Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Like a Mother

It was Mother’s Day yesterday and I’ve been giving a series of exhortations about parenting, so, perfect. Let’s take advantage of the connection.

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he hadn’t come just to make a name for himself. He didn’t flatter to get what he wanted, “nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (1 Thessalonians 2:6). There was a sense of great responsibility in his work, but it didn’t include demanding great recognition.

If you had to guess what role he used as a comparison, what would you say? Those who are tracking should have guessed that of a mother. The very next sentence: “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7).

For what it’s worth, Paul could identify mothers, though he wasn’t a biologist. Paul could talk about mothers, though he wasn’t one. Paul could generalize about mothers, though sinful mothers wouldn’t work for his illustration.

Apostles could make demands, not just for obedience, but for honor. This is what Paul just said he was committed not to do. He was not seeking glory from men. His illustration works when mothers are not seeking glory from those they are responsible to serve.

Lewis had Screwtape tattoo this image in Wormwood’s mind:

She’s the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression. (The Screwtape Letters)

Being a mother is a glory, unless the mother is demanding glory. Moms, when you look well to the ways of your household your children will rise up and call you blessed (Proverbs 31:27-28). When you look well to how well you are looked after, you will have received your reward (think Matthew 6:2, 5, 16).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Are We There Yet?

The difference between rookie parents and pro parents is not how old their kids are or how many kids they have. The difference is that a rookie parent keeps being surprised by what their kids don’t know, can’t do, or are having a bad attitude about. The “pro,” so to speak, is almost glad about it.

God made the world in such a way that expected development. After the fall, developing didn’t stop, but it became a lot more sweaty. God loves growth, apparently. He loves seeds and babies, He loves seasons and progressive sanctification. Even in our glorified, resurrected state, it seems that we won’t be done learning, we’ll just be done with the limitations and frustrations of sin.

Why does a teacher have a job? It isn’t to coordinate better trophies for what the students already know. Even the dumbest questions, including the repeated dumb questions because a student didn’t hear the first time it was asked, are an opportunity. Is it a different lesson than the one you had on your paper? Maybe. Is it a different lesson than expected? What did you expect? The curriculum is a tool, not the telos.

Everyone has to grow, every kid, every Christian. God made it that way. When parents get frustrated, let alone blindsided, that our kids are “there” yet, it’s because they’ve been ignoring what is as obvious as gravity. Even the best self-starters and independent kids can’t change their own diapers.

Is it surprising that you have to teach them how to pronounce words, how to deal with feelings for a boy, how to handle conflict or criticism? Who did you want them to learn it from? Who did you expect to parent them? Give your kids hope by bringing “them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Unsupervised Kids

In my most recent exhortation to parents I said, “God demands perfect obedience, and any disobedience, even candy-demand or candy-envy, earns death.” Before that I said that what’s good about obedience is that it enables fellowship, and that without fellowship obedience hasn’t reached the end of good. And before that I said that we are raising not just raising kids but raising parents, and that we should show our kids how to parent, first of all in faith.

The thread is obedience of faith. Not only do we obey God when we believe Him, but we obey God because we believe Him. Paul uses the phrase “the obedience of faith” in both his introduction and conclusion to the Romans; he had received grace to bring about the obedience of faith among the nations (Romans 1:5), which is according to the command of the eternal God (Romans 16:26).

It is obedient faith that fulfills the Great Commission. We make disciples by baptizing them and by “teaching them to obey all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matthew 28:10, NIV).

So, parents, the obedience of your kids is to be a fruit of faith, it is what enables fellowship, but obedience is not optional.

THIQ obedience is total, doing everything that was assigned. It is happy, cheerful, without anger or tormented countenance. It is immediate, not traded for an obedience to be named later. And it is quick, not poky, dawdling, or meandering.

The reason parents don’t expect perfect obedience is not because it is too high a standard. It is God’s standard, and He holds it without being harsh (see Matthew 5:48). The reason we don’t expect THIQ obedience from our kids is usually because we have a soft spot for our own sin, and letting our kids run around unsupervised is a perfect picture of letting our feelings run around undirected.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Candy and Christian Nationalism

I know people argue about whether or not the United States is a Christian nation. I wouldn’t argue for it in terms of every citizen being a Christian, which is obviously not true, but I might argue for it in terms of how much candy parents buy their kids for Easter.

People can eat candy as a distraction from death, but only Christians can eat candy while rejoicing in death. Of course, our rejoicing in death only comes because we know who died and why He died and what happened three days after His death. But we sing merry songs and buy bright colored dresses and eat chocolate bunnies because commercializing Easter as a holiday (and I’m not saying the commercialization itself is good) only works with people who talk smack to death, “Where is your sting?”

