FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Redemption of Rugrats, Rebels, and Parental Units

with Dennis Rainey | July 28, 2017
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The Apostle John says he had no greater joy than to see his children walking in the truth. But what happens when our children choose to walk in darkness? Dennis Rainey gives practical biblical wisdom on the redemption of rebels, rugrats, and our own marriages through the sanctifying power of parenting.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • VIDEO: Dennis Rainey at Dallas Theological Seminary's Spiritual Life Conference, January 2015

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

What happens when our children choose to walk in darkness? Dennis Rainey gives practical biblical wisdom on the redemption of rebels, rugrats, and marriages through the sanctifying power of parenting.

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The Redemption of Rugrats, Rebels, and Parental Units

With Dennis Rainey
July 28, 2017
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Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, July 28th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. There’s a reason why God gave you the children He gave you. A part of that reason has to do with His plan for you. We’ll hear more about that today from Dennis Rainey. Stay tuned.


And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. I read a blog post—this was a number of months ago. It was a dad who was writing and he wrote, “Things I Would Do Differently If I Was Starting Over as a Parent.” I thought, “Everybody could write that blog post.” We all have things we would do differently if we had a second time around.

Dennis: We underestimate the power of children in our lives to redeem us from ourselves—to redeem us from our selfishness—and to frankly, cause us to become more like Jesus Christ.

Bob: As you had an opportunity to address students and their spouses at Dallas Theological Seminary, not long ago—you had four days during their spiritual-emphasis week—you talked about marriage, and you talked about parenting. You talked about really having an eternal focus when it comes to the assignment that God’s given us.

Dennis: Yes. I think—for those in the ministry—sometimes, the ministry can—



—compete with our assignment from God, to be a mom and dad. You don’t have to be in the ministry to experience that. You can experience that in business. You can experience that in working at your church—volunteer work. You can even allow your children to rob your marriage of its romance and its relationship.

There’s a real interesting tension here that we all experience. Let’s put it out there—let’s be honest about it—and lets encourage one another to really be all that God called us to be—as a man, a woman, a husband, a wife, a mom, a dad, a grandparent, maybe—and not waste any of what God’s given us.

Bob: Here’s how you encouraged and challenged the students you spoke to recently at Dallas Seminary.

[Recorded Message]

Dennis: I doubt that John Stott had raising children in mind when he made the following statement:



“Life is a pilgrimage of learning, a voyage of discovery, in which our mistaken views are corrected, our distorted notions are adjusted, our shallow opinions deepened, and some of our vast ignorances are diminished.”

One of the things that God used in my life—to correct my views, adjust my notions, deepen my convictions, and diminish my ignorance—has been my wife and family.

Children are a blessing—Psalm 127:3 through 5: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hands of the warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.”

Children are also God’s last chance for us, as parents, to grow up.



I mistakenly thought that God gave me six children to help them grow up. I determined and discovered that God gave us six to help me finish the process of moving from boyhood to manhood.

Children are teachers who have divine assignments. They have taught us so much, but one of the most important things they’ve taught us is—they have solidified our doctrine of depravity—[Laughter]—our own depravity, not theirs. Yes, it’s clear they’re selfish, but I am amazed what’s been revealed of what’s in my heart. Children are redemptive. They have saved Barbara and me from toxic self-absorption.

All of life is about redemption—taking broken people and doing something marvelous and redeeming them.


There’s one last thing children have taught us. Children can confront us with the forgotten commandment. Exodus 20, verse 12: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”

What is it about us—as adults—as we think about our parents, that we want to bash and blame? Looking back at their failures, pulling out a microscope, and focusing on what they didn’t do—and somehow feeling pious and justified? It’s the heart of a Pharisee. To be sure, parents have done evil things—I’m not talking about that—but you and I, my friend, have a responsibility, back to the fifth commandment: “Honor your mother and you father, that it may go well with you.”


