Do My Sins Cause My Child’s Suffering?

We’re not perfect parents—none of us. I’ve made some massive mistakes in the last sixteen years. Some of my mistakes were…

  • accidental, because I wasn’t paying attention to the right things.
  • ignorant, because sometimes I just didn’t know the right thing to do.
  • sinful, because I was being selfish or prideful.

Some of my mistakes were the type I could correct later. But for some of those mistakes, the only thing I could do was ask forgiveness.

Sometimes Satan slips his hand inside the memories of my parenting mistakes as if they were puppets. Then he raises their ugly heads toward me at the worst times, crushing my confidence and/or piling on the guilt.

I know I’m not alone. My friend and her son are in a difficult situation. He’s struggling, and she’s hurting. She said, “I hurt because I know some of the things I did were wrong.”

Me too, friend. Me too. And now it seems my children suffer because of my wrongs.

The same day she said those words to me, I read the beginning of John 9.

His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned, said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”  –John 9:2-3

I’ve written about this Gospel scene before. But this time, I thought of myself in the parents’ role: always wondering if I had done something to cause the son’s blindness. In the same way, I wonder if my actions and decisions over the past sixteen years have caused some of the struggles my kids have now.

Read the Scriptures carefully here. Jesus isn’t saying those parents never sinned. He’s saying their sin didn’t cause their son’s blindness. Think about the relief that unnamed mom and dad must have felt when their son walked in, looked at them, and told them about Jesus!

There are some parental sins that do affect our children (e.g. negligence, substance abuse), and in a sense, every decision we make—good and bad— affects those around us. If you’re reading this blog, however, you’re trying to be a good parent. You’re working on Intentional Parenting. I’m talking to you, to us, who would never intentionally harm our children.

Yet we still throw those regrets up in the air like confetti.

“If I hadn’t done this…”

“If I’d just noticed that thing earlier…”

“If I’d made a different choice when they were younger…”

I imagine the blind man’s parents racked their brains for what sin they had committed to cause their son’s suffering. Or maybe they thought they knew. And maybe they had to live with the walking, talking reminder and the regret every day.

Here’s what we all need to know, need to claim, need to grab tightly when those bad parenting memories rear their ugly heads in the face of our children’s struggles:

It is not God’s pattern to punish us through our children. Instead, God’s pattern is to redeem every situation for His glory. Our children’s problems, whether caused by us or not, create avenues for the works of God to be displayed in them.

How beautiful is this!!

Let go of the guilt. Let go of the self-doubt. Let go of the repetitive beating-yourself-up. Toss that guilt confetti in the air one last time and let the breath of God blow it away!

Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20).  –the accidental mistakes

Paul declared, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). –the ignorant mistakes

Through Joel, God told the once-rebellious Israelites, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). –the sinful mistakes

Here’s what I’m telling myself these days:

I’m going to do the best parenting job I can, leaning heavily on the Holy Spirit along the way. Yes, I’ve messed up. Yes, I’ve failed. But…

  • Not every problem my children face is the result of my failures.
  • Not every problem is necessarily the result of poor decision-making in my parenting.
  • None of their problems are designed to destroy me…or them.

“Who sinned?” the disciples asked. Well, we all did, but that’s not why our children suffer. Now let’s back off and let Jesus display the “works of God” in our children’s lives and our own, just like He did for the blind man.

Feel like your parenting mistakes have created problems in your kids’ lives? Know this: It’s not God’s pattern to punish parents through their children. #IntentionalParenting #GodsGlory via @Carole_Sparks (click to tweet)

I want to hear what you think about this. There was so much more I could write, so push in to those parts of the post that intrigue you and let me know what the Lord reveals. Or encourage us all with a short story of how God has used a parenting “fail” for good. I would love to hear it!

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3 Tips For Discipling Your Kids Through Halloween (a repost)

Every once in a while, you come upon something (usually in print, for me) 
that connects with your heart, with the way God is already leading you and 
your family.  So today, I'm taking a break from the "Content and Context" 
Series to connect you with just such an article. Like me, you have probably 
struggled with how to approach Halloween as a Christ-follower.  It's 
difficult to separate the celebration of evil from the fun, kid-friendly 
attitude of many people. With permission, I've reposted this timely article 
by John Murchison here.  Read it, then read about John and Verge Network at 
the end.

Halloween seems to be the one holiday in American Christianity that we just don’t know what to do with. We are happy to celebrate cultural or historical holidays like the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, or New Year’s Day. We love religious holidays like Easter and Christmas. But Halloween… Halloween has quite a mixed history, and so we don’t know how to approach it.

In one sense, it is a religious holiday. After all, it started out as “All Hallow’s Eve,” the night before “All Hallow’s Day,” which was a Christian holiday celebrating the lives of saints. In another sense, and one that is far more obvious to a 21st century American, it’s a cultural holiday.

To most families in America, Halloween is a fun time to eat candy, dress up, and have fun with friends. Yet because some choose to use this holiday to celebrate evil and its effects, it also can be a dark holiday.

