Saturday, January 29, 2011

Parenting and The Book of Eli

"Because I said so" only works as long as you are bigger or stronger than the person hearing it, and even then its a mixed bag.  I'm learning first-hand what it means to discipline and shape a child, and I'm acutely aware of the fact that everything I do influences my son.  He watches my reactions, sees my moods and mimics my behavior.  Things that I do now will affect him for his whole life.  The weight of this reality scares me a little bit.

As is the case with all new parents, my wife and I are magnets for unsolicited advice.  "He shouldn't be doing that" is a favorite thing to hear when my one year old throws a tantrum.  I'm tempted to say,"Really!? I had no idea that tantrums were bad.  I was going to video and auto tune his screams in order to market them as worship music."  Move over Antoine Dodson!  They seem to think that I should have absolute control of my son's moods, thoughts, actions and intentions at every moment.

This has caused me to notice two distinct categories of parenting: Control and Influence.  I know people who subscribed to both philosophies, and I've watched their kids grow up and exhibit the long-term effects of both methods.  This has led me to a few non-scientific, observational conclusions.

Influencers use discipline, but make it a point to tell their kids why their behavior is wrong.  They often ask questions like "Why did you do that?" or "How do you think Susie felt when you hit her?"  Sometimes, unknown good or bad intentions surface, changing the nature of the punishment at times.  Children of influencers aren't perfect.  Sometimes their parents even take flack for not having better behaved kids.  These are the kids that hit their stride after 18, sometimes with a few bumps in the teen and pre-teen years.  They have direction, initiative and relational grace.  This is not the case with "controlled" children.

Controller parents tend to use phrases like "because I said so" or "the Bible says..."  Their children are rigidly well behaved and in Christian circles, quote more Bible verses than Denzel Washington at the end of The Book of Eli.  There are extra rules, ones that go beyond good behavior.  To break said rules is seen as willful disobedience and is met with severe consequences.  No checking is done to ascertain the child's intents or feelings.  Perhaps the most telling mark of the controlling method is that no purpose is given for rules or punishment.

As a child, I used to look at "controlled" kids and feel intimidated.  I never knew as many Bible verses, did as well in school, or had as many measurable successes in athletics. The tables turned later in life.

As an adult, I spend significant time meeting with controller parents who want me to control their now adult children.  The story is the same every time: "He was such a smart boy, always well behaved.  He always did what he was told, because we weren't afraid to discipline in our house."  Of course, to them "discipline" meant rigid punishment with little explanation.  They can't figure out why little Johnny did a behavioral 180 at 18.  These are the young adults who graduate high school and fall apart.  They seldom finish college, often squander relationships, and never seem to have any direction.  Their parents never have any idea what happened.

Usually, these are the twenty-somethings who will sit down with me once over coffee, sometimes just to get their parents off their back.  When speaking of their upbringing, they use a lot of catch phrases like "religious oppression" and "looking for authenticity."  They have been controlled their whole lives.  Now all they want is to be out of control.  They have a hard time thinking of Jesus as a person who wants to know and love them no matter what.  These are my addict friends, my transvestite friends, my dealer friends, my agnostic friends, my heartbroken friends. After these coffee meetings, I always give some thought to calling their parents to tell them it is their fault their kids are a wreck. I always knew that would be pointless, since the deed is already done.  They can't go back 2 decades and do it over again.

Instead of attacking them, I'm taking this opportunity to tell myself what I wish I cold tell them.  So, here I am, the young adult pastor am speaking to me, the new parent:


You have great kids, but they aren't perfect.  There is nothing you can do to make them perfect.  They will make mistakes, some of them with great intentions, others with purely selfish motives.  You can't stop them from making mistakes.  You can't make them into sinless people.  You can't make them fall in love with Jesus.  You can't make them get good grades, learn piano or go to college.  

You will be tempted to control them.  You could set exasperating expectations on them and physically force them into obedience...for a while.  Eventually, they will be grown and out of your hands.  Don't waste this precious time trying to control, use it to influence.  Discipline with reason and integrity.  Tell them why you are disciplining them, what they have done wrong and how to do right next time.  Teach them how to make decisions, how to discern right from wrong.  Let them make mistakes and experience consequences while you can still catch them when they fall.  Let them know they are good kids who are going to do well.  Speak blessing.  Show them what it means to love Jesus.  Show your sons what it means to be a good man and show your daughters how a good man should treat a woman.  

Defend them, love them and influence them.  Pray for God's hand on their lives.  


