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Standing on the Shoulders of the Father

with Alex Harris, Brett Harris, G...more | January 11, 2013

What do Joshua, Joel, Alex, Brett, and Isaac Harris all have in common?  Their mother and father, Sono and Gregg Harris!  Listen as Gregg and five of his sons explain some of what goes into raising sons who embrace manhood early.  

What do Joshua, Joel, Alex, Brett, and Isaac Harris all have in common?  Their mother and father, Sono and Gregg Harris!  Listen as Gregg and five of his sons explain some of what goes into raising sons who embrace manhood early.  

Standing on the Shoulders of the Father

With Alex Harris, Brett Harris, G...more
January 11, 2013
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Bob:  Joshua, and Joel, and Brett Harris—brothers—all of them remember that growing up in the Harris family meant growing up with a vision for your life. 

Joshua:  He was always pushing us to start our own ventures.

Joel:  We would just do a lot of things together, and everybody would just be involved.  We would really get behind something and do it, as much as possible, as a family team. 

Brett:  My parents really made it clear that the teen years were a time when I could accomplish something important. 

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, January 11th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll hear from five of the Harris brothers today and their dad about how a father raises sons to embrace manhood early.  Stay tuned. 

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition.  You remember the first time we sat down with Joshua Harris?  He was 22 years old, at the time. 

Dennis:  Youngest guest, here on FamilyLife Today

Bob:  —at that point. 

Dennis:  Yes. 

Bob:  The youngest we’d ever had.  He’d just written the book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye

[Previously recorded audio]

Bob:  Dennis, we have a young monk—

Dennis:  A young monk?!  

Bob:  A young monk. 

Dennis:  Are you a monk? 

Joshua:  I’ve never been described as a monk.  [Laughter]

Dennis:  Bob— 


Bob:  Joshua was actually moving from his home in Oregon when he came through Little Rock for the interview—was on his way up to Maryland, where he now pastors Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg.  Then, it was a couple of years after that that we interviewed his younger brothers, Alex and Brett, who had written a book called Do Hard Things

Dennis:  Right. 

[Previously recorded audio]

Alex:  —and Bill Gates is in China.  What Thomas Friedman said was that, “The problem with America is that, in China, Bill Gates is Britney Spears.  In America, Britney Spears is Britney Spears.  That’s our problem.” 


Bob:  And I don’t know if they were older or younger than Josh when they came on the program—

Dennis:  —but equally impressive, by the way. 

Bob:  And we—that is what struck us.  I mean, we looked and said, “Okay, what—is there something in the water in Gresham, Oregon?” 

Dennis:  Well, there was something definitely in the Harris family.  Gregg Harris and his wife did a great job of honoring the Scriptures and building in their sons so that they would follow Jesus Christ.  These young men are the real deal. 

Bob:  Which is one of the reasons why, when we set out to put together the Stepping Up® video series that we’ve created—and of course, now, we’re getting ready for Super Saturday that comes up on Saturday, February 2nd, where we’ve got hundreds of churches who are going to be hosting a one-day event, the day before the Super Bowl, rallying men to step it up—again, more information, online, at, where you can sign up to be a part of that event. 

Now, back to what we were talking about—Gregg Harris, and his wife, and the children that they raised.  As we were putting the Stepping Up material together, we thought, “We need to ask Gregg”—

Dennis:  How he did it? 

Bob:  —“‘what did you do to’”—

Dennis:  Yes. 

Bob:  —“‘raise these men who are godly, young men?’  Then, we’ll go talk to the boys and ask them, ‘What do you remember your dad doing?’” 

Dennis:  So, you flew all the way to—

Bob:  Well, first to Maryland. 

Dennis:  Yes. 

Bob:  Talked to Joshua Harris, who is the pastor of Covenant Life Church.  Then, I went to Purcellville, Virginia, and talked to Alex and Brett Harris, who are students at Patrick Henry College.  Then, I went to Oregon; and I met with Gregg there—

Dennis:  The father. 

Bob:  —and I met with Joel and with Isaac.  Joel is a young man living in the Portland area.  Isaac is still living at home.  Dad is not done with him yet.  I got to talk to five of the guys and talked to their dad.  I remember I started off by asking Alex, “Do you remember a time in your life when you kind of looked around and realized, ‘Our family—we’re doing things differently than the other families in our neighborhood’?” 

[Recorded message]

Alex:  It’s actually hard to remember any specific moment.  I don’t think I ever thought we were weird.  That might have just been because there were so many of us kids.  We outnumbered everyone else.  We played a lot with our neighbors.  They had different rules—they had video games, and we didn’t—things like that. 