Click to Tweet: “It’s important for each family to use wisdom and discernment to determine how to celebrate Halloween.” @JohnMurk

Choosing wisely

With such a complicated mixture of influences, it’s important for each family to use discernment and wisdom in determining if and how to celebrate this holiday. I believe that there are sinful ways to participate in Halloween, just as there are with any holiday.

However, I also believe there are many aspects of this holiday that we have freedom in Christ to participate in. Regardless of how you choose to engage in this holiday, I urge you not to miss out on all the opportunities to disciple your kids that the Halloween season provides.

Because this holiday can be a complicated one to disciple your children through, I have three tips to help you lead well during this season.

1. Every Decision is an Opportunity for Discipleship

Each October, your family is faced with a multitude of decisions regarding Halloween. Will our kids dress up and go trick-or-treating? What should we let our kids dress up as? Should we decorate our house like all the neighbors do every year? Will we let our teenagers go to a Halloween party or a Haunted House with their friends? Is it ok for my preschooler to watch the Curious George Halloween episode, or will it be too scary? Are we ok with pictures of ghosts in our home? Witches? Jack-o-lanterns? And on and on.

Leaning on the Word, prayer and community

Fathers and mothers should answer these questions through consulting the Word of God, through prayer, and through community. The principles of Scripture need to be applied by each family with wisdom and discernment. Because every family, every child, and every ministry context is different, there is no “one size fits all” answer for how to approach the season.

Click to Tweet: “Don’t miss out on all the opportunities to disciple your kids that the Halloween season provides.” @JohnMurk

However your family decides to answer all the questions that arise during Halloween, keep in mind that what is most important is how the decision is made. As long as each decision is made with the goal of honoring God and leading your kids to know Him more, then it is a good decision!

Share your reasoning with your children, along with how you are trying to honor God with your decision. In this way, every decision you make this Halloween can be opportunity for you to point them to Jesus.

For example, let’s say that my oldest, who’s now two, decides that she wants to wear a princess costume in a few years. Rather than just saying “yes” or “no,” I need to see that as an opportunity to talk with her about God.

As my wife and I pray about it and discuss it, we might decide that the reason she wants to be a princess is because she’s focused on external beauty. If that is the case, then we would tell her that she can’t be a princess, and explain that Jesus cares more about inner beauty than about external beauty.

Click to Tweet: “Every Halloween decision is an opportunity to disciple your kids.” @JohnMurk

On the other hand, we might decide that her request to be a princess is a great opportunity to talk to her about being a daughter of God. In that case, we would tell her yes, and explain to her that every girl who trusts in Jesus is a princess, because she is adopted into God’s family and is a daughter of the King of kings.

So you see, whether we say “yes” or “no” to her request is not as important as seeing it as an opportunity to tell her about Jesus. Seen through this lens, Halloween is simply full of opportunities for great discussion with your children.

2. Do Not Fear

Right now in Austin, Texas, where I live, there are billboards on every major highway advertising an attraction called the “House of Torment.” The advertisements for this “premiere haunted attraction” contain large pictures of characters that are downright frightening. I’m dreading the day that my two little girls notice these pictures while driving around.

The really scary part

To be honest, I’m scared of those billboards. I’m not scared of the pictures themselves – I’m scared of the conversation that I will need to have with my daughters once they see them. Scared that I won’t have the words to comfort them. Scared of saying the wrong thing.

One reason we parents tend to agonize over each little decision regarding Halloween is that we are scared. We’re scared that if we make the wrong decision, that we will scar our kids for life. We’re scared that we’re too strict, or that we’re too lenient. We’re scared because we care for our children so much, and want to make sure that we always do what’s best for them.

Click to Tweet: “This Halloween we may make parenting mistakes because there is only one perfect parent, God. And our kids are in His hands.” @JohnMurk

In these moments, God has words of comfort for us. When God’s people, Israel, were in fear of the nations around them, He said, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

Good news for parenting mistakes

When Jesus was preparing His followers for going out and telling others about Him, he says “…do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12).

As we speak to our kids about Christ this season, God has promised to be with us, and Jesus has promised that the Holy Spirit will give us words to say. And yes, we may make mistakes. After all, there is only one perfect parent, God the Father.

But the good news is that this Father is more wise, more powerful, and more loving than we are, and our kids are in His hands. He will use all of our successes and all of our failures in our parenting to bring His children to Him. We can rest in that promise, and we have no need to fear.

3. We’re All on the Same Team

Every year in the weeks leading up to Halloween, my heart breaks to see Christian parents tear each other down. Because we’re all a little insecure over whether our decisions were right or not, we tend to attack anyone who decided differently from us. Each year I see blog posts, Facebook status updates, and heated discussions full of “friendly fire” from one Christian parent to another. This type of talk is neither useful for building up the body of Christ nor helpful in sharing the good news of Jesus to others. It needs to stop.

