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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Wisdom for Parenting Teenagers

Review and Interaction with Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity

What are your end-goals in parenting? What are you trying to accomplish with and in your children? Perhaps you say, “Why, Carole, I’m just trying to make it through today!” Are you merely surviving? Maybe you think, “I guess I just want them to have good job and contribute to society.” On the bad days, most of us would say, “I just want them to move out!” Have you ever thought about why God made you a parent? If you take this Intentional Parenting thing seriously, you will ask yourself these kinds of questions.

In lieu of a guest post this month, I’m sharing some thoughts, quotes, and reactions from Paul David Tripp’s Age of Opportunity, subtitled “A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens.” (I’m quoting from the 2001 paperback edition, published by P&R Publishing in Phillipsburg, New Jersery.) There were so many good nuggets! These quotes don’t do it justice.

I purchased this book when my firstborn was turning twelve. Typical of my reading habits, however, I didn’t start reading it for a long time, then I read it in small doses. She’s already thirteen, and I just now finished it.

Alongside solid counseling and anecdotal observations, Tripp shares many personal stories—some successes and some failures. The reader will sense that he is walking alongside Mr. Tripp in this parenting pilgrimage toward godly, loving adulthood. Also, there’s a group study guide at the back…could be very helpful.

The book is divided into three sections.

In part one, Clearing the Debris, Tripp defines the family and the role of parents in a teenager’s life. From the very first page, it’s clear that parenting struggles in the teen years are as much about the parent as the child. This is not a how-to-fix-your-child book. In fact, if you are unwilling to examine your own life—especially your faith and habits—don’t read this book.

Parenting is hard work. It requires being ‘on’ all the time and watching for opportunities to speak Truth into your child’s life (regardless of age).

“Every moment of family life is a teaching moment!” (pg. 42) [click to tweet]

Having written about it previously, I was perhaps most thrilled to read that teenage rebellion is not a given. We don’t have to batten down the hatches and ride out six years of storms! Regardless of our children’s ages or the mistakes we’ve already made, Tripp encourages us that these relationships are redeemable.

In Setting Godly Goals, Tripp examines the Biblical approach to parenting and answers the questions I posed in the first paragraph above. What are we trying to do here? And how do we expect to “successfully” parent without clear goals and strategies in place?

“We want to know the heart of our teenager, to help him see his heart as it really is, and to be used of God to help produce a heart ruled by nothing else but God and his truth.” (pg. 89)

“We want to be used of God to produce young adults who understand the spiritual implications of everything they do.” (pg. 118)

“It is of paramount importance that we do not think for our children, but teach them how to think about life.” (pg. 137)

Like in the first section, much of Tripp’s message points back to the parents. For example:

“Too often, what we call convictions are actually preferences. Real convictions are based on revealed truth (that is, Scripture). Preferences are based on personal desire. Convictions are constant; preferences change with desire.” (pg. 131-132) He goes on with the contrast.

When parenting teenagers, we hold firm to convictions, but the rest—however painful—can be disregarded. Rarely will our children turn out just like us, and we should be thankful for that!

“We need to be careful to distinguish between difference and sin, between alternative perspectives and rebellion against authority. We need to see the difference between an appropriate choice and disobedience. We need to wisely welcome and encourage differences while lovingly confronting sin.” (pg. 251)

By the way, the last chapter in this section, called “Leaving Home,” made me cry, and I’ve got five years before it happens! I know it’s good and right for them to leave…but gosh, it’s going to be hard.

I found the final section, Practical Strategies for Parenting Teens, to be less helpful. In large part, it reviews much of the previous section but with different formatting. Still, review is good. There is also a set of questions (pg. 229) that will help in those moments when I just want to blurt, “What were you thinking?!?” I may need to keep a copy nearby.

“Rather than seeking to get our teenagers under our control, we want to be used of God so that they would joyfully submit to his [control].” (pg. 227)

One of his most intriguing ideas parallels the family unit with the church. As parents, we are the shepherds or pastors for our children, leading them toward Christlikeness. If we think of parenting in this way (which, by the way, syncs with his brother’s book, Shepherding a Child’s Heart), we maintain our focus on their spiritual development. Not that we should preach or sing praise choruses all the time, but the family functions like the body of Christ in which each member receives respect (even the headstrong teenager) and all are led by One who has their best interests at heart. That kind of family can change the world!

