Friday, June 23, 2017
3 Suggestions for Supplementing a Student’s Education
November 19, 2014; Current Events, Faith & Work / Bethany Jenkins
I studied chemistry for three years in high school and, for the most part, focused on inorganic compounds—that is, compounds not involving carbon. Although I enjoyed the subject, I never found it all that relevant to my everyday life—apart from, say, sodium chloride (table salt).
One semester, though, I took organic chemistry. Although I hated it (because I was terrible at it), I discovered something fascinating: organic chemistry was everywhere in my everyday life—in my shampoo, perfume, gasoline, lotion, candles, and more. It was even in the plastic sheet protectors I used for school. (Yes, I was a nerd.)
Naming Raw Materials
Today, as I look back on those years of exploring the material world through the lens of chemistry, I'm saddened that no one showed me how the God of the Bible is also the God of chemistry. No one drew the connection, for example, between Genesis 2 and the Periodic Table.
In Genesis 2, God gives authority to man to name the animals, and the text describes the Lord as waiting to see what Adam would call them:
Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would name them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name (Gen. 2:19, emphasis mine).
The Periodic Table represents all the raw materials that God has created and that we have given names. He created, for example, the raw material we call “oxygen” so that we can breathe and the raw material that we call “calcium” so that our bones and teeth can grow strong. He created them; we named them.
Yet no one described my studies to me this way. At school, I learned about things like the material world and English literature. At church, I learned about things like personal atonement and salvation. But no one—not my teachers nor my pastors—connected these worlds. As a result, I often felt that I had to choose between them.
All Truth Is God’s Truth
“Whatever things were rightly said among men are the property of us Christians,” Justin Martyr said. Drawing attention to the concept of the logos, he explained why Christians could embrace all truth as God’s truth—no matter its human source.
John Piper offers a helpful update. He takes 1 Corinthians 8:2-3 to mean that, until we know in such a way that we love God more because of it, we do not yet know as we ought:
Alongside “All truth is God’s truth,” we need to say, “All truth exists to display more of God and awaken more love for God.” This means that knowing truth and knowing it as God’s truth is not a virtue until it awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth.
In other words, merely knowing that the God of the Bible is the God of chemistry is not enough. Until chemistry awakens desire and delight in us for the God of truth, we do not know chemistry as we ought.
How to Supplement Education
Except in rare cases, the public school system does not make this connection. It does not aim to glorify God in the knowledge it pursues. Instead, it often robs God of the honor due him by passing off general revelation as a product of its own thoughts. As Abraham Kuyper once said, “[Scholarship] wants to be something outside of God, apart from God, in opposition to God.”
Too often, though, we in the church spend our energies focusing on the brokenness of the system—like, for example, worrying about what the science teacher will say about evolution—when we ought to be looking for creative opportunities to open young minds to the wonder of God’s creation. How can we, then, supplement our students’ education so that they can know as they ought to know, that their studies may awaken desire and delight in them for the God of truth? Here are three practical suggestions:
1. Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. Do I mean that we should pray for them as they open the pages of Shakespeare or conjugate Spanish verbs? Most certainly, yes, but I also mean something deeper. Kuyper told his students, “I mean that you should place yourself with all your academic hopes and dreams before the face of God in such a way that praying for your studies flows naturally from it and is not attached to it as an afterthought.”
2. Host forums for them to connect what they’re learning at school with what they’re learning at church. In addition to pizza parties and game nights, we can organize youth group discussions about particular subjects that aim to connect them with the gospel. We might be hesitant to do this because, perhaps, we weren’t good at certain subjects, or we don’t remember them. But we don’t need to be experts in any particular field to hear what students are learning and then point them to Scriptures that explore those topics.
3. Acknowledge that seeking wisdom and understanding is a lifelong pursuit. Proverbs 2:1-8 talks about calling out for insight and searching for understanding. This is not wisdom just for the young, but for the old, too. We might be hesitant to engage in these conversations with students because we’re afraid that we’ll learn something that will contradict our theology. But being willfully ignorant or intellectually lazy doesn’t strengthen anyone’s faith. Instead, we must seek wisdom like we're looking for “hidden treasures” (Prov. 2:4). This will mean digging deep with students—even as we ourselves pray for eyes to see and ears to hear, too.
