Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Articles

3 Priorities for Christian Parents
May 23, 2016

What’s a parent to do? We know that God tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—we get that. But what does that actually look like? How can we flesh out that simple framework?

I was recently reading through 1 Thessalonians and once again came to one of my favorite passages. In this letter Paul is addressing specific concerns raised by the congregation in Thessalonica. It seems that one of the matters they wanted him to address involved the simple question of Christian living: How do we live lives that are pleasing to God? How can we know that God is pleased with us? The most significant part of Paul’s response to the question comes in chapter 4.

It struck me as I read it: Isn’t this the question we ask for our children? How can they live lives that are pleasing to God? Isn’t that the dream and desire of every Christian parent, that their children will live lives that thrill God? In this section of his letter Paul provides three priorities. The priorities Paul offers to this first-century Christian church can be helpful to twenty-first century Christian parents.

The Importance of Sexual Purity

The first priority Paul highlights is the priority of sexual knowledge and purity—knowledge of God’s purposes in sexuality and dedication to obedience. He says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (3-4), and goes on to describe the importance of sexual self-control. Here he is clearly following up on earlier teaching where he told them about God’s purpose and plan in sexuality. He ties their holiness directly to their purity, making it clear that the only kind of life that honors God is a life of abstaining from sin and pursuing holy expressions of sexuality. These were no doubt important instructions to recent converts living in a licentious society that permitted and celebrated many forms of depravity. He even warns that there will be immediate and perhaps even eternal consequences to sin (6) and reminds them that they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who gives them an internal warning against such deeds (8). “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (7).

Similarly, parents bear the responsibility of teaching and training their children to understand the importance of sexual purity and, before that, the sheer goodness of human sexuality. They must both discipline and instruct, teaching what God requires and being prepared to correct their children when they go against such instructions. In an age of moral revolution and terrible sexual confusion, no concerned parent can neglect to arm their children with a sound knowledge of God’s perspective on sexuality.

The Priority of the Local Church

After Paul speaks of the importance of sexual purity he advances to the priority of the local church as the Christian’s mission field for love. “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more…” (9-10). These believers were a picture of Christian love, expressing love within their local assembly that then overflowed into acts of love to the wider Christian community. And yet Paul knew that where love isn’t growing it is declining. He knew that love never ends because there is no end to the possible deeds of love. And so he encouraged them to continue to make love a priority—beginning right there in the local church.

Here we can learn the importance of teaching our children to prioritize the local church, and teaching our children to see the church not only as a place of worship, but a place of love—a place to express love to other Christians. Do your children know that the local church is absolutely foundational to God’s plan for us, for them? Do they know that we are not merely consumers of worship but dispensers of love? (It’s encouraging to note that this church listened to him—see 2 Thessalonians 1:3.)

The Dignity of Hard Work

Having told the church of the priorities of sexual purity and local church fellowship, Paul tells them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (11). This is a call to believe in the dignity of labor and, on that basis, to work hard. In a church that apparently struggled with laziness and meddling (see also 5:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), Paul commanded that they be content to be unknown and unnoticed except for their hard work. This work had value in providing evidence of their profession of faith (“so that you may walk properly before outsiders”) and as a further expression of love to other Christians (“and be dependent on no one”). Through their hard work they would display the power of the gospel and be able to avoid lazy dependence upon the church.

Our children need to know that God created us to work and that there is dignity in all labor. Paul himself, though a pastor and scholar, an elite and intellectual, was unashamed to work with his own hands, to provide for his own needs. Paul knew this: Sin grows in the soil of idleness and a refusal to work displays a willingness to sin. He would undoubtedly agree with Spurgeon who said, “Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” Much of our children’s sin, especially as they grow older, can be traced to idleness, to long and lazy evenings, to an unwillingness to dedicate themselves to hard work.

We need to teach our children far more than these three things, of course, but Paul’s instruction to the church in Thessalonica, his answer to “How do we live lives that are pleasing to God?” give us a great place to begin, a set of priorities applicable to every parent. Parenting is more than this, to be sure, but it must not be less.

