January 26, 2012

Parenting in an Age of Technology

The average age for a child to receive his or her first cell phone is now 11.6. If that seems young, consider that since this is an average, for every teen who is given a phone several years later than this, there is a child given a phone a few years younger than this.

Technology can be a helpful tool but it also confronts kids and parents with new challenges and dangers: easy access to pornography, online taunting, foolish sharing of information and pictures, constant texting and addiction. Technology also changes how we think, how we process information, and how we relate to people.

I recently taught a three-week class on the topic of parenting in an age of technology. I found that parents have deep concerns about these issues but feel unequipped about how to respond. Technology keeps changing. It is impossible to discuss every piece of technology and every issue, but there are a few foundational principles that can help parents to navigate these waters.

1. Parents need to ask themselves what their ultimate goal is for their kids. Everything else is going to be influenced by this. If the goal is merely to get peace and quiet, then it makes sense to throw a screen in front of a child a as babysitter or to give a him an iPad to keep him out of your hair.  If your goal is to have a trophy child, then you will be tempted to equip her with the best technological status symbols. If the goal is mere happiness, you will give your child whatever will make him happy. If your main concern is that your child likes you, it will be hard to enforce any rules that she may resent. On the other hand, if your ultimate desire is for your son or daughter to grow as a disciple of Jesus, then your decisions about the use of technology need to flow from that goal. [See my article: Five Potential Goals for Parents.]

2. Christian families need to think about technology from a Christian worldview. I recommend viewing the film by David Murray titled God’s Technology. In this well-produced video Murray walks parents through four Biblical principles, three possible responses, and a seven step training program for parents to use with their kids. The four Biblical principles are that (1) technology is created by God, (2) technology is not essentially sinful, (3) technology has many good uses, but (4) technology has been perverted and abused by sinners. With these balanced principles in mind, our response should be neither an enthusiastic embrace of all technology, which is foolish, nor a strict separation from technology, which is impossible—even though it is sometimes tempting to go live in a cave.  Instead, we need to cultivate what Murray calls “disciplined discernment.” [See my article: Teens and Technology for some talking points.]

3. Think of technology like a rifle. Like a rifle or a chainsaw, technology is a tool that can be useful but can also cause great harm. Parents need to know how technology works and what the potential dangers are before giving it to their kids. For example, parents need to realize that teens can access the internet with an iPod touch or most mobile game systems. Remember that technology is constantly changing and you need to keep up. Sites like CovenentEyes.com (and their blog) & GetNetWise.org can be a great help. It is essential to train your kids before giving them each new tool. Teach them how to use it safely. Would you give your kid a rifle without a safety class?

4. Discuss what is appropriate and inappropriate. Ask your kids to tell you specific examples of ways that technology can be misused. For example, ask them what things they have seen other teens post that they think are a bad idea. By asking for examples you are helping your son or daughter develop discernment. It also helps you see what standards they have or don’t have. Your child isn’t going to think of everything, so be prepared to give your own examples as well. For example, ask your daughter, “Do you think it is good when other girls post bikini pictures to facebook? Why not?”

5. Use a two-fold approach: HEART and HARDWARE. You can’t control your kids with filters and firewalls alone. They can always find a way. Parents need to target the hearts of their children rather than merely relying on hardware and software to do the job for them. As a parent, your goal isn’t just to keep your kids safe now, but to prepare them for eventual release into the world. If your filters were the only thing keeping them out of moral sewage, they will plunge themselves into it the moment they are no longer under your roof. The heart is the real target for discipleship anyway—our loves and desires define who we are. On the other hand, don’t fail to take advantage of help such as filters and parental controls. Blind trust is foolishness on the part of parents. Even the most moral of teens are still sinners with the potential to do very bad things. Wise parents will apply Ronald Reagan’s words, “Trust but verify.” A consistent track record of responsibility leads to greater trust and freedom.

