Husband. Dad to 5. Student Ministry Pastor. Follower of Jesus. Yatta yatta.


About 3 weeks ago I crossed a parenting milestone that I’ve spent the better part of 2 decades anticipating and preparing for:

my first born son, TJ -who launched me into fatherhood at 25-  turned 18 and is now an “official adult”.   (insert cliche but true statement about how time flies and how you should not blink because your kids will be 18 before you know it.)

dad and tj - 1

Anyway… I say an “official adult” in quotes, not because I don’t think he is one (quite the opposite really), but rather because the government now says he is, regardless of anyone’s opinion.   That said, with a front row seat to youth ministry for the past 22 years, my wife and I have never really believed that age 18 is what makes an adult.  In fact, we know lots of 25 year-olds that still are not and a few 15 year-olds who we think are.  So to that end, we did our best to try and pass the baton of character, faith, leadership and responsibility back to TJ incrementally as he moved from boy to tween to young adult.

But now that this parenting milestone is in the past, it begs more than a few questions…

  1. Is my adult son the answer to the question, “Am I a good Dad?”
  2. Is my parenting producing a young man who reflects the character of God more than he reflects me?
  3. If I could go back 18 years and start over, what would I tell my 25 year-old self at the entry gate to parenting?
  4. We still have 4 “kids” in our home… so how does this change TJ’s role with them and how will his moving out to go to college affect the story of everyone in our home?
  5. How does my role change in TJ’s life and what does it mean to parent an adult?
  6. … and on and on…

While all that has been kicking around in my head, a song has been playing on the radio that caught me off guard with how deeply it resonated within my soul.  Not necessarily because I agree with it’s lyrics or even the larger opinions of the artist, but because it’s the most authentic reflection of parenting I’ve heard in a really long time.  Ben Haggerty (who you might now as the rapper/musician/songwriter/artist named “Macklemore”)  wrote it for his young baby son, Sloane, and it’s called “Growing Up”.  You can watch a short but fascinatingly authentic interview about the song here.  It made the top 40 songs in the nation this week, and while it doesn’t yet have an “official music video”… if you’re a parent, I think it’s worth the listen.  There’s a lyric video you can watch and listen to here or click play on the video below. It’s definitely worth 5 minutes and 33 seconds of your story.

As I’ve listened to this song and searched is resonance in me, I think I’ve concluded a few things.

PARENTING MATTERS:  The role we as parents play is incredibly shaping.  Just yesterday I listened and prayed with a 30 year-old man who wrestled and weeped over the absence of a real parent in his childhood story.  Regardless of whether your parenting playbook looks like mine or Macklemore’s, the fact is the same: We are all shaping our kids and our character and choices are profoundly impacting the children God has given us.  Deep down, all parents share a passion to be good mom’s and dad’s.  I say, “Lean into that desire”.  Good job Macklemore!  I agree, there is massive “weight” to our decisions and props for trying to be intentional about yours in light of it’s impact on the kids you’ve been entrusted with.

PARENTING IS SCARY:  Oh my is it scary and we are all “filled with fear”… both good and bad.   It keeps me on my knees before God and on my toes before the world.

PARENTING IS ABOUT BEING PRESENT:  “I don’t wanna be a Dad that’s living in Facetime” is such a profound and powerful 2015 lyric.   We live in a culture where you can be physically present and emotionally absent through social media, cell phones, texting, and technology.  You can also be physically absent and pseudo present through things like Skype and Face Time. But it’s a myth.  You can’t cry with your kid, watch your kid’s games, vacation with your kid, mentor your kid, or be there for your kid while you’re actually somewhere else.  Parenting requires that we be present.  period.

BALANCING HOME AND WORK IS A CONSTANT TENSION:  Especially if you’re the primary income source for your home, you’ll find this tension is so strong that as a parent and a provider, those two never stop pulling at each other.  Macklemore gets that.  He has a kid to raise and a concert tour contract to fulfill.  We get that.  When your son wants you to play soccer with him, you too will inevitably have e-mails to answer, bids to secure, and customers to satisfy.   It never stops and it never will.  Parenting is unapologetically about navigating this tension.  Those who fail to do so eventually lose their influence in their home, their workplace, or maybe even both.

