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 oth
"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 floc
Church, Home, and School – A Two-Legged Stool?
A popular metaphor for education in the Reformed community is the image of a triangle, a tripod, or a three-legged stool. The legs of the stool are named church, home, and school. If one of them is missing, the entire chair comes crashing down. By keeping this model in mind, we can keep three key institutions functioning properly in the community. The tripod model of education has a long history in our Reformed circles. Its proponents have used it to defend a number of principles related to Reformed education. According to the model, the institution of the Christian school is a responsibility of all members of the church, and therefore should be financed by all. Also, the model assumes that children belong in the school rather than in the home. Families that homeschool their children are not only depriving them of the school’s influence, they are also not supporting their brothers and sisters by sharing the burden of operating the Christian school. The view of education as a three-legged stool has its strengths. Communal support of Reformed education is certainly a positive thing. Also, the model does a good job describing the influences on a child’s education – children are indeed influenced by church, home, and school. (I shall leave it to other writers to debate the impact of the world in this equation.) Tripod limitations However, in my view, the triangle or tripod model of education also has its limitations. If we attempt to use the model to describe the responsibilities of various parties in a child’s education, the model breaks down. It ascribes too much importance to one leg – the school. When schools give themselves too much importance, they can be seen as institutions that have a life of their own. Educational experts, called teachers, gather the children of the congregation together. They assume responsibility for the educational wellbeing of the children in their charge. Parental involvement in education is limited to providing physical nourishment, while the school provides mental nourishment. At best, spiritual nourishment is shared between home and school; at worst, the responsibility for spiritual wellbeing shifts more and more to the school. The school board provides financial resources and takes care of the school building without getting too involved in educational matters. Attempts to involve parents in educational decision-making are easily dismissed. After all, what do parents know about education, anyway? This picture of education is far from what Scripture teaches. The famous passage in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which has been used to open many school society meetings, is directed squarely at the parents: “Impress them on your children....” In Psalm 78, we again see the picture of fathers telling their children the great deeds of the Lord. While we find ample mention in Scripture of the role of the church and of the home, we do not find a mention of the institution of the school. Scripture teaches that education is a parental responsibility. And with responsibility, God also gives the means to fulfill that responsibility. In Hebrews 13:21, God promises to equip us with everything that we need to do his will, which certainly includes the education of our children. This means that every parent is, in some way, an educational expert. To be sure, not all parents are equipped to the same degree for specific educational tasks. Part of being responsible is to recognize one’s own weaknesses. Because of this, parents can, and often should, use schools to help in fulfilling their task. But this does not take away from the fact that the responsibility for this education lies at the feet of each parent, not at the feet of the school – and certainly not at the feet of government. Parents come first In view of this, perhaps a bipod model would be more appropriate. The school should not be viewed as a separate entity with its own responsibilities to the children of the congregation, but as an extension of the home. In one sense, we are all homeschoolers. However, the demands of education in modern society are beyond the capabilities, energy, or time of many (if not most) parents. As a result, we bond together as a group of like-minded parents and form a society. We build a building. We hire professional teachers and administrators. We pool our financial resources. We ask for assistance from other members of the congregation who do not have school-age children. We form a school, a Christian school. This view of schooling is in direct opposition to the secular view of schools, which sees schools as agents of socialization. In public schools, children are caught in the tension of the question – to whom do the children belong: the parents or the state? Our schools recognize the fact that the answer to this question is clear – the parents! For example, the parent handbook at William of Orange School states:
According to Deuteronomy 6 and Psalm 78, parents have the task of raising their children in the fear of the Lord … The same values that are treasured by the parents need a resounding echo in ... class (From the Garden to the City, p 26 and 27).The idea that the school is an extension of the home has implications for our schools, a few of which I want to highlight here. 1. Parental involvement is a must First, it means that parental involvement is not only desired, it is a necessity! We cannot leave the education of our children to “the experts” behind their closed classroom doors. We need to be involved in making ourselves aware of what our children are learning, both by asking our children, but also in perhaps paying a visit to their classroom. Being involved also means giving input on what curricular direction the school must take, and helping to keep the school running smoothly by sharing our talents and time. This parental involvement also takes the form of volunteer work in the trenches – in the classrooms! A strong volunteer culture in a school is a huge blessing to the students. Teachers need to welcome and embrace such a culture. Not only can volunteers make their work easier and more effective, but they are living proof that the parents of the school take their roles seriously. In addition, volunteers have a positive effect on the students, as they see that their education is important enough for their parents to spend time at school. 2. Parent-teacher communication is a must Second, this view of the school highlights the importance of good communication between the school and the home. This communication needs to happen in both directions. Schools have an obligation to keep parents informed of what is happening in the classrooms and around the school. Parents also need to keep the communication channels open. They need to provide information about their children that will help the school make the best educational decisions for them. They need to be proactive in dealing with problems and challenges at school. They need to make their views on curricular direction known so that what is taught in the school can be a reflection of what is taught in the home. Parental schools ≠ parent-run schools However, this model does not imply that each parent has the authority to make educational decisions for the school. Our schools are parental schools, to be sure: but they are not parent-run schools. Instead, they are board-run schools. The difference is a fine one, but it means that parents delegate some of their authority to the board that they elect. As a board (not individual parents), they make decisions for the school that they believe are in the best interests of the community. Although we may not agree with every decision, there comes a time where we submit to the best judgment of our elected board. In addition, this model does not imply that homeschooling is necessarily better than community schools. Our schools allow us to pool our resources and our strengths. Especially at a high school level, few parents can match the breadth of knowledge or experience that is represented by a staff. Our schools provide opportunities for our students that they would not receive at home, such as instrumental music groups, sports teams, and volunteer opportunities. Our schools are a good way for parents to fulfill their responsibility to educate their children. A stool with two legs does not stand very easily. And it is true that if we stood on our own, as parents and church, all of our efforts would come crashing down in short order. But fortunately we do not stand on our own. It is the Lord who holds up our efforts to educate our children in his ways in an atmosphere in which they can be surrounded by his covenant people.
Kent Dykstra is principal at Credo Christian High School in Langley, BC. His article, originally titled "Church, Home, and School – A Three-Legged Stool?" first appeared in Clarion (Vol 59, No 21) and then in the January, 2014 issue of Reformed Perspective. It is reprinted here with permission. A Portuguese version is available here.
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.
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, 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.
We must teach our children to be Kingdom heirs—not just laborers in the marketplace
****“Who are you?” a university student once asked me. Odd question, I thought. I’d handled countless student questions, but this one caught me unprepared. “Uh . . . I’m a professor,” I answered weakly. “No!” he shot back. “I don’t mean what do you do, but who are you?” His question unsettled me. Like most North Americans, I’d been carefully, though not intentionally, catechized since a lad at my parents’ side that the first and most important question we ask adults at first meeting (after getting their name) is, “What do you do?” I’d learned that catechism lesson well, repeating it literally hundreds of times in all kinds of social settings over the years. But that catechism had left me quite unprepared to answer this more fundamental question about my personal identity separate from my place in the market. That grieved me because, as a Christian, I had been better versed in the catechism of secular pragmatism than in Lord’s Days 12 and 13 or the Scriptures. And I knew I wasn’t the only one. The answer that changes everything The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.... – Romans 8:16-17a As I have reflected on that encounter over the years, I’ve realized that the biblical and covenantal answer to the question, “Who are you?” is a glorious one that stands in stark contrast to the secular myth that our employment or “career” defines us. Of course, our work and callings as Christians in the marketplace are important. Providing for our families is a great privilege and responsibility. But the priority of work in both our lives and the education of our children is almost certainly misplaced and overemphasized today in Reformed circles. Our Calvinistic work ethic and sense of vocation – serving the Lord in all things – are a glorious heritage, but in our 21st century context, they have become largely indistinguishable from the middle class idolatry common among our unbelieving neighbors (i.e., having “another object in which men place their trust” [Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 95]). In fact, over 30+ years of university teaching, evenly divided between secular universities and Christian colleges, I can testify that the one question all parents – Christian and non-Christian alike – ask about higher education is, “What kind of job can my kid get when he/she graduates?” Intended or not, that question reveals deep worldview priorities. And such a question is certainly not the fruit of careful, prayerful parental reflection on what it means to educate covenant children as heirs of Christ who will seek first the kingdom. By contrast, the Scriptures never identify God’s covenant children as people with jobs who happen to hold to a particular religious tradition. Instead, the Bible repeatedly calls us heirs of a kingdom, the adopted sons and daughters of the King of the universe. We are not just Christians who happen to have various jobs or work to do. We are royalty (Rom. 8:14-17, Eph. 1:3-6, I Pet. 2:9). We will reign over all creatures with Christ eternally (Heid. Cat., Q. 32). We are the adopted children of God and fellow heirs with Jesus, with all the privileges of the sons of God (Luke 2:11, Acts 10:36, I Tim. 6:15, Rev. 19:16; Heid. Cat., Q. 34). We are princes and princesses of the King of kings! We are royal heirs! And that answer to the question, “Who are you?” changes everything! Like young Prince George, the baby heir to the throne of England and the United Kingdom, a day mustn’t pass that we wonder who we are, why we are being educated, and what we are being prepared to be and to do. We are heirs to a throne and a Kingdom far greater and more glorious than the one in England. The House of Windsor pales in comparison to Jesus’s realm and our divine inheritance! How much more, then, should we, who are heirs of the King of kings and Lord of lords, prepare ourselves and our children to be thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be a son and daughter of the Creator, Redeemer, and Lord of the Universe. Thoroughly and faithfully educated in everything it means to be royalty. What does that look like? If we understand we are educating royalty, how should that impact how we teach, and what we expect? Then we will understand there is no time for the wicked nonsense about “sowing wild oats” or setting a low bar of expectations for our children. That is the rebellious spirit of prodigals who forget who they (and their children) really are. Those who are in line to take their places in Christ’s kingdom as princes and princesses must expect more of themselves and of their children. “To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Because we are royalty in Christ, God has king-sized expectations and blessings in store for us and our children – if we have eyes to see and ears to hear. The entire book of Proverbs is Solomon’s instruction to his royal heirs to know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth – let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles (Prov. 1:2-6). Such an education must provide much more than an awareness of fragmented facts or specialized work skills for a place in the job market. Again, that’s not to say that facts and skills are not important. Nor is it to say that we should suddenly trade pragmatic, nose-to-the-grindstone sweat of our brows for pious sounding spiritual platitudes. The issues are where does the education of Christ’s royal heirs fit in our list of priorities and what should that education look like. Priorities: We are royalty. So start acting like it. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? "My son, do not regard lightly the instruction of the Lord, nor be weary when corrected by him. For the Lord instructs the one he loves, and corrects every son whom he receives." It is for instruction that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. – Hebrews 12:5-7 Those who are fellow heirs in Christ know that His regal ways are not the power-grabbing, lording-it-over-others, self-seeking ways of the ungodly. Far from it. Christ ascended to His Father’s throne only after sacrificing everything for His people and His creation. He gave himself away. His royal way is the way of selfless love and sacrifice. He died that we might die to sin and death. He lives that we might live in glory forever. Sacrificial service for the sake of the kingdom is the mark of true kingship, true royalty. It characterizes our Lord Christ. And it must characterize our Lord’s true heirs in their lives and in their education. As Christ’s royal heirs, we dare not be content to prepare ourselves or our children merely to be cogs in the economic machinery of our secular consumer culture. Even the ancients understood that slaves are only trained to perform tasks. They have no rights of inheritance, no deeper identity. A slave’s identity is his work. But free citizens and royalty, who will dedicate themselves to the advance of the kingdom, must be educated deeply for the day when their royal leadership and service is expected. Similarly, we are called to a higher purpose and bear greater responsibility for how we live and prepare our children for their royal callings. Unfortunately, we have, as the author of Hebrews suggests, forgotten the divine exhortation to educate our children in the nurture and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4, Heb. 12:5ff). We have forgotten in part because we have forgotten who we are. A Royal education: Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning This memory lapse is most evident in how we educate our children today. Education, even that which purports to be Christian, is now often devoted primarily to the goal of producing good little workers for the secular labor force, efficient widgets for our economy’s production line, and little more. That falls far short of the biblical expectation that Christian children be saturated in the instruction of the Lord and grow up knowing what it means to be royal heirs of Christ the King. An education bearing the name of the King ought, at the least, to offer His royal heirs... 