Parenting: The Gospel Matters

As David Powlison says in his Forward to Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding Your Child’s Heart, “most books on parenting give you advice either on how to shape and constrain your children’s behavior or on how to make them feel good about themselves.” Of course, neither of those objectives is completely wrongheaded… they just shouldn’t be a parent’s primary objective. Tripp puts well what should be our primary objective with these words…

God is concerned with the heart – the well-spring of life (Proverbs 4:23). Parents tend to focus on the externals of behavior rather than the internal overflow of the heart. We tend to worry more about the “what” of behavior than the “why”. Accordingly, most of us spend an enormous amount of energy in controlling and constraining behavior.

When we miss the heart, we miss the subtle idols of the heart.

When we miss the heart, we miss the gospel. If the goal of parenting is no more profound than securing appropriate behavior, we will never help our children understand the internal things, the heart issues, that push and pull behavior. Those internal issues: self-love, rebellion, anger, bitterness, envy, and pride of the heart show our children how profoundly they need grace. If the problem with children is deeper than inappropriate behavior, if the problem is the overflow of the heart, then the need for grace is established. Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life and died as an infinite sacrifice so that children (and their parents) can be forgiven, transformed, liberated and empowered to love God and love others.

from Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp

A Christian Home

O give us homes built firm upon the Savior,
Where Christ is Head and Counselor and Guide;
Where every child is taught his love and favor
And gives his heart to Christ, the Crucified;
How sweet to know that, tho’ his footsteps waver,
His faithful Lord is walking by his side!

O give us homes with godly fathers, mothers,
Who always place their hope and trust in him;
Whose tender patience turmoil never bothers,
Whose calm and courage trouble cannot dim;
A home where each finds joy in serving others,
And love still shines, tho’ days be dark and grim.

O give us homes where Christ is Lord and Master,
The Bible read, the precious hymns still sung;
Where prayer comes first in peace or in disaster;
And praise is natural speech to every tongue;
Where mountains move before a faith that’s vaster,
And Christ sufficient is for old and young.

O Lord, our God, our homes are Thine forever!
We trust to Thee their problems, toil, and care;
Their bonds of love no enemy can sever
If Thou art always Lord and Master there:
Be Thou the center of our least endeavor –
Be Thou our guest, our hearts and homes to share.

words by Barbara B. Hart, 1965

A Prayer for Your Family

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one. Turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to the fathers; and so kindle charity among us all, that we may ever have for each other kindly affection and brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Taken from The Methodist Book of Worship for Church and Home, 1965

Choose This Day

Choose This Day

Joshua 24:14-15

Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. [15] But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

James 4:4

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

The road of life is filled with many choices:

  • Whom will I marry?
  • Where will I live?
  • What will I do for a living?
  • How will I raise my children?
  • Who will educate my children?
  • Will I believe in God? And if I do, is there more to it than simply believing he exists?
  • What will be the standard of my moral conduct?

Today’s Scripture highlights the most important choices we must make. And, as the rock group, “Rush,” observed, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

In the preceding verses of Joshua 24, Joshua took the children on an historical reconnaissance in order to remind them of who God is and what God had done for them in the past. Implicit in this was the covenant that God had made with Israel and how they could, therefore, also look to the future fulfillments of God’s promises…IF.

When God made covenant with Israel, it included blessings and curses. Obedience, faithfulness, and loyalty would be rewarded with divine blessing beyond their wildest imaginations. Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and treason, on the other hand, would result in God’s curses. It seems so obvious as to which should be preferred.

And so, after laying out the history of God’s love for his people, Joshua presented the people with a choice. He told them to serve God only and to throw away the idols of their past. Whom would they serve – the gods of their ancestors or the living God? Joshua answered as the covenant head of his home by declaring publicly, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is interesting, and quite telling, to see how this theme of choosing between the Living God and the god of the age – between covenant-faithfulness and spiritual adultery – is repeated over and over again in God’s Word. The fact is, we will all bow before something or someone, simply by the living of our lives. Who will be the object of our worship is the choice ever before us.

James lays out the choice before us with crystal clarity. He says that friendship with the world is hatred toward God. What exactly dos he mean here? Well, he’s not talking about loving people and desiring to minister to them. Instead, he has in mind what Paul had in mind in Romans 12:2 – love for and conformity to the sinful, fallen, disobedient patterns of this world, this present age of man and its ruler, this kingdom of darkness (as Paul puts in Colossians 1).

James follows by saying that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world [in the way described in the previous paragraph] becomes an enemy of God.” James is essentially putting before God’s covenant people in the New Testament the same choice that Joshua put before God’s covenant people in the Old Testament: Who will they bow their knees to: the gods beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, the state, secular worldviews, modern American materialism, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy hedonism, the falsehood of neutrality in education propagated by secular humanists, the superficial entertainment mentality of much worship in today’s churches, selling out the gospel (compromise?? Embarrassment??) by watering down the message, and on and on and on?

James calls people who do this “adulterous.” They have left their first love to cozy up to the gods of the Amorites and the gods of Egypt.

People cry out for their free will, their rights, and their autonomy. God gives them that option, but not with impunity. There are consequences to foolish choices. This seems to be so patently obvious, that it needs no examples. People may choose Baal or Molech or Ra or the god of this age if they so choose. They can exercise their moral choice to their heart’s delight. They can revel in their “free will.” But the wrath of God will be leveled against all such unrighteousness and ungodliness as a manifestation of the curse.

