Tuesday, August 20, 2013

New Semester = New Crushing Stress If Not For Grace

Great article by my friend Sankie Lynch.  How desperately we need to focus on God's grace in all areas of life, maybe even especially in our parenting.

NBFamilies: New Semester = New Crushing Stress If Not For Grac...:

For the Lynch family, this new semester means a new job, a new church (New Beginnings Church nbchurch.info), a new city, a (not) new house, a new school, new friends, and new challenges in parenting. This week we're trying to gear up for our back-to-school kickoff party Wednesday night plus two boys birthdays and a birthday party for all three boys this weekend. Change and transition can be difficult to navigate through at times. 

We’re truly excited about the new job, new church, new city, new house, new school and new friends. But I don’t know if I can say I’m really excited about the new challenges of parenting. Some challenges you choose, like climbing Everest, learning a new language, opening your own business, eating more healthy, finding Bigfoot, etc. Some challenges God lays before you because, first, He seems to have a good sense of humor, and second, He wants to see not only our children grow but He wants to see us parents grow as well. 

The fancy name for God’s growth in us is called sanctification. Many wise people have said that God’s greatest tool for sanctification is marriage. I’d like to ask those people where parenting come in on their list of sanctifying tools! The challenges you don’t look forward to is a growing teen’s attitude that comes with more autonomy or the two-year-old’s fit in the Wal-mart check-out lane or the four-year-old’s refusal to pick up their toys. And I know it has the potential to get more daunting as they continue to grow and explore more freedoms. 

My wife and I really prepared well during our first pregnancy. We read all the good parenting books. We set up the baby’s room accordingly. We were ready to hit the ground running once little Sank moved in on us. We had a plan. We were united. We were prepared. We were a team! Seven years later with three little boys all under seven...it seems our team is now outnumbered. There are times when we feel like they have secret meetings to take down our team. Life happens fast and we turned around and these little guys multiplied like Gremlins. She planned on keeping them away from junk food, which probably would have worked if they didn’t have to live with me. I planned on not introducing them to video games or dvd players until they got older, which would have worked if they didn’t have grandparents and if we could have kept them from meeting other kids. We had several other lists that would make sure they grew up to be responsible, moral people who hopefully loved the Lord. But somewhere after the birth of the third boy--that list got lost. 

You may have your own lists of things you’re holding to (or those you’ve also given up on now) in order to produce well behaved little people. Can you remember some of the ideals and plans you had when you were expecting your next transition in life, whether a child or something else. 

We may even quietly hope that our lists and rules and plans and manners and behavior modification will somehow produce good, Godly young adults some day. 

Hold it...that is exactly what the gospel says will not produce good, Godly young adults in the future. The only hope our children have is this risen Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, and the great news (gospel) of His grace being poured out through His cross. 

Can you imagine standing before Christ one day and realizing that you really thought that your moral lists would make your children Christians? 
What if you realized after your children were 18 that your motivating desire in raising them was for other people to praise you as good parents? 
What if only after they've graduated and moved out did you realize that you raised your children in a household of “elder brother” rules (Luke 15:11-32) thinking high functioning perfectionism was the goal in reaching Godliness? 

Our lists and expectations and rigid rule-keeping do not do what Jesus Christ does. Period. We need His grace. 
Paul’s hope for a bunch of dysfunctional, immature believers in Corinth was this: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). He went on to say that he was trusting in “a demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God,” (1 Cor. 2:4,5). Paul recognized that his nor their wisdom nor morals nor manners nor behavior was what they could trust in. Paul knew they needed grace. Does our parenting point more to Jesus and His cross or moral lists and behavior codes? 

My wife and I have also struggled with how much we fail in truly shepherding our children towards the gospel. It’s so much easier to fall back on morals and behavior modification instead of addressing sin areas at the heart level with the gospel of Christ. You may have those same feelings of failure in trying to raise your children with parameters of Godly influence. And much like us, you may feel like this process of family-equipping and intentional parenting through the gospel is so difficult, time-consuming, and weighty. Me too. Much failure. But the fact that you and I feel guilty when we fail at meeting up to those standards reveals that we may have misunderstood grace. 

That same grace is what removes guilt and condemnation when we feel like we could never “do good enough.” It rescues us because the truth is that we really could never “do good enough.” We could never be or do good enough to get to Him. We could never parent good enough to get our children approved of by Him. Jesus captivating their hearts is their only hope. His worth and majesty and glory are immeasurably sufficient as the supreme sacrifice that has the power to save them and change them. 

As one author put it, “Trying to be a good parent will crush you if you do not embrace grace.”1
 Let your heart find security and comfort in the fact that your parenting can neither fail grace nor succeed grace. Your job is faithfulness to the great news of Jesus. Grace is His job. 
So whether you’re facing a new semester or new changes in your schedule or new scary challenges with your family--it is truly the grace of Jesus Christ you need to cry out for. 
And whether you’re fearing your long track record of failure or you’re amped up and excited about a new start in family-equipping in your home--it is truly the grace of Jesus Christ you and I need to cry out for. This Jesus changes everything!

