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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

Helping our children listen well

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

Parenting

Raising children who despise themselves

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

Parenting

Spanking on trial: how to make a public defense

If spanking were to be put on public trial how would the jury rule? In countries like the Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand and more than 40 others the verdict has come down firmly against – they’ve all instituted spanking bans. In Canada we could say the jury is out – we’re allowed to spank children over two. But what’s worrisome is that spanking opponents keep pushing the issue: since 1997 various members of Parliament have tried to pass anti-spanking amendments eight times, the latest happening just this year. In the court of public opinion spanking should win any test it’s put to because, after all, it works. It is a God-ordained means of discipline, and it is no coincidence that it is also an effective means of discipline. The trial is rigged But spanking never gets a fair trial. Just consider these three issues it has to overcome… 1) Mistaken identity The act of a raging drunken father beating up his son bears little resemblance to a loving calm dad giving his son a spanking. Unfortunately, members of the jury don’t seem able to tell the difference between the two. Some of this confusion is understandable. Raging fathers will call what they do “spanking,” but of course abusers often lie so the jury should know better than to trust their testimony. Another source of confusion is that many of the abused also use the term “spanking” to describe what happened to them. This is a horrible case of mistaken identity that we need to clear up if spanking is to win its day in court. 2) Witnesses intimidation The very same people who will publicly attest to their love of God by wearing a cross, or who will speak up for the unborn by wearing a pro-life T-shirt, or speak out against gay marriage via social media, don’t dare advocate for spanking. Why? Because we’ve all heard stories about how various child protection services have taken people’s kids. How’s that for intimidation? Spankings best witnesses don’t want to take the stand – we know this is an important discipline tool, but few of us see it as important enough to risk losing our kids over. So those who do it right keep that such a closely guarded secret that even their neighbors don’t know. The end result is that when claims are made that spanking is the worst sort of abuse, the witnesses that could best correct this case of mistaken identity don’t want to – we’ve been intimidated into silence. 3) Offers of immunity are rejected A second group of parents is staying silent for a different reason. They’re not intimidated; they simply feel too guilty. These are parents who have given spankings in anger and out of frustration. To be clear, we’re not talking about child-beaters – though the parent’s motivations are all wrong their actions still look quite like godly spanking. Restraint is still used in both where the spanking is directed – to the child’s back end, where no damage will be done – and in how much is administered. This is not a parent losing it. But it is a parent punishing rather than disciplining, a parent meting out justice without love. Some in this group know all about loving discipline, and sin anyway. That leaves them feeling guilty and then, when the topic of spanking comes up, they’d really rather talk about something/anything else. But this is no way to address our guilt – wallowing in it silently is no solution. If you’ve spanked the wrong way, God wants you to repent, both to Him and to your child, and to turn from your sinful behavior. And, praise God, He offers forgiveness! Other parents simply don’t know how to spank properly, though they can sense there is something wrong about how they are going about it. There is a need for repentance here too, but also education – to turn away from our sinful ways we need to know how to act. Parents who don’t know better need to dedicate themselves to finding out what God has told us, and there are some excellent resources to be found (including three I recommend here). It’s a given that Christian parents who do spanking right are also parents who at some point have done spanking wrong. We shouldn’t minimize our sin, but we also shouldn’t minimize the grace given us when God and our children accept our repentance. To hold on to guilt then, and let it silence us, is to reject what the grace we’ve been offered. Spanking needs its imperfect practitioners to speak up on its behalf, because if we won’t, there is no one else. Keys to a public defense These three issues put spanking in a tough spot, with accusers aplenty but few defenders. So even as we can be cautious about how we go about it, we do need to become public defenders of spanking. Or rather, we need to become public defenders of spanking done biblically. Spanking isn’t the sort of topic that can be addressed with “I spank my kids” T-shirt slogans or “Spanking is not abuse” bumper stickers. The extent of the confusion is more than can be addressed via those short-form mediums. What’s needed are conversations. Conversations over backyard fences. Over coffee. And maybe even over social media. And, more than we might imagine, conversations at church: Christians, too, are being swayed into equating this biblically-mandated practice with abuse. So what might such a conversation involve? And what might it look like? What follows is a mock conversation (based on real ones) between a Christian, Daniel, and two liberal-thinking friends who don’t spank and don’t really know anyone who does. Daniel understands that his position will be very new to his friends so he’s prepared to be repetitious – he knows he may need to make the same point a few different ways. He also knows that on such a contentious issue things could get heated fast, so he wants to, whenever possible, make his point by asking questions rather than making assertions. Questions also help when faced with an insulting point – an insult can be defused by simply asking the insulter to clarify their insult. “You’ve said spanking is abuse because both involve hitting, so do you think lovemaking is rape because both involve intercourse?” Another important technique is to use analogies whenever possible. Jesus taught using parables in part because stories can help make hard to understand points much more clear. *** Leo: I was raised in an era where they still practiced corporal punishment in schools. So I got hit at school and then my heavy-handed dad would beat me when I got home. Why would anyone think spanking is a good idea? Ariel: I grew up in a home where spanking and screaming were the norm and I remember how, even at 6 I said, “I’m not going to do this to my kids.” I felt ashamed. I just wanted my parents to love me. Now I do discipline by the golden rule: I treat my children how I want to be treated. There’s no way I’d spank my kids. Daniel: We do spank. It is important for a child to be taught limits - be taught to listen and submit to authority - but it is just as important that they know they are loved. So whereas my daughter is regularly given spankings, they are conducted calmly. Her mom or dad is controlled, and not angry, and after the spanking comes hugs and a talk. So there is no confusion about whether mom or dad still loves her. Meanwhile, the substitute that I've most often seen substituted for spanking is screaming. I’ve seen parents who would never consider smacking their child's bottom think nothing of yelling at their toddler. Now that can be confusing – on the one hand Mommy will say she loves them, and on the other hand she regularly screams at them. As the Bible says, we must discipline, but in love (Prov. 13:24). I think that can be done with calm spanking. I don't understand how it can be done with screaming. Ariel: Don’t call it spanking. It’s hitting. If you're going to hit a tiny, defenseless human, own it. Don't use cutesy euphemisms. Abuse is abuse. Daniel: Wow, this got nasty fast – you’re really going to call me a child abuser? Are you comparing a father who in a controlled measured way smacks his child on the bottom with a father who in a drunken rage punches his son in the face? Ariel: There’s a difference, but it’s still the same kind of act – in both cases it’s hitting. Daniel: Do you believe that shoving someone out of the way of an oncoming train is the same kind of act as shoving them in front of one? In both cases there’s pushing. Ariel: That’s different because in the first case the intent is to help the