Discipline is Designed to Disciple

When my firstborn was toddling around—less than a year old—she once stuck her finger in an unguarded electrical outlet. (At someone else’s house. Of course, we had covers on our own outlets!) I grabbed her hand immediately. I got down where she could see my face. I looked her in the eye, and while squeezing her little hand just until I could see that it was hurting her, I said “no” in my most serious voice. If I remember correctly, I only had to do this twice before she learned not to put her fingers in electrical outlets. Yes, I hurt her just a little bit, but way less than if she’d been electrocuted. I thought of it like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. I squeezed so tightly for her own good.

Parental discipline is like a vaccine: a little pain now to prevent a lot of pain later. (click to tweet)

I disciplined her in the only way her young mind could understand. It was an action/reaction concept: if I put my fingers here, then I hurt. The discipline was immediate and tangible because her brain wouldn’t have processed anything else. Why did I hurt her when she was so young?

  • I knew she was capable of understanding it. (The form of discipline matched her maturity level.)
  • I wanted to protect her in the future. I might not be watching so closely next time.
  • I loved her (still do) and didn’t want her to be seriously injured.
  • I wanted her to begin practicing self-control.

I did not squeeze her hand…

  • Because I was angry,
  • Because I wanted her to hurt,
  • Because she irritated, interrupted, or embarrassed me.

This is the difference between punishment and discipline.

Parental punishment is about me: my anger, my needs, my embarrassment, my convenience, my sense of entitlement or frustration with the situation.

Parental discipline is about my child’s physical well-being and spiritual growth. That’s all.

Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them. -Proverbs 13:24

In Intentional Parenting, we teach our children in advance, but we also watch for opportunities to correct through discipline. There’s no love in pampering them, in hiding their sins and failures from them, in allowing them reckless “freedom” that ultimately enslaves them to their own desires. Discipline is something we do carefully and purposefully because we love our children.

My children have grown since the electrical outlet incident. They’re both in double-digits now, and squeezing hands isn’t the best option anymore. (Sometimes I wish it was. It was so much easier!) This week, however, I had a chance to practice some fairly serious discipline with one of my children.

At first, I was so angry that I had to just send him to his room. I felt like there was steam coming out of my ears, and I’m sure my face was red! I wanted to punish him. I wanted him to hurt. (Don’t judge. You know you’ve felt the same.) Because I was angry, I was in no state-of-mind to discipline properly. Once I calmed myself down, I went to him and told him I needed to talk with his dad about the discipline. I still didn’t trust myself, honestly. As we talked a little, I made sure he knew I loved him. The next morning, having talked with his dad, we sat down and discussed the situation calmly and arrived at some discipline that fit the situation and aligned with his maturity level. I’m praying it helps him grow in wisdom and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52).

Some observations about discipline:

Good discipline comes out of love. We already talked about this one.

Good discipline comes out of humility. I do not present myself as better than my child but as another sinner learning how to please God throughout my life.

Good discipline comes out of obligation. As another Christ-follower, as one called to be his parent, it is my duty to correct my child when he fails. I’m helping him understand how to follow Christ more completely.

Good discipline is a product of peace. I’m talking about Biblical shalom, that confidence in God’s sovereignty over His creation and the security of knowing He loves me. Anger dismisses His sovereignty. It says I deserve something or I have been wronged. With peace, I approach my child in the confidence of God’s economy.

Good discipline aligns with the child’s maturity level and spiritual state. The wise parent desires her child to learn from the error/sin through the discipline. Just like you don’t teach first graders calculus, it takes thoughtfulness (and sometimes wracking your brain) to provide discipline at each age. If the child has accepted Christ as Lord of his life, that significantly influences the way discipline is given.

Good discipline ends. What could be more miserable than to be repeatedly reminded of a failure from your past? Trust the Holy Spirit to work in your child’s heart and lay aside the situation once the discipline is complete.

Good discipline is reserved for disobedience or danger and other clear acts of sin. Children will be foolish and forgetful. They’re ignorant of many things we take for granted as adults. Before enacting discipline, be sure the situation warrants it. Perhaps a good “talking to” (a Southern term) is all they need.

With older children…

There’s a reason discipline and disciple look so much like. Add these to the description of good discipline when your children are past the stage where physical things work best.

Good discipline is mutually-agreed-upon. We discuss ways for him to learn what is necessary. It’s important for him to understand why he must forfeit a privilege or spend time alone or do something extra. He doesn’t like it, but he understands the purpose. If he doesn’t understand why it’s happening, then he will not learn. That’s punishment, not discipline.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. -Hebrews 12:11

Good discipline involves follow-up. After the discipline phase is completed, we come back to the subject at least once more to test what he’s learned. If it arises around the same time in a sermon, book, or other medium, we’ll mention it again. (See “Good Discipline Ends” above for the balance on this.)

