Monday, January 26, 2009

Children: Cost or Blessing?

I was watching the news this morning and heard a report in which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was questioned about how the new economic stimulus package that she has promoted includes large amounts of money to be given toward contraception. And she was asked how in the world that is to stimulate the economy. She said:

Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

She was then given a second chance to reconsider that statement/thought. But said she has "no apologies."

I could not believe this. Mrs. Pelosi, regardless of what I think about other policies she promotes or what I think of the idea of economic stimulus, was suggesting that children are primarily cash-drainers from the economy. And I doubt that she is alone. Our society and way of thinking has become so self-centered that we think of children more as cost than as blessing. God has said that children are a "heritage from the Lord." But many of us see children as an expenditure that we just can't afford any more.

Now, I understand that there is some wisdom--at least in my opinion--to limiting the number of children one has. Not every family can or should have 18 children like the Duggar family. But I think that we do think far too much about children in economic terms and that we let our family planning revolve around finances far too much. I'm about to enter the world of parenthood, so I'm sure that I'll start to realize how much having a child can cost financially. But as believers in Christ, we are not to let money drive our lives. We serve the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills and who has riches beyond what we could ever imagine. He can provide for every need we will ever have. We might not have as luxurious of a life--in worldly terms--with a family of six children as we would with a family of zero or one child. But we would have a larger family to love and probably more people entering the kingdom of God, sharing life together!

I don't know what the "ideal" family size is; there's probably not one. But I am sure that we need to be very cautious when we start noticing politicians--or ourselves in our more hidden thoughts--think that children are a cost to be avoided rather than a blessing to be welcomed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Youth Sunday

This Sunday, January 25th, will be Youth Sunday at BBC. I, for one, am excited about the opportunity that our church is giving our young people to lead in several capacities during the morning worship service. We'll have students: leading worship, playing a special music, performing a skit, doing the offering, being greeters, etc. I am blessed with the opportunity to preach this Sunday morning and am excited to share God's Word with you all.

There's is a passage in Job that I often think about when I consider the value of young people and how they can contribute understanding and service even to those of us who are older...Job and his friends have been having this back and forth conversation, and both sides made some good points but still seem to be missing the point of it all. Then steps in this younger man named Elihu who offers what seems to be the book's best interpretation of what is really going on in Job's life. Here's the scene Job 32 portrays:

"Then Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of ram, burned with anger. He burned with anger because he (Job) justified himself rather than God. He burned with anger also at Job's three friends because they had found no answer, although they had declared Job to be in the wrong. Now Elihu had waited to speak to Job because they were older than he. And when Elihu saw that there was no answer in the mouth of these three men, he burned with anger.
And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
'I am young in years, and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you.
I said, "Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom."
But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise, nor the aged who understand what is right.
Therefore I say, "Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion...""

Elihu then goes on to put Job's suffering in proper perspective, defending God in the process. Even though he was young, he knew the Truth and had a zeal for God's glory that those who were older than him seemed to not possess. He's not trying to say that there should be no respect for our elders--no, quite the opposite. He said that he waited to listen to them precisely because he respected them as his elders. But age does not equal spiritual maturity or wisdom necessarily. The Bible is full of examples like Elihu, who though younger in years, are full of wisdom. So this Sunday, let's be willing to be led by the young and to share in what they are learning. And as the adults of our church, let's keep investing in them and be glad when they mature and even challenge us at times (in a respectful way of course).

Monday, January 12, 2009


"Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob." -Genesis 25:28 (ESV)

Isaac and Rebekah's family was one that clearly had its problems--like all of ours. Their twin sons are portrayed as battling between one another throughout most of their lives. I must state up front that the battling can not be completely blamed on the parents, because it is said that even in the womb they "struggled" within her. So God apparently had planned even from the beginning for these two brothers to be battle between one another.

