Dr. Tony Evans shares insights from his experience as a parent to explain how moms and dads can instill Christian character in their kids and raise them to impact their own families and communities for Jesus Christ. (Part 1 of 2)
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Anthony Evans: Hi, this is Anthony Evans. I'm the son of Dr. Tony Evans and I want to talk about just for a second the privilege that it has been to be my father's son and not because of the accolades that he has, not because of him being heard on radio all over the world or the books that he's written; it is about the man that I got to live with at home who was the same man that you may have experienced on radio or in - in his books. I count it a privilege to have been raised by parents who lived their example. They didn't just talk their example; they lived their example. So, I love you, Dad.
John Fuller: Well, that heartfelt comment shows the importance of a father's spiritual influence on his kids. And today on Focus on the Family, we have a broadcast with Anthony Evans' father, Dr. Tony Evans, and we'll be talking about his book, . Welcome to the broadcast, I'm John Fuller, and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And Jim, time and again we've stated one of our key objectives here is to help parents raise godly kids.
Jim Daly: Well it is, John. It's one of our primary missions, and there are parents listening right now, I'm sure of it, who are at various stages along that journey, whether it be a - a newborn child with all the future in front of them, or an elementary-schooler who is maybe struggling with math or whatever it might be, or that teenager who's struggling socially. I know this two-day series that we recorded with Tony is going to help you. He really packs a punch, and parents need the wisdom that he is offering. When we aired this content before, there was a truck driver who got in touch with us here at Focus and said this is the greatest amount of excellent material he's ever heard in a half-hour.
Jim: That's a pretty good endorsement right there.
John: High praise.
Jim: He ordered the CD and the book and planned to use both in his ministry to other truck drivers. Isn't that awesome? I think that is so good. Let me frame the discussion with a Scripture that says, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth." For every parent, that's the goal. And that's what we'll be talking about.
John: And I appreciate Dr. Tony Evans so much. He is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, the president of the Urban Alternative and the father of four. And Jim, you began the discussion asking Dr. Evans about what concerned him most regarding the spiritual well-being of children, and here's his answer.
Tony Evans: Well my big concern is that the breakdown of the family has led to a devastation among the children. You know, the Scripture says that when the fathers’ teeth get crooked, the children’s teeth get rotten.
Jim: Well, what does that mean? Help me.
Tony: It means - it means that when we do not pass down the right kind of legacy to the next generation, they will be far worse off than we were in our failure. So, what we’re doing is we’re transferring the “devolution” of a generation. People often say that uh, this is a lost generation. Well actually, it’s the product of a lost generation...
Jim: Boy, that’s good.
Tony: ...we’re seeing it being worked out in our children far greater than the problems we’re experiencing ourselves.
Jim: You know, Tony, it’s so hard sometimes to hear that because it’s true. Uh, when I’m talking to teenagers or young 20-somethings, they’ll often mention to me, you know, "The problem I’ve got with marriage is I didn’t see that modeled well in my mom and dad’s marriage." And these are Christian homes. And nobody’s perfect. We get that. Uh, but the humility that’s required to express to your children that, you know, sometimes mom and dad struggle. And we’re on a journey just like you’re on a journey. How should a mom and dad think broadly about their own marriage and what that means to their children who are watching?
Tony: Well first of all, they need to define it properly. The first purpose of marriage is not happiness. Happiness should be a byproduct of marriage. The purpose of marriage and therefore the purpose of the family and bearing children is to advance God’s kingdom in history. Because most people don’t get married for that reason and they are linked into only this happiness piece, when happiness dies down or disintegrates, they don’t want marriage anymore, might as well not want it anymore. If we can get ‘em back to a kingdom understanding of marriage, family and child-rearing, not only can they advance God’s kingdom, but they can find some happiness along the way.
Jim: Can you give us some examples of how children today are struggling? I mean, just lay it out there, three or four things that are different maybe than what we grew up with.
