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Parenting

The problem with explanations

God has not called parents to explain but to train. Explanations often lead to frustration and anger for both parents and children. Children are not in need of lengthy, compelling explanations. What they are in need of is the understanding that God must be obeyed. Ephesians 6:4 addresses this issue:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Explanations tend to focus on getting someone to agree with you. The logic for explanations runs something like this: "If I can just get my children to understand the reason for my direction, then they will be more likely to follow my instruction." The real issue While this may sound like solid reasoning, it is not. Explanations are more consistent with gaining approval and winning arguments. Neither of these are appropriate goals for biblical parenting and can lead to anger in your children as Ephesians warns against. This doesn’t mean your parenting is to be arbitrary. You must use kind and pleasant words to instruct your children. You must be patient. You must be sensitive to your children. But you are not attempting to secure their approval for your instruction. This can easily lead to manipulation rather than discipline and instruction. With young children and toddlers, lengthy explanations cloud the real issue.  Obedience is a response to God’s authority. Biblical obedience is not a matter of winning a debate.  Young children must be trained to obey right away, to do exactly as they are told, and to obey with a good attitude. Children from 6-12 must be encouraged to obey because they know this pleases God. Your discussions will be more involved than with young children, but again you are not trying to win their approval. You want them to grasp how important it is to trust God and the reliability of his word. This type of training will yield a conscience that is sensitive to the things of God. Long lectures don't work It doesn’t take much insight to realize that teenagers and long explanations don’t go well together.  Obedience with teenagers is to be primarily be focused on helping them see the value of following God because they love him and that God’s ways are the only ones that can be trusted. Your goal is to have conversations not explanations. Explanations may be well intended. But at the root of many conflicts in families is the attempt to explain rather than to train. Don’t provoke your children to anger. Provide them with the loving instruction of your heavenly Father. Something to think about.

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.