person and in the second it’s to hurt them. Daniel: Exactly. The different purposes of the pushing make them completely different acts. I spank my kids so that they will learn right from wrong, learn self-control, and learn to respect authority. I want to help, not harm. And since my intent is so completely different from that of an abusive father, the very act itself bears no resemblance to abuse – instead of punches to the face I give smacks to the bottom, where it will sting but not harm. How much more different could it be? Leo: I wouldn’t call it child abuse, but I do think spanking sends mixed signals. If I tell my child that hitting is wrong, but when he does something wrong he gets hit/spanked it tells him that when he feels wronged he can hit. Daniel: It’s important for children to learn there are some things that mommy and daddy can do that he is not allowed to do. For example, if I tell my child she can't watch a program, but I say it is fine for me and mommy to watch, it is clear I am setting different standards for us than for her. And when it comes to spanking, a child is able to tell the difference between when she tries to solve something with her fists, and when daddy, calmly and in control, spanks her for hitting someone. But what you say about mixed signals does come into play when a parent isn't controlled or calm. Then what the parent is doing would seem very much like what the child does when she strikes out at another child for annoying her. Leo: I’m not accusing you, but the majority of people that I know do not spank when they are calm and controlled. Daniel: Therein lies the problem - when a child is spanked in anger, this is vengeance, not discipline. As one pastor put it, "Discipline is corrective and is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it....When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified." Or to put it another way, if you want to spank your kids right now, that is a good reason not to do so. Ariel I just don't see how it’s not hypocritical to say, “Don’t hit anyone” to our kids, but then spank them. I don't see how that is logical. Daniel: I will, on occasion, drink a glass of wine in front of my children. And when they ask for a taste I tell them no. It is not hypocritical to have different standards for children than for adults. Ariel: Here is a thought to consider, if other non-physical options exists why use spanking? Daniel: The reason I spank is because God tells us corporal punishment is a helpful way of disciplining our child. And it’s no coincidence that the method God prescribes turns out to be an effective and quick corrective. All discipline (time outs, stern warnings, lectures, etc.) is going to involve "emotional trauma." But with a spanking it can often be brief: willful disobedience happens, the corrective is explained and applied, the child says she is sorry, forgiveness is given, hugs and kisses are exchanged and play then continues. I want to add, spanking is not the only discipline we use - we talk, we explain, we send them to their room, etc. But when our daughters do something they know they are not allowed to do - when the disobedience is clear (it isn't a matter of confusions, misunderstanding, immaturity) then we spank.  Leo: Does spanking always work? What about when it doesn’t work? Daniel: You’re right, spanking doesn’t always have the immediate result we’re hoping for. And that’s often when one of our kids has been up late a few nights in a row and now they’ve gotten themselves so worked up they are completely out of control. Then, instead of a spanking, the best thing might be to send a child to their room, or cuddle with them, so they can have time to regain their composure. The goal is always the same – to teach and guide them, and sometimes it is better to offer mercy than justice. It can be tough being a parent and trying to figure this all out. But I’m very thankful God has offered so much guidance in his Word on disciplining children and offered up the very effective, though not fool-proof tool or spanking. To answer your question, when spanking doesn’t work we’ll try something else. It isn’t the only form of discipline we use. Leo: Isn't the intent if spanking to cause pain in order to gain compliance? I fully acknowledge that spanking is not child abuse done properly, but its intent is still to cause harm whereas with timeouts the intent is to cause discomfort as well as help them figure out what to do better next time – it gives them time to think through things and improve their problem-solving skills. Daniel: “Discomfort” is a good word. The intent of spanking is not to cause harm (and no harm is done - that is why it is done on the behind - discomfort is done, but no harm). The goal is teaching. I talk with my daughter after a spanking, we work through what she could have done differently and what she should do in the future. So like your child, she learns problem-solving skills, and also what is wrong and what is right. The goal is to teach. Leo: Couldn’t you do that all minus the spanking part? Daniel: Ah, but why would I? Spanking is an effective form of discipline, and I have found it more so than many others. Ariel: How do you know for sure that the effective part of the ritual isn't the talking through? Leo: Ariel beat me to it… Daniel: Ariel, I’ll answer your question, but I also want to turn it around and direct it back at you. If you’ve never tried spanking, or tried it once, or tried it in ways that were not careful, considered and controlled. I want to ask you, how do you know that spanking, properly done, and implemented consistently, isn't more effective than the approach you use now? As for which part is the more effective, the spanking or the talking, well, both are necessary. So are the hugs, so is the repentance and forgiveness. But spankings occur when my words are being ignored. As I've shared spanking is not the only form of discipline I use, so I am able to contrast and compare for what works best with each one of my kids. Leo: But when do you stop? What age? Daniel: It peters out as they get older for a few reasons. First, it’s because the goal of parenting is to "graduate" a self-discipline adult, so the reins are loosened more and more as they get older. But when they are young things are a good deal stricter. Some people try the reverse – little discipline early, and then find themselves trying to get strict later and regulate their rebellious teen's every waking moment. Won't work – this is when he should be taking on responsibility, not when he should be treated like a 3-year-old. Another reason spanking stops is because there are other more effective ways of causing older children “discomfort” – taking away their driving privileges, or smartphone. A third reason spanking isn’t needed as children get older is because they do learn empathy and are better able to understand the wrong they have done. There’s no need to discipline a penitent sinner. Ariel: I bet if you asked a 3-year-old why she got a spanking, she would say it was because daddy was mad at her. Spanking equals control and dominance, not love! Daniel: You would lose that bet with my daughter. My children understand what God tells us in Proverbs 3: “…the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” My kids know that discipline equals love, and a lack of discipline would equal a lack of love. Leo: I’ve got to run, but I’ve enjoyed the discussion. Ariel: I’m going too, and I have to say I’m happy to be done with this conversation.  Daniel: It doesn't look like I've convinced either of you to take up spanking I do hope I've given you reason to stop equating a spanking done in a controlled loving manner with the abuse that happens when an enraged parent beats up a child. I hope you’ll acknowledge that the two are so very different that they really shouldn’t be spoken of in the same breath. *** Spanking is being tried in the court of public opinion and the trial is rigged. That's why we need to speak up. We can speak cautiously, and wisdom might dictate that those with an empty roost should take the lead because they have the least to lose. But we all need to speak, whether over the back fence with a neighbor, or more publicly in a political setting. Spanking is being equated with abuse, but God says loving fathers will use this corporal punishment. So speak out, and spank in love. Let us be a light to our friends and neighbors on this issue showing how in this – as in all things – God’s ways are better than anything the world has to offer. Spanking does have some public defenders, including ARPACanada, who in 2013 released an excellent policy report about corporal punishment which they sent to every Member of Parliament. You can find it here.  ...

