“I’ll just show my brother grace….”

Like most parents, I presume, we employ positive reinforcements to encourage our kids to meet goals. For instance, if one of our children stayed in his room through the night for three days straight, I would take him to Chic-FilA. We eventually changed it to two. For another child, I will offer the opportunity to watch a football game with me based upon a good attitude that day. They are 6 and 4. We really want them to understand that trusting Mom and Dad, or not trusting Mom or Dad, comes with consequences and blessings.

But if all we ever do is reward good behavior and punish bad behavior, then we run the risk of teaching simple moralism or karma. You be good and then good things happen. You be good and we’ll love you more. You be good and you’ll be rewarded and if not, you’ll be punished.

Joel Osteen’s tweet of the day:

“If you will make somebody else’s day, God will always make your day.

Jared Wilson’s response: You misspelled “karma”

That’s simple moralistic obedience. That is not applying the gospel. Without throwing out consequences, here are a few ways in which we’ve tried to bring the gospel to our feeble and fallible parenting.

The other day our youngest son’s behavior was pretty, well, we’ll just say “sub-par,” and the reward for whatever goal we had him working for was Chic-Fil A time with just Daddy. Obviously he didn’t follow through. But we went anyway!  I made sure that he knew that I loved him, and that this was not a special reward trip, but simply because I loved him and wanted to spend time with him. So just to make sure he knew why he was getting this special trip, I said, “Do you know why you are getting this special trip?” His answer blessed my soul: “Just because you love me.” Experiencing grace from me will ideally point him toward understanding how gracious God really is.

Even 4 year old’s can get an age appropriate glimpse of grace. Our normal mode of thinking is that if we are good, then we can get a special trip with our Heavenly Father. Face it, that’s our default mode. And the problem with that, well, is everything. I’ve noticed that through special grace-based time with dad that his behavior seems to improve. And that shouldn’t surprise us, since this is the way God wired us and the only way in which our behavior really changes. And when we receive grace even when our behavior doesn’t change very much, simply recognizing that, makes kids (and adults) love their fathers and Heavenly Father even more.

Another instance happened when my 6 year old had something in his hand that my 4 year old really wanted. And my 4 yr old wasn’t exactly endearing himself to my 6yr old either. So I said, “Can you just give it to him so we can end this?” His response was vintage gospel: “Well, I’ll just show him grace and give it to him.”

My 6 yr old clearly thought this out. He knew his brother didn’t have a right to claim the object and his brother’s behavior wasn’t bolstering his case. There was no way he should or must give it to him. Yet he knew that he could give simply out of grace.

Where did he learn that? From his earthly father/mother and his spiritual father/mothers in church pointing him to His Heavenly Father who lavishly pours out grace to selfish people. Those who experience that grace, eventually extend that grace to others.

So we’ve learned, slowly and by mistakes aplenty, that we can’t simply reward, punish, and deal only in consequences. Parents have the opportunity to grace to their kids which images the grace of a much cherished Heavenly Father. Who knows what will become of such grace, and when?  This kind of approach-showing grace, not just consequences-“works” for kids, and adults of all ages too, by the way.

 

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Bad kids

It’s been forever since I’ve posted on the blog, but today a discussion broached by my wife seemed like a good place to publicly share some thoughts. We’ve all been around parents who think (or at least express) their kids have almost attained some perfection and that if there were a vacancy in the Trinity, God the Father would come a callin.’ The danger, among many dangers, is that some parents then compare these perfect children with their own kids-and they feel jipped. Of course the perfect child is only a facade. Just like the perfect anything….except Jesus.

But then there is the opposite error, where parents feel their kids are so bad, that they only express that to others. In person, or on facebook. Over time this can lead to a devaluing of the dignity of the child and perhaps preclude the parent from seeing the work God may (if the child is a Christian) be doing in his/her life.

By the way, if you think I’m talking about you, I’m not. This is just inspired by a conversation with my wife today!

The gospel sheds some light on how we speak about our children.

1.) Each child is made in the image of God and uniquely expresses something that perhaps other children do not.

