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Parenting

One way to talk to your kids about God

In Matthew 16, Jesus presents his disciples with a two-part question. It is a masterful question and one that parents can use with great benefit. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” When the disciples finish giving their answers, Jesus makes the question personal. He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly proclaims that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This question revealed the content of Peter’s heart. You can use this two-part question effectively to help you understand your children’s thoughts. For example:

“Hey kids, what do you friends say is causing all of the damaging weather the country has been having?” “What do you think has been causing this weather?”

Or:

“What do your teammates say about major league stars using performance enhancing drugs?” “What do you think about PED’s?”

There are many, many possible situations that this two-part question can help you better understand your children. For this to be effective, your concern and questions must genuine.  They should flow out of normal conversations. This is a tool to help you gather data. If you want to use this more than once, then don’t immediately correct an answer that you think is wrong. You are asking for their opinion, don’t penalize children for doing what you asked. Rather, use the answers you receive to help plan positive ways address your children’s thoughts and correct them if needed. It is always a good idea to follow Christ’s example in interacting with people.

Jay Younts is the author of "Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children" and he blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article first appeared. It is reprinted with permission.

Parenting

If you want to spank your child, don't

Discipline is controlled, calm and loving...or it's sinful ***** The photo website I use for most of the pictures for Reformed Perspective has more than 24 million stock pictures, so no matter what the topic, I usually have piles of options to choose from. But when I tried to find something to illustrate an article on parenting, and I punched in the search term "parents" along with "discipline" or "punishment" I got only one basic type of picture: glowering, shouting, finger-waving moms and dads. The variety from one picture to the next was only whether the parent had already lost it or was just about to. This seemed to be the world's idea of parents doing discipline, and no wonder then that they want to ban spanking. No one wants to allow enraged adults to vent their frustrations by hitting kids! But, of course, this is not what discipline should ever be. In Proverbs 13:24 we see that God both clearly encourages corporal punishment, and prescribes the boundaries under which it is to be administered: Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. It can be easier not to discipline our children, to let things slide, to pretend we don't see and don't know what they are up to, and to just hope that they will smarten up without us having to get up from the couch. But if we love our children more than the TV program we're watching, the book we're reading, or the friend we're talking to on the phone, then we will stop what we are doing and apply the corrective that is needed when it is needed... which is immediately. But this verse is about more than a willingness to discipline; we're told that this discipline is motivated by love. There was no love to be seen in any of the website's stock pictures. These screaming, reddening, out-of-control parents looked like they wanted to hit their kids. As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains: Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it. When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless – one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers.... When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified. When you are qualified, you don’t feel like it. Screaming and spanking simply don't go together. Or rather, they often do go together, but as parents we need to recognize this for the sin it is. Discipline must be an act of love....

Parenting, Pro-life - Adoption

Why Reformed churches should be full of adopted children

When it comes to adoption rates, our Reformed churches aren't unusual. While Canadian statistics are hard to come by, in the US it appears about 1% of families adopt an orphan. Our congregations may be a bit above that average, but not remarkably so. Why is that? There are practical considerations of course. Couples may not be able to afford the $20,000 (and more) it costs to complete an overseas adoption. They may worry about how adopted children will deal with sticking out in our church communities, where we may have a variety of hair colors, but some congregations are pretty limited in the variety of skin color. Other considerations could be mentioned, but the expense and the potential difficulties wouldn't explain our churches' tepid attitude to adoption. For example, Christian schooling is also costly, and it can be more than a little difficult, and yet we as churches have embraced it because we understand how God thinks about this issue. We've been taught off the pulpit and in home visits, and been encouraged by family and friends, to understand the importance of educating our children to know and love the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deut. 6:7). We know this is what God calls us to do, so we're willing to pay what it costs, and to struggle through whatever difficulties we might face. So I don't believe it's the practical concerns that are holding us back when it comes to adoption. I wonder if it's simply that we don't talk about it. Why we are so quiet There's a reason you likely haven't heard your elders, or pastor, or parents, or friends talking about adoption. It's probably the same reason I haven't written much about it: it seems downright hypocritical for someone without adopted children to encourage others to adopt. Your elder can teach you about the importance of a godly education for your children – no hypocrisy there, because he's been a board member, three of his children are enrolled, and the fourth just graduated. But if he doesn't have adopted children, wouldn't it be strange if, during the course of a home visit, he asked you whether you've considered adoption? The reason we don't talk about adoption, the reason we don't teach and preach about it is because we don't do it. It seems wrong to preach what we don't practice. So we're quiet instead. What God thinks about adoption While silence saves us from hypocrisy, it also leaves us ignorant. It leaves us thinking adoption is only for those struggling with infertility. Silence has some still believing there are theological objections to adoption. Silence fosters our lukewarm approach to adoption. But God isn't lukewarm about adoption. We read that before Man even fell into sin, God already had a plan to use adoption to bring us back to Him: "In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will..." (Ephesians 1:5). Theological objections to adoption? What trouble we would be in if that were so! Who are we, if not the adopted sons and daughters of God? God doesn't just love adoption; He invented it! If not for it, we would have remained God's enemies. But instead, through the "Spirit of adoption" we can cry out to God and call Him, "Abba, Father." It is through adoption that we have become children of God (Romans 8:15-16). Imitators of God In Psalm 68 David describes God as "a father to the fatherless" (vs. 5) who "sets the lonely in families" (vs. 6). In James 1:27 we're told that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." Consider Ephesians 5:1-2: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. We are to be imitators of God because we are his children! Can we think of a better way to imitate our heavenly Father than to also be a father to the fatherless? Does that then mean we should all adopt? No, it does not; while all Christian parents are called to teach their children the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Deut. 6:7, Ephesians 6:4), there is no similarly universal command to adopt. God doesn't call all couples to it. And He doesn't equip us all for it. But a lot more of us may be equipped than we realize. We're adopting at a rate that is comparable to the world, and yet our churches should be full of adopted children. Why? Because they already are! We are all adopted – by the grace of God we have been made His sons and daughters – so we, so much more so than the world, should be eager to go and do likewise. Silent no more How can we fill our churches with adopted children? It begins with teaching and preaching God's thoughts on adoption and encouraging one another to have the conversation. While it might seem hypocritical for a pastor, or elder (or magazine editor) who has no adopted children to encourage others to adopt, it really isn't – there's no need for him to preach what he hasn't practiced. Instead, he can encourage others to do what he has done (or what he now recognizes he should have done), which is to seriously and prayerfully consider it. Bringing an orphan child into your home may be difficult, costly, even scary, but it is, above all, godly. Will you consider it? ***** John Piper on adoption: It may be difficult but... "The pain of adopting and rearing children is sure. It will come in one form or the other. Should that stop us from having children or adopting children? No. The self-centered world “cuts their losses” by having few or no children. (And there is way too much of that thinking in the church.) In one sense we may be very glad that such people don’t tend to have children or at least not many children. Because it means that breed of selfish person will die out more quickly since they don’t replace themselves. But on the other hand, we grieve, hoping that they will see that the grace of God is sufficient for every new day no matter how difficult, and that there is more true joy in walking with God through fire, than walking on beaches without him." - Piper, in an excerpt from his sermon, "Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory" which can be found online at www.DesiringGod.org....

Parenting

Helping our children listen well

Idol-making hearts plug up ears ***** It will not come as a shock that in Christian schools too, students will be inattentive. Teachers, coaches, pastors, volunteers, and community instructors notice and experience that some students are quick to interrupt and slow to listen and pay attention. As the instruction begins, it does not take long before a student has turned to their neighbor to have their own private conversation. One such conversation quickly becomes two, and before you know it, the instructor has to call a whole group of students back to attention Now, as teachers learn through experience, you often “get what you put up with.” So teachers have the responsibility to be clear with their classroom expectations and have the fortitude to follow through with consequences that have been clearly outlined before instruction has even taken place. Teachers need to demonstrate patience and the like, but they also need to consistently apply discipline to ensure that every student has the most conducive environment to learn in. In other words, teachers need to make sure that one segment of the student population does not “get away with” dragging the whole learning environment down. That’s what the teacher can do. But what of the student? I’d like to draw your attention to an issue that would be helpful to discuss around our dinner tables and with our children individually. And not so much as a once-off topic of discussion, but more as an ongoing conversation, similar to the common reminder that we all grew up with from mom and dad: “Did you remember to say thank-you?” This issue at its root, when you dig down into the human heart, has to do with idolatry manifesting itself as disrespectful behavior towards adults. It has to do with what heart attitude our children bring to the classroom, gym, workshop, catechism room, and the like. Allow me to explain. Listen my son… In the book of Proverbs, Solomon repeatedly reminds his son to listen, such as in chapter 4:1: “Listen, my son, to a father’s instruction; pay attention and gain understanding” (see also Prov. 1:8, 4:10, etc.). He urges listening because He knows that God uses parents, and other authority figures, in the lives of children to point them to know Christ. Children learn God’s ways through their parents, and through the other Christian adults that He places into their lives. Solomon is also aware that children (and adults too!) have little idol factories going on in their hearts. Their inclination is to be king on their own little thrones and prone to thinking that their short life experiences teach them enough to make up their own mind on how things should go. I am my own boss; I choose when I get to speak and I’ll choose when I wish to be quiet and listen. I serve myself and my own needs…rather than God and the authority figures God has placed in my life. Now, maybe that seems to be going too deep. Our children are not likely to say, “Oh yes, my speaking out of turn or interrupting my adult instructor… yep, that’s clearly idolatry. I should stop setting up myself as the little god in my life.” Nevertheless, the Bible is clear; that’s what’s happening. And that’s where we, as parents, need to go when our children demonstrate a lack of respect for their adult instructors. Otherwise, we just end up putting a Band-Aid on the “sore.” Going to the “heart of the matter” is the only way to bring lasting change. Big impact, for good or ill I would also add this thought: as our children get older, they end up in learning situations that go beyond the regular school classroom. In our communities we “leverage” adults who are not qualified teachers. These include coaches, bakers, artists, woodworkers, driving instructors, 4H leaders, horticulturalists, runners, bosses…you name it. When you add up the number of adults that are instructing our youth from middle school onwards, the list is actually quite long. How much more reason to train our children that interrupting adult instructors by blurting, having our own private conversations, rolling the eyes, a disparaging look, a bored countenance, etc., is not only unacceptable as a child of the Lord but it also becomes very wearisome on those that are doing the teaching, who, in many cases, are giving their time as a gift to the school. Any experienced teacher will tell you that having students that lack the self-control to actively listen to 5-10 minutes of instruction can really drag down the learning environment and also leads to distracting the attention of others. Getting the conversations started So, is this issue something new? No, not really. Wherever you have a group of excited students together, the inclination and temptation to be distracted is always there. At the same time, I think this issue probably sits in our parental “blind spot” at times and I do think it needs our attention. Regular conversation and a checking in with our children can make a big difference for all the instructors that show up in our children’s lives. We can ask them a question like: “How was your focus and attention in class today?” “What strategies are you using to eliminate distractions?” “Are you standing or sitting away from friends that you know will lead you to disrupt the class”? “Do you take the time to apologize to your teacher when you are disciplined for disrupting classroom instruction (or for any other misbehavior for that matter)?” “Do you show respect to the adults (and peers) in your life with your words, body language, and written communications?” This is worth making a regular topic of conversation at home, and not so that our kids can be “good kids.” What we really want is to help them learn to think Christianly about their attitude towards authority, and in particular, how they listen to instruction....

Parenting

Raising children who despise themselves

It seems like such a simple thing. You ask your child to do something and in response, he quietly keeps playing with his toy. If the day is laid back and the request seems inconsequential, the negative response might be ignored. But, you decide to press on, so you ask again, this time a little more firmly, and then one more time. Your four-year-old grudgingly, slowly does as he was told. You breathe a sigh of relief, no harm done, at least he obeyed. But actually this little boy has taken a step down the road to self-hatred. Solomon warns that those who disregard discipline despise themselves. What appears to be just an inconsequential delay is actually helping a child to despise himself. Look at Proverbs 15:31-32 Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. In contrast, your role as a parent is to raise children who embrace obedience in the same way that Jesus did (Ephesians 4:13). When this boy embraces correction, he not only does well in the moment but he is learning to value the company of people who love wisdom. But when he rejects discipline he is on a path that leads to self-loathing. To reject discipline is to invest in one’s own judgment, not a good idea. He is headed toward the awful fate of the young man in Proverbs 5:1-14, who had come to the point of ruin because he rejected correction. The goal of obedience is to do exactly what is directed, right away, with a pleasant, willing attitude. Anything less is self-accommodation on the part of both the parent and the child and is leading the child to despise himself! So what appears to be a harmless exchange of little consequence is really the beginning of a child learning to not trust God and despise himself. Solomon is not mincing words in Proverbs 15. He is making an urgent plea to remember this warning the next time your child refuses to obey exactly, quickly and with a pleasant, willing spirit. Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

Two qualities dads should look for in boys who want to date our daughters ***** Here's a topic that's best to get to too early rather than too late - what sort of men should our daughters marry? Dads are going to have a lot of input in this decision, one way or another. If we actively try to influence our daughters – by example, through conversation, and by requiring interested young men to talk to us first – we'll point them to a certain sort of man. And if we don't talk about what makes a man marriable, if we aren't a good example of a godly man and good husband, and if we have no role in our daughter's dating life, then we'll point them to another sort of man. What kind of man do we want for our daughters? The answer is simple when we keep the description broad: a man who loves the Lord, and will be a good leader to his wife and children, who’s hardworking, and also active in his church. But what does this type of man look like as a boy? If our daughters are dating and getting married young, they'll unavoidably have a "work in progress." That's a description that fits all of us – sanctification is a lifelong process – but which is even more true for a boy/man in his late teens who hasn't yet shouldered the responsibilities of providing for himself, let alone a family. It's hard, at this point, to take the measure of the man he will become. How do we evaluate potential suitors when there isn't a lot of track record to look back on? We need to find out how they react to light and to leadership. 1. Light And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” – John 3:19-21 Does a young man love the light? This is a characteristic that is easy for us dads to check up on. It's as simple as asking his parents if they know where he is on Friday and Saturday nights. Does he think it's no big deal to tell his parents where he will be? Or does he want to keep what he's up to a mystery? Does he have a problem with having his parents around when friends come over? Or has he introduced all his friends to them? When he goes out to other friends' houses does his group pick spots where parents are home? Or do they want their privacy? Many young men in our congregations are planning or attending events that take place late at night and far away from parental, or any other type of, supervision. They may not have a specific intent to get drunk or do other foolishness, but by fleeing from the light they've created the opportunity. A teen who tells his parents that it is none of their business where he is going is a boy who loves the dark. Another question to ask: does he have monitoring software on his computer – Covenant Eyes, for example – and would he be willing to show his smartphone to you? Would he be happy to let you know where he's been on the Internet? This would be a young man who is unafraid of, and loves, the Light. 2. Leaders Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her... – Ephesians 5:25 There's a reason that young women are attracted to "bad boys." When the other young men they know are doing nothing all that bad and nothing at all remarkable, then an arrogant kid who doesn't care what anyone thinks can look like leadership material. He, at least, is not lukewarm. But this is the last man we would want for our daughters. His "leadership" recognizes no authority but his own. In contrast, God tells us that as heads to our wives we are called to serve, imitating Christ. Godly men don't dominate their wives; they die for them. So how can dads spot this sort of servant leadership in young men? It shows itself in big ways and little. In a church service, does he hold the songbook for his sister? Or does he have his hands in his pockets while his sister holds the book for him? Does he sing? Or is he too cool (too lukewarm) to praise God with enthusiasm? How does he treat his mom? If he treats her with respect – if he readily submits to authority – that is a good sign that he can be entrusted with authority. If he treats his mother shamefully, yelling at her, and ignoring what she asks, every young lady should beware! If he's a terror to someone placed over him, we don't need to guess how he will treat those under his authority. Another question to consider: did he take the servant-leader role in the relationship right from the beginning? In any boy-girl dynamic, someone has to be the first to say "I like you" and with that comes the very real risk of being the only one to say it. When that happens, it stings. So was this boy willing to stick his neck out for your daughter? Was he willing to risk looking the fool so she wouldn't have to? Or did he wait for her to take the lead and ask him out? How does he take correction? Any boy who dates our daughter is going to be, at best, a godly man partly formed. While we are all works in progress, not all of us recognize this – arrogant young men think themselves beyond the need of correction. If a potential suitor bristles at any suggestion from his elders, or if he's unwilling to apologize when he's wrong, then he is definitely the wrong sort for our daughters. We, instead, want the young man who, as we read in Proverbs 15:32, "heeds correction gains understanding." Conclusion Young men hoping to get married are aspiring to a leadership role. But while marriage makes a man a leader, it won't magically make him a good one. Fortunately, leadership is a skill that can be learned, and love of the Light something we can grow in. So fathers shouldn't be expecting perfection. But we also shouldn't settle for lukewarm. It's one thing for a young man to not yet be the leader he could be, and something else entirely for him to not be aspiring to this role or preparing for it. It's one thing for a young man to not be seeking the Light as consistently or vigorously as he should, and another for him to be fleeing from it. Fathers, we want our daughters to marry young men who love the Lord and want to honor Him in their roles as husband, father, and elder. Let's be sure, then, that we teach them to look for true leaders who love the light. A French version of this article can be found by clicking here....