PARENTING ADVICE IS ONLY AS SOLID AS IT’S SOURCE: I think the scariest thing about this song is the advice piece.  Not because I think his is all bad or that I don’t have a similar list of things I’d love to write down to give to my own kids.  It’s just who’s to say that my advice is any better and how do we know?  Personally, I’ve come to the conclusion that my advice is only as solid as it’s source.  For me, that means that if my parenting reflects the image of God we find in Jesus, then it’s advice worth heeding.  But on those days when I just default to my own experience and skip the dependency on God’s wisdom, well… those are not great parenting moments.

PARENTING IS DONE WHILE GROWING UP:  That’s such a profound lyric in this chorus and such a resonating truth with all who parent.  It’s inexplicably humbling when we admit that “I’m trying to raise a grown up while still in the process of growing up myself”.  Praise God for his grace because we’re literally growing up together.    My kid didn’t get a trial run at being a teen and I didn’t get a trial run at being forty something either.  Parenting is like building a boat while at sea.  No wonder it’s so hard to get right.  We should all cut everyone a whole grip of slack.  We’re all still growing up.


This last week I read an article in Time  about a guy who quit his high paying job as CEO of a trillion dollar-a-year investment fund company.

Q: Why would that matter to me or you?

A: Because he did so after his daughter wrote him a 22 point list of all the key events in her 10 year-old life he’d missed due to work: everything from her first day at school to her first soccer game to parent/teacher meetings to halloween parades.


Not ouch, like “wow, that guy has a bold kid.”   More like “Ouch, I feel that pain.”  Not because my kids have written me a 22 point list of events I’ve missed.  But “ouch” because I get it.  I can identify when there are too many meetings to attend, too much on my to-do list, and too many pressures to both provide financially for my family while all-the-while still finding time for that which is so much more important: my family.

To that end, I firmly believe that my ministry and calling to be present to my family trumps my ministry to all others.  In fact, I think my failure to minister to my own family is the chief thing that undermines my ability to minister to others.  At this stage of the game, how I  do life with my own 5 middle school and high school students living under my roof is the primary observation point for all of the other students in my ministry.   My credibility is readily on display all day long.  Maybe not necessarily in what my kids choose to do with their own free will, but certainly in how I choose to respond.

I wish I could tell you I never give into work demands or have mastered the work/family dynamic, but it’s no different for me.  I have to work tirelessly hard to keep this balance straight.  Last weekend I left 2 important high demand meetings at church to be present to events with my kids.  Yet as I hit send on my first blog post in months, I’m also headed to the airport today where I’m going to be gone on business for 4 days.  In the process, I’ll miss 4 of my kids playing soccer and leave my oldest son to coach my daughter’s team on his own and essentially ask my wife to be a single mom for the weekend.  I get it.  Work and life collide and I’m not superman and I’m not God.  I can’t do it all or be in 2 places at once.

So how do we navigate this work/family thing as parents and spouses?  Here’s 4 quick things I’ve found helpful.  (If you’re in the military or you have a “traveling job” where you’re gone for weeks on end all year, then our worlds will seem miles apart- and maybe they are.  But I still think the basic principles apply.)


More specifically, take all the time off you are permitted to by your employer.  If you have 2 weeks of paid leave a year, then take all 14 days.   If you have 4 weeks, then take 4 weeks. Don’t leave them hanging around, especially when you have kids hanging around.  One of the latest Mastercard ads claims that 400 million vacation days go unused every year in the U.S.   To which one kid replies, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”  It’s more than brilliant marketing.  It’s a sad reality. Watch this 33 second video and be reminded of this powerful investment into telling your family they matter more than your business.