“The church of Jesus Christ, the Christian family, was never meant to exist as an isolated ghetto in the middle of a darkened and broken culture. We are called by Christ to be participants in the world as his agents of redemption.” (pg. 165)

I strongly recommend this book. I can’t imagine anything better for parenting this age group. If, however, you simply don’t have the patience to read the whole book, borrow it from someone and read the final chapter. Change is possible in your relationship with your teenager. This is where it starts.

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!

The Unlecture

Reading Mark 9:33-37.

At the store with the kids

Jesus and the disciples are walking, as usual. (It feels a bit like that first Hobbit movie: walking with beautiful scenery, bit of action, walking with talking, more walking, freaky monsters to overcome, walking again, etc.) This time, their destination is Capernaum, Peter and Andrew’s hometown. On the way, the disciples get into a hushed but heated discussion—one that they don’t necessarily want Jesus to hear.

“Just wait ‘til we get home!”

Nevertheless, the moment they walk through the door of that house in Capernaum, before they even sit down, Jesus turns his piercing eyes toward them and asks the question they least want to answer: “What were you arguing about on the road?”

Silence. The disciples look at each other, shrug their shoulders, look at Jesus, and adopt their most innocent “Who me?” faces. (Yeah, you and I both know what that’s like.) No one answers. Not even Peter, if you can believe it. You see, they knew Jesus well enough by now that they could guess what topics would displease him, and this one—about seniority and position—would certainly be on the disapproved list. (In the disciples defense, all that “last shall be first” stuff hadn’t been said yet.) It’s obvious that Jesus knows the answer to His question and that He just wants them to confess. Still, they hesitate.

Time for the lecture

Here’s where it really gets interesting, and where we can extract a fantastic parenting application.

Rather than wagging his index finger in front of their noses and commencing Lecture #47 on Servant Leadership, Jesus looks for a comfy chair. Having taken a moment to breathe, He calmly makes a simple statement of truth (v. 35):

Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Obviously, it’s easy to remember. Most of us learned it back when we were kids. Jesus, being so very wise, stops there. I don’t know about you, but I always feel the need to elaborate or at least repeat myself a couple of times to be sure I was heard . . . like maybe I have to say it once for each ear of each child in attendance. Sometimes I even repeat, “Do you understand?”

But Jesus just looks around for a tangible example. Let’s see, there’s a door . . . no, some dusty sandals . . . no, the sunlight through the window . . . nice but no. Oh, here we go: a few children (maybe Peter’s kids) are leaning on the wall over there, watching wide-eyed, trying to remain unnoticed. Jesus calls one of them over. Taking his (or her) hand, he pulls the child into the circle. That must have been a little frightening because then Jesus wraps His arms around the child in a comforting hug. Thus this anonymous child becomes the unforgettable object lesson. Without saying “no” or “you’re wrong,” Jesus challenges their thinking—even their worldview. (It would be interesting to dig into what He said and what it meant, but that’s not the point here. Maybe some other time . . .)

A Better Way

I think you get my point, but let me say it plainly just in case. The Proverbs (15:1) say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we can control our own tempers . . . if we can seek our children’s good rather than our own justification . . . if we sincerely want them to learn and change at the heart level, we will follow Jesus’ example. Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. Pose the issue, preferably with a question.

I’ve heard it said that we all answer with our hearts first, and that answer is always honest, regardless of what we say.

  1. Proffer a simple, memorable statement of truth.

Bible verses work well here, but don’t use the Bible as an instrument of punishment. (I’ve written more about that *here*.)

  1. Present an object lesson to reinforce your point.

Just look around, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in the moment. I know of no other advance preparation that will work here.

  1. Pause.

After you make your point, let it rest there. Let them change the subject if they want to. That’s what happened to Jesus. In the next verse (Mark 9:38), John tries to divert Jesus’ attention.

