An excellent article in The Plough (which if you have not read or subscribed to is an exceptional journal worhty of your consideration) entitled “They Watch More Than They Listen” challenges our parental sensibilities for thinking that if we merely transfer right content and place our children in the right schools for high-level academic learning we have done a good job. This is a sliver of what we are called to do in the training and loving aspect to parenting.

It is without doubt that I want to transfer truth. But too often I fail–daily, I fail–to love my children and live the truths I want to convey. Here are three paragraphs that cut me and reminded me that Scripture models for me the longsuffering and grace of God. In light of all that I am the beneficiary of, how can I not also extend such a life to my children.

The real problem arises – and this is more widespread than one might think – when children are taught to “do as I say, not as I do.” Told this half-jokingly in one situation after another, they gradually learn that there is never anything so black and white that it is always good or bad, at least not until they make the wrong choice at the wrong time. When that happens, they get punished for their lapse of judgment. And they will always find the punishment unjust.

Being a father, I know how hard it is to be consistent – and conversely, how easy it is to send confusing signals without even realizing it. Having counseled hundreds of teenagers over the last four decades, I also know how sensitive young adults are to mixed messages and inconsistent boundaries, and how readily they will reject both as clear signs of parental hypocrisy. But I have also learned how quickly the worst battle can be solved when we are humble enough to admit that our expectations were unclear or unfair, and how quickly most children will respond and forgive.

Reflecting on the ways in which children so often mirror their parents – in actions, attitudes, behavioral characteristics, and personal traits – my grandfather, writer Eberhard Arnold, noted that children are like barometers. They visibly record whatever influences and pressures currently affect them, whether positive or negative. Happiness and security, generosity and optimism will often show themselves in children to the same degree that they are visible in their parents. It is the same with negative emotions. When children notice anger, fear, insecurity, or intolerance in an adult – especially if they are the target – it may not be long before they are acting out the same things.

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“The Time is at Hand to Leave and Cleave”

Yesterday I preached on the allegiances the Gospel of Jesus challenges us with from Mark 1.10-20. While there may be times that Christ’s call to us may be an utterly radical call to hop on a plane and give the rest of our lives in service on the mission field, more often the call to radical discipleship is in the everyday stuff of life. This season of Epiphany we have been focusing on the fact that God is everywhere and is always revealing himself. The task is for us to have eyes to see his work. This doesn’t just happen, but we need to train our minds, hearts, eyes, ears, noses, tongues, and hands to feel and experience his presence–as we live and move and have our being in him (Acts 17.28).

Yesterday we considered that Christ’s call to a new allegiance is more often a reappropriation and reorientation of our lives–a line which he draws in the sand and bids us to step over that line, turn around and see the grandeur of the ocean.

The Allegiance of Livelihood

When Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, notice that he did not say to these fishermen, “Follow me and I make you become makers of tents and tabernacles…or stonemasons…or anything other than what you’ve known all your life.” Have you considered that God has placed within you, indeed, knit you together, with gifts and talents and passions that he wants you to use in reference to him in the service of others. We minimize our lives and worlds when we strive for our own building up. But when we use these passions and desires for the service of others, we have the opportunity to see God’s glory and our joy multiplied. Don’t shirk the person he has made you to be. Don’t run from the things you love to do because it seems harder. Rather, challenge yourself to re-purpose your loves and passions in service to others, and thereby seeing God’s face more clearly.

The Allegiance of Family

The family in the Ancient Near East determined much of who you are–your profession and your very existence. We get a glimpse of how Jesus reconfigures and challenges the identity and covenantal headship of the nuclear family when he says that those who do the will of his Heavenly Father are his mother and brothers and sisters (Mark 3.31-35). In this, Jesus reorients and challenges the notion that family determines your life. What is more, he is calling his people to a new family based upon faith and apprenticeship to him. To follow him and learn from him.

We long for our children to know Jesus. We believe that parents are the primary disciples in their children’s lives. But we still affirm the call of Jesus to each of our children to repent and believe to be a child of the family of faith.

This reconfiguring of the family can also be seen in the way the Apostle Paul challenges this notion of having to be married and have children to be complete. Not only was he single all his life, and laser-focused on doing what pleased the Father, but our Savior Jesus was single. This challenges the popular notion, and shuts the mouths of those who would ask a single person, “When are you going to get married” or to the married couple, “When are you going to have children.” Relationships and children are gifts and are good. But they are not the definition of wholeness.

The Allegiance of Self

At root of both of the explicit allegiances is the implicit challenge to the gravitational pull of allegiance to our self. Our desire to gather around us “yes men” who merely affirm what we want to be true. Jesus’ first words of public ministry were words of power, words of stark harshness, words of utter grace. Grace in that he offers us freedom from the slavery to our self and our passions. He offers us freedom to experience his world and see him in his world…once we turn from our navel-gazing to see the vastness of his love. Not just at one moment in time, but verily at all points in our existence. If we will have eyes to see.

His call to repent does not come from a call to shape up or ship out. Rather, it stems from his having conquered Satan in the place of judgment and of human weakness and frail and failure–the wilderness.

