Raising a Modern Day Joseph
About the Guest
What are you doing to grow spiritually strong kids? Larry Fowler, executive director of global training for AWANA, an organization committed to helping children know, love and serve Jesus Christ, talks about the importance of teaching your children the Scriptures, and remembers his own mother's commitment to teaching him God's Word.
What are you doing to grow spiritually strong kids?
Raising a Modern Day Joseph
Larry: I was on a plane from Chicago and I was sitting beside this young guy and I struck up a conversation with him. I found out that he was a long range planner in his work. He told me how much he loved strategy and planning and thinking ahead and implementing and all that stuff. So I asked him do you have kids? Yes, I have a one year old and a four year old. So what do you want to be able to say about your kids when they are 30? This guy that was a long range planner and strategic planner at work said wow, I’ve never thought about that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. Have you done any spiritual strategic planning for your family? We’re going to talk about that today.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today! Thanks for joining us. You look around at what’s going on in the culture and as a parent it can be kind of scary and intimidating to think I’m supposed to raise kids to love God and follow Christ in this culture. It is becoming increasingly counter cultural for us to try and do our job.
Dennis: It is. You have friends like Josh McDowall who are sharing with the Christian community that less that 15 percent of all young people are graduating with a Christian world view. Then George Barna comes along and he drops it even lower to less than 10 percent have a Christian world view and then you read statistics that one out of every two children are abandoning their faith during college. It’s easy to think that out of the houseful of kids I have here how many of them are going to be walking with Christ by the time they graduate from college?
Bob: Who is going to shipwreck and who is going to be stable?
Dennis: Right. We have a guest with us today Larry Fowler who joins us on FamilyLife Today. Larry welcome back.
Larry: Thank you. It’s wonderful to be back.
Dennis: Larry works in a ministry that is all about equipping young people with the gospel and then discipling them with the Scripture. It’s called AWANA. He is the Executive Director of global training and he and his wife have two children and three grandchildren and live near Chicago. He’s written a book called Raising a Modern Day Joseph: A Timeless Strategy for Growing Great Kids.
When you wrote this book, Larry, were you thinking about the parents that Bob is talking about here. The ones that are frightened by what they see on the landscape? Were you thinking about bringing them courage to raise kids who embrace their faith?
Larry: Yes, but also the parents that maybe are asleep and not so alert to what may be facing them in the future. It’s easy for parents when their kids are small to think everything is going okay but there are some critical things that have to happen in the young years of a family in order for the maximum impact to take place in the lives of the kids.
Bob: You watched your next door neighbor’s daughter follow a trajectory that was troubling, right?
Larry: Yes. Growing up she was saying the right things, doing all the right things, looking very much like a Christian girl and the parents had no clue of what would take place later in life. When she got to college it wasn’t just a year or so until she abandoned her faith and left it behind. She was sleeping regularly with a number of different guys and certainly in her words still professed to believe in God but everything about her behavior was something really different from that.
Dennis: Larry, you’ve been working with youth for nearly three decades now?
Larry: Closer to four actually.
Dennis: Closer to four decades. What do you think is going on here? Why are we losing at this point in time the young people who have been taught how to follow Christ? Why are we losing them to the culture?
Larry: I think because we as parents and grandparents now because I am one of those have really been blinded to how we are not following God’s commands in Scripture. Ephesians chapter 6 verse 4 is the most succinct of this when it says “Fathers bring your children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”
Bob: My kids wanted to make sure that you reminded me do not exasperate your children is in there, too.
Larry Fowler: It’s in there, too, yes. The implication is that not training them is exasperating.
Bob: That’s right.
Larry: But that is an active command. Fathers are to do it. Across America Christian fathers and Christian parents, moms are not exempt from this, have delegated it rather than doing it. They have delegated it to the church or to the Christian school. What happens when you delegate it is you kind of relax and think okay it is getting done. It’s like if you delegate your child learning a musical instrument to a teacher and as long as they go and do their lessons you think they are doing fine. Scripture is clear that parents are to do it not to delegate it. The reason why is because this is a heart issue. It’s not about what the child knows. It’s about what is in their heart and the heart is formed in the home. A heart really can’t be formed in an hour a week in Sunday school or anywhere else. It is formed in the home.
