Sunday, July 13, 2014

Train Up A Child: Life Verses

One of the special things Holly and I have done for each of our children is to select a Bible verse as a life verse for them.

It is a Bible verse we wanted to pray over them for their entire lives. Maddox has memorized his verse. Addison is in the process of learning hers. And Brooklyn has heard her verse a few times.

I'm not sure where we got the idea to do this, but we would encourage you to consider this practice for your kids.

We don't know how these verses will impact their lives, but our prayer is that God will use these Bible verses to shape them in unexpected ways.

Here are the verses we selected for each child.

Maddox Austin Packer
"He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ - with all boldness and without hindrance!" -Acts 28:31

Addison Grace Packer
"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forevermore! Amen." -2 Peter 3:18

Brooklyn Kate Packer
"And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." -Micah 6:8

Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron James' "Decision" to Return Home

I'm a LeBron James fan.

And today's "Decision," is the real reason I'm a LeBron fan. Today, LeBron James announced his return to Northeast Ohio. He's leaving South Beach to return to the gritty, blue-collar city of Cleveland, a city that hasn't won a professional sports championship in 50 years.

The Cleveland Browns won the 1964 AFL Championship (before the Super Bowl existed).
The Cleveland Indians won the 1948 World Series.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have not won a basketball championship...yet.

Cleveland has the second largest championship drought for any city that has at least two major sports franchises. The only team with a longer drought is San Diego. (Which makes Tony Gwynn's legacy even more significant. You can read my article on Gwynn here.)

Legends are judged by individual accomplishments and the ability to lead their teams to championships. One without the other isn't enough.

It's what makes Lionel Messi's World Cup Final game on Sunday so important. His individual statistics will guarantee him a spot in the conversation. But if he never wins a World Cup, he can't be considered the greatest of all time.

James went to Miami to win championships. In his 4 years in Miami, LeBron won 4 Eastern Conference Championships, 2 NBA Championships, and 2 Most Valuable Player Awards.

But James' return to Cleveland doesn't merely signal a change in location. It signals a change in him as a man. And it's why James is becoming the kind of man I want my kids to emulate.

Before our eyes, we're watching the evolution of LeBron James.

His announcement was far different this time. Rather than hosting an hour-long television event to announce his move to Cleveland like he did 4 years ago, LeBron's decision was without fanfare (if it's possible to ignore the 24-hour "Breaking News" ticker on ESPN).

You can read his well-thought-out essay on his return to Cleveland here. It's well worth the read!

In the essay, LeBron is confessional. He admits if he had it to do over again, he would have left Cleveland differently. And this time around, he seems to have learned his lesson.

I don't expect to hear LeBron guaranteeing 8 rings like last time. He now knows how to win a championship and how naive it is to guarantee multiple championships. He sees the folly of his ways.

This decision to return to Cleveland isn't about cementing his legacy as the greatest of all-time. His calling is bigger than that.

And that's the exact language he used: "calling." In his essay, he said,

"But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get."

LeBron is a man growing up before our eyes. This time around he's married with a third child on the way. He's choosing to forgive Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavaliers, for his spiteful letter after LeBron's departure to Miami. His return home to Ohio is about more than basketball. It's about giving hope to a region of Ohio that raised him. 

This time around, it's not about winning multiple championships for LeBron and his legacy. It's about winning a championship LeBron and his city.

LeBron has always had his haters. The "Greats" always do. 

But it's hard to hate on this "Decision."

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Train Up A Child: Go To Church

We want to raise our kids to see the importance of church...which just happens to be one of the most  countercultural parenting decision these days.

After all, these are the days of the "spiritual but not religious." These are the days when its popular to criticize the church. Everyone loves Jesus. Very few seem to care much for his bride.

And I get the pushback. The church has hurt a lot of people. The church has failed to lead the way in areas of justice in the world. I work for the church, but I'm sometimes tempted to lie about my occupation when asked.

Yet, even in the midst of the frustrations I have with the church, I can't seem to give her up. I can't get away from her. I can't seem to shake her.