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

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

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

CD Review, Music, Parenting

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

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

Christian education, Parenting

Martin Luther on the vital, foundational, educational calling of parents

Martin Luther loved God’s Church so much he risked his freedom and life for it. He boldly took on princes, bishops, emperors, and popes, all in an effort to bring reformation to the Church he so loved. But did you know there was something he thought even more foundational to society than the Church? Luther recognized that society has three basic structures – the family, the Church, and the State – and of these three, he argued that it is the family that is the foundation for the other two. Why? Because of the great responsibility parents have to educate their children. It is in this role that the family unit will, for good or ill, greatly impact both the Church and State. In his “Letter to the Councils of German Cities” Luther expresses how educating children: “is the command of God. Its importance is seen in how He so frequently, through Moses, urges and enjoins parents to instruct their children such that it is said in Psalm 78:5-6, ‘how strictly he commanded our fathers that they should give knowledge to their children and instruct their children’s children.’” In his exposition on the fifth commandment, Luther stresses the need for children’s obedience towards their parents. Where that is absent, “…there can be neither good morals nor good government. For where obedience is lacking in the family, no city or principality or kingdom can be well governed. Family government is the basis of all other government; and where the root is bad, the trunk and fruit can not be good… where the father and mother rule badly, and let the children have their own way, there neither city, town, village, district, principality, kingdom, nor empire, can be well governed.” Luther on the basics But Luther doesn’t just tell parents that they had better do a good job because a lot is riding on their success. He also provides guidance for instruction. He prepared The Small Catechism in which he provided “the simple way a father should present to his household.” Luther believed everyone in the home needs to be instructed in the fundamentals of the faith, daily. In his short preface to his The Larger Catechism he lays out his expectation that fathers would examine their children (and servants) “at least once a week to ascertain what they know of it, or are learning and, if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it.” Parents have a high calling that aligns with their high position. The Lord commands all of us to love one another, but: “the parental estate God has especially honored above all estates that are beneath Him, so that He not only commands us to love our parents, but also to honor them… for to honor is far higher than to love, inasmuch as it comprehends not only love, but also modesty, humility, and deference as though to a majesty there hidden… that both in heart and with body we so act so to show that we esteem them very highly, and that, next to God, we regard them the very highest” Parents must be teachers This view of the relationship between parents and their children has many implications. First of all, when parents send their children to Christian day-schools (Luther wouldn’t imagine sending children to secular schools but would call them “nests of Satan”) or even to catechism classes in the church, they are sharing the responsibility for teaching their children with the school and Church. They are not permitted to abdicate it. Parents cannot hire out the task of teaching their children, but they can share it with others they know and trust to be godly in their teaching. Luther’s views would also have an impact on family worship and devotions as parents, especially fathers, intentionally teach their children, explaining to them the glorious deeds of the Lord. If we are convicted as Luther was, of parents’ important educational role, then perhaps recitation of the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s prayer every day would become a new norm. Opening the Heidelberg Catechism to teach our own children the fundamental doctrines of God’s Word could become a part of family devotions. Perhaps we could sit beside our children while they do their assignments from school, not only when they need help, but also to demonstrate interest in their work, and in showing a unity of purpose with the school to the children. The Lord has given children to parents and in so doing, has given parents the major responsibility and privilege of training up their children in the fear of the Lord for the benefit of family, Church, and State. May the Lord grant His blessing on all parents who seek to fulfill the high calling given to them by God. Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and the host of the Focal Point podcast....

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

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

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

Parenting

Teaching boys to fight

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

Children’s picture books, Parenting

3 picture books that tackle anxiety, anger, and failure

Children get anxious. And angry. And they can get frustrated when they fail. As adults, we often struggle with these same emotions, and sometimes we don't do all that well with handling them. Which makes it that much the harder for us to teach our children what to do. That's why this series of pictures books, from the Christian Counseling and Educational Fund (CCEF) are a welcome resource. Not only are they a tool for parents to help children, they can help us adults too. There is good advice in these pages, pointing us straight to the One who can really help. Zoe's Hiding Place: When you are anxious edited by David Powlison illustrated by Joe Hox 32 pages / 2018 The story is about a little mouse named Zoe who's worried about a school trip to the art museum. The last time the class went, she became so fascinated by one painting that she lost track of where the rest of the group went. Then, when she looked up, no one was around, and "It felt like I was alone forever!" She's scared it will happen again. So now she's retreated to her hiding place – under the covers in her bed. How can Zoe deal with her fear and worry? Her mom begins by listening. That's a good start. Then she explains to Zoe that what she is feeling is understandable. But when worry makes us feel like we're all alone, that's not true – God is always with us, and will never forsake us. Mom tells Zoe she can "turn each fear into a prayer" because God will help her. Her mom also helps Zoe think through ways she can stay with the group and not get separated. In the back of the book, the moral of the story is developed further with a two-page message to parents on "helping your child with anxiety." There the editor of this book, David Powlison – a very well-respected biblical counselor – has included a list of 10 "things to remember that will bring comfort to you and your child." Thoughts include: Recognizing that in this world "We have good reason to be anxious and worried." The most frequent command in the Bible is 'Don't be afraid.' Reminding your child that the Lord has listening ears. This is a wonderful book, meant for kids, but helpful for adults too. And the absolutely stunning pictures make this a pretty special morality tale. Yes, this is more an educational tool than an entertaining read. But it is a pretty entertaining read too. And the pictures are so fun to look at, a couple of my daughters have been paging through it regularly. I'd recommend Zoe's Hiding Place to any parents trying to help a child through worry or fear. With its firm grounding in Scripture, this will be a real help to both the child and the parent. For a 10-page preview of the book, you can check out this link here. Two others There are two other books in the CCEF's "Good News for Little Hearts" series, on failure and anger. Buster's Ears Trip Him Up is about dealing with failure. Buster is a speedy rabbit who thinks that winning is everything, so when his long ears trip him up and he loses the big race, he doesn't know how to deal with it. Fortunately, he has a big sister, and a wise father, who both know how to help him deal with failure. They remind him that God loved us before we had ever done anything so it really isn't about our accomplishments, but rather what Jesus accomplished on the cross. You can read a 6-page sample here. Jax's Tail Twitches is about when we are angry. Jax is a squirrel whose big brother is pestering him and that makes him mad. What's worse, the neighbors next door are taking their nuts without asking, and that makes his dad mad. But even when there is good reason to be angry, our anger is, most often, the wrong response to this wrong situation. This is a lesson that mom and dad can certainly benefit from, even as we share it with our children. You can read an 8-page excerpt here. I'd recommend all three of these book as wonderful tools for parents to read with and discuss with their children. The stories are solid, the artwork incredible, and what it teaches is biblical, helpful, and accessible. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Parenting