Good discipline incorporates forgiveness. If I’ve personally been wronged, I must intentionally and specifically forgive my child. If my child has wronged someone else, he must clearly request forgiveness—including an explanation of how he now understands his behavior. He must also ask for God’s forgiveness. Never leave your child wondering if everything is “right” between the two of you afterward.

Good discipline renews trust. A follow-up time gives the parent an opportunity to talk about trust. Can you trust your child again? Do you need to see evidence of a changed heart first? Does there need to be a trial period? Make all this clear rather than leaving your child guessing.

The child who is disciplined in a Godly way will see the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1…and probably enjoy that the Bible calls someone “stupid.”

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. -Proverbs 12:1

11 characteristics of good discipline for #IntentionalParenting. (click to tweet)

prov-12-1-meme

For further reading:

Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp (more for younger kids)

Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (for teenagers)

Yes, they are brothers. Both of these books offer excellent sections on Biblical discipline. If you’re struggling with this issue, I urge you to take a look at the appropriate one.

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More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

On this fifth Tuesday of the month, with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead of us, I’m returning to the basics of Intentional Parenting: discipling our children. Enjoy these three metaphors for the Christ-life found in God’s creation. Like a potter shaping a vase, God leaves his fingerprints all over His creation. These everyday images are endless! Read through these, then share your own at the end.

Calluses/A Hardened Heart

everyday-image-guitar
guitar calluses (c) Carole Sparks

My son plays guitar. The tips of his fingers on his left hand have calluses from pressing on the strings to make different tones. I don’t play guitar, but I sat down to play around with his one day. Because I was pressing my fingers against the metal strings of his guitar, it only took a few minutes for the skin on the ends of my fingers to turn red and hurt. Why? Because I don’t have calluses.

You can press on a callus with your fingernail, and it doesn’t hurt. Sometimes, another person can touch your callus and you won’t even realize it.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.  -Matthew 13:15a

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…  -Hebrews 3:7b-8a

When you love Jesus and you want to make him happy, we say your heart is tender. Any small sin will press up against your heart, and you’ll feel the pain of that sin until you confess. But if you choose to ignore the pain instead of addressing it, you will probably sin again in the same way. But the second time, it won’t hurt as much because the area is already inflamed (like a blister). Over and over you press on the same spot, and that’s what creates a callus. While calluses are good on a guitar player’s fingers or on the middle finger of your writing hand, they aren’t good on your heart. They make it harder to know what Jesus wants and to respond to his gentle direction. Confessing your sin and pushing it away means it can’t press against your heart anymore.

Salt/The Kingdom of Heaven

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  -Matthew 5:13

This one’s straight from Scripture, but here’s a good tactile method of explaining it.

everyday-image-popcorn
popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Make some popcorn (in a pot, not microwave). Separate it into two bowls. Salt one bowl but not the other, then ask your children to taste each. The one with salt tastes so much better! This is what we’re called to be in the world: unobtrusive difference-makers. You can’t really tell which popcorn has salt until you taste it, but it makes all the difference. (Salt has preservative properties and other uses, but let’s keep this simple.) If the salt wasn’t salty—if it didn’t make a difference in the popcorn—it wouldn’t have any use. As Christ-followers, if we don’t bless the world with Christ, we don’t have any use either.

Ask your children how believers can make a difference in the world. Answers may range from smiling at a sad person or picking up litter to starting a charity or sharing Christ with a friend. Remind your children of one way they made a difference in the past week, emphasizing their unique personalities. Challenge everyone in the family (including parents) to share one way they plan to intentionally “be salt” in the coming week. Write SALT on a big piece of paper, on a white-board, or on the bathroom mirrors (with dry erase markers) to remind everyone of the challenge.

For more on popcorn, check out one of my previous analogies.

Pebbles in a Stream/Unconfessed Sin

This one’s not original with me, but it’s so good that I thought you should hear it.

everyday-image-pebbles
rocks in a stream (c) Carole Sparks

Every time you sin, it’s like throwing a pebble into a river. One doesn’t really make a difference, but over time, the river will become dammed by the accumulation of pebbles.

Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  -John 7:38

The Living Water cannot flow from you if it’s blocked by unconfessed sin. Even though we try not to sin, we all do it. When we ask God to forgive us, however, He removes that pebble from our “river of life” so the water keeps flowing.

Parents, you could make this very tangible while playing outside in the rain. Just find a flow of water and start dropping small rocks into it at a certain spot.

