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The Need for Repentance

Yesterday I proposed that repentance is something that is good, or as I said it, the “good stuff.”  My thinking behind this is that often repenting is seen as unpleasant and bad, something to be avoided.  When a person thinks this way then they are doomed in at least a couple of ways.

First, if they are not a Christian then they are simply doomed to a life that will never experience the joy of full forgiveness in Jesus Christ.  They shall remain in their sin and they have only the expectation of the eternal judgment of God that hovers over them.  As Romans 2:4-5 bluntly states it, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”   There is nothing in that passage for one who rejects Jesus to hope in.  So when I have a non-Christian who comes to me for help I have limited options.  I must point the person to Jesus Christ as their supreme need.  I can address as well the surface issues, such as drugs, anger, or drunkenness but in the end all that I can offer is behavioral changes that never address the core problem of being enslaved to sin.

Second, if they profess to be a Christian then I must have them realize that to remain in a sin is simply contrary to the gospel.  Paul makes this abundantly clear in Romans six when he states, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”  He goes on to describe how our union in Jesus Christ causes the dominion of sin to be broken.  To be sure the presence of sin is there, but not the power to enslave you as it once had.  He has given us the Holy Spirit so that He wars against the sin within us so that we do not do as we wish (cf. Galatians 5:16-17).  We have the Word of God that is, in part, given to us to grow with respect to our salvation (cf. 1 Peter 2:1-2).  Therefore, when one tries  to hide the sin or short circuit the process of turning from our sin they are living in a manner that is alien to their identity in Christ.  It is certain that they will lose a joy in their fellowship with the Lord and His people.  It is certain they can expect our Father to discipline them(cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). And it is certain that no change will truly occur for them as they are seeking to do it in their own power.

But if the non-Christian repents, meaning they turn from their sin and their idols to God alone through Jesus Christ then they are finally in a right relationship with Him.  They have now the ability to begin to truly change and grow.  Their sin no longer must have mastery over them.  For the Christian who finally comes to grip that they have given themselves over to a sin, if they recognize the need to repent then much good also occurs.  Though there might be pain, as they begin to sever relationships and activities that must be put away, there is also the encouragement that comes from the Spirit who desires their holiness.  There is a new perspective on life as they turn from a mind set on the things of this age to the hope of eternity where sin is wiped away in its entirety.  They place themselves in the paths where God’s daily, sustaining grace flows rather than the dry wastelands in which they only recently wandered.

So, you need to help a person repent.  The first thing you need to do is build hope in them.  They need to see that repentance really is the good stuff.  Life is found in repentance.  Forgiveness is found in repentance.  Jesus is found in repentance.

Next post will discuss what things you will want to look for with one who says they are repentant.

A Lesson Learned on Money–from A Daughter’s Perspective

I asked my oldest to write up her experience in living in a home where saving and giving were required, alone with work and college happening at the same time.  Below are her thoughts.  Hope you enjoy it and find some encouragement or counsel within.

Everyone remembers their first paycheck. Mine was -$9 because I hadn’t worked enough hours to pay off my uniform. My second paycheck was in the $50 range. I already knew what was going to happen – I was going to deposit 80% in the bank, give 10% to church, and keep 10% for myself. $5 was a big deal to my 14 year old self and I was very content.

My dad took me to pick up my paycheck, then he was taking me to get a haircut, and then we were going to go and open up my own bank account. While I was getting my hair cut, the lady doing the cutting asked what we were up to that afternoon. I told her I had gotten my first pay check and we were going to go deposit it in the bank. She flipped out and demanded that my dad let me go on a shopping spree. She just couldn’t comprehend that he would make me save it, and the rest of the hair cut was spent with her insisting that I spend the money and my dad telling her no. Of course, I was traumatized. I think that was probably the start of my current approach to being trapped in a hair salon – make up stories.

From the time my siblings and I were little, my parents had us saving our money. We were all very much aware that one day we would have to pay for a car and for college and we were very impressed by that ambiguous, looming reality. Because my parents enforced this from the first moment we got money in the mail from a grandparent for a birthday, we hadn’t ever experienced any other thing to do with money besides save it. And if any of us ever suggested that something else was possible, “Car and college!” was always the response.