2.) Each child is also a sinner and there reflects something about his need for God through some character flaws. Sometimes those flaws are more private and sometimes more public. The story of the Prodigal Son reminds us that both Sons were equally as lost.

3.) Each child who is a Christian is being redeemed in the image of Christ

Amy’s question was simply this, “How do you publicly or in conversation, praise your kids without presenting some facade, yet also avoid telling others of their struggles or your struggles with them?” I’ll just try to deal with the latter and leave the former for another day.

Here are some of my thoughts. I only have kids that are 5, 3, and 4 months. Each stage has its own challenges. Each stage has its own blessings. For those of you with teenagers, I’m way behind and can only imagine how difficult that stage can be for many of you. These are not gospel, nor are they from Mt Sinai, but simply personal applications and convictions arising from my belief in the gospel.

1.) This may be pretty obvious, as parents we should never rant about our kid’s shortcomings in cyberspace. What if my 5 year old could tweet my shortcomings (and yes I do have a plethora of them!) as a Dad? Pretty scary! Picture this, “My Dad yelled at me today.” #hypocrite #baddaddy

2.) Don’t share your kids’ shortcomings with folks who don’t know you well. They may not have a gospel grid through which they think. Our last community group was incredibly helpful with this. We could let our hair down and admit how hard things could be at times. We weren’t judged for being bad parents, nor were our kids judged for being “bad” kids (yes we’re all sinners but comparatively speaking). Yet we didn’t share our struggles with many outside of this group, because we simply weren’t in a deep gospel centered community with them.

3.) When we do share our struggles with or sins of our children, consider what God is teaching you because of these specific struggles. What sin is this particular struggle bringing out in you? How do you see yourself in little Johnny? For instance, you could say, “My three year old’s tantrums need to stop. But in all honesty, I’m seeing that I too have a temper problem. Here’s what I need to believe to deal with my issue….” How is he/she being reshaped in the image of Jesus. How are you? Share it with those close to you. It will help both parties.

4.) Remember God’s grace in disciplining you. Of course God in love disciplines his children, often using suffering as that discipline to conform us to His image (Heb 12). Yet remember how patient God as a Father is with you. Scales are heavily tipped toward grace and patience! I need to be reminded of this truth every day of my life. Never gets old; don’t let it!

I’m a new kid on the block when it comes to parenting. I love to write but I’ll never write a book on parenting (no one would read it!). I was reminded last night about how complex parenting gets when kids get older. We need community. After our church gets up and running, we’ll be creating an inter-generational Dad’s group where past, present, and future Dads can point people toward Jesus. And once we’ve been pointed to Jesus and his love for us, then try to point each other to practical steps in parenting. The beauty of it all is it will include Dad’s, who because of the gospel, can confidently share and teach from a vantage point of humility and personal failure (and God’s faithfulness). I listen to such folks much better than those who say, “Here’s what I did and it will work for you!’

Don’t know if any of this helps or not. Feel free to share.

Why I think we need more Christian coaches

Redeemer will be making its bi-annual trek to the Modgnik (Kingdom spelled backwards) retreat in a week and half. I’m thankful for the few students attending and for our two leaders willing to sacrifice their time and sanity for a weekend of discipleship, fellowship, fun, and shared experiences with some teens.

I’m a little saddened that we we don’t have more youth going. The culprit is not apathy. The culprit is athletics, at least in part. Now retreat attendance isn’t mandated from Mt Sinai. I get that. Christian parents of athletically involved children may never be able (although that’s probably getting loose with the language) to send their youth on retreats simply because of year-round sports. Now they may raise their child to fear the Lord and use their athletics to bring honor to Jesus. I get that (I wonder how many retreats Tim Tebow went on..?) and have seen people do it.
 
But I really don’t see this athletic issue going away. If anything it will get worse, as coaches demand more and more. And parents demand more and more, hoping for scholarships to reward their investments.

Yet I do think there is a solution, or maybe just a band-aid. But band-aids still help stop the bleeding. I think we need more Christian coaches.