 

So I pray these are helpful to you in Intentional Parenting. Remember, just look for opportunities and experiences to bring up spiritual things as a natural part of your day. Like Deuteronomy counsels, Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Be equipped to talk with kids about spiritual things at any time (Deut 6:7) with these analogies. (click to tweet)

I’d love to hear some of the creative ways God has shown you to understand theology. (That’s what this is, you know.) Please share in the comments. Maybe I’ll post a collection of other parents’ images at a later date.

How to Study the Bible with Your Grade-School Children (in app. 500 words)

If the thought of opening the real Bible (not the children’s storybook Bible) with your children intimidates you, here’s the help you need! It’s a simple Bible study method to engage you and your children in studying His Word. It requires no weekly preparation and it should be fun.

But first, it’s okay…

…to laugh with the Bible. Have fun; be creative; stretch your imagination. For example, what kind of face do you think Zacchaeus made when Jesus looked up in the tree?

…that you don’t have a degree in Bible. The Word of God is accessible to all. Plus, your kids don’t need a lecture on transubstantiation. They need to know what it means to take the Lord’s Supper/Communion.

…if you or your kids can’t answer all the questions. Everyone can try. You will all get better at it after some experience.

…to use the “grown-up” Bible with your children. Just find an easy-to-read translation such as English Standard Version (ESV) or New International Readers Version (NIrV) and start reading!

Before your first study time, choose a book of the Bible. Start with a gospel such as Mark or Luke—lots of stories. Read the introductory material in your study Bible. That will help you answer questions about the author and situation.

The “How To”

Pray together.

Ask for understanding, patience, listening ears, no distractions, etc.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. -John 14:26

Use stories.

Read one story, along with any preceding transitions or introductions. Then have someone else retell it or act it out. Try letting a child read the story, then you retell it.

(Next time, review previous weeks, then read the next story. Make it like a series so everyone catches the bigger picture.)

Ask interactive questions.

Use interrogatives to discuss the story. Answer the questions together.

  • Where are they?
  • When does this happen?
  • Who is there?
  • What actually happens?
  • How did people respond?

Now take it deeper.

  • What did it mean to the people who were there?
  • Why did the author include this story?
  • What connections do you see to other stories/Scripture?

Finally, application.

  • What have we learned?
  • What do we need to do about what we’ve learned?
  • What action do we need to take (as a family or individually) in response?

These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. -John 20:31

Create a ‘take-away’.

Find an object to remind you of this story, have someone draw a picture of the story, or (if everyone can read) display an application phrase in a prominent place for the week.

Extend the discussion.

Talk about the story and application as you have opportunities throughout the week.

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. -Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Family devotions without a devotional book: How to Study the Bible with Your Kids (in <500 words)  <-click to tweet

Try this out, then leave me some feedback. I’d really like to know what you think!

3 More Everyday Images for the Christ-Life

God placed us in a world that, because He created it, bears constant evidence of Him.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that people are without excuse. –Romans 1:20

IMG_7479
(c) Carole Sparks

We toured a big cave system recently: beautiful rock formations, spectacular vaults, a random red salamander. God placed all this beauty underground, where it remained in the dark, slowly changing, for centuries. Civil War soldiers hid in the caves, but their wooden torches wouldn’t have illuminated even a tenth of the beauty there. All that spooky beauty, all that magnificence…just sitting there in the dark! God creates for His own pleasure…even if we never see it.

Because creation bears the stamp of the Creator, we can make innumerable analogies for our relationship with Jesus. Here are three more everyday images for aspects of the Christ Life. (See the first four *here*.)I pray that you can use them with your children to help them understand what it means to follow Jesus.

Splinter/Sin

This is a good one, and you’re sure to have opportunity to use it at some point!

A splinter is like sin in your life. It hurts and irritates the surrounding skin, yet children never want to pull it. They fear the pain of removal more than the pain of remaining. If you don’t remove it, however, it becomes infected as your body tries to reject it. An infected splinter in your toe makes it hard to walk. Pulling it out yields a small pain, but then the wound heals.

With sin, it may feel easier just to leave it in your life. It doesn’t actually hurt, and you may be afraid of the pain that might come with removal. But if you don’t remove sin, it will grow, taking over that area of your life and eventually impairing your spiritual walk. Usually, it’s difficult—even painful—to remove, but afterward, God heals you quickly.

Surgery/Sanctification

I was thinking about the lengths to which God will go (and to which we must submit) in order to remove habitual sin from our lives. It was part of my post, “Addiction to Conviction,” from a couple of weeks ago. You might need to change some of the terminology, if you’re sharing with your children, but here’s the whole picture:

Let’s say you need to have your appendix removed. The surgeon takes scalpel in hand and scores your skin, cutting through two or three layers of your epidermis. Then he moves over a bit and cuts through the same two or three layers in a different spot. You might bleed just a little, but he will never reach the appendix buried deep in your abdomen. In fact, you wouldn’t even need anesthesia for this procedure. In order to remove your appendix, he has to cut all the way through all your skin and even the muscle tissue beneath. It hurts so badly that they put you to sleep. Without that pain…without the surgeon’s focus on that one cut until he penetrates your abdominal wall…you will die.

