Monday, November 24, 2008

What Your Marriage Teaches Your Children

I just finished reading Proverbs for my devotionals this past week, and it was a great time of study and reflection through that book. I understood and appreciated it in a way I never have before. The last chapter of the book is primarily about the nature and value of a godly wife. God convicted me of two things as I read it:

Verse 11--"The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain."

First, God taught me that I need to trust in Stephanie's abilities, knowledge, and wisdom. As a husband, for some reason (probably my pride), I have often been skeptical of Stephanie's ability to do certain things. So I find myself trying to finish or correct something she's started--or offering advice that is obvious and unneeded (as if she didn't know what I just told her). God really struck me with this passage and reminded me that our marriage is worthless if we do not trust and have confidence in each other. Skepticism is rarely healthy.

Verses 28-29--"Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
'Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.'"

Second, God convicted me of how I need to verbally praise Stephanie and affirm her. As a male, I rarely express my appreciation or admiration for my wife out loud. I just take it for granted that she knows my thoughts and feelings. But the author here makes it clear that praise is to be verbal. So I have made it a goal to positively affirm Stephanie at least once every day--and for something that is not superficial.

The final thing I wanted to note in relation to those last verses is that there is often a direct tie between how children view their parents and how their parents view each other. If parents treat one another with respect and admiration, then it is far more likely that their children will as well. The words, attitudes, and behaviors that they see modeled will be what they are most naturally drawn toward. So how do your children hear you speak to each other? Do they hear you mutter things under your breath and be sarcastic and rude? Or do they hear you compliment each other and treat each other with respect even when you disagree--and even when the other is not around? Your attitude toward each other will teach your children what type of attitude to have toward you and how to view marriage. Marriage should be a picture of two sinners joined together by God who recognize their faults, treasure each other, and who, committed to each other for life, work together as a pair to honor their Savior. Sadly, many of our marriages today are far from that, and children are being raised with a faulty view of marriage and are less likely to develop healthy relationships of their own.

Make sure that you are presenting a godly example this Thanksgiving season--and always.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Value of Life

Stephanie and I went in to our first official appointment for our pregnancy on Tuesday. It was an exciting time for us, particularly as we found out that we get to go in for an ultrasound on Monday because they think Steph might be further along than we initially thought :) We're heading into uncharted territory, but we are confident that God is in complete sovereign control of the entire situation.

Part of the discussion at the doctor's office that really surprised us (although I probably could have anticipated it if I would have thought more about it) was the part about genetic testing of the baby. The doctors offered to run typical genetic tests for Down's syndrome and for cystic fibrosis. But they prefer to test babies as early on as possible in the pregnancy so that parents could choose "not to continue with the pregnancy" if they didn't want to bring a baby into the world with one of those conditions. How awful, I thought. I knew all of this in my head through things I've heard in the news, but it just sunk into my heart more so when it was my own child.

Think about it: if babies are going to have disabilities, it has become a viable option in our country to just cut off that child's life. And sadly, I think it's less for the sake of the child and more for the sake of the parents. They don't want the "inconvenience" of a child with special needs--one that might take more of their money or keep them from enjoying their twilight years because the child still would need full-time supervision even as an adult...Our culture has certainly lost its understanding of God as the Creator of life--all life, even the life of those that some now consider of lesser worth.

I know that I don't understand all of the emotions that could possibly go into a decision like that or into raising a child with special needs, but I do know that the Bible is clear when it says of God:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them. -Psalm 139:13-16

So today, if you are a parent, love your children regardless of their disabilities or their less flattering traits. God made them as they are and wrote the script of their life long before the world was formed, and He has placed you in their charge to care for them and teach them the gospel as best as you can. Take time today to thank God for your children--and for your own life, personality, and body that He has given you (flaws and all).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go

"Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it."
-Proverbs 22:6

This is a famous text that parents cling to when they are struggling with a child's disobedience and rebellion--and even when children are blatantly hostile to the gospel. I think that we might misunderstand what is really being said in this verse, however. Each individual proverb is a wise saying, a statement about what is typically true in reality. But proverbs are not universally true. For example, in the same chapter (v. 16) a proverb suggests that anyone who oppresses the poor to profit himself will eventually wind up in poverty. That might typically be true, but certainly there are examples of people who have oppressed the poor and been rich because of it, never sinking into poverty.

So when we read proverbs, we are only to trust that they are generally true. That doesn't mean they are not reliable or trustworthy sayings. It only means that we can not claim proverbs as promises made specifically to us without exception.

