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Chapter 1THIS ISN’T THE MAGIC KINGDOM
It began as a typical Evans vacation. My wife, Lois, and I piled our four ever growing kids into the car and took off on a road adventure. Our car held sounds of cheerful anticipation because our destination offered promises of adventure, fantasy, and amusement. This was our first of many trips to Disneyland, but it stands out in my memory because our fairy-tale story nearly turned into a tragedy. It was August—my vacation time—so the winding streets and pathways at Disneyland were packed with other people on summer break. The sheer volume of visitors pressed us in on all sides, and we were herded along with the masses. I felt as though I waddled more than actually walked.
Being forced to walk closely together, we chatted amicably. (This was before cell phones had become ubiquitous, so my family still had the easy freedom of actually talking to one another.) Cheerful conversations bounced back and forth among Lois, me, and our four children: Chrystal, Priscilla, Anthony Jr., and Jonathan.
Because all the kids were tall enough to get on most of the fast rides, we were thoroughly enjoying our time together, myself included. But the joy diminished somewhere between Adventureland and Tomorrowland when we realized that one of our kids had stopped participating in the conversation. Jonathan, our youngest, was missing.
Right around seven years old, Jonathan had never given us much cause for alarm. He rarely acted up or required any special attention to get him to obey the family rules. Jonathan had—and still has to this day—a strong yet gentle demeanor. Because he was so compliant, no one kept an especially keen eye on him—not even me. With each step inside the Magic Kingdom, I had become more and more captivated by the smell of good food and the sounds of the rides and the music. The promise of adventure consumed me.
I’m not sure who noticed it first, but soon the questions starting coming: “Where is Jonathan?” “Where do you think he went?” “Where was the last place anyone saw him?”
Concern rose to panic as the frightening reality settled in: Jonathan was nowhere to be found. We quickly divided up into groups and began to retrace our steps as best as possible. We decided to reconvene at a chosen location after a set amount of time. Ten minutes passed, and then twenty. Still no Jonathan. We gathered, divided, and searched again.
This time I informed a security officer, and the Disney staff began searching as well. Thirty minutes passed, and then forty. No Jonathan.
My heart raced faster than I ever knew it could. My eyes scoured the crowds as I looked for my son. Where do all these people come from? I wondered as I politely yet quickly wove in and out of them.
Fifty minutes had passed, and then sixty. Still no sign of Jonathan.
The sounds of the rides suddenly became an annoyance. The smell of food made me feel ill. What had been a place of pleasure just over an hour before had devolved into a locus of anguish. I realized that without my son, this was no magic kingdom.
And then . . . there he stood in the distance. When I first noticed him, Jonathan was looking at some baubles in a gift shop, unaware of the grief he had just put us all through. Jonathan had become caught up by the sights, sounds, and souvenirs that Disneyland had placed so invitingly for him to see. He was so engrossed that he had wandered off to enjoy them all by himself, not even realizing he was lost.
Jonathan smiled at me, and I rushed toward him, simultaneously wanting to hug him and spank him right there. I was grateful he was alive—yet also disappointed that he had wandered off from us. With mixed emotions I wrapped my arms around him. The story of the prodigal son became all too real in my mind at that moment. Sure, the similarities between Jonathan’s actions and the rebellious son in the parable didn’t entirely line up, but the concept of finding a child who was once lost and rushing to that child with a heart full of both frustration and elation seemed far more plausible than ever before. While Jonathan was lost, I would have given anything I had in order to find him. I felt that way despite the fact that he was the one who had chosen to wander off. I felt that way despite the nagging regret I had for becoming so engaged in the activities around me that I lost track of him. We both contributed to the problem in our own way, but, as the father, I was ultimately responsible.
The Journey of Kingdom Parenting
Parents, some of you are just beginning your journey in raising kingdom kids, and your eyes are filled with the bliss of those parents standing in line to board an enjoyable ride at Disneyland. Others of you have teenagers who are walking with the Lord and on the right path, but you are seeking wisdom on how to guide them through the transition from the youthful innocence of Fantasyland to the more turbulent times waiting in Tomorrowland. Still others may have children who have walked away from the Lord. Their fairy tales have morphed into tragedies, and you want to know how to point your kids back home. And others are facing the challenges of a blended family whose members may not even want to be at the park at all.