Parenting

In defence of Biblical spanking

Why would anyone want to write an article defending spanking? This is one of those topics which the modern world considers a fundamental sign of whether you are a civilized person or a barbarian, and I probably don’t need to tell you which side of the line advocates of spanking are thought to fall on. There is some justification in this. We’ve probably all seen or heard examples of “spanking” which have been quite simply dreadful: the drunken father who whacks his children with a strap; the frustrated mother who lashes out in anger in the supermarket. Let me make it clear at the outset that I am not defending any of those types of spanking. In fact, I am as much against them as anyone from the anti-spanking lobby. What I am defending, however, is Biblical spanking, which I believe is as far from the types mentioned above as East is from West. The right theological framework Any defense of Biblical spanking ought to start not with spanking itself, but with the whole issue being put in the right theological framework. John Calvin famously started his Institutes with the following statement: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” So where do we go to get this knowledge? The answer is that we go back to the book of origins, the book of Genesis. What do we find there? Firstly, we find a good God who creates all things well, and crowns his world by making Man, who is His very image, and placing him in a garden. As for Man, he is Very Good, holy and righteous. But what about their relationship? Is it only servant to master? Or something else as well? I mention this because I think that some Christians go askew at this point, and it affects their whole reading of the rest of the Bible. Because God puts a prohibition on Adam, many treat the relationship as if God was a judge and Adam on trial. Now whilst it is true that Adam was subject to a prohibition, this is not the primary relationship that was going on there. Luke tells us specifically in his genealogy that Adam was the son of God – not THE son of God, but a son of God nonetheless – and so the prohibition is far more akin to a father telling his child not to touch the electric socket than it is to a judge standing over a man on trial. Of course, what then happens is that Adam disobeys and loses his holiness and his righteousness. He has erred, he is a rebel, and he has gone astray. So God punishes him, right? Well yes, but I don’t think we should see the curses as exclusively “punishment.” Pure punishment would have seen both Adam and Eve in Sheol there and then, but is this what happens? Actually, quite the opposite. In the very next verses after the curses are announced (Chapter 3 verses 20-21), both Adam and Eve are restored. Adam calls his wife Eve – mother of the living – which is odd since they have both just been told that they are dead, but the reason he can do this is that God has just promised a saviour, and He has then clothed them to cover their nakedness. So they were saved directly after the curses were announced. In other words, except for God’s eternal punishment – which is punishment or retribution in its purest form – God places curses and, with them, pain not because he wants simply to punish, but because he also wants to see restoration. C.S. Lewis, in The Problem of Pain, describes pain as “God’s megaphone to a deaf world” and indeed it is. In a fallen world, the curses are there not simply as a means of punishing, but also as a means of grace in bringing people back to God (or to put it another way, nobody ever turned to God after winning the lottery). We need to see clearly Why is it important to establish all this in a defense of spanking? It is because spanking is under attack from a worldview that is incapable of seeing spanking as anything other than punishment. In the eyes of the humanist, who sees no ultimate authority over humanity, adults have no right to spank their children – who are in any case fundamentally good – and so spanking can only be seen by such people in terms of abuse of authority and as pure punishment. Sadly, I think a lot of Christians buy this. However, this misses the fundamental point of why spanking (Biblical spanking that is) is necessary. God’s curse on Man was in part a Judge’s ruling meting out punishment, but it was also a Father seeking to lead His children to restoration. So too we, as fathers, should use spanking to lead our child to repentance and restoration. If we start from the position set out in Genesis, we come to a very different conclusion than the humanist one. We realize that our children have sinful, not pure hearts, that they do wrong and need correction. But we also come to see that if we are to spank, we do so not out of anger or a need for retribution, but from a position of love and with the purpose of bringing our children to repentance and restoration. Using the rod But why the use of the rod? Well, the short answer is that the book of Proverbs tells us that in many places. Yet we must approach this book with the same fundamental starting point as we have discussed above. If we just dive into the “spanking verses,” the temptation will be to just see “use the rod” “use the rod” “use the rod”, which is likely to lead us to a very harsh type of spanking, where our purpose is simply punishment and retribution. But what is the book of Proverbs? It is a father talking to his son, imparting wisdom for life. And how does he do this? Go and read the first few chapters. He is not harsh. He is not judgemental. Rather he is full of love for his son and desperate to see his son do right. And so by the time we come to the “spanking verses” it is clear that what is in the father’s mind is not using the rod to punish, but rather as a means of discipleship, a means of correction, and above all a means of restoring the child. Get this wrong, and we end up with a harsh, cold view of spanking, and I agree 100% with the humanists that this has no place in a civilized society. But get these basics right – those seen in Genesis, and those seen in Proverbs – and we suddenly see that spanking is actually a means of grace to our children – yes it may also be a punishment for wrongdoing, but more than that it is loving correction to steer them away from harmful, destructive and unrighteous ways of living. Conclusion I want to finish up this piece just setting down ten principles, which I think are really practical applications flowing out of what has been discussed above: We should only ever spank for offenses where the child has been told clearly that this type of behavior is wrong We should never administer it in anger, but always in a calm and loving way. A helpful way of achieving this is to always go into a different room than the one the offense took place in. This gives both parent and child a chance to calm down, and it also ensures that the child is not humiliated in front of others (James 1:19, Prov. 15:18, Prov. 29:11). We should always begin by explaining to the child what they’ve done wrong and why it was wrong. The child should be given the right to reply to these charges, and if there are real doubts as to whether they have done the wrong they are accused of, we should refrain from smacking. “Better that the guilty go free than that the innocent are condemned,” as the saying goes (Num. 35:30, Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; 1 Tim. 5:19; Heb. 10:28). Spanking should be done on the bottom only and must be done swiftly. It should always be followed by a prayer of confession in which the child seeks God’s forgiveness, and this should be followed by the parent assuring the child that if their repentance is sincere, God’s forgiveness is free, full, and unconditional. If we lost our tempers in any of this, we should confess both to God and to the child as well, seeking their forgiveness. We should assure the child of our unconditional forgiveness and love, and further assure them that they are restored to fellowship with the rest of the family. If their sin involved others, we should get them to go and seek their forgiveness. The whole thing should be carried out in a spirit and atmosphere of love for the child, with the aim of bringing them to repentance and restoration of fellowship with their family (Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21). This article first appeared in the Sept. 2015 issue where you can find other resources on the topic....

Parenting

On the difference between punishment and discipline

Both punishment and discipline are painful, but that pain is put to very different purposes by God. God disciplines his children in love, as a means of correcting us (Heb. 12:11, Prov. 3:11-12, Rev. 3:19, etc. etc.). His punishment, however, is a matter of justice, meted out on those He hates – this is sinners getting their due. This distinction between discipline and punishment is an important one to understand when it comes to spanking. Spanking should be discipline and never punishment. And to be discipline it must be administered in love. So when your oldest boy belts his little sister, he has a spanking coming to him, but not to return blow for blow – this isn’t about justice. Instead this about teaching him to recognize the seriousness of his sin, and teaching him to stay away from it. That’s why a parent must never spank in anger. To do so is to confuse (in our own hearts, and in the our children’s perception) the purpose of this spanking. Was it intended as loving correction? It will hardly seem so when administered by a shouting parent – a child doesn’t need to be all that perceptive to spot the difference between angry vengeance and loving discipline. So let us spank, but to the right end. A version of this article first appeared in the September 2015 issue....