Tony: Oh, my goodness. First of all, the amount of children who have been raised in single-parent families. I mean, that - that - and it’s climbing exponentially uh, even as we speak. The amount of suicides among our teenagers, the amount of uh, juvenile delinquency. You look at the dropout rate and it is - it is staggering. And then the crime that is being committed by young people uh, and then the promiscuity that is being advertised by the culture and being adopted by a generation of children.
So, it just goes on and on and on and then - and as - as you have dropout rates, as you have poverty increases, as you have criminal incarcerations increasing and even in the suburbs, where it can often be camouflaged with money, you’re seeing the - the greed and the irresponsibility taking root at a level that’s only gonna replicate itself in the families that these young people establish.
Jim: Well, and you touched on something that’s so important, and we tried to highlight that in the movie , and then with curriculum that is now out. And that is how all of this is linked together, that uh, if we don’t think in a broader context about our marriages and our families and our purpose in raising children, we’re gonna be selfish because it’s the natural state of human beings to lean into selfishness. And that’s why the Lord said, "Hey, I’m here to show you the way and that way is to be a servant." That’s hard for us to get. And how do we apply that to our children? How do parents become servants to their kids?
Tony: Well the greatest way to greatness is through servanthood. And the essence of servanthood is humbling yourself for the well-being of somebody else, even if it means that there has to be something at your own expense to do it. And what we’re having is parents not paying the price for their own inconvenience, in order to raise the generation that is coming in the way that the Creator intended. Far too many parents are more interested in their kids making the team than making the kingdom. And so, they will make every practice. They will make sure that they’re learning that skill, but the skill of life, the skill of living, the skill of wise choosing, the skill of spiritual growth, responsibility and dedication, well, we visit those. We - we live in the other arenas and those are not the arenas where life is to be lived.
Jim: Uh, you had a visit recently, I think, back to your hometown in Baltimore that brought some memories back. I did that, too. I went to third grade at Star King Elementary School in Compton, if you could believe that. So, not long ago, I went back just to look at the neighborhood and remind myself of some of the hard stories that occurred there. What happened for you when you went to Baltimore to look at your neighborhood where you grew up?
Tony: Well, that was an emotional experience. I went back to see my father. I just lost my mother. And uh, I went back to spend some time with my father and uh, just encourage him. And I was sitting on the porch uh, of the house that I grew up in, and I was noticing the decline of life.
Uh, there were two young ladies who were in the porch next to me. And I just struck up a conversation with them, and these both were single parents, both were on welfare. Neither had family and as I began to talk to them and kind of began to start witnessing to them, they began to cry. And they looked over to me and they said, “We don’t want to be like this. We don’t want to be here.” And then they said, “But we have no one to help us and no one to guide us.”
Jim: Man, it sounds like a Scripture they were...
Tony: And - and boy...
Tony: ...I mean, it - it - and - that just crushed me. I called them over from their porch to my porch. I helped them out in a few areas where there was some immediate need. But I - I was able to see graphically in the home I grew up in and the environment I grew up in, how bad things had gotten - that there was such hopelessness.
And you know, you can go a long way with hope, ‘cause hope means you can see some potential in the future. But when you lose hope - so we had one of those mothers was selling drugs. The other mother was periodically selling her body just to feed her kids.
Jim: Oh, my goodness.
Tony: Okay? Because there was no hope and there was no help, because there was no family.
Jim: Oh! I mean, Tony, that’s devastating, when you think about it. Why are we in the mess that we’re in? And when you look at it as a pastor and the - the families that you’re caring for in Dallas, and then having that experience in Baltimore, when you look at it from where you sit, why are we in the mess that we’re in when it comes to family?
Tony: Well my - my wife one day asked me to uh, oh, I bought my son, when he was younger, I bought my son a bike and you had to assemble it. And it came with these instructions, but I was workin’ on my doctorate at that time, so I - I - I was a smart black man. I didn’t need to read all of these instructions. I could do it on my own.
Jim: Oh, good, ‘cause I do it the same way. I never read them.
Tony: Right, right. Well - well, eight hours later with just the handlebars, my - my wife came to the door and she said, uh, “Have you ever thought about readin’ the directions?” What she was sayin’ was, "Maybe the bicycle-maker knew more about bicycle assembling than you do."