You don’t have to use your master card.  Just go to the park or bum a friend’s pool for the day while they use their master card to go to Hawaii.  It doesn’t have to cost money, but it will cost you time and the investment will be priceless. (which is some other credit card companies motto I think- ha ha)


Get a calendar and load it up.  My family shares ical accounts.  Everyone can see where everyone is.  I know when soccer games, concerts, and practices are.  I know about special events and they know when I’m in town, out of town, or in a meeting.  Communication is what keeps us on the same page and keeps us talking about real needs and real demands. It’s what changes the game for us as a family and what turns hypothetical values into practical commitments with purpose.  If real-estate sales are all about location, location, location.   The work/home life balance is all about communication, communication, communication.


Ultimately, my job is not what I want to be known for or what I care about most.  One day my church will find another youth pastor.  We’re all expendable at work.  My kids however will not find another dad.   The days I let that reality drift too deep down the to-do list are the days I regret the most.


Decide this firmly.  There is actually no such thing as a work life and a home life.  You and I don’t have a social life or an “on-line” life.  All we have is a life.  We all have just one life made up of many pieces that cannot be compartmentalized. What I do at work affects home and visa versa.  We all get that we can’t be in two places at once.  However our souls have no compartments in them.  It all bleeds together.  I must say yes to some things and no to others, not trying to find some elusive thing we call balance.   Balance is not my goal.  Living a life that accurately reflects my deepest values is.


uncovered title redEvery year we dedicate a series of messages to the subject of dating, love, sex, relationships, marriage and stuff like that.  We change up the “theme” and write new material and include new voices every year.   Currently, we’re a few weeks into our series called “Uncovered” and on the first Sunday of the series, we passed around “anonymous surveys” about sexual opinions and experiences.

We asked our students to list NO names, only check a box indicating their gender.  In addition, we specifically asked them not to lie or make crap up because it would not help us and we’d rather they didn’t fill it out if they couldn’t be honest.  Then we then had them fill out the survey, fold it in half, and then give it back.

Here’s the exact list of 11 Questions.  The first 10 are Y/N and the last one was multiple choice:

  1. Have you ever viewed porn videos, websites or pictures?
  2. Have you been part to an explicitly sexual conversation w/friends?
  3. Has a parental figure ever discussed the issues of sexuality w/you?
  4. Have you had an intimate kiss?
  5. Do you feel it is alright to “make out” with someone outside a boyfriend/girlfriend situation?
  6. Do you feel it is alright to “make out” with someone if you are in a boyfriend/girlfriend situation?
  7. Do you feel it is alright to explore one another’s bodies “above the belt” within a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship?
  8. Do you feel it is alright to be in a sexual relationship with “someone you love” outside of marriage?
  9. Have you had sexual intercourse?
  10. Have you been involved in sexual activites “below the belt” but not to the point of actual intercourse?
  11. I feel same-sex sexually active relationships are: God’s plan for some __  A sin____   Not sure___  Great if monogamous ___

Today I tallied the results.  We had a total of 44 high school women and 39 high school guys fill out the survey (so 83 total) on one Sunday morning in Encounter on April 27, 2014.   You can download the results here if you want. 

As I tallied this stuff up, I discovered some things you’d expect and some you probably wouldn’t.  But here’s the stuff that wrenched my gut and keeps me up at night.  Don’t forget, this is ONE survey of ONE high school youth group on ONE Sunday morning.   Students who came to church at 9 or 11am on a single weekend.  That’s limiting your audience by a lot and “ruining” all statistics for “the big picture” of teens in our culture.  But it’s enough to give me a reality check in my own ministry.

If you attend JCC, here you go.  If you don’t, you might do this in your own youth group. Here’s my reminders:

PORN IS TAINTING EVERYONE’S VIEW OF SEXUALITY:  This is no news flash.  But statistically speaking, 79 % of the men compared to 36% of my women admitted to seeing it.  I constantly talk with guys who have computers in their room, cell phones with no limitations, and access to porn with great ease.  LONG gone are the days when you have to hunt for it.  It’s teaching women they are a sexual commodity and reminding men that they are visually stimulated and should enjoy that.  It is creating false expectations, decreasing men’s ability to have healthy social relationships with women, and telling lies about what sex could or even should be about.