But we see this rivalry play out in their lives as Jacob becomes a deceiver. He tricks his brother into selling his birthright. Jacob then later deceives his own father into blessing him instead of the true firstborn, Esau. What is terrible is that this plan was devised by his own mother, Rebekah! Furthermore, Esau is said to have "made life bitter" for his parents by marrying foreign women, and he responds to the stealing of his birthright by pledging to kill his brother. Both kids had their problems.

Their parents did not cause their rivalry, but they certainly did not help their children by creating an environment that demanded or taught equal love and respect. The parents themselves are said to have played favorites--one loving the hunter and the other loving the more mild son. Isaac in particular is said to have loved Esau "because he ate of his game." He loved because of a skill, because of something that his child provided him with.

This is not the proper love that we are to have for other human beings, let alone our own children. The only way to finish the sentence "we are to love because..." is with: because God first loved us, because it is the right thing to do, because all people are created in God's image. We are never to love because of traits, abilities, personalities, etc...So parents, the cure to favoritism is to learn to love your children simply because of their inherent dignity and worth as the creation of God--as a blessing He has given to you.

I am sure it is tempting at times to love--or at least pay more attention to--your children who are more similar to you or who you most naturally feel a "connection" with. But remember that you are teaching your children a lot about relationships and love by the way you relate to them. Doing your best to love and pay attention to your children equally will go a long way to demonstrating God's unconditional love to them and to developing peacefulness within your family.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Entertainment and Children

The following is a short article I wrote for our parent's newsletter "Homefront." I hope you can take the time to read it.

Stephanie and I were sitting in the movie theater over Christmas break watching the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Toward the front there was an entire row full of what looked to be sixth graders—and no parents to be found. Over the next three hours they were exposed to an interesting story, but one that contained its fair share of “adult” themes. And it just made me wonder if their parents would have any discussion with them about what they had seen.

Parents, our children, even from a young age in our American culture, are exposed to all sorts of entertainment. From Baby Einstein and the Wiggles (or whatever else is popular today) to Hannah Montana to any number of television shows, musicians, and movies that are geared toward teenagers. And very few of those in the entertainment industry are trying to produce their product in a way that teaches the gospel.

Slowly, but surely, these sources of entertainment rub off on our children.
A few years ago, I noticed how in movies at times, my hopes for the story’s outcome was extremely unbiblical. At times, based on how the story was arranged, I found myself almost wishing for a frustrated wife who had a jerk of a husband to finally find her “true love” in another man who respected and romanced her. Or more commonly, I would find that for some reason, it didn’t bother me that the two main characters of a movie or television show were unmarried yet intimately involved. Of course when I thought further about these things instead of getting wrapped up in the storyline I was able to sense their error. But our children don’t often do that type of reflective thinking. Movies can glorify revenge, anger, violence, jealousy, promiscuity, etc. Few glorify Christ and godliness. So we must be careful about how we parent in the realm of entertainment.

I am not one to advocate just completely isolating your family from the world and pretending that secular music, movies, or television shows do not exist. There can be beautiful stories—and even biblical principles at times—that are conveyed through these mediums. The key, I think, is to help your children learn to think critically about these sources of entertainment. You have to be hands-on, hopefully from an early age. Try to help them evaluate whether or not a given source of entertainment is consistent with the gospel—and then whether it is worth subjecting yourself to...Here are some practical things to think about:

Music. This isn’t as much of an issue with younger children as it is with teenagers. But discuss lyrics with your children. Be familiar with who they listen to and what the content of their message is. And be willing to put your foot down if the content of the music is garbage. They will probably protest that they only like “the beat,” but you can’t separate the two. They wouldn’t listen to it if it was just an instrumental version. So help them think through whether the words are really edifying and whether they really bring honor to Christ. If they are a believer, this should be the best course of action. Help them see the sinfulness of the songs rather than just saying “I said so.”

Movies. Do the same thing with movies. Have standards for what they are allowed to watch that go beyond the standard rating system (G, PG, PG-13, R, etc.). Those might be a starting point, but they should not be a final say. Benjamin Button, for example, is rated PG-13, but has numerous themes and scenes that are inappropriate for a 13 year old. Just because a movie theater allows kids to enter doesn’t mean that it’s edifying for them...So try to use resources like Plugged-In or Planet Wisdom to help you evaluate movies with your children. Don’t let them see movies you are unfamiliar with.