Perspectives on Our Children’s Education: Going Public
June 18, 2013; Christian Living / Jen Wilkin
Editors' note: We asked three moms of school-age children to share their families' perspectives on education. Jen Wilkin, Jenni Hamm, and Amanda Allen are three friends who attend the same church and raise families in the same geographic area. All three share mutual respect for each other as parents trying to raise children with intentionality, in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In this series, you will see their perspectives on how and why they chose to educate their children through public school, private school, or homeschooling. The series begins with Jen Wilkin on why she sends her children to public school.
Perspectives on Our Children's Education: Homeward Bound, Amanda Allen
Perspectives on Our Children's Education: A Private Enterprise, Jenni Hamm
One of the biggest decisions Christian parents face is how they will educate their children. Should they send their children to private school? Should they homeschool? What about public school? The stereotypes that attach themselves to each of these choices can be comical: guess which mom wears the denim jumper? How about the North Face jacket? The tight rhinestone tee? The dogmatism that attaches to each choice, however, is not comical at all. Contrary to rumor, the Bible does not endorse one of these choices above another.
The Bible does, however, admonish parents to take seriously and personally the instruction and training of their children. How this works out in practice is a matter for careful consideration. I believe this biblical mandate can be fulfilled through any of the three options I have noted. I also believe it can be completely undermined by any of the three. Each option has its strengths and weaknesses. In fact, it might be more accurate to say that the education option you choose is of secondary importance to the role you as a parent play in your child's educational environment.
So which route did the Wilkins go? Despite the fact that I do not own a single tee with rhinestones on it, we went with public school. I want to be honest: it would not be accurate to say that we sat down and gave serious consideration to private school or homeschooling. We did not, and I hope my thoughts below will clarify why. However, with 11 years of public school under our belts we have had every opportunity to reconsider. Here are some reasons why, 11 years in, we still stand behind our decision.
We couldn't afford private school.
Okay, I'm just keeping it real. Financially we couldn't meet our long-term goals with four children in private school. The lack of ambiguity on this point was actually reassuring: It meant that there must be a way to honor God in our children's education other than sending them to private school.
We believe in public education as an ideal.
Jeff and I both come from families of public educators, and we ourselves are products of public education. Though the public education system is far from perfect, we believe that by participating in it we help to keep our community and our country healthy. We recognize that these convictions have been easy for us to hold—we have been blessed to live close to excellent schools. In many areas of our country choosing to participate in the public school system would be nothing short of bold, missional living. Furthermore, none of our children has special needs or learning disabilities, removing a huge level of complexity from the decision-making process.
We believe worldview comes from parents.
I think homeschoolers and private schoolers believe this, too. My point is that we believe children can receive a secular education without sacrificing or compromising their Christian worldview. Ensuring this kind of thoughtful engagement has required many conversations about their classes. We press our kids to learn to think critically (discerningly) about what they are being taught. We correct or temper what they learn as needed.
Here are some unlooked-for benefits of a “secular” education that we have found:
Public school gave us early and repeated opportunities to talk respectfully about other religions with our children. Those religions had real faces. Our children have many opportunities to dialogue about their faith with friends.
Public school clarified for us the importance of time spent together. We had to be deliberate about guarding our shared time since six hours of every weekday would be spent at school (see related post).
Public school reinforced for our kids that home, rather than their peer group, is their primary place of community. Home is a safe place where they can expect to be treated with kindness and gentle speech. Their peer group? Not so much.
Public school drew clear lines for our kids. They know they are in the minority in terms of worldview. We do not have to convince them that they are aliens and strangers.
I should note that we did not send our children to public school to be “salt and light.” We sent them to public school to receive an education. We did not try to strategically position our kids as miniature missionaries in their kindergarten class.
We believe children love to learn if their parents love to learn.
If the public school mom stereotype is unsavory, it pales in comparison to that of the public school student: a drug-marinated, Halo-playing, sailor-mouthed charmer clinging to a 2.0 in theater tech. That child does not live in our home. Though our children's formal education happens in a school building, it is enriched at home. Jeff and I are dorks who work crosswords together and read classic literature together and enjoy logic puzzles and the math of a card trick and the chemistry of baking and the physics of a game of pool and the biology of gardening. We became dorks because our parents were dorks. Our kids are dorks, too (sorry, kids). They are self-motivated and active learners, which has allowed them to flourish in public school regardless of whether they get the PhD or the PE coach for their language arts teacher. Parents set the educational climate for their children. If you are not the stereotypical public school parent, your child will probably not be the stereotypical public school student.