Once we got our first jobs and started seeing a bank balance that kept rising, saving got easier. It was pretty exciting – even though we knew it wasn’t ours, it was all going to “car and college.” It was exciting the first time I bought a car and paid cash for it and had money left over. And it was exciting when I started college and was paying for it myself. At that point I had been working 39.5 hours a week since the time that I was legally old enough to and saving the vast majority of what I was making. The moment I hit 18 I grabbed every opportunity for overtime that came along and watched as my savings began disappearing into the black hole I liked to call Carthage College.

Getting through college didn’t happen without sacrifices. I didn’t have a ton of free time between classes, studying, working, and church. I had to leave a college I loved a year and a half in because I ran out of money and had to chose between taking out student loans or going to a cheaper school. That wasn’t a decision my parents made for me either, it was one I made entirely on my own. As I prepare to pay for my last class next week and finish, debt free and with money in my savings account, I have no regrets. I worked hard to get where I am today.

A college education has a lot of value. There are the obvious benefits – a college degree is necessary for most jobs and education is always worthwhile. But there are a lot of soft skills that are crucial to success after college that are driven home much earlier when a student is going to school full time while working full time: time management, budgeting, prioritizing, scheduling, determination, and a do-or-die attitude (none of us died!) Every semester there was at least one week where everything seemed to be due at once and I can remember thinking those first couple of semesters “There’s no way. I can’t get everything done and still take my regular hours at work. There’s just no way.” But at the same time, I knew that if I didn’t take the hours, I wouldn’t be able to pay for the classes and it wouldn’t matter anyway. So I went to work, worked my hours, came home and studied until two or three or four in the morning. And I discovered that I lived.

Today, I use every single one of those soft skills that I picked up during high school and college as I work in a ‘real’ job as a ‘real’ adult paying ‘real’ bills. Just this past December I relived working until two or three in the morning for a couple of weeks to finish a project on time, only this time it was a project for work, not for school. Every adult knows what real life is like. Some adults want to keep their kids from experiencing that realness as long as possible. Others try to prepare them through experience. I know without a doubt that if I ever have kids they will get jobs at a young age, save their money, and work their way through school. It will be my turn to say “Save your money for a car and college!”

Nichole Henry

Faithful Living vs Faithful Moment in Parenting

Actually, what I will write here applies to just about anything, but parenting is the topic on my mind so parenting is what you get.

The challenge of a parent is to have faith.  What you have when you get a baby is just that, a baby.  Not fully formed, not mature, and not wise.  And your task, if you are a Christian parent, is to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  In other words, raise them in the awareness of who they are before their Creator, who they are before the Savior, and who they are in relation to the world.

But you must teach, discipline, and tickle with faith for you do not see yet what your child shall be.  You keep before you the promises of God and you trust His ways are wise and right.  And then you wake up each day and faithfully move forward.  Forward through each little crisis and each big one.  Forward through the highs and the lows that accompany every parent.  And when you do this you are cultivating faithfulness.

Here are two mistakes I often see with younger parents:  The first is they beat themselves up over a moment of unfaithfulness with regard to parenting, though their overall direction is faithfulness in their duties as parents.  The second is worse, it is triumphing and focusing on a moment of faithfulness and ignoring the pattern of unfaithfulness in their duties as parents.

Moments of unfaithfulness will not destroy the deep furrows of faithful parenting.  Instead they just remind you that you are a sinner saved by grace and you need to remember to show that grace to your less experienced sinner (the child).

However, it is easy for parents to fool themselves into thinking that because they were proper and faithful once this last week that somehow that undoes the month of consistent unfaithfulness that has also been present in the home.  This is folly.

About Exasperating Your Children

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.
(Colossians 3:21)
And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:4)

Two little passages that are similar in their emphasis.  Two little passages that are good reminders to parents about their role in raising their little ones.  Two little passages that can also be used to be inconsistent and unfaithful in parenting.  Allow me to explain.

Perhaps the easiest way to approach this is by first discussing what it does NOT mean to exasperate or provoke your children to anger.

  1. It does not mean you can’t cross your will with theirs. That is the essence of what a faithful father will do, especially early on in their lives.  This gets to the core of the nature of every person, they are sinners in rebellion to their Creator.  And that rebellions shall be made obvious in a multitude of ways in a very short time in their life.
  2. It doesn’t mean that if your child is exasperated/angry that you are doing something wrong as a parent.  Trust me, if you are being a proper parent your children will be angry with you plenty.
  3. It doesn’t mean you should withhold proper discipline/instruction when the child needs to be corrected.

