Category Archives: Church life

Please stop asking the Old Lady at church to participate in your child’s disobedience

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shy-child

“Good morning, Johnny!” said the Old Lady at church.

Silence ensued, accompanied by a lowered brow which was followed up with a dodge behind mom’s leg.

“Say ‘hi,’ Johnny!” said the harried mom who was late, weighed down by an infant in a car seat and a diaper bag that didn’t want to stay on her shoulder.

More silence from Johnny, except for the almost imperceptible nasally sneer that came from his tiny frame as he peeked out from his defensive position to check that all eyes were still on him.  Mom was getting frustrated – she likes Old Lady and wants her to think well of Johnny, and her parenting, so she struggled to wrest the child from his hiding spot and coax little Johnny to say, “hi” to the smiling, waiting Old Lady.

But Johnny was having none of it.

As the seconds began to pile up with crushing pressure, Johnny became even more resolute and Mom was looking for any way possible to just get the scene over and done with.  So, with apologetic eyes (and heart) she spoke to Old Lady for Johnny and said, “We’re feeling a little shy today.”

To which the Old Lady at church was supposed to smile and say, “Oh, it’s OK, dear – don’t worry about it.  They all go through this stage.”

But she didn’t, and here is why.

She doesn’t want to participate in Johnny’s disobedience, and you shouldn’t either.

This mom’s answer on any given morning might have been “we’re still working on our manners,” or “we’re trying not to force him into social situations he’s uncomfortable with,” or “I keep trying to get him to talk with adults, but he just won’t,” or any number of other reasons she has allowed for Johnny not to do as she asked, but none of us is doing Johnny any favors if we allow him to persist.

While all of those things might be true (shyness, manners, social skill development, etc.) they are entirely beside the point.

Little Johnny was told to do something by his mother and he refused.  By making excuses for his behavior, Johnny is actually being trained to disobey her and she wanted desperately for the Old Lady at church to help her do it.  Sound familiar?

It is absolutely OK that Johnny is learning social skills and manners and even how to navigate social situations he is uncomfortable with.  But it is absolutely not OK for him to openly defy his Mom or Dad.

This may seem like a small and silly thing to write about, but it’s played out with such regularity, and is cousin to so many other ways we encourage disobedience rather than obedience that I sometimes want to shout out loud…  STOP THAT!!!!

It’s important that we think  through all of the little things about child-rearing in light of the Gospel.  We miss out on a million opportunities to disciple our kids when we don’t walk them through the steps of showing them their need.

In the example above, all could have been well if a couple of small changes had been made.  If mom knows that Johnny really is shy, she can practice with him before he goes in the door.  “OK, Johnny, what’s Old Lady at church going to do today?”  “Say, ‘Good Morning.'”  “Right!  And what should you say then?”  “Good Morning.”  “YES! That’s right! Let’s practice. Would you like Mommy to help you say ‘Good Morning’ to Old Lady today?”  And then when the scene plays out, Mom can say to Old Lady after she’s said her greeting, “It is a good morning Old Lady and Johnny and I have been practicing together our greetings to people.  Can you help us practice?”  Old Lady will be more than thrilled to help you, and says it again.  Mom helps reluctant Johnny (who maybe looks at Old Lady but then hides his face in mom’s neck.  At this point, Johnny is not disobeying because he hasn’t been told to do something, but he now has two adults helping him to learn an important skill.  Old Lady might say, “Oh, Johnny – I know it’s hard to learn how to do this but you keep practicing with Mommy and we’ll try again next week!”  No disobedience – all support.

What if Johnny is just not up-to-snuff on all those manners?  What better place to practice than in the company of Old Lady at church?  Mom and Dad can talk to Johnny ahead of time about this, too, and even do some play acting at home in preparation so that Johnny becomes comfortable with the exchange of greetings.  A similar request as above can be made of Old Lady when they walk in. Some coaching might be involved in the process, but that’s OK.  Making mistakes while learning is understandable and to be expected, but everyone involved is working towards Johnny’s good in this scenario.  Mom, Dad, and Old Lady can gladly participate in Johnny’s efforts to acquire skills to appropriately greet people he might not know very well, and he’s learning to honor people like Old Lady by speaking directly to her and not hiding behind someone’s leg.