1. A comprehensive and integrative understanding of God’s world and of how all things cohere in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-11). Such an education will give children the “big picture” of how all things, all spheres of creation, are interrelated in the glory of their Creator. The university itself was a Christian invention in the Middle Ages (the earliest established between A.D. 1100 and 1200), designed to give students an integrated Christian vision and foundation for all future learning. That was the original purpose of the classical liberal arts (meaning, the arts of a free citizen). For almost a millennium, Christian universities taught the classical liberal arts or the so-called Trivium and Quadrivium: The Trivium, or the Three Ways, stressed the good structure of language (Grammar), the way to discern truth (Logic), and how to express truth beautifully (Rhetoric)—all to encourage a student’s life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in words and language, as typified by the Word Himself in John 1:1-14. The Quadrivium, or the Four Ways, encouraged a life-long love of goodness, truth, and beauty in the use of numbers (Arithmetic), numbers in space (Geometry), numbers in time (Music or Harmony), and numbers in space and time (Astronomy), revealing the unity and diversity of creation and of our Triune Creator Himself (Deut. 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one,” and Matt. 28:19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”). Together, the Trivium and Quadrivium, the original seven liberal arts, offered students essential insights into the harmony and wholeness of God’s diverse world and into the interrelated truth, goodness and beauty of its Triune Creator. They didn’t give students just the facts or skills for a job, but the tools of lifelong learning from a Christian perspective. Unfortunately, today’s arbitrarily selected smorgasbord of academic subjects and randomly structured university curricula, following the modern analytic, scientific tradition, tend to do the opposite: they offer fragmented bits of information with no principle of coherence or relationship. But in God’s economy, the whole is always more than the sum of its parts. An education that does not teach us how to see the wholeness of God’s creation, and to equip us to understand how all things cohere in Christ, inevitably misses the big picture about creation and creation’s God. It is a partial, incomplete, distorted education. Curiously, specialization at the undergraduate level was virtually unknown in North America prior to the late 19th century. University students did not “major” in a narrow academic disciplines or vocational specializations prior to 1879. They couldn’t. “Majors” simply didn’t exist before then. Instead, all undergraduates received a classical, integrated liberal arts foundation. The universities gave them essential tools for learning that applied to all their various callings as sons and daughters, spouses, parents, neighbors, citizens, providers, voters, buyers and sellers in the marketplace, and parishioners. Their work skills and the job training needed to provide for their families were developed outside the classroom in on-site training or apprenticeships done in the context where the work was actually being done. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, C.S. Lewis – all the greatest leaders in our Christian tradition – were so classically educated in the traditional, integrative liberal arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium and practically trained. But pragmatists of the late 19th and early 20th century sold their Christian academic birthright for a mess of modernist career pottage. They turned schools into egalitarian job training camps for the workers of the world and abandoned the Christian pursuit of wisdom and knowledge in the Lord. The schools dumbed down and the church has grown steadily weaker ever since. Reversing that trend will require that the King’s royal heirs expect... 2. Truly godly and wise teacher-mentors (Luke 6:40). According to Jesus, the teacher – not the curriculum, not the lesson plan, not the technology, not the facilities, not the accreditation, not the tuition rate – is the single most important factor in a child’s education. “A student, when mature, will be like his teacher,” Jesus said. All the other bells and whistles may be nice (though they can often be more of a distraction than a help), but the teacher is key. Yet, in my experience, Christian parents often know more about a school’s university admission rates, or a college’s career placement rates, or tuition rates, or financial aid plans, or sports programs than they do about the character and spiritual health of the men and women who will actually be shaping the minds and lives of their children in and out of the classroom. Sadly, many Christian school administrators and boards aren’t much better, giving higher priority to paper credentials and standardized test scores and bricks and mortar than to the character and spiritual integrity of their teachers. Of course, academic expertise and standardized testing have their place. But parents, administrators and school promotional literature often stress most what actually counts least from a Kingdom perspective. And such misguided emphases have the potential to catechize generations of parents and children in what is least in the Kingdom. The teacher is so crucial, as Jesus says, because all education is fundamentally personal. That’s because truth itself is personal. Truth is a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is not some collection of brute facts or scientifically verifiable propositions. It is a living person. Teachers either faithfully represent or embody that Truth before their students or they don’t. Parents or educators who misunderstand this crucial biblical principle put their children and students at grave risk of misunderstanding the Truth and being catechized in lies and ungodliness. No matter how much parents think their child can be a “good witness” in a secular education environment, that child is not the teacher, but the one being taught. And no matter how mature we imagine our children to be (often overestimating), their “cement is still wet.” They are still students seeking to be taught and led into maturity, readily influenced by others older and more experienced. The question is, who will teach them and lead them into what kind of maturity? Moreover, those who think that new distance learning technologies will provide a quality education without putting their children at risk under ungodly teachers make a similar mistake. Learning godly knowledge and wisdom is not a data download. A student will be shaped by his or her teacher, no matter who that teacher is, no matter how the instruction is delivered. Finally, the education of the King’s royal heirs ought also to include... 3. The shaping of our desires for the things of the Kingdom Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ... For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. – Matthew 6:25, 32-33 Jesus did not say, “Seek first vocational-technical training, and all that kingdom of God and righteousness stuff will be added later.” Yet to hear parents of university-bound students talk today about their educational goals for their children, you’d think he had. The dominant secular vocational paradigm for higher education has influenced us more on these issues than our Christian schools, our catechism classes, and even our churches. For that, we must repent. Our heavenly Father knows everything we need to live and to thrive, and He will provide them for us by His perfect means according to His perfect timing. He tells us explicitly not to stress over the little stuff. Grasping at college majors and career preparation will not add one penny to our bank accounts, put one more meal on the table, or add one more second to our lives that He has not already ordained. So stop majoring in the minors. Instead, major in God’s priorities: Christ’s kingdom and His righteousness. What our schools and universities must encourage in our covenant children is a deeply held heart-desire for the things of God and of His Kingdom. Conclusion As Calvinists who take the sovereignty of God – the crown rights of Christ – seriously, we cannot, must not, train our children merely to be good little widgets in the secular marketplace who also happen to go to church each Lord’s Day. We vowed to raise them for much greater things at their baptisms. So, “Who are you?” You are the royal heirs of the King of kings; start acting like it. Your children are royalty; start treating them like it. Your children are inheriting a Kingdom; so start educating them for it.
A Chinese translation of this article can be found here.
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 [the Garden] 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.
Documentary, Movie Reviews
Irreplaceable – What is family?
Documentary 104 min / 2015 RATING: 8/10 Everyone knows something is wrong with the family these days. But what? For this Focus on the Family production, Tim Sisarich traveled all over the world to answer this question. He spoke to experts, interviewed prisoners, ordinary parents, and many others, and shared his own story as he searched for an answer. Irreplaceable, the resulting documentary, starts with the basic question, “What is family?” From Eric Metaxas to Nancy Pearcey, from John Stonestreet to Michael Medved, respected experts are given the floor. They discuss: the importance of family from ancient Greek times to today the hollowness and pressures of the hook-up culture the good news about marriage, and how hope and a few simple tools can transform bad marriages, the importance of parenthood, how children are treated as objects and commodities worldwide and the incalculable influence of fathers Speaking of fathers, it turns out that there is a common denominator among troubled youth. Most high school dropouts, pregnant teen moms, homeless children, youth suicides, and youth in prison come from fatherless homes. At this point in the film, Tim Sisarich stops focusing on experts and turn to stories, his own first of all, and then those of others. Sisarich, himself a father of five, speaks sadly of seeing so very many disturbing examples of fatherhood that his only response was to say, “I don’t know where to put that.” But he keeps on searching for answers, speaking to convicts, to parents of a Down’s syndrome child, to a foster parent of many, and to those who have been prodigals. Irreplaceable is both fact-filled and compelling, with a straightforward moral to this story: if we devalue sex, we will devalue marriage, and if we devalue marriage we will devalue the role of parents, and if we devalue the parenting role, we will devalue children. It is easy to look at the world and see the devastation such attitudes have caused. As we watch the movie, however, we realize that there is no call to point fingers at others; we, too, fall far short of God’s plan for our families and ourselves. In realizing this we, with Sisarich, can turn to our heavenly Father, remembering the gospel. He will certainly forgive us when we return to Him, whether we have sinned like the prodigal son in going astray, or sinned in not showing love and forgiveness to those who have sinned against us. Anyone interested in understanding the family, our culture, and how to make an impact will appreciate this documentary and the accompanying panel discussion. For example, the panel discussion points out how lost most people feel. There is a huge opportunity, we are told, for the church to work out, practically, what it means to love God, each other, and society so that people will say, “Ah, they really care about me! Can I have some of that?” There is one noteworthy caution: because of the subject matter and some images in the section on the hookup culture, Irreplaceable is recommended for age 15 and older. Although there are a few uncomfortable viewing moments, it is good for adults to understand what today’s young people are up against and for young people to realize, from research as well as God’s Word, how hollow an ungodly lifestyle really feels. There are other DVDs that share this name, so the best way to find may be to search for “Focus on the Family Irreplaceable.”
Annie Kate Aarnouste reviews many other movies, and books, and homeschool curriculum options, at her blog Tea Time with Annie Kate.
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.
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.
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
Parents: Understand that much depends on you
In this modernized excerpt, from his book "Duties for Parents" J.C. Ryle points to the enormous role God has given parents in shaping our children when they are young, and he urges us not to waste that opportunity.
****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.
Documentary, Movie Reviews
CONNECT: Real help for parenting kids in a social media world
Documentary 70 minutes / 2018 RATING: 8/10 Connect offers “real help for parenting kids in a social media world” and the host, Kirk Cameron, starts things off by scaring parents with the story of a boy who was Internet-stalked by a “grown adult man.” The dad intervened in time… but it was a close thing. I watched this with 30-or-so other parents and this opener certainly grabbed our attention. But now, what can we do to protect our kids? Cameron makes clear, it isn’t just the creeps that we need to watch out for. We need to teach our children to see through a number of lies that social media fosters, including: “I deserve to be happy all the time” and “I am the center of the universe.” Our children need to know God is the center of the universe, and instant gratification is not only not a right, but not even healthy. More important: parents need to correct their own addiction to social media, and then get actively involved in their children’s lives. We are all busy, but we cannot be, as one of the experts put it, “mentally-absent parents.” There was a fantastic discussion starter for all the parents and teens who attended our viewing. One caution: there is some topic matter – about pornography addiction and suicide – that is not appropriate for the very young. It can be rented via online streaming, or purchased via DVD here. Americans with Amazon Prime can watch it here.
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.
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.
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.
Three questions for you
Here are three questions you should ask yourself about your communication with those you love. The way you answer these questions provides insight into the areas where your conversations must grow in depth and in maturity. 1) Do your spouse and your children have confidence that they will be able to say all that is on their heart without fear of your response? Is your family accustomed to being cut off or being corrected before they can finish speaking? Do you interrupt because you think you know what is coming? If this is your pattern you are building relational barriers that are difficult to overcome. Those closest to you need to be able to express what is on their hearts so that you can know how to lovingly and wisely engage them to bring truth and healing to your lives. See Proverbs 18:13 and James 1:19-20. 2) Are you an advocate or an accuser in your daily communication? Do your words create safety or anxiety for your spouse and children? If you love the way Christ has loved you, you will want to be a refuge and a place of safety for your family. Your goal is to point those you love to Christ, not to condemn them by reminding them how wrong they are. See Ephesians 4:31 and Proverbs 16:20-24. 3) Are you able to pray with your spouse about areas in your walk with God where you need to grow? It is relatively easy to pray to ask God to help your marriage partner. Don’t be tripped up by your own pride — invite your husband or wife to pray for you in the areas where you need help. See Ephesians 4:31-32.
Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
Adult non-fiction, Assorted
Reflections on "12 ways your phone is changing you"
The phone has had a huge impact on our way of life. This was true already, back in the 1920s, when the coming of the telephone to rural New Zealand made a huge difference to isolated farmers’ wives, allowing them to communicate daily with friends. “Party lines” – which involved several homes sharing the same line – meant calls were not necessarily private…but if you needed to chat, then you could. By the time I was a child the family telephone was a fixture on the wall, either in the hallway or in the kitchen. That meant it was in a public place where anyone could answer it and know who was calling you – or at least hear your end of the conversation. Cutting the cord When I was in my early adulthood cordless phones arrived. You could now take the phone into the privacy of your bedroom, and carry on a conversation unheard by anyone else. This began to worry parents, who knew the phone was somewhere in the house – but where? And what was being said on it? Then came cell phones, when suddenly, calls could be made and received way outside the house, and when instant communication was, for the first time, privately accessible to all. You could speak to anyone – seemingly anywhere. I remember my astonishment at a call from Paul while he was on the top of a mountain in South Canterbury helping on an autumn muster. It was revolutionary to think of the possibilities of limitless accessibility. Now, since 2007, and Steve Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhones, smartphones are everywhere. More than simply telephones, they are portable, computer-like devices that enable us to be online, all the time, and wherever we go. We can browse, we can post, we can keep up with the news – in short, do most things possible previously only at home. What’s not to like? Cautions to consider Well, lots, actually. As DesiringGod.org’s Tony Reinke has argued, our phones are changing us more than we know. I’ve just finished reading his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You and found it just as full of insights as all the reviews had promised. Everyone who owns a smartphone would likely benefit from a long, slow consideration of Reinke’s conclusions. He has thought hard about the implications of many of our common phone habits. In general, Reinke finds that phones are causing us to disengage from the kinds of person-to-person interaction that love requires of us. We are becoming more detached, more isolated in our own little worlds, less caring, more frivolous. Despite the fact that technology is a gift from God – the product of our inventiveness as creatures made in God’s image – our use of this particular piece of technology is making us less like Christ. It’s time that we took a good look at ourselves and reclaimed the use of our phones for good purposes. 1. Always available distraction One of the most obvious problems with smartphones is their capacity to distract us. Beeps, buzzes, and tunes of all sorts destroy our concentration when we ought to be attending to work – or to someone in our proximity who deserves our attention. I’m sure you’ve noticed the way vast numbers of people walk down the street with their heads down, thumbs tapping at their phones. (You’ve probably almost collided with more than a few). Not so long ago I was in a café and noticed a sign on the counter: “Sorry, the wireless is down today. You’ll just have to talk to each other.” Shock, horror! The girl serving the coffee thought it was exciting – and I don’t blame her. Our phones are also distancing us from our flesh and blood – the people right in front of us, our families, our friends, and the people who need our help. Every time we flop on the couch for 15 minutes of mindless scrolling and skim-reading, we could be ignoring an opportunity to edify, encourage, correct, love – and even learn from – a human being for whom God has given us responsibility. Those 15 minutes will never be given back, either. While some still think that our smartphones can end loneliness by connecting us to others, Reinke believes (and I agree) that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by screen-to-screen communication. We were created to respond to facial expression, tone of voice, and physical touch. Neither texts nor Facebook messaging can match what can be expressed face-to-face. Of course we can communicate with many more people at far greater speed than is possible if we’re limited to where our bodies can be at any given time. But perhaps God has intended us for fewer, more meaningful friendships than Facebook could ever cater for. 2. Ever present peer pressure I have never been a consumer or user of social media, mainly because I feared the distraction and time-wasting, but Reinke suggest there are other reasons these media are harming us. He explains that we are becoming something like peacocks, preening and arranging our personas for the admiration of an online audience. Learning how others carefully shape their profiles to appear interesting, successful, witty, and up-to-date, we inevitably desire to be seen the same way. So Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc become platforms from which we can project the same attributes. I had not realized the full extent of this, but Reinke notes that many a person wakes in the morning to check how many comments or “likes” their posts from the night before have generated. It’s obvious that young people sensitive to peer pressure can fall for this, but many a lonely adult person who lacks security in Christ can be equally susceptible. It’s time to get off social media, on our bikes and start visiting lonely people face-to-face! 3. Distance diminishes consideration Another effect of the distance our smartphones can put between us and others is the impunity with which we criticize and demean others, via our screens. Apparently people feel less sense of remorse for what they say to others online than for what they might say in person. Clicking “send” has nowhere near the consequences (they think) that saying something in personal conversation does. We’ve all seen the horribly offensive things people say, apparently without compunction, on Twitter or in the comments section beneath news articles. It seems that if the recipient of your spite is not visible through your screen, then guilt about how we make them feel is lessened. I can’t quite understand that, since each of us is capable of imagining how it would feel to be on the receiving end of vindictive words on a screen. But certainly, increased use of screens for communication seems to be hardening us. We are getting accustomed to this unkind and demeaning discourse-at-a-distance, and it appears to be imitated by others. For instance, last month I read about our Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to our Leader of the Opposition as “simple Simon.” Does that kind of epithet sound vaguely familiar – on Twitter, perhaps? 4. Privacy brings temptation Much has been written about the danger of what Reinke calls “secret online vices” like pornography. The scary thing is that this kind of vile material is available, on phones, any time and any place. Many people think they are able to view it without anyone else knowing; and therefore without consequence. Christians need to remember that God sees everything we do: nothing is hidden from him. God has made our eyes and our ears, but he expects them to be used with discretion. How can we use them to pollute ourselves? Reinke would not be the first to suggest that in the end, if your eye is causing you a problem, pluck it out. Smartphones are indeed disposable, and certainly able to have their contents blocked and curbed. The consequences of addicting yourself to such vices are too awful to contemplate. 5. Algorithms feed us just one side (Prov. 18:17) There is one final way that our smartphones are changing us, and it concerns me more than the others because it affects our ability to distinguish truth from error. We are so overloaded with online input (resulting in what Solomon called a “weariness of the flesh”) that we are inclined to retreat to bubbles of like-minded communications, dismissing all the rest as biased, wrong, or simply doubtful or unverifiable “noise.” The result is that the world is becoming an increasingly partisan place consisting of groups of people who, day by day, shout at each other, distrust each other, even hate each other – intractably. Being constantly online and fed a continuous diet of news we agree with is light years away from an older world. Once upon a time (maybe 20 years ago) people read a range of news sources, mindful of the biases of each, in order to arrive at some semblance of the truth. In those days discerning readers knew that if one news source got things wrong, the others would pounce and correct it. The truth prevails in the end, as historians generally know. Nowadays there is little true dialogue, and a cynicism about anything other than the source I read. All else is “fake news,” we hear. This is really scary, since unless we are willing to expose even our most deeply-held views to scrutiny, we will lose the power of discernment. And that is what tyranny thrives on. Conclusion So I’d suggest, along with Tony Reinke, that it’s high time to take a close look at our uses of our smartphones. Are they changing us? Yes, and in ways that we might not realize.
This is an edited version of an article first printed in the May 2018 issue of Faith in Focus www.rcnz.org.nz where it was published under the title “We and our phones.” It is reprinted with permission. Sally Davey is a member of the Reformed Church of Dovedale, Christchurch, New Zealand. You can download a 40-page preview of Tony Reinke's "12 ways your phone is changing you" here.
On being a Titus 2 young woman
Older women [must] train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.Here in Titus 2:4-5 the Apostle Paul gives instructions to young women that fly in the face of today’s accepted western wisdom. These instructions will strike many as ridiculous, laughable, outdated, even patronizing. Surely, this can’t be God’s will for young women in our modern, western society! Actually, it is. Paul here is not stating something new – his instructions didn't come out of the blue. What he writes here is built on God’s abiding revelation as first revealed in Paradise. When we look back through Scripture we see that Paul is simply echoing what God has said in the Bible many times before. Consider the following passages. Genesis 2 wives From the beginning God has given young women the important task of being wives, and in this role being a help to their husbands. The Lord God put the man He created in the Garden of Eden, with the mandate “to work it and keep it” (vs. 15). The Lord observed the man-by-himself in the Garden, and determined that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (vs. 18). On his lonesome the man could not image adequately what God’s love and kindness and holiness and patience, etc., were like, for these qualities come out primarily in relationships. To overcome this lack that the Lord observed, He did not set beside Adam a penguin to be his companion, nor did He create a second male as a companion. What He did instead was fashion a new being, a woman. Paul in the New Testament explains the significance of this divine act: “woman [was created] for man” (1 Corinthians 11:9). We also read that God ordained the married state (Genesis 2:24) with the divine intent that the man be the head and leader, and the woman be "helper" to her husband in his God-given task in daily life (see vs. 15). The woman was not created to be a lone ranger, living independent of man or for her self. To the degree that today’s way of thinking encourages women to be independent of men (or, for that matter, men to be independent of women), today’s thinking is simply not biblical. Of course the fall into sin complicated the wife's helping role greatly, if only because selfishness has now come to characterize every person (Ephesians 2:3). In fact, part of the curse on the fallen woman was that she would attempt to dominate her husband (Genesis 3:16b), something distinctly contrary to the ordinance of the beginning and therefore not tolerable among God’s people (see Ephesians 5:22ff). Genesis 1 mothers We also learn in the very beginning of the Bible that young women have been given the vital role of being mothers and teachers of the next generation. The Lord God created male and female to, together, image what God was like. And, together, they were also to be fruitful so that they would produce more people on Planet Earth who could image God (Genesis 1:27,28). However, the children that would be born to Adam and Eve in Paradise would not have some sort of instinctive knowledge about how they were to image God. No, they would need to be taught. Inasmuch as Eve would give birth and nurse the child, she would play a vital role in the child’s early physical, mental and emotional and, most importantly, spiritual formation. Mothering, we all realize, is much more than nursing or feeding; mothering is first of all training the child how to live in God’s world, how to image Him. Even in Paradise training on that level was not to start when the child was a toddler or of school age or became a teenager; had infants been born in Paradise, they would have needed concerted instruction from day one on how to image God’s characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. This much is clear, then: as Eve busied herself with her tasks beside Adam in the Garden, she was at the same time to be diligent to mold her children, speak to them of their Maker, and show them what imaging Him was like in life’s changing circumstances. Again, the fall into sin made this task so very much more difficult – if only because both the child and the mother were now inclined to any and every sort of evil. Even so, the task given at the very beginning remains. No mother is to permit evil, selfish attitudes to grow in the heart of her little one; from the day her child is born a mother is to show what love is, and demonstrate kindness, patience, self-control, etc. In fact, exactly because of the sinfulness of the child’s heart, the task is much bigger and more vital than it would ever have been in Paradise. To say it in Moses words:
"You shall teach [God’s words] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand…" (Deuteronomy 6:7f).Mothering is full-time commitment! Proverbs 31 household managers Proverbs 31 works out in practical terms the roles given in Genesis 1 & 2. The “excellent wife” (vs. 10) is busy in so many things – buying, selling, importing, helping the poor, etc. A young woman should not think of her household task as a limiting one. The way the world portrays it a young woman can either become something... or stay at home and manage the house. However, when we look at the woman of Proverbs 31 what we see is a capable, talented, ambitious woman. We see a woman who is certainly not limited in what she does. But she is also not career-driven. It isn't self-fulfillment or a spirit of independence that drives her; instead her agenda revolves around her household: “the heart of her husband trusts in her…. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (vss. 11f) so that “her husband is known in the gates when he sits among the elders of the land” (vs. 23). More, she recognizes her role with her children so that “she looks well to the ways of her household…. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her” (vss. 27, 28). This woman is not the proverbial “super-mom,” but simply a God-fearing woman (vs. 30b) who takes the principle of Genesis 1 and 2 seriously, and works them out in the economic context of her day. Titus 2 young women Now let's return to our passage in Titus 2. This letter is written to the believers in Crete, where the gospel had only just come, so Paul saw need to list for Titus the bits and pieces required to build up church life (Titus 1:5), including instructions to the “young women” of the congregation. The older women (see "Older Woman have a lot to give") were to train the young women to live in a particular way - and that training happens, of course, with the book of Genesis (and the rest of the Bible) laying open on the kitchen table. "love their husbands" The first thing the older women are to impress upon the younger is the need to “love their husband.” It’s striking: Paul’s opening instruction is not that the younger wives are to submit to husbands and serve them; it’s instead the command to love. The term the apostle uses has nothing to do with erotic love, but everything to do with the love of the gospel. The same word appears in John 3:16, “for God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son...” It’s the same word the Spirit uses to describe Jesus’ work on the cross: Jesus “loved them to the end” (John 13:1). He who was with the Father in glory from eternity laid down His life for His own, even though He knew that they would desert Him and deny Him. The good news of Jesus’ self-emptying for sinners had come to Crete and for that reason the believers of Crete were expected to act in a certain manner (Titus 2:11). Specifically, because the gospel of Jesus Christ had come to Crete, the pious were to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions” (2:12) – and that includes that they were to love their neighbor as themselves. The closest neighbor God gave to the “young women” was obviously their husband, the man with whom she was “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Younger women, then, were duty-bound to love their husbands as Christ had loved them; how else could they image what God was like? Christ laid down His life for the ungodly (Romans 5:8); that was the depth and color of His love. Since his people are to do the same Paul does not mention whether these young women’s husbands are deserving of love or not; the young women are simply to do to their husbands as Christ has done to them. To fail to love in that self-emptying manner is to send a signal into the community that prompts the community to speak ill of God’s Word – and the apostle won’t have that (vs. 5b). "love their... children" The people next closest to the young women are the children the Lord has entrusted to their care. It’s not surprising, then, that the apostle next instructs the women to love those children. Again, the point is not that these mothers are to be nice to