I want to remind all of us parents that we all want the same thing. All of us are doing the best we can to lead our children through this life, praying that God will bring them safely home to Him. While other parents may make different decisions regarding Halloween than you have made, what we all need most is not judgment and criticism, but rather prayer, encouragement, and support.

Our enemy would love nothing more than for us to tear each other down during this holiday. Instead, I pray that this season will be filled with love – for our kids, for each other, for our neighbors, and most of all, for the Lord.

Happy Halloween, however you decide to spend it!

John Murchison
John MurchisonFamily Channel Director
John Murchison is the Director of Children’s Ministry at The Austin Stone. He is husband to Sarah and father to Waverly and Lucy. He is passionate about making disciples of children rather than “mini-Pharisees,” and about teaching children the gospel over morality. He desires to help parents see themselves as missionaries on mission to and through their children. He’s also a fan of Pixar movies, all things Disney, comic books, and video games, and uses his job as an excuse to do “research” in these areas.
Carole here. Verge|Family is a channel on Verge Network. Verge “is for everyday people and leaders who are pursuing the mission of God with the gospel in their context. Verge leaders and churches are engaged in the mission of God, centered around the gospel, in community, and understand the value of staying connected.” (That’s from their website.) I strongly recommend that you follow the blog or Twitter feed for Verge!

In the World (by means of movies)

A few obvious facts:

  1. We live in this world, like it or not.
  2. Much of this world is . . . well, worldly.
  3. God placed us in this world at this time. He placed our children here, too.
  4. The phrase “in the world but not of the world” is not in the Bible. Wait . . . This phrase is of the Bible but not in the Bible.  Haha!

Without doubt, we are raising our children in a wicked and depraved generation.  The other day, I was shocked—SHOCKED, I tell you!—by something I saw on television, and we’ve been back in the US for almost a year.  Our first tendency, justifiably, is to shield our children from any media that might pollute their pristine minds.  For the small ones, I wholeheartedly agree.  Ours didn’t watch actual television until after they started elementary school.  Before that, they had only pre-screened videos for their viewing pleasure.

As our children mature, however, our parenting must evolve.  We cannot continue to shield our children from everything that contradicts our worldview.  We have to teach our older children how to exist in this world, polluted as it is, and how to interact with people—sometimes powerful/influential people—who espouse a different worldview.  Inevitably, little Susie will watch something somewhere that doesn’t correspond to our distinct worldview.  How will she deal with it?  Not-so-little Sam will eventually read a book that questions the values you have worked so hard to instill in him.  How will he respond?  If you parent from your gut, you may teach them, “These things are bad!  Don’t watch/read/listen!”  Then, when Susie inadvertently sees the ‘bad’ thing, she will hide it from you because she might get in trouble.  When Sam intentionally reads the second book in the series because, well, his parents will never find out about the content, his curiosity has led him down a dangerous path.

Instead of parenting from your gut, what if you parent from your mind?  What if you train your children to evaluate everything they see, read, and hear in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?  What if you prepare them in advance to healthily handle and respond to the media?  It’s called critical thinking.

Hear me correctly here.  I’m not advocating R-rated movies for nine-year-olds.  You know your children.  You know what their minds can safely handle and what their hearts can endure.  Plus, the MPAA ratings tell you almost nothing.  Better to check out Focus on the Family’s PluggedIn, IMDB’s parental guide (find the guide within each movie’s write-up), or Kids-n-Mind—great sites to better evaluate movies before you watch them.  (My husband and I do this for ourselves.  Parents must guard their own hearts too!)  Our first-born is more sensitive than our second.  Number Two has watched movies that number One hasn’t, but at the same time, One has watched more mature movies that we’re not comfortable showing to Two.

Anyway, over the last five years, we’ve developed a standard set of questions that follow just about every movie we watch as a family.  (We use it sometimes with books and music, but that’s more difficult unless everyone in the family reads the same book.  Random recommendation for that to happen:  The Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland.  We all love all of them!)  Someone usually starts the questioning over dinner the next night.  These questions have opened the gates for excellent discussions and spiritual growth using the world, being in the world but examining it as one set-apart (2 Corinthians 7:1).  Recently, I’ve heard both my children apply the same kinds of questions to books they read and movies they watch at school or friends’ homes.

1.  What did you like best about the movie? What was your favorite scene?

This is an easy ‘in’—a way to start talking about the movie that isn’t challenging.

2.  What didn’t you like?

Same idea.  Verbalizing the negative aspects of the movie helps us put it in perspective and increases their emotional vocabulary.  Why they didn’t like something is important.

3.  What character acted like Jesus?

This is a fascinating question.  Sometimes the hero is clearly the Christ-like one, but sometimes the villain has a moment of kindness that we notice only because we ask these kinds of questions.  If the movie was any good, we end up evaluating most all of the main characters and finding Truth in interesting places.  This question also challenges what the children know about Jesus and his behavior on earth.