Consider these questions to guide you in your application of this passage into your life:

1. Your skills at fishing were never meant solely for you. They were intended for and are made even greater when used in the service of others. How has God gifted you? What do you find you are most excited about?

2. How can you make the family of Christ more of a priority in your life? What areas of welcoming others into your life and being open to being known is God calling you to?

3. What allegiances is God challenging you to question and forsake?

 

Morality & Obedience

I just read this article on parenting your strong-willed child. My wife and I have a strong-willed household. I will confess that I am the culprit behind the majority of this. I am working through this–trying to sift the wheat from the chaff.

As it pertains to parenting your image bearers, the author brings up a helpful distinction between raising moral children versus obedient children.

A little background, my wife and I cut our parenting teeth on a variety of parenting that was all about obedience. That is, this phenomenon in evangelical circles called “first-time obedience.” Indubitably we were way too strict and militant with our first child (hey! I have been told this is typical. . .but typical does not make right). We expected her to jump when we told her to. There did not have to be good rationale as to why she ought to jump. Simply the fact that her dictators, er, parents told her to. After all, God had placed us as authorities in her life and we had the jurisdiction and the prerogative to expect said obedience.

Dr. Markham’s article challenged me on one primary level in my parenting that I wanted to pass on along to you, dear reader. She writes (brace yourself!):

 Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because the child WANTS to. As H.L. Mencken famously observed, morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.

So of course you want your child to do what you say.  But not because she’s obedient, meaning that she always does what someone in authority tells her to do.  After all, that someone in authority might be a mean girl in the 8th grade, or a high school coach who makes a habit of molesting kids. No, you want her to do what you say because she trusts YOU, because she’s learned that even though you can’t always say yes to what she wants, you have her best interests at heart.  You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate — and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else. That discernment only comes when kids are taught to think for themselves, rather than simply obeying authority.

Implied within this is the fact that your child trusts you. I have found it intellectually lazy to merely tell a child that they ought to listen to Mommy and Daddy because God has placed us as an authority in her life. It is lazy because, although true at a most basic level, we have not done the hard work of appealing to the child’s motivation itself. That is, if I were to be told by my boss that I ought to do something because God has placed her in authority over me, which is also true!, I don’t think my reaction would be the same as what I am seeking from my child. Think Golden Rule here, for simplicity’s sake.

I am taking these two paragraphs as a challenge to be the kind of parent that is trustworthy. This begins with me first deeply caring about my child as a person. Not merely because she is my flesh and blood, but because she is a human being firstnot to mention the implications of this worldview of affecting how we treat our neighbors.

What is more, this is going to take a little more thoughtfulness on my part–remember the charge of intellectual laziness? I need to pause long enough to consider whether what my call to obedience is motivated by–sloth or righteousness? I am afraid to say that more often than  not, the former is the motivation for why I want my child to pick up that sock.

It is true that I want my child to pick up after herself, but because of the virtue of being clean and responsibility and some other reasons I am sure–you can be creative I am sure. But, I have found that most of my struggles for obedience have been the result of barking terse orders rather than getting on my hands and knees and picking up (my own) socks. What’s the harm in serving my child in picking up her socks. I have imported a lot of good reasons to not serve her–“Well, I want her to learn to do this!” Or “I told her to do it and she ought to obey me!” What a slothful despot I have been.

I must be reminded of the Latin origins of our word for “parent.” It essentially means to bring forth. Assuredly this refers to the actual birthing of a child. Yet, a father does not birth. So I must take it  a little more loosely. My task is to bring my child forth into a moral, Christ-loving adult–emphasis on the latter, for from it stems the former.

May us bringers forth never forget that labor is not for a day or two but a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime–not just until 18 years. I lean on my dad for wisdom even still. . . because I trust him, not quintessentially because God placed him as an authority in my life.

May we all gain a full-orbed vision of bringing forth. May we not lead with the authority card. When that happens, you can be assured that their is no trust.

Struggle with Anger? Count

I have found that one of my greatest struggles in life is anger. I get irritable for seemingly no reason–or at best for petty molehills. This has been a battle I’ve engaged in for the past two or three years.

This morning I was taking my daughter to preschool and was waiting in the driveway to put her in her carseat. I was on the verge of seeing red. She wanted to say “good bye” to her sisters (for the third time!) and I wanted to scream (for the fifth time!). I decided that instead of yelling, I would try a little exercise to cultivate tenderness and not outrage. Since being late was my biggest worry at that point, I thought I would try a little experiment. Instead of yelling “hurry up” (after all I don’t want to hurry through life only to find I am on my death bed before I had truly lived), I wanted to see how much time was lost by her saying farewell (for the third time!). 1 one-thousand. 2 one-thousand. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. . . 15. And you know what, she got in the car!

Well. Not exactly. She stopped right at the door of the car. 1 one-thousand. She looked up at the roof across the street. 2 one-thousand. And she pointed. 3 one-thousand. “Look, Daddy. Three birds on that roof. One flew away. Now there are two!” 7 one-thousand. “She flew away to go find her husband.” [Insert, “ahhhh, how sweet’s” now]

We lost a total of 27 seconds. That’s it. No tears. No anger. No frustrating ride to preschool. A pleasant time talking about what she was going to do at school today. A pleasant ride.