Monday, 25 August 2014

5 things I've learnt since becoming a Dad

I know I've only been doing this dad thing for 4 years so I'm not pretending to know much about it, but here's some things I've learnt in these 4 years. 

1. Pants Matter

I don't know why but they do. Some of the biggest outbursts in recent months have been to do with Riley's pants. Apparently having boring pants is not only possible, but terrible. Every few months we have to make trips to buy new pants - just to preserve the peace. For a while it was pirate pants, then it was Spiderman pants and now it's superheroes. Valuable lesson #1 don't settle for boring pants. You never know when your friends might ask you what pants you're wearing and if at that moment your pants have only got stripes on them, you're going to feel a fool!

2. I Want To Be A Kids TV Presenter

I'll be honest, I feel a slight twinge of jealousy every time a new presenter is introduced on CBeebies. I want to be Andy Day of Andy's Wild/Dinosaur Adventures fame. 

It just looks like such a fun job to have and they seem like such a fun group of people to belong to. The CBeebies team are awesome and I want to be part of them. Milkshake (the C5 alternative) is a different matter all together, don't get me started. They make me want to be a kids TV presenter but for entirely different reasons, they're all just so... bad, and the production so amateur (sorry). 

3. My Past Matters

To them as a source of fascination, and to me as a model to copy.

Riley loves it when Amy or I talk about what we did 'when we were little'. His eyes light up like he's discovering treasure. In time, I'm sure that'll wear off but for now it's fun and I feel like a celebrity.

Secondly my past matters as providing a source of advice on how I parent and a list of ideas for what games we play/trips we go on. Being aware of this is useful. It means I can be more intentional about mining my memory for wisdom and ideas, but it also means I'm a little more humble about my task of parenting. I recognise that the reason that I think this way of disciplining is right and that way of instructing is wrong may just be because that's what my parents did. It doesn't make it right or wrong it just makes it familiar. In parenting I've learnt that my upbringing makes a good servant but a bad master. Learn from it, take the good bits from it, but don't let it rule the way you do it. I am not my parents, and my kids aren't me. Amy and I both draw upon our different sources for advice and wisdom but must forge our own path up the mountain.

4. Society DeValues Dads

I didn't notice this before I had kids, but I think it's true. I knew that dads were significant to the way a child turned out and I knew about the negative impact that absent fathers have on children but I didn't see all of the different ways that dads are devalued. In our kids TV shows Dads are often clumsy, forgetful and irresponsible, and in adult TV shows they're often absent, violent or cruel. Watching (with Amy you understand) a recent episode of One Born Every Minute one of the midwives commented that: the best dads, are mums - as if that therefore legitimised same-sex parenting. I've also observed that many a mum thinks nothing of making sarcastic comments about dad and his latest moment of parenting incompetency, often with him present and in the room. This is sad. 

Ok, so I often take twice as long as Amy to make the sandwiches, or get them dressed, or get them in the car... or a lot of things for that matter. Ok so I often dress them badly and go out without the necessary supplies, and ok so I like to goof about and wrestle with them but still, dads matter. Maybe we can't do dad-jokes & dad-dancing and still expect respect but still I know that I'm having a positive impact on the way my boys turn out, the way our home runs and the way Amy flourishes as a mum. Besides that studies have shown a direct correlation between fatherlessness and poverty, obesity, alcoholism, incarceration and crime (I'm sure there's also a correlation between motherlessness and those things but I don't think their value is ever called into question or undermined like a dads is). 

1 in 3 children in the UK are being raised without a dad at home and I don't think our cultural attitude is helping the situation. We can't change the way men & dads are presented in the media but we can ensure that we don't devalue them in the conversations and communities/churches we're part of. 

The truth is that we do often need more help in becoming good dads than mums do. It doesn't seem to come as naturally to us, and we're not often endowed with as much natural wisdom or plain common sense ;) as them. But the sarcasm and jokes and public belittling isn't helping us get better either. Joking about someone's incompetency doesn't help them get better, it only reinforces what they're not.  

5. Life Sparkles

I tried to find a less flouncy and camp way of saying it but couldn't - it's true. 

Having kids means that I appreciate the wonder and beauty and potential adventure in all the things around me. A wooden spoon becomes a sword again, the rocks in the garden become mountains for intrepid explorers to climb and the dining table becomes a den to hide under. Visiting places with kids is chaotic for sure but it's also exciting. I love being able to appreciate everything again because I'm seeing it through their eyes. It's as though I'm seeing much of life for the first time. The rain, the sea, the woods, the mud - all take on a new magic and fascination. 