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Every now and then I come across an excellent book, one that I can't help but share.  Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is one of those books.  I knew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's contributions to theology and Christian living, but my interest in him went to a whole new level when I heard about his role in the plot to assassinate Hitler.  I have struggled with the tension between Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek" and the Christian's role in defending the oppressed.  Bonhoeffer lived and died in that tension, reaching across racial and national boundaries for the sake of the gospel and humanity.  For these and so many other reasons, he is one of my heroes.

Bonhoeffer is an inspiration, the Bruce Willis of the theology world.  Who would have thought that theology and action go together like Ryan Seacrest and the Golden globes.  Bonhoeffer's life is evidence that theology is about more than knowledge and action is cannot do good without a foundation of truth.

I'm not going to go into a lengthy review of such a great book.  I'm just going to tell you a few things about Bonhoeffer and invite you to learn more about him by reading the book:

  • He lived through WWI and the financial crisis and political disarray that followed in Germany.
  • He was a sought-after theologian, respected at the highest levels.   
  • He cared deeply about Christ, and lived the gospel at all costs.
  • He was a pacifist.
  • He tried to assassinate Hitler to stop the Holocaust.  
Does this sound like a guy you would like to know more about?  I invite you to watch Valkerie and take note of the brief cameo made by a small man with round wire-rimmed glasses.  Take some time to get to know him through this book.  I am inspired by every page.  

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Matthew 6:33-34

Where: my dining room table
Drinking: Starbucks Sumatra 
Listening to: Mumford and Sons (Great music for the Irishman in me!)

Father, it is a blessing to watch the snow today.  When I'm weary and daunted by brokenness, it is a good thing to watch something so peaceful cover the ground and remind me that You make all things new.  Everything seems fresh and new in the cover of snow.  Today, fill me with Your Spirit.  Help me to love You, love people and live surrendered better today.  

 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. --Matthew 6:33-34

(Ask, Analyze and Apply)

I worry less about my food, clothes and shelter than I did 4 years ago.  I have been through times when I wasn't sure how I was going to keep my house or support my family.  It is only by God's grace that I feel further from losing my material safety.  However, my mind finds new things to worry about.  I am always in a battle with my own sense of security.  There are days when I look at my job and my gifts and can't see how everything comes together.  I'm not  a brilliant guy or a great leader.  My successes can all be directly traced to moments of surrender and obedience directly followed by God's providential action.  Remembering I'm not awesome leads me to insecurity or to trust.  The more I think about my weakness, the more insecure I become.  The more I think about God's sovereignty and love, the more I just love watching Him use me.  

A friend of mine played football in high school.  His coach, looking at the field and seeing they were short a player, grabs my friend by the shoulder pads and throws him on the field.  He stumbled around, not knowing the play.  All of a sudden, he gets knocked down.  The play was over, and he walked off the field only to see the fans cheering and his teammates slapping his helmet and congratulating.  He had inadvertently gotten in the way of the opposing teams star player.  He "tackled" him and saved the game.  Sometimes it's not about knowing everything.  It's about being wear the coach tells you to be.  

Today, I'm going to rest in the truth of who God is.  I'm going to read my book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas (great book!), drink tea and watch the snow.  Praise God for rest!  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Psalm 5:1-3

Where: My office

Listening to: Pink Floyd

Drinking: Starbucks Sumatra

Pray: God, I am worn thin today.  So many things are causing my heart to ache, and I'm doing my best to bring truth and reconciliation where I can.  Right now, we are in the painful stretch between broken and healed.  Reign your redemption and heal hearts.  Minister to mine today.  


1 Listen to my words, LORD,
   consider my lament.
2 Hear my cry for help,
   my King and my God,
   for to you I pray.

 3 In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;
   in the morning I lay my requests before you
   and wait expectantly. --Psalm 5:1-3

(Ask, Analyze, Apply)

It is morning, and I am lamenting.  I feel solidarity with the psalmist today.  There is so much broken, so much scarred.  Friends and family are hurting in body and in heart.  One of my best friends is watching family members' health decay.  Times like this can make me forget the lengths of Your justice and the depths of your redemption.  You have paid debts I never knew I owed.  You have healed wounds when cuts were deep and hope was dim.  You have made all things new.  We are just catching up to your redemption.  Today, pour out your healing and your hope.  Make the worst scars into fresh skin.  Beat hearts in sync again.  Draw us all closer to you.  Save the lost and sanctify the saved.  Make all things new today. I'm laying it all on your altar today.  

Today I'm going to practice redemption in ministry as I wait expectantly for God to bring redemption in the things beyond my reach.  It is going to be a good day.