Sankie P. Lynch
Pastor of Families of Children
New Beginnings Church

1 Ed Moll, Tim Chester  Gospel-Centered Family  (Good Book Company, 2011) 31.  

Three Things You Don’t Know About Your Children and Sex

With the dawn of the internet we live in a different world from the one in which many of us grew up.  It is so easy to think that you don't really need to be that careful with the internet in your home or on your phone or iPods or Kindles or ...  I mean, really, you have good kids and you would know if they stumbled onto something harmful.  They would tell you - right?!?  Please take a moment to read the post below from someone who grew up in a good Christian home, and then take some time to talk to your kids and strive to guard their hearts.


Dear Parents,

Please allow me a quick moment to introduce myself before we go much further. My name is Anne Marie Miller. I’m thirty-three years old. I’m newly married to a wonderful man named Tim. We don’t have any children yet, but we plan to. For the purpose of this letter, you need to know I’m a recovering addict. Pornography was my drug of choice.

I grew up in the church – the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher man with a passion for learning the Bible. I was the honors student; the athlete; the girl who got along with everyone from the weird kids to the popular ones. It was a good life. I was raised in a good home.

It was 1996, I was sixteen, and the Internet was new. After my family moved from a sheltered, conservative life in west Texas to the ethnically and sexually diverse culture of Dallas/Fort Worth, I found myself lonely, curious, and confused.

Because of the volatile combination of life circumstances: the drastic change of scenery when we moved, my dad’s depression, and a youth pastor who sexually abused me during my junior year of high school, I turned to the Internet for education. I didn’t know what certain words meant or if what the youth pastor was doing to me was good or bad and I was too afraid to ask. What started as an innocent pursuit of knowledge quickly escalated into a coping mechanism.

When I looked at pornography, I felt a feeling of love and safety – at least for a brief moment. But those brief moments of relief disappeared and I was left even more ashamed and confused than when I started. Pornography provided me both an emotional and a sexual release.

For five years I carried this secret. I was twenty-one when I finally opened up to a friend only because she opened up to me first about her struggle with sexual sin. We began a path of healing in 2001 and for the last twelve years, although not a perfect journey, I can say with great confidence God has set me free from that addiction and from the shame that followed. I returned to school to study the science behind addiction and family dynamics.

Over the last six years I’ve had the opportunity to share my story in a variety of venues: thousands of college students, men, women and teens. This summer, I was invited to speak at several camps to both junior high and high school students and it’s without exaggeration when I tell you with each year I counsel students, the numbers and the stories shock me more and more.

There are more students compulsively looking at pornography at younger ages and with greater frequency than ever before.

This summer, by a long stretch, was the “worst” in terms of what secrets I learned students carried. After my last night speaking at my last camp, I retreated to my room and collapsed on the bed face-first. Tim simply laid his hand on my back to comfort me.


I could not logically reconcile in my mind all the confessions I heard over the summer with the children who shared them. While every story was unique in the details, in most situations, there were three common themes that kept surfacing.
  1. Google is the new Sex-Ed: Remember the first time you, as a parent, saw pornography? Likely it was a friend’s parent who had a dirty magazine or maybe you saw something somebody brought to school. Now, when a student hears a word or phrase they don’t understand, they don’t ask you what it means (because they fear getting in trouble). They don’t ask their friends (because they fear being ashamed for not knowing). They ask Google.Google won’t judge them for not knowing. Because of our short attention spans and desire for instant gratification, they don’t click the first link that shows up – they go straight to Google Images. In almost all of the stories I heard, this is how someone was first exposed to pornography – Google Image searching. The average age of first exposure in my experience was 9 years old.Google Sex Image Search
  2. If Your Child was Ever Molested, You Likely Don’t Know: Another extremely common theme was children being inappropriately touched, often by close family members or friends. When I was molested at sixteen, I didn’t tell a soul until I was in my twenties. I didn’t tell my own mother until I was twenty-eight. The stigma and shame of being a victim coupled with the trauma that happens with this experience is confusing to a child of any age: our systems weren’t made to process that event. Many things keep children from confessing abuse: being told they’ve made it up or are exaggerating, being a disappointment, and in most cases, getting the other person in trouble. While a child can look at pornography without being abused, children who have been molested by and large look at pornography and act out sexually.
  3. Your Child is Not the Exception: After speaking with a youth pastor at a camp, he said most parents live with the belief their child is the exception. Your child is not. The camps I went to this summer weren’t camps full of children on life’s fringes that one would stereotypically believe experience these traumatic events or have access to these inappropriate things. You must throw your stereotypes aside. Most of the children at these camps were middle class, mostly churched students. Let me give you a snapshot of a few things I heard from these students:
  • They’ve sent X-rated photos of themselves to their classmates (or received them).
  • They’ve exposed themselves to strangers on the Internet or through sexting.
  • They’ve seen pornography.
  • They’ve read pornography.
  • They’ve watched pornography.
  • The girls compare their bodies to the ones they see in ads at the mall or of actresses and keep those images hidden on their phone (or iPod, or whatever device they have) so they can try to imitate them.
  • They question their sexuality.
  • They’ve masturbated.
  • They know exactly where and in what movies sex scenes are shown and they watch them for sexual gratification.
  • They’ve had a homosexual experience.
And they’re terrified to tell you.