One of the guys we had on FamilyLife Today was RV Brown. RV works with youth. I forget about how big his biceps are. [Laughter] But RV grew up in a family where he was number 17 of 18 children. His dad, Willy Fish Brown, couldn’t read or write—but he knew the Bible, and he lived the Bible. One of the fun things about a national radio program is you give them a chance to express a tribute to a father—to a mother. I want you to listen to some golden audio of one man’s appreciation for Willy Fish Brown.

[Audio Clip]

RV Brown: Daddy Fish, I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, first of all, for loving my momma and, then secondly, for loving me, and kissing me,—



—and rubbing my little round head, and telling me to go to school and everything was going to be okay. And then Dad, I want to thank you for taking me fishing, July 6, 1959, for the first time. Today, my son fishes—I took him to the same spot, Daddy—and we stood there until he caught a fish.

Dad, I want to just tell you what an awesome leader you was. With no education Dad, you taught me. You educated me how to love—how to appreciate you, Dad—not only how to appreciate you but to enjoy my life today because of what you did and how you loved me, Dad. I wish I could hug you today, Dad. When I look at your picture and mom picture over my head in my easy chair, I always look at it and say, “Daddy, am I doing okay? Am I loving my wife the way you loved my mom?”

Thank you for taking me fishing and sitting down, talking with me, on the bank when nothing was biting. Dad, thank you for teaching me how to farm and to take—



—care of other people and share whatever I got with other people, Dad. I’m the kind of a man I am today because of who you are, Dad.

I just pray for other dads—that they love their children and love their wives the way my dad loved my mama and loved us. Thank you—Dad and Mom—for being who you are. You live to this day inside of me, Dad. Every day I wake up, I see you Dad. I see you—I see your smile, I see the way you walk, I see the way you talk to people. It’s the same thing Dad, as is happening all over again because of what you did, Dad.

Willy Fish, you’re a special man. Willy Fish, you’re a godly man. Even though you couldn’t read, you taught me how to love through the Word of God—and not only couldn’t read it—but you explained it to me, Father.

Dad, thank you for being my dad. I wouldn’t want nobody else to be my dad but you, Dad.



Thank you for loving Momma. Thank you for the leadership and the authority in which you raised us in. Thank you for the discipline. Dad, I love you—and one day I’ll spend eternity with you. Thanks, Dad!

[End Audio Clip]

Dennis: It’s the most powerful institution on the planet—it’s where we learn right from wrong, we learn how to love, we get a glimpse of God. In its broken form, it’s still what God created—a family. I’ve got three points for you, as I wrap up here:

Number One: Children are your responsibility. If you’re married and you have children—your ministry begins at home. I don’t need to remind such an astute audience as this, of Deuteronomy chapter 6:3-9: “These words which I am commanding you today”—you have to possess—


—you have to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind—“And they shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently—” Train them every day—as you walk through your house, as you live out your life—modeling what this Book calls us to do.

Don’t let the ministry seduce you into ignoring your primary ministry to your spouse and family.

You need to embrace the same goal, as a couple. If you’re going to be successful in your ministry of raising children, you must agree on a single set of blueprints for building those children. Now, the problem is—he’s got a set of blue prints—she’s got a set of blueprints. Sometimes, they overlap a little, but we assume our blueprints are the same. They hand us a baby, they call us Mom and Dad, and we begin the process of realizing we’re different.


We came from vastly different backgrounds and families.

When I started out, I began to write out all the things I wanted to teach our kids—started out to be 25 things I wanted to teach our kids. “This is overwhelming,”—so, I decided to do something different. I took the better part of a year—and I went and interviewed theologians, pastors, and biblically-anchored counselors—asking them, “What is the essence of parenting? What is the essence that this Book teaches?”

I’ll tell you what I found. I found there are four things:

Number one: Identity—spiritual and sexual identity. It’s where the Bible begins in Genesis 1:27: “He created them male and female in the image of God.”


“In the image of God he created them.”

They are image-bearers made for a relationship with God and also to be image-bearers to a broken world. They need to understand their spiritual address—their spiritual identity. To do that, they have to know who God is and think rightly about who God is.