You get the idea – find ways to prepare your little darling for what’s coming and what you expect their response to be.  Teach them why these things are important and that you expect them to obey you. Build into the situation a great likelihood that your child can succeed with what is being asked for in the routine of normal social situations, and don’t be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help from those around you who have journeyed far ahead of you on the road.  (And if you’re stumped about how to do that, ask Old Lady!)

It’s critical, Mom and Dad, that we take the discipleship of our children intensely seriously.  God doesn’t wink at or laugh at our sin – even our “childish” sin that is universally common.  He hates sin, and he has put his own son on a cross to remove it from his children.  Thankfully, we don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice for our sin or our children’s.  But in the end, if a rebellious and disobedient heart really is at the core of your little darling’s reluctance to obey you, then there is really nothing more important for you to address right there and right then – even if it is in front of Old Lady at church.  Take him to a private place, mete out whatever discipline is necessary, and come back and try again.  Old Lady will still be there, smiling and waiting, and cheering you on for being a phenomenal parent because you are taking the sinful heart of your beloved offspring as seriously as God does.

Next post, A Word about Liars…

 

 

Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

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wolves-and-sheep

The Bible doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about wolves – or more precisely, people who are described as wolves.

 

Zephaniah and Ezekiel both describe Israel in her stubborn, defiant rebellion as being like wolves who devour and leave nothing behind.

 

Isaiah describes them as inhabiting the desolate places with jackals and hyenas.

 

Jesus told his disciples to be on guard because he was sending his disciples out like lambs among wolves – and we all know what happens to little lambs in the clenching jaws of wolves.

 

The people who are wolves in our lives have voracious appetites to destroy.  They don’t just want to take us out of commission.  Their desire is not to make us simply limp, or waver, or even just to shut us up.  They want to take us out completely.

 

And the first thing that happens with every wolf attack is that he (or she) bounds into and scatters the flock seeking out the target and going for blood.

 

Such a lovely picture, eh?

 

So why would I be thinking about wolves on New Year’s Day?

 

Because they’re everywhere, and if Jesus thought it was important to warn his disciples against them, then it must be important to remind every generation about them, too.

 

Most of us are pretty naturally on the lookout for the wolves “out there.”  We are on guard against the atheist aunty to loves to come to family gatherings and openly mock our faith.  We pray for wisdom and discernment in dealing with the militant co-worker who wants to goad us into a religious argument just to try to make us look like the racist-homophobic-intolerant-judgmental-bigot he’s already declared all believers to be.  We are even on guard against the Hollywood machine that wants to pound your faith into the ground with production after production of buffoonish portrayals of weak-minded “Christians” who are idiotic in their approach to…everything.

 

Those things are real, and we need to guard against them, but I don’t really think they are the wolves in our lives.  Those are the things meant to embarrass, insult, and maybe even injure – but they don’t destroy.  If anything, they (hopefully!) sharpen our defense of the hope that is within us and motivate us to live above the fray in a manner worthy of our callings – worthy of the Name by whic we are called.  “Christians” mean we belong to Jesus the Christ after all.

 

But wolves are much more dangerous than any of these things.  Wolves are malicious, calculating, and cruel.

 

Wolves destroy marriages, friendships, mother-child bonds. Wolves split churches and denominations. Wolves tear down and never build up.  Wolves target godly reputations, fruitful ministries, and long records of good works to twist and distort them by making them appear prideful or weak or wanton.  Wolves target the good and want to rip it to shreds.  

 

We’ve all seen it happen and so we might be duped into thinking that we would quickly recognize when a wolf has crept into our sheepfold, but we don’t.

 

There is another passage that is chilling when you know how brutal wolves can be.