EVERYTHING IS RELATIVE TO TEENS TODAY- ESPECIALLY SEXUALITY:  The survey is all over the map.  One person will say that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but it’s ok to be sexually active below the belt as long as intercourse is not involved.  85% of them will make out with someone they’re dating and almost 1/2 of those women will also let that guy explore their breasts.   At least 25% of them will sleep with you if they think they’re “in love”.  They are all over the map on same sex attraction and tons of them are just plain confused.   Really, there’s no rhyme nor reason to these decisions.  It’s not like you can find a trend in these surveys or interview a student and get a logical formula for these decisions.   Many of the students I work with are arbitrarily picking values based on culture, upbringing, desires, and whatever feels right at the time.

MY GIRLS ARE TWICE AS SEXUALLY ACTIVE AS MY GUYS.   Yup.  You read that correctly.  30% of my girls have had sex with a guy and 41% of them have done just about all but had intercourse.  Compare that to only 15% and 23% of my guys respectively.  What does this mean?  I don’t know what it means in your context but I I’ll bet you my right arm in my context it’s tied to three things.

1. PORN IS ENOUGH FOR GUYS.  they’re not sexually active because they’re visually stimulated and porn pseudo fills a need.  It’s a lie.  But it does.  My girls are not visually stimulated. They are not interested in 2 dimensional intimacy and are not fooled by it.  They are hungry for affection and love and will give up a lot to a guy who claims to love her.  She wants a love that is real and many believe they’ve found it at some point.

2. FATHERS ARE ABSENT AND OUR GIRLS FEEL IT.  It’s not on my survey, but it probably should have been.   If you ask the 40% of girls who have been sexually active below the belt, either with or without intercourse, my bet is that a HIGH percentage of them will also tell you they do not get love, affection, or regular time with their earthly father.   It starts at puberty in middle school with girls and everything changes. When they need affection the most, even a present Dad often gets weird about it and subtly stops showing the same level of affection.  Then, by the time she’s 16, Dad is so emotionally distant from her that she’ll go looking in any guy who can fill the role.  She looks for one who is strong, provides for her, tells her she’s pretty, and even buys her meals.  He becomes her provider and when he tells her she’s beautiful, she hasn’t heard it in so long that she’ll give him anything she can- sexually or otherwise to keep his love that she so desperately needs.

3. MANY OF MY WOMEN ARE DATING GUYS WHO ARE DISTANT FROM GOD.  Part of the reason why our guys numbers are so much different is because in our youth ministry, many of the women are dating guys who have no theological center.  They are not active in their faith, don’t attend our youth ministry or any other, and despite invitations from their dates, will still remain distant from God.  Nonetheless, they fall in love with the girls and they make excuses for him.  He does all the providing and “nice guy” stuff I listed above, and she justifies her love by seeking to satisfy his sexual desires.  So, in the search for love, 41% of them gotten as naked as you can without “going all the way”.


SO WHAT DO I DO?  What do we do?

SAY NO TO SHAME:  you’re not going to guilt teens or shame people into following Jesus.  I really have no interest in correcting some “moral standard” that is outside of God’s grace anyway.   I have cried and prayed over these stats, but I’m not going to beat students up with them.  One of my favorite verses in all the scriptures is the pre-fall truth that Genesis 2:25 records:  Adam and Eve were both naked and they felt no shame.  I think students need a better view of sexuality, not a more shame filled one.  Healthy sexual expression is just that… it is healthy.  I’m going to lead them to fresh water as best I can.

INVITE AND WALK WITH  STUDENTS BACK TO JESUS:   I think it all boils down to, “Do I want to honor God in all I do?”  If the answer is yes, then the rest will follow.  I will continue to invite students to ask themselves “Did I follow Jesus into where I am now?”  If the answer is yes, they it should be good regardless of the subject we’re asking the question about.  If however, the answer is no, then the only question remaining is “Will I follow Jesus out of where I am?”   I’m committed to walking with students in this, regardless of their answers.