May 22, 2016

Today I’ve got a new batch of letters to the editor. Some weeks I get many and some weeks I get few. This week was somewhere right in the middle, I think. Here we go!

Comments on A Call for Plodding Bloggers

There was quite a response to my call for plodding bloggers which showed me just how many bloggers there are who feel discouraged by the response to their writing which, in turn, tells me how important it is for all of us to encourage people whose work benefits us. Here is a sampling of some of the letters I received:

Just wanted to say a brief word of thanks for this article. It might be one of those articles you consider small or insignificant, but it was very encouraging to me. Which, I guess, proves your point.
—Michelle L, Baton Rouge LA

***

I appreciated the article about plodding bloggers. I have been blogging since 2004, and I’ve watched my own blog grow in readership only to fall to a mere handful. I’ve been guided for a desire to get attention and a desire to just write well. I have found the latter to be a better motivation. A personal trial helped me realize that blogging can skew one’s priorities. I have found that when I write less from an acute awareness of the audience and more for the joy of writing, I am more content. I agree with you that we ought to plod on, and our efforts must be guided less by a desire for attention than a desire to be good communicators, sincere Christians, and people of integrity. Thanks for your thoughts on the subject.
—Kim S, Simcoe ON

***

Your words on blogging are so very appropriate for pastors, especially those of us who have served decades in small churches, not just those relatively few who have planted a church. After so many years we have to be regularly reminded to focus on the Lord and leave the results in His hands, and keep on doing the work, plodding on.
—Robin S, Gambrills MD

***

I am writing because I oh so enjoyed reading your article “A Call for Plodding Bloggers.” Reading it brought much joy to my heart, as that is exactly what I do. I blog more for my own enjoyment than I do for others. I don’t blog as frequently as I aspire to, however that is alright in my book. Maybe one day I will get there and have the time (and energy!) to blog on a more regular basis. But, as for now, I seek to Glorify God in all that I do, including my Plodding Blogging. So, once again, thank you for your words of encouragement!
—Jonathan B, North Fort Myers, FL

***

Thank you for this recent article. I write a small, obscure blog for the church that God has called me to serve at. When I started the blog, I viewed it as an opportunity to further the ministry of the Word to the body. Like you said, I quickly found little or no response. The result? Discouragement and the laying down of the pen. But recently (and thankfully), the Lord prompted me to get over my own pride and get back to the grind of producing a weekly blog for the church. Whether or not the Lord chooses to use these little nuggets (am I assuming they have value?), I have found the process both beneficial to my own soul and to my preaching as well. So, thank you for consistently plodding. May we plod on and not hit too many difficult stones in the process!
—Dave T, Connoquenessing, PA

Comments on Why I Am Not Atheist

Thank you for the article. I also grew up in the Christian faith and hold to the Reformed belief. Thank you for highlighting the sovereignty of God, that we believe because he designated that we believe, not because we choose too. However, my issue with this article is that it seems to state that you only believe because you simply grew up in the faith, and this is just what you were taught, and so you believed. Then what about someone who didn’t grow up in the faith? What about someone who doesn’t believe in the bible? The article seems to state that it was merely by chance that you believe, because you simply grew up that way. I hope I am making sense, but when I think about it from a non-believer stand point, the reasoning does not sound compelling because it is strictly from a Christian standpoint. It’s like saying I believe in the Bible because the Bible says I believe. What if you don’t believe at all? Personally, I agree completely with the article since I am too a believer, but thinking about it from a non-believer stand point, it seems like it could easily be said, I believe in Islam because that’s just how I grew up; I had no choice.
—Sam H, San Jose, CA

Tim: I said from the beginning that my purpose was not to write apologetics but to write from my own experience. To some degree the two are the same, but I do not intend to write “Why you should not be Roman Catholic” as much as “Why I am not Roman Catholic.” That is quite a different emphasis.

