Dave Harvey, pastor of Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pa has said, “I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses.”
The mistake many Christian parents make is believing that the only way that they can glorify God in their parenting is to have children who are obedient, well-behaved at all times, and can answer all the questions in Sunday school. If you read many of the Christian books on parenting, it gives you the impression that if you just follow their method, this will happen. The reality of life as affirmed in the Scriptures is that you can parent “rightly” and have children who will still bring to you heartache.
Check out the scenario of Ezekiel 18:5-10, “If a man is righteous and does what is just and right—if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord GOD. If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things …”
To parent to the glory of God means that I must recognize first of all the majesty and sovereignty of God in all things. We do not always know how God has ordained a situation or a person’s life to glorify himself. Consider Peter on the beach with Jesus after the resurrection and note the way God had chosen to glorify himself in Peter’s life: “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19 ESV)
The point of this for parenting is that God is too great to only be glorified by children that appear to be “good.” He may choose to glorify himself through some suffering and sin and the furnace of affliction.
Our goal as parents must include that we will strive for faithful obedience on our part and for faithful obedience on our children’s part. We must however be prepared to know that God will choose the way to glorify himself and that may be through a season of weakness as a parent.
In Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s outstanding book on parenting, “Give Them Grace,” they start out the book with the important distinction that there is a difference between being a Christian parent and Christian parenting.
Being a Christian parent is simply a father or mother who has been saved by God’s grace through their personal faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior who paid the penalty for their sin. Most Christian parents have a burden for the soul of their child and work hard personally or through Christian agencies (their church or a para-church organization) to put their child in a position to hear the gospel message. For too many, once they hear that their child has spoken a prayer, raised their hand, and can claim that they have Jesus in their heart, we all rejoice with the angels in heaven that they are saved.
I am not trying to diminish the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of a child for I agree with Charles Spurgeon who once said, “As soon as a child is capable of being damned, he is capable of being saved. As soon as a child can sin, that child can, if God’s grace helps him, believe and receive the Word of God.” However, it is a dangerous and even negligent for a parent at that point to assume that the gospel work ends there. Just as in my own personal life, I have discovered that leaving the gospel as only an entry point to the Christian life and moving on to “serious Bible study” led me to the realm of being a Pharisee. Not that Bible study in any way was bad, but I lost sight of how the gospel is the central message of the Bible. I grew in knowledge of the Bible but not as Peter exhorts in 2 Peter 3:18, “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Such a path for me led the way I parented my children. I taught them that God wants morality and that the real expression of our faith is in how good they were. The Christian faith is all about behavior and God is displeased with them when they misbehave and pleased when they behave. So as their father and God’s agent of authority in their lives, I was very displeased at their bad behavior (however I defined it) and so must discipline them, and I was very happy when they behaved (especially in public as it fed my pride in being a good father).
My children deserve the Christian faith Purple Heart medal for the wounds of moralism inflicted upon them. They survived my parenting because the particular grace of God touched each one of them as they grew in their own understanding of the gospel and the tenets of the Christian faith. Most of all they and their mother and father eventually grasped the truth that we all are radically sinful people who have a radical Savior who radically loved and continue to love us. So…they have recovered, and their mom and dad are certified recovering Pharisees living and loving in the grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
More recovery news to come…
“Give Them Grace” by Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. Crossway; 2011
“Come Ye Children,” by Charles Spurgeon. Pilgrim Publishing, 1976
Christina Fox gets gospel-centered parenting. You don’t get to this overnight but it begins with the process that in your own heart, the gospel changes you. I have been away from writing on the blog for a while as other priorities have been pressing, but my plan is to present a series of how do we move from our natural, law-centered parenting to a more gospel-centered paradigm. Christina writes:
Cooking dinner, I hear the sounds of angry hearts bubbling over into stinging words. It gets louder, and soon someone is crying. Two boys come out into the great-room, red-faced, fists clenched, and both yelling at once. After multiple attempts, I finally gather that one had frustrated the other, who responded by kicking his brother.
I begin by saying, “Remember how Jesus said we were to treat one another?”
“I’m not Jesus!” my oldest responds immediately, his face scrunched up as his feet stomp the tile floor. He runs off to his room.