Parenting, Politics

Exposing the poor research fueling the anti-spanking campaign

“Spanking is linked to aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, cognitive difficulties, low self-esteem, and a whole host of other negative outcomes.” So declared a 2016 news article from Good Housekeeping, one of dozens of articles reporting on the latest overview of research on physical discipline. That 2016 overview not only condemned spanking, but went out of its way to make the case that its results also applied to the type of physical discipline that is both legal and commonly practiced. In other words, it argued that all forms of spanking are bad all the time.1 So where does such research leave all those who thought that physical discipline can be beneficial and appropriate when done in a controlled and loving way? The answer matters a lot, especially since the anti-spanking movement has received a lot of momentum in Canada. During the 2015 federal election, Canada’s Liberal party promised that, if elected, it would get rid of Section 43 of our Criminal Code – this is the section that allows parents to use appropriate physical discipline. Thankfully that did not follow through on that promise. But if that section is ever removed, the result will be that all parents who use physical discipline will be treated by the law as criminals and abusers. So it is important, then, that we take a closer look at the research. And when we do so, we’ll discover our confidence in the appropriateness and legality of physical discipline doesn’t need to be shaken. It is vital that we educate not only ourselves, but share this truth with our neighbors, and especially our legislators, before it’s too late. New spin – same flawed research The lead author of the 2016 study was Dr. Elizabeth Gershoff, a University of Texas researcher who has dedicated much of her career to opposing physical discipline. Her overview was an updated version of a previous meta-analysis she did (a meta-analysis uses statistics to combine the results of many studies on the same topic, with the goal of getting more precise average results). The news stories explained that her overview was based on studies of over 150,000 children, spanning over 50 years, which sounds really impressive but really just amounts to running new statistical analyses on the same kind of research that several experts have been summarizing for the past decades. None of the other experts supported an absolute anti-spanking conclusion from their summaries of the same kind of research.2-7 One of the reasons why Dr. Gershoff and her research partner Dr. Andrew Gorgan-Kaylor (hereafter G&G) updated their meta-analysis was to address a concern expressed about her previous research, namely that it failed to distinguish appropriate physical discipline from types of physical aggression that the law already criminalizes as abuse. It lumped measured, calm spankings in with the beatings given by enraged, out-of-control parents. So how useful could these findings be when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of just the calm and collected spankings? The answer is, not very. Indeed, that is one of the arguments that ARPA Canada made in our policy report on corporal discipline that we sent to all MPs and Senators in 2014, and have defended on CBC radio and in the Vancouver Sun since. Those advocating that spanking be a criminal activity have never been able to respond to the contrary. We explained over and again that research that did take the time to isolate appropriate physical discipline did not find negative outcomes – in fact, physical discipline was shown to be as good as or better than all other forms of discipline. Three fallacies Another expert on the topic is Dr. Robert E. Larzelere, from Oklahoma State University (hereafter RL). He examined G&G’s latest overview and quickly found it to be wanting. RL pointed out that only four of the 75 studies in the meta analysis examined whether appropriate spanking does more harm than good when nonphysical methods were ineffective. Those four studies proved that spanking was better than two of the three alternatives investigated, and was equally as effective as the third alternative (forced isolation).8-11 So how then did G&G come to the conclusion that spanking was always bad? Her conclusion came from the other 71 studies and included three fallacies. RL exposed the following three fallacies:  Fallacy #1 – Correlation G&G’s conclusions rely entirely on the studies’ correlations – for example, children who were spanked more often tend to be more aggressive. But even a high school student understands that correlation does not prove causation. In fact, it could well be that aggressive children were spanked more often because they were aggressive. As RL points out, this type of research would even make radiation treatment look harmful since patients receiving radiation treatment have more cancer than those who don’t.12 Fallacy #2 – Extrapolation G&G conclude that spanking should simply not be done. It is a similar conclusion that the Truth and Reconciliation Report came to in 2015, in their effort to address the fallout from the now-infamous  Residential Schools. That report led to the Liberal government promising to repeal Section 43 of the Criminal Code. But do the studies actually bear this out? RL explains that only one of the studies in the entire meta-analysis compared a group that was never spanked to one that was, and that study actually proved that spanking had a beneficial effect.13 The authors wrongly extrapolated their conclusion based on the faulty correlational evidence. Even worse, two studies that did take the time to compare individuals who were never spanked with those who were, conveniently were left out of the meta-analysis.14,15 The fact that overly frequent spanking correlates with worse child outcomes does not necessarily mean that no spanking will lead to the best outcomes. It could instead mean that the best parents use spanking only when needed – but not more often than that. Fallacy # 3 – Lumping Although G&G went out of their way to emphasize that this study proves that spanking is bad even when done carefully and in keeping with the law, the reality is that only 4 of the 75 studies relied specifically on “hitting a child on their buttocks…using an open hand.” The truth has not changed, no matter how it is hidden or confused – the research that properly examines the effect of appropriate spanking shows it to be as good as, or better than, all other disciplinary tactics. RL expressed his regrets about the poor research exemplified in G&G’s overview, not just because it undermines appropriate physical discipline but also because it undermines efforts to discover other disciplinary tactics that may also be effective. Their reliance on correlational evidence is biased against every form of discipline, including time-outs, making the most effective disciplinary responses appear to be harmful. Does that mean that all discipline is harmful? The authors don’t go that far in this overview, but they have already claimed that “we don’t know anything that works” based on another study in which they investigated 10 other disciplinary methods using the same biased correlations.16 We all need to expose the dangerous research The sad reality is that truth and objectivity don’t matter much when a publication comes to the conclusion that others want to see to bolster their worldview or political objectives. The mainstream media loves to publish stories like these, and the fact that they come from peer-reviewed journals means they accept the conclusions as fact. To add to this, there are very, very few people who are willing to publicly defend something as politically incorrect as spanking. Who wants to be lumped in with child abusers? This risk of being misquoted is too great. I’m aware of only two or three people/organizations in this country that are willing to even touch this issue. The Overton Window concept explains that there is a range of ideas that the public will accept. That range shifts over time. An idea can move from something that is considered radical, to controversial, to acceptable, to popular, to public policy. Alternatively, it can go the other way too. Something like euthanasia was controversial five years ago but has quickly shifted to public policy today. Likewise, spanking can go from being lawful today to being criminalized ten years from now. If we believe parents are the appropriate authorities to determine which form of loving discipline is most appropriate for their children (so long as it is not abusive), it is crucial that we seize the opportunity to speak up in defense of Section 43 while it is still considered acceptable. Not only is the research on our side, the Supreme Court of Canada already examined this issue in 2004 and upheld Section 43. They went so far as to conclude that the decision not to criminalize such conduct is not grounded in devaluation of the child, but in a concern that to do so risks ruining lives and breaking up families — a burden that in large part would be borne by children and outweigh any benefit derived from applying the criminal process. Conclusion This is an example of an issue where education is vital – we need to educate our legislators about the facts of the matter before they step in line with a government bill that would criminalize spanking. Once a law is passed, most parents would understandably not want to risk having their children removed from their homes and will likely abandon physical discipline. If you want to uphold parental authority in child-rearing, please consider doing the following: Pray for courage, grace, and winsomeness; Read ARPA’s policy report on the matter at ARPACanada.ca (click on the publications menu) Email your MP to ask for a meeting to discuss this matter – follow up with a phone call if they don’t respond. Take a friend/family member along with you; Use the meeting to present them with the solid research and be sure to communicate your motivation so they don’t wrongly conclude we are seeking to hurt children in any way; Spread the word – share this article and encourage others to do the same. End Notes Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A. Spanking and child outcomes: Old controversies and new meta-analyses. Journal of Family Psychology. 2016. Larzelere RE. A review of the outcomes of parental use of nonabusive or customary physical punishment. Pediatrics. 1996;98:824-828. Larzelere RE. Child outcomes of nonabusive and customary physical punishment by parents: An updated literature review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review.2000;3:199-221. Horn IB, Joseph JG, Cheng TL. Nonabusive physical punishment and child behavior among African-American children: A systematic review. Journal of the National Medical Association. Sep 2004;96(9):1162-1168. Larzelere RE, Kuhn BR. Comparing child outcomes of physical punishment and alternative disciplinary tactics: A meta-analysis. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 2005;8:1-37. Paolucci EO, Violato C. A meta-analysis of the published research on the affective, cognitive, and behavioral effects of corporal punishment. Journal of Psychology. 2004;138:197-221. Ferguson CJ. Spanking, corporal punishment and negative long-term outcomes: A meta-analytic review of longitudinal studies. Clinical Psychology Review. 2013;33:196-208. Roberts MW, Powers SW. Adjusting chair timeout enforcement procedures for oppositional children. Behavior Therapy. 1990;21:257-271. Bean AW, Roberts MW. The effect of time-out release contingencies on changes in child noncompliance. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1981;9:95-105. Day DE, Roberts MW. An analysis of the physical punishment component of a parent training program. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 1983;11:141-152. Roberts MW. Enforcing chair timeouts with room timeouts. Behavior Modification. 1988;12:353-370. Larzelere RE, Baumrind D. Are spanking injunctions scientifically supported? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2010;73(2):57-88. Tennant FS, Jr., Detels R, Clark V. Some childhood antecedents of drug and alcohol abuse. American Journal of Epidemiology. 1975;102:377-385. Gunnoe ML. Associations between parenting style, physical discipline, and adjustment in adolescents' reports. Psychological Reports: Disability & Trauma. 2013;112(3):933-975. Ellison CG, Musick MA, Holden GW. Does conservative Protestantism moderate the association between corporal punishment and child outcomes? Journal of Marriage and Family. 2011;73(5):946-961. Gershoff ET, Grogan-Kaylor A, Lansford JE, et al. Parent discipline practices in an international sample: Associations with child behaviors and moderation by perceived normativeness. Child Development. 2010;81(2):487-502. A version of this article first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue under the title “New spin – same flawed research.” Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of ARPA Canada....

Parenting

"I will fight for our young people. Will you?" – a pastor’s plea to Christian parents

This essay comes from the heart as a passionate plea to parents out of our shared concern for our covenant children. It is difficult to pastor a flock in a conservative church today, but not for the reasons that you might think. It is not that we are constantly being attacked from the outside for our music, confessions, and worship style. Such attacks happen but most people who come to us find what we are doing to be unique and refreshing, especially if they are from a broadly evangelical background. That visitors embrace what we are doing in worship has been one of the pleasant surprises of the ministry. The True Source Of Challenge To The Church Some of the biggest challenges in ministry come from inside the church, particularly parents between the ages of 45–60. There is one issue that has produced the struggle: their young people are leaving the church. Many parents have watched for years the same old story happen over and over. As soon as a young person returns from college, that child shows little to no interest in attending church. This is a source of frustration and even grief for Christian parents. I share that concern. In response, parents are sometimes tempted to blame the church for the way their children now view the church. Desperate to find a way to attract their wandering children, worried parents demand the church to change in some way to attract and retain their young people. This move, church-blaming, creates an unhappy environment of disgruntlement and embarrassment over the identity of their local church — they adopt the criticisms of the Reformed Churches made by our broadly evangelical friends: they are “sticks in the mud,” “stuffy,” etc. How does a Reformed Church compare when the church next door offers a consumer-driven Christianity? Worried parents, however, sometimes give little thought to how they themselves may have contributed to the problem. A Reformed Pastor’s Commitment To Your Children These are ways I commit to fight for the youth of our church.  God helping me: I will love your young people enough to preach the whole counsel of God to them.  I am committed to God’s Word and I will tell them the whole truth. I will call your young people to repentance and faith. This won’t be easy.  Some who have yet to profess their faith will not like to be told they are wrong. The law will hurt. Some may get angry at the stances I am called to take. It may at times seem like we’re losing the battle but I’m committed to this fight for your young people.  I will make known to them the riches of Jesus Christ and his gospel. They will never be left without a way of escape from judgment. I want them to enjoy Christ and his forgiveness and live in his peace. I will stand for truth and expose error. I will not pander to sinful desires for false worship and golden calves. We live in day when people do not like to see a minister saying that anyone or anything is wrong, but I promise to tell them what is wrong and who is wrong (as the inspired NT authors did) to protect them from the path of hell. I will pray for your young people. The battle for your children is one that must be fought with prayer. My door is always open for you to come to my study and pray with me for them Positive Steps For Worried Covenant Parents Here are five ways parents can join in the spiritual fight for their young people to help stop the trend: Bring them to church and show a delight for the gospel. If you truly believe that the preaching of the gospel is the power of God to save those who believe (Rom 10:13–18; Heidelberg 65), then do all in your power to have your children in worship at a very young age. Do not let them leave to children’s church. Train their minds to listen to a sermon. It is God’s way of grace to them. They must learn and see from you where the true power of God is found, in the Word.  Hold it high, and they will too. Speak well of your pastor and leaders. Great damage is done when you speak evil of the church, the pastor, or the leaders before your children. If you want them to have a positive view of the church, you must show them one. Please realize that before disgruntlement often comes a refusal to accept God’s Word. A disgruntled and complaining spirit is a certain recipe to drive them out. Be willing to tell your children the truth and call them to repentance through loving discipline. Too many parents are scared of their young people and let them do whatever they want to do. You are responsible to discipline them and speak the truth to them in love. There is right and wrong, teach and expose them both. If you stand for nothing, so will they. Why then would you expect them to stay in church? Be an example to them in life of what it means to be godly. J.C. Ryle commenting on Lot’s worldliness says, “Lingering parents seldom have godly children. The eye of the child drinks in far more than the ear. A child will always observe what you do much more than what you say.” Be an example to them in doctrine and in life. Train them and pray for them. This means gathering at the table to catechize and pray for them before their ears. It also means praying that God would give them new life by his sovereign Holy Spirit. How many people are bringing your child’s name in prayer to the throne of grace? What a tragedy if God never hears from you about the salvation of your children. So dear parents, I made a commitment to fight for your young people. Will you? Chris Gordon is the Preaching Pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church. This article first appeared on the Abounding Grace Radio blog and is reprinted here with permission....

CD Review, Music, Parenting

CD REVIEWS: Bach and Beethoven for kids (and adults)

C.S. Lewis once made mention of a man who did not like children. Now some of our dislikes are simply a matter of taste – whether your favorite ice cream is chocolate or vanilla says nothing about your character – but this man recognized that his disregard for little ones was wrong. There is a beauty in little children, a wonder about what God has done in making these tiny new people that everyone really should appreciate. If a man doesn't, it is because of something missing in the man. Lewis was making the point that there is such a thing as good and bad taste – all is not mere opinion. When it comes to classical music I'm like this man. I've never appreciated it, but I recognize this as a deficiency in myself. I should like it. After all, this is music that has stood that test of time. We play Beethoven and Bach's music centuries after it was first written; does anyone think the same will be done for Lady Gaga, Beyonce, or Justin Timberlake? Even those of us who don't like Bach know that in a real tangible way he is better than Beyonce. Since having kids I've hoped that my daughters' musical tastes will be better developed than their dad's. So I was very happy to come across these two CDs: Beethoven Lives Upstairs and Bach Comes to Call. Each is a dramatized account of the composer's life, sprinkled throughout with a liberal dose of their music. In Bach Comes to Call (47 min) Bach appears in modern times, under unexplained circumstances, to a girl who is having a hard time getting her piano homework done. The composer encourages young Elizabeth by telling her the story of his own childhood and musical triumphs. In Beethoven Lives Upstairs (46 min) we are introduced to a little boy who has the misfortune to live below Beethoven's apartment. Beethoven, it turns out, is demanding, short-tempered, and makes the strangest sounds as he paces in his room. The boy airs his complaints to an understanding uncle who teaches the young boy to empathize with this great composer, who hears wonderful music in his head, but who can no longer hear it with his ears. How very frustrating that must be! A couple cautions to note. First, there is a moment in Beethoven Lives Upstairs that might lead to a little tittering. The boy complains that Beethoven was laughed at by little children who, while peering through his window, saw he was composing while wearing no clothes at all! Not a big thing, but it might have been nice to leave that detail out. Second, my wife and I have listened to other CDs and DVDs in this "Classical Kids" series and have yet to find any others we would want to recommend, so don't assume they will all be good. These two, however, are excellent, and a great way to foster a love of classical music in kids, and maybe even their dads. ...

