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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Parents, Require Obedience of Your Children


I am writing this to plead with Christian parents to require obedience of their children. 
I am moved to write this by watching young children pay no attention to their parents’ requests, with no consequences. 
Parents tell a child two or three times to sit or stop and come or go, and after the third disobedience, they laughingly bribe the child. 
This may or may not get the behavior desired.

Last week, I saw two things that prompted this article. One was the killing of 13-year-old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, California, by police who thought he was about to shoot them with an assault rifle. 
It was a toy gun. 
What made this relevant was that the police said they told the boy two times to drop the gun. 
Instead he turned it on them. 
They fired.

I do not know the details of that situation or if Andy even heard the commands. 
So I can’t say for sure he was insubordinate. 
So my point here is not about young Lopez himself. 
It’s about a “what if.” 
What if he heard the police, and simply defied what they said? 
If that is true, it cost him his life. 
Such would be the price of disobeying proper authority.

A Tragedy in the Making

I witnessed such a scenario in the making on a plane last week. 
I watched a mother preparing her son to be shot.

I was sitting behind her and her son, who may have been seven years old. 
He was playing on his digital tablet. 
The flight attendant announced that all electronic devices should be turned off for take off. 
He didn’t turn it off. 
The mother didn’t require it. 
As the flight attendant walked by, she said he needed to turn it off and kept moving. 
He didn’t do it. 
The mother didn’t require it.

One last time, the flight attendant stood over them and said that the boy would need to give the device to his mother. 
He turned it off. 
When the flight attendant took her seat, the boy turned his device back on, and kept it on through the take off. 
The mother did nothing. 
I thought to myself, she is training him to be shot by police.

Rescue from Foolish Parenting

The defiance and laziness of unbelieving parents I can understand. 
I have biblical categories of the behavior of the spiritually blind. 
But the neglect of Christian parents perplexes me. 
What is behind the failure to require and receive obedience? 
I’m not sure. 
But it may be that these nine observations will help rescue some parents from the folly of laissez-faire parenting.

1. Requiring obedience of children is implicit in the biblical requirement that children obey their parents.

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). 
It makes no sense that God would require children to obey parents and yet not require parents to require obedience from the children. 
It is part of our job — to teach children the glory of a happy, submissive spirit to authorities that God has put in place. 
Parents represent God to small children, and it is deadly to train children to ignore the commands of God.

2. Obedience is a new-covenant, gospel category.

Obedience is not merely a “legal” category. 
It is a gospel category. 
Paul said that his gospel aim was “to bring about the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5). 
He said, “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience — by word and deed” (Romans 15:18).

Paul’s aim was “to take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). 
He required it of the churches: “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him” (2 Thessalonians 3:14).

Parents who do not teach their children to obey God’s appointed authorities prepare them for a life out of step with God’s word — a life out of step with the very gospel they desire to emphasize.

(If anyone doubts how crucial this doctrine is, please consider reading Wayne Grudem’s chapter, “Pleasing God by Our Obedience: A Neglected New Testament Teaching” in For the Fame of God’s Name, edited by Justin Taylor and Sam Storms.)

3. Requiring obedience of children is possible.

To watch parents act as if they are helpless in the presence of disobedient children is pitiful. 
God requires that children obey because it is possible for parents to require obedience. 
Little children, under a year old, can be shown effectively what they may not touch, bite, pull, poke, spit out, or shriek about. 
You are bigger than they are. 
Use your size to save them for joy, not sentence them to selfishness.

4. Requiring obedience should be practiced at home on inconsequential things so that it is possible in public on consequential things.

One explanation why children are out of control in public is that they have not been taught to obey at home. 
One reason for this is that many things at home don’t seem worth the battle. 
It’s easier to do it ourselves than to take the time and effort to deal with a child’s unwillingness to do it. 
But this simply trains children that obedience anywhere is optional. 
Consistency in requiring obedience at home will help your children be enjoyable in public.

5. It takes effort to require obedience, and it is worth it.

If you tell a child to stay in bed and he gets up anyway, it is simply easier to say, go back to bed, than to get up and deal with the disobedience. 
Parents are tired. 
I sympathize. 
For more than 40 years, I’ve had children under eighteen. 
Requiring obedience takes energy, both physically and emotionally. 
It is easier simply to let the children have their way.

