I Am Ananias

You know the feeling: you’re sitting in church on Sunday morning trying to stay attentive to the message. You make it through an interesting opening illustration or explanation of today’s topic…and then he starts to pray. You really want to pay attention but you find yourself looking forward to lunch out or realize you forgot something you were supposed to bring for a friend.

Then he says something that kinda jolts you back to the sermon.

That happened to me on Sunday. Our church is doing a series on the Book of Acts and Benny’s passage this past Sunday was the one about Ananias and Sapphira from Acts 5:1-11. My thoughts were wandering….

“You see,” Benny said. “I am Ananias.”

I can’t do it justice but over at the Redeemer Church blog Jesse is talking about what else was said that morning.

Take a minute to go there. The church blogs are always shorter than mine and you can find it here.

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The Wisdom of Rules

Today’s post is provided by my son, Joey. He is married to Lauren and they have an adorable Disney-loving daughter, Amelia. Joey manages ProVisionIT, a technology solutions company started by his oldest brother, where his degree in Philosophy is completely irrelevant. But his love for truth comes in handy when he reads Mom’s blogs and offers to help nuance things for me. I’m grateful that my kids even read my posts, much less want to weigh in.

Yesterday my brother, Jake, tackled the issue of legalism, explaining how parental rule-making and standard enforcement is not necessarily legalism. Legalism is a heart motivation issue, not an issue or practice. He was writing given the understanding that those reading would have read Mom’s post regarding sexual temptation and sin in the home. I am going to do the same by following up Jake to argue that making rules and enforcing standards in regards to worldliness and sexuality is a very wise thing to do, on top of it not being legalistic.

Okay, the truth is I’m a new parent of one three-year-old who mostly needs to be protected from too many Disney movies. That’s why Mom is the one who does most of the writing here. But I was a kid living at home with my parents for over two decades, so I think that qualifies me as an expert at being the recipient of rules and standards, some I resented and a couple I rebelled against.  And while my parents worked hard to adjust their parenting methods as my siblings and I became young adults to give us opportunities to either learn through our mistakes or become our own gatekeepers, I didn’t see anything in scripture that permitted me to dis their wisdom under the guise of “independence.” So I’m writing as one who benefitted from the kind of gatekeeping parenting that I hope to practice with my own kids.

libertychurcharab.com

libertychurcharab.com

I am briefly going to mention some common objections to the gatekeeper method of parenting when it comes to worldliness, then suggest three reasons why those objections are insufficient and consistently applied rules and standards are wise, especially as it relates to our sex-saturated culture.

A brief definition of the gatekeeper parental mentality was given by Mom in her article. On a very basic level gatekeeping says a parent needs to do their best to guard the gates of the hearts of their children, endeavoring to minimize bad input and maximize good input. This idea receives a fair share of criticism, stemming from a few fundamental objections.

(1) It’s impossible – This objection points out that gatekeeping is impossible because (a) no matter how absurdly isolationist you are, you can’t keep everything bad out and, (b) children’s hearts are not blank slates that will remain clean if parents keep out the dirtiness of the world – after all, Calvin calls our hearts “idol factories” capable of all manner of sin, no matter how closely guarded. This objection is a good one for the most part, in that it’s based in truth. It’s an effective response to those who take the gatekeeping mentality too far, and it’s a good reminder to all parents that God changes hearts, not parents. Mom’s article did a good job explaining why relying on just a gatekeeping mentality is not effective and also naive.

(2) It’s legalistic – See Jake’s article yesterday. As one commenter said, “I’m not legalistic; I don’t have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I don’t” is just as wrong as “I’m not legalistic; I just have rules. And God is more pleased with me because I do.”

(3) It stunts growth and sets kids up for failure – This objection points out that parents aren’t going to be around forever, and then argues too much gatekeeping can train a child to rely too heavily on his parents. Then when he is on his own he doesn’t have the ability to protect his own heart. Kids need to learn to develop their own convictions, which is part of what growing up is all about, and gatekeeping delays that process. This is why you have so many kids who abandon the faith when they reach college. They simply aren’t prepared for the onslaught of the culture when they leave their [overly] protective parents, and don’t have the convictions they should have been developing for themselves at home so they would be prepared for the world. Now that their parents aren’t there to protect them, they easily capitulate to temptation and buy into worldly ways of thinking.

