Family | One of these little ones who believes in me…

daughterAs my wife and I went over Matthew 18 yesterday, the topic of discussion focused on the first portion for quite a while. Today, I thought it might be helpful to share some of our parenting perspectives. Our children are still young, so what I will be discussing today is what we have settled in our hearts based on what we read in Scriptures regarding our children. With the summer drawing to a close and the upcoming holiday season, I think this is a good time to discuss these matters in the open. Let us begin by reviewing the first portion from yesterday’s Gospel Wednesday post.

Matthew 18:1-6 (ESV) | Who Is the Greatest?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

At the risk of giving away a portion of what we will read through next week, let us look at how the subject of children comes up again in chapter 19.

Matthew 19:13-15 (ESV) | Let the Children Come to Me

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

Luke also captures this moment with some slightly more specific language:

Luke 18:15-17 (ESV) | Let the Children Come to Me

15 Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. 17 Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these children… even infants. Possibly one of the worst consequences of the man-made doctrine of an “age of accountability” is that we have in many cases checked-out in our responsibility to train up our children in the things of God until they are old enough to be held accountable for their teaching. My wife and I come from very different church backgrounds… and together we have committed ourselves to training up our children in the things of God from infancy through maturity. We will fail, we will sin, and we will repent and turn to a loving, gracious, and merciful God who is faithful and just and who will complete the good work He started in us and in our children.

 

We Will Not Teach Our Children to Doubt Our Witness

This rule began before I had asked my wife to marry me. We were on our second date in December of 2007, and the radio must have played something related to Santa, because I very plainly told my date, “I will not lie to my kids… my kids will not put their faith in Santa”. In fairness, my words were probably more rough… no doubt referring to him as an obese demi-god or giant elf in a clown costume who spies on the kids throughout the year… yeah. It wound up being quite the argument… and a major cause for concern for her sister who took offense to my anti-santa stance well into our first year of marriage. Why the anti-santa stance? Initially, I hated the notion that I had been lied to about Santa, and every adult who contributed to the lie knew they were lying when they lied.

But society doesn’t just lie about Santa… it bears false witness to our children. Adults take children to a drunk in a clown suit, have them write letters, claim to deliver them to Santa, and default to Santa as the judge of the worthiness of child’s behavior throughout the year. Adults secretly shop for gifts, hide them, wrap them up, sometimes even signing them in Santa’s name… place them under the tree, eat the cookies they helped their children make for the Santa they know does not exist. Bearing false witness. At some time, the child either catches the adults in their lie or is so crushed in disappointment because of their unanswered prayer to the false god (Santa), that their parents then have to scramble to rebuild their child’s trust in them. At this point, whatever case the parent wants to build for their motive and intention is null and void. You do not have the ability to see or measure the damage you’ve inflicted on your child’s heart, on her trust, even on her faith. Only God can see that, and He is definitely watching. If only Santa were the only problem… some parents also do this with the tooth fairy… and some churches do it with the Easter bunny.

Why do we do it? Honestly, I struggle to find nice words for why we do this to children. The best I can come up with is that we’ve bought into the worldly notion that we can cultivate “belief” in children so that they don’t lose it like we did. We live in a fallen world with Peter Pan dreams of never growing up. Completely unbiblical. Yet, in our hubris, we think we can give our children magic to believe in to somehow enhance their child-like faith. Rubbish. We cause them to sin.

Exodus 20:3 (ESV) You shall have no other gods before me.

Sure, you think you’ve defined with laser-like precision the distinction between the fat elf who brings gifts and the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and that what your house truly celebrates during Christmas is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But ask yourself this question honestly… in whom does your little 3yr old place her hope during the Christmas season? What does she most look forward to on Resurrection Sunday, a celebration of our risen Savior or the abominable egg-laying rabbit?

Exodus 20:16 (ESV) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Not every child figures out the lie at the same stage in life. Do we repent of our misleading and false teaching? No. Sadly we often co-opt the child to continue the lie with their friends and siblings. We warn them not to hurt the feelings of their friends, not to “ruin it” for them. We encourage them to bear false witness concerning santa, the bunny, and the fairy. God forgive us.

