Archive for the ‘Parenting’ Category
Bob Kauflin interviewed Marty Machowski, the author of the Gospel Story for Kids Sunday-school curriculum, here. There’s a lot to appreciate about what Machowski has to say, but he makes a shocking statement:
Our children, meeting in classrooms during our Sunday worship services represent the largest group of gathered unbelievers across the world.
From time to time I hear parents expressing similar sentiments — “they’re all unregenerate [or heathens],” “we can’t expect that of him; he’s not saved,” or “her problem is just that she needs to be saved.” Overwhelmingly we speak of evangelizing our children rather than discipling them. We wring our hands over the possibility of giving them false assurance, but we are almost entirely unconcerned about the danger of creating millstones of false doubt.
God does not speak of or relate to our children in this way, and it is dangerous for us to do so. It is dangerous because it trains us and our children to doubt and test the promises of God rather than believing and acting upon them. This is how God speaks of our children:
- He addresses them with commands and encouragements as part of the body of his elect “saints” (e.g., Ex. 20:2, 12; Eph. 1:1, 6:1; Col. 1:2, 3:20)
- He requires their presence in worship (Ex. 10:8-11, Ps. 96:7) and feasts (Deut. 16:9-15). He receives their worship (Matt. 21:16) as a potent spiritual warfare to silence his enemies (Ps. 8:2).
- They trusted in him before they were born (Ps. 71:6) and as infants (Ps. 22:9)
- He is their God (Gen. 17:8, Ezek. 37:21-28, etc.)
- He has promised the Holy Spirit to them (Isa. 59:21)
- He regards them as holy (1 Cor. 7:14)
We ought to speak of and think about our children in the same way that God does. This will not leave us complacent, but will instead motivate us to go about the work of parenting rightly, with full confidence in God’s being already at work in them. Instead of leading our children to the way, we will train them in the way (Prov. 22:6). What we once called evangelism must become full-orbed discipleship. Our children need the gospel, but in just the same way we do — to be continually reminded of the promises and goodness and nearness of God and to be growing in repentance and faith.
In February, pastor Joost Nixon taught a parenting conference here in the Triangle: No greater joy: keeping our kids in the Christian faith.
We didn’t have a chance to attend, but are grateful for the recordings.
I’ve also enjoyed and profited from James Jordan’s lectures, Your child in God’s world.
I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. — Psalm 51:5
But he also rejoices:
Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts. — Psalm 22:9
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you. — Psalm 71:6
Christian parenting embraces both of these truths. We cultivate both the fear of the Lord and the joy of the Lord: repentance and faith as a way of life.
We’ve found some fantastic Bible music for kids (and adults): the music of Jamie Soles. Jamie has a knack for conveying the essence of Biblical faith, righteousness, and world view in a memorable way. So far I’ve picked up the following albums:
- Up From Here. This is my favorite so far, although I have yet to really become familiar with the other albums. There’s a lot of great biblical worldview and storyline in here, oriented around the theme of the many exoduses in the Bible. Jamie’s portrayal of the creation mandate is wonderfully poetic, and we enjoy singing along to the apostles’ creed. Plus, the Mennonite joke cracks me up every time.
- Giants and Wanderers. This is Jamie’s latest album, delving into the histories of some lesser known Bible characters, both savory and unsavory.
- Fun and Prophets. Jamie tells the stories of many of God’s prophets, the men who speak God’s blessings and curses into being, who are invited into the counsel of God.
- Weight of Glory. Another collection of stories retold, treasures old and new (Matt. 13:52).
- Songs From the 40s/50s/60s. Psalms, that is — cries to God for help and deliverance.
- Memorials. Jamie recounts many of the things that God calls memorials — altars, offerings, even the Lord’s Supper, which is a memorial to God as much as it is a reminder to us.
You are not to boil a kid in the milk of its mother. — Exodus 23:19
On the principle that “it was written for our sake” (1 Cor. 9:10), James Jordan explains this law in his book, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (pp. 190-192):
It is sometimes thought that boiling a kid in milk was a magic ritual used by the Canaanites, and that this is why it was forbidden. The text, however, does not forbid boiling a kid in milk, but in its own mother’s milk. The reason is that life and death must not be mixed. That milk which had been a source of life to the kid may not be used in its death. Any other milk might be used, but not its mother’s.
This law is thrice stated in the Torah (Ex. 23:19; 34:26; Dt. 14:21). It is obviously quite important, yet its significance eludes us. There are many laws which prohibit the mixing of life and death, yet we wish to know the precise nuance of each. . .
