.
Now notice he says, skipping down to verse 11 and 12, he says, “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father,” you might circle “father,” “deals with his own children.”
Well how does a father deal with his children? “Encouraging, comforting, and urging.” You can underline those three words. “Fathers encourage, comforting, and urging,” notice the goal. “Encouraging and urging you to live lives worthy of God.” Does that sound like a clear-cut target?
Does that sound like I want you to be holy? Does that sound like I want to bring you up to fulfill all God designed and made you to fulfill His agenda on the earth?
He says, “We encouraged you, comforted you, and urged you to live lives worthy of God who calls you into His kingdom in glory.” The first word “encouraging” here? Has the idea of being their cheerleader.
This is the dad and your words are so powerful. There is so much research on the power of fathers. There’s so many things. In my thesis I learned a couple things. Number one, the sexual identity of sons and daughters are most heavily influenced by the father.
Second, the moral development of a child is most heavily influenced by the father. And the self-image is about fifty-fifty, mom and dad. There is this powerful role when a son or a daughter hears, “Way to go. I’m for you. Great job.” There’s something in all of us that wants to please our fathers.
Some of us, as grown men, had to figure that out in our thirties. And realize, you know, we’re never going to get there.
Every man, every son, every daughter wants to hear, “I’m proud of you.” And that’s why when you compliment your kids you need to focus on their character and not just their performance and their accomplishment.
It’s one thing to say, “You’ve worked really hard and I notice your hard work really paid off and you got two out of four hits.” That’s different than, “You went two for four but…” Or, “You know what, honey? You have really worked hard in French. I’ve noticed that you’ve spent extra time and you’ve memorized those words. That perseverance,” notice what you’re praising, “that perseverance is really going to pay off in life.”
And so, I mean, at the end of the day, I mean, think of where you’re sitting in your life right now. Did it really matter in your sophomore year whether you got an A or a B? In any of your job interviews, did anyone go, “Huh, did you get a B+ or a B? I really want to know.”
What are people looking for? They’re looking for character. And so you’re the cheerleader.
The next word is comforting but it’s an interesting word. This same word is also translated “admonish,” “challenge.” In the, you know, the translators here made it “comforting.”
It’s the idea of spurring your child on to right behavior and so sometimes when they’re a little hurting it’s the - Dad: you put your arm around them and say, “Hey, honey, you can do better than that. I’m for you, I love you.”
And when they’re goofing off it’s the – Dad: who says, “Hey, get back up there right now or we’re going to have problems as soon as we get home.” Same word.
It’s what do they need to get back up - but as stronger? The word “urging” is a father going, “There’s a line in the sand. You date that boy one more time that boy’s going to be in real trouble and you’ll be in worse.” And then you know that deep, fatherly voice that looks into their eyes and goes, “And I mean it.” And they realize, “And he does.”
You know some little girls never get that. Some little girls never have a father who is courageous enough to say, “That’s a bad relationship.” Or, “Hey, stop! Young man? Let me tell you something. You speak to your mother in that tone of voice again like that, you’ll be grounded ‘til Jesus comes.” And maybe you’ll back off and only do it for a year or two.
But do you understand? That’s the father who’s stepping in. And guess what? You know what kids need? Kids need that strong, healthy, fear, loving affirmation with that nurturing caring… and then that mother and that father working together. Build relationships that really bond.
The principle of relationship, this isn’t what you say. This is not what they hear at church, or in a Bible study, okay? This is how you actually live.
Because you can say, “Be generous,” but you’re stingy. You can say, “Be morally pure,” but when they go to bed you watch stuff you’d never want them to watch.
Okay? So this is, your actual values that you have. What really matters. Who you are. And then over here on the right is the child’s values and beliefs. Not what they say but how they actually live. What they believe in their heart.
Notice there’s a bridge. And the bridge is the strength of relationship. The stronger the relationship with your child, the more likely they’ll embrace your values and your beliefs. Take it to the bank.
