Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 17: Childhood - Training Procedures

As we saw in the last chapter, the key objective for childhood is to address and train character, which can be defined as "living consistently with who God is and who I am." In order to address character we must focus on the heart, since the child's behavior and words reflect what is in his heart (Luke 6:45). We must go beyond dealing with mere obedience and rebellion. It is not just about "good" versus "bad," but "good" versus "God's best."

How do we address the heart? Begin by looking at the "what" of the child's behavior from the "why" perspective. For example, when my children argue over a toy or game, the issue isn't the argument itself. The core issue is that they are each being selfish, preferring themselves over others. In gardening, we need to get to the root of the weeds, not just cut the weeds back. Likewise, we need to get to the root sin issues, not just deal with the outward behavior.

In order to get a lasting behavior change, we must have heart change. But in order to have heart change, we must have a conviction of sin. As a parent, I need to help my child see his sin nature and his need for God's grace. I need to lead my child to the grace and mercy that Jesus offered at the cross. One great way to do this is by using stories and questions which force him to judge himself (see some examples of Jesus appealing to the conscience in Matthew 18 and Luke 10).

Therefore, training character involves teaching children who they are (image of God, fallen sinner) and who God is (Holy, Creator, etc). We must shepherd them towards a life of trust and dependence on Christ in every area of their lives. (Tripp gives some examples of how this could be done with the character traits of dependability and moral purity.) We must help our children know that sinful actions and words are a result of idolatry, worshiping self or something instead of worshiping the one true God.

Remember, the goal is not merely to address character for the current stage of childhood, but to prepare for the next step -- the teenage years. We must continually parent for the future.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Yom Kippur

I loved the sermon from a couple of weeks ago, where Bill White taught about the idea of Adventure. (If you missed it, you can download it on our website.) For parents with young children (like me), he encouraged us to consider what is the giftedness that we can pass on to the next generation. There are things that each of us can pass on, that are unique for each family. For example, I'm probably never going to teach my kids how to change the oil in a car, besides giving them directions to the local repair shop. I can't teach my sons how to throw a curveball, or especially how to hit one. I'm not a theological expert or an natural teacher. But that's OK, because there are other skills and ideas that God has given me to equip them with.

I am Jewish (circumcised by a Rabbi in my grandparents' apartment when I was 8 days old, Hebrew private school for 4 years, Bar Mitzvah at age 13, etc) and a Christ-follower (since I was 19 years old). I believe that God wants me to teach my children about how God has worked through His chosen people, to proclaim His Gospel message. I have loved learning about how the Old Testament laws, feasts, etc, point so clearly to Christ, and I love teaching my kids about that. It's one thing God has given me to give to them.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. As the kids were eating breakfast, I used two stuffed animals to talk about what God commanded for this holy day. There were two goats (but I had to use horses because we don't have any stuffed animal goats). For one goat, the high priest in Israel laid his hands on its head to impune on it all the sins of Israel, and that goat was carried outside of the Israeli camp and set free. This goat, called the "scapegoat," points to Christ, I believe, as it is written in John 1 -- "Behold the Lamb of God, who carries away the sin of the world." Jesus didn't just banish sin from a distance; He carried that sin on Himself. The second goat was slaughtered as an offering to God. This also points to Christ, as He was slain for our sins.

Why did I love talking about this to my kids? Because of the nuggets of Biblical truth that they took away; they don't get the whole theological picture, but that's OK (I don't always "get it" all either). Elijah (5 years old) was completely shocked that they killed the goat. It was a reminder to me that I need to talk more about this with him, that the punishment for our sin requires blood. Animal sacrifices are nasty and repulsive, but so is my sin to a Holy God.

I asked Hannah (turned 8 last week): "Why don't we have to sacrifice animals for our sins anymore?" She replied, "Because Jesus already died for our sins."

Beautiful. I could not have been more excited that God used me to teach them the Gospel this morning. Our nasty sin needs a sacrifice, and Jesus already was our sacrifice.

If you want to dig deeper, here's an article that came out today about Yom Kippur.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Preschool Curriculum

About two years ago, we began using our own volunteer-written curriculum in our preschool programming. We saw the need to be able to communicate Biblical truths using the "language" that we use as a church as a whole. Instead of focusing on behavior, we want to center our curriculum on the attributes of God. From there, we are teaching preschoolers how we should respond to Him.

For example, our current series is centered on the Divine attribute of Jealousy. Of course, we avoid using the phrase, "God is jealous" because of how it could be misconstrued by young children. Instead, we explain that God wants what is rightfully His, and we should respond by giving Him all our worship. We are using the 10 Commandments and the account of the golden calf to highlight these principles.