History, Parenting

Questioning daycare and preschool: how young is too young?

In this twenty-first century, more and more children are being relegated to daycare or other institutions that look after them for a great many hours each day outside of the parental home. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2015, about 3.64 million children were enrolled in public kindergartens in the United States, and another 428,000 in private ones. Statistics Canada reported that in 2011, almost half (46%) of Canadian parents reported using some type of childcare for their children, aged 14 years and younger, during that year.  Many children obviously spend more time with childcare providers than with their family. Various studies have shown that young children who spend time in daycare may bond less with their mothers than those who stay home.  And it has also been concluded by other studies, that children who attend daycare experience more stress, have lower self-esteem and can be more aggressive. “Even a child,” Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It seems a simple enough proverb and easy to understand.  We have all encountered children’s actions – at home around the supper table, in a supermarket while we were shopping, in a classroom setting or on the street – and frequently found their actions lacking in moral wisdom.  Greed, selfishness, anger, sloth and you name it, these vices surround cherubic faces like black halos. So it neither surprises nor shocks us when Proverbs adds commandments such as: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). But what does that have to do with preschool and daycare? Read on. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: education is key to a better society To understand today’s education system we need to know something of its history. On January 12, 1746, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (pronounced Pesta–lotsi) was born in Zurich, Switzerland.  His father died when he was only 6 years old and Johann was sent to school with the long-term goal of becoming a pastor. As he grew older he developed a keen desire and vision to educate the poor children of his country.  After completing his studies, however, and making a dismal failure of his first sermon, he exchanged the pulpit for a career in law. He reasoned within himself that perhaps he might accomplish more for the poor children of his country through law than through preaching.  But after studying law, as well as opting for a number of other careers, in the long run Pestalozzi ended up standing behind a teacher's lectern. Now, throughout these formative years Johann Pestalozzi had been greatly influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was that philosopher who repudiated original sin and who penned the words: “there is no original perversity in the human heart.” Pestalozzi fell for these false words – he fell hook, line and sinker. Consequently, his principles in teaching strongly reflected the view that education could develop the pure powers of a child's head, heart and hand.  He thought, and he thought wrongly, that this would result in children capable of knowing and choosing what is right. In other words, educating students in the proper way would evolve towards a better society.  Such a thing happen could only happen if human nature was essentially good and it was on this principle that Pestalozzi based his teaching. Pestalozzi died in 1827 and his gravestone reads: Heinrich Pestalozzi: born in Zurich, January 12, 1746 – died in Brugg, February 17, 1827.  Saviour of the Poor on the Neuhof; in Stans, Father of the orphan; in Burgdorf and Munchenbuchsee, Founder of the New Primary Education; in Yverdon, Educator of Humanity. He was an individual, a Christian and a citizen. He did everything for others, nothing for himself!  Bless his name! As the engraving indicates, Pestalozzi was much admired, and his approach to education lived on after him, having a massive influence on various educators who followed. Friedrich Froebel: the father of Kindergarten One such person was a man by the name of Friedrich Froebel.  Born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia in 1782, he was the fifth child of an orthodox Lutheran pastor.  Interestingly enough, the boy heard his father preach each Sunday from the largest pulpit in all Europe. On it you could fit the pastor and twelve people, a direct reference to the twelve apostles. Friedrich's mother died when he was only nine months old. Perhaps his father did not have time for the boy, because when he was ten years old, he was sent to live with an uncle.  During his teenage years he was apprenticed to a forester and later he studied mathematics and botany. When he was 23, however, he decided for a career in teaching and for a while studied the ideas of Pestalozzi, ideas he incorporated into his own thinking.  Education should be child-centered rather than teacher-centered; and active participation of the child should be the cornerstone of the learning experience. A child with the freedom to explore his own natural development and a child who balanced this freedom with self-discipline, would inevitably become a well-rounded member of society. Educating children in this manner would result in a peaceful, happy world. As Pestalozze before him, Froebel was sure that humans were by nature good, as well as creative, and he was convinced that play was a necessary developmental phase in the education of the “whole” child.  Dedicating himself to pre-school child education, he formulated a curriculum for young children, and designed materials called Gifts. They were toys which gave children hands-on involvement in practical learning through play. He opened his first school in Blankenburg in 1837, coining the word “kindergarten” for that Play and Activity Center.  Until that time there had been no educational system for children under seven years of age. Froebel’s ideas found appeal, but its spread was initially thwarted by the Prussian government whose education ministry banned kindergarten in 1851 as “atheistic and demagogic” because of its “destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics.” In the long run, however, kindergartens sprang up around the world. Mom sends me to preschool My mom was a super-good Mom as perhaps all Moms are who make their children feel loved.  And how, at this moment when she has been dead and buried some 25 years, I miss her. She had her faults, as we all do, and she could irritate me to no end at times, as I could her.  