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?

World Down Syndrome Day

world-down-syndrome-day

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:

[biblegateway passage=”Psalm 139″ display=”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, [biblegateway passage=”John 10:10″ display=”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, [biblegateway passage=”Romans 8:35-39″ display=”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, [biblegateway passage=”Jeremiah 31:3″ display=”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.

Unborn Lives Matter

baby holding adult hand

I had the honor of offering a prayer during the dedication ceremony for a new Life Centers location in Plainfield yesterday. And, tomorrow, I have the joy of celebrating my son’s tenth birthday. What do these events have to do with one another?

The common thread is my conviction that unborn lives matter.

My conviction isn’t abstract. It’s personal. Kelly was 18-weeks pregnant when we heard the dreadful words every parent fears: “I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with your baby.” In the span of 30 minutes, we went from excitedly anticipating the discovery of the gender of our first child to anxiously huddled in a genetic counselor’s office being told that our son had a slim chance of being compatible with life.

We prepared ourselves to be told that we had the choice to terminate the pregnancy, to avoid all the pain and difficulty that would certainly come our way. But we chose life.

The last decade has brought its share of hardship, fear, and doubt. However, it has also brought immeasurable blessing, laughter, joy, growth, and wonder. By God’s grace, here we are!

Why do unborn lives matter?

We live in a culture in which the short journey from the womb to the delivery room is all that separates life that doesn’t matter from life that does matter. Isn’t that madness?

There are a number of truths that underscore why unborn lives matter:

1. We are made in God’s image.

When God created the cosmos, he placed man and woman in it as his crowning achievement. He created us in his image and we are, therefore, different in essence from anything and everything else in the universe. We have intrinsic worth. Our value is not earned by virtue or maintained by our capacity to make a valuable contribution to society. It is invested in us by the mere fact of our existence. We reflect God’s capacity for rich relationships. We long to create and witness beauty. We yearn for knowledge and wisdom, for purpose, and for life.

Unborn lives matter because all human life bears God’s indelible mark.

2. God is involved in the details of conception and development.

Life is a miracle. I still find myself stunned, in awe of the fact that a man and a woman can create new life. It’s much, much more than a mere biological process. It’s wonder. Beauty. Art. And, God is involved in even the tiniest details. In fact, it is so wonderful, only poetry can come close to doing justice. [biblegateway passage=”Psalm 139:13-14″ display=”King David writes”]:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. 

Unborn lives matter because they are the special concern of God the Father.

3. Every human life has potential for good.

Did you know that over 57 million abortions have occurred in the US since abortion became legal in 1973? I often wonder about what those 57 million lives could have become. A little girl aborted in 1973 would be 42 years old right now, in the prime of her life. Might she have discovered the cure to cancer? Could she have been raising a few beautiful children? What if she was writing music or creating art to inspire and thrill the world? Could she have been leading a company? Might she have been holding elected office and helping to shape the laws of our nation?

Every human life has the potential for great good, to make the world a better place. The [biblegateway passage=”Ephesians 2:10″ display=”Apostle Paul”] says, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Created for good works. Prepared in advance and known by God.

Unborn lives matter because of their positive potential.

4. How we treat the weak reveals the heart of our culture.

Do you want to know what is at the heart of a culture? Look at how it collectively treats the marginalized: the unborn, the sick, the elderly, the poor, the foreigners, and the imprisoned. Nothing is more revealing of the decay we see all around us than the legal holocaust that has been taking place since 1973. Do those sound like strong words? Do they startle you? They are. And, they should. They are true.

Unborn lives matter because they reveal the heart of our culture.

What about you?

For those who have had an abortion or who know someone who has: I pray you know that you’re not beyond the forgiveness of your Heavenly Father. He knows your past and your pain. He values you and he wants you to cling to him. Do you know him?

For all of us: Do you value life? Do your actions and attitudes reflect your answer to that question? What can you do, both now and in the future, to value life?

How to Kill a Culture of Violence

 

We live in a culture of violence.

The other night, for the very first time, we allowed our son to witness someone being murdered in cold blood.

It wasn’t intentional. Kelly and I were excited to introduce Owen to some of our most beloved Christmas movies. So, we sat down on the couch to watch Home Alone. We had forgotten over the years is that a mob murder scene plays a crucial role in the plot. As I fumbled in the dark for the remote so I could fast forward the scene, Kelly and I glanced at each other in alarm, shocked at the spectacle to which we had just exposed our innocent son.

You might think we’re overprotective. Maybe we are. But, in a world in which mass killings like San Bernardino happen on a weekly basis, aren’t we justified in being careful about what he sees?

The tragic events of this week have caused all of us to do some serious thinking about the violence we witness. There has been no shortage of discussion about gun control. The people on the left want to amend the Constitution, stemming the tide of violence by taking guns off the street. People on the right assure us that guns aren’t the problem. They go so far as to insinuate that the massacre might have been less bloody if more civilians on the scene had been armed. Both sides really only succeed in condemning those who don’t share their view. Religious people, no matter where they appear on the political spectrum, haggle over the root causes of the problem and wring their hands about what the future holds. Is radical Islam the problem? Are these isolated occurrences? Should we pray? Is that enough? How should we align ourselves politically? Can I find a verse in my Bible that connects all of this with the Second Coming? What can or should we do?

