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.

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

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(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.

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

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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.)

4 Everyday Images for Discipleship in Parenting (click to Tweet)

5…3…1 Recommended Reading

Instead of a guest post this month, I offer you some recommended reading beyond this Intentional Parenting blog: 5 things to pray, 3 steps to child-rearing, and 1 book (with a 1-word title). Enjoy…and let me know what you think of these readings using the comments section below!

Praying Higher Things for Your Children by Dr. Walker Moore

“There are two ways to pray for children. The first is to pray them through things like tattoos, skydiving and prom night, and there is nothing wrong with that. But there is also a higher way to pray for them, and that is to pray for their lives to be aligned with His holy Word.”

I recently discovered Weave, a website/blog devoted to help families take their place in God’s global mission. You’ll find many good posts there. One of their contributors, Dr. Moore, has a great sense of humor. (I’m a sucker for a good post that makes me laugh…or cry.) In this post, he offers five Scripture-based suggestions for praying for our children. I think I’m going to print them out and hang them on my mirror!

3 Steps to Raising Disciples by Matt Blackwell

“Mom and dad, you are the leaders in your home and as such you are uniquely positioned to keep your eyes fixed on God and your finger on the pulse of the family. The kids that God has entrusted to you are your primary disciples. And as their mom and dad you have the privilege, joy and responsibility to lead them.”

Verge Network’s posts on family/parenting are always insightful. I’ve reposted from them before. In this article, Blackwell lays out a simple plan for discipleship-based parenting. It’s very intentional but not at all intimidating. I encourage you to give it some thought and examine where you may need to make adjustments in your home too.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”

Do you have a child who clams up immediately after school but then interrupts your dinner preparations with multiple stories from the same day at school? Chances are, that child is an introvert. Quiet is not necessarily a parenting book, but parenting applications abound throughout it. Cain does devote the final chapter to parenting; it’s entitled “On Cobblers and Generals: How to Cultivate Quiet Kids in a World That Can’t Hear Them.” This book is worth a trip to the library just for that chapter! Especially if you are an extrovert raising an introvert (or two), please take time to read this book. It will equip you to support your child in the way that’s most appropriate for him or her. Even if you’re not a big reader, Cain’s friendly style and excellent organization make this one easy. Also check out the Quiet Revolution parenting website.

Content and Context (part 6) – Minor Prophets

Our last survey for the Old Testament. These guys are fascinating, and so much of what they said reverberates into our century. If it’s been awhile, just read through Amos or Habakkuk and see what God says to them…and to you.

After today, we’ll take a break from the Content and Context series. While it is good and helpful (I’ve learned many things in writing it!), we need some real how-to-parent-with-intentionality postings. I’ll intersperse the New Testament charts over the months ahead.

MINOR PROPHETS

Hosea

  • About: God’s covenant, Israel’s idolatry
  • God loves His people and wants them to have a faithful relationship with Him.
  • Big stories: Hosea loves his unfaithful wife, Israel worships other gods
  • Author: Hosea
  • Time: just before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom in 722bc (Isaiah, Amos)
  • “Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.” Hosea 14:9

Joel

  • About: locusts, Day of the Lord
  • God uses a natural disaster to remind the people of coming judgment followed by restoration.
  • Big stories: invasion of locusts, promises for the day of judgment
  • Author: Joel
  • Time: unclear, but probably before the fall of Jerusalem
  • “The Lord will roar from Zion and thunder from Jerusalem; the earth and the heavens will tremble. But the Lord will be a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people of Israel.” Joel 3:16

Amos

  • About: social justice, honest worship
  • God wants His people to live with integrity, experiencing authentic worship.
  • Big stories: Amos’ calling, fat cows of Bashan, call to repentance
  • Author: Amos
  • Time: about 30 years before Israel went into captivity (Isaiah, Hosea, Jonah)
  • “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24

Obadiah

  • About: Edom (shortest book in the Old Testament)
  • God will punish Edom for participating in Israel’s devastation.
  • Big stories: Edom’s failure to help Israel
  • Author: Obadiah
  • Time: probably just before the fall of Judah (Jeremiah)
  • “The pride of your heart has deceived you…you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. Obadiah 3-4