To Sum Up
For our family, public school means our children get an affordable, sound education. It means our family crosses paths with people of all backgrounds and faiths. It means we get to invest in the neighborhood in which we live. Our choice of public school in no ways indicts private schools or homeschooling. Public school is not for everyone, but it is a good fit for our family. Education is a highly personal choice, demanding consideration of factors unique to each student and family. I offer here just one perspective in the hope of enriching the dialogue.
BEN FRANKLIN AND GEORGE WHITEFIELD DEBATE THE PURPOSE OF EDUCATION
May 23, 2017; Contributors: Evangelical History
Ben Franklin and George Whitefield were a true odd couple in the history of 18th-century friendships. Whitefield was the greatest evangelical preacher of the era, while Franklin called himself a deist and doubted basic points of Christian orthodoxy. As I show in my new religious biography of Franklin, Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin about his need to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. "He used indeed sometimes to pray for my conversion," Franklin recalled, "but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard."
Franklin and Whitefield’s clashing ideas about faith also became an issue in the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor of the University of Pennsylvania. Franklin's hyperactive mind was always planning new ways to do good. By the early 1740s, he had begun to toy with the concept of an academy for Philadelphia. After some failed earlier attempts, in 1749 he published a note in the Pennsylvania Gazette explaining the need for a school where the colony's youths could receive a "polite and learned education." Evangelical Presbyterians, allies of Whitefield, had founded the College of New Jersey (what became Princeton) in 1746, but it was originally located some 80 miles from Philadelphia. Franklin hardly envisioned the academy as a sectarian seminary, anyway.
Drawing on John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Franklin's Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749) laid out plans for the academy, with educational goals of virtue and practical service. Theology and ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Latin) were de-emphasized. English grammar was a primary emphasis, because it was more useful than "foreign and dead languages," Locke had written.
Historical studies, however, remained at the center of the curriculum. History, unlike Greek and Latin, inculcated practical values. Among history's chief benefits were its lessons in morality and the value of religion. Quoting John Milton's Of Education (1644), Franklin noted that students would find the historical basis of law "delivered first and with best warrant by Moses" in the Pentateuch. Reading about moral exemplars in the past would remind students of the "advantages of temperance, order, frugality, industry, perseverance" and other virtues. It would also reveal the "necessity of a public religion," he argued. Franklin even noted that pupils would learn of the "excellency of the Christian Religion above all others ancient or modern." But on that subject, Franklin was terse.
For explanation of Christianity's value, he footnoted Scottish moral philosopher and Anglican minister George Turnbull's Observations upon Liberal Education (1742). Franklin restated Turnbull's view regarding the "excellence of true Christianity above all other religions." Turnbull had contended that Christianity was the best known source of virtue: "That the persuasion of a divine providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments, is one of the strongest incitements to virtue, and one of the most forcible restraints from vice, can hardly be doubted.," he wrote. Turnbull's view of Christianity's practical benefits tracked closely with Franklin's own convictions.
What, then, was the aim of the academy? What was the proper goal of education? For Franklin, it was to impress upon the students the desire "to serve mankind, one's country, friends, and family." Franklin knew that some potential supporters would balk at such a human-centered vision. Thus, in an extended footnote, he insisted that the aim of service to mankind was another way of saying the "glory and service of God." Here Franklin was re-stating his notion of true religion: "Doing good to men is the only service of God in our power; and to imitate his beneficence is to glorify him."
Franklin quoted Milton to bolster his point, even though Milton seems to have shared the older Christian view of education, that students should first learn about and glorify God. Milton wrote that the "end of learning is to repair the ruins of our first parents, by regaining to know God aright." Knowing God aright would lead us to love God and to imitate him. This would produce virtue, in Milton's formula. Locke and Turnbull were closer to Franklin's view on this matter. For them, virtue was learning's primary aim, not a secondary result.