The stronger your relationship with your child. I mean, there’s a bond. There’s a connection. There’s a caring. The higher the probability, no guarantee, but the higher the probability.
The converse of this is the weaker the relationship you have with your child the higher the probability they’ll reject your values.
Highly authoritarian, low-love, get with the program, this is what you gotta do. Tell you what. There’s not a connection, there’s not a bond. Those kids rebel.
We’ll learn a little bit later that it needs to be actually high discipline and high love that produces the boundaries of security in the love of significance.
Third little axiom under this, not only the stronger your relationship, the stronger the probability. The weaker the relationship, the less likely. But tensions and tests and difficulties are normal so it’s a not a matter of if it’s just a matter of when. You’re going to have struggles with your kids. And it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It means you’re normal, it means they’re going to pull away.
But here’s the deal. What you want to do is you want to be building a bridge of bond and relationship and connection so that when their friends start pulling them away, when they go through that puberty moment and there’s times where some of our kids are like this wonderful kid on Tuesday and, like, Wednesday and Thursday and Friday I guess they went through puberty or something and we’re not really sure.
And then they come out Friday and you think, “What happened?” I mean, it’s like a chamber. You know? And all of a sudden they’re, you know, doing stuff and then you have this conflict in your hands.
Well, what you can’t do is you can’t let that, you gotta stay working on the relationship side of it. You may have to have consequences. Real strong boundaries. But what you can do all along the way is you want to build relationships that bond from the heart.
Let me give you eight specific ways that researchers and the Bible tells us will build those kind of bonds. Eight keys to building relationships that bond.
Number one is unconditional love. Verbalize it and then show unconditional love.
After you discipline them you need to let them know, “I love you. I’m for you. That behavior, I don’t accept but I always accept you.”
Number two. Scheduled time. Schedule in actual times with your kids that carry the same weight as your business meetings or your Bible study meetings. Have them on there. Have scheduled times with your kids. It communicates they matter, they’re on your radar.
Third is focused attention. This means that there’s not media on. This means the paper’s not up. And this means that even though you’re looking at them your mind is not figuring out something at work or what you’re going to cook later or this problem with one of your friends.
You’ve gotta give them focused attention where you ask questions and you’re not thinking, “Hurry up and say this because I gotta get here.”
Put the stupid smart phone down. Turn it off. Set it down. And when you pick up your kid, you know what? If it buzzes, it buzzes. I told you the greatest joys, the greatest sorrows, the greatest gift, and the greatest responsibility you’re going to have on this planet, I’m telling you, is not coming through that phone. It’s the person sitting next to you that you just picked up from school. Or driving back from the ballgame. Or is in tears because they broke up with their first love.
You gotta be there. Focused attention.
Number four. Eye contact. Powerful research. Look them in the eye. If you need to get on their level but look them in the eye. It communicates love.
Number five, meaningful touching. This is why your kids want to wrestle, especially dads. Meaningful touching. Wrestle with them, hold them in non-sexual ways. And for fathers when your daughters kind of begin to bloom and they become young women. And what happens to men is you just unconsciously start to back away. Your daughter has hunger in her heart for a non-sexual, loving, secure, strong, masculine embrace. That’s you. So you need to hug her like never before. You need to hold her close and let her know men can be safe. Men won’t use you.
And what happens is, men, we get uncomfortable as that, especially if it’s your first daughter. She needs to know, man, I love you. You are secure. Meaningful touching. It’s powerful.
Ongoing communication. And that’s the dinner table, bedtime stories, shared experiences. But you have to build in time that’s structured. Where you’re together and communicating. Talking and sharing and meals are just, I don’t know where you’re at but start with maybe two a week. Then move to three a week.
You gotta have something that everyone comes together. There is a reason why, what’s the last thing Jesus did with his disciples? Oh yeah. They ate. What did Jesus do when he wanted to reinstate Peter? Oh yeah. They ate. When we get to heaven what are we going to do? Eat. You think there’s something going on here?
