Parents, Listen Up!!

According to a major consulting firm, there are approximately 370,000 Christian high school seniors in America; but only 16 percent (60,000) of them will attend a Christian/Bible college this fall! Of those who do attend, however, 98 percent will maintain their faith and stay in church. The remaining 84 percent will attend a secular university or junior college near home. It is tragic that 52 percent of these will lose their faith and drop out of church. In light of these facts, why wouldn’t Christian high school seniors—supported firmly by their parents—overwhelmingly want to attend a Christian college?

Another recent study shows that there are approximately 3000 churches that identify with the conservative values of a college like GBS or its peer colleges and institutes. (Remember, too, that there are still others who would not fully identify with GBS but who would still want the values-based education which it offers.) An observation was made in this study that denominations tend to send at least one student for every two churches to its denominational college.

There is some parallel also between church groups and the colleges they identify with. This means that there is a potential student pool for GBS and its peer colleges of approximately 1800 students. Yet enrollment records show that less than 50% of that number actually attends. Why is this true?

Our own survey shows that the key influence in students coming to GBS is their parents, as indeed it should be. However, our recruitment feedback also shows that the one reason college-bound seniors go to secular schools is also because of parents. What are the reasons parents give for this?

The most consistent reason is money. Community colleges are close to home and cheap. Secular universities are also close and reasonably priced for in state students who live at home. Scholarships abound in these state-funded schools for students who are high academic achievers. Moreover, the money which their children will earn after college graduation is also a major factor to parents. “I want my kids to have it better than I did,” they reason, “and, frankly, ministry doesn’t pay enough!” A parent pushing their kids for upward mobility is the number-one reason why Christian young people pursue secular training and jobs.

On the other hand, many parents send their sons and daughters hundreds of miles away from home to our campus because their core values place “learning how to live a life” much higher up the list of priorities than “how to make a living.” They want their children established spiritually and grounded Biblically. They know that this can happen here without sacrificing academic excellence or missing out on a solid classical education. They also know that the ministry opportunities that their children experience here impact them for life. They see the value of student residence life, discipleship groups and mentoring moments in the maturing process. They understand how important it is to have their sons and daughters around other kids who share their values and faith so that they will have appropriate choices for a life partner. GBS also provides a forum for these students to hear the most challenging preachers and missionaries from all around the world in an atmosphere where they can make themselves available for full-time Christian ministry and respond to whatever God’s will is for their life.

All this is true even for many parents who know that their children will only be here for a couple of years and then move on to a college that offers training for a career field we do not and could not offer. Such parents do not see coming to GBS as wasted time. Rather they see it as one of the best investments they can make in the future of their children.

Nothing is more important to parents than their children. Nothing is more important to Christian parents than the spiritual welfare of their children. All of us here at GBS understand that and work incredibly hard to respond to that sacred trust with the highest standards of spiritual and academic excellence. God has honored that hard work and placed our graduates in positions of ministry, influence and responsibility all over the world.

It is natural for every parent to want their children to succeed. But for them to succeed without being in the center of God’s will – will be the most miserable failure of all!

It’s A Wonderful Life

The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern, is a story about a man who wants to accomplish something in his own life but is so busy helping others that life seems to pass him by. Despondent over what appears to be a very ordinary—if not a wasted—life, he wishes he had never been born. He gets his wish, and through the help of a guardian angel he sees the world as it would have been had he never lived. After viewing life from such a unique perspective, he concludes that life is indeed a wonderful gift. Though Stern never found anyone willing to publish the story, it finally found its way into the hands of filmmaker Frank Capra, who turned it into the all-time Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life.

I have not had any life-changing visits from a guardian angel, but I have had my perspective on this life altered in recent months. I am one of those Christians who truly believes the best is yet to come! It has not been tempting for me to spend any time or money collecting the trinkets and toys of this present world. I have not craved houses and lands. I have had a good life, a happy marriage, and wonderful children, who are now grown and established; and so any time God is ready for me to go, I am ready. There are no sad stories, no regrets about leaving, and no struggle to grasp a few more fleeting moments of time here on earth. It’s been a great journey! (For those who are shocked by this, no, I am not depressed; and, yes, I would like to know my grandchildren.) After all, earnest Christians live with a very loose grip on this present world. Right? Right!