4.  Who acts in an unchrist-like way?

Same thing here—great discussion.  Perhaps the hero/ine did something for noble reasons, but the ends couldn’t justify the means.  Perhaps the villain acts from a sense of revenge or vengeance which seems right on the surface, but in reality, contradicts our calling as Christ-followers.  If we can get down that far—to motive—we’ve really accomplished something in our discussion.

5.  What is the message of the movie? What point does this movie make?  Is that message/point something with which we agree as Christ-followers?

Honestly, every movie is “selling” a point-of-view, but sometimes it’s subtle.  If we don’t guard our hearts and minds, those viewpoints will seep in and cause all of us to slip away from real Truth.  By recognizing the message, we put it in an appropriate place in our minds rather than letting it affect us blindly.

At some point, one of us parents will insert a discussion of anything questionable, especially issues of violence, sex, death, or other “mature” themes.

What are we saying/modeling to our children by having these discussions?

1.  We can participate in this world and be entertained like our friends without accommodating the culture to the point of assimilation.

Having seen a popular movie, the children aren’t left out of discussions.  They don’t have to say, “My family didn’t watch that movie because we love Jesus,”—a judgmental statement whether you mean it that way or not! Instead, they have a chance (if they are willing to take it) to bring Jesus into an everyday conversation with a statement such as, “I liked [insert character’s name] because he acted like Jesus when he [insert situation from movie].”  What a fantastic opportunity for them to non-confrontationally share Christ!

2.  There are Truths, bridges, and images of God in most everything around us. We can dig them out, and they will help us understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.

3.  We can know what we believe and interact with those who don’t believe the same things without losing ourselves in their world. We are the foreigners here.

4.  We can recognize what is distinctive about our faith and distinguish faith issues from morality or just “being good.”

Just so you know, these conversations aren’t necessarily heavy or serious.  Listen in on this one, which came after watching Frozen.

Daughter:  You know,  Princess Elsa and the Incredible Hulk are similar.

Everyone else:  (with surprise)  What?

Daughter:  They both have a gift—or curse—that they can’t control, and they are afraid of hurting the person they love the most.

Everyone else:  Hmm.

Daughter:  Yeah, so they run away, but they are pursued by people who fear them but want to control them.  Then in the end, the person they love helps them come to terms with their gift or curse, whichever you want to call it.

Me:  Wow.

We were floored–Elsa and the Hulk?  Really?  And yet she was completely right.  Granted, it’s no great spiritual break-through, but it’s the kind of critical-thinking, dot-connecting exercise that will help her understand God better and do well as an adult.

This job of raising Christ-followers is no easy task.  Our set of critical-thinking questions is just one way to let a bit of “the world” into our home on our terms, with our limits and oversight, gradually preparing our children for this 21st-century world they have been called to inhabit.

Wait, Wait, Don’t TELL Me*

If you’ve read any posts on this blog, you know that I’m a big advocate of talking to with your children—even the young ones (though the reasons are different when they are younger).  Talk about anything and everything.  And listen, listen, listen.

There are a couple of topics, however, about which we parents find it difficult to talk and the kids find it . . . awkward to listen.  Procreation is a big one.  Drug use is another topic with which parents struggle (sometimes because it means revealing their own histories).  Turns out, some parents also find it difficult to have authentic conversations about spiritual things.  So I thought it would be helpful to lay out some thoughts on discipling our children.  That’s why I choose this title.  Were they to speak with the wisdom of the ages, our children would say, “Wait, wait, Mom/Dad.  Don’t just tell me how to follow God.  Don’t just deliver a carefully-prepared lecture or a cleverly-constructed argument.  Work through all this with me!”  Because really, it’s about discipleship, not about unloading information.  You can’t have one God Talk and consider that topic covered.  (You shouldn’t have just one Sex Talk or one Drugs Talk either, by the way.)  Similarly, your kids don’t know what questions to ask about sex or drugs—at least we hope they don’t—so those ‘talks’ necessitate lots of information transfer.  But if you are taking them to church, maybe having family devotions, maybe praying over them, at least saying a blessing before you eat, then they already know enough to ask and/or answer questions about faith.

So.  Here are four thoughts/consideration/points on “Discipleship Begins at Home” (which was almost the title of this post, but it’s not nearly as good!)

1.  Elbow out spaces of intimacy with your children.

Sometimes you have to subtly fight for this.  Where can you grasp two minutes to speak Truth into your child’s life?  It might be in the car.  Turn off the radio and ask him or her to stop playing the game or reading the book.  It might be just before bed, and it’s partially a delaying technique, but it if you get a good talk, who cares?  It might be over the table at a meal time.  If you have already found a fantastic, regularly-occurring time to talk intimately with your child(ren), please share it in the comments.

This is an intentional thing, but the less formal you make it, the better.  Saying “Son, we need to have a talk” just sets you up for awkwardness and silence.  If this priority means you have to lay aside a personal project or rearrange your schedule a bit, it’s worth it!    See #3 and #4 for how to actually start talking when you get a little space.

