Appropriate Authority

(This is part four of last Sunday’s sermon at Central, “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I started posting these in order on Monday and I’ll finish it up in this space tomorrow. This is one sermon out of our current six-weeks “Family Matters” series.)

I’ve heard some parenting experts say if your child is throwing a tantrum, don’t punish her. Don’t discipline him. The child is misbehaving because he doesn’t feel heard or understood. If the child knows she’s heard and understood, she’ll stop screaming and throwing things. So if your child is pitching a fit in the grocery store because you won’t buy him a cupcake, you’re supposed to get down on his level, look him in the eye, hold his hand, and repeat over and over to him, “You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake. You want a cupcake.”

Now, I’m not a parenting expert. But it seems to me the kind of behavior you tolerate when they’re young continues to grow, maybe into something enormous, so twelve years later you’re holding your child’s hand, looking him in the eyes, and gently repeating, “You just robbed  a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store. You just robbed a liquor store.”

As the parents, you have God-given authority over your children. God is very clear in the parenting passage in Deuteronomy 6: “These commands I give you? Yeah, impress them on your children. Train up your child in the way he should go.”

“Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” ~Ephesians 6:4

Appropriate authority is understanding that the child’s moral and spiritual formation is the parents’ responsibility. It’s on you. But authority is not power. Don’t confuse the two. Ephesians 6:4 also says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children.” Authority is not power.

Let’s say there’s a guy where you work in a different department from you and at a lower rank than you, but he barges into your office and says you must begin work on a certain project. You might say to him, “You don’t have the authority to tell me what to do.” You don’t mean that words cannot come out of his mouth, that he’s incapable of talking to you and speaking instructions. You mean he doesn’t have the right or the responsibility to direct you. Now, if he points a loaded gun in your face and says, “Do this project or I’ll shoot you,” you will do what he says, but that doesn’t mean he has the authority. He just has the raw power to force your compliance. That’s not what authority is. Authority in the Bible is not about power, it’s about responsibility and right.

Jesus says his authority is proven by the fact that he lays down his life for us. Your authority as a parent is not in that you’re bigger than your child, or older, or stronger, or in your title of Mom or Dad. It’s in your sacrificial love for your children. It’s in your heart for them and your deep desire to see them grow up to bring glory to God.

You have that authority and it should be used appropriately.

Peace,

Allan

Confident Trust

(This is part three of last Sunday’s sermon at Central: “Parenting: So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” I posted part one Monday. Part five will be Friday. You get it.)

Confident Trust – We try too hard to protect and even over-protect our children. We try to shelter them. We can’t see their futures, we don’t know what kind of world or school or marriage or health they’re going to have. And we don’t want them to suffer. That’s — I really want to be diplomatic here; I want to be gentle — that’s horse pucky! It’s nonsense!

We are the people of the cross! Jesus promises us we are going to face suffering and trials of every kind. This world is not Disneyland, it’s a boot camp. It’s tough. Our Lord says, “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world!” (John 16:33)

We are not doing our kids any favors by staying in constant contact with them by texting and calling and messaging with them all day from morning til night. We’re not helping them by setting up shields and safety nets around them so they never experience pain or failure or loss. Sometimes they need to figure out on their own how to get out of a jam. How to solve a problem. Sometimes they need to suffer the consequences of their poor choices. How else will they learn? How else will they grow?

We used to tell our girls we weren’t afraid of them ever being kidnapped because whoever took them would bring them right back. Like in less than an hour. That’s a joke. I’m not talking about throwing our children to the wolves. But this continuous hovering and protecting and sheltering and the 24/7 connection with the phones is doing more harm than good. Our kids aren’t growing up. Talk to any college professor. Talk to an HR guy who interviews job applicants.

We need to display a confident trust that our God is taking care of our kids and we shouldn’t be afraid. We need to instill that confident trust in our kids. God gives us his Spirit. God gives us his promises. The parenting text in Deuteronomy 6 begins with, “You are crossing the Jordan into the new land just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.” Verse ten says, “When the Lord your God brings you into the land he promised…”

No fear. No worry. No anxiety. Confident trust.