Sometimes, my children speak words that the Spirit has been trying to pierce into my heart for a while.
The pasta is boiling over. The water makes sizzling sounds as it hits the red glass cook top. I stare at it, knowing I need to leave the kitchen and talk through the conflict with them. I think of how quickly anger can overflow the heart, spattering burning hot drops of pain on anyone nearby.
Turning down the heat on the pot, I walk into the boy’s room, hoping to do the same with their anger. I find them both calm and playing with Legos. I get down on the floor, look my oldest in the eyes, and say, “I know you’re not Jesus.”
Deep into the Past
How often does a parent’s response to her child’s behavior imply that we expect perfection? The pharisaical heart has roots that dig deep into the past–back into childhood. A child can learn quickly the ways of self-righteousness. When they have behaved, they hear, “You’re such a good boy.” Over the years, they can grow to believe that the good they do comes from their own ability. When those beliefs take root, they can struggle with seeing their own sin. And perhaps even struggle with seeing their need for a Savior.
“Jesus called us to live as he lived. But he knows we can’t be perfect as he is perfect,” I tell my son. “That’s why he died for us, because we can’t do what’s right. Through faith in him, he gives us the Holy Spirit. We have his power living within us. That’s the only way we can ever obey. We need to pray and ask for his help.”
He nods his head, listening.
“When you don’t obey, remember that Jesus died for that disobedience. He loves you that much. When you feel the anger rising within you, pray and tell God you are angry. Ask him to help you to obey him.”
As a recovering Pharisee, I struggle with living as though I can earn grace. I know how the self-righteous heart can look down on those who don’t follow the rules. I don’t want my children to grow up with the heart of a Pharisee.
I do want them to know the holiness of God. I want them to know all that he expects, what he commands, and what glorifies him. I also want them to realize that they can’t perfectly obey him, and they need a Savior. I want their hearts to be grieved and humbled by their sin. I want them to run to the cross when they sin and remember his grace and mercy.
God’s grace covers even my parenting blunders. How grateful I am that his grace is greater than all my sin! I rest in his promise that he is at work in my children’s hearts despite my failed efforts. I trust in the story of redemption he is writing in their lives. And I look forward to that day when we will finally be like Jesus.
Have you ever gone on a short-term mission trip? During these trips there is a quick window of opportunity that you grab and encourage people with the gospel of Jesus Christ knowing that you will be gone in a few days or weeks. Each day has focus and the minutes count.
My children are well into their 30s now and raising them seemed as short as my trips to Peru and Mexico. Paul’s exhortation just before Ephesians 6:4 is, “Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” (5:15-16)
In bringing your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is to approach each day like a short-term mission trip. You need to see yourself as a missionary whose goal is that your children will one day become your brother or sister in Christ. The greatest wisdom I can give my children is not how to be successful in life, but is the wisdom of the cross that gives eternal life.
The gospel’s message is that my child’s greatest need is not that they conform morally but that their hearts are changed by the power of God through the gospel. So what is it to discipline and instruct them in the Lord? Paul gives us a clue in his prayer to the church in Ephesians 3, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV)
Fathers, may your children know such love and glory through your teaching and example.
Happy Fathers Day!
I was meditating on the 4 words of Ephesians 6:4 “but bring them up” for fathers today. First “but” means what follows will be in contrast to what was just said, “Do not provoke your children to anger.” The emotion of anger is one that expresses destruction. When anger is used righteously, it focuses on destroying unrighteousness. When anger is unrighteous, it usually destroys the person directed to and yourself. Provoking a child to anger only leads to destruction. The call in Ephesians 6:4 is to not contribute to such a situation “but bring them up.”
This phrase “bring them up” is also used in Exodus 3:8 and note the parallels for us as fathers, “and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.” (Exodus 3:8 ESV)
Do you see that God came down to the Israelites to deliver them and to bring them up and out of their slavery. God took initiative and moved to them in order to bring them up. That tells me as a father, to bring up my children, I need to first move towards them. It is as if I bend over and swoop them up in my arms and take them to a good and broad land that is flowing with milk and honey. But even in such a good land, there are perils that need to be prepared for; the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites of the world. However, they are being brought there and I am to discipline and instruct them with the Word of God.
