What Your Kids Need Most

Matt Slick is tough to back into a corner.  He’s a hardhitting defense-of-the-faith expert who runs CARM, the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry–a ministry I’ve turned to on numerous occasions.  He’s a precise and articulate theologian who debates atheists, evolutionists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.  Watch a few videos and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he relishes the debate–and the chance to annihilate the competition.

Nearly two years ago Matt’s 20 year-old daughter Rachael announced she was an atheist.  Posting her story on Patheos, she described being theologically groomed and grilled by her father from the age of five.  “What is pneumatology?”  What is the hypostatic union?”  He would take her along to church events, publicly have her spit out answers to such questions before challenging believers: “My daughter knows more about theology than you do!  You are not doing your jobs as Christians to stay educated and sharp in the faith.”

Rachael said her father would “frequently make blatantly false statements—such as ‘purple dogs exist’—and force me to disprove him through debate.  He would respond to things I said demanding technical accuracy, so that I had to narrow my definitions and my terms to give him the correct response.”

Mrs. Slick homeschooled Rachael and her siblings in a “…strict and highly regulated environment”.  Friends were limited to children of like families.  Rachel says that “If we did not respond immediately to being called, we were spanked ten to fifteen times with a strip of leather cut from the stuff they used to make shoe soles.”  When asked about this, Mr. Slick admitted on tape, “Yes, I beat her.  Yeah, I beat her.  So, that’s what happened.  Whatever, and um, that’s it.  She was very very very very very stubborn.  Children are different.  So she is where she’s at now. It’s her choices [sic].”

Rachael says she and her sisters were “…extremely well-behaved children, and my dad would sometimes show us off to people he met in public by issuing commands that we automatically rushed to obey.”

But look at her journal entry when she was just nine: “I’m hopeless.  Oh boy.  I’ve got a lot to work on.  I try to be obedient but it’s so hard!  The more I read, the more I realize how bad I am!  My problem is that when things don’t make sense to me, I don’t like them.  When Dad gets mad at me for something, everything makes perfect sense to me in my mind, so I tend to resent my parents’ correction.  I have just realized that I yearn to please the lord, but why can’t I? I  just can’t be good!  It seems impossible.  Why can’t I be perfect?”

Enslaved to the law.  Where’s the grace of the gospel?  (Keystone parents, check out Mike Fisher’s class this Sunday at 9 AM in Fellowship Hall North, “Raising Jesus’ Lovers instead of Obedient Pharisees in Today’s World”.)  The Bible commands us to teach, discipline, and correct our children.  Sometimes well-meaning parents think that means it’s up to them to MAKE SURE THEIR CHILDREN TURN OUT A CERTAIN WAY.  But children aren’t mechanical devices that if tuned, tightened and tempered properly, will come off of the assembly line exactly as programmed.  Kids aren’t products.

They are people who–in time will make all kinds of important–and independent decisions.  What we parents do is lovingly pray, train, influence, and teach–but our kids will eventually decide many things on their own.  Training them to succeed in that is why we let them make more and more decisions as they get older.  They learn by doing and making mistakes–like we did.  In the aftermath we pray, talk, love them–and point them to the gospel.

Ultimately, your children’s missteps are their responsibility.  Yes, we can and should evaluate ourselves when they go awry.   But if we’ve been faithful, God holds our children accountable–not us.  God held Eli responsible–not because his adult sons turned out bad, but because he “failed to discipline them” (1 Sam.3:13).  We don’t blame Jesus for Judas; or God for Adam and Eve.  God said if the city gets attacked and people die, the city’s watchman is responsible only if he didn’t warn the people to flee.  If he did warn them and they stayed, it was on their own heads (Ezekiel 33:1-9).  Yes, we grieve when they defy what we’ve taught them.  I’m just saying that if we admit at the start that we cannot guarantee an outcome that God doesn’t promise, it may lead to more sane parenting.  Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them.  Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.  (Ephesians 6:4)

None of us do/did the parenting thing right.  I have 4 witnesses to that fact.  But the extremes of permissiveness and rigidity are both too parent-focused to serve our children’s best interests.  Permissive parents can be lax because they find the demands of diligent discipline too wearying and heartbreaking (kids get mad at them).  Rigid parents who thunder from Mt. Sinai can be driven more by the determination to be “successful” parents (i.e., those with well-behaved children) than to shape their children for God’s glory.  Diligent parenting is too taxing on the permissive parent, and firm parenting that’s kind may not adequately reassure the parent of the desired outcome.  In both cases the child is the loser.

Ask Rachael.  “Someone once asked me if I would trade in my childhood for another, if I had the chance, and my answer was no, not for anything.
  My reason is that, without that childhood, I wouldn’t understand what freedom truly is—freedom from a life centered around obedience and submission, freedom to think anything, freedom from guilt and shame, freedom from the perpetual heavy obligation to keep every thought pure.  Nothing I’ve ever encountered in my life has been so breathtakingly beautiful.”

Rachael thinks she’s been set free but only the grace of the gospel can bring true freedom.  That’s what our children need most desperately.  They need that more than we need compliance, their obedience, a break or night out, or anything else that seems to matter most.  They need to see it in our forgiveness, in our love–even when they disobey, in our own faith (love for what HE did instead of loving us because of what WE do), and in our expectations.  Seriously, stop expecting your kids to be perfect.  They’re just like you; imperfect.

