The Blessing of Being a Parent

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Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” Psalm 127:3-5a.

Note: Our 3rd blessing, Ezra Counts (see picture above), was born yesterday!

As congratulations have come pouring in on the birth of our son, one word I have often enjoyed hearing is “blessing.” If one word could be used to describe God’s attitude toward children, it is “blessing.” Think of the attitude of the psalmnist in Psalm 127. Heritage. Fruit. Reward. Blessing.

Contrast this with the often heard world’s view of children: Expensive. Brats. Time-consuming. Unwanted.

We need to have our minds renewed by God’s Word in every area of life. The tricky part usually comes years later. It’s pretty normal to be joyful when a new baby is born. But Moms, don’t forget God’s blessing on you when that child is having terrible two tantrums. Dads, don’t forget God’s blessing on you when you have to talk to your teen about dating or driving privileges. It’s a blessing from our good and gracious God to be given children. They are a stewardship from Him. May we take up that stewardship joyfully for the next eighteen plus years.

“The Duties of Parents” by J.C. Ryle and Free Download

All Christian parents need biblical, helpful reminders of what their responsibilities are to their children.  I have been so encouraged and challenged by The Duties of Parents by J.C. Ryle that I am quoting Ryle’s first 3 points below.  If I hear they are helpful, I may quote more portions in the future.  Here’s the great news: the entire 38 page booklet is available in a free PDF or Kindle dowload here (if you would rather have the published booklet for less than $5, click here).

1) First, then, if you would train your children rightly, train them in the way they should go, and not in the way that they would.

Remember children are born with a decided bias towards evil, and therefore if you let them choose for themselves, they are certain to choose wrong.

The mother cannot tell what her tender infant may grow up to be–tall or short, weak or strong, wise or foolish: he may be any of these things or not–it is all uncertain.  But one thing the mother can say with certainty: he will have a corrupt and sinful heart.  It is natural to us to do wrong.  “Foolishness,” says Solomon, “is bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15).  “A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame” (Prov. 24:15).  Our hearts are like the earth on which we tread; let it alone, and it is sure to bear weeds…

If you cannot make up your mind to this first principle of Christian training, it is useless for you to read any further.  Self-will is almost the first thing that appears in a child’s mind; and it must be your first step to resist it.

2) Train up your child with all tenderness, affection, and patience.

I do not mean that you are to spoil him, but I do mean that you should let him see that you love him.

Love should be the silver thread that runs through all your conduct.  Kindness, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, patience, sympathy, a willingness to enter into childish troubles, a readiness to take part in childish joys–these are the cords by which a child may be led most easily–these are the clues you must follow if you would find the way to his heart.

Few are to be found, even among grown-up people, who are not more easy to draw than to drive.  There is that in all our minds which rises in arms against compulsion; we set up our backs and stiffen our necks at the very idea of a forced obedience.  We are like young horses in the hand of a breaker: handle them kindly, and make much of them, and by and by you may guide them with thread; use them roughly and violently, and it will be many a month before you get the mastery of them at all…

3)  Train your children with an abiding persuasion on your mind that much depends on you.

…this is one of God’s merciful arrangements.  He gives your children a mind that will receive impressions like moist clay.  He gives them a disposition at the starting-point of life to believe what you tell them, and to take for granted what you advise them, and to trust your word rather than a stranger’s.  He gives you, in short, a golden opportunity of doing them good…

Beware of that miserable delusion into which some have fallen–that parents can do nothing for their children, that you must leave them alone, wait for grace, and sit still.  These persons have wishes for their children in Balaam’s fashion–they would like them to die the death of the righteous man, but they do nothing to make them live his life.  They desire much, and have nothing.  And the devil rejoices to see such reasoning, just as he always does over anything which seems to excuse indolence, or to encourage neglect of means.

I know that you cannot convert your child.  I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God.  But I know also that God says expressly, “Train up a child in the way he should go,” and that he never laid a command on man which He would not give man grace to perform.  And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey.  It is just in the going forward that God will meet us.  The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing…

A Reminder as School Begins…The Husband and Father’s Responsibilities: A Quote from Jonathan Edwards

As school is now in full swing, I want to share this Jonathan Edwards quote that is a timely thought on a husband’s and father’s responsibilities (moms, don’t miss the second part of the quote regarding raising your children!).