The result? 
Uncontrollable children when it matters. 
They have learned how to work the angles. 
Mommy is powerless, and daddy is a patsy. 
They can read when you are about to explode. 
So they defy your words just short of that. 
This bears sour fruit for everyone. 
But the work it takes to be immediately consistent with every disobedience bears sweet fruit for parents, children, and others.

6. You can break the multi-generational dysfunction.

One reason parents don’t require discipline is they have never seen it done. 
They come from homes that had two modes: passivity and anger. 
They know they don’t want to parent in anger. 
The only alternative they know is passivity. 

There is good news: this can change. 
Parents can learn from the Bible and from wise people what is possible, what is commanded, what is wise, and how to do it in a spirit that is patient, firm, loving, and grounded in the gospel.

7. Gracious parenting leads children from external compliance to joyful willingness.

Children need to obey before they can process obedience through faith. 
When faith comes, the obedience which they have learned from fear and reward and respect will become the natural expression of faith. 
Not to require obedience before faith is folly. 
It’s not loving in the long run. 
It cuts deep furrows of disobedient habits that faith must then not infuse, but overcome.

8. Children whose parents require obedience are happier.

Laissez-faire parenting does not produce gracious, humble children. 
It produces brats. 
They are neither fun to be around, nor happy themselves. 
They are demanding and insolent. 
Their “freedom” is not a blessing to them or others. 
They are free the way a boat without a rudder is free. 
They are the victims of their whims. 
Sooner or later, these whims will be crossed. 
That spells misery. 
Or, even a deadly encounter with the police.

9. Requiring obedience is not the same as requiring perfection.

Since parents represent God to children — especially before they can know God through faith in the gospel — we show them both justice and mercy. 
Not every disobedience is punished. 
Some are noted, reproved, and passed over. 
There is no precise manual for this mixture. 
Children should learn from our parenting that the God of the gospel is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:7, 29) and that he is patient and slow to anger (1 Timothy 1:16). 
In both cases — discipline and patience — the aim is quick, happy, thorough obedience. 
That’s what knowing God in Christ produces.

Parents, you can do this. 
It is a hard season. 
I’ve spent more than sixty percent of my life in it. 
But there is divine grace for this, and you will be richly rewarded.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Our Children for Our Joy

by Trillia Newbell


I dropped my son off at his school and yelled my usual through the rolled down window, “I love you. Make good choices. Obey your teacher.” 
As I began to roll up the window and drive away, my little first grader took his small hand to his mouth and blew me a kiss.
It was like everything stopped at that moment.

I realized how quickly this season would last. 
Would he blow me a kiss when he’s 16 years old? 
I don’t know. 
I blew him a kiss back and he waved to me, mouthing the words “Bye, Mom.” 
I was overwhelmed. 
I wished I could freeze that point in time.

Sweet Ragamuffins

I like to call my children sweet ragamuffins. 
Motherhood is challenging. 
My kids don’t obey me every time I ask them to do something. 
They are rambunctious, loud, and messy. 
And they are sweet. 
They are gifts. 
Like many moms, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. 
What I think we can so often forget, though, is that motherhood isn’t a task to be checked off like laundry. 
It is a calling.

Maybe the word “calling” makes you want to run and hide. 
For many, “calling” can sound as if motherhood is your only identity, that is all encompassing and you never get a break from your endless responsibilities. 
This is not true. 
You are likely called to be a wife and church member and friend as well (and the list could go on). 
So motherhood is not your only identity; it is a part of your identity
And there is a weight to that. 
Mothers are more than just mothers, but we are never less. 
God’s word instructs us to train up our children in the way they should go (Proverbs 22:6). 
I can’t think of a greater challenge given to us parents. 
As one in the throes of raising and teaching young children, I am desperate for Jesus.