The truth is that nobody is really offering a good answer.

How do you kill a culture of violence?

It has to be stopped. And, although it isn’t as immediate as a Constitutional amendment, as black-and-white as more state laws, or as easy as washing our hands and blaming another group for the problems, we can each do our part to change culture. It isn’t going to happen on a public stage. It isn’t going to be glamorous. And, it’s certainly not going to be quick.

Here are three things we can each do to change our culture of violence from within.

Stop consuming violence

It astonishes me that there is so little conversation about the utterly violent nature of American culture. We purchase grossly violent video games for our children and then react in shock when teenagers play first-person shooter in real life. We pay $300 for the price of a ticket to watch our favorite football team beat the stuffing out of their rivals and gasp in horror when a violent player knocks the stuffing out of his girlfriend. We eagerly binge watch the most carnal, violent sexual acts and then reel back in disgust when a neighbor ends up being a monster who preys on innocent victims. The horrific examples can go on and on and on and on.

This is madness! It’s hypocrisy at its most appalling. It has to stop.

We must resolve to stop glorifying violence and consuming it until we’re stuffed. We have to stop inviting it into our homes and idolizing its most brazen purveyors. We have to determine to protect our hearts and the hearts of our children. Because, make no mistake, people become violent because they are nurtured to become violent.

Become and partner with people of peace

We must pursue peace. We must pray for it. We must work for it. (It can never be an either-or proposition.) It must begin with us, extend to our children, include the people with whom we partner, and pervade every area of our lives.

Jesus said, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God,” ([biblegateway passage=”Matthew 5:9″]). 

Political philosophy, theological distinctions, culture, background, color, and socio-economic status are immaterial; we can work together if you’re a person of peace. We can take Jesus’ call to work for peace seriously and we can work together, in our neighborhoods, workplaces, churches, and communities to foster and protect peace.

Leverage the Gospel to bring about true change

As we proceed, we can never forget that the only force that can bring about true change is the Holy Spirit, working in individual hearts, by [biblegateway passage=”John 3:16-17″ display=”the Gospel of Jesus Christ”]. Without the Gospel, all other change is shallow, temporary, and tenuous at best. But, by God’s grace, hearts, homes, communities, nations, and the world can be truly and forever transformed.

What will you do?

Will you stop consuming violence? Will you partner actively with people of peace? Will you embody the Gospel? The only way to kill a culture of violence is to transform it from within.

Why Are You Hiding?

why-are-you-hiding

I got the dreaded call from one of my son’s teachers the other day.

“Mr. Carr, I have to tell you about something that happened at school. Owen yelled, ‘Shut up!’ at one of his friends in the middle of the quiet library. He didn’t want me to tell you or Kelly but I told him that I would.”

I was on to pick up Owen that afternoon and a curiously subdued fourth-grade boy climbed into the back seat of my car.

“I had a fantastic day, dad!” he volunteered.

“We’ll talk about it when we get home.”

When we got home we had a seat on the couch. I looked at him and asked about his day.  He began to fidget and his voice cracked ever so slightly as he began to explain.

“I had a fantastic day at first,” he began. “But then in library …” He paused. Then he continued with a request: “Dad, I want you to cover your eyes for this part. And, I’m so embarrassed that I’m going to tell you this very quietly.” I covered my eyes and then he began to confess all about what he had done in an inaudible whisper.

I uncovered my eyes, interrupted him, reaffirmed my love, and reminded him that we always want him to tell the truth. He proceeded, a little louder this time, to tell me about thing he had shouted.

Sin, Guilt, Shame, and Hiding

Quite some time ago, a man and a woman chose to do the one thing that they knew was forbidden. Their eyes were opened, the guilt of their actions pressed down on them, and, in utter shame and humiliation, they hid in a place they were sure their Father wouldn’t be able to find them.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

Ever since [biblegateway passage=”Genesis 3:1-24″ display=”Adam and Eve chose sin and self”] over faithfulness to their Father, we have all struggled with the same pattern. Sin. Guilt. Shame. Hiding. When we sin, our first instinct is to hide in shame or to cover up what we have done. Then the Good Father—the one who is already well aware of all that has taken place and the eternal ramifications that would fall on his broad shoulders—comes looking and asks, “Where are you? Why are you hiding?”

Being Found (out) by the Father

It’s a strange thing, as a parent, to know that your child has to fess up about something when you already know all about it. You have to give him a chance to come clean and you pray that he tells the truth, that he lets himself be found. Once Owen told me the whole truth, and after pulling him in for a big hug and kiss on the forehead, I asked, “Buddy, doesn’t it feel good when you let the truth come out? You don’t feel so sad and scared inside anymore, do you?”

He had been found out. And, strangely, he was finally at peace.

In the aftermath of our sin and in the midst of our guilt and shame, when God comes looking for us in the garden in the cool of the day, a million things go through our minds. But, the one thing we need to do is to let ourselves be found. Being found may be a fearful thing. But, our Father doesn’t meet us with condemnation, guilt, and shame. He picks us up, embraces us, and makes it all alright.

What about you?

Are you hiding? Do you need to be found by your Father? Step out from behind your shame and let yourself be found.

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.