***

So you wrote an article talking about why you aren’t an atheist and then you attack almost every other Christian and deist faith in the world? You lessen the Koran and Book of Mormon which both testify of God. That gives more evidence thy God doesn’t exist. The more phony books of scripture that are out there, the less credible the Bible becomes. Also, NOTHING is more human than the Bible. It has so many obvious errors and interpolations of men that it’s barely legible at times. No book has been tampered with more. You really need to educate yourself a little more on not only religion, but basic writing and argument development before you write more articles.
—Alister F, Jackson, TN

Tim: There were surprisingly few responses of this nature which is unusual for when I write about atheism.

Comments on Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children!

Thank you so much for writing on this topic, and for clearly stating that it is indeed possible for a child’s anger to be more righteous than a parent’s treatment of them. My husband and I have been reminding each other of this admonition frequently as we have 3 children ages 6-11 (prime time)! However, I would love to see you write on the topic of parents who provoke their adult children. There are basic scriptural principles (honor your mother and father, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ, etc.) that I feel can be applied. But very little specifics in evangelical, biblical circles about the way to handle/set boundaries with difficult adult parents. Thanks so much for your ministry!
—Sarah R, Newberg, OR

Tim: I have actually noticed that there is very little material written about the relationship with parents and adult children and seems to represent quite a gap in the Christian literature right now. I believe Christians would benefit from some guidance in how to respect and care for their aging parents and, of course, how to properly care for especially difficult ones.

A Call for Plodding Bloggers
May 20, 2016

I believe that blogs have been a blessing to the church in the twenty-first century. Maybe I have to believe this since I have blogged nearly every day of the century. Still, with every bit of objectivity I can muster, I say it and believe it: For all their problems and all their shortcomings, blogs have been a blessing. They have served the church and the cause of the church.

Over my years of reading and writing blogs, I have seen thousands of blogs and bloggers come and go. There are many reasons people have stopped writing: Some have had life’s responsibilities overwhelm the time they would otherwise dedicate to writing, some have had to refocus on family or local church, some grew weary of critics and criticism, some have simply run out of things to say. But I think the most common reason people have given up is that they grew tired of the plodding. Over time they grew discouraged by the distance between the effort and the reward, between the investment and the result.

And let’s not kid ourselves: Blogging is hard work. Far more often than not, it is mundane, unglamorous, thankless work. In that way blogging is a lot like most of what we do in this world. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes skill, and at the end of it all you wonder if it has made any difference to you or to anyone else.

Today I want to put out a call for plodding bloggers. I’m taking my cue from Scott Slayton who recently put out a similar call to plodding church planters. In that article he pointed out that many church planters delude themselves into thinking that they will move to a new town, start a new church, and see immediate, overwhelming results. But in reality, most move to that new town, start the new church, and see only very ordinary results. Unless they are plodders they will be tempted to give up.

And in much the same way, many bloggers set out with grandiose dreams of writing a few articles and witnessing an explosion of readers, of receiving mountains of grateful feedback, maybe even of seeing publishers waving book contracts. But the reality is far different. They publish a few articles, see little response, and find themselves tempted to give up. Or perhaps, even worse, they publish an article, see it explode in popularity, and then never again come close to matching that one. And soon the daily blogging becomes weekly blogging becomes occasional blogging becomes abandoned blogging.

Slayton says,

The man who plants [a sound, faithful church] must be willing to do work that doesn’t make for interesting tweets. He must be a man who cultivates his relationship with Jesus, his wife, and children each and every day. He has to be willing to spend hours glued to his chair with his head in the Bible so he can faithfully teach it to others. This man will dedicate significant time each week to purposeful conversation with other Christians, helping them to understand how to follow Jesus.

The task of the Christian blogger is different but the same. He, too, needs to do a lot of living that will never turn into tweets or blog posts. She, too, must first cultivate relationships with her Savior and her family. He, too, must be constantly learning and growing through the Word. She, too, must put aside desires for other visions of success in favor of the simple joy of helping others understand how to follow Jesus. And what a joy that is! And what a blessing that blogs make it possible.