So, I decided to humble myself, read the directions and I repaired and fixed in 45 minutes what I hadn’t done in eight hours because I let the instruction manual guide me.
Because we’ve left God, because we’ve left God’s instruction, definition, implementation of the family, we are not assembling the family as He intended, and we’re wondering why this bike won’t ride.
Jim: Well, let’s talk about that. Let’s go into the instruction manual. When you talk about a kingdom kid, what is a kingdom kid?
Tony: A kingdom kid can be defined as a - a kid who has been raised in the faith in such a way that they consistently live all of their life under the rule of God.
The whole issue of kingdom is rule. The kingdom of gender is the visible demonstration of that rule. So the job of a parent is to equip their children to look at every part of their life as under divine authority and to make all decisions in light of it.
Jim: And - and that is well-said. Let me ask you this though, when you get into the nitty-gritty of living life. You said something there I want to catch, which is “consistently,” not perfectly.
Jim: Now talk about that, because I think as Christian parents, we often - we’re keeping a scorecard in our minds with our children that they’re living perhaps perfectly and it’s really consistently, that you know, that they’re getting it. They’re catching the rules. They’re not letting the rules own them. But they’re responding out of their heart to want to obey those things because it’s the right thing to do, not because you’re telling to do it.
Tony: Well, the key is to attach governance, guidelines, rules to relationship. Rules without relationship will always lead to rebellion. Because after a while, you get tired of the rules, and you will rebel against the rules. But if there’s a relationship, even if you don’t like the rules, you may still be consistent because you value the relationship. So it is critical that parents, in raising kingdom kids, are raising kingdom kids to understand, "Yeah, this is what God says. This is what we say to you, in light of what God says. But let’s talk about the love affair that we want to carry on with you, me, us, our family and the Lord." And when you create that relationship, it creates a heart attachment and not just a legalistic uh, let’s follow the guidelines responsibility.
Jim: What if I’m in that spot? What if this is an “ah-ha” moment for me? Uh, I’m the dad of a - a teenager and I’m listenin’ to Focus on the Family, and I hear you say what you just said, but I’ve really set it up to be more about the rules. What can I do tonight when I go home for dinner and the kids and my spouse are at the table - what can I do differently, if I’ve been more rules oriented than relationship oriented?
Tony: Well, you gave a key word there when you said “table". We have a whole chapter called “Table Time” in the book, because that is the key time for doing exactly that - creating that atmosphere of relationship.
First of all, is to acknowledge that I have not been as relationally uh, attached to our family as I need to be. And - and I’m wrong for that. That - that’s vulnerability, but it’s necessary ‘cause that is a relational statement. So, I want to now spend more time on building a closeness among us than I am enforcing the regulations for us. I’m not putting out the regulations. We have to have standards. But I want within the standards, there to be so much relationship that we won’t mind the standards, ‘cause we’re havin’ so much fun together as a family. So, setting that template out front creates an atmosphere.
Tony: And you know, you can do a lot. You know, atmosphere’s critical. If the air smells bad in a place, it doesn’t matter how many good things you have goin’ on, you still don’t want to be there ‘cause of bad air. But if you can get good sweet-smelling air, but everything’s not right in the room, you don’t mind hangin’ out in the room and straighten’ things out, ‘cause it smells pretty good. Well, well, when a parent does what we just went over, you’re changing the smell in the room. And when you change the smell in the room, then people don’t mind fixing the problems in that room, because it just smells so sweet to be there.
John: Jim, as people are listening, I’m sure there’s someone who’s thinking, "Yeah, well, you haven’t been to my house and my dinner table." I mean, this - this is a process, Dr. Evans, that takes time, does it not?
Tony: It does take time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but they should see that the time is being used to accomplish it. We will not solve all of this breakdown in our country, in our culture, in our churches, in our families tomorrow. But we can set ourselves on a path of Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my house - and I got all this idolatry around me - but as for my crib and how we roll up in here, up in here - that’s like an urban statement.