their children or to feel emotional about them; the point is that they empty themselves for their children’s benefit as Jesus Christ emptied Himself for these women. Again, that self-emptying for the children’s benefit images what the Lord God is like. The young women of Crete were undoubtedly as affected by the fall into sin as anyone else. In their midst will have been mothers who would have preferred to be in the workforce, who would have felt more fulfilled by whatever amounted to an "office job" back then, who loathed housework, or who didn’t have a "feel" for children. But Paul’s word is categorical; they were to empty themselves as Christ emptied Himself, and so show love for their children. Paul wasn’t so much encouraging particular feelings for the children as actions; the children should see from Mom what Jesus’ love looked like. "be self-controlled and pure" The next two terms Paul uses to describe what the younger women were to be, appears in our translations as “self-controlled” and “pure” (NIV and ESV). The first of these terms appears elsewhere in Scripture to mean “being in one’s right mind” (Luke 8:35) or exercising “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3). Right-minded and sober judgment implies that one include all necessary facts in ones decision-making process. That includes the facts mentioned a few verses later in Titus 2:11: “the grace of God has appeared” in Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, “bringing salvation for all people.” The “young women” of the church are to factor that good news into their decisions as they set about loving their husbands and children. Including the gospel in one's decision-making processes is being "right-minded," thinking with "sober judgment." The term “pure” is used in pagan literature to describe the need to be chaste/pure when you enter the temple of your idol. The term, then, echoes the instruction of vs. 3, where Paul told the older women to act in a fashion "befitting a temple." The younger women have also received the Holy Spirit, and so are temples of the Lord God; they demonstrate that reality by loving their husbands and children as the Lord of the temple loved them. "working at home, [being] kind" With the underlying attitudes made clear, the apostle again comes back to what outward conduct Genesis 1 and 2 requires of New Testament women. He uses a phrase that translates well as “working at home.” The point of the phrase is not that these younger women always have their hands in the sink; that is a devilish caricature not at all in agreement with God’s intent. The Lord's intent for the younger women is laid out in Genesis 1 and 2, and is drawn out clearly in passages of Old Testament Scripture like Proverbs 31. As mentioned earlier, everything that mother does (whether at home or at the market or in the office) is geared to what’s good for her household, be it first her husband and then her children. That’s taking the principles of Genesis 1 and 2, and working them out in the economic realities of the day. That’s "homeworking," where all her activity is directed to what’s good for her family. The point is again: not selfishness, but service to the family as Christ served you. The next term Paul uses dovetails neatly with the instruction to be “working at home.” In her "kindness" or "goodness," she images God’s goodness and kindness to His children in Jesus Christ. So she “looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27). "submissive to their own husbands" The last instruction the apostle gives to the young women of the congregation is caught in the phrase “submissive to their own husbands.” We realize that here is again a distinct and clear echo of God’s instruction in Genesis 2. Though the fall into sin has made submission so infinitely more difficult than it was for Eve in Paradise, this posture has remained the will of God despite the fall. It’s God who once placed a particular woman beside a particular man, and it’s now His will that a woman in faith accept the head God has placed over her and submit to him. After all, “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (2:11); in life’s multiple brokenness there is salvation from the torment of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. So we’re made able to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions (2:12), including the desire deep within women to resist submission (Genesis 3:16b). So a woman who knows Christ's victory is real demonstrates her conviction by submitting – in obedience to God’s ordinance – to the man God gave her. As a temple of the Spirit she has been made able to obey – and know herself safe in the hands of her faithful God and Savior. "that the word of God may not be reviled" Our modern western culture scoffs at the apostle’s instruction to younger women; it’s so archaic, so demeaning, so sexist! We’re inclined to say it’s precisely instruction such as this that makes God’s Word ridiculous, and if we could get rid of this throwback to an outdated culture, the gospel of Jesus Christ would be more acceptable to modern people. In response we need to note two things. The first is that the cry for female freedom is not so new: cultured folk of Paul’s day called for the same thing. I mention this because Paul was definitely aware of the thinking of his time, and so very aware too that his instruction in Titus 2 was distinctly out of step with the finer tastes of society’s movers and shakers. Yet he dared to write what he wrote – and the reason for his daring is simply that he knew he was unpacking, for his modern time, God’s unchanging Word as first revealed in Paradise. Secondly, we need to note how the apostle concludes his instructions concerning the young women. They are to behave in the way he describes, he says, “that the word of God may not be reviled” (2:5b). It’s a statement we’re surprised at. Isn’t it precisely those instructions of Scripture that have a young woman work at home, submitting to her husband and devoting herself to her children that make the Word of God look silly? How, then, can Paul say that obedience is necessary lest the Word of God be reviled? The point here is simply that anyone, whether godly or pagan, who reads the Word of God beginning at Genesis 1, can figure out for himself that the woman was created for the man, that her husband is her head, that she has responsibility for her children, and that her place is in the home. Any honest reader of Scripture can figure out that Paul’s instruction in Titus 2:4-5 is not new material, but simply summarizes what God had earlier revealed. If these Bible readers, then, see that you, a Christian who claims to treasure the Word of God, ignore God’s instruction in relation to younger women, then you give the unbelieving reader of Scripture reason not to take the rest of God’s Word seriously either. If you insist, as it says in Titus 2:11, that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,” and if you encourage the people you meet to believe in the good news of Christ crucified for sin, you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you then decided not to take Genesis 1 & 2 seriously. For if you don’t take God’s instruction in Genesis 1 & 2 about the place of women seriously, why should you expect somebody else to take seriously other passages of Scripture that describe Christ’s death for sin and His resurrection from the dead? If you don’t take Titus 2:4-5 seriously, on what grounds can you still take Titus 2:11 seriously? The result? The word of God is reviled. If any word of God is to be taken seriously, it must all be taken seriously. Value beyond measuring Let's tie it all up. Paul had left Titus on Crete with the mandate to “put in order” details of church life on the island (1:5). The fact that he, in that context, included instructions about “young women” can only mean that these sisters have an invaluable role to play in church life. And while the world doesn't like the supportive role that God has given women, the popularity of the adage "behind every successful man is a good woman" shows how even they recognize how vital this support is. Young women's husbands have a leadership role to play in society (Genesis 2:15) and to fulfill that task they need a helper (Genesis 2:18). Similarly, the behind-the-scenes (no big plaudits or public praise) support and love mothers give to their children is what allows them to grow in wisdom and knowledge. As another adage explains, “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” There is no way we can overstate the importance of the role God has given to young women. Young women, then, are not to think of marriage, mothering, and working at home as drudgery. Of course, keeping it from being so can be a distinct challenge in our fallen world. But the fact that it’s a challenge is no reason to flee from the task. Instead younger women, redeemed as they are in Jesus’ blood and renewed by His Spirit, are to lift their eyes above the snotty noses and the piles of laundry, above their tired husband and their own preferences, and fix their attention on what God is doing. He intends wives and husbands, in relation together, to image Him, and train the next generation to do the same! To be allowed to be involved in His church gathering work is such a privilege! That church gathering work happens first of all in the home, where young women have been given such a critical role. Neither money or business makes the world go round, and it isn't education either; rather, the home is where it’s at. How privileged the position of the young godly woman!
Rev. Bouwman is a minister for the Canadian Reformed Church of Smithville, Ontario. This article first appeared in the February 2013 issue.
Assorted, Book excerpts
10 QUOTES: On technology and the family
We need to control our technology; it can't control us “…it is absolutely completely possible to make different choices about technology from the default settings of the world around us….it is possible to love and use all kinds of technology but still make radical choices to prevent technology from taking over our lives.” – Andy Crouch, author of The Tech-Wise Family “The essential question we must constantly ask ourselves in the quickly evolving age of digital technology is not what can I do with my phone, but what should I do with it? That answer…can be resolved only by understanding why we exist in the first place.” – Tony Reinke, author of 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You “Am I entitled to feed on the fragmented trivialities online? In other words, am I entitled to spend hours every month simply browsing odd curiosities? I get the distinct sense in Scripture that the answer is 'no'.” – Reinke Your family may need to restrict technology “There is a better way. It doesn’t require us to become Amish, entirely separately ourselves from the modern technological world, and it doesn’t require us to deny the real benefits that technology provides our families and our wider society. But let me be direct and honest: this better way is radical. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors aren’t making. It requires making choices that most of our neighbors in church aren’t making. Let me put it this way: you don’t have to become Amish, but you probably have to become closer to Amish than you think.” – Crouch Parents need to be examples “Can we really tell our kids, ‘Do as we say, not as we do?’” – Delaney Ruston, doctor and the documentary filmmaker of Screenagers “The kids know we need help too….An awful lot of children born in 2007...have been competing with their parents’ screens their whole lives.” – Crouch Parents need to act sooner than later “Many parents fear that if they approach certain topics too early it will give their kids ideas about those things before they actually need to face them. Let me ask you some questions…. Do your kids ride the school bus with older kids? Are there older kids in your neighborhood? …. You may shield your tweens from talk of dating and teen relationships, but what about the eleventh graders making out in the back of the bus? You might supervise Internet activity, but what about the computers at friends’ houses?” – Nicole O’Dell, author of Hot Button Topics: Internet Edition “An astonishing 62 percent of teenagers say they have received a nude image on their phone, and 40 percent say they have sent one.” – Crouch We need to be parents, not policemen “Research shows that parenting with rules and boundaries but with love and caring promotes better everything; better grades in school, better relationships with their friends and family, everything!” – Ruston “Our children need to feel love, not condemnation. They should trust that we’re an ally, not the enemy. You’re not fighting against your kids in hopes of coming out victorious over them; you’re in a battle for them.” - O’Dell
Fathers, fear, and self-interest
Men, our legacy since the fall is that we tend to either be indifferent or become angry at our children’s sin. Both responses are dangerous and destructive. When it comes to relationships, men are often intimidated and become fearful, even if we may project the opposite emotions. The two most damaging male responses, indifference and anger, stem front the same root cause – fear and self-interest. We become indifferent in order to mask our fear of not knowing what we should do. We often become angry because we have lost control of our children and lash out in an attempt to regain control. This keeps us from doing the hard relational work of putting our families back together. God created men to be confident, compassionate leaders. But then came the fall. Eve chose to verbally engage the serpent. Even though he was with her, Adam did not protect his wife. Instead, in fear and self-interest, he observed the most destructive conversation in human history and said nothing (See Genesis 3:6). When confronted with his sin, Adam did what men still do – he passed the buck and blamed his wife. King David’s fear of confrontation cost him dearly! Imagine two physically striking, proud young men. They both believed that they were wronged by their father. Absalom was angry that David had not punished Amnon for his sin against Tamar. Adonijah was angry because he believed he should have been made King instead of Solomon. Both sons shared something else in common. They had not received loving discipline from their father. David’s pattern with Amnon continued with Absalom and Adonijah. His failure with Adonijah is recorded in I Kings 1:6:
Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?”Never, at any time! David, the warrior, was not daunted by the lion, the wolf, the bear, or even by the giant, Goliath. But David, the father, lacked the courage to lovingly confront his sons. They all paid a horrific price for his fearful indifference. David, like his first father, Adam, cowered and failed to protect those whom he loved. Being angry doesn’t help, acting as if problems don’t exist doesn’t help. A fearful father, who fails to lovingly engage his children will encourage rebellion. Loving confrontation requires courage and trust in God. Yes, it is a challenge. Learn from David’s sin with his sons. Fathers, husbands, we must engage our families. We must use pleasant words combined with truth to ask the hard questions that show courage rather than fear. We must engage in God’s discipline if we are to show mercy to our children. Failure to engage our children wit the truth of the gospel will provoke them anger and destruction. Speak the truth in love to your children.
Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
Discipline or punishment: do your children know the difference?
There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline. Since children are born wanting to go their own way, every parent engages in some form of correction. That correction will either take the form of punishment or discipline. Punishment is about retribution, payment for wrong doing. Punishment produces insecurity and fear. Biblical discipline on the other hand produces security and peace. The reason for the difference is that biblical discipline is motivated and controlled by love, the love of Christ. Only the love of Christ can remove punishment. As I John 4:18 says, the perfect love of Christ drives out fear, and replaces it with the blessing of the gospel. Thus, if your correction is not directly connected to the restorative power of the gospel it will resemble punishment more than discipline. This will produce a response of fear and anger in your children. Listen intently to how your children talk about the impact of your correction. Here are some examples of children who are experiencing punishment instead of loving discipline:
“Mommy, I’m sorry I make you angry.” “Daddy, I won’t do it again.” “Why is everybody mad at me?” “Do you think God is mad at me?” “He hurt me, so I hit him back.” “I am sorry that I am not good enough to make you happy.” “I’ll be good, I promise. Please don’t be mad at me.” “I try and try and try but I just can’t do what you want me to.” “I guess I am just not good enough.” “Mommy, I just can’t do it. I try but I just can’t.”Have you heard words like these from your children? These statements indicate what your child thinks about the gospel. These kinds of statements show that performance (and not grace) is forming the basis of how your children think about the correction they receive. They know about punishment, but not much about loving, healing, restorative discipline. Notice the fear and apprehension in the statements above. The loving discipline of the gospel is needed to give hope. The complete, perfect love of Christ given in discipline will drive out the fear of punishment. The gospel must be part of your daily discipline. Here is one picture of what a gospel centered response would look like:
Sarah, I know you can’t obey by yourself. I know that. But that is why Jesus died on the cross, because we can’t do it ourselves. Remember the Bible says that Jesus died so that we would have new life. You can’t obey in your own strength, but you can obey in Jesus’ strength. Let’s pray right now and ask Jesus to help.This is the tender nourishment of the gospel that Ephesians 6:4 compels parents to give to their children. Punishment or discipline: the difference is life changing.
Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
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 [when the question is phrased as] ‘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.”
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.