Are you blogging to build yourself a platform, so you can be known and admired? No platform will ever be high enough and no amount of fame or admiration will ever satisfy. Are you blogging as a kind of necessary evil on the way to a book contract and a conference stage? You will forsake authenticity and true substance in favor of manipulative click-bait headlines. But if you are blogging out of a desire to glorify God by doing good to those who are created in the image of God, now you are in the spot where God can and will use you, even if he uses you in small ways and ways that are hard to detect. When I bump into readers of my blog and they tell me about articles that have been helpful to them, almost invariably these are the small articles that I would have deemed unsuccessful. They are the minor articles that barely registered. And yet the Lord chose to use them to encourage one of his people. Hearing this blesses and strengthens me every time.

I believe we are living in a golden age of writing, where any Christian with a heart for the Lord and the Lord’s people can have a voice of edification and encouragement. This is a tremendous blessing! We have thousands and tens of thousands of Christians eagerly using this new medium to tell others about what Jesus has done in them and for them. We are all the grateful beneficiaries.

So my message for my fellow bloggers is this: Plod on! Be content to be a plodding blogger and trust that God is glorifying himself and blessing his people through your faithfulness.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Why I Am Not an Atheist
May 19, 2016

Today I embark on the first part of my promised series “Why I Am Not.” This series was provoked by the question of how I came by my religious beliefs. Why do I believe so strongly in the existence of a God instead of doubting or denying it? Why am I Protestant instead of Roman Catholic? I began to think about these questions and many more and, naturally, my thoughts worked themselves out in writing. Today I want to begin with the broadest question of all and tell why I am not an atheist. My goal is not first to persuade but simply to explain.

My beliefs about the existence and identity of God originated in my childhood. I was born to Christian parents and raised in a Christian home where I was taught the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Nothing is more foundational to Christianity than the existence of a God. As a child I memorized answer four of the Westminster Shorter Catechism which provides a stirring introduction to this God: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” There was never a time in my life when I did not acknowledge the existence of a God, and even a God much like this one. What was assumed in my childish heart and mind later took deeper root in my adult heart and mind.

There was never a time I denied the existence of God. Not only that, but there was never a time I even doubted it. Never once have I had disquieting thoughts while lying awake at night; never once have I had intellectual wrestlings with the idea that perhaps God does not exist. That’s not to say I have never interacted with atheists or encountered their claims. I have read the works of many of today’s most prominent atheists: Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. I’ve watched The God Who Wasn’t There. I know what these people say and why they say it. But not one of their claims has resonated with me. In fact, their claims have only served to deepen my faith. I’ve never doubted God’s existence any more than I’ve doubted my own. That’s simply the truth.

So why am I not atheist? I want to give two answers.

First, according to the Bible, I am not an atheist because God determined I would not be. See, it’s not that I have any spiritual, intellectual, or philosophical inclinations within me that nudge me toward God. Rather, I have all the makings of a very convinced atheist—an inclination away from authority and toward independence, a questioning mind, and a restless spirit. But God chose to reveal himself to me and to draw me to himself. In his own way and for his own purposes he revealed himself, his existence, his goodness, his power, and I responded with faith, with belief. Ultimately, then, I am not an atheist because God showed me himself.

That is the first answer and the second cannot be separated from it: I am not an atheist because of things I believe and decisions I have made. God works through, not apart from, human agency and ability. And in that way I am not an atheist on the basis of evidence I have observed and conclusions I have made.

I see evidence of God in existence. The fundamental question every human needs to answer is this: How is there something instead of nothing? We all need to grapple with the question of existence, with the reality that there is a world, that there is a universe, that there is something. Existence is impossible, or at least so very improbable, that every person must at least consider that perhaps existence owes to one who pre-exists it, one who transcends the trappings of space and time. Try as I might, I simply cannot account for existence in any other way than through the prior existence of a God.

I see evidence of God in design. I see evidence of God in existence, and further evidence in the orderliness of what exists. This universe follows laws and patterns, it behaves in consistent ways. I see no reason to allow or even imagine that something as orderly as this universe came to be without some kind of agency, without an orderly being extending his order into it. When I look at stars and creatures and chromosomes I can’t help but see the fingerprints of God. When I look at the sheer wonder of a blazing sun, of a flower in full bloom, of a human eye, I do not see chance or randomness but design, order, and purpose. Where there is art there is an artist, where there is something there is a someone, and where there is design there is a designer.