Franklin arranged for the underutilized New Building, a preaching venue supporters had built for the itinerating Whitefield, to become the academy's home. He knew that using the building required Whitefield's support. So he sent the itinerant a copy of his plan. Whitefield loved the idea of the school. He did not love the absence of Jesus in the Proposals, however. The school "is certainly calculated to promote polite literature," Whitefield told Franklin, "but I think there wants aliquid Christi [something of Christ] in it." The itinerant appreciated the proposals' recognition of Christianity's superior merit, but Franklin mentioned the topic too late, and moved on from it too quickly.
Virtue in this life was not the main point of education, according to Whitefield. In the context of eternity, this life would pass in a blink. Thus, the great focus of Christian education was not this world, but the next. Every Christian school should seek to convince students "of their natural depravity, of the means of recovering out of it, and of the necessity of preparing for the enjoyment of the Supreme Being in a future state. These are the grant points in which Christianity centers. Arts and sciences may be built on this, and serve to embellish and set off this superstructure, but without this, I think there cannot be any good foundation."
In case Franklin had not gotten the point, Whitefield circled back at the end of a long letter, saying that he would pray for God to show Franklin how "to promote the best end; I mean, the glory of GOD, and the welfare of your fellow-creatures." Unsurprisingly, the preacher also suggested that each student practice oratory for a couple of hours each day. Franklin's plans for the academy stumbled along until 1755, when the “College, Academy and Charitable Schools of Philadelphia" formally received its charter.
We might be somewhat impressed by Franklin’s vision of an education designed to inspire students to “serve mankind, one's country, friends, and family,” and to inculcate virtue. That’s a more morally rigorous vision than the purely pragmatic, vocational aims of many schools and colleges today. But Christian educators need to remember that even the inculcation of virtue, and fostering the desire to serve, can only be a secondary goal in truly Christian education. As Whitefield suggested, truly Christian education must have a more transcendent vision for Christ and his glory.
Beware the Graduation Speech
May 23, 2017; Contributors: Kevin DeYoung
Graduation season is upon us. Colleges have been handing out diplomas for several weeks, and the high school ceremonies are right around the corner. It can be a wonderful opportunity for honoring past accomplishments and looking forward to future adventures. If you are graduation this spring, I hope you enjoy all the festivities and have a great time with family and friends.
Just don’t believe everything you hear in the graduation speech.
The truth is: you can’t do anything you set your mind to. You can’t be whatever you want to be. You aren’t the last, best hope for planet earth. You shouldn’t always follow your dreams. You shouldn’t always believe in yourself. And you shouldn’t expect life’s most meaningful gifts to come through unchecked self expression.
Most commencement addresses boil down to three sentiments:
1. You’re amazing.
2. Follow your dreams.
3. Never give up.
While all three points can be appropriate in the right context, they don’t amount to much as a game plan for the future, let alone an approach to the good life. Central to the Western understanding (and later Christian understanding) of the good life are the four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. This classic description of character is barely heard in today’s moral exhortations. Which is why most graduation speeches posit a different set of virtues: differentiation, self-expression, confidence, and a “don’t let other people stand in your way” stick-to-it-tiveness.
The cardinal virtues that anchored moral thought in the west for 2,500 years have been largely forgotten. You rarely hear about prudence with its calculated pursuit of wisdom and its disciplined use of reason, and you certainly never hear about temperance with its emphasis on self-control, humility, meekness, and sexual restraint. Even popular virtues like justice and courage have morphed. Justice has come to mean a host of policy and political prescriptions (usually for others, not for ourselves), rather than a way of life in which we not only treat one another fairly, but we also do our duty, show gratitude for what we have been given, and give God the honor he deserves. Today’s courage--as self-willed perseverance--bears some semblance to the older definition, but missing are the accompanying virtues of patience, magnanimity, and self-sacrifice for the sake of others.
To be sure, no one expects much from a graduation speech. The bar is pretty low. I know, I gave my high school commencement address (lo, these many years ago). But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen with discerning ears. Or that we can’t ask for a better use of 15 minutes in the future. What teenagers and 20-somethings need to hear is not another banal speech about all marching to the beat of our own drums. They need to hear that lasting success comes from hard work and delayed gratification, that the dreams worth chasing are dreams of character not of career, that going further than we thought possible never happens without embracing our limitations, that self-denial will make you more friends and make you happier in the long run than self-expression, that duty and joy are not mutually exclusive, that finding meaning in life comes when you finally forget yourself, and that being true to what is good and right and beautiful is more important than being true to yourself.
