Parents as Idol Worshippers

This is a post from 2012 that I thought was worth reposting.

Paul Tripp in his excellent book  Age of Opportunity lists several idols that parents have.  He notes that these idols often keep them from effectively parenting their teens. Here is the list of idols with a brief explanation from Mr. Tripp.

Idol 1: Comfort
“Secretly in our hearts, many of us want life to be a resort. A resort is a place where you are the one who is served…I am afraid that many of us live for comfort and bring this entitlement mentality to our parenting…Scripture warns us that life is far from being a resort. Life is war.”

Idol 2: Respect
“Is respect a good thing? Of course! Is it something that parents should seek to instill in their children? Yes! But it must not be the thing that controls my heart or I will personalize what is not personal, I will lose sight of my role as God’s representative, and I will fight and demand what only God can produce.”

Idol 3: Appreciation
“Children should appreciate their parents. Yet being appreciated cannot be our goal.  When it becomes the thing we live for, we will unwittingly look with hyper-vigilant eyes for appreciation in every situation…If parents have forgotten their own vertical relationship with God as they’ve ministered to their teens, if they think of it all as an ‘I serve, you appreciate’ contract between parent and child, they will struggle with lots of discouragement and anger during the teen years.”

Idol 4: Success
“We tend to approach parenting with a sense of ownership, that these are our children and their obedience is our right…We begin to need them to be what they should be so that we can feel a sense of achievement and success.  We begin to look at our children as our trophies rather than God’s creatures…When they fail to live to our expectations, we find ourselves not grieving for them and fighting with them, but angry at them, fighting against them, and, in fact, grieving for ourselves and our loss.”

Idol 5: Control
“The goal of parenting is not to retain tight-fisted control over our children in an attempt to guarantee their safety and our sanity. Only God is able to exercise that kind of control.  The goal is to be used of him to instill in our children an ever-maturing self-control through the principles of the Word and to allow them to exercise ever-widening circles of choice, control, and independence.”

The Heart of a Serial Killer

I am not sure how closely TV matches reality, but if the show Criminal Minds is near the truth then FBI profilers have an interesting job. In the show, a group of behavior analysts try to catch serial criminals (usually killers). The focus is on the psychology of the criminals, not the forensics of the crime. What is it that makes these killers tick? Why does that guy burn down houses? Why does that woman kill other women? Why does that man rape and kill women and then carefully bury them with their arms cross? Mixed in is a lot of Freudian non-sense. I am not necessarily recommending the show. I am not sure about shows that claim to be against violence, but often glorify the violence they claim to oppose.

What I found interesting about the show is the criminals do what they do to fill a need. A common phrase on the show is, “The criminal does [fill in crime here] to fill a need.” Determining what need the criminal has will often help them catch the criminal. Of course, lurking in the background is secular psychology and no concept of sin, repentance, and salvation. However, it got me thinking about how we all try to fill our needs and the results of trying to fill those needs. In the show the needs are often emotional.  A man needs power so he rapes. A woman hates her father so she burns down houses with unfit fathers. A child abandoned by his mother beats another child. A man needs control so he kidnaps kids. And so on.

We want there to be a chasm between us and those criminals. Sounds outlandish doesn’t?  Abusing others to meet a need in ourselves is not what we do. Right? Right? Of course, we do.  That is one of the reasons the show makes sense. Humans function from a deficit. We are all running on empty. All of us are needy.  The show merely gives us the big, bloody, terrifying truth about all of us. We use other people to fill our own souls. We take from others to give to ourselves. Our cup is half-full so we suck from those around us.

Many of the criminals on the show believe they are doing good. As Christians we can take the same approach. We do good things and ask others to do good things, but the reason is to fill some hole in us. Christians don’t kill others. But we manipulate them to get what we want. Christian parents do not usually physically abuse their children, but they chain them in other ways, such as making house rules into God’s rules. Christian wives do not usually shoot their husbands, but they will use verses such as Ephesians 5:25 to make sure their husbands don’t lead, but give in to their whims. Christian husbands do not usually treat their wives in wicked ways sexually, but they will view them as objects, there to satisfy their needs. Our hearts often function in the same way as those serial killers. We are empty and needy and therefore we take from others.