Now, something happens when you break bread and then you push the plates to the middle. How’d it go? And, yes, they’re going to roll their eyes. Let them roll their eyes. Roll your eyes again? Now, tell me, how’s it really going? What did you learn today? What have you been reading? What have you been thinking? Create a culture where that happens.
Have fun together is number seven. That may not sound spiritual. It’s super spiritual. I played more one on one games, and been in the emergency room with my kids, and laughed like crazy, and sat in a pool of sweat and looked up at the sky, and had some of the most meaningful prayer times with my boys of anything in the world.
I’ve sung crazy songs in the car with my daughter, and danced at weddings until I embarrassed my entire family, they just, have fun! Life’s fun! I mean, it’s hard but have fun. Don’t be serious all the time.
And then, finally, pray. Pray together. Pray in the car. Pray along the way. Pray before a meal. Pray when you hear a siren. Pray short prayers. Pray long prayers. Join hands and pray about tough stuff. But pray.
Finally, the last one is very brief, but very important is: godly parenting requires, are you ready for this, constant repair and ongoing maintenance. You never get it right. You never get it down.
You know, I remember when they were little and we decided we were going to reward them, we put these little things on the refrigerator and everyone was behaving for, like, four or five weeks and I thought, “This is it! We’re geniuses. This is it! They do their chores. Star. Chores. Stars. Homework. Oh!” Six weeks later stars didn’t mean anything.
And then you ground them once. Oh, this is powerful. Then, you know, it’s like, “Yeah, I’ll be grounded forever. I’m going to be in my room playing the guitar.” That’s not working. You know, I mean, I mean, whatever you think is working, just wait six weeks or six months. It won’t be working.
And part of it is it’s not them, it’s me. I would be real consistent; they would behave. So it’s kind of like vitamins. You take them and you feel better, why take them? And so I’d get less consistent, right?
And so then I have to bring the whole family together and say, “Okay, Dad has not been a very good dad and when you, sort of, done this and this I say I’m going to do this and I’ve done nothing. I’ve asked God. I’ve told him I’m sorry. And I want to ask you all to forgive me.
And then you sort of say, “And, by the way, there’s a new day. There’s a line in the sand. So if you do that, like, I have not been consistent with, I just want you to know, tomorrow or later tonight that won’t work. I’m on. Daddy’s back.” You know?
And, you know, and it was just like you have to, you understand what I’m saying? You gotta re-up. Don’t companies have to reinvent themselves? It takes constant repair and ongoing maintenance.
And the passage here, I John 1:9, “If we confess our sins He’s faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” And I call this the principle of process. Just, it’s a journey. It’s a process. You’re not perfect. They’re not perfect. It’s messy. It’s okay.
Your heavenly Father cares more about your kids than you do. He’s working in all of this. And so here’s five magic words. Not as in occult magic. Just sort of like five sort of magic words that I’ve had to use more than I ever want to admit.
The first two are, “I’m sorry.” The last three are, “Please forgive me.” Some kids never hear that from their mom or dad. I mean, what they did may have been wrong but how I’ve responded to it so many times.
And sometimes, are you ready? We do things wrong. Your kids see through all that. Don’t fake it. Being a great parent, you know, imitate, you know what, you want them to imitate you when you blow it. Guess what? They see the failures. They see the hypocrisy. Just step up and say, “Guess what? I blew it. I’ve said this, this is how I’ve been living, I’ve asked God to forgive me.” And then you just look them in the eye, “I’m sorry.”
And don’t let it go with, “Okay.” No, no, no. “I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” And what you want to hear is, “Yes, I forgive you.”
And then you pray with them the way you pray with them when you discipline them. And you know what they learn? They learn they don’t have to be perfect. They learn that failure is never final, that God is a God of grace.
The target, clear-cut objectives, the teacher is you, you practice what you preach, you do it in an environment of relationships that bond. And the final thing is constant repair. You never are done with the journey.