Dennis: Ultimately the hearts of the parents are the burden bearers of passing on the truth of Scripture and the truth about God to their children. If they don’t possess that burden personally no matter how effective the Christian school may be or the Christian youth group the family still is the most powerful unit on the planet for passing on spiritual truth.
Larry: And Bob you were talking about parents who are fearful and there are parents that don’t know what to do. They don’t know what it looks like but my concern in my book is not so much the lack of tools but it is actually lack of direction and lack of a target. I see a lot of parents who are aware of tools and still don’t do it. Why don’t they do it? When the results are as bleak as they are?
Bob: So what is the answer to that question? Why don’t they do it? I’m looking at Christian parents who love their kids and they would die for their kids but why are they neglecting the spiritual training?
Larry: Before I answer that I’m going to ask another question. Why would they make sure that their child brushes their teeth every single day?
Bob: Because they want their kids to not have cavities.
Larry: Or why would they make sure that they do their homework every single night?
Bob: You want them to get good grades and get a good education.
Larry: But then when it comes to the spiritual training that is something that kind of fits in. I was asked on another radio program recently so what do you say to parents who say I don’t know how we are going to do this when school starts and life gets so crazy.
The answer to that is the very question says something about the value system. What it says is that school is the important thing and spiritual training is the less important thing that you fit in if there is time. Until we have a clearer sense that this is the thing that really makes a difference in life and this is the thing that is going to either cause you to rejoice as a parent later in life or cause you to grieve then we probably are not going to follow through on a daily basis and do what we need to do.
Bob: So the question you are asking is do we really fundamentally as parents believe that spiritual training is not just valuable but essential. If we do then we will live that way, right?
Larry Fowler: Exactly, yes.
Dennis: That is really what Deuteronomy chapter 6 verse 4 is all about. It says, “Hear oh Israel the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. These words that I command you today shall be on your hearts. You shall teach of them to your children.” It goes on to talk about and the point is it begins with it being a burden on the parent’s hearts where it is more important than their athletic success or their academic excellence.
Barbara and I could accomplish any number of things with our lives but if our kids aren’t doing well I’m telling you everything about our lives centers around cheering them on because they are the next generation. They are the messages we are passing on to another generation that needs to hear about Christ. If they don’t get it and they are not practicing it then in some ways it feels like we’ve failed in our responsibility as parents to really make a good spiritual hand off.
Bob: You see the key to all of this being what you call a master life thread that parents need to zero in on, right?
Larry: Let me back up a little bit further. I see the key to all of this being a target. Then I think there are five master life threads that lead toward the target. Let me talk about the target first. I want to tell a story.
I was on a plane from San Jose to Chicago and I was sitting beside this young guy and I struck up a conversation with him. I found out that he was a long range planner in his work. He told me how much he loved strategy and planning and thinking ahead and implementing and all that stuff.
So I asked him, do you have kids? Yes, I have a one year old and a four year old. So what do you want to be able to say about your kids when they are 30? This guy that was a long range planner and strategic planner at work said, wow, I’ve never thought about that. There was this pregnant pause and he said, “well, to finish college, have a good career, be happily married” and he started down a laundry list like that.
He wasn’t going where I wanted him to go so I asked him the second question. So what would really cause you to grieve if you had to say it about your kids when they are 30? His answer to me was, “oh, if they were lost.” His answer was the first indication that I was talking to a Christian dad. But when only asked the first question he didn’t think of anything spiritual. Everything that he thought about was temporal and the spiritual thing didn’t come to his mind until I asked the second question.
Then I asked him which is the most important question? He responded, “oh, the second one.” I kind of had him so I decided to go for the jugular so I asked him, “you mean to tell me that you are a long range planner at work but you have never made any plans for the spiritual training of your kids at home? And he goes, “oh, you’re right. I need to get home and talk to my wife.”
I hope God really used that in his life but he is just so typical of all of us. And I say us because I’ve certainly been that way, too. As I get older I’m getting much more intentional about what I do. That is true of us as Christian parents in America.
Bob: So what you are saying is we have to keep the right target or bulls eye out in front of us as raise our kids and be intentional about aiming every day, right?