  1. Place the ‘object’ in a prominent position.

While Jesus allows the change of topic, it’s clear that these ideas of children and of servant leadership are still on His mind at least through the end of the next chapter. Place your ‘object’ from the object lesson somewhere visible, where your children will pass it several times a day. They’ll get the message.

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.

“Okay?”

Some languages are harder to learn than others because tone or inflection change the meaning of the word.  A friend of ours tells a story about trying to say ‘pardon’ but actually saying ‘cheeseburger.’  Yeah, inflection affects meaning.  Take the word ‘okay’ for example.  It’s one of those ubiquitous American words that (frustratingly) can serve as an adjective, adverb, interjection, noun, or transitive verb.  (Thank you, dictionary.com!)  Sometimes we shorten it to ‘ok’ or ‘o.k.’   We even have a hand signal for it (which, by the way, you shouldn’t do if you’re ever in Brazil.  It means something totally different there!)  Just look at all this:

Okay?  =  Do I have your permission?  Do you mind?  Is this agreeable for you?

Okay!  =  Let’s get started!  Sounds great!

(firm ending) = I understand. I hear you.  I accept or agree.  Yes.

Okay. (dragging on the end) = Fine, not great, acceptable but reluctant.

 

Pardon me while I now remove my English teacher hat . . . deep breath . . .

‘Okay?’ (as a question) does NOT mean “do what I just told you to do” and yet I hear parents saying it to young children all the time.

Mom:  Johnnie honey, don’t stick your finger in the electrical outlet, okay?

Child:  [no response]

Mom:  Sweetie, I need you to remove your finger from the outlet.  Okay?

Child:  Mama, I don’t want to.  Can’t I just finish this?

What are you trying to say here, Mom (or Dad)?  Are you asking for permission to be the parent?  Are you giving them permission to agree or disagree?  Is the finger-in-the-outlet something they can choose to do or not do?  I hope not! Most parents, when they finish their sentences with ‘okay?’, really mean ‘Do you hear me?’ and I get that . . . but I’m not sure the child does.  In every other situation, ‘okay?’ means the listener gets to make a choice.  Whether it’s an issue of danger or simply the practice of obedience (such as cleaning their rooms), children need to hear your confident authority.  Be the parent.  They will have plenty of chances to make choices when they are older.  For toddlers, preschoolers, and even elementary-age children, communicate with a firm but kind command followed by the expectation of a response.  The ‘okay’ should come from their mouths, meaning that they hear and accept what you have said.  Save the ‘okay’ question for situations where they really get to make a choice. If the expectation of a response hasn’t been the pattern in your house, it may take a little training.  Ideally, it looks like this:

Mom (firmly but nor forcibly) Johnnie, take your finger out of the electrical outlet now.

Child:  [no response]

Mom(putting down whatever she is doing and giving full attention to the child)  Johnnie, I told you to do something.  What was it?

Child:  I don’t know.

Mom:  I told you to take your finger out of the outlet.  When I tell you something, I expect a response.  I say, ‘Take your finger out,’ and you say what?

Child:  Okay, Mama.  or  Yes, Mama.

Mom:  Thank you.  Now, what can you play with that is safe?

Notice I said that this is an ideal scenario.  It will take some re-training.  At first, you may need to finish the command with “Do you hear me?”  or “Do you understand?”

I realize that this approach counters those who think a child’s self-esteem is so fragile that it can’t handle a command, but I promise you that speaking this way is actually kinder.  Making suggestions to your young child, giving him or her the impression that they can obey or not obey . . . well, that’s just confusing.  The parent follows up by getting angry or disciplining the child for disobedience or disrespect.  Then, the child is confused because he or she never understood that a command was issued in the first place.  Let’s help our children obey by being clear about what is a command and what is up for debate.

Deep breath.  Okay!  Try it for a week.  Just take ‘okay?’ out of your vocabulary and see what happens to your child’s obedience level.  Then let me know in the comments below, okay?    

what to read, what to read

My children love to read.  They devour books, and both of them read well above their grade level, with large vocabularies and excellent comprehension skills.  I’m not bragging; I’ve met many children in this same situation.  The temptation with children like this is to let them read any book they are willing to crack open.  After all, reading is good for them, right?  Not always.