A smartphone contract for our kids

The “"Lights at Stewart’s Place” Facebook page is normally about the Stewart family’s incredible Christmas light display. This past December they turned their whole house into a bright and brilliant light show that featured glowing brilliant colors dancing across their lawn, doors, walls, and windows, all of it synced perfectly to a half dozen Christmas songs. Most of their hometown, the city of Lynden, WA, probably passed by their house at some point in December to catch a look  (and you still can, via some wonderful videos on their Facebook page). But in January, a couple of weeks after all the lights had been taken down, this same Facebook page featured a very different sort of post. Cameron Stewart shared a smartphone contract he’d come up with for his children.  **** Reformed Perspective: Where’d you come up with the idea for this contract? Cameron Stewart: Our 12-year-old daughter was asking about getting a cellphone. We’d started her out on a flip phone and after a lot of prayer, we decided to give her a smartphone for her birthday. But I knew we needed a contract to spell out our expectations, and the dangers. So I came up with one. Some of the ideas came from various contracts and articles I found online but the bulk of it was things that were important to us. It has been adjusted various times and I am sure we will make more tweaks. RP: How has it been helpful? CS: We’ve been using it for a year now, and one thing that it really helped with is that it made our daughter understand how important her proper handling of her phone was to us. She knows we mean business. And she has done a great job.       **** SMARTPHONE CONTRACT We are excited to know that we can trust you, and that you have proven that you are responsible enough to use a smartphone to communicate. In order for you to have a smartphone, there are a few things that you must agree with, and abide by.   A smartphone is a communication instrument, and like every instrument, there are correct ways in which to use it.  Here are the instructions and guidelines that you, your mom, and I, will agree to in order for you to get a smartphone: My responsibilities and understandings A. I understand this is my mom and dad’s phone. They bought it. They paid for it.  They are letting me use it. Aren’t they awesome? B. If it ever rings, beeps or vibrates and it says “mom” or “dad”, I will answer it or text back right away.  It is never ok to ignore a call or text from my parents. C. I understand that nothing replaces face-to-face conversations. When I am in the company of my family and my friends, I will limit my smartphone use. I will show them that I value them by making them a priority over my smartphone. D. It is ok to take my phone to school, but I must obey all the school smartphone rules. No one else is allowed to use my smartphone unless they need to make an emergency call to their parents. I will NOT give out my passcode. E. On school nights the smartphone will be plugged in at 8:00 in the kitchen. On weekends my parents will grace me with another hour (9:00). F. I understand that the world does not revolve around me.  I should always be looking for ways to serve Jesus and others. My texts, phone calls, pictures, and social media should be about others more than they are about me. I should never be looking to draw attention to myself.Selfies may not be sent or posted if they do not contain at least one other person. I understand that when I send pictures of myself I am SCREAMING to the world – PAY ATTENTION TO ME!  We all need to remember, it’s not about me ☺I will never post or send pictures of others without asking them for permission first.  This will keep me out of trouble with others, and save myself some future heartaches.I will not take or send pictures of my private parts.  My parents assure me that “while this may seem funny someday, some idiot will tempt you to do this. It is a terrible idea that could make your life miserable.  Cyberspace is bigger than you could ever imagine and once it is out there, it never goes away (think "screenshots").” G. I understand smartphones can be very dangerous to my safety if my information gets into the wrong hands. I will NEVER text, talk, or communicate with people I do not know.I will immediately tell my parents if someone is trying to contact me that I do not know, or I do not want to have contact me. If someone sends me something questionable/inappropriate I will not delete it but will shut off my phone and bring it immediately to my parents, or to a trusted teacher if it occurs at school. I will not message, text or email ANY adult without my parents’ permission...even if it is for school, sports, music, etc.  Also, my parents will be included in the “group” conversation. I will never give out personal information with my phone such as last name, birth date, school I go to, or even the city I live in. I will just stay on a first name basis, so no creep can track me down.I will never share my contact information with any boys!I will give out my information sparingly, even if for a school-related project. H. I am never allowed to initiate conversations with boys for any reason, including homework. If a boy contacts me, I will immediately let my parents know, and we will work through the problem together. I. I will be positive, encouraging, and uplifting with the things that I do with my phone. I will never gossip or talk behind people’s backs.  I will not use the phone to lie, fool, or deceive anyone. J. I am not allowed at this time to use social media. Not at all! When I have shown that I am trustworthy, my parents may gradually let me use social media. I will give all account information to my parents.  This includes passwords. L. If the phone is dropped and breaks, if it falls in the toilet, is chewed up by the cat because I left it laying around, or is taken by the boogie man, I am responsible for fixing or replacing it. M. The smartphone may be taken away as a consequence for poor communication with my parents, not treating my siblings well, not keeping up my responsibilities around the house, poor performance at school, or any other reason my parents decide. I understand having a phone is a privilege, not a right. N. Last, and most importantly if anyone sends me a text that is inappropriate, or someone gets a hold of my phone and does anything that does not seem right through my phone, I must immediately tell my parents. I understand that they will help me with this and that I will not be in trouble for what happened. I understand that my parents have more experience handling these sorts of things. My parent’s responsibilities A. We will always be willing to help you through any problem with your phone or the use of it. B. We will always look first at any app or music you would like to download. C. Anytime you come to us with texts, pictures, call, or social media that is inappropriate we will support you, not judge/condemn you. D. We will monitor your phone all the time.   We can see everything you do on your phone – trust us ☺. It is our job to protect and take care of you, and we promise we will do it. We are fully aware that at some point you will mess up, and your phone will be taken away.  Your mom and dad will sit down and talk about it with you.  Then we will all start over again.  Mistakes are part of learning, and remember it’s not so much the mistake, but it is how you deal with it.  We are on your team. Signatures Mom ____________________________________________________________ Dad   ____________________________________________________________ Me    _____________________________________________________________ Date_________________________ ...

