That Our Sons Might Be Good Men

Do something.  Build something.  Improve something.  This bundle of impulses lies at the heart of manhood.  And if you don’t understand that, you don’t yet understand manhood.  

And our culture doesn’t understand manhood.  

It doesn’t understand why it exists, what is good about it, or who possesses it.  I read an article today about the very young son of an influential businessman here in my city.  The entrepreneur and his wife have begun to encourage their son to wear dresses and live as though he were a young girl.  They are also starting a foundation to “help” parents who are in similar situations, a foundation that will apparently work in our public school district.  This sort of thing is welcomed by our culture because it is ignorant on the nature of manhood, the why and the what and the who.  Our men don’t know why they are men (no one has told them), and because they don’t know why they are men they don’t have anything but a superficial understanding of what a man is or who a man is.  

And yet, because you can’t change reality (even by refusing to teach it), they have these impulses.  These longings hum away in their chests, unabated by a culture willfully blind about what manhood is.  There is a thirst in most men’s souls to do and to build and to protect.  Put another way, most men have an unspoken hope to bear something with whatever manly strength they’ve been given.  And there is a desire to bear a burden (the what) and an ability to bear a burden (the who) because they were made to bear a burden (the why).  

It isn’t the thirst itself to build or to protect that make on a man.  A man is someone who is born a biological male.  But these are healthy characteristics of normal manhood.  A tree is a tree regardless of whether it currently has branches, but having branches is a healthy characteristic of being a normal tree.  

Men have been given strength in order to physically and spiritually bear burdens.  But make no mistake, if we don’t teach them that, they will use their strength for something.  Those thicker bones and deeper muscles and mechanical minds were designed to build for others, but they will build for self given the chance.  Sin can’t change the what or the why or the who of manhood (or womanhood), but it has radically twisted the how.  Unredeemed men will often use their strength to abuse rather than protect, to wreck rather than construct.  They will fight for self instead of others, and act as a battering ram when they should be a shield.  A boy might grow to violate and damage women, to use them the way a thief uses money he boosted from a cash register.  Or he might grow to be faithful to one woman, to spend himself bringing out of her all the goodness and loveliness that God has planted in her soul like an early spring seed.  A young man might tick away his hours playing fantasy battles on a screen.  Or he might aim to fight for his wife, his children, or his neighbors.  All men have not been give the same manly strength, but all men spend what they have been given on something.  

Our sons were built to build.  But they will not learn this from our culture.  They’re not going to be taught about the true nature of manhood, of themselves, from television or social media.  It’s our calling to tell them who they are, what it means, and why.  That is our burden to bear.  

And it’s a high calling.  The world needs good men.  My goodness, can there be anything more obvious right now?  Is there anything more plain than that the world needs more self-restrained, constructive, fatherly, loving, sacrificial men?  There is so much damage out there, and one of God’s favorite instruments to repair it is the good man, stumbling and imperfect as he is.  From Noah to Moses to David to Peter to Paul, God has used faithful men to build good things and fix broken ones.  He has given them a uniquely manly strength to do just that.  God made the first man to reflect Him by cultivating His garden, and even after sin scarred all things God still gave to that man the task of cultivation (Genesis 2:15-17, Genesis 3:17-19).  Our sons have a great endeavor before them.  We are cultivators, restorers in a wild world with much to be cultivated and in need of restoration.  There is nothing new under the sun, but there are many old things that must be set right.  Let us raise men who will be up to the task.  

If you are like me, a dad of boys who loves Jesus, be encouraged.  We are a part of a great story, here.  The world was once saved by a Father and a Son, and they made us to image something about them.  Be strong.  Act like men.  This great reclamation project includes ourselves and our boys. 

Our sons will be men.  That die has been cast.  

What is left for us is to raise them to be good ones.  

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How I Apologize to My Kids

*There seems to have been some interest in these practical family and parenting posts.  I do not write as an expert in anything.  This is simply one sinner saved by grace explaining his best approach to those awful 5 minutes after slamming a door or yelling at his children, when he realizes he behaved like a fool.


The screaming starts.  Almost always over a toy.  If it’s not that, it’s that somebody hit somebody.  