We are only pilgrims passing through the temporal headed for the eternal. Right? Right! This life is inferior at best, and the sooner we slip the bonds of mortal existence and are clothed with the eternal, the better. Right? Not quite! Some months ago God began to speak to me about the wonderful gift He has given us in our earthly physical life. It should not be minimized or demeaned because it is not as blissful a state as the life to come, nor should one just endure it until liberated by heaven. Rather, it should be lived with deep gratitude and respect as a wonderful gift from God. It is good, not because I make it so, but because He has made it so.

God created life and declared it good. God gave Adam and Eve each other and the created world around them to enjoy richly. He considers this physical life sacred and reserves the severest penalties for those who destroy it. The first promise attached to a commandment was the promise of a long life. God often promised length of days as a way of honoring His faithful servants in the Old Testament. All of this is still true, despite the fall of man and the curse of sin.

Obviously, God sees the life He gives us as very good! Don’t confuse God’s gift of life that is good with what the world calls the “good life.” The two are polar opposites.  The citizens of this present world chase after the “good life,” grabbing all they can get and holding it as tightly-fisted as possible. They generally succeed in keeping it long enough to make themselves thoroughly miserable before losing it all. Christians, however, have given up the “good life” so that they may enjoy a life that is truly good.

They do not grab for what they can get but rather hold everything they possess in an open palm. They clutch nothing to themselves but God. Thereby they can enjoy all things without those things affecting their joy.

If God views our earthly life as good, then His perspective ought to become our perspective. We should see every moment of our life here as a blessed gift to be richly enjoyed, life as a glorious journey marked by His grace. I don’t need health or wealth or popularity or beauty or anything else to make my life good. All I need is to walk with Him and remain in Him moment by moment. Such a view of life is neither a shallow optimism nor a refusal to acknowledge the deep darkness that life can bring. It isn’t ignoring the curse of sin and its awful physical consequences. But it is refusing to let those things blind us to the ultimate goodness of this life. It is acknowledging that every day is a gift from God—a gift that when received gratefully can transform the most common and ordinary moment into joyful living. It is a statement of faith that says pain, sorrow and trouble do not define my existence, determine my happiness or have the last word!

If God sees life as good, then His perspective should be reflected in the way we live it. God has given me some real-life object lessons to illustrate this point. Oscar Johnson, a dear friend, died recently after battling cancer for several years. Oscar’s life taught me so much about how one should truly enjoy each and every day. Oscar knew for over two years that he was dying. The joy and optimism with which he lived those years was a powerful witness to hundreds of people. During his last hospitalization, I was alone with him and took the opportunity to tell him how much he meant to my family and me and to say goodbye. That opened the door to talk about dying. He said to me, “Brother Avery, I have never walked this way before. I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when you’re dying.” And then with a big smile he said, “So I’m just going to enjoy my family, witness to my doctor, and take a nap.” Oscar was holding life in an open palm. He was rejoicing in every moment he had, and others were incredibly impacted by that joy.

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of alumnus John Case, Jr. John died suddenly from a rare form of cancer at the age of forty-two. Hundreds came to the viewing and the funeral. His life had impacted so many people for what appears to be one primary reason—he loved life, and it showed! From the twinkle in his eye, to the lilt in his voice, to the humor in his words, John left those around him with the feeling that life is good and that he was enjoying it! A simple phone call from John could be the bright spot in a person’s day. What a great way to live!

It is doubtful that anyone was ever influenced toward the life to come by someone who despised the one he or she was living now. Life is good, and as Christians we should demonstrate that goodness to those with whom we interact.

As we celebrate God’s unspeakable gift in Christ this Christmas season, it would be good also to celebrate another of His wonderful gifts—the gift of life. Important celebrations require planning and thought. Last year on Christmas morning, before my family and I opened our gifts, we read the Christmas story, prayed together, and then I read some prepared remarks about how good God had been to our family and how grateful I was for each of them. I then mentioned some specific things about each one that I deeply appreciated. After I finished, each family member did the same. At times we were so overcome with emotion we couldn’t speak. When it was over, we embraced each other and realized anew how wonderful life really is! If you’re alone, read a prepared letter to God and thank Him for the life He has given you. You will not be alone for long! Whatever your circumstance, don’t miss an opportunity this year to celebrate all of life. Because it really is wonderful!

