The Goal and Method of Parental Discipline

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I’m teaching a marriage class at church and I opened the floor for participants to ask me any of their marriage and family related questions. And, they submitted some excellent questions. This week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

This is a fantastic question because one of the main purposes of parenting is to guide the next generation in the right direction. If you’ve been a parent more than a couple of years, you realize that a big part of that responsibility comes down to being an effective disciplinarian. If you’re anything like me, however, you’ve probably struggled to find wisdom and wrestled with your own strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Let’s talk about the goals and methods of parental discipline.

The goal of parental discipline

To observe a lot of parents and to read a lot of the experts, you get the sense that the primary goal of parental discipline is to produce children who are compliant and controlled, whose outward behavior is civilized and appropriate.

If we’re being honest, isn’t perception management the bottom line for most parental discipline? We want people to think highly of us. And, nothing says, “This couple has their act together!” quite like having well-behaved kids. Right? Think about your own efforts to discipline your kids. Aren’t many of the corrective actions you take primarily driven by your desire to avoid social embarrassment on one extreme or to solidify your reputation as an all-star parent on the other extreme?

Let’s take it a step further. If you’re a Christian parent, this will be especially relevant for you.

Most discipline is focused on external compliance but is woefully inadequate at reaching the heart. A parent can make his child sit up straight, be polite, speak when spoken to, and do the right things. But, discipline aimed at external conformity, in reality, only teaches kids to be hypocrites. It teaches them to be good on the outside but leaves their hearts untouched.

So, back to the question. What is the goal of parental discipline? If we’re going to understand the goal of parental discipline, it makes sense to look to our heavenly Father:

“We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it,” (Hebrews 12:9-11).

The goal of discipline is hidden right there in the word itself: disciple. When our heavenly Father disciplines us it’s for our good. It is always to help us share in his holiness. It produces a harvest of right living. It is transformative.

Transformation is the goal of God’s discipline in our lives. That should be the goal of parental discipline as well.

As parents, we don’t want to produce little hypocrites, people who behave well on the outside in spite of their poor inner character. We want to partner with God in the process of making disciples, young men and women who behave well externally because they’re being transformed internally.

The method of parental discipline

If it’s our goal to partner with God to raise little people who have his heart, how do we do it? There are hundreds of parenting philosophies and self-proclaimed experts out there who, for the price of a book, can teach you all about how to get compliant kids. There is some decent stuff out there—and some really bad stuff, too—but we know that. There are relatively few that will equip and inspire you to partner with God in transforming your kids hearts. But, before recommending resources, it’s important to look back to God for our cues.

It’s difficult to pick out one chapter and verse that prescribes God’s way of disciplining us, his children. That’s OK. To understand how God disciplines us, you have to look at the whole arch of Scripture:

  • God disciplines in the context of his loving, unbreakable relationship with us. Without a loving relationship with our kids, discipline can only be punitive and can never reach the heart.
  • God’s disciplinary acts are firm, never abusive; fair and just, never arbitrary; merciful, never spiteful; patient, never impulsive; and redemptive and restorative, never reactive or manipulative. We must aim to emulate his kind, steady, and loving approach toward our kids.
  • God disciplines with the long-term goal in mind. He patiently, repeatedly, and persistently forgives, extends grace, and embraces us. We must parent for the long haul, always willing to extend the same kind of grace we have received from him.
  • God sacrifices himself—even to the extreme—for the sake of his children. We must stop parenting for ourselves and remember that partnering with God to help transform our kids’ hearts will require great work and sacrifice on our part. But, it’s worth it.

The best parenting method and resource is the whole of the Bible narrative. A thorough knowledge and experience of God’s grace is essential if we intend to raise our kids well. All of the other best resources I know are based upon the Bible. Therefore, they contain some really helpful wisdom for parents.

This post was fairly theoretical, I know. If you were looking for practical stuff, I’m sorry to disappoint. However, before we move on, it’s so important to establish the foundation. Come back next week and I’ll share four tips for parental discipline.

