Tag Archives: Family

8 Things I Want My Toddler to Thank His Mom For (in 20 Years)

My son has just turned 2---he delegated to me the task of buying a Mother's Day card and writing a message on it. I'm coaching him to say, "Thank you mommy" and "I love you mommy" (though it will come out, at best, as "Thar Thaw Momeeeee" and "I yubba oo Momeeeee").

But what do I hope he will say thank you for, in 20 years, as he looks back on having grown up with a Christian mother? Here's what I'd love him to say as a 22-year-old, as he gives his mom some Mother's Day chocolates (chocolates, not flowers, son---chocolates tend to get shared with fathers, while flowers just get looked at on mantelpieces).

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1. Thank you for putting Christ before me. You taught me from the word go that I'm not the center of your world, because I'm not the center of the world. And you told me who does have that position---the Lord Jesus. I was never allowed to rule our house, and you always made it clear that my opinions and preferences, though important, are not authoritative. Thank you for the times you were not able to spend time with me because you were ministering to someone else. Thank you for the times you were not able to spend money on me because you had given it to someone else. Thank you that in never treating me like the most important person in your life, you pointed me to the most important Person in the cosmos.

2. Thank you for showing me grace, not works. You did so much for me, and you never threw it back at me to make me feel guilty, never suggested that your love depended on me reaching a certain standard, never held a grudge after I'd let you down, never wondered out loud why you bothered. At sports and at school, they taught me that the best win, and that work pays. At home, you taught me that I don't need to be good enough to be accepted, and that love gives. And thank you for disciplining me fairly and firmly, and forgiving me completely and repeatedly. Thank you that the boundaries were clear, and that accounts were kept short.

3. Thank you for showing me repentance, not false perfection. You made mistakes---lots of them. Thank you for not excusing them or belittling them. Thank you that you would stop and say sorry to me, and sorry to God in front of me. Thank you that you knew you were forgiven and lived as though you were. And thank you that you always backed me but never excused my sin or let me think I was good enough for God. Thank you that I learned from you not to wear a mask of self-righteousness, but that you taught me to enjoy wearing Christ's clothes of true righteousness.

4. Thank you for caring more about my character than my abilities. You encouraged me to be kind, thoughtful, and patient more than you urged me to do well at school, learn an instrument, or get good at sport. It's not that you didn't help me with homework, make me practice music, or take me to football; but I always knew that who I was, and who I was becoming, mattered more than what I could do.

5. Thank you for knowing that gospelling me was your and Dad's job. Thank you that you told me Bible stories, sang Bible songs with me, prayed with me, and told me about God as we went about our day-to-day chores and trips. Thank you that you didn't think you could delegate this job to my children's and student ministry leaders. Thank you that you didn't shoehorn Christ into every conversation, as though mentioning him every other sentence would convert me; but thank you that he didn't need shoehorning in, because he was a constant companion in our family. Thank you that I'm one of those kids who can't remember the first time they were told about the Lord Jesus, and can't remember a day since when they didn't hear about him.

6. Thank you for loving Daddy. He makes mistakes, too (more than you, Mom). Thank you that you loved him; that you forgave him when you needed to and asked for forgiveness when you needed to; that you laughed with him; that you were affectionate with him; that you submitted to him; that you cried with him. Thank you that you did all those things in front of me, so that because of the wife you were to him, I know what it means to be a Christian man, husband, and father.

7. Thank you for giving me chances to serve. Often, serving people with you was great fun, Mom, as we baked together, visited together, and made cards together. But sometimes it was boring, tiring, or costly. But thank you that we did it anyway, and we did it together. Thank you that you never shielded me from the reality of the Christian life---I was never allowed to think that church was all about my needs, or that serving should always have me as the recipient. Thank you that you always offered me a cross to carry, as you carried yours. But thank you that you always explained why we were serving others, and that I learned (slowly) to be joyful that I could serve the Christ who has served me.

8. Thank you for showing me what sacrificial love is. Every day of my life since the very first, you've done something for me that was hard or costly for you. In the way you've mothered me, I can see a glimmer of how Christ lived and died for me. You've shown me Christ.

This is an extended version of a blog that first appeared on The Good Book Blog.

Explaining Hard Things to Our Children

My heart was saddened the day I had to explain to my children that their aunt and uncle were getting a divorce. I struggled as I searched for words that would make sense to them. They were young and not yet acquainted with brokenness in marriage. Since then, I've had to whittle away at my children's naiveté about the world as more and more hard situations require explanation.

difficult-conversations-with-kidsWhen our children are young, they are often isolated from the painful truths of life. Their needs are provided for and their greatest struggles are in sharing their toys. But as they grow, they become more aware of the world around them. They begin to hear about violence, wars, death, disease, and brokenness.

One day, my 7-year-old overheard talk about same-sex marriage on the news. On another occasion, I had to explain abortion and euthanasia. Then there was the time I had to break the news about a dear friend waging a battle against cancer.

For many of these talks, I was unprepared. They came before I thought my children were ready. I wish we lived in a world where I didn't have to explain death, divorce, or abortion. But post fall, this is the reality of life. And I want my children to hear the truth about life, including its heartaches and sorrows, in the context of our biblical world-and-life view.

Explaining the World's Heartache Through God's Story

As we've worked through these issues as a family, there is one story we always come back to: creation, fall, and redemption.

This is the story of the Bible. It is the story that explains what once was at the beginning, how we got to where we are, and how things will one day be. It is the story that brings hope in the darkness of this fallen world. And it is the big story into which all our individual stories fit.