I grew up as a preacher's kid. I loved every minute I spent at the church. I knew every corner of the La Mesa Church of Christ. I knew the best hiding places for hide and seek. Because we were hundreds of miles away from grandparents, church was my family. We spent holidays with our church family. They became our "cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents."

I held a stained-glass picture of the church. The church was God's gift to earth. The church was God's kingdom come. The church always seemed to meet my needs and taught me how to see and care for the needs of others.

But anyone who grows up with those fulfilled expectations will eventually walk away unfulfilled. Because church is also a mess. It's filled with people who have problems. Every one of us. And if you spend enough time with enough people who have enough problems, there are sure to be unfulfilled expectations.

But part of growing up is acknowledging that all institutions creak and groan from time to time. The church is no different.

And that realization led me to start having conversations with new people who want to know more about my church. It was the conversation I had at Littleton. And it will be the conversation I'll have as long as I'm a leader in a church.

The conversation goes something like this...the guest asks: So, tell me about your church.

And I say: "I can only promise you one thing about this church. All I can promise you is that this community will disappoint you at some point. It's a matter of when, not if. We'll do our best to form your kids in the way of Jesus. I'll do my best to preach the Word of God faithfully. We'll do our best to shepherd and equip you as a disciple of Jesus Christ. But rest assured that we will fail you and disappoint you."

You can tell I went to school to be a salesman.

Then I continue: "What it means to be a church member is that when we disappoint you, will you choose on this side of that inevitable disappointment to work through your disappointment? Will you choose to reconcile instead of leaving? Because if you leave, you're going to miss an opportunity to see how the grace of God can fill the holes left by our community's failure."

It's easy to to be "spiritual but not religious." But that's not Christianity.

It's easy to love God by yourself. It's easy to love God without the church. But Jesus called us to love God and our neighbor. And without a church you're committed to, you'll never get a chance to live out the second part of the Great Commandment.

Because church isn't a perfect place for us to have our spiritual needs met.

No, no, is the place where broken people come in close enough contact with one another that they experience friction and are forced to develop the Fruit of the Spirit as they work through those problems.

That's what is wrong with marriage today. We have come to believe marriage is the place where we get our needs met. That's not marriage. Marriage is the chance to live close enough to someone that we can't hide our flaws from them and they sharpen us to become the people God wants us to be.

It's the same way with church. If you're trying to find a church that will fit you perfectly and fill you up every Sunday, you misunderstand what the church is about. It's not a perfect place with perfect people. Instead, it's an imperfect people who come in close enough contact that God can shape us through the relational struggles we will inevitably face.

And that's why we want our kids to grow up in church.

Not because they need perfect attendance to make God happy.

We want our kids to grow up in church because we want them to experience a community that will inevitably wound them and heal them at the same time. We want them to live in close enough contact with people they would never choose to be in relationship with outside of the commitment of diverse people who love Jesus more than their own agendas.

We live in an age of echo chambers. We listen to our iPods with our choices of music on demand. We listen to our cable news channels that spin the facts in just the way we want them. We don't have to live in community with people who believe differently than us in many parts of our society.

But in church, we don't have a choice.

If you've been baptized, water is thicker than blood. The family of God is closer to me than my own family of origin. My tribal loyalties are less important than my kingdom loyalties.

We want our kids to value church not in order to fulfill some legalistic obligation.

We want them to value church because they live in a world where it's so easy to mold their world in a way that assures them they are right about everything.

That's not possible in church. Because it's not our church. It's not my church. It's God's church.

Is church attendance an important value to pass on to your kids? Why or why not?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Train Up A Child: Sabbath

The most important status symbol in America has nothing to do with the number in one's bank account, the size of one's home, the cost of one's car, or the location of one's vacation.

The most important status symbol in America is the busyness of one's calendar.
We love to talk about our hectic schedules with a grimace on our face and pride in our hearts. 

Holly and I want to do what we can so that our kids won't worship at the "Altar of the Full Calendar."