Regardless of how holy we are today, we all need a sin-ectomy. Instead of doing the hard, painful work of excising that specific sin, we satisfy ourselves with shallow cuts that look serious but never penetrate to the spiritual cavity in which the problem lies. Yes, I know there’s no spiritual anesthesia and that we have to assist in this surgery on ourselves. Nobody said sanctification was easy.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. –Mark 9:43

Hiking/Making Choices

On the same day we explored the caves I mentioned earlier, we also went to an overlook high on a mountain, where you can see multiple states. We drove, but there’s also a walking trail. We chose the wide, smooth, quick, well-travelled path, and it was easy. But I wonder what we missed.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. –Matthew 7:13-14

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Sometimes the narrow path skirts a deep crevice.  (c) Carole Sparks

The narrow path is typically more dangerous, requires far more effort, and takes more time (like, hours instead of minutes). When you’re hiking, however, that narrow path rewards you with solitude, beautiful views, a strengthened body, and that wonderful sense of accomplishment. It’s worth the effort.

In our spiritual lives, obedience often leads us along narrow, difficult paths, but those very paths reward us with personal strength, intimacy with God, and extraordinary views of His glory.

Creation is full of analogies for our spiritual lives! Share 1 with your children today. (click to tweet)

more everyday images

4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children (part 2)

When I was in middle school, we went to a lot of the school basketball games. Sometimes we won; sometimes we lost. Invariably, on those sad drives home after a loss, my mother would say, “Losing builds character.” Honestly, it didn’t feel like it in the moment. How, exactly, does losing build character? I never thought to ask Mom, but now I think I know…at least a little. Losing and other failures give us fantastic chances to gently help our children grow in faith and humility.

Pointing our children toward humility begins with an acknowledgement of God and who He is, then of who we are in relation to Him. There are times for that exact conversation, but there are also times to bring our children along the humility path in everyday situations. Last week, we considered two ways NOT to praise our children. This week, let’s look at:

2 Ways NOT to Talk About Failure with Our Children

You might think these attitudes will help balance their self-esteem, but you’ll actually find them detrimental. (I know from experience!) So DON’T…

  1. Remind them of their failures.

This is just belittling. It doesn’t foster humility; it fosters inadequacy and uncertainty. Plus, they most certainly remember that failure even more clearly than you! Just as we’ve been forgiven, just as God separates us from our sin as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), our children need us to put away last year’s failures…and last week’s.

There may be times when we’re working on consistency in a particular area that we must review previous failures, but these should be done gently and specifically, without adding unrelated issues to it. Look for patterns. One lie last year doesn’t mean your child is a chronic liar. One “epic fail” at a spelling bee doesn’t mean your child should never enter another spelling contest. Even if you feel you must stir up old wounds, focus on growth and improvement, not on chronic faults.

  1. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

“Owning” one’s mistakes and deficiencies is a difficult lesson—one that many adults struggle to learn. We can’t model shifting blame or making excuses for our children if we want them to have a healthy view of themselves.

Before you speak, consider what is true. Is someone else responsible for this failure such that the child had no opportunity to succeed? Is it appropriate to point that out to the child? Most of the time, the child (and probably the parent—that’s you and me) bears some portion of the responsibility.

Instead of “Well, your teacher didn’t explain it properly,” try “What could you have done on your own when you realized you didn’t understand?”

Instead of “Your sitter shouldn’t have let you watch six hours of TV,” try “How much TV do you typically watch? Did you have the power to turn off the TV?”

Instead of “That referee was biased,” try “Well, the referee is human, too. He sometimes makes mistakes. Can you forgive him and move on?” or “Now that you know how he calls fouls, what will you do next time?”

We can turn failures into learning experiences with a little forward thinking on our parts.

As you talk with your children about success and failure, try sprinkling a couple of these Bible verses into the conversation:

He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed. –Proverbs 3:34 (quoted in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5.)

God is the only one who never fails.

Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. –Joshua 23:14

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. –Lamentations 3:22

For no word from God will ever fail. –Luke 1:36-37

Our earthly failures are not as important as our faith in God.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. –Psalm 73:26

Sometimes what looks like a failure to us is a success in God’s eyes.

Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong—not so that people will see that we have stood the test but so that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. –2 Corinthians 13:7

 

To review, we have 4 Surprising Things That Do NOT Promote Humility in Your Children:

  1. Praise them only when they win.
  2. Praise them for doing what they are supposed to do anyway.
  3. Remind them of their failures.
  4. Make excuses for their failures or blame others.

Each child’s path to humility passes through praise and failure. Tread lightly! (click to tweet)

What about you? When have you talked about success or failure effectively with your children? I’d love to hear some others’ thoughts on this! And for more on helping your kids learn through failure, check out this education blog post.

Forget Where You Live? (guest post)

Don't you just stand in awe when your children remind you of an eternal Truth? Not
only is it spiritually beautiful, but it's also a great affirmation of your parenting.
That's what happened to my writer-friend, Cherrilynn Bisbano. Read her sweet story
(chocked full of Scripture!), then learn more about her at the end of the post.
Cherrilynn - meme
(c) Cherrilynn Bisbano

“I am so tired of moving,” I said to my son as we walked to the gym.

“I know mom; can we stay in this house forever?”

We took a few more steps; I smiled as I remembered. “Michael, this is not our forever home, our citizenship is in heaven.”

“That’s right mommy, I forgot!”

Do you forget where you ultimately live?

I find it so easy to get caught up in my earthly address, consumed with mundane daily tasks.

But our citizenship is in Heaven. and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. -Philippians 3:20 (All Scripture quotations in this post are ESV.)

I am blessed to have a beautiful temporary home in Rhode Island. Although the winters can be harsh, I thank God this house has so much sunlight provided by skylights. Even on the dreariest day there is a glimmer of light.

But oh the glorious light we will see in our forever home!

And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. -Revelation 22:5

My earthly home has my cats, Peach and Simone. I share this earthly dwelling with my husband, son and sister. Sometimes there is strife, misunderstanding and chaos. We all love each other and Jesus. In Heaven we will all be together…no tears, anger or infirmity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. -Revelation 21:4

I think of my friends in Togo, Africa, who live in straw huts with dirt floors. How much sweeter heaven will be to them! Now they walk on dirt. In Heaven they will stroll on streets of gold.

…and the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass. -Revelation 21:21

I could go on and on comparing this earthly world to Heaven, but I digress. Until I reach my ultimate destiny, I will strive to be content here on earth and fulfill all that my Master has for me to do.

As my son and I continued our walk to the gym, we thanked God for our temporary home and praised Him for allowing us to be here to help further the Kingdom.

We still long for heaven where our bodies no longer need exercise, food or healing. Worries will be exchanged for worship. We will be face to face with God, consumed by His love and light.

“Mommy, one thing I really look forward to in Heaven is sitting in Jesus’ lap. I want to look into His eyes, give him a huge hug, and thank Him for dying on the cross for me.”

My heart filled with joy and my eyes filled with tears. I responded, “Me too, Michael, Me too. Heaven is home.”

Did you forget where you live?

No worries, fellow Christian. Our passport is stamped HEAVEN. Jesus is waiting to show us the mansion He prepared just for us.

In my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. -John 14:2

Will you join me is rejoicing that our ultimate home is with the lover of our souls?

Did you forget where you live? Heaven is our home! (click to tweet)

Cherrilynn - w sonCherrilynn Bisbano (pictured here with her son, Michael) is a speaker, teacher, and writer. Her passion for helping people is evident. She encourages and equips women to divide rightly the Scriptures and to be strong in the Lord.

Cherrilynn is Associate Editor at Almost an Author, an online community for aspiring writers. She is a two-time winner of Flash Fiction Weekly. You can find her work published in Amramp, More to Life (MTL), Christian Rep, Refresh and other online magazines. Cherrilynn is also a regular contributor to The Good News Newspaper. Her first book, True Star Quality: Learn to Shine, will be out by summer.

Cherrilynn proudly served in the Navy and Air National Guard, earning the John Levitow Military Leadership Award. She lives with her fourteen-year-old autistic son, Michael, Jr., and husband of 17 years, Michael, Sr.

Carole here. Give Cherrilynn some thanks by commenting below. Tell her how this story
impacted you!

 

4 Everyday Images for the Christ-life

Sometimes it’s hard to explain certain aspects of the Christ-life to our children. Their brains haven’t developed enough to understand complex, intangible concepts. Honestly, some of the same things are hard for us to understand even as adults. Not to worry; we have an excellent role model for these situations in Jesus. He liked to teach using parables and metaphors…imagery drawn from everyday life, and we can do the same.