  1. Creation: In a recent talk with our children, we began by returning to the story of creation. We explained God's perfect design for the world, for people, for relationships, for marriages, and for families.
  2. Fall: We then reviewed the facts of the fall, how by the sin of one man, we are all sinful. Each and every person is a sinner; no one does what is right. Sin has also affected the natural world, bringing about disease and death. After Adam's sin, God promised a rescuer in Genesis 3:15. He promised to one day redeem and restore what was broken by the fall.
  3. Redemption: Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. He came as that Rescuer, living the life we couldn't live and dying the death we deserve. Through faith in his finished work on our behalf, we have been set free from slavery to sin. We are now free to live for him. He is making all things new, beginning with us. As we share the gospel of grace with others, we participate in the mission of his kingdom. One day, Jesus will return for the last time and make all things right. Death and sin will be no more. The redeemed will live forever in his presence.

Teaching Our Kids to Love Like Jesus Loves

Recently, as we talked through and explained a hard situation with our children, we discussed how the redemption Jesus purchased for us affects how we treat the sin in others' lives and how we respond to the brokenness in this world. We talked about the gospel of grace and how we are to love others in light of the love and grace Jesus gave us. We share the gospel with them and pray for them, that they too would know the grace of God through Jesus Christ.

As believers, the story of creation, fall, and redemption is the lens through which we view all of life. It's also the lens we need to teach our children to use as well. As we help our children process life's experiences through this lens, it models for them how they are to view the many trials they will encounter in life. Ultimately, this lens points them to their hope found in Christ alone.

I know many more situations and hard discussions will come up in my life as a parent. As much as I'd like to avoid it, I can't. And I can't sugar coat the realities of life. But I can give my children hope. By recounting the story of creation, fall, and redemption, I can help them understand what happened to God's perfect world, how Jesus came to save us, and how one day, all the hard and painful stories of life will end. And then we'll begin a new chapter, one that will never end.

All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. — C. S. Lewis in The Last Battle

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Failing with Family

As a phone conversation with my sister was winding down, she offered stinging final words after debriefing over some family drama: "Well, we all know you're the spiritual one in the family." I sighed an internal ugh, knowing that she really meant to say self-righteous one. In an attempt to defend what I thought she was implying, I launched into a stream of apologetic clarifications. In the end, it felt like an exercise in futility. I knew the reputation I had forged years earlier in much less sanctified times had never been forgotten.

stock-footage-fire-family-word-fire-textThe truth is that I had deservedly earned the title. As a young, arrogant, spiritually immature and self-assured believer, I had driven my nose up at my families' failures and displayed enough told-you-so-disappointment that I'm surprised they didn't excommunicate me altogether. It wasn't until I had experienced quite a few of my own failures that God thankfully shut down my pharisaical rantings for good. Looking back on those early days, I still feel ashamed at the ways I disgraced the name of Christ and the reputation of believers.

Unfortunately, grudges are easier to hold than forgiveness is to hand out. Reputations are complex mechanisms to dismantle. Although we have limitless opportunities to show kindness to others, it takes only one poisonous slip of the tongue or outburst of anger to completely destroy our credibility and strip us of relational capital.

How We Work to Restore

So is there a place to even begin? Can there be a rebuilding process? Maybe you're eager to repair, but you know certain family members will never let you move past your former self.

If you face decades worth of family damage, here are three steps to consider taking. Although reconciliation is never guaranteed, we are always guaranteed that God will look upon the humble and contrite.

1. Seek forgiveness: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you." James 4:10 

Want to shock a grudge-holding family member? Start by asking for forgiveness. There's nothing that cuts quite so deep as humble repentance. If they ask why, you can share how the gospel has illumined your own sin by the light of God's grace. You can explain how Christ's humility on the cross convicts you of your own arrogance, and that repenting to him enables you to ask forgiveness of them.

2. Speak softly: "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1

A soft answer will be curiously received by an unbelieving family member who has received the opposite from you in the past. Controlling your tongue will always speak louder than using it to cut another spiritual incision into an already tender situation. This is a general principle, so although a soft tone won't always calm a stormy feud, I think it's safe to say that an angry rant never will. Think about the channels of communication that might open up when a family member responds, "Your reaction really surprised me, I thought you'd be upset."

3. Show kindness: "Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation." 1 Peter 2:12

Look for opportunities to sacrificially bless unbelieving members of your family. If you're far away, contact them occasionally to let them know you're praying and thinking about them. If they live close, make yourself available to them. In this way they will see a heart for Christ that also cares about them, and they won't have any reason to speak negatively either in their hearts or with their mouths about your actions.

I don't know my current status with my family. I probably never will. But I do know that each of us needs to come clean and repent of our own failures with our families.

Pray with me that God would give us a gospel-infused love for our families that causes us to be more critical of our own sin than theirs. Pray with me that Jesus would give us prayerful, less prideful hearts that overflow with mercy and forbearance. Pray with me that the Holy Spirit would help us forgive as we continue to be forgiven.

And by God's grace, they may yet glorify him.

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Can Christian Theology Save the Family?

My wife and I recently returned to the restaurant where we spent our final Saturday evening before our wedding. As we settled in, our eyes focused across the room to the table where we sat 16 months ago, sharing plans of travel, butchering the pronunciations of French dishes, and preparing to create a family.