I see evidence of God in humanity. When I look at all that exists and all that reflects design, it is clear that one thing, one creature, stands above it all. Human beings transcend everything else in sheer wonder and ability. Only humans ask the great questions about meaning and purpose and what lies beyond. Only humans gasp in awe and wonder. Only humans long for transcendence and acknowledge a transcendent soul, a part of them that cannot be seen or touched or quantified but that is still so real. It seems clear to me that human beings were made to reflect someone or something else, to exist for a higher and bigger purpose. It seems clear to me that humans were made by and for God.

I see evidence of God in the Bible. And then I see evidence of God in a book, in the Bible. I see it in its words, in its wisdom, in its form, in its coherence, in its frankness, in its truthfulness. I have read holy texts from other religions—the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Koran, the Book of Mormon. They are so unsurprising, so unfulfilling, so very human. I have read the Holy Bible and found a book that is so unexpected, so deeply challenging, so entirely other. The Bible is so different from everything else, every other book, every form of human wisdom, that I have to conclude that it came from beyond humans. The Bible displays the mind and heart of God and in that way provides wisdom for this world from beyond this world.

I am not an atheist because I cannot be. Both the evidence and God himself have drawn me away from it. Both the evidence and God himself have led me to declare that God exists and that his Son, Jesus Christ, is the Savior of this world.

I hope you will join me next time as I discuss why I am not Roman Catholic.

Shame Fear Guilt
May 18, 2016

I’ve heard it said that there are three kinds of culture in the world, each defined by its predominant worldview. There are cultures of shame, cultures of fear, and cultures of guilt, and each of them has their own way of pressuring people to behave or to conform to society.

In a shame culture your standing before other people depends on your level of shame or honor. It’s like there is an imaginary scale that has shame on one side and honor on the other and the things you do, the things you say, and the ways you behave can tip the scale in one direction or the other. If you have been shamed, the way to recover your reputation is to do something that will restore your honor. A couple of years ago we saw an example of this in Ontario when a Muslim father took action to restore his honor. His daughters had been rebelling against him by drifting from Islam and embracing Western values. This shamed him in the eyes of his community and he responded by murdering all three of his girls in what is known as an honor killing. He deemed this act necessary to restore his honor. And, indeed, within his own community it did.

In a fear culture your standing depends on your level of fear or power. These cultures are usually tribal and animistic and they pressure you with the fear of consequences meted out by supernatural spirits. The way to overcome fear is to gain power—power over those spirits and, through them, power over other people. You can do this through curses, incantations, charms, or even sacrifices. Each of these is a means to draw power from those supernatural forces, those angry spirits, and in that way to gain power over people. Fear is what controls people and forces them to conform to the culture around them.

In a guilt culture your standing depends on your level of guilt or innocence. These cultures are obsessed with justice, with keeping people in-check with standards of right and wrong. So from their earliest days children are taught to follow the rules and are told they will be innocent if they obey those rules or guilty if they disobey them. Adults are kept in-check with endless lists of laws and, when offended, are quick to bring charges against other people in the hope that they will be found guilty. Every person experiences the desire to avoid guilt and protect innocence.

So we have shame cultures where a scale runs from shame to honor, we have fear cultures where a scale runs from fear to power, and guilt cultures where a scale runs from guilt to innocence. And, in fact, most cultures draw components from all three. One will be predominant but there will be elements of the others. You will probably recognize that here in the West we are predominantly a guilt culture with some elements of shame (think of social media shaming as a means to conformity) and fear (think of the surprising rise of karma and “paying it forward” as controlling forces). You will probably recognize as well that the way a culture acknowledges right or wrong standing before people is the way they will acknowledge right or wrong standing before God.

One fascinating thing to consider is that all three of these cultures are previewed in the Bible—at the very beginning of the Bible, even. The third chapter of Genesis tells how humanity ended up so full of sin and trouble. Here we read of the first human beings rebelling against God and we learn that there are consequences to their rebellion. No sooner do they sin than they experience shame, symbolized in the sudden knowledge that they are naked and their desire to cover themselves. They experience fear as they run and hide from God, desperate to escape his gaze. They experience guilt, knowing that they have gone from innocent to guilty in the eyes of God. In every case they were right—they had every reason to experience shame, fear, and guilt because they had behaved shamefully, they had offended a powerful being, and they had become objectively guilty of a divine law.