I'm reminded of Chesterton's comment about fairy tales. He argues for the value of them to remind us of the everyday magic in life that we've become too familiar with to see. The reason, he says, that in fairy tales the rivers flow with wine is to remind us that they flow with water. Having children has the same effect on life. I'd forgotten how fascinating nature was and how magical life is.

6. Whilst writing this blog I've neglected my kids

Riley's starting hitting Zach, Amy's had to do the breakfast battles on her own and now the toys are being thrown around the room - I think I should put the computer down and engage in the room :)
Maybe that explains no. 4!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Am I Going To Hell?

A friend asked me that question today in the changing rooms after a game of squash. When I say he asked me that question it's perhaps more accurate to say that he challenged me with that question. It wasn't a soul searching 'I'm really worried' but more of a 'do you see how ridiculous your worldview is?' sort of challenge. It came in the middle of a 'conversation' (read 'attempt to discredit my faith') about eternity, morality and God.

He started it Miss. Promise.

The blunt and abrupt framing of the question caught me off guard. I struggled since I didn't know what the 'right' answer to give was. 'Right' because I was torn between a blunt, but potentially misunderstood, 'yes' and a wishy-washy 'God is love and life is long and who really knows anyway...'. The danger of simply answering 'yes' is that he would hear my answer to be '...because you're a wicked sinner and I'm a holy moralist who goes to church. I'm a good person and your a bad person.'. That is not the answer I'd want him to hear, nor is it even close to the truth about the Bible's teaching on hell and the afterlife. That's the risk we run in any conversation when we don't first qualify the terms we're discussing.

In those moments as a Christian, I rarely know what the 'right' thing to say is. Conversations move so quickly. Before I know it, arguments and counter arguments from both sides have come flailing out of our mouths, so much so that I rarely have time to think, pause, reflect and say something wise or just, well thoughtful. I always drive home afterwards running the conversation through over and over again, and then I always draw a line under it all by coming to the conclusion - if God can speak through donkeys he can maybe use me. And so I pray.

Jesus' disciple Peter writes to a church in the New Testament and tells them to 'always be prepared to give a reason for the hope you have, and do so with all gentleness and respect.'

Be prepared, & answer with all love and respect. That's it. That defines what the 'right' thing to say is in any conversation. That's Peter's way of defining a 'win' for us. Winning isn't about convincing someone else or shouting them down so that they go home feeling stupid. 'Winning' in conversations with anyone over something you disagree about has more to do with the way you say what you say than it does the arguments you use. That is all. Answer the person and not the question, love the person more than the fray.

As to the question we began with. It's a fascinating and emotionally charged question that it deserves another blog post...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

An Epistle From Timothy to Paul

Months before his death the Apostle Paul, wrote a letter to his friend and apprentice Timothy. The letter appears in our New Testaments as 2 Timothy and is a tender, warmhearted letter written in much affection. As a younger leader I identify with the Timothy of this letter. I have been privileged to have had several 'Pauls' in my life ranging from older men in their 60s & 70s to those only a few years older than me. These people have inputted into my life and trained me, not to work a job but to live a life of faith that honours Jesus. I appreciate and value all of the older men who have set an example for me by faithfully loving their wives, raising their children and passionately declaring the good news of Jesus. I have learnt to pray, to give, to preach and to serve from such men, and I will go on learning from them for many years to come. Some I've known personally while others have influenced me from afar. Men like Rob Milliken, Richard James, Tom Shaw, Andy Chev, Graham Marsh, Andrew Wilson, Dave Dean, Chris Ashurst, Andy Thorpe, Steve Blaber & John Kettle. Others like Terry Virgo, Dave Holden, Joel Virgo, Tim Keller, John Piper, PJ Smyth, Andy Stanley & Mark Driscoll.

Yesterday was a sad day. I read of a controversy and request-for-resignation of a well known and personally influential Christian leader. I don't know the ins and outs of the story and I don't know how accurate a lot of the allegations are. What I do know is that it hit me quite hard. It felt as though a 'Paul' to this 'Timothy' had been disqualified and discredited. It wounded me and marred much of the positive impression he has made on my life. 

Recognising the influence that mentors can have in our lives I wanted to write a letter, an epistle if you will, to all of the 'Pauls' out there, from this Timothy. 