Listen to me for a second.  Your child is in that mode of thinking that they will win this “fight.”  If they are young (hopefully you meet these battles then and not later) then it might be in picking up the toys or eating everything on the plate.  The line is drawn and the heart is defiant.  You correct the child and order them to do what you asked.  Maybe you are a gentle type and decide to appeal to them first.  It matters little because the child is not going to obey.  What then?  I would say you discipline them, yes, that means spank them.  They still rebel and fight?  How many more iterations of this do you decide to go through?  They are obviously angry, so have you sinned?  Nope.  And let’s just say you have by blowing your top, so what?  Does that free you from training your children?  Nope.  You confess your sin, you ask them to obey and if they refuse you continue.  And you do so until the child understands that to disobey is less pleasurable than obedience.  You don’t let whispers in your mind tell you that you are mean, evil or failing.  You trust the promises of God and you pray even as that little child fights you for the 50th time.

So what does it mean to provoke your child to anger?

  1. When you wrongly exasperate your child (accept that to “provoke” is essentially the same thing) you make decisions in behavior and standards that are selfish in nature.  The rules are for your convenience and not the glory of God and the training of your children in the way of Christ.  Example: Will you just shut up?  I am tired of listening to you.
  2. When you make standards in your home and then enforce them inconsistently you will exasperate the child.  You are tired?  Then the kid can stand on the couch.  Feeling pretty good at this moment?  Then the kid is spanked for not keeping house rules.  When mom has a headache or dad is watching the game can your children get by with what they want?  And then do those rules change when you have time?
  3. When you have standards that you don’t model you will exasperate the child.  Talk to each other disrespectfully and then discipline your child for being disrespectful to you?  There you go!  Hypocrisy always breeds anger.
  4. When you deny them the grace of God that you claim for yourself.  Very common, especially with your teens.  Here is how it commonly comes out: You sin all the time as a husband and father, or wife and mother.  You fail to seek forgiveness all the time.  You speak angrily and unkindly to your children.  But somehow you are under the grace of God and are saved from His wrath.  Your daughter vent though?  Your son act in a selfish manner?  Out comes the phrase, “I just don’t see a changed heart in you.  I really doubt your salvation.”  No idea why this would produce a bit of exasperation in them, do you?
  5. When you are more concerned with the externals rather than the heart of the child.  They can smell this one a mile off by the way.  You have rules for everything and anything.  You are trying to create that perfect child that you never were.  But somewhere along the line you forget you have a soul in your care.  You forget they sin and that they are filled with the same struggles and doubts that haunt you.  You don’t listen to them when they toss out little hints that things might not be all well in their lives.  Instead you squash those tidbits and keep on grooming their externals.
  6. When you don’t hear them.  I made it a point to take one child with me on many of my errands.  It was not convenient usually, but it was valuable.  Often I would ask little questions and listen for hints that there are thoughts going on in their minds.  I would make every effort to not be shocked or rush to answer everything.  Instead I would try to acknowledge that life sucks sometimes and that things are unfair–it is a broken world after all.  Then we would talk, really talk about how all of this fallen stuff fits into life under God.  Sometimes I did this really good, other times I failed miserably.  But the effect in the end is that I still have the ears of my children.  The exasperated child just wants to leave home so the voice of the parent can be shut off.
  7. When you fail to confess your sins to them you will exasperate them.  When was the last time you did that?  Ask your children, you may be shocked.  Do you model for them what it looks like to sin, to repent and confess and make right with those wronged?  Really?  I have met with a fair share of children of various ages who are angry and bitter.  In every one of those meetings the parents were famous for sinning against each other and their children but never going in humility and repenting before them.

Listen, parenting is hard, but training your children doesn’t have to be that hard.  Training early and faithfully makes the hard job of parenting easier because you have a child under control and who will listen to you.  Practice those things above that exasperate your child and parenting will quickly become impossible.

Let me end with a little reminder in all of this.  Remember that they are children.  That means they are not fully formed, they have a lot to learn, they have skills is bad decision-making, and that need a lot of love and patience.  Learn to laugh with them, tickle them and teach them in the happy times too.  Remember your own walk as a child of God, and how much you have to learn.  Let that reality encourage you to show your children grace, even as you correct them.

A Brief Word about Parenting

My church is putting on a parenting class for the many young families that attend.  In that class a broad foundation of instruction and wisdom is to be laid for each of the families, helping them chart a way forward in a world filled with opinions, mostly idiotic. Good stuff, sound material, excellent teachers all should provide much help and encouragement for all who come.