…the person in your house that claims your first and nearest attention, is, undoubtedly, your wife; seeing you are to love her, even as Christ hath loved the Church. . . . Next to your wife are your children; immortal spirits whom God hath, for a time, entrusted to your care, that you may train them up in all holiness, and fit them for the enjoyment of God in eternity. This is a glorious and important trust; seeing one soul is of more value than all the world beside. Every child, therefore, you are to watch over with the utmost care, that, when you are called to give an account of each to the Father of spirits, you may give your accounts with joy and not with grief.
Jonathan Edwards

[HT: Family Ministry Today]

I recently met a man at a car wash who saw my young children in my car and told me, “Love your wife.  Don’t forget to love your wife.  It is best for your children, best for her, and best for you.”  This was a 2-minute interaction that we had, but with tears in his eyes he shared that he lost his influence with his children as well as most of his monthly paycheck because he did not love his wife.  Both Jonathan Edwards (knowingly) and the man at the car wash (unknowingly) are echoing the theme of Ephesians 5:25 & 6:4.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her … Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

An Open Letter to Immanuel Bible Church

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

What a joy to write to you and thank you for welcoming my family and I as we moved to Bellingham just over a week ago for me to be the Pastor of Family Ministries!  It is not an overstatement to say that we are thrilled to be here and overwhelmed at your kindness and welcoming spirit that you have shown us.  The LORD declares in Isaiah 46:9b-10, “…I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure.'”  Our good and gracious God had us praying for our future home church for about as long as you were praying for us, without knowing who each other were.  We have slowly seen the outworking of His providence in so clearly bringing us to Immanuel and now that we are here we are rejoicing in being able to serve Him here.

The question that I have been asking consistently for over a month now and that I am asking the elders, staff, and ministry leaders in thinking through Family Ministry at Immanuel Bible Church is, “How can we better serve the families of Immanuel and the community for God’s glory and their good?”  I firmly believe in and support Immanuel’s vision for ministry to children, teens, and parents: “Ministry at IBC to children, teens, and parents exists to glorify God in all of life by faith working through love.”  How kind of the Lord that I get to work towards this great end with you!

For the sake of the Gospel,
Tim Counts

How Crucial is Youth and Family Ministry?

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I was encouraged again in how crucial Youth and Family Ministry is when I recently saw some shocking statistics.  In a 2009 poll of one thousand people in their twenties who used to attend Bible-believing churches but who no longer attend, a whopping 40% of those who don’t believe first started to have doubts in middle school, and 44% first had doubts in high school.  This is in contrast to only 4% who began to doubt in elementary school, and only 11% in college (Answers Magazine, July-Sept. 2011, 124).

In the same issue of Answers Magazine, Al Mohler gives some analysis and remedy worth considering:

…Kids are spending a very small amount of time in church activities, and many of those activities have very little theological, biblical, or spiritual content.  As a result, we have a generation of young people who believe that there is a God, but they don’t have any particular god in mind…

When asked, “What steps can the church take to do better?”  He explains:

Focus on expository preaching, and teach how to think biblically.  The pulpit has to take responsibility.  In far too many churches there is just no expository preaching [teaching that expounds on a particular text of Scripture].  There isn’t the robust biblical preaching that sets forth the Word of God and then explains how the people of God have to think differently and live differently to be faithful to that Word.

Show the seriousness of church, including personal accountability.  The local church must be a robust gospel people.  It must be a warm fellowship of believers.  It must be a fellowship of believers who are really living out holiness and faithfulness to Christ, and being mutually accountable for that.

Otherwise, our kids will get the message: “You talk a lot about sin, but it’s really not all that important to you.”  Or they will think the gospel is simply about moralism.

Give answers about current issues.  We’re not giving our kids adequate information on some very crucial issues.  [Think about] the questions the average teenager faces…

Explain how the gospel is unfolding through real history.  …The Christian faith, the Christian truth claim, the gospel, is first of all a master narrative–a true story–about life, about God’s purpose to bring glory to Himself.  It has four major movements: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation…If we don’t anchor our children in that story, if they think that Christianity is merely a bunch of stuff to believe, if they don’t find their identity in that–in which they say, ‘Yes, that’s my story.  This is where I am.”  Then they are going to fall away.

Mohler was asked next, “What are parents doing wrong?”  His answer is a timely reminder for those who have teens as well as those of us who have small children:

We’ve got to start treating young people as a mission field, not just assuming that mere nurture will lead them into Christian discipleship and into Christian faith.

Parents need to take a big responsibility here.  The one thing we know from the entirety of Scripture is that parents have the non-negotiable responsibility to train, educate, nurture their own children into the faith, to confront them with biblical truth, to ground them in the Scriptures.

We also have, on the part of many Christian parents, a buy-in to a new secular understanding of parenthood.  We are letting our children make big decisions far too early.  So, when you have a 14-year-old, 15-, 16-, 17-year-old, making decisions about whether he or she is going to participate in church activities, be at church…that’s a child who is making decisions that should be made for him or her.