2.  Make spiritual things a part of your regular conversations—whether the kids participate or not.

This is important.  It creates an environment in which spiritual life is an acceptable topic of conversation or discussion.  This was Moses’ point in Deuteronomy 6:6-7.  He said, These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.   First, you talk about what is on your own heart or mind.  Second, you talk as you go about the normal routines of life.  From the time they are very young, your children understand conversations you have with your spouse.  Make a point of casually talking about your spiritual walk in front of them even when they aren’t actively involved in the conversation.  And don’t shy away from the things you struggle with (when appropriate).

  • Were you really challenged by something the pastor said?  Talk about it.  You probably won’t get any resolution, but that’s okay.
  • Are you working to understand a particular passage of Scripture?  You’re certainly not the first.
  • Do you know how to get answers?  Model that as well.
  • Did God bless you today?  He’ll get even more glory when you celebrate the story with your family.
  • What are you praying for?  Let your children see you learning to wait on the Lord and dealing with answers that weren’t exactly what you expected.  Let them always see you trusting God . . . or maybe working to trust Him more fully.
3.  No lectures.

Don’t just tell your kids about God or Jesus.  Don’t tell them what is right and what is wrong.  (I’m talking about double-digit-aged kids here.  Little kids need clear guidance on right and wrong.)  Engage them in Christ-centered conversations that are peppered with prayer.  When Joey gets brave enough to talk about the girl at school who sits beside him and cusses, pray with Joey for that girl before you ever give any advice.  Then ask Joey what he thinks Jesus wants him to do.  He may have no clue—especially the first time your conversation goes this way.  When you affirm his desire to honor Christ, however, he becomes more willing to hear from you.  Let him know that you trust the power of God in him.  Then, make a few reasonable suggestions that reflect that power.  Continue to pray for him, and follow up in the next few days with encouraging questions and further support.

4.  Ask random questions.

Start on Sunday.  Ask each child what they talked about in their Sunday school (or whatever you call it) classes.  If this gets you nothing but blank stares, give an advance warning for the next week:  “Hey guys, pay attention in class today because I’m going to ask you about it later.”  That’s not hard or high-pressured, so don’t turn it into a fact-finding mission.  Your goal is conversing, not receiving a report.  Whatever your child says about that day’s topic, respond thoughtfully, perhaps from something in your own study or life.  You may have to say, “Hmm.  That’s interesting.  How did you get that conclusion from that topic?”  But keep your tone friendly.  He or she may have a valid point that just takes a little explanation.  Just don’t attack or ridicule–no matter what!

You could also bring up a point from the pastor’s talk and ask what they think.  Don’t pick the most guilt-ridden point as if you are trying to point fingers at the problems in their lives.  Pick something that really made you think.  Then, if they don’t have any comments, you can at least share your own thoughts.  If your child is in youth group, I’m sure the youth leader would LOVE to text or e-mail you with the week’s topic; then you could ask more specific questions.  For example, “I heard that Steve talked about not lying in youth worship.  What did you think?  Did he say anything particularly good?”

Ask about books they are reading or movies they’ve watched.  Ask about their quiet times, about the spiritual state of their friends, about what’s on their minds.  Form your questions so that the possible answers do not include ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  It’s not, “Did you do your quiet time?” but rather “What did you read in your quiet time?  What do you think about that?  Do you see a way to apply it in your life today?”  It will probably be awkward at first, but if you refrain from judging their answers, they will feel more comfortable about sharing more and more later.  They might even begin to look forward to it.

You have the right and the responsibility to hold your children accountable.  You can’t force them into spiritual growth, but you can create a healthy environment in which it happens.

5.  Here’s a free one: Pray Scripture over your children.  Out loud.  In front of them.  When they are awake.  (I like to lay hands on my kids and pray for them while they sleep, but that’s not discipleship.)  Let them hear you claim the promises of Christ in their lives.  It will give them the confidence to claim His promises for themselves.  You don’t have to memorize it; have your Bible open in front of you.  One of my favorites is Ephesians 1:17-20 (or 23) NIV.

 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you [my child] the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms . . .

Someone might say, “But my child isn’t a Believer yet.”  So?  That doesn’t change anything I’ve written here.  In fact, an increased openness to spiritual conversations in your home may help your child feel the freedom to talk/ask about following Christ specifically.

When you live like this, you are modeling the Christ-life in a way that lets your children know that it’s okay to be on-the-way, with no expectations of having already arrived.  And just so you know, we haven’t actually accomplished all this in our home.  We’re on-the-way too.

 

*This is the title of a hilarious quiz show on NPR.  It’s my favorite way to get news!

Security: Confidence or Confinement?

Why do laws exist?  Is it to imprison law-breakers or to protect “law-abiding citizens”?  I posit the latter.  The laws of a free and democratic government are implemented so that we, the citizens, can live our lives in freedom and security.  The laws give us the freedom to walk down the street without fear of theft or bodily injury.  They secure our property and individual rights.  (I’m speaking idealistically, I know.  Yes, I lock my doors at night, and no, I don’t walk down dark alleys by myself.)  Penalties, fines, and imprisonment are secondary issues.  They are not the purpose of the law but more like a . . . a side effect or inescapable consequence of having laws.  And yet we use that word security for prisons:  “a maximum-security facility.”  Scary place.  I don’t want to go there any more than I want to walk down that dark alley.