The Security of Footsteps In Prayer

The president’s home here at GBS is a one-hundred-year-old house with a basement, two floors for living and a third-floor attic. Needing a place for my “prayer closet,” I tidied up a corner room in the attic that has three small windows overlooking the campus. I was elated with my little chamber because it was the one place in the house that I could go that gave me both complete solitude and the confidence that no one could hear anything as I discoursed with the Master. I did know that my prayer room was directly above my son’s bedroom. I didn’t know that with every step I took (I walk when I pray) a corresponding squeak could be heard by my son below.

A few days ago I was up in my room praying at an unusual time. Josh happened to be in his bedroom studying. When I came down, he asked in a concerned voice if something was wrong or if I was preaching that night.

With my curiosity aroused, I simply responded, “Why do you ask, son?”

“Well,” he said, “I just heard the floor squeaking in the prayer room.”

Apologetically I said, “I hope I didn’t disturb you!”

He responded with words that I will take with me to my grave. “Oh, no, Dad! It makes us feel safe when we hear you up there.”

My own childhood was marked by a praying mother. My memories of growing up on a small farm are filled with the sounds and scenes of Mother praying. Many were the times that I would follow the sound of her voice to a fallen log at the end of the woods, or to a cattle trough behind the old barn, only to find her in deep communion with God. That upturned face, bathed with tears, is etched on my mind’s eye forever. That familiar voice, interceding for her family, still rings in my ears as if I were a boy again hiding in the shadows of that old barn. Death has stilled her voice, but the legacy of her prayer life lives on.

Parents, are you praying? There is no experience of conversion or any work of grace, which will provide immunity against the lack of prayer. When prayer fades out, power fades out. If intercession ceases, spiritual security in the home is lost. We are as spiritual as we are prayerful – no more, no less.

Our children need to hear the steps of Mom and Dad in prayer or on the way to prayer. I heard them, and I want my boys to hear them, so that someday they will give their children “the security of footsteps in prayer.”

Saving Our Kids

Too many parents think in terms of “getting their kids saved” rather than “saving their kids”. One carries the idea of evangelism and happens in the miracle of a moment, while the other involves an extended period of character formation (instruction, discipline, etc. . .) and lays the foundation for the kind of person and Christian it is possible for them to become. The former is obviously crucial to the well-being of their eternal soul, but so is the latter! As Wesleyans, we believe that prevenient grace covers the hearts of our children until they reach an age of accountability. So when it came to children, John Wesley strongly advocated that an emphasis be placed on Christian instruction, discipline and training rather than childhood conversion experiences. He was not implying that we should not give our children an opportunity to appropriate and experience the love of God for themselves, but rather he was stressing the importance of the kind of childhood character formation that makes for great saints and responsible citizens.

I have watched this play out in real life. Parents, who by willful negligence or by ignorance, fail in their role of parenting and then pray desperately for a miraculous conversion are in for a bittersweet moment. Even if “bad boy Brad” does finally get converted, he will so badly lack the necessary character needed to be a real man of God and a productive citizen that he will have to face life with a certain level of dysfunction.  In the last 30 years I have preached to and counseled with thousands of teens and young adults in camps, conferences and schools. I have yet to meet any that had Solomonic wisdom or angelic perfection, but I have been privileged to meet many wonderful kids. The kind of young person that made me say, “Your parents did something right!”   I have also met some kids along the way that lacked the basic character training necessary to be responsible, respectful, truthful, and productive. In comparing the two groups, and all the individuals that fall in between, I have searched for the single most significant reason that has made the difference. I am convinced that a large part of the answer is parenting.

It is not my intention to put parents on a guilt trip, or to blame them for behavior that is clearly the result of the exercise of free will. But I do want to remind parents of the responsibility that belongs solely to them in the child rearing process. There is a period of time in the growing up process that a parent can shape the character, attitude and behavior of a child. If that formative work is missed, it is next to impossible to “insert” it later on! I am keenly aware that not all children are endowed equally with the same temperament, learning ability, and giftedness. But the ground is level when it comes to building character. Character and subsequent behavior is a personal responsibility that begins with Mom and Dad in the very early years of a child’s life. Character is molded and developed in the home and cemented by the choices one makes every day. One’s peers do not mold one’s character. They may well influence one’s decisions, but they do not form one’s character; they can only test and reveal what is there. Character is not really an environmental issue. I have watched as quality parenting has raised quality kids in situations that were far from ideal. I have also watched as poor parenting has produced problem kids in environments that offered every advantage.

