Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I couldn't have said it better myself

I'm cheating. For this post, I'm going to refer you to a wonderful post on ICR's website.

Please read.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Honor Thy Father and Mother...

When I was a kid, I found it curious that when God gave the Ten Commandments, he decided to call one out specifically to children.

"Honor your father and your mother..."

Of course, more often than not, it was rendered a bit differently, to something more kid-friendly.

"Obey your father and mother..."

Apparently, in the Old Testament days, children were just running rampant!

Since then, it's become clear that the commandment wasn't really directed at children at all, any more than any of the commandments were. It applies just as much to adults as it does to children. And, in fact, I believe it is a call-to-arms for parents, specifically. That's because the commandment works under the assumption that "your father and mother" are living according to God's word. In fact, it is just one chapter away from the passage I have quoted up above, known as the Shema.

It is with this commandment that we see God's plan for what I'll call "family heritage". Raise your children according to God's word. Set an example for them of what God expects, and do your utmost to live a life worthy of the sacrifice and grace God gave us. If you do that, then our children will do the same. Or should do the same. They should honor us. But not us, specifically. It isn't meant to be a mandate to glorify your parents, but a mandate to follow in their footsteps...presuming they followed in their parents' footsteps, and theirs before them.

The whole commandment is this:

Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

When we look at the history of Israel, to whom this was specifically given, we can see how well they succeeded. Each generation, it seemed, turned further away from the teachings of their parents, and by extension, the Lord. The end result? The nation fell away from God and time and time again brought into captivity.

We risk doing the same with our children. If our children, and their children, and their children's children are to "honor their father and mother", then we, as the parents, need to be worthy of their honor! If not, then our children, or their children, may end up captive to sin, estranged from God the Father and the grace offered through Jesus Christ.

The Hebrew word for "honor" implies a heavy, burdensome task. It isn't something that necessarily comes easy, but something we must work at. As children (even as adults), we are to work hard toward living out the heritage our own fathers and mothers have shown us. And if our father or mother wasn't living for God, then we are to look at our heavenly father as the one to honor.

And the term for "father" actually doesn't just mean our direct parent, but our ancestors or forefathers. It is a commandment to work hard to follow the beliefs and teachings left to us, as adopted children of the Lord, as those inheriting from "father" Abraham.

If we succeed at that, then perhaps our own children will also "honor" their father and mother.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Desiring Second Best

Have you ever gone into a pizza place and, seeing that the pizza they made is practically perfect, said to the server, "Um, excuse me, but, could you please take this back and make me something a little less appetizing?"

Or how about going to some retailer and asking to see a salesperson who is a little bit rude and less-than-helpful?

Likely not. I think we all tend to want the best. Often, we feel we are entitled to the best. The best service, the best food, the best health care, the best education, the best quality products, etc.

For our children, we often pursue what we see as best for them, or in their best interest. Often parents will make life-changing decisions based on their desire for their kids to get the best possible education so that they can get into the best colleges and end up with the best jobs. For example, parents might buy a house they can't really afford in a great community that has great schools, rather than in a neighborhood with less-than-best schools, but is more affordable.

While there is nothing wrong with any of this (except, I would argue, the "house they can't afford" part!), it seems that when it comes to our own spiritual walk, and by extension, the spiritual walks of our children, we end up desiring second best. Or third best. Or perhaps something not really best at all.

And usually we're happy about this.

I've mentioned it before in another post, but too often we get caught up in "what is sinful", and how we might have "freedom in Christ", that we accept not pursuing what is BEST for our children. If it isn't technically a sin, then it is okay. We allow "almost sins" to creep into our lives, or allow actions and activities that fail to draw us closer to God, and perhaps even tear us away from God.

I'm a strong believer in homeschooling. We homeschool our 5 kids. (Well, technically we homeschool four of them...the fifth is just still learning to talk!) We made the decision to homeschool for many reasons. But when you sum up those reasons, it comes down to this: we felt it was what was best for our children spiritually, academically, and socially. It has strengthened our family in a way sending our kids away to public of private school could not. But this decision was not the easy decision. It has been expensive (having to buy all curriculum ourselves) and tiresome (particularly for my wife, since she does a vast majority of the in, practically all of it!), and there have been times I've come home and my wife has wished she could send the children away!

But ultimately, we know that our kids are better for it. Not that it is wrong to send your kids to public school or private school. But we didn't want "second best". We wanted what was best.

The same is true of every other aspect of our lives and how we raise our children. Unfortunately, there are plenty of times we, in our sinfulness, settle for second best. For example, while we greatly limit the amount of media (television and gaming) we allow, sometimes we allow it to "control" our family life. Sometimes it is just easier to allow these things to influence our lives when we could (should?) be spending our time together as a family doing far more productive activities.