Peace,

Allan

Independent Affirmation

A financial institution in Chicago has taken over Whataburger and it just feels wrong. Pure-D-Wrong. The San Antonio-based Whataburger was seeking millions of dollars in order to expand its brand all over the United States and this investment firm in Chicago made the deal. Sure, in a few years I’ll be able to get the #1 with everything and extra onions and french fries with spicy ketchup in New York and California and Illinois. But, so what?!? Is it worth it? A Massachusetts company owns Dr Pepper now, Mrs. Baird’s is controlled out of Mexico, and an Ohio company owns Schlitterbahn. What the Ted? Everything in the United States is owned by like nine companies.

Was there not any money here in Texas? Would no one in Texas back the expansion? All you people who have been tweeting and Instagramming stuff like, “Pray for those who don’t have Whataburger” and “A moment of silence for the people in the states who don’t have Whataburger,” look what you did!

 

 

 

Will Whataburger still have the “Family Owned and Operated since 1950” sign on their windows? Will J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans be able to save Whataburger with his tweets? Is the whole thing going to be watered down now? What’s fueling my angst over losing this valuable distinctive, my Texas or my Church of Christ?

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We’re in the middle of a sermon series here at Central we’re calling “Family Matters.” We’re attempting to understand why family is so important to us and why it can never be ultimate for us. We’re trying to see the family clearly but also see past the family. We’re wanting to crucify our family values. This past Sunday we considered the topic of Christian Parenting, raising our children by the love of God and the cross of Christ. This is part two of that sermon. I posted part one here yesterday.

Independent Affirmation – A lot of us are living our lives through our kids. We push our kids into certain sports or certain academic pursuits or certain careers or hobbies or even religious activities either because we missed out and my kids can make up for it — they can do whatever I failed to do or they can make up for my own regrets or they can achieve what I never had the talent or opportunity to achieve — or so we can keep what we achieved alive. We can keep our legacy going through our kids. We can stay relevant and important through the successes of our children. And if we’re not careful, we can start to search for our identity through our kids. Their success is my success. When they do something well it makes me look good and feel good.

Hey, your children don’t need that pressure! They don’t need that stress! Don’t put that on them!

And if you’re looking for your own sense of identity or worth in what your children do and how well they do it, you’re going to be horribly disappointed. They’re not you!

Your children have their own identities. Our Father made them and formed them individually with their own unique personalities and their own gifts to bring him glory. As parents, we need to honor that. We need to take the time to explore those things with our kids and look for those gifts and affirm them independently of what they do for us.

Think about the cross of Christ. How do we as parents sacrifice and serve our children to say to them, “Who are you?” How do we really get to know them and their talents and passions? How do we sincerely ask, “How did God gift you?”

The love of a parent is really made clear when you make the effort to genuinely affirm the gifts and callings of your child, especially when their skills and interests are different from yours.

Think about how many times during Jesus’ life God said out loud from heaven, “You are my Son. I love you. I am very pleased with you.” That’s the model. And I think I’m only just now beginning to figure it out.

Here’s a trick that helps me: Instead of telling our daughters I’m proud of them, I try to say, “I admire you” or “I admire this about you.” I don’t want them to hear “I’m proud of you” as something I say when they make me look good or feel good. I don’t want it to feel like “I affirm you or I love you because you’re making me look good or you’re doing what I want you to do.” I want to affirm our daughters independent of me.

I really admire this about you. I see this in you and I think it’s great. I love you, daughter, and here’s what I know about you. I know who you are. I see you the way God made you. I love you. I admire you.

Peace,

Allan

Consistent Discipline

We’re in the middle of a sermon series at Central that we’re calling “Family Matters.” Yesterday we focused our attention on Christian parenting: raising our children by the love of God and the cross of Christ. The sermon I wrote wound up being two or three pages longer than the sermon I delivered. So, I’m using this space this week to lay out the entire sermon. There’s more here than what you heard Sunday or what you’ll find listening online. The title of the sermon is “So, You’ve Ruined Your Kids…” This is the Director’s Cut. Bonus Material. The unedited version.

Parenting is hard. It’s very difficult. Stressful. Parenting is the only job in the world that requires no previous experience, provides no training, you can’t quit, and people’s literal lives are at stake. That’s heavy. And nobody really knows how to do this. I used to have three theories about parenting before we had any children; now I’ve got three children and no theories!