But - but the way we move, okay, this is how we’re going to begin to define our family under God and enjoy the process. Once you set that pace going, and then begin to consistently implement it, they’ll catch on, even if they may not trust it at first. Maybe you’re just talkin’ a good game. But when they see it implemented, executed, particularly at table time, uh, I think you’ll begin to see a new kind of response from all members of the family, including your mate.
Jim: Tony, let me ask you an obvious question. I’ve so appreciated over the years your ability to kinda discern between the here and now physical world and spiritual reality. You - you just have a good discernment in that way. I’ve noticed it over the years. When we think of the spiritual realm here, um, how and why is Satan attacking the family the way he is today? Somethin’s goin’ on.
Tony: Well, please note that Satan never bothered Adam until he got married. You don’t see Satan showing up when Adam is a single. Only when God gives Adam Eve, does Satan show up. That’s because Satan knew the plan of God in Genesis, chapter 1, verses 26 to 28, when he says, “I gonna create them male and female. I want them to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Fill the earth with what? The image of God. So, Satan’s goal was to stop a plan, not just mess up a person.
Jim: ‘Cause it threatens him.
Tony: It threatens him, because it is a rival kingdom. He’s after the expansion of his kingdom. And therefore, he wants to disrupt the family, so he disrupts the kingdom, so he can advance his kingdom, so that God is not glorified. His kingdom is not expanded and people are messed up, toe up from the floor up.
Jim: I mean that - you can’t get it any straighter than that, John.
John: That’s so well said. Man...
Jim: Uh, let me ask you on the other side then, again as uh, Christian families, what should we be doing to apply biblical truth in this context? How do we get off ourselves and onto kingdom business?
Tony: Well, that is to make God and His principles a part of the integration of the family and not part of just special programming by the family. Okay, you go to church. That’s a program you do, so to speak, weekly. They go to Sunday school; you go to church. But the question is now, when you come home, how much time is spent reviewing what they learned, what they heard or especially the father, if the father’s there, what he heard from the pastor and he breaks it down around the table for his family? So that now he becomes the pastor of his own home. Trust me, if your children are talking about your pastor more than they’re talking about you, the wrong pastor’s in the house.
The pastor of the family should be the dad, if he’s there, and the mom fulfilling that role, if the dad is not there, by taking the formal and making it part of Deuteronomy 6, making it part of “as you walk and as you just move along and as you just live your life.” You just - teachable moments, you see somethin’ on the - on the television and you don’t just say, “Turn it off.” You say, “What did we learn from what we just saw? What do you think about that?” It becomes a moment, but a moment in movement not a static uh, cold moment that has nothing to do with the reality of life.
Jim: You know, let me speak to two situations and have you address ‘em. One is uh, where there is a mom and dad, and moms are so frustrated, because they know this. Moms to me, hit the bull’s eye, spiritually and every other way. They’re...
Jim: ...the ones that repair the boo-boo’s and they know if you’re down, they bake a cookie. They know how to put a smile on a 5-year-old’s face.
Jim: Moms just seem to know it. Dads, not so much and there’s so many moms that are sayin’, “I just wish my husband took more of a leadership role.” But we’re distracted. We’re busy. You get home and you’re tired. There’s lots of reasons to say, “Ah! I just don’t have it in me tonight to do that.” What would you say to the mom to encourage her and then to the dad, to kind of kick us in the backside?
Tony: Well, I would say uh, Moses, in Genesis chapter 4, refused to circumcise his son. Zipporah went and circumcised them in light of Moses’ refusal, took the foreskin and threw it at Moses’ feet and says, “You are a - a husband - you are a husband of blood to me.”
But then the Bible says, “But God took his anger away from Moses, because of what Zipporah did.” So, what that means is that when fathers fail, mothers do as much as you can to salvage your kid without letting your husband off the hook. She threw that foreskin in front of Moses and said, “You are messin’ this family up.” So, you hold your husband accountable. That’s part of being a helpmate. A helpmate is not just sayin’ nice stuff. A helpmate is holding him accountable to his divine responsibility and in a respectful way, but a clear way, not letting him off the hook.
