First Culture

The first and foremost culture in anyone’s life is that of the home. Pascal said “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” This makes it sound like we’re supposed to be able to stare contentedly at the white wall of our basement.

Perhaps he is right in the sense that we should be able to sit alone and think about what we’ve learned rather than needing the boob tube to keep us occupied, but we ought to be far more interested in making home a place of wisdom, laughter and life.

Many parents regret the fact that their teenage (or soon to be teenage) kids are never at home. But rarely do they regret the type of place the home has become–one that the kids don’t want to be in. Home is the place where kids are taught and shaped, and the father as the head of the home has the responsibility to make that culture what it ought to be.

Reactionary parents will tend to ban all kinds of stuff from the home. If their kids’ friends are all reading 50 Shades of Garbage, they’ll be sure that it never gets mentioned at the dinner table, and thereby cement everyone’s ignorance. The only place the kids will learn to think about it is in the gossip of their peers at school.

Parents who instead build a culture at home will be glad to talk about it, understand why people are attracted to it, and come to wise and settled conclusions. This will require the attention and investment of parents who will need to learn about things their kids are encountering. If they’re lazy and simply dismiss whatever is out there, the kids will eventually explore it anyway and either lack the ability to discern good and evil, beauty and schlock, or will imitate the parents in proud dismissal, not of the world or even in it–above the whole thing.

Building a culture at home means parents are presenting something, playing offense and not just defense. Yes, turn the TV and lame music off. But then read good stories, watch good movies, listen to good and fun music. A vibrant life at home flows from the gospel like water running downhill. When sin is repented of and confessed, people live, and are glad to live together. This is why Paul can say “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8).

 

Shirtsleeves to Shirtsleeves in Three Generations

In his new book David and Goliath about the advantages of disadvantages, Malcolm Gladwell describes the rough upbringing of a kid in Minneapolis who would become a wealthy Hollywood producer. His father taught him the value of money by making him split the cost of things like new shoes or a bicycle. 

If he left the lights on, his father would show him the electric bill. “He’d say, ‘Look, this is what we pay for electricity. You’re just being lazy, not turning the lights off. We’re paying for you being lazy. But if need the lights for working–twenty-four hours a day–no problem.” (pp. 45-6)

His father told him how much things cost and made him adjust because times were tight. He worked in the family’s scrap metal business, lived in a bad neighborhood in business and law school to save money, and worked hard to rise to where he is now–living in a colossus in Beverly Hills with a gate “that looks like it was shipped over from some medieval castle in Europe.”

He worked hard to succeed and now wants to provide opportunities for his children, including the opportunity to learn the same lessons that brought him so much success. But now with millions of dollars, he lacks the incentive his father had to show his kids the electric bill. He’s never going to have trouble paying it which means what he learned by necessity growing up where he did, his children can only learn by artificial imposition.  Continue reading

Occasionally Stumped

Parenting, like all of life, is a matter of faith. This means that from time to time parents ought to be faced with situations that completely overwhelm them. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen, including your kid’s freedom from this or that situation, sin or difficulty.

It’s easy for parents who are conscientious in how they teach, discipline, and nurture to be surprised when they are stumped and brought up short in childrearing issues. But this is a wonderful reminder that we train up our children on the bedrock foundation of God’s promises, and not on the strength of our competence and applied techniques.

This faith doesn’t relax or go limp when sin is present or resign to unbiblical standards or self-justified laziness. It doesn’t scrap proven and promised biblical standards and methods (e.g. Prov. 22:6, 15). It looks for answers, confident they will come, in small and large deliverances.

This is the sort of faith that can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” both as a statement of current affairs and as a prayer of confident hope in the God of generations.

 

A word about the Word

I continue my series of posts for fathers of young children. With you in mind, I write these infrequently knowing how busy you are. Welcome!

This is definitely a “God, Jesus, Bible” topic. You gotta have it. If I were the devil, I would: 1) want you to think of the Bible as something you have to do in a burdensome way, not something you get to do in a refreshing way; 2) think of reading the Bible as a heavy, difficult thing; 3) make you feel guilty for not trudging your way through. This way, when you actually take it up, you’re already a bit tired, likely trying to rush, and most interested in doing the minimum to get rid of that guilt.

Before you can open the Bible to your kids you need to open it to yourself, and if it’s a burden for you it will be the same for them. You can only give what you have. Jesus says “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30). When the disciples ask him how to pray, he tells them to form a prayer chain and pray continuously one hour each for 24 hours. Oh wait, I had him confused with someone else. He told them to pray for about 45 seconds: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen” (Matt. 6:9-13).  Continue reading

A Father & His Raucous Marriage

My first post in this series for fathers of young children centered on taking responsibility for everything in the household. This included recognizing this enormous task for the impossibility it is and therefore knowing from the outset how much grace will abound to get it done. When Lazarus is dead and beginning to stink, you don’t put your hope in a doctor.

This second post is on marriage, and while it might seem tangential, it is absolutely central for fathers. It’s astonishing how many books on parenting and fatherhood leave marriage entirely out of the discussion. Being task-oriented, the first thing we fathers think regarding taking care of our kids is about what to do with them: spending time, checking homework, reading, playing sports and games, schedules and plans and so forth. Tasks, skillsets and toolboxes are good in their place, but the first thing God gives a man is a woman, and if she is unloved, the foundation is cracked.