The answer, the only answer to our emptiness, is Christ. He is the only one who fills our needs. With Christ we are full. Therefore we do not need to take. With Christ we do not want (Psalm 23:1) and therefore we are free to give to those around us. If you are not being filled by Christ then you will stay empty. If you are not being filled by Christ you will drain those around you dry. You will wither and those around you will wither. If you are empty, look to Christ, who gives water that quenches all thirst (John 4:13-14).

The Power of Twitter to Help You Parent

John Piper in one of his books (I looked, but could not find the quote) states that often the greatest changes in the Christian life come from thinking about one single sentence. One sentence that is pondered, carefully parsed, and thoughtfully applied can have more impact than a thousand pages. Think about our walk with Christ. Often there are short verses, such as Ephesians 2:8-9, that can completely turn our world upside when they are allowed to take root in our souls. Herein lies the value of Twitter, especially for those of us who love Jesus. Twitter can of course, be a banal waste of time. But it can also deliver a quick, powerful punch that spurs you on to Christian growth.

Here is a good example. Last Friday and Saturday (November 7-8) Pastor Toby Sumpter’s church gave a free parenting conference. During the conference Pastor Sumpter tweeted numerous statements from the speakers. I found several of these very convicting in my own parenting. Below are all the tweets that he sent out. The only change I made was to organize the tweets by speaker. I have bolded one quote from each speaker and followed it with a thought from me in italics. Pastor Sumpter can be found on Twitter @TJSumpter. Of course, one danger with short quotes is that they can be taken out of context to mean something the speaker did not intend. So I would encourage you to listen to all the talks along with several Q&As here.

Bruce Evans

If you teach your kids self discipline when they are young you open the world up to them to explore & enjoy. If you don’t, you rob them.
One of the reasons our boys are immature is because we don’t give them enough responsibility early enough. Send them on adventures.
Temptation for communities that value large families: If you want your quiver full, you need to be prepared to finish what you start. [I have nine children. I want to finish well. I need to pray daily for perseverance. The road is long, but Jesus has promised me grace to reach the end.]
Your family culture is far more significant than your community’s culture. Don’t assume your kids are fine because of the stream.
A flourishing Christian community is a blessing because the stream is flowing in a good direction & because of that it’s a temptation.
Daniel didn’t suddenly become wise when he arrived in Babylon. He was loved & trained & taught to prepare him for the king’s court.
Your kids don’t belong to you; they belong to Christ. They are not here primarily to make you happy but to serve Jesus.
Christ Schlect
Modern specialization & suburbia has given many Christians a tragically anemic view of the home & of what we’re training daughters for.
If you do for your kids what they can do for themselves, you rob them of their future. Maturity comes from constant practice. [I do too much for my children. I need to give them more freedom to practice, fail, and then practice again.]
Proverbs 7 gives us a picture of parenting where the father isn’t covering his son’s eyes but pointing the harlot  out to him.
Send your children into the world as the body of Christ. Send them into the world to confront sin, forgive sin & die for others.
One of the greatest parenting passages in the Bible is Jn 3:16. God the greatest parent sent His Son into a dark world to save it.
Our task as Christian parents is to call our kids out of the world & send them into the world at the same time.
Joshua Appel
Discipline begins the day a child arrives because discipline is planting. Waiting for weeds to grow is like waiting for harvest to plant.
Discipline expresses our delight in our children because it is for their good. We correct them so they will share in God’s glory with us.
Discipline communicates our attentiveness & care of our children. It shows them that they are important to us; they matter to us. [This and the one about sloth below hit hard. By overlooking sins and refusing to discipline and train I am telling my children I do not care about you. Hebrews 12:5-11.]
Discipline communicates belonging. Not only is it loving; it insists that children belong to us & are part of our family.
It’s easy to think that love & discipline are opposites, but the Bible says that discipline is an intense expression of your love.
Psychologizing with your children when they are in sin is self-centered parenting.
Russian Roulette Parenting is parenting by manipulation and moodiness.
Sloth is not primarily laziness; it is inattentiveness. And in parenting it breeds wrath which is followed by despair.
Christians don’t discipline as a means of image control; they discipline for the good of their children.
Discipline is for the purpose of internalizing self-discipline not a means of tyrannical control.
When we discipline, we are not primarily trying to get our children to not do something, we are trying to give them glory.

