Being a parent at Christmas is probably one of the biggest challenges of the year. But Jen Hatmaker’s post The Christmas Conundrum is quite simply the best thing (on web or in print) that I’ve read for parents seeking to navigate through the priorities and pitfalls of Christmas. If you read one thing on parenting this Christmas this is it.
‘We all know it. We all feel it. Every year we bear this tension. Each December, the world feels off kilter. But in the absence of a better plan or an alternative rhythm or – let’s just say it – courage, we feed the machine yet again, giving Jesus lip service while teaching our kids to ask Santa for whatever they want, because, you know, that’s really what Christmas boils down to.
I just cannot take it anymore, yall. I cannot.’
Happy reading, and of course, a happy Christmas.
(HT: Aimee Bentall)
The Bible contains surprising verses, even offensive verses, passages of the Bible that seem to be at odds with our understanding of the way the world should work and God behave.
Exodus 20:5 is one such verse;
I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.
If you’re a Christian you probably, like me, find a verse like that a little unsettling. What can such a verse mean?
1. It can’t mean that God actually punishes innocent people for the sins of an earlier generation. After all Deuteronomy 24:16 makes clear that ‘Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers.’
2. Rather through this verse God warns Israel that as Stuart comments;
‘God will indeed punish generation after generation if they keep doing the same sorts of sins that prior generations did. If the children continue to do the sins their parents did, they will receive the same punishments as their parents.’
Ryken notes that;
‘God never condemns the innocent only the guilty. Here it is important to notice something that is often overlooked — namely, how the threat ends. God says that he will punish three or four generations “of those who hate me” (Exod. 20:5). The children hate God as much as their fathers did (which, given the way they were raised, is not surprising).’
And here is his sobering conclusion
‘As parents plan for the future, they should be more concerned about the second commandment than they are about their financial portfolio. This commandment contains a solemn warning for fathers. When a man refuses to love God passionately and to worship God properly, the consequences of his sin will last for generations.
The guilt of a man who treasures idols in his heart will corrupt his entire family, and in the end they will all be punished.’
The second commandment in action
And then in the news today we find something that seems in every way to be a fulfilment of this warning in our own times. Dr Helen Wright, President of the Girls’ School Association, in a speech to be given tomorrow warns that the consequences of parents not knowing right from wrong are falling on their children.
‘I have a deep worry that some parents have been so deprived in their own lives of education and values, that they no longer know right from wrong and that they are as a result unwittingly ‘indulging’ children in some parallel universe where it is acceptable to let young children wear make-up and provocative clothing.
“If parents can’t see anything wrong in dressing up their children in ‘Future WAG’ T-shirts and letting them wear make-up, high heels and ‘mini-me’ sexy clothing, then something is intensely wrong in our society.’
Cecil B. De Mille the director of the Hollywood blockbuster, The Ten Commandments, described the folly of ignoring God’s 10 commandments in this way – he said ‘It is impossible for us to break laws; we only break ourselves upon them.’
We have a 5 year old son who attends our church twice on a Sunday. In the mornings we spend the first 15 minutes together in the service before he heads next door for Kidz Sunday School but he also attends each evening service where he sits through the full 80-90 minutes. He’s not the only child there and as a church we are slowly developing a culture in which our children feel welcome and included in the evening service so that families can worship together.
Here are a couple of quite excellent posts by Jen Wilkin on why worship together as families and then how to make it work.
She writes of the excellent children’s work at her church;
We see it as a rich and relevant worship environment for a child, as a vibrant supplement for “big church”. But not as a substitute for it.
She also recognises that things are far from simple when you bring your kids to big church;
Together hasn’t always been easy. I recall long worship services with four elementary-aged children scribbling with crayons, begging for gum, and contorting themselves like miniature yogis in the pew. Just remembering it makes my eye twitch. But over time, with clear participation expectations, creative activities and the right cocktail of punishments and rewards our kids have grown to see “big church” not as a place they tolerate but as a place they belong.
But she is full of practical wisdom too on how to help your child sit through the service and participate in the service. Her tips on debriefing after the service are terrific too;
After attending Big Church together, remember to talk to your child about how it went and what could go differently next week.
In our service on Sunday evening I preached on Exodus chapter 4-5 and we wrestled with the issue of who was responsible for the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. I asked the congregation mid-way through the service ’so who was it; Pharaoh or God?’ A five year old shouted out ‘God’ loud enough for the whole church to hear as she continued to colour her picture next to her father. That was quite possibly the highlight of our evening.
Kevin DeYoung has a very helpful piece on how when parents get stressed the health of our children suffer.
It’s a challenging read if you are a parent but the principle that being stressed has a damaging impact on our reaction to and our relationship with others works too. So whether married or not, with kids or without, here’s an opportunity to ask;
What impact is my stress having on my relationships (at home, work, etc.)? Do I see the impact that is having?
What is causing stress in my life? Is it anxiety over the future, needing to be in control, tiredness, overwork….
