Thursday, December 28, 2006

Shepherding a Child’s Heart (5)

How do you define success? How would your child complete this sentence? “What Mom and Dad want for me is...” Chapter five is entitled “Examining Your Goals.”

We are bombarded with the cultural push toward ultimate goals for our children that are unbiblical. Sports, self-esteem, good behavior, participation in family worship, getting the child to pray the “sinner’s prayer,” or the American Holy Grail of a good education are worthy pursuits. However, they are not worthy end goals for parenting, ultimately.

Parents want children to be successful so they can “do well” and live happy, comfortable lives...We want them to have adult lives filled with opportunity and unfettered by problems. However we define success, we wish it for our children.

Tripp addresses many of the main goals in American parenting. Consider the following and see if you see your goals.

In hustling children to baseball, football, soccer, swimming, piano and dance classes, is the measure of success the number of skills developed? Will involvement in these activities have biblical content? Will true success depend on the skills which these activities teach?

What about the promise of children with strong self-esteem?

Books and magazines pander to these parents. They promote the latest pop psychology - all tailored to insecure moms and dads...Have you noticed that no books promise to help produce children who esteem others?

Is this biblical? How does esteem for self function in God’s kingdom where it is the servant who leads?

What about the preoccupation with “getting your child saved”? Many Baptists, who do not believe in infant baptism, will teach their children to put their trust in a “decision” they made when they rushed down the aisle at four years old after a week of Vacation Bible School. They forget that Scripture instructs us to “examine yourself to see if you are in the faith.”

There will be many who cling to a false faith, crying “Lord, Lord!” Does this not innoculate our kids from earnestly “work[ing] out [their] own salvation with “fear and trembling,” by looking for growth that proves “it is God who works in you to will and to work according to His good pleasure?”

What about the goal of having “well-behaved children”? There are such things as social grace, making the guests feel comfortable, poise, easy conversation, and all of the other skills we know are necessary for success in our world.

[H]aving well-behaved children is not a worthy goal. It is a great secondary benefit of biblical childrearing, but an unworthy goal in itself. You cannot respond to your children to please someone else...Every parent has faced the pressure to correct a son or daughter because others deemed it appropriate...If you acquiesce, you parenting focus becomes behavior. This obscures dealing biblically with Junior’s heart. The burning issue then becomes what others think rather than what God thinks...If your goal is well-behaved kids, you are open to hundreds of temptations to expediency.

Tripp further considers the outcome when mastery of all of the social graces is severed from biblical servanthood. The child is then able to engage in classy manipulation of others and harbors disdain for those with less polish. Others rebel against the sham of the form over substance and reject the hypocrisy of the cultural conventions. These become brash and crass in their rejection.

Tripp lists other misplaced goals as well. But, the list above is sufficient to get us thinking about these things. All of these cultural goals are insufficient ends for the Christian parent. “It is one thing to be painfully aware of unbiblical is another thing to embrace biblical objectives.” The chief end of our lives and the training of our children, is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever,” as the old catechism states. If we rely on cultural goals to train our children, we fail in the chief end in that teaching them to rely on their own abilities apart from Christ will turn them from glorifying God and garner self-reliance instead.

How do we do this? We pander to their desires and wishes. We teach them to find their soul’s delight in going places and doing things. We attempt to satisfy their lust for excitement. We fill their young lives with distractions from God. We give them material things and take delight in their delight in possessions. Then we hope that somewhere down the line they will see that a life worth living is found only in knowing and serving God.

By doing this, we ignore the chief end to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Our objective in every context must be to set a biblical world view before our children. The next chapter addresses how to restructure our goals to a biblical world view.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Gospel vs. Religion

In an article on evangelizing our post-modern culture, Tim Keller makes the following observation concerning the nature of the Gospel vs. Religion.

The gospel is “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey” while every other religion operates on the principle of “I obey, therefore I am accepted.” Martin Luther’s fundamental insight was that this latter principle, the principle of ‘religion’ is the deep default mode of the human heart. The heart continues to work in that way even after conversion to Christ. Though we recognize and embrace the principle of the gospel, our hearts will always be trying to return to the mode of self-salvation, which leads to spiritual deadness, pride and strife and ministry ineffectiveness.

For example, ministers derive more of their joy and a sense of personal significance from the success of their ministries than from the fact they are loved by God in Christ. Why? Their hearts are still operating on the principle--“if I do and accomplish all these things--then I will be accepted.” (cf. Harold Abrahams in Chariots of Fire- “I have 10 seconds to justify my existence.”) In other words, on one level, we believe the gospel but on another level we don’t believe.

So why do we over-work in ministry and burn out? Yes, we are not practicing the Sabbath principle, but the deeper cause is unbelief in the gospel! Why are we so devastated by criticism? The person whose self-worth is mainly in his or her ministry performance will be devastated by criticism of the ministry record because that record is our very self and identity. The fundamental problem is unbelief in the gospel.