The best way to use metaphors is situationally:

  1. When your child asks about the spiritual concept
  2. When you feel that your child needs a better understanding of the concept
  3. When you see or experience the tangible parallel

Today I offer you four such images to help you explain your faith to your children. These kinds of conversations create great discipleship opportunities. Praying they are fresh and helpful…

Fireworks / Jesus earthly life and death

Everyday Images 2
Fireworks (c) Carole Sparks

When you watch a professional fireworks show, it’s a thing of beauty, but noisy. You hear the brief thump as the small rocket shoots into the air. Sometimes you can see a trail of sparks following it. Then there’s that millisecond when the individual flame disappears. In silence, you hold your breath. You think it might have been a ‘dud.’ Finally, it explodes in color, light, and sound!

Jesus’ life on earth was like this. A minor thump at his birth (angels, Herod’s search), then a bit of light through his earthly ministry, then silence for those three days in the tomb. Even the disciples thought He might have been a ‘dud.’ But then! Oh, then! The spectacular resurrection that declared victory over every evil and even death itself: energy, celebration, broadcast near and far!

Popcorn / Conforming to the Image of Christ

Everyday Images 1
Popcorn (c) Carole Sparks

Kernels of popcorn are like snowflakes: each one unique but easily recognizable. No one confuses popcorn for bread (because it’s white) or potato chips (because it’s crunchy) or peanuts (because you eat a handful at a time).

In the Church universal, there is incredible diversity—something I love! Each believer is unique; at the same time, believers are all being remade into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Just like we easily recognize popcorn, we recognize each other and those outside the faith recognize authentic believers. Read more about this in my post, Popcorn Conformity.

Walking the Dog / Guidance of the Holy Spirit

I’ve seen memes and commercials where the dog on a leash thinks it walks the owner. I once walked a huge bulldog that pulled me across the grass whether I liked it or not. My own example notwithstanding, it doesn’t matter what the dog thinks. The one holding the other end of the leash is actually in charge. (Sorry, no picture on this one. We don’t have a dog.)

In this example, we’re the dog, the leash is the Holy Spirit, and God is the dog-walker. (It’s not a perfect analogy, but go with me here.) As believers, we can break our connection with the Holy Spirit and run off into the woods, but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work. When we walk in the spirit (Romans 8:3-4), we are led by God Himself. We can’t see Him, and we’re often out in front of Him, so we must be sensitive to those gentle tugs on the leash. That’s how we go where He wants us to go…following but in front…hmm…

Mountain Trail Guide / Obedience

Everyday Images 3
Broken Path (c) Carole Sparks

I like hiking. I don’t do it much, but I like it—that sense of freedom, the cleanliness of the air, the views. It can be scary, though. If a storm comes suddenly or if you lose the path or if the mountain drops off suddenly right beside the trail, you can quickly start to think about your oh-so-safe couch and TV remote. A more strenuous hike sometimes requires that you hire a guide. No one climbs Mt. Everest without guides and a full support team, right?

In our lives as Christ-followers, we’re hiking a fresh section of trail every day. We’ve never been in this exact place before, and sometimes it looks treacherous. But we have a Guide who has been here before (Hebrews 4:15) and a God who knows everything before and behind us. It’s only reasonable that we trust and follow Him. (I’ve also written about this before. See Our Mountain Guide.)

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Content and Context (part 10) – General Letters and Revelation

This is it! The end of the series. For me, it has been a labor of love. Just the other day, I realized that I was applying something from this series in a conversation with my husband. What is more, I read and/or skimmed the entire Bible in the last five months! That’s invaluable.

Sometimes I think about Athanasius, when he compiled that list of God-inspired books which eventually became our New Testament. It seems like he got through Paul’s letters, and he knew Revelation should be last, but he had some leftover letters that didn’t fit into any other category. So we have this ‘Miscellaneous’ group of books—all epistles (a.k.a. letters)—by various authors to various groups before we conclude with the Revelation of John, which is also a letter, by the way (Revelation 1:4).

GENERAL LETTERS

Hebrews

  • About: supremacy of Christ, encouraging Christians
  • Everything that God established before Jesus points to Jesus as the Final Answer.
  • Big stories: Jesus as High Priest, Hall of Fame of Faith, cloud of witnesses
  • Author: unknown (a man, not Paul and not anyone who knew Jesus directly)
  • Time: before the destruction of the Temple in 70AD
  • “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 1:3

James

  • About: practical applications of faith in Christ
  • God designed our faith to be lived out in community and in the world.
  • Big stories: perseverance in trials, taming the tongue, faith v/s deeds
  • Author: James (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: before 50AD or in the early 60s
  • “You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.” James 2:24

1 Peter

  • About: perseverance under persecution from outside the church
  • God calls us to continue in holy living regardless of our circumstances.
  • Big stories: royal priesthood, Jesus as cornerstone, women’s beauty, suffering for faith, devil is a lion
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 60-64AD
  • “And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11

