What Every Parent Should Be Downloading Into Their Child (1,900 words of parenting advice)

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Back in the day when I was a pre-teen, I used to make mixtapes. Those born in 1990 or later probably don’t know what a mixtape is. A mixtape is a cassette tape (Google it) with favorite songs inserted on it to listen to. It’s an archaic Pandora playlist. It took tremendous patience and focus to make the perfect mixtape.

I would lay on my bedroom floor, next to something called a boombox (a radio that played music through speakers), I’d have my radio playing and I would wait for some of my favorite songs to come on so I could record them onto this tape. 

You had to be coordinated. You had to hit play and record at the same time, and you didn’t want the DJ’s voice on the tape, just the song. 

I had all kinds of mixtapes. I had love song mixtapes I’d give to girls I had a crush on. I’d leave the mixtape in their school locker with a creepy, cheesy note attached. For sports, I had mixtapes that would insert into my Dad’s yellow Sony Walkman to pump me up. On my sports mixtape to get me stoked I had “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, “Jump” by Van Halen, “Momma Said Knock You Out” by LL Cool J and anything Michael Jackson.

I know that mixtapes are a thing of the past. With technology today, you can download any song that’s ever been recorded and you can make all kinds of playlists on your smartphone. And whether you like to listen to it while you’re in the car, or while at work or school, or exercising, or just chill’n with friends, it can’t be taken for granted what those who came before endured through in the mixtape years. 

Today my young child can grab my phone, open up my music, download new songs she  likes, delete songs she doesn’t like (my favorite songs) and make a playlist. In seconds she can do it. 

As a parent, I realize that my children are being lied to wherever they go. They are downloading lies other influences are pushing on them, and if unchecked, they will start to believe those lies as truth. One of my roles as a guide for them is to delete the lies that they download each day and replace it with truth. 

Mom, dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle, youth leader, teacher, influencers of young children and grown children, here’s what will happen if we don’t get proactive in deleting the lies this culture is pressing down on our children:  

They will be mugged by the mirror. 

We’re in the selfie generation. The reason everyone is taking selfies is to show others how they look. And maybe each time you look in the mirror, each time you take a picture of yourself, you’re asking the fairy tale question, Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all? The more we invest in how we look, the more we believe the lie that we are worth the amount of how beautiful others say we are. 

In her book, I Want to be Her, author Michelle Graham writes this: “There’s nothing quite like a glance at a Victoria’s Secret catalog to invoke a flood of insecurities and feelings of disappointment.”

Graham goes onto say: 

If Barbie were a real human being, her proportions would make her anywhere from 6 feet 10 inches to 7 feet 5 inches tall. In order to achieve her perfect figure, she would need to have two ribs removed along with several major organs. Barbie has no hormonal cycle to affect her complexion and no metabolism to struggle with. This is the image that has been marketed to young girls all over the world as an inspiration to womanhood. And we eat it up. Barbie has become a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry. Don’t worry, I’m not on a Barbie-burning crusade. And I’m certainly no expert on the psychological effects of Barbie on young children. But I do know that at a very young age I bought into the idea that unless my Barbie was physically perfect, she wasn’t as good as the other Barbies on the block. In fact she embarrassed me. As I grew into adulthood, I left my Barbie behind. Unfortunately I struggled with the belief that unless I am physically perfect (a perfection that is unattainable and unrealistic) – I’m somehow not as valuable as everybody else. Barbie moved out, but Victoria moved in.”

A recent study shows that 70% of teenage girls and women feel depressed, sad or guilty when they look through a fashion magazine for more than 3 minutes.

Americans spend 20 billion dollars a year on cosmetics and 74 billion dollars a year on diet foods.

Just flip the remote control and the TV will tell you that outer appearance is what’s most important. It’s why you post more pictures of yourself online than you do Bible verses.

Because I’m a father of girls, I have a passion for all young girls to find their purpose in God and not in what others think of them. Girls, you may not know this, but an average woman in our culture is 5 foot 4 and weighs 170 pounds. An average model on the runway 5 foot 11 and they weigh 108 pounds and their body mass index is borderline malnutrition. 

Because of photoshop and airbrushing, what we look at in magazines and on the big screen is a fake. It’s not real. It’s all a lie. Delete the lie that external beauty is all there is.