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"
Teaching small fries to take notes, sing psalms, and speak to God
When your child is old enough to write... When your child learns to write he is ready to begin taking sermon notes. Say, what? Let's say that little George is 4 or 5 or 6 years old and he knows how to write his name and how to write all of his letters. Now he can get started! All you need is a regular notebook (or half size) and a pen or pencil. Before you go to church you should talk with him about the worship service, and how important it is to be quiet and still and to listen to God's Word being preached. Hopefully he has already been sitting in church for awhile and has become accustomed to obeying in this manner. Explain to him that he is old enough now to begin taking sermon notes! As you listen to the sermon, write in the notebook a simple sentence that you have just heard the minister say. Remember to write it in the type of lettering that little George will be able to read, in the size that he is used to. Then hand it to George and tell him to copy it. If he is a beginner, he will take awhile to do so. When he hands it back to you, smile, and listen to the sermon for a moment, and write another sentence. He needs to remember not to have a conversation about it. Let George complete this second one as well. Depending on the age and patience of your child, you can decide whether to have him write 5 sentences, or 10, or more. As he improves, he will be quicker and will accomplish more. He may keep it up throughout, or he may tire. I usually found it beneficial to "push" my child to do just one more after he said he was getting tired of it. This helped him to develop endurance. After the service, take the notebook home. If you will take a few moments to read it over when he is present, and to show it to your spouse, he will see that this is important to you and it will help him to strive to do it well. If he is able, you might even have him read it as a part of your family Bible reading time. This activity teaches him to take notes, because as he gets older you will ask him to listen and write down parts of sentences that he hears. It doesn't matter if he gets all of the words - just that he is listening and getting some of them. Eventually he will progress to where he can find the main points and summarize them, but that's a long way off. This activity also gives him something very worthwhile to do during worship. It is directly involved with the worship, as opposed to just being a toy, a page to color, or a series of "o's" to fill in, in his bulletin. It says to him that he is worshipping too, not just being forced to sit quietly for his parents' sake. It says to him that he is capable of taking sermon notes, just like the "big people" do. It also helps if he sees those older than him participating in this way. As his notebook progresses you could use it during the week to help him remember what he learned on Sunday. If you are enthusiastic, he will be also. When your child is old enough to sing... When your child is old enough to sing a song he is old enough to learn psalms and hymns. Little George is capable of picking up any song that he hears. So if you regularly sing words of praise to the Lord in your home and in your car, he will soon know all of the words as well. Good quality music that truly honors the Lord is just as fitting for children as it is for adults. They do not need off-key vegetables to get their attention. You might teach your children the psalms and hymns by methodically going through your church songbook and learning to sing all of the first stanzas. What a wonderful preparation to be ready for whichever ones the minister thinks fit best with his sermons for that day! Another way that you can assist your child in worship is by finding out ahead of time, if possible, which hymns or psalms will be sung next Sunday. Then you can sing that one at home a few times so that it becomes familiar to him. If it's one that was unfamiliar to you this could benefit everyone and improve the musical part of the worship of our Lord. If enough people are interested in knowing ahead of time perhaps you could ask the minister if he could email the titles or page numbers to the congregation by Thursday or Friday of each week. All of this serves to teach our children that what happens on Sunday is important and that it is not a Sunday-only activity. Preparing for worship and reflecting on it afterwards bring it to the forefront and promote our spiritual growth. Again, a little enthusiasm goes a long way. When your child is old enough to read... When your child is old enough to read he can begin reading the Bible. What an excitement it is for little George to help read one of the Bible verses at a family Bible reading time. Maybe he can only identify half or two-thirds of the words, but he is sure trying. Soon he will want to be able to read the other words too, and that will encourage him to learn the rest of his phonics. What a goal! Historically, most schools were started so that people would be able to read God's Word. George will appreciate that he too is included in the Bible study. He also won't need to fuss for attention if he is already included in taking a turn. When your child is old enough to speak... When your child is old enough to speak he can pray. He might repeat after Mom or Dad, or he might add his own simple words of thanks and request. But he should not even be able to remember a time when he did not pray several times every day. Worship is the central, most important thing that we do in our entire week. It is the time that we humbly come to confess our sins, give our thanks, sing of His glory, ask for help, and learn of His grace. When we teach our children right from the start how to worship, we accomplish the most important task that we must do.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in the Dec. 2006 issue, under the title "Sermon notes, and songs, for small fries."
Human Rights, Parenting, Politics
How mom and dad can fight Big Brother
Governments in BC, Alberta and elsewhere have shown they want to use government schools to teach children that their gender is something they can choose. But gender isn’t a choice, and to teach impressionable children otherwise is to mislead them. Still, despite many parental objections, governments continue to move forward with these plans. It's important we understand, then, that this isn’t the first time a government has tried to override parental rights in education. Politicians and bureaucrats in various jurisdictions seem to be regularly devising new ways to thwart the freedom of parents to direct the education of their children. These government have the backing of intellectuals who produce academic materials arguing that parental rights in education need to be severely curtailed or even abolished. These intellectuals aim to persuade lawyers and judges that parental rights are unnecessary and no longer need to be recognized in law. Thankfully, not all intellectuals think that way. In recent years, a law professor named Stephen Gilles at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut has written a number of scholarly articles defending parental rights in education over against statist arguments. “Statist” here refers to the belief in the supremacy of the government – the State – over individual and family freedom. Arguments and counter arguments One of Professor Gilles’ most famous scholarly articles is entitled “Hey, Christians, Leave Your Kids Alone!” which was published in the Spring 1999 issue of Constitutional Commentary, an American law journal. In it he took on the Statist arguments of another law professor, James Dwyer, that Dwyer proposed in his Religious Schools v. Children's Rights. ATTACK #1: Parents harm their children What Dwyer argued was that religious education is harmful and damaging to children and therefore the government needs to protect children from the harm their parents will impose on them through a religious education. In short, Dwyer sees parental rights as an obstacle that must be eliminated to ensure the wellbeing of children. This differs only in degree, but not in kind, with what provincial governments have sought to do via their school systems. In BC the school curriculum was rewritten to promote homosexuality and parents were limited as to whether they could opt their children out of these classes. In Alberta and Manitoba the government wants to use the schools to promote transgenderism, over against our objections. And in Quebec the government wants schools to teach the equal validity of many religions, which is the very opposite of what we as parents want to teach our children. Our secular governments thinks they knows best. ANSWER: No, Parents know their children best But if our governments think like Dwyer, we have a friend in Professor Gilles. He completely rejects Dwyer’s statist perspective and demonstrates that following Dwyer’s proposals would, in fact, be positively harmful to children. Why? Because parents have a much better grasp of what their children need than government officials, so transferring decision-making power to those government officials would undermine the children’s well-being. ATTACK #2: Government knows best Dwyer’s statist thinking gives us a glimpse of where our government may be heading in the future. Dwyer provides a theoretical foundation for the use of government coercion against conservative Christians, an idea that is popular among some left-wing intellectuals. As Gilles explains,
…many law professors see religious traditionalists – especially Christian Fundamentalists – as extremists whose beliefs and practices are irrational, without value, and positively dangerous to themselves and others. The dispositions these opinions induce are not limited to preventing religious traditionalists from gaining government power; they also include using government power to counter and undermine religious traditionalism as a movement.ANSWER: Parents know best In contrast Gilles wants to promote what he calls “parentalism,” which maximizes parental rights. This view has not just the Bible but history behind it. In the past, in the Anglo-American countries (of which Canada is one), it has always been assumed that parents act in the best interests of their children. Gilles calls this the “parentalist presumption” which he summarizes as follows:
the state may not override a parental decision unless it overcomes the presumption and demonstrates that the parents' choice is in fact harmful to the child.ATTACK #3: Some parents are lousy Naturally, then, the next question is to determine what constitutes “harm” such that the parentalist presumption can be overcome. Gilles answers this way:
If parents starve or brutalize their child, or prevent the child from acquiring foundational skills such as reading, writing, and calculating, there is consensus that they are doing harm, and state intervention is entirely appropriate.From time to time there are instances where the government may legitimately need to take action to protect children. While God calls on parents to care for their children, He also gives the State the power to administer justice, so when parents neglect their children the State does have the jurisdiction to step in. Most people would agree that children who are being starved, or tortured, or deliberately prevented from acquiring literacy and numeracy skills by their parents would need help. However, outside of these extremely rare occurrences families should be left alone by the government. ANSWER: The government always makes a lousy parent Now, parents are imperfect. We all fail to one degree or another. That leaves an opening for opponents of parental rights to point to these instances of parental failure and use them to justify increased government control over children. But Gilles points out that this line of reasoning is faulty:
The relevant question is not whether robust parental rights are perfect when measured by the yardstick of children's best interests, but whether they are superior to alternative regimes that give the state more control over children's upbringing. To this question, the longstanding answer of our legal tradition has been that state authority over childrearing is more to be feared than comparable authority in the hands of parents.Parents make mistakes…but they are far better than a “government as parent” alternative. Of course, that’s the very point that Dwyer, and others of his ilk, will dispute. He argues that the government is much better suited to determine what is best for children. Therefore the government, rather than parents, should have ultimate control over education. So what answer does Gilles give?
The flaw in this approach is its blithe assumption that state agencies, and above all courts, will expertly and disinterestedly pursue the best interests of children. A moment's reflection will show that courts are neither as well-placed as parents to discern the child's best interests nor as interested in ensuring that the child's welfare is in fact advanced. Unlike parents, judges will never have the time or the day-to-day contact necessary to acquire an intimate understanding of the procession of children who would come before them. Nor will they have to live with the many-faceted ramifications of their childrearing decisions.God has crafted a wonderful way to raise children that the government simply won’t be able to improve on. Parents have much more at stake in the well-being of their children than any employee of the government. Parents know their children much better and will have to endure the consequences of any bad decisions they make. In other words, the incentive for parents to watch out for the best interests of their children is infinitely higher than any social worker, teacher, or judge. That’s why it is absurd to suggest that these public employees are better at determining the best interests of the children. Nevertheless, theorists like Dwyer write as though teachers and judges are best suited to determine what’s good for children. Really? Gilles will have none of it:
I find it naive to describe the run of state employees in such idealistic terms, let alone to believe that they will more often be better judges of a child's best interests than that child's parents. State agency personnel may spend years thinking about what is best for children – but parents spend decades doing what they think is best for their own children, and living with the consequences. Parents are far more likely to get it right, even if they have fewer course-credits in child development or education theory.Because children are young and immature, they need to be under the authority of adults. People like Dwyer who claim to be promoting children’s rights are not suggesting that the children be allowed to determine their own best interests. They just want the determination of best interest to be done by government employees rather than parents. Gilles notes that this is an issue of who has authority in the lives of children: Thus, the question is not whether our childrearing regime will entail other-determining governance of children by adults; it is which adults will enjoy the freedom to engage in this other-determining behavior. That’s how we need to present the issue: which adult will do the job best. When the government treads on parental toes we need to ask, “Are you trying to say that you think a government employee working 9-5 is a better parent for my child than me?” ATTACK #4: We should have a broad understanding of harm Historically, Anglo-American nations have recognized parental rights, with the only limits on these rights involving the rare instances where parents harm the children. So if the State can only act when a child is being harmed, we can predict what statists will do – they’ll want to greatly expand what we view as harm. So, for example, Dwyer hates conservative Christianity and what it stands for. Thus he argues that teaching children certain Christian doctrines is harmful. What are these harmful doctrines? Dwyer believes that teaching children that sex is only for married couples harms those children because it restricts their freedom. He also believes teaching girls that women have different roles than men is harmful. So he wants the government to prevent parents from teaching conservative Christian tenets to their children…to protect the children from “harm.” ANSWER: Labeling anything the government disagrees with as harmful is arbitrary As Christians we need to highlight the sheer arbitrariness of Dwyer’s definition of harm. We need to highlight that he is simply defining as harmful that with which he disagrees. In fact, Dwyer’s proposal has clear totalitarian implications, as Gilles points out:
If the government can forbid parents and teachers to communicate any message it decides (based on value-laden and highly debatable criteria) is “harmful to children,” then the government can control the transmission of ideas to future generations.Conclusion Prof. Gilles has shown us what to watch out for, and how to present well-reasoned argumentation for defending parental rights in education. Since parents have such powerful incentives to promote their children’s best interests, it is clear that they should have virtually unhindered authority over their children. Government employees and institutions never have as much at stake in the well-being of children as the children’s parents. A tiny number of parents occasionally abusing their authority do not undermine this fact. To think that government employees will make better decisions about children than parents is naïve at best. And to use an anti-Christian ideological concept of harm to determine what children should be taught, clearly leads to a totalitarian government. Parentalism, as Prof. Gilles calls it, is much more reasonable and consistent with freedom than the statist perspective of the left-wing intellectuals.
A version of this article was first published in the March 2016 issue under the title "Government knows best? Stephen Gills shows us how to defend parental rights"
Parents: do you have the courage to be gentle?