Parenting

6 Duties of Parents

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

Parenting

Ignore your inner defense attorney!

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

Parenting

Just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic?

Over the past year or so, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of people asking me for help with anxiety issues. While it seems to be affecting people of all ages, the most common problem is teens with anxiety, as the following stats underline: Anxiety is the most common mental-health disorder in the United States, affecting nearly one-third of both adolescents and adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Nearly a third of all adolescents ages 13 to 18 will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health, with the incidence among girls (38.0 percent) far outpacing that among boys (26.1 percent). More than 6 million American teens are grappling with an anxiety disorder of some kind. Anxiety is now the most common issue for which people of all ages seek counseling. Over the last decade, anxiety has overtaken depression as the most common reason college students seek counseling services. Since 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA has been asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed” by all they had to do. The first year, 18 percent replied yes. By 2000, that climbed to 28 percent. By 2016, to nearly 41 percent. The American College Health Association has been recording about a 10% annual increase in anxiety rates over a number of years. Recent studies have declared millennials, especially women, the most anxious generation in history. Among 10- to 24-year-old females, seven to 14 per cent will experience an anxiety condition in any given year. There’s been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they return to school each fall. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. Based on data collected from the National Survey of Children’s Health for ages 6 to 17, researchers found a 20 percent increase in diagnoses of anxiety between 2007 and 2012. One Christian counselor said, “When I first started counseling twenty-four years ago, probably one out of every twenty kids coming in were dealing with anxiety,” she says. “Now, out of my new appointments, I would say at least sixteen of every twenty families are here for that reason, if not more.” So just how bad is the teen anxiety epidemic? It’s really bad, isn’t it? I list these statistics, not to make everyone even more anxious, but to try to re-assure anxious teens and their parents that anxiety is a very normal abnormality. Due to the stigma that still surrounds anxiety and depression, especially in the church, many people suffer in silence and secrecy. They think, “I’m totally weird….There’s no one else like me.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The statistics say otherwise. We are surrounded by kids who are suffering like this but most are afraid to admit it, and so are many of their parents. The kids therefore often continue to suffer without help or support.  Many different causes So, if teen anxiety is so widespread, what’s causing it? On the basis of personal experience, counseling, and research, here are what I believe are the most common causes of teen anxiety. Unresolved guilt: Teen years are often sin-filled years, especially in the area of sex, both virtual and real-life. This causes fear of being found out, fear of God, fear of consequences, and fear of judgment. Unbelief: Related to the above, many kids are not saved, they have no peace with God, because they have never believed in Christ for salvation. But even teens who are believers suffer from anxiety through unbelief, just simply not believing God’s promises. Physical problem: Oftentimes it’s not a sin or faith issue but a biological issue, where the “fight-or-flight” mechanism is disordered, constantly or periodically flooding the body and brain with “anxious chemicals” such as adrenaline, cortisol, etc. This is far more common than most people think and I’ll have more to say about it in another post. Impossible expectations: Teens can impose on themselves perfectionistic targets in school, sport, work, and other areas of life, causing huge anxiety when they fail to live up to them. Although young, there’s often a sense that bad decisions already taken, or bad exam results, will ruin the rest of life, and that there’s no way back. Parental pressure: Parents sometimes add their own unrealistic expectations, often with a view to getting scholarships, or of maintaining their social standing with other parents. Related to this is the problem of over-protective parents. Many kids are so spoiled or protected by their parents that they are totally unprepared for what the world throws at them as soon as they venture outside of the cocoon. Over-busy parents: And the opposite of the above. Some kids just need quality and quantity time with Dad and Mom. Broken homes: One of the most under-reported causes of teen anxiety. Sleep deprivation: Teens need 8-9 hours of regular sleep to thrive, but many are getting less than six causing significant physical, emotional, and intellectual damage. Technology addiction: The teen brain is being fried by the constant sizzle of social media and gaming, giving the brain no opportunity for calm and repair. Social media: Regardless of the impact of how long and how often teens are on social media, there’s the constant performance anxiety that flows from seeing other teens “perfect” lives online. Physical immobility: Teen bodies were not made to sit down all day. Lack of exercise reduces healthy brain and body chemicals and increases damaging ones. Friends and enemies: There’s constant pressure to please and keep up with friends, and especially for girls, these relationships are often complex and fragile. Then add frequent bullying from enemies, sometimes in real life, but today more often online. Neglect of Sabbath: God made the Sabbath for our good, but very few teens take a day off a week from studies, work, sports, shopping, etc., and are suffering the consequences of going against our Maker’s instructions. Bad news: Our teens are exposed to a constant diet of negative news from the media, feeding anxiety and fear. Unhealthy diet: Sugar, carbs, soda, and caffeine drinks make up a large part of many teen diets, a lethal cocktail for mental health. Bad time management: Bad organization, wrong prioritizing, doing the wrong things at the wrong times, procrastinating, taking on too much, all combine to create a constant background hum of stress and tension. Money worries: Poor planning, indisciplined spending, taking on debt, impulsive shopping, all stretch the budget and the nerves. Practical godlessness: Without God as the foundation and framework of life, everything depends on us. Teens, yes even Christian teens, often go days and even weeks without praying and reading God’s Word. This results in a lack of a sense of God’s presence, plan, and power in their lives. Faulty thinking: Teens can fall into a range of faulty thinking. Trauma: Abuse, unexpected bereavement, exposure to violence, accidents, etc. can result in degrees of PTSD. Conclusion As you can see, parents, there are multiple cause of teen anxiety. I hope this list helps you to think and talk to your teens as you try to explore what factors may be contributing to your teen’s worries — it’s usually more than one. Unless we find out the causes, it’s unlikely we’ll discover any cures. I’ll pick out some of these in future posts for further explanation. Dr. David Murray blogs at HeadHeartHand.org where this first appeared as a pair of posts. In the coming weeks he hopes to share more of his thoughts on the teen anxiety epidemic in the hopes of helping concerned parents understand what’s going in with their anxious kids, offering guidance on how they can help them, and giving practical and biblical advice on how they can contribute to their healing. And we hope to share his thoughts on our website too, and in upcoming issues of the print magazine....

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.”...

Parenting

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

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

Book excerpts, Parenting, Sexuality

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

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

Parenting

Should it be "I'm sorry" or "Please forgive me"?