Let’s download the truth that God loves you no matter what you look like. God created you the way He wanted to and to get where God wants you to go to love on who God wants you to love on (which includes yourself). You’re beautiful.

If they listen to the wrong voice, not only will they be mugged by the mirror, but: 

They will be pick-pocketed by the past. 

Your child failed the test. They stole what they shouldn’t of. They drank. They smoked. They lied to their parents. They feel responsible for their parent’s broken marriage. They succumb to sex, hurtful language, gossip, back-stabbing, anger etc. Even my own past tries to walk into each present day I have in an attempt to steal the future God has in store. 

But if you download the love of God into your child’s daily life, how much He loves you and them no matter what’s been done against Him and against others, then they’ll come to realize that our past does not define your present or your future.

You are not what you have done. Whatever it is that haunts you, whatever secret things you’ve done that no one else knows, that your close friends, your youth leaders, your parents, your siblings have no idea – and if you’ve been listening to the wrong voice about what you’ve done – then you’ve probably bought into the lie that God couldn’t love you, or God couldn’t forgive you. 

The one true God doesn’t only forgive people, He frees them. I don’t want the joy and energy and faith that my kids have as a child to be pick-pocketed by reminders of their past mistakes. Author Joanna Weaver writes:

“My deepest fear is waking up twenty years from now still the same person I am today. With the same annoying habits and petty attitudes; with the same besetting sins and false beliefs. I can’t imagine anything more terrible than getting to the end of my life only to discover that God had so much more in mind for me – more freedom, more joy, more peace, more true effectiveness. And I had missed it all, simply because I refused to believe it.” 

Don’t be mugged by the mirror and think external looks is all there is.
Don’t be pick-pocketed by the past and lose your joy in Christ. 

A third lie our children and us will download if not exposed to the truth: 

They will be robbed by relationships. 

Relationships are hard work, right? They can wear you out, make you tired. 

As if I didn’t already date myself with all the talk about mixtapes, let me talk about a woman named Louise Ciccone. Maybe you know her as Madonna. She’s sold over 300 million albums of her music worldwide. She’s worth an estimated 500 million dollars. TIME Magazine listed her as one of the 25 most powerful and influential women of the last 100 years. 

When she was a little girl, her mom died. Her dad quickly remarried and she didn’t forgive him for that. She severed all ties with him as her father and ran away. And I think the reason why Madonna, still in her 50’s, has always jumped from one man to the next is because she was robbed of a relationship she didn’t have with her father when she was young. 

After a concert in Detroit, in an interview with Vanity Fair a few years back, Madonna said: I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feelings of inadequacy. I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting. Again and again I go through this vicious cycle. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.

Life doesn’t have to be that way. 

If the statistics are right, many of our teens are being robbed by a relationship with a parent. Mom and Dad haven’t or aren’t doing something for them that parents are supposed to do. I don’t know what is more tragic than a parent who doesn’t love their kid in a way God loves them, and I don’t want to downplay this possibility,  so if you’re from a broken home, if you’re in a tough home, and maybe there have been hurtful things said back and forth and maybe you’ve been more of a parent than your mom or dad has been to you. And maybe you’re angry over that.

If bitterness is a prison, forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door.

Forgive your mom. Forgive your dad. Forgive your child. Forgive your sibling. Forgive your church. Forgive your friends. Forgive your enemy. Tell them, to their face, or in a hand-written note, that you forgive them. And then trust God going forward when reminders of those painful moments start to resurface. 

All of this to say: I guess before we teach our children about external looks not providing true identity, before we teach our children that in Christ our past mistakes cannot depress us today and before we teach our children that forgiveness is what gives life to relationships and bitterness is what kills them – we have to model it to them. We have to delete the lies of our culture and download the liberating truth of God’s Word. 

Put your heart right. Reach out to God and face the world again. Then all your trouble will fade from your memory, like floods that pass and are remembered no more. Job 11:13 

Thanks for reading. No matter your looks, your past or your status of relationships today, you are loved. 

Z

Three Areas to Fumigate in the Home

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I have a friend living in northern California who wanted to upgrade in homes after his wife gave birth to their first child. When it came time to put his home on the market to sell, he found out that before any offer on his home can become final the home has to be entirely fumigated. Before you can sell a home, the final step is to get all the people out of the home, all the clothes, all the food, all the furniture, (I recommend leaving the cat inside), then these guys come and put this huge tent over the home for sale and these ghost buster looking fumigation soldiers come in and spray inside the home and all over the property because in California there’s these little tiny termites that get into the wood of the home and if you don’t get rid of these harmful insects, the home will collapse.