We notice that the kid is a young goat, a child. The word only occurs 16 times in the Old Testament. In Genesis 27:9,16, Rebekah put the skins of a kid upon Jacob when she sent him to masquerade as Esau before Isaac. Here the mother helps her child (though Jacob was in his 70s at the time). In Genesis 38:17,20,23, Judah pledged to send a kid to Tamar as payment for her services as a prostitute. In the providence of God, this was symbolic, because Judah had in fact failed to provide Tamar the kid to which she was entitled: Judah’s son Shelah. Judah gave his seal and cord, and his staff, as pledges that the kid would be sent, but Tamar departed, and never received the kid. When she was found pregnant, she produced the seal and cord and the staff, as evidence that Judah was the father. The children that she bore became her kids, given her by Judah in exchange for the return of his cord and seal and his staffs. Finally, when Samson visited his wife, he took her a kid, signifying his intentions (Jud. 15:1).
These passages seem to indicate a symbolic connection between the kid and a human child, the son of a mother. (Indeed, Job 10:10 compares the process of embryonic development to the coagulation of milk.) The kid is still nursing, still taking in its mother’s milk in some sense, Jacob and Rebekah being an example of this. The mother is the protectress of the child, of the seed. This is the whole point of the theology of Judges 4 and 5, the war of the two mothers, Deborah and the mother of Sisera. Indeed, the passage calls attention to milk. The milk of the righteous woman was a tool used to crush the head of the serpent’s seed (Jud. 4:19ff; 5:24-27). How awful if the mother uses her own milk to destroy her own seed!
. . . Accordingly, one of the most horrible things imaginable is for a mother to boil and eat her own child. This is precisely what happened during the siege of Jerusalem, as Jeremiah describes it in Lamentations 4:10, “The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.” The same thing happened during the siege of Samaria, as recorded in 2 Kings 6:28ff. In both passages, the mother is said to boil her child.
We are now in a better position to understand this law, and its placement in passages having to do with offerings to God. The bride offers children to her husband. She bears them, rears them on her milk, and presents them to her lord as her gift to him. Similarly, Israel is to present the fruits of her hands, including her children, to her Divine Husband. She is not to consume her children, her offerings, or her tithes, but present them to God. The command not to boil the kid in its own mother’s milk is a negative command; the positive injunction it implies is that we are to present our children and the works of our hands to God.
Jerusalem is the mother of the seed (Ps. 87:5; Gal. 4:26ff.). When Jerusalem crucified Jesus Christ, her Seed, she was boiling her kid in her own milk. In Revelation 17, the apostate Jerusalem has been devouring her faithful children: “And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.” Her punishment, under the Law of Equivalence, is to be devoured by the gentile kings who supported her (v. 17).
There are some obvious but also subtle ways that American culture consumes its children:
Our practice of abortion is clearly consuming our children for our own benefit. We are to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our children, not to sacrifice our children for the sake of ourselves. Abortion is cannibalism.
Mark Horne explains that “democracy with public debt is the economic system that makes it rational for adults to eat their children.”
I wonder, though, if over a century of individualistic, conversionistic tendencies in the evangelical church have helped to enable this consuming of children. God’s own covenant name, transcending covenants old and new (Ex. 34:6-7), assures us that he intends to show mercy to our children. But the evangelical church has tended to view its infants and children as fundamentally alienated from God instead of belonging to him. We have tended to view parenting more as evangelism than discipleship; we have given our children the impression that God’s forgiveness is harder to come by, and harder to be sure of, than mommy’s and daddy’s; we have withheld from them baptism’s designation of the family name “Christian,” as well as the nourishment, joy and fellowship of the family meal, in some cases until late in their teens; we have thus taught them that God requires a sufficiently sincere and intellectual faith instead of simple trust. This has produced a very modern tendency to wish one was baptized at a later age — as though salvation depended on understanding and maturity more than faith! We teach them many songs about God’s rescuing them out of rebellion, but none about his causing them to trust in him before their birth (Ps. 22, 71, etc.). The widely applauded testimony, the one seen as particularly incisive, is that they have finally come to know God on their own terms in their late teens or in college, not that they have feared God from their youth. Thus, we have taught them to despise small beginnings, confusing conversion with the very normal experience of maturing and growth. As a result, we have led them to believe not only that they are aliens and outcasts from the kingdom, but even that they must in some ways turn and become like adults in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. While perhaps well intentioned, our fear of false assurance robs them of genuine assurance; we withhold the kingdom from those to whom it belongs, starving and quenching the work of the Spirit. And although it is true that the evangelical church has largely taught the salvation of her infants who die, yet we have almost always seen this as an unusual or exceptional work of God rather than an ordinary part of the Spirit’s work in nurturing Christian children. In short, we have taught both our children and the world that infants and children are second-class citizens of God’s kingdom, if they are citizens at all.