“I’m sorry” or “please forgive me” – does it make a difference? Aren’t they just two different ways of saying the same thing? Not really. “I’m sorry” can lead to regret, which leads to enslavement. “Please forgive me” leads to repentance, which leads to freedom. Sorry I was caught Saying I’m sorry doesn’t really require a change of heart. For example, one child takes another child’s toy truck without permission. He is caught in the act. He is told to go to his brother, give the toy back and say he is sorry. He does this, but inside he is still unhappy he doesn’t have the toy. His brother, on the other hand, is happy to have the toy back, but he is upset that the toy was taken in the first place. On the surface, everything looks okay. The wrong act was discovered, the perpetrator said he was sorry, and everything is back to normal. But what about beneath the surface? And how is saying I’m sorry not helpful, but actually destructive? The above scenario demonstrates not only a momentary conflict, but an ongoing problem of anger and injustice. How could asking for forgiveness make a difference? Simply saying one is sorry doesn’t address the underlying heart issues. The problem here is that while the first child may regret the incident, the regret may be focused on the fact that he was caught, not that he disobeyed God and attempted to wrong his brother. Let’s revisit the scenario, this time focusing on asking for forgiveness. Can we be restored? Mom sees that the toy truck has been wrongfully taken. She calmly confronts her son and administers the appropriate discipline. She addresses the sin and tells her son he should seek to serve his brother rather than take advantage of him. Now the real issue of selfishness is out in the open. Then she instructs her son to go to his brother and say, “Nathan, please forgive me for trying to take your truck. That was selfish of me. Please forgive me for not caring for you.” Mom knows that repentance means not only acknowledging what was wrong, but replacing it with what is right. In response, Nathan has been taught to say I forgive you. And with encouragement from his mom, he also says, “we can play with the truck together.” The issue of regret has been addressed for both brothers. The groundwork is being laid for forgiveness to result in repentance and in building a solid relationship between these brothers. Conclusion Will this same scene be replayed the next day? Probably, yes! But daily training in righteousness will begin to build in patterns of forgiveness and repentance that will serve both brothers for the rest of their lives. “I’m sorry” or “Please forgive me.” It makes a difference! "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." – 2 Corinthians 7:10 This article first appeared at ShepherdPress.com/blog and is reprinted here with permission of the author....

Parenting

Gel-Pen faith

Not too long ago a young woman was over at my house for some reason that I cannot remember. Now on a typical day at my house you would find dishes in the sink, junk on the floor, a baby unloading a drawer, laundry on the stairs, and about 410 things on my to-do list. Children are always coloring, wielding scissors, and gluing things on the window when I’m not looking. Hopefully, you would also find me running around in the midst of it, because long experience has taught me that giving up on it won’t get results. I don’t remember what exactly was going on when she came by, but at some point she commented that she was the sort of person who liked things to be really orderly. It wasn’t a criticism and it wasn’t offensive, although it did make me laugh. Because, hello, me too. When the choice is to laugh or cry The thing is, when I look over my past I feel that God has written it on the wall here, there, and everywhere that He doesn’t care about that. That part of my personality that used to seem like a positive attribute is something that God didn’t treasure. He has asked me to put that on the altar. When push comes to shove and it is either the house or the kids, God chooses the kids, and He tells me to. When it is the laundry all done or the kids all loved, it had better be the kids. When it is mom as an uptight dictator about the shoe placement or the mom who is laughing at the huge spill in the kitchen, I know which one God wants me to be.  He wants me to be joyful, hard-working, full of gratitude, laughter, and above all He wants me to have spit-spot closets. Wait. Does He? All but that last bit. Of course God is honored when I am combining joy with closet organizing. Laughter with clean floors. Gratitude with getting all the dishes done. But you know what? If something has got to go at our house, it better not be my attitude. Because that is the one thing that God actually told me to keep track of. Obedience in weakness As I look back at my life I can see that almost every time that there was something that I felt good at, or capable of, or confident in, God would give me a wonderful opportunity to lay it down. There is a way of looking at it that says, “God just keeps not letting me be happy! He just makes the conditions perfect for me to be miserable! He knew that I need a certain amount of alone time every day and He keeps not giving it to me!” But this is the way that I see it. Those things that I consider part of my personality – loving to decorate, loving to cook, wanting things to be beautiful and organized and perfectly crafty and satisfying. I believe in these things. But I believe in them as things that I can use to honor my Creator. Back in the days when I wasn’t being challenged, these things came naturally, and I believed in them because I could cobble together reasons that they were good. But they primarily came from my own strength. I could be that way without really any pushback. So God brought the pushback. He made it take more than the capacity I think I have to do these things. He said to me, “I know you like it, and you think you believe it. Now I’d like to see you do it without yourself.” God isn’t interested in my strength. He is interested in my obedience in weakness. Do you hear that? God said enough with my hobbies and my preferences. Lets see about her obedience and her faith. When we believe something, we can sign our cute little names on the dotted line. Children are a blessing? Check! You should be full of joy? Check! You should honor your husband and love your children? Check! Enjoy all the days of your life? Check! Watch me go with my cute little gel pen in my journal! So then God gives us those children. And now we believe something that He has told us, but we are not dancing around ready to sign our names on it anymore. Why not? Well, because we feel like fussing about the laundry. Because it is messing us up to believe this, because now our faith about this is not abstract. So we feel broken. Like the things that we believe aren’t coordinating with our emotions anymore. Like we can’t find ourselves. Like the old us with the journal and the gel pen had a much better grasp of motherhood than this weird lady we have suddenly become.  Why so much brokenness? Doesn’t God love us? God does give us more than we can handle God has brought me through this time and again. It is like He holds up my little statement of faith from my youth and says, “cute.” But He doesn’t want me to sign my name on it.  He wants me to put myself on the altar. Enough with this chit chat. God wants to see action. Take that belief, and live it. Not when you have all the emotional strength to do that, but when you don’t. Do it when it must be all His strength. Do it because you believe, not because you feel. Do it in faith. This has been happening to me long enough now that I can see His hand in it. I can see the tremendous mercy that it was for me (the wedding coordinator for other people) to be the sick bride. I remember standing at the window in my parent’s room looking out at all our wedding guests arriving. I didn’t want my dress on because it would make me throw up again. And as I saw them all coming, I could also see that God was giving me a chance to walk in joy down that aisle. I knew I believed that the wedding was just about the vows, and about honoring them for the rest of my life. That all the rest was just superficial. God didn’t want me walking down the aisle in superficial joy. He didn’t want me to be buoyed up by the fun, and the dress, and the flowers. He wanted me to take His joy and walk with it. And if that was all I had, it would be enough. This is a pattern. I felt capable of being a mother, back before I was. God gave me more to handle than I could possibly handle on my own strength. I felt capable of keeping house. I’m sorry. I don’t know if I can stop laughing about that. Anything that I felt capable of doing, God will both make it seem impossible and simultaneously ask me to do it. And there I am – in the sweetest place you can ever be – relying on Him. Walking in faith. Living in joy. Seek his joy This broken feeling is only broken if it stays there. If it stops in self-pity. If it wallows in grief about the lost emotions of our journaling days. But this is richer. When we seek His joy instead of our own, when we lay our best on His altar, and we have nothing left for ourselves, that is when we are truly accomplishing His purpose in our lives. We are not broken. We are being healed. We are not alone. We are in His hands. We are not overwhelmed. We have a champion. We are not stupid. We are being made wise. We are not weak. For He is not weak. We are not hopeless.  For we are His. This article is reprinted, with permission from Femina Girls. Rachel Jankovic is also the author of "Loving the Little Years: Motherhood in the Trenches" and "Fit to Burst: Abundance, Mayhem and the Joys of Motherhood"...