Discussion questions

  1. As a parent, how has your discipline focused on outward compliance while neglecting inner transformation?
  2. Reflect upon Hebrews 12:9-11. What are some of the ways God has disciplined you throughout your life? What has his discipline produced in you?
  3. What are two or three practical ways you can give grace to your kids?

World Down Syndrome Day

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Today is World Down Syndrome Day. And, it’s caused me to reflect. I felt compelled to share what I’ve been wondering about.

We would all like to make God into our own image. Many have tried. But, despite our best efforts to put God in a box or to define him in terms that are palatable to our highly evolved sensibilities, he simply refuses to take on most of the labels we try to apply. God isn’t Republican or a Democrat. He’s not pro- or anti-gun control. He’s neither liberal nor conservative. He’s neither Catholic nor Protestant. He’s not a kindly, old grandpa. He’s not an angry, vengeful villain.

None of these popular labels stick. However, I know of one that does:

God is pro-life.

If you’re watching the news or spending any time on social media today, you’re probably going to run into any number of opposing perspectives about the pro-life, pro-choice debate. Some—on either side of the spectrum—may invoke God to make their argument. Some of us will jump on one bandwagon or the other and loudly make their perspective known to all of the people who would tune in. Others will become so disoriented by the louder opinions that they’ll remain quiet.

Dispite all the bluster, God remains committed to life.

To complicate things for us, here in Indiana, the State Senate passed on a bill to our pro-life Governor that would ban abortions when there is a pre-term diagnosis of Down Syndrome. It’s caused quite a stir and everyone has an opinion. There’s no shortage of inflammatory rhetoric on both sides of the issue.

Without regard to the law, God remains firm in his love for us.

You’ve probably heard claims that 90 percent of all babies with Downs are aborted. That figure has long been cited by pro-life groups as an attention-getting method. However, it’s not accurate: “Without selective abortion, the number of babies born with Down syndrome in recent years would have been about 30 percent higher than it actually has been,” (Amy Julia Becker). However, even at 30 percent, the number is way too high.

No matter the statistics, God cares about each and every life.

Ironically, most people’s perspectives and opinions are purely hypothetical. This is deeply troubling to me. I’ll venture a guess that most people who will go online today to give voice to their opinion have never loved or cared for someone with Down Syndrome. I’d imagine that most have never been told there’s something wrong with their baby during a prenatal ultrasound. Most have never had to make a gut-wrenching commitment to love a child that doesn’t have a perfectly clean bill of health.

Here’s where this gets personal for me. At 18-weeks gestation, our own son was diagnosed with a life-threatening birth defect. We were ushered down the back stairway of the OBGYN’s office and told to drive straight to the genetic counselor. We’ve been told my wife was carrying a baby who likely wouldn’t survive. We’ve waited for results, sure we were going to be told that the most compassionate choice we could make would be to end our son’s life. Thanks to God, we’ve been able to witness a miracle for 10 years. What would live have been like if we presumed he couldn’t have had a full life because of his special needs?

We’ve been committed to our son’s life; God has been even more committed to him.

Today, World Down Syndrome Day, try to quiet yourself for a while and consider your own life, the gift of life you’ve been given. Think about the people around you who have special needs. Aren’t their lives worth something? Can we learn about what life is really about by watching—better yet, befriending, caring for, protecting, and loving—them?

Thank God he’s pro-life.

Check out these videos. And, maybe consider sharing them today.

Mutual Submission and Marriage

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I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. I had been hoping for later. But it took place right out of the gate. On the very first week of a six-week marriage class, someone asked me about the dreaded S-word.

How do we understand submission given the social norms we see today?

So much for starting off with an easy question. This question gets right at the heart of the biblical understanding of marriage. Even though it’s a tough question, it makes sense to begin here.

You have to read and understand Ephesians 5:21-33. In these 13 verses, Paul paints a picture of the mystery, beauty, and meaning of Christian marriage. And, yes, submission is a big factor. Before we answer the question, let’s examine this text. I’m going to do something a little unorthodox, however, and I’m going to work backward. You’ll understand why in a bit.