This book will meet each of you in a different place on your parenting path. Regardless of where you are, if you apply the principles we are about to explore, you will experience their fruits in your home. By intentionally applying these principles, you will reinforce one of the primary traits of a healthy home: honor. You will honor your kids by placing a high enough value on them to warrant the time and energy needed to parent well.
We’re Not Perfect by Priscilla Shirer
My family wasn’t perfect. (I’m certain my dad and mom would agree.) But my parents made sure that our family was extremely purposeful. They worked hard to intentionally and deliberately create an environment where they could transfer the principles they believed in to my siblings and me. And yet it’s often only with the hindsight of age that a child can truly begin to appreciate and understand the effort and initiative involved in a process like that. The more the years gather behind me, the more easily I can recognize the sacrifice and diligence that such intentional parenting requires, not to mention how critical it is to giving a child any chance at maturing into a successful adult. I didn’t really get it at the time. I found the boundaries and discipline of our upbringing to be strict. But I get it now. I get it.
Daddy and Mommy constructed a bubble of sorts for us to live in. Home life was padded with instruction in God’s Word, discipline in life lessons (such as saving and tithing our money), manners (“No elbows on the table!”), and good work ethics. We had lots of fun with our friends, but we played mostly at our home instead of theirs because my parents were so careful about the kinds of influences we might encounter somewhere else. Sure, that meant taking on the exhausting work of having a dozen sweaty kids track muddy prints in and out of the kitchen for snacks and Kool-Aid during games of basketball and Ping-Pong. But our parents did it for a reason. And they did it for us.
When we weren’t at home, we were at church or at school—a simple, quaint, Christian school that reinforced the lessons taught at home. Public school came during our high school years. But even then, my parents were very involved in our studies and our friendships. They were watching, stewarding, shepherding.
They just seemed to have this knowing inside—a deep, inner consciousness about the culture. They knew their job as parents couldn’t be passive. They knew they needed to fight aggressively against the low values and standards of the common crowd, the crude lasciviousness that was trying to seep into our minds and hearts, our attitudes and opinions, our actions and emotions.
So they put on their gloves . . . and fought.
And now that I’m older, I’m grateful for it. I can see it all more clearly. I recognize the wrinkles around the eyes that were whittled out of long nights and loving discipline.
In fact, I never thought I’d say this, but . . . I want those wrinkles, too. And I’m working on them as hard as I can.
That’s why I’m sitting these three sons of mine around a dinner table tonight, just as my parents did, and teaching them God’s Word. I won’t allow myself to be lulled to sleep and disengage from their education, their friendships, their influences. And together with their father, I’ll be intentional and purposeful in their lives every precious day that God gives us to share with them under our roof, until they spread their wings and fly out of this nest—off to their own where, hopefully, the cycle will continue.
Wherever you are on this pathway of parenting, God has a word for you. It’s never too early nor is it ever too late to start applying biblical principles to parenting and watch God bring about the growth and the fruit. You may have regrets about the past and poor decisions you have made, but this is not the time to stop trying. As the saying goes, only a fool trips on what is behind him. Seize today, and start now if you haven’t yet done so. I regretted not keeping a closer eye on our youngest child that day at Disneyland, but that didn’t mean I didn’t do everything I could to find him.
Just as Jonathan got so caught up in the sights, sounds, and smells of the park, it is easy for kids to get caught up in what our world so tantalizingly sets before them: social media, television, gaming, and peer groups. They may not even realize they have strayed off the family path. As a parent, it is your responsibility to locate them, guide them, and bring them back.
It is easy for parents to get so caught up in the sights, sounds, and smells of their careers, entertainment, social lives, and even church commitments that they lose track of their kids as I did with Jonathan. Because parents have neglected their responsibilities to their children, there is chaos in the kingdom (see Isaiah 3:12).
Thankfully our story of losing Jonathan at Disneyland had a happy ending. But not all stories at Disneyland end that way. These stories don’t normally hit the headlines because they are frequently swept under the carpet by the public-relations police, but the Magic Kingdom has had its own share of tragic endings.