A Few Words for Children Who Were Home Schooled

This article is meant to be read in conjunction with the one to parents. They balance each other out. I was home schooled and I am currently homeschooling so I have been on both ends of these blog posts. I think there is much here for all children to learn, but I have addressed this specifically to home schooled children.  

The world of home schooling has blown up over the last year, especially with the ugly sins of Doug Philips and Bill Gothard being exposed. These men influenced home schoolers in significant ways. This has led to blog posts, web sites, etc., by adults who were home schooled, where they decry their upbringing. Often these articles have good points, but, at times, there is an underlying attitude that can leave a bad taste in my mouth. Here is what I would say to adults who were home schooled and look back with disappointment on their growing up years.

First, don’t blame your parents and your upbringing for your sins and your problems. Sometimes these articles can be summed up as: Mom and Dad left me with a lot of baggage. All of our parents did that. You will do that to your kids. If you see problems in your life, don’t whisper to yourself, “It was my parents’ fault.”  Don’t allow your heart to echo, “If only my upbringing was different.” Your upbringing was fine. You did not have it any worse than anyone else. This victim mentality fits in well with American culture, but isn’t befitting someone claiming the name of Christ.

Second, stop trying to show your parents all the things they did wrong. Often you should make different decisions than your parents. The problem is not making a different choice than Mom and Dad. It is making a different choice and making a point with that different choice. Make the choices you think are best according to the Scriptures, but don’t poke your parents in the eye while doing it. Treat your parents with respect even when you disagree with them or do things differently.  As an aside, grown children should be cautious about calling out their parents, especially publicly. Your parents did sin against you, as you will sin against your children. But grace covers sin. Cover your parents’ sins.

Third, rules do not equal legalism. Just because your parents made you wear denim jumpers or wouldn’t let you watch R movies does not make them a Pharisee. The word legalism is tossed around too easily today. Different rules from the ones you have for your household does not mean you were raised as a Pharisee. Legalism does exist in homeschooling circles. But it should be carefully defined and then proven. Saying your parents were legalists may score you rhetorical points, but it doesn’t prove your point.

Fourth, in most cases your parents were first or second generation home schoolers. They were pioneers. When my mom home schooled me the choices were limited. Now they are almost unlimited. Blazing a trail is different from settling down and building a city. They had to cut down their own trees. There were no paved roads. That means the path was rougher and maybe they got off track here and there. Be gracious and humble. They did a good work by trying to bring you up in the ways of Christ. Was it perfect? Of course not. Were there things about the home schooling movement that were off track? Of course. As 2nd or 3rd generation home schoolers we need to keep building the city, but not with a pride that looks down on those who got us here.

Finally, give thanks for the parents God gave to you. I do not mean a warm, fuzzy feeling just above your rib cage. Tell them how thankful you are for what they did. Tell your children how thankful you are for your parents. Call them often and tell them of your love. Speak well of them in public and private. All of us could find things wrong with our parents. All of us could snipe and pick and bite them. But as Christians is that what we are supposed to do? Doesn’t love cover a multitude of sins? Would you want your grown children sniping at you that way? Didn’t the same God who sent His Son to deliver you send those parents to raise you? Be grateful for what they gave you, not bitter over what they didn’t.

Biblical But Not Magical: Joel Beeke on Spanking

I am enjoying Joel Beeke’s book on raising children, Parenting by God’s Promises. It is a great blend of paedo-baptist confidence with warm, evangelical piety. Here are some quotes from his chapter on spanking. All formatting and Scripture references in the following quotes are Beeke’s.