In watching my children grow, I have discovered that there are three aspects to reading ability.  The first is functional:  vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and things like that.  Can they convert letters into words and words into sentences?  The second is mental:  following a plot, keeping up with multiple characters, understanding imagery or foreshadowing and other subtleties.  The first time my daughter read The Secret Garden, she could read all the words, but she couldn’t really follow the story.  Same thing happened with a Nancy Drew book.  Now, of course, she loves both of those because her mental reading skills have increased.

The third aspect of reading is more social or emotional.  And more difficult to gauge.  It involves understanding the situation, social context, or implications of the story.  Early-reading books revolve around loosing a toy or getting your feelings hurt by a friend.  More advanced reading exposes the reader to some of the uglier things in the world:  injustice, abuse, prejudice, witchcraft, death.  Or sometimes just more mature topics:  relationships, sex, struggles with money, eating disorders, mental illness.  Even books like The Diary of Anne Frank require a certain level of social and/or historical understanding.

We do a fairly good job of measuring the first aspect of reading.  It’s easy to see if our children have the functional ability to read a book.  And in a brief conversation, we can know if they have achieved the mental ability to understand that book.  The challenge arises in measuring their social/emotional level for reading the same book.  Just because they CAN doesn’t mean they SHOULD.  Like Paul said,  “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial.  “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive (1 Cor 10:23 totally out of context, but it’s the same idea).  If we won’t let them watch ‘R’-rated movies, if we protect them from explicit song lyrics, if we instruct them to think on whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, etc. (Phil 4:8), why do we put overly-mature books in their hands without a second thought?

As parents, it’s our job to guard our children’s hearts.  Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it (Prov 4:23).  There’s an incredible scene in The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom.  She and her father are on a train, and she asks her father about sex.  Instead of answering, he asks Corrie to pick up the heavy suitcase sitting between them.  She can’t.  He tells her that some subjects are like that suitcase:  too heavy for her right now, but she will grow.  She must trust him that, when she is able to “carry” the information about sex, he will give it to her.

It’s not about sheltering our children from the world.  It’s about protecting them against things their hearts aren’t ready to manage just yet.  For a long time, we didn’t let our first-born read the Harry Potter series.  (Not judging here.  I read and loved every one of them; we just didn’t think she was ready.)  When all her friends read them, we talked about guarding her heart and thinking about things that honor God.  I asked her to trust me to know when she was ready.  I told her the story about Corrie Ten Boom and her father.

For now, there are SO many excellent, challenging books for my tween-ager.  Sure, she reads some “fluff” (she especially likes girl secret agents like Ruby Redfort), but we’re also working on the Newberry Award Winner list.  Have you read Carry On, Mr. Bowditch or The Witch of Blackbird Pond?  Do you remember Caddie Woodlawn or A Wrinkle in Time?  I’d forgotten; these are fantastic books!  In general, the Newberry winners are not at all childish (a complaint we sometimes hear from our double-digit-aged kids), but they handle mature topics in a way that’s appropriate for younger readers (think The Scarlet Letter without adultery for The Witch of Blackbird Pond).  They generate fantastic discussion topics; they help us engage with the world, and they supply a big dose of American history without any grimaces or complaints.

Also, it’s important to read questionable books before or at least alongside our kids.  This includes “Christian” books (e.g. Ted Dekker).  If I’ve already read the book, my child knows she can talk with me about anything she doesn’t understand.  I can even broach topics or scenes that I think need more light shed on them.  Let’s not allow literature to parent our children.  That’s our job.

If you were to finish all of the Newberry winners and honor books (which date back to the 1920s, so it should take awhile!), you can start on the AP English reading list.  This list, of course, is far more mature, but by the time they get to it, they should be ready.  I plan to read these books alongside my child too, so we can filter everything through our faith as she learns to knowledgeably engage the world around her.

By the way, my daughter is going to read Harry Potter this summer.  She can handle it now.  We’ll talk about it as she goes, and I know she’ll enjoy every minute!