But she was my Mom and I loved her.  She was an able pastor’s wife and supported my Dad tremendously.  Visiting numerous families with him, (in congregations in Holland she would walk with him to visit parishioners), she also brewed innumerable cups of tea for those he brought home. Always ready with a snack, she made come-home time after school cozy for myself and my five siblings, of whom I was the youngest. In later years, being the youngest meant that I was the only one left at home, and it meant we spent evenings together talking, knitting, embroidering, reading and laughing.  She was so good to me. Perhaps, in hindsight, I remember her kindness so well because I now see so much more clearly a lot of selfish attributes in myself – attributes for which I wish I could now apologize to my Mom. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 – a young mother myself, with five little sets of hands tugging at my apron strings.  I was devastated.  But my quiet mother who always had been so nervous in leading ladies’ Bible studies and chairing women's meetings, was very brave.  She said she literally felt the prayers of everyone who loved her surround her hospital bed.  She had a mastectomy, went into remission and lived eight more good years Many young mothers are presently faced with a fork in the road decision – shall I go back to work or shall I stay home?  Should I send my children to daycare, and thus help pay off the mortgage or should I stay home and change diapers?  Times are tough.  Groceries have to be bought, gas prices are ever increasing, and so is school tuition. I delve back into my memories and remember – remember even now as my age approaches the latter part of three score plus years – that my father and mother placed me in a Froebel School, a preschool, when I had just turned four years old.  I was not thrilled about the idea.  As a matter of fact, I was terrified. My oldest sister, who was eleven years my senior, was given the commission of walking me down the three long blocks separating our home from the school which housed my first classroom. My sister was wearing a red coat and she held my hand inside the pocket of the coat.  It must have been cold.  When we got to the playground which was teeming with children, she took me to the teacher on duty.  I believe there was actually only one teacher.  My sister then said goodbye to me and began to walk away. The trouble was, I would not let go of the hand still ensconced in the pocket of her coat.  The more she pulled away, the tighter I clung – and I had begun to cry.  Eventually the lining of the pocket ripped.  My sister, who was both embarrassed and almost crying herself, was free to leave. I was taken inside the school by the teacher. It is a bleak memory and still, after all this time, a vivid memory.  I do not think, in retrospect, that my mother wanted to get rid of me. Froebel schools were touted as being very good for preschool children.  She, a teacher herself with a degree in the constructed, international language of Esperanto, possibly thought she was being progressive as well as making more time to help my father serve the congregation. Dr. Maria Montessori, a follower of Heinrich Froebel, established the Dutch Montessori Society in 1917.  By 1940, 5% of the preschools in Holland were following the Montessori system and 84% called themselves Froebel schools or Montessori schools.  The general nametag is kleuterschool, (kleuter is Dutch and means a child between 4 and 6).  Today the age limit is younger because of the increased interest in sending children of a younger age to school.  Creativity and free expression are the curriculum norm. Most of the memories I have of attending the Froebel school, (and let me add that it was for half days), are not pleasant.  I recall braiding long, colored strips of paper into a slotted page. Afraid to ask permission to go to the bathroom, I also recall wetting my pants while sitting in front of a small wooden table in a little blue chair.  My urine dripped onto the toes of the teacher as she passed through the aisle, checking coloring and other crafts.  Such an experience as I gave that teacher cannot have been inspiring for her.  Perhaps she always remembered it as one of the most horrible moments of her career. In any case, she took me by the hand to the front of the class and made me stand in front of the pot-bellied stove. Skirts lifted up behind me, she dried me off with a towel.  Then she made me stay there as she put the little blue chair outside in the sunshine. At lunchtime she brought me home on the back of her bicycle.  Knocking at our door, she called up to the surprised figure of my mother standing at the top of the stairs. (We occupied the second and third floor of a home.) “Your daughter’s had an accident.” I think I dreamt those words for a long, long time afterwards.  But this I also clearly recall, that my mother was not angry. Would I have been a better child had my mother kept me at home?  Felt more secure?  More loved?  Perhaps. Perhaps not.  There is always the providence of God which like a stoplight on a busy street corner abruptly halts one in condemning the actions of another. God had a purpose for me, no doubt about it, in all that occurred in my life – whether things during preschool days or later.  And so He has in all our lives. Conclusion We live at a time when everything is fast-paced – food, travel, and entertainment. What we often don’t realize is that time is also fast – fast and fleeting – gone before we know it.  Our little children, sinful from the time of conception, two years old today, will be twenty tomorrow and thirty the day after that.  And when they wear out the coat of their allotted time span, will it have mattered who fed them each meal, who read books to them, who played with them and who disciplined them? When we think back to the Proverbs we started with, we realize this is a question we have to answer with the Bible as our guidebook. The strange thing is that I now regret that I did not spend more time with my mother when she was old.  I loved her very much and love usually translates into time. For parents concerned with mortgage and groceries and other bills, the simple Proverb "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6) is good to hang over their lintels.  First things should be put first.  I have never heard God’s people say that He has forsaken them....

