Parents & Kids of Faith

  • Friday, December 9, 2011

  • The Gospel Alphabet by Timothy Keller

    F is for Fidelity
    Faithfulness to the true Gospel calls for ongoing study and obedience. It calls as well for watchfulness, lest false Gospels be introduced. The battle against counterfeit gospels has always been part of church life. Even in the first century Paul battled against such, as did Peter and Jude and John. Like Paul we must be resolved that we will tolerate no other “Gospel,” even if it comes from a heavenly angel or springs from our own imperfectly sanctified hearts, and we should expect the same fidelity from those with whom and to whom we minister (Gal. 1:6-9). Only a constant learning and reviewing of the Gospel can ensure that we will be astute to separate the chaff from the wheat.


    Dear Santa,
    I've been a good mom all year. I've fed, cleaned, and cuddled my two children on demand, visited the doctor's office more than my doctor, sold sixty-two cases of candy bars to raise money to plant a shade tree on the school playground, and figured out how to attach nine patches onto my daughter's girl scout sash with staples and a glue gun.

    I was hoping you could spread my list out over several Christmases, since I had to write this letter with my son's red crayon, on the back of a receipt in the laundry room between cycles, and who knows when I'll find any more free time in the next 18 years.

    Here are my Christmas wishes:

    I'd like a pair of legs that don't ache after a day of chasing kids (in any color, except purple, which I already have) and arms that don't flap in the breeze, but are strong enough to carry a screaming toddler out of the candy aisle in the grocery store.

    I'd also like a waist, since I lost mine somewhere in the seventh month of my last pregnancy.

    If you're hauling big ticket items this year, I'd like a car with fingerprint-resistant windows and a radio that plays only big-people music; a television that doesn't broadcast any programs containing talking animals; and a refrigerator with a secret compartment behind the crisper where I can hide to talk on the phone.

    On the practical side, I could use a talking daughter doll that says, "Yes, Mommy" to boost my parental confidence, along with one potty-trained toddler, two kids who don't fight, and three pairs of jeans that will zip all the way up without the use of power tools. I could also use a recording of Tibetan monks chanting, "Don't eat in the living room" and "Take your hands off your brother," because my voice seems to be just out of my children's hearing range and can be heard only by the dog.

    And please don't forget the Playdoh Travel Pack, the hottest stocking stuffer this year for mothers of preschoolers. It comes in three fluorescent colors and is guaranteed to crumble on any carpet, making the in-laws' house seem just like mine.

    If it's too late to find any of these products, I'd settle for enough time to brush my teeth and comb my hair in the same morning, or the luxury of eating food warmer than room temperature without it being served in a Styrofoam container.

    If you don't mind, I could also use a few Christmas miracles to brighten the holiday season. Would it be too much trouble to declare ketchup a vegetable? It would clear my conscience immensely. It would be helpful if you could coerce my children to help around the house without demanding payment as if they were the bosses of an organized crime family; or if my toddler didn't look so cute sneaking downstairs in his pajamas to eat contraband ice cream at midnight.

    Well, Santa, the buzzer on the dryer is ringing and my son saw my feet under the laundry room door. I think he wants his crayon back. Have a safe trip and remember to leave your wet boots by the chimney and come in and dry off by the fire so you don't catch cold. Help yourself to cookies on the table, but don't eat too many or leave crumbs on the carpet.

    Yours Always,

    P.S. One more thing: You can cancel all my requests if you can keep my children young...

    By Rick Thomas

    Fear is probably the most commonly used parenting model among Christians. While it is wrongheaded, I certainly understand why parents fret over their children. I have children and I don’t want them to rebel against God or reject Him in any way. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to say that I think daily about the faith/fear tension in my heart when it comes to parenting my kids. I want them to end well, turn out well.

    My hope for my kids is singular and could be summed up by the two great commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

    I understand the calling that God has placed on my life as it pertains to my responsibility in parenting them the way Jesus would parent them. Somedays I worry and other days I don’t. Usually my worry/don’t worry scenarios are provoked by their behavior: if they are behaving well, then I don’t worry; if they are not behaving well, then I tend to worry.

    To think that my children can control me so easily does not speak well of my trust in God. Where is your focus: more on God and His goodness and faithfulness to you or on your children and their current good or bad behavior? This is a hugely important question, because how you answer that question will not only determine your levels of worry and anxiousness about your children, but it will have a major impact on how you parent your children.