Gifts to Enjoy

But I don’t think remembering the responsibility to train our children is the best way we embrace and savor these short days we have with them. 
Remember that “every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…” (James 1:17). 
Our children are not tasks to complete, but gifts to enjoy. 
And we do this by remembering that they are truly gifts from God. 
Yes, even when they stand in the hall refusing to put away their socks, or when they throw their cereal on the floor, or when they make it almost impossible to complete a trip to the grocery store. 
Those are trials mothers face weekly and yes, even they are gifts.

Paul, instructing Timothy to challenge the rich to put their hope in God instead of their wealth, reminds us that it is God who provides all things for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). 
Our children aren’t meant to be checked off a list. 
They are to be delighted in. 
As with every gift we receive, we must be careful not to idolize our children. 
Only God should be worshipped. 
But what if we began to think of our kids as true gifts from God aimed at our enjoyment, both in our kids and in God through them.

A Call to Treasure

I think of how much I enjoy looking at colorful birds at the zoo. 
They are exotic creatures, each with their unique beaks and beautiful mosaic of feathers. 
They are a wonder of God’s creation, and he cares for them. 
But not more than he cares for us: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. 
Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26).

In a similar way, I can think of many things I enjoy, but I value my kids more. 
I love looking into my kids’ precious eyes. 
I want to get into the world of their God-given personalities and take in their laughs and answer their questions. 
I want to enjoy them.

Maybe that’s precisely what the main thing of this mommy calling is all about. 
Maybe it’s not as much a call to train your kids as it is a call to treasure them.

Our children won’t be our little children forever. 
Let’s enjoy these days that God has given us. 
They are his gifts, glimmers of his goodness, which leads us to say with Lewis, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary sparkles are like this!”

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why Did God Forbid One Tree in Eden?


Of the many trees in the Garden, God banned Adam and Eve from eating from one — just one (Genesis 2:16–17, 3:1–3, 11).


John Piper recently gave the question some fresh thinking, which he shares in today’s episode of Ask Pastor John:

The function of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to make sure that the pleasures of all the other trees in the garden are supremely pleasures in God.

The command went like this: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16–17).

So what was God saying in prohibiting the eating of one tree out of a million trees? 
He was saying, “I have given you life. 
I have given you a world full of pleasure, pleasures of taste and sight and sound and smell and feel and nourishment. 
Only one tree is forbidden to you. 
And the point of that prohibition is to preserve the pleasures of the world, because if you eat of that one you will be saying to me, ‘I’m smarter than you. I am more authoritative that you. I am wiser than you are. I think I can care for myself better than you care for me. You are not a very good Father. And so I am going to reject you.’ 

So don’t eat from the tree, because you will be rejecting me and all my good gifts and all my wisdom and all my care. 
Instead, keep on submitting to my will. 
Keep on affirming my wisdom. 
Keep on being thankful for my generosity. 
Keep on trusting me as a Father and keep on eating these trees as a way of enjoying me. 
There are 10,000 trees, every imaginable fruit. 
Just go eat. 
Be thankful. 
I have given them to you and see them as expressions of my goodness and savor them that way.”

And Satan comes along, and he takes that arrangement and says, “Hey, Eve, the meaning of that arrangement is: God is selfish. God is stingy. He is a skinflint.” 
So he took the prohibition of one suicidal tree and treated it as a prohibition of everything.

So the issue of the tree is this: Will we keep looking to God as the giver and lover and treasure of this garden so that all our eating is thanking and all our savoring is a savoring of God? 
Will we keep on experiencing every one of these tastes as a tasting of something like what God is, and in that sense a tasting of God? Will we keep on enjoying God in the enjoying of the trees?

That is what the forbidden tree was there to test.

I think a lot of people try to set that up as merely arbitrary: Will man obey? Or will he not obey? 
And they don’t put it in the context of his fatherly care and all the goods that he has given. I don’t think it is arbitrary like that.

It was a warning. “If you choose independence instead of God-dependence, you will lose the pleasure of the garden and God with it.”

“If you keep trusting me and enjoying me as your greatest delight and highest treasure, you will have this garden and I will be the pleasure of all your pleasures.”