A gentle response to an angry or defiant act seems weak and out of place. The Holy Spirit has a different perspective:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1The Hebrew word for gentle here means the quality of being tender, soft, delicate in substance. This is not exactly the first response that comes to mind when someone you know or your teenager opposes you. There are two natural responses when this happens. Both are equally wrong and destructive. The first is to fight fire with fire, to let others know you won’t stand for their behavior. The second is to be hurt and withdraw either in fear or humiliation. But the Holy Spirit says to offer a gentle answer. The goal here is to soothe and comfort that listener (see Ephesians 4:29). An angry response only serves to inflict pain and encourage even more upset. This is what is meant by a harsh word stirring up anger. Once again we see that God’s ways are not our ways. When your teenager approaches you in anger, the Holy Spirit urges you to respond with the power of gentleness. It is his fruit, his way. It takes great courage to put aside the defensive response of anger or hurt and instead extend the love of Christ to one who, at that moment, is unlovely. “It’s not right! I never get to do what I want. You think you know everything!” “No, I don’t know everything. I do know that I have managed provoke your anger. That is not what I want. You know I can’t agree to what you want, but maybe I can understand what I have done to anger you. Will you help me do that?” “What is this? Some new way to get me to do what you want? No way, I’m not falling for it.” “The offer is genuine. I should have realized earlier how much doing this meant to you. Help me work through this with you. Let’s talk about how we can make things different.” “Easy for you to say, you still get to control me and I don’t get anything! Things never change.” “I don’t want to control you. Let’s work together to avoid what is happening now. I should have come to you sooner instead of telling you no at the last minute. Please forgive me for all of the times that I have been angry with you in the past and for raising my voice at you. I was wrong.” “Are you really serious?” “I am.” “Let me think about it.” “No problem. I am here to talk whenever you want to.” Was the immediate issue solved? No. Is the teenager still angry? Yes. But her anger was not increased. There is still work to do. But, in faith and with courage, a new path of reconciliation and restoration is now open because a gentle, soft answer turns away wrath.
BOOK REVIEW: Paul Tripp's "Parenting: The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family"
What’s the best passage in the Bible about parenting? Maybe some will say Ephesians 6:1-4. Others will point to Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Paul Tripp has his own suggestion about a helpful parenting passage. But he also wants us to realize that the Bible isn’t meant as a topical resource to consult when we have specific questions or difficulties. We probably sometimes wish that that’s how the Bible was organized: if you’re angry, turn to this text; if you’re lonely, read this one. And if you want good advice about raising your strong-willed kids, read this. The Bible isn’t written as a topical study, addressing the daily issues which concern us. From beginning to end it’s a story, where God is telling us about His great work of salvation through his Son. And so nearly every text in the Bible reveals something about God, or about ourselves, or about sin, or grace through Christ, or life in this world, or our calling. This broad scope means that almost every passage in the Bible has something to say that relates to the many diverse areas of your life, including your job as a parent. This is the kind of “big picture” perspective that Tripp teaches in his book Parenting. He doesn’t provide ten practical steps for raising nicer kids. He doesn’t share how-to strategies for the challenges of boundaries and discipline. Instead, he wants to reorient the very way that we look at parenting. What are we really trying to do in our homes? What are our chief goals? And what’s the one foundational thing that parents and children need, so much more than good manners, civilized dinner times, and open communication? THE WAY OF GRACE The subtitle of Tripp’s book says a lot about his approach: “The 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family.” He argues that the better way of parenting – the only way – is the “way of grace,” or the way of the gospel of Christ. That sounds vague, but then follow fourteen chapters exploring principles of how God’s grace is worked out in the parenting task. For example, Principle 1 is, “Nothing is more important in your life than being one of God’s tools to form a human soul.” Or Principle 5, “If you are not resting as a parent in your identity in Christ, you will look for identity in your children.” And Principle 11, “You are parenting a worshiper, so it’s important to remember that what rules your child’s heart will control his behavior.” These powerful principles give a flavor of the kind of book that Tripp has written. For each of these norms he shows that the core of parenting resides in the human heart: not just the hearts of our children, but our own hearts as dads and mums. Both their and our hearts need to be changed by the salvation that is granted through the work of Jesus Christ. TWO DANGEROUS AND DESTRUCTIVE LIES Our children need transformation because they all believe two dangerous and destructive lies. First, a child reckons that he’s autonomous, a completely independent human being with the right to live his life however he chooses, and to worship whomever he wants. Second, a child believes that he is self-sufficient, that within himself he has everything that he needs. If you pay a bit of attention, you can see these lies getting worked out in the conduct of our children, right from those aggravating moments of trying to spoon mushy peas into their mouth, to the frustrations of getting the silent treatment from your teenage daughter. Born in sin, our children desperately need help. God has placed them in our life so that we can help them, with wisdom, compassion and hope. MAKING PARENTS SQUIRM As a parent, reading parts of this book made me uncomfortable. This is because Tripp seems to know parents and our weaknesses so well. He knows that we often focus on changing our children’s outward behaviors (use of technology, clean language, respect for curfew, etc.), without targeting the heart behind the actions. He knows that we tend to “lay down the law” when there’s been a household infraction, instead of showing grace. He knows that in the heat of the moment we can get sinfully angry and say cruel things to our children, and then spend the rest of the evening telling ourselves that what we did was totally fair and completely justified. Uncomfortable, because it’s true. Still, Tripp wants to encourage. He says that parents who finally admit that they’re inadequate and run to God for help actually make the best parents. When your weakness is again so painfully evident, “Know that God hasn’t left you to the limits of your righteousness, wisdom, and strength," but that He is with you, and He is almighty and gracious. Tripp insists that successful parenting isn’t about us achieving our own goals or upholding our own values (e.g., producing punctual, responsible, hard-working children), but it’s about us being usable and faithful tools in the hands of God. After all, God is the only one who can produce good things in our children, and He’s the only one who can bring them to faith in Christ. As parents, we are unfinished people ourselves, being used by God as agents of change in the lives of unfinished people. CONCLUSION Tripp doesn’t pretend that it’s going to be easy. I love his line on page 208, “Parenting is about the willingness to live a life of long-term, intentional repetition.” Our task as parents means that we’ll need to do the same thing, over and over. We’ll need to say the same things, over and over. That’s fine, for God is pleased to use our humble prayers and efforts and energies for the good—and even for the salvation—of the children He’s entrusted to us. This is an excellent book. It’s a book to savor: read a chapter, and then let it simmer. Talk about it with your partner in parenting, or talk about it with other parents (whether more or less experienced). You’ll be challenged and encouraged.
This article first appeared in the Oct 7, 2017 issue of Una Sancta, a magazine of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, and is reprinted here with permission. Rev. Reuben Bredenhof is pastor of the Mt. Nasura Free Reformed Church in Western Australia. Below you can find a talk on parenting Paul Tripp gave earlier this year.[Paul Tripp] "Parenting is Gospel Ministry" from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.
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 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 conversations 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 to 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 spankings 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.
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
Spanking resources to read, listen, or watch
God gave us children, and gave us his Word to show us how best to raise them up to know and love Him. In addition He gave us godly teachers to help us grow in knowledge and wisdom so we can better be able to take up this privileged and awesome responsibility. You can find three different teachers below, all espousing variations on the same theme. All are excellent, so whether you learn best via listening, watching, or reading, there is something here for you. Biblical Childrearing by Douglas Wilson Approx. 3 hours Format: Audio In this series of four sermons Pastor Douglas Wilson goes over the biblical principles, and explains the practical outworking of them. Of the three selections here I’d say this is the most clearly biblically grounded – Wilson spends more time than the others connecting what he is saying to what God has said. This is available on CD, or as a $6 US audio download at CanonPress.com. Getting to the Heart of Parenting by Paul Tripp Approx. 4.5 hours Format: Video Paul Tripp is a favorite in our church circles and for good reason. In this video series Tripp emphasizes how very important it is to keep our focus on nurturing our children’s hearts rather than on the externals of their behavior. It is available on DVD or as a $35 US video download at PaulTripp.com. Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard 150 pages Format: Paperback This might be the most practically-focused of the three, with Ginger Hubbard offering plenty of illustrative conversations to show how we might best talk to and teach our children discipline. The one caution I will add is that Hubbard doesn’t have a covenantal understanding of childrearing – she views our children as being pagans in need of conversion rather than as prince and princesses who have received promises. However this is only a minor matter in the book, popping up in only a few places. And since Hubbard grounds what she says about discipline in what the Bible says, her advice is good and godly. Her book is available as a $5 ebook at Shepherdpress.com and also at most any online bookstore.
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.
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.
"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 meIt 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
Parents, are you pushing or leading?
Do your children feel led or pushed? Are you as a parent dominated by love or frustration? The two questions are tightly connected. Leading is born out of love and pushing is born out of frustration. As parents we may tell our children that we demand obedience and speak sharply because we love them and only want the best for them. Most likely our children are not buying this explanation. It feels to them as if they are being manipulated into doing what mom and dad want. But God has better way. Proverbs 16:20-21 calls it pleasant words.
"Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction."Focusing on pleasant words encourages your children. Pleasant words also point to the true motivation which should guide each parent: conveying a deep love of God from the heart. This what the Holy Spirit commands you to do. You are to take the truths of God’s word, weave them into fabric of your heart and then present your heart to your children. This is what Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is teaching:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up."So, you as a parent are to deeply love God with all that you are as a person. This love is expressed by drinking deeply of his commands so that your heart is permeated with them. Then, this love for God and his commands is to overflow from your heart with pleasant words into the everyday life that you and your children inhabit. It is this combination of loving God and speaking pleasant words that will enable you to lead rather than push. Even as you embrace this deep love for God that Deuteronomy requires you to have, your children will still be sinful creatures that desperately need the grace of God. The difference will be that you will not be pushing them to grasp what remains elusive to you. Rather you will be leading them to the same place that you long to go – to the cross.
Are you pushing or leading? Think about it.
Jay Younts is the author of “Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children” and “Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage.” He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared under the title "Pushing or leading?"
5 tips for family devotions with small children
For Christian parents, reading the Bible and praying with our children each day is a critical part of raising them in the faith. Yes, it’s also important to look out for spontaneous opportunities to teach them the gospel. And our lives should be a constant witness to our children. But nothing can replace a fixed daily time of sitting together as family to open the word and pray. But how do you handle family devotion when your children are very young? My husband and I are wrestling with this issue. We have a 9-month-old son and a 2-and-a-half year old daughter. I was blessed to have been raised in a Christian home where daily Bible reading and prayer were a priority. Here are five tips that I’ve gleaned from my childhood and now from my role as a parent: 1. Pick a daily time My family read the Bible and prayed together after meals. This came from my mother’s Reformed upbringing in the Netherlands. I strongly recommend that approach. You started the meal with prayer, you shared fellowship at the table, so then it’s natural to close with Bible reading and another prayer. But if work schedules keep your family apart for meals, then you need to pick another time when the whole family is together. 2. Stick to the daily time Life with young children can be total chaos. That makes it all the more important to have family devotions at roughly the same time every day – start switching it around and you’ll quickly forget or let it slide. Besides, you’ll be amazed at how quickly children adapt to the routine. When our daughter was just 16 months old, I brought our dinner out of the kitchen and she automatically folded her hands to pray. She knew that’s what we do before we eat. We are doing our best to establish the routine while our children are still small. That way, when they get older, they will consider daily family devotions as “something we always do.” 3. Get them involved When our children are older, we’ll be discussing the Bible readings with them. But in the meantime, we’re finding simple ways to get our toddler to participate. If the Bible is in the other room, we ask her to bring it to us. After prayer, we sing scripture songs with her. Family devotions are also a great time to introduce the habit of memorizing Bible verses. We’re teaching our daughter some simple phrases such as “The Lord is my shepherd.” 4. Keep it positive You need to be realistic about what small children can handle. Our 2-and-a-half year old simply can’t sit still for more than a few minutes – for anything. We are working on gradually increasing the length of our Bible reading but it would be unfair of us to expect more from her than she’s able to give. Sometimes I will take her on my lap. That helps keep her quiet a bit longer. If the baby has a genuine meltdown, I will take him to another room and my husband finishes devotions with the toddler. The gospel is called “the good news.” Children should have a happy association with family devotions. It should not be a time that your child associates with getting disciplined. We give our kids a fair bit of leeway with squirming. It’s only if someone is being truly disruptive that I’ll intervene. I’m busy listening to the word of God, not carefully supervising my kids’ behavior. And that leads me to my most important point: 5. Keep it reverent During these early years, we can teach our children so much by our attitude of reverence for God’s word. Do you believe that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12)? That should be evident to your children from the way you act. Before they can even speak, they will have learned that the Bible is something very special and important. Moreover, your children take their cues from you. If you are modelling proper reverence, it will significantly reduce misbehaviour during family devotions. In our family, we find it helpful to start with a clear gear-shift. We say, “It’s time to read the Bible” and then “It’s time to pray.” We don’t talk about other things or engage in other activities during this time. If the CD player is still playing some background music, we’ll go through the hassle of getting up to turn it off before devotions. Conclusion Trying to have regular family devotions with small children can be frustrating. I pray these five tips may be useful to you. I am thankful to my parents for persevering. I’ve personally experienced the fruit that it bears in later years.
Quantity, not quality: good parenting takes time
In The New Tolerance authors Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler share the way one parent taught his teenage son to see through the worldly messages being presented in pop music. The son was allowed to buy any album he wanted so long as Dad listened to it beforehand.