And one of the ways we are waging war against the god of busyness is through the spiritual practice of Sabbath. Now, on first hearing, you might think we are a Jewish family. What kind of Christian, legalistic family would bind themselves to Sabbath?

But for us, Sabbath isn't an oppressive commandment. It is a countercultural, subversive practice that reminds us we are not the most important people in the world. It forces us to face the fact that the world goes on fine without us. Sabbath reminds me that God ran the world just fine before I entered the world and he can still make it work without me each Friday.

Sabbath first emerged as the Israelites were leaving Egypt after over 400 years of slavery. It was one of the original Ten Commandments God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. 

It wasn't meant as an oppressive command. It was one of God's ten ways to rehumanize Israelites. They had become like animals in Egypt. They worked all the time. They made bricks. They did their best to keep up with quotas. There was no rest. 

But as God sought to prepare the Israelites for the Promised Land, it was vital that he give them a rhythm of life that was sustainable. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. Who are we to think we are better than his 6 to 1 ratio? 

Fridays are my day off. And in this season of life prior to having kids in elementary school, we have found a rhythm of rest once a week that works well for us. It is not an oppressive day that we dread. 

Each Friday, we ask the question "What is that we can do day that will bring us life and connect with God and one another?" And our answer determines our schedule. 

It differs from week to week. 
Some Fridays we rest at home. 
Some Fridays we play games. 
Some Fridays we fly kites and teach our kids about the Holy Spirit through the wind.
Some Fridays we swim with friends.
Some Fridays we go to the zoo. 
Some Fridays we experience God in obvious ways.
Some Fridays we the name of God is rarely spoken.
Some Fridays our family gets along.
Some Fridays our family fights.

It's not always miraculous, but it is always needed. 

This schedule works in this season of life for our family. In the years to come, our commitment to Sabbath will likely change. It is not a legalistic burden. It is a life-giving rhythm that is as much a part of our life as the air that we breathe. 

We practice Sabbath because we believe rest is one of the most countercultural habits we can develop. 
We practice Sabbath because we are not animals or machines.
We practice Sabbath because we want our kids to know we are different from the rest of the world.

And we would encourage your family to consider this practice for your family as well.

What spiritual practices are you intentionally developing in your family?

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Real Sports Hero: Tony Gwynn

This past Monday, the world lost a real sports hero.

His name was Tony Gwynn.

But to be honest, I didn't realize how big of a sports hero Tony Gwynn was until it was too late.

When I was 4years old, my family moved from Abilene, Texas to San Diego, California. And soon after our move, we started becoming San Diego Padres fans. We had partial season tickets right behind home plate on the second deck of Jack Murphy Stadium for the impossible price of $7.50 a ticket. Try finding that deal today.

Tony Gwynn started out as a 2-sport athlete. On the same day in 1981, Tony was drafted by the San Diego Padres and the San Diego Clippers, the basketball franchise that would soon leave for Los Angeles.

Gwynn's physique looked a bit different in the brown and gold than it looked near the end of his career, but his physical appearance late in his career defied his athleticism. He knew how to hit the baseball.
Yet, I have to confess I never owned a Tony Gwynn jersey. I was more excited about the 2 or 3 year signees that "did their time" in San Diego before hitting the jackpot in a larger market. I wanted the autographs of guys like Roberto Alomar, Benito Santiago, Fred McGriff, and Gary Sheffield.

But Tony was the guy who stayed in San Diego all of his career. He spent 20 seasons on the Padres, a team that went to the playoffs three times in the two decades Gwynn was with the team. He was "Mr. Padre" and he earned that nickname by being loyal to a fault.

It's embarrassing to admit he was not my sports hero growing up. In an era that featured big contracts, big markets, big home run totals, and big steroid bills, Tony Gwynn was never appreciated.

There was nothing marketable about Tony Gwynn. He was never sponsored by Gatorade or Reebok. Michael Jordan wasn't concerned about Tony taking his coveted hero status at Nike.

But, man, could he hit a baseball.