So security has at least two meanings.  There’s also the one that has to do with guaranteeing loans (Proverbs 11:15), but I’m just going to skip that meaning for today.  Consider these sentences:

  • He is very secure in his manhood.                                          confident
  • The security for the museum has some weak points.          protection
  • That job will provide excellent financial security.                sufficiency
  • She sought the security of her father’s arms.                        safety
  • Ensure that your safety harnesses are secure!                      latched

Hmm . . .  Though related, there’s a large range of meanings here.  Now picture these scenes:

A three-year-old child running along the beach with abandon

A prison cell with a heavily-armed guard outside the door

Both images speak of security.  The child is (somewhat ignorantly) confident that someone is watching and will stop her before she endangers herself.  She trusts her parent (or other care-giver), and so she moves freely.  The prison cell prevents the one inside from leaving; ostensibly protecting the rest of us from whatever threat he poses, but the focus is much more on confining him than on protecting everyone else.

I began thinking about this word after a conversation based on James 1:25, But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.  I know James crammed a lot into this verse and this paragraph, but these days I’m stuck at the perfect law that gives freedom.  See, at first, that phrase felt contradictory.  Don’t laws impede our freedoms?  But the purpose of the law, as I processed above, is to provide security, which creates the space for freedom.  David had the same idea:  I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts (Psalm 119:45).

At the same time, I’ve been pondering a question unique to God-fearing parents:  How do we use the Bible in discipline and guidance without beating our kids over the head with it?  It seems rather easy to push them into resentment of His Word when we rather than the Holy Spirit use it too harshly in rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).  Not that we shouldn’t use the Word, just that we need to have a gentle hand and a rightly-motivated heart.  (I have at times considered the effectiveness of actually hitting them on the head with the biggest, heaviest Bible in the house.  Just kidding . . . mostly.)

As our children age, it’s difficult for us parents to find the line between protective, confidence-boosting security and imprisoning security.  We’ve all heard parents say, “As long as you live under my roof, you’ll follow my rules!”  Nothing wrong with that thought, but it sounds a lot more like confinement than confidence.  Others say, “Oh, I want my child to just be herself, so I haven’t given her any rules.”  That’s not security of any sort.  Such a child is often injured, sometimes fearful, and grows up to be a slave to her own selfishness.  Another type of prison.

Here’s the crux of the matter, and I don’t really know how to do it—no magic three-step formula—so I’m just laying it out as something to ponder.  As the God-ordained law-makers in our homes, we parents must bring the Word of God (that perfect law of James 1:25) up under our children, supporting them and securing them.  We cannot lay it over them like prison bars designed to restrain them.  Confining security is born out of fear and perhaps vengeance/punishment, but supporting security is born out of love and confidence that God’s Word really is perfect and sufficient.  I’m thinking about Psalm 19:7-11.

The first challenge for parents involves living this way ourselves:  the Word of God supports and sustains us, and obedience springs out of love and/or gratitude.  My 9-year-old’s teacher recently said, “Obedience is the fruit, not the root.”  If we model that the Law of the Lord is oppressive or obligatory, our children will ‘catch’ that same attitude.  I have to live in the freedom intrinsic to His Law.

Secondly, let’s look at the New Testament references to the Bible as a weapon.  I write this because we sometimes try to use it to keep our children ‘in line.’  We take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) to battle our enemies, not to correct our fellow soldiers.  And in Hebrews, we read, the word of God is alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (4:12).  Clearly, the Holy Spirit uses the Word to convict and call.  Even as parents, however, we aren’t qualified to wield God’s Word in this way for someone else’s life.  The Bible cannot become a tool for punishment in our homes.

Maybe a different illustration will help.  Parents are like dirt.  (Some of your kids would really like this analogy already!)  A tree grows out of the dirt, secured more and more strongly as its roots grow deeper and broader.  When the strong winds come, the dirt holds the roots which hold the tree in place.  But dirt also covers coffins, actually confining them underground.  So what do you want your children—at least their spiritual lives—to be?  A living, growing, beautiful tree?  Or a dead, shriveled corpse that will never see the light of day again?  Well, that’s how you and I both need to focus our parenting.

Are They Really Saved?