This isn’t true simply in an emotional environmental, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” sort of way, although that may be true too! It’s true because your marriage is the thing which communicates the gospel to your children more than anything or anyone else. Continue reading

Lead Them to Love It

If you cannot get the kids to love the standard, then lower the standard. I am not talking about God’s commandments (His standards), which we have no authority to lower, but rather addressing the questions that surround what might be called house rules. Lower the standard to the point where everyone in the family can pitch in together  This not actually lowering  standards, but rather raising the parental standard, which is the real reason we don’t like it. Father must embrace the task of communicating, in a contagious way, love for the standard.

–Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger

fathers like the Father

What are fathers called to? Fathers give. Fathers protect. Fathers bestow. Fathers yearn and long for the good of their children. Fathers delight. Fathers sacrifice  Father are jovial and openhanded. Father create abundance  and if lean times come they take the leanest portion themselves and create a sense of gratitude and abundance for the rest. Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids. When fathers say no, as good fathers do from time to time, it is only because they are giving a more subtle gift, one that is a bit more complicated than a cookie. They must also inclue among their gifts things like self-control and discipline and a work ethic, but they are giving these things, not taking something else away just for the sake of taking. Fathers are not looking for excuses to say no. Their default mode is not no.

–Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger

Getting Ready for Christmas

Following up on my earlier post about observing Advent, Malachi 4:6 calls those who would prepare for the coming of Christ to turn their hearts to their fathers, and for fathers to turn their hearts to their children. What this has to do with Christmas takes some unpacking, or unwrapping, so here goes.

The striking thing about this passage, so subtle at first that it is easily overlooked, is the bi-directional nature of the command. We’re familiar with “honor your parents” and “bring your children up in the nurture of the Lord”, and good at ignoring them in isolation. Children feel their parents have sinned horribly against them, and so God’s commands get modified (consciously or not) into “Honor your father and mother if they are honorable, when it suits you, and don’t feel bad about doing a lousy job since they’ve hardly done for you what God commanded.” For parents, the morph is similar. We respond to the command by saying, “I did my best. I put food on the table. They pushed me away. If they want to have a relationship with me, they’ll call.”

Malachi smacks us with reality. God doesn’t tell us to honor our parents if they’re honorable (or reasonable!), and he doesn’t tell parents to nurture their children when those children are willing to listen, young, cute or asleep. When John the Baptizer came preaching in the spirit of Elijah, he didn’t gathered around a congregation of kids, but made the way straight “that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). Jews, priests, Levites, all were called to repentance. His first line in Matthew’s Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (3:2). This is not a repentance depending on someone else’s. This is not turn your heart to your father when he owns something you’d like him to, or love your kid when they’re lovable. Malachi echoes the 5th commandment: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Ex. 20:12), but he applies it to the time when Jesus would come. He includes the hearts of fathers to children, and not just children to fathers. And he adds the consequences of refusing, “lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”

What does a beefed up version of the 5th Commandment have to do with the coming of Christ? More than we might think. God prepares us for the coming of his Son by telling us to get right with our own children. He tells us to prepare our hearts to love the Father who gives life to the Son by turning our hearts to our fathers who gave us life. We fail to see these connections because we think it’s easy to run if you never walk, which is a lie: “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). How much more is this true if anyone hates his father? Or if anyone anyone hates his son? He cannot love the Father or the Son. This is not said to throw your faith into a tailspin. In his juxtaposing brilliance, John tells us that one must drive the other out. If you love Father, love your father. If you love the Son, love your son. If you are a Christian who believes Jesus is God, this is where you are going anyway, so you might as well come along and have a merry Christmas. Continue reading

The Kids Hear All the Time

John Younts (Everyday Talk) sledges home  the didactic power of speech:

“How do you talk to your spouse in front your children? Do you make fun him? Do you complain about her? Do you insult each other? Do your children hear you argue incessantly? Are irritation and smoldering anger common in your home? Or do you deal with conflict by just ignoring each other? How do you talk about your spouse to others?

The way you talk to or about your spouse is a model of instruction for your children. Your conversation is a powerful influence, either for good or for bad. Comments to and about your spouse, made in your children’s hearing, tell them about your marriage. If you often speak of marriage as a pain, a risk, a disaster or a trial, you are teaching your children what you think marriage is really like. You are also displaying a view of marriage that is contrary to God’s view” (p. 134).

Butterfly Mothers

A friend recently told me a story of someone she knows who went into the ministry recently, directing a hopping children’s program at a local church. Lots of responsibility, long hours and, it appears, lots of impact. The trouble she pointed out is that this woman’s husband has been left in need and her own children signed in to daycare or daddy daycare.

It occurred to me how ironic it was that my friend who herself left a rising career herself to be with and have more children is thought of as the one lacking impact, whereas the lady who has virtually abandoned her husband and children, at least in the hours of need, is out there “making a difference.” This is not to say that a mother’s place is in the home, but when her priority is there, when she ministers to those who desperately need her, the impact is enormous.

The butterfly effect is when an unknowing Monarch flaps his wings in remote African Rain forest and sets off a series of events that becomes a hurricane on the Gulf Coast. God constantly orchestrates the world this way, doing great things through what seems disconnected and unimportant. Motherhood appears to us as common and inconsequential when it is in fact the most important job in the world. Children of sacrificial and wise mothers will have their own impacts through hundreds of collective years, thousands of relationships, and the countless other generations that come from them. Children of wise and sacrificial mothers rise up and call them blessed.