Parenting, Pro-life - Fostering

Why you should consider fostering

May is Foster Care Awareness Month and I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little of our journey with the hope and prayer that it will spur you to think about it for yourself. Our road into foster care wasn’t an overnight, or easy, decision. For years we had concerns and questions about it, and convinced ourselves it was not something we could do. Foster care was something that other people did, and good for them, but we could never do that. However, over time God worked in our hearts and opened our eyes to the huge need.  We also got answers to our questions/concerns (or, at least most of them) and at the end of the day we really didn’t know why we wouldn’t move forward into foster care. We truly believe foster care is something everyone should consider (though I understand it is not something everyone is in the right stage to do). Why should everyone consider it? Because God is concerned about the orphaned. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” – James 1:27a “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.” – Deut. 10:18 “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families...” – Psalm 68:5-6a As the church, can’t we do better than what we are currently doing? So is fear of the unknown the only thing holding you back? Then let me share some of our experiences. We have now been licensed for five months and have welcomed 2 baby boys, a 15-month-old girl, and a 7-year-old girl into our home. It’s been hard, it’s been awesome, it’s been every single emotion possible, but through it we have seen the goodness of our awesome Father. It is for His glory that we welcome these orphans into our home and show them an outpouring of love, as He has so generously loved us! We've also felt the communion of saints come around us, both in prayer and practicality. We are so grateful for the baby items, clothes, and meals that have been given to us. Perhaps something we were not prepared for was learning that not only do you welcome a child into your home, but a whole team of people: social workers, child advocates, doctors, and our wonderful foster care agency. In what follows I list some of the fears that we had, and that I now hear from others. I would love to debunk these to help clear the path for you to move forward in faith on the road towards orphan care. “I would get too attached.” Absolutely! You will! And what a beautiful thing that will be for a child who, potentially, has never felt an attachment, or who is going through a tumultuous, trauma-filled life-changing event of being removed from their home. It is a blessing to be able to give that gift to a child, and if you are someone who’s worried about getting too attached, then you’re probably someone who should go into foster care. As Reframing Foster Care author Jason Johnson has said: “Foster care means choosing the pain of a great loss if it means a child has received the gain of a great love.” Isn’t that right there the beautiful gospel message? “It will affect my biological children.” Absolutely! It will! Foster care will teach them things about sin, the world, the brokenness of humanity in such a way that they will learn compassion, kindness and hospitality. They will open their hearts to a child, they will learn flexibility and their hearts will be broken in a way that brings them to their knees.  They will see that time heals, that God is in control, and even if a child has left our home we can pray for them forever. These are life long lessons that will, Lord willing, travel with them into adulthood. “I don’t have enough space.” Did you know you don’t need separate rooms for foster kids?  The rules might be more flexible than you think. (We live in Washington State and licensing rules might be different where you are). Depending on ages there are some restrictions for who can share with who, but don’t let the space issue hold you back! Last weekend, we had 3 girls in one room. Kids don’t need a big house, or a lot of space - they need love, safety, comfort and someone who will provide that their needs are met.  What a gift to be able to provide that to a child in need, in the same way our Heavenly Father provides those things for us, his people! “I couldn’t take a _____ year old into my house.” You have a say as to what age the children will be who you are comfortable with welcoming into your home! If you think you could only handle a child under the age of 2, you can say that! If you only would like to take in teens, you can do that!  As time goes on, what you’re comfortable with will change, and you can change your preferences. There are SO many children in need! “Right now is not the right time.” I agree, there are times in life that could be a bad time for your family to take on foster care. (Examples such as financial trouble/hardship, family or marriage hardship, illness). That said, I implore you to dig really deep to discover your motives in waiting for the “right time.” Did Jesus wait for “the right time” to heal those that needed healing? No! We can always look for reasons or excuses to put off doing the right thing. It’s our human nature. I was there, I get it. Approaching this question of “the right time” with prayer and humility is the only way. We are not meant to feel “comfortable” on this earth! We have a heavenly goal and must press on towards it in faith! (Phil. 3:14) Conclusion In Washington State where I live there are approximately 10,000 children in foster care and the need is great everywhere else too. Even if it’s just one child’s life you touch, what a gift you’re giving to them!! I ask you to please pray and consider.  Read the book Reframing Foster Care by Jason Johnson. It’s a short, easy, read and well worth it. And if you aren’t led to go into foster care, please consider how you can be a support to those that are. I’ll end with a convicting quote from Jason Johnson. To God be the glory, and it is my prayer that you readers will soon be starting your own foster care journey, with Him as your guide! “You may not see it now – you may not ever see it fully in this lifetime – but what you’re doing is of eternal significance. Fix your eyes there – on eternity – but be faithful here, today... and tomorrow, and then next week, trusting God with the outcome as you experience the beauty and pain and struggle and wonder of walking with Him along the journey. Daily, faithfully keep walking, keep making deposits into their lives, and keep trusting that what’s completely out of your control is absolutely in His. His sovereignty is our sanity ... and our faithfulness is enough.”...

Parenting, Popular but problematic

Patricia Polacco gets woke

In my idyllic and very Christian small town I keep forgetting that even here there’s a spiritual war going on. This past weekend I got a reminder in amongst the books we borrowed from the public library when two titles were pushing the same agenda. The first was by well-loved children's author Patricia Polacco about a family with two moms. God's view of marriage – as being between a man and woman – was represented in the story by a snarling, glaring neighbor. The second was a chapter book about a girl competing in a TV game show who had two dads. While we parents should know what our kids are reading, if you have a child who reads a lot this becomes harder and harder to keep up with as they get older. But, as the Adversary knows, you are what you eat. And if he can sneak in a diet of "homosexuality is normal," he can win our kids over before parents even know a battle is happening. So, what's the answer? Should we monitor our children’s book intake closer? That's part of it. Should we rely on Christian school libraries more (if you have access to one)? That seems a good idea. Would it be wise to invest in a high-quality personal home library – only fantastic (and not simply safe) books? That’s a great idea. But, as our kids get older, it's going to come down to talking through this propaganda to equip them to see through it. It will mean explaining to them that we oppose homosexuality because God does, and that even in prohibiting homosexuality God shows his goodness. As Cal Thomas put it: “God designed norms for behavior that are in our best interests. When we act outside those norms – such as for premarital sex, adultery, or homosexual sex – we cause physical, emotional, and spiritual damage to ourselves and to our wider culture. The unpleasant consequences of divorce and sexually transmitted diseases are not the result of intolerant bigots seeking to denigrate others. They are the results of violating God’s standard, which were made for our benefit.” We have to share with our children that our Maker knows what is best for us, and homosexuality isn't it. Like many an idol (money, sex, family, career, drugs) it might even bring happiness for a time, but, like every other idol, it doesn't bring lasting joy, it won't save us, and it will distance us from the God who can....

Parenting

Kids and alcohol: parents are more influential than they may know!

Your teen is at a party with some of the “coolest” young people he knows. He’s encouraged to have a drink (“Come on, it’s only one!”)… and then another. Peer pressure doesn’t really allow for a negative response and reluctantly he downs the alcoholic beverages. After several, he’s not only lost count, he’s also lost his sense of reasoning and restraint. He’s a good boy, a nice boy, but what’s he going to do now that he’s drunk? Studies done in Australia, the United States, and Canada show that many parents feel they have no control over how their son or daughter behaves in social drinking scenarios or simply do not believe their children consume alcohol. However, over 90 per cent of research supports the opposite: parents' behavior and attitudes are indeed powerful tools when it comes to teaching a teenager the do's and don'ts about drinking. A father or mother, convinced that Johnny or Jackie doesn't partake in alcohol use, may be in denial. Perhaps that’s the easiest way to deal with the issue, but it’s hardly an effective method. Another view that occasionally shows up among parents is the attitude that alcohol abuse is part of growing up: “you are only young once.” Yes, drinking alcohol is part of life, but not the abuse of it. What did Jesus do? There is nothing wrong with having a drink. Alcohol was present in the Bible and Jesus Himself drank alcohol (Luke 7:33-35) and approved of its moderate consumption. Also, studies have shown that having a glass of wine each day is a healthy practice. So alcohol itself is not the problem. It’s what you do after you’ve had that drink that counts. This is where parental support and guidance comes in. Survey after survey proves that teenagers are much better equipped to handle social drinking and peer pressure when they have been raised to respect powerful drugs such as alcohol and are introduced to it in the home environment. An introduction to alcohol in this setting delays the onset of regular usage and most often produces people who are only light drinkers. The saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side” comes to mind: if a child has access to the occasional glass of liquor at home to be enjoyed as a family, chances are he or she won’t go looking for it elsewhere. A teenager’s developing sense of responsibility is in need of molding by the loving hand of a parent to arm them for future decisions. On the other hand, research indicates that harsh parenting or harsh discipline and high levels of conflict are connected to adolescent alcohol abuse. As in so many other settings, communication is crucial. Explain your actions to one another and talk about it with love and respect. Parents influence peer pressure A report, by researchers at Columbia University and Queens College and published in Adolescent and Family Health, found that young people select friends who share their attitudes about drinking. And these attitudes have been shaped by observing their parents. Therefore, the peer group largely reinforces what young people have already learned from their parents. Parents are more influential than they may know. Learning from Europeans? David J. Hanson, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the State University of New York has put together a website called Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. On this site one article explains that: In spite of the fact that most Europeans promote responsibility and moderation by introducing alcohol to their children within the protective and supportive environment of the home, we ignore their successful example by denying children meaningful alcohol education in the false belief that young people can't handle alcohol. Our actions lead them to drink in uncontrolled environments, such as in cars, hanging around street corners with their friends, at unsupervised parties, and similar undesirable situations. These are the worst possible environments in which to learn appropriate drinking behaviors. When our unprepared young people subsequently fail to drink appropriately, we see that as "proof" that young people shouldn't drink. In this way, our society is creating the problems it fears. In another article on the site he notes: When children are served alcohol by their parents, drinking problems are generally low. When children are prevented from drinking until an older age, drinking problems tend to be high. The evidence is overwhelming. Another pertinent piece reads: Instead of stigmatizing alcohol and trying to scare children into abstaining, we need to recognize that it is not alcohol itself but rather the misuse of alcohol that is the problem. Hanson adds: "We need to prepare our children to live in a largely drinking world." Resisting peer pressure Saying “no” under pressure isn’t easy, but it becomes easier with time and practice and is a true character builder. We can teach our children to practice refusing drinks politely. They can turn it into a joke and say something clever like “No thanks, I'm performing neurosurgery in the morning” or “It sloshes too much when I jog,” or an honest and simple “no thank you.” They’ll be happy you prepared them; if not right away, then certainly in the future. As Thomas Jefferson once said: “In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Drinking responsibly is a sign of maturity and good judgment. The medical case It may also be worth telling your children about some of the detrimental effects caused by overuse of alcohol. It affects the brain, especially if in a growing child; it is a leading cause of many kinds of cancer, and can lead to psychological issues, not to mention injury, assault, and road accidents. Investigations published by the American Medical Association shares the following: Adolescent drinkers scored worse than non-users on vocabulary, general information, memory, memory retrieval and at least three other tests. Verbal and nonverbal information recall was most heavily affected, with a 10 per cent performance decrease in alcohol users. Significant neuropsychological deficits exist in early to middle adolescents with histories of extensive alcohol use. Adolescent drinkers perform worse in school, are more likely to fall behind and have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. Alcohol affects the sleep cycle, resulting in impaired learning and memory as well as disrupted release of hormones necessary for growth and maturation Alcohol use increases risk of stroke among young drinkers Humanly speaking, reason enough to know your limits. Don’t be naive Doing research on this topic, I came across the website of Christianity Today where I read the following: Statistics show that many Christian kids experiment with alcohol in much the same way as their non-Christian peers....Libby, a mother of preteens who was raised in a churchgoing home, recalls drinking heavily when she was in high school and college. "I’m not really sure why I did. All of the kids were doing it, even the church group," she remembers. "My parents never said anything; I don’t think they realized I was drinking." Libby says her parents didn’t discuss alcohol with her. "I wish they had. I would at least have had a value or a moral context. I look back and feel such remorse about the danger I put myself and others in by driving and drinking." Alcohol abuse is indeed present in Christian circles. We cannot turn a blind eye to it. The Bible frequently mentions how God hates drunkenness and its effects (i.e. 1 Cor. 6:10). It gives us a clear picture that abuse was present then too. In Nelson’s Where To Find It In The Bible, the topic pertaining to alcohol has over 30 referrals such as “Noah’s drunkenness,” “Festive Wine,” and “False joy.” God has given us alcohol to use, not to abuse. Being blessed with children in a Christian setting is no guarantee for a positive outcome: we are human and make mistakes, and so will our children. However, our struggle to live as Christians should set us apart from those who have turned their backs on faith. Let’s encourage one another to limit our alcohol intake. The future is so much brighter being sober! This article first appeared in the June 2016 issue under the title "Alcohol and your kids."...

Parenting

Teaching boys to fight

Boys today are no longer expected to become warriors as a rite of passage to manhood. And that’s a good thing; I’m grateful that my sons did not have to physically kill an enemy to be considered men. Yet there was something very healthy and wholesome about boys needing to lay their lives on the line for the protection of another. Fighting to defend the weak has a way of developing a lad’s sense of worth. And the Bible certainly encourages lads to become fighters. Christians are warriors God, in the beginning, told Adam to “work and keep it” (Gen 2:15). The verb “keep” used here appears again in Gen 3:24 to describe what the angel at the entrance to the Garden was to do after Adam’s expulsion: with his flaming sword that turned every way he was to “guard” the way to the tree of life. We might think that the Garden was a place of peace void of danger, but omniscient God knew Satan had rebelled (or perhaps would yet rebel) and would attack his world. The man Adam was mandated to guard his territory and his home – and that involves fighting. The fact that he failed dismally in defending his home and family from outside attack does not free his offspring from the same responsibility. In line with that mandate from the beginning, Paul reminds the saints of Ephesus that Christians continue to “wrestle” (6:12) – a term that catches the concept of hand-to-hand combat. He adds that the battle is “not against flesh and blood” so that it needs to be fought with fists or guns, but is rather against “the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” – all terms that describe the very same devil and his demons that attacked mankind in Paradise. That’s why Paul instructs every Christian to “put on the whole armor of God” (6:11) and why Timothy was told to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12). It’s fact: Scripture mandates men to fight. I see two implications: Men need to see themselves as fighters and so actually get out there and fight. Those for whom they go to battle are first of all those entrusted to their care – and that’s primarily the family. There’s our role as Dads! The boys in the family need to be trained to become tomorrow’s fighters. That’s the question we will explore: how do we train our sons to fight? Army training Those who join the military must undergo rigorous training. The training invariably involves two aspects: classroom theory and physical practice. The same is true of Christian trainees preparing to fight the fight of faith. We commonly call the classroom theory “doctrine” and the physical practice “lifestyle.” These two elements to good training are obviously inseparable. Getting the classroom theory right is the first step in getting the fight right – and the second step is lots of practice. It’s striking that Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains 3 chapters of doctrine and then 3 chapters of Christian lifestyle – with the two sections connected by the hinge-word “therefore” in 4:1. The word “wrestle” (mentioned above) appears in the second section on lifestyle. If we are to master the field instruction of the “wrestling” of Eph 6:12, we need first to get the classroom theory of the first 3 chapters straight in our minds. That is true for mature fighters (in this article we’re applying that to the fathers) as well as for future fighters (that’s the sons). Classroom instruction Paul ends chapter 1 with the glorious proclamation of Christ’s ascension into heaven and his enthronement as King of kings and Lord of lords. Then he moves to chapter 2 to describe what enemies Christian fighters will encounter out in the field. What he says is highly instructive for Dads (and Moms) training their sons to be fighters. Says Paul: that future fighter yet in the cradle is (contrary to appearances) not angelic and innocent but is instead “dead in sin” (Eph. 2:1,5). From infancy, our dear little Johnny lives in step with the passions of his flesh, and from birth he carries out the desires of his body and mind (Eph. 2:3). We hate to admit it, but all of us who have ever lived for any length of time with a toddler in the house knows from experience that that little child is inherently selfish and wants to press on those around him that he’s the king of the castle – and you better listen to me now. That’s the passions of his flesh…. Adding to the challenges of that depravity, Paul continues, is the impulse of “the world” (2:2). That’s the fallen creation in which that child lives with its anti-God patterns of thought and behavior. From birth little Johnny is inhaling that hostility so that he’s as perfectly comfortable in this anti-God system as a fish is in water. More, because of his own deadness in sin, Johnny hungers for that anti-God system; it’s his food and drink. Furthermore, “the prince of the power of the air” – that’s the devil – is “at work in the sons of disobedience” (2:2) – and that definitely includes our dear little Johnny! And Johnny is absolutely wired to follow the devil’s work in his surroundings and in his heart. My point: we fathers (and mothers) need to train our boys from infancy to fight the sin within and battle the influences of the world attacking them. Those little children are not angelic but are in fact – as I heard someone put it – vipers in diapers. The fact that God claims Johnny for himself in his covenant of grace does not change this tragic bent in little Johnny’s heart nor does it change the fact that he’s daily inhaling the toxic anti-God pollution of the world in which he lives and it does not diminish either the hellishly subtle schemes of the devil and his demons against him. My conviction: in the classrooms of life we need to teach our children from infancy to think in terms of those three sworn enemies, the devil, the world and the infants’ own flesh. And as our children grow from infancy into toddlers and from there into childhood, we need to keep training them in the fields of life how to fight these three mortal enemies. There’s a reason why the PLO let children play with guns; their fathers wanted their sons to become fighters – and excel in the battle. In the field God’s instruction manual would have Dads train their children to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph 6:11). Dads do that by systematically reading the Bible with the children and speaking about God’s promises and obligations as caught in that passage (see 6:14-17). More, Dads pray with their children and for them (6:18). And they train the children – yes, children! – to turn off the TV when the program has foul language or nudity or selfishness (see 5:3-14). They train the children to cease the video game when the game turns to violence or murder or assault. Dads stop the program to make the children take the advertisement apart in order to weigh what was actually communicated. Dads do it because they know some foul language and a bit of nudity and the odd murder and some playful violence are devilish ploys to make our children think that evil is normal and a bit of evil is harmless. That’s the reason why Paul writes that “sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (5:3) and adds the instruction to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (5:11). These are instructions fathers need to train sons to follow. As the boys are attacked by the devil in the stuff of daily life, they learn to fight temptation and evil. Is there a problem? Of course, young soldiers will not follow where the general fears to go. In the family, Dad is the general. That becomes the question: when the children sneak out of bed to peak into the den, what do they see Dad watching on TV? Brothers, our children simply won’t buy into our training if they don’t see us fighting in step with the training we give them. Anybody who has parented for any length of time knows that our children figure out what actually happens in the secret corners of our lives. And they figure out too where we fail to engage the battle whole-heartedly. My point is this: it is we Dads first of all who need to put on, and keep on, that full armor of God – and that’s a reference to Bible study, committed prayer life, serious about living the faith. The children need to see that we are seriously wrestling with the enemy in our own decision-making, our own choices, our own tastes. More, the children need to see that we Dads are actively defending the domain God entrusted to us – and that’s first of all our own homes. We cannot close the windows of our homes so securely as to keep out the toxic air of the world outside and we cannot lock the doors either so tightly as to keep the demonic spirits of the air away from our children. In other words, we cannot prevent that the enemy lobs his bombs our way. But we can alert the children to Satan’s attacks and dress them in a way that ensures minimum damage. More, we can teach our children – through instruction and example – how to fight back and, in God’s strength, to say No to the enemy. That involves more than putting internet filters in your home; it involves also discussing issues with the children, answering their questions, analyzing a movie together, showing the children the two sides of a political or social issue and how to come to a God-pleasing solution, etc. It involves showing the children how you wrestle yourself with the issues of life, and how you respond when the enemy gets an arrow under your armor. It involves fighting beside your son, debating with your son, praying with him. Where we aren’t fighters ourselves, we can’t expect our children to become fighters! A version of this article first appeared on the Smithville Canadian Reformed Church blog where Rev. Bouwman is a pastor of the Word....