However, and yes, there always seems to be a ‘however’, none of it will do any good if one simple attitude does not take hold in the minds of the parents to the point of action.  It is the attitude of faithfulness.  Taking this class will do nothing for the family if there is not a commitment to faithfully applying what is learned.

Obvious statement I know, but I am no dummy.  I have well over a decade of watching as pastor, and well over two decades watching as a father, family after family start well and end horridly.  They wring their hands with sorrow, wondering what happened, when the answer is simply that they took their eyes off of the prize and wandered far from faithfulness.

One of the first aspects of faithfulness will be consistency.  Let’s pretend you do not believe in spanking, so you decide “time-outs” are the best course of action.  Fine.  But will you be consistent?  Every time?  Always.  With every child?  Even is she is looking really pitiful and sorry?  Or will you instruct your child that if Mommy is tired then the child can get away with 20% more mischief.  And if Mommy and Daddy are arguing then there is a 50% increase in mischief as the child manipulates guilt.

I listen a lot to parents.  And I hear them often say, “That is a great idea!  I have to try that!”  And I raise my eyebrows slightly and I think to myself, “Like the last fifteen things you said you had to try?  None of which you are doing now?”  Then I watch the boring parents.  They don’t have clever devices like “friendship bracelets” which are essentially handcuffs to force the kids to make up and get along.  Instead they are simply consistent.  The how of the discipline is less important that the faithfulness behind it.  Fair, clear boundaries are set and the children learn to flourish within those boundaries.  And if they choose to violate those boundaries (e.g. be disrespectful to a parent, not obey a proper command, act in a hurtful manner toward a sibling, etc.) the consequences are consistently and quickly brought to bear.

As a pastor and Christian, there are many biblical principles that must be taught.  But if the parents learning have no real intention of getting their butts off of the couch when a child needs training then none of it matters.  So my free, cheap advice to parents is stop making excuses as to why you will not train your children or stop having babies.  For the Christian there is the reality that we are to give an account for our children, so let’s act like we do live under the Lordship of Jesus.  And finally, never use the gospel, or grace, as an excuse to sin as an unfaithful parent, Romans 6 won’t let you.
**Updated, fixed a few errors in the text.

Spanking and The Woman Caught in Adultery

I was asked by a young man to comment on the issue of spanking children as a form to discipline.  Something I am all for!  The question posed to me was how the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) might relate to this subject.  At issue was, how can a parent spank a child for a wrong doing?  Let him to has no sin cast the first stone.  What follows is my answer to him.

The short answer is that there is no correlation between these issues.  The long answer is the same, just longer.  First of all consider the issue of the woman caught in adultery.  The passage makes it clear that she was caught in the “act” of adultery.  Now, in case my readers do not understand this clearly, you have to have a man in bed with her for there to be adultery.  And it was in this compromising position that she was “caught.”  The problem is this, where is the other half of this sin?  The man is glaringly missing.  And these Pharisees know that the Law require that both parties are to be put to death (Leviticus 20:10, “If there is a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, one who commits adultery with his friend’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death”).

The purpose of bringing her to Jesus, as the text clearly says, is to trap Jesus.  Justice, God’s holiness, and purity among the people of God were not the concerns of these men and so Jesus tweaks these men by writing in the sand and not answering them until He is ready.  He is not a man who is baited into a foolish argument.  What is meant by, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her?”  It is not a denunciation of the death penalty, for then He would have been denouncing His own word in the Old Testament!  It was probably one of these two meanings.  Either, He was implying that any of them who has not committed adultery may cast the first stone.  Or, He was referring to the fact that underneath all of their supposed concern for the Law, in fact they were all plotting His murder.  Either way, it is clear that the Pharisees knew what He was saying and they all withdrew.

Now, what about spanking the child?  If a parent believes that they first must not have sin before they could spank then they have created a silly and impossible rule of life.  First, this would require that they ignore the clear teaching of the bible that a child is to be spanked, and at times quite hard, as a means of discipline and training.  In other words, they would be sinning by refusing to spank.  Second, this type of argument would prohibit all discipline of any type.  Anarchy would reign in that household.  It is impossible to conceptually separate a “time-out” for Johnnie from a good swat on the rear-end.  A mother who says, “I am with sin, therefore I can’t spank my naughty boy; therefore I shall make him go to his room and think about his sin” is just being foolish.

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