If you’re parenting today, consider reading, “Give them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick and her daughter Jessica Thompson.  The subtitle says it all: Dazzling them [your children] with the Love of Jesus. Wish I had read this when my kids were ten. Or five.

On a side note, children don’t need parents who pretend their faith has no difficult answers–or times when there seem to be no answers at all.  It won’t destroy your child’s budding faith to admit to him/her “I don’t know”.  Or, “You know, you’re right; that’s a hard thing to swallow”.  Rachael said that “…every question I brought up was explained away confidently and thoroughly.  Many times, after our nightly Bible study, we would sit at the table after my Mom and sisters had left and debate, discuss, and dissect the theological questions I had. No stone was left unturned, and all my uncertainty was neatly packaged away.

”  Kids are pretty young when they figure out mom and dad aren’t perfect–and not long after that they figure out mom and dad don’t know everything.  They’re right.  Don’t try to convince them otherwise lest they eventually conclude you weren’t always telling them the truth.  We should be able to give our children answers.  But appearing to have all of them just isn’t honest.

Serious about their Faith

I pray regularly for the Islamic State leaders.  Probably not what you think.

President Obama could not have been more mistaken last year when he dismissed ISIS as Al-Qaeda’s JV team.  If anything, that’s A-Q itself.  Almost daily after seeing the latest ISIS atrocity in HD, the world’s secular citizens become more indignant.  Secular heads of state seem unsure how to deal with ISIS other than the way they’d deal with any regional spat.  But neither diplomacy nor indignation–nor the inane suggestion that job creation will somehow curb this wind of religious devotion–will stop ISIS’ advance.  And yes, they really do plan to one day govern from places like Rome, Jerusalem, and D.C.  A plan to reach southern Europe has already been sketched out.  It’s what Allah requires.

This is what secular leaders cannot fathom.  Diplomacy is normally shaped by offering an enemy something that serves their self-interest: money, land, peace.  Diplomats are not accustomed to dealing with people who put their god’s wants before their own.  It doesn’t seem that ISIS’ leaders desire personal power to enrich themselves, and their barbarism cannot be explained simply by using labels from the DSM-5.

Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers are devout believers who obey their holy book even when it seems odd–or out-of-step with the times.  Isn’t that what Christians do too?  We of all people should understand their motivation–and the depth of their resolve. In a way that those with no god can’t, we should grasp that true believers of any faith will remain faithful to the path they believe is true obedience–no matter what.  ISIS’ path just happens to have convictions like these…

  • Muslims who vote are sinning.
  • Slavery is mandatory in a caliphate.
  • Terror is really an act of mercy (it frightens enemies to more quickly surrender; hence, it shortens war–which is merciful).
  • There are no such things as borders: the caliphate must continue to wage war and expand. Otherwise the caliph is sinning and must be removed.

Moderate Muslims are quick to deny that groups like ISIS practice true Islam.  But they do.  21st century followers may have tamed the Qur’an but make no mistake: Muhammad would be proud of al-Baghdadi.  Read some of his surahs.

In Wood’s article below, he says the top expert on ISIS’ theology is Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel who argues, “…its fighters are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war.  This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts.  ‘Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition. They are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.'”

Since Islam is the second largest faith in the world–and the fastest growing, I think Christians are wise to learn all they can about this wildly popular (according to a recently updated study by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, at least 20,000 people from around the world have streamed into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS) but brutal movement inside Islam that is committed to forcing the planet’s 7 billion people to swear allegiance to a descendant from Muhammad’s tribe–or die.  Knowing will help shape Christian praying, Christian witness, and Christian mission strategy.

Begin with this remarkable article by Graeme Wood just published in The Atlantic http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/.

The Day God gets Even

I was doing some woodworking Tuesday when my phone chirped with a CNN alert: “ISIS photo shows Jordanian fighter burned alive.” After reading that they had put him in a cage likely dressed in fuel-doused clothing, and set him afire, I angrily bellowed, “Bomb the crap out of them!”

I made the mistake of watching (don’t) the slick but horrific video the PR people at ISIS’  made of their work.  Words like Sicko, savage, barbarism, and demented come to mind.  There’s a kind of fury that’s almost automatic for rational people who learn of man’s extreme inhumanity towards man.  Retaliation and revenge seem the only appropriate response. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, blood for blood, death for death.

Government leaders, military and court personnel have unique responsibilities in deciding how to respond to such evil.  They are …God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong (Romans 13:4).  But God has this to say to people who follow His Son: Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the Lord (Romans 12:19).

Even though none of us can do anything about the fighter pilot’s death, are you serious?  Don’t even wish for revenge?!!  Choose not to hate those people?  Is that even moral?

The Bible is clear that all God’s servants should advocate for justice.  But is revenge for an injustice, just?  (Again, be sure to distinguish between an individual follower of Jesus, and forces of justice in the government who are servants of the Lord for the protection of citizens.)

I suspect only the gospel can soften our natural inclinations.  After all, who was ever treated more unjustly than the Holy Son of God?  Entire books have been written about how savagely he was tortured from the beating to the flogging to the crucifixion. Yet He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.  He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly (1 Peter 2:23).  Jesus was unfairly and brutally treated…, for me.  It would have been just for me to be punished like he was.  For me to endure torture and death, not him.  Yet instead of imposing what I so justly deserved, he took my place.

A day is coming when God will right all wrongs. Will right all wrongs. He even has a score to settle on behalf of a Jordanian fighter pilot who died in early 2015.  I don’t know how that works, but I don’t doubt for a moment that He’ll square things.