What steps can parents take to do better?

Teach God’s Word all the time, in everyday life.  This is not something that you can do once a day, once a week, and say that’s done.  That’s why I go back to Deuteronomy 6.  It is a constant teaching opportunity.

I don’t mean a piece of chalk and a blackboard.  I mean the kind of opportunity that comes from having seen something together and saying, “All right, how do we figure that out?  What does that mean?” [i.e. watching a movie, reading the same book, talking about the news]

Help adolescents think through the big questions.  Adolescence is the crucial point.  For the first time they’re beginning to think about the big questions of life.  When the lights go out at night, they’re trying to figure out, do I really know the meaning of life?  Do I really know who I am?  At that stage, don’t be afraid if your kid is asking questions … don’t be afraid to say, “I know there is a good answer for that.  But I’m not sure right now I’m prepared to give the right answer for that.  So we’re going to go find it together.”

(Al Mohler quotes are from Answers Magazine, July-Sept. 2011, 127-129).

I am so excited about Family Ministry because during this crucial stage of life, the church and parents both have the opportunity to make life-long disciples of Jesus as they consistently teach and apply God’s Word.  This God-ordained partnership of the church and parents is for the good of teens and the glory of God!

What Are Two Things Teenagers Need from a Youth Ministry?

I have been thinking recently about Youth and Family Ministry, and I am thankful for what Austin Duncan has written regarding Youth Ministry in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully.  As I read these paragraphs below I wanted to shout, “Amen!”  Two things (not exhaustive, but certainly primary) that teenagers need from a Youth Ministry are:

1) The Scripture to be taught at a level they will understand.  This includes a great emphasis on the Gospel.  What more important message could we possibly offer them for their lives now as well as for the rest of their lives?  Nothing.

2) To be a part of the church as a whole.  This includes involvement with their parents and the rest of the church.  There is no switch that can be flipped when they leave the Youth Ministry that will make them *now* productive members of the church.  They should be part of the church body now.

Thank you Austin for explaining this so clearly and passionately:

“The Scriptures themselves are the most important tool for the youth pastor.  There is no other way for a person to come to Christ except through the preaching of the gospel, and there is no place where the gospel is presented more clearly than in the Scriptures.  When a youth ministry is built on verse by verse teaching of the Bible, the students learn how to live and what to believe.  As a God-ordained side effect, students also learn how to study and interpret the Bible for themselves as they watch Scripture rightly divided and properly explained … Teenagers in the youth group need this message [the Gospel].  They do not need cultural relevancy, and they certainly do not need a youth leader who really “gets them.”  They need a minister who will explain to them that they will not get to heaven on the coattails of their parents’ Christianity, that God hates sin, and that the most important issue in the universe is not if they are going to make the soccer team, but if they are reconciled to God.  Have they turned from sin to the Savior?  Have they embraced, in faith, God’s perfect sacrifice of His dear Son?  Is Christ’s life theirs?

…It should not be possible for students to faithfully participate in a youth ministry but not participate in the church. … The youth must be involved with adults in serving missionaries, participating in neighborhood outreach, and visiting the elderly.  Above all, they should be a part of the corporate body of the church in worship, fellowship, and service.  One of the reasons that young people withdraw from the church is because they grow out of what it has to offer them.  Eventually, they will tire of games and skits, and look for something more profound.  A key to student ministry–for a lasting student ministry–is to get young people involved in the church because they are in love with the gospel.  Then, if they leave the church, they abandon an integral part of their lives.  Church no longer is a place that serves them, but a place where they belong.

Isolating our teenagers from the rest of the body of the church is bad for everyone involved.  Just as the foot cannot say to the hand that it is not part of the body, so the youth cannot say that he or she is not part of the body of believers (1 Cor. 12:15).  Serving the church is how Christians are called to use their God-given gifts, as this is where believers live out the New Testament command to love one another.  Teenagers must be taught to have affection for the church, to care for its needs, and to devote themselves to its health and growth.”

From Chapter 15, “The Youth Pastor as Evangelist: The Church’s Most Fruitful Evangelism,” in Evangelism: How to Share the Gospel Faithfully, ed. John MacArthur (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 213-215.

The question always comes up when advocating an eternal perspective in Youth Ministry, “Can you still have fun while doing this?”  Of course!  As I know Austin himself lives out (I have known Austin for 9 years), this is all done with grace–and fun.  But although we laugh a lot with teenagers and may do many fun activities with them, we need to have enough vision and love to give them what they need: God’s Word and the Gospel, and to help them be a part of the church, the body of Christ.