But maybe you’re right. Maybe your child is the exception. I would argue at this juncture in life, being the exception is as equally dangerous.

At the end of every session I presented I intentionally and clearly directed students to ask me or another leader if they didn’t understand or know what a certain word meant. “Do not go to the Internet and look it up.”

Sure enough, there is always the child who stays behind until everyone leaves and quietly asks what the word “porn” means or if God is angry because that boy or girl from down the street told them it was okay for them to touch them “down there.” There is the child in the back row who leans over to his friend and asks, “what does molest mean?” and the other boy shrugs.

This summer, I am beyond grateful that mature, God-fearing adults were available to answer those questions with grace and tact and maturity; that we were in a setting that was safe for questions and confessions. It was entirely appropriate. Not every child gets that opportunity. Most won’t. Most will find out from the Internet or from a peer who isn’t equipped to provide the correct answer in the correct context.

Parent and Child
As the summer camp season ends, I feel a shift in my heart. For the last six years, I’ve felt a calling to share with students how God has set me free from the shame and actions of my past and that they aren’t alone (because they truly believe they are). One college dean referred to me as “the grenade we’re tossing into our student body to get the conversation of sex started” because they realized how sweeping these topics under the rug caused their students to live trapped and addicted and ashamed. I will continue sharing my testimony in that capacity as long as there is a student in front of me that needs to hear it.

However, I am more aware now more than ever before in my ministry how little parents know about what’s happening. And because I’m not a parent, I feel terribly inadequate in telling you this.
But I can’t not tell you. After seeing the innocence in the eyes of ten year olds who’ve carried secrets nobody, let alone a child, should carry; after hearing some of the most horrific accounts from students I’ve ever heard this year, I cannot go one more day without pleading with you to open up and have these difficult conversations with your children. Would you prefer your son or daughter learn what a “fetish” is from you or from searching Google Images? Talk to them about abuse and yes, even trafficking.

Just this month I met a relative of a girl whose own mother was selling her body from the time she was five until now, when she’s sixteen. This was not in some drug-infested ghetto. It was in a very upscale town in a very upscale state known for its nature and beauty and summer houses.
Your children need to know. If not for them, maybe for a friend. Maybe they can help bring context or see warning signs.

Ask them what they know. Ask them what they’ve done. Ask them what’s been done to them. Show grace and love. Stay far away from judgment and condemnation. If you feel ill equipped, ask a pastor or counselor for help. If you hear an answer you didn’t expect and your first instinct is to dismiss it – don’t. Find a counselor. Look for resources. Continue following up. If you struggle with this (and let’s admit it, statistically, a lot of us do), get help too.

Do the right thing, the hard thing, for the sake of your children. If we don’t do this now, I am terrified of how the enemy will continue stealing hope and joy from our youngest generation and how they’ll be paralyzed to advance the Kingdom of God as they mature.
We cannot let this happen on our watch.

*Specific details that could identify children have been changed in such a way that it does not affect the story and only protects the children. Mandatory Reporters reported confessions that involved abuse or neglect or situations that indicated a child was in any type of danger by using proper state laws and procedures.

Originally posted here: http://www.annemariemiller.com/2013/08/19/three-things-you-dont-know-about-your-children-and-sex/

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Discerning God's Will

Sometimes we make the Christian life so much more complicated than it should be.  In particular, I have in mind the idea of discerning God's will for our lives.  So often we worry and fear that we might miss God's will and we make discerning it something so vague and nebulous that we really have no idea if we are figuring it out or if we are simply experiencing indigestion.  I say this merely to introduce one short quote from my former pastor Jim Campbell, who is now a missionary in the Pacific Rim.  Shelly and I have been praying about our life and ministry direction and in the midst of an opportunity Shelly wrote Jim's wife about our situation.  Here's what she wrote back...

Jim says don't be paralyzed by the concept of seeking the will of God. We have His will. If we are living in obedience and its something you want to do and it fulfills your gifts and you've been praying about it for a year and the door opens and you like what you see then walk through it. The Lord will provide all you need to be equipped with.

Honestly, that is just perfect advice for biblically discerning God's will for our lives.  The only one thing I would add would be that of seeking out godly counselors.  In our case we have had many, many praying for us including my fellow church elders.  We have a great and gracious Heavenly Father.