If you have to sit through another graduation speech this spring, it might as well be one that eschews the silliness of find-your-selfism and focuses on virtue instead.
A TIME TO WEEP, AND A TIME TO LAUGH
June 13, 2017
Contributors: Kevin DeYoung
I will be the senior pastor at University Reformed Church for a few more days.
This Sunday I will preach one last time as an installed pastor at URC. Come Monday morning I will be the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina.
Which has me thinking about Ecclesiastes 3. “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (v. 1). A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to celebrate. A time for hellos, and a time for goodbyes.
I am excited for the next chapter of ministry. Everyone from Christ Covenant has been exceedingly helpful and kind in this transition time. I pray for God’s help to preach and lead and serve and love well in the months and years ahead.
But until June 19, I am the pastor of University Reformed Church, and I want the dear saints in East Lansing to know how grateful I am to have been their under-shepherd for the last 13 years. I still have one more sermon to give on Sunday morning and then a few final remarks to share on Sunday evening. What I want to say in this public forum is simply “thank you.”
Thank you for taking a chance on a 26-year-old associate pastor with no senior pastor experience.
Thank you for always being more concerned about substance than style.
Thank you for always being interested in college students and internationals.
Thank you for coming out for the monthly prayer service and loving it.
Thank you for loving most the sermons that centered most squarely on the gospel.
Thank you for following along in your Bibles.
Thank you for using the hymnal.
Thank you for singing with gusto.
Thank you for generously supporting missionaries, capital campaigns, special projects, and the general budget.
Thank you for quietly and consistently replenishing the diaconate fund, whether anyone asked you to or not.
Thank you for no-drama congregational meetings.
Thank you for elders who work hard and pray hard.
Thank you for a diaconate that was eager to serve.
Thank you for a staff that could learn together, labor together, and laugh together.
Thank you for a support team full of godly, encouraging men, but not yes-men.
Thank you for letting me lead and keeping me humble.
Thank you for the opportunity to pray for you, marry you, baptize you, and bury your loved ones.
Thank you for loving my wife and kids and letting them be themselves.
Thank you for letting me be my own nerdy, silly, picky self.
Thank you for being hungry for the Word of God.
Thank you for welcoming us into your homes and into your hearts.
Thank you for embracing the call to be plodding visionaries and hugging theologians.
Thank you for praying for your pastor.
Thank you for making Christ your all in all.
Thank you for calling me pastor. These 13 years have been better than you know.
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
You Can Forgive Your Parents
Article by Marshall Segal
Parents are becoming a common scapegoat, at least in many American circles.
Listen to people explain their weaknesses and failures in life, and consider how often you hear them blame their parents — directly or indirectly, blatantly or subtly. We’ve all heard that the sins of the parents are passed down to their children and their children’s children (Exodus 34:6–7). We’ve also been told over and over that most of our weaknesses as people can be traced to weaknesses in our parents and their parenting.
How much of the trouble you have experienced in life do you (consciously or unconsciously) attribute to your parents (or other family members) — to things they withheld from you, to lessons they hadn’t learned yet, to character flaws in them that haven’t changed, to mistakes they made in raising you, to sins they committed against you?
It can be healthy to uncover the roots of our specific pains or weaknesses — biological, historical, or otherwise — but true healing will never come from identifying causes or assigning guilt, but from trusting God.
Betrayed by Family
Joseph was betrayed by his own brothers, ten of his brothers (Genesis 37:18, 28). Ten of the people he should have been able to trust most in the world, instead conspired first to kill him (Genesis 37:18), and then to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:28).
Perhaps a brother or sister (or father or mother) could do worse to you, but most of our family members are not capable of horrors like these. They plotted to murder him, then left him in a hole to die, then pulled him out of the pit, opting instead to make a little money by selling him into some unknown, lifelong slavery. They had no idea where they were sending their brother. They simply rejoiced that they were finally rid of him, despite how devastating the news would be to their father.
Not You, But God
Years later, God had brought Joseph through slavery into power, then through unjust imprisonment into greater power under Pharaoh. Because of a severe famine in the land, Joseph’s family came from Canaan to buy food in Egypt. As God would have it, they unknowingly landed at their betrayed brother’s feet, begging in desperation for their lives.