Parenting

The Golden Rule: the biblical response to self-pity

Sin is devastating. An eight-year-old tries to be kind to his older sister. She responds with, “That was stupid!”  Michael is crushed. He tried so hard to be nice and got trashed in return. Michael is tempted to engage in self-pity. Thankfully, Michael’s mom observed the confrontation and took quick action. After Mom addressed the poor response of his sister, she asked Michael this question: “How cool would it be if you and your sister were happy with each other? Michael responded, “I would love that.” “Michael, that’s wonderful! Did you know that Jesus wants you to ask him for that very thing; that you two would be happy with each other?” “I guess, but that would never happen!” A two-step strategy “Michael, I get why you think that, but Jesus has two really cool things he wants you to do to make that happen.” “Are you sure, mom?” “Absolutely!”Mom then reads Matthew 7:7-12 with Michael: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Mom warmly explains to Michael Christ’s two fold-strategy for bringing about a better, happier relationship with his sister. First, he has to ask God for that to happen. Since getting along well with his sister is a good thing, Michael can ask in confidence that God will honor his request. Then Mom says, “Okay, asking God is the first step. But the second step is really important. And it can be kind of hard at first. Jesus says you are to love your sister the way you would like to be loved.” “Really, mom?” “Really!” “So, you are telling me I don’t have to wait for her to be nice to me first?” “Exactly, Michael! Jesus says this is the theme of the whole Bible; loving other people first!”Mom understands that the “Golden Rule” of Matthew 7:12 is connected to asking God to help us do the good things he has called us to do. This focus on loving others first is what should mark us as Christians. Jesus emphasizes this same truth in Matthew 22:37-40 where he teaches that all the Law and the Prophets hang upon loving God and our neighbor with our whole heart. The “Golden Rule” was never meant to be read in isolation. These few words come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus says they are the summary of everything the Bible teaches. The message of Matthew 7:12 is this: love others the way that you want to be loved; the way God loves you. Instead of self-pity, love Following Christ’s plan has huge, epic blessings. For Michael, it will be the means that the Holy Spirit uses to rescue him from the trap of self-pity. Instead of feeling devastated by his sister’s poor response, he can confidently ask God to help him love her first. This is what the “Golden Rule” is really about. This is how Michael will be free from self-pity and alive to the immense blessing and privilege of loving others first, just as Jesus does! Live a life of sensitivity with your children. Show them the selfless love of Christ. Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared and where you can find a complimentary article titled Self Pity: the subtle sin....

Assorted, Parenting

Is recreational marijuana sinful?

God says we should honor the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-6) in as far as they don’t require us to violate God’s law. So, before today, one big reason that Canadian Christians should not have smoked marijuana is because it was illegal. But as of Oct. 17, 2018, that's changed, with the possession of recreational marijuana now legal throughout the country. So does that change things for Christians? When it stops being illegal, does that means it also stops being sinful? If Romans 13:1-6 doesn’t apply anymore, are there are other biblical principles we can look to for guidance? There are indeed. While the Bible never speaks directly about smoking marijuana recreationally, God has guidance to give. 1. God calls us to honor our father and mother We can begin with the Fifth Commandment. In an article on cigarette smoking, Pastor Douglas Wilson made a simple argument that is just as applicable to marijuana: The Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20:12) tells children to honor their parents. No parent wants their children smoking cigarettes (or cannabis) Therefore, to honor mom and dad, children shouldn’t smoke As Wilson writes: “in all my years of being a pastor I’ve never met a kid who took up smoking because he was really eager to honor his father and mother.” 2. God calls us to self-control It’s no great leap to extend God’s condemnations of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 23:20-21, etc.), to anything that impacts our self-control (1 Peter 4:7, Titus 1:8, etc.). 3. God calls us to discern the world as it really is We’ve compared marijuana usage to cigarette smoking and drinking. In Jeff Lacine’s article “Marijuana to the Glory of God" at DesiringGod.org he makes another comparison: to drinking coffee. He notes that while there are similarities between cannabis, and alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee – all have psychoactive compounds – there are notable differences too. As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–49; Phili 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 13:12). This is our trajectory as Christians. This is our aim…. We want to see things as they really are. The Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted. Consider this principle in terms of a psychoactive substance most American adults use every day: caffeine. Why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are. He goes on to note this is why people drink and weddings but not funerals – at weddings “moderate lubrication…can be in keeping with reality” since it is a time to celebrate. In this setting “proper and moderate use of alcohol can be a clarifier and not a distorter,” whereas at a funeral alcohol use might well be obscuring reality. But what then of weed? Lacine argues, “both from research and personal experience” that cannabis use distorts and numbs a person’s perception of reality. We might expect a regular user to argue that it doesn’t numb their thinking but, as Lacine notes, if marijuana is numbing their thinking, that’s going to also impact their ability to perceive its impact on their thinking. There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting…. studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome. 4. God calls us to ask a better question Perhaps the most important biblical principle is found in Hebrews 12:1. There we read: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us In a 1997 sermon titled “Running with the Witnesses” John Piper explained that this verse calls us to do better than ask, “Is it a sin?” In verse 1 there are a couple of things said here as a means to running. It says, “Lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us.” Now I remember as a boy the effect a sermon on this verse had on me. And the only thing I remember was the distinction that the preacher made between – he was preaching from the King James at the time – weights (translated encumbrances here) and sins. And he looked out on us and he said, “Not just sins. Don’t just lay aside sins to run this race. Lay aside every other weight that gets in your way.” As a boy, it had a revolutionary effect on me. Because what it said to me was – and I speak it now especially for young people – kids, if you can get this, but especially young teenagers and teenagers, though it applies to everybody – what this says is: Don’t just ask, “What is wrong with it in life?” Don’t just say about your music, about your movies, about your parties, about your habits, about your computer games, don’t just say, “Well, what is wrong with it?” Don’t just ask, “Is it a sin?” That is about the lowest question you can ask in life. “I am going to do it if it is not a sin. So tell me, is it a sin to do this?” “Well, not exactly.” “Okay, that is all I wanted to know. I am off to do it.” And the preacher said – and I am the preacher now saying it – this text says, “Look to Jesus and lay aside sins for sure and lots of other stuff, too.” Now that is a different way to live. Well, preacher, as a 13-year-old or 14-year-old what question should I ask if it is not, “Is it a sin?” And the answer is, “Does it help me run?” That is the answer. “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?” That is the question to ask. Ask the maximal righteousness question, not the minimal righteousness question. That was the difference it made in my life. And I have been asking it this way ever since then, though I didn’t always live up to it. I am not making any claim that from age 12 on I did some great spiritual thing. But oh, I had a trajectory that was so much better than the minimalist ethic that merely asks, “Well, what is wrong with it? What is wrong with it?” I don’t even want to talk about what is wrong with it. Let’s ask, “Does it help me run?” You know why that question isn’t very often asked? Because we are not passionate runners. We don’t want to run. We don’t get up in the morning saying, “What is the course today? What is the course of purity? What is the course of holiness? What is the course of humility? What is the course of justice? What is the course of righteousness? What is the course of love? What is the course of self-control? What is the course of courage? O God, I want to maximize my running today.” If you have that mentality about your life, then you will ask, not, “How many sins can I avoid?” but, “How many weights can I lay down so that I am fleet-footed in the race of righteousness?” Conclusion Now that recreational marijuana usage is legal (though still with some limits) across Canada, there may be Christians looking for guidance on this issue. If they’re asking, “Is marijuana use sinful?” then the answer is, “It certainly can be. It can be a violation of the Fifth Commandment, or God’s prohibition against drunkenness.” But Pastor Piper’s point is the more important one. If we are God’s children then our concern isn’t simply with obeying Him, but loving Him. Then the right question isn’t “Is it sinful?” but rather, “Does this bring me closer to God, or push me further away?” and “Is it helpful?” Those are better questions, and maybe more uncomfortable questions. As John Piper says, we are not always passionate runners. Whether it’s the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the friends we hang out with, the career we pursue, the people we date, or the psychoactive compounds we ingest, there may be favorite “weights” we just don’t want to throw off. If so, let’s pray then that God will so change our hearts that we want to make our whole lives pleasing to Him. The excerpt from John Piper’s sermon is used with permission and the whole sermon, “Running with the Witnesses” can be found at DesiringGod.org. He directly addresses the topic of marijuana use in an Ask Pastor John audio segment which can be found here. For the sake of clarity the title of this article has been changed from the original, which read "Marijuana: is it sinful?" This article was first published Nov. 17, 2017, when marijuana was still illegal in Canada, and has now been updated to reflect the change in the law as of October 17, 2018. https://youtu.be/6nhRjGCvpfI...