Those are the main categories that objections fall into when it comes to protective parenting. Here are the three reasons I think the objections, while all containing helpful guards against relying on gatekeeping alone, fail to see the wisdom of parental gatekeeping.

(1) The Bible teaches it. – “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.” Ezekiel 33:6 is not about parenting. However, it’s pretty clear about what God thinks of people who see danger and fail to protect those around them through warnings. You see this same type of thought with the temple gatekeepers who were responsible for both making sure nothing unclean got into and nothing of value was taken out of the temple. God expects those responsible for protection to protect. Parents are entrusted by God to protect their children, not just physically but spiritually (Duet 4:9-10, 6:6-9). Almost every reference to parenting in Proverbs includes the idea of correction, which is taught as one of the ways you protect your child. In fact, failing in this regard is equated to being an accessory to their spiritual death (Proverbs 19:18). It is impossible to find any indication in Scripture that not actively protecting your children from worldly influence and temptation is a good idea.

(2) It Works – Not perfectly, of course. Mom’s article is exactly right that rules, standards and strategies to limit your children’s exposure to our sex-saturated culture are only part of the parenting equation. But it is a helpful part — and a large part of the reason why is that kids are imitators. (So are adults for that matter. But it’s obvious in kids.)

As I mentioned, Amelia loves Disney and she went through a stretch of                         watching a lot of the Disney classics. Just about every one of them ends with a kiss. It wasn’t long before playing with her Disney prince and princess dolls meant, well, a lot of kissing and not much else. Lauren and I stopped showing Beauty and Beast and Cinderella and a few of the others, stuck with Disney Junior for a while, and now her dolls are having bad attitudes at each other for not opening the castle door quickly enough. Much better.

The point is, whether it’s a two-year-old watching a G rated movie or a 13-year-old starting to mimic the speech of his best friend, kids imitate. As Christians we are called to imitate Christ, and Deuteronomy/Proverbs indicate a wise parent trains their child in that regard from the very beginning. This necessarily means minimizing their exposure to worldly things to imitate, along with maximizing their exposure to godly things to imitate. By the way, in my opinion the most important way to do this with older kids is through monitoring their friendships.

(3) It’s Not Just for Kids – I think where the objection that gatekeeping sets kids up for failure when they get to the real world misses the mark is in its ignoring of the fact that it shouldn’t stop once they are outside the home. Guarding the heart, minimizing worldly input, setting up rules of accountability…none of these things should end at any point. As kids get older they should be taking responsibility for being the primary gatekeepers of their own hearts, but gatekeeping is still required, and for all the same reasons. Gatekeeping is a necessary and wise part of parenting because it is how kids learn to be the gatekeepers of their own heart. That’s the idea behind the oft misunderstood “train up a child in the way he should go” verse. Parenting is nothing other than teaching and demonstrating the Christian life to your children. If you are a gatekeeper of your own heart, if you have rules and standards in place in your own life as to the type of input the world has into your heart because you know your heart needs that type of vigilance, than it would be a grievous dereliction of your God-given responsibility as a parent not to teach your child to do the same.

Joey and his Disney girls

Joey and his Disney girls

Sexual Temptations, Worldliness and Rules

Yesterday I was over at Growing Up Triplets talking about “Not Me! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home.” Two of my sons, both in their 20’s, asked to do a follow up post to share their hearts on this topic. Today’s post is by Jake, a second-year law student at the University of Florida (even though he’s a solid Auburn fan) and brand new husband to Sarah. Since my kids’ posts are the most-read ones on this blog, I hope you’ll appreciate hearing from my mid-20’s son who kinda writes like a lawyer. Yep, I had to look up “prophylactic” because I certainly don’t remember that being in our homeschool vocab lists.