But just as the Bible describes how all three of these are consequences to human rebellion, it assures us that the gospel provides the perfect solution. The gospel addresses shame by telling how Christ was shamed on our behalf to restore our honor. The gospel addresses fear by telling how Christ has defeated every power and how he even gives his power to us. And the gospel addresses guilt by assuring us that Christ took our guilt upon himself so he could give us his innocence. The gospel removes shame, it removes fear, and it removes guilt, it restores honor, it restores power, it restores innocence. The gospel speaks to every person in every culture and addresses their every need.

For more on the three kinds of culture, you may be interested in this brief article from Power to Change. Image credit: Shutterstock

Do Not Provoke Your Children
May 17, 2016

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This single sentence combines the New Testament’s two most prominent passages on parenting and, as I said yesterday (see Fathers (and Mothers), Do Not Provoke Your Children!), offers a significant warning to parents: We can parent our children in such a way that we provoke them to anger and discouragement. There are times when we so provoke our children that anger is the fitting and inevitable response. Today I want to offer a few ways that we, as parents, may provoke our children to that kind of anger and discouragement.

Goodness instead of holiness. We may provoke our children to anger and discouragement when we teach them to be good instead of holy, when we care more for their good behavior than their holy hearts. We can too easily content ourselves with outwardly moral children instead of children who are inwardly holy. We can focus on bad behavior instead of the sinful heart that causes and enjoys that bad behavior. This will eventually provoke our children to anger and discouragement because they will see that we are calling them to a standard of behavior that is impossible, a standard they cannot reach until their hearts are first transformed. Not only that, but they will see the gap between what the Bible teaches and what we promote, and they will sink into angry despair. Parents, don’t content yourself with good kids but pray for holy kids, for children whose good behavior flows out of a transformed heart. Shepherd them with and to the gospel instead of badgering them with unfair and impossible demands.

Hypocrisy instead of authenticity. We can provoke our children to anger and discouragement when we live with hypocrisy instead of authenticity, when we hold ourselves to one standard but hold them to another one. When we allow this, our children will see that we have no firm standard and they will come to believe that the Christian faith only calls for change in the eyes of other people, not in the eyes of God. Yet God calls us to discipline and instruct our children by explanation and demonstration, by explaining with words and demonstrating with our lives. We need to live before our children in such a way that we can say not only “Do what I say” but “Do what I do.” We need to take our cues from the apostle Paul who could boldly tell others, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). (See The Humblest Words.)

Doubt instead of confidence. We can provoke our children when we live in great doubt instead of great confidence in God’s desire to save them. There are all sorts of good things we want for our children, but nothing more than their salvation. Parents can live with crippling fear that God will not save our children, and this fear has consequences: We can become heavy-handed, demanding our children turn to Christ, or we can become manipulative, constantly begging or pleading with them to make a profession. Our children may then grow angry and discouraged because they will see their parents professing faith in a God who is sovereign and good but then acting as if God is neither one. God’s instruction to parents is to discipline and instruct our children with confidence that God loves to save the lost and that he saves them through the appointed means—the gospel. (See 1 Timothy 2:4 and What Gives God Pleasure.) As we expose our children to the gospel through our discipline and instruction, we can expect that the gospel will do its work. We need to raise our children to hear the gospel proclaimed and to see it lived out. All the while we need to trust that God will work through his gospel.

Fear instead of boldness. We may provoke our children when we raise them in fear instead of boldness. It is wise parenting to protect our children by holding back evil influences until they have developed and matured. But it is unwise parenting to so shelter our children that they never see and experience sin and its ugly consequences. Many parents make decisions about relationships or church or education or family involvement based on fear. But fear-based parenting provokes children because we create a fictional world, a bubble that does not reflect reality. Not only that, but we hide from our children the experience of seeing sin and its consequences, the undeniable reality that sin promises joy and life but brings sadness and death. While we need to boldly raise our children to be in but not of the world, we cannot do this by sheltering them entirely from the world. We need to wisely protect our children, but without fearfully sheltering them.