6. Combat unhealthy modern views of privacy. Young people are growing up with a very strange view of privacy. It is an infringement on their right to privacy if mom or dad checks on their internet history, but on the other hand they will share personal and inappropriate information with the entire internet. Today’s ethos of privacy has us hidden from the people we should be open to, and open and exposed to those we shouldn’t be. Instead, young people need to realize that accountability is a good thing. Sin loves secrecy. I recommend using Covenant Eyes on internet devices, especially with teenage boys. Also, start getting your kids to think of any technology entrusted to them as “family technology” rather than private property. Explain to them what it is like in the adult world when a company gives their employee technology to use. The employee usually does not have a right to complete privacy concerning how the technology is used. In the same way, give your kids technology with the understanding that even if they are the primary user it is not their private property. Also consider having them sign a “User Agreement” before giving the technology to them. [Click here for one you can use.]

In some ways, we face challenges unlike any other generation. On the other hand, there is nothing new under the sun. Past generations had to figure out how to handle the introduction of the telephone and the automobile. Every generation from this time forward will be faced with technological game-changers. We need to learn to adapt while we keep our eyes on that which does not change.

January 19, 2012

In Michigan it is Illegal to Kill a Dog Using a Decompression Chamber

I’m not sure what people want to blow up dogs in decompression chambers, but in Michigan it is illegal.  There is actually a law specifically against this. I’m not making this up. I quote:
287.279a Killing dog or other animal; use of high altitude decompression chamber or electrocution prohibited. Sec. 19a. An animal control officer or other person killing a dog or other animal pursuant to the laws of this state shall not use a high altitude decompression chamber or electrocution for that killing.  
Sure, I agree. If you were thinking about doing this, don’t. No one wants to see Fluffy turned into Puffy. But what amazes me is the fact that someone was concerned about this enough to make sure there was a law against it. Was this once a big problem? Was this what people did to pass time before the internet? Or was there a very forward-thinking State Senator who said, “I know our society needs animal control officers, but we must not allow the possibility of them killing dogs using a high altitude decompression chamber! We need to nip this in the bud!” 

This law is fine. As I looked around online, I learned that this really is an issue. However, I doubt that many people would put this law in their top ten. If your state could only have ten laws, would you pick this one or would you save the spot for something more important? My guess is that this one wouldn't make the cut. I think the same thing is true for the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex. 20:7). If you only had ten laws for mankind, would you pick that one? Why not something that seems more important, like “Thou Shall Not Commit Arson” or “Thou Shall Not Litter”? 

We tend to think of the Third Commandment as a throw-away commandment. God doesn’t view it that way. He made it third on His list and He takes it seriously. If you don’t think so, read the account in Leviticus 24:10-23 where God directed a blaspheming boy to be stoned to death for breaking this commandment.

God takes His name seriously because His name is His reputation, His glory. Yes, YHWH is the most sacred name of God, but this commandment goes deeper than merely guarding some set of letters or sounds that identify God. The main point is not about the specific sounds. In English the word “bog” means a swampy area but in Russian it means “God.”  As Edward Clowney writes in How Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments, “Using God’s name is a serious act not because certain sounds are holy, but because God himself is present in his name, and all his works reveal that name” (40). 

Consider how the Bible speaks about someone’s “name.”  For example, Proverbs 3:3-4 states, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” Proverbs 22:1 states, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” Thus when Psalm 8:9 states, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” it is talking about God’s reputation, his glory, and there is nothing more important than this.

This commandment diagnoses our disrespect for God’s reputation when we see some of the specific ways that we violate it.  For example:

A.       False oaths. Leviticus 19:12 states, “Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.” Now, not all oaths and vows are outlawed.  (See Deut. 6:13 and 2 Cor. 1:23.)  However we need to remember that when we pledge by God’s name, we are staking God’s honor on our faithfulness to this vow.

B.       Casual or disrespectful use of God’s name. How dare we use God’s name as a four-letter swear word? We barely even notice it when God’s name is used this way on a show. It’s also wrong when we use His name as a casual exclamation, as if “Praise the Lord” just means, “That’s neat.” When we do that, aren’t we using His name is a vain, empty manner? Finally, what about the constant use of the abbreviation “O.M.G.” by everyone from yahoo.com to Christian teenagers. Christians should not use that abbreviation. No one is going to think it stands for “Oat Meal Gopher.” 
 “Casual use of God’s name is prohibited precisely because it wears away our sensitivity to the enormous reverence we owe it.” -Michael Horton, The Perfect Lew of Freedom, p. 104. 
C.       False Prophecy. God does not like it when we put words in His mouth. Deuteronomy 18:20 says that a prophet who falsely presumes to speak in God’s name should be put to death. Jeremiah 14:14-15 declares God’s distain for the false prophets who were preaching “delusions of their own minds.” Their message of peace and safety was popular with the king and the masses, but it wasn’t from God. Today we have politically correct pastors and denominations who would rather proclaim what is acceptable than what is true. They claim God’s authority to justify sin and disobedience.