2 Peter

  • About: standing up to false teachers and other problems within the church
  • God purifies his church, making it ready for Jesus’ return.
  • Big stories: destruction of false teachers, God’s patience with humanity
  • Author: Peter, the Apostle
  • Time: 65-68AD, toward the end of Peter’s life
  • “Dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 3:17-18a

1 John

  • About: identifying false teachers, assuring salvation, God’s love
  • God’s love is active and distinguishes believers from the world.
  • Big stories: light & dark, sinfulness in the believer’s life, God is love
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “If anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6

2 John

  • About: loving others, rejecting false teachers
  • God shows us how to love and how to discern truth from deception.
  • Big stories: “walk in love,” don’t assist false teachers
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 6

3 John

  • About: hospitality for God’s messengers
  • God’s children must take care of each other.
  • Big stories: John’s condemnation of a harsh church leader and commendation of another leader
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 85-95AD
  • “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.” 3 John 11

Jude

  • About: counteracting false teachers
  • God always knows the true believers from the false.
  • Big stories: ungodly people punished (lots of nice imagery)
  • Author: Jude/Judas (probably the brother of Jesus)
  • Time: 65-80AD
  • “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.” Jude 20-21

Revelation

  • About: faithfulness through persecution, Christ’s ultimate victory
  • God’s victory is sure, and all believers will join Him in it.
  • Big stories: letters to 7 churches, visions of Heaven, fall of Babylon & rise of New Jerusalem, final judgment
  • Author: John, the Apostle
  • Time: 95AD
  • “To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to Him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.” Revelation 1:5b-6

“What’s Your Motivation?” Pursuing Excellence without Pride

My over-achieving, first-born, all-honors 6th-grader made a ‘B’ in math, and she didn’t like it. (Not bragging, just trying to give you a picture of the situation.) I was not upset. But then—and this is the funny part—she got angry with me for not being more bothered. After a few minutes of back-and-forth that included the classic “Did you do your best?” line on my side, she said, “I just wish you would push me harder to get good grades.”

In that moment, it would have been easy to spurt out a line from our self-centered culture or practice some of the blame-shifting that’s so common these days.

Instead, I sat back down in my chair and paused for a moment. Looking up at her (because, even then, she was quite tall), I voiced the dilemma that had been eroding its own little gully in my mind since she started Kindergarten: “I don’t know how.” How do I motivate my child…first-born or baby, Type-A or slacker…to do her absolute best, her most excellent work, without drawing upon her pride?

It’s been a couple of years since that scene played out in our kitchen, and I still don’t have a pat answer. Even if I did, every child is different, so my step-by-step solution might not work for your child. I do, however, have three Biblical principles that we discuss (randomly but frequently) to address this issue of motivation, especially as it relates to school. I believe they apply to every Christ-centered family.

One note first: As my children have matured (physically and spiritually), these principles have become easier for them to internalize, so if your children are early-elementary-age, you may need to simplify…and be patient. Don’t fall back into the rutted route of pride-based motivation!

Like a good singing voice or basketball talent, intelligence is a gift from God.

It may not be politically correct to say it, but some people are just smarter than others (speaking in the generic sense of ‘smart.’ See this post for what I really think of the term, ‘smart.’) God gives gifts for His glory and humanity’s good. If we waste our talents, we disrespect God and loose our chance to help the world.

His Glory: Remember the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)?* God expects a return on His investment. The talent He gives us should, in turn, bring Him glory.

Humanity’s good: Speaking of gifts within the church, Paul said they were given so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:12), not for our own glory. It’s not too far of a reach, especially in light of Scripture as a whole, to expect all of our gifts/talents to be used for the good of others rather than for our own benefit.

In this way, my child must put her gift to work not for her own good but for the good of the world and the Kingdom of God.

God is glorified by our excellence.

grades close-up
(c) Carole Sparks

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). You need to be careful on this one because some of those high-achievers think actual perfection is a reasonable goal for their educational careers. Romans 3:23 will bring them down a notch, if necessary! God’s standards, however, far exceed any goals we might set for ourselves. At the same time, we cannot fully achieve those standards this side of Heaven. For the time being, let’s leave the perfection to Jesus even as we pattern our lives after His. This means we’re called to perfection and simultaneously called to accept that we can’t get there. Otherwise, show your children that ‘perfect’ sometimes means ‘complete’ or ‘finished’ (e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:9, James 2:22 in various versions).