One of the crucial ways that the church resists abortion is in how we parent.
John 3:1-15 reveals that there is an inescapable spiritual component to our children’s growing in faith. But this passage also insists that we can rarely peel back the layers to see what is happening, even in our own lives, much less our children’s. So it should not be surprising to find that the way God brings about spiritual life and growth, in us and our children, actually rides along the very natural and seemingly mundane tracks of hearing, seeing, tasting, doing. Consider:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. — Deut. 6:6-7
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. — Prov. 22:6
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! — Psalm 34:8
What is striking about these and other passages is that they speak of our children’s acquiring faith in God and learning to live in his household no differently than we would speak of how they acquire language, or how they come to know and love and trust us as their parents. This is because faith is a language: faith understands and speaks of ourselves and the entire world as being related to God in particular ways. Jesus, in whom all things hold together, is more real and immediate a part of his world than anything in it. So while we cannot see him, his constant activity can be seen everywhere to someone who speaks the right language. To anyone else, it is mere gibberish.
Therefore it is not vain repetition to teach our children to say “Jesus is my king and savior,” “God has forgiven my sins,” or “Jesus will always keep me;” any more than it is vain repetition to teach them to say “Daddy,” “this is a chair,” “that is blue,” or “Mr. S. is our mayor.” This is how they learn about both Jesus and the world that he has given to us. And, just as we talk in terms of stages of learning language (“he’s learned his primary and secondary colors,” or “he knows where his pancreas is”) rather than absolutes (“he’s learned English!”), we should speak in terms of stages of learning faith (“she’s really starting to bubble over with gratitude”) rather than absolutes (“she’s converted!”). Faith and language are things to be increasingly exercised rather than inert states of being.
So we teach our children simply to say “Jesus is …” and “Jesus does …” because that is the language of faith. After all, when we speak of Jesus’s world, we simply say “what color is that?” or “what letter is that?;” we do not say “do you believe that color is blue?” or “do you believe that letter is ‘K’?” Because of this, we can confuse our children (and ourselves) if we speak in indirect terms like “do you believe in Jesus as your savior?” rather than simply saying “Who is your savior?” By speaking a more indirect language than faith speaks, we make faith out to be something magical, and make it seem like getting that magic right is just as important as simply knowing and trusting Jesus. And without meaning to do so, this makes Jesus to be something less real than blueness and chairs and letters. But he is far more real than those. The best learning is by doing, and so the best learning to believe in Jesus is actually believing in Jesus — not believing in the supposed power of belief.
Finally, we do not worry that language will become a mindless habit for our children. Neither should we worry that all this Christian talking and living will become a mindless habit. There are some ways in which we expect a mature language and faith to become self-conscious, but it is the essence of language and of childlike faith to be unselfconscious, a simple confidence. The real danger is that this habit and language of faith will be uncultivated and cease to be a habit altogether! We do not want to banish habits — what we want is to cultivate all those delightful habits that a persevering life is simply full of.
Douglas Jones, in Angels in the Architecture, writes that
Children should be almost criminal in their love of stories. If they aren’t regularly begging you for stories, even after you seem to have been reading all day, then something may be wrong with them. They live and grow by means of narrative, especially fiction. Families and schedules differ, but our family . . . reads passages from one to three books (fiction, history, theology, or Scripture) at every meal, making sure that we begin the day with plenty of poetry. Meals are especially important for families, since they naturally display sacrifice, intimacy, and beauty. (124)
My pastor recently posed the question, “What do you say when your child says, ‘Mom, I’m a Christian’?” He warned against discouraging or stumbling our children by telling them “we’ll wait and see.”
Perhaps you are uncomfortable calling your children Christians, although Scripture uses the word simply to mean one who is discipled. Regardless, it is not enough to appropriate the name “Christian;” we point beyond it, reminding them and ourselves that faith is a daily walking as much as a starting. So we help them to see all the privileges and responsibilities of belonging to Christ. We are repeatedly saying things like: “Isn’t it so good to . . .”