We recollected how a middle-aged couple at the bar overheard our conversation that night and turned to offer their experienced input. "Just wonderful, you two look so in love," chimed the tipsy husband. "Go large with the wedding," the wife interjected, "everything goes downhill from there." Her cynical tone and disillusioned eyes undermined her husband's every word.

images (1)Evil Hits Close to Home

It didn't take long after our wedding for us to discover that the opportunities to wreck a family are legion. "An entire army of evils besieges the life of the family," wrote the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) in his timeless work, The Christian Family. Bavinck listed just a handful of evils that threaten the well-being of the home:

the infidelity of the husband, the stubbornness of the wife, the disobedience of the child; both the worship and the denigration of the woman, tyranny as well as slavery, the seduction and the hatred of men, both idolizing and killing children; sexual immorality, human trafficking, concubinage, bigamy, polygamy, polyandry, adultery, divorce, incest; unnatural sins whereby men commit scandalous acts with men, women with women . . . the stimulation of lust by impure thoughts, words, images . . . glorifying nudity and elevating even the passions of the flesh in the service of deity.

When "marriage loses its delight," Bavinck observed, "it turns into unbearable drudgery." The couple at the bar knew this grim reality all too intimately. The truth is that no family evades the consequences of evil.

Is the Family a Failed Project?

"There has never been a time when the family faced so severe a crisis as the time in which we are now living," Bavinck declared. During his age, scientists attempted to reduce the origin and nature of the family to naturalistic explanations. Monogamy, fidelity, and nurture had no legitimate moral or sacred foundation. Science determined the utility of the family, rendering it too flawed for modern people. Intellectuals suggested replacing marriage with free love, familial bonds with social compacts, and parenting with scientific nurturing methods.

Bavinck found that shifts in artistic expression subverted the family as well:

Today, now that realism has taken over in art . . . people take pleasure in describing life after the wedding and in marriage, presenting it as one huge disappointment, as an intolerable cohabitation, as a desperate situation of misery and duress. Poetry is then introduced into this situation by means of sinful passion, forbidden affection, unnatural lust; these are glorified and smothered with glitter at the cost of love and fidelity in marriage.

There never has been an ideal age for the family—and we certainly aren't in one today. From music award ceremonies to Woody Allen films, popular culture has not smiled kindly on the family. Even more, the hunger for financial success has brought injury to many existing families and diminished the appeal to create new ones.

According to Time magazine's Top 10 Things We Learned About Marriage in 2013, "our in-laws have an evolutionary reason to hate us," "low drama divorce is possible," and "same-sex marriage keeps winning." Number one on the list concludes: "a person could get dizzy trying to pin down the definition of a family." Dizzying indeed.

Does the problem lie in the institution of the family itself? Would the world be better off if we abandoned the family altogether?

Call for a Theology of the Family

Bavinck believed that Christian theology alone could offer hope for the family in his day and ours. He wrote, "Christians may not permit their conduct to be determined by the spirit of the age, but must focus on the requirement of God's commandment," showing "in word and deed what an inestimable blessing God has granted to humanity" with the gift of family. The following points—deduced from Bavinck's work—provide a helpful foundation toward developing a theology of the family.

God created the family beautiful and good. God is the most committed advocate for the family. "The history of the human race begins with a wedding," and God himself officiated it. He created a compatible partner for Adam as a gift, blessed the couple, and commanded them to bear his image, multiply families, and subdue the earth (Genesis 1:28). As Bavinck said, "God's artistic work comes into existence bearing the name of home and family." God created humans to reflect the relational love within the Trinity, and he appointed the family as the supreme instrument toward this end.

Sin has ravaged the family. When Adam and Eve first disobeyed God, they "sinned not only as individuals" but "also as husband and wife, as father and mother." Sin delivered a devastating blow to the home. It introduced "disunity between Adam and Eve," filled "Cain with hatred against Abel and incited him to fratricide," and it "led Lamech into polygamy." Sin poisons the health of our relationships—first with God and consequently with spouse, parent, child, sibling, and neighbor.

Christ offers the family hope. God did not leave the family in defeat. In fact, he still had big plans for it. After the fall, God promised Eve that her offspring would conquer evil (Genesis 3:15). As Bavinck writes, "In the Son born from her, the woman and the man once again attain to their calling." Jesus Christ is the only human being to never sin against his Father in heaven and his family on earth. His death for our sins offers hope for forgiveness and reconciliation not only with our earthly families but also with God our Father. Although earthly marriages remain imperfect, they represent the love between Christ and his people more than anything else in creation. Bavinck concludes his book with these hope-filled words: "The history of the human race" also "ends with a wedding, the wedding of Christ and his church, of the heavenly Lord with his earthly Bride." In Christ, the family finds significance, purpose, and hope.

Pew Millennial Trust

The Distrustful Generation

Who are the "Millennial generation"? New data from two of the country's leading social research organizations provide an invaluable window into their thinking and experience. So far, the discussion of these findings has centered on the disastrous collapse of marriage, work, and religious practice among Millennials (ages 18 to 29). But the most dire social problem is that Millennials don't trust their neighbors. The deepest question our culture will be facing in the coming generation is not what to do about jobs or single parenthood, but whether we are still capable of loving our neighbors.

Pew Millennial TrustTo be sure, it's a grave concern that Millennials are becoming disconnected from most of the basic structures of human civilization. Gallup reports that only 44 percent are employed full time. That's not just because some of them are still in school or looking for a job and can't find one. In huge numbers, Millennials have simply dropped out of the labor force. That's a catastrophe if you think human beings were made for work, where they find dignity and moral coherence.

Is it that Millennials have rediscovered the beauty of the household? Are there millions of new stay-at-home moms, working hard in the home but not showing up in employment statistics because they're supported by their husbands' incomes? To the contrary, Pew Research Center reports that only 26 percent of Millennials get married any time between ages 18 and 32. That's compared to 36 percent for Generation X, 48 percent for Baby Boomers, and 65 percent for the Silent Generation. The decline of work and the decline of marriage consistently go hand in hand.