It’s an opportunity—as you raise them—to teach them about faith in God—and may I just give you one little warning? Don’t freak out if they have doubts. Why?—because you and I have doubts.

One of my favorite quotes—that wraps up kind a how I finally became on fire for Jesus Christ—came from a chaplain of the Washington Redskins, Tom Skinner. He said this: “I spent a long time trying to come to grips with my doubts, when suddenly I realized, I better come to grips with what I believe.”



“I have since moved from the agony of questions I still can’t answer to the reality of answers that are inescapable—and it’s a great relief.”

Don’t freak out when your kids have doubts. Thank them for coming to you and talk about how you have had your doubts.

Spiritual identity—sexual identity—we must own training our children to know what it means to be a man—and distinctly a man—and a woman—and distinctly a woman. If we don’t, the world will. This is an urgent issue today. We’ve got to provide it—sexual training for our children—sexual identity.

Secondly: Relationships. You know what our Savior said when He was asked, “What’s the greatest commandment?” He wrapped it up and said—it is relationships—relationships with God—love Him, relationships with people—love them.


We were made, by God, for relationship—with Him and with others.

Your home is the training ground—the incubator for modeling how two selfish, sinful, depraved, human beings relate to each other. Use your failures to teach your children. Show them how two broken people learn to love and be loved, how they ask for forgiveness when they’ve wronged another, and how they forgive one another.

On more than one occasion, I would stop in the midst of an argument with Barbara—heated exchange—disagreement—whatever you want to call it—because our kids kind of circled us, going like a tennis match, back and forth. I would stop and say, “Time out, Barbara.” I’d turn to the kids and say, “Your mom and I have a disagreement; alright? This happens between human beings. We’re okay. We’re committed. We’re not going anywhere,”—and by the way, they need to know that.



Third: Character. That’s what the Book of Proverbs is all about—wisdom and not foolishness—choosing right, not wrong. As parents, we are to equip, train, coach, and guide them through the traps that they are going to face in life. That’s what the father did in Proverbs—didn’t he?—5 through 7—character.

Fourth one: Mission. Neil Postman writes in his book, The Disappearance of Childhood, “Our children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” The family is the original Great Commission Training Center. This is a spiritual relay race—one where we have to be multiplying out disciples, who have a vision for the world.

It can take all forms of application.



They all don’t have to be in “vocational Christian ministry” to have a Great Commission mindset. You know some of the things you can do? Take them with you on a mission trip. Expose them to missionaries. Hear their stories—let them share their stories—let your kids hear it. Read stories to them about those who have modeled sacrificial service.

I just add this—you want to go near the heart of God? Take them near the orphan. I was asked to speak at a—I think it was called Light Festival. It was in a cornfield—25 bands. There were 100,000 people in that field. And I followed a band, where the guys were jumping, this high off the ground, with their guitars; and I’m on the stage, about to walk off, to speak about going near the needs of the orphan.

I really feel like that’s what God wanted me to speak on.



All I can see and hear is the chatter of all these kids, as I begin to give my message. Well, by the time I was over, I was going—“That was the biggest dud message I’ve ever given.”

One thing I didn’t mention to you—that you should know—is that I took my two sons-in-law and three of my grandsons with me to go do that speaking engagement—so they were in the audience. When we were on the plane going back, one of them asked me—one of my sons-in-law—asked me—he said, “How do you think it went?” I said, “Pitiful. I didn’t feel like anybody was listening.” There’s this little voice, from the dark of the plane, goes—“I was listening, Papa. I want to start an orphan ministry in my church.”

God is a mischievous God—and now the rest of the story. I didn’t know that Michael and Ashley, my daughter, had been talking about orphans.



That was all they needed to goad them to finally launch an orphan community in their church and empty their county of all foster care kids, who need Christian homes to go to. Our God is going to use you in ways you will not even imagine—in spite of you!