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

On reading together

It used to be, a generation and a half or so ago, that reading out loud was family entertainment. My own childhood memories – although not so idyllic as to picture my Mom knitting or mending every evening while my Dad whittled away on some useful wood carving to the tune of Dickens – do still include fond recollections of family story telling. Every holiday season we rented a cottage on an island in the North Sea. While we were there we did a lot of hiking. Mom always took along a blanket and a bag full of Groninger koek, a chewy and filling type of bread-cake. We’d settle down somewhere – either on the edge of a farmer’s pasture with mournful, dark-eyed cows cozying up to the fence, or in a grove of sweet-smelling fir trees. After we played some games Dad would pull out his copy of a book by the unlikely title of Pa Pinkelman. We savored the flavor of his voice as much as we did the hearty flavor of the koek. It’s a good memory and I hope it’s a memory our children have as well. Today’s parents, however, are faced with a problem that appears to thwart memories of togetherness times. This problem is called television and computer technology. It’s a push-button age we live in and children are brought up in an environment that encourages sitting back and watching - an environment that can encourage a negative attitude towards reading. Reading Together, Longer But is reading to a child really that important? It is a fact that children read to in childhood read easily when older and will keep that interest in reading in later years. Many parents make the mistake of no longer reading aloud to their children when they reach the age of being able to do so on their own. The example is used of learning to ride a bicycle. When a child learns, you give him a shove and off he goes on his own down the road. But is it not pleasurable, to both you and the child, to have occasion to ride together? Shared experience heightens pleasure and fosters a desire to keep going. The Christian aspect to this, and it cannot be stressed enough, is that of shared Bible devotions after mealtimes and before bedtime. “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They will be a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Prov.1:8-9). Reading out loud improves reading skill and more difficult books can be progressively introduced over time promoting conversations on many topics. Many parents feel uncomfortable reading out loud to children when the children get to be a bit older. They are unsure of the choice of books and afraid of being rejected in favor of other pastimes. Sad to say, they often, especially if a mother works outside of the home, are too tired and too occupied with other household chores. Yet, developing the desire and ability to read in a child is a parent’s God-given task. This is not a mandate to teach ABC’s and ensuing words, but a mandate to communicate to a child a number of truths. The foremost of these are that an all-powerful God has created; that we have fallen; that we need repentance and forgiveness in Christ; and that all of creation awaits the second coming of Christ. Parents are also to teach responsibility intertwined with providence; they are to show children that there is reprobation as well as election; they must ensure that children are aware of hell as well as heaven; and they must make children acutely aware of the antithesis. Much of this is accomplished by teaching a child what and how to read. What’s Out There Some years ago, twelve parents analyzed 45 books selected at random from major book lists recommended to librarians that year. Their purpose was to graph what authors were telling the teens of the day about the world through fiction, and to work with the library to add books for diversity. These parents made some startling discoveries. There were no books from Christian publishers on the lists and dominant themes in these books were classified as follows: - most fathers are absent or bad - sixty percent of mothers work outside the home full time - marriage is boring or dangerous - parents and their kids are estranged half the time - clergy are bumbling hypocrites - the spirit world helps kids more than it hurts them - I can solve my own problems. God doesn’t help - sex outside marriage isn’t wrong unless it’s forced - death is prominent, even pervasive - profanity is in seventy percent of the books The above are another ten good reasons why parents should be aware of what their children could possibly be absorbing. And this was from back in 1988, and things are not getting better. Children are given a fair amount of alarming baggage when they read current books. Developing Habits If parents drink on a daily or weekly basis, it is easier for their children to become accustomed to alcoholic beverages. If parents are not respectful toward one another, children are apt to be disrespectful and unkind to their peers. If parents don’t go to church, it is not likely their offspring will develop the habit. If parents don’t read the Bible on a daily family basis and discuss what they have read with their young listeners, their children will not become aware of God’s values, unless the grace of God intervenes. If parents allow children unsupervised access to public or school libraries, they are treading on thin ice and their children are apt to fall into cold and numbing waters. If children are left by their parents to feed on an ample diet of TV and to snack voraciously on computer games, they will end up with scurvy of the soul, osteoporosis of the heart and die of spiritual hunger. It is rather obvious that parenting is a full-time job. A child left to himself, Proverbs 29 tells us, disgraces his mother. There are also Christian family do’s. For example, do know what is in your church, school and public library. Recommend good books to the librarians in all three and be prepared to give reasons why you recommend these books. Do know what kind of magazines are in these libraries. Do put God-centered books in every room of your house. Do communicate with other Christian parents as to what they are reading. Do pray daily with and for your children. Do have daily devotions and discussions with your children. A couple recommendations The fact that many Christian parents are unaware of what is available in the area of Christian books and magazines is sad. The following is meant to fill this void just a bit. Books Children Love by Elizabeth Wilson 2002 / 320 pages A nice guideline to reading. God’s World Publications  This organization publishes different age level magazines - the first level is kindergarten and the last level is high school. As well they publish an adult weekly magazine, a sort of Christian Time periodical, called WORLD magazine. These magazines are excellent in that they teach children as well as adults to be discerning in what they read. Highly recommended Endnote What are Your Kids Reading by Jill Carlson, Wolgemuth and Hyatt Pub. Inc., Brentwood, Tennessee, 1991, page 3. For another resource for good books, check out Reformed Perspective's children's fiction reviews and non-fiction reviews, and picture book reviews. Christine Farenhorst is the author of a number of books that would make for great read-alouds – you can find them listed here. This article is an abridged version of one originally published under the title "And a Chain to Adorn Your Neck.”...