Parenting

6 Duties of Parents

"Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." - Prov. 22:6 ***** I suppose that most professing Christians are acquainted with the verse at the top of this page. The sound of it is probably familiar to your ears, like an old tune. You have heard it, or read it, maybe even talked about it, or quoted it, many a time. But for all our familiarity with it, how lightly we regard this text! The wisdom it contains appears almost unknown, the duty it puts on us, rarely practiced. Reader, am I not speaking the truth? We live in a day when there is a mighty zeal for education. We hear of new schools, and new teaching approaches, and new books for the young, of every sort and description. And still for all this, the vast majority of children are most certainly not being trained in the way they should go, for when they grow up, they do not walk with God. Why is this happening? The simple truth of is, the Lord's commandment in our text is not being obeyed; and therefore the Lord's promise in our text is not being fulfilled. This should have us searching our hearts. Every parent should be asking themselves the question: "Am I doing what I can?” This is a subject in which all of us are in great danger of falling short of our duty. We are able to spot the faults of our neighbors more clearly than our own. A father will often see specks in other men's families, and overlook beams in his own. He will be as keen-eyed as an eagle in detecting mistakes in his brother’s house, and yet be blind as a bat to the fatal errors that are happening each day in his on home. Here more than anywhere else, we need to suspect our own judgment. In fact, there is hardly any subject about which people are so defensive as they are about their own children. I have been perfectly astonished at the slowness of sensible Christian parents to allow that their own children deserve blame. There are more than a few people who’d I’d much rather confront about their own sins, than tell them their child had done anything wrong. So let me place before you a few hints about training your children rightly. 1. Train them in the way they should go, not the way they would like to go First, then, if you want to train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would like to go. Remember, children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong. A mother can’t tell whether her infant child will grow up to be tall or short, weak or strong, foolish or wise, but one things the mother can be sure of is that he will have a corrupt and sinful heart. It is natural to us to do wrong. "Foolishness," says Solomon, "is bound in the heart of a child" (Prov. 22:15). "A child left to himself brings his mother to shame" (Prov. 29:15). Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread; let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds. If, then, you want to deal wisely with your child, you must not leave him to the guidance of his own will. Think for him, judge for him, act for him, just as you would for one weak and blind; and for pity's sake, don’t give him up to his own wayward tastes and inclinations. He doesn’t know yet what is good for his mind and soul, any more than what is good for his body. You do not let him decide what he shall eat, and what he shall drink, and how he shall be clothed. Be consistent, and deal with his mind in like manner. Train him in the way that is scriptural and right, and not in the way that he fancies. If you aren’t determined to follow this first principle of Christian training, it is useless for you to read any further. Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child's mind; and it must be your first step to resist it. 2. Train them up with love and patience You must train up your child with tenderness, love, and patience. I don’t mean, “spoil him.” I do mean that you should let him know that you love him. Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct. Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys, — these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily, — these are the clues you must follow if you intend to find the way to his heart. Few are to be found, even among adults, who are not more easy to draw than to drive. It is common to all of us that when pushed, we resist; we stiffen our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of being forced to obey. Now children's minds are cast in much the same mold as our own. Sternness and severity chills them. It shuts up their hearts, and you will weary yourself to find the door. But show them you have affection for them – that you are concerned with their happiness, and want to do them good – and that if you punish them, it is intended for their good, that, like the pelican, you would give your heart's blood to nourish their souls; let them see this, I say, and they will soon be all your own. But they must be wooed with kindness, if their attention is ever to be won. And surely reason itself might teach us this lesson. Children are weak and tender creatures, and, as such, they need patient and considerate treatment. They are like young plants, and need gentle watering – it needs to be done often, but only a little at a time. We must not expect all things at once. We must remember what children are, and teach them as they are able to bear. Their minds are like a lump of metal – not to be forged and made useful at once, but only by a succession of little blows. Their capacity to understand is like a narrow-necked bottle: we must pour in the wine of knowledge gradually, or much of it will be spilled and lost. There is a need for patience in training a child, and without it nothing can be done. Nothing can compensate for an absence of tenderness and love. A minister may speak the truth as about Jesus, clearly and forcefully, but if he doesn’t speak it in love, few souls will be won. In the same way, you must set before your children their duty, – you can command, threaten, punish and reason with them – but they don’t feel your affection for them, your labor will be all in vain. Love is one of the biggest secrets to successful training. Anger and harshness may frighten, but they will not persuade the child that you are right; and if he sees you regularly grumpy and angry, you’ll soon stop having his respect. A father who speaks to his son as Saul did to Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:30), need not expect to retain his influence over that son's mind. So try hard to keep up a hold on your child's affections. It is a dangerous thing to make your children afraid of you. Anything is almost better than a distant reserved relationship between you and your child; such distance will come with fear. Fear puts an end to openness – fear leads to concealment – and leads to many a lie. There is a vital truth in the Apostle's words to the Colossians: "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged." (Col. 3:21). This is advice that should not be overlooked! 3. Understand that much depends on you Train your children always remembering that much depends upon you. Consider how very strong grace is. God’s grace can transform the heart of an old sinner – it can overturn the very strongholds of Satan, casting down mountains, filling up valleys, making crooked things straight. It can recreate the whole man. Truly nothing is impossible to grace. Our fallen human nature is also very strong. We can see how our nature struggles against the things of the kingdom of God – how it fights against every attempt to be more holy, right up until the last hour of life. Our fallen nature indeed is strong. But after nature and grace, undoubtedly, there is nothing more powerful than the education we as parents give our children. Early habits (if I may so speak) are everything with us, under God. We are made what we are by training. Our character takes the form of whatever mold was formed in those first few years. We depend, then, on those who bring us up. We get from them a color, a taste, a bias which cling to us more or less all our lives. We catch the language of our fathers and mothers, and learn to imitate them, and we catch something of their manners, ways, and thinking at the same time. Time only will show, I suspect, how much we all owe to our earliest training, and how many aspects of our personality and our character can be traced back to seeds sown in the days of our very infancy by those who were living with us. We can see God’s wisdom and mercy and in this arrangement. He gives our children minds that will receive impressions like moist clay. He gives them a disposition at the starting-point of life to believe what we tell them, and to take for granted what we advise them, and to trust our word rather than a stranger's. He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good. So see to it that the opportunity isn’t wasted. If we let it slip away, it is gone forever. 4. Think of eternity Train your child with this thought always in mind: that the soul of your child is the first thing to be considered. No doubt, these little ones are precious in your eyes; but if you love them, then think often of their souls. No part of them should be so dear to you as that part which will never die. The world, with all its glory, shall pass away; the hills shall melt; the heavens shall be wrapped together as a scroll; the sun shall cease to shine. But the spirit which dwells in those little creatures, whom you love so well, shall outlive them all, and whether they live on in happiness or in misery will (humanly speaking) depend on you. This is the thought that should be uppermost in your mind in all you do for your children. In every plan, and arrangement that concerns them, don’t forget to ask that all important question, "How will this affect their souls?" Soul love is the soul of all love. To pet and pamper and indulge your child, as if this world was all he had to look forward to, and as if this life is his only opportunity for happiness, that is is not true love, but cruelty. It is treating him like some beast of the earth, which has but one world to look to, and nothing after death. It is hiding from him that grand truth, which he ought to have been taught from his very infancy – that the chief end of his life is the reconciliation of his soul to God. A Christian mustn’t be a slave to trends if he is going to train his child for heaven. He should not teach them a certain way just because that’s how everyone else is doing it, or allow them to read questionable books just because everybody else reads them; or let them form habits of a doubtful worth merely because these are the habits of the day. He must train with an eye to his children's souls. He must not be ashamed to hear his training called singular and strange. What if it is? Our time here is short, and worldly trends will pass away. The parent who has trained his children for heaven, rather than for earth – for God, rather than for man – is the parent who will be called wise in the end. 5. Teach your children the Bible Train you child so that they know the Bible. You cannot make your children love the Bible, true – only the Holy Spirit Ghost can give us a heart that delights in the Word – but you can ensure your children are well acquainted with the Bible. And they cannot be acquainted with that blessed book too soon, or too well. A thorough knowledge of the Bible is the foundation of all clear understandings of religion. Someone well acquainted with the Word will generally not be carried away by every wind of new doctrine. Any parental training that doesn’t make a knowledge of Scripture the first thing is unsafe and unsound training. Errors abound on just this point, so it is important we have a proper understanding of the Bible’s place. There are some who honor a catechism more than the Bible, or fill the minds of their children with miserable little storybooks, instead of the Scripture of truth. But if you love your children, let the simple Bible be first, and let all other books take second place. So don’t worry as much about them being well versed in the catechism, as their being well-versed in Scripture. This is training – believe me! – that God will honor. See to it that your children read the Bible reverently. Train them to look on it, not as the words of men, but as it truly is: the Word of God written by the Holy Ghost Himself. And see to it that they read it regularly. Train them to view it as their soul's daily food – as something essential to their soul's daily health. Again, I understand you can’t make them love Bible reading – you can’t make this anything more than a habit. But there is no telling the amount of sin that this mere habit may indirectly restrain. See that they read it all. And don’t shy away from presenting doctrine to them. You shouldn’t think that the foundational doctrines of Christianity are too difficult for children to understand. Children understand far more of the Bible than we are might suppose. So tell them about sin, its guilt, its consequences, its power, its vileness: you will find they can understand this, at least in part. Tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ, and His work for our salvation – the atonement, the cross, the blood, the sacrifice, the intercession: again, you will discover that this is not beyond them. Tell them about the work of the Holy Spirit in man's heart, how He changes, and renews, and sanctifies, and purifies: you will soon see they can follow along with some of what you are explaining. In short, I suspect we have no idea how much a little child can take in of the length and breadth of the glorious gospel. They see far more of these things than we suppose. Fill their minds with Scripture. Let the Word dwell in them richly. Give them the Bible, the whole Bible, even while they are young. 6. Train them to prayer regularly Prayer is the very life-breath of true religion. It is one of the first evidences that a man is born again. When the Lord sent Ananias to Saul, He said: "Behold, he is praying" (Acts 9:11). Saul had begun to pray, and that was proof enough. Prayer is a key to spiritual growth. When there is lots of private communion with God, your soul will grow like the grass after rain; when there is little, all will be at a standstill – you will barely keep your soul alive. Show me a growing Christian, a strong Christian, a flourishing Christian, and I will show you one that speaks regularly with his Lord. He asks much, and he has much. He tells Jesus everything, and so he always knows how to act. Prayer is the mightiest engine God has placed in our hands. It is the best weapon to use in every difficulty, and the surest remedy in every trouble. It is the cry He has promised to always be listening for, even as a loving mother listens for the voice of her child. Prayer is the simplest means that man can use to come to God. It is within the reach of all of us – the sick, the aged, the infirm, the paralytic, the blind, the poor, the unlearned – everyone can pray. You don’t have to be academic or an intellectual to pray. So long as you have a tongue to tell God about the state of your soul, you can and you ought to pray. Those words, " You do not have because you do not ask God" (James 4:2), will condemn many on the Day of Judgment. Parents, if you love your children, do all that lies in your power to train them up to a habit of prayer. Show them how to begin. Tell them what to say. Encourage them to persevere. Remind them if they become negligent and slack about it. This, remember, is the very first step in religion that a child can take themselves. Long before he can read, you can teach him to kneel by his mother's side, and repeat the simple words of prayer and praise which she puts in his mouth. And as the first steps in any undertaking are always the most important, so is the manner in which your children's prayers are prayed, a point which deserves your closest attention. Few seem to understand how much depends on this. We must beware of our children saying their prayers in haste, or carelessly, or irreverently. You must be cautious too, of leaving your children to say their prayers on their own, without you in the room. We must make certain they are actually saying their prayers. Surely if there’s any habit which your own hand and eye should be involved in forming, it is the habit of prayer. If you never hear your children pray yourself, then for any negligence on their part, you are much to blame. You are little wiser than the bird described in Job 39:14-16: For she abandons her eggs to the earth And warms them in the dust, And she forgets that a foot may crush them, Or that a wild beast may trample them. She treats her young cruelly, as if they were not hers; Though her labor be in vain, she is unconcerned; Prayer is, of all habits, the one which we remember the longest. Many a grey-headed man could tell you how his mother used to make him pray in the days of his childhood. He’ll have forgotten so many other things. The church where he was first taken to worship, the minister he first heard preach, the friends he used to play with – all may have been forgotten and left no mark behind. But you will often find it is far different with his first prayers. He will often be able to tell you where he knelt, and what he was taught to say, and even how his mother looked all the while. It will come up as fresh before his mind's eye as if it was but yesterday. Reader, if you love your children, I charge you, do not let his early years pass with out training him to pray. If you train your children in anything, then train them, at the very least, to make a habit of prayer. This is a modernized excerpt from J.C. Ryle’s article (and then book) “Duties of Parents” first published in 1888.  ...

Parenting

Ignore your inner defense attorney!

My friend Paul Tripp writes that becoming our own defense attorney is a dangerous and destructive practice.  In less formal language Paul is warning about becoming an excuse maker.  These are the words of a defense attorney in action: • “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be angry.” • “I guess I’m just tired.” • “He was mean to me.” • “If you were just a little nicer, it would be a lot easier.” • “Being inside because of the weather makes me cranky.” • “It wasn’t my fault, I’m just not feeling well.” Whether these words come from you or your children they are the words of excuse making, defending ourselves from our own shortcomings and sins. Excuse making keeps us from trusting God, erodes relationships and weakens our character and faith. The default mode for the excuse maker is to shift blame instead of looking to God in repentance. Excuse making is evidence of regret over sins. Excuse making is a way to conceal sin. The Holy Spirit warns against concealing sin in Proverbs 28:13: He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. Here is alternate translation from respected commentator and scholar Bruce Waltke: The one who conceals his transgressions will not succeed but the one who confesses and abandons them will obtain mercy. The message is clear and profound: Repentance brings hope. Excuses result in frustration and blame-shifting. The flesh acts as our defense attorney by continually offering a stream of excuses so that we can avoid addressing and confessing our sin. This leads to disaster. Waltke makes this insightful observation about concealing sin: People may smash their consciences to avoid humbling themselves, but they cannot avoid the reality that God knows and will punish sin. How much better to give him glory by acknowledging this and to experience his mercy. Concealing sins — making excuses — destroys trust in God. But repentance yields mercy and the blessing of God. There is no freedom in making excuses, only regret and frustration. However, if repentance is your first response you can be confident of God’s mercy. You don’t have to look for an excuse. You know that your are forgiven and can trust God for help to change. Repentance is the path of freedom. Here is a definition of repentance you can teach your children: “changing my mind and turning around to do the right thing.” Here is a prayer for repentance that will be a blessing to you and your children: God, thank you for making repentance possible by sending Jesus to live and die in my place. Thank you that my sin doesn’t separate me from your love. But still, sometimes it is hard to repent, especially when I am stubborn and angry and I just want my own way. Please give me a repentant heart and help me to love you more. In Jesus name, Amen. Don’t listen to your inner defense attorney! Embrace repentance. Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

Assorted, Parenting

What my grandma taught me

My grandma died at the age of 93, more than 25 years after her Henk died. And during those years she often wondered why God hadn’t taken her too – all her children were grown up, so what did she have left to do? She hadn’t exactly forgotten about her grandchildren, but like many grandparents, she did underestimate how much she had to offer the younger generation. She didn’t understand how much her grandchildren still needed to learn from her. 60’s – Hello! Grandma was already in her 60’s when most of the grandchildren first got to know her, and the lessons began immediately. The very first lesson she taught us was that it was important to eat all the food on our plates. The second lesson? That whether we ate all the food on our plates or not, our grandma loved us. She modeled and taught us about unconditional love – the exact type of love God gives us. Parents practice this love too, but it isn’t always as clear. Parents are, after all, the ones who have to punish, and prod, while grandparents can simply adore, spoil and hug. 70’s – Learning never stops There are other lessons, too, that are best learned from a grandparent. Grandma taught us that purity can be funny – that one can get laughs without being crude or rude. She was a very elegant lady but she wanted us to know her generation had the secret to good clean fun; they knew that the very best type of humor was silly humor. So even though she had the regal bearing of a queen, she never passed up a chance to model the large fuzzy slippers she got one Christmas. And when we picked her up at her apartment she always took a moment, with a sly grin, to quickly say goodbye to her collection of stuffed animals. Even in her 70’s she had an innocent child-like sense of humor. A favorite example is of the time when she was out with one daughter and a couple of grandsons. The foursome was out walking when they came upon a set of revolving doors. Her daughter, our dear mom, went first, followed by little James. But then it was my turn… the grin on my face let my mother know in advance what her urchin child had planned. But just as she was about to give me a stern warning, in stepped grandma. The two of us, urchin child and tiny, elegant, 70-something-year-old grandma, started going round and round and round again in that revolving door until we both got so dizzy and weak from laughing we tumbled out. 80’s – She’s seen it all before By the time grandma hit her eighties, her grandchildren were just about all grownup. But she still had a lot to teach us. We were leaving our Christian schools, entering university and experiencing for the first time just how depraved the world could be. Our gentle, delicate grandma knew all about it – in her eighty years on this earth she had seen it all. One story she often told to encourage us, was about the day the Germans invaded her native land of Holland. That day she had looked up to see so many German paratroopers floating down to earth they blotted out the sky. The sight convinced her that the end had come, that the world must be over – how could it ever get worse than this? But it wasn’t the end, and though German power seemed invincible, God brought liberation. Her point was clear: don’t despair – our God can overcome any evil. 90’s – Last but not least In her nineties grandma start showing signs of Alzheimer’s, and began getting confused about what decade it was, and what country she was in. She soon lost the ability to speak English, and in her last months couldn’t walk further than a few dozen feet without huffing. Her body was gone, and her mind was failing her too. On her better days, when her mind was clear enough that she could understand what was happening to her, she got very frustrated. Once again she wanted to know, why was she still here? What did the Lord still have left for her to do? The truth was she wasn’t able to do anything for anyone anymore. But she could still be helped. This wasn’t an easy time for grandma and sometimes she vented her frustration on her children. But she loved to be helped by her grandchildren – anything we did for her would be met with a smile or a pat on the arm. She was once again teaching us about unconditional love – Christ-like love – this time, how to receive it. She responded to us, as we should respond to our giving, gracious God. Conclusion  Grandma lived to be 93, and while she sometimes thought that her job here was done long ago, her grandchildren are very grateful God gave us these many more years with her. Grandparents are such a blessing....

Parenting

Discipline or punishment: do your children know the difference?

There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline. Since children are born wanting to go their own way, every parent engages in some form of correction. That correction will either take the form of punishment or discipline. Punishment is about retribution, payment for wrong doing. Punishment produces insecurity and fear. Biblical discipline on the other hand produces security and peace. The reason for the difference is that biblical discipline is motivated and controlled by love, the love of Christ. Only the love of Christ can remove punishment. As I John 4:18 says, the perfect love of Christ drives out fear, and replaces it with the blessing of the gospel. Thus, if your correction is not directly connected to the restorative power of the gospel it will resemble punishment more than discipline. This will produce a response of fear and anger in your children. Listen intently to how your children talk about the impact of your correction. Here are some examples of children who are experiencing punishment instead of loving discipline: “Mommy, I’m sorry I make you angry.” “Daddy, I won’t do it again.” “Why is everybody mad at me?” “Do you think God is mad at me?” “He hurt me, so I hit him back.” “I am sorry that I am not good enough to make you happy.” “I’ll be good, I promise. Please don’t be mad at me.” “I try and try and try but I just can’t do what you want me to.” “I guess I am just not good enough.” “Mommy, I just can’t do it. I try but I just can’t.” Have you heard words like these from your children? These statements indicate what your child thinks about the gospel. These kinds of statements show that performance (and not grace) is forming the basis of how your children think about the correction they receive. They know about punishment, but not much about loving, healing, restorative discipline. Notice the fear and apprehension in the statements above. The loving discipline of the gospel is needed to give hope. The complete, perfect love of Christ given in discipline will drive out the fear of punishment. The gospel must be part of your daily discipline. Here is one picture of what a gospel centered response would look like: Sarah, I know you can’t obey by yourself. I know that. But that is why Jesus died on the cross, because we can’t do it ourselves. Remember the Bible says that Jesus died so that we would have new life. You can’t obey in your own strength, but you can obey in Jesus’ strength. Let’s pray right now and ask Jesus to help. This is the tender nourishment of the gospel that Ephesians 6:4 compels parents to give to their children. Punishment or discipline: the difference is life changing. Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

Parenting

When you’re asked, “Do you spank your child?”

On a December edition of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors Truth in Love podcast, Stuart Scott was asked how he would answer if someone who opposed spanking asked him “Do you spank your kids?” He encouraged listeners to give a “contextual answer” that presents spanking as the small part it is of all that’s involved in the raising of children – just one tool in the toolbox. “Those questions often come loaded. There’s a lot more behind that question and you would like to know what sort of experience have they had, have they been a part of, that totally turns them off to the whole idea of spanking. Especially ‘Do you hit your child?’ “A good friend…Dr. Bill Goode…. was counseling a guy who was going to appear in court and was going to be asked in court ‘Do you hit your child? Do you spank your child?’ to try and entrap him. “Dr. Goode counseled this young man not to say, ‘Yes I do’ or ‘No I don’t’ but instead to give a contextual answer. And this was the contextual answer. The man said: ‘When I raise my child, I encourage a lot, I play a lot, I pray a lot, I teach a lot, and I use cause and effect a lot, so that when I do spank I do it lovingly, slowly, prayerfully, and thoroughly so I don’t have to do it often.’ “I thought that a pretty wise answer.”...