Television and Internet. This, I think, is a particularly difficult one for parents. Why? Because we are often unaware of what our kids are viewing at home. But we need to know. Through our cable wires and satellite dishes, all sorts of shows and images are piped in that either overtly or more subtly teaching children that sin is okay and even preferable. For example, on MTV right now there is a reality show that is about two bi-sexual sisters having a competition between guys and girls to win their affections! A similar show was a “favorite” of a teenager from our last youth group. We have to be aware of these temptations they face...Perhaps we should even go so far as to remove all televisions from our children’s rooms…Not to mention computers. I think that no child should be allowed in today’s society to have a computer in their own room.

That said, all these actions HAVE to be paired with discussion. Does this source of entertainment bring glory to Christ? These are tough issues, but very important!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Relationship Between Marriage and Parenting

I read this article recently and thought I'd share it with you. It talks about how our marriages can have an enormous impact on our children. Here it is (or you can read it at the original page here):

Maybe it’s just a stage,” Brad said. Brad and his wife, Traci, were having dinner with me (John) and my wife, Barbi. They were concerned with 7-year-old Will, one of their three children. He was a handful, full of energy and life, but also out of control. The school had called them with concerns that Will was too aggressive with friends and that he was not respecting his teachers. Traci had taken Will to a doctor, but there was not anything wrong medically. So they were trying to think through what was going on.

“It could be a stage,” I said. “But if it is not going away, it is probably something else. What if you looked at Will’s behavior as a reflection of your relationship with each other?”

“What do you mean?” they asked.

I explained that children depend on their parents’ energy, love, and resources to develop their own. They also are affected by the struggles parents have. If parents are under a lot of stress, they sometimes become disconnected from each other. In turn, this disconnect can influence a child to pull away, feel insecure, or even act out.

This should not make parents feel guilty. But the parent relationship is the background and structure for parenting. It creates the emotional world that children live in.

Traci and Brad looked at each other. “That does sound like us,” Traci said. “We have been really involved lately in Brad’s new job, remodeling, and trying to take care of the children. And we have not had much couple time lately.” Brad agreed.

A few weeks later, I saw Traci and asked how things were. “A lot better,” she said. “Brad and I just didn’t realize that we were drifting apart. Not a lot, but enough that we started catching up with each other better. And Will is better, too. Your idea worked!”

Marriage is the Soil of Parenting
If you have experienced what Traci and Brad have, you are not alone. Your child is influenced by the state of your marriage connection and intimacy. Basically, the more warmth and love between you and your spouse, the happier and healthier your child is. The more alienated your relationship, the more your child can be affected.

This truth is a result of God’s design. God created marriage to connect people in a deep way that reflects His passion for people. Children are a fruit and response to that love and connection. There is a reason that Ephesians deals with marriage connections in chapter 5 (“Husbands, love your wives”) and parenting issues in chapter 6 (“Children, obey your parents”). That is the proper order of things.

It is much like growing plants. If the soil you use is rich, fertile, and full of good ingredients, the plant will most likely flourish. However, if the soil is depleted, empty, neglected, or has toxins in it, the plant will show that also.

In a way, this is a win-win situation. You were married because you love each other and want to be connected to each other forever. So whatever you do to reconnect the love, intimacy, and passion is not only good for you two, but also for your child. You cannot overstate the parenting benefits of a loving marriage.

That is why, when you see behavior issues, attitude problems, withdrawal, aggression, clinginess, or a host of other “child issues,” it is always good to look at the state of your own union with each other. Children are often the warning signal that you need to address your own love and trust within the marriage.

So let's tend to our first priority among our human relationships--our spouses. Let's really "hold fast" to each other and be "one flesh," setting an example for our own children and the children in our church.