Parenting

What’s the purpose of family devotions?

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

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

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

Parenting

The high cost of fatherhood

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

Parenting

"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

One way to talk to your kids about God

In Matthew 16, Jesus presents his disciples with a two-part question. It is a masterful question and one that parents can use with great benefit. Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” When the disciples finish giving their answers, Jesus makes the question personal. He asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly proclaims that Jesus “is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” This question revealed the content of Peter’s heart. You can use this two-part question effectively to help you understand your children’s thoughts. For example: “Hey kids, what do you friends say is causing all of the damaging weather the country has been having?” “What do you think has been causing this weather?” Or: “What do your teammates say about major league stars using performance enhancing drugs?” “What do you think about PED’s?” There are many, many possible situations that this two-part question can help you better understand your children. For this to be effective, your concern and questions must genuine.  They should flow out of normal conversations. This is a tool to help you gather data. If you want to use this more than once, then don’t immediately correct an answer that you think is wrong. You are asking for their opinion, don’t penalize children for doing what you asked. Rather, use the answers you receive to help plan positive ways address your children’s thoughts and correct them if needed. It is always a good idea to follow Christ’s example in interacting with people. Jay Younts is the author of "Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children" and he blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article first appeared. It is reprinted with permission....

Parenting

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

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

Parenting

Are our children leaders?

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

Parenting

Teaching your kid to appreciate broccoli

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

Parenting

Parenting: many approaches - only one set of guiding principles

Empty threats – that's what they are called – and some are more ridiculous than others. I once overheard an employee at Target, a young mother, telling her co-worker: He keeps hitting Steven all the time. So the next time he punches Steven in the face, I'm gonna say, "Robert, next time you punch Steven in the face, I'm going to punch YOU in the face." ...Of course, you can't really punch a 4 year old in the face, so I never would. That's extreme, but then there are also the more common variety that we're likely to hear at church, or at school, or coming out of our own mouths: "If you don’t get into the car right now, I’m going to leave without you." "You'd better stop crying. This restaurant doesn't allow any crying, so if you cry they're going to kick us out of here." "If you don't stop fighting back there I am turning this car around and we are not going anywhere." Empty threats can seem effective, at least in the short-term. But is "effective" the measure by which we evaluate our parenting approach? We all need parenting help There are strong differences of opinion regarding the discipline of children, and not all techniques work for all kids, even in the same family. We do have to consider the different ages and personalities of different children, so what works with one child may not be a good approach for another. But we also know that all approaches are not equal. That's because some techniques and methods align with what God has revealed in his Word, and some run at right angles to what God has said. So we need to seek out the scriptural principals of discipline, and we need to hear what God says about love and kindness, and then make this foundational for all of our interactions with these small brothers and sisters in Christ. And, in addition to these scriptural principles, we can also seek out tried and tested methods from older, godly parents. God puts us in a community so we can learn from one another (Prov. 15:22). Finally, there are excellent Christian books on the topic of parenting. We need to read such books because of our own sinfulness, which we too often overlook when we are frustrated with our disobedient children. It is way too easy to justify our own behavior, and prayerfully reading through these books will help us analyze where and when we are a part of the cause. For instance, if we scream in anger because our children have gotten angry with one another for the tenth time in the day, we teach them that screaming in anger is the proper response to a frustrating situation, even though that is not our intention. If we force them to endure a shopping trip without regard for their hunger, thirst, fatigue, and need for movement, we are more to blame for their meltdown than they are. We must plan wisely for delays and not expect them to have more patience than we do. If we fail to educate them as to what they will soon encounter and the specific behavior that is expected (because they do not know good behavior by instinct) then we are not helping them to behave properly. Most children love their parents and feel grateful whether they say it out loud or not. They need our love and acceptance and they struggle with the constant tension between wanting to please us and, like all of us, wanting to follow their own sinful nature. They are sinners and they will behave badly. Sometimes we forget to apply our Bible beliefs to the situation and realize that “There is none who does good, there is not even one” (Romans 3:12). Or, as it says in the Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 2, “ have a natural tendency to hate God and neighbor.” In communion One of the very best of the books available is Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. Tripp explains that there is a “circle of God’s favor.” When a child is, from love and gratitude to God, being obedient, he or she is in this circle. When a child strays outside of this "circle of favor" the parents’ job is to pull the child back inside. If he lies, we must teach him not to lie. If he throws a selfish tantrum or punches his brother in the face, we must teach him that this is not acceptable behavior. We may not abuse him, but we must find an effective way to influence him to end that behavior. When discipline is needed, Tripp says we should start with a statement giving the reason for the punishment, then give the punishment, and then remind them why they were punished (preferably when everyone is calm). Then comes repentance. Their “Sorry, dad” may or may not be sincere, but the pattern will be established. Last of all, there must be forgiveness and restoration, just as our Lord gives to us. This usually includes a hug and a statement, but most importantly: the freedom from having the sin mentioned again (Psalm 103:12: "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us"). Here we must squelch our own anger rather than sin by constantly bringing up their wrongs, or humiliating them by relating the deeds to other people, especially within their hearing. We ruin our child’s good name when we tell about his sins, and if we tell the child he is a “brat” or a bad boy, even jokingly, we reinforce to him that we do not have higher expectations. As far as specific punishment methods go, some use a careful spanking (a slap on the hand or thigh for a toddler – their bottom has too many layers to feel the sting! – or a few spanks on the bottom for someone already potty-trained). Others use a time-out location, which, to be effective, requires a timer and constant monitoring by the parent, especially when it is first being established. But to be effective it must be a true punishment to the child. For example, if they think time-outs are no big deal, then something that is a big deal to them must be substituted. Anticipation Parents should, with experience, be able to steer their children clear of situations that might otherwise lead to the need for discipline. For example, inexperienced parents tend to overestimate the amount of noise stimulation that a young child can handle, even for “fun” times like DisneyWorld or an overcrowded family get-together. As we learn how much our children can handle, we can, when we see them being overwhelmed, remove them from these situations. (Ephesians 6:4 is relevant here; these are both examples of parents heeding the instruction for "fathers not provoke your children to anger...") Another example: we can take a suggestion from Dr. Raymond Moore of Home Grown Kids who always used this rule of thumb for birthday parties – the number of guests at the party should not exceed the child’s age. Adults tend to think more is better, but a young child will do better to have a couple of play dates than one big bash. Only truth Empty threats should never, ever be made. They are ineffective when smart children realize their parents are not serious. These threats may even cause a rebellious child to disobey just to see whether we really meant what we said. They can also be counter-productive to the fellowship goals of your family. Would you really cancel Christmas or attendance at a friend’s birthday party because of a child’s disobedient behavior? That would punish people outside of your family as well. Should you frighten your children, as some have with threats of abandonment ("Come now or I'm leaving without you!") leading them to experience fear and lack of assurance of your love and acceptance, and therefore desperate to please you? Children take our words very literally. Our goal is to teach them about sin and repentance and forgiveness by modeling it, not to beat them physically or emotionally into subjection to us. An awesome and brief task It is important to plan our system of discipline ahead of time so that mom and dad will both know what they are going to do when their kids behave badly. You need a plan, and a backup plan and perhaps even a third plan for the stubborn. Don't let disobedience surprise you. Don't let it make you angry as though it were a direct attack on you. God has called us to teach our children to do what is right, and that task exceeds any housework or leisure goals that we might have had for the day. Pray for patience, because your effective plan may need a hundred applications! I overheard a conversation at 11 pm in a restaurant parking lot between a father and his sobbing three-year-old. He yelled at her to “Stop crying and behave” inside the restaurant. It was tempting to intervene and point out that he was being selfish – caring more for his social goals than he did for the welfare of his little girl, who pretty obviously needed to be home in bed. “Children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward” (Psalm 127:3). Though it feels like we will always be raising and disciplining them, it is less than a third of our lifetime that we have this privilege. Something to keep in mind. 45 of Sharon’s articles have been collected in Soup and Buns: Nourishment from God’s Word for Your Daily Struggles. $10 (US)/book plus shipping. To buy a copy contact sharoncopy@gmail.com....

