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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

Gentleness: a gift to your family

Do you want your children to see you as someone they can trust? Do you want your spouse to take comfort in just being with you? Are you easy to talk to? Is your family hesitant to talk to you when they are hurting? If someone in your family messes up or is in trouble are you the person that helps him feel secure and safe, the person that she knows will help make things right? You want to be able to answer yes to these questions. In fact, you sometimes get angry and hurt when those close to you don’t seek your help. Ironic, isn’t it? Here is a biblical quality that can help you become the go-to person for those whom you love. That quality is gentleness. Gentleness requires great courage. It is not for the faint of heart. Gentleness is the opposite of weakness. Gentleness is part of the Spirit’s fruit. Gentleness is the exercise of the Spirit’s power. Your anger is the exercise of your own self-centeredness. Gentleness defined: Gentleness uses only the strength or force that is necessary for any given situation. Gentleness is showing Christ to those you love. God wants you to associate gentleness with power not weakness. Why? Because Christ is gentle. If you want to be Christ-like ask him for the strength to follow his example. Christ does not treat you as your sins deserve. Ask him for the power to love your family as he loves you. Ask him to help you say and mean these words: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). What would your family think if you said these words to them? Give your family the Spirit’s powerful gift of gentleness. Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared....

Dating, Parenting

Marriable Men

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

Parenting, Politics

Exposing the poor research fueling the anti-spanking campaign

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

Parenting

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

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

History, Parenting

Questioning daycare and preschool: how young is too young?

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

Parenting, Pro-life - Fostering

Why you should consider fostering

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

Parenting, Popular but problematic

Patricia Polacco gets woke

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

Parenting

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

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

Parenting

J.C. Ryle on teaching our children to pray

In his book "Duties for Parents," J.C. Ryle encourages parents to take seriously the admonishment in Proverbs 22:6 to “Train up a child in the way he should go" because, as the verse continued, "when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Ryle explained that this promise applied both for good and for ill – early training would help the child right into adulthood, but bad habits fostered by parental neglect would also have a lasting impact. Now, this might seem an ominous verse, knowing that we parents are far from perfect. But God is not calling us to perfection here. He is, however, making it plain that He has given us an awesome and wonderful task, to be taken on with great seriousness. In the excerpt below from his book, Ryle urges parents to train their children to pray. **** 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 told Ananias: “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 without 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

The Golden Rule: the biblical response to self-pity

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

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....

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