Book excerpts, Parenting, Sexuality

5 frank quotes from Jonathan McKee's "Sex Matters"

Jonathan McKee’s Sex Matters is a frank book meant to help us parents teach our kids about the touchy topic of sex. To give you a good idea of what can be found inside, what follows are five good quotes from this great book. And check out our review here. Is it wise to be so up front when talking with our kids? "I've never met a parent who engaged in conversations with their kids about sex too much. Not one. Ever. But in my over twenty years of youth ministry, and a decade of writing and speaking to parents, I've met thousands of parents who have done the exact opposite and looked back in regret....The world is full of explicit lies. Sadly, very few people are telling our kids the explicit truth. But we need to. I need to. You need to. If we don't, our kids will look for the answer somewhere else..." “Sin can be fun…for the moment” “ White defined two types of sexual ‘happiness’: the animalistic thrill-of-the-moment happiness you can experience when you are promiscuous (sleeping with whoever you want) and a deeper, longer-lasting, more fulfilling happiness when you are monogamous (have one partner for life). Which do you think sounds better in the long run? Can a monogamous person experience both the quick thrill of sex and the longer lasting happiness?” Don’t look for loopholes “Some people still try to find a loophole. Maybe porn is okay, right? Because then we aren’t actually have sex with anyone else. We’re just sort of…pretending to have sex! During the time Jesus was walking around on earth he encountered some people like this. They were thinking, So long as I don’t have sex, it’s okay. I’ll just think about it in my mind! Jesus himself decided to address this, calling it lust and labeling it just as bad as adultery ….(Matthew 5:27-29) Jesus wasn’t pulling any punches here. If you’re thinking about it, you’re no better than someone who is doing it.” On fleeing temptation “Fact: Dentists have recommended that a toothbrush be kept at least six feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush….How many of are going to store it right next to the toilet by the toilet paper roll? ….Most of us will probably store our toothbrush about twenty feet away if possible…. There is a principle here: If we discover danger to be within a certain proximity, we avoid that proximity completely. Why don’t we do that with sexual temptation?” The “process” is designed to be continued “Any teen who has been alone with someone they are attracted to and allowed the process to start knows that it is like trying to stop a forest fire after a drought! So why is it so difficult to stop? Because it’s not supposed to be stopped!”...

Parenting

Is Cleanliness next to Godliness?

My goal is to have every room of my house neat and clean at the same time. But I do not believe that “cleanliness is next to godliness,” although it is one of its outworkings. When John Wesley mentioned that famous line in his sermon, he was encouraging people to remember to bathe and to wash their clothing before they came to worship the Lord on Sundays. Well, that’s a standard I can easily maintain. I think women are constantly looking for balance in our housekeeping. As Shirley Conran notes in her book Superwoman: “Housework expands to however much time you have to do it, plus fifteen minutes.” And I have often quipped, “All of life is maintenance.” Indeed, it often seems that if we’re not maintaining clothing, houses, children, ourselves, our garden, or our car, we are maintaining our school, our church or our relationships. Much is done with joy, and some is done from duty, but at times it comes from embarrassment or false guilt. That's why I have a sign in my kitchen that states: “A house should be clean enough to be healthy, and messy enough to be happy.” But who decides what is “enough?” No extra time One would think that with all of our time-saving devices, that a homemaker’s job would be much easier than it used to be… and to some extent it is. But some historians have suggested that vacuum cleaners and washing machines did not diminish our “time spent” on household chores. Rather, the standards of cleanliness increased so that frequency replaced difficulty in these chores. For example, instead of carrying a rug outside to beat it twice a year, and living with a bit of dirt in-between, one could just vacuum it. Since vacuuming was so much easier, it was possible to keep the rug looking perfect all the time by simply vacuuming every single day! Instead of washing once a week, the washer made it easy and possible to do more loads more often. Soon the idea of wearing a garment more than a day or two became loathsome. Instead of having a standard of “fairly clean,” we moved up to a standard of “perfection” wherein any deviation from the best became cause for embarrassment. Cleanliness is important, of course. Keeping the level of germs down in one’s bathroom and kitchen can generally lead to better health. But we need to be careful that we don’t get caught up in the cycle of pride, embarrassment and frenzy that causes homemakers to worry constantly about what others are going to think about our level of housekeeping. For most women, receiving visitors is “report card time.” There is a tendency to fear failure, sometimes accompanied by anger at those who mess up “our” household. It’s as though someone scribbled on our research paper on the day that it was due. There is also a tendency to become so occupied with one’s household maintenance that more important things in life get by-passed. I read about some missionaries who took their usual habits of cleanliness to Africa when they served there. The local Christians were appalled at the amount of time these westerners spent caring for their material possessions – why, it seemed that they treated them like idols! The missionaries were always washing their belongings and their vehicles, and it was quite a concern to the church members. They were concerned that all of this caretaking might eat into the many hours that should be spent in fellowship, in Bible study, and in visiting the sick and reaching out to others with the gospel. What about Mary and Martha, anyway? Maybe the Apostle Paul’s words “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6) apply to over-maintenance as well! Balance On the one hand I think we need to cut each other a break and not judge anyone else’s housekeeping. After all, we’re not visiting the house, we’re visiting the people. And we need to cut ourselves a break by realizing that, as Conran says, “The real purpose of maintaining a home is to provide a pleasant environment for living – so live!” And here’s where the balance comes in. A house isn’t supposed to look like a magazine ad, but it would be best if everyone didn’t trip over piles of stuff. You need never apologize for a project-related mess that you or your children are in the midst of creating, but keeping materials orderly in between projects will prevent wasted time and frustration from searching for them later. Good stewardship includes taking care of our possessions. But either extreme can result in our being weighed down by our material possessions and being less useful to God’s kingdom. If possessions become a weight, either way, that hold us back from the activities that God is most pleased with, then it is worth reconsidering how much time we spend on our “maintenance” and why. As we ponder what is “enough,” we might analyze how much of our cleanliness is godliness. 45 of Sharon’s articles have been collected in Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles. $10 (US)/book plus shipping. To buy a copy contact sharoncopy@gmail.com....

Parenting

What’s the purpose of family devotions?

A mother-to-be asked two of my adult children how we did our family devotions and what they appreciated about them. To my horror, they described how “most of the time” they just complied as expected – singing, being quiet, and looking as if they were listening intently. They added that they had pretty much sat through church services the same way. And there I sat, thinking that we had done a “good job” overall, but discovering that the kids were often just tuning it all out and biding their time until they were freed. I shouldn't have been surprised. Many parents, including us, remember the fruitful times of good singing, contemplation, long discussions, and prayer. But they also remember flying through the format – bing, bang, bong – done, only because they were supposed to. If the dinner conversation unfortunately ended up including arguments, or sibling rivalry, one of the sinful selves may even have shouted: “Settle down - we have to read the BIBLE!”  Was it still worthwhile to “read and pray”? Well, if we wait until life is perfect, we’ll never read or pray, because we sinners do get out of sorts. Teaching children by example to quiet themselves, and then reading a short amount of Scripture and praying for forgiveness and strength, is exactly what is needed to get everyone back on track.  How do we really teach love for God? The purpose of family devotions is to glorify God together. Psalm 63 says, O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. We ourselves must first love God and express that love and honor to God verbally, and by our actions throughout the day. So if we’re not patient and we shout angrily over small matters, we won’t teach them to use self-control. If we don’t ask forgiveness, we won’t teach them to ask for it. Family devotions should demonstrate that love of God. We must genuinely glorify Him when we read, pray, and sing, and not just rattle off words. Four suggestions Worship is the most important thing we do every week and we should treat it as such. How can we do that? Here are four suggestions            1. A new setting can help with attention Consider letting young children leave the table when they are finished and then re-convening in the living room for devotions. This can provide a helpful transition, instead of taxing their patience – and yours – and making everyone want to rush through devotions and just get it over with. It’s also a more comfortable setting, snuggling together on the sofa or chair, away from dirty plates, silverware, and cups that could be spilled. Pre-bedtime might also be an opportunity when children will be happy to give attention to Bible stories and learning to pray. 2. Be a study buddy Work together on your child’s Bible or catechism memorization, or review what they wrote down in their simple sermon notes on Sunday. 3. Plan ahead If you can, find out the texts, songs, and Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day portion for next Sunday. Then use family devotions time to read and practice everything in preparation for worship. 4. Get involvement When the kids can read, let them take turns reading the text and choosing songs so they understand that it’s not just Dad or Mom who can or should do this.   Sharon L. Bratcher has a book with 45 of her RP articles in it, and a 2-year lesson plan entitled “Bible Overview for Young Children” ages 2-6 and 6-9. For information on these, contact sharoncopy@gmail.com. 
...

Parenting

Children's games that mom & dad can play without going batty

I grew up with board games of all sorts, playing 5-6 hour "train games" with my brother and his friends, or Settlers of Catan back when it was only available in German. So when my wife and I were blessed with children I was already looking forward to playing games with them. But if my kids and I were going to play games, I wanted to be able to actually play them. I was on the hunt for games which would involve some skill, and yet allow for a bit of competition between a dad and his preschool daughters. It wasn't like I was going to try my hardest, but I also didn't want to just be pretending to do my turn. I wanted games where I could try, at least a little, or perhaps level the playing field by attempting tougher moves than my daughters. I wanted to play too. I soon found out that was a tall order. Most children's games are entirely chance, or either mind-numbingly simple, or even more mind-numbingly repetitive. But after some searching I was able to find five games that proved to be a challenge for both dad and daughters. ANIMAL UPON ANIMAL by HABA 10-20 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 5 and up This is a stacking game, with the wooden pieces all shaped liked various animals. The variety is interesting: it has penguins, snakes, sheep, and monkeys – not animals that normally hang out – and at the bottom of the pile is a big long alligator that everybody piles on. Players start with seven pieces and take turns adding one or two animals to the stack, trying to make sure not to knock any down. The first one to get rid of all their animals wins. Of course the little beasties are going to come tumbling down, so one nice feature of the game – especially for youngsters whose fingers aren’t yet so nimble – is that if you do end up starting an animal avalanche you only have to put a maximum of two of them in your own pile. So no player is going to fall too far behind. Our oldest daughter really enjoyed this, but while the game says it is for 4 to 99, our four-year-old found it just a bit too hard and frustrating yet. However, I'm thinking that by the time she hits five this will be a real hit. Animal upon Animal is a good one for the whole family. COOCOO THE ROCKING CLOWN by Blue Orange 5-10 minutes to play 2-5 players Ages 4 and up This is a balancing game, with players taking turns adding a “ball” (actually a wooden cylinder) to one side or the other of CooCoo’s outstretched arms. Put too many on one side and he’ll tip over! That’s all there is to it – simple enough for 4 years olds to play, but there’s still enough here to keep adults challenged too. I can play this with my kids and try my best; I just leave the easy spots for them and challenge myself by going for the harder ones. Though it isn’t in the rules, it works both as a competitive game (placing your ball so it will be hard for the next person to find a good spot) and as a collaborative effort (How many balls can we work together to get on CooCoo?). All the pieces are wood, which is wonderful. The only downside to this solid construction is that CooCoo himself is heavy enough that, if he manages to fall off the table, he may well chip (our CooCoo has a few bits broken off from the tips of his fingers). So don’t place him near the edge of the table! This is great fun in half hour doses, and mom and dad may even find themselves playing it when the kids are in bed. QWIRKLE by Mindware 30-45 minutes to play 2-4 players Ages 6 and up Qwirkle is a great strategic game, which takes less than a minute to explain. It comes with 108 solid wooden tiles, coming in six different shapes, in six different colors. Points are scored by laying out a line of tiles that match each other either by color or by shape. So, for example, I could lay out a line of three that was made up of (see the left side of the back of the box picture): an orange sun, an orange star, and an orange diamond. That would get me three points. Next turn someone could expand off of my orange diamond by laying a yellow, green and red diamond beside it. Simple, right? True, but this is also an intriguing enough game for MENSA to endorse too. I’ve tried this with my four-year-old, and while she enjoyed it, I had to help her every turn – I was essentially playing against myself. Six seems the lowest age for a child to be able to play on her own. It says it’s for groups of two to four but we’ve done it with as many as six successfully. Everyone we’ve played this with seemed to enjoy it. That’s probably why it has sold millions, spawned several spin-offs and even has its own app for Apple products. SPOT IT JR.! by Blue Orange 5 minutes to play 2-6 players Ages 4 and up On a turn the dealer will lay down two of the round cards and then players race to spot and call out the name of the one animal that is shown on both cards. Every card has pictures of six different animals, shown in various sizes, and somehow they’ve managed to arrange it so that whenever you flip two cards over there will always be one, and only one, pairing. The first to name it gets to keep the set, and the person with the most sets at the end wins. This is a simplified version of the adult Spot it!, with the only difference being that the adult game has more items per card. I found I did sometimes have to go a bit easy on my kids – I couldn’t try my hardest – but already my six year old is hard to beat. It says it is for 2-6 players, but I’ll add that with my younger daughter this is a fun game only if it’s just me and her. In the larger group she just can’t compete and it’s no fun. I appreciate how fast it is – five minutes or less – which means there’s always time for at least one round! GOBBLET GOBBLERS & GOBBLET by Blue Orange 2-5 minutes to play 2 player AGES 5 AND UP Our oldest, on account of being the oldest, wins most games our girls play. She’s a fairly gracious winner, but I wasn’t so sure she was a gracious loser. To give her some practice I picked up Gobblet Gobblers, a quick game that takes some skill that I could play with her. That way she would get lots of practice at losing. Or at least that was the plan. This is tic-tac-toe with the added feature that some pieces can eat others. Each player gets three big gobblers, three medium sized ones, and three small gobblers. The big ones can stack on top of (or "eat") the medium and small gobblers, while the medium gobblers can eat only the smaller ones. And the smallest gobblers are stuck at the bottom of the food chain: they can’t eat anyone. It’s a very fun and very short game: it takes just a couple minutes to play. That means in just ten minutes of competing against her dad my daughter got a chance to lose – and practice doing it the right way – a half dozen times. It is a children’s game, but not a childish game – parents don’t have to turn their brains off to enjoy playing it. In fact I’ve played this with my wife. Some of my nephews and nieces, ranging in age from 5 to over 20 have all found the game quite addictive too. It’s about $25, with solid wood pieces that will stand up to good use. I should add that my 6-year-old happened upon a winning strategy that, if she starts with it, will win every time! It took her dear old dad quite a while to figure out why she had started winning every time, so I also got some good practice at losing graciously. (This was not going quite as planned!) So, we later upgraded from the 3-by-3 Gobblet Gobblers board to the adult version, Gobblet, which features a 4-by-4 board, and 12 pieces per player instead of 9. And it seems to have no guaranteed way to win. Both games are being put to regular use in our home even now more than a year after we bought. All these games are readily available through Amazon or other online stores. This article first appeared in the May 2016 issue....