As we move towards Father’s Day, let us come down to our children and by our presence in their lives and strong outstretched arms, bring them up.
Continuing from Lou Priolo’s book “The Heart of Anger” (Calvary Press), twenty-five conditions or behaviors are identified that represent common ways that parents tend to provoke their children to anger. The command from Ephesians 6:4 is that fathers are not to contribute to the situation and to whatever degree I as a father may be contributing, I must stop it!
Here are the last 12 conditions or behaviors. For a thorough teaching on the topic, please read Lou Priolo’s excellent book. You might want to keep the towel in your mouth to bite on because the pain from the first 13 only gets worse!
14. Not Making Time “Just to Talk” – James 1:1; Eccl 3:7
Relationships are impossible to build without communication. If you do not build a good relationship through communication with your child, they will seek it elsewhere which could be dangerous. Watch the pressures and “pleasures of life” do not rob you of time with your children to talk.
15. Not Praising or Encouraging Your Child – Rev 2:2-4
Accurate evaluation is necessary for all of us, including self-assessments. It helps us know what we need to correct in our lives. Too often parents focus on only what is wrong and the child may incorrectly evaluate themselves in the same light. Keep your child regularly bathed in a solution of praise, especially to those things that are pleasing to God in their life so when reproof comes, they see it is an element of biblical love. It is looking for evidences of grace in their lives when they are living out Galatians 5:22-23.
16. Failing to Keep Your Promises – Matt 5:37; Ps 15:4-5; Col 3:9
Promises and commitments are usually made with every intention to keep them and not to deceive. However, when they are not consistently kept, regardless of the reason, disappointment can turn into anger. A string of broken promises may have a child begin to see the parent as undependable, unreliable, and deceitful. If we need to break a commitment we should go to the child and let them know as soon as possible or if we did break a commitment, we need to seek forgiveness for we have sinned against our child.
17. Chastening in Front of Others – Matt 18:15
The Lord’s instructions for discipline apply to the home and should be followed by parents and spouses. The circle of confession and correction should only be as large as the circle of offense. If your child sins in front of others, he may in certain cases be verbally corrected (not physically) in front of them. If the sin is not public, the discipline should not be either.
18. Not Allowing Enough Freedom – James 3:17; Luke 12:48
Children earn freedom by demonstrating faithfulness. Faithfulness is demonstrating to God and others that you can be trusted with increasing freedom based upon two things: the successful fulfillment of specific responsibilities and the successful competence to make wise biblical decisions. Some parents withhold freedom due to insecurity, overprotective, unbiblical standards, concern about what others think.
19. Allowing Too Much Freedom – Prov 29:15; Gal 4:1,2; Heb 12:6-9
When children are allowed to (1) practice sinful behavior (2) participate in non-sinful activities before demonstrating the appropriate level of responsibility and maturity to handle it (money) (3) live an undisciplined life – other problems develop. Parents will suffer along with their children. Children who grow up in homes where discipline lacks, will quickly conclude that they are not loved.
20. Mocking Your Child – Job 17:1-2; Ex 4:11
There are 2 main categories of teasing our children that can be provoking: Making fun of inadequacies about which they can do nothing about (intelligence, athletics, physical features, motor coordination.) These are not sinful and God takes responsibility for them. The other is making fun of things that are sinful. Sinful behavior in children is not a laughing matter to God and should not be for us.
21. Abusing Them Physically – I Tim 3:3; Num 22:27-29
The story of Balaam is similar to a parent out of control
1. He struck the donkey in haste before he collected the relevant data. Jumping to hasty and unfounded conclusions and disciplining our children for the wrong reasons.
2. Balaam struck the donkey because he was embarrassed – making sure our motives for discipline are biblical – to not is to be vindictive and abusive.
3. Balaam was out of control – if he could have, he would have killed his donkey. Do not discipline when you are out of control.
22. Ridiculing or Name Calling – Eph 4:29
There are proper biblical categories to call different behaviors. Use biblical language to your child so the behavior or attitude are properly isolated. Names are to be tools for teaching and motivation to change, not weapons. When a weapon, it embarrasses, shames and antagonizes the child.