To all of my spiritual fathers in the faith:
Timothy, a slave of Jesus, to Paul my mentor and Father in the faith. 
I am first a Christian and I know that chiefly I am to look to Jesus as my master, example and friend. It's not appropriate or fair of me to elevate you or anyone like you to the status of messiah in my life. For the times I have done this, I am sorry. I appreciate that you are also a fallen, sinful and fallible man like myself and I will daily extend to you all of the grace and forgiveness that I would want extended to myself. We are, both of us, 'beggars who've found bread' and as such we are equally in need of food and sustenance from God. 
That being said you are also my example in the Lord and the one I choose to imitate, just as you imitate Christ. You are my father in God and as such have made an indelible imprint on my character and conduct. You have encouraged me to pursue Jesus throughout the heartaches and confusions of life and you have provided for me answers I needed when I needed them. Thank you.
I have laid down all of my hopes and dreams to pursue Jesus and have done so at your bidding and with your input and motivation. You have been a guiding voice and have challenged me to make the big sacrifice and to throw my life away on Christ. For all this I am genuinely grateful. Grateful but also sobered by the recent news of another's disqualification from service. 
You wrote to me once telling me to: 'Follow the pattern of the words you have heard from me...' telling me to 'Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ.'. You admonished me to do my best to present myself to God as one approved, 'a worker who has no need to be ashamed...' and you urged me to 'Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace... having nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies, that you know breed quarrels.' 
Now, in light of the recent news about our brother, I would urge you to heed your own advice to me.
Your faithful perseverance and enduring to the end, means more to me than you know. Your example to me over the 15 years I've followed Jesus has been exemplary but I would urge you not to discredit your witness and ruin your legacy. 
It matters to me that you do whatever it takes to preserve the passionate gospel witness you've set for me. Go on more holidays if you need to, have sabbaticals if it helps, reduce your leadership responsibility if you must - just please don't disqualify yourself. What you preached to me from the pulpit and from across the dinner table counts more than you know. I may not have always taken your advice but I have always been moulded by your fire for God. 
I'm not expecting you to be perfect, I know you're not. I'm not burdening you by asking you even to 'have it all together', I'm just asking that you guard your life and conduct. Our enemy hates you. He hates you and he wants to see your life's work discredited. The more you've walked with Christ and faithfully used your leadership gift, you have become a bigger and bigger target for Satan. The weaknesses in your character, he sees and your vulnerabilities he knows all about. That untamed tongue and that stubborn spirit, he's well aware of. Don't give him the pleasure of catching you unawares. Know yourself, know your weaknesses and know the all-sufficiency of Jesus to meet you in your time of need. 
Just because you've heard and given most of the sermons in the book doesn't mean you're done. It doesn't mean you can stop immersing yourself in prayer, it doesn't mean you can cope fine now without a devotion to Jesus. 
Just because you've attended and led every prayer meeting available over many years of ministry doesn't mean you can stop praying.
Just because you've reengineered community groups/life groups/home groups/mission groups... doesn't now mean you can do without community. 
It's easy to become skeptical and jaded in ministry, especially after many years where perhaps your expectations haven't been met. The things you hoped for in your twenties you may still be hoping for in your 50s or 60s; maybe your heart feels a little sick with all those hope deferrals. Jesus is the medicine to cure that sickness. You told me once that he was and I found it to be true. 
Don't become so worldly wise that you graduate off of your knees and onto your feet again.
Don't get disillusioned with Jesus, it's everything else that's the illusion not him. 
Don't allow success to rob you of faith and don't allow material comfort to soften you and seduce you into passivity. It was your fire and determination that got you that success, and it was your sacrificial giving that made it possible for God to entrust you with such comfort. 
In your older age I imagine that the desire to be liked by the world and understood by the community grows stronger. The temptation to keep quiet and be liked gets stronger I'm sure. Remember this - the world hated Jesus, it will hate you. Don't do whatever it takes to gain a seat on the cool kids' table.
I need you, we the church need you. You might not think that it does, but it does.
Your life has become a tree that we seek shade under, you have become an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord. 
I am praying for you that you will fight the good fight of faith all the way to the end. I want for you to transition well, retire well and die well, and I know that needs all the prayer and support in the world. I'll do whatever I can to help just please, for heaven's sake, don't discredit yourself and break my heart. 
Yours with all affection and gratitude,