Then Daddy throws open the door, angry that his 9:30 PM peace and quiet is being interrupted.  

He isn’t angry because his children have sinned against God and each other by stealing or hurting each other.  Well, maybe a little, but not primarily.  Primarily he’s angry because the created thing he wanted (peace and quiet, food, TV) was disrupted.  That’s what has his fingers digging into his palms.  

And do you know what we call it when a created thing is so important to you that you freak out if you don’t get it?

Idolatry.  

So, now Daddy’s idolatry play out in all its ugly glory, here.  He clenches his teeth and points with his finger at Kid #1’s bed.  “Get.  In.  Bed.”  He raises his voice a few decibels to Kid #2.  “If you do anything to him again I will spank your butt.”  Then he shouts over the crying of Kid #3.  “Enough!  I don’t want to hear it!  All of you:  Be quiet.”  He turns on a dime and slams the bedroom door.  

And now sin has wrapped its poisonous vine around these four souls.  Three children sinned against each other out of idolatry, and their father responded with anger at his own idol being threatened.  None of these four souls were, at that moment, resting in the Lord Jesus Christ and savoring Him.  That would’ve resulted in joy, forgiveness, peace, and patience.  

Oh, and if you haven’t figured it out yet:  This Daddy is me.  

So, after a few minutes, I open the door, and tell the two who are old enough to get down out of bed to sit down with me.  The other can listen from the crib.  And then I say the following.  

  • “Daddy sinned.”

Before you apologize for a sin, you need to acknowledge that it was sin.  It was not merely a “mistake,” it was not that you “lost your cool,” it was not that someone “made you” do it.  Jesus did not die on the Cross to redeem good people for their “aw shucks” mistakes.  He died to save sinners from their sins.  

I sinned. Period.  No excuses, no qualifications.  

My kids need to know that sin is serious.  If they don’t see Daddy taking his sin seriously, they’re less likely to take their sins seriously.  And to live a Gospel life, a true Christian life, one must take sin seriously.  

  • “Daddy is sorry.”

If I’ve sinned, then I have at least two parities I need to apologize to, two people with whom I need to reconcile.    

  1. The God whose Law I broke
  2. The person I sinned against

These apologies are essential for these relationships (mine to God and mine to the person I sinned against) to be restored.  In general, if I am not a person who confesses my wrongs from the heart, I will not be a person who has healthy relationships.  

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 

Matthew 18:15

My kids need to hear me grieve my sin, hear me say that I am sorry that I did such a thing to God and to them.  I realize that to some people this may sound like overkill for something as “small” as angrily raising your voice, but I firmly believe that that sentiment is usually arising from the flesh.  

See, our flesh always wants to minimize our own sins and magnify others’ sins against us.  We understand that it’s good for someone to apologize to us when he has committed even some “small” sin against us (and we are usually unhappy or feel slighted if he doesn’t).  But because of our flesh and our pride, we often think that it isn’t necessary for us to apologize for our own “small” sins. 

But it is.  Jesus died to bear God’s wrath for every instance of bad anger I’ve ever committed, every harsh word and bitter thought and nursed grudge.  Those sins are no small matter.  

And, hear me on this part, too:  Sin brings death.  And so if I want life flowing through my relationships, I must confess my sins in those relationships and receive the grace and restoration of God.  

  • “Do you forgive me?”

Say what?  You’re going to ask your kids to forgive you, dude?   

Yes, because I (almost always) make them ask my wife or I to forgive them after they have sinned against us.  

So, obviously we are in authority over our children, authority given to us by God for their good and His glory.  They answer to God and to us.  But one of the truths of the Bible is that authority comes with responsibility.  I have a responsibility to God and to the children He’s given me to love them selflessly.  When I treat them, even for a moment, as an impediment to my own pleasure, as an annoyance keeping me from TV or a snack or a good book, I am breaking that God-given responsibility.  I am putting my own good ahead of theirs.  And after acknowledging that sin and then grieving it, I need to give them the opportunity to forgive me.  