Connections to religious institutions also tend to stand or fall with connections to these other structures, especially family. Pew finds a postwar high of 29 percent of Millennials describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated. Most of these people actually have religious beliefs of one kind or another, but they tend to see no point in what they call "organized religion" or in local church institutions.

As leading marriage scholar Brad Wilcox asks, "What could go wrong?" These trends point to a period of continued social disruption ahead. People need institutions of work, family, and religion to hold them in authentic relationship with one another and to structure their lives. God is three persons in one God, and human beings were made in his image—for unity in diversity and diversity in unity. We are distinct individuals, each with his own dignity, but we are also social creatures. We need each other.

The decline of civil society not only makes us shallow and self-oriented as individuals; it also destroys the freedom and dignity of our culture. In the Reformed theological tradition, since at least Herman Bavinck, the four great domains of social life have been identified as family, church, economics, and politics. As institutions in the first three domains wither, the state must expand to pick up the slack. Government takes over the basic functions of our lives from the cradle to the grave and sets itself up as the moral shaper of human life.

Decline of Institutions

However, none of these data is exactly a new revelation. Social scientists have been noting these trends for some time now. One of the most important books of this generation is Charles Murray's Coming Apart, which summarizes the long-term data on the decline of institutions of work, family, religion, and community.

Major social disruptions are normal in the life of any civilization. We've had one or two of them in American history. Civil War battlefield deaths alone claimed 2 percent of the U.S. population at the time; today that would be more than 6 million people dead in a four-year period. That's on top of millions more who would die of disease, major cities totally destroyed, and so on, if we had an equivalent disaster today.

Keep that history in mind before you panic about low marriage rates. We've seen worse. In fact, although Murray is generally pessimistic, one of the reasons for hope he lists at the end of his book is that America has faced many existential challenges before, and it always seems to bounce back unexpectedly.

Childlike Trust

America's resilience has always come from its ability to bring people together. As Murray writes in another book, the slender but profound American Exceptionalism, this country's historically unprecedented cultural and economic success has arisen in large part from the fact that Americans trust one another:

People assume that strangers they meet are generally trustworthy, helpful, and fair. This attitude has been crucial to America's success and baffling to other nationalities, who historically have been astonished by the openness of Americans. To them, Americans seemed almost childlike in their trust in the good faith of any random person they came across. In the first half-hour after meeting a total stranger, an American was likely to confide personal information and ask personal questions that might require years of friendship before they would be raised between Europeans or Asians.

This social trust has been the bedrock of all our historical success: in politics, as a stable and relatively just (as nations go) democratic republic; in economics, as the world's engine of entrepreneurship and growth; in families, where the American household was once so strong Tocqueville attributed all our success to the superiority of our women; and above all in religion, where we simultaneously enacted the broadest possible protections for religious freedom and cultivated one of the world's most pervasively religious cultures.

It is our firm foundation in social trust that allows us to bounce back from existential catastrophe. Abraham Lincoln did all he could to preserve bonds of trust between North and South even as the Civil War cannons were firing all around him. Consider the famous closing passages of his two inaugural addresses:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature. (First inaugural address, 1861)

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations. (Second inaugural address, 1865)

Steep Decline

That was then, this is now. Murray points to data showing a steep decline of social trust from the 1970s to the 2000s. Here the Pew data tell their most disturbing story. They show that this decline of social trust is accelerating among Millennials.

When asked whether, "generally speaking, most people can be trusted," only 19 percent of Millennials said yes. That is compared to the already disturbingly low figures of 31 percent for Generation X, 40 percent for Baby Boomers, and 37 percent for the Silent Generation. Back in the early 1970s, positive responses on social trust questions tended to reach almost 60 percent, depending on which group you were asking.

Do "the mystic chords of memory" and "bonds of affection" still bind us as a people? There can be no rebuilding of the institutions of work, family, and religion—there can be no effective solution to our social disruptions—unless we firmly believe that "we are not enemies, but friends." Lincoln could say those words in 1861, yet for some reason few seem confident saying them today.

There is a distinct role for the church in this challenge. A conviction that "we are not enemies" arises partly from a conviction that "we must not be enemies." The solution is not only to discover the ways in which our neighbors are decent people who share many of our values and want to live in peace with us. We must also reach out across divides and build that kind of shared life where it doesn't already exist. In short, social trust arises not only from an awareness of my neighbor's virtues but also from "the better angels of our nature" that move us to build bonds with those we view as alien or foreboding.

The Greek word translated as "hospitality" in your New Testament, φιλοξενία, literally means "stranger-friendship." The contribution Christianity made to the shaping of America's political institutions is a complex story. But the contribution of Christian φιλοξενία to the shaping of American culture more generally has been at least as important, if not more so.

The decline of social trust is the deepest problem our culture faces. The cancer of distrust will eat away at all our plans to deal with political, economic, and familial problems. Sooner or later, this culture is going to realize that nothing can save it if it doesn't rebuild its moral bonds. Showing the world what φιλοξενία looks like will not only help us stay faithful as our culture becomes more faithless; it will help our culture rediscover why it used to think faith was so important.

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How Churches Can Care for Their Pastor's Children

A young pastor recently asked for my advice over lunch. His church plant was maturing, and he was looking down the road. His own children are ages 6, 4, and 1. Knowing the problems that pastors' kids can have, he wisely desired to cast a vision of care for his children.

church-sleepy-kids-szdToo many children of pastors are casualties in the spiritual battle. After seeing the inner workings of the church, many do not want anything to do with the Lord or his people. As a teenager, I almost walked away from my faith because of the hypocrisy and disunity I saw in my church.

