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Kids need both mercy and judgment

We need to be like God to our kids, full of love and discipline and justice and mercy. But mercy without judgment is not grace, and that’s why rules and consequences for breaking them must be in place. I can’t help but think that some kids never really come to Christ simply because they have never been held to any rules and have wrong concepts about mercy and justice. Paul wrote, “The law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24).

Rules can never make us right with God, but they show us how we are wrong so we can come to Him honestly, asking for mercy from Him who is so willing to give it. If we constantly let our children off the hook, they assume God will do the same. He will, but only on His terms, and as parents we need to do our best to lead our kids to Christ, who will care for them when we no longer can.

When she was a little girl, my older daughter loved riding her bike. She and I would sometimes travel for miles, me peddling steadily on my big 26” bike, and she cranking furiously on her little 20-incher from which I’d only recently removed the training wheels. She just loved riding with her daddy, and I often rode farther than I really cared to, simply because she delighted so much in the simple joy of being with me and traveling on a bike. If I couldn’t be with her, there were very limited areas where she could ride. Of course, these rules were mostly for her safety. We didn’t want her getting hurt, and nearby were dangerous roads only to be traveled at certain times with her father.

One day, she grew bored with our restrictions and rode beyond where she was told to go. It was fun for a while, but by the time she returned, the poor girl was wracked with guilt. In tears she confessed to her mother that she had disobeyed us. Wisely, my wife forgave my daughter and did not spank her for this offense; our little girl had suffered enough and knew that she was wrong, but my wife also pointed out that she had also offended God, and my daughter describes this event as a pivotal moment when she in reality came to Christ to be forgiven for her sins. God used the rules given by her parents to bring her to Himself.

I want my kids to understand that obedience is ultimately about submission to God. If I’ve only trained them to obey me, I’ve failed miserably because I cannot always be with them, but if they understand they also have a heavenly Father who sees all they do and, more importantly, loves them and desires their obedience to His wishes and wisdom, they may well make right choices when far from me. Above all else, they must know that God loves them, enables them to be righteous, and forgives their inevitable failures.

I have frequently confessed rather than excused my faults before my children. They know I am in need of His mercy, and when I have dealt with them wrongly, caused them offense, or made them stumble because of my behavior, I have asked them for forgiveness. Parents need not worry about losing credibility if they admit their faults. Children are sharper than we think, and when they see our inconsistencies, they are not fooled.

On the other hand, when they see me as a flawed man obtaining grace, they are less likely to dismiss my religion as a crock of rules given by a hypocrite. Oftentimes, I have come alongside my children, especially as they became adolescents, and I have conceded that my own struggles are much like theirs. I have admitted freely the sins of my youth and of my later life, explained how damaging those lapses have been, and shown them the Savior who forgives and empowers me and can do the same for them as well.

 

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Parenting and protecting

kg04-cold-frame-gardening-01One of a parent’s primary roles is that of a protector. Because we wanted to limit negative input and maximize our own influence, my wife and I decided to home school our children when they were young. (Actually, my wife bore the brunt of this responsibility as she was at home while I was away at work, and I must add that she was a very fine teacher, indeed.)

While everyone may not be called to home education, too many simply farm their kids out to public, private, or even religious schools without monitoring those influences. At the minimum, we need to be aware of what is directly or indirectly shaping our children through their teachers, friends, and the overall culture to which they are subjected.

Some may argue that we are sheltering our children. I have no defense for this, for we parents must assume our role as wise protectors. It’s something like what my neighbor does when he starts his vegetable garden. He plants seeds in little trays inside his house during the dead of winter and then transfers the seedlings to a cold frame while it is still too early to plant them directly into the garden. Protected beneath glass from killing frosts, the plants grow until they are ready to be placed into the weather.

At this point the glass comes off, and soon they are transplanted to the garden where they grow strong in the sun and are tempered by the wind. If they were to remain under glass, the plants would become stunted and eventually wither and die. Similarly, there is a time to protect our children and a time to let them stand on their own.

Those transitions can be especially hard on parents as we release our children to the world, but we must equip them for diverse challenges and opportunities. My wife and I were the ones to educate our kids, in due time, about the snares of worldliness. We, not their peers or even church youth leaders, discussed sex with them, as well as the other issues they needed to confront.

When our oldest daughter finally entered a public high school, she reported back to us that she didn’t realize how sheltered she had been, but we had given her enough knowledge to stand a bit aloof of many potential pitfalls she was exposed to, and she assumed her place as a sojourner shining her light rather than being overwhelmed by the darkness.

All three of our home schooled kids eventually went to secular public colleges, and they all graduated with high GPAs and their faith still intact. I am grateful and acknowledge God’s grace and mercy in their lives because I have known many godly parents whose children have strayed.

Parents have different situations, and there is no single correct answer to most questions we face regarding our children, but it seems that by God’s grace we can both protect and prepare our children for the real world.

 

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Even if being a father isn’t really a “calling,” it is vital

fathers day

When I was younger and obsessed about what I was going to do with my life, I’d ask other guys, “What do you feel God is calling you to do?” Some spouted off grandiose notions about becoming pastors, prophets, preachers, or Christian rock stars, but most of their “leadings” never came to pass.

A few simply said, “I think God’s called me to be a father.” Well, at least those guys eventually became what they thought they would be, but stating that one was called to be a father always seemed mundane to me.

It goes without saying that we’ll be fathers. After all, most men do have kids, but I’ve come to the conclusion that while most men do become parents, far too many miss the responsibilities and opportunities that come with children.

Some men fail to spend enough time with their kids, or they refuse to discipline them, or they confuse grace with letting children do whatever they please. Or through the course of daily life, they demonstrate to their kids that success in athletics or a career, or the acquisition of possessions and prestige, is actually more important than being in right relationship to Christ.

On the other hand, children who truly embrace the faith will go on and impact many beyond whatever spheres of influence their fathers may have inhabited. I have told my own children that they could be whatever God led them to be: accountants, teachers, nurses, missionaries, auto technicians, preachers, or businesspeople—it has never mattered to me because a person sold out to God will draw people to Christ, even if he or she is not on a church payroll.

Ultimately, I have desired that my children would be a blessing to others and glorify God, and not necessarily be successful as many would measure such things. I still wish the very same for my children, and their children as well.

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