How do I need to remember the gospel, to enable change, so that I can be a blessing to others instead of a burden?
The new-look on-line briefing has a host of great articles. This one is a difficult but important read for parents out there, especially as our kids start back at school.
This post by Steve Cornell is also well worth a read.
The Unicef report concludes that ‘”Parents and children feel massive external pressure from a materialistic culture, which they know won’t bring happiness, but are conforming to none-the-less. Lack of family time and materialism is particularly felt among poorer families in the UK compared to the other countries.”
John Hayward of the Jubilee centre said:
‘All the evidence suggests that families headed by married, biological parents who have not previously lived together provide the best environment for both the individuals involved and their children.
‘This has huge personal, social, economic and political consequences for us all.’
See Hayward’s response to the recent study on the value of marriage by the Institute for Fiscal Studies here
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it – Proverbs 22:6
My 5 year old son can just about recognise a 50 pence coin and that’s about it where money is concerned. Maybe its time for an education but what approach should Christians take when it comes to an allowance or pocket money?
Here are my thoughts so far;
A. Why give your kids pocket money?
It seems to me that the point of an allowance is to train your children to handle money in godly ways.
What then are we trying to teach?
- budgeting skills – so children realise that money only goes so far
- the value of the things – buying one thing may mean they can’t afford something else
- the place for delayed gratification – saving to enable a bigger purchase somewhere down the line
- Responsibility and the need to look after things – putting the money somewhere safe
B. Should we give a ‘flat-rate’ or should an allowance be ‘reward-based’?
What are the advantages in going for a flat-rate?
It could be argued that it helps children to manage money because they know what they are going to get not just in one week but future weeks and they can begin to anticipate, plan and budget appropriately.
It teaches kids that you’re not just helpful around the home simply to get something in return. Nothing can be more irritating than a child being asked to give a helping hand around the home only to have them ask what they will be paid in return.
What are the advantages of the reward-based approach?
If pocket money has to be earned then children begin to understand it’s not a right. They learn early in life as someone has put it ‘You work, you get paid. A basic life lesson that some of us need to be reminded about’.
Pocket money functions as an appropriate reward NOT for good behaviour which should be expected not rewarded. But an allowance can be given to reward work done well.
Kids can learn the value of achieving the amount of pocket money they have earned
The hybrid approach that can teach both principles at the same time
I wonder whether a hybrid system gives the best of both worlds in which you give your child a flat-rate that can be topped up with rewards for chores etc.
The hybrid approach enables your child to recognise that being part of the family means that they have certain responsibilities but chores done on top can receive a financial reward.
C. How should we encourage children to use the money?
Giving an allowance provides an excellent opportunity to teach our kids something of the gospel.
Saving. We can teach why it’s a good and godly principle in life to save some money.
The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty – Proverbs 21:5
To help a younger child it might work best to give then something specific to aim for ( particular toy, or treat) that can be achieved by saving a set amount over just a few weeks.
As a parent you may wish to reward saving by some form of matching system ie telling you child that if they save so much you will add to that figure on top of regular allowance.
For slightly older children it is certainly a good idea to set up a bank account for your child.
Generousity. Just as we want to instil the principle of stewardship so we want to support generousity. We should encourage children to give some money away to those in need
A generous man will prosper, he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed – Proverbs 11:25
Worship. If, and I suggest only if, our child wants to make a response as a believer to God then they should be encouraged to give back to God in the form of a gift to the church.
One article I read suggested teaching your child when she receives her allowance to divide it three ways
Spend – money to enjoy spending between allowances
Save – putting some money aside for the future
Serve – giving back to gospel work and being generous to others
D. A final few thoughts
The message of grace and taking money away
I wonder whether it is wise to take allowance away because of either bad behaviour or failure to do chores?
How do we show our children that the gospel is about getting from God what we don’t deserve? That we have received from him what we were not owed?
One piece of advice on failure to do chores that I thought a wise one was make it clear in advance that failure to do the agreed task will result not in a financial fine but the adding of a further chore. So if a child fails to make his bed or put away dirty clothes by the agreed time then they will be asked to help mum do a job in the house, etc.
“Don’t give in and give more money if they have spent it all.”
The temptation will be to bail out children who make a hash of their spending and blow the allowance! You need to judge on a case by case basis whether to compensate your child if they run out of money. As a general principle it seems to me that it is a dangerous thing to offer additional money.
Show them how their situation is highlighted in the Bible;
He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich – Proverbs 21:17
A recent poll invited people to suggest their perfect job. The results probably won’t surprise anyone. In reverse order they were as follows;
5. Interior designer
4. Scuba diver
3. Ski Instructor
2. A hotel proprietor in a far off place
1. A bar owner in a far off place
Where on the list do you imagine caring for needy relatives would come?
In an excellent book If its not too much trouble: The Challenge of the Aged Parent Ann Benton offers a Christian perspective on caring for an elderly relative.
