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Kevin East Christian Blog and Commentary

Kevin East

Kevin East is the President of the Boys & Girls Clubs of East Texas. He formerly served Pine Cove Camps as their Executive Director of Ministries. He writes at his blog, "Following to Lead". Connect with him on Twitter @kevinteast.

[M]en are an endangered species. I really believe that.

Over the past 15 years, I have been working directly and indirectly with college students. Almost 10 years ago I noticed a trend that -- at the time -- was alarming. That alarm has now been going off non-stop since, and I'm finally seeing it come to fruition.

What became obvious 10 years ago to me was that boys were growing up only to become older boys; never maturing to a place of living as Godly men. Because of this, we started a new ministry for boys finishing high school, and called it "Young Guns." The point of the program was to teach boys what it looked like to "live a life worthy of the calling [they] have received" (Ephesians 4:1).

Fast forward 10 years, and what we have now are boys who have no clue what it means to be a man. Our college staff regularly ask me if they can just come by my house, and watch me interact with my family. To me, there is nothing magical happening at my house, but for them, they are thirsty for an example of living as a Godly men. (Last year, I bought these smaller gloves for each of my boys.  They were probably their favorite present they got last year. I bought them here.)

And now I look down and have 2 boys of my own; a 5-year-old and 3-year-old. As I interact with them, all the conversations I've had with young college students over the years flood through my mind. What has God instructed me as their father to teach them and -- in light of the culture we live in -- what are some practical areas that I need to build into them as well? Here are a few I am focusing on, and how I am doing it:

1. Teach them about God. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

I thought this wouldn't be that difficult until they started asking me those questions that only a small child can formulate: "Dad, if you just prayed for my hiccups to go away, why am I still hiccupping?" Good question. I want my boys to begin to learn about God by showing them who He is with easy, concrete examples. God is a warrior, a strong tower, a rock, a strong foundation, a dad, etc. Easy to understand concepts that help build a picture in their minds about who He is.

I've written a blog post already about this, but the Jesus Storybook Bible is an incredible resource for young kids. Each night, I gather my boys -- and sometimes my daughters -- and I just read them a story out of this Bible. I think we are in the middle of reading it through for the 3rd time. It is engaging, easy to read, has good pictures, and really helps tell the story of Jesus through the entire Bible. My boys love that time each night. (They now fight for who can sit on my right side while I read, after I told them it was a seat of honor in biblical times.)

2. Teach them to work -- hard. (Genesis 2:15)

God created work for men. This was not a result of sin. Before sin entered the world, God had already instructed Adam to tend the garden. When I leave for work, I want them to know, "I get to go to work today." As well, I get to teach them to work around the house. They "help" me mow the lawn, split firewood, and clear debris. Right now, they love it. I want to teach them early that work isn't a punishment, but a way to glorify God.

3. Teach them to obey.

This is consistent throughout scripture. Obey God. In order for them to do that, they need to learn on a smaller level. Steph and I work hard to teach them to obey quickly, consistently and joyfully. We do many "let's try that again" moments. When they obey correctly, we slap many high-fives and hoot and holler.

As part of this, we want them to know there are consequences to sin; one of those is separation. Many of us have stories of people around us who lost their jobs, their families or their integrity by sinful decisions in their lives. We want to teach them early how when they choose to disobey, there are consequences. It's no fun to sit on our stairway at home in "time out," but necessary. I want them to feel the separation as young boys. Hopefully, I'll be able to build on that later in life.

4.  Teach them to lead. (Ephesians 5)

This is not a power-grab type of leading. This is leading by taking responsibility; a leading that is motivated by serving. You know how little boys try to whine and moan because they are trying to explain why they made the poor choice they made. I want my boys to learn how to lead by taking responsibility.  

If it was their fault, they need to own up to it. John Eldredge uses the phrase "offering your strength." My boys need to learn what it looks like to offer their strength to others: to those that are being picked on, to women, to their friends. Our culture consistently offers us pictures of men who are greedy, prideful and starving for more power. I think teaching my boys what it looks like to lead begins by teaching them to take responsibility.