"If Dad approved not only of the language but of the more subtle messages in the music, fine; if not... Dad would always explain his decisions."At one point this father rejected three straight albums, which didn't leave his son all that happy. And it wasn't so easy on the dad either; he had to spend a long time listening to some lousy music. Now this was almost 20 years ago, so it took a lot longer than it even would today. Whereas we can read song lyrics online and preview many tracks via YouTube, back then the only way to check out an album was to go to the store, buy it on CD, and take it for a spin. But this dad was up for it. He knew that by investing "quantity time" with his son – by spending hours slogging through, and talking through, album after album together – he'd help equip his son to know and appreciate what was praiseworthy and to see through what was shameful and unworthy. The Bible speaks about quantity vs. quality time. Or, rather, it assumes quantity time. In Deut. 11:19 God describe our parenting task – raising up children in the ways of the Lord – as an always and ongoing activity.
"You shall teach [these words of mine] to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up."Raising up our children in the way they should go is going to take time. And energy too. There are going to be moments when you'll feel downright exhausted. But, be encouraged: this is what we supposed to be doing; it's what we're called to do. And sure, it can be draining, but let's not forget how much joy there is in the process too. We get to not only listen to music together but: share meals teach them how to ride a bike and mow the mow the lawn study God's Word as a family show them how to bake play games together and tell them for the hundredth time to stop picking their nose This is what we get to do. Tired or not, there is no task more important: God has entrusted us with the care of his covenant children. When we consider we're going to spend our hours some way or the other, what better investment is there? Keep at it. Take the time.
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.
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.
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!"
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.
Children’s non-fiction, Parenting, Sexuality
A book for children, to help prevent sex abuse
God Made All of Me: A book to help children protect their bodies by Justin S. and Lindsey A. Holcomb 32 pages / 2015 God Made All of Me is a picture book written for young children to teach them about their bodies, and Who made them, and how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse. It’s a parent/caregiver book as well – right at the front, before the children’s section begins, there is a page that is directed to parents/caregivers where the authors state their goals and reasons for writing this book. The book also ends with a couple pages for parents/caregivers with 9 ways to protect their children from sexual abuse. The bulk of the book happens between these notes for parents. It is a story of a family with young children, and it starts off with quoting Genesis 1:31 “God saw everything He had made. And it was very good.” This quote is the springboard for the conversation that happens between the children and the parents in the book in regards to the children’s bodies. The book also quotes from Ps. 139 and Ps. 28. Using this dialogue between the children and parents, the book goes through different scenarios the children may find themselves in and gives ways for the children to respond in such circumstances, all with the premise that God made their bodies special and so no one is allowed to touch them. I highly recommend this book for young children aged 8 and under. It deals with a topic that, as parents, we don’t always know how to talk to our children about, yet it is so, so important that we do. In fact, I find this book so valuable that I now include it as a recommendation every time I train people in how to prevent child sexual abuse. What a blessing then that God has used these authors to write this book to help us out. I love that the whole book is based on God, His creation of us, and His Word. I also think it very wise of the authors to have it written the way they do: a dialogue between parents and their children, including different situations children may find themselves in. Although I found some of it a bit repetitive, my children did not. But then again, what child doesn’t like a book repeated?! If you have young children, I encourage you to get this book. You will not regret it. Michelle Helder has done presentations in Southern Ontario (and one in Lynden, WA) on what parents can do to best prevent sexual abuse. In a 3-hour workshop, she facilitates and leads discussions, using the Stewards of Children video and an interactive workbook. If you are interested in contacting her to do this very valuable workshop with your group, contact the editor for her email information.
There is more to life than being safe and legal
Rules and parenting are things that go together. But there is more to life than rules. Rules, by themselves, will not produce spiritual maturity. What rules may do is keep you safe and keep you from breaking laws. But God wants you to have more than that. Rules address behavior Relying primarily on a set of rules to govern your family is toxic. Paul warns you about being taken captive by the human traditions of this world. Here is his warning found in Colossians 2:8:
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”Later on in this chapter of Colossians Paul talks about the danger of rules such as: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch” And then he says:
“Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”The fact that these rules have some value here on planet earth is what makes them attractive and deadly. However, with regard to spiritual safety and well-being these rules are of no value at all. Such rules only require the strength of the flesh to obey. They will not hold back the lusts of the flesh. In fact they will encourage them. Why? Because anything that does not require faith in Christ and humble reliance upon his Spirit leads to pride and failure. We want more By all means, teach your kids to know when to be quiet to know and follow the laws of your community and country. But do not rely on these directives for spiritual well-being. Simply giving your children rules to: be quiet, keep the house clean, don’t do drugs, don’t have sex, and don’t look at pornography is not enough. Loving and living for Christ must come first. Understanding the gospel truth of our deep dependence on Christ is the highest priority. Rules are deceptive. Keeping them apart from knowing Christ breeds contempt for Christ. Remember the story of the rich young ruler. He kept ALL of the rules but rejected Christ. Paul pleads with you to live all of your life in dependence upon Christ. Go for more than rules. Go for the heart.
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: 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 [his brother] 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, “[We] have a natural tendency to hate God and [our] 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 [to] 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 email@example.com.
Parenting, Pro-life - Adoption
Why Reformed churches should be full of adopted children
When it comes to adoption rates, our Reformed churches aren't unusual. While Canadian statistics are hard to come by, in the US it appears about 1% of families adopt an orphan. Our congregations may be a bit above that average, but not remarkably so. Why is that? There are practical considerations of course. Couples may not be able to afford the $20,000 (and more) it costs to complete an overseas adoption. They may worry about how adopted children will deal with sticking out in our church communities, where we may have a variety of hair colors, but some congregations are pretty limited in the variety of skin color. Other considerations could be mentioned, but the expense and the potential difficulties wouldn't explain our churches' tepid attitude to adoption. For example, Christian schooling is also costly, and it can be more than a little difficult, and yet we as churches have embraced it because we understand how God thinks about this issue. We've been taught off the pulpit and in home visits, and been encouraged by family and friends, to understand the importance of educating our children to know and love the Lord (Proverbs 22:6, Deut. 6:7). We know this is what God calls us to do, so we're willing to pay what it costs, and to struggle through whatever difficulties we might face. So I don't believe it's the practical concerns that are holding us back when it comes to adoption. I wonder if it's simply that we don't talk about it. Why we are so quiet There's a reason you likely haven't heard your elders, or pastor, or parents or friends talking about adoption. It's probably the same reason I haven't written much about it: it seems downright hypocritical for someone without adopted children to encourage others to adopt. Your elder can ask teach you about the importance of a godly education for your children – no hypocrisy there, because he's been a board member, three of his children are enrolled and the fourth just graduated. But if he doesn't have adopted children, wouldn't it be strange if during the course of a home visit, he asked you whether you've considered adoption? The reason we don't talk about adoption, the reason we don't teach and preach about it, is because we don't do it. It seems wrong to preach what we don't practice. So we're quiet instead. What God thinks about adoption While silence saves us from hypocrisy it also leaves us ignorant. It leaves us thinking adoption is only for those struggling with infertility. Silence has some still believing there are theological objections to adoption. Silence fosters our lukewarm approach to adoption. But God isn't lukewarm about adoption. We read that before Man even fell into sin God already had a plan to use adoption to bring us back to Him: "In love He predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will..." (Ephesians 1:5). Theological objections to adoption? What trouble we would be in if that were so! Who are we, if not the adopted sons and daughters of God? God doesn't just love adoption, He invented it! If not for it, we would have remained God's enemies. But instead, through the "Spirit of adoption" we can cry out to God and call Him, "Abba, Father." It is through adoption that we have become children of God (Romans 8:15-16). Imitators of God In Psalm 68 David describes God as "a father to the fatherless" (vs. 5) who "sets the lonely in families" (vs. 6). In James 1:27 we're told that, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress..." Consider Ephesians 5:1-2:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.We are to be imitators of God, because we are his children! Can we think of a better way to imitate our heavenly Father than to also be a father to the fatherless? Does that then mean we should all adopt? No, it does not; while all Christian parents are called to teach their children the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Deut. 6:7, Ephesians 6:4), there is no similarly universal command to adopt. God doesn't call all couples to it. And He doesn't equip us all for it. But a lot more of us may be equipped than we realize. We're adopting at a rate that is comparable to the world, and yet our churches should be full of adopted children. Why? Because they already are! We are all adopted – by the grace of God we have been made His sons and daughters – so we, so much more so than the world, should be eager to go and do likewise. Silent no more How can we fill our churches with adopted children? It begins with teaching and preaching God's thoughts on adoption and encouraging one another to have the conversation. While it might seem hypocritical for a pastor, or elder (or magazine editor) who has no adopted children to encourage others to adopt, it really isn't – there's no need for him to preach what he hasn't practiced. Instead he can encourage others to do what he has done (or what he now recognizes he should have done), which is to seriously and prayerfully consider it. Bringing an orphan child into your home may be difficult, costly, even scary, but it is above all godly. Will you consider it?
*****John Piper on adoption: It may be difficult but... "The pain of adopting and rearing children is sure. It will come in one form or the other. Should that stop us from having children or adopting children? No. The self-centered world “cuts their losses” by having few or no children. (And there is way too much of that thinking in the church.) In one sense we may be very glad that such people don’t tend to have children or at least not many children. Because it means that breed of selfish person will die out more quickly since they don’t replace themselves. But on the other hand, we grieve, hoping that they will see that the grace of God is sufficient for every new day no matter how difficult, and that there is more true joy in walking with God through fire, than walking on beaches without him." - Piper, in an excerpt from his sermon, "Predestined for Adoption to the Praise of His Glory" which can be found online at www.DesiringGod.org.
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.
Raising children who despise themselves
It seems like such a simple thing. You ask your child to do something and in response, he quietly keeps playing with his toy. If the day is laid back and the request seems inconsequential, the negative response might be ignored. But, you decide to press on, so you ask again, this time a little more firmly, and then one more time. Your four-year-old grudgingly, slowly does as he was told. You breathe a sigh of relief, no harm done, at least he obeyed. But actually this little boy has taken a step down the road to self-hatred. Solomon warns that those who disregard discipline despise themselves. What appears to be just an inconsequential delay is actually helping a child to despise himself. Look at Proverbs 15:31:32
Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.In contrast, your role as a parent is to raise children who embrace obedience in the same way that Jesus did (Ephesians 4:13). When this boy embraces correction, he not only does well in the moment but he is learning to value the company of people who love wisdom. But when he rejects discipline he is on a path that leads to self-loathing. To reject discipline is to invest in one’s own judgment, not a good idea. He is headed toward the awful fate of the young man in Proverbs 5:1l-14, who had come to the point of ruin because he rejected correction. The goal of obedience is to do exactly what is directed, right away, with a pleasant, willing attitude. Anything less is self-accommodation on the part of both the parent and the child and is leading the child to despise himself! So what appears to be a harmless exchange of little consequence is really the beginning of a child learning to not trust God and despise himself. Solomon is not mincing words in Proverbs 15. He is making an urgent plea to remember this warning the next time your child refuses to obey exactly, quickly and with a pleasant, willing spirit.
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
From explanations to dialogue, from monologues to questions
Explanations often lead to monologues, especially with teenagers. This is not a helpful communication pattern. The goal for good, biblical communication with teenagers is the combination of questions that lead to dialogue. But these questions must come from a genuine interest in your teenagers for who they are, not for what you want them to be. Who would you go to? In this context, let me ask you a question. When you need help with a problem, do you look for answers from any random person? The answer is obvious. You ask the people whom you trust and respect, someone who will really listen to you. Let me take this one additional step. Suppose a friend from church calls and asks you for advice on some relational issue. You are thrilled because you have wanted to talk to her about this very problem. You immediately launch into your explanation about her problem. You tell her that she must not have been listening to the sermons because the pastor just spoke on that very issue. You go on to say that if she were not always late to church she might be in better shape to actually listen to the sermon. You suggest several books for her to read and you finish by telling her you hope you have been helpful. Over time you wonder why she has never called back for more “help.” This example illustrates the danger warned about in Proverbs 18:2; "a fool delights in airing his own opinions." Listen, don't lecture The active, aggressive listener of Proverbs 18:15 – "the ear of the wise seeks knowledge" – will recognize the types of questions that are asked...and the questions that are not asked. If your teenagers are primarily asking logistical questions, such as "Can I have the car?" or "When is dinner?" this should alert you that the important questions are going to someone else. Your goal is to have your kids ask you about the hard things in life. But like you, your older children and teenagers will reserve those questions for the people whom they respect and trust, for the people who will carefully listen. Monologues do not build relationships, only frustrations. You goal is to create a relational climate in which your teenagers want to come to you. Listen carefully to your children and observe the things that they struggle with. Take an interest in the things they are interested in. Ask them genuine questions about their interests. Patience is key here. If you have not been a good listener, you can become one. Even if you do, it may take time for teenagers to begin to seek you out. Pursue your teenagers not so much for what they have done, but for who they are – your children given to you by God. Delight in your teenagers for who they are, your children. If God can delight in you and in me, with all of our issues, then we can delight in the children he has given to us. Being an aggressive listener will lead you to questions and then to dialogues. This is a good thing, for both you and your teenager!
Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children andEveryday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared.
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.
