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.”

We Are Blind

I keep coming back to Paul Tripp’s excellent book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. It is one of the best books I have read on how to counsel people and really how to counsel myself. In one the appendices he lists ten ways in which people are blind when they come to him for counseling. Read this list and see if we don’t all think this way. They:

  1. Believe they have an accurate view of self. 
  2. See their primary problem as being sinned against. 
  3. See the difficult things in their lives as trials rather than consequences of their own choices and behavior. 
  4. See problems as a direct result of their neediness. 
  5. Think they are wise and have received much wise counsel. 
  6. Have analyzed their lives and believe they have insight into what is going on and why. 
  7. Think they have a clear sense of what is valuable and important. 
  8. See themselves as having a mature knowledge of Scripture and theology. 
  9. See themselves as holy; that is wanting and doing the right things. 
  10. Already see themselves as repentant. 
Tripp uses II Corinthians 10:3-6 as a paradigm for how to remove our blindness.  So what should that list look like if our eyes are opened? These my formulations, not Tripp’s, but they are derived from his book. Direct quotes from his book are in quotes. 
  1. I see only a distorted view of myself in a carnival mirror.  I am blind to who I truly am. I need God’s Word brought to me through preaching and the Christian community to help me see myself accurately. 
  2. My primary problem is that I sin against others, not that they sin against me. My life will change when I kill my own sin, not when dwell on how others are treating me. 
  3. I reap what I sow. I harvest what I plant. The difficult things in my life are a result of my own selfish and sinful choices. What I have gotten is fair. I am not being ripped off by God or anyone else. When God gives me hard things it is for my good. Again he is not being unfair. 
  4. I am not needy. God has given me all I need in Christ. When I make my needs important I put myself on the throne and make myself the sun around which all things move. I enter every situation with “silent demands” and I “respond with anger” when someone does not meet my needs. My needs have been met in Christ. Therefore I should enter every situation giving, not taking. 
  5. I am not wise and usually I listen to people who tell me what I want to hear. Therefore I pretend I am getting good counsel, but I am lying. I pretend I am “on a quest for wise counsel” when really I am on a “quest to support [my] point of view.”
  6. I do not understand my life nor do I have a good interpretation of what is going on and why. I spend time analyzing my life, but I only see what I want to see. I need someone to remind me that” real insight comes from God’s Word, not from my ability to analyze my life.” 
  7. I do not act on what is truly important and valuable. I give lip service to the things that matter to God, but I act on the things that matter most to me. I pretend that my world revolves around the values that God has set, but in reality it revolves around what I need, want, and value.  The things that truly matter are often left undone. 
  8. I do not have a mature understanding of Scripture or theology. My belief that I do stunts my growth, increases my pride, and causes me to refuse to listen to others.  If I am to grow I must begin with my own immaturity. I must realize that knowledge does not equal obedience. 
  9. I believe I am okay and righteous. I give lip service to my sinfulness, but in reality I think I get most things right and I think most of my desires are holy. The reality is that indwelling sin is in my heart and life. My desires can be twisted. My actions can be devious and filled with malice. I am usually blind to my own sinfulness. 
  10. My repentance is shallow and weak. It does not go deep enough because I do not see myself as I really am. I take my sins lightly and glide over them. Therefore I do not bear the fruit of repentance. I talk about confession and repentance and at times I even weep over my sins. But I do not change and therefore true repentance has not happened.  
One further thought on this. Tripp is not saying that we are perpetually stuck in this blindness. A lot of “grace” people talk as if we can never get past this. He is saying that until we see ourselves as we really are we cannot begin to grow. Growth begins with recognizing we are blind. But when we realize this, we really start to grow. 

Fighting Fear

When a book on pastoral ministry has a chapter entitled “Dirty Secrets” the expected topic would be sexual sin. Sex and secrets typically go together. And unfortunately, sexual sin and pastoral ministry too often go together as well. However, Paul Tripp does not talk about sex in his chapter titled “Dirty Secrets” in his book Dangerous Calling. So what is the dirty secret that often eats at pastoral ministry? Fear.  When I began pastoral ministry I did not consider fear something to be feared.  I assumed that I would be up to fight any and all battles. I would manfully march forward like John Wayne slaying every enemy. Time has proven me the coward more than I would like to admit. They did not teach courage in seminary.  But they should have. I was told I would need to know Greek and theology. But they failed to tell me I would need a backbone. By God’s grace I am getting one, but it has been a humbling path. So Paul Tripp’s chapter on fear was a very potent read for me.  Here are a few nuggets from this chapter. Though it is written for pastors, everyone can benefit from it.

Four Debilitating Pastoral Fears
1. Fear of me: “There are few things that will reveal the full range of our sins like ministry.”
2. Fear of others: “Because all people you minister with and to are still dealing with indwelling sin, relationships and ministry with them will be messy. People will hurt and damage your ministry.”
3. Fear of circumstances: “There is a constant unpredictability to life and ministry.”
4. Fear of the future: “You always live and minister in the hardship of not knowing…not knowing is difficult…we find questions of the future hard to deal with because we find it difficult to trust God.

How to Fight Fear
1. Humbly own your fears: “Fear is never defeated by denying its existence.”
2. Confess those places where fear has produced bad decisions and wrong responses.
3. Pay attention to your meditation: “Does God loom so large in your thoughts that you grow strong in faith, even in the middle of what is unexpected and difficult.”  Abraham’s example from Romans 4:18-22 is used by Tripp to illustrate this point.
4. Preach the gospel to yourself: “You need to preach a gospel that finds its hope not in your understanding and ability but in a God who is grand and glorious in every way.”