Marriage, Parenting

Three questions for you

Here are three questions you should ask yourself about your communication with those you love. The way you answer these questions provides insight into the areas where your conversations must grow in depth and in maturity.  1) Do your spouse and your children have confidence that they will be able to say all that is on their heart without fear of your response? Is your family accustomed to being cut off or being corrected before they can finish speaking? Do you interrupt because you think you know what is coming? If this is your pattern you are building relational barriers that are difficult to overcome. Those closest to you need to be able to express what is on their hearts so that you can know how to lovingly and wisely engage them to bring truth and healing to your lives. See Proverbs 18:13 and James 1:19-20. 2) Are you an advocate or an accuser in your daily communication? Do your words create safety or anxiety for your spouse and children? If you love the way Christ has loved you, you will want to be a refuge and a place of safety for your family. Your goal is to point those you love to Christ, not to condemn them by reminding them how wrong they are. See Ephesians 4:31 and Proverbs 16:20-24. 3) Are you able to pray with your spouse about areas in your walk with God where you need to grow? It is relatively easy to pray to ask God to help your marriage partner. Don’t be tripped up by your own pride — invite your husband or wife to pray for you in the areas where you need help. See Ephesians 4:31-32. 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

Fathers, fear, and self-interest

Men, our legacy since the fall is that we tend to either be indifferent or become angry at our children’s sin. Both responses are dangerous and destructive. When it comes to relationships, men are often intimidated and become fearful, even if we may project the opposite emotions. The two most damaging male responses, indifference and anger, stem front the same root cause – fear and self-interest. We become indifferent in order to mask our fear of not knowing what we should do. We often become angry because we have lost control of our children and lash out in an attempt to regain control. This keeps us from doing the hard relational work of putting our families back together. God created men to be confident, compassionate leaders. But then came the fall. Eve chose to verbally engage the serpent. Even though he was with her, Adam did not protect his wife. Instead, in fear and self-interest, he observed the most destructive conversation in human history and said nothing (See Genesis 3:6). When confronted with his sin, Adam did what men still do – he passed the buck and blamed his wife. King David’s fear of confrontation cost him dearly! Imagine two physically striking, proud young men. They both believed that they were wronged by their father. Absalom was angry that David had not punished Amnon for his sin against Tamar. Adonijah was angry because he believed he should have been made King instead of Solomon. Both sons shared something else in common. They had not received loving discipline from their father. David’s pattern with Amnon continued with Absalom and Adonijah. His failure with Adonijah is recorded in I Kings 1:6: Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” Never, at any time! David, the warrior, was not daunted by the lion, the wolf, the bear, or even by the giant, Goliath. But David, the father, lacked the courage to lovingly confront his sons. They all paid a horrific price for his fearful indifference. David, like his first father, Adam, cowered and failed to protect those whom he loved. Being angry doesn’t help, acting as if problems don’t exist doesn’t help. A fearful father, who fails to lovingly engage his children will encourage rebellion. Loving confrontation requires courage and trust in God. Yes, it is a challenge. Learn from David’s sin with his sons. Fathers, husbands, we must engage our families. We must use pleasant words combined with truth to ask the hard questions that show courage rather than fear. We must engage in God’s discipline if we are to show mercy to our children. Failure to engage our children wit the truth of the gospel will provoke them anger and destruction. Speak the truth in love to your children. 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

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

21 things I learned living with teenagers