D.      False teaching about God. God is glorified when we see the truth about who He is and what He has done. Instead, false teachers claim that God doesn’t have the attributes the Bible says He has. He hasn’t created what the Bible says He created.  He hasn’t done all that the Bible says He has done. False teaching changes God and robs Him of His glory.

E.       Manipulative God-talk/ Using God’s name to advance our own agendas.  Everyone from politicians to sports fans to Survivor contestants wants to claim God for their cause. Marketers use God to sell their stuff. Everyday Christians claim God’s authority for their own decisions saying, “God told me” or “I’m being led…” Those phrases sound spiritual, and they are conversation stoppers. But in most cases, wouldn’t it be better to say, “I think this is what God wants me to do…”?  Don’t pretend you have a direct line to God if you don’t.

This command directs us to honor God’s reputation with our lips and our lives.  If you call yourself a Christian, you are identifying yourself with His name. How is God’s reputation being lifted up or dragged through the mud by the way you live your life? If you call yourself a Christian, live like it. Don’t be a jerk or a hypocrite. Don’t put a fish on your car and then drive like you’re the only person on the road who matters. Don’t say you’re a Christian on your business card and do sloppy work or rip people off. Don’t wear a youth group shirt to school and talk like a pervert in the halls. And remember, even the angels see what you do in secret.

Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” The good deeds you do, do in His name, for hHs reputation, not in your name for your reputation.

The Third Commandment isn’t a throw-away commandment. There are good reasons God make it #3 on the list. God’s glory is worth it.

And ask yourself, if this were the only commandment you had to keep, would Jesus still have needed to go to the cross to save you? If so, remember that His name is also your only hope, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rm. 10:13). 

January 13, 2012

Five Possible Goals for Parenting

Every decision parents make concerning their children is going to depend on the ultimate goal they have for them. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about the use of technology, or discipline, or whether to encourage your kids to join the school’s ping pong team—every strategy depends on what the goal is.

I’m going to give you five possible goals for parenting. Four of these goals are common, but not great.

False Goal 1: Ease.

There are times when the only thing we care about is how to get a moment of peace and quiet. Sometimes this is understandable, but many times parents make momentary decisions with bad long-term consequences just to keep the kids out of their hair. Having kids is a lot of headache and hardship. Parents with this goal want to get through the process of raising kids with as little difficulty as possible. Convenience is king.

In some cases, parents with this goal see their kids as a burden and as an obstacle in the way of what they really want to do. Parents with this goal will always gravitate toward the easiest acceptable option.

False Goal #2: Trophy

Many parents raise their kids to be their trophy. Some parents want their kids to excel at sports so that they can relive their glory days through them—or live out the glory days they never had. Sports is one example, but there are many others. Parents want their kids to be popular because this makes them look good. Popular kids have popular parents. It doesn’t feel as good to be the parent of rejects. Another trophy is success. A child who grows up to become a doctor or a corporate executive makes a nice trophy for their friends to see.

Some Christians want their kids to be “good Christians” because that is the kind of shinny trophy their peers admire. Parents with this goal want their kids to be good in order to protect the family image. When their children sin, their first thought is, “How is this going to make us look?”

False Goal #3: Happiness

These parents want to shield their children from any type of unhappiness, pain, frustration or disappointment. They can’t bear to see them go through that. They want to see their kids smiling and they will do whatever that takes with little thought to the fact that difficulties build character and constant appeasement leads to spoiled greed and a soft child.

You'll hear these parents talk about their offspring and use the phrase, “At least he’s happy.” This is a give-away that happiness was their goal for them. No matter what else, as long as they are "happy" everything else is fine. Did you ever notice how often this statement is attached to awful life-decisions? She grew up to become porn star and he’s a mafia hit man, but “at least their happy.”