Sometimes we aren't even aware that we're settling for second best. Sometimes cultural norms are so ingrained in our minds that we fail to realize that what is best isn't what is normal or usual. There have been times that my wife has presented to me areas of concern with our kids that I just don't see as an issue. But, usually, she's right.

For example, one things we've learned about our daughter is that she's a follower. She wants to be "like the other girls" she plays with. She latches on to what they do or have that we don't. So, several years ago, when my wife suggested that we limit her time with certain friends with a particularly poor influence on her, at first I thought it was a bad idea. I mean, how would she learn to deal with peer pressure and her own identity if she didn't deal with such friendships?

But I was wrong. Because the more we allowed it, the more her sweet nature was being tainted and skewed in a direction not consistent with our values. We had to pull her away and limit her exposure to these friends...not because we are trying to be exclusive, but because we are entrusted with protecting the heart of our child. Before she can learn to protect her own identity, we needed to be sure that her identity was grounded fully on a Christ-like attitude, not a worldly attitude. Once that happened, and once she claimed it as her own, then the outside influences of others would not be an issue.

Today, she's still only seven, and we still have work to do. But we've found a balance that works best for our child's spiritual growth. Still, we are constantly re-evaluating our decisions as parents as to what is ultimately best for our children (and ourselves!) spiritually. It is called growing.

Take time to question everything you do. Are you settling? Are you desiring second best because it is what is easier or "normal"? Then ask God to guide you in what He thinks is best. Consult the bible, or other parents who have raised spiritually strong children. "When you walk with the wise, you will grow wise."

Friday, July 22, 2011

Anger Issues

I have issues. Oddly enough, these issues didn't really surface until I had children.

See, I used to be the most patient person in the world. Honestly. For example, I could end up behind the slowest person in the grocery store checkout, and it wouldn't bother me a bit. Stuck behind a car driving 45 MPH on the freeway? No problem.

But all that changed when I had children. Perhaps it was a lack of sleep. Of course, once they started sleeping through the night, that should have taken care of it. Hmm. Maybe it's because having children creates a hormonal imbalance. Might be true, if I were the mother. But I'm the father, and last I checked, my hormonal contribution to the role of parenting ended around the time of conception.

The truth is, the reason for my anger is sin. No getting around it. I have a sinful, selfish streak that children, frankly, interfered with. Prior to children, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted how I wanted when I wanted (with my wife's blessing, of course). Children, however, don't really care what you want. They just want to be loved.

So, I started getting angry. And the problem is, my anger leads to unnecessary yelling. And yelling, I've learned through the years, does nothing to build up family relationships. It only barely results in obedience. Mostly, in results in something Paul warns about, when he says, "Fathers, do not exasperate your children."

It's true that yelling at my kids will get results. (Usually.) If I'm angry that they didn't get the dishes loaded in the dishwasher, so I have no pans to cook with...well, that certainly gets the dishes loaded in the moment. But the end result isn't that I have children who look at me and go, "Oh, Daddy, thank you so much for setting me straight and teaching me how important it is to get a job done right and on time! I'm so much better now for it."

As much as I wish that were the case, instead, I might get the dishes done, but I've also created a bit of fear of me in them. They are obeying not out of love, but out of fear. And worse, this can lead to them sinning. For example, I've found times when my daughter would rather lie to me about something out of fear of me getting angry at her for the truth.

Exasperating my children, indeed.

But what alternative is there?

Well, I had convinced myself for a long time there wasn't any. If only the children would do what they were supposed to, I wouldn't have to yell. But this line of thinking was shifting blame of my own sin (anger/yelling) to my children. I wasn't taking responsibility for the fact that I was the one who had lost control, not my children.

So, one day, I made a decision. The yelling would stop. I would fine alternative ways of disciplining and teaching. And while the decisions hasn't led to an overnight change in my own behavior, I have gradually been discovering that there are other ways to handle my children. Respectful ways. Ways that don't involve exasperating them. Ways that don't involve invoking my own sinful nature. It is an exercise of patience. But it is also an exercise that has strengthened my relationship with my kids, rather than undermined it.

So, what's the point of this post? It is an example of how, when we look at our parenting methods, we need to make sure we aren't using sinful, disrespectful ways to getting the job done. It might be the easy way in the moment, but it isn't the best or right way. Look for where you struggle...what times do you "lose it" with your kids? Once you recognize the triggers, you can talk about it with your spouse and come up with alternatives. Just don't start shifting blame. Your children are not the are. As I've learned, I can't expect them to act like adults when I can't!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Christian Parenting Fundamentals

When you think of good parenting, what comes to mind? I think for many of us, good parenting usually revolves around what we DO: everything from, "Should spanking be used as a form of discipline?" to, "Should I allow my children to drink beverages with high fructose corn syrup?" There are countless dos and don'ts in parenting. Quite often, two different sources of parenting information will give two contradictory pieces of advice on what you DO to handle a given situation.