But in my conversation with this pastor, I was momentarily speechless as I realized how little I had thought about this important question. Why? Because the church that I had shepherded for 25 years had done an excellent job caring for my own children. Today they are 22, 20, 18, and 16, and have fond memories of our relationships there.

What had my own church done that so few churches do well? What can churches learn?

Word to the Congregation

These children running around among us are precious to God. One day they will not be 6, 4, and 1. They will be 26, 24, and 21. In the meantime, they are watching you and listening to you. And by that observation, they are deciding if the gospel is real. Jesus said, "By this all people (including these children) will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). What will they say about your church when they are adults? How did you help or hurt their walk with Christ?

1. Give grace to the pastor's children on Sunday. Sunday is a workday for his family unlike any other person's workday. While her husband is ministering, a wife is parenting alone. The pastor's kids are often the first ones to arrive at the church building and the last ones to leave. You can minister to his family by giving his children grace, talking with them, and enjoying them. When his children are young, you can also offer to help his wife.

2. If you have a concern, talk to your pastor about behavior that characterizes the children. But do so with an attitude of loving acceptance. As a shepherd of my family, I wanted to know when my children acted up. But I also knew any report I received was from an adult who cared about me, who knew that children will be, well, sinful children. They did not look at my children as PKs (pastor's kids), but only as kids.

The issues that should concern us are not individual actions but behaviors that characterize a child. The phrase "managing his household well" (1 Tim. 3:4) refers to the father, not the children. It doesn't mean a pastor and his children are perfect. It does mean he handles true problems well.

3. Be generous in your praise. Respect is especially important as the children grow older. A pastor's children will soon figure out that their family doesn't drive the newest car or take the fanciest vacation. But if others verbally express respect for the pastors, the children's view of their parents will rise. Men especially who express respect to a pastor's son can make a substantial difference.

4. Limit church criticism and complaint to private conversations among adults. Every group of people will have problems. Issues will need to be aired (see Acts 6). But know that young people are watching how the adults are handling problems. As a teenager, I was keenly aware of the conflicts and hypocrisy in my church. Make sure you keep those comments among adults. Take any issues privately to the leadership. Don't make sniping complaints to young people or in the hearing of young people.

5. Be brave and rebuke the critics. Unfortunately, not everyone in the congregation will follow this suggestion. When grumbling and faultfinding spill over in front of you, speak up. Tell "Nitpicking Nora" not to talk in front of the children but speak directly with those in charge. Remind her that these are just children. The souls of these little ones are precious and need to be guarded. A united elder team can be especially helpful in speaking to any who engages in unwarranted faultfinding.

6. Give your pastors room to deal with their children's hearts. Older children will go through some spiritual ups and downs. How will you think about those bumps? With care and affection? Or self-righteous judgment? Your pastor's children are like all of us. They are in a process of becoming like Jesus. You can embitter them with sharp comments. Or you can love and accept them even as they grow into adulthood. Pray for them regularly by name as they make this transition.

7. Give your pastors margin to minister to their families. Children need their father. But many leaders will be tempted to neglect their families to meet the unending needs of the church. Carping and demanding church members will make that temptation even greater. Even as a church member, you can encourage your pastors to care for their families. Are they taking their days off? Are their vacations uninterrupted? Don't demand that they minister to your crisis at the expense of their own family.

Influence Well

By God's grace, my children have no bitterness from my 25 years of pastoring. They know their church wasn't perfect, but they look with admiration and affection on these aunts and uncles in the faith.

Church member, some day the young children in your church will be adults. They will be spiritual soldiers or spiritual casualties. And yes, you will have an influence on that outcome. They are watching you and listening to you. Use that influence well.

Sunday family

Scargoyle Attacks the Family

My dear Moldwhistle,

I received your letter of acceptance, and I am pleased to know that you will be joining my team in service to Our Father Below. I have heard from your last supervisor that you are a devious fellow who would value the chance to work for a master tempter. With all due modesty, I believe I can give you that opportunity.

First, I must clear up a misunderstanding. When I invited you to join our attack upon the family, you mentioned the vulnerability of the familial institution to gay marriage, pornography, and other popular inventions of our Father. Well, Moldwhistle, any devil can mount a successful attack using pornography. Our division works through a much more sophisticated—subtle, if you will—form of sabotage. In fact, we use methods so understated that the targets have no idea they are under our influence.

Sunday familyOur research has identified Sunday morning as the most successful time to attack the family. Church is a dangerous place. While we can't keep all families from church, we can offset the detrimental effects of corporate worship by fostering conflict and self-righteousness among family members.

Perhaps you will see what I mean if I describe a recent Sunday sabotage carried out by Malwick, one of your new colleagues. Last Sunday, Malwick launched his attack with a tried-and-true sock hunt. It got the morning off to a deliciously terrible start. The wife of the target family asked the husband to put socks and shoes on their male offspring. Malwick simply stole one sock from each pair. After just five minutes of pawing through a drawer of mismatched socks, the husband lost his temper with the child and cursed at the wife.

The wife in question, offended that her husband would blame her for his inability to do a simple thing like put socks on a toddler, responded with passive aggression (one of Our Father's chief delights) by changing clothes three times. Her husband hates to be late to church. Rather than apologize for his outburst, he waited in the van while the wife packed the diaper bag, kenneled the dog, and rounded up the children.