Over the years, there have been people who have actually lost their lives at Disneyland or Disney World. One visitor died when a cable holding back an enormous anchor broke on the pirate ship. A registered nurse witnessed the scene and rushed to try and save the victim. Later, a colleague of mine who knows the nurse told me she said, “It came as such a shock. One minute everyone was happy and life seemed perfect, and the next minute a lady was dying before me. You just never think when you wake up to go to Disneyland that you might be going there to watch someone die.”
Tragedy hasn’t struck just those within the park, though. Due to Walt Disney’s enormous success, he was able to buy a new home for his parents in North Hollywood near the Disney studios. Yet less than a month after moving in, Disney’s mom died of asphyxiation due to an improperly installed leaking furnace.
Clearly, the Magic Kingdom isn’t always so magical after all.
Neither is the kingdom of the world that we are born into—a kingdom that surrounds us every day (see Ephesians 2:1-4; Matthew 12:25-26). While the world holds the glitter of success and the lure of the flesh, it also comes with the promise of death (see Proverbs 14:12; 16:25; Matthew 7:13; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). Yet despite this reality, in so many ways it is easy to get caught up in and distracted by that which appeals to our sinful nature. Not only can we get lost and thus drop the baton of kingdom parenting, but our kids can get snared as well (see 2 Timothy 2:26), particularly if we as parents lack the tools and skills necessary to parent well because we didn’t have good parenting strategies modeled for us.
It is difficult for a parent to pass on a faith that he or she does not possess. The best way for you to inspire your kids to have their own faith is for them to witness your faith—not only in your words, but also in your actions.
It is also difficult to pass on life skills you have not yet applied in your own situations. To parent well requires intentional personal growth in the art of living well, since much of parenting revolves around a child’s innate ability to pattern the thoughts and actions of his or her parents. The first responsibility in parenting well is that you yourself are growing and developing as a healthy individual spiritually, physically, mentally, and socially.
I witnessed the damage of young people parenting prematurely not long ago when I went to Baltimore to visit my own parents. As I sat on the porch and looked at the neighborhood I had grown up in, I grew saddened by what I saw. No longer did the homes contain two-parent families. Windows had been boarded up throughout, a tangible symbol of the state within.
Not too far from my parents’ home sat two young women, talking loudly enough for me to hear. Each was a single parent, and each was complaining about how rough life was raising kids while also trying to survive. Midway through their conversation, one of the ladies turned my way and said something; I don’t remember what. I answered and then joined their discussion by asking them their names. I asked them to tell me their stories. As they began to talk, despair registered in their words. Phrases such as, “I’m not,” “I can’t,” and “I don’t know,” punctuated their sentences. “How do you make it?” I asked, curious if public assistance was actually enough.
“Me and my two kids live with my grandma,” one woman replied. She paused and then added in a whisper, “And I sell drugs. That’s the only way I know how to make it.”
Either through neglect, abuse, or simple absence, we are witnessing a generation of parentless people who are becoming parents themselves.
Her friend chimed in, perhaps trying to cover for her, “We don’t have anyone to help us.”
In other words, they didn’t have any hope of a brighter tomorrow for themselves, let alone for their kids. At the heart of both of these ladies’ troubles—as well as in the hearts of people throughout our country—is the hopelessness that comes as a result of poor parenting. We are witnessing a generation of parentless people who, either through neglect, abuse, or simple absence, are becoming parents themselves. And so the cycle continues.
You know the statistics. Nearly 50 percent of all the children in America are being raised in single-parent homes. Over three million kids drop out of school each year. High school dropouts commit 75 percent of all crimes in our nation. Nearly one million teen girls get pregnant every year, burdening our already fragile economy through taxation expenses of nearly ten billion dollars annually, not to mention the high emotional, physical, and spiritual cost on young mothers and their children. Churches no longer hold the appeal for our young people as they did in the past. As a result, churches are closing their doors at an alarming rate with somewhere around eight to ten thousand shutting down each year.
Urban problems now burden suburban centers with many of these same issues as well; drug use in suburbia more than doubled in the last decade. Homicide is now the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of fifteen to twenty-four. Bullying has become an epidemic. Hopelessness is at an all-time high. Antidepressants are taken at nearly the same rate as vitamins, with over four million teenagers on some form of medication for the mind.
