Every now and again I like to collect some of the questions I’ve been asked and take a shot at answering them. Here, then, is another Ask Me Anything round-up. This one deals with raising boys through puberty, making educational choices, dealing with debt, the existence of miracles, and more. I hope you enjoy it.
How do you prepare a boy for puberty and to remain pure through physical changes, sexual attraction, the desire to masturbate, and so on.
I’m glad you’re asking the question. For too many parents this is an area of extreme awkwardness and, for that reason, little action. Far more parents regret that they said too little to their children while very few regret that they said too much.
We are still raising our children—we’ve got two teenagers and one almost-teenager. This means we are still learning and cannot yet look back and say, “we did this well” or “we did this poorly.” But based on the bit I’ve learned, the lot I’ve read, and the older, successful parents I’ve asked, here’s what I’d say.
First, pray. This world is out to get boys. It is out to influence them, entrap them, and pervert them. Pornography and other forms of blatant sexuality are all around them and coming after them. So pray that God would protect your boy from those ugly influences. Sexual maturing is already difficult; sexual maturing while addicted to porn is nothing short of grueling.
Second, talk. Talk to your son. Yes, it’s probably going to be awkward, but talk to him. Ask how he’s doing. All the better if these can be man-to-man talks where a man (dad, if possible, or if not perhaps a pastor or godly older man) simply asks good questions about how he is doing, what he is feeling, and how he is responding. This is a good time for a side-by-side rather than face-to-face conversation.
Third, act. Act in appropriate ways to help prevent your son from a) falling prey to influences that are out to pervert him and b) falling prey to his own evil desires. You may want to consult my Porn-Free Family plan for more on this.
Fourth, don’t overdo it. At some point he is going to make his own decisions. Don’t patrol his every move and obsess about what he’s doing behind closed doors. Educate him, train him, pray for him, and encourage him, then remember that he is an autonomous person who will have to make his own way in the world. I don’t think parents do their boys much good when they time their showers or check their sheets or otherwise act in ways that may be overbearing.
Finally, pray some more. Perhaps add some fasting to your prayers. Honestly, how will any boy navigate sexuality in the modern world without parents who are earnestly pleading with God on his behalf?
I just read your articles on why you and your wife don’t homeschool. Yet I noticed that it was written 11 years ago. My husband and I are currently in this discussion and I was wondering how your children are now and if you still agree completely with your article then. Thank you.
In some ways parents are in the best position to speak to the state of their children, and in some ways they are in the worst. We see our children every day in all of their strengths and weaknesses; yet we have such an interest in our children and have such a desperate love for them that we do not necessarily see them as they really are. So how are my children doing? I think they are doing well. They are now 17, 14, and 11 and, as far as I can tell, progressing in healthy ways spiritually, socially, and educationally. At various times I have asked trusted friends if my assessment is correct and they tell me it is.
In the big picture, we have no significant regrets about our decision to have our children in public schools. We see no indication that it has corrupted them or that the messages they may have heard from friends or teachers has in any way outweighed the messages they get from home. On the whole, their teachers have been skilled, kind, and concerned for their wellbeing.
That’s not to say we don’t sometimes ask the “what if” questions about Christian schooling and homeschooling. All three options were always in-play and really still are. My son will finish up high school next year and it seems likely that my oldest daughter will finish up there as well. My youngest is only in sixth grade, so there’s a long way to go still, and it’s possible we’ll decide she will thrive at home or in a Christian school.
One question we haven’t been able answer is this one: If we had to begin their education again in 2017, would we still choose public schools? When my son began kindergarten 15 years ago, the sexual revolution was in full swing, but it had not progressed nearly as far as it has today. The messages children may hear today are significantly worse and more dangerous than they were then. Whether through irrational fear or wise conviction, it is possible that if we began all over today, we would choose an alternative.
The reality is, all three paths have benefits and drawbacks. Having our children in public schools has allowed us to plant deeper roots in our community and allowed our children to see and understand the world as it is. It has given them access to a couple of excellent schools, lots of skilled teachers, and a language program that has made them bilingual. Also, for Aileen and me it has freed up a lot of our time (over homeschooling) and money (over Christian schooling), both of which we’ve been able to invest in other causes. But, of course, each of the other options would have had benefits of their own. If there is anything I am prone to regret, it is that we could not choose or custom-create courses that would have stimulated our children’s interests in a way that isn’t possible in a large classroom.