The forbidding one tree is a way of securing that the pleasures of all the other trees in the garden are supremely pleasures in God.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hijacking Back Your Brain from Porn


Because of the overwhelming response to our recent posts on porn, we offer another great and helpful article on the topic:

by John Piper

New brain research suggests it is as strong as addiction to cocaine and heroin because of its unique combination of stimulant and opiate. 
Pornography lays down real physiological paths in the brain. 
All sexual experience tends to migrate to these paths.

I concluded that none of this brain research takes God by surprise. 
He designed the interplay between the brain and the soul. 
Discoveries of the connections between physical and spiritual reality do not nullify either.

Don’t Be Part of Abolishing Man

So don’t let this new brain research make you think of yourself as mere flesh and chemicals. 

This is the great myth of the modern world — what C. S. Lewis called the abolition of man. 
This is the theory that human thought is nothing but movement in the brain. 

It is a theory developed to destroy itself.
Lewis saw the tentacles of materialism reaching into every sphere:

There will always be evidence, and every month fresh evidence, to show that religion is only psychological, justice only self-protection, politics only economics, love only lust, and thought itself only cerebral biochemistry. (“Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory, 114–115)

But Lewis saw that nobody really acts as though they believe this. 
They are playing a language game. He illustrates this with the relationship between thought and brains:

We are certain that, in this life at any rate, thought is intimately connected with the brain. 
The theory that thought therefore is merely a movement in the brain is, in my opinion, nonsense; for if so, that theory itself would be merely a movement, an event among atoms, which may have speed and direction but of which it would be meaningless to use the words “true” or ”false.” (“Transposition,” 103)

Lewis is not playing counter-games here. 
He is blood-earnest that the abolishers of man are refusing to see that they claim to make meaningful statements while destroying meaning.

Take the Mind-Body Connection by the Horns

Meaning is rooted in supra-material truth. 
You are not mere matter and energy. 
You are an embodied soul who will live forever in heaven or in hell, created in the image of God, unlike mere animals, and, as a Christian, bought with the blood of the Son of God, and indwelt by the very Spirit of God himself. 
These are stupendous realities — greater realities than endorphins and dopamine.

God wove together physical nerves and supra-physical spiritual affections — desire, fear, joy, anger, pity, admiration, trust, cherishing, love. 
Instead of letting this connection discourage you, take it by the horns and make it serve your holiness. 
This is what the Bible calls you to do.

Don’t think the Bible is silent on this all-important question of mind and body — thinking and brains, affections and chemicals. 
God made these connections between physical and supra-physical, and God has wisdom for living in them.

Consider these four hope-filled observations.

1. Deep Renewal, Including Your Brain

Brain research is an infant science, publishing its first baby steps. 
They have scarcely begun to even name the mysteries of how truth and beauty is mediated through language, and then enters the mind as thought, and then is transposed into corresponding chemical processes.

Therefore, we should take hold of this amazing connection and claim what the Bible claims: Beholding the glory of the Lord, we are being changed (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

Of course seeing nudes changes the brain. 
But why should we think that seeing the glory of Christ exerts a weaker change? 

If brain paths pervert our affections and our behavior, do not make the wild mistake of assuming sanctification can only make weaker paths.

Paul calls you to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23–24). 
Watch out, lest you assume that the renewal of “the spirit of the mind” leaves no trace in the paths of the brain. It does.

Paul says, “Put on the new man, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:10). 
If the seeing of internet nakedness creates new paths in the brain, how much more the seeing of Christ — the spiritual sight of “the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). 
We are not left to create new brains for ourselves: “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:10). 
Do not be cowed by brain research. 
God made the brain and wrote the Book.

2. Bloody Christ, Bad Odors, and Bears

Moreover, we know from experience that we are not slaves of these powerful pornographic changes in our brains. 
I do not minimize them. 
Judging by the ongoing effects, even in my sixties, of my teenage tomfoolery, I have tasted the amazing staying power of old sinful patterns. 
But we are not horses or mules that can only be curbed with bit and bridle (Psalm 32:9).
You know this. 
If you were in the grip of great sexual desire for pornography, and Jesus himself stood before you in your room, blood splattered, hands trembling with pain, eyes brimming with love, breathing heavily like a dying man, you know — yes, you know — you would have power in that moment to not look at the pornography as Jesus stood there. 