“Joseph laid aside the awful weight of resentment, and cast his crushing cares upon God.”
Joseph recognized his brothers immediately, all of them guilty of attempted murder and human trafficking. Suddenly, he was now not only their victim, but also their judge. The story plays out through several interactions between them, but climaxes as Joseph finally reveals his identity to the men. They’re immediately distraught, knowing the evil they have done and realizing the severe punishment they deserved (Genesis 45:3). Joseph’s next words to them are some of the most stunning in all the Bible:
“I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (Genesis 45:4–5)
No, Joseph, don’t you have the history wrong here? Your brothers sold you into slavery, and sent you to die in Egypt. Yet Joseph repeats himself, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).
God Meant It for Good
Seventeen years later, their father Jacob died. The brothers feared Joseph might finally get his revenge against them (Genesis 50:15). In their minds, he was still right to seek retribution, despite the forgiveness and kindness he had extended to them.
Joseph wept with compassion and affection, and then said,
“Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19–21)
“True healing will never come from assigning guilt, but from trusting God.”
Instead of confronting his would-be murderers, he comforted them. Instead of punishing the men who sold him into slavery, he promised to provide for them and their children. He laid aside the awful weight of resentment and bitterness, and cast his crushing, nightmarish cares upon God (1 Peter 5:7). When his brothers deserved a curse, he chose instead to bless them — taking up his cross for the joy God had set before him.
His surprising patience and kindness with his brothers rings with the apostle Peter’s description of Sarah. When her own husband lied and put her in danger, she “[did] good and [did] not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). She entrusted herself to God, even when she couldn’t entrust herself to Abraham. Joseph entrusted himself — and his brothers — to God, not needing to execute justice or seek vindication himself.
Do you have the faith to forgive your family — your parents (Ephesians 4:32)? Do you have the freedom to let God deal with their offenses against you (Romans 12:19)? Do you have the courage to receive and live the good God has planned for you, however good or bad it might feel in the moment (Romans 8:28)?
Good Deeper Than Pain
Joseph knew God was always working something deeper for him than the betrayal, the slavery, and the imprisonment — a sweetness deeper than any circumstance. But he also saw his suffering in the context of what God was doing for others.
“God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5, 7).
To his brothers: “I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty” (Genesis 45:11).
“God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Maybe the greatest earthly good God will do through the things you have suffered will be in someone else’s life, and not your own. As Paul writes, “Blessed be the . . . God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).
None of us asks for that kind of ministry, but it is a beautiful and necessary ministry, to which God calls many. Joseph counted all of his suffering worth it compared with all God did through it for others — every malicious intent in his brothers, every act of mistreatment in slavery, every unjust day in jail. Do you treasure the good God does for others through you that much?
God’s Plan for You
Christian, your parents did not get in the way of God’s plans for you. They were God’s plan for you. Can you look back at your life, with Joseph, and say that? Ultimately, my parents did not send me here; God sent me here. Whatever my parents meant for me, God meant it for good. He did, he is, and he will — in every hardship and in every relationship.
“Christian, your parents did not get in the way of God’s plans for you. They were God’s plan for you.” Tweet Share on Facebook
Joseph did not live for his brothers’ apologies. Their sins against him did not hold him captive all those years, refusing to let him move on. He knew the horrors of captivity well, but he was free from bitterness and resentment, even while his brothers were silent about their guilt. Don’t wait for your parents to apologize before you exercise the freedom Christ has already purchased for you.
Even if they have plotted to murder you or to sell you into slavery, even then they cannot keep God from doing good to you, and through you for others.
Ask Your Child to Forgive You
Article by David Mathis
I will never forget my father asking for my forgiveness. Few moments, if any, were as arresting, as moving, and as unforgettable as when Pop admitted to me — at age five or seven or ten — that he had overreacted, and that he was sorry.
I was most moved, at least in every case I remember, because I was not an innocent victim. My disobedience, rebellion, and immaturity were the catalyst for our clashes. I had sinned first, and I knew I was in the wrong.