Just maybe she argues this is the perfect job for a Christian because it is in such a life of giving that we find ourselves most likely to imitate Christ. It is a huge challenge to offer full-on care for someone in need whether new-born baby or elderly relative. As Christians very few jobs call for such an understanding of what it means to work in God’s strength allowing God’s gospel to transform our thinking and empower our living. But perhaps the greatest challenge provides for the greatest opportunities.
In chapter 2 of the book Benton presents six gospel mindsets that can help us be better carers. They help us serve precisely because they each remind us of how God has served us in the Lord Jesus Christ. We can care because the God who has cared for us is at work transforming us into his likeness.
Whilst Ann Benton is focusing on caring for elderly relatives in the chapter each of the applications seem to work well when it comes to caring for babies and young children too.
1. Money cannot buy it
How easy it is for us to only value the things we can put a price on. We quickly translate the words ‘what is my work worth’ into ‘how much will you pay me?’ Caring for those we love offers no financial reward and thus robs many of any incentive. But for the Christian it presents a perfect opportunity to learn;
the principle of self-interest does not have to rule our lives…the lives of all of us are enriched by something which will not appear on any bank statement.
And so it is with the gospel. We have been freely served by our God.
Come, all you who are thirst come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! – Isaiah 55:1-3
Money cannot buy peace with God, forgiveness of sins, entry to heaven or everlasting life but God freely offers these things. He so loved the world.
2. It cannot be reciprocated
How much of life is an ‘I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine’ relationship. We feel an obligation to return the favour when others have been generous to us. We are disappointed when we have given much and feel taken for granted.
No wonder it is hard to keep on giving when caring for a needy person who cannot give back in return.
But the gospel of Jesus Christi is a non-reciprocal arrangement. We do nothing, Jesus has done everything; he gives, we receive.
When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. – Luke 14:14
3. It is lowly work
It is lowly work to clean and replace dentures, wipe a dribble from a chin, scrub at a stain on the carpet. Especially to those whose hands are more accustomed to tapping at a computer or turning the pages of a book.
Yet no task that we may be called on to perform for the sake of another can possibly compare to that of our Lord and master. If we call ourselves Christians then this perhaps is how we learn that
‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; Who, being in very nature God, Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.’ Phil. 2:6
4. It is hidden work
How many carers work with little or know recognition let alone reward. It can seem so utterly insignificant. How easy for resentment to build and for life to seem a wasted life.
But now the gospel challenges and changes that mindset.
Most of us will not make a name for ourselves; we will not be remembered on earth one generation on. But our secret deeds will have made a difference and our Father will have seen them and smiled.
When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:4
5. It uses our gifts
Benton begins this point with a striking example.
‘I’m a teacher, not a nurse,’ I sometimes muttered to myself as I emptied urine out of a catheter bag.
But there is a much more significant gift which all Christians have received. That gift is the love of God the Father lavished on us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is this gift of love that we are to pass on.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 2 Cor. 1:3-4
6. It respects the image of God
In a culture where we discriminate against all sorts of people on the basis of education, ability, age, gender or colour the Christian gospel calls on us to view everyman with every dignity.
The motive for care and concern for elderly people is that each one is made in the image of God. And though time and wear and tear has made some of these folks unattractive or cantankerous, they still are worthy of respect because they remain God’s creation and bear his image.
Thank God I’m a Christian
It’s not that it’s impossible for non-Christians to care for the needy it’s just that we have so many more reasons to care and we have a divine power at work in us resourcing us for the task.
Of all the jobs you could chose would you ever chose the role of a carer. And yet as Benton concludes
What job is more suitable to those who follow the one who died for them?
Justin Taylor‘s blog is one to follow especially for news about good books. His post yesterday included this short extract from Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson’s new book Give them grace to be published soon. The book is a look at grace-filled and grace-fueled parenting. But as you will see from the extract below this advice transcends parenting to discipleship more generally and especially to discipleship of children at church.
Here are five simple words for you to take with you every day: Manage, Nurture, Train, Correct, and Promise. The beginning letters of these five categories are MNTCP. You probably know how making an acrostic can help you remember certain important facts. This is one that will help you remember these categories and will also remind you of one more very important aspect of your parenting—prayer . . . . The acrostic can also stand for Moms Need To Constantly Pray.
- Does this circumstance simply call for management?
- Now that the situation has calmed down, do I have an opportunity to nurture his soul with the gospel?
- Is this the time to train him in how to apply what Jesus has already done for him?
- Do I need to correct her attitudes or actions so that they are more in line with the good news?
- Should I remind him of God’s promises, either of blessing for faith or of punishment for unbelief?
- Finally, is this just a time for me to pray and ask the Lord to show me how the gospel applies to my own heart? Do I need clarity to understand why my child is struggling or resisting right now? Do I need clarity into my heart’s responses so that I am not sucked down into her unbelief, anger, and despair? What is it that bothers me about his attitude? Why?
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