Larry: Yes because we have this fuzzy picture of what we want our kids to turn out when it comes to spiritual things but the picture is usually very clear educationally. It’s graduate from college at a minimum. Because the target is clear parents translate that into what happens on Monday night and Tuesday night and Wednesday night. They get the connection between daily practice and the end goal.
When we have a fuzzy end goal in terms of the spiritual training of our kids Monday night can go by and we do nothing and we think we really haven’t lost anything. The same for Tuesday night or Wednesday night.
Dennis: I’ll tell you though you think about the assignment of raising kids and it’s a whole lot easier to measure your success as a parent when you have grade cards.
Larry Fowler: Absolutely.
Dennis: You get the A, B, and C. You know whether the kid is passing or failing. But in matters of life there are no grade cards. There are tests and all these things that the kids are experiencing every day but parents don’t get the affirmation of yes, you are doing a good job directing that child to make good moral choices.
Or you are helping your daughter really become a woman of God who knows where she is headed as a woman. I think it all goes back to the imagery of scripture in Psalm 127 where it talks about children being like arrows in the hand of a warrior. They were meant to be launched toward a target.
Bob: But you have to know what the target is, right?
Dennis: Yes. You have to aim toward the target and your story about the young man is a great story for every listener to contemplate. In fact for the parents who are listening to me right now even those who are perhaps newly married and don’t have children this would make a great point of discussion tonight over dinner. Sit down and talk about what the target is and what do we want to accomplish? What is the bull’s eye? How can we be intentional on a daily basis about doing that?
Bob: So if we have a sense of what the bull’s eye is then these five master life threads that is where they come in?
Larry: They can help because then they help us on a regular basis. It’s not only difficult to measure but also there is no guarantee of the outcome. You men know that even in the most godly of Christian homes there are still young people who make the decision to walk away. There are no guarantees.
Dennis: Early when I said it if you don’t accomplish your children walking in the truth there is a tendency to feel like a failure. We don’t determine the flight of the arrow perfectly.
Bob: But we also don’t have nothing to do with it, right?
Dennis: That’s exactly right. We do aim them and then we have to let go. What are those five master threads?
Larry: The master life threads are from the Old Testament story of Joseph. I took the narrative of Joseph in the book of Genesis and I looked at the times where he talked about God. In his conversations he mentions God six times. There are five different principles in the six times.
The first one I see is respect for God’s authority. We see that in the life of Joseph because Mrs. Potiphar is trying to get him in bed and he is turning her down. He ends by saying how could I do this wicked thing and sin against God? It is interesting that he doesn’t say he is going to sin against Potiphar. He saw playing with Mrs. Potiphar as a sin against God and that tells me he had this huge respect for God’s authority in his life.
Now what does Proverbs and Psalms tell us is the beginning of wisdom? The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the same thing—respect and regard. If a young parent will think about what to focus on first. How do I really have something to go for here? Start by talking about the things that are going to develop the respect for God’s authority in your toddler. Respect for God’s authority really comes as they respect your authority but you can’t stop there. You have to also as you are becoming someone that they respect and you are consistent in your discipline and all of those things. You also need to talk about this is the way God is.
Bob: And they have to see modeling it in your own life.
Larry: They have to see you model it or else it isn’t going to work.
Bob: So respect for God’s authority is the starting spot.
Larry: The second one is wisdom. That is early elementary. The third one is grace and the middle elementary ages where you hear things like “that’s not fair.” It’s true throughout life because we still want life to be fair but that is really when it becomes an issue. So grace is a big thrust or life thread during the middle elementary ages.
Junior high is destiny. Destiny found in the will of God. Kids are starting to think abstractly so they can start thinking of their future and parents ought to start talking to them about their future not in terms of career choices but in terms of God’s will and doing His will for their lives.
The last one for high school, the big life thread, is perspective. That is perspective that God is sovereign in everything. Those are in the story of Joseph but they also guide a parent as to major themes in the different ages of a child.
Bob: You know what he has just done. Teachers have what they call a scope and sequence. You’ve heard that phrase.
Bob: You have just given parents a scope and sequence for raising their kids.