06-30 spice farm 18
starfruit tree – 2012

Someone said to me recently (not an exact quote), “I want to make sure my children are really saved before they are baptized,” and this comment got me to thinking . . . Jesus said, a tree is recognized by its fruit (Matthew 12:32). But what about when the tree is still a sapling?  What fruit blossoms on so young a tree?  Similarly, can we document any evidence that our children have “accepted Christ”? Should we even try?  I’ve heard enough salvation stories to know that we give too much credence to a moment of salvation when, for most of us, it’s a process with perhaps a documentable occasion when we realize what we already believe.  If you fall very strongly on the predestination side of things, you might even take issue with that.  For the sake of this blog post, let’s assume that people accept Christ and become saved (with God always knowing they would accept) or that our children are predestined for salvation partly because God gave them to us, and we are His chosen ones.  Whatever.  Read this through your own theological lens.  It will still be relevant. Is it any of our business?  It also needs to be said at the outset that it’s really not our job to judge some else’s salvation state. The Scriptures say, Judge nothing before the appointed time; . . . at that time each will receive their praise from God (1 Corinthians 4:5).  Even with our children, God calls/chooses them personally.  But I can appreciate what this guy in the first paragraph was saying.  It’s our job to guard our children’s hearts (Prov 4:23), to guide them along the right paths for His Name’s sake (Ps 23:3), to help them get things in the right order and understand the sacraments of our faith (Deut 6:7).

But first, some thoughts on children and salvation . . .

The question in our house was never one of belief in the historicity of Jesus or His actions. I think my children were always comfortable with the fact that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected so that we can be forgiven and join Him in Heaven (probably because we presented it as an unquestionable fact, along the same lines as “The sky is blue.”).  The challenge we put before each of them, and thus the way we mark their “salvation”, revolved around this life.  Knowing that eternal life starts now, we would ask, “Are you ready to make Jesus the boss of your life?”  This is the more difficult—and more relevant—question.  The five-year-old who wishes she could boss herself and already feels like she has too many other bosses (parents, teachers, etc.), doesn’t necessarily want to add yet another boss to the list even though she truly wants to go to Heaven.  As our four/five-year-old came to understand the significance of Jesus’ sacrifice and the peace with which we (her parents) lived in the here-and-now, committing this life to Jesus became more acceptable.  By the way, it wasn’t a once-off thing; there were many conversations—all started by her.

What you may see when children accept Christ’s Lordship

If children grow up in a Christ-centered home, they learn right and wrong from the outset. Typically, they don’t lie (often), steal (much), hit their siblings (very hard), or intentionally disobey (in the big things).  They haven’t lived long enough to need forgiveness or freedom for any “big” sins (It’s our scale that labels it ‘big’, by the way.), nor do they have any sinful habits such as swearing or pornography.  So when they “accept Christ,” we can’t expect any major behavioral changes.  In our home, I saw two significant attitude changes that confirmed their declarations of faith.  This happened with both our children.

  1. Contrition. When they sin—and they still do—the Holy Spirit convicts them, and they feel sorry about it. Not sorry about getting caught but sorry about the words/action.  My son comes to me saying, “Mom, I need to confess something.”  We sit down together and talk through his actions and his heart.  Sometimes, there is discipline, but more often than not, I can see that he understands his sin and truly feels sorry, so there’s no need for further reinforcement.
  2. Compassion. Children are inherently selfish. (Most of us never grow out of it, actually.)  After they began to follow Christ, I saw my children become more considerate of others—especially the feelings of others.  Sometimes they see the results of their harsh words before someone corrects them; sometimes they choose to forgive others without being asked; sometimes they stand up for a weaker child or comfort a lonely child or have patience with a difficult child on the playground.

Sure, you can teach compassion, and perhaps you can even bring your child to a point of contrition, but after my children made Jesus “the boss of their lives,” I saw a significant change in these areas without any change in my parenting. Such growth confirmed to me that God was working in their hearts. Feel like you need to have this conversation with your child?  Consider starting with Luke 9:23.

Then he said to them all: Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.

  • said to them all – He said this to everyone around Him—not just a select few. In Mark 8:34, He actually calls the crowd over to hear Him.
  • wants to be my disciple – It starts with wanting to follow Jesus.
  • deny themselves – Think less about yourself and more about what pleases God.
  • take up their cross” – There are duties and hardships involved in being an authentic Christian. It’s not going to be easy.
  • daily – The parallels of this verse (Matt 16:24 and Mark 8:34) don’t say ‘daily’, but the rest of Scripture bears out its relevance. Following Christ is not a one-time, prayed-a-prayer, good-to-go kinda deal.
  • follow me – Do what He says—the Holy Spirit leads in a way that is consistent with the Word.

Now don’t hold this verse up to your child like a gauge or checklist.  Don’t hang it beside the how-much-you’ve-grown marks on the wall. It’s a place to begin talking about what it means to be an authentic follower of Christ. Sometimes, my children still massively “blow it” . . . but so do I. All of us live with sin even after you put to death . . . whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Colossians 3:5).  Even the Apostle Paul said, I do not understand what I do.  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).  We cannot expect perfection from our believing children, but it’s safe to expect—and even look for—change as the Holy Spirit produces His Fruit (Gal 5:22-23) in them. So maybe saplings can bear fruit.

On Purity

As I tucked my then-nine-year-old into bed one night, she asked, “Mommy, what is purity?” Since we hadn’t had The Talk yet, and since her question wasn’t actually about sex, I hesitated.  I shot a silent prayer up to God for a simple, understandable answer and took a deep breath.