In our next series, we will teach that God is Judge, using the life of Jonah as a backdrop. We should respond in obedience, knowing that God will judge us for our rebellion.

We believe that it is crucial that young children get an understand of who God is. In our Camp Grace curriculum, we go to a deeper heart-level, as we go through a variety of characters in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, over 2 years. Our goal there is to help expose the hearts of children as sinners, so that they would see their need for a Savior.

To see our upcoming preschool curriculum outline, see our website. And many thanks to the volunteers who have worked on this for almost 3 years now!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 16: Childhood - Training Objectives

It is crucial that a child under the age of 6 learns that he is under authority, and that he must obey without challenge, excuse, or delay. However, between the ages of 5 and 12, there must be a transition to a deeper level. With the increasing level of independence and capability, we must not be content to remain focused on mere obedience. In this stage, the big issue is character development.

The discipline process for young children addresses defiant behavior, but more and more you must address "behavior that is wrong, but not defiant." The overall goal is for him to develop a concern for God and for others, as opposed to a selfish lack of concern. These are character issues. For example, to not help Mom with responsibilities around the house may not be defiant, but it shows a lack of concern and value for her.

There are some common pitfalls for your family when you have a child in this phase. First, there is a tendency to keep making more rules to cover the myriad of decisions and experiences that a child will face. Of course, this task is impossible. Another potential danger is the tendency to focus on good behavior, instead of addressing the heart issues. And there can even be peril in keeping all those rules. We must be careful that we (as parents as well as our children) don't think that the goal is to produce good little rule-keepers. Why? Because these children can easily become smug and self-righteous, looking down on siblings and friends who do not keep all their rules.

Tripp gives a good method ("Three-Pronged Tool of Diagnosis") to help us hone in on our children's real needs. There are three sets of relationships to evaluate:
  1. The child's relationship to God. Not "Is there a relationship?" but "What is the nature of that relationship?" The goal is to see if the child is depending on God's grace and power.
  2. The child's relationship to himself. God has created each of us unique, with a certain bent. You can only help your child reach his full potential if you help him know how God created him.
  3. The child's relationship to others. What does she want out of her relationships? What does she look for? Does she aim to serve or lead others?
Personally, I (Joey) have gone through this about once per year with each of my children, even from the time they turned around 2 or 3 years old. If you've never done son, I encourage you to try it for yourself, as a tool to help you lead and shepherd your child.

Thoughts? Questions?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Marriage Intimacy

Since we at Grace Church are in the middle of a series called "One," with key implications for marriage and relationships, I found this video to be very timely. David Powlison has some great thoughts and principles about marital intimacy and redemption.

Also, if you have not followed the teaching series, you can listen to and/or download the teachings from our website.

-- Joey Espinosa

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Shepherding" Chapter 15: Infancy to Childhood - Training Procedures

I must admit that I usually don't treat sin as seriously as I should. This is true for the sins of my children, and my own sins as well. I don't see that rebellion against a holy God puts us at a serious risk. Of course, I need to continually repent of this mindset; after all, sin is so serious that our God sent His only Son to die, to redeem me from my sin nature. We all need to be redeemed from foolishness and rebellion in our hearts.

For young children, spanking is a crucial component of child training. In general, preschool-age children cannot give proper weight to words alone, and a spanking gets their attention like nothing else, allowing you the opportunity to speak life-giving words into them.

When should I spank? When I give a clear command that can be understood, and that command is refused, challenged, or delayed. I confess that I am nowhere near as consistent as I need to be. Tripp is correct when he observes, "Inconsistency means that correction revolves around your convenience rather than around objective biblical principle." Get that? When I fail to discipline, it shows that I love myself more than I love my child. This is what the Bible teaches in Proverbs 13:24 -- "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him."

Tripp gives some good guidelines in how we should spank. For example, it must be private; the goal is to correct him without stripping his dignity. Discipline is about shepherding him, not about evangelizing or showing others that I follow God's way. Be deliberate and specific in explaining why he is receiving a spanking. And before praying with my child following a spanking, I must ensure that there is complete restoration. "If discipline has not yielded a harvest of peace and righteousness, it is not finished." I may need to check my own spirit, before checking his.

Why should we spank? Because God commands it! "It is God's method of driving foolishness from your child's heart." (See Proverbs 22:15) My child's self-centeredness and pride must be challenged from a young age, to prepare her to live as a responsible adult, and to help her see her need for Christ's grace and forgiveness.

Tripp concludes this chapter by answering some frequently asked questions, and I encourage you to peruse that list for yourself. If you've been using spankings, use this time to prayerfully consider if you've done it by God's methods. If this is new to you, I encourage you to find a godly friend or pastor to help you talk through how you can begin to implement God's chief tool to help train young children.