SAY THE HARD STUFF:  I will continue to confront both the men and the women in my ministry with the love of God.  I will not sit idly by while this culture destroys the dating and sexual experiences of the teens I work with.  I won’t be the quiet observer.  I won’t be the angry yeller.  But I will be the firm reminder, that there is a better way.  I don’t need to be a teen’s best friend.  But I refuse to let the pursuit of wanting to be liked turn my pastoral and even parental voice mute.   Sometimes, I have to ask questions or make observations that make me uncomfortable.

RAISE UP MEN AND WOMEN TO WALK WITH THIS GENERATION:  Calling all the Adults around me. It’s game on.  This generation needs your wisdom and your presence.  It’s time to step up our game.


If you’re a parent like me, then finding the time to sit and listen to a podcast or audio teaching while you do nothing is not happening.  However, the background noise for the 15 minute drive to work or the 1/2 hour run you go on might be up for grabs.  For me, those are the slots that I’m trying to fill with some intentional learning.

So, in honor of lending your ear toward a few GREAT investments in your time as a parent- even if it’s just in the background of other activities…   Here’s 6 podcasts episodes I recently listened to that I think would be worth your time.

0e2372319_1376941814_logomarinersWHAT KIDS NEED FROM CARING ADULTS.  My friend Doug Fields recently did a 3 part series on the weekends both at Saddleback and at Mariners in southern CA by this title.  In these talks, Doug shares lots of stories, some really practical ideas, and gives you a ton of food for thought on parenting intentionally.  Each message is about 45 minutes long, but so worth it.  If you’re married, I’d encourage you to listen either with your spouse or to have your spouse listen after you do and then share your thoughts as you go along.  Lots to talk and think about here.  If you want to read about some more of Doug’s thoughts on this, you should pick up his short book “What Matter’s Most“.  I loved this read and it gave me so much permission to draw lines in defense of my marriage and family by reading it.

Here’s the link to the podcasts from his time at Mariners:



I subscribe to this monthly leadership podcast by Andy Stanley (pastor, author, etc)   I loved the insights he gives about leading with the end game in mind.  Seriously, so so good.  GIVE THIS PODCAST A LISTEN.  You’ll be inspired and challenged.  If you want to read on this subject by Andy Stanley, then pick up his book “Choosing to Cheat“.  It’s a short, but challenging read that shaped my story.

Here’s the link to the podcast:

UnknownTIPS FOR PROTECTING YOUR MARRIAGE AND FAMILY.   This is a 2 part series of radio interviews I did with Jim Burns from and their syndicated radio show that aired this week.  Both were based on the content of my book, As For Me and My Crazy House (which you can grab a copy off right off the sidebar in this blog if you want).  I think you might find them interesting to give a listen to, regardless of if you’ve read the book or not.

Here’s the link to the podcasts:



I confess, I’m not really much of a movie man.  

They are expensive (especially if I take all 7 of the Berrytribe like we do every Christmas). It’s mostly a blind gamble as to their quality, which I can’t afford the time or money to risk too often these days.  And, for the most part, they make lousy dates with my wife because you walk out 3 hours later, $30 poorer and not knowing one another any better by the investment.  I’d rather go for a walk and grab a meal together. 

But that said, I do have movies that I love.  Without tainting your opinion of me with those titles, I think their common threads are some combination of these: 

  1. They have a character I want to emulate or be like.
  2. They often are “based” on a true story or a book that I have read
  3. They often have at least some comic relief in the drama of the narrative.


So, when I went to see Noah on opening day last Friday with some friends, I think that without saying it, that’s kinda what I was expecting.  I’ve read the book and even memorized a few lines from Noah’s story.   My favorite is Genesis 6:9.  It reads, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, Noah walked with God.”  I wanted that to be true.