Parenting

The high cost of fatherhood

Being a blessing to your children is hard work Sociologists and politicians on the right of the political spectrum often tell us that one of the biggest problems facing society is the lack of fathers. Very often they will present the problem merely in terms of sheer numbers and statistics: “The number of households where there is no father present has risen from X to Y in 40 years.” “The number of teens with their parents still married is now just X, compared to Y just 30 years ago.” “Children who grow up in homes with a mom and dad are X times more likely to get better grades than those children who grow up in homes where this is not the case.” These sorts of things are perfectly true and valid. It’s perfectly true that there has been a massive increase in fatherlessness and that this has had devastating consequences for children, families, and society as a whole. It’s perfectly true that the explosion in the divorce rate over the last half century has sown a vast number of problems which are perhaps only just coming to fruition. Not simply a matter of more, but better However, there is a danger with this kind of statistical approach that can lead us to believe that the problem is simply one of a lack of fathers. Or to put it another way, we can come to see the problem of fatherlessness as simply a quantitative problem – lack of fathers – and then tend to see the solutions in the same terms – more fathers needed. Yet much as the quantitative side of the fatherlessness problem is true, it is not the be-all-and-end-all of the issue and in fact it only really scratches the surface of the fatherhood problem. In addition to the quantitative issue of fatherhood, there is also a qualitative issue that often seems to pass conservative analysts by. Of course a father is better than no father (unless of course the father in question is actively abusing his children, in which case the child will be better off in a home where he is not present), but there is more to it than this and we ought not to suppose that fatherlessness, per se, is the only problem that needs solving. Rather, there is also a much deeper issue of what fatherhood actually is. Here’s another way of looking at it. You will no doubt have heard politicians and employers bemoan the fact that there is a skills gap in the workforce. Often, it will be in areas such as engineering, and they will claim that we need X amount of engineers to fix the engineering skills gap. No doubt we do need more engineers, but the question that rarely gets asked is “which type of engineers do we need?” In other words, although there may be a shortage of engineers in the workforce, if we were to train up masses of civil engineers in a region, only to find that the real needs of that regional economy are actually for chemical engineers, we wouldn’t have solved the problem. A similar principle is true in the realm of fatherhood. The problem isn’t just one of a lack of fathers in homes – crucial as this is – rather, it is also about the type of fathers we have. I think it almost certainly the case that one of the many reasons we now have an epidemic of fatherlessness is that back in the day, when fatherlessness was not the problem it now is, many fathers failed to grasp what fatherhood should really look like. Certainly most men grasped that being a father meant providing for their family and protecting their family – which is well and good – but unfortunately many men didn’t go beyond a superficial interpretation of what this means. Failing fathers and feminism While children are the obvious victims of fatherlessness the damage isn’t limited to them. Their children’s mothers, and women in general, are also hurt when men won’t take up their role as family head. Now, I have no desire whatsoever to defend feminism. It is an unbiblical ideology, “liberating” men from their responsibilities as the heads of their families. Yet it must be recognized that its success did not appear out of a vacuum. It came from somewhere. Where? Many answers might be given, and the role of Government and Big Business – with their promises of a better, more fulfilling life for women via career success – are certainly well worth a study or two in themselves. But behind all this, feminist ideology is at heart basically parasitical, feeding on the discontent of women. Where does this discontent stem from? Unfortunately, much of it grew out of the failure of many – perhaps even most – men to fulfill their roles as husbands and fathers, above and beyond the basics of providing and protecting. As a general rule – and I do emphasize the word general – a woman who has a self-sacrificial husband who loves, devotes, and really gives himself to their children, is not going to be discontented enough with her lot to want to embrace an ideology that sees marriage and motherhood as a curse. Yes, there might be exceptions, but they will be rare. As I say, none of this is to defend feminism one iota, but it is simply to recognize that it has its origins in something, and that something is to a large extent due to the failure of men. Don’t look to the government All this is to say that simply fixing the numbers – upping the number of fathers – if that were possible, won’t work… although of course it would be way better than the train wreck we have now. Nor is there any no point in looking to government solutions to fix fatherlessness either. The State is both parasite and host in all this, feeding off the discontent of women to grow fatter and fatter. One way the State has done this is by embracing egalitarianism, and aggressively promoting it everywhere. So they talk about a glass ceiling in the workplace. They continually pump out statistics on men getting paid more than women, without ever being honest enough to bring the word "baby" into the conversation. On a more general level, they have legislated for no-fault divorce, the very existence of which is bound to lead to people allowing their discontent to drive them to divorce, rather than seeking to address it. All these things have helped to create a situation where women are no longer content with raising their own children. They want another life. And when this causes them difficulties or problems, who comes riding in on the white stallion again? Why the State, with it's promises of free childcare. I should add that I am in no way blaming the State for everything. The other big culprits are Big Business, Media and Advertising. But it is the State we turn to for solutions, and we need to understand why there will be none coming from that direction. They have no motivation – they sow discontentment among women, and then reap the reward of more taxes and more control of our day-to-day lives. The high cost So State is not the solution. The real answer is to be found on the micro level and it involves every father out there striving every day to become a better father. It involves every father out there not contenting himself with being merely provider and protector on some superficial level, but rather having a deep desire to bless his children through his words, his character, and his way of living each and every day. It involves every father out there striving to understand what God – the Father – is like and through His grace striving to reflect this towards his children. To extend the last point, Doug Wilson has brilliantly argued that all fathers are images or reflections of God the Father to their children. Each and every father is constantly speaking to his children through his words, character and behavior about what fathers are like, and thus are constantly teaching their children about the Father all the time. So, in the way he acts, a father will either be speaking the truth or telling a lie to his children about the Father. That’s a challenging mirror for those of us who are fathers to look into. Of course we are not going to see perfection, but are we telling the truth about God the Father in our life towards our children, or are we telling a lie? Are we telling the truth about the Father by reflecting His generous, benevolent, loving, forgiving, just, merciful, gracious nature? Or are we teaching our children a lie about the Father through our harshness, our indifference, our aloofness, our coldness or our absence? We could put it this way: True Fatherhood is costly. The cost of God’s mercy and love being shown to His children was the death of His only begotten Son at Calvary. If you are a father, how much does fatherhood cost you? Generosity, benevolence, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace are far costlier than harshness, indifference, aloofness, coldness or absence. They require daily prayer and struggle against sin. They require humbling ourselves to say sorry to our children when we’ve wronged them. They require listening patiently to them and taking pleasure in what for us may seem trivial, but what for them are really important. And a whole lot more. I don’t know about the fathers who are reading this, but I struggle with these things. They are not easy requirements for a sinful and selfish human being. Yet they are part of a struggle that all fathers should delight to be in the midst of, since victory in this struggle means blessing to your children. And if enough fathers engage in the struggle, ultimately it will bring blessing to our society too. Paul on engaged fathers The Apostle Paul has the uncanny ability to pack more into one sentence than most of us can pack into several thousand words. How does he instruct fathers to behave towards their children? Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Is that it Paul? Is that all you have to say to fathers? Don’t make our kids angry and bring them up in God’s ways? Not really. Paul’s one-liners are like the opening of a treasure cave and we need to dig deep if we are to get to the heart of his teaching and mine the gold. As he often does, Paul begins with a negative, moves it to a neutral, and then takes the whole thing over to a positive. An example of this is Ephesians 4:28 where he says this: Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Imagine a dial with three markings. On the left hand side is stealing. In the middle is not stealing. And over on the right hand side is laboring to give. Moralistic Christianity only sees the need to turn the dial from the left to the middle. “Don’t do this,” and “Don’t do that.” As if the absence of stealing is all that is required. But Paul says no, that’s not all that’s required. God doesn’t just want “non-stealers”; He wants cheerful givers. Paul does the same with the father passage. The notch on the left is marked Provoking, Exasperating, Frustrating, Angering your children. And there’s a whole range of different ways that this can be done. Paul says to turn the dial. Where to? To the “no longer provoking, exasperating and angering my children” spot in the middle? No, he says, dial it all the way to the right hand side. So just as the antidote to stealing is not “not-stealing” but rather giving, the antidote to provoking our children is not “not provoking our children,” but rather nurturing and admonishing them (some versions have this as training/discipling and instruction/correction, but the sense is roughly the same). Berating vs. admonishing What might sound odd here is that having turned the dial from the negative notch – provoking to wrath – to the positive notch, we find Paul speaking of admonition (or correction). But isn’t admonishing (or correcting) a negative action? Of course it can be, and I’m sure we can all think of examples of ways fathers can rebuke their children in a wholly negative manner (if you’re anything like me, you will have done this yourself). And if such a way of rebuking becomes the norm, then it can clearly lead to exactly what Paul tells us to avoid – exasperating and provoking our children to wrath. So how can admonition or correction be positive? It’s surely a question of why we do it and how we do it. If our whole wholehearted desire is to see our children corrected and restored, and if we deliver the admonition or correction in a way that reflects that, then it is an undoubtedly positive thing and our children will generally respond positively to it. What does nurturing look like? What of nurturing? That has a more positive ring to it than admonition, but what does it mean? Perhaps an illustration might help. At a home education co-op recently, some of my children and their friends did an experiment where they put six different seeds into six different jars, subjecting each seed to different conditions. The first was given air, water, soil, light and warmth, whilst the others had one of these elements missing. Some didn’t grow at all. Others grew a little, but very weak and stunted. No prizes for guessing which one grew properly! Just as the nurturing of plants needs all the elements in order to grow properly, so too do our children. And just as the seed that is deprived of one or more of the elements will either not grow at all, or perhaps produce stunted growth, so is the case with our children. Although I don’t want to labor the analogy too much, there is a fairly close correspondence to some of the elements that are needed for the seed to grow, and that which we need to be nurturing our children with. For instance, it is possible to give them the light of God’s word, both in the home and at church, and think that this will suffice. But if the environment at home or in the church is frigid, or if we so stifle their characters, gifts and creativity that they feel suffocated, they may well come to despise the teaching. There are countless “testimonies” out there of people who have gone through that. Nurturing is about making sure our children have all the elements they need to so that they thrive and grow up into men and women who really love God and who have a genuinely loving, servant spirit. So we need to aim not just to teach them from God’s Word, but to do so in an environment that is warm and wholesome. We need to produce a home where Christ is honored, both in teaching and example, but we need to do so making sure that we do not stifle our children or place heavy burdens on them. They need air to thrive, and I’ve seen a good many people reject the faith of their parents chiefly because their parents tried to squeeze them into a particular mold of what they thought Christians ought to look like. Fathers, can I urge you to strive to get closer to your children? Cuddle them more (especially girls). They need to feel wanted and secure, even the ones that don’t communicate this very well. Talk to them more. Be interested in them and their lives. Speak kindly to them and well of them. Get rid of any hindrances in your life which might be a stumbling block for them, or which might breed resentment and create a distance between you and your children. Strive to teach them from God’s Word, both by words and example. Seek their forgiveness, not just God’s if you have wronged them, or shouted at them, or failed them. Make them know that you would give your life for them. Fill your home with love and with grace. When we fail… Having said that, the wind seems to be taken out of my sails somewhat. Thinking of what nurture and admonition ought to look like is one thing, but if your house is anything like mine, the reality is often a far cry. Occasionally I might approximate to some of these things, but there are too many times of miserable failure to recall. What then? The things I have listed above are hard things which require self-sacrifice, determination and above all the Spirit of God. We are bound to mess up; bound to fail. But this should make us press on, not give up. Christianity is not a religion of beating ourselves up over such failures. Rather, it is a religion which says get down on your knees, seek God’s free and full forgiveness through Jesus, and then ask for his Spirit to enable you to be a better father to your children. Fatherhood is the most important social issue of our day, and the lack of good fathers is behind so much of what has gone wrong in our society. So if you don’t already, will you join me in making it a regular prayer to pray for fathers? Pray that every child in the land would know their father throughout their childhood. Pray for every child to know the love and the warmth of a good father. Pray for fathers in your church to be enabled to lead their families, and to “nurture and admonish their children in the Lord” with love and grace. Pray for good fathers to become better fathers. Pray for absent or poor fathers to repent and be given God’s grace to succeed where they have previously failed. And above all pray that God would reform our churches, our communities and our society by turning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. Rob Slane is the author of A Christian and Unbeliever discuss Life, the Universe, and Everything....

Parenting

Quantity, not quality: good parenting takes time

In The New Tolerance authors Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler share the way one parent taught his teenage son to see through the worldly messages being presented in pop music. The son was allowed to buy any album he wanted so long as Dad listened to it beforehand. "If Dad approved not only of the language but of the more subtle messages in the music, fine; if not... Dad would always explain his decisions." At one point this father rejected three straight albums, which didn't leave his son all that happy. And it wasn't so easy on the dad either; he had to spend a long time listening to some lousy music. Now this was almost 20 years ago, so it took a lot longer than it even would today. Whereas we can read song lyrics online and preview many tracks via YouTube, back then the only way to check out an album was to go to the store, buy it on CD, and take it for a spin. But this dad was up for it. He knew that by investing "quantity time" with his son – by spending hours slogging through, and talking through, album after album together – he'd help equip his son to know and appreciate what was praiseworthy and to see through what was shameful and unworthy. The Bible speaks about quantity vs. quality time. Or, rather, it assumes quantity time. In Deut. 11:19 God describe our parenting task – raising up children in the ways of the Lord – as an always and ongoing activity. "You shall teach to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up." Raising up our children in the way they should go is going to take time. And energy too. There are going to be moments when you'll feel downright exhausted. But, be encouraged: this is what we supposed to be doing; it's what we're called to do. And sure, it can be draining, but let's not forget how much joy there is in the process too. We get to not only listen to music together but: share meals teach them how to ride a bike and mow the mow the lawn study God's Word as a family show them how to bake play games together and tell them for the hundredth time to stop picking their nose This is what we get to do. Tired or not, there is no task more important: God has entrusted us with the care of his covenant children. When we consider we're going to spend our hours some way or the other, what better investment is there? Keep at it. Take the time....

Parenting

Chores are good for our kids, and the earlier the better

Something parents have long suspected but few children have believed has been verified by research: chores are good for kids. The research that backs this up isn’t new. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, these findings came in 2002 when Dr. Marty Rossmann of the University of Minnesota analyzed data to discover that: "young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens." Yet, as Wallace notes, a survey of US adults in 2014 found that while 82% grew up doing regular chores, “only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.” Why? It seems like parents are making piano lessons, and homework, and dance recitals and hockey practices the priority, and letting their children slide when it comes to pulling their weight at home. We think these others things are important, but they don’t compare to the joy of having a helpful daughter or son who becomes a responsible young lady or man. One other reason we tend to put off training our children to do chores is because the payoff for parents is very long term. A three-year-old who helps empty the dishwasher is going to cause much more work than she saves (especially when she drops a dish every now and again). But then we need to remember that the point of getting them to do the dishwasher is not to help us, but to help them become good helpers....

Parenting

Are our children leaders?

Picture a group of teenage boys: the sort who attend a Christian school and who, after having Bible class in the morning, are still so interested in digging into God's Word that they spend their lunch break at an optional Bible study. These are good kids. In a lecture series on Christian education Douglas Wilson recounted a true story about his son Nate meeting with just such a  group. At one of these sessions Nate asked them what current movie was being talked about in their class. The title was forgettable, but it was typical Hollywood fare – Wilson labeled it Stupid Movie 3. Nate asked the boys why they thought everyone was interested in and talking about Stupid Movie 3. Some of the students suggested it was because their classmates didn't have very good discernment or taste. "No," Nate said, "It's because you guys aren't leaders." Now how's that for raising expectations! These were the good kids, the sort who would never get in trouble, and isn't that what every parent hopes for? But is that why we send them to a Christian school – so they can stay out of trouble? How were these boys helping their classmates? How were they impacting the class culture? How were they leading? They weren't. They were sitting quietly while others set the course for their class. Glorifying God can be a risky thing, even in a Christian school setting. Sticking out is probably harder to do as a teen than at any other point in our lives. But if Christians are going to be a light to those around us, (Matt. 5:14-16) then we need to be leaders. And if our children are going to be leaders we need to encourage them to forgo safety, and embrace risk. No, not risk for it's own sake - this isn't about seeking an adrenal rush.  Instead it is about speaking up when the cause is just, or loving, or true, and being willing to be used by God. We want to ready our children to step right into the middle of this sort of trouble, yelling encouragement to all those behind, "Follow me - I know the Way!"  ...