CD Review, Music, Parenting

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

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

Parenting

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

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

Adult non-fiction, Internet, Parenting

Parenting the Internet Generation

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

Assorted, Parenting

The definition of patience

Patience. It’s a word we would never bother looking up in the dictionary because we already understand its meaning. But sometimes a well-known word can leap to life with new meaning and application when we read its formal definition. So consider what Dictionary.com has to say about patience. Patience: putting up with annoyance, misfortune, delay, or hardship, with fortitude and calm and without complaint, loss of temper, irritation or the like. It is an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay. Wow. Simply put, patience means not showing annoyance or anger with people or things that aren’t acting as we desire! From this definition we can deduce that we are very often…. not patient! This definition leads me to believe that the practice of “patience” or “impatience” relies almost completely on the words that come out of our mouths and the body language that we exhibit (heavy sighs, eye-rolling, stomping, slamming doors) when we do not like what is being said or done. Is patience an attitude then, or an action? Love is patient It definitely starts with an attitude – we have to decide how we are going to react, and we do that by recognizing what is right and wrong and then making our choice. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that, “Love is patient.” That means that love puts up with "annoyance, misfortune, delay, and hardship with fortitude and calm and without complaint, loss of temper, or irritation." It means love is the "ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance." In Romans 12:9-21 Paul tells us how to behave like Christians. Part of that includes verse 12, which states, “rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulations, be steadfast in prayer.” That means that when we have tribulation (which means trials, troubles, problems, aggravations) we are supposed to put up with them with fortitude and calm and without complaint, loss of temper, or irritation; we are to suppress restlessness and annoyance. Excusing ourselves But patience is not easy, and it has become difficult to recognize right from wrong because our culture not only excuses impatience, it exalts it as a right and a virtue. It is “only understandable” to be impatient in traffic or standing in line, when confronted with confused or ignorant people, or in obtaining whatever it is that we need or want. Television commercials suggest that we grab each other’s breakfast food, race to beat our spouse to the better car, and complain loudly whenever things displease us. Life is all about indulgence and not letting anyone or anything get in our way. It is also very easy to excuse our behavior by blaming our impatience on our workload, our temperament, our upbringing, our heritage, our gender, or our age (whether young or old!). Recognizing the sin of impatience So let’s get the definition of patience correct first – let’s know right from wrong, because God tells us in several places that we are to be patient, including with family and church members. How do we talk to and about our church family? 1 Thessalonians 5:14 tells us that as we “warn the unruly, comfort the faint-hearted, and uphold the weak,” we are to “be patient with all” of them. This is different than “tsk-tsking” as we look down our noses. Paul tells us to express all the fruit of the Spirit spoken of in Galatians 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. This involves not demanding our own perceived “rights” or our own way. It involves loving others more than ourselves for “love overlooks a multitude of sins” as well as mistakes and small differences (1 Peter 4:8). And it involves trusting God to take care of the details when there are delays and difficulties. We must drop the hurry and the worry about what others might think of us. Either we are acting patiently, or we are not. God’s written and preached Word can give us strength that helps us choose patient behavior. We exhibit this fruit of the Holy Spirit best when we are walking closest to Him. The Apostle Paul said in Romans: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me” (7:21). So true. But having a better definition of this sin will at least help us to identify our inclination towards it, and make it less excusable. God tells us to be patient: to put up with daily trials without complaint or irritation. The best news is that He promises strength through the Holy Spirit, and forgives our confessed sins daily as well. “Faithful is He who calls us, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24)....