One last point—just a word about rebels and prodigals. What do you do when things don’t turn out to be a Norman Rockwell painting? Well, I want you to know there’s a reason why the Bible is filled with stories of dysfunctional people and dysfunctional families. Do you know why it is? Because we’re dysfunctional. I don’t know how perfect you want to make my family—but I’m going to promise you something—it’s not perfect. You’ve got to learn that children aren’t robots. They have to hammer out their own faith.



The Perfect Father—who had the perfect Garden—had two prodigals. You have to learn to protect your marriage in the midst of a prodigal. And…one warning—being a parent is a set-up for being an enabler—rescuing a child when they need to hit rock bottom. I’m going to tell you something—I’ve allowed an adult child to hit rock bottom. It is one of the most courageous things I have ever done. To keep my hands out of it—it is so unnatural.

And finally, as you think about your ministry, you need to realize your assignment in ministry was never based upon perfection in your life. It is a gift from God. In the midst of the ugliness of it all, He’s going to use you in your family—for generations to come.




Bob: Again, this week, we’ve had the chance to hear some of what you shared with students and faculty. We haven’t mentioned faculty, but there were some of your old professors were there, listening to you; weren’t there?

Dennis: Yes. They were—not many of them—but I had a lot of fun with them. At one point, I offered a book on romance to the professor who needed it the most. [Laughter]

Bob: That’s got to be a bold professor, who’s going to come forward to get that one.

Dennis: They looked like the frozen chosen, right there. They did not move! They didn’t grin. They all were kind of looking at each other. Finally, one guy just stood up and said, “Give me the book! I’m the guy.” The students all applauded the guy—

Bob: I’ll bet

Dennis: —because I said, at that point—I said, “You know, we must have the most romantic faculty, here at Dallas Theological Seminary, of any seminary in America because none of them need this book on romance.”

Bob: We have had a lot of our listeners who have been coming to our website this week to watch the videos of the presentations that you made at Dallas Seminary.



They are available in their entirety, uninterrupted, on video. You can go to to watch the entire week’s-worth of messages that Dennis shared at the seminary. Again, the website is if you’d like to watch any of these messages—or if you want to share the link to these messages with a friend, you can do that as well. Again, our website is

I’ve also been mentioning this week, you’ve got a brand-new book called Choosing a Life That Matters. It’s a book about making sure that, as husbands and wives—moms and dads—our lives and our hearts are focused on the right stuff because at the end of the day, it’s that focus that really determines what our marriages and our families are going to look like.

You can order from us at, or you can call to order at 1-800-358-6329.



That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.

As I listen to what you shared with the students at Dallas Seminary, I was reminded of the fact that one of the things we try to do on this program—in the resources we create, the articles we write—everything we do here at FamilyLife—we try to make sure that we’re dealing with authentic, real life—not some airbrushed version of what life ought to look like, but the reality that all of us are living and the mistakes that all of us have made and will continue to make. I mean, it’s just a part of the reality of living in a world—in a culture—that’s dominated by sins—sinful thinking and sinful attitudes.

Our goal here at FamilyLife is to keep reminding ourselves and reminding you that in the midst of the challenges, there is grace—grace that forgives us when we mess up—



—and grace that transforms us so that we mess up less tomorrow than we did today. We want to continue providing practical, biblical help and hope to couples—to parents—to those who are trying to make marriage and family work as God intends for it to work.

And we’re grateful for those of you who support this ministry—those of you who share our passion and our conviction to see God’s Word applied to the realities of daily life. We especially want to thank those of you who are Legacy Partners who provide the stable, monthly financial support we need for this ministry.

If you’ve been listening to FamilyLife Today for some time now and you’ve not joined the team—you’ve not made a donation—can I encourage you to call or go online today and make a donation? Our website is It’s easy to donate online, or call and you can donate over the phone. 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY”.


And with that, we’ve got to wrap things up for this week. Thanks for joining us. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend. Then, I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk about the importance of disciplining your children—not punishing them, but disciplining them. There’s a difference. We’ll talk about that on Monday with our guest, Karis Kimmel Murray. Hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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

Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.


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