We must  be careful not to fall into the following errors. The first is the error of love without correction. A parent says, “I love my children so much I can’t spank them.” The Bible says we do not love our children if we do not spank them or correct them (Prov. 13:24). Children need correction, and without it they are not likely to put any great value on our love. 

The second problem is a rod of correction without love. We then spank out of anger (whether piping hot or icy cold), and our children feel nothing but physical pain and the equally bitter sting of our wrath. They see that we are not really grieved when we spank them, and they do not feel we are doing it in God’s name. They know we are punishing them because we are angry. Proverbs 15:18 says, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” Angry discipline is counterproductive as a means of training our children in godliness. 

I like how he notes that anger can be both hot, which is what we usually think of, or cold. Sometimes parents can be angry and mean without ever blowing their tops.

He goes on to say that we should have faith in the means God has given us for raising godly children.

Faith in God’s Word gives us confidence to use the means God has appointed for parenting. Teaching the Scriptures, praying for our children, and disciplining them in the context of participation in a local church might seem insufficient measures to shape children. But God has given these means in His wisdom. We must trust Him and not try to second-guess the Creator. We dare not lean on our own understanding or the pop psychology of the latest parenting book. Instead, we must trust in the Lord and keep using the means He has ordained.

In the quote below, he makes an excellent point about the purpose of spanking. Often we do not evaluate whether our discipline actually worked. Do we even know what is the goal of spanking our children?

The aim of corrective discipline is to lead children to repentance; it is educational and reformative…Administering punishment to encourage repentance makes us sensitive to how children are responding. When disciplined, children must show signs of recognizing that what they did was wrong. A broken and contrite heart draws forth our mercy and affection. Stubbornness and hardness of heart may call for further punishment. Beware of false responses, for many children try to say the right things to get out of trouble. Look for sincere hearts of penitence over sinning against God (Pss. 32; 51). 

In a great section on appropriate punishment he says:

The more serious the offense, the greater care we should take in punishing it. Discipline that is in inappropriate to the situation-either too severe to be warranted or too lax to be effective-will undercut all we are hoping to accomplish with our children. 

We must administer discipline with firmness if it is to accomplish its goal. A few love taps will not work; it must hurt. God actually made some of his children “sick and weakly” even to the point of death in order to discipline them (I Cor. 11:30). Psalm 89:31-33 says: “If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail.” God disciplines us as much as is appropriate and effective. As parents, we are to apply the same principle to our children. 

Note Beeke’s emphasis on what is appropriate and what is effective. Our discipline needs to fit to the sin, but also needs to produce a certain type of fruit in the child.

Finally, this quote is full of wisdom:

How often should we spank our children? Some children need very few spankings to bring on a sincere flood of tears and repentance. With others, more spankings are required. If we find ourselves spanking the same child several times a day, we should pause to reflect on the total situation and what other factors may be at work to undercut the effectiveness of corporal punishment. The law of diminishing returns applies to corporal punishment as it does to many other aspects of life. If other important parts of nurture and training are lacking, frequent corporal punishment may prove to be only a tragic way to produce a very hardened young sinner. 

Beeke’s point in this quote is that spanking is but one part of training a child. If your spankings are ineffective the answer is not to drop the spankings, but to instead look at everything else that is going on. Spanking is biblical and should be done. However, it is not a magic bullet that will make your child more holy. If the overall situation with your child is one of sacrificial love, nurture, walking with them before God and pointing them to Jesus, then spankings will generally be effective. But if you think that spankings can substitute for other types of love, affection, exhortations, rebuke, attention, etc., you are mistaken.

As a parent, I read these quotes and find myself encouraged and rebuked. What Paul said of preaching I say of parenting, “Who is sufficient for these things” (II Cor. 2:16)?  And with Paul I say, “Our sufficiency is from God” (II Cor. 3:5).