When we read this proverb about raising children, we must be sure to remember this. Because the proverb is only saying that it is typically true. Typically, from our experience, when parents raise their children with an eye toward God-fearing behavior their children will ultimately share their same desire to honor God and be obedient to Christ. Typically God will change their heart and give them faith in Christ for salvation. BUT, this is not always the case. We all know of parents, maybe even you yourself, who tried to teach their child the gospel and raise them to be godly young men or women only to have their child rebel and reject the very gospel that their parents taught them. Some cling to this verse to assure them that eventually their child will turn around, repent, and trust in Christ. I wish that were true. But that would be reading the proverb as a universal promise, which it is not.

There is probably no greater agony than a parent knowing their children are in unrepentant sin and destined for hell. The fear that should strike in a parent is unspeakable. But the reality is that it is up to God to soften hearts. It is not within a parent's capacity to give their child faith, to give them a repentant heart, and to save them from sin. God alone is capable of that. Parents' role is to diligently teach their children the gospel, to "train them up in the way they should go." Oftentimes God will use this training to bring the child to salvation, but sometimes He will not. And when children do not share their parents' faith, it is not the parents' fault; the reality is simply that God has not chosen to change the heart of the child.

So where does that leave parents who have unbelieving children? They should not be frustrated with themselves for somehow having failed. Rather they should be begging God to change their child's heart, and they should be seeking ongoing opportunities to teach their child the gospel while there is still time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Diligent to Discipline

"Whoever spares the rod hates his son,
but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." -Prov. 13:24

Discipline is not too popular in our culture any longer. Parents are more and more tempted to think that the way to raise a child is through "love" and "freedom." They want them to learn their own lessons--to experiment and fail. If they are just given enough freedom and support, they will ultimately choose what is best and "turn out alright." They think that doing things like spanking them is barbaric, violent, old-fashioned, and ineffective. But our standard for parenting is not society's opinions, it is God's. And in this Proverb, He makes it clear that physical punishment has a place--even that it is a MUST for those who claim to love their child. He says that a failure to discipline does not show a greater level of love; it shows a "hate" for one's children.

How can this be? What we have to remember is that children are not born good or even neutral. They aren't just on the fence, so to speak, as kids and in need of someone to just steer them toward better choices. Children are born sinners; we all are. Our hearts wander. We reject the God who created us. We are self-worshipers. This plays out even at a very young age. And it is one of the primary responsibility of parents to help their child realize their sinfulness and the punishment that they deserve from God because of it. It is only when they understand that they are sinners deserving of His wrath that we can then point them to the Savior who took that wrath for them on the cross. It's only then that God can truly change them for the better--leading them to genuinely repent of their sin and trust Christ.

The "rod," or physical discipline, is one way that God has called parents to impress upon their children the seriousness of their offenses. Spanking is not to be done by parents out of anger for how their child has wronged them. Rather, it is to be done by parents out of a desire to help their children see God's disappointment and anger at their sin. Sure, sometimes parents cross the line and turn spanking into something ugly and violent. But its misuse by some does not mean it must be abandoned.

There's much more that could be said about HOW to spank (having conversation to follow it, maintaining self-control, etc.). But for now, just let it suffice to know that God approves of spanking--as a means to teach kids the gospel.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Passing Down a Fear of the Lord

So, the election is tomorrow. And I for one am a little nervous about what is going to take place. But I am confident at the same time, because I know that the ultimate hope for "change" in our world is not Barack Obama or John McCain or any government policies. Our greatest hope is that the gospel will go out from us as believers, that God will change hard hearts, and lead us to live lives that honor our Savior. The primary way that happens is through families.

"In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge." -Proverbs 14:26

I read this verse a few days back in my devotional time, and with Stephanie being pregnant, it stuck out to me in particular. Why? Whatever--or whoever--parents trust in is likely what their children will trust in. And that is eye-opening to me as a soon-to-be dad. My hopes need to be placed in the only One who is trustworthy--not in money, or job status, or my own abilities. God has proven His love and His power most clearly in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And because of that, I can have "strong confidence" that He has forgiven me, that He offers me eternal life, and that He is more than capable of providing for my family's needs in this life.

I want to be a father who teaches his children to take "refuge" in the Savior. I have been prone to anxiety in my life, because I've tried trusting any number of things other than Christ. And I know my children, like all humans, will be tempted to do the same. I want them to take refuge in Christ--not in sports or video games or money or grades or possessions. Parents, even at a young age, let's teach our children to run to the same Savior that gives us "strong confidence," the One in whom we have placed our faith. Let's be intentional about passing down our "fear of the Lord."