That’s a long answer. The short version is, I still agree with what I wrote and still consider public schools a legitimate option. That is for each family to decide, then to regularly, prayerfully re-evaluate.
In your recent article about debt, you said, “we must do our absolute best to pay them back according to the exact terms we established.” What are your thoughts about settling debt at a discounted rate such as when it has gone into a collections agency and they offer a lower lump sum payment to close the debt? Or when a hospital offers a “paid in full” discount for less than what the charges were for originally? (I have done both of these). Is this wrong to ask for or accept those types of offers?
I stand by what I said, that if we accept the burden of debt, we must be willing to repay the debt. That seems very clear from Scripture. Debt is an obligation and we, as Christians, must be people of our word. We must fulfill the obligations we bind ourselves to.
That does not necessarily indicate we cannot pursue discounts or other kinds of debt relief. If a hospital offers a “paid in full discount,” that is their prerogative and I would have no qualms accepting it. They are still making money from the transaction—just less money. Asking for a discount is different from demanding one; requesting to pay less is not the same as refusing to pay at all. If the hospital says “no,” you are then obligated to repay it all. I might see collections as something a little bit different in that the lender may actually be taking a loss on what you have purchased. In such cases, conscience may dictate that you discharge as much of the obligation as you are able to.
The laws of our lands do allow for bankruptcy and other “emergency” avenues of debt relief. While Christians should be very cautious and hesitant about taking advantage of them, they are encoded in our laws and, therefore, a potential avenue for Christians who have made unwise decisions or suffered unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps the controlling principles should be hold to the Bible, abide by the law, and maintain a clean conscience. As always, local church elders are an important resource when we grapple with difficult questions.
I have just read your article, “Why I Am Not a Continuationist.” I am Reformed and have never been charismatic and, for the most part believe that the apostolic gifts have ceased. I do, however, wonder about the stories from missionaries especially in third world countries who have reported miraculous happenings such as being protected by men dressed in white with swords who surround the missionaries, unbeknownst to them at the time. My question to you is, do you believe in miraculous interventions by God? And do you believe in miraculous healings such as cancer spontaneously disappearing?
I believe in the miraculous, even as a cessationist. As a cessationist I believe that the miraculous apostolic or sign gifts are no longer in operation, not that miracles have ceased. Put simply, I believe in miraculous healing, not miraculous healers. So yes, God can heal instantaneously and miraculously. This is not his normal way of acting in the world today, of course, but I don’t doubt that he can do it and will do it, at least from time to time.
I see James 5:14 as the clearest New Testament instruction on special or miraculous healing: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” It seems clear in this passage that God can heal in tremendous ways. Yet the way he does this is not through a gift of healing, but through the earnest prayers of church leaders. This is yet another indicator of the centrality of the local church in God’s plan for his people.
Yet while I do believe that God can bring about special or miraculous healings, we cannot deny that the ones we see today are of a very different order than the ones described in the New Testament, both in the ministry of Jesus and his Apostles. We do not see limbs being regenerated, people blind from birth gaining their eyesight, and the dead being raised. God continues to act in great ways, but in different ways. That’s a reality any continuationist has to face with honesty.
I have often benefitted from reflecting on words once written by the Presbyterian pastor James Montgomery Boice. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and knew his time was short. He wrote this to his congregation:
A number of you have asked what you can do, and it strikes me that what you can do, you are doing. This is a good congregation, and you do the right things. You are praying certainly, and I’ve been assured of that by many people. And I know of many meetings that have been going on.
A relevant question, I guess, when you pray is, pray for what? Should you pray for a miracle? Well, you’re free to do that, of course. My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and he certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place. So although miracles do happen, they’re rare by definition. A miracle has to be an unusual thing.
I think it’s far more profitable to pray for wisdom for the doctors. Doctors have a great deal of experience, of course, in their expertise, but they’re not omniscient—they do make mistakes—and then also for the effectiveness of the treatment. Sometimes it does very well and sometimes not so well, and that’s certainly a legitimate thing to pray for.