The tension in the car continued to rise as Malwick (with help from our engineering department) turned each stoplight red. When the children started crying, their father turned up the preacher on the radio. The wife glared at her husband as she exited the van but forced a smile for the deacon who opened the door for them.

The attack had been so successful to this point that Malwick thought he could relax and enjoy the fruits of his work. That, my vile friend, is a rookie mistake. Malwick hates the grating sound of all those voices singing praise to our Enemy, as do we all, but this was no excuse to let the family out of his clutches.

Unfortunately, the church attended by this couple has a weekly time of confession. Confession of sin causes our campaigns to implode like nothing else can. For years, Our Father has used the sinfulness of these humans to accuse and condemn them, but for some reason, this tactic backfires when a person confesses his sin.

When the family exited the Enemy's house, the tension was gone. Husband and wife held hands. The children still fussed, but neither parent grew impatient. What had begun as a successful campaign against family harmony ended with forgiveness and grace—a total failure.

You see, if our target families are properly handled, they will never recognize that Sunday morning annoyances are opportunities to extend grace to one another and to seek it for themselves. Grace, as you know, is the hallmark of our Enemy. It undoes our very best work. We must seek to keep our targets out of its way at all costs.

This is where I am hoping that you, as the newest member of our team, will focus your efforts. I will look forward to your ideas at our next debrief and strategy meeting.

Your humble instructor,
Scargoyle

5 Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your Son to Use Pornography

Before I get into five sure-fire ways to motivate your son to use pornography, let me establish two important points. First, no parents want their child to become involved in porn. We all can agree. The problem for many of us is we don't understand the insidious allurement of pornography and how our behavior, though unintentional, can help shape a child to crave something that can lead him into a lifetime of slavery.

fighting-couple-cropped2

Second, porn for a man isn't primarily about the physicality of a woman. A woman's appearance is an external magnet for the eye to enjoy, but the greater problem for the man are his insatiable mental cravings. Porn is first and foremost about the theater of the mind, where the young male can enter into his virtual world and be king for a day—or, in this case, king for a few minutes—as he satiates his mind with the risk-free intrigue of the cyber conquest.

And in most cases, the porn addict's allurement began in the theater of his mind while he was a child. This is a consistent pattern I've seen in counseling.

You'll see in my five sure-fire ways to motivate your child to use porn how any child can be in porn training without his parents realizing it.

1. Non-Romantic Marriage

The Christian home should be a sexual home. God declared sex good, and his first couple wasn't ashamed of their unique sexualities. Only when sin entered their world did people became giggly about sex.

The non-romantic marriage communicates certain people aren't porn-worthy. Before your mouth completely hits the floor, let me explain.

A major characteristic of the porn-trained mind is how some people are worthy to be lusted after and others aren't. There's no question about what kind of woman is porn-worthy. There is not a woman in America who doesn't know, which is why many of them obsess over how they look, how much they weigh, and what they wear.

A husband who won't romantically pursue his wife is sending a message to his kids that she's not worthy of being pursued. She doesn't fit the criteria. In addition, when children's minds are filled with sensual TV commercials and movies, they begin to sense the kind of beauty worthy of their gaze. Our children need to be taught about real beauty as seen in the relationship between their dads and moms.

The husband highlights real beauty by pursuing his wife in the home. Children need to see some marital romantic affection, such as hugging and kissing. Holding hands, dancing in the living room, hugging for long periods of time, and smooching in front of the kids are beautiful examples of who and what is worthy of a man's love.

2. Instant Gratification

The spoiled child who's given everything he wants is a perfect candidate for porn training. Too many of our kids rarely hear the word no. They're generally given the desires of their heart. And then, desires have become expectations.

We'd all agree porn is exponentially easier to access today than even 20 years ago. If a child expects someone to meet his selfish desires, it won't be hard for him to be allured by porn.

  • The spoiled child gets what he wants when he wants it with no regard for right or wrong.
  • The porn addict gets what he wants when he wants it with no regard for right or wrong.

Instant gratification in a child breeds instant gratification in adults.

3. Non-Communicative Couples

One of the common complaints I hear from couples in marriage counseling centers on lack of communication. They hardly talk to each other. If they do, it's usually about family events, mutual transactions, and marital business.

This is a perfect setup for the porn trainee, since viewing porn has nothing to do with verbal communication. Porn is about visually enjoying women in order to feed the mind. Who needs to talk?

The heart of porn use is privatized self-centeredness. The heart of the non-communicative couple is self-centeredness. It's two people married to each other but living in their own private worlds. A man who doesn't talk to his wife is sending a loud message—she is not worthy of his words.

Nothing devalues a woman more than pornography. The female is objectified only for the purpose of being used in a slavish way to satisfy the mind of a man. There's no communication in this scenario.

Husbands, your children need to see the value you give your wife by giving her some of your best words throughout your day. I'm not talking about words that satisfy the family schedule or the financial budget. I'm talking about words that build up, cherish, nourish, and adore her. Show the value you place on the bride you married. Let her be exalted in the minds of your children.

4. No Consequences for Actions

There's a parallel action to giving kids whatever they want: giving little to no consequences for their actions.

A child who doesn't have to pay for what he's done wrong will learn how to get away with anything. This, too, is a major mark of porn addiction. It gives the addict false confidence in a risk-free virtual environment.

Children must have a comprehensive view of love, which means they must be appropriately disciplined when they do wrong (Heb. 12:6). The spoiled child who suffers little consequences will have a low regard for rules and authority.

Porn has no rules and low risk. It doesn't take much to enter the porn world. It's not like robbing a bank—which makes porn's allurement all the more appealing. A child who knows he can get away with things is easy prey for the tentacles of pornography.