Jonah

The sailors took hold of Jonah and threw his overboard. Immediately the storm stopped. – Slide 23
(c) freebibleimages.org
  • About: disobedience, ethnocentrism (belief that your culture is superior)
  • God cares about other people groups as well as His chosen people.
  • Big stories: Jonah swallowed by a fish, Jonah preaching to Nineveh
  • Author: maybe Jonah or maybe someone who knew him
  • Time: after Amos & Hosea but before the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom
  • “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh.” Jonah 3:1-3a

Micah

  • About: divine judgment and deliverance
  • God’s judgment is certain, but so is his restoration through the coming Messiah.
  • Big stories: prophecy about Bethlehem, call for social justice
  • Author: Micah
  • Time: before & after the fall of Israel/Northern Kingdom (Isaiah, Hosea)
  • “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Nahum

  • About: fall of Nineveh
  • God’s people can be sure He will judge their oppressors.
  • Big stories: descriptions of Nineveh’s future destruction
  • Author: Nahum
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (Zephaniah)
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness.” Nahum 1:7-8

Habakkuk

  • About: complaints and questions to God
  • God’s timing is always perfect.
  • Big stories: God answers complaints, Habakkuk’s confidence in God
  • Author: Habakkuk
  • Time: before the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah)
  • “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” Habakkuk 3:2

Zephaniah

  • About: the Day of the Lord, judgment
  • God’s justice will prevail not only among His people but around the world.
  • Big stories: warnings for Judah and other nations
  • Author: Zephaniah
  • Time: between the fall of Israel and of Judah (King Josiah, Jeremiah, Nahum)
  • “Be silent before the Sovereign Lord, for the day of the Lord is near. The Lord has prepared a sacrifice; he has consecrated those he has invited.” Zephaniah 1:7

Haggai

  • About: priorities, the temple’s glory
  • God calls for His people to be faithful, then they will be blessed.
  • Big stories: rebuilding the temple, blessings for faithfulness
  • Author: Haggai
  • Time: 520bc, when exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Zechariah)
  • “’I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Haggai 2:7

Zechariah

  • About: encouragement, Messianic prophecies
  • God is sovereign and keeps His promises.
  • Big stories: vision dreams, social justice over fasting, the coming Messiah
  • Author: Zechariah
  • Time: after exiles returned to rebuild the temple (Ezra/Nehemiah, Haggai)
  • “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6

Malachi

  • About: breaking the covenant, the coming King
  • While God will preserve a remnant, His judgment is surely coming.
  • Big stories: list of covenant violations, blessing for tithing, scroll of remembrance
  • Author: Malachi
  • Time: post-exilic (Nehemiah). Probably the latest of the OT prophets.
  • “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.” Malachi 4:2

A friend of mine just posted a poem about prophets. Since we’re in the Minor Prophets, it seems appropriate to share it *here*.

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!

Books of the Bible – Pentateuch

The Pentateuch (First 5 books, the Hebrew Torah)

Genesis

  • about: beginnings—of the universe, of faith
  • God makes the world and chooses a people group.
  • Big stories: Creation, Noah, Abraham/Isaac/Jacob (a.k.a. Patriarchs), Joseph
  • written by: Moses
  • time: prehistoric, early civilizations
  • “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a

Exodus

  • about: Moses, covenant
  • God delivers His people from Egypt and makes a covenant with them.
  • Big stories: the Exodus, Ten Commandments, golden calf
  • written by: Moses
  • time: 400 years after the end of Genesis
  • “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:2-3

Leviticus

  • about: sacrifices, celebrations
  • God sets up a system of sacrifices and celebrations for His people.
  • Big stories: Levites as priests, lots of instructions on how to live
  • written by: Moses
  • time: same as Numbers
  • “I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” Leviticus 11:45

Numbers

  • about: census, wilderness
  • God’s people refuse to enter Canaan, so God forces them to wander for 40 years.
  • Big stories: 12 spies (Joshua & Caleb), water from a rock, Balaam’s donkey
  • written by: Moses
  • time: immediately after Exodus (Ex 40:17, Num 1:1)
  • “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished.” Numbers 14:18a

Deuteronomy

  • about: history, laws
  • Moses reviews the whole story and reminds the people of God’s covenant and laws, then leadership transfers to Joshua.
  • Big stories: Moses’ final speech, Joshua’s succession
  • written by: Moses
  • time: just before entering the Promised Land, after Numbers and before Joshua
  • “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5

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!