5. Teach them to love. (Ephesians 5)

What does it look like to love God, love your wife, and love your kids? Boys today need to see "tender warriors." What does it look like for a dad to submit his heart to God, and to seek to follow him daily? I want my boys to see me reading my Bible in the morning with a good cup of coffee. They need to see me on the couch with my wife, as I tickle her or cuddle. They need to see me lovingly teach, encourage, train and disciple them.

They need to know I'm their biggest fan. I am because they're my sons.

In case you've never read the book, I highly recommend Steve Farrar's book King Me. After reading it a few years ago, it quickly became one of my favorite father/son type books. I have just started going through it with a young dad that I know. There are some great concepts in there about the choice we will make; are we -- as men -- going to spend our time building kingdoms, or building future kings?

What else should we be teaching our boys, and how? Any good ideas of lessons to learn, or good presents to possibly get for them this Christmas that would help in the process as well?

For more blog posts like this on leading, following, parenting, fostering, and family, visit Kevin's blog at www.followingtolead.com.

Honestly, I thought this day might never come. A little over 10 years ago, when my wife and I first discussed the idea of trying to pay off our house early, that day seemed like it was an eternity away. But here we are, and here it is. I’d love to tell you why we did it.

I recognize January is regarded as the most financially stressful month of the year. January is a convergence of bills incurred from the holidays and promises we’ve made to ourselves of how we’ll live differently the next year. As many of you are attempting to live differently this year financially, I hope our story will inspire you to do just that.

You might not know this, but fighting over finances is one of the leading causes of divorce. If you want to sink your family’s future, then ignoring the growing fractures in your relationship caused by financial angst will surely get you there. In marriage, it’s often not the lack of money that’s the problem; but rather the lack of compatibility in the financial plans for your home.

EastFamily-4

(A pic we took months ago, to keep us motivated toward the day we could celebrate!)

Setting a goal like paying off debt is great for a marriage. As I said before in this article, it brings the couple together to set a plan, establish good disciplines, and eventually celebrate an accomplishment that was done together.

Our reasons for paying off our house might surprise you. We didn’t do it so that we can now “build wealth.” Our long-term goal isn’t being rich, in the world’s eyes. So here are our reasons why, in no particular order:

We wanted to maximize our freedom to serve Christ. “Debt is one of the greatest enemies of the Great Commission.” That’s a powerful statement from Al Mohler, and one that I have seen be true too many times. I agree with the point in this article – we wanted to make ourselves even more available for what God has for our family in the future, so paying off debt was simply a means to this end.

We wanted to increase our generosity. This is our end goal: Generosity. Our new budget for our family is allowing us to support more ministries that are making an impact, in Jesus’ Name.

We wanted to set an example for our kids of how to steward God’s resources. This has been a really fun conversation with our kids. They’ve watched us live through this, and have asked us many questions along the way.

We wanted to be paid interest, and not spend our lives paying interest. Those are our choices. We either pay others interest in credit card fees, car loans interest or mortgage interest, or we are paid interest through our investments. We’ve chosen the latter, for practical reasons.

We wanted to reduce the stress in our family caused by financial strain. We know that we have braces, more drivers on our insurance, and college (for 5 kids) in our future – among many, many other significant expenses – in the near future. Seeing these on the horizon motivated us to get rid of outstanding debt so that we could set more money aside to pay for these expenses as they arise.

Because my wife wanted to. Yep, this is true. I was content on the timeframe we had set up. We were still planning to pay it off early, but it was important to my wife that we keep the “pedal to the metal,” and get rid of it as soon as possible. She spoke, and I listened.

So if you relate to these reasons, and would like to start taking steps in this direction to pay off debt or live differently, stay tuned. Next week I’ll share exactly how we paid off our house, and how our family does finances.

What are the top financial priorities for your family?

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Publication date: January 26, 2016

Santa Claus is Dead?

Recently, my son was arguing with a friend. My wife and I found out this was a point he was making in the argument: Santa Claus is dead. When I found out, every conversation about Santa or Christmas that I’ve had with our kids started racing through my mind. Did I ever tell him that? Why did he feel the need to yell that at someone? Steph and I pulled him aside, and talked to him about where he got that phrase. Unfortunately, we realized it was partly our fault in what we have been teaching him about Santa Claus.