Several of my youth couldn’t go on this fantastic retreat because the coach wouldn’t let or want them miss a game or a track meet. At the least, the youth didn’t want to disappoint their coach. That was simply not an option.

Yet what if the coach would simply say, “Go on that retreat, as that is actually more important than you running or playing baseball.” What if he would be counter-cultural and say such a thing? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Since kids and parents either are not willing or don’t feel such a conviction, this is probably the only way kids in athletics will be able to participate in such “extra-curricular” activities.

Now compare this with a Christian friend of mine, a track coach. He has prayed for his “trackers” to approach him with gospel-centered questions and the Lord has opened the door for good conversations. What would happen if a kid requested to miss one track meet or one baseball practice in a season?

We really do need more Christian coaches. I’m thankful for those out there and hope to see more.

When you don’t get to be a line-leader, remember Jesus Paid it All

This Sunday my 4 year old came back into “big church” from children’s church (which occurs during the sermon for 4yr-1st graders) with a huge smile on his face. He gave me a big hug and was a bit on the cuddly side. This seemed strange for a number of reasons: 1) He wasn’t sick 2.) He wasn’t tired 3.) I wasn’t Mommy. But I took the hug and cuddle combo as we sang the last song in worship. What an ending.

Of course I soon realized one reason he was so happy: he was the “line leader.” Just last week, he wasn’t the line leader and everything was different. I had come to retrieve him to sing Jesus Paid it All, but the poor little guy was crying too much that he couldn’t bring himself to sing one of his favorite (or at least most 4 yr old singable choruses) church songs. 

The reason? He wasn’t the line leader and wanted to be with the deepest fibers of his young soul. 

So we talked about the episode on the way home as a family. While driving through the potholed and hilly West Virginia road I’ve come to know-but not love-my wife asked him why he was so upset about not being the “line leader.” 

I can’t remember his response but for some reason I don’t think it was all that accurate. He’s as competitive as Tim Tebow and loves to lead. We know that much. I’m pretty sure it sounded nothing like this,”I like being in front, because that’s the best and most important place to be. And if you are in front, you’re the winner.” Or in other words, his inner Ricky Bobby came out: “If you ain’t first, your last.” That was the reason.

Amy responded beautifully, much more gospel-centered than I would have. Jesus said the first shall be last and that we need to serve people. That’s probably what I might have said. But Amy sought to expose the issue behind the outward behavior. Jesus’ commands need to be affirmed and applied, and I would have been correct (Jesus is always “right”), but the law has to first drive us to Christ before it can become a guide for life. In other words, we need to first see what Jesus has done for us before we tell others (kids, friends, etc…) before we tell people what Jesus wants them to do.

My wife applied the gospel to the situation. “You wanted to be first because you think you’re only important if you’re first. But Jesus already showed you how important you are by dying for your sins. You don’t need to be the line leader every time. You are important.”

The great irony and sadness is that he wasn’t able to sing the very song that affirmed this truth. Jesus Paid it All. There is nothing left for you do. How important are you? Pretty darn important. You don’t need a place in line, big paycheck, station in life to prove that.

After he seemed to say something like, “OK,” in less than a second he said something to the effect of “What time does the game start today?” 

He probably didn’t get it that day. And he probably won’t tomorrow. But if he only hears this day and day out for the next 14 years, then he’ll think, feel, live in a unique gospel-ish sort of way. That’s why its so important for us to hear this truth reinforced in sermons week in and week out. We may be tired, daydream, lose our place, get bored, but if we hear the gospel applied like this every Sunday, for years, we will gradually think, feel, live in gospel-ish sort of way as well. 

I need examples for how to apply the gospel to parenting. My wife gave me this one, so I’m passing it on to you. But this is more than just “good” parenting, it is simply living out the gospel and applying it to your sin and situation.

If you are a Christian parent, friend, or simply a Christian, remember to apply what Jesus has done first before you tell yourself or another to simply do. WDJD before WWJD. I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus would do.