Book Review: Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands

Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of ChangeInstruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change by Paul David Tripp
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Paul Tripp is one of the most consistently edifying authors around. This book was no exception. Any pastor or individual who wishes to be used by Christ to counsel those around them must read this book. As usual, Tripp is clear. His books are always well outlined, almost to a fault. There are numerous lists, which are marked out by italics or bold so you can keep going back to them. There were also several diagrams to help with understanding. Several themes in the book stuck with me:

First, all counseling must be done in relationship. We cannot counsel people we do not know. In both formal and informal counseling there must be some level of relationship.

Second, people are spiritually blind. The job of a counselor is to get someone to see where they are blind. His job is not to tell them where they are blind, but to get them on their own to see it. This usually involves asking questions, telling stories, having the person journal, etc. Tripp mentions that we are often blind to ourselves, God’s character and work, and our situation.

Third, motivations matter. What we want and desire is the single most important factor in our lives. Part of counseling is to redirect our desires away from being selfish towards pleasing God.

Fourth, we are all interpreters. We interpret every situation we are in, usually so it favors us.

Fifth, we all love to shift blame from ourselves to our situations and other people. Someone who shifts blame will never change.

Sixth, heart change is always the aim. Tripp emphasizes this throughout the book. Heart change begins with seeing God rightly and ourselves rightly through the lens of God’s Word. And heart change leads to behavioral change.

Finally, all of us are to be in relationships where we are being counseled and where we are counseling others. It is the obligation of each Christian to do this.

The book is filled with practical nuggets on how to help people change and how to change yourself. The appendices were helpful on how to gather data. I also enjoyed his exposition of Leviticus 19:15-18.

The one drawback to the book is its length. It is too long to give to most Christian, but the information would certainly help every Christian whether they are in ministry or not. Tripp also can be a bit sentimental at times, not always giving examples of situations that blow up in our faces. But despite these drawbacks, he is still a great resource for anyone who wants to know how to counsel their fellow brother or sister in Christ.

View all my reviews

Running After God

In Psalm 42:1the sons of Korah said that their hearts thirsted for God as a deer thirst for water. This the great desire of any parent for their children. But how do we know if we are succeeding? Paul Tripp gives five ways (Maybe Mr. Tripp thinks the number five is the number of perfection) we can know whether or not our teenagers are pursuing God.

1. There will be an independent life of personal worship and devotion.  This teenager will spend personal time with the Lord.

2. There will be a desire for corporate worship and instruction.

3. A teenager who has a heart for God will also pursue fellowship with the body of Christ. He will want to spend time with others of like mind. He will look for peers who share his faith and his desire to be involved in the Christian community…He will also value the help, prayer, encouragement, experience, insight, and wisdom of the older members of the body of Christ.

4. The teenager who has a heart for God will be relaxed and open in discussions about spiritual things…We are seeking to produce young adults who love the Lord and his Word, who understand that it speaks in some way to every situation of life, and who are hungry to be guided and corrected by it.

5. Teenagers who have a heart for God will approach decision-making from a biblical perspective…We want them to see the Bible as their most important tool in making the critical and practical decisions of life.

Redeeming the Culture

Five strategies from Paul Tripp for helping our teenagers interact redemptively with their culture.

1. Prepare: “The first step is to instill in our teenagers a biblical view of life.” He especially encourages family devotions to have practical application not just imparting of knowledge about the Bible.

2. Test: “We teach our teenagers to critique, evaluate, interpret, and analyze the surrounding culture from a biblical perspective.” I would call this cultural exegesis.

3. Identify: “Here we teach our children to recognize common ground…We want teenagers who have learned to identify with their culture—not agreeing with its interpretations and responses, but identifying with its struggle and humbly acknowledging why these responses seem logical to someone who does not  know Christ and his Word.”

4. Decide: “We want to teach our teenagers how to know when they can be redemptive participants in their culture an when they must separate from it…Calmly help your teenagers learn how to think through these decisions.  Require them to be part of the discussion and thinking process. Many parents not only protect their teenagers from the world, but block them out of the decision-making process as well. In doing this, they leave them unprepared for the myriad of decisions they will have to make as adults.”

5. Redeem: “Here we teach our teenagers to take back turf that has been lost to the world by witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. Our voice in the culture is ordained by God not just to be negative, not just to be always against something. The goal is to declare positively what God had in mind when he designed things in the beginning, to be part of rebuilding the culture his way, and to proclaim that this rebuilding can only be done by people who are living in proper relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

Qualities of a Spiritual Warrior

Paul Tripp gives five signs that our teenagers understand and participate in the spiritual battle. While he is addressing teenagers, the list is a good one for all of us.

1. He will have a heartfelt, internalized fear of God…He does what he does not because someone is watching, or out of fear of the consequences, but ultimately because of a deep, worshipful love and reverence for God.

2. Second to fear of God, but directly related to it is submission to authority…If a person fears God, he will be submissive to the authorities that God has placed in his life.

3. The next quality evident in a person who is engaged in spiritual warfare…is separation from the wicked…If a teenager is serious in his desire to participate in the spiritual struggle, if he is seriously seeking to live a life pleasing to the Lord, and if he is living in a willing submission to authorities in his life, then he is going to want to spend his time with people who share his values.

4. It is impossible to participate in the spiritual struggle if you do not have the ability to think through your faith and apply it to the situations of life. What a teenager needs, if he is going to live a God-honoring life, is a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures that allows him to apply its commands, principles, and perspectives to the many different situations that arise in everyday life.

5. The final piece of this goal of focusing on the spiritual struggle is biblical self-awareness…We want to be used of God to produce teens who can regularly examine themselves in the perfect mirror of the Word of God and who can humbly accept what is revealed there.