A husband’s self-sacrificing love

The foundation of Christian marriage, and the ultimate reality to which Christian marriage points, is Jesus’ self-sacrificing love for the Church, his bride. Paul says that Jesus’ love for the Church is the model.

Notice the preposition as in verse 25. Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church: in the same way, with the same persistence, with the same purity, with the same affection, with the same patience, and with the same fidelity. Christian husbands ought to love their wives to the extent that they’d be willing to sacrifice even their own lives for their wives’ protection, purity, holiness, and salvation.

Christian husbands are to love their wives and to give themselves up for them in the same way Christ loved the Church. Let that sink in.

A wife’s respectful love

So many people are tripped up by Paul’s command to women in verses 22-24. Yes, he does require Christian wives to submit to their husbands in the same way they submit to the Lord. But, that’s not all. Buried at the end of this text, in the second half of verse 33, Paul summarizes his thoughts by saying that Christian wives ought to respect their husbands.

The fact that Christian wives respect and submit to their husbands’ Christ-like, self-sacrificing love and leadership does not mean that they are silent, that they sacrifice their opinions, that they negate their own rights, that they don’t bring every strength they possesses into the relationships, or that they are a weak, fragile, or lesser people. On the contrary, they demonstrate their ultimate faith in Christ by actively supporting, respecting, and loving the husbands God gave them.

Christian wives who have mastered the art of respecting their husbands will find that they are active partners with God in helping their husbands become the type of men they ought to be.

Understanding submission

Now that we understand the type of love Christian husbands and wives are to have for one another we can talk some more about submission. Here’s the most important thing to understand:

In marriage, submission is not a one-way street.

Paul begins this text with the clear command for husbands and wives to submit to one another. Why? What’s the motivation? Reverence for Christ.

The fact that Paul, after commanding husbands and wives to submit to one another, pivots toward wives and tells them to submit to their husbands does not negate the man’s responsibility to submit himself to his wife through self-sacrificing acts of love. It illustrates the woman’s responsibility to edify her husband through acts of respectful love.

The willingness to submit to one another—out of reverence and following the example of Christ—is a sign that a husband and wife are humble, deeply bonded, affectionate, kind, and growing in godly character. It is an essential element of a lasting marriage.

As a side note: don’t forget, Jesus submitted himself to the will of his Father. Did his submission diminish his worth as a member of the Trinity? Did the fact that he dedicated himself to the will of the Father somehow make him less, decrease his divine identity, or make him weak? Absolutely not!

Standing out from the crowd

I haven’t forgotten. An important part of the original question dealt with social norms. I haven’t mentioned social norms yet simply because, first and foremost, we have to clearly understand how to believe and behave as Christians. That means we must be transformed by the Spirit’s working through the Word before we are conformed to the whims and will of our culture.

Don’t miss this: Mutual submission, respectful, and self-sacrifice are deeply counter-cultural. They run against the grain of both the society around us and the sin within us.

And, that shouldn’t be a surprise.

God is calling us deeper. He wants to transform us. In his wisdom, he gave us the gift of the institution of marriage to be a primary driver in that life-long transformation process.

Lest we gaze too longingly at society, wondering if we’d be better off if we more closely resembled culture’s norms, remember that the world has yet to offer a better, less damaging, more honoring alternative to life-long, monogamous, respectful, self-sacrificing, mutually submissive, Christian marriage.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment or continue the discussion below.

  1. What are some ways the biblical ideal of Christian marriage are superior to the typical way our world views marriage?
  2. Husbands, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to love your wives as Christ loved the Church, showing self-sacrificing love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?
  3. Wives, how are you impacted by Paul’s command to submit to your husbands in the same way you submit to the Lord, showing respectful love? What do you need to do in order to grow in this?

The Big Picture of Marriage

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Have you ever attended a wedding in a garden? I’ve had the privilege of officiating several of them. It’s beautiful … as long as the weather cooperates.