Anger instead of patience. We may provoke our children to anger and lead to their discouragement if we raise them with anger instead of patience. So many can testify that their parents used anger or the threat of anger as a means of correction and punishment. Discipline was not delivered with calmness and self-control but with angry slaps or cutting words. And of course this leads to anger. A parent’s anger leads to their child’s anger. How couldn’t it? But in this case the parent’s anger is unjust while the child’s anger is just. God expects that we will discipline and instruct our children with patience and kindness. This involves modeling the very actions, attitudes, and words we want them to display.

Aloofness instead of involvement. We may provoke our children when we raise them with aloofness instead of involvement. Too often we are involved in our kids’ lives only when there are problems. We have little real relationship with our children, but then come rushing in during times of danger, disobedience, or difficulty. The parents I most want to imitate are the ones who deliberately build friendships with their children, who have a vision of their grown children being their friends and Christian brothers or sisters, and who then work deliberately toward those goals. These parents give time and attention to their children while they are young, they raise them with kindness and discipline, and they do this by holding in mind the future relationship they long to have. Parents, we need to pursue and befriend our children. (See An Unexpected Blessing of Parenting.)

Pride instead of humility. We will undoubtedly provoke our children to anger and discouragement if we raise them in pride instead of humility. Every generation of Christians seems to have to rediscover the ugliness of pride and the beauty of humility. Every parent needs to discover it as well. Parental pride manifests itself in a hundred different ways, but perhaps never more clearly than in an unwillingness to seek our children’s forgiveness. Pride convinces us that apologizing to our children displays weakness, that it gives them power over us. Nothing could be further from the truth! Humility convinces us that apologizing to our children displays the greatest strength, that it models the very character of Christ. We will inevitably sin against our children so we need to humbly seek their forgiveness, trusting that while God opposes the proud he gives great grace to the humble (see James 4:6).

There are undoubtedly many more ways that we can sinfully, unjustly provoke our children. There are undoubtedly many more ways that we actually do. So we honor God and love our children by examining ourselves and our parenting to find our particular temptations. Where we find them we must confess and repent. And all the while we can have confidence that God chooses to display his strength through our weakness, his power through our inadequacy. 

Do Not Provoke Your Children
May 16, 2016

It’s a word, it’s an idea, that I have wanted to explore for some time. Within the New Testament there are two clear instructions to parents and this word features prominently in both of them. It is the word provoke. Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” while Colossians 3:21 echoes “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Risking the wrath of expositors everywhere, I created a mash-up of the two that reads like this: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” I’d like to suggest a number of ways that we, as parents, may sinfully, unjustly provoke our children. But before we do that, let’s walk through these two passages together.

Fathers. The first word in both passages is Fathers. While it is fathers who are addressed here, most commentators acknowledge that it is fair to see these instructions as being written to both parents. Greek society was patriarchal so Paul addressed the mothers through the fathers. We are on good ground allowing the verse to speak equally to both parents.

Do not provoke … to anger. Both passages contain the same exhortation: Do not provoke, though Ephesians adds to anger. Provoke is the kind of word you might use when you kindle a fire into flame—you begin with something small and provoke it into a roaring fire. Or from another angle, it is the kind of word you might use when you are getting your children all excited, chasing them around and tickling them until you provoke them to being all wound up. Here, of course, Paul is using it in a negative sense of stirring, exasperating, or irritating them toward anger or bitterness. Parents must not provoke their children to anger.

I want to make an important application: Parents can cause their children to become angry and bitter. I’m sure you know this and I can assure you that they know this. But I think we can go even a step further to say there are times when our children are justified in their anger toward us. There are times when we so provoke our children, we so exasperate them, that anger is the fitting response. It may even be the right response if that anger is expressed in righteous ways. There may be times when your children’s anger toward you is more righteous than your actions or attitude toward them.