We're almost running out of teenagers in our family. Our eldest of six is well past the mid-twenty mark, and our youngest is less than a year away from getting his driver's license. And then time will really speed by. By the time our last hits twenty, Peter and I will have been parents of teens for twenty-six years. Well, not surprisingly you do learn a thing or two in such an extended period of time. Here are some important life lessons we've learned as parents of teens.  On curfews and cars A mother's imagination is a terrible thing. If your kids are a half-hour late, you imagine them in all sorts of trouble. This feeling becomes almost a certainty if you happen to hear police and ambulance sirens in the distance. Fathers can sleep through anything. "What's the point of staying awake? If something's happened, we'll find out soon enough." You can fold a lot of laundry while you're waiting for your sons to come home. And then when everything is stacked and put away, you can start on the ironing. Getting all this work accomplished will prevent you from blowing your stack when they walk in the door an hour and half late....maybe. You should never throw apples in anger. You might hit someone...or you might not. Late, late one night, having completed all the waiting-for-son-to-come-home-chores, a mother—whom I happen to know rather well—decided she might as well pick the apples off the ground in the back yard, since making applesauce was on the agenda the next day. By the light of the moon, she trudged to the back of the yard and began gathering the fruit. Shortly thereafter, her tardy son drove in. He slowed carefully to a stop on the noisy gravel, opened his door, slid out, silently closed the door and tiptoed toward the back door, humming softly under his breath. An apple whizzed past his head. Splat! It hit the shed door. So did the next one. Wisely, the son said nothing and calmly though hurriedly continued in and went to bed. So did mother. If you and your husband come home late one night, and you start to fret and fume because your son isn't home yet, don't drive around town looking for him and don’t start phoning his friends to find out where he is. Check his bed first. He may have come home early and be sleeping peacefully. Life is less stressful if your son's girlfriend has to be home by 11:00 p.m. When you're driving with a son who has his learner's license, it does not help to push your right foot through the floorboards on your side of the vehicle. The car will not slow down. If the phone rings at midnight it might be your son informing you that he's had an accident with your recently purchased car that you reluctantly let him use. Remember to first ask him whether anyone's been hurt and if he's all right, before you ask if there's any damage to your car. At some point, you will learn to love the sound of your son's car's stereo. I have discovered this to be true when I hear it half a block away, fifteen minutes before curfew. On food Your teens and their friends will instinctively find and consume all the food items you were saving for your Sunday evening visitors. You will begin to hide these special food items in the master bedroom, something you told your own Mom you'd never, ever do. If you want to prevent your teens from eating the special dip you made for tomorrow night's party, stick it in a wrinkled brown lunch bag at the back of the fridge. No one is interested in old lunches. Homebaked cookies last a long time if you put them in the freezer in an ice-cream bucket marked "Soup Stock." They'll last even longer if you mark the pail, "Liver." If your son or daughter phones a half-hour before Sunday supper and asks, "Can I bring my friends along?" say, "Yes, of course." Just add four cups of hot water and a package of chicken noodle soup to the pot and defrost another dozen buns. If they show up without having phoned, the same instructions apply. On housework, homework and bedtime You can tell a teen has cleaned her bedroom by the number of her clothing items you find in the laundry hamper. If they're still folded, you can probably get away with just putting them back into her bedroom. Sometimes all you need to do is fluff up those only-worn-once-for-one-hour-jeans in the dryer with a sheet of Fleecy or Bounce for ten minutes, then fold them and put them away. Teens don't like being told what to do. They prefer to make up their own mind about things. So ask them, "What would you rather do today? Dust and vacuum or clean the bathrooms?" Teens are just as hard to get to bed at night, as they are to get up in the morning. The ideal life for them would start at noon and go till midnight or two. The trouble is, no schools can find teachers who want to be up that late. The most reticent teen becomes the world's greatest talker, one hour after Dad and Mom had planned to be sleeping. Teens who cannot stick to homework for more than thirty minutes without needing three snacks, can play video games for three hours without even a bathroom break. Interest in school projects increases greatly the night before they're due. There is never any glue in the house at 11:00 p.m. the night before a project is due. Someone has also stolen all the scissors. And worst of all, the printer is out of ink. But the most comforting thing I've learned…. You can never pray too much for your teens. So, just when you think you've got it all together, the next one becomes a teen, and the roller-coaster ride starts up once more. But remember, take time to listen with your heart, not just your ears. Keep smiling and give lots of hugs. Before you know it, your grandchildren will be teenagers and you can stand on the sidelines smiling encouragingly, remembering with a sigh what it was like. This article first appeared in the June 1999 issue of Reformed Perspective....