23. Unrealistic Expectations – I Cor 13:11
We should not impose on our children standards or expectations that they developmentally are incapable of achieving. Our emphasis is to always be character and not achievement (academics, sports, music)
24. Practicing Favoritism – Luke 15:25-30
Every child is different and should be treated as individuals. The standard however is that they are to be evaluated and responded to the same. When a child perceives that the treatment of a sibling is different, you need to assure them that they will be treated the same way if they are in similar circumstances.
25. Child Training with Worldly Methodologies, Inconsistent with God’s Word – Eph 6:4
In Eph 6:4, notice the word “but” and the “instruction of the Lord.” A contrast is being stated that there is a right way and a wrong way. One way will provoke anger and the other will not. Using behavior modification therapy techniques will prove temporary results but will eventually frustrate the process. You cannot replace Christ and the Scriptures with worldly wisdom.
In Lou Priolo’s book “The Heart of Anger” (Calvary Press) he identifies twenty-five conditions or behaviors that represent common ways that parents tend to provoke their children to anger. It is important to realize that a child or anyone who is angry cannot blame their anger on someone else. Anger is a chosen response and anyone who is angry is totally responsible for that anger. The command from Ephesians 6:4 is that fathers are not to contribute to the situation and to whatever degree I as a father may be contributing, I must stop it!
Today I will post the first 13 and tomorrow the last 12. For a thorough teaching on the topic, please read Lou Priolo’s excellent book. You might want to put a towel in your mouth to bite on because this is going to hurt!
1. Lack of Marital Harmony – Gen 2:24; Heb. 12:15
Perhaps the greatest provocation of anger in children is parents who do not live with each other in harmony that the Scriptures prescribe. When there is bitterness, it has effects on others and children can acquire this as well.
2. Establishing and Maintaining a Child-Centered Home – Prov. 29:15 (The book gives outstanding instruction in this area that too many homes are guilty of these days!)
Children start to see themselves as equal to their parents in status. It will bring expectations that their wants and desires will be placed on an equal status as the parents. Results will be frustrations and anger.
3. Modeling Sinful Anger – Prov. 22:24, 25
If you are displaying anger, your children can be learning your ways. It is manifested in the tone of voice or in the lack of self-control/ignoring actions – fight or flight. Teaches a child that there is no such thing as problem solving but the only solution is to win – get your way.
4. Habitually Disciplining While Angry – Ps 38:1; Eph. 4:26, 27; James 1:19, 20
When we are angry, it is easy to over discipline. The emphasis of our thinking and of subsequent discipline is to be on what the child has done by sinning against the Lord, not on how their actions have caused us some personal discomfort, trouble or embarrassment. Over discipline can be perceived by a child as a personal attack.
5. Scolding – Eph. 4:29; Mark 14:3-5
It is the expression of a bad spirit. As much as possible, all discipline should be done with as normal tone of voice as possible with carefully measured words.
6. Being Inconsistent with Discipline – 2 Cor. 1:17,18; Eccl 8:11
Common in 2 ways: First having different standards by each parent. Second is vacillating from day to day on what behavior is disciplined and how severe correction will be. The inconsistencies can come from different philosophies or methods of child rearing. One parent may struggle with emotions, spiritually, or physically. There also may the lack of wanting to put the time in.
7. Having Double Standards – Phil 4:9
Being a hypocrite. Calling for biblical standards in your children and then not willing to live by biblical standards yourself.
8. Legalism – Matt 15:8-9
Defined as elevating man-made rules to the same level of culpability as the commands given by God in Scripture. Need to divide out in a home biblically directed rules and biblically derived rules or God’s rules and house rules. Directed rules or God’s rules are those which all obligated to obey because God commands them. Derived rules or house rules are based on biblical principles and the obligation to obey is based upon God-ordained authority. House rules may be appealed but God’s rules cannot be.
9. Not Admitting You Are Wrong and Not Asking for Forgiveness – Matt 5:23, 24; James 5:16
A parent’s failure to acknowledge offenses to their children discourages the child from practicing open biblical communication.