    The parent traps
    Your parenting will be affected and to some degree determined by your focus. If you are trusting God primarily then you can parent with faith, grace, courage, and joy. If you are more focused on what they are doing or not doing, then you will be tempted to succumb to an assortment of parenting traps. Here are a few of the more common ones:
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will be tempted to control their children.
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will be more authoritarian in their parenting approach.
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will be self-sufficient rather than God-dependent.
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will be more fearful.
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will overreact when their kids misbehave.
    • The parent who is not humbly trusting God will over-shelter their children.
    A key to remember is that you are not trying to rear the perfect 6-year-old or 10-year-old or even a 15-year-old. You must keep the end in mind. If you don’t, you’ll become a worrying and possibly angry micro-manager. Some call this “helicopter parenting” or other odd terms that don’t communicate a grace-filled, gospel-motivated parenting worldview. This kind of parenting is too short-sighted and does not incorporate a comprehensive model that understands the point or preferred result of parenting.

    The point of parenting is summed up in the two great commandments from Matthew 22:37-39, as noted above. All parenting must have the love God/love neighbor result in mind. That is the end game for all of us. If your children become adults who love God supremely and have no other desire than to be Jesus to everyone they encounter, including their own spouses, children, and their enemies, then you can rest assured that regardless of what happens to them, they will be okay.

    Typically the stereotypical helicopter-micro-managing parent does not get this. They are myopic in their thinking. Their focus is more on the here and now rather than keeping the end in mind. There are reasons the micro-managing parenting model is enticing. Here are three:
    • The parents are fearful of how their children will turn out, so they exercise authoritarian or smothering control.
    • The parents are lazy and don’t want to be inconvenienced, so they legislate a tight ship.
    • The parents are overly concerned about their reputation, so they demand perfect obedience at all times.
    The Gospel-motivated parent is not like this at all. They are less tense, less stressed, and less angry, while resting in God’s sovereign control over all things, including the parenting of their children in the short and long-term.

    Loving God in good times and bad
    If you are not myopic, but understand that you’re not after the perfect 10-year old, then you will have a strategy in mind that includes the future. Rather than trying to iron out all of the present wrinkles in your child’s life so you will look good in front of others or so you won’t be inconvenienced, you will be able to absorb their present screw-ups, while using those moments to equip them for the future.

    As I write this I am reminded of a long list of parents who have come to me through the years when their kids were bouncing off the walls as teenagers, but are now loving God and seeking to follow Him. These parents were in a tizzy because their kid was not doing right. While I do understand this, it is very important that we put our faith in God above and not in our children’s behavior below. I have often said to these nervous parents that God saved me when I was 25-years old. It happens. God does not save every person. Neither does He save every person when they are children.

    Some of our children will reject God all of their lives and they will die and go to hell. Some of our children will not become converted until they are older adults. These are not satisfying truths for any parent to hear, but we cannot bury our heads in the sand as though these things are not true. They are true and they are undeniably sad. However, that does not take away the truth that God is good. And it should not reduce, alter, or hinder our passion for God.
    • Do you love God with more passion and faith when your children are righteous and loving God?
    • Can you love God with ever-increasing faith even though your children are not walking in obedience to God?
    • Do you carry on-going guilt for the parental mistakes you have made? If so, why do you?
    • What needs to happen in your heart in order to be free from the guilt of parental mistakes?
    • Is your faith and freedom in Christ determined by your parenting successes or by Christ’s death on the cross?
    Introducing your children to their future
    If your children are still in the home, then let me appeal to you to introduce them to our culture. Let me discourage you from trying to control future outcomes by sheltering your children from the world. They will be little people for only a nano-second, but they will be adults for all of their lives. Get them ready now to be adults later.

    My friend Willy came from Cameroon a few years ago. He had never been in America and as a 19-year old young man, it was overwhelming in many ways. Willy was not prepared for what our Americanized world was ready and willing to offer him. While Willy is doing fine today, it was a struggle to adjust as an adult to things that were literally foreign to him. If it were possible, it would have been good for Willy to be introduced to America before he was tossed into the middle of America and told to swim. Fortunately, he had a local church stateside that befriended him, served him, helped him, and taught him.

    Everyone is not as fortunate. Many children are not that blessed, especially if their parents scare them about the taboos of our culture and never incrementally introduce them to the world where they will spend the majority of their lives. Or maybe the parents simply choose to cut their children off from their culture, which never prepares them to engage the culture as they will inevitably have to engage. The most socially dysfunctional adult Christians that you will ever meet are those who were completely sheltered from the world when they were young. They don’t know how to engage their culture. They have inordinate fears about the culture, borne out of ignorance, poor parenting, and bad theology. I have a friend who told me many years ago that she did not have any unsaved friends.