If in fact this period of character formation is so important, shouldn’t there be certain well-defined traits that a parent should focus on? I think so! The list will no doubt vary from person to person but I believe that list must have the following “Big Four.”

Obedience

In a recent search for Biblical passages on parenting, I discovered that the passages that do speak directly to parenting were divided equally among the subjects of discipline and instruction. What I also found was that all of these passages pointed to one thing: obedience! The formation of character through discipline and instruction is for the purpose of obedience. Once a child understands that he must obey and that he must do so with a willing attitude, then you scarcely have to teach him anything else! Once he knows he must obey, you can simply “ask” him to do whatever it is that you need or want him to do and he will do it. When a child has learned to obey willingly, then your discipline will be cut to a minimum and you can spend the vast majority of your time teaching, nurturing and forming that little one into the kind of man or woman you want them to be!

Personal Responsibility

Responsibility slides off children like water slides off a duck’s back. There is no real mystery to this since the idea that you are responsible for things is not native to children. The realization of responsibility comes only with much training as children develop. Furthermore, children like to engage in fun things. Responsibility is tedious and boring to a child. The parental commands to, “clean your room, make your bed, put your things away and do your homework” are certainly not exciting or fun. It takes a lot of discipline and maturity to learn how to manage doing what is not fun and staying on task until the job is completed – this is where good parenting comes in.

Most parents tell their children the things they ought to be doing on a daily basis. However, the most important part is not just about giving the commands; it’s about how the parent responds when the child doesn’t do what they are told to do. In other words, the parent has to make sure the child does what he is told. This promotes accountability. You have to hold kids accountable for not meeting their responsibilities. Being held accountable requires that the parent make the consequence for not meeting the responsibility less pleasant than if the child had completed the task in the first place. And that act of being held accountable promotes a willingness to meet the responsibilities next time. Failure to hold the child accountable teaches the child that his complaining, whining, blaming others, excuse making and even lying works for him in his effort not to take responsibility for himself or his behavior.

Work Ethic

Dr. Ruth Peters, psychologist and author of Overcoming Underachieving says: “Daily in my practice I see parents who have made the mistake of not taking the time and attention to teach their children to be workers and achievers. These kids have learned to settle for less rather than to face and challenge adversity, to become whiners rather than creative problem solvers, and to blame others for perceived slights and lack of success”.

One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is the intentional investment of our time in teaching them how to have a healthy work ethic. As someone has said, “the job fairy isn’t going to come in the middle of the night and sprinkle work ethic dust on your child”. A love for work must be taught as well as caught! This means we set the example of showing them what a love for work looks like but it also means we let them learn by trial and error. The old adage that says, “if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” will have to be permanently banned from your thinking if you are serious about teaching your children how to work. Every mother knows that it takes less time to clean the bathroom herself than it does with her “helpers” working alongside. But little helpers can only learn by watching and doing!

Developing a healthy work ethic by the time our kids are adults, means that we must start at an early age. One way to do that is to assign our kids age appropriate regular chores. Young children can put away laundry, make a bed and pick up toys. Older kids can vacuum, rake leaves, take out the trash, wash the car, cut the grass, etc. . . . When kids see work as a normal part of life, they spend less time grumbling and more time learning to enjoy the jobs assigned to them. Holding our kids accountable to complete their assigned task and to do those task well, is extremely important. It lays the groundwork for the kind of person that not only does good work but exceeds the expectations of a teacher or an employer.

Parents should be generous with praise for a job well done but should never give false praise for a job poorly done. If the job is done well, praise them for the job done. If it is done poorly, but with great effort, praise them for the effort. If it is done poorly and little effort was made to do it right, no praise should be forthcoming. Furthermore, parents should never say to their kids, “Johnny you can do anything.”   Why? For the simple reason they can’t. Be real with your kids. Let them know that it takes time and experience to accomplish some things well.

Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” By offering our kids a healthy perspective on work, and teaching them how not to fear it, we free them to succeed in almost anything they do.

