Love Without Fear

The ancient Israelites loved God. All you have to do is read the scriptures. Check out the psalms! The love is obvious. God loved them and they loved God.

We still treasure the Old Testament. It’s the holy word of God! That’s why it’s in the Holy Bible.

We also read in the Old Testament about all the rules the ancient Israelites had to keep. We can see that they had to make sacrifices to atone for the times they fell short or messed up. When there are a lot of rules, and a lot of people judging you, it can make you fearful. It can even make you start to fear God, no matter how much you love Him.

That’s why I think God said, “This has to change. I’m going to change my relationship with my beloved children. I’m going to make a new covenant with them. I will send my Son to pay for every transgression of every rule, ever. Then my children will be free to love me out of respect and gratitude. There will be no more  fear.”

That’s why my love for God is respectful and reverential. I love Him because of what He did for me, but I am not afraid of Him. I know I am forgiven.

That’s the change. That’s the New Covenant. Our love has changed, so for the New Covenant Christian, the way we do things has also changed.

We see an example of this in the Book of Acts. There was a dispute about circumcision. Peter was preaching in favor of requiring new male converts to be circumcised, and Paul emphatically disagreed, so they went to the council for a decision. The council consulted and then said, “It seems good to us, and it seems good to the Holy Spirit, that it does not matter what you do to your flesh. It’s about the heart.”

This is the New Covenant Christian. We don’t consult a list of rules. We go to the Holy Spirit and then trust the wisdom we receive.

This is what I’m trying to accomplish with my own children. I don’t want fear of me to get mixed in with their love. I don’t want them to fear my anger, or fear reprisals when they mess up. When they make a mistake, I don’t want their first thought to be, “My dad’s going to be so mad at me.”

That’s not at all how I want my children to look at me. That’s why I tell them, “When you mess up, I’m going to be embarrassed on your behalf. I’m going to take that on me so you won’t have to. You should never have to fear me, because I love you. And I’m hoping you’re going to learn from your mistake. Maybe you’ll do things a little bit differently next time. Maybe you’ll see what I do, and you’ll be inspired to do better.”

When they see me take their shame and embarrassment for them, hopefully they’ll respect me for it. I think they will. I think they’ll say, “That’s my dad. He protects me because he loves me.” They’ll respond to me with love because of what I do for them, just as I love God because of what He did for me. This kind of love changes everybody, because this is the love that changes hearts.

See you Saturday.

Don’t Hide the Beer

What do you suppose your children think when you hide alcohol in the house?

Dad must be hiding it because he doesn’t want anybody to know it’s there. Why? Is it wrong? Maybe we should try it.

That’s why in my home, my sons know where the beer is. I tell them, “The beer is in the refrigerator. You can’t have it because you’re not old enough. But it’s right there. In fact, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you go get me a beer? I’m old enough to drink, so go get me one, please.”

I want them to be able to go and get it, and hand it to me. I’m not going to hide the fact that there’s alcohol in the house. I want my sons to think, “Dad is being honest with us. Dad loves us and trusts us to know that there’s alcohol in the house. He’s not hiding anything.”

Sometimes kids have issues because their parents don’t want to address the reality of drinking. Instead of teaching their kids self-control by talking to them about drinking, parents use guilt or fear to control their kids. That creates a problem. It creates situations where kids only respect their parents out of fear or guilt, not love. That’s not how I want to raise my children.

I want my children to respect me. I’m hoping they respect me enough to know that they’re not allowed to drink. If I do catch them drinking, there will be some disciplinary action. Will I have to take the alcohol out of my house? I hope not. I would, if they’re not making wise decisions. But I’m not going to begin my relationship with my sons by hiding things. I won’t do it.

I don’t want my sons to look at me and say, “That’s my Dad. I respect him. I’m scared of him! I would rather obey him than feel guilty.”

I want them to say, “That’s my Daddy. I love and respect him because he loves and respects me. He’s honest with me. I know I can talk to him any time, about anything. He won’t fly off the handle and yell at me. He won’t guilt me into doing what’s right. We’re going to talk things out and I’m going to feel calm around him. I’ll do what’s right. I want to.”

It’s the same way with Jesus. Some people say they love and obey Jesus because He’s God, but that might be putting it backwards. It’s because He loved me and died for me that I obey Him. Put another way, I don’t obey in order to be saved. I obey because I’m saved.