Yesterday, Mom made what I think is an important point, i.e. that prophylactic* rules parents set up regarding sexual and worldly temptations can never be entirely successful.  Internet filters, guarding the remote, restricting the viewing of certain TV shows/movies or listening to certain kinds of music, keeping an eye on what friendships they develop and which stores in the mall they are passing will not stop the inevitable contact with sexually explicit messages and images all kids eventually encounter.

She later made an equally important point. Parents should set up internet filters, should restrict the movies their kids watch and the music they listen to, should distract their kids when walking by Victoria Secret and generally should protect their kids in reasonable ways. It was beyond the scope of the blog post to answer, but it begged the question: why? Why should we do those things? Isn’t making rules and standards for our kids “legalistic” as some purport?  Why spend so much time protecting our kids if, ultimately, we can’t be entirely successful? Shouldn’t we focus our time and energy on preparing them for the inevitable worldly and sexual temptations that will arise?

To answer those questions Joey (one of my older brothers), Mom and I are going to write a three-part follow up series to Mom’s post yesterday.  Our contention is that creating rules and standards for our kids insofar as it relates to worldliness and sexual temptations isn’t legalistic and is wise.  I am writing today to address the issue of legalism; Joey will write part two addressing the issue of wisdom (from the perspective of the kid) and Mom will write part three addressing the issue of wisdom from a different perspective than Joey — namely, she’s the one with seven kids and fourteen grandkids.

Before I begin, though, I want to make several points at the outset.

1) Preparing your kids for the inevitable temptations that arise is at least equally (and perhaps more) important than attempting to protect them from such temptations. Nothing we say in this series should be construed as a criticism of any energy and dialogue spent for the purpose of preparing or helping your kids through such temptations.

2)  Although the rules of the game don’t change as kids get older, the strategies do.  In other words, to the extent that anything we say is even true, it applies only where it applies, and probably moreso to pre-teens and early teenage years than to later teenage years.

3)  Actual, real legalism is the worst.

Having said all that, let’s talk about legalism.

WHAT IS AND WHAT ISN’T LEGALISM?

There is a somewhat fascinating way of thinking that’s going around that equates rules and standards with legalism. This is of course absurd, since the lack of rules and standards can be legalistic in exactly the same ways that rules and standards can be legalistic. So, then, what is legalism?

Author and teacher John Piper says the essence of legalism is when faith is not the engine of obedience and that the aim of legalism is trading with God value for value.  In other words, legalism is when we pursue the law (a good thing) fueled by our flesh, rather than the Spirit (a bad thing).  Legalism is when we attempt to trade our good works for God’s favor.  Of course, “good works” in this context can mean abstaining from watching R rated movies or it can mean abstaining from judging others i.e for how they parent.

We can attempt to earn God’s favor by not watching or listening to things that are worldly or sexually tempting, and we can attempt to earn God’s favor by being loving and accepting to everyone and everybody.  Whether we equate one of those as being more socially acceptable or desirable than the other is irrelevant; both can be attempts to earn God’s favor. In fact, people are often “legalistic” about things that, taken alone, are really good things.  For instance, I shouldn’t shoot up heroin (RIP P.S.H.). But if I think that I am trading the good work of not doing heroin for the return of God’s favor and mercy, than I am being legalistic. That doesn’t mean, though, that I should start doing heroin. It means that my motivations for not doing heroin should be fueled by the Spirit rather than my flesh in a response to God’s mercy and not for the purpose of securing it.

That, of course, addresses what legalism isn’t; obedience is not legalism and neither is holiness. In fact, Jesus was pretty clear that if we don’t obey His rules we don’t love Him (John 14:15).  As Kevin DeYoung has said, the word “therefore” is used liberally in the Bible. Grace, therefore do X.  Grace is of course both foundational and preceding, but “do X” is not legalistic in and of itself.