I think my parents just did a great job of explaining why we didn’t do things—and not in a judgmental way—that, “Other families—they do these things.  That’s wrong;” but more, “There’s a reason why we don’t.”  It wasn’t a matter of anyone being weird.  It was just different, but there was a reason for the difference.  I think a lot of that was always, from my parents case, rooted in, “This is what we believe is best.” 

Gregg:  You have, and I have, and they have a mental appetite; but you can spoil that appetite with mental junk food.  If you allow your children to satisfy their boredom with an Xbox®, then, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.  That boredom was supposed to draw them to reading something substantial—something that has a future, something that delivers the goods; okay?  The same with companionship—kids get lonely, but are they getting the kind of companionship that enforces and encourages them to pursue excellence in their area of interest or are they simply hanging out at the mall and wasting time? 

We didn’t really ever sit down and say, “Listen, we’re going to skip the whole adolescence thing.”  We just tried to get them into a situation where they wanted to be productive—from the earliest age—and where they had a sense of how that could be used.  For Alex and Brett, speech and debate was a big part of their early years.  It became cool to be good at speech and debate. 

Brett:  I think I felt like a grownup when I was doing speech and debate in high school. 


Bob:  This is Brett Harris. 

[Recorded message]

Brett:  Those kinds of experiences were terrifying to me.  I mean, I was jumping so far outside my comfort zone to get up and do that—and yet, the satisfaction that I had on the other end—you know, having survived, having gotten good responses from the judges—that was really when my horizons broadened a bit.  I thought, “Maybe, I could make a difference in this world.  I’m doing some good things,” and I think that feedback was really important for me. 

You know what?  If it wasn’t for God’s grace in my life, much of which flowed through my parents, I could imagine exactly what kind of young man I’d be.  I would be the partying, girl-chasing guy.  That is all in my DNA—everything in me would tend toward that.  I think, in moments of weakness, there could be desire for that; but at the same time, God’s grace working in me, changing my heart, redeeming me from myself and my sin—then, my parents really pushing back, and shaping, and molding, and putting up good boundaries, and giving a different path, at the same time, really, helped me avoid some of that. 

Growing up, I would listen to some tapes—actually, of Josh giving a talk when he was 17 on “Why Homeschool through High School”.  In that talk, he related the struggle he went through being homeschooled when all of his friends were in high school, and all the girls were at high school, and all the members of his youth group were doing these other things, and wanting to really live that life and embrace that lifestyle.  Yet, seeing how God worked in him—how he realized this was best.  There were good reasons for it. 

Joshua:  I think I was aware that our family took a different approach to things.  I mean, homeschooling was an obvious one.  Back then, it was very strange.  I had that awareness that all the other kids were getting on the school bus and going off to school, and I was at home; but there were other things—the fact that my parents didn’t want to have a TV.  We had a little monitor that we could play videos on and that kind of thing—but we just—we did things differently.   There was a real sense that we kind of went against the flow of what was normal, but that was kind of in my dad’s DNA.  He was always questioning what was normal and wanting to do things differently. 

Gregg:  We were focused on getting them to sense that God had a purpose for their lives—that that purpose was going to become clearer as they got older and as they identified their gifts and, what I call, their delights.  The expectation was—that in some way or another—and it may not be the same thing for your entire life—but some way or another, you get to have an impact for the glory of God.  You get to land somewhere where you can do good, and bring glory to God, and do good for others—and that it’s our job, as parents, to back you up in that. 

What we would try to do is create an environment in which our children were able to develop interests.  Then, we would feed those interests—I call these delights.  The Bible says, “Great are the works of the Lord.  They are pondered by all who delight in them.”  So, when we would notice that our children were developing an ongoing interest in something, then, we would begin to put kindling on that flame and blow on it a little bit.  Try not to—as one brother put it, “Don’t throw a log on a spark.”  You know?  But to cultivate or kindle a flame of interest—then, to begin to resource that interest. 

Joshua:  So, then, my first venture was—he came back from one of his homeschool conferences and said, “Josh, I’ve got a business idea for you.  I think you should match homeschool kids up so that they can be pen pals with each other.”  This is back before email, and the internet, and all these things; right?  So, I—by my dad prompting—started a pen pal business. 

Later, in high school, I started a wedding videography company.  The interesting thing about it, for my own experience and the way my dad encouraged me, is he was never so much concerned with the exact thing I was doing.  What he was concerned with was that I was doing something.  It wasn’t that he assumed that I was going to be a wedding videographer.  It’s that he loved the fact that I was opening these manuals and studying how to use these different machines, and how to use the cameras, and how to do the editing, and how to use the software, and so on. 

Those experiences taught me that I didn’t have to wait for someone else to come along and say, “Okay, now, you can do this because you have this certificate or you have this whatever.”  I could go out and learn and accomplish.  That, then, led to publishing a magazine.  What I learned in my video company gave me the confidence to say, “I want to publish. I’m going to learn how to use these programs and this software to do my own magazine.”  That, then, led into writing.  Behind all of that was my dad expecting me and my siblings to have that kind of mindset. 