Here are some stats that stand out in his 20 seasons:
-Batting Titles: 8 (More than anyone other than Ty Cobb & Honus Wagner)
-All-Star Teams: 15
-Gold Gloves: 5
-Silver Sluggers: 7
-Career Batting Average: .338
-Career Hits: 3,141
-Lowest Batting Avg. in the 19 complete seasons he played: .309
-Most strikeouts in a season: 40
-Struck out 434 times in his career. That's once in every 21 at-bats!
-Stats against Greg Maddux: 107 Plate Appearances, .415 Batting Avg., 0 Strikeouts
-Only player since 1928 to have 300 career steals and a career batting average of at least .338

My two greatest heroes over the past 2 decades have been Tiger Woods and LeBron James. They have everything Tony Gwynn didn't. They've won major championships. They look the part. They're marketable. They're cocky. One wears red every Sunday and the other wears Red every game he's played after "The Decision."

But nothing made me wonder about my choice of sports heroes until I heard about Tony's death on Monday.

Because Tony's greatest statistic isn't any of those mentioned above.

What was his greatest statistic?

World Series Championships: 0

He was loyal. He was unassuming. He played in a lousy baseball stadium where ESPN's cameras rarely visited. He could hit the baseball, but he never threw a fist pump. It wasn't about him. It was about the Padres.

But even the Padres he didn't take that seriously.

I don't remember the year, but I remember the scene vividly. My family was at Spring Training watching the Padres over Spring Break. My brother, Clark, and I couldn't have been 10 years old yet. We were looking for autographs from the usual suspects: McGriff and Sheffield. I think Rickey Henderson was in camp that year.

But as we were looking for the stars, Tony Gwynn walked right in front of us. I missed my opportunity, but Clark ran up to Tony unprepared, without a ball or baseball card to sign. All Clark had was an Atlanta Braves baseball hat.

With a sheepish look, Clark offered his hat and his pen to Tony for a signature. And I can still remember the high-pitched question Tony threw back at my brother..."Atlanta Braves????"

But he signed the hat anyway.

That was Tony Gwynn. Quiet...unassuming...without fanfare...humble.

We don't know how to pick out the real sports heroes anymore. We root for whoever Nike tells us to.

But if there was any game I would go back to if I had the chance, it would be the night of Tony Gwynn's 2,000th hit. We were there that night. But somehow I don't remember the moment. I remember Gary Sheffield's home run in the second deck. I remember Fred McGriff's 450+ ft. blast to right. I don't remember Tony's 2,000th.

And if I had it to do over again, I'd have bought that #19 jersey and worn it to every Padre game I could.

Rest in peace "Mr. Padre." RIP Tony Gwynn.
Great Tribute to Tony Gwynn by Keith Olberman:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Train Up A Child: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

"Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." 
-Proverbs 22:6

I've entitled the blog series "Train Up A Child." It comes from one of the most abused passages in all of Scripture. But I think the passage deserves reclaiming.

Many Bible teachers have used this passage to promise parents..."If you parent your kids in the correct way, you have a foolproof way of ensuring your kids grow up as followers of Jesus." And because of that interpretation, countless parents have been engulfed in decades unneeded guilt. They believe they are to blame for their kids' troubles.

But Proverbs 22:6 isn't always true.

Proverbs is made up of hundreds of generally true statements. They are proverbial statements that are true much of the time, but they are far from foolproof statements without exceptions.

Proverbs should be used as positive teachings to be used in our lives.
Proverbs should not be used as negative teachings to be used to abuse people.

For example...
"Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him." -Proverbs 26:4

That seems straightforward. read the next verse.

"Answer a fool according to his folly, 
or he will be wise in his own eyes." -Proverbs 26:5

So, which is it? Should we answer a fool according to his folly or not?

Well, it depends on the situation.

These are not foolproof promises. They are wise statements that fit some situations and don't fit other situations.

But back to Proverbs 22:6, "Train up a child..." Just because there are circumstances where Proverbs 22:6 isn't true, doesn't mean we should disregard the verse in our parenting.