 Respect

Respect is an attitude of admiration or esteem towards others, oneself and one’s possessions. In today’s world, where disrespect is so pervasive, we cannot expect our children to learn how to respect others through normal social interaction at school and play. Nevertheless, we can teach our kids this critical value. One of the most effective ways to do so is to model it. But beyond walking the walk, there are plenty of simple strategies you can use to instill in your kids crucial lessons in kindness, consideration, honesty, open-mindedness, and gratitude – all of which grow out of respect!

One of the most fundamental ways to show respect for someone, and to let them know you value them, is to give them your time and full attention. This is easy to model and teach. Setting boundaries is another way to teach our kids how to respect authority and to let them know the world doesn’t revolve around them. Making sure their actions have consequences is a way to teach our children to consider how their deeds and words impact others. Teach your child basic social interaction skills. It may sound old fashioned, but it’s very important to teach your child basic manners like saying “please” and “thank you.”

Parenting is not for the faint of heart, but it can also be one of the greatest joys a man and woman can experience. To willfully not do our best, is to commit a terrible wrong that can cripple a child for the rest of their life. There is a story in American literature that tells of a little girl whose mother had died. Her father would come home from work and just sit down, read his paper, and ignore the child. The little girl would come in and ask him to play with her for a little while because she was lonely. He told her he was tired, to let him be at peace. He told her to go out into the street and play if she wanted to play. So, she played on the streets. The inevitable happened. She took to the streets. The years passed on and she died. Her soul arrived in heaven. Peter saw her and said to Jesus, “Master, here’s a girl who was a bad lot. I suppose we send her straight to hell?”   “No,” said Jesus gently, “let her in.” And then His eyes grew stern as He said, “But look for a man who refused to play with his little girl and sent her out to the streets and send him to hell.”

The State of Marriage

Marriage was God’s idea! He is the Master Designer of this sacred livelong union between a man and a woman. Its origins rest not in creation, not in the natural or the social sciences and certainly not is us but in the very being of God Himself. We can only understand this relationship of sacred oneness as we understand the relationship of the Godhead to each other. Marriage and the resultant family it creates is a “divine pedagogy” to teach us what it means to be made in the image of God and how to experience true communion and intimacy as we live with someone and for someone.
Unfortunately, the average person in American culture does not look to the Master Designer for their understanding of marriage. They see marriage as nothing more than a social convention that can be changed to fit the demands of the prevailing cultural norms. This view of marriage can be both confusing and overwhelming. It is confusing because the present culture sends out contradicting and varying messages about marriage through books, magazines, movies and music. It can be overwhelming because those messages cause people to ask of marriage what God never designed it to give – perfect happiness, conflict-free living, and idolatrous obsession with sex.
When a culture ceases to view marriage as God designed it, it will be marked by the distortions and perversions of that culture. For today’s American culture, that means marriage that is nothing more than a civil arrangement for the highly individualistic purposes of any two parties – male or female. This distorted view of marriage explains why most Americans have grown comfortable with divorce as a natural, maybe unavoidable, part of life. It explains why co-habitation is growing in popularity as an acceptable living arrangement and why same-sex marriage will not only be tolerated but ultimately embraced as normal.
What is the state of marriage in America? Surveys reveal the following:
• 4 out of 5 adults in America have been married at least once (78%)
• 1 out of 3 has been divorced at least once (33%)
• Couples who are active in their faith are much less likely to divorce. Catholic couples were 31 % less likely to divorce; Protestants couples were 35% less likely to divorce; and Jewish couples were 97% less likely.
• Nominal Christians who do not actively engage their faith are 20% more likely to divorce than the general population.
• The more religious a couple is the less likely they are to divorce and the more secular a couple is the more likely they are to divorce.
• 53% of highly happy couples agree with the statement that “God is at the center of our marriage.”
• The normal lifestyle for American young couples is to live together for a period of time in a type of informal trial marriage. However, these relationships frequently do not last.
• 646,464 — Same-sex-couple households in the United States in 2010, according to the Census Bureau.
• 80.4% — Percentage growth of same-sex couple households in the U.S. between 2000 and 2010, according to the Census Bureau.
• 25.3 — Percentage of same-sex couple households in the United States in 2012 with children living with them, according to the Census Bureau.