5. Critical Community in the Home

Is your home a critical community? Or is there more encouragement, praise, affirmation, and love?

The porn world is a refuge for escape. It's a risk-free haven where the addict can be in control while satisfying his weary mind. And no place will affect his mind more than what goes on inside his home. If the home isn't a refuge of encouragement, then your child will be tempted to find refuge in other places.

Porn is one of the easiest places to get lost in the moment. It gives a satisfying power you won't experience in his real world. A man can go into his momentary addiction and seize the moment with no fear whatsoever of being condemned, judged, criticized, or disappointed. He must only tweak his conscience in order to feed his habit.

Once his conscience is appropriately hardened, he's home free (or so it seems). The best antidote for this kind of twisted thinking is to create a culture of encouragement in his home.

Porn-Trained Kid

Porn training doesn't happen by volition. It happens by default if parents aren't attuned to the kind of home they've created.

But the good news for the humble person is that he can examine his mind and behavior and, by the empowering grace of God, be changed. No one is beyond the redemption of Jesus.

Parents, strive to implement the changes listed under each of these five points. Then plan on being surprised by God. His Word is true, and he gives favor to the humble (James 4:6).

Editor's note: This article originally appeared, in longer form, at RickThomas.net and the Covenant Eyes blog.

It's Not Enough to Care About 'The Poor'

"It's just too easy to love 'The Poor,'" policy expert and author Amy L. Sherman says in a video interview for the study guide Seek Social Justice, an anti-poverty project. "It's a lot harder to actually do the hard work of building face-to-face relationships with real people with real needs, with real, messy issues."

The half-century anniversary of the War on Poverty is a good occasion to reflect on her observation. Fifty years ago yesterday, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty in a speech that pledged "not only to relieve the symptom of poverty, but to cure it and, above all, to prevent it."

Poverty-In-AmericaA flurry of federal antipoverty programs followed Johnson's rallying cry. Eight presidents later,  the federal government runs 80 means-tested programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, and targeted social services for poor and low-income Americans. Yet despite spending nearly $20 trillion since the War on Poverty began, the poverty rate remains almost as high today as it was in the mid-1960s.

Why the troubling persistence of poverty? What should those in the church do about it?

Higher Call to Effective Compassion

Long before LBJ's call to combat poverty, Christians heard a higher call to compassion for the poor. How to live out that biblical command in the context of 21st-century America is the challenge. And it's one that thinkers such as Sherman, author of the book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, have encouraged Christians to think about more deeply.

Good intentions, they argue, aren't enough. Truly effective compassion means striving for human flourishing and seeking the conditions that make it possible. The good news is that the good news has equipped the church for the kind of relational restoration of individuals and communities that is so urgently needed for fighting poverty in America today.

First, effective compassion means we need to take time to understand the problem. Thankfully, absolute poverty—the kind of extreme, life-threatening deprivation we see in developing nations—has been all but eradicated in the United States. Material living conditions of those defined as poor by the government have improved over the past half-century.

Some situations are still particularly perilous. But typical poverty in America is deeper and more complex than simply material need—and our responses should take that reality into account.

Consider the relational conditions of the poor. More than 70 percent of poor families are headed by a single parent. Around 40 percent of families headed by single mothers are poor. Children born and raised outside marriage are about five-times more likely to be poor, research by The Heritage Foundation shows.

Sadly, the situation has only worsened over the history of the War on Poverty, leaving more children and families vulnerable to economic hardship. Since the mid-1960s, unwed childbearing has skyrocketed from 8 percent to more than 40 percent of all births, and from 25 percent to about 73 percent for black children. Welfare programs have contributed to the problem with marriage penalties—government benefits structured with financial disincentives for parents to marry—amid larger social trends toward family instability.

Toward True Human Flourishing

Effective compassion doesn't settle for handouts; it strives for true human flourishing that goes beyond material need. Made in the image of God, human beings are by nature relational. Brian Fikkert, co-author of the book When Helping Hurts, suggests that four fundamental relationships are essential: right relationship with God, self, others, and the created world.

Seeking holistic thriving helps us keep the created dignity of those we serve at the heart of our efforts—while also keeping us in touch with our own needs in these spheres. In our pursuit of flourishing, we need to consider how appropriate roles for marriage and family, church, business, and government—not to mention personal responsibility—can help prevent and overcome poverty. Effective compassion draws on all these roles and calls for right relationships among them.

Family is fundamental to human flourishing, particularly in caring for members' many needs. Family prepares children to live in communities. Its significance is particularly poignant in its absence: family breakdown is a significant predictor of hardship for a child, neighborhood, or community. Single-mother families are more than four times more likely to be in poverty than married-couple families. Churches cannot afford to ignore the need to rebuild a marriage culture generally and help to form and restore healthy marriages. Couples should consider serving as marriage mentors to those who never have witnessed a stable, loving marriage.

The church is equipped to address all the relational dimensions that contribute to full human flourishing. The church community can address the spiritual brokenness that lies at the root of much material need and relational breakdown. First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Florida., offers a particularly creative example of a range of ministries—from  clothing closet to addiction treatment center to pregnancy center—that aim to meet not just physical needs but also the deep emotional and spiritual challenges underlying them.

Business sometimes is portrayed as the problem in debates about poverty. But enterprise provides us with the opportunity to work, and work is essential to human dignity, helping us pursue our creative potential as made in the image of God. Innovative ministries such as Houston's WorkFaith Connection train and place those who lack a traditional work history—whether because of addiction, incarceration, or welfare dependence. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program, also in Texas, is a particularly exciting ministry. It pairs CEOs with inmates nearing the end of their terms, to develop entrepreneurial skills and business proposals through rigorous training.