Fumigation is a tough but necessary act. It’s vital to get what can be harmful out of the home.

What if God is trying to do some big things in our home but can’t move as effectively as He desires because there are some harmful things affecting our minds and the minds of our kids?

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)

Here’s how I would define what the Bible describes as “worldly” –

Worldly: Anything that alienates you from God

Anything – any worldview, any media or song or movie or TV show or thought or behavior or relationship or addiction – if it doesn’t drive you closer to God, it’s of the world. It’s worldly. We’ve got to fumigate that out of your life.

It’s embedded in our instinct to love the world. It’s in our natural desires. It’s what we’re comfortable. If not watched, it’s what we veer toward unconsciously.

Here are three worldly influences that I see in our homes, (This is for me too. It’s not like I’m going over your home for dinner and I’m excusing myself at the table to go look through all your worldly stuff. My family needs to fumigate as well):

1. What We View.

Movies, videos, websites, posts, all of the websites and videos we’re privately viewing. If we wrote down all the viewing pleasures we have that alienate us from God it would be pages. We’d get a hand cramp.

I wonder if we could fill a post-it note with the things we’re allowing ourselves to view that God approves.

A father informed me that his teenage daughter wanted to go see a movie that he knew was not going to help her spiritually grow closer to God. He told her calmly that she couldn’t go see it. He said to her, It’s not going to usher you closer to God and my responsibility is to love you and the best way to love you is to bring you closer to God.

She was frustrated. Said some hurtful comments. No matter how long she was steamed, we need more Christ-following parents like that who protect what their kids view, and do it not to be mean or restrictive, but because God calls you and the entire family to journey toward Him, not worldliness.

Maybe I’m off on this, but isn’t the Christian parent’s dream to see their kids following Jesus with all of their heart? If your dream as a parent is to make your kid happy in the moment and give them permission to do whatever they want, then sure, you’re not going to observe what they view. I want your dream to be bigger than making them happy. Making them happy with no boundaries could enslave them. I want your dream for them to be following Jesus with all their heart. That will free them.

The world is sewage. If a parent allows this ungodly sewage to be pumped into a child’s mind, then the characteristics of Christ cannot be formed in them. That’s on mom. That’s on dad.

I have two daughters. My primary goal is not to get them to ball practice, or to get their ACT score higher than before, or get them on a fun vacation – on and on and on – good things, just not primary. My primary responsibility is to make sure that when they leave the nest, they are sold out to Jesus, and before that, they are trying to become more like Christ each day.

Geez Zach, you have no clue. You’re so naive. Your oldest child is in Kindergarten. Raising Christian kids is tough with all that is around my child. 

I know it’s tough. I was one of the worst kids. I need moms and dads around my family to parent faithfully so when my daughters fill themselves with sewage and lose sight of Jesus, I can lean on you and see what you did to make sure your kids stayed close to God and close to their Bibles.

Here’s the 2nd area we need to be cautious of:

2. What we listen to. 

This is not me saying that Christians need to throw out all the music in the home except the Point of Grace CD’s from the 90’s, but parents, let’s not think that the music today is the same kind of message and content as the music 20 years ago. Let’s not ignorantly think that our kids like the song because they like the beat but the lyrics aren’t marinating on their developing minds. They are. The pain and lust and confusion and rage and bitterness of the world has been transferred into the sound our families voluntarily choose to listen to.

This is not a rant where I ask who wants to go move into a cave with me so we can all sing kumbaya while we pass around the baked beans until the apocalypse happens. We just need to take the time to decipher what we and our kids are listening to. Some of it is good music, good lyrics, others of what we’re listening is good music, bad lyrics, and some of it is just bad music with harmful lyrics.

Music is powerful. I can start singing half a line from a pop song in a room with teenagers in it and the teens finish the lyrics verbatim, but if I quote a commonly known Bible verse in that same room, can they finish it?

I feel like this post might come across as legalistic. That’s not my intent. That’s not who Jesus is. I just want families to get more serious about allowing their kids to watch and listen to things that bring them closer to the Lord.