Five things I wish I had known... about being a father
As I have met many fathers around the country at conferences and homeschool conventions, I am often reminded of my own time as a father with three children in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Charles Dickens used a phrase to describe the time of the French Revolution that in many ways describes my experience as a parent – it was the “best of times and the worst of times.” Nothing in my life has given me as much fulfillment and joy as being a father to my children. I can also now see that nothing has been as difficult, even though at the time I was blissfully oblivious to most of my weaknesses and shortcomings. Only as my children have become adults have many of my own failures surfaced. What follows are five of those “blind spots” to which I was completely unaware as a young father and that have come to light only in the past few years. 1) I did not see that loving my children is different from worshiping them We are all in some way unconscious idolaters in our hearts. For some of us, our prevalent idol is our job, money, success, personal recognition, fame, leisure time, entertainment, sports, sex, intellectual attainment or even religious achievement or Christian ministry. These are all perfectly innocent pursuits in themselves until they come to occupy the central place in our hearts around which all else revolves – the place reserved for God alone. I did not recognize it at the time, and I would have vehemently denied it if you had suggested it to me, but my children became my predominant idol of choice, though there were others always waiting in the wings, vying for my attention. I taught in their Christian high school and coached their basketball teams, coached all their little league teams and was always eyeball deep in all they did. Only from the distance of more than a decade have I realized that much of the recognition, success and achievement that my involvement in their lives encouraged was for me as much as for them, because their success made me look like a successful father. “My, what well-behaved, smart, successful children Robert and Jill have. They must be wonderful parents.” All of our idolatry is really in some way the exaltation of ourselves. I have discovered that my children had indeed, very subtly, become idols in my life. I was too busy congratulating myself for the wonderful parenting job I was doing for that thought ever to enter my mind! 2) I did not know that the goal of parenting was not to be the perfect parent or even the best parent I could possibly be, but to be a parent who is a repentant sinner I did not know that the way to a real relationship with my children was to walk in the light with them, not by living in darkness, convincing myself that while I was not the perfect parent, I was at least in the top echelon. Oh, there were occasional flashes of lightning that illuminated the fact that I was nowhere close to a perfect parent, but after a brief time of uneasiness, I was always able to return to my comfortable darkness. 1 John 1:7 encourages us to “walk in the light,” and “walk” implies a way of life. I didn’t understand that an open, daily recognition of weakness and dependency on the Lord and not my superior parenting skills was the way to true relationship with my children. 1 John 1:7 says that “fellowship (genuine relationship) one with another” is the result. When my sons were early teenagers, both came to me on separate occasions for help in resisting the pornography that a neighbor boy had shown them. I counseled them on the dangers of pornography, how addictive it is and how destructive it can be to their future relationship with their wives. I then prayed with them that God would give them the power to resist. I was being the perfect father, standing for righteousness, but not being a transparent, repentant one. I didn’t understand that parenting by the gospel meant walking in the light with them, confessing to them my own struggles with pornography over the years, and then praying for us both that in our weakness God would be our power. I missed a golden opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my sons. 3) I did not know that I shouldn’t compare my children with other children, either positively or negatively In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul says it is foolishness to compare ourselves with others. The only standard for comparison is the law of God, whereby we are all judged as sinners, including our children. My modus operandi was to proudly compare my children to others around me and to invariably find them far superior. As a result, I unconsciously ignored besetting sins in their lives for which they needed their father to help them face; not only the obvious sins of the flesh, but pride, self righteousness, the fear of man, etc. However, I was unable or unwilling to see them clearly and therefore unable to help them to see themselves because of my pride in their performance compared to others. On the other hand, some parents are dissatisfied with their children for what they see as always falling short of the performance of other children. If we are dissatisfied with our children, be assured that it will be communicated to them, no matter how hard we try not to do so. The result will be defeat and discouragement because they will feel they can never measure up enough to please us. Parenting by the gospel rather than the law involves an evaluation of a child’s gifts and abilities so that unrealistic expectations are not imposed upon him or her. Gospel parenting is practically applied as the parent models for his child how to handle besetting sins (laziness, making excuses, irresponsibility, taking offense, etc.) by the parent facing those sins squarely and openly in his own life and then repenting! Without this step, “What you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say” will be the order of the day. All children have a powerful “hypocrite-detector” that improves exponentially in effectiveness as they grow older. Comparing our children with others is foolish because it leads to self-righteousness when children are judged as superior, or discouragement and even rebellion when parents feel their children never seem to reach their standard of achievement. How we approach our children, by law or gospel, reflects how we see our relationship with God. Since I am most generally an “older brother” from the parable of the prodigal son, my tendency is to see myself, and therefore my children, as superior. A “younger brother” will see himself and therefore his children as failures, never quite measuring up. But we are all sinners, loved by God with a love that is not in any way affected by our sin. It is seeing God’s love for us as fathers that will allow us to love our children in the same way and free us from comparing them with others. 4) I did not know that I was creating a default mode in the hearts of my children that would either help them to think the best of others or foster judgment and criticism When my oldest son was in college, he was the head-resident on his floor in his dorm, charged with the very loose responsibility of keeping order on the floor. On a visit to campus, I asked him about the other boys on the floor, which included a good number of rather rowdy football players. “Oh Dad, they are just a bunch of meat-heads.” His attitude of scorn and judgment struck me like a thunderbolt and I heard the Lord say to me, “He got that critical attitude straight from you!” I am sorry to say that much of the heritage I have left with my children that they now carry with them is judgment and criticism. I have an opinion about what everyone ought to do, even when I have no responsibility in their lives, and I do not hesitate to make that opinion known. How much better to love them with a love that covers all things and does not expose sin but believes and hopes for the best in them (1 Corinthians 13). Too bad that is not my spontaneous reaction! My default mode is to be critical and judgmental. As they were growing up my children constantly heard me be critical of others and the decisions they made, the lifestyle they chose to live and the friends they kept. It is not my job to even have an opinion about what others do if I have no God-given authority in their lives. They answer to their own master and not to me (Romans 14:4). I was sharing my besetting sin of critically judging everyone I see with a friend. His reaction was, “Oh, we all do that.” My response to him was, “So, what’s your point? Do the sins of others excuse me to sin? Does ‘everyone does it’ give me a free pass?” As we Andrews are recognizing this sin, acknowledging it and repenting, the Lord is graciously beginning to reset our default mode, even as adults. This is the only possible way for me to “Be holy, even as I am holy”—not by trying harder but by facing my sin, acknowledging it, repenting and trusting the Spirit within to change my critical heart. I know it will be a life-long process. Have you ever recognized a besetting sin of yours reproduced in your children? What was it? 5) I did not know that there are times to be a sympathetic listener and not an answer man who can “fix the problem” James 1:19 says to be “swift to hear and slow to speak.” Legions are those to whom I have done just the opposite. I have had correct biblical answers to questions they really weren’t asking me, though I was convinced they should be. More often than not, they already knew the answer—they just needed me to listen, understand and then encourage them to trust the Lord for the power to do what they already knew to do. There is nothing less attractive than an answer man who is always the teacher and never the learner himself. Just recently I fell into the trap again of giving a close friend the right answer for what he should do about a vicious personal attack by a member of his extended family, someone with whom he had grown up and who supposedly loved him. His confidence as a man was shaken. He did not need to hear initially what he should “do,” but that I loved him, as did God, Who also believed in him, was pleased with him and had him right on schedule in his spiritual growth. There would be plenty of time later to let God show him a course of action. Interestingly enough, this family crisis is bringing my friend’s immediate family together; what the enemy meant for evil, God intended for good. This has been my pattern over the years with my wife and children as well. Their struggles have more often than not elicited an answer as to what they should do rather than addressing the insecurity that comes from wondering whether or not their problem-solving father really cares about them as people. As the one who represents God in my family, my attitude is to be a reflection of His, and His primary concern is His relationship with me, not what I do, what I say or the theology I believe. If I understand His great love for me in spite of what I do, what I do will naturally and unconsciously change. Conclusion Seeing these five failures in my parenting that we have discussed over the past few weeks has surprisingly been a source of encouragement to me and a means of strengthening the relationship between my wife and me and our grown children. Grandfathers and grandmothers are still little children in God’s classroom of learning to face their sin, repent and walk by faith! Does it make sense to you that openly facing failure as a parent can strengthen family relationships and be a source of genuine encouragement to all family members?
Robert Andrews has been a college campus evangelist, high school chemistry teacher and basketball coach, church teaching elder, church planter, national conference speaker and certified business coach and is a husband to one, a father to three and a grandfather to ten. His website, where this article was first published, is www.gospelparenting.com.
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.
If you want to spank your child, don't
Discipline is controlled, calm and loving...or it's sinful The photo website I use for most of the pictures for Reformed Perspective has more than 24 million stock pictures, so no matter what the topic, I usually have piles of options to choose from. But when I tried to find something to illustrate an article on parenting, and I punched in the search term "parents" along with "discipline" or "punishment" I got only one basic type of picture: glowering, shouting, finger-waving moms and dads. The variety from one picture to the next was only whether the parent had already lost it or was just about to. This seemed to be the world's idea of parents doing discipline, and no wonder then that they want to ban spanking. No one wants to allow enraged adults to vent their frustrations by hitting kids! But, of course, this is not what discipline should ever be. In Proverbs 13:24 we see that God both clearly encourages corporal punishment, and prescribes the boundaries under which it is to be administered:
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.It can be easier not to discipline our children, to let things slide, to pretend we don't see and don't know what they are up to, and to just hope that they will smarten up without us having to get up from the couch. But if we love our children more than the TV program we're watching, the book we're reading, or the friend we're talking to on the phone, then we will stop what we are doing and apply the corrective that is needed when it is needed... which is immediately. But this verse is about more than a willingness to discipline; we're told that this discipline is motivated by love. There was no love to be seen in any of the website's stock pictures. These screaming, reddening, out-of-control parents looked like they wanted to hit their kids. As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains:
Discipline is corrective, and it is applied for the sake of the one receiving it. It is not punitive, and it is not rendered for the sake of the one giving it. When you are spanking a child, you are either being selfish or you are being selfless – one or the other. You are doing it because you are exasperated, frustrated, beside yourself, and frazzled, or you are doing it as a fragrant offering to the God of your fathers.... When you are highly motivated to discipline your kids, you are not qualified. When you are qualified, you don’t feel like it.Screaming and spanking simply don't go together. Or rather, they often do go together, but as parents we need to recognize this for the sin it is. Discipline must be an act of love.
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).
Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews
[caption id="attachment_2109" align="alignright" width="194"] 128 pages / 2015[/caption]
Today we have a guest post by Annie Kate Aarnouste on a book, "Sex Matters," that parents could find a great resource to give to their kids.
Sex Matters is a book intended for Christians – McKee provides answers from the Bible and explains the Bible’s message using research and real life examples. Jonathan McKee wants to make it easier for parents to talk to their kids about sex, and to that end he’s written a book for parents to give to their teens, which addresses the two common questions, “Why wait?” & “How far?”
Why wait? McKee takes over 20 informative pages to explain the statement, “God has given the gift of sex to enjoy in marriage.” And in addition to making the biblical case, he shares how research shows that this command is in alignment with how human beings function.
HOW FAR CAN I GO?
How far can people go, and when should they stop? McKee’s answer rests on the rather obvious observation that once the process is started it is designed to be continued.
That is why it is so difficult to stop, a fact that has been known for millennia. So his advice? Don’t start the process; don’t do anything you would not do in front of your grandmother.
WHAT DOES FLEEING SIN LOOK LIKE?
Sex outside marriage is a huge temptation, especially in our media-saturated culture, and it is the one temptation the Bible repeatedly tells us to flee. McKee explains clearly what fleeing temptation means for girls and how it is different for guys.
Christians need to understand the truth, recognize natural consequences, and establish safeguards, and parents need to help their teens do these things as well as to encourage them to take responsibility themselves.
McKee also covers the dangers of porn, questions about masturbation, and the effects of abuse. Over and over he turns to the gospel, reminding young people that Jesus offers a fresh start for everyone, whether you have sinned or been sinned against.
He also encourages young people to remain pure by pointing out that a few years of self-discipline can be traded for a lifetime of awesome connecting without baggage after marriage. Who in their right mind would choose anything else? But the trouble is that we are sinners and that disobedience seems so attractive.
Finally, McKee offers some practical suggestions:Marry earlier. Be careful what you listen to and watch, what you wear, who you are alone with, and where you go. Beware of the dangers of the Internet and install safety systems.
I will add one caution. Sex Matters is a book for teens exposed to our culture and, as such, it can be explicit. When parents wonder if the book itself could cause more problems than it solves, McKee’s response would be that our culture is explicit, and that equipping our teens requires us to be forthright.
So do pre-read this before giving it to your teen to see if it meets your expectations.
McKee’s Sex Matters is a valuable book (especially in conjunction with More than Just the Talk, which he’s written for parents). It is unabashedly Biblical – so much so that our huge public library refused to buy it – but it deserves a place in home, church, and school libraries and would be a blessing to any community that has it in its public library.
What’s more, it is short (only 122 pages), easy to read, and contains discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I highly recommend it.
This is adapted from a review on Tea Time with Annie Kate and used with permission. The original can be found here.