Coach Schiano’s son and what do with "fatherly embarassment"

Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano has been, and will be under much scrutiny this year. First of all, he is a first year head coach. But more than a first year head coach, he is a first year head coach who came from Rutgers. Most college coaches don’t make good NFL coaches (and there was a good one last year, so the “law of averages” is not in his favor). Then he makes news in his second game of the season by implementing a college play (trying to cause a fumble during the “victory formation” kneel down). Then come reports of Schiano being a bully to folks visiting Rutgers.

Now the most recent story is his linebacker son at Berkeley Prep getting suspended for the rest of the season. Apparently vulgar language can come from coaches but not from players using such words in anger toward the referees. 

According to a FHSAA report obtained by The Tampa Tribune, Schiano was ejected from the Lennard game for using profanity at a referee. The conduct is considered a “Level 2” unsportsmanlike conduct, which carries a six-week suspension.

This is somewhat ironic in that Coach Greg Schiano preaches discipline. According to respected player Ronde Barber, “he even has rules for rules.” But his son was obviously playing by another set of rules.

Here are a few takes:

1.) A son’s behavior, particularly when it swims against the current of his father’s core teachings, reflects poorly on the father. Now it doesn’t mean that the father has done a bad job of instilling discipline. It doesn’t necessarily mean that he is a bad dad-although how one can be a good Dad AND good football coach is either a mystery or impossibility. But it really does dishonor and embarrass the father. When our kids do cuss out refs, or don’t shake hands after games, it really is embarrassing. I think that’s probably OK. But what we do with the embarrassment is where we can get into trouble.

2.) Regardless of the fact that it does embarrass the father (I’m sure I’ve embarrassed my father the same way my son’s tantrums embarrass me) I don’t think my embarrassment can EVER be the reason  why such a behavior is bad. Now for shame based cultures without the gospel, there is nothing wrong with that. That’s normal. Don’t screw up because you bring shame to the father. And if you do, you have to bear that shame somehow through atonement or suicide. But if the gospel reminds us that there is no shame for those in Christ (Romans 8:1), then parents can’t play the, “you embarrassed me” card. God doesn’t do it to us, so we can’t do it our kids.

3.) It’s natural to be embarrassed. But have you ever asked yourself, “Why is this so embarrassing for me?” Often times it is because we lose approval points. We don’t look like we know what we’re doing (which is only an illusion anyway). No one will give us the proverbial “parent of the day” award. And you know you want it. I do, and that’s why my child’s bad behavior is so embarrassing.

4.) While sins affects more than just the person sinning such as the parent, team, or community, the ultimate offended one is God. Schiano may have rules for rules, but God has laid out a perfect design for us to follow. And it is him whom we have offended. David reminds us of this when he says, “Against you, you only have I sinned Lord….”(Psalm 51:4) The sin of cussing out a referee or refusing to shake the other teams hands is not primarily an offense against the ref, the other team, or the coach, but against the Lord.

5.) It doesn’t hurt to read and re-read, and re-hash in our minds the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). The younger brother, due to his sin and selfishness brings shame to the father. In a shame based culture, this is a bad idea. Bad Idea Jeans for sure. But the father meets the son outside of town, embraces him, and brings him back into town to remind everyone that he is covered. The father covers the sons shame while taking the sons shame upon Himself. How great is it to hear that God is not embarrassed or ashamed to call us his sons, nor is Jesus ashamed to call us his younger brothers (Heb 2:11). I hope I can remember this the next time I’m embarrassed by my son’s actions.

Bringing the gospel to your kids without being a Grace Nazi

My wife and I have been reading different parenting books. I just finished Our Covenant with Kids while Amy and a number of women at Redeemer are working their way through Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick. The former focuses on theology and application of that covenant theology within the family and church. The latter focuses on teaching kids grace, instructing parents specifically how to craft phrases and take full advantage of gospel speaking opportunities. It doesn’t deal with how grace plays itself out within the covenant structure simply because her theology isn’t covenantal. Can’t blame her for ignoring that part!