    How sad is that? Jesus had scores of unsaved friends. In fact, all of His friends were unsaved. The Savior penetrated our world, from His place, in order to engage, serve, and convert our world (Philippians 2:5-11). His missionary efforts in our culture are legend. However, the socially ill-prepared cannot model the Savior. My friend can only hope that the world stumbles into her church ready and willing to become like her so she can associate with them.

    Equip for the future through present opportunities
    When I say “introducing them to the world” I am not talking about teaching them how to curse, drink beer, watch porn, smoke cigarettes, and the like. Stay focused. I am talking about familiarizing them with the ways of the world, while not allowing them to imbibe in it. Our kids should not be surprised about the world when they step into it as adults.

    Our home is a laboratory. We are continually stretching our children so we can understand them better, in order to teach them more effectively. If you have more than one child, then you know very well how unique each one of your children are. You cannot do cookie-cutter parenting. For example, to say that alcohol is evil and you’ll go to hell if you drink it is fear-motivated parental ignorance. While it may work on one child, the other child may become a drunk. You must do better than this.

    You must understand each one of your children by talking to them and asking them questions, and motivating them according to who they are. You must find out who they are, determine your starting point with each one of them and then plot out a trajectory that will get them to the cross of Christ.

    Christ came to where we were in order to bring us to where we needed to be, in Him.
    • Do you understand your children this way?
    • Do you give blanket edicts to all of your children, not considering their uniqueness?
    • How are you customizing your parenting to each of your children?
    Let me appeal to you to think big picture. Stretch your children. Give them opportunities to succeed and fail. Both outcomes are hugely important. If they succeed, then you can address any self-righteous or arrogant issues. You can also encourage them when they model humility. The test of prosperity is a wonderful opportunity to parent. If they fail, then you can encourage them by showing them what went wrong and why it went wrong. You can motivate them to address these things and then continue to address their hearts, especially if they sulk or are overly-discouraged.

    Failure and success is what their entire life will look like. They will get desired outcomes at times and at other times they will not. You have a wonderful opportunity to walk them through these two realities, which will prepare them for their future.

    Hiding your kids under a bushel
    Sheltering is an important part of parenting, no doubt. However, that cannot be the beginning and the end of how you parent your children. If it is, then your children will be hard-pressed to be Christlike when their times of future temptation come. You can be easily deceived if you shelter your children until they are adults. Truthfully, you will not be able to know how spiritual they are until they are tested and you DO NOT want them to experience their first test when they are out of the home.

    For example, our children have always hung out with adults. We knew that they only had about 12 to 15 years to be kids. They may be adults for 70 or more years. With that in mind, we did not want them to learn how to be an adult when they became an adult. Therefore, we have always had them hanging with adults. They naturally gravitate to their own kind, other kids. That part was easy. We never have had to connect them with other kids. Like a fish to water, they love their own kind. However, we had to be intentional in connecting them with older people.

    This is why we have them in small group contexts. This is why we do hospitality. This is why they sit in on a lot of our adult (age appropriate) conversations. While they have not missed out on a thing as children, we have been intentional, by the grace of God, to incrementally introducing them to the big world in which they will spend the majority of their lives.

    How are you preparing your children for the rest of their lives?

    Let’s get practical
    I have purposely stayed away from telling you some of the practical things we do with our kids. The reason for that is because some of my readers may do what we do. That may not be a good fit for you. I don’t want you to necessarily do what we do. My hope is that you will pray to God and ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind in some of the practical ways in which you can parent your child according to the concepts of this article. Parenting is hard work, as you know, and if you want to implement some of the concepts in this article, then I suggest you begin by doing the first hard thing: pray to God, asking for His direction in practically applying this article.

    Sometimes we can jump into a book to get answers before we lunge for the throne of grace. We end up doing what that guy did, even though it does not fit our situation exactly. I can promise you that if you humbly pray to God about what I have written here, He will help you to customize your parenting to your specific child.

    But if you press me, I will share with you three of a zillion things that we do to incrementally introduce our children to the culture:

    We began when our children were four or five years old, depending, teaching them Systematic Theology. [The Sunday school and children’s church curriculum at Faith Bible are systematic theology curriculums]

    All three of our kids have bank accounts, the youngest started hers when she was four. Once a month, on a Tuesday, I take one of my children out for lunch. Part of that trip is to the bank. They meet the bankers, get a lollipop and make a deposit. They have three ceramic pigs sitting on the mantel of our living room.

    We watch Cops, the TV show, with my hand on the remote. I’m teaching them to respect authority. I want them to love the police, appreciating how they serve us. Primarily we watch so I can teach them how to discern good from evil, while not self-righteously criticizing or laughing at fellow sinners who do dumb things just like each one of us do in our family.


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