Whatever is noble . . . whatever is pure . . . think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

The phrases bounced into my head (not the reference—just the words), and I answered: “Purity is about keeping your thoughts pure, about never letting your mind dwell on things that God doesn’t like.”  (Or something like that.  It was a few years ago now, so I can’t remember word-for-word.)  She was satisfied, but the Lord launched me on a long-term thought process that continues to bear fruit in my mind.  It began with the conviction that purity is something much bigger than the box into which we have presently placed it.

Having started college in 1991, I was too late for True Love Waits. (You can go to the TLW blog here.)  I hear wonderful things about the movement, so don’t read this as a criticism of the program or the way God has used it to honor Himself in many lives.  True Love Waits espouses sexual purity, but we American Christians don’t even like to say the word “sexual”—much less talk about it—so somewhere in the last twenty years, “sexual purity” became just “purity” and we all knew what it meant.  But we lost something big when we did that.  We lost the rest of what purity really is.

Virginity is just one branch of the purity tree, and a low-hanging, usually-chopped-off branch at that. Is there no longer a need for purity after you get married?  That’s just ridiculous; of course there is.  And having sex within a marriage doesn’t make you impure.  (I wonder how many newlyweds have struggled with this . . .)  So we really need some expansion here.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart . . .  Psalm 24:3-4

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matthew 5:8 (emphasis added on both)

Real purity allows us to stand unstained before God. It is about seeking God first, about not allowing anything to come between me and God.  It’s about keeping intimacy with God as my number-one objective and testing everything else to see how it contributes or detracts from that intimacy.  It’s about removing everything from my mind that is not true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy (Phil 4:8 again).  Real purity brings me closer to God.

What are the branches of the purity ‘tree’?  (Not an exhaustive list—I’m just brainstorming.)  But first, let’s assume that the one pursuing purity is a Christ-follower, rooted and built up in Him (Col 2:7).

  • integrity. This includes taking credit only for your own work, being honest, leaving others’ possessions alone, ‘owning’ your mistakes, and much more.
  • intimacy. It’s not just about intercourse.  God restrains what we share of our personal lives, family lives, physical bodies, and emotional situations.  He also limits what we need to see of others’ intimacy.  Mom and Dad kissing?  Fine and good.  Couple having sex on screen (especially at the movie theater, where it’s SO BIG!! . . . okay that might just be me)?  Not healthy.  Married women who look to each other rather than their husbands for secrets and support?  Not good.  The motivation behind that phrase, “technical virgin”?  Anathema.
  • interactions. Paul says, Let your gentleness be evident to all (Phil 4:5).  How we think of and speak to other people measures what is in our minds.  Thus, Jesus gave interactions the second-most-important place in obedience:  Love your neighbor as yourself (See Mark 12:29-31).  Furthermore, acts of violence are unacceptable; committing them–definitely, but even watching them . . . well, it’s something to consider.  Ask yourself, “Does the violence in this movie make it more difficult for me/my child to keep my/his mind pure?”
  • ideas. Sometimes Satan just throws sinful thoughts into our minds (especially if we have a less-than-pure past).  Entertaining them tarnishes our purity.
  • language. (Somebody PLEASE give me a word that starts with –i- for this point.  It’s driving me crazy!!)  If you expose yourself to an excess of coarse language, such terms sink into your mind and eventually come out of your mouth.  There’s a reason it’s called a “potty mouth”.

This list feels prescriptive, now that I’ve written it.  Just remember that it all begins in one’s mind; the key verse is Philippians 4:8.  Also, I was really trying to stay away from a list of negatives here, but if you want one, consider Colossians 3. Paul doesn’t specifically say “pure” or “purity” in that chapter, but look just before the list:  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Col 3:1-2).  Isn’t this a great description of full-bodied purity? Set your heart and mind on Him. Wow.  I love it when the deluge of details boils down to something simple.

So sexual purity is important, of course, but it quickly descends into simple behavior modification and doesn’t focus on the heart of my preteen. The better approach will be to help our children focus on living a pure life with God-centered boundaries in every area, which honors Him and permits them to walk into adulthood with a mature and fruitful purity.

 

 

 

Mission Statement

**This post first appeared on Not About Me in August 2012.  The author moved it to this blog.**

We recently developed a mission statement to help us focus on what God has called us to do.  We didn’t notice until we finished that it’s really all about His glory.  Does your family have a mission statement?  Please share!

ALL IN

Attitude – servanthood, self-sacrifice:  Your attitude should be the same as that of Chist Jesus . . . to the glory of God the Father.  (Phil 2:5-11)

Love – agape, tangible:  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.  (John 13:35)

Light – noticeably different, draws attention:  Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  (Matt 5:16)

 

Intentional – living life on purpose, thinking:  . . . It was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!  (John 12:27b-28a)

No excuses – bold, risk-taking, absolute surrender:  I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  (Phil 1:20)