While not having read Give Them Grace, other than snippets and reviews, I can see Fitzpatrick does a great job of challenging parents to begin to saturate the kids with the gospel at a very young age. And of course, to think gospel-centered, is to think counter-cultural and counter-instinctual. Thus it can seem awkward at the start.
 
I’m thankful for parents willing to re-think parenting in light of the gospel. Because grace is more of a salmon than a tuna (swimming against the current as opposed to going with it-thanks Jerry Seinfeld), we need to intentionally recapture the gospel and apply it to parenting. And if the gospel doesn’t take center-stage in our parenting, being involved in the results or lack thereof, we’ll go neurotic. 

Here’s how the gospel has helped me in my short time as a parent. I have a feeling I’ll only cherish it and need it more and more as the kids grow.

1.) Our ultimate goal is not the behavior of the child. I pray often that my kid will be nice to his friends, not bite, hit or spit. But my main goal as a parent and as a pastor overseeing children is that the kids would know the gospel, cherish Jesus, and connect with a church when they leave the home. 

In the past several days, a few well meaning folks have told me, “I’m glad I got to spend time with your kids because it makes me feel better as a parent.” Now that could be offensive if I didn’t believe the gospel for them. My ultimate goal is not good behavior-though I do want that-but for them to believe the gospel: that will produce behavior consistent with the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). And when my kids disappoint me, I have to believe the gospel for myself. My kids’ behavior is not my righteousness. Their behavior, successes, or lack thereof are not the solid rock on which I stand. My kids’ performance does not give/take away any meaning to my existence. Jesus and all that he did for me is my righteousness, and that is something which never ebbs or wanes. Now believing that is of course much harder than writing or communicating it to others. But that’s why grace is so important in parenting. Both for you and for your kids.

2.) I try to be a good parent. I pray. I read books. But I think I stink sometimes. Now I love my kids, and because I do, I pray for protection not just from the world, but from themselves and from their parents. I’m certain God can protect them from my failures. I’ve seen God do it before with absentee parents, so I trust him to do it with flawed “presentee” parents. We need the gospel.

3.) The question is then how to do it. That’s one thing Give Them Grace really seeks to accomplish. But that is never an easy, thoughtless, or confession-less thing to do. When the gospel becomes a part of who you are, how then do you instruct and train your kids in such a way that it becomes part of who they are? Here’s what Amy and I have been doing. It may be helpful, or it may not. Still, it always helps me apply the gospel to whatever I’m doing when I see how others apply it to what they are doing. From one flawed parent to another.

  • Speak often in terms that reinforce the gospel. We don’t ask Connar, “Were you a good boy or bad boy?” That seems to indicate a change in standing based upon behavior. We like to say, “Did you listen or not listen?” We tell him that only Jesus makes him good, and that God still loves Him when he does “bad sins.” His position isn’t based upon performance. Sins are still bad, but he knows that God still loves him just as much when he fails to listen.
  • If you speak often enough in terms that reinforce the gospel, you don’t have to analyze every single thing you said or did and wonder, “Did I reinforce the gospel?” That can become draining. Did I teach grace there or only teach the law (of course I realize you have to teach law in order to get to grace)?  To borrow another Seinfeld term, you don’t need to be a “grace Nazi” to yourself or others. If you can’t ever encourage your child in a good behavior, there is probably something wrong. You like encouragement when you have done something well. If my kid listens at school I encourage him and celebrate it! Most of the time we say, “Jesus helped you to listen. Yay!” Or we could say, “Jesus loves you just as much regardless, but we are excited because that shows love to your teachers.” But sometimes we don’t, or sometimes we forget. Yet because we couch most things in the gospel we don’t have to be “grace Nazi’s.” If I tell him, “Good job,” he knows who empowers “good jobs,” and that he, like his Mommy and Daddy, are in need of grace how no matter how good of a job it was. If all you do is celebrate behavior, you will teach moralism. If you saturate your kids with grace in the morning, afternoon, and evening, then what they are going to hear is grace, even if you don’t say it every, single time.
  • The only way to know your kid is getting the gospel and not simply behavioralism is to ask questions and listen to them pray. We can speak about grace until it is coming out of their noses, or ours, but until we hear them speak grace back to us, we don’t know what they really think. If they open up in prayer, “Jesus, only you can change my heart…” or  “I know Jesus that you’ve already obeyed for me so I can relax and follow you….,” then that’s probably a good indication that the gospel is at work.