That’s the relationship Jesus wants to have with us. That’s the relationship I want to have with my children.

I don’t want my sons to look at me and say, “I respect you because you’re the father figure of our home.” I want them to say, “Dad, you take care of me and nurture me. Thank you! I respect you. I’m not obeying you because I’m afraid of you. I’m obeying you because you have done so much for me. You care for me, and I love you.”

That’s the reality that I want for my family.

I’m going to wrap up this short series on drinking with a few words for the churches. You won’t want to miss that.  See you Saturday.

No Sin in Drinking

Is it a sin to drink alcohol? In some Christian homes, the answer is yes. But a problem arises when parents use this as a means of controlling their children. They don’t want their kids to drink, and they use guilt to discourage it.

I think that’s wrong. Not only that, I think that’s why you see kids rebel.

We’d all like to see an end to underage drinking, but shame is going to create more underage drinking than it can prevent. Here’s my idea. Why don’t we just go ahead and tell our kids that it’s okay to drink, just not when we are sixteen years old? I guarantee they’ll stop thinking about drinking. You can’t rebel against something that’s okay!

Kids are naturally rebellious, but I don’t believe that creating fear is the answer. I don’t believe in the notion that we should turn the drinking of alcohol into a sin, and I definitely don’t believe that we should guilt our kids through Christ.

Drinking is not a sin. The churches that teach this are wrong. Nowhere can you find it in scripture.

People forget this, and then make all these rules saying drinking is a sin. Then they don’t know what to do when they read about the first miracle. A lot of people just try not to listen. Or we forget!

But the first miracle happened, and it matters. Jesus turned water into wine. Jesus didn’t just make an okay wine, either. Jesus made the best wine you can ever have! I’m guessing the alcohol rate in that was probably not nil.

That doesn’t mean you don’t hear the arguments. One excuse people give is to say, “Back then there was non-alcoholic wine.” No there wasn’t! They didn’t have the technology back then to make non-alcoholic beverages. There was no filtering system. They sat in a winery and stomped on grapes. That’s what they did! And then they fermented the juice. That made wine, alcohol and all.

Another excuse people give is to say, “Okay, so the wine had alcohol in it, but Jesus didn’t drink.” Except that He did. In fact, He was called a drunk and a glutton! When He hung out with people, He drank their wine. For that, people started judging Him. They said, “Jesus is at that man’s house, and they are drinking. Jesus must be a drunk. He hangs out with people all the time, and he always drinks their wine.”

The Bible is conclusive. Jesus drank wine. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that!

Obviously if there’s a pastor out there slurring like crazy, rambling around, and falling over, then there’s a problem. His church will take some flak for that. James says that Christians are going to be held to a higher standard. But the standard is not drinking. The standard is Jesus! Jesus is the highest standard there is. He’s the King of Kings! He’s God in human flesh!

And He drank wine.

Drinking isn’t a sin, but drunkenness is. Next time I’ll tell you why. See you Wednesday.

Loving Our Kids Through Their Sins

A lot of parents are scared of how their kids’ behavior will reflect back on them. They worry about themselves when they should be worried about their kids.

“Oh my goodness!” a mom or dad might say. “My son was drunk and got caught drinking and driving! And everybody in the church knows! What are they going to think of me?”

“Oh my gosh!” they might say. “My daughter is pregnant! This looks bad. What are people at church going to say?”

This really shouldn’t be the issue. Our first thought should not be what people at church will think of us, or what they might say. It’s unfortunate, but I think churches have gotten to this point. They need to check themselves, and put their hearts in the right place.

God sent His son Jesus to walk among us. That’s so we could see His image. He told us, “This is the image that you should show people. Love one another as I have loved you.”

This is not an angry image. It’s not a judgmental image. It’s not a condemning image. When Jesus walked the streets, He loved. He loved everybody! He hung out with prostitutes, drunks, gluttons, and sinners. He was called a drunk and a glutton because those were the people He hung out with. And when they brought prostitutes before Him and said, “What do we do?” He said, “Hey, that’s not your job. Your job is not to condemn anybody. Your job is to love and encourage people to get better, right where they are.”

That’s the image of God. That’s the image we’re supposed to reflect. It’s not anyone’s job to condemn our young people. Your job is not to say, “Hey look, you got drunk, you deserve everything that happens to you.” No, no. That’s not your job.