Next we read, lest they become discouraged. A discouraged child is one who has lost heart. He is so beaten down that he has lost hope, he has lost motivation, he doesn’t care anymore. One Bible translates it, “lest he get discouraged and quit trying.” The idea here is that you can so beat down your children that they stop trying to please you. Maybe your demands are arbitrary or unfair, maybe you never praise your children and take joy in them, maybe you live hypocritically before them with higher expectations for them than for yourself. Whatever the case, they eventually stop caring and stop trying. Douglas Moo says, “Paul does not want to see the children of Christian families disciplined to such an extent that they ‘lose heart’ and simply give up trying to please their parents.”

Putting it all together, God exhorts parents in this way: Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged. On the heels of that exhortation he offers a solution: “But bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Do not beat down, but raise up. Do not provoke with impatience and injustice, but instead shepherd with nurture and tenderness, and do this through discipline and instruction.

These two words are key: discipline and instruction. Between them they offer words of training and correction, words of admonition and rebuke, words that express both the positive and the negative sides of leadership. You need to correct your children, sometimes with a look, sometimes with a word, sometimes with a timeout, and sometimes with a spank. That is the negative side of parenting. But positively, you also need to teach them, explaining to them what is right, demonstrating how they are to live. This little pair of words covers both the positive and the negative sides of learning and growing, helping our children go from folly to wisdom, from childishness to maturity, from self-centeredness to loving others, and, we trust, from sin to salvation.

Parents, do not provoke your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. With all of this in place, we are prepared to look at how parents may sinfully, unjustly provoke their children to anger and discouragement. We will turn to that tomorrow. (See 7 Ways Parents Provoke Our Children)

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Joy of Discipline
May 13, 2016

We don’t accomplish much in life apart from self-discipline. Discipline plays an especially important role in life’s difficult or full-out unpleasant tasks, in those things we know we ought to do but struggle to accomplish. We discipline ourselves to get exercise and lose weight. We discipline ourselves to update the family budget on a regular basis. We discipline ourselves to read instead of watch television or to get up early instead of sleep in. In so many areas we rely on discipline to help us complete our most difficult or least favorite tasks.

In general, we discipline ourselves to avoid the negative consequences of a lack of discipline. We know that we will suffer if we don’t exercise, if we don’t manage our finances, if we never crawl out of bed. If these things were pleasant, they wouldn’t require so much effort, right? We don’t need discipline to eat chocolate but to not eat chocolate. Discipline is associated with self-denial and it is not surprising, then, that it tends to have negative connotations.

But sometimes it really just comes down to how we frame it, because discipline is equally important when it comes to life’s pleasant tasks. We don’t just need to discipline ourselves away from unpleasantness but toward joy. Discipline allows us to picture desirable outcomes, to form a plan to get there, to take the necessary steps, and to experience the joys we long for. Discipline is good because discipline delivers joy.

Each night before I go to sleep I make sure I kiss Aileen and pray with her. I didn’t always do these things, but over time developed them as disciplines. Why? Because I know each of them brings joy. It brings joy to be relationally connected with her and there is something about that little kiss that is a reminder of what we share together. It also forces us to let go of petty squabbles or at least to say, “Maybe we can’t fix this before we go to sleep tonight, but let’s at least remember that each of us is in this for the other and that we will work it out.” It brings joy for us to have a shared relationship with the Lord, and so together we commit our day and our night to him. We developed these disciplines for our joy. We saw a joyful outcome we wanted and developed the disciplines that would get us there and keep us there.

It’s not just in marriage. I have disciplined myself to open the Bible with my family each morning so we can experience joy together—the joy of hearing from God together as a family. I believe as well that it will be a key to the future joy of my children as they respond to God’s voice, God’s Word, in repentance and faith. I also discipline myself to have personal devotions because it too brings joy. I see the joyful outcome of a closer relationship with God and greater obedience to his Word and work backward to the means that will get me there—spending time hearing from him and speaking to him.

When we associate discipline only with avoidance of negative outcomes we rob ourselves of a means God uses to promote our joy and ultimately our joy in him. Where would God have you develop a discipline for your joy?

Image credit: Shutterstock