You are not enslaved. 
The well-beaten neural paths in your brain would not win. 

They are not God. 
They do not have the last say.

Or just at the physical level, you know from experience that a mere smell — say of human feces, or rancid garbage, or your own armpit can knock the sexual drive right out of your groin. 
What does that mean? 
It means those neural paths are not final. 
They can be trumped. 
You are not a mere victim.

Or consider this. 
You are about to commit fornication in a tent in the woods. 
You never dreamed it would come to this, but now the tidal wave of desire has simply conquered you. 
Or has it? 
What if, in the moment of hottest passion, before entry, you heard the sound of a grizzly bear, and saw silhouetted on the tent his mammoth size, would you be the slave of lust? 
Or would not fear utterly triumph over those chemicals?

Beware of thinking you are a victim of the euphoric effect of dopamine and endorphins. 
You are not. 
God has ways of revealing his bloody Christ, and staggering you with odors and bears to rescue you for himself. 
He will stoop to this for love’s sake.

3. Satan, Sex, and Chemicals

Supra-chemical emotions — spiritual affections — are transposed into corresponding physical responses in the brain. 
That means you can fight physical fire with spiritual fire. 
And it works the other way as well. 
God ordains that we fight for spiritual fruit by wielding physiological weapons with spiritual hands.

Have you ever considered the stunning implications of Paul’s Satan-defeating sexual counsel in 1 Corinthians 7:5
Be careful, single people. 
You are likely to jump to the conclusion that this is either irrelevant for you, or bad news. 
It’s not. 
Paul says to husbands and wives,

Do not deprive one another [of sexual relations], except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

This implies that Paul intends for Christian couples to fight against the supernatural power of Satan by having sufficiently frequent sexual relations. 
To put the point physiologically: There are brain chemicals that increase desire for sex as the length of abstinence increases. 
The power of those chemicals decreases after orgasm. 
Therefore, Paul says, make use of that physiological reality in marriage to reduce your vulnerability to Satan’s temptation to adultery and pornography.

Of course, this is not the only or the main weapon in our arsenal. 
But it is one. 
And it illustrates the validity of using physiological weapons against physiological foes. 
Single people may rightly say, I don’t have that particular marriage weapon in my arsenal
That’s right. 
And I admire you for saying it. 
But embrace the principle as it applies to you. 
There are physiological realities that you know affect your vulnerability to temptation. 
Use them to make war.

4. The Holy Spirit, Sleep, and Self-Control

But is that spiritual? 
Isn’t self-control a “fruit of the Holy Spirit,” rather than a fruit of frequent sexual relations?

It is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23), but not “rather than” a fruit of other forces. 
The Spirit’s way of producing his fruit often includes very natural means. 
For example, another fruit of the Spirit is patience (Galatians 5:22). 
But who of us would deny that our patience rises and falls with how much sleep we get? 
Love, Paul says, is “patient . . . and not easily irritated” (1 Corinthians 13:4–5). 
But we are more easily irritated, and less patient, when we have not gotten the rest we need.

What I infer from this is that one of the many weapons in the arsenal of the Holy Spirit is sleep. 
He humbles us to realize we are not God and that we need to be as helpless as a baby seven or eight hours a day, in order to be the loving, patient people he calls us to be.

Similarly with sexual self-control. 
The Holy Spirit teaches us from Scripture, and from experience, and from each other, how our bodies work. 
He means for us to lean on his power as we use the physiological counter-weapons he gives us.

Finding True Ecstasy

Brain research is right: Our brains are deeply shaped by what we see. 
And the more we see, the more well-beaten and controlling those paths become. 
But we are not their victims. 
These physiological powers are not ultimate. 
God is ultimate. 
And he has given us spiritual weapons just as physiologically powerful as pornography. 
He too means to be seen — often and deeply (2 Corinthians 3:18; 4:4).

Moreover the spiritual powers of his word and Spirit have the right to conscript physiological forces into their service. 
And in the end, God can hijack back the very paths of pornography and transpose the scintillations of those very paths into the ecstasies of knowing Christ.