 

Matthew 7:15 states, “Beware the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”

 

They’re in the sheep pen folks.  They look like sheep and sound like sheep.  They quote Scripture and tell testimonies and teach your Sunday School classes.  They are not the cartoonish wolf with a sheepskin badly slung over it’s back with wolf claws and jaws sticking out so you can immediately sound the alarm bells and put everyone on high alert.  They’re good at looking like sheep.

 

In fact, they’re so good at it that Jesus then gives us instruction for how to recognize them – he says, “you will recognize them by their fruits.”  Thorn bushes don’t grow grapes and thistles don’t grow figs.  And ultimately, though they might fake it for a good long while, wolves don’t grow love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, or self-control.  Only the Holy Spirit can produce that kind of fruit.  Wolves seek to destroy all that.

 

The remainder of Matthew 7 describes other ways that we will be able to recognize those wolves who pretend to be sheep – they will produce diseased fruit, they will do many things, “in Jesus’ name,” and they will be fools who build on shifting foundations.

 

It is often very, very difficult to recognize a wolf.  It is especially difficult because each and every one of us can have wolf-like fangs of sinfulness that we bear if we feel threatened or claws that take swipes at our fellow sheep.  Knowing the difference between a sheep behaving badly and a true wolf is exceedingly difficult, but Jesus told us to beware of them so it must also be true that he will give us the wise discernment we need to learn to do tell the difference.

 

In recent years I’ve had my spiritual eyes opened a bit to this and have begun to learn what it means to “beware the wolves among you.”  A few patterns have emerged, and in my observations, it has been particularly helpful to note the stark contrast between wolves and shepherds.  Jesus, our ultimate Good Shepherd, is also our ultimate standard.  Of course, no earthly shepherd is as all-Good as Jesus, but in general terms, the shepherds among us demonstrate some characteristics that are in notable opposition to those of wolves.  Comparing the truly good with the truly evil makes the differences easier to see and recognize.

 

So here are ten comparisons that have been particularly helpful to me:

 

  1. Wolves tend to themselves – Shepherds tend to the flock.  
  2. Wolves use people for their own purposes – Shepherds use themselves up for the good of others.
  3. Wolves make much of their willingness to stand against evil – Shepherds make much of God and how He enables them to stand against it, especially through their weakness.
  4. Wolves like to keep things secret and in the dark – Shepherds know that the light of truth clears away the darkness.
  5. Wolves call goodness, truth, and beauty into question – Shepherds praise these things.
  6. Wolves impugn motives without knowing enough – Shepherds are slow to judge motives, knowing that they usually don’t know enough.
  7. Wolves say harsh things to cut down and destroy – Shepherds say hard things in order to build up and restore.
  8. Wolves seek attention, praise, and status even at the cost of others – Shepherds deflect attention, praise, and status especially to bless others.
  9. Wolves skillfully gossip, malign, and covertly discuss the situations of others – Shepherds hold confidences even at great cost to themselves.
  10. Wolves drive people apart – Shepherds draw people together.

 

Again, any one of us can display wolf-like sinfulness.  But these wolf-characteristics cannot be generally true of a sheep.  The two cannot co-exist in one person.  In short, Shepherds gather, wolves scatter.

 

Near the end of Matthew 7 Jesus says that the wise man will be able to withstand the storms and the floods and the wind that seek to destroy because his foundation is Jesus – the rock.  It doesn’t take a theologian to figure out that the wolves he spoke of in the previous verses might be some of the storms and floods and wind.

 

As this new year emerges it presents us with untold billions of things to be talking to God about.  One major theme in all of these is the increased persecution of the church around the world.  Those persecutions could take the form of mass executions, imprisonments, or torture.  Or it could come walking into our fellowships – our sacred families of believers – and sit down among us and eat with us and pray with us and then seek to devour and utterly destroy everything good it can sink its greedy jaws into.
Beware the wolves among us, but don’t fear them.  Because the Good Shepherd continues to care for his sheep and has already laid down his life for them!  Ultimately, we can rest in the knowledge that He will deal justly with the wolves even as He gathers His sheep to Himself.