Parenting

Teaching your kid to appreciate broccoli

or, Cooking up a recipe for contentment ***** One of the most common complaints I hear from other parents is how they have been unable to get their children to eat certain types of food. As you will no doubt guess, I am not talking here about burgers, or candy, or other items packed with sugar or fat. Somehow the problem most of us seem to have with those sorts of foods is getting our children to understand the idea of moderation. But when it comes to green things that have come out of the ground, or things off a tree or bush that contain vitamin c, somehow many of us struggle. I have watched more than one parent giving up. The battles took their toll and the child won. And so they have a whole list of things that they “can’t” give to their children: They won’t touch broccoli, they can’t eat parsnips. They won’t touch carrots, they can’t eat peas. They’ll eat potatoes, but only as long as they are roasted or fried. If they’re boiled or mashed, you can forget it. Our kids eat everything So this is going to sound like boasting, or that we just happened to have been blessed with a bunch of abnormal children – it really is neither – but in my six-child household, every child eats everything we put in front of them. Okay, that’s not strictly the case. There are one or two foods maximum that they really, really don’t like, and we accept this. However, whilst we accept that there may be the odd food item that they really, really struggle with, this is a far cry from tolerating the kind of food whining that leads to a great long list of don’ts and can’ts. As I say, I hope that doesn’t come across as boasting. It’s not that we haven’t gone through the same battles that most parents seem to go through – it’s just that we were determined to win those battles, rather than pandering to the whims of a two-year-old who will gladly eat another chocolate pudding, but won’t touch their tomatoes. More important than we might believe I believe that this battle is a far more important one than we might be tempted to think. It is not simply a case of physical health, though that is important. Nor is it just a case of establishing parental authority, though that is crucial too. Even more important than that, the meal table in our formative years is very much a training ground for how we will end up coping with the things that providence will throw at us over the course of our life. Why is that so? The Scriptural route to contentment is to cultivate thankfulness, and so in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul says that we are to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Even more pertinent to this discussion, the Scriptural route to contentment around the table is to give thanks for the food that is set before us: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Which would exclude fussing! The key to getting our children to eat without fuss is to therefore to instill thankfulness in them. However, this might well seem to be somewhat of a paradox. If they won’t eat, how can they be thankful? And if they’re not thankful, how then can they eat without fuss? The Scriptures get it backwards; so should we The Scriptures are often quite counter-intuitive on issues where we are exhorted to do something that we don’t really want to do. Take the end of Psalm 31, for instance, where we read this: “Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD.” That sounds counter-intuitive because it seems to be the wrong way around. Surely if we’re lacking courage, we need God to strengthen our heart first. But no. It actually says that if we want our heart to be strengthened, we first need to be of good courage. A similar pattern is found in the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Again, it sounds to us a little upside down. Surely our treasure follows our heart. Well maybe it does, but in this passage what Jesus is emphasizing is that where we put our money, our effort and our resources, there our hearts will be. In other words, if we want to be strong in heart, we are exhorted to be courageous. If we want to have more of a heart for, say, the overseas missionary work our church supports, the best thing we can do is to contribute more money to it, which will have the effect of engaging our hearts. The same principle is true of thankfulness. If we don’t feel like being particularly thankful, the biblical antidote is to be thankful. And the more we strive to be thankful in the little things, the more we will find it easy to be thankful for all things. This is the secret of contentment. It starts with thankfulness Which brings us back to the fussy food issue. Children often have a natural disposition to fuss, whine and complain about food. What happens if we indulge that? We are not only teaching them that they can have a list of foods they don’t have to eat, but far more importantly we are teaching them to be unthankful and discontented. Or to put that another way, we are teaching them that “everything created by God is not good, and many things are to be rejected and not received with thanksgiving.” But if we strive to instill thankfulness in them, even for the things they say they don’t like, they will be far more likely to imbibe a spirit of thankfulness, which in turn will make them far more likely to eat what is put in front of them. If we indulge their discontentment, do we suppose that this spirit will stop at food? Unlikely. I have no empirical evidence for this, no great studies that I can turn to make an explicit case for cause and effect, but I do know that I live in a generation that is far less contented and thankful than previous generations. It is a generation that fights for its perceived rights, and is often unable to accept when it doesn’t get those “rights,” or when it doesn’t get stuff now. Our grandparents survived Where was this learned? I think a lot of it was learned around the meal table, and by that I don’t just mean whether or not a child actually gets to eat around the table with their parents – though that is of course a crucial factor. No, I’m talking about intact families, but families where everybody is eating something different, because the fussiness has been indulged and there is a long list of stuff that won’t be touched. A few decades ago, this wouldn’t even have been an issue, since there was far less choice of food and most people could only dream of being able to afford the kind of stuff we have now. The family would eat the same food because that’s all there was. Today, we have so much more at our disposal and children are usually very much aware of that. How do we tackle it? A mistake I have seen many make is to assume that when children say they don’t like this or they can’t eat that, that they really don’t like this or they really can’t eat that. More often than not, this is a trick and what they really mean, although they won’t express it this way is, “This isn’t on my list of 10 favorite foods, and so I’m not going to touch it.” I’ve listened to more than one parent who has fallen for that tactic, and who has sounded like an ambassador for their child and their fussiness by reeling off a long list of food their children apparently just cannot have. I’m sorry, I don’t believe it. If there were any truth in it, children decades ago who had no alternative choices given to them would have starved. But they didn’t. Conclusion None of that is to imply that this is easy. In my house it has, at times, been extremely difficult. In fact, it still is. However, I believe that the rewards for persevering and for insisting that your child eats the same food as the rest of the family are huge. The ordeal of seeing that two-year-old resist eating that green stuff can be extremely trying. However, it is nothing compared to the joy of seeing them finally come to terms with the fact that they are going to have to eat it, but even more than that, then seeing them slowly coming to like it. In fact, this is the best way to train your child for a life of thankfulness and contentment that I can think of....

CD Review, Music, Parenting

Fun music for your kids (that you might like too)

We often find that turning on some music can completely change the mood of our house: kids go from complaining to dancing and singing. So here are three recommendations – oldies but goodies – that have been tested in our household, and recommended by lots of friends and family too. Fun and Prophets by Jamie Soles 2006, 48 minutes When I asked around for other good children's CDs, Jamie Soles was a clear favorite with friends and family. While he has adult albums too, Soles is best known for his children's music, which has a solid Reformed theology behind it. Some of his songs retell Bible stories, others help children memorize things like the books of the Bible, the order of the Creation days, or the names of the patriarchs.  A lot of it is energetic, with a bit of a beat. The kids enjoy them all, but one of my favorites is "Run," from the album Fun and Prophets, based on the passage 2 Kings 9:1-13, where a nameless prophet is instructed to anoint Jehu as king of Israel, and then get out of there quickly. Sometimes a prophet has to stand Like an iron wall against the land And standing is fine, when the time is right But the time is wrong, and it's fine for flight so.... RUN! Jehu is king, so RUN! If you want to live you better RUN! Jamie Soles has more than a half dozen children's albums (Giants and Wanderers, Wells, Fun and Prophets, Memorials, Up From Here, The Way My Story Goes, Good Advice) all of which can be ordered, and downloaded at SolMusic.ca. He is worth checking out! Go to the Ant by Judy Rogers 1989, 31 minutes As I was asking around, another name that came up repeatedly was Judy Rogers, the wife of a Reformed Presbyterian pastor, who has been making music for more than 25 years. In Go to the Ant she bases most of the songs on passages from Proverbs, teaching children about the dangers of "The Tongue," about what we can learn about hard work when we "Go to the Ant" and about the cost of attending "The School of the Fool." The lyrics are a solid mix of fun and wisdom. A problem common to children's Christian music is that it often strays into irreverence but that is certainly not a concern here. If you are familiar with Jamie Soles, Judy Rogers has an overall quieter sound – quite a bit less beat. Her voice is beautiful, and also contributes to the lighter sound; this is folk music that won't be confused with pop/rock. My three-year-old daughter is a fan and, incidentally, R.C. Sproul is too. Overall I would say this is an album that kids will like, but it won't have the same crossover appeal with parents that Jamie Soles seems to have. To hear song samples and read the lyrics, visit JudyRogers.com. The album can be ordered many places online including Amazon.ca. Hide 'Em in Your Heart Vol. 1 by Steve Green 1990, 37 minutes Steve Green's music is bright and cheerful, and the words are always clear and easy to understand. Each song on this album is a verse, or two, from Scripture (either NIV or NKJV) with Green beginning each track with a short, spoken introduction. The verse is repeated at least a couple of times in each song, but Green finds a nice balance in promoting Scripture memorization and keeping the repetition to a minimum so the songs don't become wearisome – on average each track is less than 2 minutes long. The album also features some of the very best children's singers. The boys and girls still sound like normal children, rather than professionals, while hitting all the right notes. If I had to pick a nit with this album then I could point to a couple of the spoken introductions, where Green seems to explain the passage in a slightly Arminan-ish way. But this really is a nitpick, because kids won't notice, and the parts your children will be singing all over your house are the verses taken straight from Scripture. I love this album because I love hearing my daughter sing "And Jesus grew in wisdom, and stature and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52 and Track 8). Very fun!...

Parenting

The part about parenting I didn't find in any parenting book

I tend to be a fairly methodical person, so what does a methodical person do to prepare for parenthood? Why, read a small library of biblical child training books, of course. But after going through those books (as helpful as they were), I wanted to compare what I had read with the source of all that godly wisdom: the Bible itself. While studying Scriptural passages on child training, I encountered a principle I had not read before. Maybe there are books out there that do mention this principle and I just haven’t read them. It’s even possible that the books I read mentioned this principle, and I just somehow missed it. Whatever the case, I was amazed that I hadn’t heard it before. I’m convinced it may be one of the most important tools in one’s parenting arsenal. Tell your kids what God has done What is this hidden, or overlooked, parenting secret? Simply put: share your testimony with your children. This involves not just the story of how God brought you to faith, but also the countless instances where God delivered or strengthened or encouraged or provided for you. The first several verses of Psalm 44 give us an example of how personal testimonies can affect the lives of future generations. This psalm is actually a lament (see the second half), but it begins with declarations of unwavering trust in the Lord, based largely on the writers’ knowledge of what “our fathers have told us” (verse. 1). Stories from the “days of old” have led the sons of Korah to trust in God’s saving power and not their own strength. Notice how often, in just the first two verses, they point away from themselves and toward God (emphasis mine) …our fathers have told us The work that You did in their days, In the days of old. You with Your own hand drove out the nations; Then You planted them; You afflicted the peoples, Then You spread them abroad. A parent’s testimony is a powerful means of grace for children, because it points to tangible expressions of God’s faithfulness. Sharing is a privilege Sharing one’s testimony isn’t a burden or a chore; it is a privilege and a joy. As C. S. Lewis has pointed out, an enjoyment of something often isn’t complete until that enjoyment is shared. You know you really enjoyed a movie or a book when you tell everyone else about it. The telling itself is the consummation of your enjoyment. Consequently, the writer of Psalm 71 begs God not to let him depart until he has had the opportunity to declare God’s strength and power to the next generation: Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come (vs. 16-18). Sharing stories of how God has worked in our lives is a great way to help our children see the manifold effects of the gospel. It helps them see how mercifully and graciously God treats us, even as we struggle with our own sins and inabilities to live up to His perfect standards. The design of this God-centered focus is so that our children may set their hope in God – not in their own ability to obey Him. As Psalm 145:4 puts it, “One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” The narrative of our stories involves innumerable instances of God’s saving and sanctifying work. This practice of sharing our testimony needn’t be turned into a legalistic pursuit. Rather, our testimony is simply the story of what God has done; instructing our children is no more a “work” than me telling my wife about my day at dinnertime. Our testimony is all about who God is, what He has done, and what He has promised to do. It is the overflow of past grace that points us all toward future grace. For our children’s benefit – as well as our own – may we remember and recount God’s faithful deeds to our children. May we vividly paint a picture of our Father’s awesome wonders in action. May our stories draw the hearts of our children toward God’s loving embrace. May we delight in His wondrous works so that we relish each and every opportunity to share them. And may our sharing be the consummation of our own delight in the Treasure of our souls: God Himself. Cap Stewart blogs about movies and the arts at CapStewart.com....

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

Parenting has always been intimidating – it wasn't so long ago we were kids, and now we're raising them? – but one thing parents of the past could count on was that they knew more than their kids. For today's parents there is one very big part of life where that isn't true – when it comes to the Internet, and Apps, and smartphones, and social media, then even our youngest children can quickly outpace us. They can know how to use these tools better than we do, and yet they aren't mature enough to deal with all the dangers that also come with them. So what's a parent to do? Our children live in a "pornified" culture and it seems that no matter how protective we are, it's only a matter of time before our children run across something on the Internet that we wish they'd never seen. So how can we do all we can to push that eventual exposure to as far out as we can? And how can we prepare them for what they need to do when it does happen? To answer those questions and more I can't think of a better resource to turn to than Luke Gilkerson's Parenting the Internet Generation. It is not only fantastic, it's even free. Parenting is foundational 144 pages / 2016 What makes Parenting so much better than other books on this topic is that it digs much deeper. This isn't simply a pornography problem; what it really comes down to is Christian parenting. If we want our kids to resist temptation, and come to us when they do mess up, then we need to know how to discipline them rightly, as God instructs us. The best way to show just how good this book really is might be to share some excerpts. So I'll begin with one of Gilkerson's biblical-based thoughts on discipling rightly. Paul reminds fathers, “Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged” (Colossians 3:21, NIV), and again in another letter, “Do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4, NIV). Training and instruction happens as parents create an environment of authority, structure, correction, and consequences, but Paul knows how easily parents can become frustrated and resentful in the process of parenting. This, in turn, leads us to embitter and exasperate our children by breaking their spirits. One of the most common ways parents do this is by using shame-based strategies to get their kids to behave. What exactly is “shame-based” parenting? It is a family dynamic where shame – the looming threat or presence of disapproval and disfavor – is the primary motivator used for good behavior. This can show up in a thousand ways. •  Expecting perfection by overestimating what their sinful hearts can do •  Failing to really listen to them as we correct them •  Speaking bitter or harsh words (“What is wrong with you?” “When will you ever…?” “You always…” “You never…” “You idiot”) •  Showing little compassion •  Giving the cold shoulder or being dismissive •  Pushing kids to excel in peripheral tasks •  Showing favoritism to other siblings It is a rigid environment that leaves children discouraged and exasperated. This kind of environment often trains children to be obsessive over “doing the right things” in order to be approved – or else totally rebellious. This kind of environment has unwittingly made so many children ripe for sexually sinful habits. See where Gilkerson is going here? How we parent can either help our children resist temptation...or push them towards it. Most of us have indulged in this shame-based parenting at one point or another, and if we are going to help our kids, then we need to stop. We need to repent. The alternative is too horrible to consider. As Douglas Wilson puts it (in a quotation Gilkerson includes): Gracious fathers lead their sons through the minefield of sin. Indulgent fathers watch their sons wander off into the minefield. Legal fathers chase them there. I read this and found it daunting. It seemed simply too much for me, or me and my wife, to pull off. We know we're going to mess up, fall short, and just generally fail our kids. But it’s just that understanding that’s key. We are going to sin, but our gracious God is ready to forgive a repentant sinner. When we fall on God's grace then even our failures can be instructive to our children, showing them the graciousness of God that they can depend on. So we don't need to be perfect. But, our parenting goals should be clear: Make this your goal every day: In each phase of the day when I interact with my children, I will either be an example to them in my obedience to and love for God, or I will be an example in my repentance. Contents In nine chapters Gilkerson lays out: 1. How porn harms our children (Introduction and Chapter 1) 2. What parents need to teach our children and model to them (Chapters 2-6, 8) 3. Tools parents can make use of (Chapter 7 and the Appendices) 4. What the gospel is, and how it applies to the matters or parenting and pornography (Chapter 9) Each chapter ends with a half dozen or so reflection questions and some of these are so very pointed they may draw blood. A few examples: "If our sin is small, then our Savior must be small. But, if our sin is outright rebellion, then our Savior must be a true rescuer.” In what ways have you made Jesus small in how you’ve parented? If you have a tween or teen, have you ever directly asked him/her, “Have you ever seen pornography?” What would you say if he/she said, “yes”? Are you ready for that conversation? At some point, it will happen — maybe not in your home, but maybe at school, on the bus, or at a friend’s house. Does your child know what to do if he/she ever sees porn? Each chapter also includes a link to a short (4 minutes or less) video summarizing what the chapter just went over. These questions and video are great study aids, probably best suited for a couple to go through together, but they would work great for a weekly parents' study group too. Whether you're going through it alone, or with a group each chapter has a lot to chew on so the best pace is probably just one chapter per week. The material is simply too thought-provoking to run through any quicker. Conclusion This isn't a perfect book - I could list some minor quibbles (I think the distinction Gilkerson makes between guilt and shame is a bit confusing) – but I've not run across any better. It is the best guide available on a subject parents would love to have help with. I should mention that the author works for Covenant Eyes (CE), which sells accountability software – this is software parents can use to monitor all the websites their children visit. This isn't spying - the CE logo pops up every time the computer loads up, so children will know they are being monitored. This is, instead, a parent coming alongside their child, helping them resist temptation, and being aware of when they don't. The book is made available for free on their website (you do have to give your name and email address to get the e-book but they won't spam you). While companies generally give away books for promotional reasons, and I'm sure that CE will gain a few clients because of this book, CE's motivations for giving away this book are of the very best kind. It's clear they want to help parents. And with this excellent resource, they most certainly are. You can get a free pdf copy of Parenting the Internet Generation here...

Parenting

From explanations to dialogue, from monologues to questions

Explanations often lead to monologues, especially with teenagers. This is not a helpful communication pattern. The goal for good, biblical communication with teenagers is the combination of questions that lead to dialogue. But these questions must come from a genuine interest in your teenagers for who they are, not for what you want them to be. Who would you go to? In this context, let me ask you a question. When you need help with a problem, do you look for answers from any random person? The answer is obvious. You ask the people whom you trust and respect, someone who will really listen to you. Let me take this one additional step. Suppose a friend from church calls and asks you for advice on some relational issue. You are thrilled because you have wanted to talk to her about this very problem. You immediately launch into your explanation about her problem. You tell her that she must not have been listening to the sermons because the pastor just spoke on that very issue. You go on to say that if she were not always late to church she might be in better shape to actually listen to the sermon. You suggest several books for her to read and you finish by telling her you hope you have been helpful. Over time you wonder why she has never called back for more “help.” This example illustrates the danger warned about in Proverbs 18:2; "a fool delights in airing his own opinions." Listen, don't lecture The active, aggressive listener of Proverbs 18:15 – "the ear of the wise seeks knowledge" – will recognize the types of questions that are asked...and the questions that are not asked. If your teenagers are primarily asking logistical questions, such as "Can I have the car?" or "When is dinner?" this should alert you that the important questions are going to someone else. Your goal is to have your kids ask you about the hard things in life. But like you, your older children and teenagers will reserve those questions for the people whom they respect and trust, for the people who will carefully listen. Monologues do not build relationships, only frustrations. You goal is to create a relational climate in which your teenagers want to come to you. Listen carefully to your children and observe the things that they struggle with. Take an interest in the things they are interested in. Ask them genuine questions about their interests. Patience is key here. If you have not been a good listener, you can become one. Even if you do, it may take time for teenagers to begin to seek you out. Pursue your teenagers not so much for what they have done, but for who they are – your children given to you by God. Delight in your teenagers for who they are, your children. If God can delight in you and in me, with all of our issues, then we can delight in the children he has given to us. Being an aggressive listener will lead you to questions and then to dialogues. This is a good thing, for both you and your teenager! Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children andEveryday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....