But what I've learned is that parenting isn't about what we DO or DON'T DO. It is about who we ARE as parents, what behaviors we model, what personal patience we can muster, how much love we can demonstrate toward others. We need to shift our focus from parenting dos and don'ts to who we are, spiritually, as parents. When we make that shift, the dos and don'ts start to fall into place. And even if they don't, they don't seem to matter as much.

In Christian life, in general, I notice a great many people ask the question, "Is this certain behavior a sin?" I think we're afraid of this legalistic idea that the rules we follow might not actually be sinful because of the freedom we have in Christ. But this line of thinking opens the door to figuring out what we can get away with, rather than seeking the heart of God.

Because of this, I'm always drawn to 1 Corinthians 10:23:

"Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.

God wants what is best for us...and while certain behaviors might not technically be labeled a sin, it also doesn't mean it is what is best for us...and by extension, what is best for our children.

Rather than ask ourselves, "Is this wrong?" the question really should be, "How does this help me love God and/or others better?"

This is a driving force behind my desires not only for my own life, but for the parenting decisions I make. This is also the fundamental force behind the Christian parenting advice and teaching I will present here. It isn't to suggest it is the only way, or that other ways of parenting or wrong...but only that I want to ultimately do what is BEST for my kids, not simply ENOUGH. And that starts with me. Sometimes that takes slow and painful change within myself. Truth is, I'm a sinful human being still being perfected. (Shocking revelation, I know!)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

A (kind of) new blog

My blog is going through some changes. It has a new look and a new focus. Well, kind of. I've always had various posts on parenting here. The difference is that I intend to make this blog more exclusively about parenting...and Christian parenting at that.

I'm gradually cleaning out old posts that are "off topic". But I plan to make new posts about the subject that is most near and dear to my heart: raising children to love the Lord. I will likely delve into related topics, including personal spirituality and the marriage relationship as well. They are all intertwined in a way that can't fully be separated.

This post is the "FYI". My next post should actually contain some meat.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A Slave Nation

Slavery was outlawed in this country a very long time ago. You all know the story. But a different kind of slavery exists today. A self-imposed slavery that few of us seem willing to free ourselves from.

The Bible speaks a lot about money. Most of it isn't terribly flattering. The one I'm most drawn to is where Jesus says, "No one can serve two masters...You cannot serve both God and money." That, and when Paul says, "Let no debt remain outstanding except the continue debt to love one another."

There was a time period in my life after a Promise Keepers conference where I vowed to get rid of all my debt. And, after about two-plus years, my wife and I managed to pull it off. At least, to a degree. We had no credit card debt, and only lived (for a while) on what we took in. But we still had car payments and a house payment. I'd convinced myself, however, that those weren't really "debt", since we had, essentially, collateral.

That attitude, however, I now see as flawed. Debt is debt. And debt makes me a slave to money, no matter how much I think it doesn't. The recent recession in this country is proof of this. People are foreclosing on homes left and right, home values have dropped to levels far below what people owe. So much for "secured debt".

And these same people (myself included) are slaves to money as a result. We are forced to live where we live, fearful of losing our jobs and our homes as a result, rather than trusting in the Lord.

At one time, I figured that if we had the faith of a mustard seed, the Lord would protect us from such calamities as foreclosure. But now I realize that if I had the faith of a mustard seed and trusted in God's plan, I wouldn't have had to hope God would keep me from financial ruin. The truth is, I'm living with debt now because of my own faithlessness, my own sinfulness.

God has blessed our family, to be sure. But I can't get past the fact that as I'm struggling to pay off the debt I've managed to rack back up again in the past several years, this money could have been put to much better use. Often, I imagine what my life would be like if I could say, "Hey, family, let's go out to dinner tonight," and be able to pay cash without worrying if I'll have enough at the end of the money without relying on credit cards.

I'm getting there. My wife and I are working towards being "debt-free" once again. In less than a year, we should be there. But then we want to go further. We want to stop being a slave to money. Buy cars with cash, rather than financing them, for example. Or, the ultimate goal, to have a home that belongs to us no matter whether I lose my job or not...a home that is paid off.

I wish I had lived this way from the start, never falling prey to the seduction of having more than I can afford. Consider the typical 30-year mortgage. Even if I never faced losing my job, and was able to keep up on my house payments, in the end, I'll be paying almost two times more for the home than what it cost. Consider it. For a $200,000 home, I could pay an extra $260,000 in interest. That's $260,000 that might go to work building God's kingdom, helping the poor and hungry, of taking better care of my family such as being able to replace those couches we have in our home right now that we can feel the boards through.

My short-term goal is to eliminate all "unsecured" debt within the next 12 months. Beyond that, I'd like to be free of all on-going car payments within two years, and ten years from now, have a home that is completely paid for. Because then, we'll no longer be slaves to money.

Perhaps you'll consider joining my journey.

I'll write more on this subject later...