LEGALISM AS APPLIED TO PARENTING

It seems, then, that making rules and standards for kids does not make the parent legalistic. Of course, it can be legalistic, just as anything can be. But I think it raises an important point: your methods of parenting, whatever they are, can always be legalistic. You might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of restricting your kids access to certain Internet sites or TV shows. But you also might be attempting to earn God’s favor through the good work of allowing your kids the freedom to make their own decisions and then talking about it with them later. What makes your decisions legalistic is not your decisions; what makes your decisions legalistic is the reason why you made the decision. I think the notion that making rules and setting standards for kids is legalistic is problematic — not only because I think setting rules and standards is a good thing, but also partly because I think it is a radical misunderstanding of legalism.

Worldliness and the prevalence of sexual images and temptations is a pervasive issue that requires a nuanced and ironclad conviction as parents (something that I want to have when it’s my turn); avoiding cultivating the conviction of certain rules and standards for your kids because to do so would be a sign of legalism and fundamentalism is not a sign that you value grace and the Gospel.  It’s merely a sign that you don’t understand legalism, and it might mean that you’re a legalist.

P.S. I looked it up and it means something that can prevent something negative: i.e removing a mole can prevent skin cancer. 

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Jake and Sarah before she made him trim his beard for the wedding.

Not My Kid! A Mother’s Look at Sexual Temptation and Sin in the Home

Today I’m over at Growing Up Triplets talking about something every parent needs to think about sooner than later.

“Mom, what’s sex?” Gulp. I wasn’t read for this question from my 9-year-old. He was my firstborn and I knew the question would come, but I didn’t know when. I mumbled something about that being a great question that would be good to talk over sometime when Daddy was home and could he go and check on his younger siblings?”

Read more by clicking http://growinguptriplets.com/2014/02/11/kid-mothers-look-sexual-temptation-sin-home/.

Blessings,

Sheree

Talking Bird Feathers

Yesterday I just had to see the ocean. It’s been so cold in Florida (no jokes, northern friends, it’s been down into the 30’s and 40’s!) that I just needed to be reminded that in a couple of months I’ll be photographing little people on the beach again.

As Benny and I strolled down the beach I started noticing bird feathers and realized I should collect some for a science project two of my grandchildren are doing. While homeschooling some of them for their moms over the past few weeks, I learned some stuff about bird feathers, like when a feather is lost on one wing, a feather on the other wing in just about the same spot is also lost to keep the bird balanced.

This process of feather molting is a fascinating one! Here are some cool facts provided by Cornell University researchers:

  • Birds mature through seasons of molting.
  • One of the reasons for molting is when feathers get damaged beyond repair.
  • Molting frequently occurs during less stressful seasons of a bird’s life, like before migrating or after nesting.
  • Feathers are lost and new ones grow in a progression that protects the bird’s ability to fly. That’s why when a feather is lost on one wing, a commensurate feather on the other wing is also lost.

As I walked on the beach yesterday I thought this familiar passage from Matthew chapter 30:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (vs 29-31).

Think about it: If God so exquisitely cares for birds by making sure their wings stay balanced to fly by causing feathers to fall off in perfect order; protects them from danger by insuring that damaged feathers fall at just the right time to allow healthy ones to grow; uses “down” times in their lives to grow new feathers because of the work their little bodies exert to grow new feathers; and uses loss to insure that they mature…well…then how much more does He meticulously take care of those who are created in His very image?

You and I are worth more than birds to God. But from them we see how tenderly He cares for us.

Are you experiencing loss right now? Loss of reputation. Grief through the death of someone you love. Job or income loss. Brokenness and conflict in a treasured friendship. Lost hopes and dreams. Death of a long held dream. Recognition of personal limitations and weaknesses that leave you wondering who you are?

Life is a series of losses and gains; soaring joys and crushing disappointments; hopes and struggles; laughter and tears; cherished memories and sinking reminders. As Christ-imitators we are called to follow the One who grieved over the death of a friend but then rejoiced at his resurrection into a life characterized by both ecstatic joy and piercing suffering.

The feathers I collected on the beach yesterday reminded me that He who governs their every loss governs mine, too, because I’m worth way more than they are to the Savior who took my place on the cross to earn me a place in heaven where there will be no more loss.