Dennis: I like it because of where you begin. You talk about who God is and our relationship to Him and our attitude toward Him. If you miss that no matter what is in number 2-5 you’ve missed life.
Larry: Yes, is it Tozer who said the most important thing about a person is what he thinks about God.
Dennis: I think what we have to do with our children is teach them to think rightly about who God is and how they relate to Him. If they can begin to learn that when they are young and see that modeled by their parents as they grow older they have a much greater opportunity of walking with God and being obedient with God and following through on what they have been taught than those who aren’t introduced to God and don’t understand what He expects of them.
Larry: I think there is a real contrast between Old Testament Joseph and the prodigal son in the New Testament in the parable that Jesus tells. Certainly there are always going to be our children—children of Christian families—who are prodigals. I think that maybe that’s the only way that some kids can learn. There will always be prodigals. We can do a lot better than we are doing. We don’t need to have to have a rate of 50 percent or more of our young people go through the prodigal experience before they come back to God. That is just unacceptable.
Dennis: Larry you caught this picture initially from your dad and from your mom. You said your mom taught you all kinds of passages of scripture and scripture memory. Before we are done here on the broadcast I want to come back and…
Bob: I know what is coming up here.
Dennis: Your mom is 91 years old. I want to give you a chance to give her an early birthday gift. So just stay with us for just a minute.
Bob: Before you give her that gift let me tell listeners how they can get a copy of the book that you’ve written called Raising a Modern Day Joseph which we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. I also want to alert listeners to the fact that we have a new video series for parents. We will be talking about it next week but it is particularly for parents of preschoolers to talk about the whole issue of discipline and how we begin setting a foundation for discipline in the lives of our children at the very earliest ages.
There is information on our web site FamilyLife Today.com. If you need some help doing some strategic planning for your family spiritually Larry’s book is a great resource. Or call toll free 1-800-FL-TODAY. That’s 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in Family “L” as in Life and then the word TODAY. Someone on our team can let you know how you can get a copy about any of the resources we’ve talked about here today.
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If you are able to help with a donation this month we have a thank you gift we’d like to send you. It’s a two CD series that features a conversation we had not long ago with Dr. Tim Kimmel, a friend of ours who has written a book called Grace Based Parenting. We spent a lot of time talking about how discipline and grace fit together in the same matrix and what it means to have the right goals as parents. It’s a great conversation and the two CDs are our gift to you this month if you’re able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount. You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com and you would like to receive the CD’s, type the word “PARENT”’ in to the key code box that you see on the donation form.
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Dennis: Larry Fowler has been our guest on today’s program and we’ve talked about how to raise a modern day Joseph.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: And I think he is one.
Bob: You think Larry is one?
Dennis: Yes, Larry is one.
Bob: I’ll go for that, yes.
Larry: That’s because you guys don’t know me completely.
Dennis: Maybe but your mom, Margaret, had a powerful influence in your life. You grew up on a ranch and you learned scripture memory at her knee. You saw reading the Bible and reciting scripture. Here’s what I’d like you to do. I’d like you to take the last few moments of this broadcast and give her a verbal tribute. What I would like to do is seat your mom across the table from you and have you address her as mom or whatever you call her and then give her a tribute from the heart of what her life and model and her nurture has done for you as a boy and what it means to you now as a man.
Larry: You’re going to expect me to do this without getting choked up?
Bob: Choked up is okay. We’ll allow for that.
Larry: I talk about my mom more than my dad but only because God took my dad home 30+ years ago. So during my childhood my dad was as influential as my mom and I’m so thankful for both of them. My mom is the one that God has allowed to still be on this earth during my adult years to continue to influence.
Bob: If she was here what would you say to her?
Larry: I would say Mom you are well aware how dearly you are loved by all of your family. How highly you are regarded. Your legacy extends not just to your children but to your grandchildren and even to your great grandchildren. They have all seen on a daily basis your consistent Christian walk and your godly example. All together they desire to honor you and to carry on the legacy that you have left.
Mom your love of scripture has left a lasting impression on me that has guided my decision making throughout my life and has probably kept me from a number of bad decisions in life that I can’t even begin to count. I am so thankful for your words but even more for your godly example that you have given to me and to my brother and sister and the rest of our extended family.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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