At the root, then, of all Christian failures to live right--i.e. not give their money generously, not tell the truth, not care for the poor, not handle worry and anxiety--is the sin under all sins, the sin of unbelief, of not rejoicing deeply in God’s grace in Christ, not living out of our new identity in Christ. This means that every week in a different way the minister must apply the gospel of salvation by grace through faith through Christ’s work. Thus every week the non-Christians get exposed to the gospel, and in its most practical and varied forms not just in a repetitious “Four Spiritual Laws’ way. That’s what pragmatic post-moderns need.
I cannot tell you how much this hits home with me. It may with you as well. What is the measure of our success? God’s acceptance, or our own accomplishments? The trust that the Holy Spirit is working in our church, or the head count on Sunday morning? We must consistently fight the default measuring stick of our fallen hearts and trust the Gospel, remembering that a sign of true faith is that we are fighting at all. Those who have yet to be born again don’t fight their sin.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Shepherding a Child’s Heart (4)

Chapter four is entitled “You’re in Charge.” The core issue in this chapter is encapsulated by the following statement from Tripp:

As a father or mother, you do not exercise rule over your jurisdiction, but over God’s...You discharge a duty that He has given. You may not try to shape the lives of your children as pleases you, but as pleases Him.
Two things are important about this statement. First, parental authority is derived authority from God. The calling to be in charge is a great calling from God. As with all of God’s commands, to do it properly is beyond our ability, knowledge and desire. Once again, we need a Savior. Second, parental authority is not to be exercised for our convenience or because of the pressure of others. The concept of shepherding children is foreign to our modern culture. We hate authority. As a result, parents are tentative about exercising their God-given authority over their children. “If you are unsure about the nature and extent of your authority,” says Tripp, “your children will suffer greatly. They will never know what to expect from you because the ground rules will be constantly changing.” Additionally, the child will have no understanding of the absolutes and principles of God’s Word. Parental authority, therefore, is both a gift and a duty.

God has an objective in parental authority. Namely, the divine goal is the succession of one generation after another leading obedient lives in reverential fear of the Lord. In this way, the parent and the child are in the same boat. Both are under the authority of God. A parent’s right to discipline a child is solely tied to what God has called the parent to do, not their own agenda.

A parent does not demand obedience for his own purposes. The parent “comes with the corrections of discipline that are the way to life.” On page 31, Tripp gives a sample dialogue of how to explain appropriate discipline to a child. Tripp advocates emphasizing to the child that you are not spanking him because you are mean, but because God has called you to a task you cannot shirk. You are requiring obedience because God says you must. Here is the sample dialogue.
FATHER: You didn’t obey Daddy, did you?
FATHER: Do you remember what God says Daddy must do if you disobey?
CHILD: Spank me?
FATHER: That’s right. I must spank you. If I don’t, then I would be disobeying God. You and I would both be wrong. That would not be good for you or for me, would it?
CHILD: No. [a reluctant reply]
This gives parents a confidence to act in that they have freedom to discipline. It is a duty to perform from God and is not dependent on the approval of the child. We must engage our children because to do so is obedient to the duty God has given us. This is in direct opposition to the cultural norm of parenting, which reduces the role of mom and dad to merely providing care. American culture discharges the parental duty by providing food, clothes, a bed, some “quality time,” and a PS3. In contrast to this deflated and weak view, God has called parents to a more profound task.

To fulfill the task requires clear objectives and humility. I was convicted especially on this point. Have you thought about goals and strategies to strengthen a child’s weaknesses and encourage their strengths? I must confess, I have not. Further, the realization that we are God’s ambassadors to our children is a humbling thing.

We are called to show the child his sin nature and his need for a Savior. It is an awesome task. It requires me to be humble enough to tell my kids that I am sorry when I have failed and disciplined them out of unholy anger. There is no place for unholy anger. It confuses the derivative nature of parental authority.
You only muddy the waters when the bottom line in discipline is your displeasure over their behavior, rather than God’s displeasure with rebellion against His ordained authority.
Children learn the fear of man, not the fear of God, when unholy anger is used as a manipulative ploy to secure obedience. Such false techniques are unbiblical.
If correction orbits around the parent who has been offended, then the focus will be venting anger, or perhaps, taking vengeance. The function is punitive. If, however, correction orbits around God as the one offended, then the focus is restoration. The function is remedial. It is designed to move a child who has disobeyed God back to the path of obedience. It is corrective.
Alright, true confessions time. To date, this has been the most convicting chapter I have is only the fourth. Too often, I chastise or discipline my children out of a motive of convenience, or irritiation, rather than with a goal or purpose in mind to strengthen weaknesses or encourage strengths. It is not as though my kids do not need to be corrected. It is the motive in which I attend to their much needed correction. Right actions with wrong motives are still sin before God. God give us temperate demeanors, patient hearts, and grace for pure motives in discharging this sacred trust of parenting...