Now, until children are born again through faith in Jesus Christ (something I hope all you parents pray for for your own children), they cannot forgive like a Christian can.  They aren’t able to forgive from the bank of grace they have received in Christ Jesus, because they haven’t received that grace.  But they can begin to see how important forgiveness is.  And they can also begin to see how impossible it is to truly and humbly forgive without being made a new person.   

See, one of the best things I can do to drive my children to the Cross is to make them try to forgive from the heart.  Because in time, they will see how weak and selfish their hearts are.  And so, I pray, they will call upon Jesus to change them and save them.  

So, there you have it.  That’s how this one Christian father does it.  Daddy sinned.  I’m sorry.  Do you forgive me?”  

They’re no magic words, and it doesn’t always go smoothly.  But often enough it builds trust, and it shows them just a little bit of what Christianity is, of who Daddy is, and of who Jesus is:  The God who saved sinful father.  

It’s no silver bullet.  But I can honestly say that they increasingly feel comfortable enough to tell me if they think I’ve sinned, and they also feel a little more comfortable with owning up to their own sins.  

Which is the point.  

Because by God’s grace, I pray, someday each of them will come to Christ’s Cross on their knees and say to Him, in faith, words they once heard from their imperfect Daddy.

“Jesus, I sinned.  I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”



Why My Family Won’t Celebrate Halloween

  

A couple of days ago my family and I were walking through Home Depot.
 Towards the front of the store were some cartoonish inflatable Halloween decorations for a front lawn.  You probably know the type:  Graves, skeletons, tombstones with humorous inscriptions.  And as we walked away from them I felt strongly that I needed to tell my oldest (5) that our family doesn’t celebrate death.  And then she started to tell me all the things that we’ve talked about as a family that are from God’s stories of Creation and Consummation in Genesis and Reveation:  That death is bad, that it came from sin, and that someday Jesus will come back.  And when He does, she said, “No more death, and no more tears, and no more boo boos.”  These are the truths we’ve tried to communicate to our 3 little children.  

And so while I don’t think there’s anything sinful in dressing up or in giving away candy, we won’t go door-to-door on Halloween this year because so much of what my kids would see would be a playful or morbidly curious attitude towards death.  At least 1 of my kids heard us sing “Laid Death In His Grave” this Sunday at our church gathering.  I don’t want us to sing joyfully that Jesus conquered something on Sunday and then playfully observe it a few weeks later. 

God grieves death.  And He hates it.  He gave up His own Son to defeat it.  He will someday cast it into the Lake of Fire with Satan and all his demons and the (finally) unrepentant.  And because of all that, my family shouldn’t view death as a game or a joke.  I love games, and I love jokes, but the goodness of each comes in knowing what’s fun and what’s funny.  And death is neither.  

God built this world without death, and it is sin that unleashed it upon His beautiful work.  Death distorts and deteriorates God’s marvelous creation, and He allows it to for a time.  But while I wait for His Son to return and put this enemy under His feet, I want to have the same posture towards it He has.  

Death is nothing to play about.  It is not natural.  It is not something to entertain a morbid fascination for.  Death is the outworkings of an awful rebellion.  I don’t want to celebrate it any more than I celebrate idolatry or adultery.  

One of the best gifts I can give my kids is the awareness of what is good and beautiful as opposed to what is ugly and passing away.  And so for me, this isn’t about forbidding something just to forbid it, and it isn’t about laying down some sort of distinctive Thomas family law.  It is about preparing my kids’ hearts for the beauty of Jesus’ return, and teaching them to grieve what God grieves, hate what God hates, and hope for what Jesus is bringing. 

Death is monstrous.  I don’t want us to celebrate it.  I want us to celebrate its defeat at the hands of the greatest of Kings.  

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 

1 Corinthians 15:24-26

A Word to Married Christian Fathers:  You Have a Unique Authority

  
 I’m going to let the text speak in a moment, because God’s words are always more important than mine, and so when I’m on a touchy or emotionally flammable topic, it’s usually far better (in my opinion) to let the Bible speak in its perfect way as quickly as possible after me in my stumbling.  

But if you are a father and husband, like me, I am maintaining that the piece of God’s heart and will He shows us in Numbers 30 has something very good and very countercultural to tell you:  

You have a unique authority over your wife and over the young daughters living in your home that He wants you to use for their good.  