Now, in one sense there is truth to this goal. If your ultimate goal for your child is that he or she would find ultimate happiness by delighting in God—then there is no greater goal. If that is what you mean by happiness, you can find peace even when your child goes through hard times if the experience will bring him closer to God. The miseries of this life do not compare to the unspeakable lasting joy that will follow. Unfortunately, this usually isn’t what people mean. Usually parents settle for the shallow and fleeting version of happiness that this world has to offer.

False Goal #4: Friend

The picture depicted to the right isn’t the image that these parents have in their heads. They see themselves and their kids as BFFs. Moms picture themselves and their daughter going shopping together, hanging out and being mistaken for sisters. Dads imagine themselves just kicking back and popping a beer with their boy. For others, their satisfaction comes from knowing how well-pleased their kids are with them. They daydream about their kids singing their praise with hearts full of love and admiration for their beloved mother or father—perhaps a statue is in order.

In reality, the picture is more like the one shown above. These parents are absolutely dependent on the approval of their children. They want their kids to be happy with them. These parents desperately need to be liked by their kids. Therefore, who is in control? The kids of these parents have tremendous power over their parents. They can withhold their approval like withholding oxygen.

Some parents refuse to be an authority figure over their child because they would rather be a buddy than a real parent. They forget that having a good relationship isn’t the same thing as being a peer to their child. We all desire a good relationship with our children, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of what is really best for them. 

Goal #5: The True Goal – Disciple

The real goal, the ultimate goal for Christian parents is to raise children who become authentic growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Our goal is for our children to glorify God by treasuring Christ. We want them to treasure Christ as their Prophet, Priest and King. Their changed life will flow from this as they glorify God in their hearts.

Our goal for our children should be the same goal that Paul prayed for believers in Colossians 1:9-14:

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Spend time dissecting this passage and thinking about the specific things Paul is praying for. Pray for those same things for your children. Make your parenting decisions while asking yourself what is the best strategy for reaching these goals.

There is a grain of truth in each of the false goals. At times, and in the right way, they can be appropriate as long as the true goal always stays higher. For example: There are times when we need quiet. We want our children to be our legacy, in a good sense. We want our kids to have true happiness. And we want a healthy relationship with our kids. However, it is easy for us to justify these goals while they mutate out of control. Some parents are completely sold out to one of these false goals. For all of us, they are always a temptation that we will fall into from time to time.

Most Christians will probably assume that their goal is for their children to be disciples of Jesus, but here is the test: What happens when two of these goals are in conflict? What happens when you are forced to choose between two? What happens when raising your child as a growing disciple is inconvenient? What happens when this goal might endanger the shininess of your trophy in some people's eyes? What happens when living for Christ will put your child through intense pain and heart-ache? What happens when raising your kid the right way makes him or her furious with you?

Which goal gives way? When we can’t have both we see what goal is really on top.

See also:
Parenting in an Age of Technology
A God-Centered Philosophy of Discipleship

January 2, 2012

Flavel on Keeping a Clean Conscience

John Flavel (1628?-1691) was an English Puritan who John Piper once refered to as one of the Redwoods of the Christian faith. In his work A Practical Treatisie of Fear, Flavel offers six rules for keeping a clean conscious. Salvation is by Christ alone, but our consciences often plague us because of unresolved sins. The best way for a Christian to keep a clear conscience is to be mindful to avoid the sins that would splatter it. Flavel's wisdom is worth meditating upon, especially at the start of a new year.

1. “Over-awe your hearts every day, and in every place with the eye of God.”  Speak and live as someone who knows that God always sees him.

2. Do no action that you dare not preface with prayer. Touch not that you dare not pray for a blessing upon; if you dare not pray, dare not to engage; if you cannot spend your prayers before, be confident, shame and guilt will follow after."

3. “Be more afraid of grieving God, or wounding conscience, than of displeasing or losing all the friends you have in the world.” Remember that sinning to avoid danger is like sinking your ship to avoid pirates.

4. Consider the clear council that you would give another person in the same situation. We're too prone to adjust the standards when our own interests are at stake.  On the other hand, King David's judgment was upright when he unknowingly judged himself in Nathan's parable.

5. Be willing to bear faithful reproofs from men as if they were from God.

6. “Be mindful daily of your dying-day, and your great audit-day, and do all with respect to them.”

All quotes from John Flavel, Works, 3:306. Text not in quotation marks is my paraphrase.
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