Spiritual molting is to mature and help me fly, not to ground and render me ineffective. Honestly, there have been times in my life when loss seems to far outweigh growth. Know what I mean? In fact, the recent months have been one of those seasons. How wonderful to see God at work molting and protecting and preparing and loving me through losses scattered with new growth that reminds me I can still fly.

It’s good to know He keeps us balanced…even when it seems our wings are awfully bare.

Thank You Letter to You, Mommy

Dear Mommy,

I’m thinking of you today because of what I wrote about yesterday. When I was surrounded by loving children praying for me, tears weren’t the only things streaming. If someone could have done a live stream of my thoughts during those moments, you would have been there right in the middle of them.

In those moments I was thanking God for you.

I know your days are long with little ones slobbering, tugging, spitting up and crawling on you. You can’t talk on the phone, eat, pee or check your email without someone asking you if bees have eyelids or tattling on a sibling. You count the minutes till nap time, but moments after you settle down exhausted for a catnap (because someone had nightmares or wet the bed or threw up last night) you get that weird feeling that you’re being watched and open your eyes to find a little face just inches from your own. And when Daddy finally comes home after you’ve been eager for adult company, one of you pushes a button in the other that sparks a conflict that makes tears pop into your own eyes, but you just can’t go there until stomachs are full and baths are over. By then you’re just too tired to get into it with your husband so you retreat to folding laundry that is now too wrinkled…so back in the dryer it goes because you certainly don’t have time to iron anything except those infrequent special-occasion clothes.

And if you’re a single mom there’s a whole bunch of unique challenges that those of us with husbands only experience when they’re out of town on business for a few days (how much does our whining bother you…really?).

But then the next day your little one wakes up with those sweet I-love-Mommy eyes and your heart melts like it does most mornings and you know you were made for this.

Yeah, right

Yeah, right

You were. You were made to wipe bottoms, address heart issues rather than the quicker option of wanting them to just obey!, and coverup nicks and crayon marks on your dining room table with tablecloths because you either can’t afford to replace it yet or can’t bear to refinish it. You were made to endure restless nights because a baby needs to be fed, a toddler fell out of bed again or God knows your sleep patterns need preparation for the teen years when they won’t start talking till 11 PM and you’re still awake praying after the conversation ends.

And you were made to get up most Sunday mornings to search for missing shoes and hope you won’t be late again and get ready to miss some of the worship at church because someone wet their pants or freaked out because you forgot the Cheerios.

Why? Because a hurting grandmother who raises her hand for prayer needs them.

But mostly she needs you.

She needs you to keep going when you wonder if your efforts are producing anything good. When you and your husband haven’t had a night out in weeks or months because, unlike that friend or two (that you’re jealous of, if you’re honest) you don’t have family nearby to help regularly with babysitting (and when did babysitters start charging more than they make working part time at the mall anyway???). When you feel your needs are going unmet because everyone else’s needs are more important.

Here’s my burden for you, young mother. You don’t know how much your church needs you. They need you to persevere — and ask for support and help when you can’t — because the simple act of getting there Sunday after Sunday unless God has plans otherwise means they’ll be there when it suddenly hits them: this isn’t just Mom or Dad’s church, this is my church. My church to help usher or greet newcomers. My church to serve in children’s ministry; help set up chairs; arrange cookies on a platter even though an adult could do it quicker; and, yes, notice an old lady raising her hands for prayer.

madamememoire.com

madamememoire.com

What you do day in and day out, week after week, year after year behind the closed doors of your home; while grocery shopping with cranky kids; during “family devotions” when no one is paying attention to the story because they want to play with your phone and you want to give up; and on Sundays when everything in you wants pull the covers over your head and pretend it’s not really morning already, is making an investment not just into the future but also into the present. When they see you stopping to pray for a passing ambulance or happen upon you reading the Bible during nap time because morning devotions just don’t get done much or remind them that you understand why it’s hard to be kind to their sibling because you aren’t kind sometimes, too — well, you’re doing your part to “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4).