Why can’t a parent walk into their kids room and tell them that the music being played isn’t honoring God and that it needs to be gone? Fumigated.

I didn’t get serious about God until I was 20. I played the Christian game for 20 years. The primary reason I was so disobedient, and rebellious, and in trouble, the primary reason I wasn’t sold out to God was because of the music I was listening to was so contrary to the life God wanted me to live. I threw all my awful music into a trash can outside on campus in college and I lit it on fire (I got in trouble for the fire, but it felt good to fumigate).

Your kids may not like the fact that you are going to fumigate the music in your home, this is what godly parenting is all about: Pain now for the long term good.

It’s how God disciplines us: Pain now for the long term good. There’s a balance. Fumigate the bad music, keep the good (and that’s not fumigate the non-Christian music, keep the Christian, there’s a balance). There’s some amazing non-Christian music. In my family, when we listen to lyrics that can be harmful in a song, we press the pause button and try to  redeem the lyrics making sure our children know what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.

It’s not just the music we hear, it’s the jokes amd language we hear and the gossip we are participating in, so many things we’re hearing keep us from God.

Here’s the third thing that could be keeping us from God:

3. The Public Schools.

Now everyone reading pays closer attention, right?

Let me be very clear that just as there are good things to view in TV and websites, and just as there are good things to hear, as in music, there are good things about the public school. There are also potentially harmful temptations in private and home schooling.

As a leader in the church, I am never going to take a stand on where kids should be sent to school, whether public, private, or home school. Being a leader in the church is not for me to propagand my opinion on schooling, or on politics, or whatever. I only want to help share how to make the family more Christ-like, and FYI, my children will always be attending public schools because my wife and I want to send light into darkness, and that includes sending loving, wise kids into public schools where hope and health are decreasing.

What I am saying is that if you’re sending your kid off to a public school, and you’re not paying attention to the stuff they’re learning, and you’re not paying attention to the friends they’re making and hanging out with and the types of coaches that are influencing them, if you’re just sending them off to the world day by day, having uninterrupted social time, it could be keeping them from God. Athletics is included in this. If sports and practice are keeping your kid from growing closer to God, let’s find a balance.

For you, whether you’re a parent or a kid or an in-between, the kinds of things you watch, the kind of music you hear, and the people you hang around – it is the center bulls eye kind of person you’ll become.

The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Romans 13:12-14)

It’s just having some quality, intentional conversations with our family and having the wisdom and courage to fumigate what tempts us from our purpose.

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z

Choose Your Parents Carefully

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Fa-la-la-la-la, la, la, la lots of extended families are going to reunite and spend time together over the holidays. There will be lots of weight-gaining. Lots of gift-giving. Lots of tradition-keeping. There will also be a lot of people holding their tongue, sweeping annoyances and issues toward loved ones under the Christmas rug.  We would love for the holidays to be a time we look forward to, not just something we have to get through.

One of the things all of us have in common is we were all once children. I was a child. You were a child. We’re all brought into this world through a biological mother and a biological father. If you didn’t come into the world that way, either you were lied to or no doubt NASA would like to talk to you.

One summer on a road trip to visit loved ones I saw a billboard alongside the highway that read this:

Choose Your Parents Carefully. 

It made me COL (Chuckle Out Loud) because the greatest irony in life is we get to pick our friends, pick our interests, pick our college, pick the vehicle we drive, pick our job, pick our sports teams, pick the church we’re involved in, pick the person we want to marry, pick the names of our children, pick the home we live in, but when it comes to the MOST formative relationship we will experience on earth, who raises us in our developmental years, we don’t have a say in the matter whatsoever. No one gets to choose their parent(s) or the people who raise them.

The parent-child relationship is the most influential earthly relationship because it affects how the child’s future adult relationships will look. I’m not sure every parent is asking, Am I raising this child to have adult relationships that are set up for health and success?

In culture today there’s another generation (this isn’t new) rising up that is being wounded by parents who were wounded by their parents. Many parent-child relationships are just surviving and getting by instead of thriving and loving life together. There’s much baggage there to be reminded of and it’s a very uncomfortable place. Holiday get-togethers seem to bring this to the surface.

For the parents who maybe weren’t spiritually-equipped to raise your children and you have this heavy regret that sticks around in your heart, there is so much grace from God for you.