What I would say to men is, that uh, what you have to understand, in the Bible, men raise the children, not the mothers. The Scripture says in Ephesians, chapter 6, "Fathers, raise your children.” So what’s a mother supposed to do? Help when you can’t be there. So if you can't be there during the day ‘cause you’re out workin’ and she’s the homemaker, she’s the helpmate. She’s filling in. She meets her maternal role. When you come home, it’s your overtime job. And if they call you to work overtime at work, you’d make a way. Stop giving excuses. No more excuses. That’s the men’s book.
Jim: Uh, I was gonna say.
A lot of guys may have just said...
Tony: That's the Kingdom Man book, but …
Jim: They may have just said, “What? I mean, how can I...? It’s true; a lot of guys think that okay, that spiritual training of our children really is your role, mom, and I’ll support ya.
Tony: That is so unbiblical.
Jim: You’re saying it’s the opposite.
Tony: The covenant was passed from Abraham, Isaac, to Jacob, okay. It was passed from father down. It was not passed from mother down, because the father was responsible. Genesis, chapter 18, verse 19, God tells Abraham, "I want you to train your children in the ways of the Lord." So, it’s the man’s responsibility. So every man who’s listening right now, if you’re not the spiritual head, spiritual leader, not just in terms of Bible study, but in terms of bringing spiritual principles consistently to bear to all of life with your whole family, then you are a failed father and failed leader. But the good news is God can hit a bull’s eye with a crooked stick. So, He still used Moses. He can still use you.
Jim: Well, and Tony, I gotta say, I mean, it’s convicting for all of us if we’re honest, and that’s the place you need to start is be honest with what’s happening. Uh, let me ask you about that. Again, this kinda gets back to what we talked about a moment ago with consistency. Families aren’t perfect. Things happen.
Tony: Sure. Sure.
Jim: I think most of the time, those things that happen are called “teenagers.”
But you know, that - that straight stick that you’re trying as a Christian couple to provide to your family, all of a sudden, it starts getting crooked. And you’re thinking, well, the Lord can’t use a crooked stick. Look what’s goin’ on. And maybe that teenager is now 20-something and they’re struggling. Talk to me about your own personal journey in this regard, that it wasn’t perfect all the time.
Jim: And here you are the pastor of a large church in Dallas, tryin’ to represent the Word in the right way, yet you can’t control what’s goin’ on with your kids. You can only be there.
Tony: Yeah, we’ve had our challenges. We were committed to the Lord as a family, but we had our challenges. Probably the biggest one is when Crystal got pregnant in college, and I’m a pastor of a church and - and she talks about that now and uh, and uh, she was kind of uh, in - in this kind of rebellious state, and that was the net result of that. Uh...
Jim: But you didn’t lose hope in that...
Tony: No, we...
Tony: ...we didn’t lose hope, nor did we stop loving her.
Tony: We didn’t stop loving her. We, of course, addressed the - the spiritual issue and the sin without canceling out the love. And see, what legalism does is demand a rule without the loving relationship. And you have to have both. These twin towers must stay together in parallel. And because we kept loving her, because we invested in her, because we guided her, spiritually, she returned and wow, what a return. She’s servin’ the Lord greatly today.
Jim: Well, let me ask that question, because you have four kids, now, that are out of the home, that are doin’ well, and that’s evidence of the good things that you and your wife did. Let me ask you this because in the area of shaming, so often we as Christian parents - we will do that, not that we’re aiming for that, but when our child is letting us down, one of the potholes we can step in - which I think is a serious one - is when you shame your child. And you’re alluding to that, but let’s talk specifically about that. How do you refrain from shaming and how do you lift up that love and deliver the consequences in a way that doesn’t break down that child’s spirit?
Tony: Well, if you have sought to create in them a divine sensitivity, you’ve really put them in the position to shame themselves.
Jim: Right, which is the better way.
Tony: And that - that is the better way, because you shaming them doesn’t equal them really uh, taking into their own heart uh, real shame or real guilt over sin.
Jim: And that will harden their hearts.
