Four Tips for Parental Discipline

four-tips-for-parental-discipline

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. Last week’s question has to do with raising kids:

How can you discipline your children in a godly way?

I probably raised more questions than I answered in my previous post about parental discipline. There’s certainly a lot to learn and I felt like it was vital to lay the groundwork first. This post is designed to go a little bit further, to give you a quick set of tips to help you implement what we talked about last week.

Here are four tips for godly parental discipline:

1. Be aligned

If you’re blessed to be raising a child along with your spouse, regardless of what parenting method you choose, it’s imperative that you’re aligned. Take the time to get on the same page. If you’re not aligned, it’s going to be stressful for your marriage, confusing for your child, and ineffective.

2. Be clear and consistent

Kids need to know where their parents stand, where the boundary lines are drawn, and what the consequences will be for misbehavior. It may feel contradictory to you, but kids thrive when they have clear and consistent rules. It gives them a sense of security and well-being and is what is best for their soul even if they tell you it doesn’t.

3. Be self-controlled

If you have a temper—like me—you’ll find that the moment you lose control is the moment you’ve ceased being the parent your kid needs. Do what it takes, as much as it’s humanly possible, to be calm and composed when you’re disciplining. If you have to walk away, that’s OK. Take a few minutes. Whisper a prayer. Use the timeout to consult with your spouse. Then, in a calm, measured, controlled, and loving way, deal with the issue at hand.

4. Be gracious

By all means, teach your children about God’s grace. Find ways to help them understand the weight of their sin (which, let’s be honest, is the driving force behind much of our children’s misbehavior) and then to understand the freedom and joy that comes when their sin is forgiven and the consequences are removed. And, don’t stop there. Show yourself some grace, too. You may be trying to emulate God but you’re not him. Admit your mistakes. Apologize to God and to the kids. And move forward in the grace he gives.

This parenting thing is tough. Disciplining fairly and constructively is extremely difficult. It’s as much art as it is science. But, following God’s lead, we can raise kids who don’t resent us. More importantly, we can raise kids who love God and who are open to his transformative discipline long after they’ve left our loving, if imperfect, care.

Discussion questions

  1. Are you and your spouse aligned in your parenting philosophies? If so, how did you get aligned. If not, what do you need to do to get on the same page?
  2. Do your kids know where the boundary lines are drawn? Or, are they unsure? What can you do to help define what is acceptable (and what isn’t) with and for your kids?
  3. Is your parental discipline more characterized by self-control or a lack of self-control? What is God revealing to you about his will for you in this area?
  4. Do you need to get better at receiving and giving grace? Read [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 2:8-10″ display=”Ephesians 2:8-10″] and reflect on God’s grace in your life.

The Goal and Method of Parental Discipline

goal-method-parental-discipline

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,” ([biblegateway passage=”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?

Mutual Submission and Marriage

mutual-submission-and-marriage

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 [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”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 [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:25″ display=”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 [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:22-24″ display=”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 [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:33″ display=”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 [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21″ display=”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

the-big-picture-of-marrage

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,” ([biblegateway passage=”Genesis 2:24″ display=”Genesis 2:24″]). Some time later, his Son would add, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate,” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:6″ display=”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?

The Original Attack on Marriage

the-original-attack-on-marriage

I have always supposed that the great fall of Satan, his wicked rebellion against God, happened in eternity past. I assumed it occurred eons before God created the Earth.

But, what if it didn’t?

When we meet him, [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:1-13″ display=”just a few pages into the book of Genesis”], Satan is in full and glad rebellion against the Creator. Did Satan already have a long record of defiance? Or, was this his first offense?

Cyprian, a church father who was born in the year 200, proposed a theory for Satan’s fall: “When he saw human beings made in the image of God, he broke forth into jealousy and malevolent envy” and determined to rebel. In other words, the great sin for which Satan and his demons were banished from God’s presence was the pride that made him intent on dragging Adam and Eve into his insurrection.

Can I say, for sure, that it happened this way. No. The Bible doesn’t specify. But, it sure does make you think.

Why does this matter?

There has been so much upheaval surrounding marriage. Who should be able to marry? Who shouldn’t? And, who gets to decide? The government? The Supreme Court? The States? Who’s agenda wins the day? All the discussion and debate has widened the gap between people who take opposing views. Each side has succeeded in demonizing the other. And, it’s all a mess.

Christians, are we missing the point? Is it possible that we are fighting the wrong enemy?

Marriage has a greater enemy

Who’s the enemy?

On the one hand, the liberal media isn’t the enemy. Gay-rights activists aren’t the enemy. Hollywood isn’t the enemy. Neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court is the enemy. On the other hand, the religious right isn’t the solution. Evangelical leaders aren’t the solution. A majority of Republicans in Government, the courts, and the White House isn’t the solution. Christian media and movies aren’t the solution.

God help us. We’ve boiled the issue into simple dichotomies. But, it’s not “us” against “them.”

If Satan’s defining rebellion—the cataclysmic act for which he and a third of the angels were eternally expelled from God’s presence—was the original attack on marriage in the Garden, then shouldn’t we focus our energy on opposing him, his accusations, and his schemes?

And, shouldn’t our counter-rebellion begin in our own homes?

Curses and blessings

All sin has [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:16-19″ display=”consequences”]. For Eve, painful childbirth and conflict regarding her role. For Adam, ceaseless toil, diminished returns, and death. The struggle continues today. We still experience the result of the Garden’s curses. But, we can also know the blessings of obedience to Christ in our marriages, even in the midst of a fallen world inhabited by a very real enemy.