You what is really destructive in all of this… we give these little ones far more evidence to believe in the false gods than we can hope to give of the One True God. As parents, we’ve been blessed of God who gives us children… and these little ones are in our charge. How dare we play around with their hearts and urge them to believe in what we know to be false, squandering our testimony by giving a false witness in their formative years… and later urge them to believe in the truth of God’s Word? Should we be so surprised when the public school system so easily causes our children to doubt in the Risen Savior? May God forgive us.

We Speak truth, Repentance, Forgiveness, and Truth

It is not easy to speak truth to our children. Our little ones are naturally curious and ask seemingly never-ending chains of questions. My wife and I have committed ourselves to telling the truth. Not always answering fully… there are many times when we simply have to tell them “we’ll discuss it more when you are older”. But we endeavor to make every answer we give to be one that will not later have to be changed or refuted. We are sinful beings… so when we get it wrong, we model repentance and ask forgiveness. It is a humbling experience to kneel in front of my 5 yr old son to confess that I had been mistaken about the time/date of a party and due to my error, he missed a party. I have to apologize, repent, and ask my boy to forgive me through his fat lower lip and tear-filled eyes. I praise God when my little boy forgives me.

Speaking Truth on a regular basis is surprisingly difficult. The Truths of God’s Word seem far tougher than the precious-moment-Jesus that gets heavily marketed to our children in Christian bookstores and Sunday School. It is surprisingly difficult to resist the urge to affirm a child’s desire to take comfort in the notion of a dead pet going to heaven, or to think that a dead loved-one “looking down on them from heaven”. Even the notion of good and evil is skewed in cartoons and kids-shows… the idea that most people are inherently good is shoved in our children’s faces… but the Truth is that we are sinful and unrighteous and condemned in our unbelief. These are tough topics to discuss with adults who are immature in the Faith, much less little children… but it must be done.

Proverbs 22:6 (ESV) Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.

As a father of two, I’ve been given a high calling and responsibility from God to serve as the priest of my household. The only way I can do this is to rely fully on God’s Word and the work of the Holy Spirit to bring the Word to life in the hearts and spirits of my children. I will set the best example I can, but that example must include confession, repentance, and humility… wretch that I am… and I must extend to them the grace, mercy, and compassion I’ve received from my Heavenly Father. I don’t always get feedback or indication of the effectiveness of my teaching efforts… I have to rely on the Holy Spirit to add the increase. I draw great comfort from the Apostle Paul’s writing to Timothy.

2 Timothy 3:10-17 (ESV) | All Scripture Is Breathed Out by God

10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

From childhood. I don’t like to dive into the Greek much since I am not a Greek scholar; however, this word used here for childhood covers life from unborn to infant or young child (brephos).

Conclusion

As parents, we take the warning of Matthew 18:6 very seriously. Our children watch kid shows, and play with toys, use their imaginations, and even make up stories for entertainment. They play make-believe with their sitter and with us and we have a blast. However, what we don’t do is encourage them to place trust or faith in anything we know to be false. We take every effort to strip away anything that might cause their little hearts to faint or their faith to be led astray. There isn’t a day that passes by without us confirming what is real and what is not, whether it be a commercial on TV or something they heard one of their friends or cousins say about ghosts, heaven, the Bible, good, evil, or God. As my kids grow and mature, it becomes more and more clear the significance of assessing the household of a man being considered for deacon or elder in the Church. A man who has demonstrated himself faithful to serve as priest of his home is definitely the kind of man you want in leadership of your local church.

This charge to guard the faith of the children isn’t limited to your own children. Jesus wasn’t talking only about the disciple’s children… we have a responsibility to all of God’s children… even infants.

A word of caution: Don’t attempt to co-opt my children in your false witness. My wife and I do our best to encourage our little ones to extend grace to others who enjoy playing the make-believe game of santa, fairies, and the abominable rabbit… but that’s about it. If it happens in front of me, I will instruct my children clearly… as graciously as I can for your sake, but it will be unambiguous and clear… and it will not likely be politically correct.