One of the ways we are trying to raise our kids to follow Jesus is by "smoking what we sell." Or another way to say it is, "Actions speak louder than words."

Preachers' kids (PKs) have a certain kind of reputation. We get the questions a lot. "So, your kids are PKs, huh? Better watch out for those kids."

One of the reasons PKs have gotten that reputation is because PKs often see two different pictures of the preacher. There's "Stage Preacher" and there's "Dad." "Stage preacher" has a smile on his face, knows how to make small talk, and talks a good game when it comes to following Jesus. But sometimes "Dad" doesn't live as radical a life as he preaches. And that cognitive dissonance is difficult for children to sort through.

The most important thing a parent can do to give one's kids a head-start on their spiritual journey is to live an authentic life of faith in front of them every day. It's not enough to have a devotional and prayer time each night and attend church weekly. Our kids will only see how important faith is if it makes a difference in our lives. Actions speak so much louder than words.

We love to think our words are the most powerful way we express our beliefs. Wrong!

The surest way to know what we believe is by looking at our actions.

We act out of our deepest beliefs about the world.

For example, many people would say that they value saving for retirement. But statistics show that far fewer people are putting money away for retirement. So, what does one truly believe? Our actions reveal our beliefs.

Many people can talk about their belief in the importance they place on physical health. Yet, very few people make a habit of eating well and exercising regularly. Our actions are a better indicator of our beliefs than our words.

I love how Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount. He tells a story about two men. One is wise the other is foolish. How can you tell the difference between the wise and foolish man?

Jesus says, "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man...But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man..." (Matthew 7:24a, 26a)

The difference between wisdom and foolishness isn't one's IQ or level of education. The difference isn't what one claims to believe. The difference has to do with action. Are you practicing the way of Jesus or just giving lip service to it?

Our kids need to see how our faith makes a difference in our lives. Our kids need to know how important God is to us. They see us in our most difficult moments. Our reactions let them know our level of sincerity in our relationship with God.

From the beginning, Holly and I wanted to train up our kids to follow Jesus.

What we didn't know was that the most important training didn't happen in our discipline plan, mealtime prayers, or bedtime devotional time. The most important training of our kids occurs when we decide whether or not we will train as apprentices of Jesus every day when the sun comes up.

How are you training (your kids)?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Train Up A Child

As Holly and I started having kids, we realized the huge spiritual task that was ahead of us.

Holly and I started our family almost 5 years ago. I can still remember the feeling I had when I held Maddox in my arms for the first time. I felt a huge weight on my shoulders. I was also holding a bundle of potential in my hands.

We would be the first people to paint on our kids' blank slates a picture of who God is. Any dysfunctional views of God they might hold one day would likely originate in the early years of parenting we would provide for our kids.

We were excited. Holly was a natural mother. I was an awkward, unnatural father. But we have three of them and fortunately all three are still living.

As Maddox grew older, we began to realize the importance of intentionally forming our kids to be faithful followers of Jesus. And we continue to experiment and learn ways to do just that.

Today, we have three kids.

Maddox is 4.

Addison is 3.

Brooklyn is almost 6 weeks old.

If you're anything like us, you long for the day when your children will proclaim Jesus as Lord and commit to live their lives for God and his kingdom. We want them to see faith as a daring journey rather than a boring list of rules to follow. We want them to do extreme things for Jesus that will make us uncomfortable.

How do you raise kids in this world to live for Jesus?

I've heard it said that nobody with kids in the house should ever give advice to other parents.

And I agree. But with that warning in place, I hope to provide some space on this tiny corner of the internet for a conversation about raising children who follow Jesus in this culture.

Over the next few weeks, I will write a series of posts describing a few things Holly and I are doing to raise our kids to love and follow Jesus. It's not a comprehensive list. It's a list that grows and changes day-by-day. Perhaps a few things will be worth adding to your repertoire. And I hope you'll engage the conversation and add to our list as well.

Let's start the conversation with a question: If you have a mission statement as parents for raising your kids, what is it? If not, decide on one and post it in the comments section.