It is only by grace that anything good comes out of us and out of our kids. Even at 4 years old, my little boy understands and prays for other people’s hearts. When he recognizes that he needs the gospel as much as his friends and parents do, watch out. Good things will happen.

Please share any things you do as a parent to make the gospel part of your parenting in the comment section.

That nuerotic parent just might be you

Just like every August for the last, well 20 years or so, the Little League World Series, has come and gone. With it another crop of kids thankful to play at such a high level, and others wishing they had just played one more game. Aside from the missed family vacations, the LLWS probably does more good than bad.

But one group which stuck out in my 15 minutes (total) of watching the LLWS was the parents. Numbers of parents had photograph face cut-outs on popsicle sticks of their kids. No doubt their kids names and numbers were on their mini vans as well. Neither activity is necessarily bad, but possibly more often than not, inform the world what these parents live for: their children’s sports success.

Parents can be really neurotic about their children’s success, and sometimes its very easy to diagnose that neurosis it others. And consequently it’s very easy to be disgusted when you see it. My wife couldn’t stomach the LLWS after seeing those popsicle sticks. I get disgusted when parents when parents will stop at nothing to make their kid front and center. 

But today I reflected upon my similarity to that neurosis I hate so much in others but often fail to see in myself. I had told someone recently that Connar was the best kid on his Tee ball team at the first practice. But on Tuesday he was hitting the tee, and actually throwing the ball “like a baby” (that’s the most apropos comparison I could muster). On one occasion, instead of throwing to first base, he simply rolled it! Another kid, a 5 year old, hit better, threw farther and fielded better.  Connar wasn’t the best anymore and I couldn’t take it.

So what did I do? I went out and bought a soft Teeball the next day. When Connar hit the stitches off the ball, I went out and bought a bag of balls. At what point do I want him to be the best, and “try his best to honor God,” for my sake, and for my glory. I was no different than those parents that made me sick: I need him to be front and center. I had already become (actually a while ago) the parent I had so quickly critiqued.

Here are some things I learned and may prove helpful

1.) Remember what is good about our kids performances. It is good to practice. After all we develop our spiritual gifts by practicing as well. Performances, whether in school, sports, plays, teach discipline and give us opportunities to do all things for the glory of God (I Cor 10:31). Praying, reading the bible, and telling people about Jesus are not the only “spiritual” things we do.

2.) Repent regularly. I think as parents we cross back and forth over the lines of my glory/kids glory/God’s glory all the time. Therefore we need to reflect, repent, and rest in Christ often. Very often.

3.) Listen to ourselves talk. One way to examine our motives is not to look at other people’s mini-vans, but to listen to our own words. Do we talk an inordinate amount of time about our kids interests or about Jesus? We talk about what we cherish (channeling my inner John Piper now). And we teach our kids by talking about what we cherish. 

4.) What REALLY is my primary goal?  Is it a scholarship for my kid? That would be great, but I’m not planning on that happening. As long as my son wants to practice hitting and fielding every day in our front yard, I’ll keep pitching fastballs to him. Yet my primary goal is for him to walk with Jesus and connect to a church when he leaves the house. If that really is my goal, it will be reflected in my conversation, prayers, time spent, and even my dreams. I don’t think it hurts to regularly remember and recast that vision to yourself and your spouse time and time again.

When these things are in place, I can get back to coaching, practicing, and simply enjoying and delighting in my child as the great gift from God he is. Regardless of his performance. That’s how God looks at His children, so I figure that’s probably a good model.

I can have a cut-out (though I doubt I ever will), I can put his name, number, and sport on my minivan (though I know I never will), when I remember who God is and who my child is not.