First, I have a confession to make: I love Christmas.

Always have. To this day I begin listening to Christmas music around October 1. I love candles that smell like cinnamon or pine, cutting down a fresh Christmas tree with my family, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life while enjoying a good fire in the fireplace.

Growing up, I was the kid who lived to watch A Christmas Story over and over again while TBS had it playing non-stop for 24 hours. I once faked sick as a child, stayed home from school, and spent most of the day pulling up the carpet in the hallway of the house so that I could run wire from my room to my sister's for our "Morse Code" system we had set up (come to think of it, I never told my parents about that one; I hope they're not reading this).

All this to say, when Steph and I began to talk about what we would tell our kids about Santa Claus, this was a big deal to us.

Like many other parents this time of year, Steph and I have been forced to grapple with what we will tell our kids about Santa Claus. Would we tell them he is real, tell them he is not, or just dodge the question altogether? A few years ago, we began by dodging the question, because we didn’t know exactly what we wanted to tell them.

Here is where we landed and why:

From the very beginning, we have told our kids that Santa Claus WAS real. Not that he IS real, but that he WAS real. As Steph and I talked about it, we agreed we didn't want to mislead our kids on this. We speak often of God and His son, Jesus, who sounds too good to be true. As we teach them about Him, we want there to be no mistake; we mean what we say. We felt like presenting Santa Claus as alive and real today would only confuse them once the "truth" came out.

A good friend, Lance, recently sent me a link to a Mark Driscoll article on Santa Claus. I love the way Driscoll presented his case. To him, in referencing Santa Claus, he had 3 options:

1. He could reject Santa (turn his back on the idea of him)

2. He could receive Santa (pass on old the stories, folklore, and act like Santa is real with his kids)

3. He could redeem Santa (tell his kids the truth about Santa, and use him as a tool to teach his kids something far greater)

In his article, he shares how he chose the 3rd option; to redeem Santa Claus with his kids.

We've taught our kids much about Nicholas. He loved Jesus, and his love for Him spurred Nicholas to do much for people. He loved, gave generously, and left a huge imprint on this world because of it. Eventually, he was canonized as a saint after he died in 343.

Yes, the movies and folklore tells us "St. Nick" flew around in a sleigh, and delivered presents to every child on this planet in one night by dropping down through their chimneys. As a child, this made no sense to me, but I really wanted it to be true. Many of these stories came into being for one reason or another over the centuries. Again, Driscoll’s article shares some of the "whys" behind these stories.

As followers of Jesus, we want to be giving people. We want to remind people of God's abundant love for them, and so this time of the year, we get to "play Santa Claus" for them. Last year I loved to see my kids catch on. Steph and I shared with them about a single mother we knew, and how she had no money to buy presents for her children at Christmas. We let our kids know that Steph and I were excited to give her a little chunk of money to help bless her kids. They ran to their room, pulled out their jar of coins, and insisted that they give to the cause as well. We ended up delivering an anonymous note with a wad of bills, and a bunch of coins to this single mom. I've never talked to this mom about it. Now that I think about it, I'm not even sure she ever got it. But, it was a great time as a family to be a blessing to someone.

This year, our family went to the mall and each of our kids picked an "Angel Tree" child. Once everyone got a child's name, we all went to Target to buy presents for them. We picked kids roughly the same ages as our own, and so asked our kids to try to find what these other kids might like. It was a great time.

We still have an 8′ Christmas tree, lights up around the house, a beautiful nativity scene on the counter, Christmas songs playing non-stop, and a vintage tree-topper of Mr & Mrs Claus. In spite of all this, our choice is to use Santa Claus to teach our kids a much bigger lesson.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus on this day. We explain the significance of that to our little kids. And then we tell them that a long time ago, a guy named Nick loved Jesus so much that he was compelled to help people in need. We love Jesus, so let's let our love for Him compel us to love others as well.

What is your plan when it comes to Santa Claus with your family?

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Publication date: December 21, 2015

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