Government provides law and order, and it uses force as necessary to protect the weak and punish oppressors. Good government preserves the space for other institutions to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. Its role is limited: Government protects what family, church, business, and other communities cultivate. Government welfare programs may be able to provide temporary material assistance for those who have nowhere else to turn; but they also hurt when the helping hand creates dependence.

Personal Engagement and Stewardship

Each of us has a personal responsibility to heed the call to care for the poor. The Bible doesn't leave us room to make poverty someone else's problem. We should resist the temptation to keep the poor at arm's length through impersonal solutions or to ignore the problems in our own backyard because far-away causes grab our attention.

One way to exercise this responsibility is to steward the opportunities we have in a family, church, business, or civic role to contribute to the flourishing of all our neighbors. Engaging personally with our neighbors is the best way to grapple with the relational dimensions of poverty and social breakdown.

As Sherman warned, it's not easy. But we have marching orders from our Creator to do more than just say we care about "The Poor."

Note: Seek Social Justice is a DVD-based study guide developed by The Heritage Foundation and designed for small groups to explore issues related to poverty and social breakdown. To view video excerpts and for more information, visit SeekSocialJustice.com.

Finding Rest in the Merry-Thon

Santa Running

For many, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas leave us grateful but gassed. In the name of holiday festivities, December means attending multiple Christmas parties, traveling to see family and friends, and standing in line to get the ever-elusive "perfect gift."

As much joy as Christmas brings, if we aren't careful, holiday cheer can sap our energy and steal our joy. It is a great irony that the season of light often feels heavy. What can we do to find rest in this annual merry-thon?

Unlikely Christmas Verse

Though we don't think of Matthew 11:28 as a Christmas verse, it is. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" tells us why Jesus came. Although earthly labor is a good thing, in a fallen world our best works leave us tired and increase our unrighteousness before a holy God (Isa. 64:6) Therefore, like drinking water from the Dead Sea, our greatest efforts to find rest leave us thirsty.

To this universal problem, Jesus offers a solution. He invites us to come, that in service to him we may work under his easy and light yoke. Such a promise of rest is at the core of his gospel and fundamental to his incarnation.

Significantly, Jesus' invitation follows the announcement of his arrival. Earlier in Matthew 11, a weary sinner sends a message to Jesus asking about his identity. The inquirer is John the Baptist, and his good works have successfully landed him in Herod's jail. Of course, John isn't perceived to be a "sinner" like the woman in Luke 7. He is a faithful prophet of God who suffered much for the sake of righteousness. In Jesus' own estimation John is the cream of the old covenant crop (Matt. 11:11). Nevertheless, as a fallen son of Adam, he is weary and heavy laden.

So John sends his disciples to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect another?" Jesus replies with a Christmas catena—not cantata (those come later)—of Old Testament verses. Citing Isaiah's "gospel," he declares: "The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matt. 11:5; cf. Isa. 26:18-19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 53:4; 61:1).

Jesus doesn't give John a straightforward yes. He gives him something better. He recalls the Word of God, which foretells his coming. Isaiah's prophecies have come true in his life and ministry. John isn't suffering in vain. Instead, Jesus is offering him rest.

Put Away the Running Shoes

Twenty centuries later Jesus still offers us rest. Yet Americans have so commodified Christ's birth that rest has been replaced with running. Even if we know the reason for the season, Black Friday sales and white elephant gifts make us red-faced and green with envy. We need to rest and reconsider the race we're running.

What if we spent less time doing Christmas and more time delighting in Christ? What if instead of gearing up for the marathon, we put away our running shoes and took time to rest in the boots of gospel peace? You won't need a gift receipt for that purchase.

Rest will look different for every person and every family. I don't know what it might mean for you, but Jesus does. He is the one who provided a straw-filled stable for two road-weary teenagers about to witness the final fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. He is the one who quieted John's fears with an appeal to the Old Testament. And he is the one who invites you and me to take up his light and easy yoke, so that we might rest awhile with him.

This December let's not take advantage of Jesus' advent to do more stuff. Instead, let's take advantage of the holidays to press into the spiritual rest that Christ gives us in his advent.

Restoring Rest to the Restless

To put this meditation into practice, here are five things you might do to cultivate spiritual rest.

1. Unplug. While there's a place for Christmas specials and live nativities, doing something smaller, with less pomp and circumstance, may be exactly what you need to cultivate rest. Such a change might give you the margin you need to be still and know that he is God.

2. Say no to something old. If your schedule includes multiple family meals, Christmas parties, and gift exchanges, find one (or more) to which you can say no. We are finite creatures, and it is good for us to draw boundaries.

3. Say yes to something new. Sing Christmas carols in a nursing home. Serve meals at a local mission. Take groceries to a needy family in your church. Christ's invitation to rest is not a call to complacency; it is a chance to work in his strength (Col. 1:29).

4. Feed on the Word. As much attention as we give to savory meats and holiday treats, we should give more attention to God's Word. This might mean reading Advent scriptures or picking up a book on Christ's birth. However it looks, spiritual rest always involves hearing the promises of the gospel. 

5. Pray. With your family or with others, carve out time to praise God for the birth of Christ. Pray for the persecuted church and those who are suffering this Christmas. Pray for missionaries and for those who don't yet know Christ. 

Whatever you do this month, put Christ at the center. And whether you finish the month rested or restless, take comfort that ultimately his life, not ours, secures our Sabbath rest. In this month's merry-thon, remember that Christ has come to be the good news of great joy for weary people.