You have it whether you want or not.  You have it whether they want you to have it or not.  You have it whether the world wants you to have it or not.  And if you abdicate by not leading them to Him, use that authority for your good rather than theirs, or bully and demean them, you are sinning against God, sinning against them, and screwing up your life.  

I’ve had to repent of sins against my family almost weekly since my honeymoon, but by God’s grace I believe I’m becoming a better husband and dad for their good.  And chapters like Numbers 30 remind me of how weighty my calling (and yours) is.  

Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded. If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her. If she marries a husband, while under her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her on the day that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. But if, on the day that her husband comes to hear of it, he opposes her, then he makes void her vow that was on her, and the thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she bound herself. And the Lord will forgive her. But any vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, anything by which she has bound herself, shall stand against her. And if she vowed in her husband’s house or bound herself by a pledge with an oath, and her husband heard of it and said nothing to her and did not oppose her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she bound herself shall stand. But if her husband makes them null and void on the day that he hears them, then whatever proceeds out of her lips concerning her vows or concerning her pledge of herself shall not stand. Her husband has made them void, and the Lord will forgive her. Any vow and any binding oath to afflict herself, her husband may establish, or her husband may make void. But if her husband says nothing to her from day to day, then he establishes all her vows or all her pledges that are upon her. He has established them, because he said nothing to her on the day that he heard of them. But if he makes them null and void after he has heard of them, then he shall bear her iniquity.’ These are the statutes that the Lord commanded Moses about a man and his wife and about a father and his daughter while she is in her youth within her father’s house.

Numbers 30

Christian fathers, do what you are called to do by being who you are called to be.  And do it all knowing it’s for their good and His glory.  

They All Obey Something

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Our children are always obeying something. They are either obeying their parents and God in tandem, as God has commanded and says He will bless, or they are obeying their friends, the lusts and desires of their own hearts, television, the internet, or some other influence they value more than their parents and their parents’ God.

Every human being is a slave to something, and every human child is learning his or her slavery, is feeling it out. Each of us will either submit to Jesus and be His slave, which is to be free from death and sin, or be a slave of the Devil and his own lust and wickedness. Each of us will submit his heart to the worship of something. Our kids are the same, but smaller and without much knowledge or experience.

Ephesians 6 tells children to “obey your parents, for this is good.” So it is good for children to obey and honor the father and the mother He has given them. Jesus confirms the same in Mark 7. God considers obedience to His ordained authorities good. And He considers obedience to wicked things bad. And so for a child to obey his parents (excepting a child being instructed to sin or being abused in sin or something similar) is for him or her to do childhood the way God desires it to be done. It is Godly and healthy and good.

And for him or her to instead follow and obey and submit the bulk of his or her heart and will to pop culture, friends, or even decent secondary authority figures like teachers or coaches, is to do childhood in a flawed way. It is not good.

So what does your child’s clothing say about who he obeys?

His language?

Her friends? The things they talk about? Where they talk?

What he spends most of his weekends on?

Do our kids look like children who are obeying us as we obey the Lord?

Take one evening and watch your kids. Whose words are they using? Who or what governs their attitudes? Who or what is in control of how they respond to their grandparents, their teachers, their uncles, and aunts? Who or what has control of their hearts and wills and mouths? Is it their little buddies, the wider culture, their favorite singer, their own lusts and sinful desires, or God through you?

We cannot cause our children to love God. Only He can do that. Only God through His Spirit can cause someone to be born again. But we are told to have our children in submission for a reason: Because it is possible and it is good. It is good for them, good for the family, good for the church, and good for the community for children to obey their parents. And it blesses the children themselves by, generally speaking, forming them into the kinds of people whom God has designed the world to bless. People generally want to be around people who obey authority and are not spoiled, entitled, disruptive, or rude. And people generally want to hire or promote or marry or be friends with conscientious, self-aware, empathic individuals.

We cannot save our children. But thankfully we are not called to. We are called to do that which we can, and that is to place them in the way of blessing. We can help them to understand who God is and what it is like to obey Him, we can help them to see what He desires and what He blesses, by teaching and demanding the obedience that He calls good.

They will obey something.

And of course so will we.