Parenting

"When you coming home, dad?"

Cat’s in the Cradle was once described by the artist’s brother as the song that “…put more fathers ill at ease than any other song in history.” Harry Chapin topped the charts with it in 1974, but it still gets playtime today, getting covered by artists like Johnny Cash, Guns and Roses, Celtic Thunder (see below), and Ugly Kid Joe. There's even a collaborative version with rapper DMC and Canadian singer Sarah MacLachlan. Chapin’s wife Sandra, who wrote the lyrics, said they were based on the relationship her first husband, James Cashmore, had with his father. But Harry said the song made him think of his relationship with his own son, Josh, and said it even put him ill at ease: “Frankly, this song scares me to death.” And no wonder. This cautionary tale is about a father who is surprised at just how fast his son grew up. The song begins with this businessman sharing he has “planes to catch and bills to pay” and meanwhile his boy “learned to walk while I was away.” But his son, as sons do, still admired his dad, and so each verse of the song ends with the boy making a promise: He’d say ‘I’m gonna be like you dad You know I’m gonna be like you’ The years go by and soon the boy is ten. He wants to play catch but dad still has “a lot to do.” His son doesn’t complain – he goes off to play on his own, still promising to grow up just like his dad. It’s some years when the song, and this promise, takes a haunting turn. The father has “long since retired” and when he calls up his son to ask if his dear old dad can come by for a visit, he finds out his son just doesn’t have time for him right now. Chapin finishes the song singing: And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me He’d grown up just like me My boy was just like me It isn't hard to see how this cautionary tale could be relevant to our churches, with our many hard working dads, busy during the day, and then heading out to the many school and church meetings at night. These obligations are important, but we must never forget our more immediate priority – the needs of our wife and our children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMbgfyZTdDA...

Parenting

Parents, are you pushing or leading?

Do your children feel led or pushed? Are you as a parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are tightly connected. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration.  As parents we may tell our children that we demand obedience and speak sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our children are not buying this explanation.  It feels to them as if they are being manipulated into doing what mom and dad want. But God has better way. Proverbs 16:20-21 calls it pleasant words. "Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction." Focusing on pleasant words encourages your children. Pleasant words also point to the true motivation which should guide each parent: conveying a deep love of God from the heart. This what the Holy Spirit commands you to do. You are to take the truths of God’s word, weave them into fabric of your heart and then present your heart to your children. This is what Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is teaching: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to overflow from your heart with pleasant words into the everyday life that you and your children inhabit. It is this combination of loving God and speaking pleasant words that will enable you to lead rather than push. Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to have, your children will still be sinful creatures that desperately need the grace of God.  The difference will be that you will not be pushing them to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the same place that you long to go – to the cross. Are you pushing or leading? Think about it. 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 under the title "Pushing or leading?"...

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 ask 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....

CD Review, 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....

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 5:1l-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....