Jude 24-25 (ESV) | Doxology

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

In Christ Jesus,
Jorge

It is fitting to celebrate the birth of Jesus…

ImageLuke 2:8-14 (NASB)
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Clearly this event did not take place in the middle of winter. The Bible does not compel us to celebrate this event as a festival or a feast. We have the Passover, which served as a foreshadowing of the Christ and His sacrifice and our deliverance out of the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light. Nevertheless, it is good that we have a holiday that is at least in-part dedicated to honoring the gift of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  For Jesus was with God in the beginning…

John 1:1 (NASB)
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:14(NASB)
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

It is fitting to celebrate the birth of Jesus, just as the angels did on that wonderful night. If your celebration of Christmas is with this purpose and focus, then I have no doubt that you and your family are truly blessed. At the risk of sounding a bit trite, the birth of Savior is something we should celebrate year-round, as we live our lives joined to Him in His death and resurrection (Phil 3:7-16).

However, when I think about how mixed the messaging during this season has become, my heart aches. I’m not talking about what the world celebrates… they will always chase after their false gods, idols, deceiving spirits, and exalt themselves in humanism. That they are so lost is the reason Jesus came. We were no different than they, having been born into their sin and equal partners in their death, but by the Grace of God in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, we have been redeemed. I’m talking about Christians… even churches… endorsing, supporting, and perpetuating the demigod of Christmas, Santa Clause. How we have allowed ourselves to become so numb to deception and idolatry is beyond me. That we invite it into our sanctuaries and our homes is worrisome.

There is only One who is all-knowing, and ever-present, and all-powerful. We don’t even grant Satan that kind of power, yet we knowingly ascribe such characteristics to a character of pure fiction. Then we tell our children that he is actually coming to the house, and we go to great lengths to present false evidence of his presence. In full knowledge of our lie and deception. For what? To get our children into the practice of putting their faith in false gods? To teach our children that we cannot be trusted with their faith? That Jesus isn’t enough for us, so we need other gods in the mix?

Proverbs 22:6 (NASB)
6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

The same holds true (doubly so, I fear) when the way we train them up is in error. My wife and I have made a conscious decision to speak truthfully to our children. We will not knowingly lie to our children. When the topic of santa comes up, and my 3 year old asks me point-blank (which has happened already), “daddy, does santa bring presents?” my answer is a quick, “no, son, he isn’t real. He’s pretend, like Micky Mouse, he isn’t real”. I will not lie to your children, nor endorse your lies. I will do what I can to simply refrain from having the discussion, as long as it is fitting that I do so. If your child asks me while we are at church or while I am in a position of authority over your child (Sunday school teacher), I will speak the truth. I am under no obligation to support you in falsehood. If my child “ruins the lie”, I will bear no remorse nor will I reprimand my child. See to it you are not found guilty of reprimanding or disciplining my children for speaking the truth; however, if they are being malicious reprimand them for that and then let me know.

Ephesians 4:17-25 (NASB)
17 So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. 20 But you did not learn Christ in this way, 21 if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.

If only santa were given no more credence than the grinch or the cat-in-the-hat, especially in Christian homes. Jack Frost and Father Winter (Old Man Winter) are other false gods that pop up in our “carols” and seasonal stories/traditions. The limitations of our English create an odd grey area around “the Christmas Spirit”… if it’s merely a mood, fine, but once it is given a persona, not good. The only spirit we engage in/with is the Holy Spirit which was sent to us by Jesus after He ascended into Heaven.

Whenever I bring this topic up, there is usually an appeal to the other extreme where the entirety of Christmas should be rejected and avoided. Sometimes it is merely a hyperbolic counter-assertion set up as a straw-man to dismiss the fundamental appeal I am making (that we lay aside falsehood), and at other times it is a sincere desire to make sure we are only celebrating what is acceptable in the Word (such as limiting ourselves to only the festivals ordained in Leviticus 23). While I see problem with limiting oneself to Levitical festivals, I also don’t agree that Christians are banned from celebrating the birth of Jesus, what we now call Christmas.  I do not think less of any Christian who, even after hearing/reading my views on this matter, lack the faith to walk away from santa or the other non-biblical traditions. If ever I am tempted to do so, I am reminded that my living, breathing, and very being is the result of divine Grace, not of my own merit. I am also reminded that we will each be made accountable to God. I think Paul put it best in his letter to the Romans:

Romans 14 (NASB)
14 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

What we are commanded to do in the Scriptures, we must do. Everything else should be covered in Grace, Unity, and Liberty. I pray the Lord Bless you and your family this Christmas Season. May we all join the angels in their praise of the Savior, “Glory to God in the Highest!…”

In Him,
FS