As for those third-world stories, I hear about them from time to time as well, but almost always from a second- or third-hand source. This isn’t to say they aren’t true, but that they need to be accepted with some caution. As I speak to people who labor on the mission field and in closed countries, I mostly hear them tell tales of long and difficult labor that involves very little of the miraculous. In fact, I’ve never once had one of these people describe a miracle. Except, of course, the greatest miracle of all, which is a heart of stone being transformed to a heart of flesh through the preaching of the gospel. For all the miracles we desire, we must never forget to give praise to God for that one, for it, by far, is the one that matters most. If you’re pleading with God to free someone from cancer but neglecting to praise him for freeing them from hell, you’re missing the miracle!
What is the state of salvation for a person who, having come to faith and tasting the goodness of Gods salvation, has attempted suicide? Is that person still saved? Why? What about a person saved by faith in the Lord Jesus who is successful in attempting suicide? Why?
It is for good reason that Romans 8 is a refuge for those who are discouraged and downtrodden. I find it a passage relevant to discussions of suicide. Paul says, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). This passage proclaims confidence in God in all circumstances. Nothing in all the world will be able to steal the believer’s soul from God. The one who has been adopted by God will never be unadopted; the one who is loved by God will never be unloved; the one who is remembered will never be forgotten; the one who is redeemed will never be damned.
There is an important implication when it comes to suicide: If neither angels nor demons can separate us from the love of God, neither can we. If neither powers, nor height nor depth can negate our salvation, neither can suicide. Suicide is included in the “nor anything else in all creation” that has no power to separate us from God.
The idea that those who commit suicide cannot be saved owes more to a Roman Catholic notion of salvation than a biblical and Protestant one. Catholic theology considers suicide a mortal sin, meaning that unless it has been properly dealt with through the sacramental power of the Church, it cannot be forgiven. Therefore, the person who commits suicide dies outside of a state of grace and cannot go to heaven (or even to purgatory). This bad theology has snuck into Protestantism. But the gospel is far better than that.
This is not to say, of course, that suicide is okay. I do not mean to minimize a very serious sin, for suicide is the sin of murder—the murder of self. Those who commit this act have committed a terrible sin. But just as a true believer can commit murder and receive forgiveness, a true believer can commit self-murder and receive forgiveness. Just because suicide is a person’s final sin doesn’t make it an unforgivable sin.
I appreciated reading your write-up regarding the Logos software. I have a question in which I’d love to get your thoughts and recommendation on. I’m having a hard time deciding whether to get the Logos Standard Bronze or Silver on the one hand or the Reformed Bronze or Silver on the other? When I compare them side-by-side, the differences seem considerable, yet the amount of resources are roughly the same. I am Reformed in my faith and I lean towards the Reformed version…but would love to to get your opinion. Thank you in advance!
I am a big fan of ebooks and a daily user of Logos. As I’ve said before, I’ve gone all-in with both. So I like where you’re going with this question.
Whether a library is physical or electronic, its value is in its quality, not its quantity. You’re far better off having a modest collection of excellent books than a huge collection of poor or mediocre ones. This is why I consider our little church library far superior to our big public one. That rule holds true with Logos or any other kind of Bible software. As you look at the various base packages, it is far better to carefully evaluate the kind and quality of the resources than to simply measure how many there are. That one big number can be misleading. After all, two excellent commentaries on Romans are going to prove much more helpful than five or ten poor and mediocre ones.
So first, decide what you’ll use Logos for. Will it be primarily a digital bookshelf to search through commentaries? Will it be a resource for language studies? Will it be a learning platform to take courses? Establish how you intend to use it, then look carefully through the various base packages to see which one has the features and resources you need. Then see if you can get away with a lower base package and spend the difference on resources. If you can spend $400 less on a base package, you can spend $400 more on commentaries or something else helpful.
Speaking personally, I love to use Logos’ word study features, its commentaries, and its collections of sermons. I use other features as well, but those are the ones I use regularly and, therefore, the ones I’ve invested into the most.