Now, Kelly and I would have never been brave enough to plan an outdoor wedding. We both value control—or at least the illusion of control—too highly to plan a wedding that would be at the mercy of unpredictable elements. Nevertheless, when a bride and a groom can pull off a garden wedding under a bright blue sky, it’s a wonderful thing to behold.

The first wedding celebration took place in a garden.

The final wedding celebration will take place in paradise.

Understanding the first and final weddings can give us a better understanding of the big picture of marriage.

The first marriage

God formed Adam from the dust of the earth and placed him in the garden. All was well for a while. However, it didn’t take long before Adam recognized it wasn’t good for him to be alone. God saw what was going on, placed Adam in a deep sleep, and formed Eve from his rib. When Adam woke up, rubbed his eyes, and looked around his perfect complement was standing there in front of him.

He wrote the first love song on the spot! [Cue “At Last” by Etta James.]

God said, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh,” (Genesis 2:24). Some time later, his Son would add, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” (Matthew 19:6).

Little could Adam and Eve have known but their wedding in the garden was pointing toward something far beyond the two of them. Their marriage was the first pixel in a far bigger picture.

The final marriage

One day, maybe sooner than we realize, there will be another wedding celebration in paradise, one that will put all of the others to shame. The groom, Jesus, will return in great splendor to claim his bride, the Church, as his own. As he brings heaven to earth, he’ll draw her to his side, clothe her in radiant white, and seal the vows for which he bled in front of the approving eyes of our heavenly Father.

At this wedding ceremony, all of the pixels will have been set in place and the picture will finally shine in ultra-high-definition brilliance. We’ll finally see the big picture of marriage as we celebrate with Jesus.

Two takeaways for all the marriages in between

It truly is beautiful to consider the significance of the wedding in the garden in the light of the final wedding in paradise. But, what does that mean to us? Why is this important for those of us who are struggling to make our marriages work in the here and now?

There are two takeaways for all of us.

First, your marriage points to something bigger. Your marriage may only be a pixel in the big picture. Shine with all the brilliance you can muster. You’ll lack clarity sometimes. You may feel burnt out. But, understanding your marriage in light of God’s will for his church, your Savior’s love for you, and the power the Spirit provides will help you to faithfully point to the truth of God’s redeeming love for the world.

Second, your marriage can make you holy. There’s no other human relationship that has the same sanctifying potential as the marriage relationship. Don’t resist the work God does in your life through your spouse. Embrace it. Allow yourself to be challenged, stretched, helped, and held accountable. And, do the same for your spouse. God intends for your marriage to be a major factor in making you into the image of his son.

Don’t give up. If you keep your eyes focused on the big picture of marriage your marriage could become more than you ever imagined.

Discussion questions

Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions. And, feel free to leave a comment below.

  1. Think back to your wedding. What was it that made that day special or beautiful?
  2. In what ways does your marriage point to Jesus and his love for the Church?
  3. In what ways has your spouse helped you become better? In what ways have you helped your spouse grow?

How to Forgive Someone Who Hasn’t Asked

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Have you ever sensed the need to forgive someone who has harmed you? Forgiveness is easier when they apologize. But, what if they’re oblivious or unrepentant?

Lately, I’ve done some thinking and praying about how to forgive someone who hasn’t asked. Before we get to that, we have to be clear about why we would consider forgiveness in the first place.

Why forgive?

In the wake of being wronged, forgiveness is the last thing most people consider. We don’t want to sacrifice the sense of justice and control we receive from the anger we harbor and we don’t want to make ourselves vulnerable or weak all over again.

There are many who scoff at the idea of forgiveness. But, as a Christian, it has to be different for me. So, why forgive. I can think of three reasons.

1. We forgive to avoid the sin of hatred.

Immediately after saying that God blesses the merciful, the meek, and those who make peace, Jesus talks about the corrosive nature of hatred and how, ultimately, it’s equivalent to murder. We must not harbor or nurture resentment, anger, and unforgiveness. It imprisons us. If we are to be the kind of people God wants us to be, we must resist the gravitational pull of hatred and choose to forgive. To condemn, to keep a record of wrongs, to harbor resentment, and to loathe someone is contrary to God's will for us.