Satan still does all he can to divide us. He knows that his success in wrecking marriages accomplishes profound collateral damage. But, we have a choice. We can choose not to perpetuate the evil that Satan plots by cultivating [biblegateway passage=”Matthew 19:4-6″ display=”marriages that will last”]. We can build our marriages on [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 5:21-33″ display=”mutual submission, respect, and sacrificial love”]. And, we can choose to [biblegateway passage=”1 Corinthians 13:4-7″ display=”love unconditionally”]. That is the path that leads to blessing.

Marriage has a greater hero

Satan’s rebellion seals his fate. God makes it unequivocally clear to Satan that [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:14-15″ display=”his destiny is Hell”]. Eve’s offspring, Jesus, would one day crush Satan’s head (but not without himself suffering from the Serpent’s poison). Because of Jesus’ victory over Satan, he took the penalty of our rebellion and made it possible for us to again be united to one another and, most importantly, to our heavenly Father.

Satan will do all he can to tempt, accuse, and divide our marriages. It’s his rebellion’s original strategy. But, we have a Savior who has made it possible for us to resist his temptations, deflect his accusations, and remain united.

Let’s fight for our marriages. But, let’s make sure we’re fighting the right enemy.

Are You the Dad You Want to Be?

are-you-the-dad-you-want-to-be

I love Father’s Day.

I always have. It’s not just because I’m a dad and I get to set the agenda for my special day. It’s because I have a great dad. He has always been present and dialed in. He loves my mom. He has been a faithful father and husband. He works hard. He loves people. He loves God and has surrendered his heart to Jesus. He’s a fantastic father in-law and grandpa. I hope you had a dad like mine. If you did, you were blessed.

Some of you hate Father’s Day. 

I understand. There are plenty of people in my life whose fathers don’t really deserve their own special day. Many of them were absent. Some were abusive. Most had corrosive attitudes and lifestyles that eventually poisoned their hearts, eroded their families, damaged their wives, and alienated their kids. If this is you, I get it. I’m sorry.

One of my favorite preachers talks a lot about the role of men in their households, as husbands and fathers. He has us figured out, I’m afraid. He boils down a lot of our failings into two sinful tendencies: selfish passivity and selfish aggression.

Did you have a great father? If not, it’s likely because he was either selfishly passive or selfishly aggressive.

Are you the dad you want to be? If not, it may be that you’ve surrendered to one of these two things as well.

So, how do we avoid these two all-too-common pitfalls as men?

The antidote to selfish passivity

The antidote to selfish passivity, dads, is a true understanding and surrender to the truth of the Gospel. You have been bought with a price. Through the Father’s active pursuit of his children, we no longer bear the stain of sin and guilt. Jesus nailed it to the cross. He suffered, bled, and died for your sins and mine.

When you truly understand the lengths to which our Heavenly Father went to love and rescue us, it doesn’t feel quite as imposing to get off the couch and have a catch with your son, help your daughter braid her doll’s hair, or have a conversation with your wife. Sure, you’re tired because you work hard. But, your most important work, for the benefit of the people who need you most, begins when you pull into the driveway. Don’t sell them short and settle for the passive kind of existence that has swallowed up so many men.

The antidote to selfish aggression

Love. The antidote to selfish aggression is love. When you are transfixed by the outrageous love your Heavenly Father has poured out on you, you want to reflect that love back him and to your family. What great love the Father has lavished on us by calling us his very own sons.

How can we be so bold as to let our anger and bitterness spill out onto the people we should love the most? Men are powerful; we need to use that power to guide, correct, teach, and protect rather than to hurt. A scorched-earth policy toward your family is the height of arrogance and forgetfulness. Instead of being harsh, cruel, vindictive, demeaning, manipulative, or argumentative, we should treat our families with the same kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, compassion, and tenderness that the Father shows us.

We all still have a chance

I love Father’s Day. I love my dad. I am a better husband and dad because he was so good to my mom, my sister, and me. You might not have had a dad like mine and this may be a bad day for you. But, let it be an encouragement. You may have already made mistakes. I sure have. None of us will be perfect. I am not. But, thank God for second chances. Let’s avoid the pitfalls of selfish passivity and aggression and let’s strive to be the kind of husbands and dads—real men—that God has called us to be.

Perfect Parenting

perfect-parents

Parenting is frustrating!

As soon as you think you have your kid figured out, he changes! You just begin to learn the rules and settle into a rhythm. You get into the groove. Everybody’s happy. We’re all getting along. Then, without warning, he changes everything up on you.

Rascal!

What to do? As a parent, I strive to be perfect. But, I fail regularly. I know I do. I’m aiming for perfect parenting. But, I’m all too often reminded that this type of perfection is simply unattainable. This truth was swimming around in my head the other night when I stumbled across a thought that encouraged me.

Now, on a regular basis, I run into a thought, concept, article, podcast, or book that is so profound, so well-timed, or so creatively presented that I am permanently impacted. And, as many of my good friends know, it is difficult to resist the urge to share. They get stuff from me on a regular basis. The other day, it happened again. I read this fantastic article about perfection and parenting. I want to share it with you because it made a simple, elegant point that has stuck with me.

This is the point:

The only type of perfection that matters in parenting is perfect attendance.

None of us will parent perfectly, even for a day. I certainly can’t. I make mistakes. I blow my lid. I am selfish. I contradict myself. I get distracted. I am an imperfect parent. But, there’s one thing I can do:

Keep. Showing. Up.

I can show up every day, keep coming back for more. I can try, fail, adjust, and try again. Sometimes I’ll strike out. Sometimes, I’ll hit it out of the park. The one thing my son needs to know is that I’m going to be there every morning and that I’m going to try my best to be the type of man, husband, and parent I want him to be one day. I’m going to fail. He’s going to hear me apologize and ask for forgiveness often. But, I’m going to be there.

May we all be the type of parents who—although we may not have it all figured it out—get the award for perfect attendance.