Tony: And - and yes, and it very well can harden their hearts. So what you want to do is create that atmosphere where God can shame them, that is, legitimate guilt over sin, but where you can then come in, in the name of the same God and embrace them and love them. I remember when my kids were small and of spanking age, uh, I would spank them, tell them why I was spanking them, spank them and then I would hug them, ‘cause I wanted them to see and feel there had to be consequences for wrong, but it came from a heart of love. So combining the two and not merely responding out of anger because you’re mad, allowed us to communicate that. And - and my wife, she was the day-to-day person who - who kept that atmosphere strong in the home.
Jim: Uh, you know, for us, we just had something happen. I don’t want to get into the details. Uh, but one of my boys, you know, he had done something that was inappropriate. And he wrote a terrific letter, and it just said, you know, “Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry. Uh, I’ve broken my trust with you, and I know it’ll take me some time to reconnect that trust.” And it was a beautiful letter. I was impressed. I was thinking, “He’s got it.” And then at the end, he signed it by saying, “Not good enough,” and then his name. And that crushed me.
And I remember just drivin’ down the road a couple of days later with him, and I turned to him and I said, “You know, here’s the news. None of us are good enough. So I don’t want you to feel like you’re not good enough to measure up for God. None of us are, not even mom and dad. But I want you to hear is that He loves us enough and that He died for what you’ve done, that He gave His life for you.”
Tony: That’s a teachable moment.
Jim: Teachable moment.
Tony: You used a real-life situation to drive home a spiritual principle that now, it wasn’t ethereal. It wasn’t up in, pie in the sky. It was down to earth, ‘cause it was something he was involved with. And he grew from that. And that’s what we should be doing all the time and that gives you a full-time job as a parent.
Jim: Tony, we have started this conversation. We’re right at the end for today, but I - there are so many more questions I want to get into. Uh, let’s come back next time and continue to talk about Raising Kingdom Kids. And let me just once again, let me just read that Scripture that we started the program with today, third John 1:4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Thanks for opening up our minds as to how to do that. Let’s come back and continue next time.
Tony: I look forward to it. God bless.
John: You know, Jim, that was a great Scripture to close the conversation with. There's nothing more important than passing our faith on to our children. That's my heart. I know that's the heart of so many of our listeners, and as always, Tony Evans has done an outstanding job of sharing that kind of message with us. is his book. It's published by Focus on the Family. It lays the groundwork for you to successfully guide your child spiritually. It's full of biblical principles and illustrations and the kind of encouragement that you heard today. And you'll also, by the way, see some contributions from Tony's adult children in the book as well. Ask about , when you get in touch.
Jim: And John, by the grace of God, we're seeing families strengthened every day as parents get tangible results in helping their children grow in the Lord through our collective efforts here at Focus on the Family. Every Christian parent has a heart for leading their child to follow the Lord, and that’s where we can help. Almost a million parents have told us, just in this past year, that we’ve helped them build a more God-honoring family, and that's exciting and we wanna give that praise to the Lord.
And I want to say thank you to those of you who invest in the ministry here to reach those parents, to help those parents do the job to help raise Kingdom kids. And one of the ways you can help is by donating today, and we will say thank you for standing in the gap for these families by sending a copy of Tony’s book as our way of saying thank-you when you make that gift. Also, there's a summer match on right now. So when you give a gift of $25, it'll be $50 because of these good friends who, in a good way, want to stimulate those gifts to Focus on the Family so we can reach more people. So take advantage of it. Their generosity is there for you to double your impact, and what a wonderful way to do it.
Closing Voice Track:
John: And we invite you to donate when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And while you’re there, make sure you take our free online parenting assessment. It's called 7 Traits of Effective Parenting.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back next time when we have more from Dr. Tony Evans and once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Tony EvansView Bio
Dr. Tony Evans is founder and senior pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, founder and president of The Urban Alternative, former chaplain of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, and present chaplain of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. His radio broadcast, The Alternative with Dr. Tony Evans, can be heard on nearly 1,000 US radio outlets daily and in more than 130 countries. For more information, visit TonyEvans.org.