I don’t need to go over more statistics because you’ve already seen the alarming trends on the evening news, online, or in the papers. The culture in which we are seeking to raise our kids is clearly not a magic kingdom at all, although it declares itself as just that on the marquee of life.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a story. Long ago, there lived a man who sold pork as a butcher. He had never bought any pigs, rather he slaughtered wild pigs by the hundreds. A man from a neighboring town asked him one day, “How do you catch all of these wild pigs?”
The man replied, “It’s easy. I just stick a big trough of food out there down low enough for the piglets. Then when the piglets come to eat, the parents follow. While they are getting used to it each day, I start putting up a fence at night. Just one side. I do another side every night until all I have left is a gate. Eventually they come in, distracted by the sweetness of the food, and I close the gate without their ever knowing what had happened.”
In order to raise our kids with the skills to not only survive but also to thrive in the world, we need to raise children with the ability to discern what the world puts in front of them to lure them into bondage—whether that be emotional, spiritual, financial, or relational. We need to teach our kids how to look for the fences Satan seeks to erect in their minds and in their hearts (2 Corinthians 10:5). We need to raise them in a discerning environment. Because even though we live within the demonic influences of the prince of the power of this air in a world smoldering with strife, tantalizing temptations, and rebellion, we do not belong to this kingdom, and we have been given the ability to overcome. For Christ has “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).
Parents, you have been called to raise kingdom kids—in God’s kingdom. And His kingdom functions according to His rules and under His authority. In God’s kingdom, He gives the agenda, and we are to advance it. In God’s kingdom, the glory is His, and we are to reflect it. In God’s kingdom, He provides the covenantal covering under which we are to submit and flourish. Kingdom parenting involves intentionally overseeing the generational transfer of the faith in such a way that children learn to consistently live all of life under God’s divine authority.
The command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) wasn’t given simply so parents would have look-alikes. Rather, it was given so God would have look-alikes. The creation of humankind was established so man would be an image bearer of God Himself. This concept is captured in Genesis 1:26—“Let us make man in our image.” Therefore, the goal of people in general—and the family in particular—is to mirror God in the visible realm predicated on His reality in the invisible realm. This obviously doesn’t mean to mirror what God looks like, since none of us know what He truly looks like. It means we are to mirror His nature, character, values, and principles. It is essential that parents teach their children the importance of submitting to God’s legitimate authority in their lives. Through that submission to Him comes their greatest influence and impact for Him.
Adam and Eve were meant to bring their children under divine rule as a reflection of their own submission to God, and we as parents are to do the same. The family is to be the replication of the image of God in history. Children are image bearers of our great God and King who seeks to promote His kingdom agenda, which is the visible manifestation of His comprehensive rule over every area of life.
Kingdom isn’t a word we hear much about in Christian circles, and so before moving on, let me quickly set the stage. God has one agenda: To glorify Himself through the advancement of His kingdom. The Greek word the Bible uses for kingdom is basileia, which translates as “rule” or “authority.” Intrinsic within this rule or authority is power. So when we discuss the kingdom, we are also discussing a king and a ruler with power.
Now, if there’s a ruler, there also have to be
• rulees (those ruled);
• a realm (the sphere over which the ruler rules); and
• regulations (guidelines that govern the relationship between the ruler and the rulees).
God’s kingdom includes these three elements. He is the absolute Ruler of all creation, and His authority is final.
At the heart of the kingdom agenda is the reality that there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. All of life is spiritual because all of life comes under God’s rule. Therefore, every issue mirrors God’s nature and principles related to that specific area and thus reflects and promotes His agenda in history.
God has made Jesus Christ the sovereign over all of humankind’s kingdoms (see Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:13–18). His rule is to be represented in history by those who are a part of His kingdom (see Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 1:22–23).
And just in case you are wondering, there are no in-between kingdoms. There are only two realms in creation: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. You are subject to one or the other. Raising kingdom kids includes orienting them to God’s kingdom, His principles, and the reality of His agenda on earth.