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). When God created the world, He daily declared His creation to be good. He didn’t create anything half-heartedly or without paying attention to what He was doing. When He was finished, He sat back, took a look at what He had created, and said, “I did this well.” We call it the satisfaction of a job well done. Let your children see you satisfied with your work—if it’s a clean kitchen, a beautiful building, or a computer program. Encourage them when they complete something, and let them know it’s okay to enjoy that completion. Maybe it’s just my own Type-A personality, but a page of math homework with no mistakes is a beautiful thing. Our children can come to see it that way as well.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15; if you really want to use the word ‘study’ here, you’ll have to go back to KJV or the Geneva Bible.). I know Paul’s admonishment to Timothy has a context unlike your child’s or my child’s, but the principle of working to do your best and handle information properly applies to all of us. The application (or the prayer) for your child might go something like this: “Do your best to get the approval of God, your teachers, and your parents as a student who doesn’t need to be ashamed (due to anything lacking in your effort) and who correctly handles all the information he receives.” As I write this today, the Lord is convicting me to pray this verse over my children regularly!

Finally, just to keep everything in balance, remember that moral excellence is most important to God (Philippians 4:8).

We are called to do our best.

Excellence—especially in an educational setting—is going to look different on different people. For each person, we ask, “Have you done your best?” or “Have you given 100% to this task?” Paul told the Ephesian church (6:7-8), Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do…. I don’t know when my child has done her best, but she knows, and God knows. That is her ultimate accountability.

After I confessed that I didn’t know how to motivate her in a healthy, God-honoring way, my 6th-grader and I talked through some of these things. (I’m sure the conversation was far less organized than what I’ve written here.) I reassured her that making a ‘B’ in 6th grade was not going to diminish her chances of getting into a good college, that no one loved her any less because of it, and that I was sure she would bounce back to her usual ‘A’ in the next grading period. I’m choosing to hold grades loosely and formal education loosely and many other things loosely in favor of raising a child who clings to God tightly.

What about you? How do you motivate your children to do their best…in anything, not just school? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

*Endnote: Our English word, talent, comes from this parable in which a talent was a “unit of coinage” worth about 20 years of day wages. (NIV Study Bible textual note and study note for Matthew 25:15.) That’s a lot of money!

 

Content and Context (part 9) – Paul’s Letters cont.

With these last two letters to churches and then his letters to individuals, I feel like we’ve taken a peek into Paul’s personal journal. Here’s Paul the mentor, the father-figure, the wizened patriarch of the Church universal. Here’s Paul the very human man, near the beginning of his ministry and then looking at the end of his earthly life. For our children, we find so much wisdom about what church is supposed to be and how we are supposed to live in this world. Take your time through these books, and let it all sink in.

As usual, I welcome your comments and observations. What do you think the theme verse for each of these books should be? How would you summarize any of them in one sentence (that starts with ‘God’)?

PAUL’S LETTERS (part 2)

1 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, encouragement through persecution
  • God has expectations for our lives on earth and a plan for the end times.
  • Big stories: Paul’s conduct in Thessalonica & desire to return, a life that pleases God
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51, possibly the earliest of Paul’s letters (see Galatians)
  • “We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4

2 Thessalonians

  • About: Jesus’ second coming, Godly living (same as 1 Thes.)
  • God calls us to fully live in the present even as we anticipate the end times.
  • Big stories: end times prophecies, don’t be idle
  • Author: Paul
  • Time: ad51-52, shortly after 1 Thessalonians
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

1 Timothy

  • About: encouraging and advising Timothy regarding church leadership
  • God has ordained a proper way for the Church to act and interact.
  • Big stories: false teachers, behavior in worship, leader qualifications
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad63-65
  • “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” 1 Timothy 4:4-5

2 Timothy

Map of coastal ports of Smyrna, Ephesus and Cnidus plus Loadicia and Colosse inland. – Slide 17

Courtesy freeBibleimages.com

  • About: Paul’s relationship with Timothy, guidance on leadership (like 1 Tim.)
  • God calls church leaders to faithfulness, perseverance, and discernment.
  • Big stories: guidance for church leaders, false teachers, relevance of Scripture
  • Author: Paul (Timothy is in Ephesus)
  • Time: ad67-68
  • “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” 2 Timothy 3:12-14

Titus

  • About: leading well despite opposition, doing good inside and outside the church
  • God intends for us to live so that our actions set us apart from the culture.
  • Big stories: qualifications for elders, directions for age groups (older/younger)
  • Author: Paul (Titus is on Crete)
  • Time: ad63-65 (same as 1 Timothy)
  • “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in his present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Titus 2:11-13

Philemon

  • About: the slave Onesimus’ return to Philemon, his master
  • God receives us as family and servants when Jesus advocates for us.
  • Big stories: Paul’s appeal to Philemon regarding Onesimus
  • Author: Paul (Philemon is in Colossae)
  • Time: ad60 (see Ephesians and Colossians)
  • “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.” Philemon 15-16a