Your job is to talk with them, in a relationship of trust. Go to them and say, “Let’s get down to the actual root of why. Why did you get drunk and then drive? Why did you sleep with your boyfriend and get pregnant? What was the purpose of doing it?”

At the same time we need to love and encourage them. We need to help them solve problems as they arise. We need to ask, “What are we going to do next? How are we going to handle life now?”

We need to be with our kids. We need to offer our love. We need to say, “Let’s work through this together.”

The issue for the church is not reputation. The church is not here to be worried about keeping up appearances. We only have to do one thing. We have to say, “Okay, you know what? Your daughter is pregnant. Well, we love your daughter. We want to bless your daughter. We don’t want to cast judgment onto her. We want to cast blessing onto her! And we hope that her child becomes a child that oozes the aroma of Christ. Sure it was a mistake to get pregnant, but Jesus forgives. So of course we forgive. We’re going to help.”

Do you know how much better life would be if we actually got into the habit of saying, “You know what? Everyone sins, but we are not going to condemn anyone. We are going to love each other through it.”

I think you would find less and less people sinning out of rebellion, if they knew they were loved out of purity.

I think that would change a lot of things.

See you Saturday.

“I’m Sorry”

We don’t want to wound our children, but we’re not perfect. It can happen! And you know what? There’s grace for that. Wounds can be healed. We do it by building relationships of trust.

I’ve been reflecting on ways to do that. It’s important to respect our children as individuals and learn how each one ticks. Then we can engage with them in ways that show them how much they are valued. We can ask for and receive their permission to protect their hearts. We can pay attention to our tone of voice and speak to them kindly, keeping it level and safe for them. We can explain our anger to them, especially when it’s really ourselves that we’re angry with.

And we can tell them, “I’m sorry.”

The temptation is to say, “I’m the mom,” or “I’m the dad, so it’s my way or the highway. If you don’t like it, too bad.” It’s tempting, but that stuff never works. Ever. It gets kids to shut up and do what they’re told, but it doesn’t build trust.

I’ve done it to my kids. I’ve been impatient or I’ve been in my weakness, and I’ve told them, “Hey, too bad. You’re going to do it.” And they’ve done it. But later, I didn’t feel good about how it went down. I don’t need to wound my kids. I want to be able to say to them, “Let’s talk about this.” So I’ve gone to them and recovered the situation. We’ve sat and talked.

There’s nothing to be lost from having a conversation with my kids. I’m the parent, so I’ll get my way. My way is the right way and I know it. But I talk to them about it. I explain that they’re thinking from a child’s perspective, and I’m thinking from a grown man’s perspective. That’s why I want them to  trust me, and understand that I’m protecting them with what I’m asking them to do. I’m making them better, and I’m watching them become leaders. “I don’t want you to be wounded over it,” I tell them. “I want your heart to remain intact and pure. And I want us to have a relationship.”

We sit there and we dialog. We talk it out. Before you know it, I’m not angry with them, they’re not angry with me, and we’re having a conversation. I ask them if they have any resentment towards me over what happened. If they say yes, then I apologize. I say I’m sorry.

It doesn’t matter if I was right or wrong. My kids have resentment, so I say I’m sorry. By apologizing, I’m not saying they were right. I’m saying, “Look, I’m sorry that I affected you in that way. You know that what I said was right, but how can I say it to you where it won’t hurt you?” All I have to do is ask. They’ll tell me. And then I can say, “Okay, next time I will do that. I’m sorry you felt so hurt.”

Should you say you are sorry? No question. Absolutely, yes, you should always say, “I’m sorry.” If you want a relationship with your children, you’re going to have to understand that.

I’m raising my kids and I’m going to mess it up. When I make mistakes, I have to be a dad and a human being. That means I have to look at them and say, “I’m sorry. I don’t agree with what you did. I don’t like that you did it. But I did not handle it correctly as your dad, and for that, I’m sorry.”

This is not easy. Parenting is not easy! But it’s dialog, and I love having conversations with my kids. This is how we heal wounds and build trust, and it’s awesome.

Mad At Myself

Wounds can be healed in a trusting relationship. Last time, I wrote about building trust by recognizing and respecting the different sensibilities of our children. I am building a relationship of trust with my sons by understanding them as individuals. They each have their own way of thinking and feeling, and I am committed to paying attention and protecting them.