I know it doesn’t feel like that but it’s true. “Telling” your kids things isn’t just about the words that come out of your mouth but also the message your life speaks to them every day as you lay down your life for them again and again.

Keep it up. You and your church will enjoy the fruit someday, I promise.

And so might a teary grandmother whose life will be touched because day after day you do what’s hard — including finding that missing shoe on Sunday morning because it’s where you and they need to be.

Love,

Been There

P.S. This post is especially dedicated to Jaime.  I love and respect you so much….and in a year or two Caroline will join your other four to pray for Granma.

They Prayed for Me

It started like any other Sunday morning. Well, except for having three Little People to get ready to get out the door, but that’s for another post.

During worship this week there was an opportunity for those who were feeling a special need for prayer to raise our hands so those around us could gather to pray. As I lifted my hand in response, I felt my pre-teen granddaughter’s arm slide around my waist. Then one by one little ones started gathering: Bekah, Lydia, Jimmy, Wyatt, JJ, Elsie, Annie, Brianna, Joey.

I love them.

A friend captured this pic.  I’m grateful.

The tears that had been brimming during the current song we were singing spilled over into stream after stream down my face. As one tear after another fell onto little Elsie’s hair I heard a couple of sniffles. The tears of some of Redeemer Church’s youngest reminded me that I was loved by 6 and 8 and 11-year-olds who felt compassion for Granma/Mrs Phillips because she needed prayer. I felt understood. Hopeful. Humbled. Snuggled. Noticed. Whether they actually prayed for me or just wanted to hug me, God’s love for me was on display in a way I hope to never forget.

I’ve learned to gently ask myself, “Why am I crying?” because the answer isn’t usually what I think. I thought I needed prayer because I’ve been feeling weary — but God knew I needed something else; something I didn’t even know would be so helpful.

I needed to know that the brokenness and struggles through which I have walked have a purpose beyond myself. Since before I had children I’ve longed to be one of those who would “tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (Ps 78:4). Aging is teaching me that telling younger generations “the glorious deeds of the LORD” isn’t just recounting the story of how God healed me from infertility; rehearsing the miracle of His provision to our former church that Sunday morning in the 80’s when a one-time offering of nearly $400K from a group of singles and young families found old and young dancing and singing for joy; or sharing about a high school revival that saw dozens of tail-end-of-the-hippie movement teens saved in a matter of months, including their now Dad, Papa, friend and/or pastor.

Recounting God’s faithfulness and power also means seeing this old lady raise her hand on Sunday to ask for prayer because she’s been going through some tough times and has learned that God is faithful to help, comfort and bring hope to the struggling day after sometimes dark, exhausting day.

Sunday morning reminded me that help doesn’t always come in expected ways. Help came not from the articulate prayers of seasoned saints or a comforting word of encouragement from someone operating in the gift of prophecy. Rather, I was helped by the caring hands of children who noticed a lady they love silently saying, “I need help.” With childlike faith they came and with outstretched hands they touched and comforted me. Their compassion was a demonstration of the love of God and evidence that the next generation is also reaching to Him; the One whose might and power is gloriously made known to a crying lady on a Sunday morning in a little church meeting in a middle school in Orlando.

Actually, that day was like any other Sunday morning. God showed up and met with His people — including little ones who will someday take their place as pillars in His church here or elsewhere. Oh, I hope to be there to cry through worship they lead and take notes during messages they preach and snuggle with babies they’ve birthed…and likely have them surround a more wrinkled, littler old lady they look down to who raises her hand for prayer again. But if I’m not here I will be among the cloud of witnesses cheering them on and worshiping at the feet of the Savior they now serve.

Lord, please give me the strength to tell them about Your power and glory and might — both with testimonies of miraculous things You’ve done in the past and by showing them that I get scared and weary and need help just like them.

Redeemer Church was planted to bring hope. This pastor’s wife and grandmother and teacher of some awesome kids in children’s ministry sure is hopeful for a generation who is willing to put down their stuffed animals or stop whispering to their buddy to come and pray for a needy grandmother.

Thank you, Lord, for loving me through the least of these.