I’m actually giving another exhortation to parents here. There is no moral law requiring that you buy your kids Easter candy, there is no law against it either, Ms. Sugarbebad. But when your kids ask in times to come, “What do these baskets of plastic grass mean?” it is your obligation to tell them why.

So work it through. God demands perfect obedience, and any disobedience, even candy-demand or candy-envy, earns death. Christ obeyed perfectly, and then sacrificed Himself for sinners. He endured the suffering we deserved that we might taste that He is good.

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
(Psalm 34:8)

The Lord is sweet. Salvation is joy. Parent like it’s true. Work for your kids’ progress and joy in the faith (Philippians 1:25).

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

What’s Good About Obedience

I have started a small series of exhortations to parents. You don’t have to be in the middle of cleaning up dried spaghetti noodles under the dining table to benefit, but it won’t hurt. Last time I urged parents who want their kids to believe in Christ to be believing in Christ. Parent from faith to faith.

And parent for fellowship. The goal is not a quiet house, the goal is not clean house, the goal is not a certain kind of conduct per se. The goal is love and joy and getting along together. The goal is household harmony practicing the same one-anothers we find among Christian brothers and sisters. We are teaching lessons, we are disciplining disobedience, we are driving around and washing dishes and we are aiming at the very thing God wants with us: kinship.

Peace with God means access to Him (Romans 5:1-2). Justification means we’re brought to the Father (1 Peter 3:18). When we walk in the light we have fellowship with Him (1 John 1:6-7).

Some of you have very little taste of this, from your own family growing up, and maybe still in your current situation. Getting to the goal of fellowship should take all you have. It will cost you, time and energy. You will be up later than you planned talking it out. You will be late to things, because not all sin happens at convenient times.

But you can’t sin your kids out of sin, you can’t ignore them out of sin, and you can’t discipline them toward fellowship if you aren’t in fellowship. Don’t parent with methods that drive a wedge, and certainly not with any tactic that allows you to isolate.

This is not saying to ignore lack of obedience, it’s saying what’s good about obedience.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Parents Picturing Parents

I was reminded again this past week that we usually need more reminders more than we need new information. We also usually need cheeseburgers more than we need a new special from some cooking artiste.

I’m going to begin a series of exhortations related to the work of fathers and mothers. I haven’t mapped out how many subjects to cover, or how many times I want to touch the electric fence. But there are many lambs in the flock, and sometimes they get a little jumpy.

One of my strategic twists on the subject is to remind us that we are not raising children, we are raising parents. We are dealing with people who will one day have their own people, and who, at some point down the road, will be responsible for us. Our time as “the boss” is short. You can have your kids do something because you say so, and it’s not always possible for them to understand everything at a given moment, but eventually they need to know. Who else is supposed to tell them? Did you think they wouldn’t need to be told?

Think about a list of qualities you’d love to see someday when you visit your children’s children, say, when you’re having sabbath dinner around their table. What characteristics would you want to see? I think that isn’t merely a subjective or preference question, at least not at the top. It can be answered.

Before I give you what I think numero uno should be, I’ll at least ask, whatever is on your list, are you currently showing them what it looks like?

And as for what should be first on everyone’s list: you want these future parents to trust the Lord, to love Him with all they are and have, to live by faith. You want your kids to be Christians, living from faith to faith. So again, are you? Are you trusting the Lord in front of your kids? Are you trusting the Lord for your kids?

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Against Raising Our Kids to Be Pornographers and Prostitutes

When I first started to think that God was calling me to be a pastor I was still in high school. And I did not want to be a youth pastor. One reason for that was because it seemed, based on my friendship with my youth pastor at the time, that the person who got to talk to the parents of the youth had a more strategic position.

My exhortation to confession today is loosely connected to the sermon text about how our work will be revealed (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 which is aimed at church leaders), and more specifically directed to parents of our junior high and high school and college age young people based on some things I’ve observed about our kids.

I want to start by saying that I am against raising our kids to be pornographers or prostitutes. I assume that we are all in agreement about that, and I wanted to take my initial step where the common ground was secure.

So we can and do agree that certain ends of our kids’ sexuality are no good. That’s good because the godless parts of our culture are in a tailspin of confusion and inconsistent condemnation over sexual corruption. They don’t know what they’re doing. But I want us to consider, do we?