But Pop had joined a Bible study, and his heart was becoming more tender to the word of God. He wanted his conduct to come increasingly in line with the gospel he loved. Not just in public, but in private. Not just as a dentist and deacon where the world was watching, but as a father, when only little eyes were watching. He began owning the fact that even his child’s bad behavior was no excuse for a sinful response. He was learning first to recognize and admit his own sin, and remove the adult log from his own eye, in order to be a more careful and patient remover of the childhood speck from mine.
The Emperor’s New Armor
Some of us might worry that making ourselves vulnerable like this to our children will reveal a chink in the armor of parental authority. Surely, we can’t really bring up our children, we tell ourselves, if we have given away our high ground. My experience as a child, and now as a parent of twin six-year-old boys, says this is emphatically not the case.
When I come down on them, with all my adult emotional weight, they can be crushed so easily. But when I come down to them, and stand with them in owning my own sin and recognizing my need for Jesus’s ongoing rescue, then I’m not only modeling repentance before them, but I’m also living the authentic Christian life myself, rather than letting parenting be an excuse for hypocrisy.
I don’t need to be perfect for my children. Jesus has done that. Jesus is that. My children don’t need me to be their perfect savior, but to point them, in honesty about my own sin, to our Savior. In fact, they urgently need to know that I’m not perfect, that my ultimate hope is not in my goodness, but in Jesus’s. I stand with them as a sinner, born in sin, desperately in need of grace. If I try to hide the chink in my armor — and it’s not just a chink, but countless chinks, even gaping holes — I don’t protect them but endanger them. I reinforce the myth we all tell ourselves at some point, that we can be good enough to garner God’s favor.
Three Lessons for Parents
It’s hard to overstate the long-term impact of my father asking me for forgiveness — especially when I was the main one at fault. In my own parenting, I still have so much to learn. Our sons are only six. We have a long road ahead, but the early findings are that my owning and confessing my own sin, especially when I overreact to my children’s disobedience, is already bearing fruit in my relationship with them.
The truth is there are no relationships in which it is strategic to cover my sin, and not own and confess it. If you, like me, want to grow in this kind of humility and initiative as parents, here are three lessons I’m learning in trying to love my sons in light of my sin.
1. God is not just working through me as a parent, but on me.
Being a parent doesn’t mean that I’ve graduated from basic Christian growth, but likely that I’ve entered one of the most important seasons. Parents walk with children through an intense season of physical development, while God walks with parents through an intense season of spiritual development. It’s not a question as to whether we sin against our child. All parents sin against their children. The question is whether we recognize and confess our sin, and ask our children for forgiveness. Far too few of us are ready to do this.
2. True confession is heartfelt, not contrived.
A danger latent in this article is that it might tempt you to calculate certain confessions to your children to produce certain results. You could own up to some fairly admirable weakness, or feign sorrow over some sin, to capture your children’s attention and tug on their heart strings. Such is manipulation, not true confession. When you own your sins and reveal your weaknesses, your children likely will be riveted. (Few things arrest our boys like when I tell stories about the times when “Daddy got a spanking when he was a kid.”)
“God is not just working through me as a parent, but on me.” Tweet Share on Facebook
But genuine confession isn’t results-oriented. It rises from an awareness of the God-belittling ways we have treated our children and from sincerely grieving our failure to live up to our calling. We recognize that we have misrepresented God. He is gracious and merciful; I have been ungracious and exacting. He is slow to anger; I have been short-tempered, erupting in anger at my child’s disobedience. He is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness; I have been stingy and unreliable.
3. Good apologies don’t end with “but.”
The most meaningful conversations with our kids are the ones in which we can confess our own weakness without then turning and putting it back on them. “But when you . . .” Let the apology stand. Give it your best effort — and this can be very hard — to not follow your admission immediately with a “but” that puts the blame back on the child for your sin.
“Good apologies don’t end with ‘but.’”
You are the parent, the adult. It is often the case that your sin is really to blame, in some sense, for sin in your child, not vice versa. Children don’t only have sin natures; they also have sinful parents. Even before our child sins, we often have played our part, by not investing the energy it takes to proactively instruct our children, clearly lay out reasonable ground rules, and graciously communicate expectations.
Yes, apologizing does show our weaknesses — in exactly the way our children need to see them. We “mature” parents do not stand with God on the other side of some great divide far away from our sinful children. We stand with them as sinners, still desperately and consistently in need of God’s grace and his power for change.