- . . . be forgiven
- . . . have our sins washed away
- . . . have God as our father
- . . . have God as our provider
- . . . belong to God
- . . . belong to Jesus
- . . . be a part of God’s family
- . . . rely on Jesus
- . . . have Jesus as our savior
- . . . have life in Jesus
- . . . be joined to Jesus
- . . . have Jesus as our king
- . . . have the Holy Spirit to help us love and obey
- . . . have the Holy Spirit to comfort us
- . . . serve God
- . . . obey God
This is simply part of fanning into flame — urging our children to grow and continue and delight in these things that are a part of obedient faith. It is such a delight to know, trust and obey a king who is so great and so good to us! God has designed for our children to trust us instinctively, just so that we can help them to see his goodness and to trust him instinctively now, and with more understanding over the years. Jesus even points to a child’s instinctive, joyful, care-free trusting as an example for us in our own faith.
Some of these things are true even for the hardest of unbelievers — Jesus is king over all the earth, and we are to obey God. Part of our children’s and our own walking in faith is simply seeing, delighting and resting in what is already true, rather than chafing or cursing. “Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, [and] you will be saved.”
Last November I posted a quote from John Loftness on parenting with faith in God and his promises for our children. But faith always has legs; “therefore how we act,” as Loftness says. I have three small children. What difference does it make that I know God is at work in them, that he has been at work from the very beginning?
- We teach them ,  to name Jesus as “our Lord” and to confess that “he died for our sins and pleads with God for us.”
- When we pray, we teach them to name God as “our Father” and to look to him for provision and forgiveness. And we rejoice in his forgiveness and provision! God is far more lavish even than Mommy and Daddy in his mercy and blessing.
- We teach and expect them to sing to our savior and king, at home and at church.
- We teach and expect them to walk in the fruit of the Spirit. With every bit of good fruit we see, we rejoice and encourage them that this is God at work in them.
- We teach and expect them to obey cheerfully. Repentance for sin and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness and acceptance are also a key part of this.
- Whether or not they participate in the Lord’s supper, we teach them to thank Jesus for cleansing them from sin with his blood, and for making them a part of God’s family.
Not that we have already obtained this!
Are we training our children to be little hypocrites? Absolutely not! Rather:
- Scripture gives us great confidence that the Holy Spirit is already at work in our children, and our task is one of fanning into flame.
- The Christian life is lifelong repentance and faith. While regeneration is absolutely necessary, it is likely in the case of our children that pinpointing it will be futile. The gardener diligently tends his garden before he can even see the sprouts; and as they grow, he tenderly cares for, trains and prunes them, without knowing whether they will survive, so that they may survive. In the same way, we train our children to walk in daily repentance, faith and obedience.
- Similarly, there is a reason that Proverbs 22:6 does not instruct us to lead our children to the way, but rather train them in the way. Christian nurture is not preparation for a future driver’s exam; it is a continuous going deeper. We love our savior and king; there is absolutely no question that he is our trustworthy savior and the king of the world; and faith, repentance and obedience are simply what it looks like to love him.
My wife and I have a tradition of watching through The Lord of the Rings at Christmastide. We don’t get to it every year, but we’ve just finished the cycle this time.
It’s been awhile since I read the books, so long that I find myself forgetting things. Most of all I don’t sense the loss of nobility from books to movies as much as I used to. So I’ve decided to re-read Tolkien this year. I’ve started with The Silmarillion, which I haven’t read before. I’ve already read Unfinished Tales and I don’t think I’ll read it through again now, but I will reread both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Just today, I was pleased to rediscover The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien on my shelf, one of my wife’s yard sale finds. I think I’ll try to get through that as well. And I’m excited that Mark Horne is working on a Tolkien biography.
Here’s a quote I found while paging through Tolkien’s letters, from a fascinating letter on p. 279 in response to questions about The Lord of the Rings from Miss Rhona Beare:
You cannot press the One Ring too hard, for it is of course a mythical feature, even though the world of the tales is conceived in more or less historical terms. The Ring of Sauron is only one of the various mythical treatments of the placing of one’s life, or power, in some external object, which is thus exposed to capture or destruction with disastrous results to oneself. If I were to ‘philosophize’ this myth, or at least the Ring of Sauron, I should say it was a mythical way of representing the truth that potency (or perhaps rather potentiality) if it is to be exercised, and produce results, has to be externalized and so as it were passes, to a greater or less degree, out of one’s direct control. A man who wishes to exert ‘power’ must have subjects, who are not himself. But he then depends on them.
There’s a lot of food for thought there, with applicability ranging from the inevitable failure of despotism to everything that is bittersweet about parenthood.