For those of you who grew up in a home where your parents were not adequately, spiritually-equipped to raise you and you’ve got pain and anger and mental struggles, there’s grace from God for you too.

Let me make sure what I hope we all know already: there’s no perfect family. Anywhere. Enjoy your Christmas movies but know you don’t live in Whoville. The family I grew up in was a strong Christian home but there was still pain and drama. Even Jesus’ earthly family had conflict and separation. There are no perfect parents, no perfect children, no perfect outcomes in the home. If you’ve got it rough at home, so does everyone else in some way. We’re not looking for perfect. We should be looking for healthy.

Healthy relationships start in healthy homes led by healthy parents. 

If our children are going to have healthy relationships as they grow older it begins by healthy parents showing them what a healthy home looks like. If we can see how God has made the parent-child relationship as it is supposed to be, it will help all of us see how our adult-adult relationships are supposed to look as well.

God created man and woman to be together – not just sexually, not just in the same home, not just as roommates, not just stuck with each other, not just some good moments – but to love and serve and enjoy each other every day, together.

One theologian put it this way:

“We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with our weirdness, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.” Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

That’s deep. That’s Barry White deep.

When a man and a woman fall into this mutual weirdness called love, God then invites them to participate in what He does best, which is creating life. God created the man and the woman to become one flesh, this mysterious collection of body and soul coming together and what that physical and spiritual union produces is this small, purple wrinkly, cone-shaped head little baby that eats and sleeps and ruins onesies 24/7.

This is when the most important earthly relationship begins. A parent doesn’t just love the infant, they begin to shepherd them towards emotional, relational and spiritual health.

Parenting is the most exhausting thing you’ll continually participate in (and all the parents reading this blog said,  AMEN). Parenting is the most selfless, hardest, most rewarding activity one can do this side of heaven, when it’s done as God intends. There’s selfish parenting. There’s fear-filled parenting. There’s lazy parenting. There’s heart-aching, abusive and absent parenting. That’s not what God intends.

A woman told me that her husband walked out on their family, leaving her to care for their three young kids by herself. She said to me, I’m realizing after serving my husband for years, he never really loved me as God intended him to. 

That’s hard to swallow.

After she factored in some more hindsight she said, I’m seeing it clearly. The reason he didn’t or couldn’t love me is because the love of God wasn’t in him. He’s not a Christ-follower. She had some more revelation and said, The more I think about it, the love of God was not in my husband’s father either. Then she said, And neither was the love of God in his grandfather.

BINGO.

Our values and behavior patterns aren’t only formed in us physically. They have been passed down to us from our parents. This is where we have a choice to make. It’s a choice on whether or not we are going to pass these same values and behavior patterns onto our children and the next generation.

The child in the home is supposed to look at mom and dad and see the clearest picture of God they will see in any of their upbringing relationships. The best picture of church a child can see is not in a church building. It’s at home.

If mom and dad don’t live like God then the children they have will be confused about who God is.

They’ll be confused about how God loves, how God forgives, how good and committed God is, how God serves, how God provides, how God is holy, how God heals.

What also can be said is,

If mom and dad don’t trust God in all things then their children will have issues trusting God.

A baby is wired to be dependent on mom and dad because a baby is completely helpless. If mom and dad don’t provide the physical/emotional/spiritual health every child deserves and needs when they are helpless, that baby will grow to learn to depend and provide for only themselves and eventually they’ll struggle to trust adults. They will struggle to trust God. They will be confused about what God created them for by living independent from (against) God and living independent (isolated) from others around them.

If you haven’t yet put the puzzle pieces together on why you’ve had trust issues in your relationships, why you’ve struggled experiencing contentment no matter the circumstances, why you’ve had difficulty giving and receiving love, the answer can be this simple: Maybe mom and dad didn’t do what God had called them to do. Forgive them. Love them still. Be who they were supposed to be for you going forward. Be right now who you needed when you were younger.

Prove your love to your children by choosing to shepherd them. We agree our kids grow up and leave home in the blink of an eye, so there is no questioning how fast time will go. The question is will parents be ushering their children toward unhealthy adult relationships, or healthy ones?

Set a resilient goal to not have any arguments over the next month when celebrating the birth of the One who came to bring peace.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)

Thanks for reading. You are loved.

Z