2. We forgive to follow Jesus’ example.

Jesus never sinned. He never broke the law. He blessed, healed, taught, and loved. But, he experienced the jealousy of the religious leaders, the betrayal of his closest friends, and the brutality of the Romans. And, he went to the cross. This is stunning: his last breaths weren’t used to plead his case or to curse his murderers; in his final breaths he asked God to forgive. And he asks me to follow him.

3. We forgive because we’re forgiven.

I have wronged God too many times to count. But, because of his mercy, grace, and love, and because of Jesus, I have been forgiven. And, if you’re a believer, you have received the same. We choose to be the kind of people who forgive because we’ve been forgiven.

Now that we know why forgiveness is on the table—and why Christians ought to pursue it—we can consider our question.

How do you forgive someone who hasn’t asked?

In the midst of a recent conversation about a fellow believer who mistreated me in the past, Kelly asked me, “Could you sit next to that person and take communion together?” After a flash of defensiveness surged through me, I had to admit to my insightful wife that I could not. This person hasn’t asked for forgiveness. As far as I know, this person has no sense of wrongdoing or responsibility. This person is someone I have very little chance of seeing again. However, if I am to genuinely live my faith, it is incumbent upon me to forgive.

So, here’s the process I’m allowing the Spirit to lead me through by God’s grace. It’s what I’d recommend to you if you have a wrong to forgive.

1. Understand how you have been wronged.

Your mind, like mine, has a way of either maximizing or minimizing traumatic events. Therefore, it’s vital to be clear about what happened. Pray through the situation. What led up to it? What was the sequence of events? What was said or done? Write it down on a list or in a journal. Be comprehensive. Refuse to gloss things over or to reason away. You were hurt. Understand it for what it is. (And, this is a great time to own your personal responsibility for what happened, even if it’s ever so small.)

2. Pray for healing.

Once you’ve acknowledged precisely how you have been hurt and have felt the weight of it, you’re ready to allow God to heal it. The process may take ages; it may happen piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer. Or it might be instantaneous. That’s not the point. The point is that God is the only one who can remove it. And he will.

3. Eliminate residual hatred.

Your healing won’t be complete as long as you’re harboring one shred of hatred, resentment, or condemnation. If hate isn’t removed, it grows. Pray about it. Journal about it. Confess it to a friend (without gossiping). Do whatever you need to do to get rid of it.

4. Release the offender’s debt.

Finally, there will come a time when you must release the debt that your offender owes. They may never understand that they’ve hurt you. They may think you’re foolish. No matter. If they refuse to exit the prison you’ve unlocked, that is up to them. The point is that you’re no longer the one keeping them there.

For a myriad of reasons, it might not be advisable—or even safe—to communicate your forgiveness to your offender. That’s OK. You can offer forgiveness without personal contact. Write a letter and burn it on the fireplace. Head out into the woods and voice your forgiveness to the foliage. Give it a voice and walk away.

In instances, it might be necessary to communicate forgiveness face-to-face or in a letter. If you have that chance, be prayerful, humble, merciful, and honest. State the ways in which you were wronged, share about your journey toward forgiveness, and utter these three words: “I forgive you.” Then, walk away from what you’ve dropped and refuse to pick it up again.

5. If possible, seek reconciliation.

If it’s not safe to contact your offender, your journey is complete. But if reconciliation is a possibility, leave the door open and embrace it if it comes. A reconciled relationship is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. If you can sit beside that person one day and commune together once more, what a wonderful thing that would be.

I’ll let this disclaimer be my final word on the topic of reconciliation: Reconcile with care. Your brave act of forgiveness doesn’t require you to make yourself vulnerable to becoming a victim again. It’s OK if the relationship has to change or if you have to be careful to abide by wisely placed boundaries.

What about you?

Are you holding someone in your debt? Do you need to offer forgiveness?