The birth of a child causes parents to experience both great joy and abject terror. Nothing seems as innocent, as non-threatening, or was warm-hearted as the idea of children. At the same time, nothing can be scarier than the responsibilities we have as parents. And all parents feel overwhelmed. We’re not as equipped or as confident as we’d like to be. We all believe, in ways big and small, that we’ve ruined our kids. These gifts from God. These precious blessings. That’s what children are: gifts from God.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the one whose quiver is full of them!” ~Psalm 127:3-5

OK, but what do we do with them? Because it’s not science. Parenting is much more art than science. A lot of the advice we get, though, whether it’s from the church or from the world amounts to mainly technique. Strategies. Here’s how you install a car seat, here’s how you potty train, here’s how you set boundaries with phones and with dating. All that’s important and needed, but kids are not an operating system where we just need to have the right codes and punch them in. When do you put your foot down and when do you let up? I don’t know! I mess that up almost every time!

One of the best Bible passages for parenting is in 2 Chronicles 20. The people of Judah are facing a massive army from a foreign power, storming in wipe them out. Judah’s in trouble. And Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, stands up in the middle of all the people — including the wives, children, and little ones, it says — and he does not say, “Hey, we can do this!” He prays to God: “O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven?” Then he goes on in the prayer to say, “Here’s what’s going on, Lord; here’s what looks like is going to happen next…” And then he closes his prayer with this line:

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” ~2 Chronicles 20:12

Now, our children are not a marauding army threatening to wipe us out. They could, maybe; they outnumber us and they are fierce. But this passage still says something about parenting. No matter how many books or blogs we read, no matter how many classes we attend or godly examples we follow, no matter how well things seem to be going, every parent reaches a point of powerlessness and despair. Things are awful. I’m messing this up. I don’t know what to do. I’m ruining my kids. Knowing that and turning to the love of God and the cross of Christ — I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on you — that’s where we lose our guilt and our anxiety. That’s where we receive his grace and mercy and hope, for us and our children.

I’m going to give you five things that I think are really important. I am not perfect at these five things; in fact, a couple of these things are front and center for me right now because I’m realizing how terrible I am at them. These five things are all biblical and theological, they’re Christ-centered and Kingdom of God-focused. They matter. This won’t be an exhaustive list, this isn’t all of it. But these five things feel really important to me.

Consistent Discipline – I’m not just talking about the punitive stuff or the corrective stuff. You know, you talk about parenting and you say the word “discipline,” and people react. Why did you say “discipline?” Why do you focus on “discipline?” Why is “discipline” the first thing you said? What about love and affection and nurture?

Hey, love and affection and nurture are discipline!

Think about like an athlete training for a competition. She practices every morning evening, she eats all the right foods, she takes instruction well from her coaches — that’s all discipline. She lifts weights, no sodas or Mickey D’s, she runs every day — that’s all discipline. She sleeps when her friends are out partying and her parents cheer her on from the stands — that’s discipline. And those practices shape her and guide her for her athletic future.

Hugging your child is a discipline. Saying “I love you” is a discipline. Reading a bedtime story is a discipline. You might say, “No, those things come naturally to me because I love my child.” That may be true, but you probably don’t feel like doing those things all day long every single day. Sometimes you’re exhausted in the afternoon and you just want to go to bed. But you still sing “Jesus Loves Me” to your child and pray with him in his room. That’s discipline. You’re not just showing affection to your child in that moment, you’re building practices and rhythms that, over a long period of time, come to show your child that she is loved and how to love others.

Maybe it’s really easy for you to say “I love you” to a spouse or a parent at the end of every single conversation. But that’s because you’ve practiced it so many times.

Consistent discipline. When you sit at home, when you walk along the road, when you go to bed, when you wake up — consistent training (Deuteronomy 6:7). Teaching your child the Bible is discipline. Modeling how to pray is discipline. Singing songs together, daily and weekly chores, drivers ed, worshiping and serving together with your church, showing your teenager how to apply for a job — all of that is discipline. Of course, correcting behaviors that don’t fit with our family or with being followers of Jesus is part of discipline, too. And it needs to be consistent.