We don’t want our kids to grow up and be prostitutes, but how much perversity are we willing to tolerate for them? We may not like thinking of it in those terms, but what are we thinking when we let them watch it, or mimic parts of it? Would we be okay with their promiscuity as long as it’s heterosexual? No? Then why in the world do we let them play around with transient relationships? Why do we let them practice being slaves to their feelings, because (when it’s not awful) it’s cute? Or because we don’t want to face the wrath of their feelings against us?

When it comes to parental purposes, it seems that we are either not thinking or, worse, our purpose is to avoid an imagined puritanical prudishness that causes too much cultural embarrassment. We have a plan, and that is to let them have fun and have crushes and not have to control their fleshliness too much beyond not getting pregnant.

Shouldn’t the purpose be for purity, in parts and hearts? We should want our kids to get married and be fruitful and multiply, and we are not taking that seriously enough. Parents, our work is on display.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Damp Bounty Paper Towel

One way we know that we’re growing up is by how much we can absorb. I don’t mean absorbing information, though the more mature we are the more we will increase (and be able to increase) in the knowledge of God. The absorbing I’m referring to is the ability and capacity to take up and reduce the intensity of someone else’s difficulty, to help them keep calm and obey on, to swallow up some of the freaking out rather than freak out in return. It’s catching their negative energy with a pillow, not returning it with a ping pong paddle.

There is an absorption spectrum that includes size and soak-ability. There is the dry, giant beach towel on one end, the damp Bounty paper towel in the middle, and the iron screwdriver on the other end. The screwdriver doesn’t absorb anything, will probably get rust on you after a while, and hurts if you hit it at the wrong angle.

Those who are spiritually mature absorb the immaturity and even some of the sinfulness of others. This ought to be our desire: to increase in absorption glory. We definitely don’t want to be dumpers, and there are certain roles that should never dump on others.

Parents ought not spill on their kids. Parents ought to be the ones who take it. Paul told the Corinthians with different imagery that “children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children” so that “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:14-15). Generally, husbands should absorb for their wives, teachers for their students, pastors for their sheep.

We do, of course, run out of absorption room at times. Mom was already running at full capacity when half the household started vomiting, at 2am. Dad is in the middle of a busy season at work, and gets into a car accident, has to deal with insurance, and start physical therapy, and the kids “choose” that week to go off the reservation. What do you do then? Pray for grace to find a dry patch of fabric and sew it onto the towel. Remember that we are in Christ. Trust that His soak-ability is made perfect in our wetness.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

On Not Sponsoring Stupidity

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom, wisdom for those who need to get wisdom, and wisdom for those who need to give it. Solomon helps the one who already understands obtain guidance and then also give guidance to others.

One of the proverbs most quoted in our house is Solomon’s lesson on the unteachable.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
but he who hates reproof is stupid.
(Proverbs 12:1, ESV)

The word “stupid” (translated as such in the ESV, NAS, NIV) usually referred to an animal that lacks sense. To hate correction is “brutish” (KJV). Lots of times parents are up against the worst sort of willful stupidity. Some other times parents are the worst at keeping their kids dumb.

Jonathan Edwards illustrated it this way.

If any of you that are heads of families, saw one of your children in a house that was all on fire over its head, and in eminent danger of being soon consumed in the flames, that seemed to be very insensible of its danger, and neglected to escape, after you had often spake to it, and called to it, would you go on to speak to it only in a cold and indifferent manner? Would not you cry aloud, and call earnestly to it, and represent the danger it was in, and its own folly of delaying, in the most lively manner you were capable of? Would not nature itself teach this, and oblige you to it? If you should continue to speak to it only in a cold manner, as you are wont to do in ordinary conversation about indifferent matters, would not those about you begin to think you were bereft of reason yourself? (emphasis mine)

Who has the bigger problem, the child in the burning house or the dad who sees the child in the burning house and acts as if it’s no big deal? He who hates reproof is stupid. He who hates giving reproof when it is necessary sponsors stupidity, and death (Proverbs 19:18). Maybe the most ironic response is hating correction so much that you get fired up to correct the ones urging your kids to get out of the burning house because you don’t like their tone. We should be wiser than that.

Categories
A Shot of Encouragement

Adorned with Divine Delight

A fantastic footnote (#10) found in chapter 6 of The Things of Earth (paragraphs added):

Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, ‘Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labor at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.’

What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, ‘O God, because I am certain that Thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with Thy perfect pleasure. I confess to Thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving Thy creature and Thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised! Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labor, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in Thy sight.’

A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works….

Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all His angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all His creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”

—Martin Luther, “The Estate of Marriage,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, 2nd ed., ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 158– 59.