When you are able to do that, then you will know how to speak to them. I have found that being soft-spoken, gentle, and firm works best for all my children. (This is actually a good tone to take with everyone!)

If we were perfected in God’s kingdom, we would always get this right. But we’re far from perfect. We’re here on earth, in our flawed and sinful flesh. We’re going to get it wrong a lot.

My biggest frustration is that I get angry when I mess up. I have to be very clear with my sons about this. Otherwise, they take my anger the wrong way. They think it’s directed at them. I have to be proactive and tell them, “Look, I’m not mad at you. I’m mad at myself. I need to get you to understand that some things are wrong and I don’t want you to do them. I also have to keep you from doing things that might get you hurt. I have to protect you and your heart, but I don’t always know how to talk to you so that you will understand. That frustrates me, and I get mad at myself.”

It’s my duty to teach my children. It’s so important to me that they grow into the awesome people and leaders that they already are. Part of this is helping them understand the difference between what to do and what not to do.

The crucial concept here is understanding. My goal is to give them understanding. Teaching my sons how to behave is also about teaching them to trust me. I don’t want fear. I don’t want them to go around scared to do things because they’re afraid of being punished. If all they have is fear, then their behavior doesn’t come from trust. They’re just scared.

When scared children get old enough that they don’t have to fear their parents anymore, then they’re going to get in a lot of trouble. That’s why we need understanding. I have to get through to them in such a way that they will understand what’s right and wrong, and why. I need to be sure that I’ve taught them the difference between what’s safe and what’s dangerous.

But in my flesh, I don’t always know how to speak to my children in a way that is appropriate to the situation. When I don’t know what to do, I sometimes resort to what I heard when I was their age. I don’t always like to see that in myself, so I get mad at myself. That’s when I have to make sure to tell them, “Listen, I’m frustrated with me. I’m trying to protect you, and I don’t know why I can’t get through to you. I know I seem angry right now son, but I’m just reacting to myself. I am not mad at you!”

Honesty like this can have miraculous results. It can start a conversation. He’s not scared anymore, and I can say, “What you’ve been doing is wrong, but let’s sit down and talk about it. Tell me what you’re feeling right now. Why are you doing this?” Since I shared my feelings with him and clarified my anger, he trusts me. So he shares his feelings. That makes everything easier for both of us.

More on this next time. See you Wednesday.

Soft-Spoken and Filled With Love

So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20

Are we aware of the tone of voice we use when we speak to our families? Do we understand the feelings it causes in them?

I haven’t always been aware of this, and I regret it. I didn’t know about the effects of tone, because it doesn’t really affect me. You can pretty much use any tone you want with me and it won’t bother me. You can be mad at me using a pleasant tone, and you can be mad at me using a harsh tone. I’m probably going to respond the same way.

For me, the words you use are important. Not just the words, but the respect you use when you approach me. Respect is very important to me. You can shout or be soft-spoken, and I’ll be okay with it as long as you treat me with respect. But if you are disrespectfully angry with me, I’m going to put my foot down. Even if you use the nicest, most gentle voice ever, if you disrespect me in that voice, I’m going to double down.

Since my issue is with respect, not tone, I had to learn how important tone can be to others.

My wife is the one who brought this to my attention, especially once we had kids. She tried to get me to see that the tone of my voice is a big deal. At first I fought with her about it because I found it frustrating. I couldn’t get it, since I don’t get affected in the same way.

Then I began to understand. I began to understand that the tone I use when I talk to my children is very important. It’s important to my wife, too. I was determined to learn how each one of them gets affected and to take that into account. They’re different people, and they respond in different ways.

My tone of voice affects my oldest child the most. If I use a strong tone with him, it scares him. He can’t listen because his brain is going a million miles an hour. He’s actually scared, so he’s literally not listening. That means we’re not connecting.

My middle son is more like me. He can hear me if I take a tone of voice that is serious or emphatic. It doesn’t hurt his feelings. My youngest is kind of in between, but more on the sensitive side.

I want to do the best I can to love them, so I decided to keep my tone of voice level and kind. I even do this with my middle one, although he can handle a sharper tone. I avoid using a harsh tone. I try to stay calm. I focus on listening, and not reacting.

I really work hard on this. I don’t always do it right. In fact, I mess it up weekly. But it’s important. I said last time that wounds can be healed. I truly believe this, but first, there has to be trust. Taking care of the feelings of my family is an important start.

More on this next time. See you Saturday.