Gregg:  It paid off.  Everything that we’ve done over the years has been a consequence of them learning to enjoy the challenges of being productive. 

Bob:  How did you distinguish between kind of that childhood—you know kids—“I want to be a fireman,” and the next day, “I want to be this.”  How did you try to lock in on what’s a real delight as opposed to just a passing fancy? 

Gregg:  Well, the Scriptures say that “Great are the works of the Lord.  They are pondered by all who delight in them.”  So, when a delight shows up in anyone’s life, child or adult, they—it shows up as a predictable interest.  If you have a little girl and she’s looking out the window of the car and saying, “Oh, look, Daddy, horses,” that’s not a delight yet; but if we get home and she’s drawing pictures of horses, that’s a step in the right direction.  If you find her pulling the encyclopedia out and reading about horses, this is starting to show up more and more like a delight. 

The point, at that time, is to look for something that is age-appropriate that will just put another piece of kindling on that interest.  It might be going to the library.  Today, with the internet, you can watch videos and get all kinds of resources.  But, then, going out to a riding stable; you know?  Again, not to go out and immediately take lessons or anything, but just going out and getting close to live horses and letting her get a sense of  what that’s all about and meet somebody. 

Probably, the biggest step in a delight-directed study is when the child meets someone who is already doing what they want to do.  I call it the magic handshake, where they shake hands with their future.  We can engineer it.  I remember taking my son, Joel, who showed an early interest in music—taking him to the symphony.  [Symphonic music]  My wife and I took him down to the symphony, and he—I made a point of going down close, and letting him look over the rail, and to see all of those musicians and all of those instruments.  His eyes were just—it was like he was looking at some kind of dream. 

Joel:  Definitely—always loving music and took piano lessons all through growing up.  It never really occurred to me that much to think, “You know, I’m tired of doing piano lessons, and I want to stop this.”  [Piano music]

Gregg:  With Joel, I overdid it.  This was a good lesson.  I went out to the music store, and I bought him this huge synthesizer.  It had every imaginable capability, at the time. 

Joel:  He got me a keyboard when all the kind of digital music stuff was really just starting.  So, there was midi, and you could record with a computer and do all kinds of stuff. 

Gregg:  I had visions him plugging in our Macintosh, and writing music, and learning all these things. 

Joel:  I mean, it was a great investment because I use the keyboard, still to this day, like with my teaching; but I never was able to do all the really advanced stuff with the recording. 

Gregg:  My vision for him did not transpire.  His future was much more along the road of just being a great musician, not an electronic whiz. 

Joel:  Because I had all that foundation—particularly, with the music—then, when the opportunities came along, I was actually able to use it in meaningful ways. 

Gregg:  He went on to become a very accomplished musician, and he has a music studio.  That is what he’s been using to put himself through the university here and preparing for the ministry. 

Joel:  First, when I—my dad planted the church.  Right away—I mean, that was like a whole family project.  We were all involved.  It started here in our living room.  So, I was involved in the worship there, from the very beginning.  Once I was able to use the music in worship, it kind of all paid off, really, at that point. 


Bob:  Here is 18-year-old Isaac Harris. 

[Recorded message]

Isaac:  We’ve always had a culture in this family of making it exciting, making it desirable to grow up, to accept more responsibility, to take on more difficult tasks, to take on more difficult responsibilities, and to become an adult.  That was something that wasn’t a depressing thought.  It wasn’t something that scared us, but it was something that excited us as we moved forward—that that was something that we desired. 

Gregg:  If they can learn how to be passionate, even on something that has no real future, but they are learning how to learn and they’re learning how to be passionate, I’d say that’s progress. 

Isaac:  So, I’ve always felt that encouragement.  I’ve always felt that motivation to pursue what I love and pursue “Grow and stretch me” and to be something for my future.  But it’s never been—it’s never been an expectation, I guess. 

Joshua:  I know when I watch interviews or I read things about parents, I can often just get discouraged. 



Bob:  Here is the oldest of the Harris brothers.  Again, here’s Joshua Harris. 

[Recorded message]

Joshua:  Because it always seems like everybody has their act together—the most incredible disciple makers in the world, and they never make mistakes.  Honestly, I’m encouraged by my dad because he was an imperfect father.  He didn’t do all the things that maybe he should have done; and yet, God’s grace was there.  He was faithful.  He did the best that he knew how.  One of the most important things, I think, for me is that I saw him humble himself. 

Gregg:  I’m kind of an on- or off-dad.  I’m either neglecting them or I’m mad at them.  So, that’s something I’ve had to grow out of.  I’m not entirely grown out of it. 