I wanted to walk out of the theatre appreciating some of the creative license on plot twists and concepts that might have been true or were within the realm of possible.  I wanted to laugh a little.  But mostly, I wanted to walk out wanting to be Noah.  I wanted to leave the theatre like you do when you leave a great funeral, wanting to emulate the one in whose name we have gathered.  I know I didn’t walk the Earth with Noah, but I wanted to feel like I wished I could have been in his family or at least have known him.

But on those notes, this movie fell flat.  It left me with a distaste for the character Noah, a silent/ angry/ distant God, and a sense that what I just watched was mythology, not a remake of an ancient truth.

Yet, in spite of that, here’s a few reasons I’d tell you to see it and why I’ll eventually watch it with my own kids so we can wrestle with it:

(warning… might be a movie spoiler or two down here)


I was the one who decorated our kid’s nursery with cute little animals walking 2 by 2 into the ark.  We had several toy play sets and all kinds of stuffed animals for kids to remake the scene with as they moved through their toddler years.  I wouldn’t change that…

… but all the Bible stories we tell little kids are age-appropriately edited.  At some point, faith development requires you undo that censorship and pull the covers back on the rest of the story.  The kids Bible you grew up with was missing some verses to say the least.  Think about it:  David and Goliath ends with David decapitating Goliath and then carrying his head around all the way to Jerusalem and then displaying Goliath’s weapons like a treasure in his tent.  Can you imagine the uproar if the U.S. soldiers did that with Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden?  Not exactly what we would even call humane treatment of even your enemy.

When the walls of Jericho come down by the power of God, they devote the city to God and then ALL the inhabitants and ALL their livestock are killed by the Israelites.  After Elijah defeats the prophets of Baal in an epic showdown with fire from heaven, he has his opponents captured and then slaughtered.  Yes, that’s the word the NIV uses to describe it… slaughtered.   That definitely never makes it in the picture pop-up Bible.

The truth is: Noah and his family and some animals live, but everyone else dies.  EVERYONE else dies.  Neither the Bible nor this Movie leave that fact ambiguous.  Much like The Passion of the Christ did not hide the blood on the crucifixion, neither does the Noah story hide the death and destruction the flood caused.  In fact, Noah’s kids even wrestle with it as they hear the screams of the last few survivors as they sit inside the safety of the boat, begging Noah to do something.

You can’t bury this in faith.  If you’re going to follow Jesus or claim that God is loving, you’re going to have to come to terms with this text.  Keep reading…


Despite the horrific reality of a world that drowns to death, as the viewer, you actually never feel guilty about those who die because the movie depicts them as horribly evil.  They rape women and abduct children.  They kill animals and eat their meat raw and bloody.  Sin has literally ruined the world.   I kind of saw God’s reason for the flood in a new light.  I almost wanted to rid the world of them myself.  Genesis 6:11-12 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. ”  I thought the film did a good job of depicting this reality.


For example, when Noah finally lands on dry land, he has survivors guilt and tries to drink his worries away like an alcoholic.   The Biblical Noah story does in fact have Noah naked and drunk near the end of it.  I never quite understood this in the text of the Scriptures and seems to be a backward move from “Noah was a righteous man” who was blameless and walked with God.  The movie made me wonder if in fact Noah was dealing with “survivor’s guilt” on a level that was literally almost unbearable.  I was moved to compassion for his response and reminded how quickly sin creeps back into the human condition, even after given a clean slate to restart.


If you haven’t read Genesis chapters 6-9 in a while, then this movie will cause you to do that.  It will also present an opportunity for you to do that with your friends.  My guess is that there’s a lot of people who went to this film who even go to church and didn’t know where the line of truth and stretching the truth actually was on this film.  Sure, they weren’t fooled into thinking that Rock People built the Ark, but I would bet that most asked, “Is that in the story? Does the Bible say that? I’m confused, I think I need to go re-read this story again.”

If the movie did that, even a little, in our Biblically illiterate culture, then I guess that’s a success on some level.

I mean really.  I should be walking in thinking, “It’s a Hollywood movie produced by a self-proclaimed atheist with a primary function of making money, what did you expect?”