God Blessed Them
It is also important to note that prior to the day when God gave the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” we read that “God blessed them” (Genesis 1:28). In other words, He provided Adam and Eve with all they needed to carry out His command. After all, the true definition of a blessing is that God provides the resources for what He asks you to do. It involves both enjoying and extending His provision in your life. The blessing is not only for the parents; it is also for the benefit of the children who would then bring about the expansion of God’s image in His people. This blessing enabled Adam and Eve to fill the earth and also to extend God’s blessing throughout the land to those who came after them as they established families of their own. That same blessing is there for you, too, in your parenting role.
God established the family as a conduit of blessing, providing both the opportunity and framework for individuals to collectively carry out His plan in history. In particular, that plan includes the implementation of His kingdom rule, or dominion, on earth. My definition of dominion means ruling on God’s behalf so that all of life comes under His authority. Children are the divinely ordained means of bringing the world under the dominion of Jesus Christ.
The reason Satan continually attacks the family is that the family was specifically created as the channel through which God’s kingdom would be reproduced, as kingdom kids were raised to become kingdom parents in their own homes. This is precisely why childbearing and parenting are so critical to the program of God. God foretold that it would be the woman’s seed that would destroy the serpent (see Genesis 3:15). And Paul wrote in the New Testament that women would be preserved through childbearing (see 1 Timothy 2:15). In bearing and raising godly children, women participate in the kingdom of God, which overrules the kingdom of Satan. In this way a kingdom woman has the privilege of symbolically reversing what happened to Eve in the garden as a woman bears and raises new lives committed to God’s truth (1 Timothy 2:14).
Through parenting, each of us raises kingdom kids to be kingdom men and women so that God’s purposes are fully manifested on earth, and countless more are ushered into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. So then, kingdom parenting is more than a social enterprise; it is at its core a spiritual and theological imperative. Kingdom parents raise kingdom kids to fulfill God’s plans and purposes for families, not what the culture intends. Our culture is seeking to redefine marriage and family in such a way that it no longer reflects how our Lord designed it. It is critical that we model godly parenting and marriages to our kids so they have the opportunity to see firsthand what kingdom families look like.
Yet unfortunately today, our Christian culture has bought into the secular culture in redefining children as burdens rather than blessings. Reducing the sizes of our families by reducing the number of children we bring into the world also reduces our capacity to be blessed. Scripture tells us that children are a gift from God. We read in the book of Psalms, “Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (127:3). Children are a blessing and yet ironically they are the one blessing we often seek to limit in our lives. But if we were to view children through the lens of kingdom dominion and influence— as God views them—I think we would have a different attitude about how many children we bring into our homes, as well as the priority we place on them once they are there.
Yet in order to raise kids equipped to fulfill their roles in God’s kingdom, we are going to have to be intentional about our parenting. After all, it is far easier to shape a child than to repair an adult. And that’s true even if you find yourself approaching this monumental task alone. Numbers of you reading this book are raising your kids without the help of another parent. Maybe you have been widowed, divorced, not ever married, or you are married to a spouse who doesn’t share the same values as you or is not involved in the development of your kids. Whatever the case, let the Scriptures encourage you that you can do this well. Never underestimate the power of God when He is called upon and looked to as the source of strength, wisdom, and provision (Philippians 4:13).
The Bible tells us that Timothy, one of the great leaders in the early church, had a Greek father, who had apparently rejected God. His dad had never read Kingdom Man, and he certainly wasn’t living up to the title. Yet Timothy still wound up faithfully serving God due to his mom and his grandmother’s impact.
If you are raising your kids alone, remember Timothy. Keep him and what God did through him at the forefront of your mind. Even if you are a single parent, God has a plan for your kids. Commit your way to Him in all you do, and your kids will reap the benefits of having a parent who models biblical discipleship.
Kingdom kids don’t need perfect parents. Kingdom kids need purposeful parents who seek to understand and apply God’s principles in their homes. I applaud you for picking up this book and making use of other resources in order to better equip yourselves as parents under God.
May God guide and bless your journey of raising kingdom kids so you will experience the great joy of seeing your children and grandchildren walking in His truth (see Proverbs 17:6; 3 John 1:4) and making a kingdom impact. No matter what your successes or failures have been up to this point, it is my desire that this book helps take you to the next level on your quest to raise kingdom kids.
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