Joshua:  If he’d get angry, if he’d sin in some way, he’d come back to me.  He’d come back to the family, and he’d humble himself and he’d ask forgiveness. 

So, our calling, as fathers, is not ever going to be that we’re going to get everything right.  We wouldn’t even need the Gospel if we were those kinds of fathers—if that was an option—but it’s to model for our sons the fact that there is a Savior, we need that Savior, we are going to do all we can to point you to Him, but we’re not Him.  “We’re not that Savior.  We’re just at the foot of the cross with you.”  I’m encouraged by my dad’s example of that.  He made mistakes.  I made mistakes, as a son.  Yet, we’ve experienced God’s mercy and God’s kindness toward us. 

Gregg:  We claimed the Psalm 127.  That’s the psalm that says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.  Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”  Then, it continues—to talk about how it’s vain to rise up early and stay up late and eat the bread of painful labor because the Lord gives to His beloved, even in his sleep.  Then, it talks about children and how children are a gift from the Lord, and the fruit of the womb is a reward, and that they are like arrows in the hand of a warrior. 

Well, that phrase became the kind of the banner over our strategy.  You know, that our children were as arrows and that we should aim them intentionally.  I understood that to mean as at targets that were significant—are strategic in God’s purposes.  I use the analogy that they are like fire arrows.  You aim them into an area of life and hope they will spread a flame for the glory of God. 


Bob:  Well, we have taken you into the Harris household today, where we have heard brothers—Joel, and Joshua, and Alex, and Brett, and Isaac—share a little bit about what their father and their mother did to raise them to be young men who embraced responsibility early. 

Dennis:  And there are two thoughts, really, coming to my mind, Bob.  First of all, we’re not raising robots. 

Bob:  Yes. 

Dennis:  But it’s a great story of redemption—of how God can take a guy like Gregg, who was broken in his own right, and redeem his life and make him a vessel of grace, and of the Scriptures, and impart it to his sons.  That really leads me to the second thing that Gregg repeatedly said.  He used the word, “Intentional” —to have a target, from the Scriptures, and know what you’re heading toward and know what you’re trying to build into your sons’ and daughters’ lives. 

I think that is what the video event, Super Saturday, is going to do for guys.  It gives them a biblical goal.  It stimulates their soul to think about, “How can I raise a legacy that is going to outlive me?”  Well, that’s our hope, here on FamilyLife Today, that on Super Saturday, 2-2-13, literally, tens of thousands of men are going to gather together in hundreds, maybe even thousands, of churches across the country; and they’re going to be stimulated to love and good deeds.  They are going to be stimulated to think about how to intentionally build the next generation of Christ-followers and then to sling them out into the world to make an impact for Jesus Christ. 

Bob:  Well, and you can go to our website,, to get more information about how you could still host one of these Super Saturday events on February 2nd.  It’s the day before they play that big football game in the NFL.  There is still an opportunity for you to join with churches from all over the country and host a Super Saturday event. 

Or if you want to go to and find out where one of these events is being hosted in your city—get a group of guys and all of you go together and be a part of Super Saturday with us.  Again, the information is available, online, at  If you have any questions about Super Saturday, give us a call: 1-800-FL-TODAY.  Again, the toll-free number, 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.  We’ll see if we can answer any of the questions you have when you get in touch with us. 

By the way, for those who are interested, the interviews that we did with Joshua, and Alex, and Brett, and Joel, and Isaac Harris, along with the interview that we did with Gregg Harris—if you’d like to listen to the two hours’-worth of material, it’s available.  Go, online, at  There’s a link there.  You can listen to all of the conversation that we had about lessons that the boys learned as their dad was raising them to manhood. 

Now, as many of you who are regular FamilyLife Today listeners know, this program is made possible because of folks, just like you.  If you are able to help with a donation, this week, in support of FamilyLife Today, we’d like to say, “Thank you,” by sending you a copy of a conversation that you heard last week on FamilyLife Today—a conversation with Elyse Fitzpatrick.  She’s written a book called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat.  We took a biblical look at food, and our body size, and shape, and image, and how we’re to understand all of that together.  If you’d like to receive a copy of that conversation on audio CD, just ask for it when you make a donation in support of FamilyLife Today

Go to our website,  Click the link that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and mention that you’d like to receive the audio CD from Elyse Fitzpatrick when you make a donation over the phone.  Again, keep in mind we do appreciate your partnership with us—couldn’t do what we do without you.  We’re grateful to have you as a part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife Today

And we hope you have a great weekend.  Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend.  I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’ll meet a pastor and his wife who came to a crisis point in their marriage, ten years in.  They’ll share their story with us starting on Monday.  Hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  Special thanks today to Phil Krause who helped with today’s program.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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