10. Constantly Finding Fault – Job 32:2-3; Prov. 19:11
A parent is to point out sinful behavior and character problems but is not to be critical, condemning, accusing, or have a judgmental attitude. It is a spirit where the child begins to question whether they can do anything right. The safeguard is to purpose to praise, commend and acknowledge biblical achievement with greater frequency than reproving. Don’t turn every situation to reprove into a sermon.
11. Parents Reversing God-Given Roles – Eph. 5:22-24
A home where God’s order is violated will be a home that is frustrated. It presents confusion to the child on God’s plan for authority, leadership and submission.
12. Not Listening to Your Child’s Opinion or Taking His or Her “Side of the Story” Seriously – Prov. 18:3; 18:17
You may not agree always with your child’s reasoning, conclusions and opinions, but if you are going to lead them into truth, you need to understand their perspective. By not doing do, you may be communicating sinful attitudes such as arrogance, impatience, or a lack of love. To listen is to help your child learn how to receive a reproof biblically.
13. Comparing Them to Others – 2 Cor. 10:12
Every child has unique gifts and abilities given by God. Proper comparing should be made two ways: forward looking – by comparing where the child is today to the biblical standards of maturity or backward looking – comparing the child’s maturity today to other various points in the past.
So that we as fathers can carry out the orders given to us from God in Ephesians 6:4, let’s begin with understanding the fundamentals that lead us to joyfully fulfill the command to not provoke our children but rather to instruct them.
First of all Psalm 127 states that children are a gift from the Lord, a reward. How so? One way they are a gift is that God has given you children for your own personal holiness and growth. Being married has been a growing experience in my sanctification but being a father put me over the top. Every crack in my spiritual armor was blown wide open. Pride, selfishness, lack of patience, and many others, were all exposed. Therefore, my children were a gift to show me my sin and daily need of the gospel. We as fathers are sinners, who have been given sinners as gifts from God with the task that together, we as a family can grow toward God. The privilege of the gift is to teach the gospel to them so that they might be saved and one day when we all stand before the throne, they will not be known as my children, but as my brother and sister in Christ.
So Ephesians 6:4 begins with we fathers looking at ourselves. 2 Corinthians 7:1 states, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of the Lord.” In other words, my first priority before addressing my children is to purify myself. If I am addressing my children, they need me to be able to think clearly, effectively, and biblically. Men, if you are neglecting your own spiritual growth and your walk with God, it will have a profound impact on your motivation and your ability to carry out God’s command to you in regards to your children.
Tomorrow: Ways we typically provoke our children.
In Pastor Tom’s sermon this last Sunday (“Show Me His Glory,” 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), he stated, “dads need to show up!” The context was in teaching our children the principle that there is an organic union between Christ and the believer and you cannot divorce what you do in the flesh with what is done in the Spirit.
So where are the fathers? They are physically around but when it comes to the subject of teaching our children about virtue, manhood or womanhood, relationships and sex, we fathers often bring a knife to a gunfight.
We fathers are tempted to set aside our responsibility to equip our children for the rigors of manhood and womanhood through laziness, looking for a way out, and then we lie to ourselves thinking our children already know these things. We tell ourselves “they are good kids and will make good choices most of the time. Besides they are at ______ School and they are teaching them aspects of this that are good things. Maybe I will just leave a book on the table and they will read it.”
The truth is your children do not know as they ought to know. They may understand a few things but incomplete or inaccurate information is often times more harmful than no information at all.
There is much to be said about this but there are two outstanding resources for dads to consider in inspiring and equipping them for such training of their children. Both these books will help in formulating a biblical plan of bringing your children into maturity as both are rich with Scripture and gospel-centered.
The first resource is titled “What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him” by Bryon Forrest Yawn. This book challenges you as a father to step up as a dad to guide and model maturity to your children. I found this book inspiring to me as a father even with my children long married and lots of grandchildren.
The second resource is a book long overdue and on the topic that I get asked often if there are resources for…it is titled “Time for the Talk” by Steve Zollos. The talk is about “the talk,” but the talk is so much more than a biological talk. This book gives elements of the biological information but focuses on virtue, character and biblical values that must be embraced.
Pick up both books in the near future and you men who read this, seek a few other fathers to join you in a conversation about the chapters in these books over coffee. Call me and I would love to join in on the conversation.