This curse can come in countless ways. After all, its dispenser is an infinite Being. A corrupt culture, pagan children, radical illiteracy, increased levels of crime, escalating godlessness in the public square, countless babies born to unwed mothers and into extreme poverty, babies who never make it outside the womb, drugs, violence, sexual and monetary hedonism, the worship of self (even in…or especially in the church), etc. Don’t misunderstand me: God is not going to curse us for these things. These things are the curse.

Had God’s covenant people not spent the last 100 years committing spiritual adultery with the temptress of the age, we might not be experiencing all that we are.

By God’s grace, however, we learn that God’s people are always being called back to covenant faithfulness – to throw away all the other gods of our past and love, obey, worship, and serve the one true God… and him only. Each and every day that we are granted another day to live, we are given another opportunity for repentance and covenant-faithfulness. And like all covenants, it starts with an individual and his family.

So choose this day whom you and your household will serve. There’s only one right answer.

Grace and Truth,
Dale

My Life for Yours

(I thought I might share this devotion again. I wrote it a few years ago.)

John 12:24-26

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. [25] The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [26] Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

In our scripture Jesus is teaching his disciples that he is going to die, but that he must if they would live. A kernel of wheat must die if it would produce many seeds.

Why hasn’t reformation and revival broken out across the church at Southside…or any other church around us lately? There are perhaps many reasons, but could one reason be that we are holding on too preciously and tightly to our own lives – unwilling to die – so that we might reproduce many seeds through our deaths? Do we love our lives too much in this world, so much so, that we are actually losing our lives?

My life for yours. Genuine, substitutionary, and sacrificial living. Following and serving our King wherever he may lead…to whatever end. This brings honor from the Father. This glorifies the Father.

My life for yours. Training and nurturing our children in the Lord – when we rise, when we go to bed, as we live throughout the day, when it’s convenient, when it’s inconvenient – making sure that our children are not merely “taught at” but saturated in the things of God each day, all day – because they are eternal beings and heirs of the King. “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Are we leaving a godly legacy to and for our children and our children’s children for a thousand generations? Are we dying so they can live – really live? Can we think outside our individual lives to see how our own deaths will extend the Kingdom of God by producing many seeds? Will we believe the promises of God that he has made regarding faithful, covenantal parenting? My life for yours and for a thousand generations after you. Talk about a payoff!

But this is hard. That’s why it’s called death. Death to self. It is intentional, committed, disciplined. It’s every day, all day. It’s the discipling of our children because it is our joy, blessing, and responsibility before God to do so. Our lives for theirs. The Kingdom of God grows in such ways. Darkness is engulfed by light through such ways. Reformation and revival are ushered in through such faith and obedience. God promises blessings to such as these.

We must die. We must do with less stuff if it means more time with our families. We must wrestle with our children at the end of the day…even when we are tired. We must discipline our children, even when we would rather not. We must cast a God-glorifying vision before our children (and reiterate it every day) of who they could be for Jesus. We have to read great stories to our children (even when we’d rather doze off) so that their imaginations can ignite as they put themselves in the places of the characters in the stories. We have to read to them about the heroes of the faith who have gone before us, so that they might see how others have given themselves for Christ and his Kingdom. We absolutely must teach our children who our God is – his person, plan, power, purpose and so on. We must drive home again and again what the gospel is and is not (after all, we’re not trying to merely make better citizens or “behaviorally correct” robots). We must teach them grace and show them grace. They must learn what it means to know, love, and follow Christ. They have to understand that our faith is a total world and life view that addresses every sphere of life.

We are called to create Christian cultures in our homes though the power of God’s Word and Spirit, that those cultures might spill out into every other sphere of life. This is first and foremost our (the parents’) responsibility, not others…not even the church. Our lives for theirs. We must die so they can live.

Can we let go? Of our wants, things, desires, passions – our very lives? We must if we would find real life – abundant life – eternal life. Life in service to the King is not our own…it’s better. Only in dying are we raised. Only in dying are more seeds produced, and therefore, more fruit. Our lives for theirs.

From our commitment and hard daily labor now, what might God do in response? Might he use one of our children, (or one of our children’s children), to bring many to Christ, to redeem the culture, to usher in reformation and revival in the church, to extend the Kingdom of God as never before? We have every reason to believe he will! But we must die. We must fall to the ground and die. We must hate our lives in this world. We must give our lives for our children’s lives, and for their children after them, that God might be pleased and choose to honor us by blessing those for whom we gave our lives.

My life for yours. Our lives for theirs. This is biblical faith.

Grace and Truth,
Dale

A Prayer for Your Family

Deliver us, good Lord, from the excessive demands of business and social life that limit family relationships, from the insensitivity and harshness of judgment that prevent understanding, from domineering ways and selfish imposition of our will, from softness and indulgence mistaken for love. Bless us with wise and understanding hearts, that we may demand neither too much nor too little, and grant us sure a measure of love that we may nurture our children to that fulness of manhood and womanhood which thou has purposed for them; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Taken from The Book of Worship for Church and Home of The Methodist Church, 1965