Peace,

Allan

Keith, Buddy Holly, and Ruckus

Church historian and theologian John Mark Hicks has published his recent review of my brother Keith’s latest book, The Letter and Spirit of Biblical Interpretation. Hicks presented the review during a 90-minute session at last week’s annual Christian Scholars’ Conference at Lubbock Christian University. In fact, three scholars presented their reviews and then Keith formally responded. I’m not sure how familiar you are with these kinds of things, but biblical scholars and academics frequently come together to exchange really long words and very dry humor.

Being that Lubbock is less than two hours south of Amarillo, Keith and I decided to make it a day. We took in the Buddy Holly museum together that morning and posed for the typical pictures. We enjoyed a great lunch together at Chuy’s — also very typical and expected. And then I was pleased to attend the session that honored Keith’s book in particular and his great work for the Church overall.

(There were just the two of us and no other visitors at the museum to take our pictures.)

Keith’s book explores the shift over the centuries from a “both/and” reading and interpreting of the Scriptures in which the scholar or exegete considers both the literal meaning of words and passages and the spiritual or metaphorical or allegorical meaning to an exclusively critical historical method in which the verses and passages can only mean today what they meant when they were written. Now, that’s an oversimplification — you have to read his book to get all the nuance of that. But Keith appeals to the Rule of Faith, the ancient creeds, as a guideline for biblical interpretation and application and he pushes for the recovery of the “both/and” methods that the Church employed for the first 1,500 years of Church history. It’s a good book. I recommend it. Although universities are using it as a text book, it’s not nearly as technical as his other works. It contains references to classic rock and movies and a very helpful illustration borrowed from The Simpsons. You can read this thing.

Hicks just posted the entire review on his blog here.

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Carley and I took in the Sod Poodles game last night with Greg and Bruce in Dale’s suite seats. And I shamed Carley into taking a picture with the team’s mascot, Ruckus. (There were other people there to help us take the pic.) Come on! How great is that?!

Peace,

Allan

Together @ the Poodles

If the Lord was looking for us last night at the church building, we’re going to have to get on the next boat. All of Central assembled at the new downtown Amarillo ballpark last night for dollar hot dogs and the Sod Poodles game. It was the second event of our “Together@Central” summer Wednesday night series, in which our whole church is celebrating the relationships we have with each other in several unique worship and entertainment settings. (As always, click on the image for the full size.)

The weather was perfect, the food was good, and the atmosphere was fun and relaxed as more than 250 of us hung out in the right field seats and concourse. The Poodles beat the Northwest Arkansas Naturals 4-1 to pull to within a half game of first place in the Texas League South. But I didn’t realize until this morning that Amarillo’s manager had been ejected in the third inning for arguing balls and strikes and that the Poodles’ starting pitcher threw seven innings of shutout ball. Baseball wasn’t really the focus last night; I didn’t see a whole lot of the actual game. Baseball was just the setting. Enjoying each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, getting caught up with my church family — that was the point. And it worked.

Somehow we pulled it off: skipping church to go to a baseball game. It worked. I haven’t heard a single complaint. Instead, I’ve heard dozens of “thank yous” and received lots of gratitude. We saw people at the game last night who haven’t attended a Wednesday night event at Central in decades! We saw several visitors to our church who’ve just started coming to Central and are wanting to learn more and make some connections. So we got caught up with each other and most of us made some new friends, too.

We’re coming through the end of a stressful time at Central. The Ignite campaign and the disruptive construction that came with it, the youth minister vacancy, search process, and hire, and our teaching and transition to an expansion of the public service roles for women during our Sunday morning assemblies — all of that has fatigued various pockets of people in our church family. I think our whole congregation probably feels the cumulative effect of so much “work” in such a concentrated period of time. We might be a tad drained. So just chilling together on Wednesday nights feels like the right thing to do. Reminding ourselves of the great value of the relationships we have together in Christ. Just worshiping God — singing familiar songs and praying together — in different environments that re-awaken us to the blessings we enjoy in Christ. And eating nachos together, talking about the kids, cheering on the local baseball team, hearing stories from the folks who’ve seen it all in this town, and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame!” That’s good, too.

God wasn’t looking for us last night. He knew exactly where we were. Because he was with us.

Peace,

Allan

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